Rabies

In looking for an analogy for today’s topic, Rabies appears appropriate. Rabies is exceptionally rare, between 2003 and 2013 thirty four cases were diagnosed in the United States, and although three cases are listed as “survived,” I suspect the diagnosis in those cases, as there is no cure. Even though the rate of human infection is .00001 percent of the population, every pet is required to be vaccinated against Rabies, because the issue is not prevalence, it is mortality. I have been vaccinated against rabies after contact with rabid animals (twice) and as you can see I did not contract the disease. Had the virus taken hold in my system I would not be here, thankfully the vaccine regimen is much more simple than it was in my childhood; a series of four injections intramuscularly (deltoid) and one dose of Human Rabies Immune Globulin near the site of exposure rather than fourteen injections in the abdomen (a friend from Cuba had fourteen injections into his lungs).

My topic today is another “R” word, “Racism,” as expressed by a rag tag mob calling themselves “White Supremacists,” as well as a large number of people who consider anything with a scent of racism the work of White Supremacists, NAZIs, or the KKK.

This weekend has seen a couple of events staged by White Supremacists. An event in Charlottesville Virginia drew hundreds of them from all over the country, and thousands of counter protestors. There is no question as to which side is larger, for some reason the counter protestors express fear, giving the minuscule number of White Supremacists the power of intimidation. There have been counter protests in cities across the nation, proving to everyone the racists are outnumbered. In the analogy of Rabies, racism is skin redness, identifying as a Racist of any stripe is viral infection. It is rare but deadly. The victim is the soul.

There have been three fatalities reported, a woman struck by a car and two police officers in a helicopter that crashed. The wounded number far more, as any display of hate creates more hate. The kettle of hate is overflowing, as the present first lady echoes the last in saying “Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let’s communicate without hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence” more hateful hearts were busy accusing her of plagiarism than accepting the message of peace. The word “racist” is losing any meaning, as it is thrown around so freely to include “anyone who doesn’t agree with me.” There were actual racists in Charlottesville, free to express their “pride” under the cover of a population that has been called racist for the crime of being white in the South. In fact, slavery and racism are more likely to be encountered in the North, where foriegn nationals  are commonly “kept” as housekeepers and treated as sub-human. Human trafficking is a fact in every state, and every country in the world; it is not limited to people of color.

Addressing the 1968 race riots in Baltimore Maryland, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had signed the civil rights act into law just four years earlier, said “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re so surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for three hundred years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.” Blow-back from centuries of racism should be expected, and tensions do not disappear overnight. Racism is a human trait, tied to the evolutionary tool of Xenophobia. Human. I am as different from you as you are from me.

President Trump was criticized for saying there are many hate groups, Lady Gaga was criticized for trying to turn down the hate. The criticisms of both echoed hate rather than a desire to end hate. A shouting match has never ended in a peaceful resolution, no one has ever calmed down after being told to. This is what disturbs me. I feel we were closer to calming racial tensions in the 70s than we are now. Civility in social interactions is as likely to be seen as a Dodo delivering the morning paper.

It is as natural for people of color to distrust whites as it is for whites to distrust people of color. Neither side is “right.” Fighting creates wounds, which memorialize the pain, keeping the distrust alive. Both sides need to stop, and overwhelmingly they have. Pockets of hate, be they NAZI, KKK, BLM, or Antifa, are only pockets and do not represent society as a whole. Saying they do insults the people who are not part of those gangs, and ends meaningful conversation with them.

We have arrived at a time when words are weapons. Choose yours wisely and help stop the hate. Uhura said that in her century we will learn not to fear words.

 

To do so, we need not only to know who we are, but take satisfaction in who we are. To accomplish that, we need to extend the same courtesy to everyone else. It starts with me. Now it’s your turn.

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Moving on

Flowers between the cobblestones, Gloucester MA 2010

With everything which has taken place this year, from the initial accident, trying to diagnose the myriad of problems which arise from fracturing the various bones of my head and elbow, and having an exceptionally difficult tenant, I have been blessed.

Despite osteoporosis, my bones heal rapidly. Despite the traumatic brain injury, I’ve remained calm and dignified. Despite a constant spinning of my world, wonderful things keep happening. Despite a horrible display of human cruelty, I have seen compassion in unexpected places.

I have been forced from my home, in what can only be described as an insane sequence of events. I do not possess the capacity to understand why this is happening, and have no desire to demonize the parties responsible. I am disabled, a month from a major surgery on my cranium, penniless after a year unemployed, and people I thought were friends have tossed me to the curb; in some ways I am thankful. This crisis has revealed the kindness of others.

My ex-wife was kind enough to take some furniture I would be unable to move. Other friends, including people I only know on line have helped. One woman, who I had never met in person and who has differing political views (she attended the Women’s March in Washington) provided her mini-van for a morning, and not only provided transportation, she helped move things. I learned a good deal about her during this time, and am quite pleased to call her my friend. It took a bit to process what had happened, and I found myself shaking.

Liz is a Democrat, who distinguishes herself with her recognition of “limousine liberals.” She doesn’t talk about people in need as she drives by, she stops and helps. This Vassar educated mother of three (two on the autism spectrum) spent her morning helping a conservative punker. Okay, neither of us fit the expectations of those descriptions, which is in many ways the point. Labels are irrelevant, souls are what matters.

We spoke about our experiences, she has children in the Princeton Charter School, which the Princeton Public Schools have declared the competition; and in what I have come to believe is a typical Princeton response the Public School Board is more interested in destroying the Charter school than improving their own students. I saw this trait expressed in a variety of issues in Princeton, ad hominem attacks rather than displays of any measure of superiority. Liz continues to attempt to bridge the divide, hosting meetings of both sides, opening her home (and sledding run) to everyone. We mourned the death of civil discourse, and although we differ in our beliefs of the cause, we share the loss of meaningful debates, recognizing the next step is authoritarianism.

Liz is what I had expected Princetonians to to be when I arrived (shortly after the picture up top was taken). Intelligent, well spoken, and civil. It took six years to find a person fitting that description, and I met her on my way out of town. My experience of Princeton was elitists, posers, and hypocrites. It is very reassuring to know people such as Liz exist in the wasteland of Princeton, reviving my faith in humanity; in a world as torn as ours is, there are still flowers growing between the cobblestones.

This month I have seen some of the best in people, and some of the worst. Life is always about balance. There is something important in there, as I configure what is left of my brain and work through increasing vestibular issues. The rose coloured glasses present an illusion, however the world is not filled with assholes clinging to hatred. There are people like Liz and I, not many, but perhaps enough to turn the tide. Perhaps, although I will never know the outcome. We accept the future is not predestined, rather it is malleable, to be improved with actions rather than curses. The core of meaningful conversations is mutual respect, the absence of respect begets rage, which I believe we can all agree is our present position. The world needs meaningful conversations, which should lead to people who will take actions rather than consider themselves virtuous because they are aware of the issue and have appropriately rebuked those who are not wearing the right colour ribbon. Hope lies in lifting each other up, not in putting each other down. Humans need hope.

There will always be the trolls, and it is altogether possible they will be the majority of the population. I may have thrown away my rose coloured glasses, but I will always believe that love outweighs hate, that one good person is more significant than one hundred bad people. They can destroy a person, but ideas live forever.

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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. 

 

 

 

Finding my way home

The last month has held some difficult lessons. Fortunately, my attention has been focused, many things I first saw as “new” were simply reminders, I had let myself forget things I already knew.

The year started off with a bang, at least I suppose there was a noise as my head hit the stone floor. I don’t  remember much from those early hours of 2016, Sam has filled me in on a few details, and some are too horrible for her to revisit. Apparently it was spectacular, bright lights and doctors everywhere. And screaming, and blood, those are the parts Sam has chosen not to discuss much.

I am still evaluating the damage, both to my body and to my financial well being. It took a while to be clear headed enough to recognize what path to follow in order to recover. Some things are obvious, some are time consuming, and some are just unpleasant.

