Thursday, April 30, 2015

One Round In


Some thoughts on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, now that the first round is in the books:

Those Predictions
In my April 15th post I predicted that whoever won the first round series between Nashville and Chicago would go on to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. I am sticking with that prediction despite the fact that the Blackhawks had to deal with some goaltending vulnerabilities during the series. They did overcome them, after all, and it was eye-popping to see how well Patrick Kane played after missing two months with a broken clavicle.

I also predicted the Cup champion will come from the East, and I'm not changing that one either. The top four seeds all advanced and looked like championship material (although, and I hate to say this, the Lightning had the most question marks of those four teams).


My Lightning Indulgence
Although their seven-game tilt against Detroit featured lots of moments when they were on their heels, Tampa Bay showed tremendous resolve by coming back from a 3-2 series deficit; overcoming a hot goalie and pair of shutout losses; surviving an elimination game on the road; and, finally, chucking the Red Wings in the trash by blanking them last night in Game Seven.

I think I had three or four heart attacks last night, especially after Anton Stralman's late goal, which would have extended their lead to 2-0, was waived off thanks to questionable off-setting penalties being called against Steven Stamkos and Riley Sheahan. But of course, if your cardiac health doesn't get stretched to the limit, you're not watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and when Stralman struck again by banking a length-of-the-ice shot off the side boards and into the empty net with 1:18 remaining, the feeling of hockey jubilation that filled the building was unlike anything we Lightning fans have felt since our team hoisted the Cup in 2004.

Here are the things from Round One that give me reason to believe the Bolts have a chance to win it all: They proved they have character and composure; they managed to use their speed and skill despite running into a big, bruising foe that pushed and sometimes tore the rule book's envelope; their defensive corps was much stronger than during the regular season; they got lots of secondary scoring (e.g., goals from defensemen Stralman, Andrej Sustr, Jason Garrison, and Braydon Coburn, whose top-shelfer at 3:58 of the third proved to be last night's game-winner).

But here are the things from Round One that give me reason to believe the Bolts won't be able to survive all four rounds: They converted only two of their 30 power plays; they were inconsistent; on several occasions, their offense went dead for way too long; Stamkos, despite playing very well in Games One and Seven, was damn near invisible throughout the other five and has yet to score a goal; and, although Ben Bishop was spectacular in goal last night, stopping all 31 shots and boosting his series save percentage to .921, he was subpar through the first six games.

If Bishop continues to play like he did last night, the Lightning have a legitimate chance. If he reverts to the form he showed in Games One through Six, winning the Cup will be impossible.


Miscellany
For quite some time, all the talk about the Capitals' lack of playoff success has been greatly exaggerated. You would never know it without reading the fine print, but their win over the Islanders on Monday was their third Game Seven triumph of the Alex Ovechkin era; and contrary to what conventional wisdom would have you believe, Ovechkin has had a very productive playoff career with 66 points in his 65 post-season games... But having said that, there is something different about this year's Caps because they seem to relish the chance to win tight defensive battles when they find themselves in such games. If they get past the Rangers in Round Two, watch out.

Some have said that because all four of the Rangers' first round wins were by the same razor-thin score of 2-1, they look less formidable than they did before. However, I think that makes them even more formidable, for it shows they have the mental strength to win games when they're playing subpar and facing a brick wall of a goalie. Plus, Henrik Lundqvist demonstrated that he is on top of his game by posting a .939 save percentage and allowing just 1.94 goals per game. In each of those stats, his opening round was identical to that of Vezina front-runner Carey Price.

You gotta feel bad for Marc-Andre Fleury. Against the Rangers he registered a lights-out .927 save percentage; surrendered more than two goals in only one of five games; held New York to a single regulation goal in two of the five; and looked every bit like the Cup champion he is. Nonetheless, when Pittsburgh fans and management assess how their team needs to be improved in the off-season, they are probably going to consider him one of the weaknesses rather than one of the strengths.

You also gotta feel bad for the fans in Winnipeg. It's not like their team had a great chance to eliminate top-seeded Anaheim, but after all they've been through over the years, those fans deserve to at least experience a playoff game being won in their building. Their white out tradition is too awesome to not witness some kind of post-season success.

Also, if you have any sense of history and tradition, you gotta feel bad about the New York Islanders playing their final game in Nassau Coliseum and moving from Uniondale to Brooklyn. Although the Rangers always receive the media attention, it is the Isles who produced one of the NHL's true dynasties. When I first fell in love with hockey, Mike Bossy was the face of the game and Denis Potvin was the world's best blueliner. Maybe Nassau Coliseum is a dump by today's standards, but it is the home of hockey royalty, and is the last functioning arena to house a winner of four consecutive Stanley Cup champions.

Lastly, I will take this opportunity to puff up my hometown francise one more time: In their history, the Lightning have played five Game Sevens and never once given up more than one goal (their lone Game Seven loss was by a score of 1-0, four years ago in Boston).

I'll be back later. Go Bolts!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

et ceteras

Armenia
Since my last two posts marked historical anniversaries for the month of April, I feel like I should acknowledge another one. Starting one hundred years ago last Friday, the Ottoman (i.e., Turkish) military commenced a wholesale slaughter of Armenians, almost all of whom were Christians. According to the New York Times, within seven years the Armenian population was reduced by more than 75 percent, from approximately 2,000,000 to approximately 400,000.

So brutal, targeted, and near-total was their slaughter, that it was one of the specific examples Raphael Lemkin had in mind when he created the word "genocide" 28 years later. As for the Ottoman military at the time, it was Islamic; allied with Germany in World War I; and controlled by an officer corps that was part of the nationalist Young Turks movement. If you care to read up on the genocide, go here or here or here. Or google it yourself, of course.


Baltimore
At the risk of being called Captain Obvious, let me go ahead and say it: There are no winners and lots of victims in the current situation.

Freddie Gray is dead, and since the police already admitted that some of their personnel failed to secure medical treatment for him, his blood is on their hands and it seems that some officers should be prosecuted for anything from reckless endangerment to negligent homicide... Which would probably be just, but would still have the deleterious effect of casting good police officers in a negative light, not only in Baltimore but across America... And, still unknown is what happened to Gray once he was in custody that made him need medical care -- a question that will continue to cast the Baltimore PD in a negative light until its answer is known.

Meanwhile, the eruption of racially inflamed riots casts Baltimore in a bad light even though the riots were probably instigated by outsiders. Even worse, the riots give the appearance of validating one of the worst stereotypes against black Americans, even though the overwhelming majority of black Americans oppose them and countless numbers of black Americans have openly condemned them.

And, we are starting to see the dehumanization of Freddie Gray, often done by decent people who want to defend cops in general -- but who, in their eagerness to do so, fail to fully consider the facts of this specific case and the behavior of these specific cops. Such dehumanization is often unintended, but nonetheless it occurs whenever Gray is referred to as "a criminal" or as someone "who had a long rap sheet," as if running afoul of a too-large government with too many laws on its books somehow renders a man less worthy of life. I do not know how many times Gray was arrested before April 12th, but having perused a list of 22 times that he was, I can tell you that only one of those arrests was for something everyone would agree should be a crime (specifically, it was for burglary and I do not know if he was guilty or if he was convicted).

