Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Congress

National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.

Intolerant

Orwell warning

At fifty years of age, having now buried my father and father-in-law due to lung cancer, and caring every day for my wife as she suffers the effects of breast cancer, and having just learned of the cancer diagnosis of another friend, I find my tolerance for what I call “manufactured drama,” those ultimately insignificant (or moderately annoying at most) parts of life rapidly subsiding.

I find it hard to believe that there are those among us who have not been touched by cancer’s reach or violence’s wound or any of the other catastrophic events we usually associate with prioritizing life’s other goals and worries in a hurry, but I am told they exist and society seems to function as if it were so. In fact, society not only seems to function as if it were this way, but it seems that these escapees dictate the course of public discourse, politics, religion, entertainment, sport, in short, lead society as a whole. How can this be?

We live in a society where, while 90% of climatologists not only agree that global warming is real, but that humans are a significant cause of the rising temperatures, and yet a United States Senator can stand in the well of the Senate with a snowball in February and claim that as proof that global warming is a hoax. When the House of Representatives can pass legislation prohibiting those same expert climatologists from presenting testimony in favor of House members standing on their soapbox, clutching their bible denying global warming, evolution, homosexuality, a woman’s right to her own body, and any other matter they choose with a 14% approval rating but with a 95% reelection rate.

We live in a society where we are addicted to fossil fuels and any attempt to move away from them is met with skepticism and outright contempt. Wind energy is deemed too inefficient, solar energy is deemed too expensive. Hydrogen fuel cell technology doesn’t exist to the point of viability yet. Hydroelectric energy, nuclear energy? Old and dangerous. And who deems it so? The ossified and incentivized. The only source of energy we are told we can readily “enjoy” is coal and oil. Just run that Keystone pipeline down from Canada to the Gulf. There will be thousands of new jobs. Well, temporary jobs. Thirty-five to 50 permanent jobs, but we’ll forget that part. Don’t read the fine print, America. In fact, don’t read anything at all. As usual. Ah, but there’s “clean” burning coal now! And “clean” burning diesel engines! Problem solved, go back to watching the Kardashians, America. Who will The Bachelor pick? Where did Honey Boo Boo go?

And that is the problem. We allow ourselves to be manipulated, misdirected. It is the obfuscation, the sleight of hand that lulls us into concern for our favorite sports team or the comings and goings of the latest person famous for being famous that allows us to ignore those larger issues. We watch a never ending series of awards shows on television. To the point where if we watch the Oscars and the Emmys, we will see the Oscars beat out the Grammys at the Emmys for Best Variety show. When does the celebrity sit and watch the awards show for best gardener? Why do we allow this? Because we’ve allowed the unaffected to dictate the agenda. We have allowed the simpleminded to lead the vacant; we have allowed those with one agenda item to lead all of us down their primrose path and away from what matters because it is easier for us, faster for us, cheaper for us, and allows us not to have to do that hardest of all things – think. Shame on us.

The NFL satiates the American male’s need for machismo. It is why pickup trucks are the number one selling vehicle in America. It satisfies the easy, fast, cheap manhood we have abdicated. We embrace half of the Second Amendment, hug our guns instead of our children, grow beards instead of tomatoes, ignore what concussions do to our children and heroes, turn a blind eye to a billion dollar, tax-exempt industry which ignores domestic abuse, turn an even blinder eye to the athletes cast aside who do not hit the NFL lottery and are left broken, broke and uneducated, and we call it sport.

We preach tolerance in our churches but forget those teachings as soon as we pass through the doors. Our politicians stand up at rallies clamoring for religious freedom in an effort to quash other’s religious inroads because what they really intend is Christian freedom, Christian law. In fact, the “tolerance” being taught, the politician’s speech, the political correctness of the 1990’s has been bastardized now into code. Political correctness is now nothing but code words. We don’t say black. We say thug. Both sides somehow claim to be fighting against a “war on women.” One side is correct. How did this come to be? Because we allowed it. Because it is easier for us to let someone else to think for us. Because we don’t read. Orwell would be horrified to know how right he was.

And so, I am left intolerant of those I should educate or pity. Intolerant of the dead eyes in the expressionless people of Wal-Mart. Intolerant of the manipulative politicians beating war drums for Eisenhower’s feared military industrial complex who must continue to churn out “product,” needed or not because Wall Street demands dividends even if enemy combatants do not yet exist. Intolerant of gun fanatics clutching their arsenals, crying over nonexistent government tyranny and confiscation and patriotically accepting the 30,000 we bury every year in the name of “freedom.” Intolerant of the ignorant who remain so in an age when information is so readily available. I am intolerant of those exorcized by the minutia because they are incapable of handling (or wholly unaware of) the important.

