Can We Talk About Guns? Can We Talk About Anything?

It’s not time to talk about gun regulation when people use guns to kill for fun, politics or revenge. It’s not time to talk about human contributions to climate change when hurricanes sustain category five winds for 36 hours or dump five feet of rain in a few days. It’s not time to talk about health care when GOP politicians are rushing a vote on damaging legislation through secret meetings. It’s not time to talk about the antiquated electoral college despite two of the last five popular vote count winners losing the election. It’s not time to talk about Russia interfering with our election because Trump said there was no collusion. It’s not time to talk with North Korea because we’re not willing to offer anything. It’s not time to talk about obesity because few will listen to a Black first lady telling them to eat their vegetables. It’s not time to talk about certain infrastructure being years past prime and needing major renovations because ‘The Wall’ needs to get built to keep out those shifty Mexicans. It’s not time to talk about university tuition indebting generations, opioid epidemics started from profiteering pharma, police and minority relations continuing to strain communities, poisoned drinking water or the incessant pollution from fossil fuels.

It’s not time to talk about anything because no one is listening! If you are a Hillary voter, could someone convince you that Trump is a good leader because he’s saying honest things that no other politician is willing to say? If you are a Trump voter, could someone convince you that Hillary was going to be good for the country because she is a powerful woman with a moderate and progressive vision for America? If you agree with Kaepernick’s kneeling protest, could someone convince you that it is a foolish objection and that any Black person killed by police must have been guilty? If you think kneeling is an affront to our flag and nation, could someone convince you that Black political, personal, social and cultural suppression is real and present in 2017?

America is becoming separated into little enclaves of beliefs reinforced by segmented and divergent media. There are the extremes of alt-right tiki torchers and antifa black masks, the religious nuts and atheist extremists, also the disagreements of city mice and country folk, with the classic Republican and Democrat finding their own corresponding information. Locked away within our personal confirmation bias of who is wrong and why, there is little room for debate with someone’s opinion because to disagree with his/her opinion means to disagree with his/her reality.

Extreme right ideas: Obamacare needs to be repealed because it was from an illegitimate Kenyan president. DACA should not be allowed because immigrants are criminals. Guns are a 2nd Amendment right and regulation only punishes the innocent.

Extreme left ideas: Transgender bathroom use or military presence represent no problems to anyone. Immigration is good no matter the country of origin. Guns are a 2nd Amendment right and regulation might stop some killers from killing.

All the above are incomplete ideas and open for debate. There should not be a razor’s edge where no reasonable answer can balance. We need a decent mesa of acceptable ranges of solutions, a place to discuss and hear the other while sustaining an openness to find satisfactory resolutions.

The recent terror in Las Vegas will inevitably result in America’s biannual shitshow of arguments after a mass murder between guns are cool beans and guns are weak sauce. The fact that we have laws against murder didn’t stop this man, but the fact that we legally sell semi-automatic rifles with scopes that can be easily manipulated into automatic dispensers of death certainly helped that man. The answer could be metal detectors in every hotel, transit point, school, shopping mall, restaurant, movie theater, and public building. The answer could be to stop outdoor festivals or any massive gathering. The answer could be restricting, limiting or even outlawing some or all guns and accessories.

Guns should face more regulations and controls but laws cannot change in America (see Sandy Hook). If every gun was taken away, those dedicated to homicide could use a 3-D printer to make their own firearms, manufacture homemade bombs and set them off at a tailgate party, drive cars into pedestrians at a farmer’s market, stab people in a crowded subway, throw acid in strangers’ faces, drive a bus off a bridge or a plane into a mountain. We know that guns aren’t the only way to kill large groups of people.

But guns are the most impersonal. I heard a Radiolab podcast that dissected the runaway trolley question. (A trolley is out of control and headed on a track to kill five workers. You can pull a lever to switch tracks whereby the trolley only kills one worker. Do you pull the lever to save five but kill one?) 9 out of 10 people will pull the lever that saves more lives. But, when the situation is changed and you have no lever, and you must push a fat man standing next to you onto the track, now 9 out of 10 do not push the man. The situation is the same, five will die if you do nothing, but most people (True fact: aside from psychopaths and Buddhist monks who both would push the man) feel that pushing a man to his death feels different than pulling a lever.

Take the gun away, and the ease of which they kill may derail some murderous/suicidal plans. While true that guns don’t kill people without a human to pull the trigger, that is some chicken and egg logic there. Would there be over 30,000 gun fatalities (2/3 of which are suicides) every year if America were gunless? Is it our unique culture of violence or our unique culture of gun possession?

We must concede that 7.4 billion humans aren’t going to live together peacefully, at least not yet. There is so much trust involved in daily interactions, utilities, internet and simple rule following that is taken for granted. In a given day I trust the water to run and flush, the electric to turn on, cars to stop for a red light, weather predictions to be accurate, chefs to serve clean food and to not be murdered by a maniac. We expect things to work neatly in our neat little worlds, in our neat little neighborhoods, in our neat little houses.

The world humans created is not always neat and is approaching a cataclysm, a future beyond prediction, overpopulation, unbearable heat waves, fishless seas, ruthless droughts, recurrent floods, unabated migrations, lethal diseases, or any combination of frightful events, including mass killings. The effects of soaring human population with capitalistic winners and losers, factory farming, loss of species and habitat and climate change will certainly have negative repercussions. That is not pessimism, that is reality; however, my dark yin is accompanied by a bright yang. Humans are more than capable of solving problems.

We’ve made a nice little domain here on Earth. We’ve created comfort with entertainment, dispensed vaccines and eradicated diseases. We’ve decreased poverty and global hunger by half in the past thirty years. We’ve sent ships to spy on distant planets, submarines to the bottom of the ocean, investigated the deepest jungles. We’ve made human life an art form. Granted, millions still struggle every day, and until they are brought out of their misery, humanity will communally suffer, some literally and others through that painful knowledge. Violence is just one more problem we seek to solve as a united society. A few governments hold the key to total destruction with nuclear weapons and individuals have the existential power to end their own or another’s life at any given moment.

The fact that people made guns to erase life, but also concocted medical shots to prolong it displays the intriguing yin/yang of a human psyche.

America has too many gun deaths, India has too many untouchables, Yemen has too many starving, Syria has too many homeless, Japan has too many suicides, Congo has too many child soldiers, North Korea has too many prisoners, and Somalia has too many pirates. All forms of tragedies are played out daily around our world. Las Vegas was a tragedy and felt like a turning point for new legislation, but I don’t think it’s going to generate firearm restrictions. The entrenched sides have been dug. It’s sad to accept the unavoidable fact that humans have killed, kill and will kill again—ourselves, each other and millions of edible animals every day.



Park Geun-hye’s Troubled History Led to Her Impeachment

To begin, we go back in time to the end of WW2. The Japanese lost the war and were forced to relinquish control of their annexed Korean territory which they had established in 1910 and cruelly administered. The Soviets, who had only entered the Pacific theater of the war weeks before, were given temporary authority over lands north of the arbitrarily decided 38th parallel whereas U.S.A. was given the lands to the south. The Soviet prop was Kim Il Sung, a revered Communist figure from the peasant class, having served in the Red Army as well as due to his bona fide anti-Japanese record. He had fought guerilla battles against the Japanese imperialists through Chinese aegis since his teens. The U.S. army found their own man, opposite in almost every way. Syngman Rhee was highly educated, of royal stock, virulently anti-communist and had spent years in exile in the States and China away from the horrors of Japanese colonial activity in Korea.

This cursory glance at the past provides so many gaps needed to fill in to get a full understanding, nevertheless, we move on. Both countries were keen on reunification in their own guise. But with incompatible ideas of government, conflict was inevitable.

The Soviets provided enormous military contributions to the emerging North Korean state. America was more focused on re-building a destroyed Japan across the water leaving an opening that was breached in June 1950 when the North Korean tanks steam rolled across South Korea in mere weeks.

