Socially Responsible Mutual Funds

Posted by Phil Ferguson on October 30th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Investing Skeptically

Socially Responsible Mutual Funds

NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing education series. This information is for educational purposes only. This information does not constitute investment advice. Please consult with your financial advisor before taking any action. For planning advice contact Polaris Financial Planning.

What are Socially Responsible Mutual Funds?  (also known as Socially Responsible Investing – SRI)

Socially Responsible Mutual Funds often invest in companies that pay attention to things like….

Ethics

EthicsHuman Rights

Environment

Product Safety

Or, they avoid companies that invest in….

Gambling

Tobacco

Alcohol

Weapons

 

I have been telling people for years that Socially Responsible Mutual Funds are a bad choice but, as a good skeptic, I have to double check.  I have to make sure I just don’t look for evidence that confirms my view I have to look for evidence that confronts my position and evaluate it.  I begin with a Google search and found a very positive story about Socially Responsible mutual funds from Kiplinger.

The author tells us that it is a growing business.

In 1995, there were only 55 mutual funds that engaged in SRI, with $12 billion in assets. Now there are 493, with assets of $569 billion.

That is amazing growth but, is it an appeal to popularity.  Maybe it is just the result of good marketing.  I need to know more about how these funds work.

Unfortunately, There is also a serious problem in defining what can be bought in Socially Responsible mutual funds.  Each fund is different and has different rules.  Some say you can’t buy stock in Apple because in uses kids in low income countries others say you should by Apple because it helps people in low income countries.  I found this in the Kiplinger story….

Lately, some of the largest SRI funds have been straying from their dogma and injecting more subjective judgment into their decision-making. Or maybe they’re just hedging their bets. For instance, the Web site of Domini Social Equity (DSEFX), founded in 1991, contains this disclaimer:  “Domini may determine that a security is eligible for investment even if a corporation’s profile reflects a mixture of positive and negative social and environmental characteristics.”

Huh?  So, they can invest in anything?  What is the point.  You may find another fund that invests in what you wanc but, they can change later – after they have your money.  You cannot control what they buy.

The Kiplinger’s story featured a few of the best Socially Responsible Mutual Funds (and ETFs) and looked at their results.  Unfortunately, they used different time periods (sometimes 5 years sometimes 15 years)  when looking at the different options and I did not like that they kept comparing results to the S&P 500 index.  The S&P 500 is only large companies and for the last 10 years it has slightly lagged the whole market.  I think a better comparison is the Wilshire 5000 index.

Some of the funds Kiplinger mentioned have loads (an extra fee you pay to buy) of around 5% and one required an initial investment of $1,000,000.  (note: Kiplinger did not reduce returns to account for the load.)

Let’s look at their first example….

Consider iShares MSCI USA ESG Select Index (symbol KLD), an exchange-traded fund that tracks an index of companies that it says follow high “environmental, social and governance” standards. Over the past five years, the fund returned an annualized 2.3%, compared with 1.7% for Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

I realized that this story was published in May of 2012 (2.5 years ago) and those 5 years included the horrible year of 2008.  I was curious, how did this investment do since then?  From June 1, 2012 to Oct 29, 2014 KLD returned 44.43% and the S&P 500 Index returned 52.64% (NOTE the Wilshire 5000 was up 53.03%).  KLD under performed by more than 8% – ouch.  Remember what they always say, “Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results”.

I decided to take a bigger look and found a good basket of Socially Responsible mutual funds.  I used the site Socialfunds.com to help me find some of these funds.  I only wanted to look at funds that had a 10 year track record (ending June 30, 2014) and invested just in the US stock market.  Here is what I found….

Fund Name                                                10 Year Average

TIAA-CREF Social Choice Equity Fund 7.90
Calvert Social Index 6.41
Domini Social Equity 6.63
Walden Equity 7.08
Ariel Funds 7.18
Dreyfus Third Century C 6.38
Green Century Equity 6.19
Legg – Mason Social Aware C 4.79
Parnassus Fund 9.78
Sentinal Sustainable Core A 6.89
Vanguard FTSE Social Index 6.46
Walden Social Equity Fund 7.08

The overall performance of these funds was 6.90% per year.  The Wilshire 5000 was 8.50% per year.  The under performance is about 1.6% per year.  This is about the same result for mutual funds as a whole.  This is one of the many reasons I recommend Index Funds.  You may have noticed that one fund (Parnassus) did better than the market.  1 out of 12!  There is no reason to think this is anything but chance.

