Wednesday, February 28, 2018

More guns, trained guns, no guns

As a precursor to today's post, I would be remiss if I didn't remind my readers that all posts I create which address what most people debate as the gun control issue, are saved in my blog under the title

Violence Control

I do so, not because I am trying to avoid the phrase gun control, but because it is clear that merely mentioning that phrase causes more ends to conversations as beginnings.  My recommendation for all people who perceive the need for an honest, sensible debate about guns in America, is to begin caching the issue as violence control.  While it is bewildering to me why any sane person believes that rapid fire, military weapons have a place in society, perhaps we can convince them the need to get a handle on the too easily used solution of resorting to violence to address conflict and disagreement.

So, before starting this post, I decided to read some of my other posts so as not to repeat what I have previously stated.  Sadly there were a number to read as many of them were written after previous mass killings.

To paraphrase a testimony given by General Mattis a few years ago during a congressional hearing on funding, he was adamant in stating that insufficient funding of the state department and its job of diplomacy, will result in the need for more funding for bullets and guns.  Conversely, it is not a big jump to the thought that without addressing the messages of our culture that advocate and even glorify violence, we will find ourselves wringing our hands over future mass killings.

Or, as the President has proposed, arming even more people.

So, let's get into it.

The premise is that by arming and properly training more people who are within the "soft" target areas, we will discourage future mass killings as the perpetrators will be reluctant to enter a place where certain death awaits.

Of course, there are a number of assumptions at work here.  First, that the mass killer uses logic to choose his targets (I won't say his or her targets since the vast majority of these people are male), and that death would be a deterrent.  Well, considering that most proponents of new gun control legislation argue that this is a mental health issue, doesn't that eliminate that line of reasoning?  If a mass killer is mentally unstable, the notion that logic is involved in the act is absurd.  And, I would posit that most mass killers are sociopaths at worst, temporarily bereft of any sense of humanity, at best.  If, however, a mass killer is sane, then he certainly knows that there are scant few instances where death or life in prison is not the end result of the act, so either the sane mass killer wants to die or somehow thinks that he will get away with it.  To me, any sane mass killer who believes he will escape justice for such a horrendous act, is probably not sane, revert back to example one.

The second assumption is that, under stress, an armed and specially trained teacher will hit their target.  This seems a bit of a stretch considering that there are many instances when the armed and specially trained among us, police and military personnel, have shot the wrong person.  Death by friendly fire in military conflicts is well documented, among the more famous being the friendly fire death of ex-NFL player Pat Tillman. Even more alarming, most articles about friendly fire deaths also mention the instances of death by one's fellow combatants on purpose which can arise from a lower rank soldier killing one of higher rank, or killing among the soldiers after disputes or fights.  What better place to hide a murder than in war.  And, of course, examples of police officers shooting unarmed citizens, innocents caught in the crossfire, and police using excess force when apprehending suspects, are all too familiar.  Would we therefore expect more or less instances of these errors by teachers who may only ever use their gun for cause once in a lifetime?  Or, in the apparent case of the trained gun on site at the Parkland School, would the armed and specially trained teacher even react in an appropriate way?

Additionally, and I know details of this plan are non-existent at this early stage, would the teacher actually carry a loaded gun in class?  On their person?  Again, are there not enough instances where victims are shot with their own guns when overcome or surprised by a third party?  Would we rethink the plan after the first instance of a teacher or student being killed by the gun assigned to protect the class, or would it take two instances?  Three?  Or, if, like those in the military who, under duress, use the cover of war to mask an non-authorized shooting, how do we react if an armed and specially trained teacher uses his/her gun inappropriately against a fellow teacher, administrator or pain in the ass student.  

Finally, there is the assumption that good people with guns will make the right decisions to use them, and that these armed and specially trained teachers, all certainly good people, will be perfect in this regard.  Huh? Again, we know that our military and police forces are filled with good people who have made poor decisions, or committed bad acts.  Yes, Virginia, good people sometimes do bad things.  Notwithstanding people like Bruce Willis in Death Wish, most relatives of victims are not people we should encourage to mete out justice themselves.  

Not withstanding this logic, lets pretend that specially armed and trained teachers are placed in every school that requests them, or every school if this becomes general practice, and lets further assume an example occurs in which a mass killing is shortened or stopped by one such armed teacher.  Success!!  Do we then move on to other soft targets?  Armed and specially trained ushers at all movie theaters, guides at churches, bouncers at nightclubs, seating helpers at music and sporting events, or any other such places where people congregate?

Many gun rights fight any and all gun control legislation for fear that it might the beginning of a trend to disarm all Americans.  Would a program arming teachers in classrooms be the beginning of arming all Americans?

Do we really want a society in which at any time someone could legally use their concealed weapon to address a situation which they interpret as hostile or dangerous?  Knowing that good people, trained people with guns use them improperly, imagine the result if more people, simply by hitting a few targets in a controlled setting, were armed?  