After three years of brutal fighting and devastation, leaving millions of dead in Korea and China plus thousands of others from the U.S. and U.N. contingent, the DMZ was established, nothing gained but much lost from the initial 1945 treaty and the cold war had begun.

Into this arena stepped Park Chung-hee, the currently impeached president (Park Geun Hye’s) father. He was an autocrat intent on transforming the decimated country. From 1960-1979 he ruled with a contrasting iron fist and a golden touch. Although authoritarian and unelected, Korea began to build a modern country with skyscrapers, highways, trains, and new manufacturing jobs focused on exporting. Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo and LG were born, becoming known as “chaebols” which translates to “wealthy clan.” These chaebols were and continue to be completely rife with nepotism and historically resemble the ancient “yangban” (educated class) of men who were from wealthy families and were able to pass the rigorous government tests giving them high places in the old Joseon kingdom.

In 1974, a North Korean sympathizer assassinated Yuk Young-soo, the wife of Chung-hee and mother of Geun-hye. Geun-hye became the de-facto first lady at 22. Her father was then killed in 1979 by a South Korean CIA agent, largely in part to his intense relationship to a shady cult leader and mentor to both Parks, named Choi Tae-min, a central figure of this current political catastrophe.

Choi was a five times divorced Buddhist who converted to his own form of Christianity blended with shamanism. Following the death of Geun-hye’s mom, Choi told the young first lady that he could convene with the dead via dreams. Eager to talk to her deceased mother, she invited this shadowy fellow into her inner sanctum where he quickly filled the void of two murdered parents with visions and rituals. Having spent the majority of her life in the gated, insular Korean presidential residence: “Blue House,” she wasn’t very cognizant of con men and trusted the man whom her strongman father trusted.

After the 1979 assassination left her without a family, Geun-hye retreated from public life, but remained close to the leader Choi Tae-min and his equally suspicious daughter Choi Soon-Shil. Right wing generals ruled the country for years as Korea grew into a tech powerhouse. They held their first democratic election in 1987, hosted the 1988 Olympics, the 2002 World Cup and joined the “Asian Tigers” to become a top 15 economy.

Geun-hye was elected to Korean Parliament in 1998, slashed in the face by a madman as she unsuccessfully ran for president in 2007, before winning in 2012 and becoming the first woman president in a highly male-centered country. No doubt she held additional prestige from her family name, but she had also, unknown to the populace, held onto her ties to the Choi family.

I was in Korea at the time of her victory, yet unconcerned with regional politics except for the recent death of Kim Jong Il and his baby faced, pudgy successor. However, it was impressive to see a woman president who seemed to have a certain polite gravitas below her pant-suit exterior.

In April 2014, an overloaded, under-regulated and mismanaged ferry (Sewol) left the northern port of Incheon bound for the magical island of Jeju in the south. After leaving late, they rushed the transport through faster but rougher waters. The captain retired for a nap. The unaccompanied rookie third mate turned too fast to overcompensate for choppy water, the ship listed, capsized and eventually sunk. Park Geun-hye was nowhere to be seen for hours. Speculation ran wild. Anger intensified. Without proper rescue efforts, the passengers were doomed. The passengers included hundreds of high school students going on an extended field trip. Things got worse as investigations went up the crooked ladder of responsibility.

The “Quick, Quick” culture of Korean business led to poor choices on the part of the captain to rest before escaping himself after ordering everyone to stay onboard, the ferry operator to overload, the port authority to fail to check weight regulations, and ultimately the government to moderate them all. Park was seen as obliquely culpable or at least ineffectual. She responded to this criticism by invoking her father’s strongman tactics and blacklisting artists, musicians and movie makers. The Busan Film Festival, Korea’s largest international festival, lost half of its government subsidy after screening a documentary about the Sewol Ferry Disaster.

Two years later, a portable hard drive was discovered in Choi’s office containing secret state documents, revised speeches of the president as well as the daily schedule of meetings to be conducted with the president. Choi was unelected, unknown and unconnected to the government yet she had improper, profound knowledge and influence upon an increasingly unpopular president who had seemed to be listening to this woman as a magic 8 ball of poor decisions.

It was particularly embarrassing to proud Koreans that their president could be abused and manipulated by a glorified tarot card reader. Then it was revealed that Choi solicited donations from the giant Chaebol companies to her private charities in return for favorable government regulations. Then it was revealed that Choi bought Park’s cheap clothes with government funds and kept the change. Then it was revealed that Choi edited Park’s speeches. Then it was revealed that Choi’s daughter was given unearned entrance to a prestigious university, EWHA, and concurrently given passing grades despite lack of attendance. At the time of the scandal, the daughter was living like a queen in Germany riding million dollar horses basking in the glow of an Asian Games gold medal and swimming in millions of elicit euros.

Every weekend, for months, millions of Koreans descended on downtown Seoul with candles, masks, effigies, signs, and a singular desire to oust the weakened leader. It came to a head this week as the Korean parliament confirmed her impeachment.

Choi is currently in jail awaiting trial, as her daughter waits for extradition orders in Denmark. Jay Y. Lee, the head of Samsung was also arrested for his role in the scandal. Korean law prevents a sitting president from trial. But, in two months, she will be a private, pension-less citizen and presumably will face trial.


Trump Is a Fool, and Part of a Larger, Global Problem

2016 has been a good year to be cynical. We’ve seen breakdowns in American politics, policing, and public opinion. We’ve seen furious demands by some for xenophobic demagoguery or others for socialistic rearrangement. We’ve seen the impromptu videos of police brutality. We’ve seen gay and transgender activism topple the delicate social balance of liberal and conservative beliefs. We’ve seen a new wave of terrorism brought from the distant desert lands to the concrete jungles of Europe and America. We’ve seen political correctness become a rallying cry for freedom to be intolerant, disguised as first amendment rights or an all-encompassing battering ram for social justice but stained by self-righteousness. We’ve seen fear, distrust and a rise of “otherness”, placing us all in a state of anxiety while being forced to choose sides.

Maybe it’s always been like this. Maybe the media, with its 24-hour cycle, clickbait headlines of terror, and the relentless supply of bad news provides us with more than enough fodder for our daily dread. Maybe it’s human nature, a result of thousands of years of tribal warfare, to pick a side, a side that looks like you, talks like you and acts like you. Maybe our technology evolved faster than our dinosaur brains could handle. Maybe the freedoms of modernity moved faster than the regulations of religion. Maybe it’s just the beginning of true globalization and these are the growing pains, the revolution of respect for one another. Or, maybe, things really are different. That there is no chance of escaping the growing pains; that this version of Earth, the Anthropocene, is doomed to end in a worldwide suicide. That is the creeping cynicism that has been harder to explain away by cheer-up positivity or humanistic benevolence.

It was over a year ago. Donald Trump came down the escalator of doom waving his little hands and sneering his greasy smirk. I remember being embarrassed for the escalator. Trump slowly glided down the steel stairs in a faux gold haze, Melania behind, gleaming like a statue with eyeshadow. Doesn’t that memory haunt you? Don’t you remember thinking how silly it all seemed? Do you remember being happy that Jon Stewart had someone to jab for his last month? Well, it didn’t last one month. Little by little it dawned on those blue states by the water how much his disdain for decorum represented an ideology never given voice by a plethora of flyover country. Those living in Palin’s America were seething in their hatred of Obama, frustrated by the lack of representation from government and watching their parents’ America fade away in a sea of Mexican immigration, mosque construction, gay parades and non-gender pronouns.

