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Sophistry as Conservative Bluster – A Primer

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Sophistry – n. a method of argument that is seemingly plausible though actually invalid and misleading
–Collins English Dictionary

Initially, I was quite upset with the above statement blaring in my Facebook feed. And I was upset that it was making me upset. Was it that one of my few social media relationships with family and friends from the rural area where I grew up was being frayed yet again by partisan politics? Partly.

Was it that the statement was smug and self-satisfied? Partly.

As I crafted and discarded response after response to the maddening meme, the whole thing came into focus more clearly. There was a slimy residue of intellectual dishonesty that coated the whole thing. There was no one thing to be upset over–there were actually a multitude of issues here that are bubbling right beneath the calm veneer of the statement. And I wanted to yell at all of them.

First and most significantly, the assertion is based on a false premise that even a fairly thoughtful conservative would be tempted to gobble down indiscriminately. Why, yes, it would in fact be ignorant to blame an inert statue for problems we face in the world today! But… let’s find someone, anyone, who stated that our social problems are the result of Confederate statues. I’ll wait here while you look for someone who said that.

Any rabid liberal worth his or her salt would recite to you a litany of causes for the social issues we face today: systemic racism, the Reagan-incited extinction of the middle-class wage earner, the prison-for-profit system, unfettered corporate lobbying and corporate welfare, insufficient support for at-risk populations, housing discrimination, lack of investment in education and infrastructure, and so on. But statues–probably not on anyone’s list.

So Mr. Nichols’ argument is over before proceeding past the first word. No one “blamed” any statues for anything other than being insensitive. They are not the source of our problems, but they are, I would acknowledge, a side effect of our problems.

(Incidentally, since there’s no value in treating side effects, I will be confiscating Mr. Nichols’ Tylenol pain reliever, Kleenex tissue, and cough syrup the next time he gets a cold. Obviously, by wiping his nose, he’s blaming the mucus for making him sick. Leave that snot exactly where it is!)

The second issue with the statement is how oblivious it is to the implications of arguing irrelevance. If the statues are SO old and SO irrelevant, the argument goes, how could they possibly have any impact on us today? Well, fair enough, but wouldn’t the same argument apply to those claiming that the statues hold historical and cultural value? Such impotent, useless slabs of cheap metal in the shape of soldiers and horses could just as easily be recycled for scrap metal. But something tells me the bandwagon for this argument makes a U-turn when discussing the living relevance of the statues for Southerners. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. They’re either old and irrelevant for everyone or they’re not.

Finally, the kicker: “…only highlights the ignorance among us.” This is either ingenious or disingenuous, and I can’t really decide which. It is the point of the post, its only true reason for existing. It’s the cherry on top of the sophistry sundae Mr. Nichols has served up for us. After the fictitious premise builds, expressed with a tone of knowledgeable detachment, it is separated from its conclusion by a thoughtful-looking ellipsis (…), and then concludes with an oh-alas! sigh of resignation at what the state of polite political discourse has come to. “Among us” is a bit of rhetorical genius–it’s a wonderful way to sound non-partisan while really saying only one thing: “Liberals are stupid.” (Or “People who don’t agree with me are stupid.”)

This statement is not part of a real, meaningful dialogue. It’s a soliloquy of hopelessly circular reasoning, where someone contorts a reasonable position (“Confederate statues on public display in shared spaces may be insensitive to certain people and we should consider taking them down”) into an unreasonable position (“We’re going to solve our social problems by taking down some old statues”) and then shaking his reasonable, conservative head at how misguided this position (the one he made up out of thin air, that no one is arguing) is.

The real hat trick here is that the only real ignorance that is being put on display is that of the people who buy this argument in the first place. Nice try, Mr. Nichols, but the ignorance among us, in this instance, is pretty heavily concentrated on your side, and good thing, too, or no one would be sharing your post.

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2017 Recap

I figure Labor Day is as good a time as any to get back to my labor of love.

I now re-imagine this blog as more about me than about my readers. Sorry, guys, but if you want to come along for the ride, then 1) welcome; and 2) hang on.

I’ve dawdled along the past few years putting something out here in the blogosphere when something significantly kindled my desire to communicate. That method resulted in spottiness and large gaps of time. And it didn’t encourage the massive following I fantasized about.

So, for now anyway, this is more a journal than anything else. That way I can work on any cohesive written works offline and out of the glare and pressure of the oh-crap-that’s-out-there-now-for-the-world-to-see immediacy that happens when you’re publishing and polishing and editing all at the same time.

I think back to a really early blog post, where I was in super-confessional mode. I exposed the relationship I was in at the time as abusive, or at the very least heavily inferred that it was abusive. I wanted to work without a filter, because what good is heavily filtered writing? I’ve always been careful not to call out folks by name, because I am not in the business of shaming anyone or ruining anyone’s life… but at the same time, it placed my now-ex in an unenviable position of having to defend publicly exposed actions that were easily attributable to him, for anyone who knew either of us personally.

Although I am not going to swear that I will never make personal statements about the people in my life, I may take the route of relegating those statements to personal drafts rather than throwing them up here defiantly.

It’s also very passive-aggressive to air my dirty laundry here. With a virtual zero readership, I can call people out “on the internet,” feel better, and have a public record of my grievance. Meanwhile, I have still been effectively writing to myself.

So, having said all that, let me catch you (me) up on the broad outlines of the year so far. It has been eventful on a personal and on a worldwide front. While I have been wringing my hands along with everyone else over the inept and inert Trump administration, Hurricane Harvey, the neo-Nazis and such in Virginia, and North Korea, life goes on.

In January, I tried to emerge from my year-end funk (and it was a significant funk–my partner was sick during the majority of the last week of the year, dampening my Christmas and New Year’s spirit, and I was still reeling from the presidential election) by turning over a new leaf, most significantly on the diet and exercise front. I began a new, limited-carb diet plan of my own making, started cooking my own meals for the week on Sunday, and modified my gym routine so that I could be consistent and quick, going during lunch instead of venturing down the street for frequent fast-food outings.