I found my choice of insurance plans was inadequate, the one that might have been sufficient was not approved by the “Affordable Care Act,” and I had not thought I would be able to afford the fine which would be imposed without approved coverage. Unfortunately, the only care covered by my plan was “preventative,” I suppose it is my responsibility to investigate how to prevent falling down the steps. I’m not sure what my prescription plan covered, but it did not cover standard antibiotics or analgesics after I was released from the hospital, and of course my five day stay with surgeries and multiple specialists was not covered. That fine for being “uninsured” looks much more attractive today.

I found my employer, Staffmark, a temp agency supplying associates to L’Oreal, was contemptible enough to mention them here by name. I was asked to resign so I could “remain in good standing,” I chose not to because resigning would make me ineligible for many of the government benefits I would require. Staffmark provided nothing, not even short term disability, and when I applied to the State for disability payments and was given a form for my employer to fill out, I was told by the Staffmark manager “We don’t do that, they’ll have to call for the information.” Fortunately, I received that response via email, which by the request of two government agencies was printed and attached to my applications. I wish no one ill, but I do hope the prosecutions promised by the requesting officers do take place.

I found Social Services, the only refuge available, to be a web of agencies lacking intercommunication. Not that I am in a hurry to do something else, spending hours chasing recompense does not interfere with my schedule, and gives me the opportunity to visit a slice of society I would have otherwise avoided. I am there, am I saying I would have avoided myself? There are not too many “nice” people in the waiting rooms, but there is a reasonable excuse for this situation. Before being eligible for services you must be destitute, and the services themselves support a sub-poverty level of existence. Anyone “surviving” on welfare is either cheating the system so they may realistically survive, or not actually surviving in the sense a civilized society should allow. I am trusting my situation is temporary, I will pull myself back up, but the only way to receive housing assistance is to be evicted, that is not an easy place to come back from. To receive food stamps I needed to show I have less than $1oo in my checking account, in the world I used to live I was charged if my balance dipped below $100. And getting Medicaid is not all it’s cracked up to be, not many doctors accept it, almost no specialists do; I can forget about advanced care.

I found I can ask for help. This is not “me,” I am Superman, I can deal with anything, I don’t need people to help me, I help other people. A friend organized a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses. The response has been heartwarming. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers have donated to a small fund which should prevent me from becoming homeless. I should be able to put gas in my car to go to Doctor appointments, maybe buy some extra food. I’ve tried to spread word about the campaign, but as I said, this is not me. You can visit the page and read the nice things Beth has said about me by clicking here, and you can see the names of the (at this time) three dozen people who have donated. You can even add your name to the list, or be listed as anonymous, or just feel good knowing there are other good people out there. Another friend is investigating an auction of Belgian beers which might provide proceeds, another may bill one of his gigs as a benefit. I’ve even stepped beyond my comfort level and asked a few people to consider employing me in whatever capacity I am able to fulfill after I recover.

It took a few weeks before my brain was operating near its normal level, I know I missed most of the first week and can tell there are moments missing from the second. I can still tell my mind is not 100%, I lose focus, cry more often than I used to, and can feel a fog of depression. The hearing in my right ear is totally gone, I hope it can still be repaired once I am able to get off Medicaid. My vision is impaired, this may be due to damaged orbits or residual swelling. My right arm is getting better, the doctor eased the restrictions on the brace so I have thirty degrees of movement, I don’t expect I will ever be at 100% again (and for now I’m typing with my left hand). My balance is hit and miss, most days I can walk with my cane, others I can barely stand up. I have no idea how this will progress, and how much is augmented by my existing Multiple Sclerosis. At very best, this will be the kick in the pants I needed to apply for total disability through Social Security, I’ll be able to get by and continue writing. I’m not thinking about worst cases anymore.

I have found good things, I have found good people, and although I am not there yet, I am finding my way home.

 

 

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.

Socially unconscious

The Holidays are upon us. You know, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the biggest of all, Santa Claus Day. But something is wrong…

Imagine the horror of the orthodox consumer, sipping his five dollar cup of flavored hot water in the temple of bucks to the stars, out of a simple red cup!

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This may be the greatest blow pseudo Christianity has ever suffered. In the midst of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the most amazing suggestion was made to soothe the pseudo Christian who feels Santa Claus Day has been ignored by the Church of Consumerism. “Why not find the holiday spirit by buying a cup of Starbucks Coffee for a homeless person?”

“Let them eat cake” seemed so cliche.

These Holidays just cause so much stress, the decision of which offense to celebrate can be the hardest. One chain of shopping malls has eschewed traditional Christmas designs, hoping not to offend any consumers during the Santa Claus Day shopping season.

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Warm and cuddly memories Inc.

 

I actually prefer the idea of a photo of the grandchildren and Santa on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Why confuse Christmas with Santa Claus Day? The celebration of consumerism can be enjoyed by members of any faith, particularly because those glaring symbols of Christianity like pine trees and snowflakes have been removed.

In other parts of the world, the two holidays are separate, Santa Claus Day being celebrated on 6 December, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Even that holiday is having trouble not offending anyone. Somehow being tolerant of minorities implies to some people they should be intolerant of the majority, thus this week’s title.

Being socially unconscious has become a national pastime of sorts. People focus on an issue and nothing else matters, least of all any meaningful conversation on the topic. One friend, for whom I maintain a level of respect, is often reduced to sound bites in a discussion, responding with slogans rather than thoughts. I wonder if he feels the same frustration I do, he is clearly banging his head against a wall, expecting meaningless phrases to express his thoughts on complex issues. On the other hand, he is a Buddhist, and firmly believes in the power of chanting.

I was recently invited to take part in a drum circle. Images of a communal moment piqued my curiosity. It seemed a perfect way to spend the evening, I have always been a percussionist, drumming is the simplest form of communication, we still express pleasure with applause. With visions of Richard Feynman in my head I drove down to Maryland.

What a disappointment. It had escaped me that people celebrating the simplest form of communication might not be capable of any higher forms. They had replaced the communal spirituality with the ritual, there was no heart, just props. Although not included in the conversations of other participants, I did overhear them. The pettiness among these “free spirits” was astounding. How did they expect to experience any sense of community when they were so wrapped up in themselves? This was, of course, one experience, one circle, I’m sure there must be some folks who actually get the rhythm going. I’ll try again some day, somewhere else.

The entire experience left me feeling much as I did when a friend of my first wife spent an evening insulting our lifestyle back in the eighties. She was a vegan, a fairly new at the time offshoot of vegetarianism. Any interaction with animals was, to her, abuse. She went on for over an hour telling us how horrible we were for eating meat and cheese, in her thigh high leather boots. She knew what to say, but not what to do. It never occurred to her she was wearing nearly half a cow’s hide.

The most depressing thing lately, the thing which nags at me to leave this world behind, is the open, ignorant hypocrisy displayed by the majority of people, paired with the exhausted acceptance by the remainder. Does no one see this is the theme in several high profile issues?

Black Lives Matter. So much so the Black Lives Matter organization is comfortable calling for the deaths of Police Officers. And no one bats an eye.

Gay people should have the right to marry. And you should attend the wedding and bring a gift, regardless of your personal feelings. Unless you’re Muslim, in which case we do not want to offend you.

Abortion is Murder. Agreed, but if murder is a bad thing killing abortionists is not the answer. Perhaps you feel killing can be justified, which means you have something in common with the abortionist.

The puppets chanting the global warming mantra are perhaps the most disheartening. All the empirical evidence disproves every prediction they have made, yet they are so locked into their beliefs they can’t see they are being used. They make claims using disproven theories claiming to embrace science while working full force against science. They exist as puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy, and accuse their detractors of being puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy.

Don’t even get me started on the occupy crowd.

There have always been, and there should always be, fringe groups. But they’re supposed to be the fringe, not the main stream.

Recently I read an article with the title “Even Cities That Can’t Go Car Free Should Have To.” That about sums it up. Even if you can’t, you have to. Coexistence be damned, let’s just force people to do what we want. But who are “we?”

