Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

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Keep Fighting

Having only been a writer on this blog since the atrocity in Aurora, Colorado occurred and only vocal since the still unfathomable horror that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, I confess that my depression in the state of humanity and the United States has been uplifted by the people I have encountered these past painful months.  Not shut off by epistemic closure, these people read vast amounts on both sides of the debate and are dynamic and motivated in their desire to protect their families, friends and all Americans from the violence dispensed by firearms. We lift each other up when we feel the sting of political failure due to the intransigence of Republicans or Democrats not wanting to waste political capital or when we try to debate with some rabid, Second Amendment proponent with a Pavlovian reaction to the words “Obama,” “tyranny,” or “confiscation,” a blank stare and an arsenal of weapons to protect himself from the government of the country he professes to love. As always, knowledge, education and meaningful debate are the only ways to agreement.

Today I was fortunate enough to have Preventing Newtown post an article I wrote. My thanks to them for the opportunity and for their passion and efforts. The fight before us is not an easy one, but here are a few quotes that keep me going:

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” Ovid

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” Mahatma Gandhi

“I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Albert Einstein

“What I used to say to people, when I was much more engagé myself, is that you can’t be apolitical. It will come and get you. It’s not that you shouldn’t be neutral. It’s that you won’t be able to stay neutral.”  Christopher Hitchens

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

“I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

Pick your favorite and keep fighting. There are great organizations to join. Pick one or pick them all. Speak up, speak loud and speak often.

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Moms Demand Action

Demand a Plan

 

Remember, a bill cannot be killed, but children can.

Here’s the link to the guest post on Preventing Newtown:

Wasted Time

Thanks.

Shouldn’t there be a Test?

You want to mess with my kids?

You want to mess with my kids?

We have testing for everything in America.  I have to pass a driver’s test to drive my car.  I have constant training at work to enhance my capabilities.  I have to fill out an intrusive and frightening survey every eight weeks just to donate blood.  And don’t get me started on the full body scan and background check required at the pharmacy should a family member have the sniffles and need Sudafed.  However, for the most important job ever known to mankind, parenting, one needs only surrender to momentary lust without any consideration of the lifetime commitment later required. No tests, no screening, no training, no manual.

In fact, a good parent first recognizes their own mortality. They recognize that they have just stepped up a place in the generational queue, one step closer to the white light at the end of the tunnel.  In an instant, one goes from being the center of the world to the custodian of its future.  Parents should feel obliged to build a better world on two fronts.  First, as the provider and protector of the innocent, they should strive to change the world around them.  This mental paradigm shift allows for the revelation of worldly dangers previously not seen, the recognition of entrenched prejudices, and (should) force us to abandon the societal ennui of callousness and selective blindness which, in its most insidious sequence, allows us to neglect the labors of others in favor of our own egocentric path.  Second, through the nurturing, education and development of children, they set the foundation for the next generation who will be charged with taking the mantle of responsibility from us and perpetuating the process over again. So it is with the father who would literally take a bullet for their child, stand in front of a train to protect them and endure all manner of hardship and personal neglect in favor of their children’s prosperity, safety and future. So too it is with the proverbial “Mama Bear” who will, with teeth bared, take on all comers who dare threaten her young, and will, with her dying breath, repel any attempt to harm, malign or impede her children.

Unfortunately, while most of us consider these actions and reactions systemic, indeed, genetic, there are those who procreate without the ability to offer up themselves in favor of their children. Living in some weird Kierkegaard/Nietzsche/Rand bastardization of existential reason and egoism, these people come to regard their offspring as either serfs and vassals living in perpetual obligatory servitude to fulfill their whims and desires, or burdens and impediments to their quixotic (and righteously due them) fantasies; feeding, sheltering, educating and providing for their young no more than some nobles oblige from hell.  Nowhere in this prescription does there exist the a priori elevation of the child’s needs and safety over the parent.  In its extreme, this takes the form of abuse.

Although regarded as an innocent fairy tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 story The Little Match Girl, when viewed through the actions/inactions of her father (and the many passersby) is a story about child abuse cloaked in the wonder of a near-death experience and the promise of eternal warmth and salvation in the next world. The bottom line is that the bare footed little girl froze to death because she feared being beaten by her father if she did not sell all of the matches. Fairy tale, indeed.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division within the Department of Health and Human Services, in fiscal year 2010, an estimated 3,300,000 referrals were made involving approximately 5,900,000 children to state child protective service agencies. More than five children die from abuse every day and 80% of them are under four years of age.  A report of child abuse is made in the United States every ten seconds. Every ten seconds! Sick.

