A day of firearms in America

Yesterday, 24 March 2018, was a day of firearms. Groups of children marched in the “March for our lives,” the latest anti-gun movement. I went to a gun show, and saw families shopping together. My cousin in law in Texas taught his five year old grandson gun safety.

Earlier in the week, the police in Princeton NJ murdered a man at the local Panera, which is now covered with signs blaming everyone except the Princeton Police Department. Apparently the NRA is responsible for the lack of negotiation skills in the upscale sanctuary city.

I do not believe it is correct to say “everyone is passionate about their position on guns.” The anti-gun nuts lose their passion a week or so after each tragedy. They dig the spotlight, but the actual work of overturning the Constitution is of little interest. Personally, I find it difficult to argue with people who are arguing based on emotion, they rarely bother to learn anything about the subject and lack civility. Their self awarded moral superiority tarnishes rapidly under the light of reality.

Remington Model 12 pump action .22 caliber

So while the kids were marching to ban guns, I went to a gun show. I’ve been to many, they are common. The rifles I would like seem to be overpriced, but I did pick up some cases and ammunition. I had a nice conversation with a young man who was choosing a shotgun for his daughter. She’s eleven years old, and very slight of build, but from what her father says she is very good at Trap shooting. It brought back pleasant memories of shooting with my daughter, who was a natural marksman. I spoke with a couple of young men who were selling Remington Model 12 rifles (one I am interested in). This was the first rifle I owned, at about twelve years old, but today they sell for as much as twenty two hundred dollars. We agreed it is a dependable small caliber rifle, but they had no intention of lowering the price, which was about average among the dealers present. I had a couple of conversations with dealers and other customers about the other rifle I was looking for, the Lee-Enfield model 4 in .303 British.

Lee-Enfield model 4 .303 British

It is difficult to find the Enfield with it’s original stock, and it just doesn’t feel right with modern wood. My last one had seen service in Korea, I sold it when money was tight after my second divorce, they go for between six hundred and seventeen hundred dollars now.  I still have cartridges in .303 British, and it is the most battle proven military rifle in existence, having seen service since WWI; the Afghani’s used it to repel the Russians in the 80s. My oldest daughter could put five rounds into the ten ring at one hundred yards with it when she was twelve.

There was a nice couple selling home made soap, they had some molded into the shape of a pistol which they said they sold out of in December, and plenty of other friendly people selling gun related objects.

My cousin’s husband used the day to teach his grandson gun safety. Because that is what responsible gun owners do. Even though his guns are safely locked away, little Noah may come across other firearms as he grows up, and needs to understand how to handle them safely. Intelligent people teach their offspring to respond to potential dangers with knowledge rather than fear. There is always the possibility Noah will grow up to be anti gun (although in this family it is unlikely), but he will always be safe.

Noah learns to handle a rifle

Meanwhile, in this wonderful Democratic Republic, crowds of children were encouraged to march in protest against gun ownership. Even the Pope got involved, maybe because he realized that America is not a theocracy and wanted someone who might be listened to speaking. Fear of guns is not far from fear of the dark. The unknown is scary, and to children, responsibility is scary. Congress, who only weeks earlier were calling on soap manufacturer’s to make their products less appetizing to children, is now being asked to listen to the wisdom of children.

As the logic twists further, the goal of this movement is to tell congress to listen to children because they have not listened to adults. They have listened, just not to people proposing violations of the Constitution they swore to uphold. The path to an amendment modifying the second amendment has not changed in two hundred and thirty years. It has not been approached, rather laws infringing on the right to bear arms have faced challenges in court, and routinely failed. All that has to happen is to pass an amendment and have it ratified by two thirds of the states, then the laws can change. Unfortunately, those wishing to ban guns pass laws which criminals do not (by definition) obey. Changing the Constitution would at least keep guns out of the hands of honest citizens, but that approach has not been tried.

Panera Bread in Princeton

Following the murder of Scott Mielentz by Princeton police, locals protested bread. Had Scott been a member of a minority, the town would have burned, but because he had financial troubles he was cast as an outsider, and the police exonerated by the locals. I have no sympathy for the Princeton police, they have the money and time to be properly trained.

The facts of the event are fairly straight forward. Mielentz was suffering from PTSD, which put him beyond the understanding of a police force that has never been exposed to trauma. He walked into Panera with a handgun, which some reports have referred to as “brandishing a gun.” Everyone in the store left, leaving Mielentz alone. Police blocked the streets for blocks around the store, and schools, some miles away, were placed on “lockdown.” For five hours, the police claim to have “negotiated” with Mielentz, with his only expressed statement that he be left alone. As shift change neared, Mielentz was killed by a single shot through the window, the only shot fired during the event. Mielentz posed no immediate threat, so the circumstances of the incident must be presented to a grand jury composed of 23 civilians for independent review by state law. If there is Justice in the state of New Jersey, the officer responsible will be tried for manslaughter at the very least. But expecting justice in New Jersey is foolish.

The signs outside Panera spoke directly to the children’s march, but I don’t suspect anyone was paying attention. “NRA there is blood on your hands” could have been crafted by my ex-wife, who ranted incessantly on Facebook after the Stone Douglas incident with the same words (with the opportunity  to respond turned off because that’s how you show how passionate you are, making statements that no one can respond to). There are a couple with AR-15s on them, which is most likely the weapon the police used. There is a sign which reads “Guns kill, not save” in which they misspelled “Police” as “Guns.” Lots of calls to end violence following a largely non-violent event. Oddly, there were no signs at the Police department.

America is a wonderful country, with a government restrained from tyranny by a perfect Constitution. I say perfect because built into the Constitution is a format for revising it. We realized people should not be property and enacted the thirteenth amendment. We realized that our former slaves were not equal until they could vote and enacted the fifteenth amendment. Fifty years later we realized that women were equal in rights and enacted the nineteenth amendment. If the populous was truly interested in banning guns, an amendment could be proposed nullifying the second amendment. So far, nothing.

In the meantime, we may react to the “gun problem” in many ways. Some will fight to ban guns, others will fight to protect the right to bear arms. I cannot think of a single instance in which a solution was reached by shouting, so civil discussions would be the best path to pursue, which requires education. Banning guns which do not exist helps no one. Banning guns based on how they look works the same. If gun owners are so stupid, how is it they understand the features of guns and the anti-gun nuts do not?

All of us need to treat our opponents with respect. Of course, if we really respected each other, guns wouldn’t seem nearly as scary, because the people owning them wouldn’t be as scary.

 

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Old Vulcan Proverbs

I remember the first time I heard this, how my girlfriend at the time laughed and I recognized the profundity.

I see the advertisements for the film “The Post” and can only laugh at the line “The untold true story.” I think we all know enough of the story to know that line is blatantly false, as a moronic Illuminati attempts to rebuild the reputation of the Washington Post.  I’m sure Jeff Bezos is proud, but the fact is the Pentagon Papers were released to the New York Times, the Post printed a story about it a week later. The president(s) whose dishonesty was displayed was not Nixon, it was the work of five previous administrations. In its rush for an anti-Trump metaphor, the film totally misses the mark, except in the minds of those so filled with vitriol they can’t be bothered with facts. Nixon acted with honor, defending the state secrets of the Pentagon Papers, not the actions reported; and by resigning in the face of impeachment. Trump is no Nixon, at least not in that sense.

Trump is the one who can go to Jerusalem. In 1995, without presidential signature, the houses of congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. In the ensuing twenty two years, the implementation has been suspended every six months by the sitting president. Every. Six. Months. Both Bush and Obama did it sixteen times. Even Trump suspended the move on his first opportunity; and then he did not.

Pushed by Arab members to condemn the move in the United Nations, the security council tried, forgetting that the United States has right of veto in the Security Council. A second attempt was made in the General Assembly, and passed with a margin of 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions (some might count that as 128 to 44). Even formerly strong allies voted against the United States. While word spread in the media that the world was laughing at the United States, ten countries stated interest in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. It took eight years to formalize diplomatic relations with China following Nixon’s visit, nothing happens overnight. The first step was waiting to be taken, waiting while Clinton, Bush, and Obama pushed it aside.

Times are tough in America for those looking to think for themselves. There is very little thinking taking place. Discourse has been replaced with accusations, skipping past arguments and just leaping to insults. It is unfortunate that this lack of ability to communicate coincides with so many messages, or perhaps that is the point. The message of the last election could not be more clear, but very few heard it. Two indefensible candidates that continue to be defended to the death of many friendships. Politicians are politicians, regardless of background. Yet today, 65% of Republicans believe Trump will serve a second term while 45% of Democrats believe he will be impeached (Rasmussen). After everything, the concept of having a third choice is ridiculed. This is technically referred to as Cognitive Dissonance.

Trump is a clown. Only a fool would deny it. He is not Hitler. Only a fool would insist he is. He is a human being, as out of touch as anyone at his cocktail parties, which have been attended by politicians from both sides of the aisle, including his last opponent. This is my level of support for the president. He is the president. He has committed no crimes worthy of impeachment. He has followed the constitution in the administration of his duties.

After eight years of a president who hyped himself at every opportunity, starting with a Nobel Peace Prize for having a nice smile (“extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy” while a senator from Illinois) and ending his term by giving himself a medal, the expressed annoyance at Trump’s foolishness is disingenuous. And this is yet another lesson of the election which continues to be overlooked. The press is biased. Five minutes of air time was devoted the other night to dispel Trump’s claim that he was responsible for zero American deaths on civilian aircraft. Why? Let it go and move on.

After sixty five years, North Korea has developed a fusion weapon and an intercontinental ballistic missile to deliver it to the United States. At least Kim Jong-un believes so. He also believes that the Korean war is still active, along with a few odd ideas on social welfare. He is by almost any measure insane, yet the press would have you worry that Donald Trump has access to nuclear weapons. In case there is still someone who hasn’t noticed, Kim Jong-un has no interest in diplomacy. He makes threats, and is a dangerous individual who has murdered family members. He is more likely to respond to a reminder we not only have nuclear weapons, but have used them, than he is to appeasement. Trump is the president to deal with him. They speak the same language.

Just as the Dream Act was known in Paraguay before Pittsburgh, the news of Trump’s immigration policies traveled faster than the policies have been implemented. Illegal border crossings fell precipitously as soon as Trump took office. Talk of a great wall worked as well as an actual wall. There is clearly a place for tough talk, particularly when the speaker is  capable of inducing fear.

The incredibly ineffective Paris Climate Accord was rejected by Trump. Regardless of your opinion on anthropogenic global warming, the accord did zero to effect change, in fact allowing the countries with the worst pollution to pollute more. Only Trump could unsign the “treaty.”

The negative attitude pushed by the press is not healthy. Neither is the jubilant “everything is wonderful” chants of Trump’s supporters. It amazes me, that after all the presidential misbehavior which has come to light about damn near every president there is such faux outrage about Trump, but it shows the level of (in)tolerance and hypocrisy in society today. We have, as a society, become too demanding of each other. We demand perfection while acknowledging perfection is impossible. That is a recipe for frustration. As we close our circles ever tighter, we lose the ability to interact with “others.” People who don’t believe every single word of what we believe are “others,” the diversity of our melting pot has been reduced to including people who are left handed.

Trump is antagonistic and belligerent. He is precisely what we need in a president right now. We need to figure out how to deal with people who are different from us, because a lot of the time they’re the ones with solutions. I want to believe this experience will make us better people, but I am routinely an optimist when it comes to human interactions (four wives is a clue).

Wherever your sympathies lie, I am not asking you to reverse them. I’m just asking you to stop fighting. There are things you can change and things you can not, just as there are things Trump can do and things he can not. The world will not end, and just as conservatives said when Obama was elected, everything can change after the next election. Get out there and discuss, debate, build alliances that will weather any administration, it is unlikely this will be the last.

 

 

Lethal Narcissism

My mail has been unreliable, apparently I missed the degrees in psychology everyone received. They’re being used irresponsibly, and the value of something that was freely dispensed to all humans can actually drop to a level beneath worthless. Nonetheless, I hear diagnoses and prognoses bandied about by folks who have had no contact with their target patient. Throw a few psychological terms about and people will think you know what you’re talking about; if they’re gullible, or you’re saying what they want to hear. In reality there are a large portion who will see through you, but there is still that seven percent who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

A little research reveals this to be a symptom of the narcissism which is running rampant in American society. Narcissists tend to be the first to judge, and the last to judge themselves.  Of course, recognizing there is a multi million dollar market for selfie sticks might lead you to the same conclusion. The problem with the uneducated psychologists is they do not realize you may display a symptom without having the full blown syndrome. Yes, we have taken a turn towards narcissism as a society, but everyone with a cubicle plastered with photos of themselves is not a clinically diagnosed narcissist. One diagnostic test that has worked for me is to present someone with a list of the symptoms of narcissism. If they do not recognize any of the traits within themselves, they are most likely a narcissist. A balanced individual will recognize their own faults.

We are not over run by people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but the number of people openly displaying aspects are unusually prevalent. They are:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

You see this all around you, just not at pathological levels. You can certainly taste it in my writing. Unfortunately, as with any psychological disorder, behavior that is not addressed self validates and increases. I am troubled for society, the expressions are becoming lethal. When national personalities call for violence, someone will be listening. If that person is less than well balanced, violence of some sort will follow. It starts with rhetoric, and when that rhetoric is challenged the response is ad hominem. I was in a discussion last week about politics, and one person went non-linear, eventually saying “I can have my opinions without factually reporting why I have them…” As I recall, the purpose of exchanging opinions was to convince people of your opinion. This person was under the impression that all that was required for me to accept her opinion as fact was her saying it. If there is truly a New World Order, this is it, “It’s true because I want it to be true.”

