Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: 2014

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.

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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.

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.

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.

The Class Ceiling

On Sunday, June 9th, a 39 year old man was arrested following a 911 call from inside actress Sandra Bullock’s Los Angeles home. The man was arrested after having scaled a fence on her property and gaining access to her home via a back door while she was asleep upstairs. She was not injured in the intrusion. An investigation of the individual led to his being charged with 19 felony counts, including: seven counts of possession of a machine gun, 2 counts of possession of an illegal assault weapon and 10 counts of possession of a destructive device (tracer bullets), in addition to breaking and entering and trespassing.

As horrifying as this is, we, as Americans did not even bother with a collective shrug. We barely blinked when a gunman opened fire in Santa Barbara or when there was yet another school shooting in Oregon. We have become accustomed to both violence and guns. Too many of us are numb to it now. Couple that with the pervasive misogyny of the intertwined subcultures of men, guns and violence and you begin to see the framework upon which our society is now built and upon which some of our elected officials feed.

Ms. Bullock was in Los Angeles to accept an award. Nothing surprising there! Actors and actresses have an entire season dedicated to celebrating their celebrity. However, this award speaks to the subculture we’re discussing. Spike TV holds a Guy’s Choice Awards show every year. Ms. Bullock was there to accept their “Decade of Hotness” award. Now, whether or not Ms. Bullock is a talented actor is best left to individual taste (however her box office receipts and salary per movie indicate that she is worth the investment), but must we award “hotness”? How, in 2014, am I supposed to look at my daughter and tell her not to be too concerned with her looks, that we celebrate intellect and passion above appearance? She would laugh until she cried. And then she would shatter every mirror in our house. We need only look at the tabloids at the checkout line to see the focus of our shallow society. From “Best Bikini Bods” to “Guess who went under the plastic surgeon’s knife?” to the latest drivel from all the celebrated-beyond-reason Kardashians, we idolize celebrity, but only pretty celebrities.

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as an amendment to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, it states that:

No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions…

However, according to a study of The White House’s National Equal Pay Task Force, in spite of the fact that women play a major role in the economic engine of America (as compared to 1963) and the fact that women now earn more advanced degrees in America than men, women had only closed the gender wage gap from 61 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1963 to 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. While undoubtedly a significant gain, one would think that a law passed in 1963 would have completely eradicated the difference by now.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the term “glass ceiling” was first used by former Family Circle Editor Gay Bryant, and that was used to describe the competition between women in reaching the highest levels of business. She is quoted as saying, “Women have reached a certain point – I call it the glass ceiling. They’re in the top of middle management and they’re stopping and getting stuck.”  This definition of the glass ceiling would seem to mesh with the findings of the Council of Graduate Schools study where the majority of advanced degrees were obtained by women (59.5% of master’s degrees and 52.2% of doctoral degrees).

However, it is still a man’s world. From the media’s “sex sells” focus on female images Photoshopped beyond human anatomical limits to the overt compensation of men’s 3-story pickup trucks and need to openly carry AR-15’s and AK-47’s in Target and Home Depot, the male psyche is being beaten educationally and logically by women and has resorted to beating the female image with the only objects left to their stunted minds, guns and misogyny. Essentially, rather than dragging the woman to their cave by their hair, they subjugate her by obliquely beating her with the blunt object between their legs through anthropomorphic means in the form of a firearm. What a shame.

If only men saw women as equals and sought their advice on the important social issues of our time, perhaps we would find a partner instead of a punching bag. As President Kennedy said repeatedly, beginning in 1959, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Instead, members of Open Carry Texas have resorted to calling members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, “thugs with jugs” and have a one minute free for all where they open fire on a female mannequin. Guns get bigger, but, we’re told,”they’re only used for hunting,” as if we are supposed to believe that deer, birds and rabbits have gotten exponentially larger and evolution has furnished them with Kevlar skin.

We’ve become little boys with big toys (or more accurately, big boys with little minds and big guns). Am I expected to teach this to my daughter? Am I expected to treat my wife this way? Am I expected to subjugate my mother like this? And what does any of this teach my son? You may call me less than a man or a wimp or a feminist, but I’d rather open my arms and use my intelligence than open my legs and show my ignorance.

(If you’re interested in a little mental exercise, read this post. I was writing it in 2012 as news broke from Newtown, Connecticut of a shooting at an elementary school.)

My Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s not one I’m proud of, especially given my small participation in trying to reduce gun violence in America. On May 23rd, in Santa Barbara, a gunman killed six people and then himself on a college campus. On June 5th, in Seattle, a gunman killed one person on a college campus. On June 8th, in Las Vegas, a couple killed three people, including two police officers and then themselves. And yesterday, in Troutdale, Oregon, a student killed another student and then himself. Oh, and on June 3rd, in New Brunswick, Canada, a gunman killed three police officers. Nineteen days have passed since the murders in Santa Barbara. Eighteen people died in those 5 incidents.

According to the Brady Campaign, on average, 86 people are killed by gun violence in America every day (33 are murdered and another 50 kill themselves). Every day another 205 are shot and survive (including 148 shot during an assault, 10 suicide attempts and 45 “accidents”). To annualize those numbers is to understand the magnitude of our psychosis. 31,346 people are killed due to gun violence every year. Another 74,835 are injured, but survive. That amounts to over 100,000 Americans victims of gun violence every year.

In the 543 days since 20 six- and seven-year olds were murdered along with six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, there have been 74 school shootings. Seventy four! If the chart below of school shootings doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, you have liquid nitrogen running through your veins.

