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Left Behind

Left Behind

It has become predictable. The President proposes something, does something or supports something. The conservatives let out a howl, screaming how his actions or proposed actions will destroy our economy, wipe out what little respect we have left in the global community, further erode the Christian values that built this country, and as the late George Carlin might have said, “infect your soul, curve your spine and lose the war for the Allies.”

In fact, it’s something of a joke. Even when President Obama does thing that the right wants, things that they are clamoring for him to do, they find a way to make it an awful, terrible thing he’s done when he goes ahead and does it.

Take the recent exchange of five Taliban members from Gitmo for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, for example. He was the only American prisoner of war being held by the Taliban. Getting him back to the United States was a priority now that we are preparing to withdraw our troops from that country. The United States has always had a standard that nobody gets left behind. Our military lives by that rule and sometimes, dies by that rule. President Obama understood this and his team tried to negotiate a release with the Taliban to get Bergdahl home.

When a proof of life video was received by the military sent off alarm bells as to the deteriorating condition of Bergdahl, the consensus from the Obama administration was that recovering Bergdahl was an immediate and urgent priority and the deal was made.

This did violate the law. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 clearly mandates that all prisoner transfers from Guantanamo Bay require a minimum 30 day notice to Congress, and the President did not do that. The President cited “unique and exigent circumstances” for not complying with the law, feeling that the health and safety of the soldier was more important.

Of course, the right went bananas. Republican congressmen have called for a Benghazi-like hearing on the matter and some voices on the right are calling (again) for Obama’s impeachment. Rather than celebrating the return of one of our own back home, they are instead attacking Bergdahl, questioning whether he had deserted his post and even implying – or saying directly – that he’s a traitor.

First of all, none of this is germane to getting him back home. If he did violate military conduct, then court martial him – but do it here. Let American rule of law apply to American soldiers rather than Taliban law. You would think that the right would be on board with that right?

Wrong. Many have expressed the belief that “Bergdahl got what he deserved” and that he wasn’t worth the price that was given up for him. Some commentators have questioned his father who had grown his beard out as a sign of solidarity for his son and looked somewhat like a mullah. Then again, put a Turban on Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and so does he.

The hypocrisy here is that we all know that if it was George W. Bush who had engineered the transfer, the right would have been singing the praises of the deal. They would have praised Bush for proving that “America never forgets its own” and praised his strength as a leader. Would the left have raised an outcry in that same situation similar to what the Teapublicans have done? I honestly don’t believe they would have.

We are politicizing everything these days and everything has become if you will excuse the expression, black or white. As in when you’re on the right, everything that Obama does is black and everything that opposes his actions (or inactions) is white. The same cannot be said of the left who are as likely to criticize the president in many cases as praise him.

I don’t think President Obama should have signed the NDAA of 2014. I think he should have sent it back and reminded Congress that in order for a President to be effective, he needs to be able to act decisively when a situation calls for it. However, once he signed the law he should have adhered to it. While I agree that the safety and well-being of our soldiers takes precedence, the President should be censured nonetheless for failing to give Congress notice that he intended to exchange those five prisoners. Certainly, the administration was aware that the Taliban was insisting on those five; in fact, portions of the story broke in mainstream publications including the Wall Street Journal late last year before negotiations broke down. Congress could have been notified that the potential that these prisoners might be exchanged for an American prisoner of war and that when the exchange took place it would of necessity be without a whole lot of time for notification. That would have satisfied the law and if the President so chose, he could have also mandated that criminal charges be leveled against any member of Congress or their staff who leaked the information to the media as it might endanger the life of the American soldier in captivity.

I also find senators who grandstand about “not receiving information” about the situation and call a press conference to complain about it – while skipping a briefing session designed to give them information in order to call that press conference – reprehensible. I’m looking at you, Senator McCain. And while we’re at it, is there some kind of competition for King of Hypocritical Politicians that you’re trying to win? Because you’ve been contradicting your own statements regarding not only the Bergdahl situation but things like gun violence and the VA scandal as well. Try to remember that the things you say are pretty much recorded non-stop – so rather than parroting the party line, try sticking to your guns. However, in fairness, you have worked with Bernie Sanders in getting a bill written that might actually help veterans so I will give credit where it is due.