My ex-wife was similar. We would be discussing a subject and she would say something which had no basis in reality. When I corrected her she would argue. When I presented evidence she would say “Well, you’ve obviously done more research than I, but I still have the right to my opinion.” One time she actually placed her fingers in her ears because she did not want to hear anything which disproved her point. We’re divorced now. I don’t mind people who disagree with me, I’ve often learned new views, but when someone chooses ignorance over information there is nothing left to talk about.

The issue is not limited to a single group, discussions are becoming more difficult in general, and it’s not just my brain injury. I used to belong to several pro second amendment groups, but a few of them became unstable, with the “gun-nuts” often feared by the anti-gun crowd taking over. They disturbed me as well, so I left those groups. I’ve stayed with a few groups who promote responsibility, finding that conversations with responsible people are more satisfying regardless of topic, there is less a sense of being in an echo chamber when people speak freely and back up their opinions.

This is where narcissism can become lethal. The narcissist, in his arrogance, has isolated himself from other ideas, living in an echo chamber. He believes he is smarter than everyone else, and empowered to apply his concept of justice. The echo chamber is appealing to the narcissist. There are no voices of dissent. In many cases I find they have no intention of making sense, they just want to make noise. Louder is truer.

This week a breaking point snapped, and a man who believed his opinion reflected reality opened fire on a baseball team. He was the typical slacktivist, after firing fifty rounds the only casualty was the shooter. He did manage to wound six people, one seriously, another with a round to the foot. The story has revealed few details as the FBI has taken over the investigation, the rifle has been described as an “AK style weapon” by people who have most likely never held a firearm, and it appears he had been living on the street for several weeks. How he managed to conceal a rifle while witnesses who knew of him said all his belongings were in a bag is a bit odd, as well as how someone could live on the streets when they were carrying a $500 asset.

James T. Hodgkinson had a variety of reasons for believing Republicans should die. In his pocket was found a list of other pro-life politicians he planned to assassinate, because people who wish to preserve life should die. The logic reveals a streak of narcissism. His lack of concern for human life can easily be blamed on the severity of his mental illness, it can also be blamed on media figures who have encouraged violence through their rhetoric. Oddly (?), the media doubled down, suggesting the shooting was not enough. One Democratic member of congress responded to the calls for unity following the attack by saying she thought the shooting was funny. Why we might expect a more solemn response from a party with a history of violent acts indicates we are far more gracious than they are, even as we are portrayed as the bullies in life. This is narcissism showing, the belief they are superior, they have been wronged, no other opinion matters.

Where did this come from? One theory is that narcissists are born out of trauma, another that they are the result of “over-parenting.” I would like to think we can curb the progression from personality trait to personality disorder, but the nature of the process shields the narcissist from introspection. Contrary to popular opinion we are not all psychiatrists, and are ill equipped to counsel the mentally ill. Narcissists deny their own issues and accuse others of being narcissistic. In a defense of the shooting, Democratic Strategist James Devine said “We are in a war with selfish, foolish & narcissistic rich people. Why is it a shock when things turn violent?” Such a transparent statement, revealing his own narcissism.

Facing narcissists in my life for over fifty years, I eventually learned how to deal with them. Don’t. They either become more narcissistic or violent. They unwittingly isolate themselves, help give them what they want, complete isolation. As much as we may say “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” words do hurt. They can be an incitement to violence against a crowd, or against a single person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blinded by Science

 

I have something of a love/hate relationship with “Science.” My father would be considered a scientist today, he has a degree in chemistry, and actually worked as a chemist for a few years before applying his degree towards the sale of devices to measure chemical processes. This is the “Science” I grew to love, every evening there was likely to be at least one discussion about science and its applications, they might relate to the preparation of dinner, the PH balance of the pool, the earthquake we experienced the night before, the latest gas chromatograph or liquid scintillation counter his company had produced or the most recent space launch. I remember being yelled at about a few projects I had devised with my chemistry set, a part of me chuckled when he would say “Don’t you realize what could happen” because I did, that was the purpose of the project. Back then, a scientist performed research.

Science made sense. It was rational. It didn’t care how you felt about it.

As an adolescent, “Science” became popular with society. Quotation marks science, just the word, not the method. With total disregard for the scientific method, the word “science” was bandied about as if it were some deity. In many cases, it was, as people made thoroughly misinformed statements about a conflict between God and Science. This is where my hatred was formed. An individual who understands neither God nor Science claims they are in conflict. Were it one person the data would be anecdotal, but it was common. This is the beauty of science, you can reproduce the experiment yourself. Ask a dozen atheists about a conflict between science and God, they will demonstrate an ignorance of both, regardless of the God in question. Well, perhaps not in the case of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but any religion based on historical texts. The most frequent error is assuming a religious text is a science book, then pointing out differences in language. Assuming every follower of a religion interprets the texts precisely in the way the atheist interprets what he’s heard about it is also quite common.

As common meanings continued to be discarded, everyone became a scientist. Typically the credentials these scientists hold is having read an article about an interpretation of an abstract. In an impending “Scientists March on Washington” everyone is included in the name of diversity, it’s not even being called a “Scientists March” anymore, within days it became “The March for Science.” It was no longer about science, it was about “Science” advocacy, which means whatever you want it to mean. I received this message before dropping out:

“We are taking seriously the many important criticisms regarding (lack of) diversity on social media stating that for this march to be meaningful, we must centralize diversity of the march’s organizers (both in leadership positions and at all levels of planning), speakers, and issues addressed as a principal objective for the march. We hear you, we thank you for your criticism. In the March for Science, we are committed to centralizing, highlighting, standing in solidarity with, and acting as accomplices with African American, Latinx, API, indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, women, people with disabilities, poor, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, trans, non-binary, agender, and intersex scientists and science advocates.

-March for Science Diversity Team”

I’m not quite sure what “Centralized Diversity” is, I had heard enough doublespeak to know better than to pose a question. Which is, of course, the reason for throwing around the word “science.” To silence opposing viewpoints. To enhance the self described “intelligence” of the speaker. No doubt it works with large groups of people. You have heard someone say about anthropogenic global warming “The science is settled.” Science is never settled. Anyone who tells you it is does not understand the scientific method. Science is about excellence, not diversity. You do not know who George Washington Carver was because of the color of his skin, or Marie Curie because of her gender.You know them because they performed revolutionary experiments, verified their results, and then communicated the reproducible results.

So it is a Brave New World. I’m thinking it’s more of an Animal Farm, the porcine population seems unusually prominent. I am fortunate in that part of my therapy is recognizing things won’t be like they used to be,  but it is supposed to be me that is different.

We made such complicated things look so simple, we forgot how hard it was to get here. Everyone was not just equally important, they were special. Everyone might be unique, but they cannot be special, superior to each other, and still equal. The next step is even more bizarre, everyone else is stupid. I’m not sure how these folks celebrate diversity when they truly believe people who do not share their views are not just misinformed, they are mentally deficient. This would give me a headache even if I didn’t already have a brain injury. The generalities and exclusive inclusion suggests a logic most often found in asylums.

You will see a March for Science, they’ve already ordered merchandise for the selfie crowd. Suggested speakers include Alan Alda, whose television commercial mocking actors as doctors should be force fed to the organizers of the march a la “A Clockwork Orange.” Other pop-science advocates have been suggested, Bill Nye and Richard Dawkins among them, and Neil deGrasse Tyson surely won’t miss an opportunity to be on camera. Sir Magnus Pyke would have been excellent, but as an actual scientist I suspect he would have declined. What you will not see is a march of people who are scientists, or have any idea of the components of the scientific method. It will be a March for Obfuscation, quite the opposite of the original intent.

I had hoped, out of naivete, to actually advocate for Science, perhaps help lead people to an understanding of why the method has been revered since the seventeenth century. Perhaps the realization that we have arrived at the tower of Babel is the most depressing thing I have learned in all of this.

 

 

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Here’s the right way to do it partners!

The war to end all wars

One hundred and two years ago, in July of 1914, the first tendrils of the flame which would become known as The War to End All Wars were sprouting. It was not an accurate name, later it was referred to as the first World War, even before we started numbering them, because it was recognized the world was at war. About 4600 years earlier, the first recorded war, the Battle of Ur, involved the world of the time. There is little doubt there were wars before that, the desire to write was never as strong as the desire to kill.

Humans have always been at war with each other, there have been more than one hundred major conflicts since the War to End All Wars. It can be difficult to tell when one ends and another begins, the “first World War” began as a conflict between Serbia and Croatia, which continues today despite numerous “peace treaties.” The latest spark being when the cases each had against the other for genocide were dismissed in February 2015. The Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his book On War, calls war “a continuation of politics carried on by other means;” the Serbians and Croates always seem to find those means so something should be happening over there soon. And in Syria, The Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and The United States of America.

Yes, I am hearing the call here in the states. Credible calls which I shall not spread less I be accused of sedition. Hatred and mistrust is at an all time high in the states, look at a political candidate, the one who you won’t vote for, and realize that person’s supporters feel the same way as you. Their candidate has been unfairly vilified, the process was rigged against them, there are multiple conspiracies against them, and the other (your) candidate is the worst being to ever cobble together 46 chromosomes.

I am quite accustomed to hearing young people talk about revolution. I refrain from laughing out loud, they are often passionate, but direct action has no safe spaces.  When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They understood the meaning of their words, they had lives, fortunes, and honor to pledge. The rumblings I am hearing today come from such people.

Recent events have been disturbing. Using a variety of ruses, the Bill of Rights has been under attack. In California, a law criminalizing speaking against climate change failed to pass, but the Department of Justice is considering civil actions to bypass the first amendment. The second amendment is dying the death of a thousand infringements. The third amendment, prohibiting forced quartering of soldiers, is in question in a case arguing that forcing land owners to allow government designated endangered species habitat is a violation. The fourth amendment has been all but overruled by the NSA. The fifth and sixth amendments, guaranteeing due process and listing rules of evidence and testimony, have been bypassed not only with drone strikes enforcing the death penalty against uncharged American citizens, but also in calls to use “no fly lists,” secret documents compiled without evidence, as reasons to deny second amendment rights. The seventh amendment, guaranteeing a speedy trial by jury, has not applied to the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay or victims of countless other renditions, both within the continental United States and elsewhere. The eighth amendment, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment, was saved by a filibuster, narrowly preventing drone strikes on American soil. They are currently used on foreign soil to avoid renditions, which can cause bad public relations; better to kill than imprison. The ninth and tenth amendments have simply been ignored, as the federal government created new rights, sometimes (as in the case of Same sex marriage) overruling the voice of the people who passed contradicting laws by referendum. The president has scoffed at separation of powers with his statements of “I have a phone and a pen,” essentially saying “I can do whatever I want, nah nah nah.” The corruption revealed in the FBI and DOJ deny our intrinsic faith in the rule of law, and in any power the Constitution might still hold. Rules are meaningless without enforcement.

The calls for rebellion have many sources, the tinder already glowing. The first war encompassing the world started with a botched assassination in Sarajevo, the American revolution was sparked by a tax on a breakfast beverage.

The horns are blowing with the winds of change.

 

 

 

Terror

On the eve of the second world war, with no idea of the horrors to come, a new president was inaugurated. In hindsight, we see his words as brave, while the story behind them had nothing to do with world war and more to do with his personal and hidden war. He spoke of the economic troubles following the Great Depression, yet he was unable to reveal his own infirmity. Near the beginning of his inaugural speech he said “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Fear is winning.

Today in America, college students are terrorized by the words “Trump 2016” written in chalk. People are scared, genuinely frightened, by food. Ingredients they are not even sensitive to, but they believe they are “dangerous” because they read somewhere they are “bad for you.” Yes, education has failed, they thought “bad for you” was directed at them, not just people who are sensitive to the ingredient.

What do they do when they see something designed to be dangerous and scary? I’m not doing their laundry, but I have a suspicion.

There was an horrific massacre at a club in Orlando Florida last Saturday. Rather than express sympathy for the victims or offer assistance to the survivors, Americans jumped at the opportunity to create political arguments, using the most ferocious weapon available, fear.

Within minutes of the massacre, 0600 EST, I happened to turn on the televised news and hear the initial reports. With twenty confirmed dead it was being called “the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.” I waited to gather a few reports. It had been reported the shooter had an Arabic name and used an AR-15 rifle, referred to as an “assault rifle.” He had allegedly called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS. The death toll (by 0700) remained stable.

I penned a short lament to the death of journalism. An Arabic name does not imply terrorism, an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, twenty casualties is not the worst attack since 9/11. It was a gay club, so I asked if gay lives matter more, making this attack “worse.”  Using the definition of terrorism “creating terror,” more were killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

As the hours went by, more details came in. The death toll rose to fifty, making it the worst attack since 9/11, but the language changed to “worst attack ever.” Well, now the word games begin. In 1890, the federal government attacked the Sioux Indians of Wounded Knee, killing over one hundred fifty Americans.  With the assault weapons of the day. Under the auspices of gun control. There were twenty Medals of Honor awarded for that massacre of women and children. In 1993 the federal government murdered fifty two Americans and twenty four British citizens in a full on military assault in Waco, Texas. In an unthinkable turn of language, the Attorney General later said the massacre was carried out “for the children,” twenty five of which were victims of the government assault.

Oh yeah, and fifty people happened to be dead, but let’s focus on how horrible the attack was historically rather than the actual victims.

Another victim of the media was the motivation, because it is so much easier to spread fear if you have  big scary assailant. I believe there would be fewer conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination if Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t such a wimp.

As it turned out, Omar Wateen was indeed a Muslim. Not a good Muslim, but the guys who flew the planes on 9/11 allegedly hung out drinking at strip clubs when they were in flight training. He had called 911 and “pledged allegiance to ISIS,” and Daesh had in fact issued a warning of a Florida attack, along with a “kill list.” No one on the kill list was at a gay bar in Orlando at 0200, but speculation continued the massacre was influenced by Daesh. More digging revealed that in addition to pledging allegiance to ISIS, Omar also claimed to be a member of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are conflicting groups, and Hezbollah, being a Sunni Muslim group, is at war with both of them.

