Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Updates on Ukraine, the Empathy Gap Essay, and a Discussion of Muslims, Cigarettes, and Virtue-Signaling

with 17 comments

Folks, I wanted to write a blog today about Ukraine along with updating last week’s blog about the empathy gap. I also veer into a discussion of smoking that may surprise you. So do keep reading, OK?

Sometimes, a news commentator utterly surprises.

Why am I saying that? Well, Malcolm Nance, a longtime MSNBC analyst, has joined the international force doing their best to push Russia right back out of Ukraine. He is a Navy vet, and he said that he was “done talking.” Therefore, he went to Ukraine, where he’s been now for over a week, and has been doing whatever he can to aid the fighters there.

I’m glad Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s stupid and pointless invasion. (Well, not stupid and pointless to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President. He wanted the Ukrainian bread basket, as the land is exceptionally fertile there. And rather than pay for the grain like anyone else, he thought he’d just take the country, so he would just get the grain as well.) But it saddens me to see the destruction of once-beautiful cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.

Not to mention the loss of human lives, which is utterly incalculable.

I hope that whatever Malcolm Nance continues to do over there works. He has always struck me as a highly intelligent man, though I didn’t always agree with him. (I don’t always agree with anyone. Even with my late husband Michael, we had an occasional disagreement. Spice for the mix, I always thought, especially as we made sure to “fight fair” and not drag up old and dead issues over and over.)

Anyway, the next piece of old business has to do with my essay on empathy a week-plus ago. Paul, a regular reader, asked why I didn’t bring up someone on the left who’s sparked my ire as much as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have on the right. Another reader, Kamas, mentioned Maxine Waters — a very able legislator in her way, but also someone who seems to enjoy verbal conflict and hyperbole from time to time. And I’d brought up two other D legislators who seem to get into trouble on a regular basis, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Rep. Omar is in the news right now for calling out a double standard on airplanes. Apparently, a church group that had just come back from working with Ukrainian refugees sang a Christian hymn on the plane. This upset her, as she believes Muslim groups would be shut down from singing on planes. (Maybe this has happened to her, but if so, she hasn’t said so specifically.)

My view of this is simple. The folks who went to Ukraine or the borders of Poland and Romania and elsewhere that border Ukraine, and did good work, deserve to celebrate any way they like. If their song wasn’t bothering anyone else on the plane, let them sing.

Mind, I’d also say the same thing for a Muslim hymn. There are many uplifting Muslim hymns, I believe, but we almost never hear of them — much less hear them — because Muslim in the US tends to equal “Shia or Sunni rebel” rather than pious person doing their best for God and country.

Still, why Rep. Omar waded into this one with both feet, I don’t know.

Centuries ago, the Muslim people were often literate, learned, urbane, and often had no trouble with other “People of the Book” (meaning Christians and Jewish people). The Muslims came up with algebra, created music and art and poetry and architecture, and did many wonderful things.

We tend to forget all that with the current crop of fundamentalists over in Iraq and elsewhere. Those rigid, ruthless sorts are not what being a Muslim is all about, any more than, say, the so-called Christians who helped burn down Minneapolis and Kenosha and other places in the last few years have anything to do with most actual Christians. (The Christians who protested are fine. The ones who burned for the sake of destruction are not. We forget about the former because we have had to dwell on the latter in order to rebuild.)

I have an online friend, a doctor, who’s a proud Muslim woman. She lives in India. I’ve known her now for several years, while she’s been at university, then started medical school in earnest (from what it sounds like), to studying for boards (which sounds harrowing) and being a medical resident (which, like the US and the UK, consists of many hours of work for not that great of pay, and is exhausting).

Tajwarr, my friend, loves makeup, loves to dress up, does not wear a hijab (not in the pictures I’ve seen of her), and writes poetry. She has many gifts, including that of putting people at ease. She is unfailingly polite, and does her best to be cheerful with patients, family, and friends without losing one ounce of authenticity.

