bookmark_borderThe linguistics of protests, riots, and BLM

As someone who is fascinated by words and ideas, I have long been pondering what is the best name for the protests that have been happening since the death of George Floyd and the ideology that motivates them. Participants in and supporters of the protests, of course, use terms such as Black Lives Matter (BLM for short), anti-racism, and racial justice to describe their movement. Detractors of the protesters sometimes call them the “woke mob” or use the term “cancel culture” because of the movement’s propensity to demand the cancellation or firing of any individuals, movies, shows, or books that do no conform to their ideology. Commentator Robby Soave coined the term “1793 Project” to describe the mentality, because that was the year the Committee of Public Safety took over the French Revolution and began inflicting terror on anyone who did not conform to their ideology. Some people characterize the ideology of the protests as left-wing, radical, Marxist, or even anarchist, and some go so far as to call the protesters domestic terrorists.

This topic has been on my mind as of late because the Associated Press recently tweeted about the appropriateness of various words for acts of protest and resistance. The AP’s twitter thread reads as follows:

“A riot is a wild or violent disturbance of the peace involving a group of people. The term riot suggests uncontrolled chaos and pandemonium. Focusing on rioting and property destruction rather than underlying grievance has been used in the past to stigmatize broad swaths of people protesting against lynching, police brutality or for racial justice, going back to the urban uprisings of the 1960s. Unrest is a vaguer, milder and less emotional term for a condition of angry discontent and protest verging on revolt. Protest and demonstration refer to specific actions such as marches, sit-ins, rallies or other actions meant to register dissent. They can be legal or illegal, organized or spontaneous, peaceful or violent, and involve any number of people. Revolt and uprising both suggest a broader political dimension or civil upheavals, a sustained period of protests or unrest against powerful groups or governing systems.”

The AP seems to be suggesting that the recent actions and events should generally be referred to as unrest or protests as opposed to riots. It is difficult to write about these events in a neutral way because in addition to the arguments both for and against the actions themselves, there is an almost equally heated debate about what the actions should be called. Proponents prefer the words “protest” and “protesters” because these words focus on the cause that the participants are advancing, while opponents prefer the words “riot” and “rioters” because these words focus on the destructive actions. The AP has declared itself firmly in the “protest” camp.

I also found it interesting that the AP mentioned the possibility of characterizing the recent events as a revolt or uprising. Some participants in the events have, on a similar note, characterized themselves as participants in a “revolution” or “resistance.” I disagree strongly with the use of such terms to characterize this movement. This is because, as the AP notes, revolts, uprisings, revolutions, and resistance are all directed against powerful groups or governing systems. In other words, they are actions taken by “underdogs” against the establishment or, to use a term popular among hippies in the 1960s, “the man.” The Black Lives Matter movement, in my opinion, is the opposite of this. Contrary to what is portrayed by members of this movement, I feel that the BLM movement is less about diversity and tolerance and more about enforcing conformity. It is less about standing up for the underdog and more about trampling on and bullying unpopular minorities. It is less about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and more about comforting the already comfortable and further afflicting the afflicted.

As proof of this, one need look no further than the BLM movement’s attitude towards the Confederate States of America. The members of the Confederacy were rebels in the truest sense of the word. They carried out a revolution against a powerful federal government. Outnumbered and with fewer supplies and a less modern economy, they lost. The South was physically devastated, its economy destroyed, its leaders charged with treason, and its people forced to remain part of the Union, at first under military occupation before they were eventually allowed to enjoy the full rights of citizenship again. It is impossible to think of a better example of an underdog than the Confederacy. Yet in the year 2020, members of the BLM movement insult and denounce the Confederacy and every person associated with it, tear down, vandalize, beat, smash, burn, lynch, and urinate on its statues, demand that its flag be banned, and advocate that it be “erased” and every reminder of it obliterated from the earth. This is the very essence of “punching down” as opposed to “punching up.” The Confederate generals and soldiers who are the objects of the BLM movement’s hatred were revolutionaries; therefore the BLM movement cannot accurately be described as a revolution or uprising.

