Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Inhuman

PainPublilius Syrus in the first century B.C. wrote “when Fortune flatters, she does it to betray.” Plutarch reinterpreted this as “I see the cure is not worth the pain.” Somewhere over the past two thousand plus years we have lost the connection between humanity and the humane.

Setting religion aside and ignoring the politics and ethics of Dr. Kevorkian, it is, none the less, barbaric how we treat our loved ones at the end of their lives.

We have somehow bridged the moral abyss with compassion for our beloved pets by “humanely” putting our beloved pets out of their senseless misery, ending their meaningless pain, answering their pleading eyes with the selfless, heartrending compassion of euthanasia.

We have somehow sanitized capital punishment of the worst criminals from fatal and barbaric corporal punishment to a “humane” (although still debatably barbaric) dream-like sleep out of existence.

And yet, we allow our loved ones to face “natural” death filled with a fear, pain and confusion making anything that happened at Abu Ghraib look like Walt Disney World.

This suffering is multifaceted. Of course, there is the physical pain, which is no better controlled today than it was 50 years ago. The opioids still rule as the best we have to offer. The problem is that they are systemic, meaning that they travel throughout the entire body. If the pain is in the hip, the hip gets the morphine, but so, too, do the little finger, the ear lobe and the brain. The result is that the little finger and ear lobe are no better or worse, the hip suffers an incomplete relief of pain and the brain suffers the confusion, paranoia, nausea and narcolepsy unnecessary to treatment. This is the best medicine has to offer in 2014? The other suffering it brings is to the family members who must endure watching the physical suffering of those they love hampered by the incomplete relief of pain. Meaningless suffering is the worst kind. Love of another means the willingness to shoulder their burden. The helplessness felt by the family member watching their loved one jerk in pain or crying out as they try to move them or comfort them is an indelible stain on their soul.

The suicidal mission of cancer adds to the frustration. Bent on destroying its host, even at its own annihilation, cancer never rests. To paraphrase Siddhartha Mukherjee from his book The Emperor of All Maladies, cancer cuts the brake lines of some cells and jams the gas pedals of others, stopping the natural cell regulation process and sending the cancer cells into a proliferating frenzy steamrolling every other cell in its path. In his or her clearer moments, so too, the cancer patient undergoes a civil war; one side, engrained in all of us, pulls us to live, to continue fighting, while another force, armed with logic, understanding and ultimately love, forces the patient to begin facing the inevitable truth with no regrets and peace.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, concentration camp survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl describes inmates of the camps as surviving long stretches if they could find meaning in their suffering.  Some held on to the hope of outlasting the Nazis and returning to their loved ones (should any of them have survived), others found peace looking up at the sky and imagining conversations with their loved ones wherever they might then have been. Life was worth living if they held a kernel of meaning in their suffering.

I have searched and considered and yet find no meaning in the suffering loved ones endure at the end of their lives given the current state of medicine. Pain is pain and on a scale of 1 to 10, anything above a 1 means the medical field has failed. The root word of both humane and humanity is human, from the Latin humanus. However, we reserve those words for our treatment of pets and prisoners, not our loved ones. For them, and for ourselves, it is inhuman what we put them through, for them and for us it is nothing short of torture.

Guardian Angel

 

How better to share my grief about the loss of a friend than through a story? After all, isn’t that, ultimately, how we remember those we love who leave us?

Blaine Toshner died this week. He was many things to many people, but he was above all a kind and gentle soul to everyone who had the pleasure of having had encountered him. He sought to brighten everyone’s day with a terrible pun or awful joke, always leaving us with a smile on our face as we left him to face the challenges before us; his simple but always effective gift to each of us. Let me back up.

In 2008, my wife was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer, a type with which the doctors in Rhode Island knew little about and even less about how to treat it. Over the course of about six harrowing weeks of tests and pain followed by a string of never ending bad news and poor prognoses, we decided to pick up stakes and move to Houston to seek treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Our children, twins, a boy and a girl, were scheduled to begin their freshman year in high school in September. We moved in August, full of doubt and fear. The kids were brave and adjusted well to moving from a school with 800 students in it to one with almost 4,000, from a home they had known since childhood to a rental in Texas and from all of their childhood friends to a town where it was us against the world and an insidious intruder bent on killing their mother.

Lisa and I made a point of attending the open house at school in order to meet with all of the kids’ teachers, specifically to point out the circumstances of our situation and ask that the teachers contact us if they saw the kids’ slipping in school or becoming distracted by events at home. One teacher stood out as having already made an effort to get to know the kids. He was a young English teacher named Blaine Toshner. Everyone seemed to call him Coach. Apparently he was involved with the football team. Apparently, football was a big thing at the high school. I had forgotten that we were in Texas and that some stereotypes are based on fact. We soon learned that he was, in fact, one of the coaches on the high school team. There seemed to be about a dozen coaches on the team, and about a thousand players. Every time we saw him at a game, he would make a point of coming up to us to ask how Lisa was, tell us a terrible joke and gush about how good the kids were.

Blaine was a guardian angel for the kids that year. He was always there for them, never intruding, but always available, always watchful, always concerned, always in touch.