What is the answer? I don’t know.  The Chinese one-child policy has done little to reduce the increase in population and may have increased the number of forced abortions, has resulted in vast underreporting in certain areas and resulted (in its most heinous extreme) in female infanticide. All I know is that sometimes, it does take a village to raise a child, and while I don’t mean this in the political sense, it is true that once adopted by a sleuth of mama bears, any neglected child has the revitalized opportunity to survive, grow and succeed. Beware the wrath of a sleuth of mama bears! The earth and stars melt beneath their fury!

Sometimes, it takes a village.

Sometimes, it takes a village.

RED, white and BLUE

The presidential election is in four days and the divide in America has once again been colorized for our dim amusement.  It’s the red states versus the blue states! We should all get t-shirts for the $10 billion being spent on the race, a patriotic “shirts versus skins” game for the world to observe.  Is this a case of north versus south, east versus west, the egomaniacal one-per-centers versus the torpid proletariat, big business versus farmers, cities versus the heartland?  Classify it however you want.  Categorize it until it meets your expectations.  But the differences are there.  First, the facts:

Blue States Red States
Population 63.4% 36.4%
Land Mass 35.9% 64.1%
Population Density, people per sq. mile 659 75
Median Age 37.4 36.0
White America 67.9% 73.8%
Black America 10.6% 11.7%
Latino America 12.6% 8.3%
Asian America 5.4% 1.8%
Foreign Born Americans 11.5% 5.5%
High School Graduation Rates 87.4% 85.5%
Bachelor’s Degrees 30.6% 24.2%
Home of Top 50 Universities 40 10
Veterans 62.2% 37.8%
Military Recruits, per 1,000 eligible 18-24 2.07 2.49
Median Home Value $260,089 $141,129
Median Household Income $56,293 $46,696
Unemployment 7.8% 7.0%
Poverty Rate 12.2% 14.9%
Obesity Rate 25.5% 28.7%
Businesses 66.8% 33.2%
Women-Owned Businesses 15.7% 15.2%
New Home Construction 50.8% 49.2%
Marriage Rates, per 100,000 7.9% 7.3%
Divorce Rates, per 100,000 3.5% 4.1%
Belief in God 66% 78%
Gun Ownership 28.0% 47.1%
Deaths by Firearm, per 100,000 9.5 13.7

One could spend all day searching for correlations among these characteristics; however, a few do stand out more prominently than others.  For example, combining several characteristics, one can state that the Blue States tend to be better educated with higher high school graduation rates, more bachelor degrees and more of the top universities.  Blue States also tend to spend more on their houses (4.6 times their median income) versus Red States who spend only 3.0 times their income on a home.  True, this could be due to the fact that there is more available land in the Red States presumably making lots cheaper to build on.  However, then isn’t it strange that new home constructions are split about evenly between Blue and Red?  And while the overwhelming numbers of businesses reside in the Blue States, their unemployment rate is higher than in the Red States.  However, the poverty rate and obesity rate is higher in Red States.  There is also a strange dichotomy in the Red States.  While being comprised of the “Bible Belt,” they yet have lower marriage rates, higher divorce rates, higher gun ownership and more deaths caused by firearms.  What would God think of that combination?

Blue State Propaganda

Politically, it is also a mixed bag.  When polled, Americans consider the economy to be the overriding theme of this presidential election season.  To borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton’s White House, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  But while you would think the states with the highest unemployment would lean toward Mitt Romney and his job creating (albeit mathematically mystical) juggernaut, it is quite the opposite.  Is this a case of mass delusion or a schadenfreude miasma?  Similarly, if Barack Obama is the embodiment of a socialistic welfare state, why then would the region with the highest household income, the most businesses and a lower poverty rate bother to look at him? Were they all working late and missed his soporific first debate?

Red State Propaganda

It is in these mysteries that this election is wrapped.  God bless the RED, white and BLUE.  Now go vote.

Undecided No More

Image from The New Yorker

My son, a freshman in college, and I were on the phone last night discussing our impressions of the latest town hall debate between President Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney.  Given the particularly rancorous tone the debate had, a mirrored reflection of the actual campaign, I commented that I found it hard to believe that there were enough undecided voters in the country to fill the audience, let alone that many in Nassau County; but there they were.

Rabid, robotic sycophants in each party leave no room for the truly undecided voter to express their uncertainty with a candidate lest they be subjected to immediate internment in the opposing camp, suddenly responsible for each plank in a platform in which they are ill-prepared and unwilling to defend.  Are these undecided voters genuinely inquisitive, searching for positions on a myriad of issues or are they the dull, unread and oblivious?  For the sake of the future of the United States, I hope it is the former while concerned it is the later.