There is nothing good related to this story, other than a vague hope that some previously anti-gun individuals in one of our bluest states might suddenly see the light where the Second Amendment is concerned. As one of my fellow graduates from the St. Pete High Class of '89 posted on Facebook: "So, Maryland residents, how are those gun control laws working out for ya?"


The Grand Hypocrisy
Some years ago, Thomas Sowell coined the phrase "mascots of the anointed." He has applied it in a few ways, but primarily to describe how the political Left pretends to care about various minority groups in order to get their votes, despite doing little to nothing that actually helps improve the life prospects of said minorities.

The reaction to Bruce Jenner's "coming out" makes me think of Sowell's phrase. Not Jenner's expected transgender announcement, but rather his unexpected statement that when it comes to politics, "I'm kind of more on the conservative side...I believe in the Constitution." Below is a sampling of some of the things liberals posted about him (complete with all the sloppy errors!) after he said that:

hi Bruce Jenner. you had me, until you said you were a republican. you're a stupid fuck

Idc about Bruce wanting to be a lesbo but the fact that (s)he a republican lost him(her) my support

Oh I can support Bruce Jenner's sex change but a republican? Oh fuck that...

Bruce Jenner had 110% percent of my support until he pulled that republican shit #thedisrespect

#BruceJenner instantly takes away all goodwill by coming out as a ....Republican. Ew. They hate ladies, you'll see... 

So any sympathy my mother had for Bruce Jenner evaporated once she heard he wasn't a fan of President Obama

I was supportive of Her Jenner until he said she was a republican. They hate gays/transgender ppl more than they hate black ppl

So much for all that open-mindedness, tolerance, and sympathy that liberals are always telling us they're all about. But this is where society ends up when it places personal affairs within the realm of politics. Politics inevitably poisons personal affairs because it is ultimately about power, which 1) is corrupting by nature, and 2) abhors a vacuum. The politics tend to subordinate the personal; the politics tend to cause many of us to assume we know exactly which opinions specific people should have about the size and scope of government; and thus, the politics tend to cause many of us to look down on those people when we learn that their free minds have arrived at different opinions than our own.


Links
A place in West Virginia that is deliberately all but shut off from cell phones, wireless routers, and even antennas.

Forest swastikas.

A South African man who spent 12 years in a vegetative state but knew what was going on the whole time.

The letter from an 11-year-old Minneapolis girl to her city's NHL team, asking them to arrange a trade for her father (who was on the St. Louis Blues' roster) so that she could see him more often. It worked, and he is now playing for the Minnesota Wild in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Have you heard of Charles C.W. Cooke? He is one of my favorite new writers, by which I mean he is somewhere around the age of 30 and thus considerably younger than me. A British expat living on our shores, he writes for a few outlets and occasionally appears on TV. Check out a few of his recent pieces here and here.

Until next time, take care!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Reality

"Word deflation" has become almost epidemic in our society. For example, above-average sports performances are so often called "great" that the word has lost its meaning.

In sports, the word "great" was once worthy of being capitalized. It is supposed to refer to things so extraordinary that they are exceedingly rare, like Jesse Owns winning four gold medals in front of Hitler or Don Larsen pitching a perfect game in the World Series. Instead, it now gets used to refer to an NBA power forward scoring 31 points against a losing team in a regular season game. You can't blame a Millennial Generation sports fan for not finding it strange that Patrick Kane gets described with the same adjective that is synonymous with Wayne Gretzky.

Obviously, there are far more serious examples of word deflation. Those who argue for any military action, regardless of how limited or for what reason, are accused of "warmongering." Those who argue for major tax increases are called "Marxists" even if they've never said the government should control the country's means of production (admittedly, I myself have probably deflated the definition of "Marxist" a few times).

Perhaps the most pernicious example, however, is the cavalier use of the word "lynching." When people go public with their passionate opinions and others respond by passionately disagreeing, they often liken the response to "a public lynching." I know someone who said she experienced something "like a public lynching" when a whopping eleven individuals on a private Facebook timeline agreed with a blog post that did not even identify her but did disagree with one of her positions -- never mind that her name was not brought up on the timeline until the ninth of the eleven chimed in, and never mind that two of the eleven had then posted comments saying they would never criticize her by name in a public forum (full disclosure: The "lynch"-inducing blog post was written by me).

In any event, lynching has an actual definition. It means something specific in the English language, and even more specific in this country. Using it as an analogy for common and unremarkable human behavior (have you ever shared an opinion with five of your closest friends and had all of them agree with you?) is worse than bad form, and these days it happens so much we barely notice it. The problem is, this overuse numbs us to the reality of what lynching actually was and what it still could be. I suspect that when an actual historical lynching gets mentioned, most Americans barely pay attention because they've heard the word so much they've become inoculated against its horror.

I subscribe to the Faulkner school of thought which holds that "the past is never dead," and the Santayana school of thought which holds that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Knowledge of history is necessary for us to appreciate our blessings; to understand how easy it would have been for us to not receive them in the first place; and to realize that there is no guarantee we will continue to have them if we don't bother to defend them.

With that in mind, there is no better time than today -- the 116th anniversary of a particular man's death -- to think about what it really means to be lynched.

*     *     *     *     *

Newnan, Georgia is roughly 30 minutes from Atlanta and 90 minutes from my college town of Auburn, Alabama. As the seat of Coweta County, it features a handsome downtown and attractive courthouse. It is the birthplace of gold-hearted country singer Alan Jackson and the current home of a friend of mine from college. The people who live in Newnan are salt-of-the-earth types who treat individuals with respect, and they are that kind of people because their parents taught them to be.

But on April 23, 1899, something inhumane happened at Troutman Field just north of town, between Newnan and the smaller burg of Palmetto; and even though the incident garnered national attention at the time, it has been so forgotten in the interim that many of Coweta County's residents, even those from long-established families, have never heard of it.

In the 1870's a black baby was born in Macon County and given the name Tom Wilkes. At some point in his late teens or early twenties, he adopted the same Sam Hose and moved to Coweta County, where he was employed as a farmhand by Alfred and Mattie Cranford.

On April 12, 1899, Alfred Cranford was murdered in his home when somebody split his head with an axe. Authorities quickly suspected Hose, and in addition to accusing him of murdering Alfred, they also accused him of raping Mattie. The fact that he was fairly new to the area and lacked a local network of friends to vouch for him may have contributed to him being so quickly fingered.

Reports from the time described Mattie as being either "deranged" or "crazed" or "unbalanced" or "unconscious for two days" after the incident. Regardless of whether any of those words were accurate, it does not appear that she ever identified Hose as being either her husband's killer or her own rapist. Nonetheless, a number of prominent people and entities -- namely, the Atlanta Constitution, Governor Allen Candler, the Coweta County government, the town of Pametto, and Capital City National Bank President Jacob Haas -- together offered $1,600 in reward money, which would equal about $46,000 today.