It also turned out that Omar, who was married, had beaten his wife and frequented gay dating sites, visiting the club he attacked several times. His father was derogatory towards him and had a history of having a bad relationship. My initial theory, that the shooter was upset over a failed love interest, began to gain some credence.

The argument over whether it was a terrorist act or a hate crime made no difference to the dead.

Oh yeah, and fifty people happened to be dead, but let’s focus on the motivation for the attack rather than the actual victims.

The overwhelming number of  arguments, involved gun control. Being a political year, all the candidates came forth with their well uninformed opinions, and the generally uninformed public rose to the fight, fueled by the uninformed media. Bernie Sanders went as far as to say he would demand a ban on automatic weapons, and had been fighting for a ban on automatic weapons for twenty five years.

Automatic weapons were all  but banned by the Firearms Control Act of 1968 (forty eight years ago), restricting them so severely they are figuratively illegal. I have seen two in civilian hands in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of civilians with guns.

The rifle used by Omar was a Sig Sauer MCX. To this hour, three days later, some media outlets are still calling it an AR-15 and an assault weapon.

The second rifle from the left could be an AR-15

The second rifle from the left (AK-47) could be an AR-15

 

I could debate this issue all day long, what is an assault rifle, what is a military weapon, what is an automatic weapon, what is a high powered weapon, why do vegetarians eat fish, but there is a larger issue.

 Fifty people happen to be dead, but let’s focus on the weapon rather than the actual victims.

The fear of guns has ignited, once again, the gun control “debate.” Debating has gone the way of journalism unfortunately. Both sides tend to be misinformed, on a scale of one to ten I would rate the credibility of pro-gun types to be seven, anti-gun types run close to zero. It is merely a shouting match. Nothing is going to change, and both sides are filled with fear.

Gun control legislation tends to have a reverse effect. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was aimed at removing “Saturday Night Specials,” cheap revolvers purchased on impulse, from the streets. That part worked. In the vacuum rose semi-automatic weapons, primarily of larger calibers. Police found themselves outgunned and created SWAT teams, drive by shootings became rampant, more people died. “Collateral” victims, who might have survived a missed shot from a small caliber (less than .38) pistol with only six rounds, were more likely to be killed by a larger caliber pistol fired sixteen times, or a rifle fired thirty times.

When there is a major shooting incident, two things happen. One group screams for gun control, another buys more guns. Gun purchases hit record highs following every massacre, the desire for self protection beats the desire for social controls every time. And the guns they buy? The scariest looking ones on the shelf, often called “assault weapons,” despite the fact they only look like assault weapons. The shape of the gun has no effect on the impact of the bullet.

I have one thing to say to those demanding gun bans. Following the lesson of the Gun Control Act of 1968, were firearms to ever be banned effectively, overturning the second amendment, the next available weapon would become popular. People are not going to stop killing each other because they don’t have guns, Cain used a rock. Knives might be scary, but a taste for mass killings has become popular among the fringe group that decided shooting up the school is better than slashing the principals tires. Explosives are already showing up.

In 1927, Andrew Kehoe, upset with the expense of a new school, blew it up, killing forty five, including thirty eight children. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a right wing anarchist, detonated a rental truck filled with home made explosives, killing one hundred sixty eight, including nineteen children at a daycare in the Murrah Federal Building. Getting rid of firearms will not decrease the bloodshed.

And in case you were distracted, fifty people are dead in Orlando. 

 

 

 

Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

My Last Political Article

There is little doubt I will write about the effects political decisions have on society, or that I will mention politicians, but my relationship with politics has evolved; I expect this to be my last article on American national politics, specifically the 2016 elections.

I write to encourage thought, despite which there appears to be a shortage of thought in the political theater of today. Politics have moved into the space once inhabited by bitter hate-filled arguments. Agreements are not reached, they are forced, during the process redefining “agreement.” The meaning of the word “consensus” has come to be “shouted the loudest.”

There does not appear to be much interest in “leading” as an elected official. “Leadership” is another of those words lacking a meaning, what we used to call “managing” has taken leadership’s place, although I would like to believe even that concept is due for redefinition, managers once were required to demonstrate positive results. The driving force among politicians appears to be “getting elected,” which may at first sound like a simplistic statement. Of course they want to get elected, my issue is that is all they want. At first. Then it changes to “getting re-elected.” The accomplishment most desired while holding an elected position appears to be “creating a legacy.”

A legacy. Something tangible by which to be remembered. Left by someone who spent their life trying to distort reality.

If you have been following this blog, you are aware I intended to leave America a few years ago. One of the many reasons for leaving was to miss the election. I could see a wave of conservatism growing that would overwhelm liberal candidates. I happen to lean towards the conservative point of view myself, but this was destined to be mean spirited, with an ugliness of revenge not seen since Clinton vacated the White House in 2001.

This year’s unpleasantness has not been created by a party unwilling to leave power (yet), but by the all but presumptive winning party. Consider that fact, along with one of the recent quotes from the clown leading in the Republican primary polls, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.” The acknowledgement his words and actions are inconsequential to voters could not be more clear.

A bad joke never becomes funny

A bad joke never becomes funny

Perhaps this should have been “The Sign.” The omen which revealed the onset of the apocalypse. The moment the New York Daily News told a joke with a punchline of reality pointing its finger at us and laughing.

The field turned out to be as many as twelve candidates and one rabid dog. At a moment more sober minds looked forward to unity following eight years of blatant divisiveness, one candidate leapt to the lead due to a history of graffiti; writing his name on buildings provided name recognition, and to connect the name to a face he ran before the cameras and insulted everyone he could. He started by attacking our neighbors to the South, then when a respected former prisoner of war defended them against his tirade the prisoner found himself under attack, called a “dummy,” and accused, despite his years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” of not being a war hero because he had been captured.

Typically, this type of behavior would draw a campaign to an end, but we do not live in typical times. With a wide and diverse field of candidates, the aberrant clown stood out from the sober, qualified contenders. Any threat to his name recognition lead was seen as a personal attack, to which he responded with vicious and vile ad hominem attacks.  His popularity grew as he attacked a debate moderator and eventually the entire debate process when his documented misogyny was questioned, then he demonstrated his misogyny by attacking a female candidate. He mocked a reporter with  physical disabilities. His personal attacks on other candidates intensified, but simply insulting his peers did not generate adequate press for this narcissistic ego.

Ignoring the first amendment of the constitution he was vying to uphold, Trump expressed a desire to ban an entire religion from America. In a nation living in fear of terrorism, he painted all Muslims as terrorists, be they refugees, immigrants, or native born citizens. Following terrorist attacks in other countries, he vilified the victim countries, not only France, but also the United Kingdom and Belgium. This is the man a majority of Americans feel should represent them in the theater of international diplomacy.

I am baffled. The same Americans who bemoaned Obama’s cult like following now abandon independent thought to join the Trump goose step.  I expected the worst the population had to offer, democracy is merely mob rule constrained by civility, and America has been proudly rejecting civilized behavior for decades, but the embrace of fascism shocks me. Some of my best friends support and defend Trump, refusing to see the hate he spreads like fertilizer for his campaign; so I have decided, in the same way I did in 2008, to step away from commenting.

Emma voted for Obama, and while I had found him interesting at first, I voted for McCain. We were able to discuss our differences without raised voices. Several other friends were incensed and insulting towards me because I didn’t vote for Obama, some of those friendships ended. A year after the election, Emma and a few of my friends found themselves regretting their votes and publicly renounced their former support. I do not believe there are the quantity of people capable of admitting they were wrong as there was back then.

There is no reason for anyone to suffer from hurt feelings because I don’t agree with their choice of candidate, we will all live with the consequences of the election.

 

 

 

 

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Choosing a wolf

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It’s getting to be that time again, the presidential election season. I have a love/hate relationship with the event. I love the idea of an informed electorate choosing the best leader. I hate the reality of an ignorant and uneducated electorate being herded like sheep.

It gets worse than that of course, civil discourse having fallen out of favor, most political “discussions” consist of two uninformed people on different sides of an issue telling each other how stupid they are. Neither actually understands the topic, they just repeat unverified statements, calling them “the truth” or “the facts,” because the statements reflect their opinion.  Mastery of this form of debate is judged by memorizing the best sound bites. I particularly like “you are not entitled to your own facts,” a partial quote of Danial Patrick Moynihan, recently co-opted by the sitting president. Mr. Moynihan was pointing out the difference between opinion and fact, his actual statement being “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

I had someone say “you are not entitled to your own facts” to me the other day. This was in response to my providing references for my side of the discussion. He did not care for reality, so he chose to deny it. So yes, I guess I am entitled to my own facts, the facts, as no one else is using them. This is the root of my frustration, beliefs trump reality these days.

I noticed this a few cycles ago, maybe 2004, when “Factcheck” became popular. It didn’t appear to matter that many of these verification services were merely political fronts, the word “fact” was in the title. Republicans had their facts, and Democrats had their facts. How long would it be before the word “fact” became meaningless? Depends on who you are. If you think critically and are capable of objectively evaluating your own research, you cringe when some bozo shouts out his set of facts, which have already been dis-proven so widely the cat knows the truth (“Maak dat de kat wijs just fit perfectly there), on the other hand, if you believe scientific truths are determined by consensus, “fact” is already beyond your capacity for comprehension.

This last week in a discussion of homosexuality, one person said “There are no moral consequences to homosexuality, it is activity between two consenting adults.” It was immediately obvious this person did not understand the difference between legal consequences and moral consequences. Moral consequences depend on your own particular set of morals, legal consequences are derived from law. If you are homosexual, you may believe you are morally free to practice your desires, or you may be crushed by a lifetime of believing homosexuality is wrong. Take note I am aligning with neither position. I suffer no moral consequences if you decide to marry a goat, even if the goat is not in full agreement with the situation. I deal with the moral consequences of my own decisions, your decisions are yours to deal with. Nonetheless, there are indeed moral consequences to every decision we make, but if you do not understand what morals or moral consequences are, there is no point in discussing them with you. The discussion raged on without me, people who were morally outraged trying to explain to a person with a radically different set of morals what their consequences would be.

I do not use the phrase “no morals.” I was accused of having no morals at one point in time, when the truth was I had different morals than the accuser. His God will determine if he was in any position to judge my choices, I certainly have no respect for his judgement, my God told me he (God) is the only judge I need to face.

More and more words are being left to the definition of the speaker. “Facts,” truth,” “morals,” were easy ones to join “right” and “wrong.” Bill Clinton is famous for redefining two words, his definition of “having sex” has done a great deal towards propagating sexually transmitted diseases, but it was his parsing of the word “is” which has had a greater impact on society. In a country in which only thirteen percent of the adult population is considered “proficiently literate,” he hinged a defense on the tense of a copula (keep this issue in mind, his wife is taking an identical defense in the Department of Justice criminal probe into her mishandling of classified material).

Words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, which is just perfect if the speaker is only speaking to himself. The point of election campaigns is to inform the electorate, yet more and more the point appears to be to mislead the electorate. You know this is true when you look at the popularity of Donald Trump. “He tells it like it is!” say his supporters. Well, in a sense that is true. He has yet to say anything of substance, instead engaging in personal attacks, so yes, that is how Donald Trump is. I don’t see it as even remotely presidential, although the screaming match between him and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might be fascinating to watch from the safe distance of another planet.

In one discussion thread about Carly Fiorina, it was mentioned she had stated “Islamic civilization is the greatest in the world.” No, she didn’t say that. She said Islam had created what was once the greatest civilization in the world, which is true. Some folks just have no interest in the truth, usually people with limited capacity for imagination (or limited reading skills). They pick up a hook and run with it. The rumor she is “an Islamist” will likely hold on for a while. She had also made a fairly thoughtful statement on child vaccinations which received some questions. She said it is ultimately the parents decision whether or not to vaccinate, and it is the public schools responsibility to deny admittance to unvaccinated children. Wowie, she’s not going anywhere with this personal responsibility theme. Either you force people to protect their children against communicable and deadly diseases, or you allow preventable diseases to be spread through required contact, none of this taking responsibility for your actions stuff among the “Conservatives,” thank you very much. The sheep need to be told what to do, they will tell you they are thinking for themselves, but minor observation reveals thinking is not an event on the agenda.

I was married once to a woman who genuinely considers herself to be “a good person.” I willingly recuse myself from that debate, my evidence suggests otherwise, but my bias is obvious. Her “evidence?” Because she believes so. Such is the state of discussion in America, or perhaps the entire world, today. Actual evidence, objects that may be touched, events that have been recorded, are unimportant. All that carries any weight is that which is believed. Perversely, a solid segment of people who subscribe to this philosophy routinely belittle those who posses religious faith, yet there is far more physical evidence Jesus is the Son of God than there is evidence of Anthropomorphic Global Warming. But as I said, facts no longer matter. In fact, this ex wife said “I don’t want to hear it” (actually putting her hands over her ears more than once) when presented with evidence contrary to her beliefs. Several times in our relationship she said “well, I haven’t done the research you have, but I still believe this” and would continue repeating her “point” despite the knowledge it was not true (or at very least, questionable).

As you approach the elections, oh for crying out loud as you go through your daily life, defend your beliefs. Look deeper than the press releases and buzz. Know what you are talking about and if it turns out you were wrong, adjust. I had argued abortions contribute to cancer rates for years, then one day I was challenged on the statement and researched it. I was wrong, it is only a cancer of the soul that is caused by abortion. I don’t use that argument anymore. You become a better person when you can acknowledge your mistakes.

This can be a wonderful experience. We have the opportunity to evaluate the beliefs and positions of the people who wish to be our next president. It’s a fairly important job, conduct your interview thoughtfully. Arm yourself with the facts, and convince a majority to elect your desired candidate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diversion of diversity

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Hi there. There’s been quite a bit going on lately, I’ve been taking notes, there is a lot to write about, but I will start with this week.