I also recommitted myself to reading. To my credit, I’ve read more this year than I have in recent memory, but I have also fallen far short of my initial goals. I think I’ve read five or six books. Truly, it was one of those all-in New Years’ deals (“I resolve to fix EVERYTHING about my life!”), but the diet was the part that stuck.

In February, our basement flooded–twice–and the recovery, repairs, and insurance hassles that brought would preoccupy me for two months. About the same time, our cat Beaker passed away rather suddenly, only three days after we noticed that he was looking frail. I was crushed and inconsolable for some days.

Meanwhile, we were consumed with year-end close (accounting stuff) at my job, so I was expected to be on full alert to handle all the associated issues. I routinely worked weekends at home.

March was no fun as we dealt with all the stuff that happened in February. In April, we capitalized on the foresight we had a couple of months earlier to book a cruise to tide us over (no pun intended) until our super-duper-deluxe cruise in September. We really needed that cruise, and it was low-key one of the best cruises of the seven we’ve been on at this point. Unfortunately, it ended with chemical burns in a whirlpool (as documented in a prior post expose).

At that point, things started looking up, and it’s been a great summer (SO FAR–despite what the advertising world would have you believe, summer ends at the end of September, not the middle of August). In May we flew to Chicago to see Hasahn’s sister Isis graduate from Columbia College (yay!); it was a terrific three-day jaunt through the city. I can’t wait to go back.

At the end of June, I attended my first “in-law” family reunion as part of a three-day trip to Charleston. Just like the Chicago trip, it was quick, it was fun, and it was a welcome break.

July was the month that we hosted two sets of families: first, our roommate/friend Damon’s family descended en masse for one weekend, then, my good friend Anna’s family (six strong, including four kids) came over the next weekend. It was exhausting but rewarding. I am very much about quiet time at home, so such arrangements are a challenge for me, but I persevered.

August saw a trip to Nashville to observe the eclipse and visit with my stepmom. Color us three-for-three in the successful quick weekend trip department. For the first time ever, we stayed in a motel instead of with my stepmom, and it made such a difference. Having the quality time during the day with her and some away time to do what we wanted (even if that just meant sleep) at night and early morning was a perfect balance. I think we all benefitted.

Unfortunately, when we returned, my elder and remaining cat Midnight was in bad shape. She had been getting thinner and was having more trouble keeping food down, but now she was weak and staggering. We took her to the vet the next morning. A couple of days later, we had a diagnosis: cancer. We brought her home on a Thursday, pampered her and loved her as much as we could over the weekend, then took her back to the vet on Monday to be euthanized. Those three days she was back home were heart-wrenching.

That was a week ago, and I’m much better now. In a too-convenient bit of timing, we also went to Nashville to pick up a new kitten from my stepmom. Little Evander will never take Midnight’s place, but at least he is filling that empty physical spot and providing his own unique charms to the household. I know he’s making the transition easier.

And now it’s Labor Day. I have my sights set on getting things right with my writing and my own routines, in addition to staying on top of my work in preparation for a week-and-a-half vacation planned for the very end of the month.

I have slacked a bit with my diet, but apparently the momentum of my hard work the first three months of the year has continued to positively affect my metabolism. I started the year at 188 pounds. The heaviest I weighed myself over the past year was 190 and my default weight for the past few years has been about 185. Prior to our April cruise, I bottomed out at 163; I have been much less strict since all the traveling began, but have stuck to my routine of preparing my own meals and not egregiously eating fast food every day, and I have settled in to a new default weight of about 170. My clothes still seem to fit the same as they did at 163, so I like to tell myself that I’ve added muscle mass from my quick lunch gym outings. Probably not true.

So that’s what’s up with me. I won’t apologize for the lack of focus, because, LIKE I SAID, this is about me now, not you. Hoping to gather material for some future blog posts.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far.

Mrs. Clinton Goes Away From Washington

Hillary Clinton has emerged from her stinging defeat last November to re-engage with the American public in recent weeks, and the consensus, left and right, is that she shouldn’t be blaming everyone else for her loss in the presidential election.

Well, the consensus is wrong. And I’ll tell you in three parts why everyone needs to shut the hell up about Hillary’s alleged bellyaching.

She Can Do Whatever She Pleases

Perhaps out of habit, we (press, pundits, and opinionated citizens) have been acting like that former boss who continues to give you orders even though you don’t report to him anymore. After decades of being on the American public’s payroll, and being subjected to way more abuse and scrutiny than most of us would tolerate at our own jobs, Hillary is being asked her opinion as a private citizen, and she’s giving it. What part of that is incorrect?

Everyone is wagging their finger at Hillary, essentially, because they need for her to have different opinions than the ones she is currently in possession of.

Explanations are Not Either/Or

With a deciding margin of fewer than 100,000 votes out of over 120 million cast (that’s less than 0.1%), the number of factors that likely swung the election into Hillary’s L column numbers in the dozens. With such a whisper-thin margin, even something innocuous and non-partisan like the weather could have affected the outcome.

If any factor, in isolation, were removed from the set of circumstances around the 2016 presidential election, and that removal would have resulted in the election going the other way, then guess what folks–that’s a justifiable reason for Hillary losing.

I don’t think anyone mired in this conversation would disagree that the factors she has pointed to in recent interviews do not fit that criterion. James Comey’s announcement in late October, in particular, comes to mind. The disagreement at hand is not one of fact, then, it’s one of presentation. Although it is true that Trump-Russia-Comey-blah-blah-blah, she should have run a better campaign so that none of that would have been an issue, and the proper presentation is to own up to one’s mistakes before looking around for scapegoats.

Which brings me to my last point…

Not All Reasons are Equally Acceptable

With the NBA Finals upon us again, I would like to step outside of my comfort zone and use a sports analogy (fortunately, for you, not a very detailed one).