I saw Paul Ryan on TV talking about the action the House of Representatives might take in response to the most recent mass killing.  He mentioned the culture of violence that I alluded to in this post.  Good for him. But when will he connect our culture of violence with our obscene $600 billion a year military budget? And where is his reference to the fact that our current President uses threats of violence in response to many issues.  The method in which he blithely discusses using nuclear weapons against our enemies is appalling! And his horrendous record of so many ambassadorships being unfilled to the various countries of the world. President Trump seems to be all about, I have the biggest, baddest weapons, so do what I say or else. Does this not contribute to a culture of violence, and perhaps effect a confused teenager who sees violence as the only answer to the problems of his life?  If Ryan wants to truly change our culture from shoot first, talk later, perhaps he needs to take Trump aside and remind him that the perception starts at the top.

Of course, it is not President Donald Trump's fault that a troubled youth in Florida went on a killing spree. For better or worse, we get the leadership we deserve, are led by those we elect.  If our leadership believes that more guns is the answer to violence control, then we need to put up or shut up in the next election.

Without putting too fine a point on it, I also think that the violence control issue is becoming a watershed moment for America and Americans.  Do we really believe that God is on our side when it comes to using violence to address our problems?  Is she really looking down upon us and saying, yes, more guns to the good people, and I will continue to make the bad people shoot poorly.  (Another Hollywood created falsehood; bad guy with machine gun misses every time, good guy with handgun kills with each shot).  Now, clearly, it is difficult to know the reasoning of the Almighty.  Perhaps she allowed us to create weapons of mass destruction as a test.  Perhaps it is just a phase we need to pass through as a society before we achieve a more enlightened state of mind.

But what if there is a revelation on the horizon of mankind's perception that can only be realized when we eschew violence as a means to resolve conflict?  If so, will America be on the forefront, leading the way towards that realization, or will she be holding back the rest of humanity simply because we need to justify spending so much money on "defense"?

The simple fact is, guns make killing people easier, and rapid fire guns easier still.  The 2nd Amendment does not guarantee the right to an assault weapon, only "arms", and we can choose, legislatively, how we define arms without amending or repealing that amendment.  Assault weapons of any type are weapons of violence. I imagine that most Americans would be aghast at using an assault weapon to hunt animals, yet we seem OK with using them to kill our fellow citizens.  There is no other use than for killing, so it seems obvious that we should be adamant in insisting that no citizen should legally possess one as a means of self defense, or, more likely as a means to kill multiple humans.  Similarly, devices like bump stocks which transform a
semi-automatic weapon into a more rapid fire one should be illegal.  Frankly, I am not sure why a citizen needs even a semi-automatic weapon, but we can at least start with those weapons that allow multiple shots to be fired with one pull.

Folks, in this age of instant information, it is quite simple to research firearm ownership and death by firearms.  And just as easily, it is clear that Americans own, per capita, more guns than any other nation, and that we consistently rank in the top 10 for most deaths by firearms.  Each and every year.  We are sacrificing our fellow citizens, and our children, to keep alive the illusion that our founders wanted us to be armed and ready to kill each other, when in fact they wanted us to be armed and ready to defend our nation against foreign invaders.  Happily, we have a well funded military for that, and state and local police forces to protect and serve our communities.

Violence control demands that we identify the tools which are used by both good and bad people to harm and kill Americans, limit and/or eliminate those tools from public access, and follow the example of the vast majority of civilized countries which experience death rates by firearms that are 50, 75, even 90% less than are own.      

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Music and Chess

Nora and I were fortunate enough to see a performance by Al Stewart last week.  For those of you who do not remember Stewart, his popular songs were Year of the Cat, Time Passages, and On the Border (my favorite).  We had seen him perform many years ago, at a nightclub in Philly, I think, although the memory has faded over the years.  At last week's concert, Stewart played all the favorites, plus some more recent tunes.  He was accompanied by the extremely talented Marc Macisso and his current back up group The Empty Pockets. In addition to the wonderful music, Stewart prefaced every song with a story, often about the writing or inspiration of the song, or sometimes just as a reflection of the times in which it was penned. And, while there were moments when Macisso rocked out on the sax or flute, or the lead guitar player let loose on his electric guitar, most of the enjoyment emanated from Stewart, his voice, his stories, his songs, and the moods they inspired, reflective, nostalgic, folksy.  Like listening to an old friend recount shared, fond memories.

As the crowd made its slow departure from the theater, Nora and I waited a bit in our seats and discussed how being a folk lyricist seemed the perfect job for Al Stewart.  Was it coincidence that he seemed to have found the job in life that suited him best, or were we seeing the results of years of learning and refining his craft that made the performance seem so natural, as if watching a bird take flight and knowing that flying is the natural activity for such a creature?

I am continuing my reading of the Winter Edition of Lapham's Quarterly, called States of Mind.  I recently read an excerpt from "The Chess Master and the Computer", by Garry Kasparaov.  In the essay, Kasparov recounts what he terms the golden years of man vs machine in the realm of chess, 1994 to 2004.  It was during that time when the computer progressed from too weak to too strong in its ability (its programmed ability) to play chess.  For Kasparov, those years and those matches were not unlike the progress one's child might make as a father taught her to play chess.  At first, father wins every time, but then there is a time period where the matches are close and interesting as the child learns from her mistakes.  In this case, the child was as much the programmers who uploaded the chess playing algorithms as the computer, but Kasparov seems to indicate that he knew it was inevitable that the computer would eventually be the better player, just as if often the case that the child bests the parent over time.

