Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

House (and Senate) Calls

DFAGunsSharable (1) 

 The NRA is frothing at the mouth again, this time over the President’s nominee for Surgeon General. The reason? The President’s nominee, Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA and a member of Doctors for America, had the audacity to say in a January 9, 2013 letter to Vice President Biden that guns are a public health care issue. In response to the nomination, the NRA sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to reject his nominee.

“Who is this 37 year old foreigner and political hack King Obama has nominated? And why should we listen to a physician regarding firearms?”

I’m glad you asked.

First, this “foreigner” is a US citizen who was born in the UK and moved with his parents to Florida when he was three years old. He graduated as valedictorian from his high school in Miami. He then graduated magna cum laude (in 3 years) from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemical Sciences. He then received an MD from Yale School of Medicine and an MBA in Health Care Management from Yale School of Management, where he was a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine in at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is currently a physician at Brigham & Women’s and an instructor at Harvard University.

Now, as to your second question, firearms cause injury to human flesh. It is the emergency departments of local hospitals that see the carnage and devastation guns cause. It is the physician’s duty to save lives. A physician does not receive a dossier on the patient in front of them bleeding from a gunshot wound. They do not pause to determine the legality/justification of the gun’s discharge. They only see the damage. Following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, 52 medical organizations joined forces to send letters to the leaderships of the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives and directly to the President of the United States. The audacity, indeed.

Of course, it is not the 52 medical organizations calling for change or Dr. Murthy’s CV the NRA really has a problem with, although even the thought of any gun control leads the NRA to a version of reduction ad absurdum apparently leading to tyranny, confiscation, black helicopters, concentration camps and a socialistic New World Order. Rather, it is the position of the organization Dr. Murthy founded, Doctors for America, whose mission statement reads:

“Doctors for America is a national movement of physicians and medical students working together to improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, high quality health care.”

And whose core values and culture are listed as:

    1. We are bold and fearless.
    2. We are creative and flexible.
    3. We value everyone.  Every voice matters.
    4. We cultivate strong relationships and a family spirit with partners and colleagues.
    5. We are accountable to one another in our individual and collective work.
    6. We are open and honest.
    7. We are passionate and determined.
    8. We grow and learn and help others do the same.
    9. We have fun and celebrate!
    10. 10. We ensure every action meets our highest standard: will it help create a healthier America for everyone?

End times, indeed. But it is the group’s position on gun violence prevention that has the NRA exorcised. Once again, facts be damned, Obama’s coming for our guns! And once again, our feckless Congress is caving to the NRA’s demands. Yesterday, in an editorial piece in the New York Times, the editorial board wrote that, “There are now reports that the White House and Senate Democratic leaders might delay a vote on the nomination until after the midterm elections or urge the nominee to withdraw.” Unconscionable.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, writing to General William Howe, wrote:

arguing with the dead

Shame on the NRA, but more shame on Congress, should they not vigorously defend this nominee. Gun violence is a public health crisis. To ignore it is an abdication of responsibility, against the wishes of Americans and placating the lowest common denominator of society.

Death and Taxes (or Here’s to the Egg Heads)

Originally posted on Thoughts At Large:

Franklin blood
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” —Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789.

Right now, on Verizon Wireless, you can get any of eight smartphones for FREE! Now, I’m no Steve Jobs, but a guy selling sand at the Great Pyramid of Khufu charges something, so how is it that a wireless phone company can afford to give away the phone? Of course, the answer is that it is the 2 year contract comprising of a line cost and data package that earns the company their money. As far as they guy selling sand in the desert, I can only suppose it is marketing, charm or preying on tourists that earns him his money.

This business model, the loss leader, is not unique to cell phones. Inkjet printers…

View original 586 more words

Death and Taxes (or Here’s to the Egg Heads)

Franklin blood

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” —Benjamin Franklin to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789.

Right now, on Verizon Wireless, you can get any of eight smartphones for FREE! Now, I’m no Steve Jobs, but a guy selling sand at the Great Pyramid of Khufu charges something, so how is it that a wireless phone company can afford to give away the phone? Of course, the answer is that it is the 2 year contract comprising of a line cost and data package that earns the company their money. As far as they guy selling sand in the desert, I can only suppose it is marketing, charm or preying on tourists that earns him his money.