The Supreme Court of the United States revised the meaning of the word “Judicial” to include “Legislative.” In a five to four ruling, the court removed the right of the states to determine who may be married. There is nothing in the Constitution addressing marriage, nonetheless the narrowest of majorities decided the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause applied to sexual orientation.

What this means is even if your state decided through the democratic process to not allow same sex marriage, your state must not only recognize marriages performed in another state, it must allow such marriages to be performed within the state. While I have no issue with same sex marriage, I am strongly opposed to the way it has been forced on the states.

I was last married in a Quaker ceremony. Only two states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, allow Quaker weddings, but they are recognized throughout the world. Would it be appropriate for the Supreme Court to force every state to allow Quaker ceremonies? The Quaker church does not have the political clout (nor would it accept such) of the LBGT community, and is not interested in forcing its practices on others. Following the tactics of the LGBT community of late, will Catholic priests be forced to perform same sex marriages, in the manner bakers and photographers have been forced to participate in an event which runs against their personal moral code?

Human rights means respecting each other as individuals. It goes against human nature, xenophobia is an evolutionary advantage. The mature Homo Sapiens should be capable of supporting rights different from its own, xenophobia is the primal fear acceptance equals assimilation. It appears such a primal fear is warranted lately, lack of support for a cause is labeled fear of that cause. Socially, we are regressing. Forcing people to participate in something they are morally opposed to creates much more resentment than asking them to simply accept its existence. Texas is suggesting they will allow a balance of individual rights and Supreme Court activism, this is the petri dish to keep an eye on.

The other big story this week is a tangled mess of propaganda, misinformation, and intolerance. A young man opened fire in a church in South Carolina, killing nine people. Cue the politicians. Interestingly enough, gun control wasn’t immediately mentioned, there was a much more appealing subject. Photographs surfaced of the shooter holding a confederate flag, and the church was described as a “Black Church” (Actually it is an African Methodist Episcopal Church or A.M.E.). During all the conversations about racism no one mentioned churches have no color.

The racism angle was used to reinforce the concept the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. It is not. No more than the rainbow is a symbol homosexuality (remember the Rainbow Coalition?). Coexistence is no longer the desire, we must all be the same. The Confederate flag has never had more meaning, representing rebellion by the states over a tyrannical federal government. So of course, the Federal government supports banishing the flag, applying Orwellian tactics to deny rebellion. Democracy is again denied, as activists remove the flag wherever they can, justified by the belief they just cannot wait for the flag to be banned. The next flag in line? Ask Louis Farrakhan, who wants the American flag to come down. Taking down the flag isn’t sufficient for the Black Panther Party, which has made several appeals to “Kill all White people.” Racial harmony anyone?

The trend is alarming. I suspect I am like most Americans, I can get along with anyone who wants to get along. I cannot, however, get along with people who want to tell me how to feel or think. In the same sense I don’t see all Muslims as members of Al Qaeda, I don’t see all black people as members of the Black Panther party. I don’t think all people with alternative lifestyles are pushing an agenda on me. I don’t think all Southerners are racists, and know that many Northerners are. As a White man, I am more likely to have a Black neighbor in the South than in the North.

One year from now, we will be listening to the dozen or so people who would like to be our next president. Listen closely. Are they speaking about equality and fairness, or legislating their beliefs upon everyone? Are they appealing to fear or hope? Please do not waste your vote confirming the winner, vote your conscience. Demonstrate your personal beliefs. Be an American, while we still have an America.

 

 

 

Why I no longer support Anonymous

Maybe I don’t need any words of explanation at all, just the following image.

 

anonymous

 

This is what makes having friends of various political slants so challenging. I was exceptionally offended by this image, comparing those who gave their lives for their country to a group of criminals, in fact in the accompanying text the hackers of Anonymous were lionized as “true heroes,” the men and women who died in Vietnam were described as being “duped into going,” and lacking “the courage to stand against it.”

I knew people whose names are on that wall. I knew people whose names are on other walls. There is no comparison to people whose pictures are on the Post Office wall, although I’ve known a few of them as well.

 

250px-EdwardleehowardWantedPoster

 

I even have a copy of Lee’s poster, which at one time I had dreamed of getting autographed. Unfortunately he outlived his usefulness and was “retired” by the SVR. No one trusts a traitor. Except “Anonymous,” a misguided group of clueless idealists who believe anything that contradicts authority represents “truth.” One truth is “loose lips sink ships,” ships containing human beings. Another truth is “In order to be an idealist, you must have an idea.”

I suppose the big picture, the reason behind no longer supporting Anonymous or many of the plethora of anarchist groups out there, is because they are not anarchists. The definition “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal” has been discarded (maybe because it was written by those in authority?), replaced by an ultra authoritarian philosophy. “Defy the current authority and do precisely what I say” has become the anarchists creed.

If one truly believes in personal freedom, how can they take this view? If one truly believes in freedom of expression, allowing the existence of other points of view would appear to be the the very first commandment. As it is, I face routine discrimination from my anarchist friends, racial slurs and negative stereotypes are applied to me daily. “Racial slurs?” Yep, hate to tell you this folks, but if you truly believed in ending racism you could start by not calling me a “middle aged white guy” in the same tone of voice the people you rail against say “nigger.” Don’t imply I have anything in common with my classmate Andy Fastow while complaining that all police officers judge all black people in the same way. Has it never occurred to you that in making such statements you are revealing you judge people based on a single characteristic, which is what you are complaining police officers and people such as myself do? Am I not your friend because I am different from others of my caste? I’m like these people because I am a middle aged white guy (and of course we are all precisely the same), but we should never judge the black kid hiding in the shadows as being like the other criminals hiding in the shadows? Doesn’t your brain hurt from shifting between forward and reverse without a clutch?

The hypocrisies of Anonymous and 0ther anarchist groups who attempt to align themselves with “The Left” appears to me more egregious than the hypocrisies of alleged “Religious” and “Patriotic” groups that attempt to align themselves with “The Right.” Don’t get me wrong, they all are extremists calling for individuals to participate in a nonexistent “main stream.” The far right groups just don’t camouflage their intents with a false garb of freedom. The extreme right comes right out and says “You should not be allowed to do this,” the extreme left says “You should not be allowed to think this (and I know you already do think this)” while holding banners reading “Freedom” and “Tolerance.”

One person said looters are not protestors, and should be shot on sight. I said I was in partial agreement (still hanging onto the trial by jury concept). The anarchist pops into the conversation with “blah blah blah and so should you idiots!” Thank you, I will take your comment as seriously as you have expressed it.

Freedom requires more than lip service. It requires action, and sometimes blood. Nathan Hale understood this, Edward Snowden does not. Ed, you might want to consider why you feel a country with one of the worst human rights records is a good choice in which to take asylum. You have successfully leapt from the frying pan to the fire. Brilliant display of your superior insights.

As we have seen repeatedly, some people jump on the protest band wagon because they want to raise hell. In doing so, they degrade the effect of a protest movement. It takes time, Watts was in ’65, Boston in 76, and a new generation has allowed peaceful protests to be subverted in Ferguson MO and Baltimore MD in the last year. One lesson I learned fairly early is “The conversation is over when the shooting begins.” The same holds true for burning your neighborhood. If we are going to have a conversation that improves society, we can start as soon as you stop hurting people to get my attention. You have my attention, and all I can see is a rowdy mob bent on destruction. Which ideals are you standing for?

 

Passion is not a substitute for intelligence, neither are the two mutually exclusive. Struggles can only be resolved by integrating the two.

 

 

 

 

 

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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And the band played on

Last night, as I entered my usual Monday evening hang-out, there was a chill in the air.

Not the weather, in fact it had been an unusually warm day, with a high of twenty two, freakish relative to tomorrow’s predicted snow and low temperature of one degree below zero.

The normal buzz of the crowd was hushed, and rather than Monday Night Football, the televisions were tuned to CNN. The Grand Jury in St. Louis Missouri was due to return their verdict in the case of Darren Wilson, a police officer who had shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson Missouri last August.

The case had drawn a great deal of attention, Wilson and Brown were of different races, so to the smallest of minds the only motivation could have been racial hatred, because racial hatred is all those minds contain. As the prosecutor explained the case and findings, tensions were at their peak, some people traveling hundreds of miles for the opportunity to loot liquor stores and burn businesses as a reaction to the obvious legal conclusion the Grand Jury had no choice but to reach.

It was 2030 in Ferguson as the verdict was read. There was no evidence an indictable offense had taken place. Almost immediately there were police and ambulance sirens fourteen hundred kilometers and one time zone due East, in Wilmington Delaware.

The band continued setting up.

A few hundred people in Ferguson expressed their interest in justice by burning police cars and firing over one hundred and fifty gunshots (Police data indicates no shots fired by officers). Meanwhile, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, the remaining seven billion inhabitants dealt with their own lives. During the four and one half minutes of symbolic silence Mike Brown’s mother had requested before the random violence would begin, eleven hundred babies were born and four hundred fifty people died in the world. Somewhere a couple met and fell in love, somewhere else a relationship ended. People celebrated their good fortune and mourned their losses. Were you to be watching a television, you might think the world was ending, eighty people arrested in Ferguson and thousands across the country, as innocent families watched their livelihoods burn to the ground. In fact more people worldwide were making love at the moment, but that did not make the news.

In one of those moments of synchronicity, I had woken that morning with the song “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church in my head. I had suggested to my friend Buddy his band should perform the song, and Lieve mentioned as we were discussing the arrangement The Church had announced a tour. One stop is in Philadelphia, at one of my favorite venues, and I was able to get tickets, not my favorite seats but one row behind them.

As I watched Ferguson burn out of the corner of my eye, the band played on.

It was a pleasant evening, several guest musicians, a couple of conversations with a few of the other regulars, then I drove home under the clear sky, the Milky Way above me, hidden by the lights of Philadelphia but exposed as I arrived in the darkness of Princeton.

In other times, justice was local. Witch trials and lynch mobs were a horror we told ourselves could not take place in our civilised system of justice, providing more rights to the accused than any other country in the world. Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth using a pendulum, fixing the relationship of the eternal spin of the Earth and the opposing and shifting points of amplitude of the pendulum. Media attention can make a local issue a global one, uninterested professional protestors bear a great resemblance to hooligans, more interested in the fight than the cause. The concept of innocent until proven guilty has given way to trial by uninformed public opinion.

What is important to remember is while hundreds were throwing bricks in Ferguson (where do these people find bricks on city streets?) thousands were making music, hundreds of thousands were dancing, millions were laughing with a friend (a good percentage of which who were of different races).

Rather than focus on a few angry trouble makers, remember the billions of people dedicated to spreading joy and love.

 

Beware of Darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly
Beware of Maya

 

 

This happens to be my favorite recording of this song, Leon Russell’s verse stands out as a life lesson in itself. File this under “Are you listening yet?”

But this article is not about George Harrison or Leon Russell, maybe a little bit about Bangladesh, but not in a direct way. Today I write about Maya, as I do most of the time. The veneer which many accept as reality.

Our National leaders are a measure of the consensus of gullibility. When Obama was elected his charisma was palpable. For those of us who have experienced cult behavior, the parallels of his blind followers and the Jonestown Massacre were frightening. As the years passed, most intelligent people have been able to see him for what he is, a deluded puppet with no understanding of politics, leadership, or the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, intelligent people are a minority.

How he was re-elected at the point his approval rating was at an all-time low astounds me, and as polls show his increasing irrelevance (those who “strongly approve” of his performance decreasing while those who “strongly disapprove” rising) they also indicate the polarization he has reintroduced to American society.

For some reason, the adage “Politicians lie” is accepted by an increasing number of people, the more disturbing subtext is the number of people who don’t care that politicians lie. Obama’s inability to accept the responsibilities of the office he holds has me fuming this morning. In two years and four months he’ll be gone, but it appears he intends to do as much damage as possible before he goes.

A man who is so widely accepted by his followers as being incredibly intelligent has been able to use the “I didn’t know about that” defense for years. I take that as an indication that his followers are equally uninformed, as anyone with a passing familiarity of the subjects he has claimed ignorance about knew more than he claimed to know. One would assume that during his daily intelligence briefings he picked up more than golf tips. I guess that’s the down side of having followers who believe anything you say, being honest becomes unnecessary.

In case you’ve been playing golf for the last couple of years, there is a group who call themselves “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” abbreviated as ISIS, ISIL, IS, and also known as “those freaking bloodthirsty maniacs” by almost everyone else on the planet. When Al Qaeda calls a group “too extreme,” they might be worth tracking. Somehow, a retired intelligence analyst in Princeton NJ is more aware of their threat than the President of the United States. I am certain his sources are better than mine.

He is not. The rise of ISIS, which began in Syria and flowed into Iraq over the last few years, was an absolute surprise to POTUS, the man who actually had wanted to support them over Assad last year. Rather than stating he underestimated them, he blames the intelligence community for not informing him of their fanaticism. He blames the CIA for overestimating the Iraqi army’s ability to fight ISIS. Who would have ever expected the army that surrendered to journalists in both 1991 and 2003 to actually fight radicals? A few lines from the film “Full Metal Jacket,” (Emma’s favorite) comes to mind, “I’ve got some ARVN rifles, never been fired and only dropped once”, and “yeah, I’ve seen plenty of the local troops, most of them were running the other way.”

A leader takes responsibility for his team. Six years into his term he is totally responsible for his advisers, yet he still blames failures on them instead of either admitting he wasn’t paying attention to them or he made poor choices in appointing them. I wish I could feel pity for this pathetic fool but right now all I feel is disgust. If you can’t trust your intelligence, try tuning into BBC, CBC, Al-Jazeera, or even your media pet CNN. How is it that the President of the United States is the only person on the planet that underestimated ISIS, and somehow that is the fault of his intel team?