My wife suffered terribly that year. She underwent all manner of treatments:  neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation. At the end of the school year she was done. She rang the bell at the hospital signifying her completion of treatment, was cleared and we packed our belongings and drove the 2,000 miles back to Rhode Island, glad to leave the nightmare of cancer in Texas, but sad to leave our guardian angel and newfound friends.

The kids’ sophomore year was spent back home in Rhode Island trying to reestablish a “normal” life but under the ever present threat of a recurrence. We lived in three month chunks of time bookmarked by Lisa’s follow-up visits to M.D. Anderson. It was in the spring that we all decided to travel to Houston together for her follow-up that we got word that the cancer had returned in her lungs. We flew home, devastated and depressed, gathered our thoughts and determined that we could no longer be that far away from the hospital. We decided to sell our home in Rhode Island and move to Texas. The emergency department at M.D. Anderson would be 45 minutes away rather than 2,000 miles away. If the cancer was going to be that aggressive, we were going to meet its aggression with overwhelming ferocity.

The kids finished up their sophomore year early, thanks to the kindness of the teachers and administration at home. We flew to Texas and quickly found a small house to buy. We put our home in Rhode Island on the market and I flew home, and with the Herculean effort of many friends, held a mammoth yard sale, selling and giving away so many treasures of our lives that I’m forever grateful that Lisa was not there.

The kids began their junior year of high school back at the same school as their freshman year and once again, Blaine was there, no longer their teacher, but always there as their friend and guardian angel. We saw him less frequently because of this, but stayed in touch. We heard stories of him helping other students and marveled at his boundless compassion. When it came time for the kids to begin the college application process, they looked to one person for referral letters. Blaine wrote them both glowing, personalized letters. Ultimately, both kids chose to attend the University of Texas at Austin, mostly, no doubt because of the proximity to their mother.

In 2010, Blaine’s sister’s and mother visited Texas and he invited us all to lunch. It was a raucous time filled with stories, laughs and new memories I will never, ever forget! I remember that afternoon as a day of muscle pain in my stomach from laughing so hard.

T2

By this time, Blaine had decided to move back to Wisconsin to take care of his wonderful mother. We chatted on Facebook and he said he looked to me as a role model as having been someone who risked everything to care for someone he loved. I had never thought of our decision to move to Texas as a sacrifice. It was just something we did. Lisa and I have always been ones to circle the wagons when a crisis threatens. We always say we’re going to have the phrase “we do what we have to do” tattooed on our foreheads. Given Blaine’s compassion and boundless energy at reaching out to make sure my children were healthy, the thought of him looking up to me hit me hard. I remember crying when I read his text. He wrote, “I think we find people throughout life who, whether they know it or not, help us make the decisions we know are right but not easy.” How much I think of that now.

My last contact with Blaine was this past June. Lisa was turning 50 and as we were away from home and most of our friends, I wanted to put together a slide show of our friends and family holding up a sign wishing her a happy birthday. I sent a message to Blaine asking him for a picture. True to form, he sent a picture, but not of himself. It was a picture of his mother and Jamo punctuated with a joke about him being addicted to the Hokey Pokey but taking charge and turning himself around.

I’ll miss Blaine, but I can never forget him. He was a guardian angel for my children when they needed him most. For that I am forever grateful. People do come into our lives at certain points and they leave their marks, their fingerprints on our souls. If the trajectory of my life is altered, even ever so slightly; if I am more compassionate today than I was yesterday and more tomorrow than today, it’s because Blaine Toshner was a part of my life and will continue to be my guardian angel.

Tipping Point of Possessive Pronouns

IMG_3936

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point when it was first published in 2000. At the time, my children were 6. This past weekend, I attended a gallery opening for my daughter whose work from her summer studying in Tuscany was being displayed along with her peers.

At exactly 6:30 on September 19, 2014 I witnessed a seismic tipping point in my life. You see, at that point, the second sentence of the first paragraph ceased being exclusively true. No longer was she “my” daughter as much as I was “her” father. This shift in possessive pronouns is significant in that it, while it may not have closed out my paternal protectionism (that will ever dissolve), it forced me to acknowledge that my daughter is a fully functioning member of society, a woman upon whom the planet can lean for guidance, joy, art and direction. In short, just what the world needs.

The Romans warned us to “cave ab homine unius libri’ (beware the man of one book). Today we call this epistemic closure. We only talk to those who agree with us. We only read (if we read at all) that with which we already agree. The deafening din in America today of people talking over one another instead of to one another is both disheartening and a recipe for stagnation and anger. Congress is the best example of this. The last congress, the 113th, passed just 108 non-ceremonial laws due to infighting among Republicans and the Tea Party and among Republicans and Democrats. Essentially, the Republican/Tea Party mantra became one of “whatever the President wants, we’re against, consequences be damned.” And that included shutting down the government! We don’t debate one another anymore. We don’t discuss anything or seek common ground. “Compromise” seems to be a naughty word now. Every one is screaming and no one hears anything.

My son wants to grab the world by the throat and drag it gurgling and choking into a rational, logical future. I fear most of the world may need this approach. My daughter will need to lead the rest of the world into that same, better future with art and compassion. They will use different tools, but both will move the world toward the same beautiful, peaceful future. And then I will truly be “their” father, “their” friend, someone who has an autograph from way back when, an autograph in crayon with the “a” written backwards, where the foundation of their genius was still forming and I was a fortunate passenger. I am proud of “my” children. Proud to be “their” father. Excited for their future.

