Latest entries

The real crime is how CNN is trying to manipulate what you believe

by David McElroy

CNN headline about murdered students

 

When three college students in North Carolina were murdered Tuesday night, it was a tragic story for their families and friends. Now CNN is throwing its resources into turning these murders into “hate crimes.” If there are any honest journalists left who work for CNN, I hope they’re still self-aware enough to be ashamed of their employer tonight.

This is a screenshot of the lead story on CNN’s website for most of the day Wednesday. (Click it for a full-size version.) I’m so disgusted by the manipulation and poor ethics of this graphic that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s look at it quickly anyway.

We’ll start with the hammer head above the photo: “A hate crime?” Most of the time, when a news story has a question mark, it means, “This is what we want to believe, but we don’t have the facts to say it, so we’re just going to imply it.” In an opinion piece, there’s nothing wrong with it. Even in some news stories in which there’s legitimate mystery, it might be acceptable. But it is always a violation of ethics to place your own unsupported agenda into a headline and then use a question mark to weasel out of taking responsibility for what you’re claiming.

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Goodbye, William (1999-2015)

by David McElroy

William-Jan. 26, 2015

He was named for William the Conqueror. He came into a home with five dogs and six cats and let everybody know that he was now in charge. He was supremely confident as a kitten — you might say arrogant — and he conquered every room he entered.

Mostly, though, he conquered my heart.

It was my ex-wife who found him and brought him home in 1999. I can’t say that I was thrilled to add another animal to the menagerie, but there was something about him that was impossible to say no to.

So he became the seventh and youngest cat in the household, but there never seemed to be a moment when he wasn’t in charge.

Eventually, all the others died of old age or disease. At 16 years old, William was the oldest — the unquestioned king of his domain.

Just about 10 days ago, he started acting lethargic. After a few more days, he had little interest in food. Early last week, a trip to the vet confirmed my worst fear. My little friend was very sick.

William had a tumor the size of a lemon in his abdomen. There were signs that it was attached to something related to his gastrointestinal system. His age and his condition meant that surgery wasn’t an option. All we could do is put him on steroids and try to “jump start” his appetite. If he would start eating again, he might have many months of quality of life left. But if he wouldn’t start eating, he had no chance.

Just five days after that diagnosis, William died Sunday morning about 9 a.m. He never seemed to be in pain. His cancer-ravaged body simply shut down as I held him. All of a sudden, he was gone — and his battle with the cancer was over.

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Dead man’s watch always there to remind me of my own mortality

by David McElroy

Watch-closeup

When I was about 10 years old, I saw a dead man right after his car had been hit by a train. It happened near where we lived at the time in Anniston, Ala. I’ve never gotten that image out of my head.

We lived away from the city and suburbs, out in a little community called Choccolocco. At the turnoff from the main road to get to our house, there was a railroad crossing. We came upon it one afternoon after an accident had happened. We had never before stopped at an accident, as far as I remember, but since my father worked for the safety department of Southern Railway, he had a reason to check it out. And I think he also wanted my sisters and me to be very aware of the danger of being unsafe around trains.

I still remember the unnatural stillness of the accident scene. Even though there were people standing around watching, everyone seemed dead silent. The man’s body was placed onto a stretcher to be taken away.

As the ambulance attendants walked the body toward a waiting vehicle, they had to pass within inches of where I stood. I could have reached out and touched the body. Right as they passed, the body shifted slightly and the dead man’s arm dangled off the stretcher — right in front of me. On the dead, hairy arm was a watch.

In the surreal vision of my mind’s eye, the arm dangled in front of me for what seemed like an eternity. I saw the second hand still moving on that watch and it’s an image I’ve never gotten out of my head.

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I’ll make fun of your Super Bowl, but you can’t make fun of my Spock ears

by David McElroy

Grumpy Cat-Super BowlI won’t be watching the Super Bowl today. I doubt Grumpy Cat will be watching, either, despite someone decking him out in a Seattle logo here. I figure he wants both teams to lose.

I enjoy football, but I’m a college football fan. The pro game bores me. I don’t have an attachment to any of the professional teams, so I just don’t care one way or the other who wins.

I get tired of the rabid obsession that seems to descend upon the United States on the day of this game. It seems excessive to me, and I’m sure it’s easier for me to see it that way since I’m outside of the mass of participants.

But despite my disinterest and my discomfort at the obsession, I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable with the backlash against it. I’m afraid that those of us who don’t care about the game have become a bit elitist and arrogant.

I see non-football fans competing with each other to see who can care the least about the game. I see people condescendingly saying that if others would just care about the things they care about — whatever they happen to be — the world’s problems would be fixed. I see people looking down their noses at others simply because they enjoy a game that doesn’t matter to the first group.

In a lot of ways, it’s just another manifestation of something that keeps troubling me. It’s just another form of people saying, “Why aren’t you people more like me?

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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

Peshawar-school-attack-child

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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