I admire her.

In India, where she lives, Muslims are being persecuted. Hindus, by far, have the upper hand there. And like anywhere else, the folks with the most seem to lord it over those with less. So the populous Hindus have made it harder for Muslims — an ethnic minority in India, I think — to enjoy being themselves and to enjoy their own culture, religion, music, etc.

I say all this to point out one, simple thing: You can’t put all people in a box. Not all Muslims. Not all Christians. Not all Neo-pagans. You just can’t stereotype people like that.

One of the folks I know, who I worked with on Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in 2008 and 2016, worked on behalf of Joe Biden in 2020. She is a Black woman. Very smart, able, all that. She knew Biden would not be perfect, but she worked for him anyway. Part of the reason for this might have been that Donald Trump signed a bill that raised the minimum age to smoke from eighteen to twenty-one. She felt that was no one else’s business, and that if you’re old enough to go to war, you’re old enough to smoke.

(Even though I don’t smoke, I agree with her.)

My friend has always smoked menthol cigarettes, such as Newports. But Biden’s FDA banned menthol cigarettes citing their “adverse affects on Black Americans.” (This was often the phrase used by journalists and TV analysts when this happened last year.) Menthol, you see, masks some of the harshness of the tobacco, and it apparently opens up additional nicotine receptors. (I have never smoked, so all I can say is apparently.)

At any rate, my friend was absolutely furious about this. She felt it’s her body, her choice. Alcohol is allowed in many flavors, and alcohol kills many more people than cigarettes.

She also was deeply unhappy, and remains deeply unhappy to this day, about how people who smoke get treated like second-class citizens. Being a smoker is now worse than being a drinker, and that’s just wrong.

I’m not saying any vice is good. But I have two vices of my own: lottery tickets, and diet soda. (Well, three if you add in Snickers bars.)

Most of us have at least one vice, and for most of the time, this vice is harmless or reasonably harmless. (Some folks, knowing that I am a plus-sized woman, probably would tell me that a Snickers bar is not harmless in my case. Too bad. I definitely agree with my friend regarding “my body, my choice.”) Those who drink in moderation are not shamed in the same way as those who smoke in moderation.

My late husband, and my late grandmother, and most of my grandmother’s family before her, were all smokers. My grandma lived to be 89 years old. My husband’s heart attacks were almost assuredly not caused by smoking (this from the ME at the time), though it probably didn’t help. Most of grandma’s family lived to be 75 and up…they drank, smoked, gambled, some of the men probably wenched, and they enjoyed life to the fullest until the day they died.

Look. I am asthmatic. Smoke and smoking can cause trouble for me. Michael, my husband, knew it, and did his best to smoke outside. The smell on his clothes was minor that way. He used breath mints and did his best to keep the nicotine taste out of his mouth so when we kissed, we had a better experience.

In short, he did his best to minimize the effects of smoking. Plus, he was trying hard to quit — he tried at least six times during our marriage (we only got two-plus years together as a married couple, remember, so this is actually rather impressive), and was down to only four cigarettes a day from a pack-and-a-half habit. (He could not use the patch because of his skin issues. He didn’t do well with the gum because of his dentures. And the only other option for him, nicotine water, was so foul that he could not stand it. I didn’t blame him.)

Therefore, I cannot and will not censure any smokers. And, quite frankly, I do not understand anyone who does unless they’re “virtue-signaling.” (Yes, me, a left-of-center more-or-less liberal person, is using that term.)

We all have faults. We all have vices. We all have “Achilles heels.”

Lording it over anyone because you do not like their legal vice is not just stupid, pointless and wrong. It’s also cruel. So if you’re someone who’s told yourself, a non-smoker, that smoking is evil and have forgotten all about how the cigarette companies did everything they could to keep people hooked by altering the levels of nicotine, etc. (look up the old “60 Minutes” episode if you don’t believe me), and have decided to blame the smoker rather than the cigarette company, you need to stop doing that.