Why do these funds do so poorly?  An important factor is costs….(via Investopedia)
Socially responsible mutual funds tend to have higher fees than regular funds. These higher fees can be attributed to the additional ethical research that mutual fund managers must undertake. In addition, socially responsible funds tend to be managed by smaller mutual fund companies and the assets under management are relatively small.
The final problem with Socially Responsible Mutual Funds is that you are not actually helping.
Let me explain….
When you (or the mutual fund) buy a stock, you buy it from someone that already owns the stock.  NO money goes to the company.  This does not apply to IPOs (Initial Public Offerings).  With an IPO the money goes directly to the company but, the IPO price is set in advance and any increase in demand does not directly benefit the company (unless the company can’t sell all of the shares).  You could argue that the increased demand in a specific (socially responsible) stock could increase the price and provide a benefit to the CEO or other big investors.  This is also unlikely because there are other investors that will sell shares if they think the stock’s price has gone up beyond the perceived value of the company.
In summary we have these problems…
1)  You can’t know for sure if the funds do (or will do) what you want.
2)  You will likely under perform the market by 1.6%
3)  You are not actually doing any good.
The solution….
Invest in index funds and take 1.6% out each year and give it to the charity of your choice!  You will have control over the money and you will know that you are making a difference.  Everybody wins!

The Trope of Dawkins Mouth

Posted by Jim Newman on November 26th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

DawkinsCycle

I bid on some repair work on a house recently purchased by a psychotherapist. The work wasn’t much but some of it wasn’t right for me or needed to be done in warmer weather, though conceivably it could be done in the cold. But to me it could wait. For him he seemed anxious to have it done. I’ll have to figure out how to parse this in the bid for him.

We were talking about his bad knee, the dangers of ladders, and so forth when he noted he doesn’t like to call it a bad knee but a surgically corrected knee. This helps him keep a positive attitude about it and helps heal it. This led to more discussion where he praised homeopathy. I responded that I certainly believed in the placebo effect but homeopathy not so much as more than that. This clearly concerned him and he went on about how he had had this horrible disease that was only cured by homeopathy. Further that James Randi had backed out of a homeopathy test, presumably because he thought it would pass and he’d have to pay the million.

I noted that the placebo effect works on depression and pain more than say cancer and then even with cancer some types are more amenable to it. That it was a complicated subject. Further that many homeopaths spend considerable time with their patients rather than the typical 11-minute doctor visit; that medicine had shot itself in the foot with its inability to inform and develop relationships.

Driving home I felt I could have handled it a bit better. Rather than arguing even as lightly as I had I could have just flown over it by saying that I was glad he was better but I had questions about homeopathy and how it really worked. When is arguing appropriate or necessary?  How do we do it to be effective? What words nudge people in the right direction without alienating? It’s a difficult process that even the best do poorly. Tim Minchin has talked about this and certainly comedy or self effacing indulgence has a way of sliding in change,

Richard Dawkins doubled down on his controversial remarks in a recent article.

“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will … ”

He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.

“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” he said. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”

Ok, let’s back up a bit. Especially since I am one of the so-called thought police (an idiotic phrase since there is no authoritarian power or mandate) that has made many comments trying to get this famous thought leader (an odious phrase at best) to broaden his perspective or at least to learn how to phrase his opinions more accurately and kindly. I have also previously contextualized Dawkins to his background to show he is at least consistent and we should not be surprised, but nevertheless annoyed if not angry. Most of the issues Dawkins abrades people with is based on priorities and the comparative ills of different sorts of issues from abuse to women to choices in birthing.

Many atheists are aware that Dawkins dismissed another atheist’s remarks (Rebecca Watson) who stated that there is still sexism, too much, in our culture and particularly in atheism. Certainly not surprising considering the history of American atheism in spite of women like EC Stanton, MM O’hare, and many more, often unspoken. It doesn’t take a math pro to see that for decades atheist groups and boards were dominated by men, usually older white men, and still are.

What Dawkins was trying to do was dismiss Watson’s voice of concern by saying there are far worse crimes against women in other parts of the world to which we should all be focusing our attention as completely as possible. It’s a classic big tent concentration tactic where the hope is if everyone fights fewer issues there will be more success. Pick the biggest and worst problem(s) and focus on it.

This tactic rarely works unless there is an obvious biggest priority such as aliens have attacked the Earth and we all must fight them or die. Even then there will be disagreement on how best to do that. It also leads to the kind of intransigent bipolar politics everyone claims to hate.

In our diversity people choose a way based on their history, interests, and and what they think is important to them. This is also based on the style of social interaction and politics. If a platform is a single-issue platform then leaders will tend to focus on that platform only. Much like people will vote on a candidate on a single issue like abortion, or gun rights, or even color of skin or gender. Makes decisions more easy. Others though see nuances or many divisions in a platform and interconnectedness within issues. A person committed to women’s rights may see immigration, gun control, equal representation, and abortion rights as all being part of the same pathology of a culture where you can’t comment on one without commenting on the rest.

