Discover more from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Florida Eviscerates Education (Again), The Sad Desperation of Biden Impeachment Talks, Community Fights to Take Back Library, Barbenheimer Reviewed, Cat Stevens Sings
My take on news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else interests me.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Americans
I watched a docuseries the other day where a woman consistently insulted and verbally abused those around her. But during interviews with the producers, she cried about how she was mistreated and wailed that “I’m a good person.” She kept saying, “I’m a good person” over and over. That disconnect from reality is the driving force in American politics today.
When writing a compelling villain in fiction, good writers know that it’s important to create a character who sees themself as the hero. These atrocious characters are able to justify every despicable act and frame them as necessary for a greater good. Even Thanos from the Avengers movies—who murdered half the population of the universe and killed his own daughter to do so—had a self-righteous speech explaining how he was doing it for the benefit of all species. In fact, he knew that his plan would mean his own death, making him a Christ-like savior in his own eyes.
However, evil is not in the eye of the beholder. If it were, then all behavior would be permissible. There would be no justice system: no police, no prisons, no courts. People could steal, molest, rape, and murder at will—as long as they could justify it as for a greater good.
Without rules and laws, and morality, a safe and just society is not possible, which is why we are always on the lookout for evil—especially that which, and those who negatively affect children. The problem is evil doesn’t always recognize itself (Thanos, Moms for Liberty), or it is good at disguising itself to better exploit victims (Ted Bundy, Trump, DeSantis). But the real evil—the most destructive evil of all—are those eager to become followers in these Crusades of Destruction.
New York Times/Siena College poll shows that 53% of Americans believe Trump’s actions after the 2020 election “went so far that he threatened American democracy.” And yet, both Trump and Biden received 43% support if they ran against each other today. How is this possible when those supporting Trump know that they are endorsing a rapist (he was found to have digitally penetrated E. Jean Carroll against her will, which is not technically rape in New York but is in the minds of most other people who aren’t rapists), child abuser (bragging he walked into dressing rooms of girls as young as fifteen), and murderer (confessing he kept the severity of COVID a secret from the public as they unknowingly spread it, eventually killing over a million people in the U.S.). Also of interest, not a single of the 319 respondents in the MAGA category of the poll believed he had committed serious federal crimes, despite Trump facing three separate indictments.
How is this possible? Because people choose to believe “I’m a good person” despite all the evidence to the contrary (just as we had the “good Germans” allowing the Nazi atrocities). Today’s newsletter examines how people convince themselves of their own goodness, even as they stomp a destructive path through society like Godzilla through Tokyo. But another underlying question lingers: Why are Republicans so determined to court and then prostrate themselves before these people? Why have they made it such a priority to appeal to the least logical, least informed, and most venal segment of society?
Florida Hammers Another Nail into the Coffin of Education
Indoctrination in Florida schools? PragerU’s conservative content aims to change minds (Miami Herald)
SUMMARY: Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly says he opposes indoctrination in schools. Yet his administration in early July approved materials from a conservative group that says it’s all about indoctrination and “changing minds.”
The Florida Department of Education determined that educational materials geared toward young children and high school students created by PragerU, a nonprofit co-founded by conservative radio host Dennis Prager, was in alignment with the state’s standards on how to teach civics and government to K-12 students.
The content — some of which is narrated by conservative personalities such as Candace Owens and Tucker Carlson — features cartoons, five-minute video history lessons and story-time shows for young children and is part of a brand called PragerU Kids. And the lessons share a common message: Being pro-American means aligning oneself to mainstream conservative talking points.
“We are in the mind-changing business and few groups can say that,” Prager says in a promotional video for PragerU as a whole. He reiterated this sentiment this summer at a conference for the conservative group Moms for Liberty in Philadelphia, saying it is “fair” to say PragerU indoctrinates children. “It’s true we bring doctrines to children,” Prager told the group. “ But what is the bad about our indoctrination?”
PragerU is not an accredited university and it publicly says the group is a “force of good” against the left.
MY TAKE: Conservatives have been justifying their war on books and education by vilifying librarians and teachers as indoctrinating children. Now they give their stamp of approval to a shoddy, faux “education” organization that admits its goal is indoctrination.
For context, here’s how Wikipedia describes PragerU’s content: “PragerU's videos contain content widely considered to be misleading or false in promoting climate change denial. Historians and political scientists have also criticized PragerU's videos for containing misleading or inaccurate claims about topics such as slavery and racism in the United States, immigration, and the history of fascism. PragerU has also been accused of promoting anti-LGBTQ politics.” Just on the basis of factual accuracy, PragerU shouldn’t be in consideration by any state education department. But it’s Florida where education goes to die. And take its children with it.
