Latest entries

How should we react when a man says he molested his own daughter?

by David McElroy

Man behind bars

Is there any crime worse than molesting a child? How about if it’s your own child?

Just before 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a friend of mine posted a public confession on Facebook that he molested his own young daughter 11 years ago. His post said that he was going to find a police officer right after posting the confession. He’s decided it’s time to admit to his crime and face the punishment.

I was stunned and I’m still processing the news. I only know Brad Spangler casually and only as a Facebook friend. He’s one of hundreds of people with whom I’ve connected but never really gotten to know well. From his posts, I know him only as a brilliant left-leaning anarchist/libertarian who wrote well and seemed very thoughtful and well-meaning. I knew he had personal problems — including health issues — but nothing prepared me for this.

“During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested my young daughter,” Spangler wrote. “I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.”

He assured his friends that he didn’t plan to harm himself or anyone else.

“I think what I’m going to do immediately after making this post, though, is see about peaceably turning myself in to the Kansas City Police Department, confirming this confession, refusing any potential bond and facing accountability in court,” he wrote. “While there are lots of impersonal topics I can rationally discuss, the truth is that I have not been emotionally well for a long time, if ever.”

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Without empathy and persistence, high IQ is just a cheap parlor trick

by David McElroy

Knowledge vs insight

When I was young, I believed that intelligence was more important than anything else. I saw it as a trump card that allowed a person to come out on top every time in life. And I was arrogant enough to almost always believe I was the smartest person in the room.

Nobody ever quite told me that intelligence was more important than anything, but the subtle message I got was that a high IQ was a golden ticket for life. I was praised for being smart and clever, so I wanted to be seen as intelligent. It became my identity.

As an adult, I’ve done pretty well on IQ tests. Most of the ones I’ve taken put me between 155 and 165. That’s not enough to get me into any record books, but it’s nice.

I’ve always questioned myself, though. What if I weren’t as smart as people said I was? What if I were nothing but a fraud who took tests well? And what if I suddenly quit doing well on the tests? Would I still have the same value?

Over the past 10 or 15 years, I’ve realized something scary — at least for someone who came to identify with intelligence as much as I did. Being smart — having a high IQ — is fairly meaningless. It might make someone clever. It might mean a person can figure things out — and have quick insights about other things — that other people struggle with.

But high intelligence doesn’t make someone successful. It doesn’t make him a decent person. And it definitely doesn’t make him happy.

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Would you secretly kill someone to get the things you want the most?

by David McElroy

Push the red button

Are you a good person? Or a bad person? Are you capable of theft? Deception? Murder? Is it a black-and-white question? Or is the answer a lot more gray — for all of us?

One of my favorite podcasts of 2014 was a spinoff of This American Life called Serial. In 12 episodes, the show explored a 15-year-old murder case, seeking to answer the question of whether the right man is in prison for the crime. (If you haven’t heard the show, I recommend it.)

In one of the final episodes of the season, the reporter spent a tremendous amount of time going over and over the question of whether the guy in prison seems like a killer or not. She seemed tormented by the need to know whether the man she had been interviewing could possibly have committed the murder.

She seemed obsessed with answering that question. Was this guy capable of murder?

I think she was asking the wrong question, so let me set it up in a different way. Let’s talk about you instead of the man sitting in prison for a murder which I suspect he didn’t commit.

Let’s say there’s something you want badly. I don’t just mean a new television or a boat or even a fancy house. I’m talking about something you’re emotionally committed to. Maybe it’s a woman who you’re in love with. (Or a man.) Maybe it’s some money that you think is rightfully yours. Maybe it’s some position of prestige or power that you believe should be yours.

With all of those things, let’s say that you want the person or thing, but there’s one other person standing in your way. Would you kill that person to get what you desperately want?

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When you’re sure what’s important in life, everything else seems trivial

by David McElroy

Last sunset of 2011

It was three years ago today when everything in my life changed — when I realized that I had cancer.