At some point close to when the incident occurred, Hose left Coweta County to visit his mother, who was ill, in Macon County. Some contemporaneous reports indicated that on the day Cranford was killed, Hose requested time off to visit his mother and Cranford denied the request, leading to an argument in which Cranford brandished a gun and Hose used his axe (which he was holding because he had come inside from working) to defend himself. Other reports claim that Hose had already left by the time Cranford was killed, and others of course claim that Hose killed him in cold blood. The bottom line is that nobody knows which is true.

Several days later, J.B. and J.L. Jones, who owned the farm on which Hose's mother worked, were informed by another worker that Hose was on the property at his mother's cabin. Aware of the reward money and seeing dollar signs in their eyes, they conspired with the other worker to lure Hose into a nighttime trap, and thus they captured and bound him on April 22nd.

Because they had to personally deliver him to the authorities in Atlanta to receive the reward -- and knew that vigilantes were out to get him, and that newspaper pictures had made his face known to the general public -- the Jones brothers felt the need to disguise him en route to Atlanta. Therefore they covered him with a raincoat to hide his shackles and powdered his skin to make him appear a shade darker. However, their plan didn't work because when the train stopped at Griffin, the last stop before Atlanta, a passenger eyed the trio and alerted railroad workers. Reportedly, someone yelled: "The Palmetto killer! The nigger's here in the cars!"

Within moments, vengeance-minded people swept through the train and carried Hose off at gunpoint. A separate train, consisting of only one coach car in addition to the locomotive and coal car, was quickly assembled to transport him to Newnan. Roughly 150 "escorts," most if not all of whom were armed, crammed into it to make sure he did not escape en route. When the train arrived, mob justice was waiting.

*     *     *     *     *

Sam Hose received no trial. Humans denied him the very rights that the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution assert were given to him by God. Those hallowed documents assert that humans may not deprive their fellow humans of God-given rights, but on April 23, 1899, humans did precisely that to Sam Hose.

When we think of lynching, we tend to think... actually, we tend not to think. Instead, we abstractly realize that people died but shrug their deaths off as happening long ago and far away, even though they weren't long ago and definitely weren't far way. We tend to minimize the fact that the deceased were human beings just like ourselves. We don't ponder the sad prospect that at some point in the future, people might consider our lives and experiences to be distant and irrelevant to theirs -- the same way that too many of us consider the lives and experiences of human beings in the 1890's to be distant and irrelevant to our own. Too many of us fail to comprehend that history is a loop in which we are all players, that the actions of people in one generation create circumstances that affect the next; and that for precisely that reason, we must never forget what happened before we took life's stage.

When we hear the word "lynching," we tend to think that a person died many years ago but the world has progressed. We tend to think that they were hanged, and in so doing we tend to think that they suffered several seconds of breath-gasping but quickly blacked out and never woke up. We can unwittingly trick our minds into thinking their deaths were fast and not too painful, and the next thing you know, we never get around to contemplating the horror they must have experienced.

But here is what really happened to people back when lynching was stunningly commonplace in this ethically conceived nation, and you need not take my word for it -- instead, take the words of articles that were written at the time, like this one from the Springfield Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts, reporting on Sam Hose's death:

Before the torch was applied to the pyre, the negro was deprived of his ears, fingers and genital parts of his body... Before the body was cool, it was cut to pieces, the bones were crushed into small bits... (His) heart was cut into several pieces, as was also his liver... Small pieces of bones went for 25 cents, and a bit of liver crisply cooked sold for 10 cents.

Notice the nonchalant nature of the words, how the murder of a human being is described as antiseptically as the dissection of a fish in a high school science class... Notice the use of the word "negro" instead of "man"... And keep in mind that Hose being "deprived of" his ears, fingers and genitals (i.e., having them cut off with knives) occurred while he was still alive and very much awake.

According to this thoroughly researched book by Phillip Dray, Hose kept his fear hidden until he saw sunlight reflect off the blade of someone's knife, after which he pleaded that the mob kill him quickly. Of course, his plea was denied because "the mob's act of retribution would be considered something of a failure if Hose did not die a prolonged, painful death."

He was stripped of his clothes and tied to a pine trunk atop a pyre, which had been built of lumber, limbs, fence posts, and railroad ties. Dray provides the following account of the lynching:

The torture of the victim lasted almost half an hour. It began when a man stepped forward and very matter-of-factly sliced off Hose's ears. Then several men grabbed Hose's arms and held them forward so his fingers could be severed one by one and shown to the crowd. Finally, a blade was passed between his thighs. Hose cried in agony, and a moment later his genitals were held aloft.

From the crude incisions he'd suffered, the bound, naked man was soon covered with bright crimson blood from head to foot, and must have appeared at last to be the "black devil" the newspapers had made him out to be all along. It was the last clear glimpse the crowd had of him, for with the command "Come on with the oil!" three men lifted the large can of kerosene and dumped its contents over Sam Hose's head, and the pyre was set ablaze.

"Sweet Jesus!" Hose was heard to exclaim, and these were believed to be his last words. As the flames began licking at his legs and smoke entered his nose, eyes, and mouth he turned his head desperately from side to side. To the crowd's astonishment he somehow managed to reach back and, pushing with all his might against the tree to which he was chained, snapped the bonds around his chest, bursting a blood vessel in his neck with the strain of his exertions. For a moment it appeared this writhing, half-dead apparition might break free and stagger into the crowd, but the whites rushed forward and, using several large, heavy pieces of wood, pushed him back into the fire and pinned him down. One of these logs was near his head, and with a last desperate effort Hose grimaced and sank his teeth into it, then died.

Word of Hose's capture reached Atlanta before the lynching was carried out. So, too, did word that the lynching was planned, and trains were hastily chartered to transport people to Newnan so they could watch it like spectators at a sporting event. Therefore, when the sun climbed into the sky on April 24th, W.E.B. Du Bois was very much aware of what had happened outside of Newnan the day before.

31 years old at the time and already a renowned author, Du Bois had been living in Atlanta for two years. Troubled by what he had already learned while researching lynching, and by the fact that Sam Hose had just been lynched not far from where he lived, Du Bois decided to do something about it. He donned his best clothes, grabbed his walking cane, left his home, and began walking through downtown. He carried with him a letter of introduction to Joe Harris, an editorial writer for the Atlanta Constitution who openly supported black rights and condemned lynching.

Du Bois's intention, as he later told it, was to speak with Harris and "try to put before the South what happened in cases of this sort, and try to see if I couldn't start some sort of movement." As he made his way down Mitchell Street, however, he heard that Sam Hose's knuckles had been brought to Atlanta and were on sale at a grocery store mere blocks away. This news delivered a shock that Du Bois said "pulled me off my feet," and likely drove him to fear. It prodded him to turn around and head back home, and his hoped-for meeting with Harris never happened.

*     *     *     *     *

That, my friends, is what it means to be lynched. And the victims of every lynching include more than the person who was actually lynched.