Even worse than their lack of commitment to facts is the overt racism PragerU brings to the classroom. The above video from PragerU, entitled “The Top 5 Issues Facing Black Americans,” doesn’t even mention proven systemic racism that includes voter suppression, poorer health care, fewer job opportunities, dying at an earlier age, police brutality, and a biased justice system. None of those make the top five. The entire video blames Blacks for their imaginary problems (since no actual problems are ever mentioned). The video states: “Does racism exist? Sure. But there are other problems far more serious. And waiting until there are no more racists will mean waiting, and making excuses, forever.” In other words, all the problems in the Black community are self-inflicted. It’s the same logic as blaming a rape victim for the crime because she smiled too much, clearly instigating the attack.
Here’s PragerU’s delusional list of the top five issues:
Problem #1. Unquestioning Allegiance to so-called Progressive Policies. This is where they blame Democrats and liberals for leading Blacks astray.
Problem #2. Proliferation of Baby Mamas. Educators should be disturbed by the lack of sources for statistics. I tried to find statistics to verify the claim that 75% of Black births were from unmarried women, but couldn’t. But even if I could, the family dynamics have changed in the 48 years since 1965 (the year of the first study mentioned, but not cited). In 1990, 28% of all births in the U.S. were outside marriage; today, it’s about 40%.
Problem #3. Urban Terrorism. This is the old Black-on-Black crime cliche, which they choose to label as “terrorism.” Statistically, 70% of Black people are killed by other Black people, but 62% of White people are killed by other White people. Where’s the Suburban Karen-on-Chad Terrorism accusation?
Problem #4. Lack of Diversity. Here they malign the “Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson type” (Jackson marched with Dr. King) and scold Blacks for not embracing two conservative Black professors.
Problem #5. The Victim Mentality. Because Blacks see themselves as victims, they are unhappy. That’s like going to the police to report getting mugged, and they tell you to quit acting like a victim and the muggings will stop.
This list, seemingly composed by the Association of Plantation Owners, is basically the recipe for gaslighting the Black community while allowing the White community to take no responsibility for systemic racism. Win-win. If you’re not interested in the facts. If you want to think you’re “a good person,” even as you’re grinding your foot on your neighbor’s neck.
Welcome to Florida “education.”
Impeaching Biden: A Political Lynching in the Making
SUMMARY: House Republicans have been talking a lot about impeaching President Joe Biden over what they say is his improper involvement in his family’s business dealings.
But with a long to-do list when lawmakers return to Washington after August recess, for now, it's all talk.
“Any Republican that doesn’t act on Democratic fraud should be immediately primaried and get out,” Trump told supporters at a campaign rally Saturday in Erie, Pennsylvania. “We got a lot of good, tough Republicans around. People are going to run against them and people are going to win.”
SUMMARY: It was the word that the far right of the Republican party most wanted to hear. Kevin McCarthy, speaker of the House of Representatives, said this week his colleagues’ investigations of Joe Biden are rising to the level of an “impeachment” inquiry.
Republicans in Congress admit that they do not yet have any direct evidence of wrongdoing by the US president. But, critics say, there is a simple explanation why they would float the ultimate sanction: they need to put Biden’s character on trial because their case against his policies is falling apart.
Heading into next year’s presidential election, Republicans have been readying a three-pronged attack: crime soaring in cities, chaos raging at the southern border and prices spiralling out of control everywhere. But each of these narratives is being disrupted by facts on the ground: crime is falling in most parts of the country, there is relative calm at the border and inflation is at a two-year low.
MY TAKE: Politicians and coaches are fond of using the adage, “Hope is not a strategy.” Yet, that seems to be the GOP’s party platform when it comes to addressing the big issues facing the country. They complain about crime, the economy, and the border but offer no concrete solutions that have any evidence they might work.
Instead, they focus on restricting the rights of others—women, children, minorities, LGBTQ+, and immigrants—to send a clear message that they want to roll back any progress made over the last 50 years. The goal is to sprinkle White conservatives in the fairy dust of nostalgia so they feel like children again, a time when, in their young minds, inflation, racism, misogyny, and LGBTQ+ didn’t exist. Because, as children, they never saw it.
So, what is the GOP offering? Hope. Trust us, they’re saying. We may not have an actual plan, but we will make you feel like children again. One way they will do it is by giving them autocratic father figures who prove their manhood by stealing power from other branches of government meant to offer balance. Daddy knows best.
I get it. It’s tempting to lay our burdens down and put our faith in a strong leader-type. But not all leaders are created equal. First, we have to ask ourselves what their vision is. If they want to use their strength to bring about a country that celebrates all its people and cherishes the democratic process, I can support that. But if they are seeking power for its own sake in an attempt to undermine democracy in order to serve an entitled group, then we need to reject them as soon as possible.
