Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: logic

Steel Blue

gun xray

My children, twins, will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in three weeks. This a full summer semester before campus carry takes effect. I am so thankful they will have enjoyed their time at college before the advent of guns in their classroom. In addition, we will be moving to Rhode Island in the weeks following graduation. This will exempt us from seeing Texas open carry zealots who cannot shop in a grocery store or visit a restaurant without their trusty firearm by their side, like some deranged metallic playmate.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, Texas has embraced the gun like never before and this in the face of a plethora of withering facts against such a position and against the wishes of the majority of the public. By all means, don’t let facts dissuade you from carrying out unwanted legislation in order to enhance the state’s swagger well beyond reason. Both open carry and campus carry were passed during the last legislative session. And don’t be lulled into believing that with such measures the gun lobby will be sated and have no other bills pending in the next session. In fact, the next session has already been tagged as the “constitutional” carry session as the gun lobby will push for both open carry and campus carry without any restrictions, training, or registration; another step in the guns-everywhere mentality where even those time travelers from the old Wild West would feel uncomfortable.

And Texas isn’t the most responsible when it comes to its guns. Last week, the TSA announced it had set a new record for the number of guns confiscated at American airports. In a study done in 2015, three of the top 6 airports listed by the number of guns confiscated were based in Texas. In fact, two of them were located in Houston. How can anyone be trusted to carry a firearm when they can’t be trusted not to bring it with them aboard an airplane?

Gun violence prevention organizations have done a good job keeping pressure on legislators and in state houses throughout the country. However, it is still considered a marathon and not a sprint to get meaningful legislation passed at the national level (and in some state houses, like Texas). And there are still too many individual organizations working toward the same goal where economies of scale could be realized if they joined forces. I’ve written about this before, and there has been some consolidation, but the resources, both physical and monetary, are still spread between too many organizations to counter the behemoth that is the NRA.

They say Texas is turning blue. However, it is still a deeply red state in many locations and blue in the larger metropolitan areas. Eventually, there will be a transition. I just hope Texans of common sense don’t turn blue from holding their breath until then.

Fools and Politicians

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”     Euripides

Yesterday, the president put forth four executive actions in an attempt to curb the gun violence that plagues our nation. He did so because the congress, with its 11% approval rating, ignored the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the American public three years ago who believed universal background checks on all gun sales is prudent. That support has been maintained. In a December 2015 Quinnipiac University poll, 89% of respondents support legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales (including 84% of households with a gun present). As the president said yesterday, the United States is an outlier in gun violence compared to the rest of the advanced world. And yet we do not have more dangerous individuals than the rest of the world. We do not watch more violent movies or television than the rest of the world. We do not play violent video games more than the rest of the world. And we do not have more mental illness than the rest of the world. There is only one factor which differentiates the United States from the rest of the developed world and that is the number of guns.

It is estimated that there are over 300 million guns in America or 89 guns for every 100 people.  That is far and away more guns than the rest of the world. By comparison, Canada has 31 guns per 100 people. Australia has 15 guns per 100 people. The UK has 6 guns per 100 people and Japan has less than 1 gun per 100 people. That much firepower in the public’s hands translates to a much higher firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people. The United States sees 3.21 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to 0.51 for Canada, 0.14 for Australia, 0.07 for the UK, and 0.01 for Japan. More guns do not make us safer.

And despite these executive orders being modest and common sense, the Republicans have come out against them. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, “No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment.” This ignores the fact that the president’s actions in no way challenge the Second Amendment, they only clarify existing law and further refine and enhance the current instant background check system, while providing more resources for mental health. Presidential aspirant Senator Ted Cruz reacted by claiming “Obama Wants Your Guns” while asking for a donation. This petulant neophyte is the antithesis of common sense and the darling of the tea party, making the Euripides quote above all the more poignant.

History will show that the president was on the right side of this fight. It will also show that the Republicans came out against anything and everything the president supported. If the president said he liked baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, the Republicans would be against all three. And that is the shame the Republicans must carry. Their intransigence and obstructionism have been to the detriment of the country.

I work with some amazing people trying to fight for common sense gun violence prevention legislation, both on the local level and the national. And yesterday, while those standing behind the president and seated throughout the room represented both the victims of gun violence and the family members of those killed, I could not help but to wonder what it will take for the rest of the public to demand their elected officials move to strike against the gun lobby and the horror they bring to our society. It should not just be the victims and their family members who shoulder the weight of bringing about change. It is the average citizen who is sick of the daily bloodshed, sick of the gun lobby and their purchasing of senators and congressmen that must rise up and say enough. Not one more mass shooting. Not one more suicide. Not one more accident. Not one more. Otherwise, we are the fool Euripides warns us against.

Where Has Common Sense Gone?

San Bernardino weapons

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”  George Eliot

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that he will push again for a vote on a bill that would prevent suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from purchasing guns and explosives. A similar bill failed in the senate last week. However, Schumer considers the chances of passage better this week now that the attack in San Bernardino has definitively been labeled terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the NRA has come out against the measure because it feels there are people on the terror watch list listed inaccurately. This brings me to the above George Eliot quote. Ms. Eliot is absolutely correct that we cannot wait for the perfect list in order to engage this legislation. There will never be a perfect list. As Senator Schumer said, when quoted in the New York Daily News (12/6/2015), “We should just make the list tighter and better. It’s never going to be perfect, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

But then the NRA has never seen a gun violence prevention bill it liked. And that is part of the problem. The NRA’s intransigence is quite literally killing people. To quote George Eliot again, “It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.” And until the NRA acknowledges that there are some people who should not have access to guns, the political landscape will scrape by without significant action. You would think we could all agree that terrorists should not have access to firearms in the United States. Instead, we have to listen to people like Wayne LaPierre, Alex Jones, and Ted Nugent. Of course, Eliot also said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”

In the vote last week, only one Republican voted for the measure. Every other Republican, including presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, voted against the measure, thereby continuing to allow those on the no-fly list to purchase guns and explosives. In fact, 2,000 people on the list have purchased weapons, legally, because of this loophole. If we cannot agree that terrorists should not have weapons, let’s not pretend you have the safety of our fellow Americans at heart, senators, or that you are tough on terrorism. Your voting record proves otherwise.

Simplicity Fatigue

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

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

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

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

Inhuman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Assignment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your homework is due by the end of the day.

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.

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?

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.