The value of Intel

Julius Caesar and his advisors

 

While many people lacked surprise at President Trump’s removal of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Mcguire, I was appalled. Shooting the messenger can be a bad move, poking your eyes out is worse.

The DNI coordinates the various agencies in the committee, creating National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) that are as insightful as possible. The position was created in the aftermath of 9/11, when the president was overwhelmed by competitive and sometimes conflicting intel. Don’t be surprised, each agency has its own value to prove, sharing intel between agencies has always been dicey. I’m going to use the names you are familiar with rather than the nicknames they have. The FBI is charged with a counterintelligence mission, thwarting foreign intel. The FBI is only authorized to operate within the United States. The CIA is charged with intelligence gathering, their theatre is strictly outside the United States. The intel of one is crucial to the other, yet they are in competition with each other to produce results.

There are seventeen major agencies that you may be aware of, and over twelve hundred that you are probably not aware of, each chasing their own prescribed threats according to their specialties. There is very little respect among them, each believing they are the best, sometimes thwarting other agencies to remain so. You are no doubt aware of situations in your own experience in which one law enforcement agency refused access to another, it works the same in the intel community.

By removing the DNI, Trump has created an environment of fear within the community. “Don’t tell the boss bad news or he’ll fire you” can be deadly. Prior to the Cuban Missile crises, the Kennedy administration belittled Nikita Kruschev, and publicly stated that he would never bring nuclear missiles to Cuba. At the time, intel was presented to the President by the United States Intelligence Board, which provided an estimate that the Soviets were unlikely to base nuclear missiles in Cuba. The current consensus is that the Board knew that the Kennedy Administration would discount any other conclusion because it had already publicly dismissed it. Intelligence officials and White House advisers knew that bringing forward an estimate contrary to the Administration’s position could damage their careers or weaken their influence in future debates. Sound familiar?

It took the death of U-2 pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr., and the subsequent words of Airman 1st Class Michael Davis; “Major, take a look at this, I think you’d better call the colonel” when he saw cigar shaped tubes in the photographs, to provide the fortitude required to brief President Kennedy with the truth. (Full disclosure, Airman Davis was a member of my wing, the 544th SIW; I’m still rather proud).

Trump has denigrated the intel community before, but removing the DNI because he didn’t like the NIE is reminiscent of Caesar ignoring the call to beware of the Ides of March. We can only hope the results are personal to Trump rather than the downfall of our nation.

The president has created the visage of a ruthless tyrant. That may have served him well in the corporate jungle, but as a world leader he looks more like Kim Jong-un. Fear of reprisal destroys the community, and there is every reason to believe he will be lovingly sabotaged. Without intel there is no insight.

Every president has had intel blunders, even after 9/11 Obama ignored NIEs about Russian cyber threats, setting up Secretary of State Clinton’s cyber naivete. But dismissing the DNI and replacing him with a civilian with zero experience is insane.

Your impression of spooks may be formed by James Bond or Jason Bourne. My experience is radically different. The point is to not stand out in a crowd, just accomplish your mission in silence. In that silence we are often forgotten, which was the purpose from the beginning. In doing so, we have no glory, only medals locked in a box somewhere. The public probably shouldn’t even know who is the DNI, our service is clearly labeled clandestine. Michael Davis wasn’t recognized for over fifty years.

You should seriously question a president who publicly denigrates the community.

 

Resistance

 

On 18 February, a young Lutheran woman (Sophie, 21) and her brother (Hans, 24) were distributing pamphlets at the university they attended. It was night, so they were just leaving stacks of pamphlets in the hallway. Although Sophie had initially been a party enthusiast, restrictions on her freedom, such as being forced to teach kindergarten in order to be admitted to the university so she could study biology, caused her to speak against the party and the socialist government it had formed. A janitor saw them and called the police, who came and arrested them.

Like any activists, they had wanted their group to appear large and spoke of their movement as popular. Two others from their group had also been arrested. They were seen as enemies of the state and were questioned for four days, culminating with their trial, for which a special judge had been sent from the capital. They were found guilty of treason. They bravely faced their fate, Sophie saying “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” After their trial, they were allowed to see their parents. Sophie smiled stoically, not showing any fear. Their mother offered Sophie some candy, which she accepted saying “Gladly, after all, I haven’t had any lunch!” Magdalena Scholl, told Sophie to “Remember Jesus” as she left.

Later that day, they accepted their sentences. Death by guillotine. Seventy seven years ago today.

The party which they had been protesting was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also referred to by it’s acronym, NAZI . The woman was Sophie Scholl. Their resistance group was called “The White Rose.” Over the following year several other members of their group met the same fate, for the crime of nonviolent resistance, writing and distributing pamphlets.

Today, I and millions of others wear a white rose (that’s mine above), as a remembrance Of Sophie and nonviolent resistance.  We resist different things, but we do so without violence. In my lifetime, I have been in several resistance movements, starting with the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.” Dr. King was assassinated fifty two years ago. While violence has been used in pursuit of my various goals, it has been a last resort. As one of my colleagues said in the eighties, the conversation is over when you start shooting.

Champions of peace and nonviolence rarely die in their sleep. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was with his grandnieces in the garden when he was assassinated at age 78. He had been accepting of Muslims and was blamed for their violence.  John Winston Ono Lennon was assassinated as he returned home by a madman who wanted to be famous.  Bantu Stephen Biko was assassinated by South African police by way of twenty eight days of beatings.

Nonviolence is routinely met with violence, a sad irony. Most people picture “resistance” as the French resistance of World War Two, romanticized by Earnest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Little is said about places like the village of Chambon-sur-Lignon, which successful disguised the presence of five thousand refugees.

Hermine “Miep” Gies, the Dutch woman who helped hide a fifteen year old Anne Frank until betrayed by a neighbor, is not often recalled as a member of the resistance. Nonviolent resistance is quiet, acts of violence grab the headlines. The millions of LGBTQ+ people who have led successful lives under the radar are seldom thought of as a resistance members, because they resist the accepted norms of society by merely existing; when they are discovered they routinely pay with their lives, or at very least their social standing and vocation.

Most everyone has heard of “Pride” without recognizing its origin. The LGBTQ+ Pride movement originated in New York City, springing from the ashes of days of riots. Today millions gather for Pride events, proud they can be who they are without being victimized, seldom recognizing the brutality of the straight factions their forebears encountered. Today calling a trans woman “just a man in a dress” is seen as bigotry, when in my youth it would have been seen as victorious recognition, the alternative being death by beating.

Sophie Scholl was not the first person to resist tyranny, nor the last flame of an old idea. People have been resisting since Abel displayed his faith before his brother, who killed him with a rock. People continue to resist tyranny today all over the world. Resisting the President of the United States by revealing illegal behavior was met by an insistence to know the resister’s identity. No one thinks the President was going to shake his hand; that tyrant consistently destroys anyone who opposes him, calling for violence from his supporters or worse from foriegn governments.