And yet, I cannot. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” My parents raised me to think. Education is my religion. I will try to remain humble because I know I am not alone. I will try to always learn. I will always continue reading. As those of us in the gun violence prevention movement, with whom I am so honored to surround myself so frequently say, I choose love. Intolerance is too heavy a burden. But so, too, is silence. I love my wife, my children, and my world too much.

I Hate Cancer

inhofe snowI am so sick of cancer. I have seen it eat away, like rust or termites, healthy individual’s lives, and the lives and futures of their families and friends. Whether it happens slowly over a long period of years or quickly over a few months; whether it is painful or pain-free, the wasting, the consumption, the evaporation of dreams and promises to one another, the snatching away of future weddings, graduations, births, celebrations of all kinds, extinguished like so many candles, this insidious disease remains unchecked despite science’s best efforts.

At a time when politicians throw snowballs on the floor of the United States Senate to convince us that global warming is a hoax (while prohibiting experts from testifying!), when those who deny evolution control the purse strings of the country’s science foundations, millions of people continue to suffer because we continue to lump 300 unique diseases into a single category and call them all “cancer.”

There will always be competing interests, but perhaps it would be best for our infrastructure priorities to be funded based on input from the nation’s most respected civil engineers and our most pressing medical priorities to be funded by input from our nation’s most respected physicians. Senator Inhofe holding a snowball in February proves nothing more than it is February, and in February one is likely to find snow in D.C.. Who would he have on the Appropriations Committee on cancer funding, Dr. Seuss?

Tipping Point of Possessive Pronouns

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

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

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

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

My Inspiration

Inspiration

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Redfield Ghawi Foundation Scholarship Fund

ACT Foundation – Alexander C Teves Foundation

Alex Sullivan Fund

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

Meanwhile in Texas

Meanwhile in Texas

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

Texas Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Greg Abbott:

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Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry:

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United States Senator Ted Cruz:

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United States Senator John Cornyn:

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

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Texas Representative and Republican Candidate for Texas Senate Steve Toth:

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United States Representative Steve Stockman:

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

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Now I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

Ideology

Ideology, like religion, demands one abandon critical reasoning and doubt. By another name, faith leads one to the comfortable conclusion that one’s position is unalterably correct, thus removing the prickly questioning normally associated with sentient thought. However, this relinquishment of critical analysis leads to ever more epistemic closure in a death spiral toward absolutism. In fact, absolutes invariably vanish the closer one gets to the issue. There is no “pure evil” just as there is no “pure good.” Humans comprise both ends and all intermediate places on the spectrum. To assume otherwise is to deny one’s own personality while subjecting others to an unnatural status. If the “devil is in the details,” then, by definition, any god is too far removed from the issue to offer alms.

Ideology, in its most rabid form, invariably leads to hatred, racism, subjugation or war. Consider the fundamentalists associated with White Pride or Black Power, xenophobia or nationalism, misogyny or homophobia. These “phobias” are, of course, mislabeled. They do not indicate a “fear of,” but rather a “hatred of” someone different than oneself. Simplistic by design, anyone with an opposing view is deemed ignorant or irrational and easily dismissed. Living in a black or white world (I mean this in terms of absolutism and not race) may be reassuring but it is most certainly delusional.

Current events supply two readily available examples of this: Ted Cruz’s 21-hour temper tantrum on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and those exorcised individuals “defending” the Second Amendment over the past nine months since Newtown.

Senator Cruz’s marathon speech, performed for no discernible purpose but to garner personal attention, was presumably conducted in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), although that possibility was only ever a Tea Party fantasy. Along party lines, the ACA was passed by both Houses of Congress in 2009 and signed by this Democratic president. Subsequent judicial challenges have validated the legality of the law. Whatever your thoughts are on our two party system, just like the odd sibling out in a family of three children, two against one will almost always prevail. Thus, for better or worse, a Republican controlled House will typically lose out to a Democratic controlled Senate and White House. This is not always the case, but in our ever increasingly polarized, and by extension, paralyzed Congress, petty party politics triumph where wisdom and governance is required. Ted Cruz personifies Tea Party doctrine and Washington grandstanding over negotiation and solutions.