Supernova

Keplers_supernovaPhysics has a concept called the law of conservation of energy, which states that the total amount of energy in a closed system is neither gained nor lost over time, but rather is only transformed from one state to another.

Perhaps this concept is the best way for us to understand and process the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. Consider the sadness, anger, shock and unease we feel to be the explosive energies released from inside the tormented Williams himself, the magnitude of our impact directly proportional to our relationship to the man- immediate family members impacted most severely, friends and extended family members next, neighbors and colleagues next, extending outward to fans and then to those to whom he was known by name only.

Consider, too, how this has impacted you. Are you more sad than angry; more angry than shocked? These are the wavelengths of emotion radiating from the supernova that are Mr. Williams’ inner demons. Bottle all of the sadness we, collectively, feel and that is what he felt. That is mental illness. Compress all of the anger we feel toward him for doing this. That is how angry he was at himself for his perceived failings. That is mental illness. Mental illness is a disease that eats away at the individual as surely as an aphid on a rose bud, but from the inside. The pain is invisible and unforgiving. It is self-perpetuating, feeding on its “success.” When people are at their worst they want help the least and will either hide their pain the best (or not at all).

Remember, the law of conservation of energy states no amount of energy is gained or lost. If he is gone, that anger and sadness is still here and we feel it, not nearly as much as those closest to him, but we feel it. But, if no energy is lost, than so too, must the joy he shared be here. And so, today, go make a goofy face in front of the most important person in the world until they smile, the person in the mirror.

James Brady

spotlight-image-1James Brady died today.

For those too young to remember, Mr. Brady was President Reagan’s White House Press Secretary.

On Monday, March 30, 1981, only 69 days into his presidency, a disturbed young man fired a $12.95 revolver six times in 1.7 seconds. One of his “Devastator”-brand bullets, designed to explode on impact struck Mr. Brady above the left eye and detonated inside his skull.  Another round struck the president under his armpit. Fortunately, the president recovered, but Mr. Brady suffered a horrible head wound and was left partially paralyzed and bound to his wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Mr. Brady died today. Not every gun violence victim dies at the scene and the story never ends when the smoke clears.

In 1985, Sarah Brady joined the gun control movement, rising to chair The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in 1991. However, it was not her husband’s shooting that got Mrs. Brady involved. To quote her:

 “Most people think I got seriously involved in the gun violence issue when Jim was shot. But it was actually another incident that started my active participation with gun violence prevention efforts.

It was back in the summer of 1985. Our family was visiting Jim’s hometown, Centralia, Illinois. At that time, our son Scott was just six years old. We had some friends who owned a construction company and they had a lovely home at the edge of town that had a swimming pool.

One day, our friend and an employee stopped by in a company pickup truck and asked if Scott and I would like to go out to the house for a swim. We thought that was a great idea. Scott got in first, and I climbed in behind him. He picked up off the seat what looked like a toy gun, and started waving it around, and I thought this was a perfect chance to talk to him about safety. So I took the little gun from him, intending to say he must never point even a toy gun at anyone.

As soon as I got it into my hand, I realized it was no toy. It was a fully-loaded Saturday-night special, very much like the one that had shot Jim. I cannot even begin to describe the rage that went through me. To think that my precious little boy had come so close to tragedy.

From that day on, I decided that much more needed to be done to help keep children safe from guns. And since that time, I have fought against the gun lobby and anyone else who wants guns “anywhere, at any time for any one.”

Forty-three different men have risen to become president of the United States. Four of them have been shot to death.  Two more have been wounded by gunfire and five more were shot at, but the assassin missed. That’s eleven out of 43. As president, you have a better than 25% chance of being shot at, shot and wounded or shot and killed. And this is a person protected by the best trained, best equipped individuals in the world.

Gun violence takes a crushing toll on surviving victims, family members (turned caregivers), friends, lost opportunities, lifelong pain, PTSD, massive medical bills and countless dreams left shattered on countless days of life’s calendar.

Mr. and Mrs. Brady did not ask for this route, but they cut a path through a dangerous, well defended forest and paved the way for the rest of us to forge a better tomorrow where dreams do not explode with a bullet’s impact. Mr. Brady died today, but their work continues.

Today’s Assignment

IMG_2989Your assignment today is to watch two videos and then think.

The first video is of a group of people openly carrying their long guns in order to “support the second amendment.” Listen to their words. Ask yourself if this seems either reasonable in a civilized society or in any way appropriate. Consider that it was filmed on the Grassy Knoll in Dealey Plaza in Dallas Texas. That’s right! Celebrating guns at the sight where an American president was shot to death. If only President Kennedy had been carrying a gun… Oscar Wilde said it best, “Irony is wasted on the stupid.”

In a copy of the speech President Kennedy never lived to deliver to the Trade Council on November 22, 1963 are written the following lines:

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

 How often do we hear the illogical argument for supporting the second amendment above all others as “the second protects all the others”? Philosophers have summarized this disconnect between correlation and causation as post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). Soren Kierkegaard summarized it a bit differently when he wrote, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” George Carlin described it a bit differently when he said, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

The second video is from a commentator for the NRA, Billy Johnson, who tries to come across as an intelligent hipster and only succeeds in coming across as a demented, illogical apologist. Essentially, everything John Green is not. He somehow equates a government’s subsidizing that which it considers valuable (education, healthcare, food, retirement) as a reason for allowing citizen access to government owned shooting ranges and a yearly allotment of government supplied ammunition. This is the same group that fears governmental overreach and registration of guns, but please, sir, may I have another round?