Resist, even if it is only by your life continuing under oppression.

 

S

The system of party politics

 

In America, we call our design of a democratic republic a two party system. This is to differentiate ourselves from the former Soviet republic, which operated what they called democracy with a one party system. With only one candidate in an election, the choice available gave the impression of choosing a leader. At least that is what Big Brother told us to think. We still think we have two choices, so I suppose well placed propaganda is working.

Other countries, such as Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Philippines, and South Korea, operate with a multi party system. In these countries no single party wins a majority of votes, so no single party is in power. Parties build coalitions in order to legislate. People learn to work together.

In America we do have “Third Parties,” candidates who do not agree with either of the two parties. “Third” is a misnomer, in 2016 there were sixteen “third” parties; a better word is “alternative” candidates, because they present an alternative, whichever sub-group they represent. Our two parties have changed over the years, changing both names and philosophies. Republicans in 2020 would not recognize Republicans of 1860. I can’t tell the difference between Republicans and Democrats today.

The benefits of multiple parties include better representation. Look at the Democratic Party in 2020, split into factions of “Social Democrats,” Progressives,” “Traditional (without understanding the tradition of forming the KKK) Democrats,” and other fringe groups who still feel the need to vote for Democrats. All those people, at their various points along the spectrum, have a single “choice” at the polls. The majority of them will not vote for the candidate they want, instead they will vote “against” the Republican candidate. This fits the definition of “divisive” quite well. If they were multiple parties, each party would have the “strength” of their constituents; the percentage of votes, and elected positions, would reflect the actual positions of the populace. Coalitions formed between the various parties would better represent all the people.

Our two party system has devolved into the one party system we fear. Donald Trump was a lifelong Democrat, until he saw the opportunity of running as a Republican. Michael Bloomberg has been a lifelong Republican, until he saw the opportunity to run as a Democrat. Both parties include people who use the party to get elected without supporting that party’s ideals; “Rinos” and Dinos” are Republicans in name only or Democrats in name only. The one thing almost all Americans can agree on is that all politicians lie. Yet they cling to the “two party” system.

Alternative parties rarely get meaningful votes, in 2016 they received about 5.7% of the total, enough to “spoil” close local races. Because the overwhelming number of voters believe no third party candidate can win; combined with the instinct to “pick the winner” rather than vote their beliefs, people who might have voted for a third party chose a member of the two parties, no matter how repulsive that candidate was. Large numbers of Americans of both parties stated they “Held their nose and pulled the lever” for the candidate of their traditional party, because neither candidate represented their traditional party. The contest was won by the person who the majority hated the least. Looking at our process from arms length, has it ever appeared odd that in a country of over three hundred twenty seven million people, there are only two qualified to be president?

What it takes to end this is for voters to act as if they believe in the democratic process. In 1992 Ross Perot captured 18.91% of the popular vote, not enough in any single state to win, but he did come in second in two states. If the Electoral college had operated on percentage of votes in the state rather than winner take all, he would have had a few electoral votes. We, as Americans, need to vote for candidates who represent our desires instead of voting for the candidate who we hate the least. If twenty percent of Americans voted for the fictitious party “Healthcare for all,” twenty percent of the government would be pressing legislation for healthcare for all. The coalition of “Healthcare for all,” “Free college for all,” “monetarily disadvantaged,” and “Mandatory Vaccinations” might represent a majority, and the desired Healthcare for all could make its way through a congress split into sixteen separate parties.

Our election this year once again provides a perfect opportunity. In a projected Trump/Bloomberg contest both Republicans and Democrats will be in the difficult position of actually having to think about which candidate they dislike the most. I implore you to consider the third party candidates, of which there are presently eleven. One commentator recently said a smaller shit sandwich is still a shit sandwich. If a reasonable number of Americans decide they don’t want to express support for any shit sandwich, the possibility of multiple parties will be recognized. Our electoral process will be on the way to actually representing the people of America.

Just as in 2016, I am fairly certain that I don’t want either the Republican or Democrat candidate as my president. Since I will be unhappy either way, I will be voting for an “alternate.” Which alternate I choose will be decided in October, when I have had time to research them in more depth. You can be certain I won’t be voting for Vermin Supreme, he sounds too much like the major party candidates at first glance.

It’s Sunday, why not try a sermon?

I have never been one to hide my beliefs (well, when traveling abroad I have been known to refer to myself as Canadian). I was raised as a Christian, Southern Baptist, and my pastor when I was very young preached that we should examine something before pledging our lives to it. So I did. I left the church, but I did not leave God.

I read the Bible, cover to cover, and did not see any of the people I saw at church. I understood who Jesus was, and what he was trying to teach, and saw few of his messages reflected in the teachings of “Christian” religions, and when they were, it was merely lip service. I could see them in other religions, and examined those more deeply. In the end, sometime in my twenties, I decided to follow Jesus’s teachings, calling myself a “Zen Baptist.”

Of all religions, I tend to be more critical of “Christians;” they have the instruction book and don’t follow it. This morning, I had to correct a member of my Belgian Beer Enthusiasts group for berating a Buddhist. The other member had posted a picture of his wife, a Buddhist, and the Christian went on about how she was going to have trouble getting into heaven. Determining the fate of someone’s soul is not the duty of a Christian, that job is specifically held by God. Rather than get into a prolonged discussion, I just reminded him that it was a Beer group, he could share his religious views elsewhere.

I have often said “If you can read a Stephen King novel, you can read the New Testament.” There really is no excuse not to read the teachings of a group with whom you aspire to spend eternity. Yet the majority of Christians have only opened the book to read a verse along with the congregation on Sunday. They have no sense of context. Many will repeat the phrase “Judge not” with their own interpretation of what it means. For one thing, it is only the first two words of a sentence. The full verse, recorded in the book of Matthew as the first three verses of the seventh chapter are “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” The message is you will be judged by the standards to which you hold others.

These are the reasons a good friend of mine rejected Christianity. He would say “There are too many contradictions.” What he meant was the practice often contradicts the lessons. I have heard Priests admonishing their parishioners to carry the love of the service outside the doors of the church, questioning how they could commune with each other in church and then curse each other in the parking lot. Christians often do not follow in Christ’s footsteps. Maybe if the Priest championed reading the Bible rather than the snippets included in the mass they would have a better feel for what Jesus had been saying; but of course that might allow them to read the ninth verse of the twenty third chapter of Matthew,”And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

I am also an American, and hold the Constitution as an instruction manual on how to operate the country. The first amendment has taken quite a beating lately. It reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is where the idea of separation of church and state comes from.

Our current president does not appear to have read the constitution, or just feels as if he is not bound by it. My own thoughts lean towards the latter. The organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) is a watchdog group which focuses on the First Amendment, protecting the populace from government intrusion in religious matters; they have been very busy lately. When I suggested this group to my father, who tends to feel Christianity is under attack, he flatly refused. My father is a good man, but he can not quite get the idea that the same rule which prevents government funding of proselytizing the Christian faith also prevents government funding of proselytizing Islam; it is in fact the very core of the First Amendment. Fairness is not appreciated by someone who feels they are under attack, even when they represent over seventy percent of the populace.

