Friday, July 13, 2018

A Tale of Two Scandals

While anyone who knows me knows I feel the Republican party has many problems and it is in fact ready to die a painful death at the hands of its leader Donald Trump, this problem is one that I think is more systemic and predates Trump by many years.  You see there are currently two high-profile Republicans dealing with accusations of sexual misconduct at two different degrees.  The first is Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who, it is alleged, did nothing as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State to stop a serial sexual abuser of students in his charge.  The other is the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Curtis Hill.  Hill was the most popular Republican in the last election garnering more votes than the Republican Governor and the current President who easily won the state.  Hill is accused of groping a female elected official and several legislative aids at a party at the end of the legislative session. 

Both men have denied the accusations, while Jordan has changed his story from not knowing about the situation to basically suggesting it was locker room talk and not an official reporting of the behavior, Hill have vehemently denied the charges and had a press conference to say so.  But here is the thing.  Their actions have only made things worse. 

The accusations against Jordan grow out of a probe by the university into the doctor who was the alleged abuser.  In the process they spoke to several athletes who claim that doctor touched and/or ogled them inappropriately.  The stories are disgusting.  Now one wrestler suggested the Jordan knew about it and that became a news story.  Jordan's denials and efforts to call these men liars actually brought out more and more wrestlers confirming that Jordan knew what was going on and acted as if it was a joke.  While Jordan is not being accused of participating, like the situation at Penn State, he is being accused of not dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner.  My guess is he will have no repercussions for this because amazingly the same people who attacked others for sexual misconduct (and I believe allowing sexual abuse to go on unabated is sexual misconduct) are loudly defending Jordan without knowing the whole story and even after he admitted knowing something was wrong.  Some are even calling it part of a deep state conspiracy against Jordan.  Seriously, all he had to do was say "I had no direct knowledge of the abuse and its extent.  I apologize for not being pro-active in my role as an assistant coach but I did mention a concern to my boss at the time.  I believed the university would handle it and thought they had.  I am hurt that I helped cause pain to young men in my charge and I hope they will forgive me".  It is easy, and hell he doesn't even have to mean it.  But he gins up the foil-hat crowd with deep state nonsense and more truth runs out of the grip he is trying to put on the story.  At some point he can no longer deny it.  

Now Hill is another matter.  While he thinks that accusations are politically motivated as does Jordan, but the problem is that the accusations suggest he was a bi-partisan groper.  After his press conference one of the alleged victims came forward with a convincing story that includes witnesses of the AG touching her inappropriately.  She was a Republican staffer and someone who has worked for many in the GOP.  Hill also suffers from having no support from the leading Republicans in the state.  The Governor, the Speaker of the Indiana House and the Republican candidate for the US Senate have all called for Hill's resignation.  They feel he can't fulfill his duties and the evidence is strong in their favor.  While he should be assumed innocent of the charges, the investigation clearly has created a firestorm around him both from his political opponents and allies.  

I am not sure that either way of handling a scandal of this kind is the right way, but somewhere there is truth and we should be seeking it.  For  Jordan the truth keeps changing because people have come forward, and for Hill, his truth so far hasn't.  But at the heart of this is a clear issue.  In a political climate where people are more likely to circle the wagons than seek answers truth is a causality.  In Hill's situation the partisanship is not an issue and that is good.  I hope the women, if they are truthful, (and oh I believe them) will get justice.  As for Jordan, his district may like his crazy firebrand approach to attacking anything he deems against his vision of what America should be but if there is a way I too hope he will be made accountable if this accusation are true (and I believe they are).  

Yesterday, America and world watched in stunning horror as a lead counter intelligence officer in the FBI was harassed, threatened and personally attacked by members of Congress because he had the audacity to open a counter-intelligence probe into the Russian attacks on our elections and at the same time be a flawed human who expressed his disgust with Donald Trump ( and to be fair Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and many many others).  The partisan attacks on this man to suggest that the probe into Russian interference to benefit Donald Trump was a witch hunt and should end.  Today the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for hacking the DNC, the Clinton campaign and the DCCC during the election and disseminating the information through with Russian intelligence officers who are known to have contact with Trump confidants.  If only the GOP cared, do you? 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Opening a Diary

I wrote this a couple of years ago when I was inspired by the woods of great storytellers at a conference.  I was inspired but this confessional of weakness was difficult for me to share.  But a school shooting a few miles from my home and yesterday's attack on a newspaper had me reread and rewrite this piece that I would like to share.  I am not sure if it means anything to anyone else.  I sometimes feel helpless in a world of uncertain situations and the daily drum of nonsense.  Maybe this is just me giving you a peak at my diary.  Look in, perhaps I need to do more writing.

I only ever saw my dad hit my mom one time. It wasn’t out of anger but frustration. We were in the car, traveling during a terrible thunderstorm.  My dad pulled over as the wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain. My mother was crying and screaming, she wanted to get out of the car to run into the near-by church. The rain, then hail, made the two block walk dangerous and my dad tried to tell her.  She wasn’t able to listen, my dad slapped her, then grabbed her and held her tight.  The storm eventually passed and my dad took us all home, in silence. 

We were in the car because whenever a storm came my mother had to get out of the house.
We would leave and go somewhere else, anywhere with people. During the day, if a storm came we would go to the Ames Department store.  We would go inside and walk around, I would mainly look at the toys. We could watch the storm through the big windows to the parking lot but it was impossible to hear the thunder.  

But the real fun came at night.  If a storm was predicted, when we went to bed we would be told to keep our clothes nearby on the floor. Like fire fighters socks in the shoes, pants and shirt handy, we needed to be ready to go when the call came.  

“Wake up, there’s a storm”

We would get up and pile into the car and go out.  Good nights we went to the hospital, the big waiting room that people sat in waiting to visit someone upstairs in a room or being treated in Emergency.  My mom chose there because it was a fallout shelter.  The yellow and black sign that looked like a weird pizza to me, the result of Cold War fears, hung outside the building.  For mom that was safety.  We would go in, climb a set of hard stairs and then sit in plastic covered furniture under the watchful eye of the Pinkerton guard at his desk.  I always tried to getting pennies for the gumball machine and loved I could get two squares not one round one.

The large window that look out toward the river and the church parking lot gave us a clear view of the storm as it passed. Once, my mother went into the back and came out calmer and more comfortable. She fell asleep on the ride home.

Great nights we would go to the all night truck stop at the edge of town,aptly named The Edge of Town. There we would cram into a booth as the server brought the children chocolate milk and my parents coffee.  We sat among overnight truckers, drunk college students (Denny’s had not come to the North Country) and often women seeking comfort from a driver or offering it for coin. 

This was my normal.  Storms meant you awoke, went someplace and waited them out.  I didn’t realize how strange that was until college and my first real apartment.  One night I was sharing my bed through a late night storm.  I awoke and quickly turned on the TV to watch the storm information on the weather channel.  I felt anxious and wanted to leave but didn’t know where to go as my companion grunted questions about why I was up and to go back to sleep.  I realized that maybe not everyone reacts to the storms the way my family did.  She fell back asleep in the glow of the TV on mute as I watched the radar show the storm move off to the east.  As the weather quieted I slipped back under the sheets and continued the night.  

Over the years I have mellowed on my reaction to storms.  I watched my son grow up not caring about them.  But I still have to follow them, where they are, where they are going, when the threat is over.  Smart phones allow me to monitor this with stealth I didn’t have before.  But even today as the father of an adult child I still feel the need to know about storms when they come.  Storms are always my nemesis and I feel I must conquer them each time they come.  

