Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Today

Picture1We are divided. We are angry. Regardless of what side of the political chasm you stand on, we each scream at ears that cannot hear. Each side can site their own origin for our condition, but increasingly, our cold civil war is getting hot.

And now we have lunatic sending bombs to critics of the president while the president continues to pour gasoline on the growing firestorm.

Words are my religion. They are far more important to me than physical persuasion. Books are portals. Carl Sagan wrote as part of his incredible Cosmos series,

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

And yet, in our hurry-up world of 280 character pontifications, arguments and debates are reduced to ad hominem attacks and ad reductio gotchas. We are a heavily armed society with hair-trigger sensitivities and no sense of personal responsibility. That’s a terrible combination.

Cicero wrote, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason” and I understand the sentiment. As of right now, three bombs have been sent to New York City. My son lives in New York City. This individual has subjected everyone handling these packages (whether politically likeminded or not) and everyone around them to harm from within a potential blast radius. I look at Google Maps to identify where the newest bomb has been located and then see where my son should be at that moment. I am a civilized man, but also a father. I do not own a gun, and I treasure words. However, as a father, should I encounter the individual sending these bombs, I would not hesitate to punch them in the face.

Perhaps that makes me part of the problem, maybe I’m merely a parent, regardless, we all must do better. And it starts at the top. And it begins with the individual. The president leads, and we are responsible for ourselves. I’ll do my part. Mr. President? #Vote

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Rules

Rules

 

Following the news that the Trump family cheated us out of over $497.80 million in estate taxes comes news that son-in-law and senior White House advisor Jared Kushner paid little or no federal income taxes between 2009 and 2016. Couple that with the “still being audited” bullshit being run by Trump as the reason why he “can’t” release his tax returns and we can only guess whether we, as taxpayers, are subsidizing the current kleptocracy at an over or under $1 billion price tag.

And yet, at this point, we have been conditioned by the daily shitstorm of Tweets, rants, insults, and societal oversteps that we simply yawn. Shame on us. Our gag reflex at the absurd and unacceptable has been blunted by repetition and callused by social media. But Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That is the freedom we should be seeking, that is the independence we should be searching for and celebrating, not whether our president weirdly hugs a flag or misrepresents a football player for kneeling before a game.

My life is extremely important to me and me alone. My story will appear in no history book, my children my only legacy. I get up, go to work, do my best and I pay my taxes. We are all the result of our circumstances and our decisions based on those circumstances. I have raised children the best I could while making mistakes for which I will forever be ashamed. That said, they are the best thing that has ever happened to me and the best thing I will ever leave this world. I have willingly sacrificed a career to be a caregiver. I have buried my wife and tried to find happiness in a world I hardly understand. In other words, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about me. And I pay my taxes. I am happy to do so. I enjoy driving on paved roads. I complain about potholes. I enjoy living in the United States. I complain about military spending. I enjoy pizza. I complain about being too heavy. I still think I can hit a fastball and I see wrinkles in my neck.

But I am tired of playing by the rules when the rulers do not. I doubt Donald Trump has paid any taxes in the past 20 years. None. And he claims to be worth $10 billion. Jared Kushner paid little or no taxes over an 8-year period. And he’s worth $324 million. How many potholes would that have filled? How many schools would that have built? How many teachers would not have to buy their own supplies with that influx of taxes? Not to mention the $497.80 million Donald’s Daddy bilked us out of over the years by funneling money to his children. How many veterans, that the president claims to adore, could he have been personally treated or outfitted?

Having been raised Roman Catholic, and hard-wired with intrinsic guilt, the old saying, “How can you sleep at night?” always played in my head. That was always the guilt trip for past transgressions. Too late for future improvements. I always liked to play it in advance with the opportunistic, “What would I do in that situation?” This has afforded me the chance to make decisions, not always the correct ones, that I could defend to my children at a future date. “What did you do about gun violence after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, dad?” I can answer that.

But kleptocrats answer to neither guilt nor history. To the question, “How can you sleep at night?” Trump answers, “Fine, either in the White House or in one of my gold palaces.” To the question, “What did you do about climate change?” Trump will answer, “Got us out of the Paris Climate Accord, watched the icebergs melt and the polar bears starve to death (before poor Don Jr. and Eric could shoot them to death), watched Florida sink into the Atlantic, and spent my gazillion, tax-free dollars golfing and eating KFC. I’ll be dead before the air is too toxic to breathe and burns you to ashes. Now go pay your taxes, suckers.”