I don’t expect anyone to believe as I do. I have little way of knowing, because I make no attempt to drag others into my beliefs. I met one the other day, he happens to be a doorman at my building. He usually carries a bible, and is very quiet. I asked what religion he followed, and in his quiet way he said “I don’t, I follow the teachings of Jesus.” It felt nice knowing I am not alone. I am exceptionally tired of all Christians being portrayed as the one third of us who are evangelical as they most certainly do not believe as I do, nor do they follow Jesus’s words. In Matthew’s tenth chapter, Jesus says in the fourteenth verse “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” Simply put, if someone doesn’t want to hear you, shut up and walk away.

What troubles me most is the vast number of Christians who propagate ideas which have no basis in the words of Jesus. I repeatedly hear I should not judge all Muslims by the actions of Daesh, but most folks judge all Christians by the actions of Evangelicals. It can be difficult, I tend to judge all Atheists by the actions of their leaders, but some of them are nice people.

 

 

 

That time of year

There are certain cycles that make you feel good, the Seasons each have their joy, either by arriving on ending.

I see other cycles, just as certain. The election of the President of the United States presents its own set of internal cycles, this year one has been a bit early. My friends, the people I trust, have left civility behind as they become partisan gargoyles. People whom I have chosen to call friends, the hundred or so that have remained admirable for years, sometimes decades, have left, some never to return. This brings me no joy. Rather than watch, I distance myself from the hatred.

Last time was particularly ugly, and there are no indications this time will be any better. I was ever so close to leaving it behind last time, prepared to the last detail to emigrate, and the opportunity was snatched away at the last second. I don’t have any reason to expect a similar opportunity to present itself, so I’m stuck here for the entire show, like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange.”

 

At least for Alex it was only a movie

 

I know it is only a seasonal madness, or at least I hope it remains so. Each cycle builds on the last, at some point it has to destroy the very union it was designed to support.

A decent, intelligent man thought it was funny to share the identity of the purported “whistle blower” in the Trump impeachment fiasco. A kind and thoughtful woman graphically compared Trump’s acquittal to the rape of justice. I know these people to be good human beings, but these are not the actions of good human beings. Protecting the identity of witnesses protects everyone. When that trust is denied, how many potential witnesses look the other way, perhaps witnesses who would have protected you, or revealed an improper act in which you would (now will) be the victim? When you equate a partisan play with rape, what do you think actual rape victims have suffered? Well, on second thought, actual rape victims watch the system betray them, with trials based on popularity rather than reality, so maybe there are some similarities; I just really did not need to see that image.

This is too much like the annual surprise when frozen precipitation falls from the sky; people believe it has never happened before and are therefore excused from knowing how to deal with it. Four years is a long time for a person to remember anything when they can’t remember how to drive if there is snow on the road. I forget my friends are human, and react to competition in the way of most humans.

And “competition” is precisely what national elections are. Sure, all the candidates talk about their superior moral stands, most of us understand that politicians have no morals. Most folks are interested in “what can you do for me” far more than any empty promises about human rights. The depressing thing about intelligence is recognizing the election has more in common with the Superbowl than “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.”

This year I find myself in the uncomfortable position of understanding the motives of Donald Trump. Not the paranoid fantasies about his personal hatred of the environment, or claims of undiagnosed mental illness, but an observation based judgement of his character. He is a vindictive bully. Remember his first year with the rotating cabinet? Why is anyone surprised that he fired the assistant who testified against him? He views people as either useful or trash. The character of his committed supporters reflect that trait.

So this year, in response to a vindictive bully, the Democrats are waging a war of pettiness. “Impeached” will forever be on his resumé, but he made it clear in 2016 his resumé was unimportant to his goals. His childish behavior has been met as a challenge to find who could be more childish. For an observer such as myself, this is a bounty of material for critique, I would be happy if this was not such a crisis. We are coming apart at the seems, it is no time for a pie fight.

I enjoy social media, and I use it to promote my writing. The problem is it becomes an echo chamber, diverse ideas are not readily accepted. I have had to block a few people who were rabid partisans, on both sides, but mostly I get blocked; again from both sides, predominantly from the left because I have had more friends on that side. Either way, my group of friends narrows itself to only include people who think as I. No one seems to accept the concept of an impartial observer.

So I have distanced myself from social media, passing through now and then to comment. I still post my blog articles, and intend to return in the winter; unless the fury over the results persist. Voting has changed from expressing support for a candidate who shares ones ideas to picking the winner. More so than Republicans, Democrats are incredibly poor losers, yet Trump has done his best to prove me wrong; I just hope his supporters are less like him in this aspect. This is just one more reason I support ending our two party process in favor of multiple parties. Perhaps that would allow more diverse views to remain pockets of small groups, rather than trying to please everyone with two possible choices. The system is beginning to mirror the Soviet Union’s idea of voting, everyone votes but there is only one choice. Americans have yet to discover their two choices are merely two sides of the same coin.

At any rate, there may be a choice which I find appealing within the Democratic party. Currently I favor Pete Buttigieg, but then in 2016 at this time I was supporting Gary Johnson. The last time my choice won was 2004.

 

Choose well this year, vote for a candidate who best reflects you; and on 4 November, try to remember it is not all about you.

Privilege

As with most issues, the concept of privilege tends to be overblown while containing a measure of truth.

Donald Trump is not a member of the NAZI party, but some of his actions mirror their actions. Do not forget that NAZIs tied their shoes, tying your shoes does not make you a NAZI. Some factors apply in using the stereotype, many do not.

An article on Buzzfeed well illustrates that point. One single factor does not signify privilege, it is the cumulative amount of factors. I don’t think Buzzfeed has any more credibility than Psychology Today, but the survey, all by itself, is useful as a learning experience.

How Privileged are You? provides insight into what constitutes privilege. I have always felt offended when accused of “White Privilege,” because it has been based on the fact that I am white. I am more than just white, although hate groups such as Antifa don’t really care about facts. Physical assaults, verbal assaults, and prejudices have been based on supposition.

Not everyone is interested in learning. When my partner posted the survey on Facebook, for the purpose of comparison, most of her friends took the survey and compared their scores. One decided to go on a rant about Buzzfeed, shooting the messenger and in the process also the message. No, the results of a survey are not a diagnosis, but sometimes the act of sharing it can display prejudices you were not looking for. An excellent representation of this effect is “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”  That quote comes from the 1978 film “Superman.” Most people do not consider superhero movies the source of deep philosophical observations; those people also fail to learn from “War and Peace.”