This business model, the loss leader, is not unique to cell phones. Inkjet printers can be had for less than $50, but the ink they use can cost you well over $100. Under this business model, and without government oversight, one can imagine car manufacturers purchasing oil companies, giving away gas guzzling cars for free and making a fortune on fuel. In this scenario, the Hummer would have lived forever. In short, it is the consumables that garner the profit.

Can this model be used to impact gun violence in America? Absolutely, however, it is the government and not the manufacturers that must act in this scenario. To gun manufacturers, fear drives business. Just as you would never have a meeting with a home security firm representative who would tell you that your neighborhood and your home are impervious to crime, gun manufacturers breed paranoia.

If the goal is to curb gun violence, perhaps the method is to control the consumables, in this case ammunition. Rather than target large capacity magazines or clips, make the price of filling it cost prohibitive. We are all familiar with the bumper sticker mentality of the gun rights groups who love to chant, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, in fact, guns don’t kill people, bullets do. And taken a step further, empty guns can’t kill anyone (short of beating them with it like a club). Right now there are no limitations on ammunition purchases over the internet. In the aftermath of countless mass shootings or arrests prior to any carnage, we always hear that the individual had “X number of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.” Thousands!

In 1993, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted that the country had a 200 year supply of guns but only a 4 year supply of ammunition. In the 20 years since then, the easily skirted assault weapons ban lapsed, the right wing has made “patriot” a de facto religion and over 300,000 people have been killed with a gun (CDC statistics: 156,077 killed from 1999-2010, so a conservative estimate of over 300,000). And this does not include the over 400,000 that killed themselves over the same 20 year period (CDC statistics: 208,406 firearm suicides from 1999-2010, so, again, a conservative estimate of over 400,000).

Senator Moynihan’s proposal, as reported in the New York Times, raised under the auspices of public health, was to raise the tax on ammunition from 11% to 50% on the wholesale price of handgun ammunition. In some cases, it would have raised the tax to 10,000%. Of course, some saw it as a revenue raising proposal rather than a public health issue. In typical NRA fashion, Wayne LaPierre criticized it by saying, “I seriously doubt anyone in America believes crime is going to go down because taxes are going to go up. It shows how egg headed this whole debate has become.”

Needless to say, Senator Moynihan’s proposal died like the 30,000 people killed by firearms every year. Perhaps it is time to revisit this proposal, but on a more systematic basis. Rather than an average of a 50% tax increase on ammunition, let’s tax it at 10,000%. Perhaps we should limit the amount of ammunition that can be purchased online. Perhaps it is time to consider gun violence a public health issue and not the sole issue of the tyranny fighting patriot. Perhaps we should study the number of guns sold in the country rather than keep it a mystery. Perhaps we should embrace logic and reason, fact and compassion, egg heads over mouth pieces. Perhaps.

Gold

Gold barsWe live in a disposable economy; neither secret nor revelation there! We also live in a society where we, through technology and media, demand instant gratification and are easily bored with work and distracted by shiny objects. It is easier to walk away from a problem than wrestle with it, but seldom right. It is easier to think of oneself rather than another, but rarely without consequence. We eschew effort as well as personal responsibility and popular culture celebrates this behavior. The existentialist will tell you that we are all, in fact, islands; that no one can truly appreciate what we, as individuals, think or feel. At the same time, however, we are all cogs in the various and intricate machinery we know as society.

Many of us, either through nature or nurture, seek to live our lives with the company of another; to see if the teeth on our cog mesh with those of another’s, thereby (it is hoped) creating a larger, stronger organism. It is often a disruptive union, calling on an island to expose its perceived weaknesses to another in hopes of reuniting Pangaea and weathering life’s storms together. Marriage forces two individuals to add the moniker “couple” to themselves, making each participant defend the ethos of the other before society while at the same time trying to maintain their own sense of self. And therein, lies one of the two reasons these unions fail. Statistics tell us that half of marriages fail. Maybe “fail” is not the right word. When reduced to basics, the individual cogs simply do not work together, despite love’s miasma and an individual’s sometimes tortuous effort. There are many different reasons for these failures, not all of them assignable to one party or the other. However, “facts is facts.” According to the 2010 census, only 82% of Americans who married reached their 5 year anniversary. Sixty-five percent made it to 10 years. Fifty-two percent made it to 15 years.