I believe it was Voltaire who said we must tend our on gardens first. It is not an idiotic, unusual, or unpopular position that feminists take when they say we need to pay attention to what’s happening here and that it is intricately connected to what’s happening there.

As another example, Dawkins also made a leaked personal comment recommending that a woman whose child tested for Down’s Syndrome simply abort and try again as many do and as is often recommended, medical status quo. Of course those who have chosen not to abort told him roughly to go to hell. Dawkins unfamiliar with being criticized by his own kind, fellow atheists, reacted as you would expect with facts and data showing how much more difficult one is and why doctors might recommend the one over the other. All clear as glass to him. As if the others hadn’t worked through the reasoning already and chosen another way.

We have seen similar in another example where EO Wilson has called Dawkins a journalist now and Dawkins has responded with a recent book (published 20 some years ago) as contrary argument. Ants do look a lot like group selection and many have said that the Selfish Gene is out dated–just how many degrees of separation are required. Now we have two scientists bashing each other as well as is too often the case. That a scientist is called a journalist as ultimate hate speech has any reasonable person laughing in the aisle and leaving for a whiskey or whisky.

Oh, fuck all this meta shit. The fact is Dawkins is a conservative that doesn’t get how to be an activist. Nor does he get that people can have differences in choices that are equally worthy of respect. It is quite possible for one woman to say I don’t want to have a child that has tested for Down’s Syndrome as it is for another to say I do.  To dismiss either position as a farce is to deny the very real freedom to choose for good reason. To make facile utilitarian comparisons that it is so much more effort to do one than the other is quite irrelevant. It’s what the individual chooses to do that counts. What’s important is the right to make that choice. If a society were to make it illegal to have a child with Down’s Syndrome then we actually have a real political issue, such as a similar but converse issue where women aren’t allowed to abort. Otherwise it gets rather personal. It’s why we almost all react negatively to Singer’s and Harris’s utilitarianism, a philosophy Fred Hagen used to castigate as belonging to that blockhead Mill. It’s too much like the mathematics of war where death is just a number and strategists lose all humanity in calculating tactics. Nor the ability to look broadly enough to see how comprehensiveness has more value than myopia.

That scientists go this way is often due to making logic god, bad logic that is. That human consciousness should come together in a supercomputer that could make such a choice perfect for all is a nightmare of oppression. I am sure the people will destroy such a computer once it exists. The bludgeon of logical perfection is too often used to perpetuate what is at best a guess. Even the famous at Risk Analysis throttle narrow logical assessments as Nassim Taleb does when he makes clear that the dangers of GMO use  have nothing to do with data and evidence but must incorporate pure math, not evidence, and then shows how the logic of feeding all with one product is a recipe for disaster. It points both ways, evidence doesn’t count nor more compartmentalized logic.

Dawkins is like the classic Anglo, Roman, or Hoplite soldier convinced that battle occurs in one style best, only. And as the British, Romans, and Greeks were defeated by guerrilla tactics, thinking that one way is best for all is doomed logically to failure because risk analysis doesn’t work that way. Nor does science if you follow the math.

Sadly, the lack of desire for the virtue of care negates the ability to consider a contrary view as viable. It’s why logicians are taught to argue both sides and scientists to consider what it means if the available data is all wrong.

Finally, if Dawkins is seeking allies it would be productive to find more common ground and more inclusive ground than to continue bickering over who’s the most right. If he’s not seeking allies then stop complaining.

For those who dismiss Dawkins and burn his books I would say that perhaps they would benefit from paying attention to what he says is true to them and ignoring what is not. It is a sad world where every person is on one side of a dividing line or not. But that’s just my take. For me if I had to choose a philosopher who is most correct I would be at a complete loss.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Did Priests Really Love their Victims?

Posted by Jim Newman on November 19th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Catholic Church

kid-on-crossCold, cold, cold. Pipes burst, apples freeze, and animals stop moving to hold heat. I get much more tired on cold days. The extra work, mental and physical, makes everything go slowly. In a better world we would all slow down and let the cold days pass before returning to work.

It’s easy to think of priestly predation as a sort of hit or miss thing. A look, a grope, a feel, a quick illicit sex act, and then it’s done. Unlike serial predators always, or even serial lotharios, always  seeking new conquests–already looking for the next immediately after copulation. For them it’s about the seduction, the win, and nothing more. Yet for priests it sometimes seems to be different.

Some priests develop torturous relationships of denial with brief resolutions, lengthy longings, romantic impossibilities, with occasional realizations. They dote on their feelings like pining over what the trinity really means. You can’t marry a god when you want to penetrate a body. Theses priests seem to fall in love with their victims in the same way they fall in love with an impossible god.  It’s not better than serial abuse. It is more pathetically disgusting.