Kasparov concludes this particular part of the book by recounting how the new challenge in chess is to combine the sheer number crunching power of the computer with the ability of the grandmaster, against other such teams.  In other words, make use of the best of both worlds.  It is that kind of thinking that, were it to be applied to the problems of the day, might make a difference in addressing those problems.

There are some who thing that music and chess are the best expressions of the two parts of our brains.  And further, that these skills, when performed at the highest levels, share a common thread; precision.  I decided to link these subjects for a different reason, however.  Like Al Stewart, Garry Kasparov seems to have found the perfect occupation for his talents.  This is not to say that other occupations for either man may have also matched their skills.  During the concert, Stewart joked that his job might soon be vacant, referring, I assume to the thought that he couldn't perform forever.  He indicated to us that he thought that the best folk lyricists might be found teaching history as he considered himself as much a historian as a song writer, or perhaps both at the same time.  Perhaps Kasparov would have found complete job satisfaction from being a physicist, or actuary.

Thinking about this takes me back to high school and those aptitude tests that we all were subjected to. Certainly, there was real science at work, just as there is some validity to using a dating service that evaluates likes and dislikes and matches accordingly.  The problem with high school aptitude tests may not have been the results but the audience.  Why would a teenager listen to any adult about the results of a test that tells him that he should be an accountant?  Certainly, I hold no value judgement against accountants, in fact I like numbers as much or more as the next guy.  But who wants to hear that assessment, even if accurate, when the whole world is out there, full of promise and excitement and the unknown.  Sure, as we reflect on our lives and realize that being in retail or fast food or working an assembly line or any of the other jobs that we all have done, and perhaps still do, to pay the bills, we might wish to vault back in time to our teenage selves and extol the virtues of accounting in hopes of avoiding the drudgery and boredom of our future lives.

Perhaps then, we might try the best of both worlds for our youth as we assist them in discovering their strengths and pursuing the opportunities that will be presented them.  Give them those silly aptitude tests, but present the findings with the idea that a job pays the bills, and we all must take the occasional job to survive in the world, but an occupation should be a reflection of your life.  It is OK to use an aptitude to find the occasional job, but a much bigger reward, a more satisfying life will result in finding an occupation that reflects your being.          

Perhaps if we spent more time seeking satisfaction in our daily lives, including our work, we might be in less need of distractions, especially those that lead to harmful addictions or rage or depression.  

Life satisfaction, priceless.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Super Bowl Champion Eagles!!

As I begin this post, the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Parade is culminating with player and coaches speeches on the Art Museum's steps with thousands of people cheering, clapping and celebrating the first Super Bowl Championship in Eagles history.  It is a glorious day in the City of Brotherly Love!

For those of you who are not familiar with the remarkable story of the 2017-18 Eagles season, it is truly a wonderful tale.

The story of a 2nd year coach, hired amid doubts and the disappointment of the Chip Kelly years, coming off an initial 7-9 season during which his football intelligence and pedigree were openly questioned.

The story of a GM who was emasculated during those same years, but who stayed with the team and honed his skills, culminating in two amazing off seasons during which he traded up to draft a franchise quarterback, signed a number of important free agents, and even wrangled a mid-season coup to bring a workhorse running back to compliment an already strong offensive team.

The story of a rookie quarterback who played more like a veteran from week to week, who made the impossible play routine, and who led the team to a league best 9-2 record despite losing their Pro-Bowl offensive lineman, star running back, best special teams player and star middle linebacker.

The story of a backup quarterback who all but quit the game just two years ago, but decided to give it one last shot, who signed on as the rookie's relief, just in case, and them was thrust into the limelight and pressure when yet another season-ending injury struck the rookie quarterback sensation.

And the story of a team of players who worked in unison towards a single goal, who absorbed one hay-maker after another as their teammates fell, who took the cliche, next man up to its fullest expression, who ignored all the experts and pundits who not only discounted their chances to win, but actually made them underdogs in all three playoff games, including, for the first time ever, the games they hosted.

Finally, the story of a team who won for themselves, their fallen teammates, and their fans, beloved in the Delaware Valley and besmirched everywhere else, and who walked among them on this very day, high fiving and celebrating this tremendous victory of cooperation and collaboration.

Cooperation and collaboration.

Sports is clearly not the real world.  Games played by adults for large sums of money in cathedrals akin to those celebrating religious rites.  Entertainment for the masses to distract us from reality, and the hard truth that our exploits in athletics as kids were just fun and games.

But there are lessons being taught and learned on sports fields everyday.  Lessons about perseverance which can result in the best team overcoming a team with the best players.  Lessons about loyalty, even in the face of personal injury or failure.  Lessons about winning humbly and losing graciously, the first being displayed to the man by the Eagles, the latter less so by the losing Pats.

I bemoan the money in sports, the obvious priority that winning takes over an education in college athletics, the lure for those born in less economically advantaged situations when an education should be paramount over the slim chance of a professional athletic career, the sheer magnitude of the economics, when our schools and infrastructure are in such dire need of resources.