For similar reasons, I’m not in favor of characterizing this movement as “radical.” I also don’t particularly favor characterizing it as left-wing, Marxist, or anarchist. These are all distinct ideologies with philosophical principles that define them. Much of today’s activism does not seem to be motivated by any ideology, per se, but by more of an anti-ideology. Instead of focusing on specific philosophical principles, the recent actions too often focus on destruction for the sake of destruction. Nor do I think domestic terrorism is the right term, because as destructive and violent as terrorism is, it is motivated by principled devotion to an ideology. Additionally, any terms involving the word “mob” call to mind the mafia, and I don’t think it’s fair to the mafia to compare them to this movement.

What is the best term to describe this movement, then? I sometimes use the phrases “black supremacism” or “reverse racism” because of participants’ tendency to demonstrate negative attitudes towards white people merely by virtue of being white. But I’m not sure these are the best terms. Black supremacism seems a little harsh, and the idea of reverse racism is problematic because it presumes that racism against black people is the “default” type of racism. I often call participants in this movement bullies, but this word can apply to any mean, intolerant, or pushy person and is not specific enough to be a good name for a particular movement or ideology. An idea that I strongly associate with this movement is political correctness. Political correctness in itself is not a horrible thing; if someone wants to use politically correct language and ideas in their own speech and actions, they have the right to do that. What is striking about the recent activism is its desire to obliterate everything in the world that does not conform to the requirements of political correctness, in other words its complete intolerance and disregard for dissenting views. Political correctness reigns supreme and is prioritized above logic, philosophy, diversity, or kindness. Some terms that I feel come close to capturing this phenomenon are “aggressive political correctness,” “political correctness run amok,” or perhaps, “cult of political correctness.”

Regardless of what words are used, I will continue writing about the BLM movement, political correctness, and the associated protests and riots, most likely using a variety of different terms until I settle on a word or words that I like best.

bookmark_borderConfederate lives matter

It is horrible enough that supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have brutally and mercilessly attacked, both physically and verbally, statues of historical figures in public places. What is even more disturbing is that these acts of vandalism and destruction are not limited to monuments on city streets and in public parks but have extended even to the graves of fallen soldiers.

For example, back in June, someone “tarred and feathered” several Confederate soldiers’ grave stones at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana. The area of the cemetery that the vandal(s) targeted is known as the Confederate Mound and contains the remains of 1,600 prisoners of war who died at Camp Morton. Tarring and feathering was a form of public humiliation popular during the 18th century that was often used by angry mobs against British tax collectors. 

In another incident, someone pulled down Confederate flags that had adorned graves at the Resaca Confederate Cemetery in Georgia. Some of the flags were arranged to spell out “stop racism” and others were scattered on the ground. Over 450 Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Resaca are buried in the cemetery. 

Additionally, at the Confederate Cemetery in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, someone defaced an obelisk honoring known Confederate soldiers as well as unknown Confederate soldiers who were discovered in a mass grave nearby. A swastika was spray-painted on the obelisk and the names of the soldiers crossed out. 

In Little Rock, Arkansas, vandals beat, attempted to pull down, and graffitied an obelisk in Oakland Cemetery that honored 900 mostly unknown Confederate soldiers who died in various hospitals in the area. “They destroyed one of our obelisks and wrote all over it with spray paint, and chipped it very badly beyond repair,” said cemetery employee John Raines, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “They wrote a bunch of racial slurs and f this, f that.” The vandals also desecrated nine nearby wooden grave markers, gouging the word “Confederate” out of them. To their credit, cemetery staff reported the incident to law enforcement as a hate crime, and a man named Mujera Benjamin Lungaho was recently arrested and charged with vandalizing the graves and obelisk.

In Silver Spring, Maryland, someone knocked down a grave marker in the Grace Episcopal Church cemetery that honored 17 Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Fort Stevens. A note left on the scene read: “Here lies 17 dead white supremacists who died fighting to keep black people enslaved. The Confederacy was and always will be racist. Let this marker be a more accurate depiction of history because the last one was a disgrace.” The original grave marker, which the vandal(s) characterized as “disgraceful,” simply read, “in memory of seventeen unknown Confederate dead” and provided additional factual details about them. 

The behavior demonstrated in these and similar incidents is beyond despicable. It is wrong to argue that Confederate statues should not be displayed in city squares, but to deny fallen soldiers a dignified and peaceful rest is an entirely new level of wrongness. The fact that people would take it upon themselves to go into a cemetery and desecrate soldiers’ graves, in some cases bringing spray paint or even a strap with which to pull down a memorial, is disgusting. It takes a truly cruel, nasty, and mean-spirited person to demonstrate such hatred towards someone who died over 150 years ago. Yes, the South had slavery, but it is ignorant to view that as the single defining attribute of the Confederacy and of the soldiers who fought for it. Confederate soldiers were people, just like you or me, each with different motivations for joining the Confederacy and each with an individual story. (See this Facebook post for an eloquent example of this.) One does not need to agree with or support the cause that these soldiers fought for in order to acknowledge their personhood and show them basic respect.  