Lust, infatuation, crushing, autoejaculation may all be human but so what?

Too often we hear that pedophilia was common in this age or that society. By this reasoning one can justify any act. Our world now, but for its technology, is not new. Societies also praised slavery, torture, ruthless conquest, burning at the stake, death by fire ants, and a huge list of what we would or should never do again. In societies where it can be contextualized they miss that it isn’t in ours now and hasn’t been for some time. They would destroy progress by saying they used do do it.

The following letter shows just how weird it gets.

“I loved your outfit, the way it covered (and uncovered) various delightful parts of you,” Buck allegedly wrote the girl, who was just 11 when he allegedly first lured her into a sexual relationship, according to the complaint against him. “I tried to be careful, but I couldn’t resist touching your legs and your neck … Your cute little belly button was like a magnet to me. I hope you didn’t mind me taking a peek at it every chance I got, and searching for it with my naughty fingers … I’m sorry if I embarrassed you at all, but I’m only human and I can’t resist you. I go nuts every time I realize God has given me such a beautiful, warm, caring, loving friend.” …

“Finally I promise that I will resist the urge to rip off your clothes… when other people are around, that is. I hope you’ll be careful with your hands, too. Perhaps prayer will help you overcome your overwhelming biological urges,” Buck wrote, according to the letter in his dossier. “But don’t pray too much! Stay as sweet as you are, don’t change a thing for me (except, of course, your underwear every now and then!) I’ll gladly help. Your forever friend, Dan”

He ended the letter with a thinly veiled warning: “PS: Needless to say, I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this letter in a secure place, away from curious eyes!”

Make this an older women and it sounds like a classic, illicit, nasty romance novel. Make this an 11 year old and he should have been stopped and arrested rather than moved and protected. This letter was found in 1984 but he was not removed until 2002.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com.

A Salon Take on How Religion Harms

Posted by Jim Newman on November 18th, 2014 – 2 Comments – Posted in atheists, religion

Ipaul elamt’s 9 degrees wind-chill today and I’m supposed to be swapping a window. Not thrilled. To get the work done I need to build up some energy. I also need to go get a truckload of apples for cider making that I have to keep from freezing overnight. I’ll be brief.

….

It’s hard for me to take Salon seriously right now after it published Paul Elam’s idiotic article “if we want society to advance we need to leave men alone to do their work.” My inclination is to remove the salon bookmark but I guess I need to know these idiots exist and be able to parse their arguments when other MRAs throw them at my face like week-old dead fish. One need only look at Elam’s eyes to see either he has a medical condition that needs to be fixed or is a raving lunatic that should not be allowed out, in public.  More so when he makes death threats but calls it satire, just good fun. Because that’s what real men do. Make jokes about raping alcohol-filled passed out chicks, killing opponents, and ripping the dicks off effeminate men. That’s how men work effectively together. Elam is delighted that Salon published him and brags because it makes him more legitimate–kind of like including Charles Manson and promoting “just a shot away” politics. He should be arrested and medicalized.

More  pleasantly Salon posted an article on six basic harms of religion. Richard Dawkins recently tweeted that theology can do no good. This facile take was better served by Hitch when he said religion poisons everything. The subtlety of which was that even if good is produced it taints the goodness by wrong motivation. If a person steals an apple and gives it to a starving person, do we care about the theft or about saving the person? It gets tricky. More obvious would be if a thief steals an apple from a starving person and gives it to another starting person. And these examples are the simplest of conundrums.

EO Wilson recently called Dawkins just a “journalist” and Dawkins responded with mentioning his 22 year-old book the Extended Phenotype. Of course Dawkins had slammed Wilson for his paper on social-based evolution, and gone right back to his selfish gene. Humans look a lot like individualists and ants look pretty damned social. And there’s a lot more out there. Dawkins and Wilson both have been venturing into pop science literature so there you have it. Good reason for me to have refused to participate in the smegma of academia.

These six points in the Salon article do resonate well.