In contrast to most gun control activists who feel obligated to include a blanket caveat of supporting the Second Amendment in every discussion, gun rights activists convey an ideology so absolute it crosses into militantism. Hatred and dogma preclude any discussion or negotiation. Their circular logic of I-need-my-gun-because-I’m-a-good-guy-and-the-guy-next-to-me-might-be-a-bad-guy (with no explanation of how we are to know he is a good guy other than faith) is the precursor to Hammurabi’s code, but in this case America is left with bullet riddled school children and paranoid gunslingers rather than someone simply losing an eye or a tooth.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that most gun rights activists are also members of the Tea Party. Nothing says “America” like an Austrian Glock and Chinese oolong.

Perhaps…

Perhaps the Republican Party will reflect on this election loss and consider its implications on their future.

Perhaps the religious right will no longer be the centerpiece of the Republican Party.  America largely ignored Romney’s Mormonism as an issue.  Perhaps Republicans can learn to ignore everybody else’s religion (or lack thereof).  As America becomes increasingly secular, perhaps we can dispense with the politically correct insipidness that it is alright for anybody to believe in creationism after they have attained the age of two and played with a toy dinosaur.  Perhaps the fanaticism employed by the right in their attempts to include God in every discussion should be left to the Islamic fanatics of the Middle East.  Perhaps the frenzied somnambulist’s nightmare of sharia law infiltrating American jurisprudence can be left to the conspiracy theorists.  Surely we can agree that while American’s rejected Romney’s attempt to return the United States to the social constructs of the year 1950, are there any circumstances under which we would accept a return to the Islamic laws of the year 632?  Someone once said that one conspiracy theorist is a schizophrenic, whereas a group of them is a Republican convention.  Perhaps it is time to change that.

Perhaps the right wing will clear themselves of their paranoid miasma of a national “confiscation day,” where President Obama personally goes door-to-door collecting every gun from the self-proclaimed “sane,” 2nd amendment loving, NRA financing, gun lovers.  Perhaps we can have a rational discussion on gun control and agree that ordinary citizens probably do not need a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 100 round clip in order to defend themselves from a burglar, unless the burglar is China, in which case we have an exceedingly well armored military.

Perhaps Republicans can agree that rape is not a topic on which there can be two rational sides.

Perhaps Republicans will see women’s rights and control over their own bodies as sacrosanct and not fodder for white men to debate.

Perhaps marriage equality will extend its foothold in the less religiously rigid states and plant the seeds for a national discussion devoid of homosexuality being considered a moral abomination and “curable.”

Perhaps Republicans will see Latino’s not as a monolithic Democratic voting block consisting of “wetbacks” and illegal (I hate this term) aliens, but rather Americans.  A look at any of the maps used by the networks in last night’s election coverage shows that America, beyond Tim Russert’s Red State/Blue State analogy is really about urban versus suburban, white versus everybody else (captured as that all-encompassing and grossly misrepresentative term “ethnic”).  For example,  white suburban Virginia versus the “ethnic” northern part of the state, white suburban Ohio versus the “ethnic,” blue-collared northern part of the state, white suburban western Pennsylvania versus the “ethnic” Philadelphia region.  See a pattern?  White’s comprise huge swaths of territory, but with few inhabitants versus the “ethnic” and densely populated cities.  The Red State/Blue State paradigm is flawed.  Perhaps, it should be county based, or perhaps it is time for white Americans to stop trying to return America to the “good old days” of segregation and oppressive “white power” and embrace their place in the prismatic colors that are America’s skin tones.

Perhaps Republicans will take this opportunity to unite with Democrats and engage in meaningful arguments about the cataclysmic topics facing America, represent their constituents without abandoning the greater good and moving the needle on America’s march into an energy independent future.  Perhaps we can dispense with the banal name calling and talentless idolatry rampant in America and engender personal responsibility as a manifesto for our children.

Perhaps Donald Trump will donate his $5 million to a charity of his choice and sit down.

Perhaps, but probably not.