He touts “Gun Required Zones” instead of Gun Free Zones. We have those already! They are called war zones. Enlist! Have at it. Take your pick. There are always conflicts into which you can insert yourself and your huggy-huggy-boom-boom stick. And the government will give you unlimited ammunition!

Perhaps most disturbing (it’s like ranking the aroma of various feces samples), is his notion that we should not only make firearm training mandatory in school, but that sufficiency be the basis for grade advancement. At a time in our history when we are being outsmarted in math and science by many areas of the world, rather than mandate education, Johnson suggests we dilute an already watery system to “readin’, writin’ and riflin’.” I would point him to Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s quote, “It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” Or to Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Or to Bertrand Russell who said, “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Or to Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” Or to William Shakespeare who wrote, “A knavish speech sleeps in a fool’s ear.”

Your homework is due by the end of the day.

Tick, Tock, Glock

Enough

According to the Brady Campaign, on average, for the five most recently available years for which statistics are available, every day in America there are:

291 people in America are shot (including 52 children (ages 0-19)

87 people die from gun violence:

32 are murdered (including 6 children)

51 kill themselves (including 2 children)

2 die unintentionally

1 is killed by police intervention

1, intent unknown

205 are shot and survive:

148 shot in an assault (including 34 children)

10 survive a suicide attempt (including 1 child)

45 are shot unintentionally (including 9 children)

2 are shot in a police intervention

 If we take these numbers and divide them equally over the course of a day, this is an average day in America:

 

Time               Event

12:00 AM       1st Shooting by Police intervention, person survives

12:10 AM       1st Assault Shooting, person survives

12:20 AM       2nd Assault Shooting, person survives

12:28 AM       1st Suicide Death with a gun

12:30 AM       3rd Assault Shooting, person survives

12:32 AM       1st Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

12:40 AM       4th Assault Shooting, 1st Child, survives

12:45 AM       1st Murder with a gun

12:50 AM       5th Assault Shooting, person survives

12:56 AM       2nd Suicide Death with a gun

1:00 AM         6th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:04 AM         2nd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

1:10 AM         7th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:20 AM         8th Assault Shooting, 2nd Child, survives

1:24 AM         3rd Suicide Death with a gun

1:30 AM         2nd Murder with a gun; 9th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:36 AM         3rd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

1:40 AM         10th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:50 AM         11th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:52 AM         4th Suicide Death with a gun

2:00 AM         12th Assault Shooting, 3rd Child, survives

2:08 AM         4th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

2:10 AM         13th Assault Shooting, person survives

2:15 AM         3rd Murder with a gun

2:20 AM         5th Suicide Death with a gun; 14th Assault Shooting, person survives

2:24 AM         1st Suicide Attempt with a gun

2:30 AM         15th Assault Shooting, person survives

2:40 AM         5th Accidental Shooting Injury, 1st Child, survives; 16th Assault Shooting, 4th Child, survives

2:48 AM         6th Suicide Death with a gun

2:50 AM         17th Assault Shooting, person survives

3:00 AM         4th Murder with a gun; 18th Assault Shooting, person survives

3:10 AM         19th Assault Shooting, person survives

3:12 AM         6th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

3:16 AM         7th Suicide Death with a gun

3:20 AM         20th Assault Shooting, 5th Child, survives

3:30 AM         21st Assault Shooting, person survives

3:40 AM         22nd Assault Shooting, person survives

3:44 AM         8th Suicide Death with a gun; 7th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

3:45 AM         5th Murder with a gun

3:50 AM         23rd Assault Shooting, person survives

4:00 AM         24th Assault Shooting, 6th Child, survives

4:10 AM         25th Assault Shooting, person survives

4:12 AM         9th Suicide Death with a  gun

4:16 AM         8th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

4:20 AM         26th Assault Shooting, person survives

4:30 AM         6th Murder with a gun, 1st Child; 27th Assault Shooting, person survives

4:40 AM         10th Suicide Death with a gun; 28th Assault Shooting, 7th Child, survives

4:48 AM         2nd Suicide Attempt with a gun; 9th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

4:50 AM         29th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:00 AM         30th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:08 AM         11th Suicide Death with a gun

5:10 AM         31st Assault Shooting, person survives

5:15 AM         7th Murder with a gun

5:20 AM         10th Accidental Shooting Injury, 2nd Child, survives; 32nd Assault Shooting, 8th Child, survives

5:30 AM         33rd Assault Shooting, person survives

5:36 AM         12th Suicide Death with a gun

5:40 AM         34th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:50 AM         35th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:52 AM         11th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

6:00 AM         8th Murder with a gun; 36th Assault Shooting, 9th Child, survives

6:01 AM         37th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:04 AM         13th Suicide Death with a gun

6:10 AM         38th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:20 AM         39th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:24 AM         12th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

6:30 AM         40th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:32 AM         14th Suicide Death with a gun