Of course, divorce is not the only reason that couples fail to reach these milestones. The other way that marriages end is through the death of one partner. You needn’t look at an actuarial table to see that as people get older the overall number of them still living decreases. You may have graduated 43rd in your high school class, but with enough luck and a genetic lottery winning ticket, someday you will be 1st! George Burns wasn’t the tallest in his high school at graduation, but by living to 99 he assumed that title from all those who were taller but preceded him in death. Consequently, the number of couples reaching higher milestones drops significantly as the years pass. Only 33% of couples reach their 25th anniversary, again, through a combination of avoiding death and divorce. Only 20% of couples reach their 35th anniversary. Of course, while only two things can end a marriage, either divorce or death, not even death can hold sway over love. The remaining cog may still turn as part of society but it forever misses the other.

This September, I will celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary with the woman whose cog fit mine; who softened the rough teeth of my cog and kept our machine moving where teeth on my cog were missing or broken. To reach such a height is to know the wonder, pain, strength and suffering that sharing your life with another affords. Experience can neither be taught nor bequeathed and, for those who make it through, would not be traded for all the world’s gold. The tapestry we have woven together, comprised of the countless threads we call memories, warms me, comforts me and leads me toward tomorrow’s challenges armed with confidence.

Tomorrow also marks a milestone fewer than 5% of couples attain. My parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In a society where we are encouraged to trade our gold for cash, it is nice to see a couple whose determination to face life’s challenges as one reach their Golden Anniversary, a milestone more treasured than treasure; something forged in life’s furnace like no one else’s, answerable to no one else and more precious than cash. No life is easy, no journey without challenges, but it is the challenges that create character and we celebrate couples who have weathered these challenges and persevered. Thanks to my wife, and the story we are still writing, and my parents whose own book is now gold gilded, I understand a quote from Dr. Seuss today better than yesterday and hope to appreciate it better tomorrow than today.

 “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

Happy anniversary to my parents and Lisa, I love you.

A Champion for Change

Champions of Change

The White House website has a section devoted to recognizing ordinary Americans for the tireless efforts they spend moving America forward.  President Obama’s declaration of American “exceptionalism” offended the rest of the world and rang hollow to Americans beleaguered by a societal abdication of responsibility, a systemic idolization of celebrity, an education system “wrestling” to merge science with religion, a federal legislative body paralyzed by intransigence and hatred and a country awash in daily gun violence.

The site recently asked for nominations for White House Champion of Change for Gun Violence Prevention. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts was my choice and I, along with many others, nominated her. Here is my rationale:

No single person has harnessed the overwhelming passion Americans have to prevent gun violence since Sarah Brady. Born out of anger and disbelief after the senseless murder of twenty school children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, Ms. Watts formed a grassroots organization combining social media networking with passionate activism, targeting elected officials, businesses and the gun lobby while giving voice to thousands of mothers across America who see daily gun violence as a plague on the future for our children.

In little over one year, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has become the voice for compassionate Americans and a major target for the gun lobby. The recent partnership with Mayors Against Illegal Guns speaks to the clout earned by Moms Demand Action.

It is never a good idea to threaten a bear cub around its mother. Moms Demand Action continues to show what effect threatening America’s children with continued gun violence will have as over 125,000 mama bears in all 50 states unite. As a father, I applaud Ms. Watts for her determination, organization and vision and can think of no other individual more deserving of this recognition.

Albert Einstein said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Whether she is selected or not, she is a champion for change and has created an organization whose passion and compassion will continue to be heard in the gun violence debate in 2014 and beyond.

A New Year’s Eve Birthday

Love-Heart-Fireworks

I always thought having a birthday on New Year’s Eve would be terrible; the nagging suspicion that throughout your life, Christmas presents were withheld and wrapped in different paper to give you something to open a week later, the knowledge that your big day is repeatedly drowned under the tidal wave of Christmas anticipation and New Year’s Eve debauchery. In essence, apply the following quote from Ellen DeGeneres to New Year’s Eve:

 “If your Birthday is on Christmas day and you’re not Jesus, you should start telling people your birthday is on June 9 or something. Just read up on the traits of a Gemini. Suddenly you’re a multitasker who loves the color yellow. Because not only do you get stuck with them combo gift, you get the combo song. “We wish you a merry Christmas – and happy birthday, Terry – we wish you a merry Christmas – happy birthday, Terry – we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Ye – Birthday, Terry!”