But for those who follow the political scene, who tune in to the shows that inflame our passions for or against those who adhere to a different economic or political philosophy, this Eagles story and victory should be a required course of study.

You see, it is possible to take a group of people from all areas of America, with as myriad a variety of backgrounds, with different skin colors, different religious beliefs, different perspectives on patriotism, gun control, social justice, and have them work together, despite their differences, to achieve the seemingly unreachable.  

To come together and seek the best ideas, regardless of its source, and evaluate that idea based on its merit. To put partisanship aside and stay fully vested in the welfare and happiness of all of the fans, or all of the country.  To remember that if your only goal is to advance that which benefits you, then those you need to work are more likely to advance only that which benefits them.

That a stalemate is not a win for either side, but a loss for all sides.

So again, hail to the Philadelphia Eagles, and its legion of sometimes boisterous but always passionate fans for their Super Bowl LII victory.  And hats off to my brother Paul who flew in from Texas to be there, and to represent all of us who could not or did not attend.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

States of Mind

Last week, I began reading the Winter Edition of Lapham's Quarterly called States of Mind.  As is the case for most of these wonderful editions, it has immediately fired all kinds of thoughts.

Last summer, I titled a post, Reading and Thinking.  In it I touched on a few of the things I had recently learned by reading, and made some other comments as I am wont to do.  After reading a few of the essays in States of Mind, the preamble by Lewis Lapham, an excerpt from Diane Ackerman's An Alchemy of Mind, and one from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, it strikes me as unfortunate, perhaps even, if I may be so sanguine to say, disconcerting, that the concept and execution of "reading" has changed so dramatically in the past few decades.

First, of course, we read less than previous generations, especially those that grew up without the great distractions of television and the internet.  The printed word was king for 600 years, breaking open the shackles that had hid the knowledge of the ages from the everyday man, providing a medium and a market for new ideas, exposing the hypocrisy of rules and taboos that were created by those seeking to maintain their power and control over the masses, and freeing the mind of so many who before were constrained by only what they could experience.  More than anything before, Gutenberg's press provided the imagination with an infinite source for creating new states of mind.

But more than that, why we read seems to have changed as well.  Where in the past, one went to the library, book store, or magazine rack to learn as well as for entertainment, to increase one's knowledge or to escape, if even for a little while, into a world created by the author's imagination, now we seem to read as much to confirm our opinions as to seek new information.  And, perhaps unbeknownst to us, our go to place for reading, the various sources of social media on the internet, have been programmed to direct us to opinions, sites and news that reflect our past clicks.

It is as if, when walking through the doors of a library or into a bookstore, your library card, or debit card were scanned for past borrows and purchases, and only those sections were now open for you to browse. As if, once a science fiction book borrowed or purchased, that is all you would be offered again.

What was conceived as a way to ease one's navigating the internet, cookies which track your previous queries and algorithms which predict where you might want to go based on where you already went, is now more often used to tempt you with the goods and services that someone with your profile might like, or to direct you to sites which share your previously espoused opinion, or present you with news that might influence and confirm how you might vote.

In short, where reading was once a personal experience, limited by one's own desire for entertainment or willingness to seek new sources of information, internet reading via social media vehicles is too often controlled by the unseen forces of a technology without a value system, or an advertiser in search of a sale, or an opinion manipulator with goals both insidious and unnamed.

I have always thought of reading as a way to improve oneself, promote self reflection, increase empathy, perhaps even make one a better human.  To create a state of mind that is free from the restrictions that make us turn towards destructive behaviors, individually or as a group.

When I engage in discussions with people, especially my dear wife Nora, about the obvious problems we see with the present direction of our leadership, I generally try to assuage her fears with the pendulum analogy.  Great progress and change is challenging, and threatening.  It should be no surprise that after 8 years of the first African American President, one with visions of real equality, racial, gender, marriage, etc, after 8 years of agreement that climate change is a real threat and that our nation needs to move away from fossil fuels, after 8 years of slow, steady growth after the near depression of 2008-10, after 8 years of the hard truth about the inequalities in our judicial and penal systems, in our boardrooms, and in our spending priorities, it is natural for the pendulum to swing back a bit.  

I tell her that our state of mind, while alarmed, must also be hopeful that the pendulum will soon slow in its current backwards path, and begin to swing back in a direction that reflects true Christian values if that is your choice, loving thy neighbor as thyself, turning the other cheek, helping the least among us, etc, or reflects the goals of a generation who believed in the message and visions of Kennedy and King.

In the meantime, I encourage those who might "read" this post to reconnect with your relationship with reading if you recall a pleasant one when young.  And, for those for whom that relationship did not flourish, consider trying again.

Create your own state of mind before one is created for you.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

An Open Letter to President Donald Trump

Dear Mr. President,

As we approach the one year anniversary of your inauguration, I sense that you might be confused and surprised about the level of dissatisfaction among the citizens of the United States concerning your work to date, especially that which emanates from those of us who did not vote for you.