Yesterday, President Obama said, “The country has to do some soul searching about this. This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted, in ways that as a parent are terrifying to me.” Ah, but all of these people must be crazy, whispered the 2A “patriots.” To wit, the president said, “The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.”

The United States has a gun homicide rate 20 times higher than other developed countries. Surely, we are not to believe that we have 20 times more mentally troubled people than these other developed countries. Their reply, “It’s the person not the gun. A gun is an inanimate object. If it weren’t for the gun, they would find another method.” To wit, I would refer you to author Steven King’s response in his book Guns:

 “I read a jaw-dropping online defense of these weapons from a California woman recently. Guns, she said, are just tools. Like spoons, she said. Would you outlaw spoons simply because some people use them to eat too much? Lady, let’s see you try to kill twenty school kids with a fucking spoon.”

There are over 300,000,000 guns in America. If having a gun made people safer, America would be the safest country on the planet. We’re not. Not even close.

The White House tweeted the following comment from the president yesterday:

So, my question to you is this: What will it take? The slaughter of 20 school children didn’t do it. Eighty six deaths and 205 injuries a day hasn’t done it.  Seriously, what will it take for us to say, “Enough”?  Is there a number? Is there a victim? Are we content with this and numb to the stories? Have we swallowed the “good guy” line from the NRA and now consider these deaths and injuries collateral damage and friendly fire in order for us to “exercise” our “God given” Second Amendment right? Or are we ready to insist on change? Will we demand a better, safer future for our children? As one of the millions who work every day to bring about change I believe we deserve, I hope so, because here is my confession: I have muddled the most recent shootings. I can’t keep them straight in my head. I feel horrible for the victims, family members and friends of the victims, because they deserve to be remembered. I just can’t keep them straight anymore. I demand better of myself and my country. What about you?

Mother’s Day

Mothers Day

 

In honor of my mother, my wife, my sister and all of the mama bears of Moms Demand Action, here are a few quotes on mothers. In short, thank you.

 

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”

Washington Irving

 

 “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”

Mitch Albom, For One More Day

 

 “Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 

 “He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

“My mother is a poem that I could never write”

Unknown

 

“Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues — faith and hope.”

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

 

“My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

“If I were asked to define Motherhood, I would have defined it as Love in its purest form. Unconditional Love.”

Revathi Sankaran

 

“Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.”

Jodi Picoult, Perfect Match

 

“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?”

Milton Berle

 

“Having kids — the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings — is the biggest job anyone can embark on”

Maria Shriver

 

“The phrase “working mother” is redundant.”

Jane Sellman

 

“With children the clock is reset. We forget what came before”

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

 

“My most important title is still “mom-in-chief.” My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.”

Michelle Obama

 

“I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”

E.M. Forster, Howards End

 

“A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.”

Victor Hugo

 

 

A Conversation With My Daughter

feminist

 

“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

I am lucky. As a heterosexual, white, American man, I found, out of the millions of available women, the best. Does that sound right? “I,” “I found,” “I am lucky.” Let me try to rephrase that. A strong, compassionate, brilliant woman, a woman with talent and brains and limited tolerance for fools, a woman destined to positively impact the lives of countless people, chose me. Better. Although I was right, I was/am lucky.

I had the most incredible conversation with my 19 year old daughter last night. It was a text message conversation, but, in many ways, the technology was not a barrier to thought or feelings, but an aid. Perhaps it is the inherent delay in responding or the necessity to distill thoughts into typed words. Whatever the cause, the effect was blinding, pure logic bathed in compassion. The subject: Feminism.

Again, I’m a guy. But that does not preclude me from discussing or even embracing feminism. Ultimately, feminism is one wavelength within the light spectrum of equality.

Plato wrote in The Republic,“If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.” That was in 380 B.C.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban on her school bus for having the audacity to think, “Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” (I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban)

Clearly, in 2,392 years we have done little to evolve as humans. Why do some (males and females) see feminists as the enemy? Why have some vilified them as militant, anti-men?

To help answer this question, I need to back up to a 30,000 foot view of “civilized society.” My daughter is an artist, and the best kind. She is infused with talent, an incredible work ethic blended with a strong desire to learn and stirred by passion; truly a recipe for greatness, both as an artist and as a compassionate human. As we chatted last night we wandered into a metaphor that, I think carries some veracity. The idea that while seeing all issues in pure black and white is easy (read: requires little or no thought), it is boring and excludes the rainbow of colors that make life (and art) joyful. Seeing (or rather acknowledging) the gray in an issue requires us to pause and consider differing opinions, perspectives and, potentially, shaking the ledge upon which we base our morals. It is neither comfortable nor easy, but it is necessary and should be required! Somewhere along the line, Descartes argument cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) has been bludgeoned into “I am, therefore I need not think.” How sad.

Feminism is not the charge of a select group of women but rather the obligation of all rational thinkers, therefore, all of humankind. Where it is the weak minded and threatened man who disdains feminists, so too is it the weak minded and male-oriented, society-molded female who defends organized subjugation. To subjugate one is to imprison all. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “”No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Our willing abdication of thought may inevitably lead to an Orwellian future of newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrimes and perpetual war. How far down this road are we already? Who wants to drive?

I am proud of my daughter. She is strong-willed, passionate and compassionate, thinks for herself and wants to make the world a better place. If that is the definition of a feminist, sign me up.

House (and Senate) Calls

DFAGunsSharable (1) 

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

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

I’m glad you asked.

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

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

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

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

And whose core values and culture are listed as:

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

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

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

arguing with the dead

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