Imagine you’re a Cavs fan (see, I know the informal nickname of the team–I’m not totally clueless) and they lose Game 2 of the series by a score of 98-97. LeBron is not in his usual head space, the team underestimates the Warriors’ offensive game, and Cleveland’s execution is less sharp than you would expect of a team of their caliber. So the game stays closer than it would have otherwise been.

However, the game is plagued is by some obviously bad officiating that seems to favor the Warriors, and there is even evidence that the officials are receiving favors from deep-pocketed Bay-area companies who would like for their team to win.

In this instance, do you say, “Oh, well, LeBron should have gotten it together and it wouldn’t have been an issue”? My guess is that you’re going to focus on the more sinister goings-on. And there’s a very valid reason for that.

It is Hillary’s (and her team’s) prerogative to make bad strategic choices. Regardless of how pure her intentions are for wanting to claim the presidency, the election itself is pure strategy–you can’t help run the country unless you actually win the election. The strategy can seem cold and soulless at times, but it’s the legitimate, internal workings of the campaign and election processes.

The head of the FBI delivering unsolicited opinions on your behavior is not part of the process. That same person issuing an oddly-timed FYI days before the election that leaves a cloud of doubt over your actions is not part of the process. A hostile foreign government deliberately propagating disinformation about you is not part of the process.

There are reasons that are incidental (like the weather), inherent (like strategy), and inappropriate (like meddling). To suggest that Hillary should dwell on the obvious conclusion that a better strategy would have caused her to win (because, really, when has that ever NOT been the case in any competitive election?) instead of the more alarming, unethical, and likely illegal reasons that caused her to lose is to confine her to the same straitjacket imposed on her during the election. At that time, she was implored to just talk about how qualified and engaged she was with the American people while ignoring a herd of elephants in the room, including: Trump is an incompetent ass, Russia is spreading lies about her, and James Comey has gotten this idea that he is responsible for the tone of the election discourse.

It’s actually more than a little insulting to me that so many voices are still telling her (with a possible emphasis on the feminine pronoun) what she should be thinking and saying. CNN’s Chris Cillizza joining the chorus this week was a bit surprising.

It is difficult for me to understand the avalanche of criticism, even among people ostensibly on her side, that confronts every self-possessed attempt that Clinton makes to stand her ground.

It’s probably sexism. But I’ll withdraw my presumption of sexism from your consideration when all the pundits withdraw their presumption of being able to tell a woman who is a private citizen what she should think about something that happened to her personally.

Carnival Doesn’t Suck, But Boy Did They Have a Bad Day

I am not rescinding the beaming endorsement I gave last fall to cruise vacations on this here blog, and implicitly, the beaming endorsement of Carnival Cruise Lines. We have had seven pretty wonderful cruises with them.

But then on the last sea day of our cruise last month, something perplexing happened: they appeared to forget themselves. Allow my correspondence with Carnival to speak for itself.

 

From: Micah McCoin <my email address>

Subject: Incident aboard Carnival Fantasy

Date: April 29, 2017 at 1:35:08 PM EDT

To: <Director of Guest Services email address>

Ms. Marichal,

I debarked from a cruise aboard the Carnival Fantasy two days ago. My very first cruise was three and a half years ago aboard the same ship, and I was hooked. The combination of hospitality, value, and fun have brought me back multiple times—my and my partner’s eighth cruise together on Carnival is booked for September.

However, an incident aboard the ship on the last sea day of our cruise (Wednesday, April 26) has caused me to question my loyalty to Carnival. After so much talk about being part of the “Carnival family” and our cruise director Mikey “having your back” (and other variations on that theme among our other cruise directors), I thought that we were actually sailing among friends, or at least with a staff that was well-trained to respond to our actual needs as opposed to just the easy, inconsequential ones.

My partner Hasahn and I were planning on a relaxing final afternoon aboard the ship. We had just finished lunch and went to lounge in one of the hot tubs on the Serenity Deck. Upon my legs entering the water, I immediately felt some discomfort, which I attributed to the water temperature being high. Soon, a spot on my foot began to burn, so within minutes, I propped one foot up out of the water. After another few minutes, I was distinctly uncomfortable and decided I was not going to be able to relax there.

I went to sit down in a lounge chair on the deck and soon noticed that the skin on my legs was tight, shiny and leathery. I thought it was odd but assumed I just needed some moisturizing. I left Hasahn in the hot tub to go to the room and lotion up. I spent almost an hour in the room rubbing lotion on my legs, finally noticing that my skin was lightly peeling. I also saw some of my leg hair had curled up and matted, as if I had spilled something sticky on them. Overall, my legs felt better, so I was ready to go back out.

When I returned to the Serenity Deck, Hasahn was gone and there was a net over the hot tub. It took me over half an hour to track him down and discover that he had been to Guest Services twice and the medical center to get treatment for chemical burns. Clearly and unmistakably there was something wrong with the water, but Guest Services, who are always eager to hand out coupons and credits when something inconsequential goes “wrong” (like we didn’t get our VIFP pin), was stone-faced and unsympathetic.

We went back to Guest Services one last time at 8pm and spoke to the Guest Services manager (Hasahn will be sending his own email and has all the names of the staff we spoke to, along with the medical records from the ship and photo evidence of his injuries) who was bewildered and appeared unable to do anything but repeat what appears to be a scripted response to avoid saying anything which would admit liability on the part of Carnival.

I say this was scripted because it was so oddly out-of-character for a team that is usually jumping out of its skin trying to please passengers, and because everyone said exactly the same two things: 1) there is a sign on the hot tub saying that you shouldn’t stay in longer than 15 minutes; 2) the water was tested and it was within acceptable levels of chlorine. I have issues with both these statements. As a Guest Services team, your job is not to quote numbers and regulations to the guests—it is to understand guest issues and resolve them. That being said, both of these statements are inherently problematic.