Okay, maybe it’s a soft spot for me, Clinton decimated the intelligence community and then bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade due to bad targeting intel. The waves from Clinton’s purge still affect us today, it can take decades to build assets in societies that are closed to Westerners. But Bill Clinton did not blame the agency he had torn down for their subsequent failures, personally apologizing to Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Obama misses news that is available on the street corner and blames his intel sources? Is this why intruders keep “slipping by” the Secret Service, gaining access to the White House? Just wondering…

A friend had a saying when the Air Force was undergoing a “management overhaul,” in which officers were promoted based on their management skills. Carl would say “You don’t manage a man into battle, you lead.” Over the years the entire concept of “leadership” has devolved into “management.” I see it everywhere, but when the President stops being a leader and is just another manager, dodging responsibility and stealing the limelight from true achievers, the attitude spreads throughout society’s expectations of their leaders. It seems unlikely that our next President could be worse, but it is altogether possible considering what the American public will settle for.

I was just Skyping with Lieve, and she mentioned an incident in which a two year old ate some mushrooms, and had to be rushed to Lieve’s father with an uneaten mushroom so he could identify the species. The baby had been left under the supervision of his five year old sister, who was being berated for not watching the baby closely enough. If you think it is appropriate to make a five year old a babysitter, is it really the babysitter’s fault if something goes wrong?  Responsibility lies upon the top authority figure, in this case the Father, he made a foolish choice entrusting his baby’s safety to another child.

We, as citizens of the United States, are ultimately responsible for the performance of our elected officials. I didn’t choose Obama, but I accept my responsibility as a member of a democracy to accept his authority. I just wish my fellow Americans could accept their responsibilities in choosing a leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not One More

This one is a little tough to write. I’ve given a great amount of thought to whether or not I should even publish these thoughts, as of late I have seen such polarized thinking I have considered giving up any hopes of changing minds altogether.

You are doubtless aware of the killings in Isla Vista, a student community of Santa Barbara California. An incredibly disturbed young man stabbed his two roommates and a visitor to death,  then he drove to a sorority house (which refused to allow him entry) where a few women who had refused his advances lived. Stopped by a locked door, he shot three women across the street, killing two. He then drove to a convenience store, firing multiple rounds inside the store, striking one man multiple times lethally. Sheriffs showed up at the store and the young man fled before they could determine he was the actor. He drove about on the wrong side of the road, running down bicyclists and pedestrians,  firing at and missing at least three people before encountering a sheriff with whom he exchanged fire. He then ran down a bicyclist, and fired into a crowd injuring three people. He shot one more person before a group of sheriffs caught up with him. They fired several shots into his vehicle as he sped off. He struck one more bicyclist before crashing into some parked vehicles. When the sheriffs removed him from his car he was dead of an apparent self inflicted wound.

That is what happened. Six dead, thirteen injured. Half of the dead killed by stab wounds, some of the injured assaulted with a motor vehicle. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown summed it up at a news conference hours after the incident “I think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”

Comments from those who knew the killer ranged from “It wasn’t a surprise, I wish I could have done something to stop it,” to “There was nothing I could have done, he was a troubled kid.” His parents were devastated, joining with the families of the victims in their grief. While they had been quite aware of his issues, they were unaware of the depth of his illness. Authorities had seen “warning signs,” but he failed to meet the criteria for involuntary institutionalization.

Why do I speak of this subject on a Sunday?

You are likely aware of the story of Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve. A jealous Cain kills Abel, and when asked where Abel was by God in Genesis 4:9 Cain replies “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain was punished, exiled to the land of Nod, but he was not killed, in fact God protected him saying in Genesis 4:15  “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Cain went on with his wife and procreated, founding the village of Enoch.

We are our brother’s keeper. It is natural for a parent to fail to see the sociopath child, I suspect every heinous villain in history has had his mother say “boys will be boys” about aggressive behavior. The rest of us do not have the excuse of parental ignorance. There is something we can do, and saying “I wish I could have done something” is perhaps the most pathetic of all statements. This young man was not an insane Norse warrior killing everything in his path. He was stopped by a locked door. He ran from confrontation. All that was required, all that was ever required, was for someone to stand up to him.

One victim’s father has made an effort to assign blame and responsibility. I understand his grief, and make allowances for his judgement. Elliot Rodger was a severely disturbed young man, multiple psychiatrists have stated so, everyone who had contact with him, even his parents, concur. The NRA and/or “greedy politicians” were not responsible for this young man’s actions, they did not place the knives, guns, and car keys in his hands. Sending postcards saying “Not One More” has not stopped the several hundred homicides that have taken place in the intervening month. Expecting “someone else” to solve the problem will only result in more victims.

“There was nothing I could’ve done,” the neighbor said. “Maybe I could’ve postponed it, but he was a troubled kid.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpufI think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Jesus repeatedly told us to love one another. He did not say “hope things work out” or “wish for the best” or “wait for someone to do something.” He called us to action, the simplest action, the easiest action. Love. Love can be defined in many ways, but what is more simple than helping the injured soul? Action for young Elliot would have prevented his suffering, the suffering of his victims, and the suffering of his victims’ families. It was obviously not an easy choice, his parents could not bring themselves to it, the authorities required a more clear and present danger, but everyone knew he needed help. No one felt they were his keeper. For some reason it is more appealing to chase the evil giants than to deal with issues on a personal level. One approach works, the other never will.

Elliot Rodger was our brother. George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, and Weihan “David” Wang, were our brothers, Katherine Breann Cooper and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss were our sisters. The thirteen injured physically, and the thousands injured emotionally are our brothers and sisters. By failing Elliot, we failed all of them.

All it takes is a word or two, and enough love to intervene.

 

 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Gun Rights and Wrongs

I am a strong supporter of the second amendment to the United States Constitution.

That does not mean I believe it is every American’s birthright to carry an AR-15 through the shopping mall.

Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with self protection, there are plenty of ways to fend off an armed attacker which do not endanger the lives of innocent bystanders. Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with hunting. Most gun owners would not have a clue about how to kill an animal, or what to do with a dead animal. Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with fending off foreign invaders, unlike Switzerland, although there are lessons to learn from the Swiss. Our right to bear arms is about our founding father’s distrust of government. In case of a tyrannical government the second amendment provides the ultimate “check” in our system of checks and balances. This is why I support the second amendment, and am instinctively distrustful of anyone who speaks about repealing it.

America is a big country, with cities more populated than some nations. A lunatic fringe of three percent would give us more crazy people than the population of Belarus or one hundred ten other countries. Nine and a half million crazy people can do a lot of damage, but they are a fringe, representing no mainstream group. It is no more accurate to judge the entire gun rights movement with the actions of a few crazy people (armed with big scary high powered weapons) than it is to judge scientists by the actions of Al Gore (armed with big scary high powered publicists). In addition to the lunatic fringe, there is the other fifty percent (or more) of the population that lacks the intelligence to understand the issue of gun rights. This group is spread evenly between pro gun rights and anti gun rights groups.

I saw an interview with a woman following a demonstration by the “Open Carry Texas” group. Open Carry Texas members carry long guns, usually “assault rifles,” in public. The woman said “I don’t know if the person with a gun knows how to use it.” I know. They don’t. There is no reason to carry a long gun for self defense. By applying the wrong tool to the task, you are demonstrating that you do not understand the tool and/or the task, so no, you do not know how to use the rifle. You are a danger to others. Using the incorrect interpretation of the “Stand your ground” laws that is prevalent, I would have reasonable fear that you are a danger to my life and would be entitled to use lethal measures to remove you as a threat.

Back to Switzerland. With a population of under eight million and a mandate for gun ownership, they possess 45 guns per 100 people compared with America’s 88 guns per 100 people. In Switzerland firearms training is mandatory. In America the rate of homicide by firearm is 2.97 of every 100,000 people, in Switzerland that rate is 0.77 of every 100,000 people. Now factor in that the rate of homicide by firearm is slightly higher in Switzerland (72%) than in America (60%) and you see the problem is not firearms, it is violence in general. We have forty times their population, and one hundred sixty times their homicides by firearms, while we have fewer homicides by firearms as a percentage of total homicides.

Homicide Rates in Switzerland and United States per 100,000

Homicide Rates in Switzerland and United States per 100,000

We are a violent society. Ending gun violence might cut our homicide rate in half, but I am not sure a murder victim cares how they are murdered.

Perhaps if we were to teach respect for human life, our homicide rate could drop by half without infringing on a basic constitutional right. Perhaps if we were to infringe on that right in ways other than banning weapons, ways that would remove weapons from violent or unstable people, we could reduce our homicide by firearm rate by seventy five percent. If we did both of these things, it would appear we could reduce our overall homicide rate to fall in line with the level of “Civilized” we wish to project.

Contrary to the rhetoric, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is not a good guy with a gun. All it takes is a good guy (or girl). If we would arm our children with confidence and self defense tactics, they would be less likely to be victims of violence, and more likely to be able to end violence.

Or we could just argue about things we cannot change, and keep killing each other.

Death and Taxes

This is the eighth chapter of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

We pick up with the first amendment of the twentieth century, the sixteenth to the constitution.

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Perfect for today, wouldn’t you say? During the War of 1812, the first public proposal for an income taxwas made by the secretary of the treasury, but it was never implemented until one hundred years later, on the eve of the first world war. We tried income tax during the civil war, first a flat tax then a graduated tax, and those expired in 1872.

The sixteenth amendment came into being thanks to an attempt to tax income illegally. In 1894, an amendment was attached to the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act that attempted to impose a federal tax of two percent on incomes over $4,000 (equal to $109,000 today). Prior to this, federal funding was through indirect taxes apportioned among the states. In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.(1895), the U.S. Supreme Court declared certain taxes on incomes — such as those on property under the 1894 Act — to be unconstitutionally unapportioned direct taxes.

Enter Justice John Marshall Harlan, who in his dissenting opinion in Pollock wrote “it practically decides that, without an amendment of the Constitution — two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of the States concurring — such property and incomes can never be made to contribute to the support of the national government.” Lacking a word processor, he was unable to further emphasize this rather obvious instruction to amend the constitution.

After another fourteen years of bouncing ideas of who to tax, the sixteenth amendment passed congress in 1909., and took four years to be ratified by three fourths of the states (thirty six required at the time). Four states, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia, rejected the amendment, and two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, never even considered the amendment.

I think this was an interesting time in American social history. During the years in which the sixteenth amendment was being ratified, the seventeenth amendment, changing the election of senators from by state legislature to popular vote, was introduced and passed congress. It was ratified only months after the sixteenth amendment.

Both of these amendments remove responsibility (and some might say control)  from the state legislatures and gives that responsibility to the individual.

The seventeenth amendment reads as follows;

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”

State legislatures, which had been (and in some ways still are) local centers of power (and the requisite corruption that is chained to power), were no longer as directly tied to federal funding or the election of senators. Senators are supposed to represent the state and its interests, with Members of the House representing the individuals of the state. With these two amendments America took the first steps away from being a union of states and towards being a unified republic. There are positive and negative aspects to this change of direction, and as with all things, those aspects are affected by the the climate presented by society.

In 1912, there were four popular political parties, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, and Socialist represented in the presidential election, and over 239 political parties in existence. Today we recognize two popular parties, treating other points of view as “fringe elements”. With a population of eligible voters in excess of two hundred and thirty million, how can we rationalize a “digital” or “binary” choice? I believe this is the influence of technology on society. We have moved from the “analog” spectrum of multiple points of view to the digital view of “yes/no”, “good/bad”, “black/white”. Add to that basic ego-centrism and you end up with a growing Fascist movement.

We are still growing, and will hit many bumps along the road, but the all or nothing positions that are becoming increasingly popular in every aspect of society have their roots in these attempts to spread political power. The founding fathers were either prescient or lucky in designing a republic which balanced democracy between the masses and the elite, we should keep these missteps in mind as we consider further changes.

 

 

Hate in the name of love

It might have been during the “Political Correctness” phase that American society found itself losing tolerance for all things not sanctioned by the arbitrary gods of popularity. We seemed to be doing fairly well breaking away from prejudices based on stereotypes, and then bigotry made a comeback in some twisted vision of being intolerant of intolerance. We went from being proud of ourselves to being disdainful of everything outside our selves.

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There seems a race to be the first identify and denounce anyone who doesn’t share the acceptable views. It is not even an analog approach, in which acceptance is based on a percentage of shared ideas. Zero tolerance became the buzz word for the thought police, any variation means being labeled an outcast.

Who behaves like this? Insecure, shallow fools. But the very point of this article is to avoid hatred, so don’t get me wrong. I love insecure shallow fools. I’ve even been married to a few. I love dogs, I just don’t like being snarled at.

Maybe it is just too much to ask people to be better than that which they despise. Jesus tried and for his efforts was nailed to a tree.

A bill recently introduced in Tennessee, HR 1547, is titled ” The Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act”. Apparently, the fact it is from Tennessee automatically makes it racist and homophobic. An article published on “The New Civil Rights Movement” website carries the headline “Tennessee Passes Bill Allowing LGBT Students To Be Bullied In The Name Of ‘Religious Freedom’.”

Okay, there are hack writers of every stripe, and fanning the flames of prejudice is always a money making proposition. What makes this article so astounding is the link to the actual bill within the hate speech. The bill actually empowers LGBT students in their rights to free speech in the schools, but the article implies allowing any speech without prejudice is allowing bullying.

The extrapolation of the effects of the bill continues with “At a basic level, a student could merely write “God” on a chemistry test as the answer to a question asking to where water comes from.” Why yes, a student could write that today. He would be wrong. The summary of the bill states “This bill requires an LEA (Local Education Authority) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject.” which means that the expression of a viewpoint is allowed, not judged as correct, and only on otherwise permissible subjects, science (with the exception of AGW) is not about opinions. That’s just not good enough for the muckraker who wrote this, or the drooling hordes who chimed in with their learned views. “Bartdrom” commented “Congratulation to the people of Tennessee. You have now set the new standard, lowered the bar, for civility, intellect, and education of your young. Now states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas have a new low to aim for. Until then, they’ll be able to say: “Yes, we’re backward 3rd world states too, to whom education, reason, tolerance and civility are largely eschewed …but at least we aren’t Tennessee.”.” No, no prejudice or intolerance there.

