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.