As a bit of background, I’m an accountant and a very thorough, analytical, by-the-book type of person. I read everything. In seven cruises, I have never taken the time to identify and read this “sign” about the time limit for hot tubs, and that could be my oversight. However, if I haven’t seen it, I can guarantee that thousands of other guests haven’t seen it. I suspect it’s buried in a list of 10 or more rules that are posted inconspicuously on the side of the pool. If so, that doesn’t count as a “sign.” A sign would be something like, “>15MIN” and an X through it. Further, it’s very disingenuous to quote this rule to guests (especially injured guests) when the staff is aware of and encourages long soaks in the hot tub by taking drink orders at the hot tub and taking longer than 15 minutes to come back with the drinks.

The most unbelievable part of being told this over and over again was that no one actually ever asked Hasahn how long he had been in the hot tub. They immediately shifted the blame for his injuries on him. For my part, I was certainly not in the hot tub over 15 minutes and I received a brisk chemical peel and several bleached leg hairs (and some fell out). I was never in any severe discomfort, but there’s no way that any reasonable standard of “acceptable levels” of chlorine would involve me being in there just a few minutes and coming out with leathery, cracked skin.

I also take issue with a range of “acceptable levels” of chlorine that would allow us to stay in the water for well over 15 minutes (as we did on the first sea day) with absolutely no ill effects and then, three days later, almost immediately singed the hairs off our legs (and several other guests who were treated by the medical center on Wednesday). This is a dangerously large range of “acceptable,” and needs to be recalibrated.

But this email is, more than anything else, about the customer service angle of this situation. Running a cruise ship is a complicated operation, and mistakes are made. Sometimes these mistakes even injure people. But there has to be a better way to communicate and resolve these issues with your customers than what we experienced. Our guest experience on the last day of the cruise was severely compromised and almost entirely ruined. (It was almost midnight before I started having fun again after the distress from that afternoon, and Hasahn continues to deal with pain, itching, peeling and discomfort three days later.)

Finally, it must be noted that as much goodwill as I’ve spread among my friends and family about Carnival over the past three years, I feel it is even more important to let them know (and others, as well) exactly where they stand when they find themselves in our situation. To this point, it seems clear that Carnival has no interest in resolving this issue for us individually or improving its procedures going forward. We were not and have not been contacted by anyone the morning of debarkation or since, even though the manager we spoke to said that her supervisor would be available at that time. Under that assumption, we will continue to share this anecdote as an open-ended warning to anyone who might feel tempted to buy into the “Carnival family.” After our September cruise (already booked and partially paid), our plans to continue cruising with Carnival are much less certain.

I look forward to your response. Thanks for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

Micah McCoin

 

 

 

So… we had already been through a bit of an ordeal and a lot of indifference. Then, this reply came through:

 

On May 3, 2017, at 3:24 PM, Carnival Cruise Lines <iCare@carnival.com> wrote:

Dear Micah,
Thank you for writing to Ms. Marichal regarding your recent cruise aboard the Carnival Fantasy. Your email has been forwarded to my attention and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

I would first like to take this opportunity to thank you and your partner for your continued support. Carnival’s success depends on solid repeat business and we certainly appreciate your choosing to sail with us once again.

Carnival sets the stage for high standard in the quality of services that we provide to our guests and it is with much regret that we read the details of your email outlining your disappointment.

As loyal guests, we’re extremely sorry to hear about the experience you and Hasahn had this time around. We sincerely hope that by receipt of this email, you have both fully recovered and are no longer experiencing the symptoms you have described. The safety and wellbeing of our guests are at the forefront of our mind on all cruises, with making sure you have a fun and memorable vacation coming close second.

We hope that you will both accept our sincere apologies for the disappointment you experienced with the demeanor of the Guest Services staff members you encountered on board. Please know that the behavior you described is not the norm and definitely not what we expect of our staff.

That being said, we would like to address some of the specific concerns outlined in your email to Ms. Marichal. We sincerely apologize if you missed it, but there is a large, circular sign by the whirlpool in question that indicates “Serenity – Adult Only Retreat – Whirlpool Rules…Use of the whirlpool should not exceed 15 minutes…” There are, however, several rules and guidelines listed on the same sign. Additionally, according to our records, although all whirlpools on board undergo strictly scheduled maintenance and testing, a reading was taken within minutes of receiving Hasahn’s complaint, and all chemical levels were found to be within acceptable range. While we sincerely apologize for your discomfort, there is no indication of abnormal chemical levels in the Serenity whirlpool at the time Hasahn’s complaint was received.

Micah, Carnival Cruise Line depends on insightful comments from our valued guests to improve our service and ensure relaxing, FUN-filled cruises for all sailing guests in the future. We sincerely thank you for sharing your experience with us, and assure you we will do everything possible to prevent similar occurrences in the future. As a gesture of goodwill, we’d like to offer you and Mr. Hasahn Aiken a 15% discount on a future 2 to 5 day Carnival cruise.

While there are a few restrictions like, holiday departures, cruises to Alaska, Australia, Europe, Hawaii and chartered sailings, etc., the offer is combinable with most fares. Additionally, our offer is limited to one per booking, is non-transferable, and applied to the cruise fare only, after you’ve paid the deposit. You’ll need to sail by May 3, 2019. After you have booked your cruise, please use the link below to provide us with the new booking information so we can process your cruise credit.

<hyperlink inserted here for this anemic, heavily restricted discount>

Micah, please don’t let this tarnish your opinion of us. We send our best wishes, and would love to welcome you and Hasahn back aboard another Fun Ship in the future.

Sincerely,

Alicia Norman
Guest Care Specialist
Carnival Cruise Lines | 3655 NW 87th Avenue | Miami, FL 33178 |
800-929-6400
iCare@carnival.com

 

In case you missed it, that’s nine lines of “we’re sorry for how they treated you” and ten lines of “but they were right so we’re going to repeat what they said back to you again.” So, on May 6, I sent the below reply:

 

Alicia/iCare team:

Thanks for your prompt response.