Now you might ask why I carry this through life.  It is simple.  For my mom every time lightening flashed and was followed by a clap of thunder she was no longer a mother of 8, a wife, a survivor or the warrior that I saw her as most of the time.  She was the small child, one who heard the planes fly overhead in Mannheim 150 times in the years before she was 10 years old.  A child who hid in stairwells and basements and prayed with neighbors that the next bomb wouldn’t destroy their house, their school or their lives.  A child who saw the flashes of light at the city edge and waited for the thunder of the bomb’s concussion as it rolled down the streets in the dark of night.  I have never faced death at the hands of an anonymous pilot dropping explosives on my home, but I inherited the fear that was delivered with each payload.  I carry with me the scars that she earned as a girl who for her 5th birthday saw her cousin’s house go up in flames from a British incendiary device.  The flash of lightening and the sound of thunder of a simple summer storm carried so much more for my mom, and still today for me.  A legacy of a war fought against an unspeakable evil that spawned this irrational response of punishment on the people of Germany.  My mom is gone, but that punishment lives on in me, a little less pronounced than in her, but still there.  I hope my son didn’t pick up on my reaction to the weather.  I hope my son will be able to sleep through the storms in his life.  But I worry about others.  

Today there are children in parts of the world who will be experience terror by drone strikes and suicide bombers.  Children on the US border who will feel the trauma of being ripped from the arms of their parents and put in cages.  And young people sitting in classrooms that have seen bullets tear into their classmates' and teachers' bodies.  What will they fear when they get older?  Will their children carry the weight of the horrors into their day-to-day lives in the coming decades?  What can we do to break this cycle.  

Thursday, June 21, 2018

You Can't Measure Your Success With Your Own Failure

I once heard a professor say she was proud to give out so many failing grades in her class.  She saw that as being tough and a gate keeper to some storehouse of knowledge, or something.  As an educator I cringed and decided to ask, "Isn't your job to get the students to know the material?  I mean if they don't know it isn't that your failure?"  The conversation didn't go well but that is part of the vision of many in education, sadly.  We also see that in many areas where people have power over others seeking something.  Rejection is seen as more a value than it should be.

Recent events at the border have highlighted the terrible state of our immigration system in this country.  We are the shining city on the hill and people want to come here.  Why?  Our entire history has shown that this is one of the places that you can come here with nothing and work hard and build a life within and apart from you ethnic community.  Waves of immigration, celebrated by a statue in New York Harbor, made this country the strongest and most welcoming country in the world.  Studies show that immigrants make for a better country and a stronger economy as well as enhancing the fabric of what it means to be American.  Now we often hear about illegal immigration, crossing the border without the proper procedures and documentation.  But there is a new voice in Washington working to limit legal immigration.  Looking to limit people coming from countries the President himself referred to as "shit hole" countries.  In fact the director of homeland security  DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was supporting more immigration from Scandinavian countries. (She later said she didn't know that those countries were mostly white)  So when we hear rhetoric about keeping people out as a measure of success we have to ask ourselves:  Why?  Perhaps this is about the changing demographics of the country.

Current trends show that be 2045 we will become a white minority country, meaning whites will no longer be a majority demographic group in the nation.  I think that this may be a little too conservative and we may reach that (depending on how we define white) sooner.  This idea scares some people who hold to the notion that this was a country built by and for people of European ancestry.  While that has never been true it has been a theme over time that has led to some horrific events in our history.  The notion has always bubbled below the surface and reared its ugly head during the Presidency of Barrack Obama, which included the anti-Muslim hate that was ginned up after 9-11.  But in the last 3 years the worst of the worst of this has gained a more public voice with literal White Supremacy rallies like the one in Charlottesville, VA which apparently will be repeated in Washington DC this summer.  It was this fear that helped Donald Trump become the President as he catered to the notion of a nostalgic America that was whiter and more homogeneous in thought or at least thought that was allowed.

People fight this growing diversification of our culture in many ways.  One is the rise of backlash to many formerly ignored public practices causing consequences for people.  Using racially charged language, treating women as objects, and certain jokes have caused people to lose their jobs, their public standing and even their freedom.  Not that long ago they would simply be ignored or lauded.  I remember when I first moved to Georgia I was in the library and I heard an older women tell the librarian when she was searching for a book, "I don't want to do the n-word work".  That was 25 years ago.  She was anachronistic at the time, but no one confronted her.  I imagine today they would, it wouldn't be so common place that it is ignored.  I know someone told me that is just "the old way of talking" when I asked about it.  But there are some who would call anyone confronting her politically correct.  In fact, I hear that all the time now.  But I think it is better that we avoid language that dehumanizes and I think most people would agree.  You have a right to think that way and we have a right to tell you that you shouldn't say such things around us.  This mindset that there very act of promoting a language of inclusion and universal acceptance is some how destroying America has gotten new roots in a movement that if not led by the President, has his ear.  I think that energy put into dehumanizing people crossing our southern border is a symptom.  Remember they are coming for a piece of the American dream, they are bad.  But the dozens the Trump company brings in for cheap labor to work in his hotels apparently are fine.  The difference is that he can control the later.

Now I am not an open borders person.  But in a world where borders seem to have less meaning I think the idea of being open to immigration under many circumstances is a good thing.  I grew up in a border town.  We were heavily influenced by the Canadian culture that was similar to our own but had some different quality.  Growing up the border was more about crossing the bridge than going to another country.  My mother shopped at a little market run by German/Canadians every couple of weeks.  Friends parents would go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant on the other side of the river.  Crossing the border was less of a hassle than a typical subway ride from Midtown to Brooklyn in NYC.  Today it is different and I understand why.  We need security.  But I wonder how concerned we would be if a group of Scandinavian refugees were trying to seek asylum here.  I don't think it would be so easy for these people who cheer and make fun of kids in cages would be quite so comfortable with blond haired blue eyed toddlers in virtual kennels.  And that I think is the real problem.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Well Runs Dry

Last night we had a great board meeting at the shul.  We are so excited about our new Religious School program so we spent a great deal of time talking about the kids and families we have in our congregation.  I am happy our board is so supportive of the program and I left feeling pretty good about the what we are doing.  Then I got home. 

In the course of 1/2 hour I learned the President of the United States referred to people coming to the US to seek asylum are considered an infestation.  That sounded bad.  Then I watched as Rachel Maddow broke down on air upon reading the story of the opening of detention centers for babies and toddlers.  Then I saw that Corey Lewendowski was on Fox News and debating about the inhuman policies at the border.  To illustrate the pain being caused a panelist started talking of a young girl with Downs Syndrome taken from her mother.  Lewendowski interrupted him saying "Wah Wah Wah".  To be clear a former campaign manager to the President and an adviser to the President and apparently who may be in the pay of the Vice-President's PAC has made fun of the horrific story of a child with a disability being taken from her parent.  This is where we are, as a country we are setting up facilities to put babies in jail without their parents, calling human beings an infestation and making fun of disabled children.  All because a President, with the mental capacity of Simon Says Toy thinks that it would be good for the country. 

Now the question is why are there so many asylum seekers?  Well the reason is simple, in the late 80s and early 90s the insatiable desire for recreational drugs like cocaine in the United States made it a no-brainer for many in these countries to produce and smuggle loads of these drugs.  This wasn't simply street dealers in bad neighborhoods but the joke was that on Wall Street everyone had an 8-ball close to them.  So much so that the statue of a trader in lower Manhattan with his open briefcase often was adorned with an added plastic bag of white powder, simply to make it more authentic.  Among those whose cocaine habit drove the rise of lawlessness and violence in those areas was Larry Kudlow.  Now the President's top economic adviser, Kudlow was fired from Bear Stearns and struggled with a habit until simply going to rehab.  As thousands service prison sentences for using pot and smaller amounts of drugs, he never served a day in prison.  Now he supports the idea of destroying the lives of people fleeing the cartels he helped create. 

I don't understand how anyone can support what is going on at the border.  I can't understand how anyone can be comfortable with calling human beings an infestation.  I can't understand how making fun of a scared young girl with Downs Syndrome can be ignored by people with good hearts.  I call on everyone, conservatives and liberals, republicans, libertarians and democrats.  Let's stop simply being outraged and do something productive.  Challenge the lies of this administration and their elected supporters.  Hold news organization accountable for the hate they allow to be spewed on their air every single day (looking at you CNN)  and educate yourself and everyone you know about what is true and what is nonsense.  Start by reading PL 104-208 about immigration that is being used as an excuse.  Look at what actually occurred under the Obama Administration when unaccompanied minors came in large numbers and note that there were some of us who challenged their handling of it.  Be a good consumer of news and information and avoid thinking that news comes from the guests on the evening cable news stations.  And when Rachel Maddow breaks down crying, it is time to take notice.