I’m not suggesting that so called liberals are the only source of intolerance, there are closed minded people of every creed. It is the hypocrisy that astounds me. One friend uses the sarcastic phrase “Kill all fanatics”, and is joined with a chorus of fanatics who cannot see the sarcasm. I suppose it is to be expected, seeing yourself is a trait associated with critical thinking, not angry mobs.

So I try. I try not to treat all of Islam based the acts of the Taliban. I try not treat all LGBT people based on the acts of queer nation. I try not treat all Christians based the acts of the Westboro Baptist Church. I try not to treat all liberals based the acts of a few uneducated children. But then, I’m one of those Christian Conservative Republicans from Texas, so my opinion doesn’t count anyway.

Every belief system teaches to treat others with the respect you wish to receive. That does not mean treat others the way they treat you, it means prove you are worthy of the treatment you desire by treating others in that fashion. Don’t damage your cause by acting in the way the people you don’t like act. Or the way you think they act. Or the way you think they acted one hundred years ago. If we all tried to be better than the people we don’t agree with rather than the same as them, the world would pretty much have to be a better place.

 

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Papers please

A recent survey  by Rasmussen indicates 78% of Americans want voters to prove citizenship in order to register to vote. Sounds like a no-brainer, but oddly enough, voter registration forms do not ask for proof of citizenship.

This isn’t a voter identification question in the sense which has been debated previously, in fact, this measure might put an end to voter identification debates. You could not register without having shown adequate identification to prove you are a citizen of the United States of America, not just a driver’s license but a birth certificate or naturalization papers. The bigger question is, how would it work?

We often express a desire for legislation that has unintended consequences, so think for a moment how you might prove you are a citizen. We can talk about aliens being required to carry papers, but where are yours? It used to be that we didn’t routinely carry identification. After years in law enforcement, it continues to amaze me that people don’t habitually carry some form of ID with them at all times. Although almost no one writes checks for purchases anymore, you probably remember waiting in line when someone wrote a check, and didn’t have a driver’s license or other form of ID with them. At the mall or grocery store, to which they had driven a car.

A national ID card, or some form of government issued ID, could certify citizenship. It’s done in every other country in the world. Otherwise, we would need to carry our passports with us. That would be a problem, as there are only 109 million U.S. passports in circulation. That number is based on data attributed to the Department of State in several articles, however they all use the same link which directs to a 404 “page not found”. At any rate, 35% of Americans with passports is an all time high.

If we expect to be capable of asking aliens to identify themselves, we have to be capable of identifying ourselves. Otherwise how do I know you’re not an alien? Because you say so? That wasn’t good enough for them. In a country based on Free Speech, by which I mean it is second only to religion in the Bill of Rights, the most popular right when asked to identify is the right to remain silent. People are happy to share their points of view on the internet, but prefer to remain anonymous. There are no statistics available for aliases vs actual identities on the internet, but even on social media sites where the idea is to be yourself, it’s fairly common for people to use an alias.

In the last national elections, there was a push for voters to provide identification when voting. You’re voting, the wonderful right to choose your leaders and for some reason you don’t think you should have to identify yourself? You provide identification in order to enter a building, but balk when it’s time to vote? We associate being asked for our papers with a police state, and the ACLU has abundant advice on what to avoid providing if asked by the police. We cling to an illusion of privacy yet expect everyone to accept who and what we are on merely our word.

This may be the root of several social ills. “Bobby869” is more likely to respond with a string of obscenities than a rational debate, and while “Blake Cash” may be an alias (technically it is, my parents named me Kenneth), I use my own name because I believe in standing behind what I say. If you don’t feel safe identifying yourself with your actions, maybe you should consider the witness protection program. If what you have to say is unpopular with your friends, you have the wrong friends. If you can’t be proud of yourself, who can you be proud of? When you start by lying about who you are, when do the lies stop?

The positive effects of a national ID card outweigh the negatives, because I can’t think of a single negative effect. Maybe I’m over confident in the empowerment being yourself gives you, it’s working for me, but that is just anecdotal evidence. Are we as a nation ready to identify ourselves? If not, how can we ask anyone else to prove who they are?

 

 

 

Equality

The field of equality (yes, it’s something of a business) was a cottage industry for most of human history. It has had ups and downs, but stripped down to its basics it appears in the teachings of most major religions.

In America, slavery was abolished in 1863, and during the following one hundred years, the definition of slavery continued to be examined. Without equal rights, slavery is only watered down. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrated there was still room for improvement in the laws and practices in America, and while it was not a complete solution, it at least pointed out some of the remaining problems.

The issues that slow human progress are typically rooted in ignorance. Both the lack of intelligence among the masses and the ability of those in power to manipulate that lack of intelligence. Well meaning movements have been perverted, and programs that interfere with equal rights have prospered due to clever marketing. I face the frustration of the situation with the attitude of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, You want utopia? You can’t handle utopia.  I have no doubt we’ll get there, but it will be a slow laborious journey.

In America, we fumbled “Equal Rights” into “Equality”. It seems like such a subtle difference, but it isn’t.

All men are created equal sounds very nice, the actual phrase is just a little more complex “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“. We know we are not equal. I am tall, others are short. “Equality” refers to the rights, in this case “negative rights” provided by the government. Negative rights are sometimes called preventative rights, a right which restrains the power of authorities. The right to free speech is the right to not be prosecuted for your speech, thus it is a negative right.

By confusing (or allowing confusion about) the meaning of equality, the quest for equal rights is hampered. Nothing hurts sympathy for a good cause as much as bad representation. Well, one thing. Bad implementation. Affirmative action, the process of discriminating against qualified applicants in order to balance employee diversity, is still discrimination. White people who can’t get a job are not feeling racial harmony when a less qualified black applicant gets the job, they feel justified in their bigotry against black people. Forcing accommodation of minority groups ensures continued resentment.

Not all discrimination is equal. Ask your Jewish friends how they feel about every mass murder being compared to the holocaust, ask a black person over fifty how they feel about every fringe group comparing their “struggle” to the civil rights movement. The Equal Rights Amendment, designed to protect the rights of women, was written in 1923. It was introduced to congress in every session until it passed in 1972. It has failed to be ratified, and has been reintroduced since reaching its ratification deadline. As the amendment addresses the rights of a specific group rather than humans in general, it has little chance of ever being ratified, as the argument it is redundant at this point in time is valid. We don’t each need an amendment for our group in order to be equal.

We can pass volumes of laws, but true equality cannot be legislated. It comes from within, it is determined in the immediate reaction to another. Can we accept someone who is different as having equal rights? It requires a change within ourselves, as we cannot be expected to see others until we can see ourselves. Am I to accept the repugnant as beautiful? That would depend on whether I see myself as beautiful or repugnant. When we are able to appreciate the balance brought by diversity, we will be far more willing to embrace it than we do now, the ability to see the beauty in the differences rather than conformance to a standard.

Equality is horrifying. A universe occupied by perfectly equal elements has no growth. A lack of growth is equivalent to death, or perhaps I have not evolved to the point I can appreciate it. I often envision the afterlife as a state of entropy, so perhaps that is the direction in which I am traveling.

In his 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. investigated a society based on legally enforced equality. Strong people had to wear weights to slow them. Intelligent people wore earphones that produced disturbing noises to protect them from coherent thoughts. The beautiful were forced to wear masks. The story is thought provoking (as long as we take our earphones off) and has been produced as a feature length film which strays wildly from the original, and a short film which is more faithful. The audiobook, below, is only twelve minutes long, I highly recommend it as a starting point in exploring the various productions. If anyone knows how I can obtain a copy of the 2006 short film please let me know.

We can do better than we are doing now, but I do not believe we are currently on the path to that better future.

Harboring fugitives

There was a discussion about immigration yesterday, or more precisely the harboring of fugitives. Because that is what it is. If someone has broken the law, they are a criminal. Until they are brought to justice, they are a fugitive. The gentleman today was speaking about how unjust it is to bring fugitives to justice.

We can use whatever terms we wish, and just like the toilet scrubber who believes they should be paid as much as the CEO, a criminal who is insulted by being called “illegal” is living in a fantasy. In my mind it would be best to start these conversation with “We are going to provide you with the same treatment your government would provide to me were I to overstay my welcome in your country”. If you are required to have documents which prove you have the right to be here, and you don’t have those documents, you have no right to be here.

But no, they say. You need us.

We really don’t. We don’t need eleven million people making up their own minds about what is and is not legal.  We abolished slavery one hundred and fifty years ago, but with a class of workers who dare not identify themselves to the Internal Revenue Service, slavery is once again a temptation for some people. The list of people who have been caught keeping slaves is populated mostly by Democrats, who had never wanted to get rid of slavery in the first place, but Republicans may just have enough sense to clean up before they make it to Washington. Here in lovely Princeton New Jersey, police have been instructed on how to not enforce the laws, because we wouldn’t want to leave a lawn without a cheap manicure, or distress a family by forcing them to seek a housekeeper or nanny who was trustworthy enough to have followed the immigration laws. Losing slave labor might cut into the boating budget.

Without slaves, we might have to hire Americans, and they would want to be paid minimum wage, and we would have to extend to them the protection of our labor laws. That could be expensive.

Which was, in effect, the argument put forward this morning. The cost involved in enforcing laws. In this case we were given the example of a man from Guatemala who had lived illegally in America for twenty two years. He was married and had children. He had a catering business (no information on how he managed to operate without legal tax documentation). And then the big bad immigration police scooped him up and deported him. “They didn’t even allow him to pack a bag and retrieve his favorite watch”.

He was shipped back to Guatemala, at an expense in time and resources of $12,500. Sounds like a deal. But wait, that’s not all it cost us, because if the polo club is going to have to go without sandwiches, you need to realize how much this will cost you. Not only did we have to pay for law enforcement officers, facilities, and passage to Guatemala, now you are stuck with supporting this criminal’s family. They’ve been left with nothing and are on public assistance now. They’ve lost their home, and now the American taxpayer has to support them because the family breadwinner was deported. Were you to apply the same story to another person it would be a tragedy, but this wasn’t another person, this was a criminal who was finally captured. I see no tears shed for murderers or drug smugglers who had their personal lives destroyed by being brought to justice. We used to say “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”. At least Tony Soprano hid money in the bird feeder to help his family were he ever arrested.

A woman spoke up with her situation. She identified herself as “undocumented” but claimed she wasn’t a criminal. She acknowledged the programs that have been put in place to assist immigrants in obtaining legal status, but stated she chose not to participate in them for fear once she was identified, were she unable to achieve citizenship she would be deported.

Just a moment while all the gun owners who are called paranoid because they fear registering their guns might result in those guns being confiscated laugh at the irony. She came all this way to live under a government she doesn’t trust.

She went on to say how much America needed cheap labor.

Just a moment while those McDonald’s workers demanding $15.00 per hour storm the podium. She came all this way to take one of those minimum wage jobs.

She spoke about her rights and the life she had built in America. Illegally. I couldn’t help but remember the kid arrested with a gram of cocaine complaining he had been punished enough with jail and fines so he should be given his drugs back.

You can call illegal immigrants “dreamers”, invoking the quest for the American dream, but that dream has been fulfilled for the generations of those who came to this country legally. If your dream is to start by violating immigration laws, you do not have the “American Dream”, your dream is of unearned benefits, a lifestyle you saw on television and assumed was reality.

If by odd chance you actually care about the welfare of an illegal immigrant, send them home. The DREAM act was designed to collect taxes from people who have little chance of ever obtaining citizenship (estimated length of time to citizenship after illegal entry, thirteen to twenty years; length of time for immigrants with legal entry, five to seven years). It applies to young people who will pay taxes and purchase health insurance, not to older people who might be relying on government assistance. It is a cold-hearted cynical approach to people who won’t realize they have been lied to until the liars are long out of office.

Allowing illegal aliens to infiltrate our society is more expensive than we acknowledge. The undermining of our faith in law enforcement is only the beginning. But if it can’t be measured in dollars, more importantly your dollars, you’re not likely to be upset. So you’re willing to “help out” the poor immigrant by paying him less than you would an American. Is that really help? Is looking the other way when an employer exploits illegal aliens helping the millions of Americans who depend on government assistance because they can’t find a job? Let’s not even go into the people who are not looking to enjoy our lifestyle, but rather destroy it. Terrorists love countries with lax immigration enforcement.

So today my wife and I travel to Elizabeth New Jersey, so she can be fingerprinted (again) to be sure she’s the same person she was when she applied for her green card, as she follows the path to citizenship that my ancestors followed in the past, and almost seven hundred thousand followed just last year. It’s not that difficult to play by the rules.

immigration-flowchart

The path to citizenship

It’s not easy, if it was easy everyone would do it. It’s a hassle, it’s time consuming, but when it is completed you get to be an American. And if you think rednecks and conservatives are the only folks who dislike illegal immigration, ask a legal immigrant about it. That’s why most employees at Immigration are immigrants. They’re not letting anyone sneak through.

 

Reconstruction

This is the seventh chapter of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

We pick up with the fourteenth amendment. When we look at countries torn by civil war, we often fail to empathize. We were there ourselves, and the effects on society are devastating. Look around you at how passionate people can be about their beliefs, and imagine if the passion increased to the point they were killing each other rather than making snarky comments. Now imagine they’ve been killing each other for four years, taking the lives of three out of ten of your neighbors. Just because someone signed a treaty doesn’t mean it all goes away.