The non-college, working class white man is losing his traditional role in America. He built the cars that drove us, he dug the coal that kept the lights on, he made the factories across America hum with production. That was the “great America” Trumpets want to “make again.” Things made sense in that fantastical whitewashed world that never really existed. The Victorian England illusion of collective happiness localized in American nostalgia. The postwar American culture was not some flawless moment of racial harmony, political prudence or familial coherence deserving of nostalgia. There were lynchings, assassinations, over-hyped red scares, wars, gender imbalance and of course, lots of advertising pushing the portrayal of the White American Dream in washing-machines, Marlboro cigarettes or crispy pie crusts. Jon Hodgman, the deranged millionaire, podcast host, and overall know-it-all put it wonderfully: “Nostalgia is at best, unproductive, and at worst, poisonous.”

There was never a time when America wasn’t great; there was never a time when America wasn’t sinning. It was and is a radical experiment, yet since day one, it’s been and continues to be wholly unbalanced in race, gender and class. However, the beauty of our country is that we move forward, embracing, albeit slowly and sometimes painfully, all who enter the wide, bounteous shores. It would be a shame to stop now.

Trump proposed a view of immigrants that was myopic and fearful. The soundbite of the campaign announcement was: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” It was the last part, the assumption that some might be good that surprised me. Like some of them are good enough, by implication, to mow a lawn or trim some hedges. Some of them are good enough to cook a burrito bowl or clean hotel lobbies. Some of them are good enough to pick fruit or act as low-wage caregivers. It seemed like a random thing to say, a weird tangent off into drunk uncle territory. Yes, some Mexicans, by simple law of numbers, must be drug dealers, criminals or rapists; in the same way that some German, Irish, Italian, Chinese et al. immigrants of the last century were criminals. It’s a non-starter sentence. It’s true of some, but not factual for all. Like saying pizza is the best food.

It was the first of so many gaffes, that in hindsight, were actually campaign platforms and Trumpistic platitudes to garner the support of the baser brained folk. I’ve watched with bemused amazement over the past year, digesting his anti-charm, listening to the pundits’ prognostications and shrugging my brain shoulders in awe. Here’s a man with a bizarre list of verbal diarrhea, running for president, gaining more Republican primary votes than anyone else in history, pushing imagined fallacies on the gullible, eager and most importantly—furious voters—of the “blame it them” camp. Not despite, but because of those times when he has insulted war heroes, the handicapped, women, immigrants, Muslims, journalists, politicians, and babies that he is the Republican nominee. His appeal is possible to understand when you look at current trends affecting his fans. There are many circles, some overlapping in a Venn diagram of foolishness: “new poor”, anti-government, pro-‘Murica, gun activists, pseudo racists, full-on racists, anyone but Hillary, and many more drifting among the hostile morass of his cult of personality. This Trump fantasy didn’t begin in a bubble.

Rates of suicide and preventable disease are up among poor whites, Muslims face daily prejudice, African-Americans struggle against discrimination in every area of their life, while distrust in government grows as incumbents continue to win 90% of their elections. Everybody is struggling. Trump and Sanders’ success laid in their proposing a change to more of the same. If Hillary is elected, the presidency appears driven by nepotism. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Clinton. America isn’t the only place affected by turmoil. There are multitudes of dispirited and outraged in the world right now. We’ve seen the problems of austerity in southern Europe, lifelong dictators destroying African populations, sweatshop labor proliferating in Asia, radicalism in the Middle East, financial turmoil and corruption in South America. Trump’s hard rhetoric unites those struggling and promises, with empty slogans and tough talk, to “Make America Great Again” and “Build a beautiful wall.”

The history of America, rooted in a deep, unspoken, but palpable class system where money is king has grown into an unsteady, wobbling beast of influence. The 1% is highly visible today. Their conspicuous consumption is sickening to the 50 million in poverty, frustratingly distant to the new poor of the “middle class” and basically unattainable for most despite ambition or hard work.

Trump has capitalized on those feelings. He’s trying to hold a mirror to the corruption, by showing his own reflection in the tainted pond of D.C politics. He’s banking on his tough guy image as someone who is SO cool, he could fire “celebrities!” He is so strong, he can tell the aristocrats of American pop culture, the pretty faces of the big screen, the sexy reality stars, the hunks and vixens of the glitterati to take a hike.

Fame is the cherished currency today. Trump has been famously infamous for decades. Trump has 33,000 tweets of varying indecency tweeted to 11 million followers. His pithy nicknames work well with Twitter savaged brains. His dim Hemingway terseness captivates the dictionary deprived. His “You’re fired” catchphrase was the power line for the powerless dreaming of making their own jerk bosses redundant. Unfortunately, this isn’t TV. It’s international politics, where a certain level of intelligence and sympathy is a job requirement instead of an impediment.

We cannot force our racist cousins, fearful grandparents, or indoctrinated Fox & Friends to think, read, listen, debate and then decide. Trump is the candidate of feelings, not facts. Anyone who’s said, “He tells it like it is—” you’re wrong. He tells it like you think it is. The problem is that half the country bought his sour, combed over, straight talkin’ Kool-aid. Who can blame them?

People were duped and lost their houses; the banks were bailed out. People work hard every day; the CEO’s get the bonuses. Kids go to university; they find jobs gone missing on graduation day and a letter of debt in the mailbox. Working class folks go broke when factories close down; then see immigrants driving bigger, better trucks. Most of us can’t understand the larger trends driving all these problems, but we sense the inequality. We don’t know the facts, but it feels pretty shitty.

In comes Hillary 2.0, a relic of the Democratic party, a shapeshifting, blindly motivated, suspiciously innocent, demonstrably intelligent, overtly capable candidate who wants us to make her dream come true, when much of America wakes up in a nightmare every day. Alternatively, we get The Donald, an awkward, impolite, uninformed, unenlightened B-side reality show star, tabloid quoting, self-tanned twit. Who are we to trust to save our country from the brink of unending debt, civil war, or financial collapse?

The truth used to be both parties were two arms of the same twisted, shady body. The Dems fought off the onslaught of Bernie Sanders’ socialist influenza and now the Republicans are trying desperately to distance themselves from the pancreatic cancer known as Trump.

Here we are, the two most despised candidates in history, third parties relegated to obscurity, and we get to vote for a leftover or a bigot.

It’s easy to think, “things will get better.” It’s easy to blame the other side. The brave choice is to understand that only by giving up all we know and understand, expanding on wisdom, rebuilding the system and establishing parity will we get a glimpse of the communal ideal. I doubt we could ever be brave enough or unified enough as a country to actually do that. I doubt that the wealthy elites would ever allow us close enough to the gates to tear them down.

The populace tried to send a message this year with the outpouring of support for “outsider” candidates. Unfortunately, politics in D.C. is crammed into a tiny clown car of collusion, with no room for “outsiders.” It doesn’t matter if they claim to “build a wall” or “break up the banks.” Nothing will happen unless the moneyed interests steering that clown car decide to do it. But that clown car is their ride to the bank.

That is the general cynicism I take away from this absurd election season: powerful money and the illusion of choice. Although this year we have an actual choice between bigotry and status quo, we’ve allowed money behind the scenes and force fed two choices for so long, regardless of our choice, it only results in the same stationary inactivity and partisan disputes that drove us to look to irrational outsiders incapable of fixing an intractable situation.



The Absence of Intellectual Debate and Rise of Clickable Outrage in P.C. Culture Hinders Substantive Social Awareness

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.”

–Old Adage

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

–Edward Bulwer-Lytton

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

–Old Chinese Proverb

Social justice warriors’ crusade to stop offending everyone offends me. It’s not possible to live in a world with over seven billion people of different religions, backgrounds, ethnicities, financial stratums, gender, sexual preferences and musical tastes to speak opinions that are universally inoffensive. Actions or expressions that go against a certain liberal ideology of behavior create scandal through sensationalism.