I am extremely disappointed in the content on the response. If the intent here was to restore our confidence in Carnival’s customer service, it did not succeed.

I find it unconscionable that a customer response team would STILL spend more time re-explaining to me how Carnival was not at fault than in addressing the customer service failure. Furthermore, the largest part of the customer service failure was the fact that that we had these same two points (chemical levels in the water & sign by the hot tub) re-explained to us twice onboard the ship. You apologize for the customer service failure, and then repeat that failure yourself.

Let me be clear. I already explained in my complaint that we were told (at least three times) that there was a sign on the whirlpool. I am not, nor have I ever, argued that a “sign” (or notice) was not posted on the whirlpool, so the continued inclusion of this already established fact in your response to me is irrelevant. My points are 1) I personally was not in the whirlpool over 15 minutes, and I also suffered mild burns; 2) no one asked Hasahn how long he had been in the hot tub before referencing the sign; and 3) Carnival’s own staff disregards this rule and encourages customers to disregard this rule by taking drink orders, fetching towels, etc., with the clear understanding that the guests will be in the whirlpool over 15 minutes.

Let me be clear on the other point. You write, “there is no indication of abnormal chemical levels in the Serenity whirlpool at the time Hasahn’s complaint was received.” Allow me to correct that statement: “There is no indication of abnormal chemical levels in the Serenity whirlpool at the time Hasahn’s complaint was received that Carnival is willing to acknowledge.”

Let me list some indications of abnormal chemical levels:

  • Hasahn’s medical report indicating treatment for chemical burns.
  • A line of customers at the medical center onboard the ship, all of whom were in the same whirlpool.
  • Numerous men (including Hasahn and me) with the hairs singed off of our legs or bleached.
  • The fact that we were in the same whirlpool three days earlier with no discomfort or ill effects.

Again, I have never contested the test results from the water, primarily because you haven’t disclosed them and I have no basis for disputing them because of lack of information. So having this repeated to us a third time is irrelevant and insulting. I am telling you, however, that an “indication of abnormal chemical levels” is not limited to a reading taken by a Carnival employee. All of the items listed above are clear indications that have been communicated to numerous members of your staff multiple times. Your failure to acknowledge them does not make them not indications. Therefore, I dispute your statement.

In light of all this, I find your gesture of “goodwill” condescending and inadequate. A cruise credit with a paragraph of limitations and special instructions on how to redeem, all worth about $100, is equal to what I could save by navigating the Carnival site for deals on my own (we booked with a $100 onboard credit for our upcoming cruise in September, as a point of reference).

I am copying and distributing this email to various quarters in hopes that someone will restore our faith in Carnival. I really want to give you guys every opportunity to repair the damage done. As a reliably low-maintenance, easy-to-please cruiser, I expect a little more than this on the rare occasion when I have an issue.

Sincerely,

Micah McCoin

 

Now it’s almost two weeks later and there has been no further response. I copied several executives at Carnival on the last email, and not one of them or any of the members of their administrative/email-screening teams has seen fit to address our concerns. I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot and start booking more expensive cruises when Carnival continues to give the best value. As I stated to them, however, I think it’s only fair that people know exactly what they are paying for. And as soon as I can afford it, I’ll be shopping around vigorously with other cruise lines.

This isn’t the type of newsworthy anecdote that has even the remotest chance of going viral, but it’s now been made public, so I’ve fulfilled my end of the bargain and will return to my life. I am not a litigious person and do not believe it is ethical or moral to pursue damages in a case such as this, even though it may be doable. It’s just sad that Carnival would sacrifice their customer service commitment to avoid a liability issue.

This Too Shall Pass-What’s Legal and What’s OK

Most Americans break a variety of laws each and every day. Around the country today, thousands of spouses were battered, thousands of consumers were cheated, and millions of speed limits were broken. And as the old Army ad goes, that was all before breakfast.

We justify the liberties we take with the law of the land in a variety of ways, but most justifications fall into two categories: indifference and moral equivocation.

While indifference is self-explanatory, moral equivocation can be a bit more complex. It generally takes the form of claiming that one’s illegal actions are not actually harmful: “I know how to drive safely at 80 miles per hour.” “I’m not hurting anyone by smoking this.”

Then there are darker equivocations, where retribution serves as a loophole to avoid observance of the law: “She had it coming.”

Regardless of how we justify our lawlessness, at least two overriding themes emerge. The first is that these justifications are rarely anything but self-serving. “If I feel like doing this, I’m just gonna go ahead and do it.” A classic American, individualistic stance. The corollary, the second theme, is that it’s not really illegal unless you get caught. We would not have such a cavalier attitude toward doing the deed if we thought the book was going to be thrown at us.

When I broke the speed limit last week, I probably didn’t mean to, but ultimately I was indifferent. I didn’t feel that my temporary lead foot was a complex moral issue, and I knew I wasn’t going to be pulled over.

Those people in our neighborhoods who assaulted their spouses last night were banking on the affected parties not calling the police and probably just saw it as part of the ups and downs of a relationship. All of us, justified or not, shrugged our shoulders and went on with our lives.

Let’s now do something radical and apply our own standards to someone else: when someone crosses the Mexican-American border illegally and comes to the U.S., what is their justification?

With the understanding that not all stories are the same, there are a significant number of people who come here, quite simply, for economic opportunity. The scrap wages that we “native” Americans (irony intended) tend to laugh off and reject are accepted by many of them as an improvement on the life they left, and some can even stretch their money far enough to send some back to their family back home.

This act of illegality—this act of crossing into the U.S. without permission—must of necessity be a carefully thought out decision, weighing the risks and opportunities involved. The goal here is improving one’s lot in life. This is a quality-of-life decision. Depending on circumstances, it can be a life-or-death decision.