However, upon further consideration, I now consider that a New Year’s Eve birthday may be perfect. On what other day does the rest of the world pause to reflect on a year of life? What has been accomplished? What remains unfinished? Who have I met? Who have I lost? How have I changed? How have I remained the same? Reflection of this magnitude does not occur on any other day of the year en masse.

And there is hope for tomorrow unlike any other day of the year. To quote Alfred Tennyson, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Or consider T.S. Eliot, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, And next year’s words await another voice.”

So do not lament the passing of time or fixate on Ovid’s regret when he wrote, “I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth.”

Rather, consider each passing year worthy of a celebration not everyone enjoys. Or, as Shakespeare put it, “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” Celebrate!

And so, I wish my mother a happy birthday on a day when the world celebrates with her. Hey, not everyone gets fireworks!

Hope and Faith

3--2099124-Rhode Island State Flag Waving

In searching for solace following the announcement that Claire Davis had died of the injuries she suffered at the school shooting in Arapahoe, Colorado, I did what comes naturally to many of us; I thought of home. The childhood I had known with its safety and warmth. It was there, on a field of white, that I found the spigot which allowed me to continue the flow of determination necessary to drive forward. The Rhode Island state flag is a field of white with thirteen gold stars arranged in a circle with a gold anchor in the middle above the word Hope on a blue ribbon. Hope. The word rings with anticipation, excitement and an overall expectation that tomorrow will be better than today.

This thought from home also forced me to consider the difference between hope and faith. To me, faith is the hope I have in others that someone else will fix the problem, whereas hope is the faith I have in myself that I can fix the problem.

I know what you’re thinking; that’s a very libertarian thought for someone who has been called a “libtard,” an “Obamabot,” and, through my limited understanding of texting idioms to “GFY” (which I initially understood to mean “good for you.”) My children, between fits of laughter later explained that my Twitter adversary and I had NOT reached a common understanding on the gun violence issue! However, after one year of being an “accidental activist,” I can say, without reservation, that I am not alone and that my Hope is buoyed by the knowledge that there are others risking vitriol and threats of physical harm to move America toward a safer future. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Brady Campaign, It Can Happen Here and others are stocked with motivated, opinionated and politically active members.

My hope is that we have enough faith in each other to know we will fix this problem.

Inertia

Bullet Flag

It has been one year since the awful events of December 14, 2012 occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One year since a disturbed individual availed himself of the arsenal his mother had legally purchased and shattered families in the little New England town and horrified individuals throughout the country and the world. Reaction was swift (except for the NRA) and all signs pointed to a paradigm shift occurring in the long argued battle over gun rights in America.

However, it proved to be a difficult year, not just for the families forced to endure each holiday or family event without their loved one. Indeed, for these uncounted victims, while they did not lose their lives on that fateful day, they certainly lost the lives they had known and the futures for which they had planned and expected. Daily events, done thousands of times before, took on a new, mechanical air as they searched to redefine “normal.” It is for these people and the loved ones they have lost that many people joined the voices of those calling for change. As I searched for some way to understand the past year’s events, the term “inertia” kept clawing into my mind. And so, using the words of Sir Isaac Newton, I begin:

“Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law I, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Prior to the multiple, brutal mass shootings of 2012, organizations such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative arm the Legal Action Project have been fighting the ever increasingly extremist positions of the NRA in courts across the country securing minor victories against a tide of right wing battles which have resulted in concealed carry becoming legal in all 50 states, open carry laws spreading like spilled blood across the country and stand your ground laws allowing shoot first confrontations to become immune to punishment and rationale to the paranoid. In addition, the NRA has systematically enticed Congress to reduce funding for firearm violence research, rendered impotent the ATF and exempted gun manufacturers from all product liability responsibility; this seismic shift occurring despite the screams of those opposing the proliferation of guns and warning of their inevitable violent toll on society. However, to the general public, raised on and catered to by sound bites and instant gratification, these long-term societal changes went unnoticed.

To use Newton’s terminology, the body (society) persevered in a state of rest (miasmic banality) WHILE it was (quietly) compelled to change that state by forces (NRA) impressed thereon. In effect, while we were distracted by other crises being broadcast 24/7 on cable news, it took the events of 2012 for us to realize not only the playing field had changed, but that we were in the third quarter of a different sport. In doing so, lives were lost, families destroyed and history altered. Shame on us.