I recently finished reading the January/February edition of the Smithsonian magazine, and I would like to recommend that you obtain a copy and read it through.  Perhaps the various articles which detail many of the explosive events of 1968 might shine a light on the angst which is demonstrated daily by some us.

You see, the entire edition reflects on what some people believe was one of the most exciting, depressing, challenging, historic years in recent memory.   A year which brought to mainstream consciousness a number of the issues still being debated today; environmental protection, women's rights and treatment, social justice, war and our place in the world, worker's rights, politics and protests, the explosion of technology in our everyday lives, and race relations.

It was a time during which many people thought the direction of our great country, and hopefully the world as a whole, might be marked as the beginning of a new social contract.  A contract which truly reflected the founder's beliefs that all men were created equal, not just those with money, power, male genitals and white pigmented skin.  We thought it might be a turning point, despite the horrific sacrifices paid via the murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the thousands who died and were mentally damaged from the Vietnam experience, and the invisible men and women who stood up for their principles even when social norms and outdated concepts of race and gender blocked their paths.

Change is always difficult, and generally not linear.  There are peaks and valleys, pendulum swings of progress and stagnation.  We still believe in the promises made in the 1960's and America's ability to lead the world towards such far reaching goals.  We still believe that America can be the shining light on the hill. But we don't believe that your agenda matches those goals.  We don't believe that selling the environment to the highest bidder, bribing the working class with $1000 while opening the flood gates for even worse income inequality, calling fake news any story with which you disagree, and early morning tweet storms aimed at anyone not in line with your thoughts, are the ways to achieve those aspirations.

Please Mr President, turn off the TV and read this magazine.  Open your mind to the possibility that those who disagree with you do, indeed, love America, so much so that we are willing to be counted among those who voice our disagreement with your vision, and ready and willing to offer an alternative which is more inline with what we believe were the dreams of those who made 1968 a watershed year in America.

Respect and regards,

Joe Pugnetti

Monday, January 15, 2018

Finding the positives of being born in a Sh%@hole country

Been trying to catch up on some reading this month.  Working through the December edition of the National Geographic magazine, I recently read a wonderful article called Africa's Tech Generation.  It detailed the amazing contributions of some African born entrepreneurs who are simultaneously creating a better life for themselves while improving the lives of those in their communities.

For those of us who take for granted internet access as well as all the other advantages that the tech age has provided for us, it is important to remember that if not for our good fortune to have won the birth lottery in being born in the western world, in general, and America in particular, we might be faced with the daunting challenge that 78% of the population born on the African continent face; no way to go online.

That the individuals detailed in the article overcame this obstacle, first, by being identified as an above average student thereby qualifying for a more advanced education, then by applying the knowledge they were given to identify and address a problem in their world, and finally to have the perseverance and drive to obtain the computer time, funding, and opportunity to make their dream a reality, is inspirational  But, when perceived in the context that for every one who made it, there are tens of thousands who never had even a glimmer of a chance to walk a similar path, it is also very sad.  The sheer magnitude of the realization that there exists such a loss of potential is staggering.

The good news is that start-up money, access to other young people from the West with similar characteristics, and the encouragement for others who can see hope in the successes of those from their home countries, will combine to quicken the pace of internet access, in addition to the more overriding belief that the time will come when an African born child will be provided the same opportunities and advantages that a Western born child enjoys.

Unless, of course, the attitude expressed by President Trump in his recent description of those born in Haiti, and in African countries, is not addressed.  While many people are as alarmed by his overt racism as I am, there are far too many Americans that either share his viewpoint, or are unwilling to take him to task for fear of losing the opportunity to advance their political and economic agendas.

In some ways, I feel sorry for President Trump and those who are so willing to dismiss those born with a different skin color or in a different country, without regard to the depth of their character or the size of their heart.  They are missing out on such possibilities!  We all have our prejudices and preconceived notions which limit how much of life we might enjoy.  When we refuse to eat certain foods that look or smell strange, or refuse to travel to or learn about certain areas where we might encounter people of different cultures, or when we avoid engaging with certain people who express their individuality in ways that are foreign to us, we miss out on life.  And we only hurt, and limit ourselves.

Does President Trump ever wonder why our creator developed a world where people spoke different languages, looked different, fell in love without regard to gender, and established cultures, religions, and institutions in a myriad of ways?  Does he and his ilk ever think that life is not just about amassing large sums of money but about exploring the host of variances that exist within mankind?  It is certainly not easy to remove oneself from the rigors of everyday life, but to consciously avoid the knowledge that the world consists of a tremendous variety of people, and that those unlike us are inferior, is a shame.    

There is no honor is telling the poor, huddled masses of the world, the refugees fleeing war torn countries, or the children whose only crime was that their parents crossed an arbitrary line in the sand in hopes of providing a better life, that they are unwelcome in America.  Especially when the reason is prejudice and fear.

It is very easy to only invite people like yourself to your home, or your country.  There is no easier a task than to stay in one's comfort zone.  Fortunately, our ancestors, those who do not have an American Indian heritage, thought differently.  They took the risk to leave their birth nation to provide a better life for their progeny, just as my grandparents did, just as President Trump's grandparents did.