The BLM movement is based on the presumption that most people believe that black lives do not matter. But essentially no one holds this view. Instead, it is rebel soldiers who are treated as if their lives did not matter. In our politically correct society, it is considered “disgraceful” to provide a Confederate soldier with a simple, factual grave marker, while an “accurate depiction of history” requires these soldiers to be reduced to “white supremacists” and their cause reduced to “fighting to keep black people enslaved.” Acknowledging those who fought for the Confederacy as individual people is no longer acceptable; instead they must be posthumously sworn at, insulted, beaten, thrown on the ground, stomped on, tarred and feathered, their very names violently obliterated. This is true bigotry, and this is true intolerance. And it is not limited to a handful of vandals but extends to prominent politicians as well. 

An attempt by Congress to replace Confederate-inspired military base names has received a lot of publicity, but what is even worse about Section 377 of the National Defense Authorization Act is that it would actually require Confederate soldiers’ graves in Arlington National Cemetery to be desecrated. This amendment would require that the government “remove all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from all assets of the Department of Defense.” The website Conservative Daily points out that there is a large Confederate monument at Arlington that is surrounded by the graves of 482 soldiers. The amendment would presumably require the removal of the monument, which would be logistically impossible to do without disturbing the graves. And even if somehow the Confederate graves were allowed to remain, the amendment would ban any sort of signage or plaques pertaining to them. “Just think about how small of a person someone would have to be to write an amendment in 2020 that could force the exhumation of 482 Civil War soldiers because they disagree with the cause they fought for,” the Conservative Daily article continues. “The GOP is so spineless, they actually believe that posthumously punishing Civil War dead is a reasonable ‘compromise’… Three years ago, this started as a debate over whether cities should have statues honoring Confederate officers like Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee. Today, it has transformed into a debate over whether Civil War grave sites should be exhumed so that the dead can be posthumously punished.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

bookmark_borderWhat part of “preserved and protected for all time” do you not understand?

As I wrote about earlier, during this summer of political correctness run amok, the beautiful Confederate carving at Stone Mountain has become a target of anti-Confederate intolerance. Now, a group of politically-correct, intolerant people have formed an organization called the Stone Mountain Action Coalition and have presented their demands to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the group in charge of maintaining the mountain and its surrounding park.

For those who have never seen Stone Mountain, it is a huge mountain near Atlanta, Georgia with an enormous image of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson carved into the side for all to see. Near the base of the mountain are various statues, flags, and plaques honoring people from each of the 13 states of the Confederacy. Stone Mountain is, in my opinion, a truly unique, amazing, and awe-inspiring sight.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Stone Mountain Action Coalition is demanding that the carving no longer be maintained, that the nearby Confederate flags be removed, that Confederate-related names of streets and buildings in the park be replaced, and that the park focus on themes such as “nature, racial reconciliation and justice.”

One of the co-chairs of the coalition, Ryan Gravel, said, “We don’t believe that taking a piecemeal, token kind of approach to adding little trinkets here and there is going to be good enough to really resolve the history of the mountain and the way that people see it.” Meymoona Freeman, another co-chair, said, “It’s time for transformation, it’s time for healing, and it’s time for progress.” Other members of the coalition stressed the need to make the park “more welcoming.” 