Right now.

17 Responses

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  1. Three thoughts.

    First, you are the First IIRC to accuse the Rioters of being Professed-Christians. None of the News Stories called them Christians. I think that you are making a Very Big Assumption.

    Second, I’m Laughing Out Loud about your friend voting for Biden because Trump signed an anti-smoking law of some sort. The Biggest and Loudest Anti-Smoking Crowd (from what I’ve seen) are “Liberals” and the Message is that Good People Must Be Against Smoking (Tobacco because smoking Pot is OK). So as a Pipe Smoker (Tobacco), I find it extremely amusing that your friend thinks Biden would support her habit.

    Third, IMO Rep. Omar is an idiot. The Left has shown Hatred to Conservative Christians and Religious Jews but Loves Muslims no matter how Radical the Muslims are. She is the Person with double-standards.

    • In Minnesota, I think it was, the first bunch of people protesting were from a Christian church. This was long before anyone set anything on fire or did damage to property. That’s why I mentioned it, Paul.

      Yes, I agree with you re: anti-smoking bills. There is often a reflexive hatred of whoever holds the office of POTUS. I’ve seen it before; it’s certainly not new, though the amount of vitriol seen regarding former President Trump was possibly the worst I’d ever seen. (I have to say “possibly” because the media coverage around Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” on the first part and “it depends on what the definition of is is” regarding the affair w/Monica Lewinsky was also pretty bad. There was almost no unbiased coverage of that, and there was almost no unbiased coverage of Donald Trump, either. What Trump got, partly because of his original outrageousness and willingness to say unPC and sometimes even shocking things, was a lot of free airtime. I’ve never seen any other candidate for POTUS, much less actual POTUS, who’s been given anywhere near as much free air time. But I’d guess nearly all of that coverage was negative, which also is not typical.)

      Yes, I thought of raising the whole bit about pot smoking being OK but tobacco smoking supposedly being bad. The essay was long enough as it was, though…anyway, I do not — absolutely DO NOT — approve of someone thinking their vice is OK but someone else’s vice is not. Even if both vices are legal, there’s no reason at all to do such “virtue-signaling” as that. (The whole “take the plank out of your own eye before you criticize the mote in someone else’s” thing — I hope that paraphrase is OK — also comes to mind.)

      I have to admit that I don’t understand the comment she made about singing. I would like to think that no matter who sung what, after doing such good things as helping Ukranian refugees, it would be OK.

      As I said, there are many Muslim hymns that are beautiful. We don’t hear them much. The typical portrait of a Muslim for many Americans tends to start with the Taliban and go downhill from there. And that’s not all there is, as I said about my friend Tajwarr.

      I don’t know why anyone would show hatred to anyone, Paul. But I know that there is truth to a lot of what you say.

      The only thing I can say that is positive about these comments from Rep. Omar is that it may bring some good Muslim hymns out to be heard. The Muslim faith sees God the same way as Jews and Christians do (thus “the people of the Book”), though the way they see their prophet is different than the way Jews and Christians see theirs. (Muslims respect Jesus but do not see him as the last prophet. Just as Jews mostly like Jesus but they don’t see him as a prophet, either. And definitely do not see him as the Son of God, unless they grant that we’re all children of God.)

      I am against double standards, Paul. I don’t like it at all.

      That’s why I wrote this essay.

      And yes, you’re right, to a degree, about my Black friend. But I think, also, that she was comforted by Biden’s voting record way back when, and I think she also probably felt Biden had many, many more important things to do than to outlaw menthol cigarettes. And maybe Biden, himself, did…but his FDA did not.

      Somehow, Paul, this country has to figure out what we stand for. Is it all this virtue-signaling stuff? Or are we for liberty and justice for all? (And how in the world can anyone consider it justice when they’re pro pot-smoking but anti tobacco-smoking?)

      Barb Caffrey

      April 19, 2022 at 8:54 pm

      • Protesting or Rioting?