I don’t remember now exactly when I had noticed the small lump in the flesh of my left breast. I probably realized it — and acknowledged it to myself — in stages that took a few weeks or a month. I’m not sure. At first, I figured it was something that would just go away, but it didn’t.

It was the late afternoon of the last day of 2011 when I finally decided to call a doctor friend about it. I went over to his house for him to take a look and give me an unofficial opinion. Although the official diagnosis wouldn’t come from a specialist until a week or so later — and the surgery a few weeks after that — it was Dec. 31, 2011 that I really knew what was going on.

There was a realistic chance that I might die.

Since the surgery removed the lump and there’s been no sign of any trouble since then, that might sound overly dramatic. At the time, though, it was an emotional wake-up call. It forced me to think about what mattered and what didn’t matter in my life.

After my friend checked out the lump and offered his opinion that it almost certainly was cancer, we sat on his front porch and talked about life. We talked about things we had both wanted to do and about how certain things hadn’t gone as we wanted them to go. I shot the photo above as we sat and talked in the fading light of the year’s last sunset.

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Peshawar murders show need to support those who share our values

by David McElroy


For those who are committed to the idea that Muslims are evil, the vicious school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, must be confusing, because it doesn’t fit their script.

Nearly 150 people are known dead in the attack so far — almost all of them children. For Pakistanis, this is the equivalent of about five or six of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. We were traumatized in this country when 20 children and six adults were killed by a mentally ill man two years ago. The tragedy for my Pakistani friends is far more deadly.

It’s natural for us to see tragedies close to us as more serious than tragedies on the other side of the world. Tragedies in which the victims look like us seem more important to us than those where the victims belong to some other group. But imagine a school attack like this — with at least 132 children intentionally slaughtered — in California or Ohio or Alabama or New Jersey.

This is a tragedy that’s hard for us to comprehend, because we haven’t faced one bigger than this since Sept. 11, 2001.

For those who see the world in terms of “evil Muslims” vs. “good westerners,” the Peshawar massacre doesn’t make sense, because it doesn’t fit within their understanding. Instead, the attackers and the victims were all Muslims. If you start to understand the significance of that, you can see the error that many people make in seeing Muslims — all Muslims — as their enemies.

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Good riddance, UAB football: Taxes shouldn’t subsidize college sports

by David McElroy

UAB game at Legion Field

The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced this week that it’s shutting down its football program. All 17 fans are really upset about it.

For 20 years, UAB football has struggled to attract fans and donors. For the most part, its attendance has been a joke. The photo above is a fair representation of what it’s like to see a game at 71,000-seat Legion Field.

For last year’s football season, the Blazers averaged 11,589 tickets sold, but anyone who thinks there were that many people actually there is lying to himself. As part of that average number sold, however, the city of Birmingham bought 5,000 tickets for each game, costing city taxpayers $225,000. So fewer than 7,000 tickets were actually sold on average if you don’t count the tickets the city bought for politicians to give away. The 11,589 average was the second lowest in all of big-time college football last year.

The program has been a joke.

Now that the university has announced plans to shut the football program down, news stories are filled with outrage about this alleged travesty. The president of the Birmingham City Council called rumors of the impending shutdown “an attack on the city of Birmingham.” Many supporters of UAB claim that a powerful trustee of the University of Alabama system — the son of former Alabama Coach Bear Bryant — engineered the shutdown out of revenge for a letter written 20 years ago by UAB’s former basketball coach and athletic director.

All of these stories are silly and speculative. Even if they were true, though, they’re irrelevant. All that matters is that Alabama taxpayers are subsidizing this rather large hole in the ground to the tune of $20 million a year.

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Existing biases dictate how you see grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo.

by David McElroy


Take a look at this picture. It reveals the decision of the Ferguson grand jury. Tell me what you see.

I’m writing this before the grand jury decision is announced, but click here for the obligatory link I’ll add. By the time you read this, many people are outraged. I don’t have a clue what the decision will be, but I can guarantee that something about it — and the aftermath of its announcement — will confirm the worst of what millions of people believe.