But what exactly needs to be “resolved” about Stone Mountain? The carving is an incredible feat of engineering and art honoring three historical leaders. The fact that some people dislike those historical leaders, and by extension the carving, is not a problem that needs to be solved. Every single thing in the world has people who like it and people who do not like it. No one has the right to demand that everything they do not like be obliterated from the world, particularly when the thing in question is a unique, magnificent, and beautiful landmark that took years of creativity, craftsmanship, and hard work to create. There is nothing hateful or racist about honoring the Confederacy and its leaders. As the Confederate point of view falls further out of favor among the mainstream media, political establishment, and society as a whole, it is even more important that sites like Stone Mountain be preserved. Even if the carving is not actually removed, to cease maintaining it and to get rid of the Confederate flags and street names would be to strip the park of its uniqueness and identity. It would be to make Stone Mountain, and the world, a more bland, homogenous, and character-less place. For those who admire the Confederacy and enjoy this memorial park, getting rid of the Confederate features would be the exact opposite of healing, the exact opposite of progress, and the exact opposite of making the park more welcoming. And to actually destroy the carving would be so unfathomably awful that it hurts to even consider the possibility. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked several geologists for their thoughts on how such a thing could be achieved. Their ideas, which involve explosives, disfigurement, years of dangerous work, and millions of dollars, are sickening when one considers that these measures would be employed with the goal of destroying a priceless work of art.)

The reason the Stone Mountain Action Coalition is not demanding removal outright is that Georgia law currently protects the Confederate memorial carving. This law was enacted as part of a compromise in 2001 when the state legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the Georgia state flag. The law reads: “The memorial to the heroes of the Confederate States of America graven upon the face of Stone Mountain shall never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion and shall be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.” The fact that some people are even mentioning the possibility of changing this law demonstrates the intolerance of the politically-correct crowd. What part of “preserved and protected for all time” do they not understand? First, Georgia’s flag was changed, with the assurance that Stone Mountain would remain. Less than 20 years later, those who seek to destroy Confederate history have broken their promise and are trying to get rid of Stone Mountain as well. Attempts at compromise have done nothing to stop the inexorable progression towards a complete erasure of Confederate heritage. There can be no compromise, there can be no moderation, and there can be no “pushing the limits” of the law by ceasing maintenance of the carving and hoping that nature and the elements gradually erode it. Stone Mountain must be preserved and protected for all time, just as the law says. And given that the anti-Confederate bullies have reneged on their part of the compromise, advocating for a return of the old state flag wouldn’t hurt either. 

bookmark_borderGiving extra time off to parents is unfair and discriminatory

I recently read a New York Times article about the fact that many companies have been providing extra time off to parents during the coronavirus pandemic to help them with the challenge of taking care of their children while schools and day cares are closed. At first glance, this sounds like a kind and helpful gesture. However, in my opinion these policies are unfair and discriminatory towards those of us who do not have children.

The companies providing extra paid time off for parents include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce. Facebook, for example, has given parents 10 additional weeks of paid time off in 2020 and an additional 10 weeks starting in January 2021. According to the article, some employees who do not have children and therefore do not benefit from these policies have, understandably, voiced complaints. Laszlo Bock, the former head of human resources at Google, told the Times, “for people to get upset enough to say that ‘I feel this is unfair’ demonstrates a lack of patience, a lack of empathy, and a sense of entitlement.”

I am 100% in agreement with the sentiment that these leave policies are unfair, and I find Bock’s statement deeply wrong and offensive. Having a child is not something that happens due to random chance. It is something a person chooses to do. There are all sorts of different projects and pursuits that a person can choose to take part in, depending on what is important to that particular person. Having a child is not inherently more worthwhile than spending one’s time traveling, writing, reading, cooking, making art, any other activity, yet current leave policies treat parenthood preferentially to these other pursuits. For any non-parenting-related activities that employees choose to pursue, they are expected to fit these into their nights, weekends, and vacation days. There is no reason for parenting-related activities to be exempt from this. 

Giving different benefits to different people based on their parental status is unfair, and it demonstrates a lack of empathy not to see this. Recognizing an unfair situation as such does not demonstrate a lack of empathy or a sense of entitlement. In fact, it is Bock who demonstrates a lack of empathy by demanding that people without children simply tolerate discriminatory treatment without complaining. It is parents who demonstrate a sense of entitlement by believing that they deserve to be paid while doing completely non-work-related personal tasks, while their colleagues without children are foregoing their hobbies and spending their time working.

To give an example from my own life, I have numerous hobbies, interests, and passions that are extremely important to me, including reading, writing, creating art, and occasionally, attending high-profile trials. With the two or three weeks of vacation time per year that is standard at white-collar companies, it is impossible to attend an entire trial, unless the trial happens to be very short. When the Whitey Bulger and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trials happened, each lasted several months and I missed the majority of them, using my vacation days the best I could and trying to predict which days of testimony would be the most important to attend. I even asked my company if I could take unpaid leave to attend the trials and was told no. On the other hand, If I had been interested in having a baby instead of going to trials, I would have been given three months of paid leave, in addition to my two to three weeks of vacation time. In other words, under the policies that are common at white-collar companies, people who wish to have children are given leave to ensure that they do not have to choose between this and their job. People who wish to attend trials, or pursue any other time-consuming passion or interest, are forced to do exactly that: to choose between their passion or interest and their job. How can anyone consider this to be fair? 