Friday, June 8, 2018

RIP Anthony Bourdain and We Must All Be More Aware

This morning I woke up with a little spring in my step.  It is Friday, Shabbat is almost here.  I can work outside this weekend for a bit and then I saw the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup.  Yes, I am more a Canadians fan but happy to see this franchise get a cup. 

Went about my business and looked down at a tweet:  If you need help call 1-800-273-8255 #AnthonyBourdain.  I was rocked, it was the same source that I learned a few days ago about Kate Spade's suicide.  I know the person who did this and knew it couldn't be a cruel joke.  I quickly look and there, on the small screen of my phone, the story.  A man I respect, a man who appeared to all of us to have so much to live for, a man who cared about justice and peace and a global community of understanding had taken his own life.  He died of suicide.  Let's be clear, he didn't commit suicide, that suggests a strong sense of agency.  The disease of him mind took his life.

Too often suicide is seen as a failure of constitution.  Some how weak people do it.  Yet many who die by their own hand have shown great strength of character and bravery in their lives.  Bourdain is an example of that.  He rose to fame with a confessional story of life in the restaurant industry including his own confessional that included bad behavior and drug use. He traveled the world walking with people who disagreed with him politically but found a way to find common understanding around a dinner table.  Hard drinking and foul mouthed, Bourbain had a public persona that was off-putting to many but still created a welcoming spirit who followed his adventures, most recently on CNN.  In a recent episode in West Virginia he sat with people who admitted that they and he would probably not agree on much.  It was a telling episode in light of the current public divide on politics and culture.  He was an outspoken supporter of the #metoo movement even if it meant calling out friends in his industry.  This again showed strength of character as he could have stayed quiet and not dealt with the issue.  But the slice of him we saw was not like that and those who knew him better said things like this:  Tom Colicchio of TOP CHEF fame wrote on Twitter: 

RIP doubtful. Tony’s restless spirit will roam the earth in search 
of justice, truth and a great bowl of noodles.  @Bourdain

There was one time I got to hear him speak with Eric Ripert, the chef friend who found him this morning when they were in Paris together.  His language was peppered with many swear words so at the Q&A portion a woman asked him if he speaks like that in front of his daughter.  She continued that she brought her 9 year old daughter and was embarrassed by the language coming from a father. He retorted with asking what made her think it was safe to bring he child to hear Anthony Bourdain? 

So again, twice in one week, we are struck with the idea that even the wealthy, famous and apparently happy can fall prey to the demons that can invade our heads.  Wealth, fame and apparent happiness are not immunizations against mental illness and the torture of the brain.  Those demons do not look at your bank account or your twitter followers.  We shouldn't assume that people have no reason to be struggling just because they are successful. 

Suicide has become a much more common killer in the last two decades.  I haven't studied it so I can't fully comment as to why that is so.  In my life I have known about a dozen people who have died by suicide and several dozen who attempted or sought help to avoid it.  Sometimes the idea of feeling nothing is better for a mind that seems to always feel torture.  There are ways to help.  It is not easy but it is something we can do.  Listen to friends without judgement.  Never  say "What do you have to be upset about you have...."  Listen to your empathetic feelings with others, if you think something might be wrong, ask or at least find a way to be open to anyone who is in need.  Share with everyone that there is help out there.  Here are some wonderful support lines including one you can text. 

  • Suicide Hotline:     1-800-273-TALK. It’s free and open 24/7. 
  • Trans Lifeline:        US (877) 565-8860
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
Every day someone takes their life.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our military heroes and of course celebrities.  We cannot save everyone but like the girl on beach throwing star fish into the ocean one at a time we can save some.  To save a life is to save the world, let's all try to find a way to save the world over and over again.  May Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and all the less celebrated people who lost their battle with the demons be welcomed into the arms of Eternity and May their memory not only bring a blessing, but like the great shofar, call us to action.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Is Wrong With People!!!!!

A lawyer with advertising in Manhattan the other day decided he was going to decide what language the people who work at a Midtown restaurant should speak and not only berated the people who were speaking Spanish, suggested they were on welfare and in the country illegally.  He threatened to call Immigration Enforcement. Seriously, who does that?  Sadly it is not the first time he suggested that he was going to get someone kicked out of the country.  He did it to a young man from Boston who was in the city.  That video surfaced as well.  The irony of all this is that the lawyer has a practices that advertises 4 languages that they speak, including Spanish and oh he is Jewish.  So there is a good bet that at some point in his family history someone was persecuted for being a little different.  Also likely that if his family has Eastern European ties the first generation spoke Yiddish all the time, in New York, as they kept part of their culture while assimilating into America.  I have no real reference point to this kind of hate and bigotry aimed at strangers, just because they spoke a different language.  To publicly become hostile is just so outside what I would expect from a person who lives, works or visits Manhattan over a foreign language.  I wish there was more to the story to help me understand his reaction.  Maybe there is, but I don't know it.  What I do know is that the immediate reaction to him has been devastating.  He is an outcast on the street, being followed by both reporters and citizens.  He lost his lease for his office, which I am sure will be a huge hardship.  A mariachi band is playing outside of his apartment and he is up on ethics violations for his public antics with New York Bar.  All that said, he is not the first or the last person this week to do something like this.  Social media has made these stories find people and there seems to be an epidemic of this kind of behavior.  This comes on the heels of a series of stories of white people calling the police on people of color they encountered in their walking around life.  You know a new neighbor moving in is black, first reaction call a cop, black family barbecuing in park--call a cop, AirBnB check out--call a cop.  Is it because these people are scared that a black person in their immediate surrounding doesn't belong so must be up to no good?  If so that is a sad state of affairs.  It does tell you that there is a sense of white privilege in the world of some of these people.  A white girl falls asleep in the common room of a dorm, nothing happens, a black girl,--call the cops.  We have to stop. 

But here is the thing.  This kind of stranger attack without cause is not just for bigots over race or culture.  We heard this week that employees of Cheesecake Factory accosted a young black man for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat.  They even threatened violence.  The restaurant fired two of the employees involved and questions some of the story, in the end, people working at a public establishment threatened and verbally attacked a man for his political views that he was broadcasting in a not threatening and passive way.  That is simply wrong. 

Have we gotten to the point in our culture where this is going to be the new normal.  That is you go out in public more people will be comfortable not simply making a passing comment, that happens all the time, but being verbally assaulted by a total stranger because of your accent, dress, language you choose to speak or simply being of a color that makes someone uncomfortable?  That is not the America I want to live in and neither should you. 

I will say that recently a man attacked a woman for wearing a Niqab in a coffee place.  He made fun of her and then told her he hates her religion.  More of the same kind of nonsense that started because he wanted to make a snarky remark about her dress.  Well the people in the coffee shop were not having it and told him so, in words I won't use here, but the coffee shop also refused to serve him.  He was forced to leave. 

These toxic people are everywhere it seems and they are driving down the discourse in our country.  But there are more of us than there are of them.  Don't let this be where we are going?  This is not reacting to an overt statement or action, these examples, and many more, are attacks on a person for their mere existence.  You don't have to like anyone and if you have a bigotry toward a race, culture, religion etc, you are entitled to have that.  But when you single out people in public because of it, often based on ignorance, you are crossing a line we shouldn't cross.  If we allow that to go unchallenged then we are giving the person a lift over that line.  That we can't do.   

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Incel Movement and it's Violent Extension

When Alek Minassian drove his van into a crowd in Toronto, a motivating factor was to strike a blow for the Incel movement.  Incel, short for involuntarily celibate is a mostly mens ideology that has taken over sections of the web.  They argue that they are oppressed because they cannot have sex, even though they want to be sexually active.  This is a growing voice that even found a home in a recent New York Times article.  The article  quotes Robin Hanson, a George Mason economist as saying:

 If we are concerned about the just distribution of property and money, why do we assume that the desire for some sort of sexual redistribution is inherently ridiculous? 