 

#FreePress

Free Press

In May of 2016, a research article was published showing the rising level of partisanship in Congress from the 81st Congress (1949-1951) through the 112th Congress (2011-2013). The video, posted by Business Insider in 2016, looks like some bizarre red/blue organism’s mitosis except the resulting two cells have nothing to do with the original host cell. It is less mitosis and more segregation.

But that was in 2BT, a time which only seems like 2,000,000 years ago on the geologic time scale. A time we now call Before Trump (BT). Now in 2ST (Since Trump), we live in the “post-fact” world, a world of “alternative” facts. A world where, according to the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, as of August 1, 2018, in 558 days of the Trump presidency, Mr. Trump has made 4,229 false or misleading statements (an increase of 978 in two months). For those wearing neither their 1970’s calculator watch nor wanting to do a quick calculation on their smartphone, that works out to an average of 7.58 false or misleading statements per day.

And while no president thinks the press treats them with the deference they feel they deserve, the Founding Fathers felt so sure that a free press was necessary as a check on power they acknowledged it in the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Edmund Burke’s “Fourth Estate” was thus protected.

But now in 2ST, the president considers the press “an enemy of the people.” Although, let’s be clear, only those institutions who disagree with his positions. Today, over 350 papers across the country printed editorials restating their mission and discrediting Trump’s outlandish statements. Of the several places my family or I have lived and/or the newspapers to which I subscribe I give you a sampling of these editorials:

The Boston Globe

The New York Times

The Houston Chronicle

The Providence Journal

The Cape Cod Times

The Hartford Courant

The Austin Statesman

And before anyone rebuts with an argument of “well, if you’re such a fan of the First Amendment” how can you want every media outlet to remove Alex Jones?” Alex Jones, the InfoWars clown who once interviewed Donald Trump on his show and on which Trump said of Jones, “”Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

Simple, the press is responsible for reporting facts. As longtime New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” In response to a different assault on reason, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson also once said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

When newspapers get the facts wrong, they print retractions and corrections. The Wild West world of social media has no such disciplinary mechanism other than the individual organization’s self-government. However, as private companies, users of these social media platforms are subject to the organization’s guidelines. I find what Alex Jones has said and instigated, specifically to the families of the children and educators murdered in Newtown, CT, beyond abhorrent. Oscar Wilde’s once commented,

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself,”

Private social media companies owe Jones no such freedom. He remains free to spew whatever hateful, disgusting lies he chooses (in order to continue selling snake oil tinctures to tin foil wearing well-armed survivalists awaiting some impending race/religious/political philosophy/government Civil War redux), it’s merely that no platform is forced to publish it.

So today I stand with news outlets across the country to call out a delusional president living in his own, self-created echo chamber determined to silence critics of his “agenda.” And I sleep confidently that the First Amendment can withstand calling out the president while private companies exile Alex Jones.

Celebrate Knowledge

Professor Hawking

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

 

Earth has lost one of its great thinkers. Stephen Hawking died at age 76.

Consider this: Professor Hawking was born 300 years to the day after Galileo died and died on Albert Einstein’s birthday. If he stood on the shoulders of other intellectual giants, perhaps his most significant achievement lies in the number of scientists who have followed him into science. He sought answers from the cosmos and conveyed it to the masses.

In an age where we celebrate celebrity, where fame is counted in magazine covers and computer clicks, Professor Hawking was famous for his mind! Today that seems as fundamentally difficult to grasp as Hawking radiation. And yet, in an America whose president conveys policy and fires cabinet secretaries in 280 characters or less, Professor Hawking, along with Jacob Bekenstein, was able to describe the thermodynamic entropy of a black hole in eleven characters.

Bekenstein-Hawking Entropy Formula

Celebrate Professor Hawking’s life today and contemplate what we value. Consider valuing health over drama, love over money, and intellect over fame. Idolatry is not the answer, knowledge is.

Happy Pi day.

Groundhog Day, Again

I’m pissed, and I’m tired, again. We’ve had another mass shooting in America. Surprise!