And now, in addition to the customary maternity and paternity leave policies that are already discriminatory, companies are offering parents even more time off. This is adding more unfairness on top of an already unfair situation. It does not demonstrate “entitlement” to speak out against discrimination and injustice. 

bookmark_borderSacrificing for the greater good is nice, but not necessary

One sentiment that I hear again and again during the Covid-19 pandemic is that everyone must work to slow the spread of the virus. In other words, people must make sacrifices for the greater good. 

All over the internet and the news media, people voice the idea that those who do not work and sacrifice to combat the virus are lacking in character. (Sometimes people use much nastier and more offensive language than “lacking in character.”) Journalist Dan Rather, for example, tweeted: “You want college football? Well guess what. You don’t get it if you don’t work to ensure America isn’t awash in a sea of deadly virus.” Reverend John F. Hudson expressed similar views in a column that I read in my local newspaper. He criticizes people who argue, “You are not taking away my right to do nothing.” All that is being asked of people, he points out, is to wear masks and stay six feet apart. “Why is this so hard for so many?” he asks rhetorically. “Why is this request twisted by some into the absurd idea that by actually following these public health mandates, we are somehow giving up our civil liberties?”

Actually, the idea that requiring people to follow public health mandates violates civil liberties is neither twisted nor absurd. It’s correct. People do have a right to do nothing. This idea is called the non-aggression principle. 

Wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from other people isn’t necessarily a huge sacrifice (although the idea that this is the only sacrifice people are being asked to make ignores the fact that in the beginning stages of the pandemic, governments banned people from parks and beaches and forcibly closed all non-essential businesses, even when these activities could be done with social distancing). I personally do not mind wearing a mask inside stores and businesses and staying 6 feet apart from others while walking around. But people are not morally obligated to make any sacrifice, no matter how small. As long as one does not actively inflict harm on another person, one is not doing anything wrong. Sure, making sacrifices for the greater good is nice. But it’s not obligatory, and people who don’t do it are not bad people. Requiring work and sacrifices as a condition of living in America violates people’s rights and goes against the idea of liberty upon which our country was founded. 

bookmark_borderAttorney General Barr is 100% right on Covid restrictions

Attorney General William Barr recently expressed the same sentiments that I have been writing about for a long time on this blog: that the restrictions on people’s freedom of movement and association that have been implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic are a violation of individual rights.

“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said during a Constitution Day speech at Hillsdale College. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Unsurprisingly, various authoritarian politicians and commentators criticized Barr’s remarks.

Joe Biden asked rhetorically, “Did you ever, ever think, any of you that following the recommendations of the scientific community to save your and other peoples’ lives is equivalent to slavery, people being put in chains?” 

Rep. James Clyburn called Barr’s comments “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I’ve ever heard” and pointed out that “slavery was not about saving lives,” while “this pandemic is a threat to human life.”

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe called Barr’s comments an “obscene comparison” and called Barr “an evil fool.”

Sunny Hostin of The View tweeted, “Statements like these make you realize many in this country know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.”

“If you think that this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history, I’d suggest you read up on the Alien Sedition Acts,” complained historian Jon Meacham. “I’d suggest you talk to the Japanese Americans who were interned during the Second World War. Talk to the victims of Joe McCarthy. Talk to the victims of one of Barr’s predecessors, A. Mitchel Palmer, who led raids in 1919 and 1920 as part of the first Red Scare. And talk to the Black folks who, in my native region, lived under apartheid until about 60 years ago… We’re talking about scientifically uncontroversial public health measures. This is not some ideologically-driven plot on behalf of the public health officials, and the alleged deep state, to change American lives. It’s to try to save American lives because of a global pandemic.”