  1. Religion promotes tribalism
  2. Religion anchors believers in the iron age
  3. Religion makes a virtue out of faith
  4. Religion diverts generous impulses and good intentions
  5. Religion teaches helplessness
  6. Religion seks power

I recently read a post by a woman who was feeling bad about her anger. I commented that anger has utility. We wouldn’t change the world if we were comfortable. As usual the trick is to be mad enough to fight the good fight and not so complacent that you want to stay in bed and watch endless Netflix.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

The Mistake of Hating Kim Kardashian

Posted by Jim Newman on November 14th, 2014 – 3 Comments – Posted in Uncategorized

188110552AC126_Celebrity_SiKim Kardashian posed naked for cover and article in Paper and more pertinently posed in a back-arching posture that emphasized her ass and enabled her to balance a glass on it. Many reacted to her nudity as the issue while many remarked on the racist origins of big asses and considered her to be enabling modern racism. Basically the issue is black people were considered hypersexual and the big ass was proof of their unredeemable sexuality. Indeed my own ancestor Sally Watkins was arrested for fraternizing with blacks way back in the 1600’s. The antithesis of enjoying black companionship-culture has deep roots. The movie “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner” was a statement on how even race-accepting liberals couldn’t avoid their racist sentiments.

kim kardashian2 kim kardashian3 jungle feverWhatever you think of Kardashian she brought the voluptuous, curvy body, and female sexuality to popularity at a time when anorexic thinness and sexual repression were popular. Nor did the anorexic look have anything to do with celebrating health or acceptance of all body types. She also helped make nonwhite looking women popular. She also made a women’s personal  acceptable and popular. Shit, we force women to wear these insane painful and bulky bras to make sure their breasts don’t jiggle and you can’t see their nipples. We blame women showing skin for causing harassment. We reward women for wearing makeup that could paint a small car. We insist women shave off hair to look like girls. We use women as decorative objects on a pedestal. We  hate and cover the smell of bodies.  We insist that women are verbal and not visual. We fear sexuality as advantage for social gain. We praise beauty over content. We fear the love of beauty as superficial because they aren’t allowed more. The list is tiresome and long.

Men have suffer from this as well. Men shave beards to look like boys. Men can’t show their sexuality beyond their breasts. We don’t allow men with big breasts to reveal them. Men are supposed to have six-pack abs. The list is shorter than women’s but it is still antibody, antisexual, and pro predatory stereotype.

The real issue isn’t that blacks were hypersexual but that white anglo Protestants (WASP) were puritanical in their hatred of the body and their hatred of sex. The Catholic church only condoned the missionary position, and only condoned sex for procreation, and certainly not for pleasure except as imitating the creation of Jesus and his world of salvation.

What we should be doing is celebrating black culture for freeing us from the tyranny of idiotic Abrahamic hatred of the body, the separation of mind and body, and human sexuality. Even menstruation has remained hated as being an impure, unclean, and an unholy aspect of women. The current distaste for blood certainly comes from this and is just as horrible, or worse, as the Mayan and Aztec love of blood as a life force and the willingness to slaughter many to release it to public view and use–but at least they recognized blood as a positive life force. Hating blood is to hate yourself. Germaine Greer famously said women can’t be free until they have tasted their own menstrual blood. The social fears of exposing menstrual blood or even the time of menstruation is pure misogyny. A more sane response would be to celebrate menses and praise women for their capacity. Let them have rewards and support during these times! Let us be thankful for this ability.

The same for dancing, music, and enthusiasm. The WASP, Catholic, and Jewish celebration of seriousness and suffering as definitive of acceptable culture was not defeated until exposure to other peoples and cultures that celebrated this life rather than hating it. Even those who insist they are only spiritual and not religious, or even secular, often maintain these Calvinist tendencies. The near universal separation of the body and mind has an unhealthy hegemony in our society. This conflict in feminism is best seen as the constant debate on whether women who display their sexuality are sluts or forerunners of the revolution. Is it slut shaming or pandering to the purience of misogyny? Women who use sex are praised because they become successful and hated because they used sexuality to get there. We see the same in racism. Is the adaptation of other features an enabling of imperialism or an acceptance of the value of what they do?

The reaction to every derived culturalism as appropriation takes us the wrong direction. Hegel’s dialectic showed progress was accomplished by thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. What is new is discovered, rejected, and then made normative. There would be no progress unless we were exposed to what is different, found to be useful, and then used to go forward.

Rather than castigation that new culture is stolen we should be celebrating the exposure and adaption as creating  a better society. We do it in technology and science. If a scientist finds new knowledge or develops new technology  we do not curse the adaptation as appropriation but are thankful for its discovery and utility. How odd it would be if we (hypothetical we) hated algebra just because it was stolen from the Islamic concepts of variables, the infinite, and the amount called zero. No, we can’t do algebra because that’s Islamic. No, we can’t celebrate sexual expression because that’s African. No, we can’t celebrate the body because that’s nonAbrahamic. No, we can’t celebrate women’s sexuality because that’s not Western. No, we can’t celebrate ebullient music, expressive dance, and call and response musical structure because that came from slaves. No, we can’t adapt the governance of the Iroquois Confederation because that’s Native American.