6:40 AM         41st Assault Shooting, 10th Child, survives

6:45 AM         9th Murder with a gun

6:50 AM         42nd Assault Shooting, person survives

6:56 AM         13th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

7:00 AM         15th Suicide Death with a gun; 43rd Assault Shooting, person survives

7:10 AM         44th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:12 AM         3rd Suicide Attempt with a gun

7:20 AM         45th Assault Shooting, 11th Child, survives

7:28 AM         16th Suicide Death with a gun; 14th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

7:30 AM         10th Murder with a gun; 46th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:40 AM         47th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:50 AM         48th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:56 AM         17th Suicide Death with a gun

8:00 AM         15th Accidental Shooting Injury, 3rd Child, survives; 49th Assault Shooting, 12th Child, survives

8:10 AM         50th Assault Shooting, person survives

8:15 AM         11th Murder with a gun, 2nd Child

8:20 AM         51st Assault Shooting, person survives

8:24 AM         18th Suicide Death with a gun

8:30 AM         52nd Assault Shooting, person survives

8:32 AM         16th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

8:40 AM         53rd Assault Shooting, 13th Child, survives

8:50 AM         54th Assault Shooting, person survives

8:52 AM         19th Suicide Death with a gun

9:00 AM         12th Murder with a gun; 55th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:04 AM         17th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

9:10 AM         56th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:20 AM         20th Suicide Death with a gun; 57th Assault Shooting, 14th Child, survives

9:30 AM         58th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:36 AM         4th Suicide Attempt with a gun; 18th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

9:40 AM         59th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:45 AM         13th Murder with a gun

9:48 AM         21st Suicide Death with a gun

9:50 AM         60th Assault Shooting, person survives

10:00 AM       61st Assault Shooting, 15th Child, survives

10:08 AM       19th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

10:10 AM       62nd Assault Shooting, person survives

10:16 AM       22nd Suicide Death with a gun

10:20 AM       63rd Assault Shooting, person survives

10:30 AM       14th Murder with a gun; 64th Assault Shooting, person survives

10:40 AM       20th Accidental Shooting Injury, 4th Child, survives; 65th Assault Shooting, 16th Child, survives

10:44 AM       23rd Suicide Death with a gun

10:50 AM       66th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:00 AM       67th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:10 AM       68th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:12 AM       24th Suicide Death with a gun; 21st Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

11:15 AM       15th Murder with a gun

11:20 AM       69th Assault Shooting, 17th Child, survives

11:30 AM       70th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:40 AM       25th Suicide Death with a gun, 1st Child; 71st Assault Shooting, person survives

11:44 AM       22nd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

11:50 AM       72nd Assault Shooting, person survives

11:59 AM       147th Assault Shooting, person survives

12:00 PM       16th Murder with a gun, 3rd Child; 1st Accidental Shooting Death; 1st Death by Police intervention; 1st Death, intent unknown; 73rd Assault Shooting, 18th Child, survives; 5th Suicide Attempt with a gun, 1st Child; 2nd Shooting by Police intervention, survives

12:01 PM       74th Assault Shooting, person survives

12:08 PM       26th Suicide Death with a gun

12:10 PM       75th Assault Shooting, person survives

12:16 PM       23rd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

12:20 PM       76th Assault Shooting, person survives

12:30 PM       77th Assault Shooting, person survives

12:36 PM       27th Suicide Death with a gun

12:40 PM       78th Assault Shooting, 19th Child, survives

12:45 PM       17th Murder with a gun

12:48 PM       24th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

12:50 PM       79th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:00 PM         80th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:04 PM         28th Suicide Death with a gun

1:10 PM         81st Assault Shooting, person survives

1:20 PM         25th Accidental Shooting Injury, 5th Child, survives; 82nd Assault Shooting, 20th Child, survives

1:30 PM         18th Murder with a gun; 83rd Assault Shooting, person survives

1:32 PM         29th Suicide Death with a gun

1:40 PM         84th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:50 PM         85th Assault Shooting, person survives

1:52 PM         26th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

2:00 PM         30th Suicide Death with a gun; 86th Assault Shooting, 21st Child, survives

2:10 PM         87th Assault Shooting, person survives

2:15 PM         19th Murder with a gun

2:20 PM         88th Assault Shooting, person survives

2:24 PM         6th Suicide Attempt with a gun; 27th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

2:28 PM         31st Suicide Death with a gun

2:30 PM         89th Assault Shooting, person survives

2:40 PM         90th Assault Shooting, 22nd Child, survives

2:50 PM         91st Assault Shooting, person survives

2:56 PM         32nd Suicide Death with a gun; 28th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

3:00 PM         20th Murder with a gun; 92nd Assault Shooting, person survives

3:10 PM         93rd Assault Shooting, person survives

3:20 PM         94th Assault Shooting, 23rd Child, survives

3:24 PM         33rd Suicide Death with a gun

3:28 PM         29th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

3:30 PM         95th Assault Shooting, person survives

3:40 PM         96th Assault Shooting, person survives

3:45 PM         21st Murder with a gun, 4th Child

3:50 PM         97th Assault Shooting, person survives

3:52 PM         34th Suicide Death with a gun

4:00 PM         30th Accidental Shooting Injury, 6th Child, survives; 98th Assault Shooting, 24th Child, survives