“We,” more often than not, are a group of spoiled children. Why do you think Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls? Have you watched an eight year old boy lately? “I’m the best, he’s the worst, I can do anything, he can’t do a thing.” This is the peak in America today, the finest example of what it means to be an American, the person who should represent us to the world.

I am tired. I truly wish to know what others are thinking, yet far too often it turns out they aren’t thinking at all.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rape

A gang rape has taken place, it was widely reported but the victims will not receive closure and the rapists will not be punished.

I’ll be releasing the name of the victim, I know that does not keep with current practice, but her sister, The Truth, happens to be a fellow victim and feels some sunlight needs to shine on this crime. The victim’s name is Journalism, and the rapists are Sabrina Rubin Erdely (AKA Sabrina Rubin), Will Dana, Jann Wenner, and everyone who spread the lies of “Jackie.” For some reason, “Jackie’s” true identity is still being protected, even though in one of the most bizarre cognitive twists her fellow rapists are now blaming her for their crimes.

I haven’t much cared for Rolling Stone magazine since they started stapling the pages together, a few years back a friend gave me a gift subscription of which I read one issue. Rolling Stone lost its soul at some point, moving its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. No longer even publishing on newspaper, the glossy ad packed mutant is indistinguishable from the other gossip and fashion magazines.

Even in these days of cut and paste journalism, Erdely’s story raised eyebrows. Other publications did not pick up an otherwise attractive (in the sensationalistic sense) story. Within a week of publication, Richard Bradley published an essay questioning the story, followed by Reason.com’s Robby Soave’s piece calling the initial story a “gigantic hoax.” Jonah Goldberg of The Los Angeles Times said in his op-ed column, “when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.”

If these people could see from the polished, published story enormous holes and leaps of logic, how is it writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and editor Will Dana missed them? Jann Wenner, who displayed his idea of sensitivity by moving the magazine away from the “cultural backwater” of San Francisco, apparently feels the story fits his masthead of “All the news that fits” as he has no intention of firing either Erdely of Dana.

Rolling Stone has retracted the story, five months after publication. They said they were sorry, even though a simple apology has never been adequate when they have been offended by others. In point of fact Rolling Stone first made the statement “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” just two weeks after publication, blaming what at that time was believed to be a rape victim for their shoddy reporting. Three more apologies were issued before the article was retracted (On Easter Sunday), but most of us know that once a story is out there it develops a life of its own, five months later it has grandchildren.

Still treating “Jackie” as a rape victim, both Rolling Stone and Erdely refuse to identify her, although Erdely continues to blame “Jackie” for Erdely’s failure to do any investigation or even analysis of the raw story. “Jackie” has retained legal counsel, weeks after the story was published, a good move as the fraternity her lies dragged through the mud is now threatening legal action against Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone has shown no hesitancy in throwing “Jackie” under the bus.

The University of Virginia has made no comment, they lose whatever happens. Option one, a rape culture in fraternities damages enrollment. Option two, a false rape story damages the credibility of actual victims, parents cautious about enrolling daughters. Option three, the university overreacts to a blatantly false rape accusation, parent cautious about enrolling sons. Maybe better to just stay quiet for now.

The absolute and continuing lack of journalistic integrity has even Rolling Stone alumni Hunter S. Thompson spinning in his grave. Those who agree with Jann Wenner’s appraisal of Manhattan’s cultural superiority will continue to purchase the magazine, the opinions of such people are largely unimportant anyway.

As Wenner has refused to take responsibility, it becomes our responsibility to hold him and his magazine to journalistic standards. I begin by calling for a boycott of Rolling Stone, although most of us already have for other reasons. To my colleagues I beg you to never employ Sabrina Rubin Erdely in any capacity other than housekeeping.

We all have a basic responsibility to journalism. As writers we must uphold the standards, as consumers we must demand those standards are met. Anything less results in a meaningless media.

 

Life

I have not written in a month. A great deal has been happening, much of it beautiful, all of it fascinating. Someone else was making plans, I was living.

Today, 1 April, is the sixteenth anniversary of my wedding to Emma. So much has taken place since then, meeting her family, moving to South Philadelphia, discovering the mysteries of pancreatic cancer. Emma now watches over me from an urn on the shelf, having witnessed the five years of my life since her departure in relative silence. I would so like to hear her opinions.

After Emma left I retired, focusing on a life of writing, letting go of the stress of the world in which we had lived. You know me, the dreamer. I wrote a book, kept a daily blog going, learned a new language, and gained a score of pounds as I discovered Belgian beers.

New stresses were waiting around the corner. C’est la vie. This is, after all, where Emma wanted me to be, alive, doing what she could not. My retirement savings were designed for a solitary life in South Philadelphia, after watching them evaporate I find myself back in the workforce, writing less and less often, and once again single.

Today is also an intermediate step in the marriage I entered after Emma moved on. The divorce papers are being delivered, with which my current wife and I will attempt to convince the State of New Jersey to end our marriage. These are melancholy times, I do not have ill feelings towards my wife, in fact in many ways I still love her, but time and space never quite placed us on the same plane. It’s so much easier when your ex is the object of disgust, divorcing someone you love is counter intuitive.

Emma steps in to help again. I loved her, but I moved on. So again, I move on.

I had largely lost the desire to live alone, that has not changed. Other people have come into my life, one of them quite a bright star at the moment. I would like for that to develop into a relationship which would rival mine with Emma, but I have learned that promises are not always fulfilled. I have also learned that tomorrow is not even promised, so today is all I have. And today is far more interesting than I had expected it to be.

Which brings us to today, April Fool’s Day.

Emma and I were both the others third spouse. She had been widowed twice, we entered quoting Oscar Wilde, “Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This being each of our third, April Fools day seemed a natural. She was supposed to out live me.

My friend used to love “practical jokes,” yet they were neither, usually just rude and crass. This was sad, because John was such a warm and loving family man and trusted friend. One year when he was at lunch I placed a “While you were out” note on his desk, saying a witness wanted him to call, the name was “Coati Mundi.” There was a phone number, that of the small mammal house at the Philadelphia Zoo. I happened to know the person who would answer the phone and hear him say “Hello, this is Detective Murphy, may I speak with Coati Mundi?”

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

Coatimundi, native to Brazil

 

They both laughed about it later. That’s what life is about. Being able to laugh about it later. Make it easier by laughing today. What purpose is served by any other action?

 

Laugh.

 

 

Sex

Just in case you had not guessed, there will be “frank” speech is this article

 

Just checking, I knew the title would grab your attention.

A recent article in The Telegraph about Debbie Harry was titled “Debbie Harry on punk, refusing to retire and sex at 69.”  Brilliant. A great article about a punk icon, and feminism in music, but the headline hook of “Sex at 69” drew the most attention, at least the most comments. You cannot look at those words and not imagine Debbie Harry rolling about in your bed.

Outside the author of the article fawning over her, Debbie is quoted once about sex, she speaks of Victorian realities.

The comments, nastiest in misogynistic Britain but repeated in other fora, focus not on her music, but on sex with the elderly, one person stating it’s all over for women once they pass thirty two. I’m guessing the commenter was far from reaching thirty two. I am far more attracted to women my age and older than young women, would it be fair for me to suggest women do not become attractive until they are in their forties? Attraction derives from many factors, probably why there are so many different people. There were a few younger women in my life when I was in my thirties, but I’m pretty sure it has been at least twenty years since I have been with a women younger than thirty two. Okay, on edit, I remembered a few, but not many, and twenty sounds better than seventeen in the phrase.

Young people. So sure they are the only ones who have ever been alive.

Perhaps Star Trek influenced my outlook. Exotic is always alluring. I have known women who turned out to be vapid self-absorbed androids. They remained alluring. In the end, they made excellent examples in the “What to look for if you will never be in this town again” manual. But they are still nice to look at.

 

 

Apparently the fascination with differences is not rare. The subject has enough interest to show up routinely in fiction (and life), which gives me the opportunity to share an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, filmed twenty five years later. This because it has this scene with Bebe Neuwirth, who happens to be from Princeton and is only two weeks younger than me. The bit at 2:15 is elegant in its unspoken acknowledgement.