It is disturbing that so many prominent individuals believe that telling people they cannot leave their homes for any but essential purposes is no big deal. Let’s address their arguments one by one:

First of all, contrary to Clyburn’s and Tribe’s claims, Barr’s comments are neither ridiculous, nor God-awful, nor obscene, and Barr is neither evil nor a fool. Rather, Barr’s comments are correct, and he is a good and intelligent person for making them. It is the criticisms of Barr that are ridiculous, awful, and obscene, and the people defending lockdowns who are evil. As for Clyburn’s allegation that Barr’s comments are “tone-deaf,” I do not understand this criticism. What is relevant is whether the content of a statement is right or wrong, not the tone in which it is expressed. Barr’s statement was right, and desperately needed. Therefore, it was right of him to make it.

Second, there is the argument, made by Biden and Meacham for example, that because stay-at-home orders were “scientifically uncontroversial” and recommended by experts in public health, they do not violate civil liberties. But the fact that something is recommended by the scientific community has nothing to do with whether or not it is an intrusion on civil liberties. One can accept the claim that stay-at-home orders are the best way to slow the spread of the virus while at the same time believing that they are morally wrong. This is because factual claims and moral claims are completely different and independent. Science is a great way of gaining factual knowledge, e.g. how the world works, which things tend to be correlated with each other, which are the best ways of achieving particular outcomes. But science cannot tell us anything about moral right and wrong, e.g. what constitutes justice, which rights people have, whether or not a particular action violates civil liberties. Only philosophy – thinking logically about a topic – can do that.

Similarly, Barr’s critics make the argument that because stay-at-home orders were motivated by the desire to save lives, they do not violate civil liberties. But the motivation of an action has nothing to do with whether or not it violates civil liberties. Clyburn is correct that slavery was not about saving lives, while the pandemic is a threat to human life, and saving lives is the motivation behind the lockdown measures. But this is irrelevant. Meacham may be correct that public health officials are not motivated by any sinister desire to destroy people’s freedoms. But regardless of their motivation, destroying people’s freedoms is what they are doing. Restricting liberty in the way that governors around the country have done during the coronavirus pandemic is morally wrong regardless of its motivation and regardless of how many infections it prevents or lives it saves.

Then there is Hostin’s claim that opponents of stay-at-home orders “know nothing about what it truly means to be oppressed.” Actually, it is defenders of stay-at-home orders who know nothing about what it means to be oppressed. Remember, we are talking about state and municipal governments telling their citizens that they cannot walk around at parks or beaches, go to church, buy guns (a right explicitly protected by the Constitution), or get together with other people. We are talking about state and municipal governments forcibly closing all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to sports teams to barbershops to book stores to clothing stores. We are talking about governments telling their citizens that even for those few “essential” purposes for which they are allowed to leave their homes, they must do so as seldom as possible and avoid stopping to browse or chat. We are talking about governments requiring their citizens to disclose their recent contacts and whereabouts for contact-tracing purposes. That this is oppression is an understatement. Anyone who cannot see this has no idea what oppression is.

And finally there is Meacham’s list of incidents from history that he claims are worse intrusions on civil liberties than stay-at-home orders. Some of the items on the list are, indeed, violations of civil liberties. But none of them are worse than the restrictions on people’s freedoms that have been implemented during the coronavirus pandemic. The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, for example, was certainly wrong, but it affected 112,000 people, while the coronavirus restrictions take away the liberty of every single person in America (approximately 320 million people). The Alien and Sedition Acts, McCarthyism, and Palmer’s raids did violate the rights of the individuals targeted, but this is nowhere near as problematic as stripping away freedom of movement from the entire populace. No one would defend Jim Crow laws, but if it’s wrong to force people to use segregated restaurants, stores, and beaches, isn’t it even more wrong to ban people from these places entirely? In scope and scale, in terms of the number of people harmed, the number of rights taken away, and the areas of life affected, none of the historical events mentioned by Barr’s critics matches the wide-ranging deprivation of freedom inflicted by governments in response to the pandemic.

To sum up, the arguments against Barr and in defense of stay-at-home orders are ignorant, illogical, offensive, and wrong. Barr should be commended, not insulted, for speaking out in defense of the Constitution and individual rights. However, there is one respect in which I disagree slightly with Barr’s comments. I would get rid of the “other than slavery” part, because I believe that stay-at-home orders are worse than slavery. Kudos to Attorney General Barr for condemning these restrictions as the egregious violation of civil liberties that they are.

bookmark_borderRestaurant PPE fees are not price transparency

As they struggle to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, some restaurants are charging their customers fees for the added expenses required to comply with safety regulations. In some ways, this is understandable. Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic, and they are spending extra money on masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, barriers, takeout containers, paper menus, and individually packaged utensils and condiments. But from the customer’s point of view, it is simpler and more transparent for restaurants to simply increase their prices, as opposed to charging diners an extra fee.