        Earlier, you said Rioting but now you say Protesting.

        Sorry, but there’s a Lot Of Garbage out in Lefty-Land about Christians so Show Evidence For Christians Rioting.

      • What I’m saying, Paul, is that there were Christians protesting, originally, which was fine. Then there were folks who hated Black Lives Matter, and went out _saying_ they were Christians and ended up causing a lot of trouble. (These are the types you’ve called Antifa. I don’t know if any of ’em were, but they surely seem to have some of the same philosophy.)

        I don’t think they were Christians, Paul, but they used the name. They liked chaos. They were going to stir up chaos wherever they could.

        That was the point I was trying to make. Perhaps I made it badly.

        In Kenosha, we had many churches go out to protest, and some stayed late the night everything went haywire. There was nothing wrong at all with these people.

        The problem was with people who said they were Christian but were not. They caused a lot of trouble in Kenosha for sure, and I believe in Minneapolis also.

        There probably is a lot of garbage out there about Christians, Paul. There’s also unfortunately a lot of garbage out there about many other religions. There’s not a whole lot of tolerance to be had, and that’s awful.

        Barb Caffrey

        April 19, 2022 at 9:12 pm

      • The problem was with people who said they were Christian but were not.

        Show me a News Article on Rioters who claimed they were Christians but were not.

        Sorry Barb, but as it is, it looks like you’re doing the “Lefty Thing” of “Don’t Criticize Muslims Unless You “Jab” Christians as well”.

        Here in the US there are plenty of People who “Excuse Muslims” while Hating Christians. I sincerely doubt that for all your “talk” about “Tolerance” you don’t “preach it” to Lefties who Hate Christians.

      • I’m trying not to do that, Paul. (It’s called “whataboutism.”)

        I saw nothing in the reportage on Kenosha that discussed Christians rioting. I saw a good amount at the time about Christians protesting. (I was all for that, BTW. I believe strongly in peaceful protesting.)

        I don’t think anyone should be excused for being intolerant.

        I wish I knew how to get into the Kenosha News as they might have had something in their newspaper, but they have a very strict paywall. That’s the situation I know the best as Kenosha’s about ten miles away from me as the crow flies.

        All I can tell you is this: the folks who were rioting were anarchists. They might’ve been anti-fascists, too, I suppose (thus “Antifa”), but they were most definitely anarchists.

        They rode on the coattails of much better people who were out there, peacefully protesting but otherwise minding their own business.

        The point is, there are people who say they’re good who aren’t. Surely you have run into this before? It doesn’t matter to me whether they said they’re Christian, Muslim, or Martian; if they try to portray themselves as good, but do bad things (if not downright evil things by my standard, as was the burning of the Uncle Hugo’s bookstore in Minnesota), they need to realize that they are the farthest thing from good.

        And while we all have bad days, and we all have done at least minor things that aren’t good, such as calling another driver an idiot (I did that tonight, BTW, but under my breath and in the privacy of my own car), most of us try not to make matters worse.

        We try to make it better, instead.

        Those who rioted and burned things in Kenosha and Minneapolis were not doing good, to put it mildly.

        I’m guessing — and it’s only a guess, because as I said I can’t get to anything behind the strict paywall the Kenosha News has — that at least some of these folks thought, without hypocrisy, that they were Christian.

        All I can say to such people is this: “Good luck with that when you reach eternity.”

        Barb Caffrey

        April 19, 2022 at 10:02 pm

      • First you mentioned “Christian Rioters” and now you say that the Rioters weren’t Christians.

        Why should I take anything you say seriously?