Following the Civil War, the United States went through a period called reconstruction, literally rebuilding the union. The thirteenth amendment was the first step, abolishing slavery, six months later the fourteenth amendment was submitted for ratification. In order to abolish slavery, definitions would be required for some people. The amendment also addresses those involved in the civil war or any future insurrection. It reads as follows;

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article

The first section is one of the more litigated parts of the constitution, containing clauses establishing Citizenship, Privileges or Immunities, Due Process, and Equal Protection. These clauses form the basis for such diverse cases as Roe v Wade and Bush v Gore. When you compare it to the amendments of the Bill of Rights, there’s nothing new here other than the force of the idea of reconstruction, these rules apply to everyone.

Sections two and three address counting of people as people, apportioning representatives based on population of all people rather than all white people, and requiring representatives to have not been involved in insurrection.

Section four is rather interesting. It basically states that the expenses of the the Civil War incurred by the Union will be paid by the newly reunited states, but the expenses of the Confederacy will not, with the allowance any debts incurred by the Confederacy are invalid. The words “The validity of the public debt…shall not be questioned” took me by surprise only because it is established in the amendment. How many times have you heard people refer to some democratization of the budget, as in “I only want to pay taxes if they pay for what I want”. Forty years later in the sixteenth amendment this concept takes force.

The next amendment of the reconstruction era was submitted for ratification just six months after the fourteenth amendment was ratified. During those six months, the first presidential election since the War was held, in which twenty three electoral votes from formerly Confederate states were discarded and only eight Northern states allowed blacks to vote. The fifteenth amendment was determined necessary despite section two of the fourteenth. It reads;

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

While Northerners had assumed allowing former slaves to vote would maintain a Republican majority, they had wished to preserve restrictions denying the right to vote to foreign-born citizens, as did Representatives from the West, where Chinese Americans were banned from voting. The amendment passed with voting defined by party lines, not a single Democrat voting for the amendment.

The first known black voter after the amendment’s adoption was Thomas Mundy Peterson, who cast his ballot on March 31, 1870 in the Perth Amboy, New Jersey mayoral election. Although Blacks had been elected and appointed to local and state offices previously, following the ratification of the fifteenth amendment it would still be one hundred and twenty years before a black governor was elected, Douglas Wilder of Virginia in 1990.

When we consider the difficulties of our own reconstruction, the wounds that still haven’t healed, perhaps we can find some sympathy for nations that have civil wars continuing for centuries. We’re all growing, sometimes it takes a while to heal so growth can continue.

It took another forty years before another amendment was submitted, we’ll pick up there next time.

Holding the world hostage

In 1867, in the Russian city of Warsaw, Maria Skłodowska was born. Her parents, both teachers, had lost their wealth and property due to involvement in Polish nationalist movements. Maria and her siblings worked together to put each other through schools, Maria working as a governess. In 1891 she moved to Paris, where she was known as Marie, and pursued studies in science, earning a degree in physics in 1893, and continuing under a fellowship at the University of Paris to a second degree in 1894.

She began her career with a grant from Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale studying the magnetic properties of various steels. A friend introduced her to an instructor at  École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la ville de Paris, because she was looking for more laboratory space. Though Pierre Curie did not have a large laboratory, he was able to find some space for Marie where she was able to begin work. You know where this story is going. They married on 26 July 1895.

In 1895 Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the existence of X-rays, though the mechanism behind their production was not yet understood. In 1896, while investigating phosphorescence in uranium salts, Henri Becquerel found the salts emitted particles with penetrating properties similar to X-rays, and named the property “Radioactivity”. The next year,  J. J. Thomson isolated the electron and in doing so developed the “Plum Pudding Model”, which although precisely wrong, is a much better description than the Bohr model most people visualize when thinking of subatomic particles.

In December 1903, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics, “in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel”. Warsaw was now in Germany.

Albert Einstein formulated the idea of mass–energy equivalence in 1905, known in shorthand as E=mc². Following Pierre’s death in 1906, Marie went on to isolate radium as an element, and defined an international standard for radioactive emissions that was eventually named for her and Pierre, the curie. Despite her acceptance in French academia, she was still largely shunned because she was a woman, and in 1911 the French Academy of Sciences did not elect her to be a member. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded her with her second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, later that year. She was the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes, and to this day is the only person other than Linus Pauling to be awarded Prizes in more than one field. There was at this time a nation called Poland, and another called Ukraine.

During the first world war, she shifted her focus to medicine, developing mobile radiography units known as “petites Curies”. She also produced hollow needles containing ‘radium emanation’, a colorless, radioactive gas given off by radium, later identified as radon, to be used for sterilizing infected tissue.

On 4 July 1934, she died at the Sancellemoz Sanatorium in Passy from aplastic anemia believed to have been contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation. She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket, and was also exposed to X-rays from unshielded equipment while serving as a radiologist in field hospitals during the war. Although her many decades of exposure to radiation caused chronic illnesses (including near blindness due to cataracts) and ultimately her death, she never really acknowledged the health risks of radiation exposure. Because of their levels of radioactivity, her papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle and even her cookbook is highly radioactive. Her papers are kept in lead-lined boxes, and those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing.

About the time of Marie’s death, Leó Szilárd realized the concept of the nuclear chain reaction, and patented his concept of an atomic bomb (British patent 630,726). By 1939, Szilárd and Einstein wrote to Franklin Roosevelt, warning that Germany was developing atomic bombs and suggesting that America secure its own research in the field. Roosevelt’s reaction was to initiate the Manhattan Project. The study of radioactive isotopes had moved from curiosity to medical applications to weapons development in only forty years. On 16 July 1945 the first controlled atomic detonation was conducted at the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico. Twenty one days later the second controlled detonation was conducted over Hiroshima Japan followed by the third three days later over Nagasaki Japan.

By 1963, the first treaty banning atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons (the fusion device, which was conceptualized in 1941 by Enrico Fermi and was developed in a sub-group of the Manhattan Project was detonated by America in 1951, the Soviet Union had detonated the first fusion device in 1949) was signed by the nuclear nations of the time, America, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. By 1968, those countries created the first Non Proliferation Treaty, in an attempt to curtail the spread of nuclear weapon technology, disarm nations possessing nuclear weapons, and redirect research towards peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Fail, Fail, and Fail, as indicated by the growing number of signatories to the treaty. There are presently eight nations overtly declaring themselves as “Nuclear powers” (U.S.A, U.K., the Russian Federation, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea). Israel has claimed “strategic ambiguity”, saying it would not be the first country to “introduce” nuclear weapons into the region, but refusing to otherwise confirm or deny a nuclear weapons program or arsenal. Nuclear weapons were “shared” with NATO countries Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, and Canada. South Africa and Libya claim to have dismantled their nuclear weapons, and the weapons existing in former Soviet states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine returned their warheads to Russia and those countries have signed non-proliferation agreements. Iran was a party to the treaty but was found in violation in 2003, its status as a nuclear power remains in dispute.

Nuclear deterrence began with the Szilárd Einstein letter to Roosevelt. It continues today with the threats from North Korea and Iran. It also continues with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapons in 1994 as part of the Budapest memorandum (Budapest was under the control of the Soviet Union after an invasion in 1956). The first article of the memorandum reads “…the Russian Federation…reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine…to respect the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”(emphasis mine). There are no Russians in Ukraine, they are all Ukrainian.

Within nations, a government disarms citizens before enslaving them. Between nations, one government disarms the other before invading it. There has been talk this blatant aggression by a former KGB colonel may lead to another cold war, let’s hope so. The alternative, a ground war that expands over Europe, is a prospect no one wants to consider.

The Ukraine is being held hostage by Vladimir Putin, a hot conflict would immediately effect natural gas supplies to Europe (although a recent report by Morgan Stanley indicating Belarus, Finland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria each receives more than 100% of their natural gas from Russia throws all data into question), long term affects would be contaminated by regional conflicts. The latest attempts at appeasement have been an international re-framing of the invasion, now referred to as an invasion of Crimea, which would allow Putin to stop without moving further into Ukraine. This week.

Vladimir doesn’t care. The only effective strike against Russia would be nuclear, and if that were to ever happen, it would be the last event in the history of what we continue to call “civilization”. On the other hand, maybe we’ve already missed our shot at being civilized, when we were presented with the power of nuclear physics, and chose to make bombs with it.

Ethnicity

I’ve been involved in a couple of conversations lately about ethnicity, race, and nationalism. Not that the other people in the conversation realized the topics.

Ethnicity, according to Miriam Webster, relates to “a particular ethnic affiliation or group”, with “ethnic” being defined as “of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc. or associated with or belonging to a particular race or group of people who have a culture that is different from the main culture of a country”.

Race, on the other hand, is “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock or a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristic”. Race is what you look like, your phenotype.

Nationalism is “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries or a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own”. Nationalism is not equal to Nationality. Nationality is the name of the country on your passport. Should I ever become a citizen of Belgium, I would be a Belgian national, but I will remain an American nationalist. Unless Texas secedes, in which case I will be a Texas national.

Nationalism gets a bad name, fanatic nationalism was the genesis of the NAZI party. “Fanatic” is the key word there, anything that drives you to kill people is a bad thing.

In other words, your race is determined by your genes (ancestors), your ethnicity is determined by your upbringing (parents, peers, and self), your nationality by the geography of your birth, and your nationalism by your self.

We see the definitions being misused and confused more and more, both intentionally and out of ignorance.

If you have filled out a census form or survey lately, you will have noticed that racial and ethnic groups are arbitrarily recognized. We put a great emphasis on defining who we are, and the squeaky wheels get their own designations.  At one point, you had two choices, white or black. The book “Racial and Ethnics Groups” is now in its thirteenth edition, ironically there are two versions, I’m guessing one is in color because the other is listed as “black and white”.

Today in the United States, you can identify yourself as White (the term “Caucasian” isn’t used much), Black (“African-American” is an option, one look at Oscar Pistorius reminds you not everyone from Africa has dark skin), American Indian or Native Alaskan (note the lack of “Native American” as an option), Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (note overlap with “Asian”), Other, or “Two or more races” as your racial identity. You may choose to be identified ethnically as Hispanic or non-Hispanic.

In many surveys I’ve taken lately, the Asian/Pacific Islander category is broken down into a growing number of categories, and Hispanic (or “Hispanic or Latino”) is listed as both a race and an Ethnic group, divided in one or both questions into several categories that denote national origin. Although most former Spanish colonies are considered Hispanic, most Mexicans I know detest the term as it applies to the people who conquered their ancestors. People from Portugal, Brazil, Uruguay, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé, Príncipe and East Timor are not Hispanic, they are Lusitanians, descended from Portugese.

Some white people are a little jealous.

If you are Arabic, you are white. Don’t look in the mirror. You are the same race and ethnicity as someone from Sweden in the eyes of the United States census. If you are from India, you would be Asian. If you are from Japan or Indonesia, you could choose to identify as either Asian or Pacific Islander. These don’t appear to fit the definitions of racial groups. If you are from Israel, Iraq, or Italy you are non-Hispanic, because there are only two ethnic choices.

Nationalism gets a little confusing. As Russians invade Ukraine, claiming they are protecting ethnic Russians, sovereignty disappears. Over the last few hundred years, the land we call the Ukraine has been called several other things. I’m proud to be American, proud of our unique strengths, proud of our growth, and proud of our ability to rise above the mess we have presently created in our society. We can do better, and I have faith we will.

My background is white. There is no category for “Anglo-Saxon”, which is a fair description. The majority of my friends are white, although they represent a wide spectrum of physical characteristics provided by their genes, and non-Hispanic, although they come from  a wide variety of cultural influences provided by their experiences. If we were to break up “White” into the various phenotypes and “non-Hispanic” into the multitude of cultures, I probably wouldn’t know three people who had the same label.

Nationalism has taken the place of race and ethnicity in our culture, and the overwhelming number of people are ignored. If we are going to make distinctions based on race we need to grow up and realize there are three. Caucasian, Negroid, and Mongolian (some anthropologists recognize the aboriginal peoples of Australia as a fourth race). If we’re going to make distinctions based on Ethnicity we need to grow up and realize there are hundreds, not just two. If we are going to make distinctions based on nationality, we need to decide when. Many flags have flown over the land we inhabit, Texas has seen six, how many tribes have inhabited modern day Palestine?

We talk about being world citizens, “color blind”, and equal. Step one is to stop using labels for things they were not meant for. Race identifies a body, not a person. If we are to celebrate multiculturalism, we need to accept all ethnic groups as equal. By that I mean that we should treat ethnic groups the same way we treat football teams, we may have a favorite, but each has strengths and weaknesses, and without a variety there would be no one to play with; to the essential point, the players change from season to season, the Dallas Cowboys of 2013 are not the Dallas Cowboys of 1973.

There is no denying we are different. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But what makes one of us better than another lays only in the quality being measured, and varies between individuals of every race, ethic group, and nationality.

After the Bill of rights

This is chapter six of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, and Five can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

The Bill of rights is not the entire list of constitutional rights. It is the platform upon which we have expressed a growing recognition of the rights of the people and the limits we place on the Federal government. The first amendment added after the Bill of rights was submitted for ratification a little over two years after the ratification of the bill of rights, and ratified within a year. Of course there were only fifteen states at the time, streamlining the process we face today. Most of the next few amendments were clarifications of existing constitutional provisions.

The eleventh amendment reads:

“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State”.

This amendment is often used as the foundation for what we refer to as “state sovereign immunity”, essentially meaning that you cannot bring suit against the government for the repercussions of a law, in this case extending the protections to states against prosecutions from out of state. The most recent argument was Alden v. Maine in 1999, in which a state was sued for a federal violation. This isn’t something that affects the majority of people directly.