This is not the absentmindedness of accelerating too fast in a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds. This is not a vindictive backhand to keep an unruly spouse under one’s thumb. This is a humbling and dangerous decision. It is an attempt at self-improvement, not just self-serving.

And if it’s all about not getting caught when we break laws, how much more should that be true for undocumented immigrants, given the gravity of the decisions they’ve made to improve their lot in life?

Of course, all of this justification means nothing if the lawlessness of undocumented immigrants were doing real damage to our nation. That would mean all the current immigration round-ups serve a greater purpose, helping making America great (again?).

The most common talking point among conservatives is that undocumented immigration is wreaking havoc on the American economy and workforce.

The whispered undertones, which we will only discuss briefly, are that the immigrants are destroying our way of life. Only the most ignorant will say this in mixed company. The more educated and thoughtful people (not always the same set of folks, mind you) understand that this excuse was played out in the 1800s when it was used on the Irish immigrants, among others.

But what of the economy? I’m not going to wheel in the statistics, because frankly, I don’t have to. An elementary understanding of economics and some basic reasoning skills are all you really need to debunk this argument that immigrants hurt the economy. (For those of you who don’t have those tools, consider this an invitation.)

An economic system has inputs and outputs, producers who produce the inputs, consumers who use the outputs. And all of us participate from both sides. When we go to work, we put on our producer/input hats. When we come home and use stuff, we put on our consumer/output hats.

Immigrants, regardless of legal designation, do the exact same thing. They work and they come home. They produce and consume. So even if one of “them” took “your” job, that job’s income allows them to become a potential customer for a business that you could start or work for. Millions of undocumented immigrants represent a consumer bloc that can (and does) support thousands of businesses that 1) employ other people (like you!) and 2) pay taxes.

If President #45 finds that there are exactly 13,483,561 undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and surgically extracts each one of them, here’s what will happen to the U.S. economy:

  • There will be 13,483,561 fewer consumers contributing to the U.S. economy. At $10K per person, that’s $134 billion less consumption annually.
  • Unemployment could very well go up. That sort of dent in consumption is the thing recessions are made of. The 5% of Americans who are actively unemployed are for the most part not looking to fill the jobs the undocumented immigrants would leave behind. The unemployed who aren’t counted in the unemployment rate will be even less motivated to take low-paying jobs—heck, they weren’t looking for jobs even when their only prospects were higher-paying jobs.
  • Industries that rely on undocumented labor will suffer. (No, we shouldn’t have created that sort of employment infrastructure, but wagging a finger won’t change the issue.) Industries suffering means production is interrupted, consumers get irritated, goods get scarce, prices go up, and all sorts of domino effects proceed from there.
  • Government spending required to sniff out and deport these people would be high. Given that there’s no economic upside, it’s a lose-lose-lose scenario.

It would make infinitely more sense to send the 13 million Americans who paid the highest effective income tax rates on a vacation to Cancun as a thank you for supporting the government. You’re still sending the same number of people south of the border, you’re creating goodwill with taxpayers and with Mexico, which would see a huge tourism boom related to the initiative, and there would be little or no spending on legal wrangling, law enforcement, or investigation.

Speaking of goodwill, we have not even started to discuss the intangible, non-economic repercussions of such a policy change, carried out to its full extent. The immigration hardliners will count our reduced standing in the world, our diminished relationship with Mexico and Mexican-Americans, and all the other awful side effects as part of the price we must pay to do the right thing and preserve the integrity of America.

Apparently, this vision of the integrity of America has everything to do with selectively enforcing our nation’s laws so that the most vulnerable are held to the strictest standards.

And for us regular citizens, it means indirect support of these measures by continuing to elect officials who decide how to enforce regulations like these in a way that destroy people’s lives and the nation’s economy.

Meanwhile, you can still explain away your lead foot and your neighbor can continue assaulting his spouse, because traffic accidents and domestic violence, we appear to believe, aren’t real issues that cost lives and livelihoods.

Clay County Blues

An article from The Tennessean appeared on my news feed a few months back. It was an article about how Donald Trump has captured the imagination of a county neighboring the ones where I grew up in northern middle Tennessee. Clay County. Although named after statesman Henry Clay, it seems apt that the “people of the earth” would live in a county so named.

I should have asked the question of myself earlier. But suddenly, as if startled awake, I asked myself, Why am I not like these people? I grew up around them, I had virtually the same upbringing, and yet I couldn’t be more different. Why is that?

It’s far too easy to be condescending. Too pat to say something mean or reductive or self-congratulatory. I’m smarter than them. I have always been open-minded. I am a fair person.

The better answers go deeper . The fact that I have used what intelligence I have (as opposed to just being smart), the fact that I have focused on “otherness” or divergence as a relative concept (as opposed to just being open-minded), and the fact that my idea of fairness takes place on a societal, national and global playing field—these are some of the factors that make me unlike my former friends and neighbors in the rural byways of Tennessee and so many other like-minded places in the South, the Midwest, and the Heartland.

We have all seen, over the election cycle, during the devolution of the Republican primaries in particular, that shrill accusations and finger-pointing, even when warranted, will not produce the desired clarity and insight.

The truth is that we have to meet people where they are if we are to talk with them and create a dialogue worth having. I’m not even going to say “reason with them,” because that by itself positions me as the “right” one and them as the “wrong” one. This makes the dejected, working-class whites furious, as they already feel singled out and shamed simply for who they are and what they stand for. Whether they are entitled to feel this way is irrelevant. They do.

Meeting people where they are isn’t easy. I do not claim that I even know how to do it. I am so far removed from that life that I would probably seem almost as foreign to them as the Mexicans, the Muslims, and the blacks they feel are taking over “their” country. I am one of the gays, in fact; you know, that other group that is stealing their way of life from them.