Boston.com did an article about this new trend. A few examples listed in the article: Brassica Kitchen + Café in Jamaica Plain is charging a 3% fee for all takeout orders in addition to the 3% administrative fee that it charges for in-restaurant dining; Five Horses Tavern, Worden Hall, and Elm Street Taproom have introduced a 3% PPE fee; Shy Bird in Cambridge and Branch Line in Watertown have introduced a 5% “Safe & Sustainable” fee; and Top Dog in Rockport has implemented a 75 cent fee per order.

Several restauranteurs were interviewed in the article and explained the reasoning behind their new fees. “Diners really want to know where their money is going, and we wanted to make it really clear,” said Rebecca Kean of Brassica Kitchen + Café. Laurie Russell of Top Dog said that if she were a customer, she’d much prefer a fee to a price increase. “I’d be so upset,” she said. “I really just didn’t want to raise prices.”

I disagree with these sentiments. As a customer, I would much rather see higher prices than a mandatory added fee. In my opinion, PPE fees and safe and sustainable fees are an example of lack of price transparency. Quite frankly, when I purchase a product, I’m not as concerned with seeing where my money is going as I am with simply knowing how much the product is going to cost me. Thanks to tips and taxes which are not included in the prices listed on the menu, the restaurant industry is already lacking in price transparency. The last thing I would want to see when I go to a restaurant (aside from mandatory contact tracing forms, but that’s a whole different issue) is the need to do more math to determine how much I actually have to pay. The price listed on the menu should be the actual price. If a restaurant needs to increase that price from what it was before, I would completely understand, and so would the vast majority of customers. Restaurants are struggling mightily during this pandemic, so I’m hesitant to criticize any of their efforts to make ends meet. But additional fees are not a good solution. Raising prices would be just as effective in covering a business’s added costs and would be more straightforward for customers. Just as shipping and handling charges should be incorporated into the price of an item instead of added on afterward, restaurants should simply set their prices at a level that allows them to stay in business. If something is not optional, it should not be a separate item on the bill.

bookmark_borderAthletes’ boycott is inconsistent and illogical

The world is finally emerging from a government-ordered lockdown during which countries, states, and cities forbade their citizens from leaving their homes for anything other than necessities. A more severe, wide-reaching violation of people’s rights can hardly be imagined. 

Yet because of an incident in Kenosha, Wisconsin in which Jacob Blake was shot by police officers, the NBA, NHL, and MLB have decided to cancel their games as a form of protest. I do not mean to minimize the injustice of what happened to Jacob Blake. Obviously, being shot and paralyzed as a result is absolutely horrible, and he did not deserve for this to happen. But I disagree with the claims by the Black Lives Matter movement that incidents like this are symptomatic of an overarching trend of systemic racism. Like the equally unjust and tragic killing of George Floyd, this was an isolated incident. It is being investigated, and if any of the officers involved are found to have acted wrongly, they will be punished. The shooting of Jacob Blake is being handled the way it should be. 

So why did so many athletes boycott their games in response to this but not in response to issues that are actually important? 

As a result of demands by its athletes, the NBA agreed to postpone all of yesterday’s and today’s playoff games. The NHL called off today’s playoff games, and MLB postponed three games yesterday and seven games today after some players decided to sit out and their teammates and managers backed them. 

Contrast this with the complete lack of reaction when the majority of states in the U.S. enacted stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, banning all people within those states from traveling, going to parks, doing outdoor activities, getting together with other people, and operating businesses. Did any professional athlete express any opposition whatsoever to these tyrannical policies that violate every person’s rights on a massive scale? If so, the media has done a good job of keeping it secret. 

As another example of an issue that merits widespread protests, take the barbaric destruction of buildings, businesses, and worst of all, statues that has been perpetrated by protesters affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement across the country. Why have no professional athletes taken a stand against these violations of people’s rights? Why has no one pledged to boycott games until the vandalized statues are restored and protected?