Getting back on point however, let’s just remember a few things – the soldier we’re talking about is an American citizen who volunteered to go and serve his country. Whether he was the worst soldier ever or a Medal of Honor winner, his country still owes him a debt and the least we can do is everything in our power to bring him home alive. If Bergdahl violated his oath, if he walked away from his post, let him suffer the consequences of it but let those consequences be determined by a military tribunal, not a politician or political commentator to leave him with the Taliban to rot. That is a distinctly un-American thing to do.

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Just Be Yourself

Just Be Yourself

Travel broadens us. It can’t be helped. Even if, like most of us, you just hit the tourist attractions – you know, the Empire State Building, the Field Museum, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Alcatraz, Yosemite and the like – you still will find yourself inevitably changed by the experience.

Most of us don’t think of going to a grocery store when we travel, but to me that is one of the most fascinating places to people watch. For one thing, even if you go to the huge chains you get an idea of what’s locally available although it’s far better to go to a smaller market along the lines of a Trader Joe’s or a Fresh Choice. However, the big attraction for me is seeing people living their lives without having them put on their “I’m in a tourist area” face.

I do think we tend to feel more comfortable in a grocery store. We let down our guard a little bit. After all, we’re getting our sustenance. Generally, it’s a pleasant thing to do – although if you are on a limited budget it can be excruciating, particularly when you see someone waltzing out with two fully loaded carts. Still, you get a sense of people in their homes.

It is places like grocery stores, pubs and local burger joints that you catch people in the act of being themselves. Think about it – how much likely are you to be yourself when you are in a place that’s as familiar and as comfortable as your own home, and what fits that description better than the places that you hang out in regularly? Are you more likely to make friends with an out of town visitor at some tourist attraction or sitting next to them at your neighborhood tavern?

That’s one of the reasons I prefer to eat at local hangouts rather than at national chains. Sure, I love eating in fine restaurants with signature dishes and sometimes. an eatery becomes so associated with a location that it becomes something of a tourist attraction in itself (see The Lady and Me in Savannah, or the Carnegie Deli in New York). Still, I like eating where people know each other. Maybe the food isn’t five star but the experience is. It is what it means to be a tourist, to learn something about what people do in other places. It generally isn’t that far off from what we do ourselves but there are some subtle differences.

Catching people living their lives helps you attain a level of comfort you don’t generally reach when you’re doing the tourist thing. It helps you, in fact, to be yourself. Recently while visiting Phoenix we stopped in a grocery store and while I waited for other members of my party to finish their shopping, I got to observe people doing what they do on a regular basis – pick out the goodies they were going to nibble on in front of the TV, the meal they were going to cook that night, the sale items that were too irresistible to pass up. Isn’t that what life is, the little things?

I’m not saying don’t go and see the Grand Canyon, or avoid going to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, or the Coliseum in Rome. These are things that should be seen; I can’t tell you how my life was changed by experiencing the Great Wall of China or how my perspective was changed by the magnificent Redwoods in Northern California. These things should be part of your trip.

But why go to a place if all you’re going to do is follow a guidebook somebody else wrote? Why not blaze your own trail? Talk to a local and ask them where you should eat, what places you should go, which beach is less crowded or more affable towards children. Guidebooks are helpful but they shouldn’t be your sole source of information. Research shouldn’t just consist of getting on the internet and doing a Google search for  whatever destination you have in mind, be it Atlanta, Alberta or Albania.

The best travel memories I have are mainly of going off the beaten path and interacting with a place that I’m in – not the glittering casinos and fine restaurants of the Las Vegas strip but the hole in the wall that a bartender recommended off in Henderson – and again that’s not to say that my time in those casinos, resorts and fine dining establishments haven’t been memorable but it’s always the real unexpected joys that you always remember.