Our Founding Fathers (capitalized for respect!) were human, both flawed and determined. Their intellect and debate resulted in the living breathing document we call the Constitution. It, like them, is flawed and determined. It, like them, should not be considered sacrosanct. As a living, breathing document, created by humans, not gods, it is malleable to time. It is time we repeal the Second Amendment and confiscate the guns.

Sorry, Mr. President, sorry Congress, the United States is not burdened with higher levels of mental health issues than other countries. It is merely awash in guns. That is the problem. And until we face it, “active shooter” training in schools, emergency direction notices before movies, “thoughts and prayers” after every shooting from gutless politicians led by Republican intransigence at the direction of their NRA marionette masters will result in a continuing momentary sense or shock followed by a pandemic ennui throughout the public.

We now consider mass shootings and daily gun violence the new normal in America. The rest of the world also sees it as the new normal in America, and wonders why. We don’t even bother to wonder why anymore. This is not normal and should not ever be considered normal. Gun violence is a scourge injected into our society by flooding our lives with guns. Guns or drugs, it’s the business model. Flood the streets with them, deposit the cash, sit back and watch the inevitable, ensuing death metastasize. And the solution? More guns! Guns as the answer to fear caused by guns. Good marketing technique! A terrible shift in our collective consciousness.

We wring our hands and lament the “impossible,” multifaceted response required to address gun violence. No! The answer is simple. Remove the guns. No guns, no gun violence. That is my position. Call me a Democrat, call me a liberal, call me an asshole. I don’t care. No guns, no gun deaths. The Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth, ending prohibition. Write a new Amendment abolishing the Second. And then have a big bonfire for the 300 million plus guns in an America with a new normal.

MLK, Jr. Today

MLK MonumentToday we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America. We mark it under a racial cloud because of what our president said recently about African and Caribbean nations. “Shithole/Shithouse nations” according to our, at best, racially obtuse president, and at worst, racist president.

Solomon Northup, in Twelve Years a Slave, wrote, “There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet… it may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s coming as sure as the Lord is just.”

Northup wrote that in 1853, eight years before the outbreak of the American Civil War, 10 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, 12 years before the ratification of the 13th Amendment, 76 years before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, 111 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 115 years before King’s murder. And today, 50 years after King’s assassination and 165 years after Northup’s account, we are still paying the price of what President Obama termed “America’s original sin.”

There are epochs in history, categories into which we place significant events. We may consider ancient history to encompass the construction of the great pyramids or the rise and fall of Rome.  And we may believe the American Civil War to be “ancient” within the framework of the United States’ existence. Too quickly we relegate events to history and therefore outside an era upon which our brains must examine events contemporaneously. If we think of an event as being “history,” we can, to a certain extent, dismiss it as being old and no longer relevant.

Consider this, then: Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 89 years old today. Conceivably still living, had he not been murdered in 1968. His contemporaries, those also born in 1929 and still among us include journalist Barbara Walters, actor Christopher Plummer, actor/comedian Bob Newhart, actor Ed Asner, author Eric Carle, and actor Max von Sydow. Dr. King was only 39 years old when he was murdered. This April 4th will mark 50 years since his slaying. By 2008, King had been dead longer than he had ever lived. Imagine what he might have achieved, where we might have been as a nation concerning race relations, had he lived these past 50 years.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is not the monument in the photo above that I captured in Washington, D.C. last summer touring the city with my children. Do not let the black and white pictures you have seen or grainy, less than 1080p online video fool you. He is a contemporary man who was trying to make the world a better place, not an ancient figure no longer relevant. He words still give rise to voices now because we still have work to do.

Perhaps the rise of nationalism and xenophobic tendencies we see, not only in America (Trump) but all around the globe, is cyclical. At its worst, we devolve into world wars. I hope that what we see today is a venting, a voice being periodically given to those otherwise so staggeringly ignorant we usually must drag them kicking and screaming toward a better future for all creatures living on this small blue dot careening through the universe. I hope that this is only a venting and authoritarian plutocracies do not get a foothold. I hope that we will again celebrate President Kennedy’s (via Ted Sorensen) aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” and we are not moving toward a future resembling 1853 or some other cataclysmic date in our collective “ancient” history.

