Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Public Non-Apologies

From Ben Carson to Alfred Blue to brand new President-elect of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes; the art of the public non-apology is alive and well in the world.  These are only a few of the most recent public non-apologies and the thing they have in common beyond that is the subject of the so-called apology.  Each person apologized about saying something offensive about gay people.  

Ben Carson said "Marriage is between a man and a woman, it's a well-established pillar of society, and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are.  They don't get to change the definition."  His apology was, "Although I do believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, there are much less offensive ways to make that point.  I hope all will look at a lifetime of service over some poorly chosen words."  

Alfred Blue, an LSU football player said of the ultra-macho and aggressive sport of football, “Ain’t no little boys out here between them lines. So if you gay, we look at you as a sissy. You know? Like, how you going to say you can do what we do and you want a man?”  His apology started off with this remark: “I understand that my comments may have sounded insensitive to those who read the Reveille article on Friday."  

And then we come to President-elect Cartes, who said he would shoot himself in the testicles if his son wanted to marry a man.  Cartes apologized by saying "I feel no shame in apologizing to those who felt offended for an expression of mine in respect to same-sex marriage."  

I'm sure it is entirely accurate for President-elect Cartes so say that he feels no shame.  I think even a cursory glance at that apology would indicate that Cartes isn't in any way apologetic for his comments.  He's sorry that people are unhappy about what he said.  Though, when I say sorry, I seriously doubt that he's feeling contrite, more that it's a nuisance.  These are the sort of apologies that public figures routinely give out.  They're sorry if you're offended.  They're sorry if your feelings were hurt.  They're sure you just misunderstood what they said.  If only you'd give them a second chance to rephrase, everything would be fine.  

What these things amount to is in no way an apology.  In a way, it's an accusation.  You didn't get it.  You were offended.  They didn't do anything wrong.  You just failed to understand.  It's not that these people have heinous and backwards opinions, not at all.  

Alfred Blue understands that his comments may have sounded offensive, but clearly doesn't grasp that they were, beyond being offensive, factually incorrect.  A person's sexual orientation or gender identity has no bearing whatever on their ability to throw and catch and run into someone.  Meanwhile Ben Carson thinks that what he's guilty of is "poorly chosen words".  What he's guilty of, among other things, is the same old conservative line that lumps homosexuality in with things like pedophilia.  Of course, the most colorful language comes from President-elect Cartes, who would go so far as to physically harm himself if his son were gay.  

Public apologies are part of being a public figure, but what I'd like to know, is when public figures are going to figure out that insincere apologies are worse than no apology at all.  We're all fully capable of reading between the lines of their awful apologies and so I wanted to give public figures a few lines to avoid...

Things You Should Never Say While Apologizing:
  1. "I'm sorry if what I said was misconstrued..."
  2. "I apologize if people were offended by what I said..."
  3. "I understand that I what I said may have sounded hurtful..."
  4. "I'm sorry that my words were so poorly and hastily chosen..."
  5. "I apologize to the Jews, they're good small businessmen as well." (Okay, that one's pretty specific.)
Let me tell you, public figures, the same thing I tell my son: apologies are great, but they're just words.  In other words, don't tell me you're sorry, show me.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Machin-Toomey and Senate-Shaming

There was a hot second after Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) agreed to co-sponsor a gun control bill with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA) that I thought, "hey, that's really big of you Toomey."  This was a literal second and it did - as all seconds do - end quickly.  Toomey's reasoning behind being able to support this so-called gun-control bill was that it wasn't to do with limiting guns or magazine sizes, it deals with background checks.  Toomey says background checks aren't really gun control, therefore even as a Republican he can support them.

Well, the background checks in this bill certainly aren't gun control.  Saturday Night Live said it best...

According to The Huffington Post:
"The language has not been finalized. But talks have centered on exempting gun sellers whose businesses are located far from a federal firearms licensee -- perhaps outside a 100-mile radius -- from performing background checks on gun buyers."
Apparently the concern is that requiring background checks for all gun purchases would be overly burdensome on rural gun owners.  While we're at it, why don't we exempt people in isolated rural areas from having to take driver's tests or registering their cars.  I mean, I know I have always found the DMV to be a total pain.  If only I had known that the answer was simply to move so far beyond convenience that the federal government would stop requiring me to make an effort I'd be living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere by now.