Consider the case of Sam Hose. He was of course the primary victim, but when you read about the horrors of his final hour, it becomes easy to forget that Alfred Cranford also died a horrific death when the blade of an axe was smashed into his skull eleven days earlier.

Then there was Mattie Cranford, who, at best, witnessed the killing of her husband; or, at worst, witnessed his killing and was then immediately and violently raped while his corpse laid nearby. Mattie was only 24 at the time and died just 23 years later, after moving inside of Newnan's town limits and living a sullen life, sewing to support her family and rarely leaving the house

Which brings us to the matter of her and Alfred's children. Obviously, they were left fatherless by the events of 1899, but what I did not mention above is that they were also injured during the attack that left their father dead. The youngest son, Clifford, was blinded in his left eye.

All black residents in the area were victims, in that they must have lived the remainder of their lives on a razor's edge of fear, knowing what fate could befall them if somebody decided to accuse them of a crime.

Hose's mother was a victim, left ill and frail and without her son.

The consciences of white people in the area -- those who were sickened by the wickedness of the lynching yet had to keep living amid those who did it -- were also victims

Honor was a victim because the Newnan residents who tried to stop the lynching -- one of whom was a former governor, William Yates Atkinson -- never got the recognition they deserved.

Truth was a victim because there is no way to know if Hose was innocent or guilty of killing Alfred and raping Mattie.

Justice was a victim because Hose was killed without proof of wrongdoing, without even being allowed to defend himself... and justice was also a victim because if Hose was in fact innocent, then it means the killer walked free and remained able to harm others.

W.E.B. Du Bois's faith in humanity and the United States were victims, for he lost them both and understandably so. Although he went on to have a long and decent life, often advocating for civil rights and not dying until the age of 95, it is a stain on our history that one of our most brilliant minds wound up feeling compelled to flee into the arms of Communist sympathizing; and I can't help but wonder if the lynching of San Hose was a major reason that happened.

And, though it is easy not to think about them, the souls of some of the people who participated in the lynching were victims, as were the souls of some of the people who watched and enjoyed it. It has been said that several perpetrators struggled with emotional problems for the remainder of their days. In 2006, a Coweta County retiree said that an older relative once confessed to having participated in the lynching and to spending the rest of his life struggling to come to terms with his actions that night. The anguish of the guilty in this case was as nothing compared to the anguish of the innocent -- and I suspect it was no different than the anguish of Marley's ghost, who declared "I wear the chain I forged in life" -- yet I do believe that for some of them, it was just as sincere as it was deserved.

But here is the ultimate kicker: The lynching of Sam Hose was not even remotely unique. According to the Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive, there were 4,743 documented lynchings in this country between 1882 and 1968, with the victims being black in almost three-fourths of them. This equates to 55 per year, which is an average of more than one per week. That average was certainly higher during the early decades of the period in question, and would probably be higher still if statistics were known for the years between 1865 (when the Civil War ended) and 1882.

Lynching was a real phenomenon and was not confined to the distant past. We should never forget that. And when somebody claims that they feel like they were lynched because they were the subject of criticism or jokes, we should tell them we understand that the experience had to hurt -- and then we should gently explain to them what it really means to be lynched.


Addendum:  There is an interesting side note regarding Joe Harris, the editorial writer that W.E.B. Du Bois intended to meet with. Although he went by Joe Harris as a journalist, people today are more likely to know him by his full given name, Joel Chandler Harris, under which he wrote the Uncle Remus stories when he was younger.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

240 Years Ago Today

The hours from tonight through tomorrow morning mark the 240th anniversary of Paul Revere’s “midnight ride” and the battles that ensued. It is one of the most significant anniversaries in American history -- perhaps the most significant, because it can be argued that if not for the events that took place on April 18th and 19th, 1775, the United States might never have come to be.

Tensions between colonists and the royal rulers from the other side of the Atlantic were running high in those days. Though this was true in all of the colonies that would become our first 13 states, it was especially true in Massachusetts, where the monarchy had effectively shut Boston off from the world by blockading its port and quartering large numbers of soldiers within the city.

It was believed that government forces (officially called "Regulars" and derisively called "redcoats") would invade the colony en masse, so residents in surrounding towns had been stockpiling munitions to defend themselves. The redcoats targeted Lexington and Concord, the former because revolutionaries John Hancock and Samuel Adams were thought to be there, and the latter because it hosted the Provincial Congress and was rumored to have a huge stash of munitions the government wanted to confiscate.

When redcoat forces were detected sneaking from Boston under cover of darkness on April 18th, Paul Revere and William Dawes mounted their horses and galloped into the countryside to warn their fellow citizens. Revere departed from Charlestown, across the Charles River from Boston proper, while Dawes left directly from the city. Revere’s route was the shortest to Lexington and Concord, and thus he was the first to warn their occupants of what was coming.

The next morning, Lexington’s village green was the site of the first skirmish between government forces and the citizen militia known as minutemen. The latter took the worst of it, with eight dead and ten wounded compared to just a single wounded redcoat.

The redcoats then marched on to their primary goal of Concord. After arriving and crossing the North Bridge, nearly half of them went about securing the bridge while the rest searched for weapons. When wooden cannon mounts were found, they were set afire and before long the flames engulfed a church.

Positioned on Punkatasset Hill some 300 yards from the bridge, Concord’s minutemen had been joined by minutemen from neighboring towns, giving them a numerical advantage the redcoats did not anticipate. When they saw the rising smoke, they believed their homes were being destroyed and responded by advancing.

Seeing them approach in such numbers, the redcoats retreated back across the bridge. A shot soon rang out, though no one knows who fired it, and within minutes a full-blown battle had transpired in which half of the officers from the government troops were wounded. Disoriented, they fled back toward Boston and along the way fell under fire from minutemen who had arrived from elsewhere and were hiding behind fences and walls. By the time they made it back to the city, they had sustained more than 200 casualties.

It was an indisputable defeat for the world’s most powerful military, delivered by ordinary people seeking simply to defend themselves against oppression. The example set by those people ignited the fuse of the American Revolution in such a way that it would not be extinguished.

But as with all mass "remembrances" of things that happened long ago, some of the things people assume to be true are not. In the case of Paul Revere's ride, the inaccuracies cut both ways and are of differing levels of importance.

Generations upon generations of American schoolchildren have been told that Revere warned farmers and villagers that "the British are coming!" Those schoolchildren have grown up and passed along that telling to their own kids. In reality, however, what Revere said that night was "the Regulars are coming out." That quote is from his own subsequent account, and from accounts of those he warned. It would never have occurred to him to say "the British are coming!" because he himself was British and so was everyone else in the 13 colonies.

For Revere to have warned people that "the British are coming" would be like me telling my neighbors that state troopers are entering the neighborhood by saying "the Floridians are coming." It would not have made sense. But by keeping the "British are coming" narrative alive for so long, and casually saying that the subsequent Revolutionary War was against "the British," we citizens of the United States have unwittingly distorted something important about our nation's genesis. Specifically, we have abetted a myth which holds that the idea of individual human beings having rights upon which government may not infringe was born on these shores, in the brains of our Founding Fathers. In reality, that idea -- which I fervently believe and which I do indeed "hold to be self-evident" -- was born not in American colonies of the 1700's but in southern England of the 1200's.