It really began for me with the Ben Affleck reaction to Sam Harris on Real Time with Bill Maher. Around this time last year, Harris was a special guest promoting his book, Waking Up, which examines meditation, finding a meaningful purpose and living a moral life without religion. He mentioned how a religion (Islam) which tenets include death for apostasy and honor killings for adultery or enduring rape are actually bad ideas. Referencing a religion where some, but not ALL, follow a terrifying clause which aims to kill those who don’t believe, Affleck jumped into the conversation and without hesitation called Harris a racist. It was clear from the beginning of Affleck’s tirade that he didn’t know who Sam Harris was nor had read any of his books, but he was well acquainted with Harris’ enemies who misquote and deceive to enforce their points that he is an Islamophobe and racist. Affleck was crusading against a point that wasn’t being made and his ears were closed to discussion.

The social justice level is always swinging like a one-sided pendulum. There is one side, and it’s the easy side. A police officer shoots someone, guilty; a man shoots a lion, guilty; a bad joke is tweeted, guilty; a man questions Islam’s role in ISIS killings, guilty and racist. The list goes on and on. Do we ask more questions? Do we search for more information? Do we develop our own opinions? Or, do we mindlessly react at what seems to be a clearly objective truth? Police brutality, pointless animal slaughter, purposeful racism/misogyny/homophobia and religious intolerance ARE insidiously dangerous to culture. But does everything fall into a libelous category so easily? Watch your news feed and you’ll see what I call the “outrage du jour.” We get so mad. We get SO mad. We share it, link it, retweet it, comment about it and then move on to the next one. Our anger assuaged because we did something about it. We showed the world that we won’t discuss nuance, but rather fume without awareness.

I saw two things yesterday. One was a video of an Irish accented man confronting a woman for her chosen attire by calling her a “slut” or “prostitute” or other uncouth names. It was awkward and obviously a publicity stunt. Who would earnestly yell, “Listen to me. I’m a man!” Or, why did this strange and beautiful lady flaunting her midriff angrily provoke said “man”? After a few minutes of berating her for wearing a crop top that not only could but also implicitly should lead to rape, someone bashed a bottle across his face eliciting cheers and “He deserved it,” shouts from the crowd. To recap: she’s free to dress as provocatively as she wants, another woman can smash bottles on faces with impunity, and spewing hateful words prompting violence is seen as a “deserved” conclusion. How you dress does create a perception, warranted or not; physical attacks are rarely justified; and miserably misogynistic speech is repulsive and irrational. Of course, in a “free” country, we should be free to dress individualistically without fear of sexual coercion, we should be able to defend ourselves when attacked, and we should also be able to express any opinion, odious or not. You can’t have one freedom but deny another. The larger issue that confusing stunt was insinuating is that slut shaming is real and painful. That conversation could be a parallel to gender equality in pay, or the assertive woman equals bitch conundrum (aka The Hillary Syndrome) but instead it’s a poorly crafted viral video where violence is seen as the effectively door-slamming answer.

I also saw the video of a security guard at a school in Columbia, South Carolina pulling a young girl out of her chair and dragging her by her hair out of the classroom. The story I found is: The girl took her phone out during class, the teacher asked for it, she denied; an administrator asked for it, she denied; the security guard asked for it, she denied. She should NOT have been struck and choked. But, a fact that gets outweighed by the brutality is: she didn’t listen to the teacher. Does the teacher continue with their class after being disobeyed, knowing that every student now understands there are no consequences for using a phone in class? As a teacher in these situations, you are left with no choice. You asked for the phone, the student refuses, security comes. Hopefully, the student listens, finishes the day in ISS and class continues.

But, this is the new world. The student in the video was apologetic but completely unwilling to give up her phone. Some students agreed she was being disruptive, other students said she did “nothing wrong.” Listen to the teacher…unless it’s about your smartphone. Cellphones were a pervasive obstacle to education during my time as a special ed. teacher in a Texas high school five years ago. Kids never gave up their phones when asked, and could become aggressively confrontational if pressed on the issue. Most of our training about the state sponsored test day (TAKS) was what to do if you saw a phone, how to ensure phones are stashed before the test, or what happens if a phone rings during the test.

“She did nothing wrong,” the students said. When students “do nothing wrong” but teachers disagree, it leads to problems. We need better support systems for struggling students, which would lead to better support for teachers, and support for all the decent and kind security guards at schools. What about the girl’s mental state? She is a recent orphan living in foster care. Troubled students need more options than just detention or security escorts. There is room for argument here, not defense of the violence, not victim blaming, but a balanced ideological discussion of the modern, crowded, multi-cultural public schools of America.

When everything is broken down into measurable and objective rights and wrongs, debate ends and mobs begin. And you better hope you’re on the “right” side! What about the woman who tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She wrote that tweet, boarded a plane and awoke sixteen hours later in Cape Town fired from her job, a global pariah and confronted by a mob of angry tweeters. The joke was stupid and tasteless. Is it the worst thing that ever happened?! No. Did it deserve one user comment: “I hope she gets raped by someone who has AIDS.” No. The Internet mob jumped all over her and she suffered tremendous stress from one poorly thought out tweet.

Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, is all about this topic. He recently discussed it on the Joe Rogan Podcast and it was fascinating to hear how many times this has happened to people. Lots of podcasts have talked about it lately, and most people seem to be disgusted by the lack of original thought and piling on mentality evidenced by the perpetrators of public shaming and social justice warriors. South Park’s 19th season is using P.C. as a story arc with Cartman failing to go P.C. and the school hiring “P.C. principal” who punches anyone who remotely appears to be politically incorrect.

With social media, we can learn about the hurt feelings and misdirected antagonisms of microaggressions or focus on larger, universal issues. Don’t let one staged video of a jerk with a high school mentality distract from the actual search for gender equality. Don’t let one hunter with too much disposable income distract from the actual need of animal preservation. Don’t let one inappropriate tweet distract us from the beauty and possibilities existent within social media. Don’t let one cop with an anger issue distract us from the problems of decreasing school funding, the effect of mass incarceration destroying families and the foolish drug war, which only emboldens criminality and “illegal” drugs.

There are certainly plenty of things to get angry about today, and plenty of places to direct that anger; however, it should be cast with a wide scope not a laser point of passion.


Faith Doesn’t Help & It’s Killing Us

ISIS spread like across northern Iraq like a fire in a cornfield. We know they sacked the major towns of Tikrit, Mosul and others, commandeering the US supplied arsenal provided for that ragtag national army of deserters. They opened bank vaults, unlocked prisons, murdered civilians, and tipped any sense of balance in the tinderbox that is modern day Iraq. They are looking for a new Islamic Caliphate, ruled by Sharia Law. They are explicitly unhappy with the abstract, abstruse and arbitrary borders drawn following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. They decapitated Syrian army troops. They slander USA. They mock democracy. They worship Allah with a faith that borders monomania. They are another example of when religion goes bad.

Religion is a metaphor; it cannot be literal. The burden of proof lies heavily on religion, mostly because it lacks entirely any proof that any assertion in their holy books is truth and not faith. There is no proof for a man in the sky, no one god, nobody who loves you and created you as well as the entire globe and galaxy. “But I have faith in my god.” Don’t! Don’t have faith in the arrogant, egocentric, science lacking, myth creating desert dwellers from centuries ago. Don’t believe in something that separates you from me and us from them. That faith is the same faith that validates and rationalizes ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorists’ jihad, only with a different name.

What will happen when ISIS overtakes Iraq? What good can come of a religious state? What advance to civilization does religion offer? Who, but legitimately insane people (religious fanatics), would want to live in that world? Who wants to live in a country with doctors whose prescriptions include prayers? Who wants to live in a country where justice’s rules are provided from a 7th century text? I can’t be sure, but I bet these terrorist organizations don’t offer scholarships or job placement opportunities. They only offer an intangible, albeit amazing, but deceitful future. They offer faith, and more than just faith in 72 virgins. They offer faith in action, in motion, with a direction, with leaders, with a goal. Lacking education, sport, internet, entertainment, a stable environment, sometimes even running water, or many of the decencies of modern life elsewhere, the young generation raised since 2001 in the war-torn Muslim countries only know one direction—faith. Faith to die, faith to kill, faith in your cause, faith in your dubious leaders, faith in your dubious god, faith that this is a useful expenditure of energy.