  2. Reblogged this on Likamarie's Blog.


    April 19, 2022 at 9:41 pm

  3. Just jumping in the middle of your post Barb.
    When I was young and relatively feckless, menthol cigarettes were my ‘ciggy’ of choice. All I can say there is ‘President, sir? That is not going to help your image. It looks picky,’…..Sorry ’bout that.
    As for smoking itself, I gave up when out ‘third’…Ashley our son came along…Couldn’t afford it. I am still irritated by folk who ‘get on one’ about smoking and smokers. As I tell them, I never heard of a fellow who smoked 20 cigarettes a day who went home beat up his wife, or crashed his car, or started a fight in a street or ended up sprawled down on a pavement. Ha! (Rant over)… Sorry ’bout that too.

    One of the problems some folk of liberal or democratic(small ‘d’) views is that they confuse the antics of some extreme groups who claim to be Christian with the whole faith. You’ll find this in the UK with part of the Atheist community who have a knee jerk loathing and intolerance of Christians over all, apparently we are intolerant they tell us. If folks want to sing in a communal and restrained manner, what is wrong with that? Another case of pickyness there.

    And The Ukraine. The war that has been on hold since the 1950s and the Nuclear Weaponry warned us we needed to take thing very, very seriously.
    Putin sadly is not the fellow who during 9/11 informed the USA that he had called off military manoeuvres lest any mistakes arose. He has become the classic brooding Czar, haunting the shadows of The Kremlin with his own court. Here is an interesting item on this matter, even if it is from Wikipedia, so some parts have to maybe watered down a bit, however an interesting take:

    Sorry have to go…Chores calling.
    Best wishes


    April 21, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    • Thanks, Roger.

      I agree with you about all of that.

      Rep. Omar may have had some sort of specific reason for calling out the hymn singers on the plane, but to my mind it just makes no sense.

      The better way, if she wants to do it, is to invite people in to see her place of worship (if they allow that there), and hear the songs they sing. I’m betting they’re not that dissimilar to the Christian hymns. They may come from a different musical “branch” than Christian songs (most of them, the earliest anyway, were Gregorian chants, and it’s perhaps because of that that hymns have often repetitive lines and singable choruses. (Personally, I’m all for both.)

      As I’ve studied music and its history, it seems to me that as music became more approachable for the layman, it also became somewhat less complex. A sonata form is something most readers would get, even if they didn’t know what it was called; atheists, if they love music, would understand a church hymn’s structure.

      I never have understood strident atheism, BTW. I just don’t get it.

      Barb Caffrey

      April 21, 2022 at 10:36 pm

      • Songs are songs in my book Barb, If they promote Hate, Prejudice or Violence that’s one thing.
        But songs of praise to whatever deity you worship? If you don’t subscribe …Keep out of it. (Although I must admit that comment breaks down when it comes to Satanism).

        Music and song surely have each their own beauty. I’ve noticed on YouTube responses to hymns or choral pieces by broad minded atheists who have commented along the lines of ‘I don’t believe in the religion, but this is beautiful,’ which is the right response.

        (Actually strident atheists in tone, argument and intolerance sound remarkably like their opposite numbers on the more extreme versions of Christianity- quite amusing at times to compare them in mindsets)


        April 22, 2022 at 4:48 am

      • I agree, Roger. I wonder sometimes if that strident sort of atheism is a religion of its own…a religion that seems to be built of intolerance. (Granted, there are some atheists I admire, like Ron Reagan, who basically says he doesn’t believe in Hell and he wants religion to be kept out of the government, but each to their own.)

        Barb Caffrey

        April 24, 2022 at 10:12 pm

      • Oh it is Barb, with its own creed. One of the first common factors I encountered with the strident ones was an unwillingness to discuss on even ground. The next was the affirmation that they ‘Do Not Believe’, as if ‘Not Believing’ was a belief in itself.


        April 25, 2022 at 2:49 am

      • Yeah. You have to wonder about some people, Roger.

        BTW, some folks think NFL football in the US is a religion. I guess there are worse ones. But… 😉

        Barb Caffrey

        May 1, 2022 at 1:41 am

      • At least you get Time-Outs 😀


        May 1, 2022 at 3:15 am

      • That’s true! 😀

        Barb Caffrey

        May 1, 2022 at 7:02 am

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