The first lesson in the survey comes with the first question, “Are you White?” I was a bit put off with that opening, then I considered that it was one factor out of one hundred. My total “score” was twenty nine, “underprivileged.” There were questions that seemed faulty, “Have you ever been called a Dyke” and “Have you ever been called a Faggot” should have been a single question. One of the many questions that should have been there is “When you see a rack of magazines, are the majority of people on the covers your race?” As I said earlier, anyone expecting a certified diagnosis from an online test is foolish. This survey should only be used as a comparison among peers, just don’t let Antifa see the results, a score of one would be adequate for them to burn your house.

As mentioned, I am white. I was born in the South. I am a Christian. None of these things make me a racist, but I accept that they are three points out of hundreds that would make me so. I learned over fifty years ago the difference between correlation and causality, and try to apply it to every interaction. As I aged and was exposed to dangers which could be life threatening, I found that in some instances correlation is sufficient. I don’t need to know what is in that backpack with wires hanging out, but I don’t need to kill the person carrying it; I can walk away. Responses require circumstances with which to justify them.

There are many factors which constitute an individual. It is often said that Hitler liked dogs, but that alone does not make him a good person. He also facilitated the deaths of over eleven million people, and while that alone may not make him an evil person, the methods he used to accomplish that goal certainly add up to that conclusion.

Our society, drenched in information, continues to celebrate single issue decisions. The quickness of determining the state of that decision is frightening. I can see an indicator and immediately know what it means, most people cannot. A friend recently posted two photographs in comparison. One was a color image of Donald Trump reaching out to shake the hands of supporters, the other, a black and white image of Adolph Hitler doing the same. My reaction to the implied statement they were the same was that I couldn’t think of a single celebrity who has not reached out in a similar fashion. Then, as others noticed inconsistencies, it became clear the photo of Hitler had been altered (there was an American flag in the background, a person dressed as Lincoln, and Hitler had no feet). Simply noting that this was not only a poor comparison, but it was also falsified, made me a Trump supporter so she immediately blocked me. The simple observation that if what one party is doing is despicable, mirroring that behavior is not excusable, brings me back to explaining to children “He did it first” is not a defense for doing the same thing.

I’ve been noticing a snowball effect, that right along with knowledge, maturity is rapidly declining at a geometric rate. Double standards are celebrated as “necessary.” Moral standards are as rigid as cooked spaghetti. I am overwhelmed with the examples provided by an intolerant population and a rogue president. Literally overwhelmed, I can not finish typing a blog entry without several examples of my thesis occurring, and not just because I type slowly. Noting these issues results in hatred rather than self reflection.

In many ways, the survey on privilege was contrary to my core beliefs. Confidence is seen as a privilege, questions such as “I have never lied about my sexuality,” “I have never tried to hide my sexuality,” and “I am always comfortable with P.D.A. (Public Display of Affection) with my partner” imply that comfort with who you are is a privilege. While I agree that living in fear is an indicator of lack of privilege, paranoia is an indicator of lack of psychiatric help. I have had physicians refer to my “Texan stoicism” as a defect.

Give yourself the privilege of being comfortable in your own skin.

The whimpering end of democracy

I was born in America (although I frequently claim Texas as my native country), and from early in my life I was inundated with the message I live in a Democracy. First problem, America is a Democratic Republic, we grow up believing a lie about our government; repeating it as a defense of the majority. As we mature, and learn to appreciate minorities, a certain cognitive dissonance starts to grow. Part of our Western background is absolutes, balance is a foriegn concept.

In my youth, part of my education included classes in “Civics,” or the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. Sometime in the seventies, Civics classes were deemed unimportant, and dropped from most curricula.

For almost fifty years, two complete generations, Americans have not been taught the basics of how government works. This explains how millions of people called for the impeachment of the president on the day he was elected, not comprehending that an actual offense had to take place first; that is, an offense greater than “I didn’t vote for him.”

Then when an impeachable offense took place, millions more did not understand that impeachment is a process, and that it does not end in removal from office. It ends in a trial, a trial in which the jurors decide to either weigh the evidence or vote according to their party.

Had the president been found guilty, he still would not have been removed from office. Like a trial in real life, once guilt has been determined, then sentencing is considered. Think of a murder trial, few of those found guilty are sentenced to death, or even life imprisonment.

As a political strategy, impeachment is equivalent to investigations, they sound scary but there is no reason to expect a particular outcome.

The one spectacular event in the impeachment of president Trump was that Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican, voted against the president. No senator had ever voted against a president of their own party before. The partisan nature of the process was highlighted by the only non-partisan vote.

How many Americans took note of that? My guess? Seven.

The campaign for the 2020 presidential election rolled right through the impeachment hearings, and there were lessons to be learned there as well.

For some reason, Iowa is the first contest, a “caucus” rather than a “primary.” It is still an electoral process, the “one man one vote” part of the Democratic Republic, and although the process sounds rather bizarre, it is captured quite well here by Reuters.

For some reason, the Iowa caucus is held as an important indicator of the November election, even though Iowa is in no way representative of the American population, and is held eleven months before the election. People can change their minds in eleven months. Sometimes it only takes eleven minutes.

In this case, and perhaps indicative of the ways in which Iowa represents the general population, one voter did change her mind after casting her vote, and wanted to withdraw it.

After “deliberating” about the choice and available candidates, and working her way through the tedious caucus process, this voter changed her mind because one of the most reported aspects of the candidate had missed her research until after casting her ballot, and she felt it was important enough to display to the nation her Homophobia. Pete Buttigieg is gay. Married to a man. Publicly, flagrantly, and the one thing that made him stand out when there were over twenty candidates, but she had missed it. This is the thoughtful reflection applied to a candidate for president.

That “one man one vote” bit carries the implication that you only get to vote once. She missed that too. Nonetheless, after a fiasco illustrating the failures of the Democratic National Convention, Pete Buttigieg won.

Speaking of those failures, do not take the impression I am suggesting the Republican party has not been easy to mistake for a Keystone Kops episode, which brings up another whimper.

I no longer claim membership in any party, they are simply two sides of the same coin.

In our Democratic Republic, those votes given to each of us rarely express our desires. Very few folks vote for a candidate, they vote for a party. The same people who decry partisan politics are partisans themselves. Democrats will point out the stupidity of their opponents who just “pull the big R lever,” while at the same time chanting “vote blue no matter who.”

What are the side effects of this whimpering death of a process we have celebrated so widely?

For one, Americans not only can’t handle the truth, they don’t expect it. Anyone can say anything and because it is accepted by what to that person is “a large number of people,” it must be truth. Twitter is considered a “news source” by the same people who laugh at one of its reporters for broadcasting from the toilet in the middle of the night. Nurses, who have been trained to understand the scientific method, become dedicated opponents of vaccinations. People feel comfortable dispensing diagnoses without any medical training. Rather than a search for truth, questions are submitted for a diversity of opinions. It is as if they just don’t want to be correct.