The twelfth amendment addresses presidential elections, again, not something directly affecting the average citizen. From an historical perspective, I find it more interesting to see what it corrects. With the number of states growing (now at seventeen) a number of adjustments were being made, for instance the idea of one star and one stripe on the flag for each state was abandoned. The text of this amendment is rather long, but this is where we started electing a vice president rather than the vice president being the second place winner of the presidential election.

By the time the thirteenth amendment was ratified, the country had been through some major changes. It was now 1865, there were thirty six states, but the year before there had been twenty three states, Nevada and West Virginia hadn’t been recognized as states, and the eleven Confederate states had seceded from the Union. As a response to the issue of slavery which had divided the nation, these words were added to our constitution:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”.

At the time, “radical Republicans” were arguing for a more expansive amendment, as you will see there are loopholes for discrimination in the thirteenth amendment. The alternative version was much more direct:

All persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave; and the Congress shall have power to make all laws necessary and proper to carry this declaration into effect everywhere in the United States

Republicans argued that slavery was uncivilized and that abolition was a necessary step in national progress, Democrats who opposed the amendment generally made arguments based on federalism and state’s rights. The Emancipation Proclamation was of questionable relevance, as it applied to citizens of the Confederacy and not the United States (and under the eleventh amendment was fairly obviously illegal, ignoring the sovereign status  of the Confederacy). States that initially rejected the amendment were Alabama, Kentucky, Delaware and New Jersey.

The definition of slavery continues to be argued today. The definition of “person” is still being argued. Nonetheless. The thirteenth amendment was a turning point in society. Although nations such as The Netherlands and Britain had outlawed slavery within their own borders, they remained the major traffickers of international slaves and exploited slavery in their colonies. Following the abolition of slavery in America, the world view of slavery began to change, and in 1926 the League of Nations addressed slavery, followed by a United Nations resolution in 1948.

The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments were ratified in response to the responsibilities placed on Congress by the thirteenth amendment. The fourteenth defines citizenship, contains the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and deals with post-Civil War issues, and the fifteenth prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude (but not sex, that comes later). These amendments have applications beyond their motivations.

Due to the scope of those amendments, I will address them in the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

Conflicting rights

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was young, signs like this were in every establishment. They often applied to me and my friends, as “hippies” were not always a widely accepted group. I suspect they were used to enforce a variety of personal prejudices, but to me they meant “We would rather avoid an argument than accept your business”.

Even Jack Nicholson didn’t get what he wanted.

There is a bill in Arizona, passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature, that reminds me of why I love Arizona. Arizona is America’s crazy uncle, the one who gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner because he’s part of the family, but we keep him away from the dinner conversation. We love him, but his ideas are just a little edgy.

The bill provides the right to refuse service if such service violates one’s religious beliefs. It has been interpreted by some as legalizing discrimination, and by others as protecting business owners against discrimination.

Personally, I’m of mixed feelings. It’s not a complicated bill (read it again, it’s only two pages), it’s just a complicated application. If you refuse service to someone based on your religious beliefs, that person cannot sue you for discriminating against them. Well, they can, you just have a codified defense.

The conflict itself is multi-layered. It is framed as a gay rights issue, so I will address it in that context. A business owner (in this case a bakery) refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. The owner stated she believed that gay marriage is a sin, and that baking a cake for the wedding would be supporting a sin. The couple decided that instead of going to another baker they would go to the newspaper. Another baker provided a cake for free and the bad press put the original bakery out of business. Free market forces win, but the story doesn’t end there.

Several other similar cases have occurred around the country, with bakers and wedding photographers taking a beating because they placed their beliefs before profits. That should be their right. I say that from a religious, economic, and social point of view. The state should not be capable of forcing you to do business with anyone.

Simply going to another provider is not sufficient for some people, and they bring suit against the business. This has happened in Connecticut, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico in the last few months, so Arizona decided to pass a statute that would protect business owners from such legal action.

Unlike other groups that are discriminated against, gay people are not always obviously gay people. Unless they’re getting married, and the absence of a member of the opposite sex in the couple is obvious. It is unlikely that the same gay couple in Arizona would have been denied the opportunity to purchase cupcakes from the baker, and if they had ordered a wedding cake without a same sex couple atop no one would have noticed, so the issues that have brought about this bill stem directly from gay marriage.

So in some ways this takes the issue from “Do you accept gay marriage?” to “Do you promote gay marriage?”. The arguments from both sides that are surfacing are reflecting the “Not in my backyard” or NIMBY emotions of many otherwise “liberal” people. It turns out everyone doesn’t feel the same way about this, or there may be shades between the black and white positions that have been staked out. The bill is designed to protect business owners in the practice of their beliefs, it does not single out a single religion or reason for being denied service. It could apply to anyone, at anytime. Without this bill it would be possible to sue a Halal butcher because he would not provide a roast pig.

What bothers me in all this is the divisiveness it accentuates. For one thing, the baker in question happened to be Christian. If there’s anyone who thinks Christians are more opposed to homosexuality than Muslims, or any other religions, please remove your head from the sand. The situation has been the exclusive realm for Christian bashers anyway, with headlines like “Would Jesus bake a gay wedding cake?”. The answer is an obvious NO, Jesus was a fisherman, not a baker. Please stop trying to define a religion you have rejected.

A person’s right to their sexual orientation does not override another person’s right to practice their religion. And vice versa. Just because photographer “A” won’t take pictures at your wedding doesn’t mean you can’t get married, or that no one else will take the gig. You have a right to be married, photographed, and served cake, just not by the individual of your choice. They have the right to say “No thank you”, you shouldn’t be able to sue them.

In this world, we make choices. If someone wishes to alienate a segment of the population (and their supporters), taking the gamble they will make up the lost business with like minded people, they should be able to do so. This is what capitalism is all about, doing what you believe in, not simply selling your soul for profits. That’s the edgy part about our crazy uncle’s ideas. They make a certain amount of sense to all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing

There has been a trend against language for some time. The masses, easily misled by words, prefer pictures.

Several alleged “news” sources simply post video. No analysis or comment, occasionally going as far as stating “At 2:15 he makes his point” suggesting I should watch two minutes and fifteen seconds of a video to discover what the point might be. Just tell me, I can read, and I can read much faster than the video can tell its story. I have seen “articles” that consist of a collection of “memes”, with no original content. A string of pictures with captions rather than an actual opinion. “You know what I mean” moves to the next level.

“Meme” is derived from “mimeme”, meaning to imitate. The person who coined the word (Richard Dawkins) was looking for a monosyllabic expression. Rarely does a word fit its own definition so well, in some ways an intellectual onomatopoeia.

Recently footage of a chunk of ice falling off a glacier into the sea was headlined “Watch as a piece of the planet disappears forever!”. I watched, and saw ice fall into water. Nothing disappeared. Nonetheless the site was filled by global warming enthusiasts wringing their hands over the shame of it all. Pictures are like that. This is why anti-abortion activists carry pictures of aborted fetuses. The portion of the brain that reacts to visual stimuli skips the part that weighs facts and balances arguments. It’s a function of the survival instinct.

I’ve also noticed a grotesque misuse of graphs. A line on a page is not a graph. Unequal indices and unequally spaced indices are misleading. A graph with missing indices is just a set of meaningless lines. Yes, we can all see the line goes up as it moves from left to right, which influences my opinion as much as a picture of the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. But look! The line goes to the upper left hand corner! Turn the page ninety degrees, has the data changed? Why does the line go down now?

You may have noticed certain words in my articles are underlined. This was once the common way of letting readers know they could click on those words to link to an article verifying the information. Even that simple non-verbal form of communication has been corrupted. In a recent article about climate change, more than half the links were “broken”, that is, they lead nowhere, most often to a “404 Error” page. The casual reader would think there was documentation. Whether this was an intentional ruse to mislead readers or this was a case in which the documentation had been withdrawn is purely speculation.

The written word is not a natural form of communication. It is the product of intellectual evolution. De-evolution is a choice, it is a failure of intellect, and a great band from the ’80s. It is not the path a “progressive” should be attracted towards.

So say we all

There’s an important concept within democracy that seems to be misunderstood.

The majority decision is the law. It is not inherently “right”, or “fair”, or even “intelligent”, it is only the law.

We got along for quite a while enjoying the benefits and responsibilities of a democracy. I’m not exactly sure why things have changed, but they have.

Very possibly it is the collision of the “me” generation and their offspring with the “information superhighway”.

The responsibility of living in a democracy means accepting you will not always be in the majority, nor will you always be in the minority. The importance of your ideas and beliefs is equal to the importance of ideas and beliefs you don’t agree with. It is the interaction between people of different views that produces growth. Sometimes we rise above where we are and learn something neither party had considered before.

Somewhere along the way a large portion of American society has come to believe that being a majority infers some moral and intellectual superiority, there is nothing to learn from the minority and they should be destroyed. A scorched Earth approach to social interaction.

As dangerous as that state of mind might be, what is happening is even worse. Since being in the majority is the only accepted validation of ideas, it becomes more difficult for an ego to accept it might be wrong about anything, therefore it creates a majority that doesn’t exist. “I’m not wrong, and everybody agrees with me” has replaced “you may not agree, but this is what I think”. By following this path, the wounded ego empowers itself with an illusion.

The essence of democracy is we do not believe in precisely the same things. We do believe in each other.

In a discussion about religion, self proclaimed atheists state they are not only a majority, but they will supplant all religions. This is the kind of nonsense you hear from religious fanatics, but don’t suggest atheism is a religion, because even though the person speaking is telling you out of one side of his mouth that everyone agrees with him, out of the other side he’s saying there is no definition for his beliefs.

In a discussion about politics a member of one party states the other party is the “enemy of democracy” and this opposing party will cease to exist. Suggest to the person a democracy requires at least two points of views, and you are labeled a fanatic. Both sides see the other as idiots intent on evil.

They are not idiots. Well, some of them are. You read this on a computer screen. At your fingertips is the massed information of our civilization, opposing viewpoints, and pictures of cats. You may be a genius, a poet, an artist, a mailman, or an inmate at an asylum. You might be anything in the world, and your opinion is equal in value to mine. We may not be of equal intellect, in fact it is unlikely we are. It is our responsibility to be civil with each other despite our differences.

Opinions are not truths. There is no objective “right” and “wrong” with opinions. There is simply the majority and infinite minorities. Membership in those groups changes every day. Being a participant in democracy, it is important to understand that today’s majority is tomorrow’s minority, and the way you treat others may be the way you are treated.

It’s not easy. Just as the majority of milk is not cream, the majority of society is not the best we have to offer. Education is our greatest tool, but the majority prefers propaganda.

Be proud to be different. Do not be swayed by other opinions, but listen to them. Learn the facts and make up your own mind. Because in the final analysis, your own mind is all you have.

 

 

The width of the brush

In 1992, Mattel introduced “Talking Barbie”. Each doll repeated four phrases randomly selected from a pool of two hundred seventy possibilities. One of those phrases, “Math class is tough”, was considered so offensive that Mattel was pressured into removing it from the pool of phrases, and offered to replace any doll that had the phrase in its selection.

There are groups of people who feel that children are influenced by the toys they play with. They believe that a plastic doll that only remotely resembles an actual woman promotes an unattainable body image. So does a purple dinosaur, and dinosaurs had trouble with math as well. Little girls don’t want to be their dolls, they want their dolls to be their friends. Having a friend who has difficulty with math might make a little girl feel a little superior to the busty blonde doll, or it might make a little girl who is having trouble with math feel less isolated. Instead, the reasons males typically score higher in math tests doesn’t get discussed.

Of all the anti-defamation leagues out there, the blondes have the most difficult job.

It is all too common to paint an entire group with the same brush. Stereotypes exist to allow us to move quickly through life. My car can go 120 mph, but I only drive the speed limit, and on nice days I may stop beside the road and enjoy the scenery. We can slow down in our appraisals of others in the same way.

In Florida, a man (Mr. Dunn) was on his way home from his son’s wedding, and stopped at a convenience store for some wine before returning to the bed and breakfast where he was staying. He pulled in next to a car full of teenagers listening to loud music, and while his girlfriend went in the shop he got out of his car and asked the teenagers to turn down their music.

The exact words that were exchanged will never be known, but Mr. Dunn states that Jordan Davis, a seventeen year old passenger in the car, said “you’re dead”. They were Mr. Davis’ last words, because Mr. Dunn responded with gunfire. As the car full of teenagers tried to drive away, Mr. Dunn continued shooting. When his girlfriend came out with the wine, they drove to the B&B, he walked the dog and they ordered a pizza. The next day when he heard on the news Davis was dead, he was so upset he took a nap before driving home.

Mr. Dunn argued he was not guilty because he was simply defending himself. “My intent was to stop the attack, not necessarily end a life,” he testified. “It just worked out that way.”

When emptying a .45 caliber into a car full of kids it often works out that way.

His attorney said “My client did not wait to become that victim,” he said. “My client did not wait to either get assaulted by a weapon or have someone potentially pull a trigger”. How ironic.

Were that true, perhaps he should have stayed in his vehicle instead of provoking an argument with a group of teenagers. It appears that was the path to preventing someone from pulling a trigger.

Mr. Dunn is a grade A wanker. A weak insecure man who carried a gun to make himself brave enough to start fights which he could only get out of by using the gun. He was found guilty of attempted murder for the three other teenagers in the car, but the jury could not reach a verdict on the murder charge.

Reasonable, thoughtful members of society who wish to carry a firearm will now be equated with this irresponsible murderer. People with a blind aversion to firearms will use this incident as evidence that no one should have a gun. People who blindly support gun rights will use this incident as evidence that Mr. Dunn rightfully used a firearm for self defense (that is not what the verdict infers, but I’ve already heard it said). Both sides of the issue painting the other with broad brushes.

We have the capability to be the most articulate species on the planet, our minds are capable of detecting infinite subtleties, yet by and large we reduce the issues we face to stark, digital elements. When an issue has nuances we don’t wish to consider, we paint over them with a broad brush.