History teaches a clear lesson—that those in power (and make no mistake, this includes Trump) will seek to divide and conquer for their own purposes. Rank-and-file Republicans are furious that their elected officials make a few token gestures to advance their social agenda, then resume the real business of government—to move resources around to keep the rich people in business. Trump is already one of the rich people, so it’s obvious to them that he couldn’t care less about this shell game. He can devote all of his energy to the social agenda. (Or so he would like you to believe. He is nothing if not erratic, and so a President Trump would likely champion a smorgasbord of contradictory and probably unconstitutional policies, suited to his whims. But here I go telling folks about their hero again.)

What the people in Clay County, Tennessee, and all the Clay Countys all over America, need to hear from the rest of us is that We Hear You. You have been misrepresented, unrepresented, and then shamed for being over-represented because you belong to the racial majority, a majority status that is ephemeral on so many levels, but very real when you’re on the other side of it. What you don’t know that you don’t know because you haven’t been exposed is vast… for all of us. We can’t sugarcoat—some things you just won’t be able to experience in Clay County. But that doesn’t mean they are not real and they do not impact you in Clay County.

If it sounds complicated, it is. This nation is a bundle of contradictions: freedom and slavery, religious freedom and religious bondage, an enshrined tradition of non-violence juxtaposed with two military national holidays and a ridiculous defense budget, not to mention the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

White privilege and rampant classism, however, is probably the most insidious contradiction of all.

Poor whites have been baited for generations with the promise of white privilege while remaining in a clearly powerless position. To the extent that the government can’t make their circumstances better, it’s ostensibly because some group of non-whites is funneling off resources that would flow “naturally” to them. It’s never their own fault, and it’s never the fault of the sympathetic pro-white politicians. So the trappings of white privilege, which don’t directly cost anything, can be distributed freely by the government while conveniently keeping all the poor people poor. But this only works if you fall for it. I didn’t.

This is where I believe I truly diverge from my old friends and classmates in Gamaliel, Kentucky; in Lafayette, Tennessee; in North Springs, Tennessee; and in the neighboring Clay County that was featured in this newspaper article. I know that I can not be the winner of this American game while being offered the consolation prize of avoiding overt marginalization. I can have not losing presented to me as winning, but it’s up to me to interpret the events of my life. (The moral question of basing one’s success on the subjugation of other groups, however pressing, is going to go unexamined here.)

I harbor a deep frustration with my homefolks. I grew up in a conservative, “God-fearing” fortress, with a harping chorus of disapproval around government handouts, villifying those lazy “other people” expecting the government to provide for them instead of being willing to work and make a living.

The irony is that now many of these same people claim that the government took their jobs from them, as if it were divine intervention that first planted the local tool and die shop twenty miles away or the garment factory in the nondescript county seat. These machinations (no pun intended) are purely the result of greasing the wheels of government and bringing “artificial” jobs to areas where people needed a way to earn money. If the government took away, it also gaveth in the first place.

Any high school economics textbook published in the last two generations will tell you that agriculture and factory work is becoming more automated and that we now live in a service economy. Any textbook published in the past one generation will mention the technology sector shift and globalization. Was anyone in Clay County reading these textbooks?

“Small government” conservative politicians want to refuse handouts to the needy because they have failed some arbitrary litmus test of “trying really hard” to find a job. At the same time, the expectation is that they, as the government, should be working for their constituency to land vanishing blue-collar jobs, relics of a prior century. I don’t deny that most of the citizens of Clay County are hard-working, but is there a condition? Are they only willing to work if it involves doing what their parents and grandparents did for a living?

Citizens of Clay County, I hear you, and I know that change is hard, but it is also inevitable. We live in the information age—you can take essentially free classes online to learn computer code. You can find clerical work as a remote personal assistant. And when all else fails, don’t forget that you belong to a local community of several thousand people. Theoretically, you could all work for each other and provide the services you mutually need. To think otherwise is to buy into the big government you say you hate.

My parents moved me to Nashville. They made sure I had a chance to go to the magnet high school. I needed little encouragement to realize that I didn’t want to work in a factory (and I sure as hell wasn’t going to work on a farm—that would have been a disaster!) I struggled with low wages out of college as part of the service economy—I worked at an ice cream shop and a mailroom and the back office of a restaurant. I then set my mind on a professional career and made it happen. But even if I hadn’t succeeded on that path, I would have persevered and would likely be doing OK right now with a management position in the service sector.

What I didn’t do was sit in Lafayette and wish that the auto parts factory would come back. If my parents had acted that way, I would have left them there and visited on the holidays.

Change is rough. The blue-collar Republicans have asked the blacks, the gays, and everyone else who has had a rough time to bite the bullet and stop whining about their circumstances.

Now it’s your turn. And when you are ready to stop whining, there may be a place for you in the economy of 2016. I’d like to have my former neighbors back in the same century with me.

What a Real Conspiracy Looks Like

I would like to describe an incident where the media, the American public, and the political establishment were in cahoots to tear down an American personality for no good reason.

In 2004, Justin Timberlake exposed a great deal of Janet Jackson’s right breast during the Super Bowl halftime show. The fallout from the “wardrobe malfunction” was swift, certain, and laser-focused. Janet was disinvited from the following week’s Grammy telecast. Her records and videos were yanked from rotation at all media outlets. Janet was compelled to deliver a humiliating video apology which did absolutely no good in restoring her to anyone’s good graces. Then-FCC chairman Michael Powell laid the condemnation on thick, declaring the incident to be a “classless, crass, and deplorable stunt.” Janet spent a decade in media exile while the firestorm blew over. Now that she’s 50, pregnant, and modestly dressed at all times, she has been informally deemed worthy of our respect again.

This, my friends, bears all the hallmarks of a media and government hit job.