It is dragging me down. I find the uninformed exhausting, because I can either explain every part of their wrong ideas and be considered arrogant, or listen in silence as they display their ignorance, transmitting it like a virus to the uninformed majority. I can’t help them; it is frustrating. As I age, the frustration is having physical effects, I write it off as having developed in another world; I am the foreigner here. Is this the fate of age?

I often think of John Houseman as Mr. Wabash in the film “Three Days of the Condor,” speaking to a rising section chief.

Mr. Wabash : I go even further back than that. Ten years after The Great War, as we used to call it. Before we knew enough to number them.

Higgins : You miss that kind of action, sir?

Mr. Wabash : No, I miss that kind of clarity.

 

Recognizing Big Brother

 

Some things stick in your mind, you can see them forming before others because the horror is too great.

The holocaust is an example of how evil can spread through a society, so the label of NAZI is thrown at anyone who appears to be authoritarian, or antisemitic. Unfortunately it has spread to include “anyone who thinks different than me,” diluting its horror. In our mis-educational system, how many graduates go forward thinking thirteen million people were killed by old men playing golf?

When college kids carrying tiki torches are compared to the Schutzstaffel, the horror just isn’t there.

 

George Orwell’s “1984” disassembled mind control. Most folks think the work was prophetic, but in fact it was a memoir of the fascist states of the early twentieth century, written after their culmination in 1944. Orwell had seen it happen, from seedling to rotting fruit. We have all seen the process, frozen at certain points in its development in various societies, yet we fail to recognize as it takes hold around us.

As a writer, language is of utmost importance to me. Words are my life. The variances, homonyms, synonyms, and multi-entendres are my life blood. Word meanings change over time, but the immediate alteration to fit a political misuse is far too reminiscent of Newspeak. Combined with deliberate misinformation, “reality” is no longer how things exist, but how they are meant to be judged.

I was never much for euphemisms, I prefer to be understood and avoid barriers. It does seem to put people off, I worked at an SPCA shelter where I killed dogs. I got out of the habit of saying “Euthanized” because most of the people I dealt with didn’t know what it meant. They were already upset, why make it worse by using a word they did not understand?

As I have been around a lot more LBGTQ+ people this last year, I’ve been a little shocked about the sensitivity to words. I am Bisexual, a term defined in the Bisexual Manifesto of 1990 (not to imply that Bisexuality was invented then), Sometime around 2000 folks started using the word “Pansexual,” then it became a prejudicial word. People who call themselves Pansexual today state that “Bisexual” is non-inclusive, because it only refers to two sexes or genders. Read the manifesto kids, “Pansexual” is the divisive term, as it claims Bisexuals are Transphobic (By the way, attaching “phobic” to everything is ridiculous, if you are prejudiced against something you are probably not afraid of it).

Often it seems when people are particular about the words used to describe a group, they are not the people described, but people who awarded themselves the mantle of Pronoun Police. As I looked deeper, sometimes it is only the Pronoun Police, and not the people being described; people from the orient tend to prefer “Oriental” to “Asian.”

Common in the news these days are stories about “Religious Freedom.” More often than not these are instances in which followers of one religion wish to force their point of view on followers of another religion. The constitution of the United States speaks clearly that there is to be no state religion, what many refer to as “Separation of Church and State.” As Americans we are free to choose whatever religion, or lack thereof, we wish. We have no right to impose our views on others, yet a fair number of people believe they are empowered to discriminate against people with differing beliefs. While many of our founding documents are developments of Abrahamic principles, it is still quite easy to see the differences in the Abrahamic religions.  A statute favoring a Christian point of view (or one ascribed to Christianity) does not support a Muslim or Jewish point of view. Freedom of Religion is best expressed as “Freedom from Religion;” we shall have no inquisition. An individual has no more right to impose staff led Christian prayer than they would to impose Sharia law.

This morning, we were discussing Death with Dignity. There has been a lot written about this, most obviously not by those who have practiced it. I was told that “suicide” is not the proper word, because suicide is an irrational act, those who rationally choose to end their lives, and fit certain medical criteria, have not committed suicide. So I read some of the things written, and they are all about providing euphemisms other that the actual word because it causes shame. I know these people mean well, they are speaking to and about the survivors, relatives and friends of the deceased. I was told the word “suicide” shames people who have made a difficult decision, implying they were irrational. After a quick look at the dictionary, followed by more intense probes into the word, I was unable to find any reference to the rationality of the person choosing to end their life.

It is difficult to talk about this without giving the wrong impression. I have no intention of committing suicide. However, the possibility exists that my Multiple Sclerosis may take a turn for the worse, or that any other event might make my life unlivable. Should that occur, I will thoughtfully decide whether or not to continue living. The very last thing in the world I would want to happen is to have control of my life taken from me while a panel decides if I am rational. When it is time, it is time. It is a difficult decision, and calling it anything other than what it is insults the sui, the individual who is taking action. I have known others that made the choice; one last stand of self.

The issue of abortion is buried in inaccurate descriptions. Both sides wish to make their points emotional, so we now live in a world where “Women’s health services” mean abortion clinics, and nothing else; a further erasure of the real world differences between men and women. About one of every four women will have an abortion in their lives, it is, much like suicide, a difficult decision. Because women who have had abortions are shamed for their decision, very few of those women talk about it, so those who do appear to be freaks. They can be dismissed because they have spoken about their “unusual” experiences, they are considered meaningless or extreme because “I don’t know anyone who has had an abortion.” You probably do, but your attitude is so judgemental they never told you about it. The pain, which they continue to experience, is amplified by the failure to console them.

Along that line of language, a local real estate agent is trying to alter my borough’s requirement of a Certificate of Occupancy prior to the sale of a home. He has manipulated the subject, using people whose experience was overwhelmingly expensive. In one case a woman was unable to afford the repairs required to make the home habitable, so his latest rant assaults the borough for ignoring women’s rights. He has framed the ordinance as “immoral,” because the expense of making a home habitable may exceed the value of the home; relying on the local school district’s failure to educate to provide him with supporters. The man who owned my last residence insisted that property values only go up, so he was asking for his purchase price plus ten percent. I bought a nicer condominium in the same complex for one third of his asking price; I am surprised a real estate agent does not understand the real estate market.

With that last example, I am suggesting that practice of corrupting language is not a venture only applied to large organizations. I have seen it used by governments as well as individuals. My first exposure to this type of propaganda was in the Air Force, when I tried to explain an issue to my father; he could not see my side of the issue. Then I realized that in English, my complaint sounded ridiculous. I had gotten used to speaking in Air Force language, I knew what the disguised words actually meant. The collapse of language sneaks up on you, you don’t always realize what you are saying sounds very different to someone expecting common meanings.

 

Rebel.

 

Resist Big Brother. Do not conform, do not participate in the denial of your right of free speech.

Politics

It seems that everyone is talking about politics lately. But they’re not. They are talking about their ignorance of intelligent conversation.