Our time on this Earth is limited and as it is we spend far more time working than we probably should. We need to see the world. We need to explore new places. We need to try new things. Otherwise, we grow stagnant and stale, like a cake doughnut sitting too long in the shelf. Who wants that when they can have a fresh doughnut with yummy chocolate filling and a pomegranate-citrus frosting?

Travel helps us expand our horizons. It helps us define our worldview and adjust it upon occasion. More importantly, it helps us by discovering the world around us do something unexpected – discovering who we ourselves are. The best thing about travel is that it teaches us how to just be ourselves and what better lesson is there to learn than that?

Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon

China is something of an enigma. Her economy is booming but there are signs that it is a bit of a paper empire. She has opened up her doors yet much happens behind the scenes. Most importantly, we still see her as an agency for repression, spying on her own people and regarding the West with a mixture of mistrust and envy. We see China as a repressive place to live.

Our own government is spying on us as well. Revelations from former NSA security contractor Edward Snowden inform us of a massive data mining venture in which not only is the government keeping track of who we’re calling but is actively listening in on those calls as well.

This is disappointing to say the least. Here in the United States we have a self-image of being the land of the free, but how free can we be when we are being listened to? We know that businesses are keeping track of our spending habits, but our government is reading our e-mails as well. Privacy has become an illusion. The solution to this, many feel, is to go off the grid; pay cash for purchases, discontinue the use of the Internet and of cell phones and keep as low a profile as possible.

Really, most of us have nothing to hide. The government may be listening but they’re not paying attention to us in all likelihood; they’ve simply got better things to do than to check on your drama. Still, it is a bit disturbing particularly in that our President seems to have tacitly supported this program. Ostensibly, it’s for our safety – after all, there are terrorists among us or so we’re told and in order to keep them from pulling off another 9-11, we’re going to have to give up some of our privacy in order to do it.

This is the crux of a question we’ve been asking ourselves since 2001; does our safety override our freedom? In a world in which we’re vulnerable to terrorism can we have an expectation of having the same freedoms we had before? Of course not. Most of us don’t mind having our bags x-rayed at airports and being made to wait in line in order to better insure that some wild-eyed douchebag with a cause and an idea doesn’t smuggle a bomb on our plane. It’s the price we pay for safety.

The question we have to ask ourselves however is how much freedom are we willing to give up in order to feel secure, and even more disturbing, whether there are those who are exploiting our need for safety for their own political or financial gains. The prime example of that is the Patriot Act.

You’ll remember that this act essentially created the Homeland Security Agency to combat domestic terrorism. It also gave law enforcement broad powers in ferreting out terrorism and foiling their plots to cause mass destruction and loss of life. Sounds good on paper, but it has also paved the way for excesses, including the suspension of due process for terrorism suspects and has directly led to the torture of prisoners by Americans and to the recent mess of the NSA examining the phone conversations of millions of law-abiding Americans.

I’m not saying that we are completely safe by any means and that we shouldn’t be vigilant, but the Patriot Act was supposed to have expired in 2005 but after extensions were quietly passed into law, the Act remains in effect at least until 2015. Some of those extensions were signed into law by President Obama. The problem is that the law was poorly written to begin with and received little scrutiny by Congress when it was hastily passed in the chaotic days following the World Trade Center attack. The potential for abuse by less scrupulous members of government is terrifying.

There comes a point when our zeal for protecting our citizens turns into a power grab. There comes a point where in doing so we cease being America and become something else. The aforementioned Edward Snowden was in Hong Kong when he made his revelations about the NSA and the United States has been keen on extraditing him back here to face charges of unlawfully divulging classified material and treason. He has since left Hong Kong for an (as of this writing) non-specified country without extradition treaties to the United States, possibly with the help of WikiLeaks (who have hailed him as a hero) and also possibly at the behest of Beijing, who apparently see releasing Snowden to the United States as a loss of face.

