synthetic zero

September 27th, 2010

For a short time, when I was a young child, my mother and father used to spank me — my mother somewhat frequently, my father relatively rarely.  My mother’s spankings were somewhat mild, I didn’t mind them that much; she would often give me a choice between spanking and going to my room for a while, which softened the blow. But when my father spanked me, it was a fearsome event, something I really dreaded. I think he only did it two or three times. And then he just stopped; never did it again.

I asked him once, sometime in my twenties, why he had stopped spanking me as a young child. He said that when he became a father he decided he would have to start from scratch, assume he had no idea what he was doing. So he didn’t start with the presumption that any particular thing he did was necessarily “right”. And, he said, he observed that his spanking me was having a bad effect. So, he stopped.

Needless to say, my father is one of the people I respect the most in this world.

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September 6th, 2010

I wrote this to a relative and some of her friends and our relatives when she forwarded on an email about Muslims engaging in “Sharia” law breaking a child’s arm for stealing bread — the photos turned out to be of some street magicians engaging in a common trick (running an arm over with a car — in fact the arm is not harmed at all.)

Anyway I first wrote an email debunking the hoax, which relieved people on the email list, but I also wrote about tolerance for Muslims. She responded and apologized for forwarding on an email without fact checking it first. I then wrote this:

I’m glad you forward these on to me … since I get a chance to set the record straight, at least a little. I’m just sad because of the thousands or millions of people who have received emails like these and they believe them. The Internet has been a great thing but it’s also been the source of unbelievable amounts of misinformation. Someone clearly concocted this particular hoax along with many of the others circulating around the net, for somewhat nefarious purposes, it seems to me. Skepticism is always worth a lot when it comes to the current climate of misinformation that is out there.I for one am not one of those people who thinks that every practice can be excused just because it’s a different culture. At the same time, however, I have many friends of all cultures, many Muslim friends, who are no different from anyone else. We can all condemn terrorism and violence against innocent people, but it’s very dangerous when we decide to blame everyone of a particular faith or race or ethnic background for the crimes of some. I am myself opposed to violence and injustice committed by anyone, of any culture, but I’m not going to blame everyone from that culture for the crimes of a few.

And seriously, Sharia law is never going to become part of American government any more than everyone is going to be forced to become Jewish or Catholic or Buddhist or Sikh or atheist. We are stronger and more resilient than that as a nation.

She and others liked my message very much, though she mentioned that she is sometimes worried about violence, and mentioned the fact that there have been threats to us in the past, like Hitler. At the risk of triggering Godwin’s Law I wrote a followup:

Thanks… I tend to take what I call a “radical moderate” position on most political matters; I’m in favor of strong action against terrorists and others who threaten us, but at the same time strongly on the side of those who would protect innocent people from being unfairly targeted. Hitler did exist, but let’s remember what Hitler did; as the saying goes, “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.” He divided his country based on ethnic fears and eventually became one of the worst dictators the world has ever seen. I think we can all agree that imitating Hitler is not something we ought to do as we try to fight against things that threaten us. We should try to remember what our values are, in my opinion. We’re Americans and we fight not only against our enemies but for freedom and justice. I know Muslim-Americans. More than a dozen Muslim firefighters died on 9/11. Muslims fight in our armed forces. They are our neighbors and countrymen, too.

Talk to your relatives and friends about politics. Even if the subject is sensitive, or there is a lot of fear. If we don’t stand up for American values, then who will? Now is the time to have these conversations.

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