I am not taking sides, I rarely do. When a comment is met by a baseless insult, intelligence has left the building. More accurately, intelligence will have left the building when the person making the comment exits, if he stays and argues, it had left earlier.

Insulting the other guy has a rich tradition in politics. Insulting the other guy’s supporters is something newer. For all those who genuinely believe they can judge another person’s intelligence by who they voted for, the folks at Stanford-Binet would love to talk to you. They’ve been measuring intelligence for over one hundred years and still haven’t gotten it quite right. If you believe that you can judge a large portion of the populace by a single political position, you might want to reconsider your insults towards them. “Racist” and “Bigot” just come across a little hypocritical in such a context.

I have routinely partnered with women who have opposite, or at very least not equal, political opinions as my own. I think in the beginning it was purposeful, designed to inhibit an echo chamber. I want someone I care about to tell me when they think I am wrong, and convince me if I am. The results have been hit and miss. Some have agreed with me out of loyalty, some have disagreed out of spite, some have been unable to participate due to lack of communication skills, and some have been invigorating, honestly exchanging ideas.

I have probably mentioned my fourth wife’s habit of physically covering her ears when information opposing her beliefs were spoken, but I’m not sure if I spoke of the result. She would continue with her knowingly baseless ideas, promoting them and attacking those who believed differently. Not everyone has that level of dedication to being wrong. In a certain way I was impressed. Like the way I was impressed by Timothy McVeigh‘s dedication to his cause.

Emma, my third wife, was probably the closest to me politically, but even we differed on Obama, at least during the campaign. I had initially agreed with her assessments, but then started to see the man behind the curtain before the election. It took her another six months.

The woman I am with now, Janice, has that ever so rare perfect balance. No one would ever suspect her of possessing a single conservative bone in her body. Having anything other than the party line as an opinion can make people on either side of the aisle think you are their enemy, or their friend, and be completely wrong. I have always admired her analyses and interpretations, but it was the other day, when she referred to something as “Left wing propaganda” that I knew she was a true free thinker.

I have other friends who will argue the innate “rightness” of any party, but knowing someone who can also point out their own party’s faults is priceless.

We do not live in a binary world. Society is not binary. So why does anyone think governance and politics should be binary? I had really thought 2016 would be the year of the third party. There were, I believe, thirty one parties with candidates for President, yet ninety three percent of the popular vote went to the two major parties. Both parties were filled with people who “held their noses and voted for the party line,” very few chose to vote for someone who was qualified, or perhaps a better wording would be very few chose to vote for someone who was not disqualified. My personal favorite, for whom I voted, was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian. Gary still got only six percent of the popular vote. I did not throw my vote away, I just made a rather meaningless comment on the two party system. Baby steps in an impatient world

Janice brings me great joy in her interpretation of topics, she always has an unusual angle, because she interprets the issues differently. Her mind is fresh and alive with colors I have not seen before. Janice I can talk about political subjects, and walk away with the feeling we both are considering alternative views we haven’t considered before. She is not afraid to say “I haven’t researched that” and come back later having fully researched the issue. I swear if I had people like her in my intelligence wing we could have ended the cold war ten years earlier.

I am a conservative. I used to call myself a Republican, but the party lost sight of its ideals. Janice considers herself a Progressive, having the same views of the Democratic party. Together we find that commonality, the middle ground, where bot side benefit. By the way, NO ONE benefits from screaming and insults.

While we are in many ways unique, I hope this is not one of them. I hope there are couples all over America having civil conversations and working towards solutions..

 

 

 

The week journalism died

You are probably familiar with the above story. This particular video has the most unbiased point of view I have seen.

Yes, the eighteen minute video, made by some guy in New Jersey in his spare time. Not the multi billion dollar “news” industry, which propagated a false story to enrage the ignorant masses, pausing for a brief apology several days later after minutes of news time was spent vilifying the kids.

Most still images were this:

What I have found, is that even after a day of actual facts bouncing around to counter the original story, this picture tells the entire story. It does not tell the “MAGA kids harass Native American” story which is often the headline. But that Headline along with the picture is all many people needed. The story is “People will believe what they are told to believe.” Some folks didn’t even need to read the headline, the presence of a red hat lets their hatred flow.

A red hat.

I’ve heard stories about this kind of baseless rage before, groups of punks beat a man because he was wearing a red hat (and it was a Phillies cap, not the MAGA hat) in Philadelphia. Mostly I assign that kind of story to the “crazy stupid people” file, but the frequency has grown to where it is now “this week’s craziness.” Today two people, both intelligent enough to know the full story but willingly ignorant of it, seized upon the phrase “This is Trump’s America.” Retractions no longer matter, when the image resonates with the hatred within, intelligence leaves the building.

So yes, this is Trump’s America. A nation in which an aggressive vocal minority makes the rules for civility. Dear God let it be a minority. In a discussion sparked by my last blog post, a request for more civility was countered with “But Trump.” There is no “But” anything! Only abusers blame their victims! When you let the actions of someone else drive you to violence, you are responsible, you let this happen. An adult doesn’t let things happen. they make things happen.

I would like to believe that this wave of Trump Delusional Syndrome will only point out to the rational people how fouled the stream of information is. It is discouraging to realize that neighbors and friends are lemmings, following the herd over the cliff. To put that statement in perspective, it was so discouraging for Americans to believe that one man with an old German rifle and Marine training could kill the president that conspiracy theories have tried to tell a more palatable story for fifty five years. As a people, we can’t handle the truth. But this time it is dangerous, the delusions are leading to violence.

Another media failure this week is the now famous Gillette commercial. Well intentioned by some “beta-male,” the short film was an insult to every male who has never abused women. Apparently the man-bun sporting executive who approved the film was not aware he was offending the overwhelming majority of men. Or maybe not. Maybe the executive was a woman who had broken the glass ceiling and wants to show us how toxic we are. Not only men were offended though, so if Gillette thought it would cover the loss with lady shavers, they may have missed that lifeboat.

In response, several YouTube folks created videos running the gamut from a parody about Toxic Femininity to this one, from a watch company. “Lift me up if you want to see a change in me, don’t tear me down. These are the messages companies need to be showing and celebrating if they really care about change.”

 

Across the internet, women were tripping over themselves. Trying to “Womansplain” how “Toxic Masculinity” didn’t apply to all men, just the bad ones. They never got around to why it wasn’t just “Toxic Behavior” if it didn’t apply to all men. And of course the very possibility that “Toxic Femininity” could even exist was enough to end any pretensions of a civil discussion, despite the fact they thought the “Toxic Males” should be put to death.

Again, the optimist in me wants to see these huge mass communication failures as Toto revealing the man behind the curtain. I keep thinking that “Surely they will realize they have been manipulated.” Then the realist chimes in and reminds me the average person has an IQ of 100, which means fifty percent of the population has an IQ of less than 100. Then the Nihilist in me reminds me nothing has meaning. Having multiple points of view can be so difficult at times.