Learning how to think for yourself is not a priority of religion. Observing rules and strictly following them is. The first rule of jihad is: kill infidels. The second rule of jihad is: anybody but those who revere the correct version of a desert prophet who died over a thousand years ago is an infidel. Go!

Some medieval warriors killed for their kings. Some tribes killed for their chiefs. Some Asian countries killed for their emperors. Some psychopaths killed for their own pleasure, and others killed for loosened screws in their brain boxes. Killing is natural. Animals kill for territory, sexual rights or food. Perhaps it’s possible, when looked at in a certain point of view, that terrorists do the same: kill for space in the promised territory of “heaven,” access to the promised sexual rights of imaginary “heaven women,” and to get something edible from leaders in their parched, stagnant desert landscape where many crops can no longer grow.

When a person has a home, a wife who isn’t in constant danger of being kidnapped or raped, and access to supermarkets, the urge to indulge in jihad must be greatly reduced. How many of those jihadi have a mortgage? You’re not going to go bouncing off in a bulletproofed truck with a machine gun bolted to the hood when you got rent due on Monday. How many of those jihadi are married? No wife, no matter how tolerant of your religious beliefs, is going to let you go hunting infidels when the toilet isn’t working and the baby is sick. How many jihadi ever went shopping for fresh vegetables or watched a rom-com with a coke and a bucket of popcorn? Watching a bad Jennifer Love Hewitt movie might disappoint, but rarely leads to homicide. The point isn’t that Western values or lifestyles are the solution. People can find their own answers to life. But, when the ONLY solution offered to a child is a gun or death, what can he choose? (Apostasy is rewarded with death in many Muslim countries.)

Faith gives answers without asking questions. The opposite of faith is not negative. We can exist without the blind faith of religious isolation. We can express individual vitality through art. We can assert compassion through charity. We can choose to live for now, our impermanent now, our gentle hourglass of spirit. We can understand that those that go are gone, and that we will one day follow. We don’t remember before our birth, maybe we won’t remember after our death. We understand more about science, anatomy, astronomy and physics in 2014 than 2,014 years ago. Is it plausible to believe that there will still be Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Buddhist’s 2,014 years from now? How will the world have changed? What will the new terrorism look like without religion? For, we are not a wholly benevolent species, not filled with unending kindness, not brimming with positive vibrations. We are flawed, strange, greedy, and maybe our biggest impediment to sustainability—wildly intelligent—and that intelligence created religion, not the other way around.

Some surprisingly inventive fellows long ago wrote a system of laws to keep these ruthless yet clever and intelligent human beasts in line so that we might have a society. They made seductive promises for following rules, and nasty assurances for those unlucky rule-breakers. It served its purpose. Now, society has transformed and grown; leaving religion fading behind the walls of scientific progress and evolutionary change.

Faith is challenged by that revolution. You need faith to believe in superstitions such as Noah, Moses, virgin births, hell and angels when surrounded by such miraculous new understandings of science such as DNA mapping, photosynthesis, cloning, medicine, or telescopes. Faith is responding to its own death in kind. It is furious as it stares at its own increasing futility in the modern world. After all, Faith in religion had created much beauty in the world: houses of worship, music, painting, poetry, and a communal ideal of living peacefully and worshipping ghosts (the correct ghosts!) together. But, we don’t need it anymore. Now, we can erase the fatuousness of having to believe in this god or that god and try to live in harmony together, and simply marvel at the universe as we move through it…together.


Mad with Money

Money is a quantifier of a certain kind of success, but a poor quantifier of intelligence or ethics. Money is cherished, almost worshipped nowadays. Money gives you choices. But, it’s a corrupter, a powerful, insatiable brute. It creates an addiction that affects the world. Drugs affect the user and his or her loved ones. Imperious wealth affects the globe. Most of us are aware of the 2008 crash. Many of us were negatively affected by it. Some of us tried to understand it. But few actually profited from it. The ones who did received bonuses, bailouts and bargains. How does this happen? The answer is because money is entrenched with power, one generating the other. If you have money, you buy power. Then, if a catastrophe ensues, your pre-bought power insures your money. This idea is perfectly summed up by the classic line of our miserable generation—“Too Big To Fail”. It’s the line that enables financial criminals to stay out of jail. It’s the line that keeps CEO’s flush with their cushy bonuses. It’s the line that proves pure capitalism is bogus. It’s the line that pushes them above us. It’s the 1% doctrine. CEO pay has risen to over 300 times that of the average worker. You know who thinks that is fair or deserved—the person making that money. Who doesn’t want more money, and who, once rich, is eager to part with it? People’s opinions on money are greatly influenced by how much of it they have. It leads to a dead end, where the only people who can affect change in D.C. are being paid to do the opposite. How are we not to be cynical of this world? How are we to see the end when we are still mired in the muddy beginnings of this problem?

Inside Job was a 2010 film that leaves your jaw agape with frustrating disbelief at the arrogance of Wall Street. They got away with a dizzying scam of selling credit risks. Will someone pay or will they default? They were gambling on rigged games. When the housing market tanked, they got paid. They were betting on others losing. This year’s, The Wolf of Wall Street, is an epic movie recounting the life of an unapologetic, drug-addled stock trader. It’s fun to watch because it’s another in a line of great Scorcese directed films, but at the end, the credits showed: Based on the Book…I couldn’t believe this was a true story! The sickness from his greed and megalomania I was choking on during the 180 minutes rose into an auditory groan when I saw that. This man actually exists? A reverse Robin Hood they called him, the role model for a new generation of money hungry liars. Finally, a 2013 documentary by the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, called Inequality for All raised more issues such as, uneven tax brackets, outsourcing jobs and cycles of wealth distribution. He showed that America in the 1950’s distributed its wealth much better than today, and how that led to the strongest middle class and the most prosperous and most educated workforce of the last century.

The fast food strikes of the past year, where workers asked for a raise of almost double their hourly rate shows how far the gap is between current pay, and where it needs to be with the rising cost of living. No, their job doesn’t require a talent taught in school. But, they are working. We need to get away from the idea of pure capitalism whereby only that 1% with proper connections, creative entrepreneurs, superhuman athletes or beautiful celebrities have the same amount of wealth as one half of the population of the USA. They all should be compensated, but there should also be safeguards and reasonable pay for the other 99% to guarantee a decent return on their sweat equity.

I loved hearing Russell Brand in that viral interview talk about how he’s never voted. He is such a jolly chap and to see him get angry about something so serious was interesting. He has great ideas spoken in a balance of wonderfully playful vitriol and earnest concern, but the number one thing I took from it was that voting is a charade. We vote for different people, but both represent the same idea—keeping money and power where it currently resides. “Profit is a filthy word,” Brand goes on to say. He’s talking about how unrestricted corporate profit generates greed on an unimaginable scale sometimes causing environmental harm. Every year there are hundreds of millions of dollars made by less than 20 people in the USA. When Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller were the richest men in America they saw to it to provide a certain amount of philanthropy. (But perhaps that is only because offshore tax havens and Internet banking didn’t exist at the time.) The money made by the new 1% doesn’t usually stay in America to be reinvested, it’s channeled out to avoid taxation, leaving the bulk of the tax burden on the already shrinking middle class.

Money is only a problem if you don’t have enough, or if you have too much! Redistribution should not be such a maligned idea, and the longer we wait to enact change, the harder it will be.