But it is, because you can't really redistribute sex. Unlike money, food property and even opportunity, these are all things that require the sacrifice of stuff.  Sex, to be redistributed, would require someone not willing to engage in a sexual encounter with someone to, in fact, to do.  The New York Times editorial seems to suggest that those who are unable to find a sexual partner will benefit from legalizing sex workers and the growing ability to use technology to replace actual partners.  Like a you in HBO's Westworld, where human-like androids will completely simulate any act you would like and using Artificial Intelligence, become indistinguishable from a real human.  Here is problem with that assumption.

The leaders of the Incel movement are not really interested in sex.  Let me be clear, because this is nothing new.  They are not interested in sex, this isn't simply about lust, it is about control.  It is about anger.  Elliot Rodger, who Minassian praised right before his attack, is a perfect example of this anger that leads to violence. in 2014 Rodger killed 6 people and wounded 14 others in a attacks that including stabbing, shooting and using his vehicle as a weapon before taking his own life.  In his manifesto My Twisted World,  Rodger wrote:

I'm 22 years old and I'm still a virgin. I've never even kissed a girl. I've been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I'm still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I've had to rot in loneliness. It's not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime, because ... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman

These sentiments are not new.  I have wanted to date both in high school and college certain girls/women to no avail, only to watch them date guys who treated them badly.  It is not an unusual circumstance, especially for non-attractive, non-athletic, or non-popular people.  In many shows about high school friends there is always the archetypal friend who is a little goofy, always able to be relied on, and yet completely undatable by typical girls.  But in real life and its reflection in the entertainment what often happens is that someone does find them desirable who may not be the most popular or physically attractive girl.  But they find a way to connect.  (sometimes the reveal is that they all clean up rather nicely and under bad hair and horn-rimmed glasses they are stunning, but that is a different kind of misogyny). 

 But that is not what these Incel members want.  Their world-view is that they should be entitled to the attention of the person they want.  That there is a fundamental principle that rejecting them is the result of evil intent and they desire to be punished for such.  That has led to Rodger and Minassian not to seek out women who may have similar interests and may well find them attractive but to stew in the fever swamp of the Men's Rights movement of the internet until they are so angry at the world that no one wants to be near them.  I have heard many women reject guys not because they aren't good looking but because they are just ugly to the core, always angry and filled with a sense of hate at an unfair world.  Sex robot and VR porn and even real-life sex workers are not going to be the answer to this disease that festers deep in the hearts and minds of these men (and to be fair a handful of women).  What we need is to start teaching at an early age about sexuality and how to build strong non-sexual relationships with someone you might find attractive.  If a man looks at every women he meets as a sexual object he is not seeing a woman he is seeing parts or tools. 

Teaching relationship skills from an early age could help develop positive friendship between people who have the potential to be physically and emotionally attracted to each other.  Some simple things we can do.

1.  Stop always separating boys and girls in activities in elementary school.  That is when real friendship can be taught free of over-active hormones of puberty.

2.  Eliminate the term friend-zone from our everyday vocabulary.  If a woman/girl just wants to be friends with a boy who is attracted to her (or the opposite a boy making the same decision) it should not be seen as negative.  It may be difficult for the rejected person but it is not a failure on the rejecter.

3.  Stop slut shaming.  It feeds the mentality that women who reject the advance of someone, while engaging in sexual behavior with others, is somehow being unfair or evil.

4.  Raise boys to not see sex as a hurdle to get over, or a achievement to obtain fast and often.  We do this when we think of sex like gain ground in a game, or when we use terms like virgin as an insult to a man. 

5.  Our sexuality is something we own ourselves, not the culture.  How we define it is up to us.  That isn't to say that consequences shouldn't be discussed, they should, but like everything we should educate young people how to properly explore it.  Frank, open discussions that are comprehensive are the best.  From developing relationships to intimate encounters, we need to give people the tools to express themselves.

There are too many angry people (mostly men) out there who feel the world owes them the ability to have the person they want, when they want, how they want.  Anything less is cause for rebellion, using their own words.  This is not a positive human condition.  We must stop blaming women for the men's failures to be worthy of partnership, and stop laughing off their anger.  People are dying. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Cost of Health

I posted on Facebook that Dianne had to have her gallbladder removed last Friday.  It was a simply and informative post to let a lot of people know what was going on.  So I was surprised that the next time I logged on Facebook suggested that I add a link for friends to make a donation.  I simply let that pass but I have been thinking about it.  I know the final bill even after insurance will be a lot of money and it will be something that will set us back a little bit in our most recent plans but wow, Facebook must have a great number of people having to collect money to pay their medical bills.  Even in the age of the Affordable Care Act.  What struck me today was a local sports commentator and former coach retweeted a GoFundMe page for an Iraqi War Veteran and Police officer in Michigan who is being treated for cancer.  Here is link that I assume is legit: Dave Imber

So I got to thinking about even having good insurance having an emergency medical condition can be a life altering event even if it routine because of the financial impact. A few years ago a Kaiser Family Foundation report found that one in three Americans had trouble with medical debt. Many of those are insured, still had crushing medical bills, after paying premiums that are difficult each month.  Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at  wrote “Just because you have good insurance that doesn’t mean you won’t have large out-of-pocket costs."  And that is the problem.

Insurance is confusing, high deductible policies are becoming the norm, in-network/out-or-network are getting more confusing, and the often you have to fight lone and hard when something is out of whack.   I recently had a bill that was coded wrong and saved over $600 on the bill.  I called several times and finally got someone to listen to me and figured out the problem.  That was an education process for me.  It appears that you can be in your network, you can have a doctor order, and your insurance can know what you are doing and depending on where you get your work done the cost of the exact same procedure in the same zip code.  That is amazing.  What is more amazing that we don't know the prices before we go to the hospital so we can't comparison shop.  We can do better. 

So many people rage against what the rest of the world does with single payer.  While it would raise our taxes it levels the field so that our police and veterans or hardworking Americans can afford to have their health taken care of without a system made to confuse and intimidate the consumer.   So as we prepare to see exactly how much Dianne's medical condition costs I will say her care was wonderful, the doctors, nurses, and aides were all amazing and helpful.  So there is a part of me struggling to put a price on that. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

And the Youth Shall See Visions

In May of 1963 the Civil Rights movement had stalled in Birmingham Alabama as Bull Conner and the city leaders had made protests more difficult with long jail sentences for those who challenged the racist environments.  The adults feared losing their jobs, families and homes.  But high school children had no jobs to lose.  So they walked out of class, marched on the town and added many new voices to the calls for justice.  Conner used fire hoses on them, and brought down violence.  Those images were brought to all of America through print media and brave photographers who stood on the streets even as police tried to stop them.  Those photos of young people being attacked by the racist government officials led to a change in attitude for many in the country and marked a turning point in the cause.

In 1969 it was young people who frequented the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich village that rebelled against the oppressive actions of the police and the homophobic culture of the time.  Sylvia Rivera was an 18 year old drag queen the helped launch gay liberation groups and worked to helped homeless gay youth was at Stonewall when the riot broke out in May of '69.  This was a turning point in gay rights and opened the door for many to come out in support of the right of gay people to live openly.  It also led to better programs to help those homeless youth, often kicked out of home for being gay, to get help and not have to resort to hustling or fall prey to the streets.

In the late sixties, as America was being torn apart by the assassinations of the 60s and the debate over our involvement in Vietnam it was young people who led the way.  In May of 1970 four of those young people lost their lives on the campus of Kent State in Ohio, as National Guard members opened fire on a group of protesters.  The country heard their voice and in less than 3 years the United States withdrew from that conflict.

In the 1980s I am proud to say I was part of a movement that challenged our country to stop investing in South Africa which supported the Apartheid government.  While there were a diversity of voices that were out there, young people in high school and college educated the public while protesting on campuses, at businesses and to the government. 