It’s not only recent injustices that merit protests. Why have no athletes protested against technology companies’ constant tracking of everyone’s internet activities? This practice violates every person’s privacy rights. Why did no athletes protest the deployment of full-body scanners at airports in 2010, also violating every traveler’s privacy rights? Why did no athletes protest when the federal government passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, requiring all people to purchase health insurance? This law violates every person’s right to decide what to do with his or her own money. And why did no one protest the passage of the Durham-Humphrey Amendment in 1951, requiring each person to get a doctor’s permission before being allowed to purchase medications? This law violates every person’s right to make his or her own medical decisions. I could continue listing examples until this blog post became as long as a novel, but I think you get the point.

All of these issues are more important, and more deserving of protests, than an isolated incident of police brutality. The decision by so many basketball, hockey, and baseball players to boycott games over one instance of injustice while completely ignoring others is illogical, inconsistent, unjust, and unfair. Their gesture is meaningful to Jacob Blake and those who care about him, but it is a slap in the face to all those people who are negatively affected by other types of injustice. 

bookmark_borderMaryland considering getting rid of state song

Naturally, in this era of political-correctness-motivated war against everything to do with the Confederacy, various people are demanding that Maryland replace its state song, “Maryland, My Maryland.” The song was written by James Ryder Randall in 1861 in response to riots that took place as Union soldiers passed through Baltimore on their way to Washington, D.C. The lyrics criticize Abraham Lincoln and the North and express support for secession. It became the state song in 1939, but starting in 1974 there have been 9 unsuccessful attempts to repeal it.

The full lyrics are as follows:

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bookmark_border59 Confederate symbols removed since George Floyd’s death

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, 59 Confederate symbols have been removed across the country since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. This includes 38 monuments that have been removed entirely, 5 monuments that have been relocated, 9 schools that have been renamed, 5 parks/trails/roads/water bodies that have been renamed, the fact that the Confederate flag was removed from the Mississippi state flag, and the fact that the Confederate flag was removed from a police uniform in South Dakota. This total accounts for nearly half of the Confederate symbols removed since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, meaning that the pace of removals over the past 3 months has drastically accelerated.

Contrary to the opinions of the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is a tragedy. The removal of Confederate monuments, names, flags, and other symbols is not only the removal of an important part of America’s history; it is also the removal of values and ideals that are a crucial part of our nation’s identity.

The Confederacy is not synonymous with racism, or with slavery. The Confederacy was a collection of states that attempted to form their own country, a collection of people who fought for their independence. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned and having a less industrialized economy, the Confederacy stood up to the federal government. Therefore, the Confederacy stands for freedom, defiance, rebelliousness, and resistance to authority. These are all positive qualities that are central to what it means to be an American; after all, our country came into existence as a rebellion against unjust taxation. To obliterate Confederate iconography is to erase not only Southern heritage but the very values upon which America was founded.

Each Confederate statue, just like any other statue, stands for a human being from history, with both good and bad attributes. The fact that the individuals honored by these statues fought for the Confederacy does not make them bad, any more than a statue of someone who fought for the Union is inherently bad. No person is perfect and no country is perfect. Yes, the Confederacy had slavery, which nearly everyone today would consider a negative attribute. But the Union and its leaders invaded the Confederate states, carved a swath of complete destruction across the South, instituted the draft, made it illegal to criticize the government, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, meaning that anyone could be jailed for any reason. And they did all this in order to force the people of the South to remain part of the country against their will. Why is this considered perfectly acceptable while the Confederacy, along with everything associated with it, is condemned?

Both sides in the Civil War deserve to be recognized and celebrated. Erasing and defaming the losing side of a war is intolerant, conformist, and authoritarian. Every removal of a Confederate symbol is an assault on diversity, moving America closer to becoming a completely homogeneous, conformist, cookie-cutter nation in which all people think alike, a nation with no culture, no identity, and nothing that makes it different from any other nation. People from all backgrounds and all regions of the country should be able to honor their ancestors and celebrate their heritage.

One tiny glimmer of good news is the fact that there are still 725 Confederate statues and 1,800 total symbols of the Confederacy remaining, according to the SPLC’s report. However, because it is almost certain that no new Confederate symbols will be added in the current political climate, each instance of a symbol being removed is tragic beyond measure. Each loss is essentially permanent, a thing of glory, beauty, and magnificence lost forever, never to be replaced. All true patriots must fight to ensure that each and every one of these 1,800 Confederate symbols is preserved forever.