A full 558 years before the Boston Tea Party, 560 before Paul Revere's ride, and 561 before the Declaration of Independence, the outline of individual rights that would later serve as the basis for the United States was laid out in the Magna Carta, in the year 1215. Because human nature is human nature and political power abhors a vacuum, the British government infringed on those rights as the centuries passed, but the Magna Carta did not disappear from the British public conscience. In the 1500's an upsurge of interest in that document was kindled; and in the 1600's, Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke argued in favor of the freedom that was enshrined in it.

When our Founding Fathers pushed back against the monarchy of the 1700's, they did not do so with the belief that they were sailing uncharted philosophical waters. They did so because they believed, accurately, that their rights as British citizens had been violated by a British government that was acting counter to British ideals. They considered themselves the true Britons and the rulers from London the false Britons. The notion of a separate American identity decoupled from any British identity probably never entered their minds, yet a separate identity is what came to be. Most Americans living today wrongly believe that a separate identity was part of the plan.

I am not sure exactly how to build the bridge between the inaccuracy I just noted and the one I am about to note, so I won't even attempt to build it. However, the inaccuracy is worth noting and there may be no better time to do it than when talking about Paul Revere's ride, so here I go -- and it is related to, of all things, race.

I am a history buff who grew up in a house where history was frequently discussed, and I always did good in school, always taking advanced classes, so it says something bad about American schools that I never heard of Crispus Attucks or Peter Salem until I was grown. Rather than learn their names when I studied AP American History, I learned them by reading the text of a speech that was given by Duke Ellington in 1941, in which he passionately made the case that black Americans are historically loyal to and historically integral to the United States.

Opining that "although numerically but ten percent of the mammoth chorus that today, with an eye overseas, sings 'America' with fervor and thanksgiving, I say our ten percent is the very heart of the chorus," Ellington mentioned that "America is reminded of the feats of Crispus Attucks, Peter Salem, black armies in the Revolution..." Realizing that those names had been mentioned with the assumption that listeners knew them (in the era of Jim Crow, no less) got me to researching, and I learned things that most Americans would have a hard time believing.

Crispus Attucks was born a slave, circa 1723 in the vicinity of Framingham, Massachusetts, which tells you that slavery was not just a Southern thing. Attucks was the son of a black man and Natick Indian woman, and at some point in his adult life became either a free man or a runaway slave who was not seriously pursued. What is known for sure is that he became a productive rope-maker, seaman, and goods-trader who was known and respected on the Boston docks.

On March 2, 1770, five years before Paul Revere's ride, a fight erupted between redcoats and Boston rope-makers. Three nights later, the dispute escalated when five Bostonians were killed by redcoats in an event that came to be known as the Boston Massacre. Many historians consider the massacre to be the first violent act that started history's train chugging toward the Revolutionary War, and because Attucks was the first colonist to die in the massacre, he -- a biracial man born a slave, hailing from the only two races that have experienced systemic legal racism in America -- is considered by many to be the first fatality of the American Revolution. Today you can visit his final resting place in Beantown's third-oldest cemetery.

Meanwhile, Peter Salem was also born a slave in the vicinity of Framingham. His original slave master, Jeremiah Belknap, at some point sold him to Lawson Buckminster. In 1775, when Salem was believed to be 25 years old, Buckminster granted him freedom and he enlisted in the Continental Army to combat the redcoats.

Salem was literally involved in Paul Revere's ride because he fought as a minuteman during the skirmish in Concord. One week later he enlisted with the 5th Massachusetts Regiment and went on to fight at the famous Battles of Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Stony Point.

One of the colonists' main achievements at Bunker Hill was the killing of British Major John Pitcairn as the battle unfolded. It is known that Salem was one of the soldiers who shot Pitcairn, and generally believed that his shot was the first to strike him. Salem's role was publicly acknowledged as far back as 1786, when a famous painting by John Trumbull depicted him holding a musket as Pitcairn fell. In 1968, that portion of the painting (excluding the image of Pitcairn on the ground) was reproduced as this U.S. postage stamp.

After the war Salem built a cabin near Leicester, Massachusetts, where he lived most of his remaining days subsisting as a gardener and cane-weaver. He was reportedly well-liked by the townspeople and enjoyed regaling children by telling them stories of the war. Upon his death in 1816, he was laid to rest at the Old Burying Ground in his birth town of Framingham. In 1882 Framingham established an annual Peter Salem Day, and the town still observes his birthday each October 1st.

None of which is to deny that slavery was America's Original Sin, or that racial inequality in non-slave areas was American's Original Sin Part 1(b). These historical facts do, however, show that the racial jumble which existed at America's founding was not as cut-and-dry as most people assume. They show that the Revolution was supported by more people than just the rich and "lily white." These things need to be understood and taught in order for future generations to have a true, balanced understanding (and appreciation) of how America got to where it is.

The train of history does not follow an inevitable track. It changes direction over and over again based on the actions and inactions of men and women. If a bunch of ticked-off English property owners had not precipitated the drafting of the Magna Carta in 1215... if later encroachments by the British monarchy had not incited people to hold the Magna Carta dear to their hearts... if the likes of John Locke had not later written clearly about the ideals of liberty that were at its heart... if, later still, Adam Smith had not written about how those ideals apply to economics and lead to mutually beneficial free trade... if the Founding Fathers had not read the likes of Locke and Smith, and not sought to re-assert individual rights against the monarchy's despotic aims... if Crispus Attucks, by being murdered along with four other Bostonians in 1770, had not helped make commoners feel antipathy to the crown... if Paul Revere had not chosen to warn colonists with his midnight ride, so that the colonists could prevent the British Regulars from stealing their arms... if Peter Salem had not been at Bunker Hill to shoot Major Pitcairn and deprive the British military of one of its most creative leaders... if America's early abolitionists were not able to point to heroic actions by the likes of Peter Salem, in order to give some of their uncertain countrymen pause and thereby keep their movement alive... well, who knows what would have happened? Those are a lot of ifs, and every one of them was an important link in a very long chain that eventually led to freedom expanding its reach and slavery being abolished in North America.

Today is a day for reflection on our shared past, and a time for figuring out how we can learn from that past to decide what course we should take in today's extremely dangerous world. We must take pains to ensure that our national memory first gets strengthened, and that it then gets preserved, if we have any hope of being confident and self-assured as we face the future.
  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's That Time Again


The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight. Obviously, all 16 teams who qualified have a theoretical chance to win it all; but this year the race to the finish line is more open than usual, and all 16 teams have a truly legitimate chance.