I feel somewhat content in my sense of self. I have spent the last three years remembering who I was, and figuring out who I am now. I have certain traits which have made this enjoyable; I am strongly egalitarian, which allows me to balance ideas. I do not bestow trust easily, nor do I distrust without reason. Most of all I value differing opinions. Bullying is not an opinion.

 

Looking through a Glass Onion

I have been an outsider since birth, so I don’t think about “looking in from the outside” as much as “how much more I can see since I’m not inside”.

I was born in a town which no longer exists. Trinidad Texas is a small town, population 866 in the 2010 census, and if you look at the map of it on google you will see a tiny strip on the island in the lake contained within Trinidad’s border. That strip was the company housing for Texas Power and Light, for which my father was a chemist. The plant shut down and the island was abandoned, when I visited last summer the bridge was blocked. I have memories of living on that island, which I left in 1963.

From there we moved to Dallas, living in an apartment at first. We usually think of apartments as transient quarters, but little five year old me was still an outsider. My father would travel on business, and brought home a toy airplane, the wings came off to expose a battery compartment in the fuselage. I took the toy down to the playground to show it to the other kids, and they smashed it into pieces. Fifty five years later I still recall this as my first exposure to senseless violence.

A year later I was in Kindergarten, where we made pilgrims out of construction paper cut outs. When I cut the face out, I ended inside the point where I had started, and realized I could keep this pattern going. Instead of a circle I cut a spiral, which I thought was pretty cool; I could create three dimensional shapes with it. The teacher was not thrilled with my creativity, and recommended I be tested for mental retardation. What a curse that was; it turned out my IQ was 148, in the range labeled “Genius.” For the remainder of my life I have been told I was not fulfilling my potential.

In second grade, we moved to Walnut Creek, California. This is when I embraced my outsider status. I had received a pair of cowboy boots for Christmas, and when I wore them to school, the other kids made fun of me on the playground. Cowboy boots have heavier soles and pointed toes, unlike the sneakers the other kids were wearing, so I kicked the kids who were laughing at me. School sent me home and my father offered to buy me another pair of shoes, to which I responded “Why? I already have cowboy boots.” The other kids never laughed at me again.

I was about fourteen, with hair longer than traditional, when a couple of street people singled me out, snarling “insults.” I felt sorry for them, and was not offended by being called a girl. It still happens to this day that people see the long hair and assume my sex, when they pay enough attention to notice my beard they are usually embarrassed.

My father’s growth in his corporation meant I moved every couple of years, maintaining the position of “New kid on the block.” I remember the first day of High School, with everyone talking about how long they had known each other. I hadn’t lived in one place long enough to know anyone for more than three years. I’ve kept that up, changing my appearance every year or so. When I was a technician it was always funny to hear about “the last guy,” because often I had been the last guy; they didn’t recognize me.
As I have gotten older, I have occasionally thought about coming inside, being part of the community. I have cultivated my outsider status so long I am beginning to believe it has become a part of me; what began as a lack of understanding is now my definition.

I moved to Elkins Park Pennsylvania with thoughts of disappearing into the community. I even ran for a position on my condominium homeowners board. I was too much of an outsider to be elected, but I may try again once people get to know me. Although based on some recent experiences I am not sure this is a community I wish to be a part of.

We have a couple of local community pages on Facebook, Elkins Park and bordering Jenkintown. Although both pages feature moderators and mission statements that sound wholesome and non-controversial, they are run by humans who are not accustomed to saying what they mean. Or for that matter, knowing what the words they use mean. Nonetheless, I have met some wonderful people on the community page. Yesterday, Sam and I had some unpleasant run ins with our digital neighbors.

First, I was dismayed at a posting asking for a female owned catering service. I commented that discriminatory wording was prohibited under the EEOC, and I hadn’t seen an ad specifying gender since the 60s. I was attacked by several women, who could not grasp the concept of discrimination when applied to men, because they believe masculinity is toxic. The arguments could be compared to stating NAZIs didn’t discriminate against Jews because the Jews were an inferior race. They went on attacking the post for most of the day, I stopped watching after a while. I was accused of gas lighting and deflection, when all I had done was to point out discrimination is discrimination. A few men commented overnight about the level of hate in a community plastered with “Hate has no home here” signs and that some animals were more equal than others, and the moderator interrupted with a reminder to not make personal attacks, then one of the assailants came back saying she didn’t want all men done away with, “Only the narrow minded and nasty/bullying “boys will be boys” ones. Those I will be thrilled to see under a hill.” totally unaware of her own narrow minded bullying.

While that was going on, Sam had commented on a post about the hardships federal workers were facing due to the shutdown. Sam had stated that the hype wasn’t real, no one was being evicted due to the shutdown because they had only missed last Friday’s paycheck, and were well payed with incredible benefits before that. Sam was treated worse than I had been, the name calling started with the second reply to her comment, and went on all day after she left the conversation. The funniest part was when they started calling her a Trump supporter. Sam is a lifelong Democrat who routinely points out Trump’s flaws. Then, one of the moderators threatened to expel Sam from the group due to her viciousness. Sam had simply made a comment, of factual nature, which didn’t fit the rest of the herd’s mindset. The viciousness was from those that attacked her. We don’t share a last name, so I messaged the moderator to ask what Sam had done that was vicious. She said Sam was worse by far, but refused to provide any examples. I’m not certain how one comment can be worse than twenty two attacking replies, but once most people lock their minds on a narrative, nothing else matters. This morning the entire thread had been deleted. Hate has found a home in Elkins Park Pennsylvania.

Mobs are historically scary things. Their reemergence as political tools only makes them scarier. Finding myself living in the midst of these mobs is terrifying. As we watch due process dissolve in our government, what are the chances it will miraculously appear in the mob justice which is becoming so popular these days?

Being an outsider makes me immune to group think. It also makes me an easy target for group hate. I can think of no reason to join the group, security is not worth my freedom.

Challenges of Recovery

The second greatest challenge about recovery is recognizing my limitations. The greatest challenge is recognizing I have limitations.

This was not an issue before the TBI, if something needed to be done I did it. Even in the immediate aftermath of the TBI, I needed a room painted for a tenant and was not happy with the job Sam was doing, so I took over and painted the room with my left hand, the right being immobilized.

Over time I realized that some of my limits were because I never recognized how difficult daily activities were. Driving, which was once as difficult as breathing, involves several portions of the brain simultaneously; I had to recover enough to realize I wasn’t doing it well. Today I limit driving to less than one and a half hours each way, with a rest period of at least as long as the drive once I reach the destination. My first attempt at driving on my own, when I was still in physical therapy, showed me the variables I had not considered. Sure, I could drive ten miles to my therapist, but I could not change a tire when I had a flat.