The balkanization and ghettoizing of what is valuable because it came from slaves or other people we oppressed or simply the other creates cultural stagnation and maintenance of the evil of the originators of the change. That the originators continue the hatred the others created by dissing all of to as appropriation allows them to fetishize their otherness, rather than acknowledging they contributed greatly to the progress of society, often on a global scale. It continues the separation of cultures such that the other is always the other to be kept separate.

It may be helpful to state that reparations have not been made or that evil still exists against the other but it would be better to celebrate their contributions and reward them for their rather than say let’s get rid of the contribution because it came from an other. We can easily say slavery is wrong, wrong, wrong without eliminating the contributions of slaves from society at large. I would rather reward African culture for changing our society than say we should never have had that contribution and will not use what is useful because it wasn’t discovered or created by the hegemonic culture.

image source and here

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Concert For Valor

Posted by Jim Newman on November 12th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Occupy, Personal Stories, politics

concert for valor

This post has been revised to better reflect my intent.

Due to the incredible expense of music performances I haven’t taken my kids to many concerts, especially no big name performances. A sad loss considering the importance of music to culture, and their own culture they enjoy by listening to current pop standards. Unless supported by communities only the wealthy can enjoy well known arts and artists. When my daughter requested that we go to the free Concert for Valor the opportunity was welcome. It was to be held on the DC mall at 7 PM for hundreds of thousands. Estimates were as many as 800 thousand would show up. The concert billed artists they new like Jesse J, Rihanna, Eminem, Carrie Underwood, and Bruce Springsteen, and others they didn’t know like Metallica, the Black Keys, and the Zac Brown band. The Concert for Valor was billed to support veterans and their difficult issues after returning home.

I am not much of a war patriot. For me the Vietnam war was a mistake both in implementation and in dividing this country. I watched the first week of the Iraq war with great interest, horrified at Donald Rumsfeld, all too aware at the tenuousness of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, impressed at how quickly one can roll through a country and capture it, and more aware of the difficulties of maintaining a country once occupied. History is filled with far more stories of failed conquests than successful ones.

Yet, I have considered some wars to be necessary as defense and certainly WWI and WWII could not be avoided. When younger my line in the sand was are they coming after us, are they invading our country? My philosophy was like personal defense. Do not respond to aggression aggressively until all other means have been covered completely and then use the least amount of force necessary while pursuing other diplomatic and peaceful means with greater intensity. I might even let them land on soil if there were any way to stop the war some way other then knee-jerk defensive reaction. Sadly, historically, it has been too obvious that war is good for some of the population while dragging the rest of it down. Now with cyber and virtual war that line dissolves.

Six million have served since 9/11. When they have returned home they have not been supported. Many are homeless. They do not receive the medical, psychological, and economic aid they need and deserve. The two-faced hypocrisy of a military-industrial complex that is quick to send people away and slow to help them when they return is infuriating. You don’t have to support a war to know you must treat veterans well and help reintegrate them into society. More infuriating when war hawks have ignored the real plight of veterans while demanding a patriotic lip service of respect. Yeah, respect them with words while recruiting them and then ignore their real material needs when they need them. Hawks then say just get over those nightmares, missing or shattered body parts, aggressive reactions–toughen up, get a grip. That modern wars now do shock wave injury make many look whole on the outside while thoroughly damaged internally. Too often their families can’t help and they end up alone and on the street. Often the story of vets is the war was pointless. Their take is they think of war culture not as fighting the ideology of an enemy but the value of the relationships they made with fellow soldiers while they were there. The reasons for the war disappear and they most mourn the loss of their closest friends.

Supporting veterans also means prevention. Don’t go to war! I am sympathetic with the egregious inhumane offenses in other countries and have often said a rape, dismemberment, or death cry in Cairo sounds as plaintive as one in New York. I understood why Hitch wanted to change the world by force as it often seems the only way. A global, interconnected, no-person-is-an-island reality, forces us to consider deeply our international involvements, with tremendous doubts and concerns. At what point do we allow other countries to have autonomy even when in full violent anarchy? Would we want other countries to deem us wrong beyond redemption and attack?

A few of the songs were antiwar songs and the crowd boo’d and social media comments spoke of inappropriateness. Can we not take care of vet’s without talking about removing the cause? Our society is so incredibly concerned now with safety and health yet harm from war seems to be an inevitable curse that we ignore. Eminem and Rihanna, both misogynists or enablers, are poetic yet emblematic of a form of this reaction as it expresses itself in tolerating or promoting abuse. My younger daughter liked Rihanna’s “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” (not done at concert) as a means of dealing with difficulty but did not get it was about staying in an abusive relationship. Who can say when another should leave? The problem is too many stay without change of the situation. “The Monster” likewise which is a concern that fame and fortune change one for the worse; how does one preserve their sanity amidst such ego grooming. The many women around us sang along with “Diamonds” with such fervor I had to wonder at the deep need of finding self worth, otherwise absent. The song is almost a drone that you are as beautiful as the diamonds. These songs do serve as therapy and celebration for many people who are seeking self-worth. Such songs serve as a means to encourage their own well being. Such songs do transfer to general issues of transcending one’s issues rather than maintaining emotional ghettos.