For those young men and women on the African continent who were presented to us in that Nat Geo article, they shared an even more amazing trait; to stay where they were born and make life better.  In some ways, it is even more noble than the trek of our ancestors who sought a better life, and reflects even more poorly on the attitude expressed by President Trump, who, in his ivory tower of discrimination, thinks his dismissive perceptions of those born in Africa makes one iota of difference to those dreamers.   They will succeed with or without our help.  We can only hope they treat us better should the circumstances change and we are the people living in a sh%$hole country.

In the meantime, perhaps we need to stop pretending that America First is anything more than an excuse to justify the dehumanization of anyone that doesn't look or think like ourselves, and embrace the creator's vision of Earth; a cornucopia of life filled with a diaspora of humanity that emerged (from Africa) in pursuit of liberty and happiness.


Friday, January 5, 2018


Happy New Years!!

I've been engaged in a brief battle within; to continue to blog or not.  Of course, this was not the first round of this particular war, and will certainly not be the last.  One might even postulate that without such times of doubt and questions, a particular effort or desire or goal might wither and fade.  In this case, the part of me that is eager to continue to express and comment was victorious over the part that fears that everything has already been written.  As has been said before, a life not reflected, is not worth living; let's hope that my continued reflections might produce the occasional thought or idea that encourages others to reflect as well.

I have recently discovered an idea that suggests that us liberals, progressives, Democrats, etc, have been missing a critical component of our new President; the fact that he has an inscrutable sense of humor.
In other words, we take him at his word, expecting serious comments and solid logic when in fact, he loves a good joke, and clearly believes that we are taking it all far too seriously.

A 30 foot wall separating Mexico and the United States?  Only kidding as he himself alluded to when he admitted that ladders could be used to scale such a wall.

Lock her up?  Of course he was not serious, only autocrats and dictators treat their political rivals in this manner.

Climate change is a hoax?  Obviously, the climate changes all the time, especially in the northern states when we move from one season to the next.

Fake news and liberal media bias?  Just his way of saying that he would prefer that all printed thought, as well as TV and radio transmissions only report news that he believes, thereby creating a unified perspective without dissent and making it that much easier to make America Great Again.

Voter fraud?  Obviously it exists, and the lack of documented evidence is proof of it.

Russian collusion in the recent presidential election?  Of course it did not happen, and the voluminous evidence is proof that it didn't happen.

The recent tax overhaul a boon to the rich, both corporate and individual?  Of course we are advocating the continued shift of income and resources to the rich.  Taking care of friends and family are the most important things in life.

"I will only hire the best people".  He already knows more about war than the generals, more about fixing the government that career politicians, more about running our economy than economists, so he already has the best people, that guy he sees in the mirror.

Clearly, President Donald Trump is an amazing, terrific, tremendous individual, smart, very rich, no nonsense, tough on our friends, and even tougher on those Americans who hate our wonderful country by resisting his plans to divert even more money to the wealthiest 1%, to use nuclear weapons against our enemies without any nuclear fallout, to eliminate the insidious flow of immigrants, squash equal pay for equal work, expunge voting rights for those who vote the wrong party, reverse marriage equality and gender identity protections, and all those other confusing, politically correct, social changes that have pale skinned, males in an uproar.

And if you are unsure of the truth of this, just ask him and he will tell you with a wink and a smile and a nod, both actual and figurative to himself, kidder-in-chief.  


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why are we so afraid

As I have mentioned multiple times in the past, I receive a weekly email which summarizes the votes taken in Washington while also detailing how those who represent me cast their vote.  Last week, the House passed a bill 231-198 (not passed in Senate yet) called Concealed Carry Reciprocity Between States which would permit any person authorized to carry a concealed weapon in their home state to carry that weapon in any state that permits the carrying of concealed weapons.  The bill also expands the right to carry concealed weapons in the national park system and any other land administered by the federal government. 

I am not a fan of expanded access to guns, or of any new law that enables more people to carry a loaded gun on their person.  I am not believer that more guns make us safer, but do believe in the evidence that shows that countries with stricter gun laws have less instances of gun violence.  I also believe the statistics that suggest that one is as likely to be killed with a gun by someone they know (violent acts of passion) as someone they don't know, and am horrified by the number of gun accidents that claim the lives of our children.  Additionally, I am not happy that those who have a conceal carry permit from a state with a very low bar as to who qualifies for that permit, are now legally carrying a concealed weapon in states where the process is more restrictive.

Today, while walking the dog, I saw a bumper sticker on a neighbor's car that read (paraphrase)
Kill them all and let God sort it out.  There appeared to be a coiled snake pictured in the background, similar to one often seen with the Don't Tread on Me sayings.

I know that we are bombarded with doom and gloom everyday.  The media loves to regale us with stories of impending disaster, knowing that, for whatever reason, bad and negative news sells.  Consequently, we are afraid.  Afraid of ISIS, Russian election interference, government overreach, climate change, the nanny state, income inequality, slow economic growth, the future of social security and Medicare, loss of liberties and freedoms.  Not to mention a nuclear capable Iran and North Korea.  Fear is fanned on a daily basis to gain our dollars and sway our votes, all the while distracting us from evaluating the real risks we face.

