Reading the News

Objectivity isn’t a Western delusion, or a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that conceals our ubiquitous self-interest. It’s the hard fought ground won in the contest between equals. A pugnacious but respectful engagement with the news stories and talking-heads who are shaping American public discourse.

May 30, 2018

Fox News Serves Red Herring for Roseanne's Roast


by C. Travis Webb

Fox News’s Kathleen Joyce reports on the obtuse comparison between Bill Maher’s “Trump resembles an orangutan” bit, and Roseanne Barr’s most recent contribution to the “it’s not racist if you’re joking” quote book.

Unfortunately, Maher’s bit isn’t funny because the Trump presidency has reduced previously insightful comics to insipid gadflies, but it’s perfect fodder for the playground of moral relativism that is the Fox News page.

It was one of five stories Joyce reported on today, but she still manages to craft a helter-skelter array of controversies from Maher’s twenty-plus year career into a coherent distraction from the real issue.

Namely, that Barr thinks black people resemble apes. And that “joking” about this resemblance is benign and edgy enough to be funny (McGraw and Warren, 2010).

One, it’s not benign because of the history of slavery, segregation, and the ongoing disenfranchisement of black voters. Two, it’s not edgy because it’s a hackneyed and lazy analogy that was written four hundred years ago.

Joyce’s reported comparison is ridiculous on several level, but let’s stay in the Fox moral universe because I believe good people still live in that universe.

If we’ve managed to completely transcend four hundred years of African slavery and racism in the last forty years and can now joke unselfconsciously about that history, isn’t it also time you stop blaming Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for your own unhappiness?

May 31, 2018

A Nuclear Armed Iran is Terrifying: But No One Can See the Future


by C. Travis Webb

Dr. Susan Rice penned an op-ed heavily critical of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from JCPOA. Dr. Rice’s intellect and judgement are not to be discounted. However, there is an additional variable in the equation that wasn’t there during the Obama administration: the unabashed use of military force.

The caricatures of Obama as a feckless liberal are demonstrably false – just ask Osama bin Laden – but his well· known reticence to use U.S. military power must have constrained the American’s negotiating position during the JCPOA talks. How could it not?

I don’t know whether scrapping JCPOA will lead to an arms race in the Middle East, and neither does anyone else. But the Iranian regime isn’t stupid. Their calculations have changed.

The Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons, even in secret, runs the risk of Trump’s unselfconscious military response. That shouldn’t be discounted. And those opposed to Trump’s agenda, as I am, should be careful to restrain their Cassandrian impulses.

In the Greek myth Cassandra was always right and still no one listened. How likely do you think people are to listen to educated elites who aren’t blessed with divine foresight? We must begin to acknowledge, even when strong opinions are called for, that the lens through which we see the future is honeycombed with possibilities.

Cultural sanity begins with humility and perhaps a smidgen of epistemic modesty.

June 5, 2018

National Insecurities: We Are All Migrants


by C. Travis Webb

Taking care of migrants is our sacred responsibility.

Not because we are the beneficiaries of Western colonialism, or neoliberal economic hegemonies. That’s the wrong place to start.

The U.S. government owes asylum seekers at our borders the most humane treatment because the person at the border is you.

You and I are migi·ants. Long before we were farmers, or nationalists, or congregants, we were on the hunt for greener pastures-better tomorrows.

Our species survived, then thrived, because we were willing to move when the weather changed-when the game changed.

We roamed out of Africa, across Asia, and managed to reach Australia 65,000 years ago (Clarkson and Jacobs, 2017) because we are brave and curious and imaginative. We moved for food and for safety, and we moved for freedom.

Borders must be managed. But patriotism requires more of us than quotas and blaming other nations’ shameful behavior. Patriotism should elevate our humanity, not debase it-clarify the possible, not occlude it.

Separating children from their parents at the border is wrong. It’s the tool of weak· minded nativists who fear the future.

America is some migrant’s dream. Everyone who sacrifices for that dream should be honored. Prosperity doesn’t make you guilty, but it does make you responsible.

Call your congressman today.

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