I find it troubling that the NSA has been monitoring citizens who have done nothing to warrant it. I find it more troubling that there are liberals defending it and conservatives conveniently ignoring that it started during the Bush era and are using it as a political ploy to further discredit the president; however I must say that I’m in rare agreement with my conservative friends in saying that Obama should be held accountable for allowing this policy to flourish under his watch, despite it’s clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. I just wish that some of them had been more vocal about it when Bush was doing it.

Conceivably some security functionary could read this very blog and decide that the writer poses a threat to American security and initiate surveillance on me and mine. My phone calls could be listened in on; my web searches could be scrutinized; my purchases could be analyzed. Does this impinge on my life much? Realistically, no – but it does make me uneasy that someone could be watching me merely for disagreeing with government policy.

Does that sound like America to you? Or does that sound more like China? Do we still have the right to speak our minds, or are we supposed to toe the party line? This is where the road to totalitarianism potentially begins. It behooves us to urge that this program be immediately brought to a close. I think that there are ways of protecting us from terrorists without having to resort to violating our rights; it may be harder but I think it is important that we don’t allow terrorism to turn this country into a police state, however good the intentions of our lawmakers and law enforcers might be. The risks are simply too great. We are the United States; we don’t have to become China in order to keep our citizens safe.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

One of the iconic lines from The Wizard of Oz occurs when Dorothy first takes a gander at Oz after the twister transports her house into Munchkinland. Holding her dog in her arms, she gasps “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We use that line ourselves from time to time when we find ourselves in a situation or place that is different, bizarre or unsettling. I think the statement is perfect for the American political landscape (although, from a political standpoint, Kansas isn’t in Kansas anymore but more on that later). Our nation has become politically bipolar, fiercely divided upon party lines and completely paralyzed.

Does anybody besides me get the feeling that it has become more important to be right than to find solutions? Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped listening to each other. We’re so sure that we’re right – our opinions buttressed by media pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity – that even entertaining compromise is like becoming a traitor to our cause.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else is. It’s no secret that my political leanings bend to the left. It is also no secret that I have several friends who feel more comfortable on the conservative side of things. Some of them I am able to have intelligent conversations about our viewpoints with whereas others are basically all caps shouting matches on Facebook whenever one of us posts a political meme on our walls. I think that’s pretty much true for anybody these days. We all seem hell-bent on convincing others to the righteousness of our cause while at the same time being completely intractable for our own. It’s a recipe for disaster.

That disaster has come to pass. We now have a government that is completely dysfunctional. Both sides seem far more willing to score political points than to actually accomplish anything that might help the majority of the citizens who elected those running our government. Bills that benefit the very rich seem to get quickly and quietly passed.

Sure, there are a few politicians out there who I think are worth something – Elizabeth Warren, for one. Chris Christie for another (I’m willing to give props to anyone who will stand up to their own party in order to help citizens in need regardless of what party that is). Most of them however seem far too concerned with their own self-interest to devote any time or attention to the interests of their constituents.

There are times when I think both sides of the political spectrum are tails being wagged by the extremist whacko dogs on both sides of the aisle. While one side screams “Benghazi!” the other one yells “Racism!” We seem to be paying attention more to sound bites than to actual legislation. Whoever shouts the loudest must be right, I guess.

Remember when Kansas used to be sensible Midwesterners who could be counted upon for stability  (although some Missourians would argue that point) and common sense? Now they are rapidly becoming known for being the home of the Westboro Baptist Church as well as the State that essentially outlawed abortion literally citing the Bible as their legal source. Excuse me? I’ll bet these are the same yahoos screaming about Sharia law during the last election.

Back in the day the term “the Silent Majority” was coined to denote the millions of Americans who neither protested the War nor advocated it; they were if anything on the conservative side but mostly, they just wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace and really didn’t want their sons marching off to some Asian hellhole just so Bell Helicopters could keep their military contract humming.