 “The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.”  Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law II, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Many people began to wake up following the midnight movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. Most did not. The momentum created by the murders culminated in prayer vigils, moments of silence and an increase in gun sales across the country, including in Aurora.

Unfortunately, it would take another, even more mind-twisting event to wake the majority of Americans.  Only 147 days later, another disturbed individual, armed with a weapon of war, laid bare America as a gun violence dystopia to a disbelieving world. Suddenly, there was an outrage that flashed longer than a prayer filled candlelight vigil, longer than a moment of silence. People from across the country looked directly at the entities responsible for allowing this type of future to unfold: the gun lobby and the elected officials that they owned. Ever aware of their behind the scenes effectiveness and ability to outlast the public, the gun lobby “pleaded” with America not to politicize the tragedy arguing that it was not the right time to discuss legislation when so many families were in immediate pain. Unbelievably, and counter to all rational thinking, the NRA responded by saying the cure for gun violence was more guns. More cancer is not the cure for cancer. Drilling more holes in the bottom of the boat is not the cure for a sinking vessel. Eating more steak is not the cure for heart disease. But according to the NRA, more guns will cure America of its gun violence. Across the country, the sound of gears, springs and cogs could be heard crashing out of the logical brains of rational people.

Over the following months, a groundswell of accidental activists began asking, aloud, what could be done to change our society, to create a future where our children were safe from the hail of bullets in a country awash in firearms. The well-oiled machine that is the gun lobby sent forth their legion of followers with canned arguments too short to fill a bumper sticker and too simplistic to defend. Here, Newton’s second law of motion became evident. The trajectory the gun lobby had set the country upon was being impressed upon with a motive force from the majority of Americans not beholden to a gun metal deity. The new activists credited those who had been fighting all along for their successes and acknowledge, in Newton’s own words that, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

“To every Action there is always opposed an equal Reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law III, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 13, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

However, as predicted and anticipated by the gun lobby, America’s fickle attention wandered to other crises. Gun safety legislation, considered unassailable in December, sputtered and crashed when the gun lobby reminded Senate Republicans (and a few Democrats in red states) who owned them. And this is when the most amazing part of the story occurred. Those accidental activists demanding gun safety did not fold up their tents and go home. To the chagrin of the gun lobby, the activists absorbed the legislative loss, considered it a learning opportunity and realized that the change they saw as necessary and obvious would not be achieved immediately. It was a marathon, not a sprint. Again, to quote Newton, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

It was this event, the recognition of the gun safety activists that change would take time, which brings us to the question of whether we will remain in Newton’s third law of motion or see further movement because of his second. Will the opposing forces on the gun issue in America push against each other in a long-term stalemate, or will one side emit enough force to alter the trajectory of this issue?

Rather than demand change from the existing politicians locally and nationally, the activists have begun developing campaigns to elect a legislature more conducive to change. Rather than have a hissy-fit and demand a recall when a vote goes against their wishes, activists have embraced a longer term agenda of electing those who will act in the best interest of society and not the best interest of gun manufacturers. They have also sought to change our communities, not through legislation, but with the pressure of the pocketbook. Corporations are being pressured to provide safe shopping environments for their customers devoid of the testosterone-fueled paranoid shouldering their beloved bazooka.

Interestingly enough, the push back seen by the gun enthusiasts has been in the form of misogynistic berating of activists, the creation of “bleeding” gun targets in the image of the president and female gun safety activists and groups of gun-toting enthusiasts parading through towns and posing outside gun safety activist meetings. Is this the best approach the gun lobby can muster? Evidence suggests that these pedantic actions expose the gun lobby as the far right wing paranoids they are. Attacking ones opponent rather than their position will not win arguments. As Cicero said, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”

And so here we are, one year out from the horrors of December 14, 2012. Which of Newton’s laws of motion will prevail? Perhaps Newton himself predicted the outcome when he said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.” May logic overcome vitriol and compassion trump paranoia.

ConText

I have a confession. I was never exposed to most of the world’s best literature in high school.  Except for Mr. DeAngelis’s English class, where Shakespeare came alive, I have spent, much like disposable income, the personal time left over from life’s obligations, playing catch up with the rest of society by reading “the classics.”