 

 

The attraction to those who are different is pervasive, as obvious as guys with beer bellies thinking the latest supermodel might be interested in them. So why is it some impenetrable barrier exists at the border of our comfort zones?

A few weeks ago during the “Fifty Shades” buzz (glad that passed quickly), I wrote a simple and straightforward explanation/defense of bondage and domination. A friend was exceptionally offended, and suggested (in public) I seek help. I have no desire to know the details of his love life, but I cannot imagine I would be offended by them. I would never suggest someone seek help unless they were a danger to themselves or others. I have been told the truth is dangerous.

The age thing doesn’t cross all barriers, but it remains a taboo subject. Each generation seems surprised their ancestors procreated. The thought of their parents involved in the act stops most people in their tracks. Why? Did they think they were delivered by storks? Did they think the age would arrive at which they would lose all interest? I pity their partners.

I spent a few years with a woman fifteen years my senior. I did not know until our second date her age, and I was surprised. All of our friends assumed we were the same (my) age. Bodies vary, and age differently. Isn’t this the exotic that we should find alluring?

I don’t know what happens in these peoples lives. If your partner is no longer attractive, what does that say about you? Is this not the person you loved last week? Is there a mirror handy? If you were only attracted to a set combination of features, why not buy a doll?

There is a person in there. It is the person, not the body (but yeah, usually also), you should find attractive. Yes, I know, I said there is a way you should feel. Twice. I could give a couple of dozen other examples but I believe I have conveyed my sentiment.

We are given this universe to experience. Every sense we have is designed to attune to a variety of stimuli. Any logic would bring you to “every stimuli is to be expected.”

There is so much tearing us all apart, do we need to worry about how each of us give and receive pleasure? The fact we do indeed give and receive pleasure should be the emphasis.

Sex should be about rejoicing in another. That joy is tainted if one is distracted by the joy others are experiencing.

 

 

 

 

 

What if?

John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Miller, gave us this simple lesson;

 

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

The poem is a study in irony; the dreams, based on false impressions, incited by a chance meeting and lamented for a lifetime. I know the perils of this story, yet I still embrace my dreams.

For me, “What if?” is a lovely place. “What if she is the one to open her heart to me?” is not answered by sitting in the dark. The possibilities must be explored. Risks must be taken. Finding the answer to be “no” is not a failure. Never knowing is the failure, the answer might have been yes had only the question been asked.

I was speaking with a friend the other day and commented “You don’t hear ‘yes’ as many times as I have without hearing ‘no’ quite a few times.”

“What if?” is often faced with fear, the antithesis of my hopeful outlook. The question is usually completed with a negative outcome, “What if the plane crashes?” “What if I spill wine on the white carpet?” “What if my family doesn’t accept my choices?”. “What if?” is a toss of the coin, an admission the future is unknown, so why not envision a positive outcome? If the bad thing happens, it will happen. There will be no choice other than to deal with it. Worrying about it now will not alter the outcome, why throw good moments away in anticipation of bad moments?

In his poem My Psalm Whittier writes;

No longer forward nor behind

I look in hope or fear;

But, grateful, take the good I find,

the best of now and here

My usual response to negative “What if?”s is “What if the cat turns into a dragon and eats your family?” in an attempt to point out the futility of anticipating negative outcomes. Don’t tell me anything can happen if you’re not willing to accept the fact anything can happen. A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.

Far too many phrases have become meaningless from overuse. “What if?”, a useful consideration when preparing a course of action, has become the impediment of action, the “You’ll shoot your eye out” of the emotional realm.

Meaningless phrases was actually my idea for this article, the degradation of meaning and its impact on communication. You know me, I get sidetracked from time to time.

I was struck earlier this week by the false bravado of “I’ve got your six,” often expressed as “I’ve got your back.” As someone who has covered others six and depended on those covering my six I find the misuse of this term offensive. Sure, there was that time in Dallas I had to remind an officer he was covering my back and I would appreciate him allowing me to handle what stood before us, nothing is more discomforting than turning to your backup and seeing the muzzle of his weapon aimed through you, but what I am referring to is the thoughtless, careless misuse of “I’ve got your back,” using the phrase with the sincerity of “Have a nice day.” Don’t suggest I can depend on you unless I can actually depend on you, coming up short on backup is far more serious than finding you left your wallet at home.

Taking a break from “military” jargon, “I’ll think about it” is not supposed to mean “I would prefer to keep your hopes up, but the answer is no.” I’m not certain why so very many people believe deception is healthy in a relationship. The little white lie is in no way synonymous with la petite mort. True communication requires honesty, so few people are capable of accepting negative responses that it has become preferential to avoid the truth. I lived with a woman who repeatedly lied to me because she “didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I never figured out how she thought I would feel when I eventually discovered not only the truth, but that she had been lying to me. As might have been expected, she was long gone by the time the truth came out. This has happened too many times for it to be an aberration, unless I just seek out women like her. I can blame myself for being forgiving, she continued to toy with my affections for months.

One more military phrase. “Copy” means “I acknowledge your transmission.” It does not mean “yes.” It is not a response to a question outside “Did you hear me?” Another non response is “I don’t know.” When did this become an acceptable answer? Saying “I’m sorry, you mispronounced ‘I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP,’ that is what you meant isn’t it?” doesn’t seem to help.

Presently I am faced with some major decisions, and without a clear view of the possibilities before me I am faced with simply throwing my fate to the wind. I’m okay with this.

What if I live happily ever after?

There’s at least one Golden Ticket still laying about, maybe I should just keep it.

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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Review

It is that time, the week between Christmas and the New Year, a week designed for introspection.

That is not to say I do not spend time examining every aspect of my own life through the year, in order to understand the universe you must understand yourself, adjusting your measurements for your own biases. This week, balanced between a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of death, is designed to cause even the most narcissistic wanker to examine his path.

The courage to act on such an examination comes from an unexpected place, which may be why such action tends to be rare. In the same way we fill this week with events designed to distract us from introspection, we fill our minds with concepts designed to distract us from taking action.

We call the distraction “maturity.” We believe the child is inferior, and actually exalt “synaptic pruning” as a path to clearer thinking. Machiavelli was a clear thinker, is his the mind you would emulate? It is the child who acts, believing in change, “maturity” is often code for “not making waves.”

In a previous chapter of my life, I was a digital technician. As new products were introduced, I would attend technical classes to learn the intricacies of the product. One year my Senior Technician (Dennis) and I were returning from a class in Maryland, and stopped for lunch at Burger King, which was selling goblets promoting the “Lord of the Rings” film along with children’s meals. The goblets contained an LED and batteries in the base, and lit up with a lovely rose hue. I bought two. Emma and I often drank wine in bed, the light would make the goblet easy to find in the dark.

Dennis was an excellent technician, when he approached a problem he wanted as little information as possible, in order to avoid any preconceptions. He saw the two “toys” and said “Isn’t that just a bit…childish?”

I was surprised, and responded “No Dennis, not childish. Childlike.”

Maybe it is just my brain, my particular collection of synapses, that prefers the wild growth of neural connections; they serve me well. As Multiple Sclerosis does its best to block my neural paths, the ability to reroute the data is invaluable. I am certainly capable of reducing a problem to its simplest elements, but grand, complex solutions require seeing every aspect of the situation. There may be several correct answers, but there is only one best answer. Such an answer is rooted in the balance of every issue involved, such a balance cannot be recognized if those issues have been eliminated in the name of reaching the answer more quickly.

You may think me simple. Perhaps I am. I am a man who has repeatedly accomplished that which was deemed impossible by others, although there have also been a few colossal failures. It remains ever so rare for success to result from a lack of trying.

As I review 2014, I recall hundreds of beautiful moments. I was married to a woman I loved with all my heart. I attended a number of great concerts. I met some wonderful new people, and reconnected with some others from my past. I created a couple of fabulous new recipes. I visited a couple of museums, feeding my mind with visions of beauty created by other artists. I learned a number of things, most notably the lesson Lu Ann tried to give me thirty years ago, love is a second hand emotion, giving love to someone does not create a debt they must repay.