Here is why I believe this to be true:

  • Marginalized status. Janet Jackson, despite her fame and seemingly infinite public goodwill at the time of the incident, was, at the end of the day, a black female.
  • Clearly differential treatment from others who don’t share said marginalized status. White females such as Madonna, Courtney Love, and Cher had cultivated boundary-pushing media images for years prior to the 2004 Super Bowl without anything approaching the media blackout to which Janet was subjected. Even more directly, Justin Timberlake was the one who actually made the infamous reveal, and he, a white male, suffered virtually no fallout AT ALL. For his participation in the exact same incident.
  • Inconsistency of conduct. If Janet had a history, like Courtney Love in particular, of recklessly disregarding broadcast standards, then the outrage might be a bit more understandable. If she had a history, like Madonna in particular, of explicitly challenging social taboos visually, then the behavior could be construed as deliberate. It is true that Janet had spent over a decade carefully cultivating an overtly sexual image, but she was always careful to play by the rules. As a pertinent example, she often self-policed her speech on TV talk shows; she would often ask the host demurely if she was allowed to say something a little risqué before coming out with it. When the Super Bowl incident occurred, it was completely unlike anything she had done before, and completely unlike anything she has done since. Yet no one in any position of authority spoke out about her three decades of exemplary public behavior prior to this incident or possibly giving her the benefit of the doubt because of it. No one.
  • Admitted government pandering. Michael Powell stated in 2014, “I had to put my best version of outrage on that I could put on.” The government wanted to know that the offended conservative housewives of the Heartland felt they had been heard when they called in their thousands upon thousands of complaints over less than a second of nipple.
  • Circumstantial evidence of government pandering. It should be mentioned that 2004 was a presidential election year, that the pressing issue of the election was the Iraq war, and that Michael Powell is the son of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Bush administration. There’s nothing like a hollow moral crusade to distract Americans from more pressing issues. I will leave my argument at that.

OK, so why rehash this 12-year-old incident?

For those of you who know me as a fervent Janet fan, there’s the obvious personal affront to me and to my hero, who spent a decade as a pariah and was thwarted from breaking even more music records because of the comparative standstill imposed on her music career. I have not let it go.

But for the purposes of this particular blog post, it is an example of how this can happen In Real Life.

In Real Life being contrasted with the murky amalgamation of thoughts that has vomited forth from Donald Trump’s mouth over the past week (and for many months prior, truly). He states that he is being subjected to something similar. He says the media and the government establishment are all conspiring against him to ensure that he loses the election, trotting out alleged victims of his unwanted sexual advances at this convenient time immediately prior to the election.

Aside from the mounting evidence that the Russian government, in possible collusion with WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign itself, is coordinating precisely this type of attack on the Clinton campaign (which dovetails with my theory that Trump’s only line of defense is projection), this accusation is so hollow that Trump’s voice involuntarily echoes every time he makes these claims.

In reference to the prior bullet points about actual coordinated smear campaigns:

  • Trump, as much as I hate to include him in any group with me, is a white male. He was born into a successful family, and he used his father’s wealth as a crutch to overcome his glaring lack of business discipline until he got lucky and managed to make profits based on his perverted Darwinian business philosophy (i.e., screw them over before they have a chance to screw you over, which is also his philosophy of governance). His entire career has been predicated much more on unwarranted positive press than any native business acumen he possesses. The media built him into a superstar businessman, labeled him the de facto authority on training budding businesspeople, and anointed him a special expert on presidential birth certificates. He earned none of those designations, but since he was a blustery, obnoxious white male with money, people listened to him.
  • All of the allegations against him are entirely consistent with his prior conduct and speech. He has consistently objectified women on the record; he has consistently called women demeaning names on the record. Now, with the Access Hollywood tapes, he has been recorded admitting to a pattern of sexual assault. Now that possible corroborating evidence has been brought forward for this pattern of comments, he wants us to believe that it is all a coordinated effort to discredit him. How has he not discredited himself through his unrelenting, consistent chauvinism?
  • As regards the government establishment’s alleged role in this Trump smear campaign, I can only shrug and say that political groups get together and decide who they are going to support. That’s quite literally how politics works. For him to complain of this treatment is to underline his fundamental misunderstanding of how to leverage the existing political system. To think that this political skill is irrelevant (which is what his supporters appear to believe) is to assume what he has intimated in numerous other campaign comments–that he wants to dismantle the existing government altogether to suit his whims. In that event, he shouldn’t have even bothered going through the formality of pledging to a party and participating in the process.
  • Donald Trump was not a registered Republican. If there was a conspiracy, the party could have effectively shut him out from competing in the primaries. If there was a corresponding media conspiracy, they could have declined to give coverage to his campaign. Both groups were overly welcoming and generous because they knew that his celebrity would generate much-needed buzz that would benefit them. Trump has trafficked in and basked in the undeserved attention of the sensational for at least four decades. Now that the monster he has hitherto harnessed for his own benefit has turned against him, he is whining that the whole thing is fixed. The truth is that his very fame and notoriety, the fact that we even know who Donald Trump is, is one colossal fix: the elevation of a mediocre business mind to worldwide prominence because he knew how to make a spectacle of himself.

Of course, I know that I am only one of a million voices crying in the wilderness, trying to   convey the urgency of the situation to the obscene 30-to-40 per cent of Americans who are supporting Trump for president.

I am only one person with one opinion, and I am not the arbiter of political truth. I can only point to what I feel to be the inevitable conclusion that Trump’s last stand in this election is to convince people that all the awful things that are easily available for Americans to know about him are in fact untrue, and are instead the result of a carefully coordinated plan to steal an election from him that he is utterly unqualified to win. And that last stand is a flimsy house of cards that falls under the slightest examination.

And, finally, as someone who acknowledges marginalized lives, it is personally offensive to me that a rich white male who has held a national platform for his thoughts and ideas for over a generation is claiming the mantle of systemic victimization as he stands in front of millions of Americans daily with repeated opportunities to string together a coherent sentence to explain what he believes in and how he proposes to translate those beliefs into action as President. And failing miserably each time.

That’s not a conspiracy. That, at long last, may actually constitute justice.