Here are some thoughts on what is to come over the next two months, starting with my take on the top three seeds from each conference. It is well-known that I'm a Lightning fan, but for right now I am putting that partisanship on the shelf so I can make these thoughts objective. Here goes:


EASTERN CONFERENCE

New York Rangers
Fans in Manhattan have to be feeling excited, because the last time the Blueshirts won the President's Cup they also won the Stanley Cup. They finished with a franchise record 112 points that year, and this year they eclipsed that mark with a new record of 113. Then, as now, their roster featured a number of players in their thirties who had won championships earlier in their careers and were hungry to win another before Father Time caught up with them.

The Rangers have only grown stronger since reaching the finals last year. Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the world, and incredibly, after he went out with an injury on February 3rd, the Rangers went 17-4-3 with back-up Cam Talbot playing in his stead. This team is for real and has what is needed to break the West's three-year run of Cup titles.


Montreal Canadiens
The Habs probably have the biggest chip on their shoulder of any team this post-season, for they genuinely (and not without reason) believe they would have represented the East in last year's SCF had Carey Price not gotten injured in Game One of the conference finals. Many players in their locker room still believe the hit that injured Price was "accidental on purpose," as Brandon Prust put it at the time.

Montreal's forwards buzz the net relentlessly. Their defensive corps is stout and P.K. Subban is arguably the best defenseman in the league. Price finished with a .933 save percentage and nine shutouts and is expected to win the Vezina. It has been 22 years since hockey's winningest franchise hoisted the Cup, and this year's squad has the goods to put it back on top...


Tampa Bay Lightning
...unless, perhaps, they encounter the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs. Tampa Bay swept Montreal this season and in the process outscored them 21-8. They averaged 3.47 goals per game against Price while the rest of the NHL averaged only 1.96.

The Bolts have that crucial post-season experience that was missing a season ago, and are playing with an edge and sureness that just didn't exist at this time in 2014... Their forward lines are the deepest in the league, deeper even than Chicago's, with legitimate scoring threats throughout the whole roster... Between the pipes, Ben Bishop just put up a second straight stellar season and broke his own franchise record by notching 40 victories between opening and closing day.

However, Tampa Bay has an Achilles heel and it is known as team defense. Beyond the first line, the defensive talent drops off dramatically and opposing players often get left open in the slot. Tampa Bay could make a run all the way to the Promised Land, but all the same, this Achilles heel could cause them to bow out early.


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have a Cup to their name and often do well in the playoffs, which makes it odd that nobody outside of Southern California noticed them as they went about winning the West's top seed for this post-season. Maybe it's because they did so one year after the face of their franchise, Teemu Selanne, skated off into retirement along with fellow Finn Saku Koivu.

I follow hockey closely but saw very little of the Ducks this season, so I cannot offer much authentic insight about them. I do, however, know that Ryan Getzlaf can generate points at any time; and I know the addition of Ryan Kesler gives the Ducks a gadflyish presence that was lacking in 2014; and I know that the presence of ten 30-point producers means they should be able to count on the kind of secondary scoring that is essential to playoff success. This squad just might bring Lord Stanley's Cup back to the LA Basin for the third time in four years.


St. Louis Blues
The Blues are the oldest franchise to have never won the Stanley Cup, and it has been 45 years since they reached the finals. After last season's go-for-broke Ryan Miller experiment crashed and burned with a first-round playoff exit, this season did not start with any sense that they would be good enough to make a title run, but like some sage once said: That's why they play the games.

The Blues played strong all year and enter the playoffs having been tough as steel down the stretch, with more than a few prognosticators now picking them to win it all. Their hallmarks are grit, balance, and a roster that seems to present match-up problems for every opponent they face. With 37 goals and 36 assists, Vladimir Tarasenko is on the cusp of stardom, and even though everybody knows who he is, he still might be the most underrated forward in the league.

But is the Blues' goaltending good enough? Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are both good, yet neither established himself as a clear #1 over the other and that is often a bad sign. Is either of them clutch enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when the team is facing difficulty?


Nashville Predators
Last year, when the Preds failed for the second straight year to qualify for the post-season, heads rolled. This year they are back in the playoffs with home ice advantage against the powerhouse Blackhawks in the opening round.

With Peter Laviolette behind the bench; Pekka Rinne in net; Shea Weber patrolling the blue line; a pair of 60-point scorers in 20-year-old Filip Forsberg and 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro; and a whopping ten centremen who are all able to move seamlessly to the wing without missing a beat, this team is for real. It has a good chance to turn the Music City into the third place in the Southeastern U.S. that Lord Stanley calls home.


DARK HORSES

Chicago Blackhawks:  They've won two of the last five Cups, they missed the finals by just one game last season, and overall they have the deepest roster in the NHL. This team would be the brightest "dark" horse ever to ride the land even if Patrick Kane wasn't expected back for Game One tonight. But he is. Damn.

Vancouver Canucks:  After several years' worth of near-misses and high-profile player departures, wouldn't it seem about right for the Canucks to finally win a championship right when everybody thought their window had closed? And even if Ryan Miller starts off behind Eddie Lack, wouldn't it seem about right for him to finally earn a ring after all those years in Buffalo, plus last year's crash and burn when he temporarily played for St. Louis? After all, he did account for 29 wins this season versus Lack's 18.

Ottawa Senators:  Not every team in the playoffs has equal talent, but each one does have extremely good talent; and when talent levels are close to even, belief can make all the difference in the world. With that being said, watch out for the team from Canada's capital because it enters the post-season on a hot streak and brimming with confidence... and with The Hamburglar standing on his head... and more important than anything else, it enters with a sense of purpose after assistant coach Mark Reeds died of cancer yesterday morning.


PREDICTIONS

Whoever wins the first round series between Nashville and Chicago will go on to represent the Western Conference in the SCF.

If Nashville wins it all, Mike Fisher will have several clutch goals in the SCF and will end up being awarded the Conn Smythe.

However, Nashville won't win it all because this year's champion will come from the East.

If Tampa Bay makes a deep run, its Russian Connection (RW Nikita Kucherov, C Vladimir Namestnikov, and D Nikita Nesterov) will be a big factor and all three of those players will have starring moments. Also, fourth-line centreman Brian Boyle will quietly win a higher percentage of face-offs than anyone else playing for any other playoff team.

If the Rangers win it all, it will be in part because Martin St. Louis lights it up in clutch moments -- and Lightning fans such as myself will need to figure out how we should feel about that.


WISHES

Obviously, for the Lightning to win the Cup (and for them to finally get around to retiring Dave Andreychuk's number when they raise the banner to start next season).

If my above wish doesn't come true, and if I am wrong about this year's champion coming from the East, then I want this year's champion to be the Winnipeg Jets. Just because. After all, it would be right for a small-market Canadian city to witness the Cup being paraded through its streets while ticker tape rains down.

Since Ottawa fans howled with nationalist rage when Mike Fisher departed for Nashville -- mocking him as "Mike Underwood" because they perceived the move as being done for the benefit of his smokin' hot, country-singin' American wife Carrie Underwood -- wouldn't it be fun to see Nashville face Ottawa in the Stanley Cup Finals?