I have seen many of the horrors of inferior intellects, yet I choose to judge humanity by its high points. Individuals reserve the right to prove themselves unworthy, but I still require that proof. I do not mind being slapped on the head and called foolish for believing in the power of love, even when such beliefs fail to achieve the desired results. Being a good person is its own, and sometimes the only, reward.

I enter 2015 with my mind as open as ever. The Dalai Lama is credited with saying “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” A friend reminded me the situation is more immediate. All we have is this very moment, there is absolutely no amount of time budgeted for waste.

Be kind, you may never have time to make amends for being less.

The cover of a book

Let us get this out of the way from the beginning. I prefer that my cover tells nothing about the contents. You may assign that trait to any part of my development, then think about it again. I prefer my cover tells nothing about the contents. What you think about the cover is what I find interesting. After you discover the contents your reaction is the very best part. One friend said “It’s not what you think, it’s never what you think.” That said this article is inspired by a shotgun blast of reality today.

I’m fairly complex, as I suspect many people are. I cannot be judged at first glance, so I try not to judge others by the first glance. Nonetheless, many people do. I was talking to a friend today who had made a career choice based on his appearance. He had wanted to be an interpreter of American Sign Language, but he has a less than “usual” appearance, tattoos, ear gauges, that sort of thing. Although Smith has all the qualifications, and the hearing impaired community has few prejudices, the interpreters guild is much more conservative. The guild would have problems with his appearance, but his other career choice would not. The losers? Those of us who need an interpreter for American Sign Language.

My outward appearance has varied, I rather enjoy it when I am not recognized, I’ve even had people tell me stories about myself, not realizing who they were talking to. That is so much better than finding people who only judge the cover, recognizing you are listening to someone who didn’t even get a good look at the cover.

Smith recognized me today, I haven’t seen him in four years, back then I had long hair and was walking with a cane, I wore a nice (not to brag, but $100) tie every day tied with a perfect Full Windsor knot. Today I was far more casual, short hair and a sweater with jeans, walking fine in my Doc Marten’s, beret pulled back to my left. He wasn’t expecting me, but when he saw me he came out from the kitchen and hugged me. I haven’t been touched that deeply in awhile.

He made me a lovely brunch, the atmosphere was very comfortable, relaxed, it suited us both. I invited him and his bride to visit, I love to cook for guests and they really should get out of the city occasionally. Smith hadn’t even seen a tumbleweed in Ft. Worth, but you can see his soul is in tune with the universe. Don’t over think that.

I come home and find as I scan the news sources that racial tensions are at an all time high. Excuse me? How did that happen? How many divisions do we need to create? When do we get to the point of accepting at the most basic level, what makes us the same is the way each and every one of us is different?

I asked Smith’s advice about a piercing, so while I was near South Street I stopped at Infinite Body Piercings. It isn’t a huge community, my first body piercing was done at Infinite. I had a piercing in which I wanted to wear a piece of jewelry that had belonged to Emma. I had taken her ring out, and the hole had shrunk. I started the process of widening the hole, I’ll have her ring in by New Year’s Day. But it’s not like anyone could see it. I have a tattoo, same story. If those decorations were more conspicuous they would be more offensive, why? They would be on parts of my body which by every definition are less intimate.

Kurt Vonnegut had said “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” I pretend to be happy, it usually works. Popeye said “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” I am in control, I am confident.

Who cares? All some people see is that which they fear. Xenophobia at the pinnacle of its expression.

I am so very very sad.

I expected so much more from humanity. I had not realized the upward swing was that of a pendulum (why does that theme keep occurring?). This is where it gets creepy.

I find it alarming that those so dedicated to natural processes refuse to accept humanity as natural. This is simply the way it is supposed to be. You cannot forestall extinction events, they will depend upon the gene pool. If all traces of civilization are destroyed, how civilized will any survivors be?

You want to know about me? Ask. At the same time I was wearing $100 ties I was wearing $30 shoes. Is who I am based on the altitude of the observer’s gaze? I’ve done some fairly crazy things but most people think I am a conservative. Is who I am based on the fourth dimension of time as it intersects your inspection?

You know that “Judge not, yet ye be judged by the same measure” bit? Matthew 7:1 ? The advice has been out there for over two thousand years. The negative effects of not following that advice have been obvious for far longer. There is no excuse, it all begins with you.

You really can change the world. Just by changing yourself.

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.

 

День ветеранов

Today marks the cessation of hostilities (for a few decades) on the “Western Front,” between the Allies of  The Great War (later numbered as WW1) and Germany. That armistice began on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, back when we could be poetic about warfare. Hostilities continued on other fronts, this was the beginning of the end of the war.

This year we mark one hundred years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, the trigger for the great war. It is ninety six years since the signing of the armistice bringing to an end “The war to end all wars,” and two days ago, 9 November, was the twenty fifth anniversary of the onset of physical demolition of the Berlin wall.

Pronounced "veteran"

Pronounced “veteran”

 

To be a veteran is to be misunderstood by the general public. It is nice to hear “thank you for your service,” although there is often a subtext of “thank you for selling your soul, you heartless murderer.” I would like to hear, just once, “Thank you for doing what I wanted done but didn’t have the fortitude to approach.”

There are as many different feelings about being a veteran as there are veterans, largely because veterans are just people, we’re not some special breed. We have dealt with our lives as other people deal with theirs, sometimes with grace, sometimes with terror. We carry the scars just as you carry yours, some of us are better at it than others. The Soldier (Airman, Seaman, Marine) seeks to avoid conflict. You may call this self preservation if you wish, but most have no desire to end the lives of other human beings who just have a different uniform.

History gives us a series of conflicts, one leads to another. The crushing losses of World War one led to the February Revolution in Russia, which led to the October Revolution. The terms of the armistice of Compiègne set the groundwork for World War two. Defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan  led to the rise of the Taliban. Oppressive regimes fall, and there is always another brutal dictator waiting in the wings. Good people strive for peace, and are outnumbered every time.

The veteran volunteered to play a losing hand. The veteran genuinely believed they could have a positive impact on the conflict in which they are involved, literally changing the world. The veteran risked his or her life and sanity to protect you from having to do so. The veteran respects his or her bothers and sisters in arms, regardless of uniform or victor in the conflict.

In America, there are approximately twenty one million veterans, or roughly one out of every fifteen people. For perspective, there are more than twice as many veterans than there are Jews in America. They inhabit every sector of the socioeconomic spectrum. You know veterans, you are friends with veterans, statistically ten of my American subscribers would be veterans.

Today when you think about veterans, think about how you think about veterans.

 

 

An evening with Buddy

You meet people in the oddest ways. Last year my friend Guy Campo mentioned playing with a guy named Buddy Cash (these are actual names, a guy named Guy and a buddy named Buddy). There aren’t many people out there with my last name, so I initiated a conversation on FaceBook with Buddy, who turns out to be an incredibly talented musician and genuinely nice human being. We met in person at the premiere of a film featuring Buddy (with Guy as well), and found we had many mutual ideas about life.

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

This is when I cut my beard, someone had noticed a picture of Buddy and I and asked if I was his father, when in fact Buddy is a few years older than I.

The Cashes

The Cashes

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Buddy play live, that is I haven’t had the time, Buddy plays five or six nights a week at various venues with various lineups. Last night I drove down to Wilmington Delaware to catch his Monday night gig at Gallucio’s with a couple of friends. This gig is called “Open Mike Night,” which turns out to be all requests and the opportunity to get on stage and sing lead vocals in some cases. It was amazing. Not only could the band play anything requested, they played it well enough to be mistaken for the original artists. I don’t mean they sounded like the album version of the song, they had the feel of the artists. When they played a few Led Zeppelin songs, Buddy and Jim sounded like Jonesy and Bonzo. When they played “Something,” Buddy’s bass line sounded more like George Harrison playing bass than Paul McCartney, he totally captured the feel and intent of the music.

