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Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

Fixing the Heart

Fixing the Heart

The events in Newtown just over a week ago have captured the attention not just of Americans but of the entire world. School shootings are nothing new; there have been 41 of them since 1989. What makes this one particularly heinous is that the age of the kids are mostly five and six years old. They didn’t have any sort of chance whereas middle school, high school and college students might have the wherewithal to run and/or hide.

Of course, this has dredged the gun control argument back out in the open as every such incident does. After the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado this past summer, there were some rumblings about it but this time, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to go away. Americans are outraged and they want something done.

The conservatives of course, say gun control is not the answer. We have plenty of gun laws on the books, sufficient for the needs of the nation. The answer isn’t limiting guns. If we do that, only criminals and psychos like Adam Lanza will have guns. We’ll be defenseless. It will be a bloodbath as innocent civilians cower in fear, everyone a victim waiting to happen.

People who want to kill innocent people will find a way, NRA supporters argue. They point to the incident in China where 22 schoolchildren were stabbed by a crazy person there. Guns don’t kill people, so goes the saying – people kill people. Except that’s ignoring the obvious; guns make it a hell of a lot easier for people to kill people. Yes, that man in China stabbed 22 kids – in a country with some of the strictest gun controls on Earth. Yet not one of those kids died. Not a single one. How many do you suppose would be lying in their graves if that man had a gun instead of a knife?

Another pro-Second Amendment argument is that citizens should have the right to arm themselves to overthrow a tyrannical government. But who decides what a tyrannical government is? Some say the current administration is. Others thought the previous one was. Should citizens take up arms because they don’t agree with a governments policies? If the abortion laws are repealed, should the Pro-Choice supporters march on the White House with shotguns and handguns?

Of course not and even if there was a legitimate reason to overthrow the government, an armed citizen militia isn’t going to do squat against a government that can employ armed forces that can orchestrate unmanned drone attacks guided by satellites, or stand up to attack helicopters. When the founding fathers authored the right to bear arms, it was 250 freaking years ago. The world has changed just a tad since then. Look around you – have there been any armed insurrections that have been successful without outside help? Most of the successful overthrows of government have taken place using non-violent means. Look at Egypt for God’s sake.

Or look at history. Owning a gun doesn’t protect you from crime; nearly everyone was armed in the Wild West and yet the murder rate was as high as it has ever been back then. We’ve had epochs where crime was high and there is no correlation that a better armed citizenry would have made a jot of difference.

Now of course there is always the need to cast blame. These people are crazy and needed access to mental health care (which is somewhat ironic since many of the people making this argument have been arguing against it as a tenet of Obamacare) which I think needs to be part of the solution. Our society is violent and videogame makers and Hollywood need to be reined in (even though there is not one shred of evidence that links violence and videogames and/or movies) which I disagree with.

The truth is that there are a lot of things wrong that have led us to where we are in terms of violence. One set of laws isn’t going to fix everything. That’s a given. But we have to start somewhere. We have to make some changes because what we have now isn’t working. When it comes to protecting our children we are failing and no, more guns isn’t the answer. Having armed guards at schools is ludicrous; innocent children are more likely to get shot than would-be mass murderers. And as school budgets get slashed where are we going to find the funds for armed guards? Chances are that schools won’t be able to afford “professionals,” they’re going to hire people who they can afford. And they might well be hiring guys who are ticking time bombs.

The answer starts with making it harder for people to get guns at all and IMPOSSIBLE for them to get semi-automatic or automatic weapons. There is no need for anybody – ANYBODY – to have a weapon that can discharge 30 bullets in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Hunters don’t require them and you don’t need that kind of firepower to protect yourself; in fact, it’s just as likely that a gun in your house is going to be used against you than to protect you.

Right now we’re all sick at heart over what happened in Newtown. Both sides agree on that. But as all the children and the heroic adults who died defending them have been laid to rest, their legacy will live on, hopefully as the catalyst for stricter laws, an increased access to mental health care programs and perhaps starting a conversation among us all that violence isn’t the answer to our problems.

There will be no fixing the heart for this one, not for this nation and especially not for the families in Newtown who have lost so much. We will always wonder why Adam Lanza did what he did – why he felt the need to inflict so much pain before taking the coward’s way out. It really doesn’t matter in the long run. I don’t think the answers to those questions will save the world from any future Adam Lanzas or ease the pain caused by this one.

What is left now is to address the problem we have been avoiding for so long. It’s time to enact gun control laws that are more in line with the other nations of the world, which have fewer gun-related deaths by a wide margin than we do. We have the shameful record of more guns per capital than any nation on Earth. And not by a small margin, either – the nearest competitor is 30 guns per hundred citizens behind us. And the countries that are mostly near us in that regard are countries that have had civil wars or rampant crime.

I don’t claim to have the answers. It just seems logical to me that since most of these tragedies have involved legally-obtained firearms, there should be a means of making it harder to obtain firearms legally. But I think the only way to come close to fixing the hearts of those whose hearts have been broken – not just the families of Newtown, but those of Aurora, Columbine, Blacksburg, Bart Township and Jonesboro and all of us who have hugged our children just a little tighter after each of these incidents – is to do something as a nation to keep these tragedies from being commonplace.