So, why are we so afraid? 

Certainly, age is a factor.  We are an aging country, filled with too many people facing the very real duo of old age and death.  Hence we hearken back to the perceived "good old days" when in fact those days featured legalized discrimination, both racial and sexual.  We remember the past through the filter of the eyes of children who were unaware of the atrocities of the world, protected by the adults in the room, except now the adults prefer to discount all those horrors, especially those who have pale skin and male genitals.

Also, our place in the world is less secure, or at least we are less respected.  We believe it is because everyone else is less than grateful for our part in winning the Great War, and maintaining the balance of power through military might, black ops, and a whole lot of money.  But the line which separates the enforcer from the bully is blurry, and we fail to recognize when we have crossed it, expecting the world to do what we say just because we say it, whether right or moral.

And there has been much change in the last 50 years and change is often uncomfortable.  We are being asked to live the spirit of our Christianity by actually loving one another despite the variety of our color, gender, or sexual orientation.  We are being asked to judge people on the quality of their character as Martin Luther King dreamed.  We are being challenged to reject the tribal fears that result in so much US vs THEM thinking and reacting. 

And boy, is it hard. 

So, better to tread the easy path and seek the easy answers.  America first, when the world is still in need of leadership, money first when personal happiness and family stability are attacked at every turn by corporate thinking, selfishness first because if everyone took care of themselves, we would all be OK, even though it is so painfully obvious that part of being human, perhaps even the reason for life itself, is to help others where others is defined as all humanity.

I feel confident when I say that some who see that bumper sticker I saw today will cry Yea in agreement believing that the God of their religion will recognize the good from the bad based on their particular definition of who is bad and who is good.  But what if we replace one word on that sticker, replace God with Allah.  Are we now confident that Allah will know which sort is good and bad?  That we ourselves will pass that test?  Would such a sticker enrage us with the assumption that Allah only knows that non-Muslims are the wrong sort even though we may admit that our version of God would label Muslims the wrong sort?

Fear is not an easy emotion to conquer.  We all struggle with it, some less successfully than others, hence the current opioid crisis that afflicts our country. 

There is a fluff movie about sports that I like called The Replacements.  There is a scene in the movie where Gene Hackman, the coach of the football team, asks his players what they fear.  After some silly insect answers, the quarterback played by Keanu Reeves, gives a meaningful answer about quick sand and how once you feel trapped, no matter what you do it is not enough, because you are in over your head.  Which inspires multiple real answers from the other replacement players about the life they are trying to escape, dead end jobs, prison. 

Hackman convinces his players that shared fears are easier to overcome, and, of course, the team wins the big game, not with the star quarterback who crossed the picket line, but with the replacement quarterback who had far less talent but who had faced the fears that drove him out of the game in the first place.  A man with "heart" as Hackman describes it.

Perhaps it is time for us to admit our fears, as individuals and as a country.  Certainly we are afraid, but just as certain, we will not conquer that fear by partisanship, isolation, and confrontation.



Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Haven't had the desire to post lately.  Seems pointless some days, considering the limited exposure my thoughts receive, the ever increasing drive of President Trump and the GOP to repeat the mistakes of the past by diverting so much money and resources to the rich, corporate and individual, the hypocrisy of the far right that is so eager to end abortion that they will sacrifice the future to elect child molesters, misogynists, and public servants all too willing to destroy our environment, and the simple fact that for those of us who work retail, the holidays are exhausting.

Fortunately, writing, being one of those activities that, in the end, is as much a selfish pleasure as it is a vehicle to communicate, educate, inform or entertain, inspired me to communicate my newest idea.

Make Christmas Family Friendly Again


Unfortunately, to accomplish this, we would need to have a serious discussion about our national priorities. 

There are many iconic scenes embedded in our traditional holiday TV shows.  From the brief conversation in Miracle on 34th Street between Santa (Edmund Gwenn) and Alfred, the young man (Alvin Greenman) who also likes to "play" Santa in which they bemoan the influence of money and sales during the Christmas season, to George Bailey's (James Stewart) realization that doing the right thing and being kind above all is the true definition of what makes A Wonderful Life in contrast to the scheming, money grubbing ways of Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) to the miraculous transformation in A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge (Alastair Sim) comes to realize that the business of men is mankind, we are yearly reminded of the reason for the season, regardless of religious background or belief. 

Yet, at the same time, and in the name of economic prosperity, higher corporate dividends, and simple greed, decisions are being made to remove the family from the holidays, or perhaps more insidiously, redefine family to reflect a more consumer, materialistic version. 

I predicted in my last post that I don't think it far fetched to imagine the post Christmas sale bonanza to start on Christmas night sometime in the near future.  All it will take is one large retailer to realize that there are enough people who prefer to save money than be with their loved ones, enough people who like shopping better than conversing with family and friends, enough people that are all too eager to trade in their crappy gifts for something they prefer, enough people who are lonely enough to volunteer to work rather than experience the enhanced sadness of another holiday alone, enough data to show that if you open the stores, people will come, and we will have post Christmas sales beginning at 6:00 on Christmas night.