4:10 PM         99th Assault Shooting, person survives

4:20 PM         35th Suicide Death with a gun; 100th Assault Shooting, person survives

4:30 PM         22nd Murder with a gun; 101st Assault Shooting, person survives

4:32 PM         31st Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

4:40 PM         102nd Assault Shooting, 25th Child, survives

4:48 PM         36th Suicide Death with a gun; 7th Suicide Attempt with a gun

4:50 PM         103rd Assault Shooting, person survives

5:00 PM         104th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:04 PM         32nd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

5:10 PM         105th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:15 PM         23rd Murder with a gun

5:16 PM         37th Suicide Death with a gun

5:20 PM         106th Assault Shooting, 26th Child, survives

5:30 PM         107th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:36 PM         33rd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

5:40 PM         108th Assault Shooting, person survives

5:44 PM         38th Suicide Death with a gun

5:50 PM         109th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:00 PM         24th Murder with a gun; 110th Assault Shooting, 27th Child, survives

6:01 PM         111th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:08 PM         34th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

6:10 PM         112th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:12 PM         39th Suicide Death with a gun

6:20 PM         113th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:30 PM         114th Assault Shooting, person survives

6:40 PM         40th Suicide Death with a gun; 35th Accidental Shooting Injury, 7th Child, survives; 115th Assault Shooting, 28th Child, survives

6:45 PM         25th Murder with a gun

6:50 PM         116th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:00 PM         117th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:08 PM         41st Suicide Death with a gun

7:10 PM         118th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:12 PM         8th Suicide Attempt with a gun; 36th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

7:20 PM         119th Assault Shooting, 29th Child, survives

7:30 PM         26th Murder with a gun, 5th Child; 120th Assault Shooting, person survives

7:36 PM         42nd Suicide Death with a gun

7:40 PM         121st Assault Shooting, person survives

7:44 PM         37th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

7:50 PM         122nd Assault Shooting, person survives

8:00 PM         123rd Assault Shooting, 30th Child, survives

8:04 PM         43rd Suicide Death with a gun

8:10 PM         124th Assault Shooting, person survives

8:15 PM         27th Murder with a gun

8:16 PM         38th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

8:20 PM         125th Assault Shooting, person survives

8:30 PM         126th Assault Shooting, person survives

8:32 PM         44th Suicide Death with a gun

8:40 PM         127th Assault Shooting, 31st Child, survives

8:48 PM         39th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

8:50 PM         128th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:00 PM         28th Murder with  a gun; 45th Suicide Death with a gun; 129th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:10 PM         130th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:20 PM         40th Accidental Shooting Injury, 8th Child, survives; 131st Assault Shooting, 32nd Child, survives

9:28 PM         46th Suicide Death with a gun

9:30 PM         132nd Assault Shooting, person survives

9:36 PM         9th Suicide Attempt with a gun

9:40 PM         133rd Assault Shooting, person survives

9:45 PM         29th Murder with a gun

9:50 PM         134th Assault Shooting, person survives

9:52 PM         41st Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

9:56 PM         47th Suicide Death with a gun

10:00 PM       135th Assault Shooting, 33rd Child, survives

10:10 PM       136th Assault Shooting, person survives

10:20 PM       137th Assault Shooting, person survives

10:24 PM       48th Suicide Death with a gun; 42nd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

10:30 PM       30th Murder with a gun; 138th Assault Shooting, person survives

10:40 PM       139th Assault Shooting, 34th Child, survives

10:50 PM       140th Assault Shooting, person survives

10:52 PM       49th Suicide Death with a gun

10:56 PM       43rd Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

11:00 PM       141st Assault Shooting, person survives

11:10 PM       142nd Assault Shooting, person survives

11:15 PM       31st Murder with a gun, 6th Child

11:20 PM       50th Suicide Death with a gun; 143rd Assault Shooting, person survives

11:28 PM       44th Accidental Shooting Injury, person survives

11:30 PM       144th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:40 PM       145th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:48 PM       51st Suicide Death with a gun, 2nd Child

11:50 PM       146th Assault Shooting, person survives

11:59 PM       32nd Murder with a gun; 2nd Accidental Shooting Death; 10th Suicide Attempt with a gun; 45th Accidental Shooting Injury, 9th Child, survives; 148th Assault Shooting, person survives

Now repeat this, every day, until enough of us demand a better society.

My Inspiration

Inspiration

 

Christopher Hitchens wrote, “To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: why not?” This little blog started as a way for me to scream into deaf space when news events or personal experiences left me no other options; when nothing could mute the chest-tightening anger and helplessness I felt; when, as Shakespeare wrote, I bothered to complain “and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.” And so, I write. My first malediction was two years ago today. However, they were not so much my words but a reposting of the words written 45 days earlier by a young woman in Colorado. She wrote of the events she experienced at the Eaton Mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012 when a gunman (sorry NRA, he was a gunman (whom I refuse to name), not a perpetrator with some random weapon) opened fire in the Urban Eatery Food Court. Five people were shot, two died. She began:

 “I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.”

She continued by showing how, in three minutes, a decision to go out into the rain saved her life.

 “My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rang out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.”