The polarization of politics, the fracturing of consensus and absence of debate, the removal of concession as a tool toward progress has paralyzed politics.  A shattered media, where any myopic obsession with one particular issue is rewarded with its own cable channel and a thousand militant websites, encourages the electorate to choose a candidate for their position on a single issue and while ignoring the candidate’s position on every other issue as “somebody else’s problem.” You’re concerned about the economy? The environment be damned.  You’re concerned about healthcare? Jobs be damned. And so on…

Neither candidate has successfully escaped this reality.  In a perfect world, Mitt Romney would be able to express the desire for small business (“the economic engine of the country”) to thrive and grow.  He would be able to encourage the celebration of the individual based on their genius and initiative (not their celebrity quotient), rewarded with the fruits of a capitalistic marketplace or starved by the same; where wealth is seen, not as the unconscionable greed plundered by the mindless “looters” of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, but celebrated as the moral destination of individual gain.  In this perfect world there would be more Hank Rearden’s and Dagny Taggart’s and fewer Wesley Mouch’s and Jim Taggarts.  Unfortunately, this industrial utopia ignores the choices people make.  Atlas Shrugged spends an exhaustive number of pages explaining that the choice a mother makes to give the last piece of bread to her child is not a sacrifice and not given out of pity, but the rational choice of a rational mind.  In the real world, choices like this are made by individuals on a daily basis with no expectation of societal support in return.  Honor is held internally by these individuals, as they navigate life’s course, carved by the choices they have made and determined to persevere.  There are no children in Atlas Shrugged and no characters ravaged by illness, excepting, of course, that a conscious refusal to think for one’s self is terminal. In reality, there are those whom Fortune has betrayed, felled by disease or events beyond their control for whom that proverbial “governmental safety net” should be axiomatic.

Conversely, President Obama has not been able to effectively convey a perfect world where government involvement in the minds and pocketbooks of citizens is not for the benefit of the lazy takers and looters, but where an “audacity of hope” lifts all boats; where society’s infrastructure is measured in the tons of steel and yards of cement in our roads and bridges and not in the number of governmental agencies handing out food stamps and welfare checks to the unworthy.  He has not been able to sell his opponents on a middle class worthy of the platitudes bestowed upon it by Democrats as the hardworking backbone of America, and not the resource-sponging Pablum vilified by Republicans.  To assume that every citizen is doing their best and ignoring society’s leeches does nothing but invite deserved criticism.    No amount of rhetoric can make up for the picture of the able-bodied young man who has fathered countless children without concern for their future, waiting in line for a government check rather than searching for work, laughing in full belief that the government “owes” him.  Nor has the president escaped the portrait, painted in dazzlingly surreal colors by the “Confiscation Day” fear-mongering NRA, of  him as a soft, yellow, liberal hoplophobe, as opposed to a father and leader legitimately questioning why regular citizens need to own AR-15’s with 100 round drums.

Each side sees only the idealized version of themselves in the mirror and ignores the Dorian Gray painting in the corner while only seeing the Dorian Gray painting of their opponent.

My son suggested that the town hall format, while colloquial and folksy did little to further either candidate’s command of the undecided.  He, himself an accomplished high school debater, suggested that there be two debates scheduled for future presidential campaigns.  Each candidate selects the most partisan member of the media they can find, crafts pointed questions and directs them at their opponent, knowing that their opponent will have the same opportunity in the next round.  In fact, why not remove the commentator altogether?  This would eliminate the bias claims leveled at every commentator by partisan hacks and conspiracy theorists.  Simply have one debate where the Republican candidate asks questions directly to the Democratic candidate and a second debate where the Democratic candidate asks questions directly to the Republican candidate.  These debates should be limited to six hours in length and broadcast on every cable and radio station.  Proof of viewership (of both debates) should be required of every voter on election night, thus ensuring that an informed electorate is a prepared electorate, undecided no more.

That Buzzing in My Head

Image

When I was in college at the University of Connecticut, three hundred years ago (from 1983-87), we endured the occasional bomb threat.  Students rolled their eyes and trudged outside into the slush soaked mud where grass used to grow in the fall (before students commandeered it for the traction and width it provided instead of risking a broken neck on the iced-over and far too thin walkways). 

Bomb threats were a nuisance, they disrupted classes and schedules and not once did they prevent a test or quiz from being given.  If class was cancelled, they were given the next day.  We all knew who had called in the threat.  It was always some nitwit who had been out partying the night before instead of studying.  He was either hung-over or just plain unprepared for the exam.  No media frenzy was created.  Parents only found out about the threat if students bothered to mention the disruption to their schedule on their next visit home.  Sure, there was always that buzzing in the back of your head, “but what if it’s real,” however, we pushed that aside and went about our business.