Wiener’s and Babies and “News”

The “news”/media is a fickle, transitory, grasping, obsessive, strange monstrosity disseminating stories of bullshit hyper-reality, politically partisan features, and the occasional war coverage. TV stars, Hollywood, and strange local happenings provide a bulk of the daily diversionary “news.” If we were ever actually presented with real journalism, provided with the information regarding Monsanto’s farming deviousness, the dubiousness of “The War on Terror”, Wall St.’s gambling ways, all the global banks’ selfish complicity in crashes, bubbles, bursts, setting of mortgage and interest rates, or even the insatiable stream of tainted lobbyist money which has now inseminated D.C. politicians’ corrupt and decadent wombs, we would hopefully rise to the streets in protest for revolution! But, I think we would just change the channel. And that’s why they don’t report on those things. Networks need eyes to feast upon advertisements proclaiming the appeal of the new artery clogging pretzel burgers or dual-layered cheese pizzas; antidotes to ennui such as jealousy invoking flashy cars or big, strong, manly pick-up trucks, followed by make-up, medicine, cell phones and Disney to round out the 3 minutes of the covetous advertising nightmare ingested every fifteen minutes in TV-land. It’s the cycle of television and 24-hour “news” channels. “News” is in quotes here because networks decide the “news” based on their company’s allegiances and sponsors, thereby making it subjective and only an idea of what is news.

As an expat, all my news is gleaned from online articles, The Daily Show and word of mouth from my friends in America. However, sometimes there are stories that don’t slip between the cheese-greased cushions, and are headlines for weeks in the States and elsewhere. Anthony Wiener’s genitals and the new prince of Cambridge, George, were popular this week. We have two different stories, with different appeals, but no doubt, they were the headliners.

Anthony Wiener is actually old news because he did this same embarrassingly childish sexting business last year. He was busted, kicked out of office, waited, schemed, posed for People and arranged his current bid to return to politics in the NYC mayoral race. He is such a dweeb to get caught sexting again. He is such a little geek, probably with a prudish wife who won’t play his sex fantasy games. He is such a loser to text his lascivious ideas, instead of just doing them like a truly depraved person. He is like those annoying dogs that bark ferociously before running away as you approach them. He is a man of many words and no substance. But, why are we surprised? Politicians are not looked up to as moral anymore, if ever. They are not the best examples of Americans anymore, if ever. They are not real people with real personalities anymore, if ever. They are corporate shills, paid sponsors of lobbyist interests. They live and vote, lost in a chaotic, greedy sea, without checking their moral compass, figuratively looking into the darkened corner where the hazy outline of their real employer sits listlessly watching his acquisition’s ambitions of making formative changes to the American political and social landscape rot like fungus on a fallen tree. Politicians are elected by citizens but molded by corporations. We shouldn’t be surprised by Wiener’s goofiness. We should be surprised by the lack of interest in true political crime: i.e. the failure to pass gun legislation, legitimate campaign finance reform, closed-minded divisiveness or overall financial regulation reform. We should not see the Occupy Wall Street movement as represented by the fringe hippies and idiots popularized by the media, but rather as calling attention to a true, horrific, worrisome feature of modern American life where less than 1% of the country maintains the monopoly of wealth, not trickling down through taxes and expenditures, but stockpiled in shady off-shore accounts by the avaricious and crooked for unknown motives. Unknown might be too friendly a term, their motives, as any rich man in history, is to preserve their wealth and thereby, their power, usually by any means necessary.

As we devolve into the future of a middle-classless America and poverty overtakes the urban centers, we look for distraction. Here, in this vibrant and varying world, we find Kate Middleton and her little baby. They provided a welcome disruption from global turbulence by expressing the world as it could be, seen through the eyes of an innocent, cute little child. She is a beautiful commoner; he is the descendant of a once massively popular, slain former princess. She is a classic woman with genteel charm; he seems to have gotten his mother’s grace and his father’s undesirable hairline. It’s not hard to understand this story’s allure. As evinced from my Facebook friends’ posts, having a child is a major life-changer, complete with messy food pictures and baby on the beach updates. We like to see happy couples with happy babies. It helps stir away the bitter aftertaste of murder, conspiracies, wars, deception and killer robots of the day-to-day. It doesn’t matter that they are British royalty, living among guards in protected, ancient castles. We can feel connected by seeing pictures and understanding the mutual joy of a new life.

Sometimes, the new is full of Wiener’s and sometimes there are nice, pointless headlines about babies. Whatever it is, we’re all doomed.

1984 and the War on Terror

            I went to an all-boys high school. We had four or five female teachers in the whole school and an all male kitchen staff. Those haggard teachers were the most confident ladies ever to give detention. We must have looked at them like the goddesses they were most certainly not. The two newest editions to the female scope at that school were a short, mousy looking girl with bad acne and a pear shaped black woman with a penchant for Sinead O’Connor hairstyles. Needless to say, they became popular on our hormone-riddled campus. I know I looked at them with naïve lust; yet somehow unsure about their merits as a figure for such lustful inspiration. So, when a female of the species arrived onto the campus of Malvern Preparatory School, a silent alarm went off perking all of our collective dog-ears into overdrive. One such example was during our yearly foray into legitimate theatre. During middle school, a troupe performed Orwell’s dystopian future of Newspeak and Big Brother, 1984. All I remembered was the dull lighting, people saying “comrade” too much, and the time when the girl took off her dress. I was barely a teenager and didn’t know about sex at all. But the upperclassman had at least seen pictures and knew that sex involved taking dresses off, but after that, I imagine most of them would have been confused and shy. Nevertheless, her dress hit the floor revealing a pink nightie and a pair of long shapely legs. They embraced and lay on the bed as the curtain fell. Before the dress crumpled onto the stage floor, the young Malvernians hooted like the boys at the USO watching some singer-stripper shriek and shake through her latest hit. I think the poor actress might have expected it, or if she didn’t I wonder if she was disappointed in our lack of appreciation of her courageous acting, or if she was happily pleased her carnal frame could elicit such a response. Either way, that’s what I remember most from the performance. (It’s a burned memory, just like the time that mousy looking teacher picked me up, in her own car, to go to school early, to take a “test.” I was sure I was in for a story to make all the boys jealous. But actually, I just took my make-up Spanish test as she drank a coffee.)

            I watched the John Hurt version of 1984 last night and it was awfully depressing. The world presented was full of intentional lies, torture, inverted sexual perversion, overreaching government, faux meat, dreary clothes and tedious, monotonous production statistics. There was no pleasure; except happiness for the nightly hangings, no emotions; except for joy about acknowledging the meat as non-meat but liking it anyway, no sex; except for the illegal kind that evidently gets you the mind erasing treatment reminiscent of McMurphy’s experience in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The protagonist, Winston Smith, reminded me of this new character Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. They both have a feeling that what they are doing to help the government is wrong and aim to seek the truth. Snowden talks about how he left a good job with good pay because he felt too complicit in the illegality of NSA espionage. Smith talks about the wars Oceania is fighting against Eurasia or East Asia depending on which truth is truth that week. Snowden mentions how truth against power is never easy. Smith mentions how winning is not important, so much as creating the illusion of winning over a dangerous enemy thereby maintaining the war. The war in the book is tantamount to our War on Terror. Big Brother can change the name of whom they are fighting, just like America’s “Big Government” can change the name of our enemies so long as those combatants fight under the comprehensive flag of “terror.” American foreign policy is well known to be self-governed, hypocritical and sometimes tyrannical. We’ve allowed dictatorial or corrupt leaders sympathetic to American corporations or ideals to stay in power and often removed (or attempted to remove) popularly elected leaders in coups or assassinations. It’s not really a secret; ask Chile, Congo, or Cuba, just to name the “C’s.” Americans are very surprised and usually concerned to learn about the surreptitious and illegitimate tampering with other nations’ sovereignty. We are even more surprised, concerned and angry when we find that tampering isn’t only abroad, but actually recording and accessing our phone and Internet records.