The range of songs played would probably be mind numbing to most people. I’m not good at categorizing music, and when people have asked what kind of music Buddy performs I usually say “good.” That word doesn’t fit now that I’ve seen him play, and superlatives are usually dismissed, so I’ll say “Come along and hear for yourself.” I can see myself at Gallucio’s most every Monday night from now on, and Buddy has asked me to see him at Tom and Jerry’s in Milmont Park Pennsylvania a couple of times because he lives nearby and we could hang out at his place with his family and pets (he has five cats and a pig) after the show. I’ll have to to take a Saturday off for that one, the gig is on Friday and I don’t expect to be wide awake at 0500 the next morning. Emma had once been a waitress at Tom and Jerry’s, so there are a couple of reasons the gig is  attractive to me.

COVER’s producer, Kevin McQuiston, has made the film available online for $2.99, I can’t get the link he provided to work for me, but here it is. I’ll need to contact Kevin soon, because I seem to have given away all my copies of the DVDs he was selling at the premiere. When I hear from him I’ll update that link.

One more from last night, if you see me at one of the gigs come over and say hello.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solving Problems

Some of you may be aware that I have started a new job, working in one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers. I know fellow independent authors, “the enemy.” Amazon has not been very kind to independent authors, the royalty rates are paltry, but it’s a huge market and they own it. My ranking in their top 100 is #3,621,641, but I was never looking for monetary wealth.

I do need to pay the bills, so now I make sure other authors’ books get out into the marketplace. One of the dangers of working at Amazon is seeing all the books you didn’t know about, in fact even products you didn’t know existed. I’ve already come home from work and gotten on the computer to order something I saw going into the warehouse. I’m still waiting to see a copy of my book go by (not bloody likely), if I do I’ll be tempted to pick it up and sign it.

Life goes on, the path has curves but it is still the same path. My second day I was moved into the position of “Problem Solver” (one of the perks of having started the first day the facility opened), a fitting place for me. I’ve held a variety of positions in my life, but I’ve always been a problem solver, a “fixer,” the guy who makes things work. Ironic in timing, my personal life is beyond repair, my last wife died in my arms, I can fix other people’s problems but not my own.

The work is fascinating. Not so much the work itself, although the problems I resolve vary enough to hold my interest. The warehouse is largely robotic, all the items are stowed in bins that are moved by Kiva robots, then the pod of bins is stored and moved to the person filling an order when that item is needed. Our robots are a little sleeker than the ones in this video, and our pods are four sided and not just open shelves but a series of “bins” on each side, each bin is a unique address in some monster database that maintains the inventory.

 

One of the robots took a liking to me last week, it entered my work area without a pod, stayed facing me for a minute or two, then started flashing its blue headlights at me, as if it was fluttering its eyelashes, then it moved around into my immediate workspace, which it shouldn’t do without a pod, by which time the master program discovered its presence and sent me a message to release the robot into the available pool. If I was just a bit crazier I might believe that #5936 was flirting with me. I have been feeling rather lonely, but not that lonely.

The software that makes all this work must be millions if not billions of lines of code, tracking each item, each location, bringing the ordered items to the packers, and I’m fairly sure I might have done a better job in coordinating the processes. I just like watching the robots dance though. If one has a problem and stops, the other robots move around it, like cars in traffic. I had a line of robots waiting to enter a zone that had been shut down, and the robots behind the first in line kept shifting order as they tried to get past.

My job is finding lost items, making sure the virtual inventory matches the actual inventory, kind of a liaison between the real and virtual worlds, treading through maya. I am comfortable, in my natural environment.  It remains an interesting testament to man’s self doubt that errors are blamed on humans, even in the face of multiple computer faults, so another part of my job is giving feedback to the humans connected to mismatches, trying to help them reduce the number of errors even when I know that more than half the time it wasn’t their fault.

Amazon is a quirky company, looking both forward and backward. The founder, Jeff Bezos, started in his garage fifteen years ago, using a door laid across saw horses for a desk. Today, every desk is made of a door. No one carries a briefcase, they use backpacks. No ties (how I miss wearing a tie!), everyone in T-shirts. The facility, the largest Amazon has at the moment, is over one million square feet of floorspace, and situated within a 100 mile radius of the largest concentration of Amazon customers. My thoughts are it is in anticipation of the ability to deliver by drone, that radius allows a maximum flight of 200 miles, and the rooftop could be a droneport.

The hours are a little rough, a ten hour day (plus a half hour lunch) means I start at 0700 and finish at 1730, four days a week. The overlapping shifts mean you have a variety of people to interact with in a week, we all have different “weekends”, but the night shift follows the path of all night shifts, they leave the place a mess every morning and there is no way to communicate with them. I’ll never get to see another “Free at Noon” concert in Philly again, they are always on Friday, and as we head into the Christmas or “Peak” season, there will be overtime, in some instances mandatory overtime, possibly 60 hour weeks. Don’t expect to hear from me after Black Friday until New Years Day.

I’m not allowed to carry a camera or cell phone because I have to pass through a metal detector to leave, or I would take pictures and video of some of the amazing technology at play. Keeping track of thousands of employees’ cell phones to be sure they didn’t pick up one off a shelf would be maddening, not only to security but to employees who would like to leave the building within an hour of quitting time.

So I take a break from retirement, gathering new experiences to write about, enduring the pain of Lieve leaving me behind, using the time to reacquaint myself with me, or at least discover who I am now. I’ve spent the last four years trying to stop being a “type-A” personality, now those skills are coming back.

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

Legal Immigration

We hear so much about illegal immigration I thought I might take the time to remind everyone there is a legal path to immigration in the United States.

There is some paperwork involved, but the assistance of an attorney is not required. There are filing costs, but they are not exorbitant. Proof of routine vaccinations are required, we do the same to school children. A rudimentary grasp of English is suggested. Unlike other countries we have no official language, so you can use an interpreter to get you through the process, but really, who would want to not speak the most common language in a country? It can be time consuming. Depending on the country of origin there may be limits on the yearly number of immigrants. Would that not suggest that everyone from those countries is trying to do it legally, and as an illegal you stand out among your countrymen as someone who can’t do it the “right” way?

In 2012 (the last year for which data is available) over one million legal immigrants entered the United states. That same year three quarters of a million immigrants became citizens. Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to witness twenty eight people, from nineteen different countries, become naturalized citizens of the United States, including a woman from Belgium who happens to be my wife.

Our newest citizen

Our newest citizen

We didn’t expect it to happen this quickly. Lieve’s green card process went very smoothly, and after three years of marriage she was eligible to apply for citizenship. She applied last February, and was given an interview date in May. We made flashcards for her interview questions, and she never got violent with me when I asked follow up questions or odd tangents (What is the middle initial of the current Vice President?). She was a bit flustered when I suggested she refer to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression,” and raised her voice when I gave alternate answers on the way to the interview, but I knew she had it all down.

We were told the interview could take two hours, so I was surprised when she came out after ten minutes. It can take two months for the swearing in ceremony, so we were both amazed when the clerk told her “We’re having a ceremony at three, would you like to attend?”

Eighty nine days from filing to swearing in, possibly a record. One thing I did notice about the way Homeland Security handles communications is they give a worst case scenario whenever they provide estimates. Yes, it might take a year or more, but sometimes it only takes three months.

The ceremony brought a mix of feelings. The Office Official who officiated was everything a career bureaucrat could hope to be, but it was a meaningful moment, so I can look past his giddiness. He announced the countries represented by the new citizens (except one, who had requested anonymity), and as he named the countries each stood up. I could feel the relief in the man from Ukraine, and saw him give a look at the man from Russia. They’re both Americans now. They played a video of the history of immigration, and the Office Official made the point that we are all immigrants in this country. My family has been here since the eighteenth century, but Emma’s had only arrived in the twentieth. And now I am married to someone who came here in the twenty first century.