The reason these songs along with others were important to much of the audience was entertainment. Current pop hits attract more followers. The audience was young. If you want them to come you don’t play Bing Crosby tunes.

Really though a lesson we can’t seem to learn is when we support human rights in other countries the country often turns against us. Just as the police knocking down the door in a domestic abuse case often have both sides turn against them in anger. The only thing worse than fighting is to have another interfere, as if they have all of the answers. While some would have every abusive relationship dissolve, isn’t the real issue to stop the abuse and if possible to save the relationship? To shun and balkanize every abusive relationship is more punitive than restorative.

I found it ironic, as Jack Black said, that soldiers, often country music fans, listen to Metallica more than any other group, often to energize themselves before duty. How many white kids have used Metal, Thrash, and Punk, angry white-boy music, for consolation and energy. We need to pay attention to this meaning and expression or miss the conversation.

The comments after the show were quite negative about Eminem cursing but no one in the press noted or reacted to George Lopez cursing. Yet, the vernacular of military soldiers has always been rather expressive. The duplicity of people who curse in normal conversation but do not reveal it otherwise is not polite or respectful but deceitful without redemption. Should we insist that only one vernacular be allowed?

The performance of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate One” by Springsteen, Grohl, and the Zac Brown band was outstanding in its energy and content. Springsteen was boo’d yet he has done more to support their causes than most artists. Certainly one can support vets without accepting the causes that made them vets.

I brought Tom Holland’s “Rubicon” to read during the long day of waiting–being two back from the front meant staying put and not crowd watching or wandering. It is about the last of the Roman Empire, a society that worshipped war for competition, civic pride, personal gain, authoritarianism, and traditionalism. Just too many similarities with, granted, a lot less death now, but we’re on the edge of global annihilation. The cold war has returned so don’t get too comfortable. Again and again societies fall prey to greed and competitive status at the expense of the masses. The masses have never been important except as a means to the success of others. It sounds horrible until you realize the masses often have no clue or even desire to know and understand politics. We pretend everyone wants a democracy but frankly most would rather live their close circle of life and not be bothered with politics, which often takes too much work to understand. Representative government was created to help but then the people turn and want some direct say even though they have lost the ability to be relevant.

Caesar finished off the Republic after Sulla did most of the work but it’s clear that any form of government that tries to implement a democratic, egalitarian, or even representative government is fighting constant decay. The many spoken comments at the Concert for Valor were about freedom but freedom is fleeting, and freedom to many means the freedom to fleece with the belief that people will rise to fight oppression. It’s easy to understand why a Jesus would be fabricated to somehow contain the wanton greed and bloodlust of the last century of  the Roman Empire, an experiment of seven centuries that couldn’t broaden or maintain its ideals. An old joke about about being passive and loving runs “the meek may inherit the Earth but not until the rest of us are finished with it.”

I am cynical about voting too though I have reconsidered my own position to the positive. Holland quotes Cicero early in “Rubicon,”

In the Republic “there was nothing more fickle than the masses, nothing more impenetrable than the people’s wishes, nothing more likely to baffle expectation than the entire system of voting.”

Has anything changed? Well,  yes, there does seem to be less bloodshed and reason does remain so let’s continue to work to that. Reason really is the only cure but it’s not an easy one.

Nevertheless, it was an amazing concert. A great review of six musical genres on one stage. From rock to rap with some thrash and country in between. A rare mixture in musical venues.

You can find more typical reviews at (in no particular order)  Daily News, Entertainment Wise, BizPac, Washington Post, Time, another WaPo, NYT, ABC, and Washington CBS.

image source (errors)

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Demanding Perfection

Posted by Jim Newman on November 10th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion, Sexism

perfectionI am taking my daughters to the Concert for Valor in DC. Concerts are so expensive and our budget is so tight that our children have not been to concerts other than at small local venues. Seeing live music has become so expensive it has become out of reach for many. This concert is free but for gas and metro which is still a decent hit to our budget. I worked the weekend to take the day off. I suppose the concert is controversial because why support troops? Well because they die for a job and a cause many, even they, don’t believe. A recent interview of a returned soldier on NPR noted that most of his fellow soldiers don’t believe in the war they are fighting, but rather each other. The friendships soldiers form are often lifelong. When a fellow soldier dies it can be as devastating as losing a close friend or relative back home. The trauma remains for years and often life.