            September 11th changed America forever. The Patriot Act, War on Terror, FAA body scanners, and Homeland Security are all post 9/11 features of the new way of American life and loss of privacy. Many were happy to sign up to be spied on immediately after the attacks with the emotions of seeing the towers fall. But, as time passed, and no attacks occurred, we were left wondering, did the wars help, did the access granted to FBI, CIA and NSA help, did killing Bin Laden help, or did nothing help, and we are still as vulnerable as ever to a style of kamikaze jihadist warfare that can never truly be eliminated? Did Big Brother find the newspeak words: ‘War on Terror’ that he needed to ensure “forever war?” When will we not be terrified of a possibility of terror? Will there be more pictures of presidents on battleships with banners proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” for us to cheer jingoistic chants of “U.S.A.” and wave our flags patriotically while feeling less terrified for a week? 30 years after the movie, 60 years after the book, are we closer or farther away from living under Big Brother’s watchful eyes?

UGH, Guns.

The always delicious, sometimes obfuscating gay rights fast food chain Chick-Fil-A had a slogan that read: “We didn’t invent the chicken sandwich, we just perfected it.” They are correct; their chicken clouds my thoughts some days knowing that a feast of crispy nuggets and hot sauce dripping, extra pickled, peanut oil fried chicken sandwiches are so far out of my reach. I love that restaurant. Waffle fries, when salted correctly, beat all other fried potatoes. I’m pretty sure that they could not only fund anti-gay groups, but also fund pro-gay groups and still stay in business. I’d bet all my savings that despite their stance on homosexual relationships, there was a gay couple in a Chick-Fil-A the day after the news broke sitting in a corner booth, guiltily scarfing down fried yard bird saying to each other: “Getting married isn’t THAT important, is it?”

All chicken aside, I believe the USA could have a similar slogan to illustrate their collective history as a 237-year-old nation: “We didn’t invent gun violence, we just perfected it.” America loves guns more than any fried food, including Twinkies, Oreo’s or butter. Our media reports it daily, our movies glorify its power, our military uses them with devastating efficacy and our major cities are polluted with their influence. We all know the news of last December in Newtown, of last summer in Denver, of VT, Columbine and so on. There is gun violence all over the world, but it seems the “New World” has the most frightful statistics of late. There are the known offenders of Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and, of course, USA.

Africa is still the world leader of total murders; however, the majority of those murders are not GUN murders. More likely machete or strangling, who knows? I don’t claim to understand much about that large, intimidating continent, besides, it’s not like Africa is looked to as a stable continent in the forefront of civil rights and world peace. Yet, I doubt America is either anymore. How could we be? We’ve been involved in so many wars and skirmishes and interventions and secret bombings and coups and overthrows that the world may well see us as a hindrance instead of a helper.

American foreign policy is well known to be destructively self-interested, and that’s great, if you’re an American. Other countries and other innocent people have not fared so well. I’m digressing only to show how our obsession with guns led to the overarching, omnipresent military industrial complex that we find ourselves so firmly rooted to today. Americans must share in this blame. Americans are on TV expounding the virtues of a well-armed populace. There are those worried about some futuristic dystopia where Americans follow the helpless (read: GUNless) citizens of Cambodia or USSR and are taken hostage by a tyrannical government hell-bent on enslaving its own populace to toil in the desolate coal mines of West Virginia and oil fields of now treeless and lifeless Alaska to power the thought police helicopters that report to King Obama. As if a ragtag band of bearded, underwear recycling, soup can stockpiling Doomsday Preppers would be able to take on the most efficient and proficient army of the modern world because they were able to express their 2nd Amendment rights to own a few handguns and an AR-15. It’s a flawed argument that we need armaments to protect ourselves from our own government. Another flawed argument is the old: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” That didactically silly idea stops as soon as you accept that sometimes a gun misfires, is dropped and goes off, an errant drive-by gunshot kills a pedestrian or gun is mistakenly thought to be unloaded. Guns kill people much easier than knives. People are required to operate them, and humans make errors.

So, what is it about America and the serial killers, the gun obsessions, the self-defense theories, and the 2nd Amendment proselytizing? We were born through revolt is the easy answer. But, I think it’s more ego based. I think America likes being the dangerous place it is. I think it is in our national character to tolerate killing because we have been exposed to and justified it for so long in our politics, cities and our lives. We have over 13,000 murders a year, political assassinations, televised suicides, murder/suicides, abortion, death penalty, DUI manslaughters, as well as the seven major wars of the last 100 years. Death is all around us, as it is in any country, but somehow America reacts differently. We are sad and preachy to ease the pain, and then when someone suggests change to prevent another tragedy, there is uproar. What are we hiding? Who are we protecting? The NRA is the scapegoat of liberals, but they, like any other group in a capitalistic society is guarding the bottom line. It just so happens that their bottom line is soaked in blood, whereas somebody like the pharmaceuticals bottom line is doused in overmedicated mental illness and depressed teenagers on Prozac.

Why don’t we look for an answer with our greatest natural resource: Hollywood. Our last ten best picture winners: 5 of the last 10 have featured guns in major roles, and besides The Artist, The King’s Speech (during a World War) and Slumdog Millionaire (set in a very dangerous place), the other two were violent—with a female boxer dying and a Middle Earth war. Violence is sexier than sex sometimes—if sexy can mean attractive and interesting. It’s at least more tolerated than sex. TV and movies don’t have to edit out the atrocities of death, but damned if a nipple slips at halftime or a thong is shown during primetime! Even our comedies have guns: Dumb and Dumber, “Harry, you’re alive! And you’re a terrible shot.” Our favorite childhood movies: The Goonies—the Fratellis have a gun in almost every scene, (although the guns are more props to show they’re bad guys.) Even romantic comedies can sometimes work a little gun violence into the mix: The Bodyguard, Whitney was targeted by a stalker with a gun disguised as a camera. Also, it seems that all our futuristic movies involve guns. It’s like we can’t even imagine a future where there are none. Even Demolition Man, where there was a leader crazy enough to completely outlaw guns, thereby turning everyone into calm law-abiding citizens eating Taco Bell and never cursing; it turned out he was actually crazy and purposely allowed a gun-loving criminal and a gun-loving cop to blow that peaceful world up with a few leftover guns from the museum. Even the imaginative, inspired writers of southern California can’t create a world where gun violence doesn’t exist. In the 21st century, we look to our celebrities for guidance, and if they’re all firing guns and surviving to Live Free and Die Hard again, or surviving a Skyfall and multiple gun attacks, then why can’t we?

More gun legislation probably won’t help. It’s not like we pass a law and all the crazies and baddies will show up like Kevin Spacey in Se7en and turn themselves in to the authorities with bloody hands and admit they were wrong. The 2nd Amendment protects our right to have guns, but if we’re going to get all Constitutional, let’s let the 1st Amendment out of the bag also and get some real free speech and real freedom of assembly. Don’t push away those Occupy Wall Street people because they don’t fit Wall Street’s greedy, insatiable agenda. Let the naked poets sing, let the NC-17 movies play; let the freedom of speech extend as far as we can take it. If you want no limits to what kinds of guns/ammo you can own including the maddeningly idiotic armor-piercing bullets, then lets have no limits on the other great freedoms. Allow a mosque in lower Manhattan, nudity on television, or protests by the insane and hopeless Westboro Baptist Church or the KKK. I think you can see the slippery slope of either more or less legislation. Those men who created America did a good job, but it is a different world now. Perhaps it’s better to have no naked chicks kissing on the channel opposite SpongeBob. Perhaps it’s better to keep religion in neutral areas where there wasn’t a massacre (tell that to any Native American tribe.) Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to limit ultra-effective killing machines and metal penetrating ammunition also.

America is a great country, a violent, hypocritical, generous, diverse country. We produce amazing people and products. We lead the world in many ways. Our goal in the future should be to lead the way to peace. The old Roman expression: “If you want peace, prepare for war” is apropos for this argument. We are certainly prepared for war, so perhaps peace is on the way. It most assuredly will have to start in the Homeland.