It's ludicrous that these sorts of exceptions are even being considered when they certainly aren't considered under any other circumstances.

And now it seems we have confirmed the total cowardice of several Senate Democrats, not to mention the complete disregard for facts from Senators like Ted Cruz.  In case you're interested in the Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill, they are:

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D. ND)
Senator Max Baucus (D. MT)
Senator Mark Pryor (D. AR)
Senator Mark Begich (D. AK)

I've linked the contact forms from their websites.  Please feel free to contact them and let them know what a gigantic disappointment they've been.

Four Republicans did vote for Manchin-Toomey.  Toomey, of course, voted for it.  His name's on it, after all.  In a moment of common sense, John McCain (R-AZ) voted for the bill, as did Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

I can't say that I'm surprised that this bill didn't pass.  With the stunning lack of filibuster reform (Thanks, Harry Reid), the now necessary 60 votes makes the Senate effectively rule by minority.  Somehow an actual super-majority of Americans (including gun owners) backing expanded background checks does not translate to their Senators actually voting in a way representative to the population.  It may seem like tons of Americans are against gun control, but that is most definitely not the case.  It's just that people against gun control of any kind of extremely loud.

Let's be extremely clear, though, the Manchin-Toomey bill specifically excluded the idea of a gun registry (although, yeah, we should have one).  This bill was about background checks.  It was about making sure that when you purchase a gun, there is a record of that purchase.  It may not be a particularly effective record, but it should exist.  No matter where you live, no matter who you're selling to, a background check is the absolute minimum of oversight that needs to occur.  Even the majority of gun owners would agree with this.

Much like our President, I am thoroughly disgusted with what happened.  Still, as he said, the fight isn't over. If unreasonable people are going to scream lies and misinformation then reasonable people need to speak more loudly and stand more firmly for reasonable positions.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Cuba, Not For Lovers...

I read dozens of news articles every day.  My RSS Feed Reader is in a constant state of updating, leaving me pretty much consistently unable to keep up with the deluge of news and what I like to call "news-esque" articles from across the news and blog spectrum.  Yesterday, as I was perusing the news I came across this article about Beyonce and Jay-Z going to Cuba.  The title of the article is "Republican Lawmakes Seek Details on Beyonce, Jay-Z Cuba Trip".

The short version is that Beyonce and Jay-Z went to Cuba on a trip that coincided with their fifth wedding anniversary.  Americans are not allowed to travel to Cuba for tourism purposes, though restrictions have been eased on licenses for academic, religious, and cultural exchanges.  Americans can travel to Cuba through another country like Mexico or Canada, but we're still prohibited from spending money in Cuba.  The question being asked by Florida representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart is what kind of license did Bey and Jay have to travel and who approved it?

I have a burning question for them too.  Who cares?

Seriously.  The two Florida representatives (Republicans, of course) argue that many of the citizens of Florida are of Cuban descent and they and their families have been harmed by the brutal Castro regime.  I sympathize with those people, but I have to ask: Has the American embargo on Cuba helped?  Think about it.  The embargo on Cuba started about 50 years ago because of Cuba's communist regime.  And can I just point out to Representatives Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart that as brutal as the Castro regime has been, the US-backed regime that came before was pretty bad as well.

We have open relations with China and their human rights violations are both documented and flagrant.  But guess what?  We get to have conversations with the Chinese government about human rights issues.  Why do we get to do that?  Because we have open diplomatic relations with China.  The Castro regime may have been brutal and they may have committed atrocities, but by cutting Cuba off from the United States we haven't helped.  And at this point do we still really care about the Communist menace?  There are people in college who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The embargo on Cuba isn't helping anyone.  The best way to positively influence unjust regimes is to stay involved.

The fact that we still have an active embargo on Cuba is ridiculous.  In an increasingly global economy the way to help curtail human rights violations is not to isolate but to embrace.  So, instead of complaining about Beyonce and Jay-Z spending their (possible) tourist dollars in Cuba, maybe Representatives Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart should be encouraging the United States to drop the embargo and open up relations with Cuba so that America can actually attempt to do something to help our Cuban brothers and sisters for whom we apparently have tons of sympathy when American celebrities travel to Cuba. 

In the mean time, if Beyonce and Jay-Z's trip is deemed illegal they could face a fine.  I somehow think they'll be able to deal with it.