Despite my soft spot for Winnipeg and small-market Canadian teams in general, if the above happens and Nashville faces Ottawa, I want Nashville to win... and I want Fisher to score the Cup-winning goal, in Ottawa, in overtime... and then I want Carrie Underwood to get down and dirty and do something inappropriate on the air while drinking from the Cup.

Wait. Did I just type that?


Monday, April 13, 2015

Slager and Scott

I was in Atlanta on business last week and intended to spend the evenings finishing a post that was two-thirds of the way done when I left Tampa. However, that didn't happen because a downward medical spiral landed me in the hospital for much of the week.

I like this blog to be about things and ideas, not me, so I won't dwell on the medical issues here -- other than to say 1) don't hesitate to seek treatment if you find yourself vomiting more than once in the same hour, and 2) don't ignore those "please consult your physician before starting a new diet" warnings. I violated my own advice on #2, which is why I wound up in the hospital. Fortunately, I took my own advice on #1 and that is why I'm still among the living.

While laid up, I had a lot of time to scroll through my smart phone and think about current events, and my mind swayed from my almost-finished post to the recent police shooting in South Carolina.

Although I hate commenting about alleged crimes before knowing all the evidence and before they are tried in court (especially when the crime in question is packed with incendiary racial powder) sometimes it's so hard to avoid. This is one of those times.

Multiple videos document the incident which led to Walter Scott's death: The well-known one of him being gunned down by Michael Slager, plus the less publicized dashcam video of Slager pulling him over, as well as dashcams from the cars of other responding officers. Reportedly, none of the other dashcams captured the shooting.

Based on what I can gather, it certainly seems that Slager is guilty of murder with the only question being to what degree? It chills me to say that about a man before he is tried, but no matter what context gets applied, there is no question that Scott was fleeing, meaning their confrontation was over. The rules of engagement dictate that an officer may pursue a fleeing suspect, but may not shoot him unless he is believed to be a threat to the life or safety of the officer or others. In this case, even if Scott did manage to separate Slager from his taser and even if he at some point used the taser against him, Scott was still fleeing and unarmed when he was killed. I find it impossible to believe that Slager believed he was in danger when he fired, and although it is often unfair to armchair-quarterback the police, I cannot think of any reason for him to have believed that anyone else was in danger either.

There does not seem to have been premeditation -- I don't think Slager pulled Scott over intending to kill him -- so this does not seem to be a case of first-degree murder. However, it certainly appears to be second- or third-degree murder, or, at the absolute least, manslaughter. Slager did not pull the trigger when he and Scott were confronting one another, nor did he pull it when they were in close range, nor did he pull it by mistake. Slager pulled the trigger on purpose, a total of eight times, and shot Scott in the back -- and as he surely knows, moving targets are hard to hit, so some shots fired at fleeing suspects are sure to miss and keep traveling to God knows where, endangering the lives of people nearby who are innocent and uninvolved. I'm not a prosecutor or legislator, but I suspect South Carolina has some laws regarding "reckless endangerment" or "negligence" that Slager violated when he fired eight times at a moving unarmed man from a considerable distance away.

Finally, here is what I really thought while propped up in a hospital bed scrolling through my phone: Whatever degree of harm Slager committed from a legal perspective, the degree he committed from a civic perspective is worse, for the United States is a self-governing society whose survival relies upon the trustworthiness of those employed by the public to keep it safe.

As Ronald Reagan said, "We the People are the driver, the government is the car." Because police are the armed representatives of the government, it is absolutely essential for the people to trust that police will properly and faithfully perform their duty -- and it is absolutely essential for the police to perform their duty in such a way that the people's trust is warranted. When an officer of the law violates the trust, he tears at the fabric that holds a free society together, and there are only so many times a fabric can be torn before it becomes impossible to sew back together.

In short, when Guilty Person A kills Innocent Person B, the damaging effects ripple through the lives of friends and family; but when Guilty Law Enforcement Officer A kills Innocent Person B, the damaging effects can ripple in various ways throughout the whole society, all the way from North Charleston, SC to Los Angeles, CA and across the Pacific to Honolulu, HI.

When, as happened in the case of Michael Slager and Walter Scott, the mayor of the police officer's town goes on the air and seems to minimize the officer's actions by calling them merely "a bad decision," the ripples that go out through society become immeasurably worse. They suggest the government is out for itself, not for the people who entrusted it with power, and this creates a poisonous environment that is an affront to the American experiment and deserves to be treated as such.

Michael Slager will have his day in court, which he deserves, and all Americans should respect that fact before casting their final judgment. To be clear, I do not believe he is guilty of premeditated murder and do not know if there were any legitimately mitigating circumstances at work when he slayed Walter Scott on April 5th. Maybe this article will prove to be on to something, and we will come to learn that Slager is being railroaded.

But for the life of me, I cannot imagine any mitigating circumstances that could erase the fact Slager killed Scott from behind and risked killing innocents in the process, at a time when he had no reason to fear for his safety and no reason to believe Scott was a threat to anyone else.

Some will try to lessen the wrongness of the shooting by pointing out that Scott was behind in child support, or by pointing out that it appears he was driving a stolen vehicle. Such statements are nothing more than red herrings, the mouthing of irrelevancies. Their purpose is to dehumanize the deceased and portray him as less deserving of life than your average citizen. Nowhere in the annals of American justice does it say that death is an appropriate penalty for not having enough money to pay your child support. Nowhere in the annals of American justice does it say that death is an appropriate penalty for the alleged theft of an automobile.

The annals of American justice do, however, attest that we are all equal before the law and each of us should have our day in court. Those who seek to dehumanize Walter Scott and defend Michael Slager by citing the former's petty offenses should remember this: Scott was denied his day in court by Slager, and denied his life by Slager, while Slager continues to live and will no doubt have his day in court.

As I see it, those who would seek to dehumanize Scott are just as responsible for causing damage to the American experiment as are all of the policemen who violate their oaths of office.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Indiana

President Obama just announced the framework of a multi-nation, not-yet-completed treaty with Iran. Because the proposed treaty could either prevent or guarantee nuclear war, it sure seems like I should be blogging about it if I am going to blog about a current event.

However, there is no way I could do a thorough enough job researching the proposed treaty, analyzing it, and thinking about its myriad possible outcomes to do it justice on the same day it is announced. Plus, the treaty is not fully formed and remains months away from being finalized. Therefore, tonight I am going to finish and publish what I started writing last night, which happens to be a blog post about another current event that has dominated the air waves for the past several days.

The current event is the Hoosier State's recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). More specifically, it is the response to the RFRA, about which I say this: The reaction of pop culture and the Left has been filled with nonsense, falsehood, intolerance, and idiocy.

Liberty is America's founding principle. Boil the essence of liberty down to one sentence, and it is this: Nobody can be forced to engage in commerce or personal interaction against his will. This is common sense and should be obvious to every person with an IQ higher than an amoeba's. All Indiana's RFRA does is reaffirm this inarguable essence of liberty, yet it is being portrayed as the gateway through which tyranny akin to Jim Crow will be permitted to afflict our land. This portrayal is bullshit.