2014_SchoolShootingsSinceNewtown1 gun_gray guns-per-100-people domestic violence

Why Do We Vote?

The American presidential election is this week and everyone is nervous because if their candidate doesn’t win, not only will the world end in a fiery ball of either liberal or conservative failed policies, but also, they will feel like a loser. I don’t think voting for president matters as much as we make it seem. After all, if you are from Texas or California, or any of the other hopelessly entrenched red or blue states, your vote does not matter, period. Yes, you are expressing your freedom by voting Romney in San Francisco or Obama in Amarillo, but that doesn’t mean it will affect the outcome of the state. Only half of eligible voters turn out to vote. Our electoral college was based in the early 13 colonies where the “Founding Fathers” decided that it was too dangerous to have a straight democracy because a group of radicals could create a “tyranny of the majority” and elect a political zealot. They were also so concerned with the idea of slaveholding states getting higher representation in Congress due to the large population of slaves, inaccurately raising their numbers and thereby erroneously increasing their representatives, they famously and embarrassingly named slaves as 3/5 a person. The framers of the Constitution did their best to create a country from scratch with all the knowledge of the past. They had the problem of knowing then what we know now at that very time, in as far as they knew what hadn’t worked before. They knew what they were doing was special, extremely important and unprecedented. But, as with the Bible’s outdated mandates, things change and the world needs to change with it.

If you’ve ever voted, you see that there are not two choices on the ballot. There are usually 4 or 5 names there other than the Republican and Democratic candidates. You may ask yourself, who the hell are they and how did they get on the list? They were not involved in debates, they were not making advertisements lambasting their opponents, they were not caught in photo op gaffes or misspeaking missteps. Money. Money runs politics the same way it runs sports. (The big names eventually end up on the big teams—see Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard or LeBron James.) Those nameless names on the ballot didn’t have the money from a super PAC or a huge, recognized, “legitimate” party. It’s so frustrating to watch people argue over who is right or wrong and who will be a better president. Asking, “are you better off than where you were four years ago?” Ask this, “Is your life any different than it was four years ago, based strictly on a federal government level?” How has the government affected you in your lifetime? Perhaps you have some disease or some health related issue where Obama care is good or bad for you. Perhaps you have a cousin informally detained in Guantanamo. Perhaps you are gay and want to get married or join the army. Perhaps you are a lobbyist for the NRA and Obama and the Democrats never answer your phone calls. The average American is so far removed from D.C. business that we aren’t really affected by it until election time, when it becomes the issue of the moment. They scare us into jumping on their bandwagon by harpooning the opponent as either crazy or anti-American. They will have us believe that if you elect one or the other, they will change the phony game played everyday in Washington. I don’t think things will change. Money will always rule. We have this false choice between two people who are paid by the same type of corporations and self-interest groups and we jump all over it and let our emotions run wild. I see people supporting Romney and I think to myself, “You’re an idiot.” Then I see my friends who support him, whom I know are not idiots and I wonder why they do. It’s not just a game of rich with Romney and poor with Obama because there are many more poor in America. It also has to do with values and how the candidates pretend to care about issues to generate votes. A politician is the most unspontaneous and generic person you will find in their country. It’s so boring to watch this and feel so jaded. Posing this election as so many have in the past, not as a choice between two people, but as a choice between two futures. It’s disingenuous. Some may benefit more from a particular candidate, but what will be lost? Will Romney prohibit alcohol, move the capital to Salt Lake and print new money with Joseph Smith on the one and five dollar bill? Will Obama levy a 90% tax on millionaires to fund experimental drug-therapy for arthritic or asthmatic immigrants? No, I presume it will be business as usual. That business of course being lobbyist indulgences and cronyism.

Celebrities on the late night shows or on all telling you to VOTE, ROCK THE VOTE, WAKE UP AND VOTE, like it’s some great thing and all the power is in your hands. Yes, voting is better than fascism, monarchy or dictatorship, but it still doesn’t make it matter. In 2000, Gore won more votes, but Bush had family ties in the crucial swing state of Florida and got the Supreme Court decision in his favor. They all say, “it’s crazy not to vote,” “people die for your right to vote,” “get out and show your patriotism.” Inside, those same people are thinking how much of an ass you are for voting the opposite way they vote. Bipartisanship is at a ridiculous low, people are completely split down the middle on issues, there is no center in politics, rarely does anything substantive get done within the Beltway, and we are concerned with red or blue, which side are you on? Poverty is growing, education is sliding backward, NASA funding has almost run dry, we’re in debt, we don’t produce anything but armaments and we think one guy will change all that? The real wake up call is that a two party system allows the entrenched and bitter partisanship to stay healthy and strong. Another wake up alarm bell is that we are hopelessly mired in the Eisenhower prophesied military industrial complex. It’s like that idea that if you say it out loud, it becomes an unintentional, subconscious mantra.

Politics is a game of home team advantage, we only root for them because we think they are on our side, but it’s all about them. That’s why championship sports teams thank the fans first, to let them think we are the important ones, “we all won the championship,” but we pay so they can get the trophy. Politics is the same except they pander to us and give speeches to specialized groups to make sure everyone will believe and agree with what they are saying. Rooting for your home team because you were born there is based more in emotion over reason and as naturally damaging to a psyche as believing in a national political party to support your beliefs. Take it from a Philadelphia fan; you will be let down. It’s so hard to keep an open mind about politics when it is so apparent to be an ugly, artificial game. I remember my first time voting (in 2000) feeling like I was participating in something very important. Then the whole issue of who won started. I noticed that I wasn’t feeling like the country would be in trouble if Gore won, I remember thinking, I don’t want to have voted for the loser! I voted for Bush because there were no real issues that year important to me or possibly the country (evidenced by the fact that he won) and I thought Gore was vague and boring. I recall debates being mostly about the variable and unpredictable issue of what they would do, instead of what they did do on record. We all want to be on the winning side. We all want to think “our” team, whether it is the Yankees or a presidential candidate, is the best and most capable team. And then, in 2004, I voted for John Kerry, a person I actually couldn’t imagine representing our country confidently, just because he wasn’t the war hawk, tax-cutting embarrassment Bush had become. I’m completely aware that politics is a terrible discussion to have with anyone you’d like to remain friends with, and that there is an enormous amount to the vote/non-voting argument that I’m not addressing nor am aware of, but it doesn’t change the ambivalence I feel toward this current election. I’m so disgusted by the negativity and lies. I didn’t watch the debates, I didn’t see the advertisements, and I didn’t hear the conversations in America over the past year. I’m proud to be American but not because of my politicians. I’m proud to be American but not simply because of my right to vote. I’m proud to be an American because we are full of idiots, geniuses and everyone in between. I’m proud to be an American because we possess a shared history with the world, albeit flawed and belligerent at times. I’m proud to be an American to have been raised with all our intrinsic freedoms. But those freedoms come with a price. The price of that freedom is to stay informed and suspicious of those who would serve and rule you.

So, on Tuesday, go vote and be happy. Go respectfully participate in democracy, as imperfect and undemocratic as it is. Go lovingly argue with your parents, friends and family about how wrong they are for having an opposite opinion. Go thoughtlessly graffiti yard support signs and congratulate yourself for doing the greater good. Go devotedly thank the Christian God we don’t live in Egypt where a Muslim can be elected president. And remember, whoever wins, nothing changes, America will still be great and the president will make good and bad choices all the same. There will still be football on Sunday, CSI re-runs at midnight, 20 lb. Thanksgiving turkeys to stuff and baste, fully stocked supermarket shelves and politicians who pretend to be smarter and kinder than they really are. There is no apocalypse waiting if one gets elected over the other, despite what the negative ads will have you believe.