Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: character

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.”

 

Sharks and Cancer

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So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest…”  Quint, Jaws

It has been a very difficult year and a half. First, in November of 2014 my father died after a brief but excruciatingly painful fight with lung cancer which had spread to his bones. Almost one year later, last September, my wife died after a long fight with breast cancer which had spread to her lungs. And then only six months later, my dog died after a painful fight with a soft tissue cancer which had spread to his bones. One year, then only six months, part of me wonders what horror will befall us in three months. But I have to believe that the pain and suffering have ended now.  I can’t help but appropriate Quint’s quote to, “So, five of us went to Texas, three of us come home, cancer took the rest…”

Cancer has targeted my family for far too long now. I don’t want it to have any more power over us. My children have spent fully one-third of their lives living under the threat of cancer taking their mother and then their dog. Almost their entire teenage years, years difficult enough without cancer moving in to live with us, has been spent living under that dark cloud. They are 21 years old now and, in spite of these added pressures, will both graduate on-time from the University of Texas at Austin, each with over a 3.5 GPA. How they have been able to stay focused amazes me and is a testament to their strength of character.

I know people have had it harder than we have. I don’t claim to have a corner on suffering. And I am grateful for the seven years we were able to steal from cancer by moving to Texas and seeking treatment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I’ll never regret that decision. But if we could have a break from any additional pain for a short time, that would be great.

Each of us is dealing with these losses in our own individual manner. Certainly, grief counseling has helped, but we still face a world in which neither Lisa nor Delbow will walk with us any longer. We have had long discussions about faith, heaven, philosophy, and all of the accompanying topics. We disagree as much as we agree but the discussions are always lively and fascinating. I hope that we can each find some comfort in our positions.

Finally, there is the issue of moving forward. The house, already quiet from Lisa’s absence is now even quieter without Delbow’s rambling about. The kids are on spring break this week, so I have a respite before facing that still house alone. I now have six months of experience without Lisa and living alone. I hope this serves me well when the kids return to school. But before we know it, school will be over, graduations will have been concluded and we will be packing up for our trip back to Rhode Island. I hope it goes well and we can begin our new lives healthy. No sharks, no cancer.

Simplicity Fatigue

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There must be a term to describe simplicity fatigue, that feeling you get when your Uncle Know-it-all posts something on Facebook or Twitter which stuns you into open-mouthed disbelief at their lack of a fundamental understanding of a situation or their simplistic, childlike solution to the problem. Fatigue occurs after seeing “solutions” like this posted repeatedly by simplistic, linear-thinking people. Let us face facts. The problems facing our state, country and world are not simple. There are no more low-hanging fruit. To assume that there is a simple solution to a complex situation should invite derision. The mind-numbingly simplistic solutions I hear to these complex issues make me shake my head and fear for my children’s future. I’m not saying I have the solution, but I know enough to look beyond the basic. Politicians, who, with access to intelligence and reporting should know better, play to the simple-minded in the public for support of dangerous, short-sighted solutions.

Gun violence prevention is not an easy problem to solve. ISIS is not an easy development to understand. Neither is Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Israel. Or race relations, curing cancer, or parsing different religions. But to assume that there is a simple solution to all of the myriad complications within a given issue is feeble minded at best and dangerous at worst. The inability of most of the public to see more than one chess move ahead is frightening. I would worry about these people moving more than one Twister move ahead without causing bodily injury to themselves. Some of them should wear helmets.

But there is a fatigue that builds up over time reading comments to news articles online or in some cases the news article itself, never mind trying to follow the logic some display on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media. In some cases, they would be hysterically funny if they weren’t so deadly serious. And I’m not talking about grammar. That’s a discussion for an entirely different day. I’m talking about the rabid, linear “thinker” who cannot possibly understand the nuances of a given situation enough to rationally attempt to apply Occam’s razor.

Perhaps it is the fact that I’m still grieving the loss of my wife and father. Perhaps it is the downcast mindset I wake with each day because of this. But the social media fatigue I feel right now because of these linear thinking people makes me want to walk away from the computer, turn off the television and go read a book. And then I think of my children. If I walk away, who will fight for them? If I take a step back from any activism I engage in, are there those who will take up the slack? If decisions are made by those who show up, what right do I have to abstain and then complain? I need a way to regroup, recharge, and replenish in order to keep engaged. Perhaps turning away from it all for a while is the solution. I just hope there are enough like-minded people to carry on without me for a while.

Stupidity Fatigue

Head in HandsThere is a saying in the lottery industry when the public will not purchase tickets for a seemingly high jackpot called “jackpot fatigue.” It is caused by the ever increasing and ever publicized jackpots always available to the public. The public has seen it all before and heard it all before and nothing new can be said about the jackpot total to get them to the convenience store to purchase a ticket. It’s all been done before.

I find myself suffering a similar kind of fate lately regarding the public at large. Events that used to anger me now no longer pique my interest or at least no longer send me to my computer and my Twitter feed where I would once fire off a pithy comment. Twitter especially has become the bastion of trolls ready to engage in bumper sticker based retorts and troglodyte tantrums rather than the necessary thought out debates. It is the AM radio of the internet.

I feel guilty for abandoning those things about which I am still passionately concerned: gun violence prevention, women’s rights, protecting my children from all manner of political stupidity, animal welfare, etc., etc, but I know that there are still those out there whom I trust to carry the ball downfield while I suffer this miasmatic ennui. I still read and I still write, just not at the same temperature as before.

Right now there are about 300 GOP candidates running for president, so there is still time for me to come out of this spin and focus the laser. Right now the moms and dads of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are meeting in Minneapolis to discuss next steps. In another universe, a universe where I wasn’t working with hospice to care for my dying wife, I would have joined them to learn what I could do to better fight gun violence in blood soaked America. But that is not the universe in which I currently reside. I do not make excuses, but only present facts. I am tired, physically and mentally.

I am tired of the stupidity of the southern white male with his pickup truck emblazoned with hunting decals and NRA stickers, tired of the stupidity of religious hypocrites festooned with Christian stickers on their cars and quick to criticize anyone not their mirror image. I am tired of the stupidity of the 300 GOP candidates running for president who are fighting for air time by reaching for the lowest common denominator in their demographic and ultimately the shallowest of the public gene pool. I am tired of cancer and the stupidity of its suicidal march toward the murder of its host. I am tired of the stupidity. I am suffering from stupidity fatigue.