Today the Silent Majority still exists but they have seen the advent of the Tea Party and the Christian right, both of whom claim to represent them. I’m here to tell you that they do not. Today’s Silent Majority is a bit more liberal than they were 50 years ago; they’re all for gay marriage and stricter background checks on gun sales but in no way shape or form do they want guns banned. They want the deficit reduced and the budget balanced but they don’t want their entitlements (i.e. Medicare and Social Security) touched.

The Silent Majority is what they’ve always been – moderate. Unfortunately, moderate politicians seem to be about as numerous as wheelchair hockey players and with a future as bright as that of the polar bear. We have gotten to a point in our history where in order to get noticed a political candidate must come off as extremist. Once again, it’s the person who shouts the loudest who gets our attention. I often wonder if someone like Dwight Eisenhower could have been elected president in 2012. I doubt he would have gotten past the first round of Republican debates.

We have entered the era of the whacko. Where wild-eyed Michelle Bachmann and wild-mouthed Rick Perry can provide political satirists with plenty of material for their monologues but provide little in the way of legislation that creates desperately needed jobs, repairs a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure or helps improve our education system. The only education legislation that seems to be going through is that which allows banks to charge higher interest rates on student loans but who is going to pay those loans off when there are no jobs to go to after graduation?

This is our fault. We’ve become too lazy to care enough to actually listen. We’d rather have things boiled down into a six or seven word statement we can get behind and go back to surfing the Internet. How many of us have actually looked at a candidate’s platform? How many of us have listened to an entire speech, or read a piece of legislation? The last of these is understandable; most bills are so convoluted and poorly written that even a well-trained lawyer who understands the legal terminology within has a hard time following what’s being said.

I’m not sure what the solution is but this much I think is clear – things are going to be a lot worse if we don’t get our collective heads out of our collective derrieres. We need to stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other. Most importantly, we have to stop electing extremists on both sides and start getting moderates like Christie and Warren into office. We have to pay attention what the scoundrels in Washington and our own state capitals are doing. And we need to stop holding our politicians up as demagogues and understand that not everything promulgated by the right is evil, not everything that the left proposes is perfect and vice versa depending on your point of view. In other words, we need to start working together. To paraphrase one of our founding fathers, we must all work together or fall separately.

Digital Manifesto

Digital Manifesto

The Revolution won’t be televised. The Revolution will be unplugged.

Our world has changed in a profound way and continues to right before our very eyes. The home computer and the Internet have done that. They’ve changed the way we receive information. They’ve changed the way we access music and entertainment. They’ve changed the way we socialize, and relate socially. They’ve changed the way we purchase goods. They’ve even changed the way we meet potential mates.

The strictures of the past are disappearing. It used to be that musicians recorded albums for labels who would in turn invest a great deal of money in packaging, marketing and distributing those albums. They would come out on Tuesdays and the record stores would create new displays for them on Monday nights. Tuesday mornings you could hit your favorite record store and peruse the latest from your favorite artists.

But people don’t buy records anymore. They don’t even buy their successors, compact discs. Everyone has digital playlists now; their music stored on hard drives or on clouds with the latter becoming increasingly more prevalent. Albums are becoming increasingly unnecessary and irrelevant. An artist can write a song in the morning, record it in the afternoon and release it digitally that night theoretically. Everything is immediate. Songs can be released as they’re recorded. However, artists can choose to release songs in a larger whole – a digital album but they are no longer fettered by the medium and how much information can be stored on it. Theoretically, an artist can record an album that contains 24 hours of music that is all related if they have the patience to record it and the public has the patience to listen to something like that. However, I wouldn’t advise it. Patience won’t have much place in the digital age.

Television will become a thing of the past. No longer will people be forced to watch programming at a time of the network’s choosing. In fact networks will become more like subscription services, in all likelihood made available in packages by clearinghouses like Netflix or Comcast. When you subscribe, all their programming is available to you to view at your leisure. Advertising will become intrusive in different ways, like scrolling messages at the bottom of screens or viewers will be forced to watch a certain number of minutes of advertising before they can watch the programming they purchased.