In every major cultural change movement of my life time, youth voice was there, loud and unafraid of the consequences to themselves by the authorities that stood in the way of change.  So to see 100s of thousands of young people march this past weekend in Washington and around the world to help seek solutions to the problem of gun violence and mass shootings is not a surprise.  It is a continuation of what I have known to be true my entire career of working with young people.  Young people will act when given the opportunity if they have the passion.  The school shooting at in Parkland, Florida was the spark because those students, many who have been taught to stand up for what they believe, many supported by parents in their beliefs, gave us a lesson in how to be brave.  Attacked by those who share the false narrative that any gun restriction is a violation of the 2nd amendment and an attempt at confiscation, likened to Nazis by those who fear the very conversation about the role of guns in our society, and laughed at by a right-wing noise machine that uses simplistic humor for cheap cheers from their listeners, these students were not stopped.  A metaphor played out on Saturday as one speaker vomited from the adrenaline pumping through her, scared to speak to so many, but persisted through and told truth to power.

Movements happen because someone or a small group of someones decide that their goal is worth the effort, the ridicule and the costs.  Often those movements are led by people who are looking to the future they want to build.  Young people's voice have always been important.  If you disagree with these youth, listen to them and answer them where they are wrong.  They are able to learn more about the issues.  If you agree with them, support them and teach them how to respond with class, information and clear vision.  If you choose to just ridicule them, you are risk for being on the wrong side of history.  In the words of a 20th century prophet, Mr. David Bowie:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Scared Straight Doesn't Work, Let's Stop Pretending it Does

If you grew up in the 1980s and 90s you will remember the JUST SAY NO campaign spearheaded by then First Lady, Nancy Reagan.  Televisions commercial were laughable, in one someone held up an egg and said "This is your brains", cracks it and lets the contents hit a hot frying pan saying "This is your brain on drugs, any questions?" This like the push a generation earlier when it came the health risks of smoking, tried to get kids to see the long-term consequences of their short-term enjoyment. Maybe one of the most of the most celebrated attempts at scaring kids was  Scared Straight, a program that brought young people into prisons to basically be abused verbally by members of the prison community both guards and inmates. This became a TV show and the program spread around the country like wildfire.  Often the inmates got considerations for trying to put fear into the hearts of the young people.  The main groups brought in were already petty offenders but there were also attempts to scare students before they got involved with crimes. 

So my senior seminar class was about persuasion so I wrote my final paper on the efficacy of these kinds of messages.  What I found was the overwhelming evidence that these approaches simply do not work.   While they made people feel good the students neither believed the drug program educators nor the inmates when it came to the possible outcomes.   In fact, while I was writing the paper the Scared Straight crowd did a follow up show ten years after the first show.  What we found was that many of the kids who were in the first programs continued to commit crimes, a few escalated in seriousness and a couple were free of any further criminal activity.  (for one though it seemed he was just better at not getting caught).  I was stunned, it was like made for my thesis.  However, more than 30 years later and many more publications on why this is a bad idea there are still kids being dragged to prisons, pictures of black lungs on cigarette packs and just the other day the President of the United States suggested television and internet commercials targeting young people saying, "The best way to beat the drug crisis is to keep people from getting hooked in the first place," President Trump said. "This has been something I have been strongly in favor of spending a lot of money on great commercials showing how bad it is." he went on to say, "So that kids seeing those commercials during the right shows on television or wherever, the internet, when they see these commercials they (will say), 'I don't want any part of it.' That is the least expensive thing we can do. Where you scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials and we will make them very, very bad commercials. We will make them pretty unsavory situations and you have seen it before and it is had an impact on smoking and cigarettes." 

But it didn't work before and it won't work again.  And what is a real serious issue is that many opioid addicts are becoming that way because of non-medical use of prescription pain killers.  Doctors are very quick to prescribe addictive pain killers as pharmaceutical companies have made them cheaper, easier to take and lucrative for doctors.  There are even some doctors that are so free with prescriptions that they become defacto drug dealers for people who once used pain killers for legitimate treatment but became hooked.  Street opioids are also more available because there is a clear market for it and heroin is making a major resurgence in the street drug market. 

Combating the opioid problem is something that will require a lot of thought, a lot of cooperative work and a real  federal, state and local action on the part of law enforcement, public health and the private medical profession.  It will take a serious look at the suppliers, (though the President just wants to apply the death penalty to them) but also the foundation of this crisis.  We must investigate the genesis of people's addiction, and work to stop the origin and gateway for so many.  People are dying, not because they don't know the results of drug use, nor that they are just bad people.  It is because the class of drugs in question are tailor made to interact with our nervous system in a way that leads to addiction.  It is time we take it seriously and leave the eggs for your local diner. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Remembering Old Friends.

In the last few weeks, two people who I went to high school with have passed away. 

Heather Brenno left the world after a battle with cancer.  We were never really close but in my hometown everyone shared at least a little of a connection if you grew up in the 70s and 80s. She was loved by many and I am probably lessor of a person for not knowing her better. 

But the stunning death to me was that of Hany Ghaleb whose cause of death is listed as natural causes.  Hany moved to Ogdensburg right around the start of junior high school as I recall.   We were close friends for part of his time there and then he moved away before graduation.  However recently, through the magic of social media, we reconnected.  Last summer he gave me advice for some friends coming to the Cooperstown region for a baseball tourney with their sons for food and fun.  At the time I talked about coming back into the area and getting together, and yet we never made plans.

My peers are becoming used to saying good-bye to our parents.  It is not shocking to hear of one of us losing a mother or father.  But it is shocking that our classmates passed at such a relatively young age.  One of the things that it brought up for me is how I have let so many formerly important connections in my life fade into the background.  I am jealous at times when I see some of my fellow Blue Devils from O'burg hanging out, sharing time together on vacation and just being part of each other's lives.  I take full responsibility for my failure of staying in touch.  While social media has helped me have a nominal connections, I often feel on the outside looking into the lives of some of the people have used to be an important part of my daily existence.

So perhaps this will motivate me to reach out, I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that I have moved into a new stage of life.  I am thankful that technology will allow me to reach back and maybe reignite old friendships.  It may be great to truly see the people we have become and to honor those who can't, can continue to become.

May the friends we lost rest in peace, and may we remember them for a blessing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Reality TV's Newest Star

When William Hung sang She Bangs on American Idol all those years ago, America changed.  We became comfortable with the notion that one doesn't have to have talent or be interesting to rise to the top of our American consciousness.  It led to the Kardashian world we now live in.  So the Trump Reality Show Administration now has its William Hung.  Sam Nunberg, a lawyer and lapdog for Roger Stone who worked on the prequel The Trump Campaign spent the day on almost every media outlet telling us he would not comply with a subpoena from the Mueller investigation. Sam Nunberg has been a crazy character for a long time. Fired in 2015 from Trump's campaign for posting racist posts on social media.  That would be par for the course in a Roger Stone universe but Trump hadn't achieved his level of comfort with white nationalism at the time.  But Nunberg kept in touch with Trump advisers, including Steve Bannon.  So yesterday Sam put on a tour-de-force performance across the cable news universe.  Speculation was that he was high or drunk..  On CNN reporter even said he had alcohol on his breath. But what is interesting is that he gained a celebrity status for sounding like a buffoon.  A lawyer, some even looked up where he went to school to challenge his apparent lack of competence in understanding how a simple court action works.  He ended the evening with a statement that he will likely comply with the subpoena.  One could say it was one bad apple, but we have seen a bushel of them.  Heck, the leader in the clubhouse for Kata Kaelin award was Carter Paige, the spy who couldn't shoot straight.  But his media tour was subdued to compared to Nunberg.  

This is an example of a the people the President has chosen to be around him.  This guy's mentor, Roger Stone, was one of the craziest operatives in right wing politics who has written books saying that the Bush family are a mafia and the LBJ killed Kennedy.  He lives in the Alex Jones land of conspiracies and frankly seems to have fetishized Richard Nixon. Stone is accused of  being a connection between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers. Protecting Stone is the hill Sam Nunberg wants to die on, while calling the President an idiot and saying that the Mueller team has something on the President.  So this is where we are, the reality show that is this Administration continues.  By the way, the President's proposed tariffs will destroy the world economy, the HUD Secretary Ben Carson who recently got caught trying to spend $31 thousand on a dining set says his job is hard, North Korea is calling for talks with the US after creating a dialogue with South Korea and it looks like a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom has been attacked with poison, a typical Russian style attack.  I just hope that there is only one run for this show.  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Comment Section is A Place to Feel Smart

A while back, Indiana joined most of the country and started using Daylight Savings Time.  It was difficult for life-long Hoosier and I understood their frustration.  For me it was a bit of a relief as I hated the great world I interacted with never knowing what time it was for me.  Conference calls were like a Abbot and Costello skit and when I flew to the east coast during the change it became a whole other thing.  It has been 12 years, almost a generation has grown up with it, but I still hear complaints.  Now I don't like DST but for some it is just that they don't think Indiana should do it.  Wait until they hear there is a move to put us on Central time.