Of course, no two lists of “Top 100 Books of All Time” are the same, but there is enough similarity between them all to create a market basket of tomes from which I feed. In fact, I was as condescending and derisive about Audible.com (“Nobody has read to me since I was a toddler. I can read by myself now!”) as I was about Toy Story‘s computer generated animation (“this is an abomination. Walt Disney must be rolling over in his grave!”). However, two things changed my mind. First, I loved Toy Story. Indeed, as always, it is the story that must first captivate us. The medium is secondary. (Also, Walt Disney was a pioneer in animation and, I think, would have embraced digital animation and become its greatest ambassador.) Second, my new job necessitates a one hour commute each way, five days a week. After several months, I found FM radio repetitive and AM radio repulsive. Enter Audible.com. For two hours a day I am able to immerse myself in another world, worlds created by the best authors humanity has ever known, allowing me to purge road rage and traffic jams from my thoughts as I move from one masterpiece to another. This “disposable time” is now my refuge.

I am also addicted to the internet and the instant access to information. As anyone who has read any article here knows, there are seldom entries made without various quotes or references from other sources. The smartest people know they are not smart and never stop learning. Who am I to think any different? I know I am not as smart as them!

So, it was with apprehension that I accepted the challenge posed to me by my son to write a post about a singular passage from the Bible “with this as your only inspiration. No quotes, research, other opinions. Just your reaction/thoughts.” Here, then, is my only source:

 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly.” – Galatians 2:21

 My first task is to understand the quote, excised from context. With my only clue being that it came from the Bible, I can make certain assumptions. The first being that the writer is religious and therefore considers God’s law above man’s. This spawns several thoughts.

First, although all civilizations are manmade, the majority of them are based on a morality based in some religious teaching, whether Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or some other geographically concentrated religion. If this be so, then the quote is not altogether honest in its division of God’s law and man’s. Here in the United States, the religious right is always describing how this country was founded on Christian principles (Whether this has led to the systematic exclusion of “others” with different beliefs (here in the land of the free) is a discussion for another day). Therefore, if this country was founded on Christian beliefs, then the difference between God’s law and man’s is negligible and the argument moot.

Second, is this quote not a concatenation of two very different concepts? Whether righteousness comes from man’s law or God’s, that is not, as I understand it, the reason Christ died. Is not Christianity based on the concept that God sent his only son to earth with the expectation that he would be crucified for our sins? Again, as I understand it, repentance, even on one’s death bed after a life of debauchery and sin, grants one the proverbial “golden ticket” to everlasting paradise in heaven. If this be so, then neither God’s law nor man’s has any bearing on righteousness as long as one repents at the final hour. And if this be so, then why is there civilization at all? Why not selfish chaos all over the world? Is there a base level of kindness and compassion captured in no “law” other than our own desire to live, provide and thrive? Is compassion the “righteousness” referenced in the passage?

Finally, this quote, or the concept it attempts to convey, has been used (bastardized) countless times over the course of humanity’s time on this earth to disregard man’s law under the assumption one is doing “God’s will.” If one believes man’s law can be superseded by God’s, then the legal system of a civilization no longer carries any weight on the consciousness of the criminal. Think of the Crusades or the Nazis or any of the countless nitwits on Twitter calling for the execution of President Obama because he is some kind of  socialist usurper working to overthrow the republic in some Islamic globalization fantasy. Delusion (and a belief in a “higher law” as absolution) is the hallmark and calling card of the anarchist. But this does not make their actions righteous.

In summary, I think this quote is misguided and disingenuous. It attempts to assimilate the reason for Christ’s death with a link between God’s law and man’s that cannot be divided. Again, this is all taken out of context with no research or context, but too often, Bible quotes are taken out of context in order to “prove” a point. In what other book can one simply quote a chapter number and verse number in order to prove one’s superiority over another (less-read) human? I’ll keep reading.

The Wolfe of Main Street

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“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”

Published in 1940, two years after the loquacious author Thomas Wolfe unexpectedly died, You Can’t Go Home Again belongs to a select group of novels whose title has entered American speech as a catch phrase. Catch-22 also enjoys this status of being a book few have read but we all seem to use the phrase in daily life with a winking acknowledgment.

We all know what “you can’t go home again” means, but a deeper understanding of the sentiment behind the phrase yields a bountiful crop of compassionate undergrowth.