That eloquent, insightful young woman was named Jessica Redfield and she was murdered two years ago today in the theater shooting in Aurora, CO. She and eleven others were killed and 70 others were injured that horrible Friday night. She is gone, but she continues to inspire. CarlyMarieDudley Since that time, her mother and thousands of others, many accidental activists driven to act after the horrors visited upon Aurora, CO or Newtown, CT or Oak Creek, WI or Santa Barbara, CA or Washington, D.C. or Spring, TX or any of the other tragedies that take 30,000 people a year. They have started a movement that will not only change the face of America, but make it a safer nation. It will not happen quickly (nor soon enough), but it will happen. Initially only disjointed lamentations from thousands of individuals, they have begun to coalesce into a united voice, a voice determined to prevent the next tragedy, a voice which has a goal of Not One More.

Consider the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Begun in 1980 by one mother, Candy Lightner, after her 13 year old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver, it has gone on to become a national institution in activism with over 600 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. MADD has worked to enact zero tolerance legislation across the country, enacted 0.08 blood alcohol level laws nationally, is partially responsible for a 40% reduction in drunk driving attributed traffic deaths since 1982 and brought the term “designated driver” into the public lexicon.

Using MADD as a framework and appreciating the need to commit time, dedication, and effort for the long haul, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after Sandy Hook. And if MADD felt hampered by the strong alcohol beverage lobby, Moms Demand Action knew they were up against the behemoth of all lobbyists, the NRA. When asked to explain their activism success, MADD provides a series of critical tenets, foremost among them having passionate, committed volunteers and putting a face on statistics. As MADD writes:

 “Before 1980, drunk driving deaths and injuries were spoken about in terms of cold, hard statistics—a tactic that was having little, if any, impact on reducing the number of deaths and injuries due to alcohol related crashes. But MADD didn’t speak of statistics. MADD spoke of loved ones, family members and friends—an intensely personal communication style that started with the organization’s charismatic founder and continues today. Every death, every injury is given a face, family and history— personalizing the issue so that everyone can relate, even those who have never experienced the tragedy of drunk driving.”

 Because statistics can be found to support almost any position, especially with the gun rights crowd continuing to fund discredited economist John Lott (or should we call him Mary Rosh?) and his specious data, we are reminded of the phrase attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” To counter this, gun violence groups, like Moms Demand Action, have combined the top two pillars of successful activism, according to MADD, by having passionate volunteers share the stories behind the statistics. As shown by MADD, it is a formula for success and a roadmap showing not only what can be accomplished but how long the path may take. No matter, the determination of these activists knows no limit because their well of compassion has no bottom.

Moms Demand Action has also tried to harness the power of social media to not only get out its message, but to affect change. They have seen this strategy beget success. However, personally I have all but given up on Twitter as a means of communicating having lost interest in attempting to conduct a rationale discourse with people responding in 140 character bursts of bizarre thought. More often than not, I find myself descending into a miasma with some troll and their obtuse paranoia and misogynistic vitriol into a spiraling Dante-esque hell with no Beatrice to lead me out. There is never any discourse (or room for movement) and the inevitable name calling is wholly a waste of time. So, too, it is with so many of the comment sections of news websites and Facebook pages. What begins as a thoughtful comment soon falls victim to the lowest common denominator of society, the base, violent name calling and misspelled threats. I can’t imagine the mail received at the White House.

Politicians understand polls and chase donations. To acknowledge this is to understand the rules required to bring about societal change. While a new Quinnipiac poll shows 92% of voters support requiring background checks for all gun purchases (including 92% of gun owners) and 89% of voters support preventing people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns (including 91% of gun owners) this poll also shows that words matter. Assistant Director, Tim Malloy stated of the poll,

 “Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.'”

In a fascinating series of articles in Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson wrote of 7 (not-so-easy) steps to beat the NRA. To me, most importantly (and something about which I have previously written) is the need to assimilate the various gun violence prevention groups into a unified voice capable, in terms of membership and funding, to compete on Capital Hill, in state politics, against the gun lobby and for the conscience of the public. This has now begun to happen. Recently, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have come together under the Michael Bloomberg funded umbrella Everytown for Gun Safety. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceAmericans for Responsible Solutions, the Newtown Action Alliance and others, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and It Can Happen Here continue their important work independently. There are economies of scale available to this movement which may be necessary to influence elected officials. It is unfortunate, but money talks in Washington and in state houses across America. It is a tactic successfully used by the gun lobby for decades and a resolution gun violence prevention groups must embrace.

Words matter. We are castigated for using the term magazine when we mean clip (or vice versa) and are constantly asked to define “assault rifle” (as if we invented it and it were not a term gun makers created so the average Joe could pretend he was G.I. Joe). Words matter, but so too can they inspire! Jessica Redfield continued in her post saying

“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening. I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Every hug from a family member is precious. So tune out the static of the conspiracy theorists, the angry trolls, the paranoid “patriots,” the delusions of the “false flag” crowd,  and the AM radio troglodytes. Instead, read as much as you can. Learn the subtle nuances of these issues and find the inspiration left to us by others. A cruise ship steaming at full speed will take over half a mile to stop after the engines have been reversed. But it will stop. So, too, will we change America and in the process, save lives. Over these past two years I have met some amazing people. People who would rather be doing other things with their lives but who have had their futures permanently altered by gun violence. Visit these pages for more information on how you can remember the events of two years ago today and, perhaps, find your inspiration:

Jessica Redfield Ghawi Foundation Scholarship Fund

ACT Foundation – Alexander C Teves Foundation

Alex Sullivan Fund

Although I never met her, Jessica continues to inspire me.