How Big the American Penis

When did the morality of the United States go from entering World War II because it was the “right” thing to do to invading Iraq because we could?  We won the Cold War and promptly anointed ourselves the world’s policeman and obligatory parent.  We went from a Vietnam-era public untrusting of our government and pleading for peace to a public untrusting of our government and spoiling for a fight with it and everybody else.  We wrap ourselves in two diametrically opposed swatches of moral cloth; the second amendment and the bible.  We believe our government has become tyrannical and thus we must arm ourselves with all manner of weaponry.  We dismiss gun control with vitriolic fervor, siting the legislative ineffectiveness of established laws, while ignoring the fact that those same laws had been eviscerated by NRA-backed politicians.  “See, they don’t work,” say the gun lovers.  A cynical person might see this as a self-fulfilling prophecy purposely set up by the NRA to prove that gun laws don’t work, hiding the fact that the laws were programmed to fail as written.  Fitted with a 30-second sound bite mentality, we espouse our philosophy in fortune cookie slogans.  “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.”  “Should we outlaw the spoon to prevent obesity?”  “Should we outlaw the car to prevent automobile deaths?”  No, we should use some common sense and prevent 100,000 Americans from being shot every year.  Duh.  The problem, of course, is that common sense isn’t common anymore.

We must arm ourselves with concealed weapons because the boogeyman is going to attack us in our homes, while at the same time we profess to follow the teachings of Jesus.  “Keep Christ in Christmas,” reads the bumper sticker on the left side of the bumper of the twelve foot high pickup truck under which I can drive my Camry and not get wet from the rain.  The right side of the bumper has another sticker which reads, “Gun Control means using BOTH hands.”  If only someone in the audience in Aurora had been packing…

Yes, American machismo is alive and well, even without any requisite reasoning.  The top selling vehicle in 2000 was the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  In the years that have followed (living in the post September 11 world of war, our “desire” to move away from an oil based economy  and the birth of “green” technology), the best-selling vehicle through June of this year is the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  My, what we have learned!  True, gas mileage has increased over those ten years.  The 2000 F-150 only got 15 miles per gallon.  The 2012 model got 17.   And why do they have to be jacked up so high that in driving in my lowly hybrid sedan I can’t see past the steel wall in front of me.  Having them behind me is no bargain either.  Their headlights are so high that they pass directly into my rear view mirror!  And when did we begin to believe that pickup trucks must be driven like NASCAR vehicles?

Of course, there is a path back to reason that doesn’t have to pass through “Who is John Galt” egoism.  The 2008 Supreme Court decision referenced, championed and waived like a flag by the gun loving public (D.C. v. Heller) contains language that makes sensible legislation possible.  Two words, actually.  Paragraph number two specifically states:

The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

sensitive places.”  Further define “sensitive places” and the problem is solved.  Add movie theatres, churches, and anyplace else that I, my wife or children might wander and I’ll be happy.

The second option is to legislate around the second amendment’s archaic premise.  The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D- N.Y.) suggested on November 4, 1993 that while the United States had a 200 year supply of guns, we only had a four year supply of ammunition.  Turning the oft-quoted phrase noted above on its ear, he was quoted as saying before the senate, “Guns don’t kill people; bullets do.” He proposed legislation adding a tax on ammunition.  A 10,000% tax!  Translated, that means that a $24 box of 20 Black Talon cartridges would cost $1,500.  The Black Talon was a 9-millimeter hollow-tipped cartridge with a bullet advertised as expanding “to expose razor-sharp reinforced jacket petals.  Advertisements for these bullets are quoted as saying, “These cut tissues in the wake of the penetrating core,” and “penetrates soft tissue like a throwing star — very nasty; very effective; a real improvement in handgun ammo.”  Sounds like a great product!  Alas, despite his being the chairman of the Finance Committee, the bill went nowhere.  In an odd endorsement, the comedian Chris Rock, speaking years later as part of his routine, said:

You don’t need no gun control, you know what you need? We need some bullet control. Men, we need to control the bullets, that’s right. I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars… five thousand dollars per bullet… You know why? Cause if a bullet cost five thousand dollars there would be no more innocent bystanders.

Yeah! Every time somebody get shot we’d say, ‘Damn, he must have done something … Shit, he’s got fifty thousand dollars’ worth of bullets in his ass.’

And people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost five thousand dollars. ‘Man I would blow your (f*@#ing) head off…if I could afford it.’ ‘I’m gonna get me another job, I’m going to start saving some money, and you’re a dead man. You’d better hope I can’t get no bullets on layaway.’

So even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you wouldn’t have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back, like “I believe you got my property.”

In his 1870 work My Summer in a Garden, Charles Dudley Warner wrote, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Never was this truer than an agreement between Senator Moynihan and Chris Rock!

The macho American male dismisses “rational” discussion on these topics as the ranting of bleeding-heart liberals.  Tree hugging, global-warming-believing, socialists.  We won, you lost, discussion over.  Deal with it.  My gun is bigger than yours; my truck is bigger than yours. My penis is bigger than yours.  Now sit down and shut up before I hit you with either of them.