With leaders who have no specific plan, only the promise of a shining city on the hill (a shining White Christian cisgender city), Republicans are tunneling like naked mole rats in an effort to discredit Biden, whose actual policies have proven effective in bettering lives, even the lives of his political rivals. What evidence have disgruntled Republicans provided of wrong-doing by Biden? None. They have tried their best to link the unfortunate and erratic behavior of Hunter Biden to the president but with no success. Proof has never been a hindrance to the GOP attack dogs whose job is to poop on others’ lawns and then blame them for the stench.
The quest to impeach Biden is itself an impeachment of their own integrity. Even ultra-conservative Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) described Kevin McCarthy’s impeachment talks as chasing a “shiny object” while ignoring more pressing issues.
Sometimes I wonder how Kevin McCarthy and Jim Jordan go to work each day knowing that their legacy will be as provocateurs of lies, misinformation, and misery. I guess they just chant their mantra, “I’m a good person.”
Kareem’s Video Break
This is Method Acting at its finest, proving that playing dead is an art. Every time I watch this, I have to laugh at the squirrel’s commitment to the role.
That squirrel shows exactly how I feel after finishing my Substack newsletter. Not a pretty sight. You know what to do to revive me.
This Week in Good News
They Checked Out Pride Books in Protest. It Backfired. (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: Adrianne Peterson, the manager of the Rancho Peñasquitos branch of the San Diego Public Library, was actually a little embarrassed by the modest size of her Pride Month display in June. Between staff vacations and organizing workshops for graduating high school students, it had fallen through the cracks and fell short of what she had hoped to offer.
Yet the kiosk across from the checkout counter, marked by a Progress Pride rainbow flag, was enough to thrust the suburban library onto the front lines of the nation’s culture wars.
Ms. Peterson, who has run the library branch since 2012 and highlighted books for Pride Month for the better part of a decade, was taken aback when she read an email last month from two neighborhood residents. They informed her that they had gotten nearly all of the books in the Pride display checked out and would not return them unless the library permanently removed what they considered “inappropriate content.”
“It was just kind of like, ‘Whoa, curveball,’” Ms. Peterson said. “I began to wonder, ‘Oh, have I been misunderstanding our community?’”
Soon, she would get her answer: Stacks of Amazon boxes containing new copies of the books the protesters checked out started to arrive at the library after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the protest. Roughly 180 people, mostly San Diegans, gave more than $15,000 to the library system, which after a city match will provide over $30,000 toward more L.G.B.T.Q.-themed materials and programming, including an expansion of the system’s already popular drag queen story hours.
MY TAKE: Except for squirrel videos, nothing brings me more joy than to see local communities fighting back against the self-righteous trying to impose their ill-informed values on everyone else. While those people who checked out the books undoubtedly feel like the Gay Pride display is imposing values on them, this is not an agree-to-disagree situation. There is a vital difference: one is rational, and the other is not.
Let’s start by looking at their email (my comments are in bold and bracketed):
“As taxpayers…and longtime patrons of the library…” [Being a taxpayer and patron does not convey any expertise or special status. Everyone who uses the library is a taxpayer (even children pay sales tax) and a patron. “Longtime” is a meaningless adjective. Should decisions about library displays be made based on how long a person’s been a patron? Did these book censors consult with patrons who have been using the library longer than they have?]
“To protect our children and the community…” [Have they polled the community to see what it wants? If a majority of the community approves of the display, would they still presume to know what’s best? In doing so, they have interfered with the rights of the other members of the community—adults and children by preemptively choosing for the entire community. Most important, they want “to protect” the children and community from what specific consequences? To be convincing, they would need to show there are demonstrable negative consequences—and offer irrefutable proof that they truly exist. Despite being “longtime patrons,” they clearly aren’t reading any books on logic.]
“We plan to keep these books checked out until the library agrees to permanently remove the inappropriate content from the shelves.” [Their plan is to hold the books hostage until they get their way. I’m assuming that there is a time limit on checking out books, so they are admitting to theft of public property. Their demand that the books are permanently removed from the shelves goes beyond protesting the display, it’s censoring the library itself. Again, it’s not enough to call something “inappropriate” without offering proof based on anything other than one’s personal biases.]
“Flags, signs, and book displays based on how adults experience sexual attraction and gender identity have no place in an open public space for children.” [The first thing they should have done is define what age group they are referring to as “children.” Under 18? 16? 12? According to experts (and not just “longtime patrons), sexual attraction occurs between the ages of 9 and 12. By age 2 or 3, children start to develop a sense of being male or female, their gender identity. These books are meant to help children (however they wish to define that) to better understand the natural process and how it relates to their personal experience. You can’t dictate to children how they’re supposed to feel and act regarding these things, but you can help them learn about the process and support them in what is a confusing time for all youth. This would be clear if these book hoarders actually read the books they’re purloining.]