Then they administered the oath of citizenship. I know our wedding was short, but the oath was twice as long as our wedding ceremony. Lieve doesn’t want me to post the video here, but she allowed a few still photographs.

oath

From the left, Jamaica, Italy, Italy, Finland, and Belgium

 

Then the entire audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance (except for the child who cried throughout the entire ceremony) and they handed out little flags and played an address from the President which was a bit dramatic, using excessive echo to make it sound as if he was speaking from the mountaintop, welcoming them as citizens. Then the Office Official said they would play one last video, “It’s called ‘God Bless America’, but the words have been changed to I’m Proud to be an American.” If I had had any doubts as to the level of “coolness” possessed by the Office Official they were laid to rest as Lee Greenwood’s song played. There were tears in many eyes, for many different reasons.

It seems odd, becoming a citizen so we can leave, but the point is we can come back. No worrying about green cards expiring or obtaining visas, Lieve can come and go for as long as she needs without any additional hassles. Of the twenty seven other new citizens, there were probably twenty seven motivations, one woman had been in America over thirty years, there were young and old people, a variety of social backgrounds, and one man who was obviously seeking asylum. Today they all have something in common. They’re all Americans.

 

 

 

Titles

Titles can be bestowed or claimed, I’ve had several but prefer none. Most titles are ways to create an impression, and they can be misunderstood. I’d rather make one personally, so feel comfortable addressing me by my middle name only.

A title tells you about a past accomplishment, but only in a pass/fail sense. “Doctor” doesn’t tell you how good a doctor someone is. Knowing someone has a college degree only tells you they paid tuition and attended classes, passing enough to graduate. It does not imply they actually learned anything, much less they retained anything. Having worked at a particular job tells you nothing about how well that job was done, and relies on your knowledge of what the job entails. What does “administrative assistant” or “customer service representative” tell you about the responsibilities or accomplishments of the person with those titles?

The world may be a stage, and we all have the opportunity to play many parts. Some of us live those parts. The only way to tell the difference is to get to know someone.

Bill Nye, “The Science Guy“, is an entertainer, but he has been called a scientist because he plays one on TV. He has taken himself a little too seriously, and is now referred to as a “Climate Activist” in most main stream media. A guy who started out making training films for Boeing and has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is not my idea of a scientist, and certainly not a climate scientist, but he does wear bow ties, and bow ties are cool.

I worked in the intelligence community, and you might say I was a “spy”. If you’re picturing James Bond or Jason Bourne you’re on the wrong page, in fact you’re in the wrong chapter. I worked for a Police Department as an officer, but not a police officer. Does “Animal Control Officer” bring a picture of a “Dog Catcher”, chasing dogs with a net, to mind? Wrong book. I have a criminal record, so would I be a “Criminal”? Wrong library.

What someone has done in the past tells you a little about what they are doing today. Very little. Changes happen everywhere. While I’ve been looking at jobs, the title “Technician” has been applied to a wide spectrum of positions. I was once a top digital technician for a major printer company, but four years later I am no longer trained on any model in production. That would be the death of a normal technician’s career, because, you know, they might change the direction you turn the screws. Having my resume listed with a head hunter has resulted in offers for positions as a nail technician and a fire control technician (that’s the person who controls the artillery on a warship), but for some reason people who prize problem solving skills don’t expect their employees to be able to figure out how to fix a machine if they change its name.

A Customer Service Representative can now be anyone from a college educated specialist to a salesperson, the term is officially meaningless. The same is true for Administrative Assistant, which can be anyone from a gopher who gets coffee to a department head.

I do like it when my former son-in-law calls me “Mr. Cash”, it is nice to be addressed with respect, and Jared doesn’t just say it, he means it. “Sir” is a bit formal, but it sounds nice coming from him. My wife has called me a poet and refers to me as “a writer”, although “author” is more prestigious, and having published a book I qualify. The other night at a dinner I referred to myself as a chef, only because a friend and restauranteur had called me a chef a few months ago. Many roles.

But really, just call me Blake. I’ll respect you more, and we can get to know who each other are today.

 

 

Checking background checks

Once upon a time, background checks were performed by law enforcement officers who checked records and interviewed acquaintances. Today, anyone with a computer can obtain records and make conclusions based on what they have seen. If those records are inaccurate, so are the conclusions.

I have previously mentioned my experience with the legal system. It is not an episode I am proud of, but I have made no attempts to hide it. A few years ago someone was looking to discredit me and brought up the incident. I took their misinterpretations as personal bias. My mistake.

Recently, as part of the hiring process, a potential employer paid the company “First Advantage” a fair amount of money to run a background check on me, which included sending me a copy. When I pointed out the inaccuracies in the background check to First Advantage, I received a phone call from the prospective employer informing me there were inconsistencies in my background check, and I would be allowed five days to “straighten them out” or the job offer would be rescinded. Unlike the America I thought I lived in, I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent.

I am not in the business of doing background checks, it took me two days to discover the location of the records (hard copies are maintained by the state), at which time I was told it would take at least a week to obtain a certified copy. The information I had been given was inaccurate, so tracking it down, given additional inaccuracies of what records were required and what the docket numbers in question are would naturally be beyond the abilities of an average civilian. This was not an episode I wanted to cherish, so in the intervening decade I had discarded my copies of the disposition. It is too late for it to make a difference to this prospective employer, but I ordered the copies anyway, I will probably need them again. I just wonder how many of the jobs I did not get were denied to me because of the inaccurate records.

On my copy of the background check I found numerous clerical errors. I had acknowledged the arrest and sentence, the date and location, but First Advantage had searched for records in my present location, noting on their report “subject admitted offense, no record found.” Maybe I am a bit sensitive, but that sounds a little prejudicial. Then came the record First Advantage did “find”. Despite my acknowledging the details, dates, and location, the inept “investigator” who performed the search found this offense to have been “unreported by subject.” The wanker had just searched for the same information in the wrong state, and could not connect this information to that search. The report was a summary by the “Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” It contained some inaccuracies in the “sentence” section, stating I had been incarcerated for twenty three months.  Following the summary was this disclaimer:

“Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Notice and Disclaimer: The electronic case record information received from the Commonwealth is not an official case record; official case records are maintained by the court in which the record was filed. The data or information provided is based upon information received by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”). AOPC makes no representation as to the accuracy, completeness or utility, for any general or specific purpose, of the information provided and as such, assumes no liability for inaccurate or delayed data, errors or omissions. Use of this information is at your own risk. AOPC makes no representations regarding the identity of any persons whose names appear in the records. User should verify that the information is accurate and current by personally consulting the official record reposing in the court wherein the record is maintained.” (emphasis mine)

So the AOPC states this is not an official record and distances themselves from any claim of accuracy, imploring the “user” (First Advantage) to use the information at their own risk, further suggesting investigative responsibility by saying they should verify the information. How did First Advantage verify the information? By running the search a second time. Yep, it still says the same thing, no point in personally consulting the official record. There are reasons professional investigators earn more than minimum wage, I am realizing First Advantage is not professional. First Advantage did not even know where to look, telling me to contact the police department instead of the court, and asking for a “police narrative” rather than a record of disposition. Instead of using the information at their own risk, they used it at my risk.

The adventure brings me to the records department of the County of Delaware, where my records have been sent for me to view. For only $9.50 per page I may have certified copies. I find three pertinent pages, the “certificate of imposition of judgement of sentence”, and the two page “guideline sentence form”. There are discrepancies even between these pages, so I ask for certified copies of the pages, and when I get home I realize one page wasn’t certified.  Total bumbling of court records is apparently not a criminal offense.

At some point, the lack of reliable information will cause this system to collapse. The number of errors in my records can not be taken to mean I received them all and everyone else got away clean. In the meantime, I’m planning to file with the court to expunge my records based on their inconsistencies, as anyone (anyone other than a court clerk) can see no two pages agree on the terms of the sentence, the record is meaningless. I have plenty of time, it’s not like I have a job or anything. No doubt they will lose my filing, and arrest me as a prison escapee because there is no record of my having served twenty three months in prison.