In the years since, the world has changed, both for the better and worse.  The internet has evolved as our main source of information.  IPhones, iPads and MacBook Pro’s have replaced landlines in the dorm room, student discounted newspaper subscriptions and renting a typewriter in the bowels of the main library for $1.00 an hour.  We have also endured the paradigm shifting event of September 11, 2001.  The equivalent of our grandparent’s December 7, 1941 (but closer to home) and our parent’s November 22, 1963 (but more personal), enduring that day changed forever the way we see ourselves, our country and the world.  It was as if, in the instant the second plane hit the South Tower, we ripped out the partially written pages of the rest of our lives and inserted blank, blood stained pulp instead.  Living in Rhode Island, halfway between the origination of the flights (Boston) and their initial targets (NYC), my children’s elementary school was in lockdown mode for hours, my wife stationed outside the main door waiting to scoop them into her protective arms.  Unimaginable horror had reached our shores.  The great oceans that had buffered us in two world wars gave way to the globalization of terror.  Nobody was safe anymore.  The buzzing had intensified.

Now my children are in college, freshmen at the University of Texas at Austin.  Three days ago, they suffered through what I remember as a disruptive, but innocuous event caused by an unprepared knucklehead.  Instead, they heard the campus-wide siren wail for attention followed by text messages to clear all buildings.  A caller, who claimed not to be a student and affiliated with Al-Qaeda, said he had placed bombs all around campus and that they would detonate in 90 minutes.  Two other schools also reported bomb threats that day.  The FBI is investigating to see if they are connected.  My children, although they performed quickly and efficiently in evacuating campus together, were shaken by the event.  Following the adrenaline crash that night, they were almost nonverbal when we video chatted with them.  You could almost see the effect the buzzing in the back of their heads was having on them.

I’m all but certain this was the result of yet another unprepared student, separated generationally from my era, but convinced, nonetheless, that this was the only way to avoid a catastrophic grade.  However, given the world in which we live, that faint buzzing in the back of my head now takes on the scream of airliners overhead and the horrific thud of those who decided to jump rather than burn.  I will never forget those sounds and I can never assume that terrorism, either foreign or domestic, has not visited upon my children’s lives.  Text messaging and phone calls link me to them during these times, if the cellular network withstands the spike in usage.  We have to let them leave the nest and fly, but now I no longer shrug when I hear of a bomb threat on campus.  The buzzing is too loud.

Burning Holes in the Calendar

My grandparents had December 7th, my parents, November 22nd.  My generation had September 11th.  Let us brand in fire no other days on the calendar as those of terror, anger, fear or sadness for our children or grandchildren.

NASA Photograph of NYC on September 11, 2001

Labels

Labels.  We all use them, we all love them.  It’s our way of categorizing our lives, a way of making sense of the plethora of information that floods us every day.  Unfortunately, it’s also our way of imparting our biases and prejudices on every incoming piece of information.  Every label we use carries the metadata we have assigned to it.  We used to call them stereotypes, now we use terms like racial profiling.  Liberals, right-wing, Jews, blacks, Christians, immigrants, politicians, Wall Street, big business, Congress, hero.  They all conjure up images in our minds, whether positive or negative, which have nothing to do with either the piece of information we are receiving or the individual conveying it.  We have, usually without thinking about it, sorted the information by the labels we have assigned them.  We gravitate toward the information we like and dismiss the information relegated to the negative labels we have created.

 

By flushing the information we have assigned negative labels, we simplify our lives, but dismiss the value of discussion and argument, with the availability of our growing, understanding and altering our opinion obliterated.  It also leads to two other destructive results.  First, we harden our position to the point of dogmatic excess.  We don’t allow any discussion of our position.  We don’t allow any subset of our position to be challenged, lest we question our position and allow other tenets of our position to be challenged.  Second, we allow single-minded institutions to speak for us.  In our busy lives, we allow institutions to carry our position for us.  We believe their rhetoric.  We adopt their position as ours.  We believe the notion that an attack on one of our positions within a topic will lead to the “slippery slope” of ultimate defeat.  Pick a topic: gun control, abortion, religion or politics.  Our labels and intractable positions have lead to a stalemate.  There is no longer any discussion, no debate, no discussion.  The “other” side has been labeled “evil” and the conversation is over.  Unfortunately, this stalemate leads to paralysis.  Congress enjoys a 14% approval rating.  A Republican controlled Congress makes a Democratic President impudent.  Likewise, Republican Presidents have been made ineffective by Democratically controlled Congresses.  The game plan seems to be that a President is only in office for four years, so, we in Congress, can just wait him out.  Paralysis.

 

We, as individuals, need to be able to move the bar on our labels.  We need to see them and acknowledge that they exist.  We need to allow for the notion that not all of our positions are infallible.  It is the idiot who claims to know it all.  We need to stop allowing single-minded institutions to speak for us.  We need to encourage discussion and engage in debate.  In our case, the United States is in a state of self-inflicted paralysis.  We are better than that.  Our children deserve better and they are learning from us, while the world watches.

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog.  I hope you enjoy the posts.  You need not agree with them, but I at least hope you think about them.