Well, Indiana joined a majority of the country again this week by enacting Sunday alcohol sales in package (liquor) stores and retailers in general with licenses like grocery stores and big box stores. This is the first of what will likely be many battles over alcohol policy in Indiana.  What is interesting is that this was the easiest to enact and while a major shift in policy is not going to have very much of an effect in most people's lives.  It will allow me to buy wine and liquor on my normal Sunday Costco runs so that is helpful to me.  This is to say the least more convenient for consumers and frankly more beneficial to grocery stores who were losing Sunday business to breweries and some restaurants who could sell packaged beer on Sundays already.   But some are upset.

So bring on the comment section.  One person wrote " Well Gov. You should be proud! The ONE day you could get out and drive without having to worry about DRUNKS and YOU RUINED IT! GLAD I DIDN'T VOTE FOR YOU!" on a facebook post.  The caps are hers.  What is interesting is that buying alcohol in a store would make it less likely for someone to drive drunk.  Before the passing of the law if someone wanted to drink while watching say, a football game or a NASCAR race, and they didn't have any at home, they would go to a bar.  That might lead to 4 hours of drinking and watching.  Then drive home.  But now, they can run to a local retailer and go home and watch.  Simple and safer.  But don't tell the person on facebook who thinks people will be downing shots in Kroger I imagine. 

Others who seem to not think before they post said that no one needs to buy  alcohol on Sunday if they are too stupid to remember to get it a day earlier.  What if we looked at other things like that?  We would be outraged to find that things we want or need could be limited to purchase on certain days. No toilet paper Wednesday, no meat on Monday.  How does that make sense?   What is the point?  Should I have to stock up?  What does that even mean? 

Others have suggested that Sunday sales will create more alcoholics.  I wish I knew how that math worked.  It is an insult to people struggling with the disease and insults the intelligence of everyone who reads it.

None of these comments are consequential and frankly they will mean very little in the grand scheme of things but it is a trend that is disturbing.  The comment session was used by Russia to spread disinformation in our last election.  Today it has become a fertile ground for antisemitism, racism and white supremacy as well as continued attacks on individuals with lies or out-of-context quotes.  The latter comes from the right and the left.  Unlike social media, the comment section of publications can easily be monitored for facts and appropriate responses.  If only they would be.  So take everything with a grain of salt, and remember you have access to the best information analysis in your own brain, take the time to use it before you comment. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Why CNN Got It Wrong

Wednesday night CNN had a townhall meeting, of sorts, with survivor victims of the Parkland, Fl school shooting and lawmakers and NRA representative Dana Loesch.  It was a microcosm of every debate on gun issues.  I will not go into that too deeply but many people operate on this issue from ignorance.  When that happens what we talk past each other, we hear what we want to hear and the rhetoric gets ugly. The students of  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are trying to tell us something, through tears, angry, and pain.  CNN did them a disservice.  We can't as well. 

The gun debate is not new and has always been complicated.  Gun ownership helped build the country and almost destroyed it. Guns are truly American,  We live in a country with the right to own guns. The Supreme Court, in DC vs. Heller identified the right as an individual one when used for legal purposes including self-defense. This clarified the wording of  the role of  "well-regulated militia" in the second amendment saying one did not have to be part of one to have the right.  However, that same decision however said it is Constitutional to put restrictions on where and what kind of gun one can own.  Quoting the late Justice Anton Scalia writing for the majority:  “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." It is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” For instance, Scalia said concealment laws were permitted at the time of the Constitution’s ratification and should be permitted today. 

So in the United States today the right of gun ownership can be mitigated by laws as long as owning a weapon for legal purposes is not eliminated.  That is simple. Calls for full bans on all weapons are not helpful and would require getting rid of the 2nd amendment, some in the crowd at CNN seemed to applaud. But here is the thing, the 2nd amendment was never about hunting, nor really personal protection from criminal elements.  No one in the 1780s would have thought to even consider those questionable.  What it was about was the states having the ability to fend off a tyrannical central Federal government who were overreaching.  The Civil War, in part, was predicted by the founders and because there has always been a tension of when are we 50 states and when are we one nation.  The 2nd was designed to help the states beat back an unlawful attack on Americans' freedom. Banning all guns is a failed idea and should not be entertained and it fails to add to the conversation.

But also what doesn't help is those that argue any restriction on access to fire arms is a total ban or worse that someone is coming to their homes and taking there guns.  To hear recent NRA messaging
you would think that there is a ready force in the government coming to take away all the guns and lock up people who believe in gun rights.  They say we hate freedom.  This is a failed conversation too and frankly insane. 

Then why not outlaw specific firearms to keep that people less armed?  The idea of banning assault weapons as they are called seems reasonable to many.  We can ignore the extremes and work on that.  But  the fact that defining an assault weapon has proven difficult because the gun manufacturers know that there is a market to exploit and so change a bit of the weapon to work around any law.  Besides, the reason is there is a market.  There are plenty of Americans who not only want a gun for personal protection or hunting, which most people feel is fine, but because it is actually fun to fire skeet shoot, fire at a range and feel the power of a gun.  That is why first-person shooter games are also popular.  And in this country we have that right.

So the solution to this are difficult and can not be done with the posturing of politicians, town halls driven by anger and certainly not the crazy rhetoric of the far right and a President who blurts out thoughtless nonsense without thinking through the implications of the idea. Guns are part of our culture and while I am all for helping with a cultural change, that can not be done by laws and will fail if tried. 

Let me be perfectly clear.  The NRA does not have the interest of Americans' right at heart, nor do they care about gun owners and safety.  They are lobbyists for the gun manufacturers. They have become the loudest voice for the biggest gun makers in this country.  They have for decades spoken with a radical agenda and attacked the FBI and other law enforcement (before it was done by mainstream Republicans).  In fact George H.W. Bush ended his relationship with the NRA over them calling the FBI Jack-booted thugs in the 90s.  They do not speak for a majority of the gun owners nor mainstream America.  But they are out front because they have power in Washington due to their deep deep pockets.  We watched their national spokesperson snarl at kids who were trying to get their point across on the CNN program.  She also lied about the NRA's position on various efforts to limit guns getting into the hands of the wrong people. And then the next day she claimed she claimed the mainstream media loves school shootings to because it is good for ratings.  That is some high level chutzpah for someone who has used gun issues to make her career. 

Guns are an emotional issue and when there is too much emotion there is room for ignorance to fill in the gaps.  There are facts that need to be used when making decisions on guns and school and general community safety.  There is a debate here, it isn't easy.  So let's be clear about moving forward, the debate has to be from a position of knowledge and history.

So let's keep in mind:
1.  The President doesn't think things through, his ideas are nonsense and should simply be ignored.  Let's stop debating what he says.  The man will not follow through and will change his mind if the right person gets in his ear.   

2.  The NRA speaks not for gun rights but gun makers.  They are not part of the solution.

3.  If your argument is that the 2nd amendment was written when muskets were state of the art that is not relevant to the discussion.   It is like suggesting the 1st doesn't relate to the internet.  It is a non-starter.  Yes guns are more deadly but we can both keep the 2nd intact and restrict guns in many ways.  Let's work on that.

4.  It is dangerous to argue to ban all private gun ownership.  Not only will that not be good giving the government too much power over the people, but it will also end any good conversations.