One in a million

The meanings of words change over time. It was once considered an honor to be called “special”, now the word has been connected to the “intellectually disabled”, and calling someone “special” can be interpreted as an insult. Most often by someone who is intellectually disabled.

“One in a million” is one of those phrases that makes something sound unique, and it still does, but the other day I realized that unique group is fairly large, seven thousand people in the world. I noticed when a news report mentioned a disease was rare, affecting only seven thousand people in the world, and the math happened in my head immediately. “They mean it affects one person in a million”.

Seven thousand people. Fewer than the population of Wasilla, Alaska, a few more than Buharkent, Turkey. My mind wanders to thinking of those towns as mini United Nations, each person representing one million of the planet’s populace. Or every person who had this rare disease living in the same town.

We are all microcosms of larger systems, but we are not those systems. In the study of fractals, we take a set (in this illustration the infamous Mandelbrot Set) that in display is replicating self similar patterns. The patterns appear the same regardless of scale, yet any highlighted section may appear radically different from the remainder of the image. In other terms, the design is made up of itself.

 

 

The Mandelbrot set

The Mandelbrot set

 

Just because I am a Christian does not mean I am identical to other Christians. The same is true with other sets I belong to, gun advocates, conservatives, musicians, widowers,  people with multiple sclerosis, veterans, vegetarians. The very concept of diversity suggests we are different from each other, and those differences are special.

You may remember Dan Cathy, the owner of the fast food chain “Chik-fil-A”. Dan is a conservative Christian, who incorporates his beliefs into his business. His stores are not open on Sunday, and on their website they explain the policy in this way; “Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.” (emphasis mine). Chik-fil-A sees operating a business as a social responsibility, and although they may not be the healthiest choice, they do make efforts towards sustainability and humane treatment of the animals used, and avoid antibiotic use in the chickens.

Chik-fil-A has been successful, passing Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in sales last year. The Cathy family has always shared their wealth, both by supplying food in times of need and by giving to various charitable foundations. One of these contributions caused some headlines a few years ago. Due to contributions to groups that promote traditional families, Chik-fil-A was portrayed as “anti-gay”.

This is a theme I will return to. The world is not black and white. It is possible to be for one thing without being against another. It is possible to be against something without hating it. The decision to donate money to charities that promote traditional families is light years away from a gay kristallnacht.

The response from some LGBT groups was to boycott Chik-fil-A. Fair enough. The response from other groups, primarily the LGBTQ factions, was to attempt to ban Chik-fil-A from being able to conduct business. The perfectly natural response to the LGBTQ groups by an overwhelming number of Americans from a wide spectrum of backgrounds was to counter protest, giving Chik-fil-A the most profitable days of its history.

Since then, Dan Cathy has decided he handled the situation improperly. He hasn’t changed his views on gay marriage, but he has decided not to pick a fight in the middle of Main street. He still contributes to “pro-family” causes, but has chosen charities that are more subtle in their approach. People on the fringes of both sides of the argument are not satisfied, but they were never going to be satisfied. In what those of us in the middle can only laugh off as irony, both the intolerant LGBTQ folks and the intolerant “Christians” were simply “born that way.” Filled with hatred for anything different from themselves.

The LGBTQ side is upset because Chik-fil-A still contributes to an athletic association which doesn’t allow transgendered athletes. The “Christian” side is upset because they feel Chik-fil-A flip-flopped, selling out its principles. Both sides itching for a fight, promising to never eat in one of their shops again. In online fora, where I have entered conversations suggesting Chik-fil-A has not flip-flopped, I have been attacked as “anti-Christian” and queer, as well as other things I won’t repeat. In fora in which I have suggested Chik-fil-A has done nothing other than donate to less than neutral organizations I have been called a bigot, homophobe, and a member of the KKK, along with some rather base suggestions for sexual practices which I am fairly sure exceed the limits of possibility. These people just want to fight, the “Christians” are not what I would recognize as Christians, and the LGBTQ representatives are most likely cranky straight kids who just want to vent their angst.

In the middle is the rest of us. We buy food because we like the way it tastes, or how convenient it is, not because we support the charities the owner of the store supports. I won’t be stopping by a Chik-fil-A anytime soon, because damn near everything they serve has chicken in it, and I’m a vegetarian. But I might buy some fries if there’s another boycott by either side, because they’re not boycotting Chik-fil-A’s principles, they’re boycotting the owner of Chik-fil-A’s  right to spend his money however he wants. They’re boycotting the right to free speech. They’re boycotting diversity.

Just because someone else is a Christian, or a vegetarian, or whatever, doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say and do. Our differences prevent us from being boring, and allow us to build beautiful things. At the simplest levels, we are all the same, and our likenesses allow us to build those beautiful things together.

 

 

 

Sailing

The earliest depictions of sailing vessels are on ceramics from the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of South Eastern Europe, dating back to 6000 BC. Several thousands of years later the characters of Daedalus and Icarus appeared in Greek mythology, crafting wings to sail in the air. a few thousand years after that Marco Polo told of Chinese kites that could carry a man skyward (often used as a punishment). Ballooning and other lighter than air forms of flight became common beginning in the eighteenth century, and following advancements in the design of gliders in the nineteenth century (learning to sculpt the air with the design of the the airfoil, in other words trimming the sails), powered, controlled flight traveled from dream to reality at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Understanding the connection between sailing on the seas and sailing in the skies helps to open the mind to the subtle difference between Naval Aviators and their brothers who fly in Air Force, Army, or civilian craft. It is indescribable, but in civilian clothes having a picnic in the park, you can tell the origins of each. They all have an aura about them, but the ones who use floating runways stand out.

intruder-off-deck

A-6 intruder taking off from carrier

On 18 July 1965, attack squadron 75 took off from the USS Independence for a bombing mission over Vietnam. Leading the twenty eight craft in an A-6A Intruder was the squadron commander, Jeremiah Denton, and Lieutenant Bill Tschudy, his navigator/bombardier. As the squadron neared their target of Thanh Hoa, Commander Denton’s craft was struck by anti-aircraft fire, and he ejected along with Lieutenant Tschudy. They were taken prisoner, and incarcerated at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. I do not understand why prisoners of war are tortured, I suspect the anger of a weak mind is easier to express when the enemy is in chains. The treatment of prisoners of war in Vietnam set a new low, so depraved I will not attempt to describe it here.

Ten months into his captivity he was selected to be part of a propaganda broadcast (the least of Geneva Protocol violations). Commander Denton used the opportunity to send a message. As he provided the required answers, he blinked repeatedly from the camera lights. At least that is what the Vietnamese captors believed. Watch this forty two second video to see if you can pick up a pattern:

 

He is blinking Morse code. T-O-R-T-U-R-E. At the end of the interview, he states he still supports the actions of his government, earning him a transfer to another prison camp. After the segment was broadcast on American television his messages was decoded, and in Vietnam Commander Denton received an all night beating. He spent most of the remainder of his stay in isolation, as his captors found his presence increased resistance among the other prisoners he was exposed to.

He was released on 12 February, 1973, and returned to service stateside. Promotions led to his retirement in 1977 at the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1976 his book “When Hell was in Session” was published, which some of you may remember as the TV film of the same name starring Hal Holbrook as Denton. In 1980 he was elected as Senator by his home state of Alabama.

Admiral Denton’s details of the treatment of Prisoners of War were required reading when I was in the Air Force, and have been used in training at the survival schools of the various military branches. Let it suffice “When Hell was in Session” is a watered down treatment of the actual events, and the novel is more than some people can stomach.

Admiral Denton died last week at age 89. He was under hospice care for a heart ailment.

I have personally known only one Prisoner of War, my grandfather emeritus Captain Fred Turnbull. Fred was also a Naval Aviator. Both men displayed amazing grace under pressure, continuing the struggle against the enemy while captives. Both men saw themselves as just ordinary guys. Fred would say “Well, what would you have done?”, because he believed he was not extraordinary. By that he displayed his faith in humanity. Both men illustrated the ultimate struggle is fought with strong wills more than strong weapons.

 

Hate in the name of love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Papers please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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