The newspapers  have already nearly suspended their printed editions and in the near future you will see some of them get rid of their printed editions entirely. The home delivery of news and paper boys will become quaint anachronisms of the past. Information will become available digitally through websites and Internet broadcasts. In addition to local online newspapers – the New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe – there will be niche news providers with political slants – the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post for examples. Journalistic standards of accuracy and objectivity will fall by the wayside until some politician with enough balls to do it will get a law passed holding Internet journalists to the same standards as print journalists are. How they’ll enforce it is anybody’s guess.

The social networks will continue to grow as we see different mediums like Facebook, Twitter, Redit and eHarmony grow, change and eventually die as a notoriously fickle Internet public find new ways to Interact. I believe that there will be many more niche social networking geared towards Gamers, Tech-heads, Politics, Sexuality and Romance, Art and virtually any activity that people have a passion for. Meeting people will be done nearly entirely online.

Education will no longer happen in classrooms. Schools will become outdated. Students will attend class at home with homework assignments  e-mailed to them. Classrooms will become more like Help chats with teachers assisting with specific questions about specific assignments. Exams will be timed and students prevented from opening additional windows by the exam program. Students will progress at their own rate which means we’ll see students graduating college when they’re twelve if they are able to while others graduate high school well into their 20s. Most of the jobs they’ll be getting will be either working from home which will pay better, or working menial service jobs which won’t. The University experience will change drastically. Many students will never actually set foot on campus; they’ll take all their classes at home. Some universities may even shut down their physical campuses and convert them into art, anthropological and historical museums.

The Internet will soon begin to experience bandwidth issues. Too many people accessing too much information with not enough servers to handle the traffic but even if they build skyscrapers full of high-powered servers that can fit the current size of the Internet on a single server in a building that holds thousands of them, there will be a more insidious problem. The young people growing up will no longer have the patience for anything other than instant access. They won’t tolerate delays and in fact, the global economy will become dependent upon immediate, secure access to Internet commerce, information and socialization.

Then some clever little primate will figure out how to get the ultimate Internet access – wired directly into our cortexes. Subcutaneous chips on the back of the neck will allow us to see the net without the aid of a device. Chips in the back of the hand will allow us to manipulate that information. When you see people walking around at all, they’ll all look like they’re conducting an invisible orchestra. We’ll all be connected 24/7 – those of us who can afford it, that is. Eventually, we all will be. Even the very poor because even the poor will be part of the engine. Their labors will be monitored digitally. Everything will be. Big Brother has been here for years, watching your every move not just through security cameras but through the electronic trail you leave – where you shop, what you buy, what you eat, what you read, what websites you access – everything stored neatly and available to whichever authority wishes to use it. Think it’s farfetched? We’re already putting chips into our babies so that if they’re ever kidnapped we can find them right away. That means that the movement of those kids is being monitored 24/7.

But that’s not the worst of it. Some unscrupulous little monkey will figure out that if information is going directly into the most powerful computers of them all – our brains – perhaps it will be possible to do some programming of the hardware on a massive scale. Program blind, unquestioning obedience. Discourage individual thought. Promote contentment with our station in life as consumers and wage slaves. Creating a utopia in which the masses don’t care that they have no control and no choices. Rights will be eroded and discarded. We will become little more than chattel who exist to provide profit for the very wealthy.

So the revolution from this future will come by those who choose not to participate. The outsiders will turn their back on this digital Orwellian society and unplug. They won’t be subject to the same controls and strictures that those who are plugged in are. They’ll be able to think for themselves. They’ll be able to stand up for themselves. They will change everything.

The Revolution won’t come from within. The Revolution will come from without.

Common Threads

We are more like than unalike. We have so much in common that we actually take it for granted. We dwell instead on cultural differences, lifestyle differences, gender differences. We spend more time looking for the things that divide us than we do celebrating the things that unite us.