5.  If you question is "why do you need a gun like that?" you aren't asking the right question.

The real question is where can be build roadblocks to keep guns out of the hands of people who want to do harm or don't have the capacity to fully understand what they are doing:

1.  Comprehensive and fully funded background check system that includes people being treated for severe mental illness.  I know there is a privacy concern here but we give up privacy all the time for purchases.  This can be worked out over time.

2.  Waiting periods for weapons like AR-15s.  I am not a gun maven, but a semi-automatic weapon or any based on a military weapon designed to be used offensively should require a waiting period. 

3.  Training for weapons.  The purchase of a weapon should require a training course of some kind.  I don't think that is unreasonable.  A weapon can create damage in the public sphere I think we have a responsibility to make sure the owner at least knows where the the rounds will go.

4.  Severe penalties if your weapon is used in the commission of a crime.  Meaning you have to be responsible for it.  If stolen report immediately. 

5.  Add-ons to guns that make them shoot like automatic weapons (bump stocks etc.) should be banned and buy back programs should be put in place.  If caught with one after two years of the ban in place there should be prison time. 

Those are all ways we can slow down the violence that we have been visited by but it won't stop it. 
What Parkland taught us was that we have a blind spot when it comes to certain people and weapons.  Laws could have stopped the killer in Florida, if he had to be 21 to buy an AR-15 he wouldn't have it, if there was a way to take away his guns when he threatened a school shooting that could have helped, if the state and federal authorities had taken him seriously they could have intervened.  But that didn't happen because I truly believe we don't see the very people who are threats as threats. So often we hear reports of problems that people saw and in this case reported.  Yet nothing was done.  We have to take this all seriously.  I wonder, if after recent San Bernadino and the Pulse nightclub how the FBI, local law enforcement and the family he lived with would have reacted if his name was Ahmed.

I want laws to make it harder for some people to get access to any weapons, I want to outlaw devises that convert semi-automatic weapons, and there are probably some weapons that don't belong in the hands of private citizens.  I want to live in a country where the freedoms that made us great are mitigated by the thoughtfulness that makes us continue to be so.  I want the nonsense to stop, the shouting, the posturing and the downright disgusting nature of the rhetoric to stop.  We are sick as a culture not because we have guns but because we refuse to speak openly and honestly about them.  Because we are polarized and too many so-called leaders cannot be trusted.  The children are screaming at us because that is all they think we can hear.  Let's prove them wrong and listen, because under the tears, the anger and pain they do have a still small voice that is powerful.  It is time to focus and just freaking listen.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Continue to Live in a Post-Truth World.

So the move Black Panther opened on Friday.  A superhero movie centered on an African prince who is to lead a hidden kingdom on the African continent.  I haven't seen the movie and cannot comment on the content, but I have seen that it has been a movie that has inspired a sense of pride among African Americans in the media.  So of course there is a segment of our culture who feels this is a problem. To respond to this there has been a deluge of fake Twitter posts showing pictures of white people with physical injuries saying they were jumped as showings of the film.  This was completely untrue and easy to prove wrong.  Twitter has had to ban users who have been doing this.  But the story isn't going away and that is the problem. Once it is out there people will believe it and won't do the research.  It demonizes the black community suggesting that white people shouldn't go see this film.  It also will push down the box office numbers in some communities, though it still was a record weekend.  But facts don't matter anymore do they?

CNN has gone out of their way to get the mythical both sides of any information they report on in what has become in the last 30 years or so news analysis.  Virtually every day there is someone on their air that lies to the hosts.  Sometimes called out but mostly there is a nuanced push back that doesn't seem to want to offend.  Just a few minutes ago I switched over to CNN to hear about a rumor that Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's second and the head of the Trump inauguration team, has plead guilty.  Two people were arguing about gun laws in the wake of the Florida shooting.  Once again false talking points were unchallenged on the air.  But that has been going on since last Wednesday with this story.  For example, the call for armed guards in schools.  The school in Florida has an armed guard.  The shooting went to fast to have him engage.  Shooting stories bring out the lies consistently.  Most of the people who have opinions about guns do it from an emotional place.  (except members of Congress who are on the NRA payroll).  So even news stories are riddled with false statements.  I get that a little but I wish the news media would do a deep story about the facts of these events.  After the shock and awe, after the crazy number of reporters are sent to stick microphones in the face of grieving families, after the political class stops using victims as political football, I would like to see a documentary done on what is true and not true about these shootings.

There are journalists who are doing deep work on the Russian involvement of our elections. NBC's:  Left Field: After Truth which looks at a known Russian troll farm Facebook ad to organize anti-refugee rally in Twin Falls Idaho.  This has created a growing anti-refugee feeling and people are being attacked in the town.  In fact it is one of the ground zeroes for fake news.  Like the Bowling Green massacre lie from the White House, it has ginned up people to repeat nonsense about Muslims in our country.  What is amazing is the number of people who, despite the facts, continue to believe things that a proven to not be true.  But the more we push back with facts more people with have to believe.  Facts are important and the fact that we have documentary shows called After Truth and a White House that believes in alternative facts it will not be easy.

But there are those who don't want facts to interfere with their world view.  When Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor was nominated for the court an old speech in which she suggested a "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."  Speaking about how certain perspectives will color a judges decision.  As they always have.  It was a speech about Latina jurists.  In context the statement made the point that a diversity of perspectives give the court a better understanding of issues that may involve people of color or women.  When discussing it on Fox News one commentator when asked about the context said something to the effect that context isn't important.  Context helps define truth.  But to this right wing noise maker truth was unimportant. 

Now is par of the course for pundits but should it be for members of Congress they should be held to a higher standard, by themselves as well as us. However my hope that this could be true is just not realized.   Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY), a conservative upstate Republican, went on CNN “Newsroom” on Saturday, attempting to defend President Donald Trump in light of the recent indictments of Russians for their illegal meddling in the 2016 election.  While she twice, at least, said that the indictment put an end to the idea of collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian troll farms (it doesn't) she had to be asked if she thought the 37 page indictment seems to be a conclusion of the efforts of the special council.  Tenney had to admit that she hadn't read the indictment released on Friday.  Seriously, the indictment was online before I got home on Friday.  She is back in her district and not in session, she was going on national television to speak about this and she didn't read it.  Not because she didn't have time it is because she didn't care about the facts.  When pushed a little about the role of Russians in the election she said they helped both sides.  (They didn't and the indictment is clear about that).  How is it that a member of Congress can get away with that.

The answer is simple.  We are living in a Post-truth world.  Facts don't matter.  If it violates our worldview it can't be true.  Be it about what is happening at movie theaters, restrictions on guns, Russian involvement in our election or virtually anything these days there is no trusted referee to help us.  Where have you gone Walter Cronkite, a nation turns its confused eyes to you?  Who is your heir and will we believe her?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Jamie Morton is Up For Parole Again

So the letter came today.  Every two years it comes at the end of January or beginning of February.  It tells me that Linda's murderer will once again have a chance to be freed from prison.  It once again asks me to draft a statement for the board.  It once again brings up the debate between wanting that man to die in prison and my values of living in a culture where rehabilitation and second chances are important.  It seems that in the long run I know nothing changes the past, I like my present, and when I look back over the 30 years since Linda's murder I have struggled, hurt people, and acted the fool in part from carrying the anger and pain of that afternoon in the summer of '87,  However with each year I have healed.  Maybe I can even drive down James Street in Syracuse next time I am there.  But I still am uncertain about the fact that Jamie Morton be freed.  So here is what I plan to send the parole board.  Not that different from previous letters but maybe with a little more edge.  Call me out if you feel you need to, frankly I am not sure if I am totally comfortable with my own thoughts:

Dear Parole Board,

I am writing this letter as a victim impact statement to be considered at the upcoming parole hearing of Jamie Morton, Inmate number 88C0405. On August 31, 1987 he murdered Linda Akers, my fiancĂ©, in my apartment in Syracuse.  It seems that I have done this every 2 years for a while now so I wonder if this is really a necessary action, however I feel I give voice to Linda and that is important for me. 

Mr. Morton violently beat and stabbed Linda for no reason except to vent his anger at a world he felt was unfair.  But more than stealing Linda and my future, he took a light out of the world.  Linda’s work with young children, especially during her time at the Bishop Foery Foundation, was focused on reaching vulnerable and at-risk children.   She wanted to make a difference in the world, especially for those who were often unseen or ignored by society as a whole.  She never got the chance to make her mark. 