Meanwhile in Texas

Meanwhile in Texas

In light of the horrific massacre of a family in Spring, Texas yesterday, I thought it would be good to gauge the response of our elected officials. Since there was nothing but the sound of chirping crickets in response, I thought we should investigate why. These pictures tell the story. Here they are, your Texas elected officials:

Texas Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Greg Abbott:

Abbott2

Abbott3

Abbott5

Abbott7

Abbott8

Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry:

Perry

Perry2

Perry3

Perry4

United States Senator Ted Cruz:

Cruz

Cruz2

Cruz3

Cruz4

Cruz5

Cruz6

Cruz7

United States Senator John Cornyn:

Cornyn

Cornyn1

Texas State Senator and Republican Lt. Governor Candidate Dan Patrick:

Patrick

Patrick2

Patrick3

Texas Representative and Republican Candidate for Texas Senate Steve Toth:

Toth

Toth2

United States Representative Steve Stockman:

Stockman

Stockman3

Stockman4

Stockman5

Stockman6

Stockman8

Stockman9

Stockman10

Stockman11

But before we chastise these elected officials (and we aren’t even counting Louie Gohmert), let’s consider some of their constituents:

Constituent

Constituent2

Constituent3

Constituent4

Constituent5

Constituent6

Constituent7

Constituent8

Constituent9

Constituent11

Constituent12

Now I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter Response to Millionaire LaPierre

Mr. LaPierre,

On June 24, 2014, you took to The Daily Caller to pen an article critical of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun violence prevention efforts. As someone previously unfamiliar with The Daily Caller, I needed to familiarize myself with this “news” outlet. After researching it I find it to be the rabid, misogynistic, disturbed cousin politically to the right of Fox News. Anywhere further to the right and it would fall off of their flat earth. Further to the right of that and they could personally shake hands with the likes of your friend, Alex Jones. It is no wonder that you chose this venue to perpetuate your delusions.

In your article, you bang the familiar drums of “elitist” media types fawning over “Billionaire Bloomberg” and his efforts to “erase the liberty of every American.” Using a staccato series of one sentence “paragraphs”, you urge us “to sign up a new NRA member – a friend, a family member, a colleague” for $25 “less than a tank of gas, or even a box of cartridges.” Let’s forget for a moment that unless you are driving around Washington on a lawn mower, $25 will not fill anyone’s gas tank (although I have no idea how much a box of cartridges costs), consider that your bloviating  that “Bloomberg is one guy with millions of dollars – we are millions of people who believe in freedom who will stand and fight and win at the ballot box” neglects to acknowledge that with only 4 million members, the NRA neither represents the majority of Americans nor the majority of gun owners, but inflames an already frothing subculture ready to start a “revolution” at Bundy Ranch.

In an America where two-thirds of the population own no guns and one-third own 300 million guns, where, despite perpetual doomsday warnings, no guns have been confiscated by a tyrannical United States government and yet 32,000 friends, family members and colleagues are killed every year with a gun, your need to pad the NRA membership rolls by castigating a wealthy individual working to save lives is disgusting.

Your insistence that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is “another Bloomberg creation” shows your lack of knowledge and understanding of the ferocious outrage Americans felt after 20 first and second graders were murdered in school, along with 6 of their teachers; that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was formed at a kitchen table in Indianapolis and fused the determination of hundreds of thousands of shaken and horrified individuals from across the country into a social media juggernaut in little over one year speaks to your lack of understanding that a seismic shift occurred in America on December 14, 2012. Echoing Alice Walker’s sentiment that “Activism is the rent I pay to live on this planet,” the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that morning galvanized and awoke a distracted multitude of Americans into a passionate and compassionate army of activists who, in their individual despair screamed a collective, “Enough!”

The fact that you repeatedly mention Mr. Bloomberg’s wealth as a reason for us to ignore him is disingenuous, at best, and, at worst, hypocritical. According to the 2012 tax forms submitted by your organization, you were compensated roughly $1 million in 2012. A review of previous year’s returns confirms this compensation is quite steady. Should we ignore you because you are a millionaire? Does your wealth render your opinion moot? The difference is that while you are compensated to express the opinions of your gun manufacturer lobby employer, Mr. Bloomberg pays to back his up his opinions. Quite simply, you are paid, he pays a price.

Despite your claim that “We are the good guys” and that “money can’t buy our freedom,” the legislation (and legislators) that your organization has bought over the years has not solidified our freedom but subjected us to continued violence and incurable heartache. You seed paranoia to sell guns, blame the consequences on everything else and cash your checks.

To you I say: There is a change coming. It will not happen overnight or without great pain, but change is coming. History will judge you for your actions and those who rose against your lies. When fewer friends, family members and colleagues are lost to gun violence in the future the anachronism that is the NRA will collapse and the world will no longer shake its head at the violence we Americans accept with daily numbness and will once again look upon the United States as a champion of freedom and peace. Steady yourself, Millionaire LaPierre. Change is coming.

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