I Dreamed a Dream Where I Could Dream

Empty Dream Catcher

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

In Act 3, Scene 1, as part of Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be?” soliloquy, Hamlet wonders if in death, which he assumes is only sleep, what dreams may come. And whether they are different from the dreams of the living after the distractions of daily life have been removed. He wonders if these dreams are to be feared, which, he posits, may be the reason we are unwilling to end life’s suffering at our own hand. Such are the thoughts of a plotting Danish prince who knows his uncle has recently murdered his father and married his mother to make himself king. But the premise upon which this fantastic speech is based is one I can appreciate but not experience. You see, Hamlet dreams.

I do not dream, and therefore, do not experience worlds beyond the one my eyes reflect. Reality is my only realm. The wondrous, stupefying, and horrific experiences of reality comprise all of my knowledge. I am not the unwitting audience of my imagination’s creation and performance each night. People’s wishes of “sweet dreams” are lost on me. So, too, any dread of nightmares. But is that a willing price, were I able to negotiate this? I think so. I wish I could dream. That is my waking dream. So why not me?

I’ve heard people say we all dream, it is merely a matter of when during the sleep cycle we awaken that allow us to recall dreams. However, I find it improbable that I can awaken every morning in any sequence of sleep other than that which will enable me to remember dreams. And this is in spite of the fact that I do not go to sleep at the same time every night and that my sleep is unnaturally interrupted each morning by an alarm clock rather than me surfacing from my slumber of my own volition. Of the 365 nights each year, I may recall five dreams, essentially one dream every two and a half months, meaning over 98% of the time I will not dream. By comparison, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern flipping a coin and it landing on heads 85 times in a row seems relatively unremarkable.

I can think of no higher representative of humanity than our imagination. It can be both terrible and beautiful. No other creature possesses this power. Schools and society attempt to beat imagination out of us, which is why children should be encouraged to maintain and develop their creativity separate from the societal structure and the constraints we place upon them. And in no realm other than sleep does imagination manifest itself freer than in our dreams.

This condition leaves me longing for (and angry about and jealous of) what others tell me from time to time. People will, on occasion tell me they dreamt about my late wife. How it was nice to see her, hear her, laugh with her, as if she had taken the train from heaven to spend a little time with them in some previously negotiated agreement with God in a place between heaven and earth called sleep. Please do not misunderstand. I am very happy for them if it brings them comfort and happiness. Perhaps, too, they have the obverse of that same coin. Maybe they have nightmares about her suffering and dying  (presumably not previously negotiated with God by Lisa) and they compassionately choose not to share those unwelcome dreams with me.

But I am left wondering if I am somehow not worthy of these almost tangible meetings. As if I am doing something wrong when I sleep. It leaves me lost in my waking conscience and subject to my limited imagination. Daydreams are malleable, but predictable in that they are rendered on the plane of consciousness, limited to reality’s laws of physics and rationale. Any comparative daydreams of mine are, in fact, nothing more than misremembered or subjective memories. Not so dreams. People dream of flying, falling, and, of course, spending time with people both famous and familiar who have died. Why not me?

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh says, “I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

Nothing against anyone else, but why not me?

 

Now?

Enough

Is it too soon to talk about gun violence prevention after the murders in a Texas church?

Too soon? Insensitive? Politicizing?

Then can we talk about it related to Las Vegas?

No? Still too soon?

What about Orlando? Still too soon?

Yes?

Charleston? Roseburg? San Bernardino?

Really?

Washington Navy Yard?

Still? Hmmmm.

Surely Aurora?

No?

Okay, Sandy Hook?

No? Really? 5 years ago, almost?

Okay, you tell me. What time frame needs to pass before we can discuss an incident?

 

 

 

Still waiting.

 

No other country ranks their mass killings like the United States. No other country needs to rank them! No other country needs to rank the mass murders in their churches like the United States. Something is very wrong here. Sorry, Mr. President, Americans are not any more mentally deranged than any other country. The difference is access to guns. When is enough enough? When will Congress address this? Why do we tolerate inaction? Oh, sorry. Still too soon?

Diamonds

Two Diamonds

 

Weightlifters are strong. Carbon fiber is strong. America is strong.