I suppose that’s only human. We have a need to feel unique and we look for ways that emphasize our uniqueness. Unfortunately, we tend to do that the lazy way – by asserting that those who are different than us are inferior, making us feel better about ourselves and our many faults.

Being unique doesn’t make us better. It just makes us ourselves. We’re not perfect – but we don’t have to be. Honestly, it’s okay to be flawed. You’re overweight? That’s okay – just try to eat better and exercise more. You’re a terrible housekeeper? No problem – hire somebody or just do the best you can. No time management skills? You can always take a class or find methods on the internet to help you organize your time better.

But even if you don’t ever correct your flaws that doesn’t make you a bad or even a weak person. It just makes you a human. And that’s one thing we all have in common – our humanity, both good and bad. We have a tremendous capacity to do horrible things to one another – and an equally tremendous capacity to transcend those base instincts and do the right thing, or even better.

The genocide in Rwanda is one such example. On the one hand, horrible atrocities were committed and thousands upon thousands of lives were brutally lost. On the other hand, the Rwandans are now trying to unite, reconcile and forgive one another. They are looking to live as one people rather than two artificially constructed tribes. They share a common language and a common heritage. More importantly, they share their basic human values – they love their families, hope for a better future and want to be loved.

We all share those values, even those we despise. The 1% share those things. Racists share those things. Homophobes share those things. Now, there are always exceptions; certain sociopaths lack the ability to love, the desire to be loved and have instead a desire to inflict pain. Those are not the rule, however and they are pretty rare.

Our humanity stretches across cultural lines. We all value our children and take great steps to protect them. That’s true in the most primitive circumstances as well as the most sophisticated urban environments. It doesn’t matter your skin tone or which plumbing you have, nor which religion you observe (if any) or what political party you belong to. Push comes to shove, nearly every human being alive will do about anything to protect their children, even lay down their lives if need be.

So why is it when we have so much in common that we spend so much time trying to tear each other apart? Not just in this country but everywhere? Why can Arabs and Jews find any common ground? Why not gays and straights? Baptists and Atheists? Why must we find reasons to ridicule, to fear, to hate? Why is accepting the differences of others so bloody hard?

Because we have it in our minds that accepting the differences of someone else makes us somehow less important, less special. That’s a mistaken concept however; accepting those differences makes us more special. It gives us more importance in the cosmic scheme of things. It brings us closer to perfection. If someone is a black lesbian Atheist pro-Choice from Senegal, I believe that in the heart of the creator I believe in they are no less loved than a pro-Life Baptist housewife from Texas. And vice versa. Those who disagree with me, are different than me, are even repugnant to me are still as human as me. As long as they do no harm, they deserve all the respect and dignity that I can afford them.

Delivering on that idea is often difficult and I’m no more adept at it than most of you. Sometimes, I gnash my teeth when I hear Sarah Palin talk about the need for drilling, or the President of Iran shouting about how America is Satanic. There are times I find it hard to hold to my heart those who discriminate against women, gays, African-Americans or Jews.

But if God loves these people no less, doesn’t following that example please Him? There are lots of people who say “Love the sinner, hate the sin” and while we might quibble whether homosexuality is a sin or not, the sentiment is at least understandable although it’s very difficult for me to hate the sin. Loving the person while not condoning their actions is easier for me to wrap my head and heart around and that’s where I tend to be more successful.

I may consider Rush Limbaugh to be a lot of things and I disagree with his politics and most of his opinions whole-heartedly but I don’t hate the man and I certainly don’t think he shouldn’t have the right to air his opinions. After all, you have the right to change the channel if you don’t like what he has to say and sooner or later if enough people do that he will have to find other means to communicate his message. I also consider Bill Maher to be a lot of things and I agree with his politics and most of his opinions whole-heartedly, but on a human level I give Rush Limbaugh the same consideration and respect I give Bill Maher, even if I think Maher is smarter and his politics more closely align with mine. That’s because at the end of the day Bill Maher is no better and no worse than Rush Limbaugh, the same as George W. Bush is no better and no worse than Barack Obama or my Uncle Jerry is no better and no worse than my Uncle Alex.