An Interview with James Madison

Published July 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thanks to Doc Brown, Marty McFly and time travel, James Madison was cryogenically preserved when he died in June of 1836 at the age of 84.  He was the last surviving Founding Father, considered the Father of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights.  Today, healthy and alive, he celebrates his first “second” birthday, having been reborn on July 4, 2011.  We sat down at the Off the Record bar in the Hay-Adams Hotel here in Washington to discuss what he thinks of the political experiment he helped craft over 220 years ago.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

First of all Mr. President, let me thank you for taking the time to meet with me and to wish you a very happy first birthday.

Madison:

Thank you, although I must say, I feel rather like the 261 year old I really am!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Well, I can only hope to look as good as you at 261, if you don’t mind my saying so, Mr. President.

Madison:                  

Very kind of you to say.

ThoughtsAtLarge:          

Mr. President, as one of the original architects of the American democracy, how do you think it has performed?  And as a follow-up, is it what you had envisioned it maturing into?

Madison:          

Let me first qualify your statement.  Yes, I was one of the people involved in the formation of the government, although, you must understand two things straight away. First, most of us were very young and the times were very uncertain.  I, myself, was only 26!  Second, we consciously created a republic, not a democracy.  The distinction is worth noting.  But to answer your question, I am generally pleased with how it has withstood time, although, it was intended to be more fluid than it has been interpreted.  For example, the three-fifths compromise as written in the Constitution seems both offensive and silly today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You are talking about Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 which states:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Madison:

Yes, that was a compromise between the northern and southern states regarding slavery.
But the 13th and 14th Amendments rendered that clause moot, thankfully!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You were originally a Federalist, or a proponent of a strong central government, but ended up changing to a Democratic-Republican, in favor of strong state’s rights.  Why the change?

Madison:               

Well, you have to understand that, at the time, there was no sense in having strong state’s rights without a strong central government.  However, once that was achieved, we could turn our attention to assuring the ability of individual states to control their own destiny.  Certain concepts lend themselves better to an overarching unanimity, while others can be subject to a more regional interpretation. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It is ironic that as the chief author of the Bill of Rights, you were originally against having them at all!

Madison:  

That’s correct!  I didn’t think they were necessary.  I also worried that by delineating specific rights, others, not delineated would not be protected.

ThoughtsAtLarge: 

There are now 27 ratified amendments to the Constitution.  Doesn’t that speak to your desire to have the government’s framework remain fluid?

Madison:     

To a degree, yes, although it was not our intention to have future Supreme Courts attempt
to opine on our intentions in 1789 without taking into consideration society today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Can you give us an example?

Madison:         

Of course, the First Amendment never foresaw radio, television, the internet, and iPhones, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.  The Second Amendment never foresaw any firearm more powerful than a single shot musket or the rise of the United States military to be the most powerful in the history of mankind. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It’s ironic you should mention the Second Amendment.  You were a strong proponent of protecting the citizenry’s ability to bear arms.

Madison:                     

Yes, I was, but, again, times were very different.  Our concerns revolved around foreign invasion and insurrection rather than a federal government evolving into a tyrannical dictator.  After all, it was the government we created!  We certainly never foresaw the awesome firepower now available to our citizens.  Remember, it was within the confines of a well-regulated militia that this amendment was conceived.  Today, it has been interpreted to mean that virtually any and all manner of firearm is available to our citizens.  I have read the gruesome accounts of mass murder committed by citizens with access to unbelievably powerful weapons.  Indeed, every day there are firearm murders, suicides and accidents committed under the auspices of my amendment.  This sickens
me!  Our government has evolved over time.  So too, must the Constitution, including the Amendments!  Common sense!  Where is the common sense?

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

So you would be open to changing the Amendment?

Madison:                    

Times change, sir, and so too must law.

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

I see our time has expired, Mr. President.  I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss your unique perspective on our government.  May I ask what your upcoming plans are?  Given the changes to which you must be adapting, I am curious to hear your plans.

Madison:        

I have relatives, descendants really, that live out west, far beyond what I knew as “west”!  I am traveling on my first airplane later this month and meeting with them.  I am also fascinated by the cinema.  My, let’s see if I can get this correct, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter wants to see the new Batman movie.  I am very much looking forward to it!

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

That’s lovely.  Where does she live?

Madison:           

Aurora, Colorado.