To begin with the obvious, anyone returning to their hometown following a period away notices the changes. Gone is the local drug store, replaced by a pharmacy chain. Gone is the chain toy store you once protested against when it bought out the local toy store. Gone is the barber shop at which you used to get your hair cut, where they had to use the booster seat to allow you to sit high enough for the barber, who doubled as your neighbor. Mom and Pop stores are eaten by chains, which are, in turn, swallowed by larger chains; themselves prey to the threat from the internet and online shopping. Sure, the ice cream parlor still remains, but the menu has changed, the furnishings updated, the uniforms different and the charm captured by childhood gone. Restaurants change name, fields become strip malls and the potato farm beyond the outfield has grown into a neighborhood.

Still, the phrase refers to to time not distance or travel. How often is the frustration of the dieter who weighs themselves daily validated by the comments of those who do not see the individual on a daily basis? How many times do we catch our reflection in the morning mirror wondering who that old person is staring back? So too, is the change of “home” incremental yet perpetual.  Daily life contains checklists, both mental and written, which drive our actions.

  • Get up at 6:00, eat breakfast, shower, shave, dress
  • Run to the supermarket (we need bananas and bread (critical))
  • Must stop at the Post Office to drop off the package to ensure it arrives at Aunt Clara’s before her birthday on Tuesday
  • I’d like to get to Barnes & Noble to pick up that new book Charlie was raving about
  • Dinner with the group tonight (whose house is it at?)
  • Get to bed at a “decent” time tonight. That twitch in my lower eye lid is driving me crazy.

Seldom do we slow down enough to see how much has changed. Perhaps this is done on purpose. Each of us carries a mental picture of everyone else in their mind. Ask yourself, “When was this “picture” snapped?” My image of my grandfather (my father’s father) was snapped in his basement, hovering over his workbench. When was that? 1970-something? My image of my grandmother (my father’s mother) is of her sitting at her kitchen table scratching at the incessant itching in her hands, offering me one snack after another. When was that? My image of my other grandmother (my mother’s mother) resides in actual snapshots; photographs I’ve seen which merge with stories I’ve heard from those older than me, and thus capable of holding a memory. And so it is with everyone I’ve ever met. Name someone and I will unconsciously recall a moment in time and an age of that person at which they are forever frozen. This is one of the conundrums I have with the concept of heaven. Should I die and be admitted to the ultimate club and see my paternal great-grandmother (who, in my youth seemed to be Methuselah’s age when she died), how old would she seem to me? And at what age would she appear to her great-grandmother who died when my great-grandmother was in cloth diapers in Italy?

Memories rush up to meet us without recall demands made; the mystique of “family” softened by the endless waves of time. There is a promontory rock in my hometown against which an endless line of waves crash. This rock has endured wave upon wave since before my birth and will endure them for countless millennia after I die, with little change to the rock. Ovid said, ““Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” Persistence measured in thousands of years eludes my capacity of comprehension.

And while Main Street changes over time, we cannot forget that it is a two-way street. Those exposed to the daily changes accept them as the new “normal.” Times change and we have to keep up! The reinsertion of the returning local into this new equation causes an unintentional sheering of expectations from memory. The resident expects the returning friend/relative to merge with the existing daily life to which they have become accustomed through the gradual hollowing out of the stone of the local landscape. The collision of the returning individual’s memory with the resident’s daily reality, coupled with the mental image we carry of the individual, can yield conflict and confusion. Family mystique is usually best carried by those who have physically had to relocate. A myth develops over time of something the individual perceives as having been taken from them, whereas the reality is simply human beings in one small community clashing and embracing, subject to the baggage we all carry. Grudges are held, “hatred” festers, blame is assigned and emotional distance creates a gulf where no physical distance exists. To the physically removed family member, these animosities seem petty and counterproductive. Consider the view of the astronaut aboard the International Space Station looking through the port hole at the earth as it passes constantly from daylight into night and back again. How meaningless do our conflicts seem from afar? How insignificant do national borders seem, religious differences resulting in warfare, the skin color or sex of one ant from another? Unfortunately, few of us have the ability to step back and observe from such a height, even figuratively. Wolfe expands upon his catch phrase below:

 Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.

The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change.

The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry–these things will always be the same.

All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever.

The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.”

Can all of this be summarized as “stop to smell the roses?” Maybe, but we never seem to take the time to add it to our list of things to do.

We can go home again, if only in our memories, and there, we have never left.

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