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.

 

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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.

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Americans and America

1) “Where are you from?”

2) “America.”

1) “Really, me too!”

2) “What state?”

1) “Argentina.”

Now, I’m in an argument. This idea of “America” being more than the USA was something that I didn’t think was a dispute until I started traveling. And that is precisely the point of many of the people with whom I argued. They said that USAmericans usurp the name that could technically belong to almost 1 billion people. When I thought about it, we both are correct. One use is nominal; one use is conventional.

The United States of America resides in North America. Brazil resides in South America. Or so I was taught. Others are taught that North and South America are one continent–America. They see maps like this or this. It would be the largest continent if that were true. But even the Olympics do it (5 rings=5 continents)! Adding north and south together, ignoring the codifiers of hemisphere, basically creates this argument of American identity. When we have North and South America, we have useful delineations of place.

Besides the educational discrepancies, we can use plate tectonics, whereby we find a Caribbean plate, a North and South American plate and a Eurasian plate among others to really complicate the continent issue. We can say that United Mexican States are shortened to Mexico. We can mention that nobody refers to himself or herself by continent first. People want to know in which country, not continent you live. But, we should acknowledge one thing. Everyone, from Canada’s frozen north to Patagonia’s frozen south, are all from The Americas, making them “Americans” but in a larger, more ambiguous sense.

To answer this tricky semantic question, I find answers in letters. (If you don’t think one letter matters—look at ship and shit.) People from USA are American from North America, which is part of The Americas. People from Colombia are Colombian from South America, which is part of The Americas. It’s a question of who gets to use the “n” in American. I contest that people who live in the United States of America should be called American, in much the same way that denizens of Venezuela should be called Venezuelan.

Some have called me, and others who feel this way, arrogant or nationalistic. I don’t think it’s arrogant to identify your nationality by its name (which just coincidentally has the same name as the continent). I am proud to be American, but never boastful of my birth land. It’s a wonderful, if flawed land with questionable foreign policy and expanding poverty, but it also has great beauty and great people. The country is called the United States OF America. The acknowledgment of the continent on which it’s perched is in the name. The only other continent/country name sharing is Australia (or is it Oceania?). Although, if China was called the People’s Republic of Asia, and called themselves Asians, I bet we could have similar problem. But history didn’t write that chapter.

The name of America comes from the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote about his travels to the New World. A German mapmaker in the 16th century labeled the new world thusly, and then before the American Revolution (as we call it) or The American War of Independence (as the British call it) the Declaration of Independence was signed before any other countries from the New World were established and so USA took the name of the region for itself.

I don’t doubt it’s hard to be from anywhere south of the Rio Grande River and feel as though you aren’t considered American. Of course you’re “American”, but that just isn’t the way the word is used anymore. When someone asks you where you are from, do you respond: “Asia, Europe or Africa?” No, people use their country. Also, most Canadians I know would not refer to themselves as Americans despite the fact that their country is the biggest one in North America.

United States of America is the name of the country and history/convention has abbreviated it to refer to the people within as Americans. We can be more accurate and refer to North, Central and South America as ALL part of the larger mass known as The Americas. We can refer to the Spanish/Portuguese speaking countries as part of Latin America. And finally, we can refer to the 317 million diverse people, living in USA, without discrediting our various “American” neighbors and without discomfiture, as Americans.

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