These are the things we are taught represent strength. But in my experience, these items are breakable. Weightlifters may be able to bench press a Buick, but given enough reps, they can lift no more. Carbon fiber has a known tensile strength beyond which it breaks. And America has shown itself corruptible at various times throughout its history for a variety of reprehensible reasons. Why aren’t we taught that it is the individual who is strong?

I have known many people in my life. Some I can unconditionally qualify as kind, decent people. Others prove their lack of knowledge and compassion every time they profess their intellect. Most of us are a homogenization of sound and poor traits, just trying to get through life without the benefit of a manual. And then there are those who personify strength and determination.

The first trait of the strong is honesty. Honesty is the best policy for everyone until the truth hurts. The honest person is often seen as someone’s best friend until the honest person is honest with the friend. Often, the friend wilts beneath the eye of truth and the relationship itself withers. This requires there be a certain amount of strength to befriend a strong person. And I am not equating a strong person with having a strong personality. The two are not always required to be linked. The strong person leads a determined life while the strong personality may only be projecting a determined life.

The second trait of the strong is their response to the inevitable appearance of obstacles in life. Whether they be health concerns, family crises, professional challenges, or some other impediment, the strong know no other response than to fight. I also believe they find it easier to fight for someone other than themselves. Indeed, I believe they often garner the will to face indescribable personal challenges by projecting the need for success on the impact failure will have on those they love. Lao Tzu said, “”Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

A third trait of the strong is the ability to let go. This may sound counterintuitive but bear with me. In her column, Ann Landers once wrote, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” Whether this is a response to a terminal illness after fighting for as long as possible or the self-preservation associated with ending a relationship, letting go requires its own hard decision and determination to see it through.

In each of the traits outlined above, the only people I have known who have incorporated each of them and lived their lives accordingly have been women. This is not to denigrate men or relegate them to some pile of the weak. Instead, it is merely a reflection on the strongest individuals I have encountered.

I lost another of these incredible, inspiring women last night when Cathy Nance passed away. Cathy leaves two small children and a loving husband. But that is only the beginning of her legacy. You see, the legacy of the strong is strength. A strength her husband Scott will need to draw on now to carry on and a force her family and friends will need to harness to continue her work.

I met Cathy in Texas as accidental activists moved to action by the gun murders of twenty elementary school students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Ignorance and acquiescence were no longer options for many people following that day in December. In the months that followed I met incredible people as we spoke out demanded better for our nation. To a person, everyone I met was a woman. It is hard enough being a woman given the male-dominated society we live in. We nod to some amorphous, chivalrous maxim while ignoring the sexism rampant in every facet of life. Imagine then how difficult it was to stand up and challenge gun violence and the gun culture in Texas where guns probably outnumber people.

I was only in Texas because we were seeking cancer treatment for my late wife. She was the strongest person I believe I will ever meet, encompassing every trait of the strong and radiating enough of it to allow me to survive her and continue living. Cathy’s own cancer diagnosis followed sometime after that. Why is it that the strongest people I know, people with the determination and courage to face any injustice or personal challenge, are hit with an unwinnable foe? It never seems to be a fair fight. I’ve known people who have beaten cancer, but their cancer was either caught early or of a nature that science had a remedy. That is not to say those survivors were not strong, they are, but why is it that the strongest are hit with something unbeatable? And what is it in these individuals that they continue to fight unabated? It is the embodiment of Faulkner’s line in Absalom, Absalom!, “If happy I can be I will, if suffer I must I can.” That is the hallmark of the strong.

Weightlifters and carbon fiber and America may be strong (with limitations), but perhaps the best example of strength is, ironically, something associated with women. It is the diamond.

There is one more quote I would like to reference here, and it aptly references a gun. I can think of no better summation of my friend Cathy.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I have known several diamonds in my life, and we lost one last night. Thank you, Cathy, for showing us what strength looks like. May we all harness the strength you radiated to continue your work and to strengthen ourselves. A fitting legacy to another lost diamond.

Without You, Again

Wedding Photo

We were denied our 26th anniversary two years ago when cancer took you a week before. Now I’ve had to endure what should have been our 27th and 28th without you. If our vows said “until death do us part,” why does it feel as though part of me died when cancer took you? Happy anniversary, Lisa. I’m doing the best I can without you. Thank goodness for the kids. And fuck cancer.