Freedom of association is integral to any free nation, for without it there is no freedom. Freedom of association means that I can choose to eat dinner with whomever I want assuming he agrees to eat dinner with me; that I was able to marry Erika because she wanted to marry me; that I can choose which company to work for assuming it agrees to hire me because I meet its criteria; that I was able to matriculate at Auburn University because it agreed that my SAT scores and high school GPA met its standards; and so on and so forth.

The above interactions are proper, just, and free, precisely because all parties enter them voluntarily. If you take away their voluntariness and make them compulsory, you render the interactions improper, unjust, and despotic. To say that Person A must do whatever Person B requests does not liberate Person B -- it enslaves Person A. Also, it turns the whole notion of rights upside down by forcing Person A to satisfy Person B's requests without any regard to what those requests impose on Person A.

Indiana's RFRA is being portrayed as something that gives homophobic troglodytes a license to push homosexuals to the back, and out the back, of the socially acceptable bus. But that's not true. The RFRA merely confirms that in the event a business (read: business owner) is sued for any kind of discrimination, one of the things he may cite when defending himself is that it would have violated his religion to engage in whatever it was he declined to engage. But it would still be up to the jury or court, on a case by case basis, to decide if that defense is sufficient to find him innocent.

Since 20 other states plus the federal government have RFRA's almost identical to Indiana's, it's worth noting that there has not been any outbreak of American companies refusing goods and services to gay Americans and justifying it by referencing their religious sensibilities. The foundation on which Indiana's RFRA is built is not some weird, illiberal, backwater concept. It comes directly from the First Amendment, which liberals claim to hold dear. In its entirety, the First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (italics mine)

If liberals genuinely disagree with Indiana's RFRA, then they genuinely disagree with their allegedly cherished First Amendment. If they really want to remove the legal imprimatur from Indiana's RFRA, they need to start agitating to repeal the First Amendment -- and if they succeed in getting it repealed, they better not complain when they themselves are subsequently prevented from speaking their minds, or when the government subsequently passes laws mandating that only certain kinds of stories may be printed in newspapers.

After all, if it's okay to force a fundamentalist Baptist baker who opposes gay marriage to accommodate a customer by baking a wedding cake that says "Congratulations on your nuptials, Mark and Ted," then it's also okay to force a gay activist baker to accommodate a customer by baking a cake that has this quote from the Bible: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable (Leviticus 20:13, NIV)."

By the logic of pop culture and the Left, it must also be okay to force a Muslim baker to accommodate a customer by baking a gay wedding cake -- or by baking a cake that has an image of Mohammed on it, never mind that his religion says creating such an image is a crime punishable by death. In Leftist Land, one must furnish a customer with whatever the customer wants.

So, it must be okay to force a black baker to bake a wedding cake for a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, should a Grand Wizard come into his bakery and place an order, should it not?

It must be okay to force an anti-gun vegetarian caterer to cook an all-beef buffet for a gun-rights fundraiser.

It must be okay to force a sign maker whose wife was killed on 9/11 to make a banner heralding the opening of a Sharia mosque.

It must be okay to force a gay commercial artist to paint a billboard for Westboro Baptist Church.

It must be okay to force a Hindu commercial artist to paint a Christian church mural declaring "Those who do not accept Jesus will spend eternity in Hell." After all, if the church's pastor asks him to do so, the pastor is a customer, and how dare the Hindu commercial artist "discriminate" against him.

And by the way, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Hollywood classic Birth of a Nation, which introduced so many groundbreaking film techniques that it is considered one of the most influential movies of all time. It was also deplorably racist and openly glorified the KKK... So I ask: If a movie buff wants to sponsor a centennial screening of Birth of a Nation, in recognition of its technological contributions to film-making, is it okay for him to force the black owner of his town's independent theater to do the screening?... After all, he approached the theater owner as a customer in a business transaction, and would never even think of encouraging anyone to harm the theater owner; and the theater owner would profit from movie historians and sociology students patronizing his business to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see a controversial but influential film; so how dare the theater owner "impose his values" on the customer by denying the request?

Do I really need to go on? Why is there even any controversy over Indiana's law? It protects freedom of association and by doing so it upholds a core American principle. It encourages tolerance, not intolerance, because it does not allow one person to compel another to do something he objects to. Why the outrage?

Oh, that's right: Indiana is a red state and liberals love to say that red states are filled with oppressive bigots eager to run roughshod over "people who are not like them."

So, the Left has collectively chosen to lie about Indiana's RFRA because that allows them to lie about the general character of Indiana's citizens. This deception is detestable, not only because it implicitly slanders the 6.6 million people who call Indiana home but because it intentionally attacks the core human values of tolerance, individual liberty, and individual conscience. In other words, it intentionally attacks the very values that liberals profess to uphold.

If liberals really believed everything they said, attacking Indiana over its RFRA would trouble them. That they are attacking it so ruthlessly proves, yet again, what many of us have long known: That in general, liberals only mean what they say when they say they hate conservatives.

Like I already mentioned, 20 states other than Indiana have RFRA's almost identical to Indiana's, and so does the federal government. What I did not already mention is that those other states are not all, shall we say, of the red variety. They include such strongholds of right-wing extremism as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, which should make it odd that Connecticut's governor has responded to Indiana's law by banning state-sanctioned travel to Indiana. But knowing the Left, it's not odd, because insincere poppycock is its stock in trade.

Oh, and back when Illinois passed its RFRA in 1998, one of the state senators who voted for it was a guy named Barack Obama.

About the federal government's RFRA: It was passed by a Democrat-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate, then signed into law by a Democrat president named Bill Clinton, whose wife is considered the front-runner to become president less than two years from now... And, it was/is so uncontroversial, non-threatening, and non-partisan that it passed the Senate by a vote of 97-3... And among the three who voted against it was Republican Jesse Helms, who liberals spent the first half of my life decrying as the personification of Lucifer himself. Since they accused Helms of being a bigot, does that mean those who now oppose Indiana's law are bigots?

Among the shrillest critics of Indiana's law is Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook is liberal, as is the norm for Apple executives and legions of Apple customers. Writing in the Washington Post about Indiana's RFRA, he called it "dangerous" and declared that he is "standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation wherever it emerges." Here's the problem I have: Apple does tons of business in Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which put people to death for being homosexual, yet Cook has never penned an op-ed or staged a news conference to declare that he is opposed to those nations' laws.

In fact, Apple has many more stores in Iran's capital city than it does in the entire state of Indiana, yet Tim Cook will not bring himself to criticize Iran's death to gays policy even though he happily criticizes Indiana's policy of "can't be forced to bake a gay wedding cake if you don't want to." And, Tim Cook is gay!

The bottom line is that Indiana is right -- and its critics are wrong at best, devious at worst. When pop culture and the Left tell you to oppose something, you can bet your bottom dollar that what you should really do is support it.

The nutty, contrived brouhaha over Indiana's RFRA is a perfect illustration of the fact that pop culture is fueled by ignorance and the Left is full of deceivers.