During the Vietnam war it was popular to shun soldiers, and burn draft cards, while wearing flags and military jackets. That was more a FU than a sympathy. Soldiers were supposed to go AWOL and recruits leave for Canada, as my wife at the time said I must do if my name came up. I find this troubling. Yet, protesting a war can be a way of wanting to save people from death and harm in fighting. Yet, it is near impossible to watch others die in political predating and not wish to help. I see ISIS and I want war. I see death and I wish our soldiers could stay home. I see immigrants crossing the border and I want to give them shelter. Another side of me wants to turn them around, give them an AK-7, and send them back to change their country. Of course, it’s never so easy.

A troubling aspect of growing political didacticism and partisanship is the demand for perfection. It is very much like the feminism with which I grew up. The importance of relationships and political purity almost demanded a predatorial like-mindedness. So and so isn’t really a feminist. We won’t associate with her or them anymore. I saw the same later in environmentalism where if you didn’t recycle you were some sort of bad person because it’s just so easy to recycle. Never mind that that person might have donated 10% of their income to an environmental organization, or just might be over the top in the world, barely able to make food after work.This movable line in the sand has grown deeper and wider over time.

Now, if someone screws up they should lose their job, lose their family, and be punished for life. Meanwhile they talk about love, tolerance, and restorative justice. I don’t see how incapacitating a person’s income or social potential for life is in any way helpful. Nor do I see how ostracism, excommunication, and social shunning are any different than the high school clique wars that so many complained harmed them–it would seem they learned and joined the dark side, just a different group shunning. How on Earth can there be rehabilitation if we have marked people for life and put them in a permanent class beneath us?

Tristan Madden notes this inconsistency in religion.

For a long time, I struggled over the question of capital punishment. It didn’t seem right to end a person’s life, but it was often for that very reason these people were condemned to die. Being raised Catholic, I had grown up in a culture of moral absolutism. There was no gray area, because God clearly dictated what was good and what was bad. And while I was taught to separate the sin from the man, I would have been ill-advised to express any kind of pity for a serial rapist, for example, outside the context of Mass or Sunday school.

I noticed that in Mass, people would nod eagerly when the priest spoke of redemption and forgiveness, but when it came to murderers, rapists and similar offenders, these people who had so vigorously nodded their heads in Mass often refused to extend forgiveness. And I was the same way.

I believed people should be given a second chance, but I felt there were some people who were beyond redemption. I believed all humans should have a chance to repent, but the kind of people who were being executed, I reasoned, were something other than human. They were monsters who had sacrificed their humanity when they committed their heinous crime.

As another popular example now. I hate rape. I don’t even understand it psychologically. Yet, the current move to expel rapists from their occupations, schools, and families ensures the continuation of the condemnation for life as an underclass, never to be worthy of any kind of respect again. No amount of prison or restitution matters. It’s just not possible. This is social justice? How they hell can anyone change in isolation? A victim can only recover if they know their oppressor has a scarlet letter emblazoned on their chest and better if they are sent to the streets never to be seen again in polite company. This isn’t closure. It’s revenge and vengance. Perfectionism creates an atmosphere of crippling fear.

It is a steroidal version of debates about atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris and others where on various levels they have been found wanting and should no longer be followed or supported because they apparently have nothing to say to anyone any more of any value. The same with women who have ambiguous stories like Lena Dunham who many call a sexual predator and should now be excommunicated because everything she says or does must be poisoned. Let’s just impoverish her and make her homeless. We don’t even really know the facts of the case and yet we judge fatally with the rapidity of a tweet.

Maybe we should just shoot these people as studies have long shown than ostracism, shunning, and excommunication often feel, are, worse than death, and usually do lead to a kind of living death. Just as solitary confinement ruins people in prison for life and creates permanent criminals, psychologically screwed for life. One reason why shame-based cultures are even more powerful than guilt-based cultures.

The only thing that can come of this are lies, subterfuge, and the creation of private worlds that few know but all fear because we just don’t trust anyone anymore. it reminds me of a police ranger friend of mine who said everyone is a criminal. When called on it he said everyone has the potential to be a criminal. Isn’t the potential the point. Isn’t the ability to get over it why we don’t just shoot them?

My mother who helped form university-based child care and was an activist in women’s groups used to say the last perfect man died 2,000 years ago. She saw her friends getting swallowed in shame and guilt. I don’t think she really believed in Jesus at that point in her life but she got that demanding perfection of others harms all of us. At some point that gaze will come your way and no one can withstand it.

Jim Newman, www.froniersofreason.com