A good part of my time is spent weighing the possible hazards of any activity. I am not paranoid, but the majority of my various careers revolved on my ability to identify the worst case scenario, I’m good at it. Sam has noticed my energy limits, allowing me to budget my activity. I presently have less than five hours a day in which I can be physically or intellectually active, after which I am physically and intellectually exhausted. Breaking down events, allowing rest or at least inactive periods, allows me to go a full five hours. Pushing myself can bring that to three hours.

This weekend there will be a march in my old town of Princeton, NJ. It appears the town that invented “Jews vs NAZIs Beer Pong” was a natural for a white supremacist group. The Mayor and Police Chief of this Sanctuary town have advised against counter protests, on the surface claiming a public safety issue. Knowing the Mayor and Police Chief, I suspect the reason is to avoid making the national news, which might hurt enrollment at the University.  A friend is involved in the counter-protest.

When I heard of it last night, my first reaction was to ask “When and where?” with every intention of being on the front line. Even when Sam said we had guests expected that evening, I was working out a way to do both, and/or explanations why I couldn’t be home for the guests. In an odd nostalgic way I miss the taste of tear gas.

Another thing that (should) happen with TBI is the ability to slow down. As I slowed down and considered the possibilities, I realized it could easily be more than a five hour trip (one hour each way travel plus three hours on site). Emotions would be high, violence could be expected, and arrest was not out of the question. I am somewhat ashamed to say I would rather be incarcerated in my home town than in another state, but it is true. The Princeton Police have gone out of their way to prove their stupidity several times in the last few years, I do not wish to be their latest example.

When I woke up in the hospital I felt old, now that feeling is more of defeat. I have tried to publicize the counter protest, this article being one of the ways, and I have known that I am not up to front line activism for a couple of years, but there are NAZIs in my old neighborhood! I should be there! Not this time, but if they come to my neighborhood I will be out there in a wheelchair if that is the best I can do, depending on circumstances I may be armed.

Another challenge of recovery is accepting my current capabilities. I don’t like it, and see a couple of therapists and a support group to try to deal with it. Fortunately (?) I am actually old, turning sixty last November, and have had Multiple Sclerosis for thirty of those years; I would have become more cautious even without the TBI (maybe). Part of accepting change is recognizing how powerless we are to stop it.

There are many challenges on the road to recovery of TBI, the majority of which are mental. Unfortunately, following TBI mental faculties are typically lower than usual, making the recovery a longer path than originally suspected.

 

Antisocial media

I used to enjoy social media. It has been a great way to publicize my writing and to connect with old friends. I have made several new friends, the majority of whom are other writers. Just like your job, we do not all think the same, the difference is we are eloquent when we disagree, and we tend to use verifiable facts in our arguments. We also rarely misspell insults. I’m not “spoiled,” this is how it should be.

Over the last few weeks there has been a change. Those of us dedicated to accuracy have been run over by a mob of semi-literate terrorists. In the interest of maintaining my spectacular blood pressure of 110/80, I have abandoned social media. I remain disturbed, I cannot organize my thoughts through all the static.

The storm has been brewing for some time. Civil discourse was a precious commodity, shared almost sacredly among writers, although thoroughly unexpected when interacting with the masses. In public comment columns it is disturbingly normal to see retorts such as  “your stupid,” and “goggle it” (when a person is too lazy to provide references and demands you do it for him, while misspelling the name of the most popular search engine). Insults and attacks are on the rise (US representative Maxine Waters recently called for mob action), and much like when I was a child and heard Archie Bunker use words which I did not understand outside of the fact they got a reaction, the actual words used as insults are meaningless. “Racist” and “NAZI” have both been used so excessively they mean nothing (sad because actual racists and NAZIs actually exist and now can fade into the background), and rather than become more accurately descriptive, the insults have just gotten more vile (vile people use vile words. . .), now “motherfucker” has become the go to response for the inarticulate.

If it were only the language it would not bother me nearly as much as it does, it is the lack of reasoning that chills me. The above example of “goggle (sic) it “, represents an expectation to be believed without question. Skepticism, perversely, is both embraced and rejected, fitting for a schizophrenic society. Doubting news sources became a political pursuit some time ago, giving birth to fact checking websites, which almost immediately were identified as biased themselves. The first news source to be vilified via political leaning was Fox news, or as it’s detractors prefer “faux news.” I’m guessing the poet who created that name pronounces the two words the same way. Fox faced the spurious charge of being the only biased news source, allowing the following corollary; if everything Fox broadcasts is false (because it is a conservative viewpoint), everything else is true. In a world defined by virtue signalling, skepticism about beliefs that are unpopular is good, while skepticism about beliefs that are popular is bad, with “popular” becoming the new definition of “true.” Believing everything is either good or bad results in binary thought processes; a world of black and white contains no grey. Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment could not have been created by a binary mind, in fact, not many works of art or even engineering could exist without the ability to see in between the extremes.

I can understand Fox news being dismissed by a partisan mind, the partisan mind has no interest in accuracy. That goes for anyone, conservatives dismiss liberal news sources, liberals dismiss conservative sources. It has gone beyond that. Recently I saw several people dispute a memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the frenzy of crying children which the main stream media considered “reporting” on the story of families being separated at the border (full disclosure, I have never been separated from my family at the border in scores of crossings, call it “citizen privilege”), DHS released a paper on what was actually taking place. You know, the people actually involved in separating families, arguably the best possible source of information. I watched several keyboard brown shirts dismiss that information as inaccurate, some citing a story in the New York Times (NYT) without a link to the actual story, which they claimed quoted a memo from the Attorney General. One possible story in the NYT which appears to be the one referenced does not actually contain the “proof” it is claimed to contain, which might be why it was not provided as a link.

I understand there are people who trust the New York Times more than the Department of Homeland Security. There is a remarkable number of people who believe the Earth is flat, they just don’t get as much support from the media. The NYT has a Wikipedia page dedicated to their retractions, while DHS has never found the need to issue retractions. The media, after a long process of building trust that includes Murrow, Brinkley, and Cronkite, has squandered their reputation with talking heads whose interests are ratings rather than accuracy. Print media has lowered itself to the point that USA Today, once a joke among journalists, is scolding AP and Time over their standards.

Retractions may appear to indicate integrity, but they do not. The recently “corrected” story in Time about children separated from families cannot be unread, the cover cannot be unseen. That information remains out there, and despite the notice stating it was “corrected” (for people who show no regard for language, they’re awfully careful about the words used to describe their activities), I have seen people produce retracted stories as evidence, twisting their interpretation of the retraction into meaning the story is true.

The internet has produced a breed of “citizen journalists” with no concept of journalistic integrity. Crowd sourcing the news only creates static, as the loudest voices push their point of view. It is the theatre of bullies.

 

 

I most likely will return to social media. I was silenced, but as I considered the words of Elie Wiesel, I realized I must speak. There are plenty of voices out there, the majority of which are misinformed, ill informed, or just flat out lying. I had left my inner warrior behind, but I cannot be silent as my country is torn apart.

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.

 

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.