If Officer Darren Wilson is indicted, it would confirm for many people that cops are killers and deserve to be attacked. For others, it would confirm that civilized society is under assault by those who are being allowed to destroy it — and that our valiant protectors are being harmed.

If Wilson is not indicted, it would confirm for many people that an evil and corrupt system is willing to let white cops murder young black men without accountability. For others, the aftermath would confirm that they need to prepare for a race war against lawless hoodlums.

It’s not a pretty picture. I suspect things are going to get ugly.

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If you’re offered a second chance at creating a happy family, grab it

by David McElroy

Baby and parents

Is life full of second chances? Or do our bad choices doom us to live with ugly consequences? Maybe the second chances are always there. Maybe we tend to doom ourselves.

It seems as though we’re all going to make serious mistakes, but life frequently gives us chances to make better choices later. If we learn from our mistakes and choose differently, we can break out of ugly patterns. But if we refuse to learn — if we blame everyone else and keep making the same mistakes instead — we end up suffering consequences over and over and over again, even though we have the power to change our own lives.

I’ve been thinking about second chances and life’s tradeoffs over the past four days, and it started with a happy family that I saw at dinner Wednesday night.

I’m not sure what caught my attention about this family. Maybe it was because they all seemed happy and the parents were both strongly engaged with the children and with each other. There were three young children in addition to the parents, two young girls and a slightly older boy. For whatever reason, they were the very picture of what I want for myself.

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Collective freak-out over tasteless shirt points to double standard

by David McElroy

Matt Taylor shirt

I don’t wear shirts with sexually suggestive drawings of women. (Or men, either, for that matter.) Call me a prude or a conservative, but I think it’s inappropriate and tasteless. Besides that, it’s disrespectful to the people you’re going to be around, especially women.

I don’t like the shirt that English scientist Matt Taylor wore Wednesday at an ESA briefing about the Rosetta mission. It’s ugly and the stylized artwork of scantily clad women is boorish and tasteless. Nobody working for me would be allowed to wear it for work. It’s unprofessional.

But the media firestorm attacking him is just as distasteful. Some people are calling it “misogyny” and saying this is why women allegedly feel unwelcome in science. Others are saying it creates a hostile environment for women. And on and on and on. (Do a Twitter search for #ThatShirt or #ShirtStorm.)

I object to the shirt on the grounds of taste and good judgment, but the hysterical objections I’m reading seem really overblown. The thing that bothers me most about the firestorm, though, is the obvious double standard.

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Mark Bodenhausen was principled libertarian, but even better person

by David McElroy

Mark BodenhausenWhen I became a libertarian two decades ago, one of the first people I met was Mark Bodenhausen. Back in the days when Jimmy Blake was chair of the Alabama Libertarian Party, Mark was one of the small group who would gather regularly at Jimmy’s house for discussion and planning about how to spread our gospel of small government.

Over the years, I came to know Mark as a brilliant nerd, a principled libertarian, a pragmatic political thinker and as a caring human being. He went on to serve the Alabama Libertarian Party as its chair and as a candidate for a variety of offices. I was very saddened to learn that Mark died Thursday after a long illness.

I knew that Mark was sick, but I had no idea how serious the problem was. Last Sunday, former Alabama Libertarian Party vice chair Mike Rster posted a note on Facebook updating us about Mark. It sounded very serious, but I assumed it meant good news.

“The past 19 days have been trying,” Mike wrote. “Due to an aneurysm that caused two catastrophic bleeds in Mark’s brain, the doctors inserted a tube into his brain to relieve the pressure. In the course of the Mark’s treatment his liver failed and then his kidneys. He remained unresponsive for the 17 days.

“Two days ago he nodded yes and no for the first time since the initial bleed. His kidneys have stabilized although he still might require further dialysis. His liver is causing a problem with blood clotting. He has had multiple units of blood and blood products. Once his blood platelet count is sufficient he is scheduled for three surgeries….

“We anticipate a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation period for Mark. He still has a long way to go.”

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