I have never felt that someone who could so senselessly take a life should be released and enjoy the freedom he stole from Linda and for many years myself.  Now, more than 30 years after her death, I think I have found a way to heal almost fully.  However, when I am brought back to that time period either by a visit with my college friends or a trip through Central New York, I once again feel the wound as if it were fresh. How can someone who caused such ripples of pain be able to fully make up for it even in 3 decades?   

Yet I am also someone who believes in both justice and rehabilitation.  If Mr. Morton has served his time honorably and without incidents of violence or dangerous behavior, and if he will add to the world’s good as opposed to evil, should he not be released?  Each time I have received your letter I find myself in debate with myself about what I would like to see (Morton die in prison) from an emotional level and the values I fought for and that Linda shared that justice and rehabilitation should be part of our society.  Giving people a second chance is important to me.  I just can’t help but think of his behavior at trial, his lack of real remorse and of course the simple fact that his reaction to being angry was to kill the innocent person nearest him.    

You have more information than I do.  You know his record in prison.  You know if he has found a way to purge the anger that fed him.  You may even know if he still has murder in his heart.  But if you can’t be sure that the man you sent to prison is not coming out with all the same problems then how can you feel comfortable allowing him back into society? 

I know that you are supposed to take a “future focused” approach to deciding parole. But I don’t think you should forget the crime itself and not just the action of plunging a knife into another human, but what ending Linda’s life meant to the world.   I hope you see that Mr. Morton took the life of a woman who was dedicating that life to young children, many vulnerable at-risk children in your community.  I hope that you will see the crime was against a single person but has caused a great deal more pain for many, many others.

So in the end, once again, you have to decide whether Morton should be free, living the community where Linda was no longer allowed to bring her light.  Your job is difficult, I know I don’t have a vote, but again, if you don’t feel 100% confident he will add to the community don’t set him free, I wouldn’t. 

Thank you for taking my words into consideration while you deliberate. 


George Kelley 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Racists are Getting Cover from the Top

In Carmel, Indiana, a northern suburb, a Muslim group has petitioned the zoning board to build an Islamic Center that will include a mosque.  The center will be in a residential neighborhood that has been seeing development north and south of it.  The people who live there do have some legitimate questions about what this new house of worship will mean to the neighborhood.  Traffic and noise being the biggest issues.  Also what it might mean if the center does drug treatment programs or a food pantry.  Neighbors need to consider these things and the zoning board should as well.  Houses of worship in general can be a net positive to a neighborhood.   But for some any effort to create a commercial-like environment can be problematic.  A large building with a public profile does change a lot about an area.

The mosque has tried to address some of the issues, for example, fear of a public call to prayer has been been spoken to by the fact that there will not be one to conform with local noise ordinances.  So know that local government will have to balance the needs, rights, and concerns of the groups.

But the debate has brought out an ugly side of our culture.  The responses to the story on local newscast social media pages has been down right racist.  One person, who doesn't live in the city let alone the neighborhood, said that there is a mosque in Plainfield so why do they need another one.  It is almost one-hour from the area that this community lives in.  Others equated Islam with terror and suggested, without sarcasm, that this is the first step to Sharia being imposed in Carmel.  It is mindnumbing.  But this is where we are as a country.  It isn't new, loud-mouthed hate has been part of culture since the dawn of culture.  I have always found it interesting that in ancient Rome there was political graffiti that attacked leaders and others personally.  But today it feels different.  It feels like elected officials are helping to cultivate this hate. 

High level leaders in the Republican party, including the President, have reached out to the most divisive and hateful members of the right wing noise machine.  People like Alex Jones, a man who called the Sandy Hook massacre a false flag operation, has access to top government officials and the President has been on his conspiracy ridden radio program.  White supremacists have been invited into the White House and we have seen members of that subculture flashing White Power signs while standing in the People's house.  And of course, the President, when faced with questions about the racist gathering in Charlottesville called some of the them fine people. 

Anonymity of the internet, cover run by our leaders and the daily deluge of slug from members of the inner circle in the current administration has created a fertile ground for hate to be acceptable to many.  It takes good people to not do nothing.  There are many times arguments can be made against whate I believe, from a mosque in Carmel, to DACA to a border wall to security measures.  But if those arguments use bigoted, ignorant or racist ideas to prop up a failed position, we must challenge them.  There are more of us than them.  And some can still be shamed, regardless if the GOP leadership has lost that ability.       

Monday, January 15, 2018

Facts are Always Facts.

When access to the internet became ubiquitous, I was teaching a class at Georgia College.  I remember telling my students that if they used a website as a reference for their writing they must show the websites' citations as well.  Twenty some years ago the internet was not fully understood by many, even in academia, and of course there was tons of misinformation on the World Wide Web.  I used part of a class session to show this by finding websites that promoted wild conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination, Flat Earth groups and of course my favorite alien visitation.  Most students became better consumers of the vast information now available to them.  More than two decades later the information has only expanded but so has the misinformation and confusion.  That coupled with partisan news organizations and position driven websites we now have access to a tsunami of information from a devise we carry in our pockets, but that wave brings flotsam and jetsam that is is hard to weed out.  

While long before the internet was the main way we interact with information, hucksterism, misinformation and yellow journalism were around.  The internet has just not only made it more private but has linked like minded people to create a perpetual reinforcement machine that leads people to believe things and justify them by the sheer numbers of people they can connect with who agree.  Fertile ground for those wishing to take advantage of ignorance.  

Sometimes this is just a way to separate a willing mark from his or hers money.  Phil Plait, known as the Bad Astronomer, post an Instagram photo today of a booth selling magnetic jewelry that apparently does something non-specific for health.  Snake oil on a grand scale.  Every Facebook feed has something for sale that will make you a better human being, hopefully.  In many cases this is just folly.  While this is usually only dangerous to those who fall for the pitch, it is highly disturbing that it is so easy to fool people.  But recently we have seen an uptick in more authoritarian sources selling nonsense.  

While many news organizations have a editorial bent there have always been some sources of information that eschewed facts for information to promote a position.  Until very recently Fox News led the charge but usually only in their infotainment shows (early morning and the prime time schedule).  But since Donald Trump began running for President, other sources that have no connection to reality are getting access to the inner circles of government.  A good example is InfoWars which claims all kinds of crazy things including that no children died at Sandy Hook.  The current President has been on the show of Alex Jones.  Also he has elevated people who promoted the insane notion that a pizza place in Washington DC was the center of a pedophile ring led by Hillary Clinton.  This led to a man shooting the place up.  

This world of Alternative Facts, as stated by a White House representative when asked to justify clear lies from the White House podium leads to all kinds of things.  There is a controversy in Carmel, IN over the building of a mosque in what is a residential area of town.  Now for those not from the Indianapolis area, Carmel and some of the surrounding suburbs are on a building kick again.  A field across the road from my neighborhood  is populated with McMansions and a new CVS at the corner (about 3 miles from another new CVS basically at the other end of my neighborhood).  I understand the idea of not wanting a new Islamic center which will become a community center for the Muslim community, one that is active in the interfaith world.  But there are many who don't want the mosque because of the stereotypes of Muslims.  One claiming the Dearborn, MI is a city run by Sharia law.  He read it on the internet.  People running for Congress and speaking for the President have suggested that Sharia law is taking over areas of the country.  This is nonsense but you can quote websites who say this without proof.  

Facts exist and they are facts regardless of whether people believe them. Too often when a statement is challenged people say "prove me wrong".  That is not how this works.   We need to be a culture that is educated enough to understand when we are being lied to, and know how to seek out reality.  The internet is made to people passing along bad information.  Don't like the internet think for you.  Think for yourself, find out where you get your facts and if something fits too nicely into a particular narrative, try to debunk it before you pass it along.  We will all be better for it. 

A Tale of Two Scandals

While anyone who knows me knows I feel the Republican party has many problems and it is in fact ready to die a painful death at the hands o...