Congratulations to those who bravely displayed, not just Gay Pride, but Community Pride in not letting the inarticulate and irrational few attempt to represent them all.
Barbenheimer: Why Barbie Upset Middle-Aged Men and Oppenheimer Is So Forgettable
Conservative mansplainer Ben Shapiro was so outraged by Barbie that, in a creepy voodoo ritual, he burned Barbie dolls, completely unaware of the undertones of sexual violence doing that implies or the echoes of witch trials which were often excuses to punish women for their outspokenness, sexuality, or independence. Shapiro is so clueless that he doesn’t realize that by burning the plastic dolls and ranting about the movie for over 40 minutes, he actually made the movie’s point. Ben is a Ken (and a Karen).
He also smugly predicted that the movie would do well in its first week and then fizzle out because the world would reject Barbie’s message. Instead, the movie has gone on to earn a billion dollars as the world eagerly embraced its message.
Shapiro embodies the conservative male panic that a movie about being a woman, and co-written and directed by a woman, can be super-successful without male approval.
So, is Barbie any good? Yes. It’s a charming, often funny satire that pokes fun at man/woman interactions. But, as with the best satire, behind the smile lurks some sharp teeth. Occasionally, it gets bogged down in trying to make a point. The all-male Mattel executives led by Will Ferrell don’t make sense. They are slapstick in a way the other characters aren’t, and the movie sends mixed messages about whether they’re villains or just good Kens.
There are truths about how women are treated and the detrimental effects it has on men, women, and all people. The pressure to live up to arbitrary and unreasonable stereotypical roles stifles everyone. Nothing the movie says is ground-breaking, but it says it all good-naturedly and entertainingly. The mouth-frothing anger by conservative males is less about the movie and more about their own insecurities. In fact, if you scroll up to the PragerU list of “The Top 5 Issues Facing Black Americans” and substitute “Women” for “Black Americans,” you’d get the same reasoning about how patriarchy doesn’t exist and that women’s attitudes are responsible for their own problems.
I love history. I read a lot of history books. I’ve even written a few history books. So, I was excited about a movie diving deep into Oppenheimer’s creation of the atomic bomb and its consequences, especially by such an accomplished filmmaker as Christopher Nolan, who’d done such an admirable job with history in Dunkirk.
However, Oppenheimer is like a very earnest freshman essay by a promising student who falls short of an A because he just can’t dig deeper than the obvious observations and conclusions. I went into the movie knowing that Oppenheimer organized the building of the bomb and afterward felt very guilty about his role. I left the movie with the same knowledge. There was very little additional character nuance, just a rolling out of fact after fact, like a timeline of a murder on a detective’s whiteboard. I enjoyed watching the movie—though at three hours, my bladder and I felt fidgety. Thirty minutes could have been easily trimmed.
One area that was particularly disappointing was the portrayal of the women (which inadvertently also makes Barbie’s point). Florence Pugh plays Jean Tatlock, a psychiatrist who committed suicide in 1944. Emily Blunt plays Katherine Oppenheimer, Robert’s wife, a biologist and botanist who suffered from depression after the birth of her daughter. Both women are marginalized and depressed, but is that a commentary on society’s treatment of women, Oppenheimer’s pursuit of depressed women, or something else? Who knows because the movie doesn’t really explore the issue. Oppenheimer is meant to just walk around looking skeletal like the Grim Reaper he sees himself as having become.
Kareem’s Jukebox Playlist
Cat Stevens: “Father & Son”
One of the most prominent voices of the 1970s was that of singer/songwriter Cat Stevens. Songs like “Peace Train,” “Moonshadow,” “How Can I Tell You,” “Where Do the Children Play,” and many more captured a zeitgeist of peace and love. Accolades, awards, and platinum sales followed. His songs were featured in Harold and Maude (1971), one of the best and most original movies ever made.
In 1977, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusef Islam. In 1979, at the height of his career, he dropped out of showbiz to focus on education and philanthropy within the Muslim community. Accolades and awards followed. In 1989, he commented on the death fatwa placed on Salman Rushdie because of his novel The Satanic Verses. His comments seemed to support the fatwa, though he explained that he never did. Looking at the transcripts of what he said, and factoring in the philosophy of peace he’d preached through his songs, I tend to believe him.
I picked “Father & Son” because it is such a powerful emotional exploration of the relationship between the well-meaning parent anxious to protect and the rebellious child eager to strike out on their own adventure. There is frustration from both sides—but there is also love. When the song first came out, I identified so strongly with the son looking to establish his own identity. Now I identify more with the father hoping to shield his son from inevitable pain.