So, realizing that people are the last thing that matters when the choices are employees and profit, I propose an alteration of the federal holiday which includes Christmas day to included the following:

All stores closed by 5:00 Christmas eve
All stores closed Christmas Day
All stores closed the day after Christmas
If possible, no work beginning 5:00 Christmas eve until the morning of December 27th

While last minute shopping will never disappear, let's get everyone on their way home by dark.  Once home, let's focus on visiting family, eating large quantities of food, falling asleep in front of the TV, arguing politics, religion and sports with those we love, acknowledging the blessings we have whether it be in church or at home or as a volunteer at some local shelter, and any other family tradition specific or general, as opposed to worrying about work on 12/25 or 12/26.

A Christmas holiday that enables us to wind down from the frantic nature of what is so much more a holiday spending spree than a celebration of the birth of Jesus.  And who knows, perhaps by pulling back from the accelerated pace of our modern life for that one extra day, we might spend a little more of the holiday season with friends and family we don't always have the time to see the rest of the year, and perhaps, oh who knows, perhaps we might even realize that all the time we spend chasing material comforts, all the justifications we have for why we must sacrifice time with those we love so we can make that last sale or earn just one more buck, is time wasted. 

Make Christmas Family Friendly Again is about looking at our collective selves in the mirror and deciding that money, possessions, wealth and all the trappings of a profit oriented society belie the reasons why we cry at the end of It's A Wonderful Life when the entire town delivers money, a few dollars at a time, to save their friend, and laugh through tears when Scrooge reaches out to his loyal employee, Bob Cratchit, and humbly visits his nephew on Christmas Day, and feel warm inside when Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) jumps from the car and runs up the sidewalk into a strange house with the certainly that Santa found that house for her, and her mother (Maureen O'Hara) and the nice man next door (John Payne).   

We know what we should be doing, we know that money is not the end game of our lives, and the measurement of our judgement, yet we turn our backs on the truth. 

Make Christmas Family Friendly Again is not just about admitting to ourselves that the pursuit of riches is shallow, it is about the realization, both individually and collectively, that when we take the most holy day of the Christian calendar, Christmas Day, and make everything associated with it revolve around buying, selling and profit, we are engaging in the exact opposite behavior that was the message of Jesus.  And making a mockery of our belief that we are a Christian nation. 



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanksgiving Traditions

Happy Thanksgiving to those whom I did not see in person this past week.  We were able to entertain family on both sides of the marriage, some on turkey day itself, and some on Friday.  All in all, wonderful food, company and conversation.

In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings, we engaged in some other events that have become synonymous with this day of thanks. 

Last minute food and drink shopping Wednesday evening

Mimosas in the morning before company arrived

Macy's parade on TV

NFL Football on and off throughout the day

Eating until full, and then eating some more

Falling asleep on the couch

Turkey soup

Desserts, desserts, desserts

Thanksgiving, or at least the way we celebrate Thanksgiving, is uniquely American.   But we are not the only country that has established a day of thanks.  For a quick primer on how some other countries recognize and acknowledge Thanksgiving, click on link below.

One new tradition in which I did not participate, was Thanksgiving night shopping.  Obviously, the concept of shopping for Christmas gifts on the day after Thanksgiving is well established in America.  Black Friday is the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, the season in which retailers hope to generate enough sales and profits to move their ledgers "into the black" as opposed to being in red which equates to losing money.  For a more detailed historical perspective on how black Friday earned its name, click on the link below. 

Anyway, as I said, we did not end our Thanksgiving feast early, or chase our relatives out of the house, or turn off the NFL, or cut short dessert, to drive to the local mall for any of the various blockbuster or door buster sales that began Thanksgiving evening.  My recollection is that this new tradition, Black Friday sales beginning Thanksgiving night, is only a few years old. 

Perhaps, being the procrastinator that I am, I have even less interest in shopping on Black Friday than most, let alone Thanksgiving night.  Perhaps, as the middle class continues to find its buying power shrinking, we have little choice but to rush from the comfort of our homes on Thanksgiving to find the best deals possible.  Perhaps, for those who have made the "business" decision to open the stores on Thanksgiving night, the pressure to satisfy the insatiable greed of the stock holders and corporate boards, outweighs their instinct to allow their employees to more fully enjoy the holiday.  Perhaps America is really about money, pure and simple, and all the posturing about family values and traditions is just window dressing for the rich to enjoy the fruits of the labor of the working class.

Or perhaps, we really don't understand the meaning of thanksgiving, or Christmas for that matter.

I would imagine that if twenty years ago 100 Americans were asked if stores should be open on Thanksgiving, most would have responded negatively, perhaps even thinking the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving un-American, or at least not very family friendly.  I wonder if a new poll of 100 Americans asking if stores should be open on Christmas would react just as harshly.  Let's hope that the idea of shopping Christmas night, to get a head start on the after Christmas sales, does not occur to the Wal-Mart family or any such large retail chain.  Sadly, I wish I could say it will never happen, but I would have thought that about shopping Thanksgiving evening as well.

In the meantime, take a moment to count your blessings and, when the holiday rush seems overwhelming, take a moment and remember the reason for the season.