We are all made up of the same chemical components, the same physiological structure. We all travel through time in a linear fashion, from the beginning of lives to their ends and we all hope and dream of something better or at least different. We all reach out in some way for the things we need, be they other people or solitude. We all walk the Earth – some in wheelchairs, some in scooters but we all travel this land in some fashion. We all laugh, cry, despair and hope. We all have the capacity for love and for forgiveness as well as for hate and for vengeance. We all have the ability to choose the right thing, although we don’t always do it.

We all are one species, given one lifetime to figure things out. How much better would this world be if one of the things we figured out was just that? What could we accomplish as a people if we spent more time helping each other instead of finding reasons to hate? There is a dream worth aspiring to, one voiced by many of our most revered and beloved people, from Martin Luther King to Gandhi to Christ. A dream where we live together not in suspicion, fear and hatred but in acceptance, love and tolerance. Rodney King may not be the kind of thinker those men are but he may have put it the most articulately; can’t we all just get along? Well, can’t we?

Spin Doctors

Whatever happened to accountability? We seem to be far more intent on making excuses than fixing problems. When we do something wrong, there seems to be more a stampede on making our wrongdoing seem more palatable. Politicians hire people to do this very thing; they’re called spin doctors.

We are our own spin doctors for the most part. When we do something that’s selfish, we tell ourselves that everyone’s doing it. When we do something that is cruel to someone, we find a way to blame the person we were cruel to – they had it coming. When we do something that crosses the line, we weren’t properly informed where that line was.

We all do it. It’s called self-justification. We do it to feel better about our bad choices. We do it to take away the guilt and the responsibility for our own actions (or inactions as the case may be).It is a way to not so much forgive ourselves as to give ourselves an out. It wasn’t me, it was the situation. I’m a good person, I am.

The thing is, we’ve become experts at it. Accountability has become an endangered species; we refuse to face our own music, let alone that of society. When we aren’t accountable, we aren’t motivated to make changes, correct our course. Therefore as a society we continue to get worse and worse, becoming more and more self-involved, less and less concerned about the good of society.

What has happened is that we now no longer even think we’re doing anything wrong because we are finding ways to justify our behavior, sometimes under the slenderest of excuses. We are rapidly losing the ability to self-correct.

There is also the flip side of the coin – we also like to feel like we’re abject failures at everything. We try to be our own harshest critics – I’m no good, I’m a colossal failure, I’m a jerk – but what that really does is excuse us from our behaviors. I’m no good so you can’t really expect any better from me.  It becomes an epic cop-out.

We need to face our own faults without worshipping them. We need to stop making excuses for ourselves. It’s okay to screw up – as long as we learn something from it. That’s what growing up is all about  – learning from our mistakes. When we make the same ones over and over again, it’s a pattern of behavior. When we allow ourselves to excuse our mistakes without accepting the consequences of our actions, that pattern isn’t likely to be broken anytime soon.

And that’s what it really is all about, consequences. We kind of slough them off, disregard them. They aren’t important or any factor at all really when we aren’t accountable for what we do or fail to do. We have to start looking at ourselves in the mirror again with honest eyes rather than looking for ways to weasel out of our issues.

Being a spin doctor is a fine intellectual exercise but at the end of the day we need to lose the concept both politically and personally. We need to teach each other accountability – hold ourselves accountable and our leaders as well, and let neither ourselves or our leaders weasel out of our misdeeds. Until we do, we can count on having leaders who don’t give a crap about doing what we’re paying them to do – because they can get away with anything. We can also count on having a society in which people care more about themselves than one another and that kind of environment isn’t one that is particularly conducive to a good life, let alone an American dream.