The boulevard of the unsuspecting

pexels-derwin-edwards-4001530

A mentally disturbed and delusional kid – spurned by others – sitting behind the wheel of a BMW – firing a legally purchased 9 mm semi-automatic pistol into a crowded café and deli – killing and maiming – just as he promised.

On any given day in America, any one of us can get cast for the role of the unintended victim in the twisted wreckage of someone else’s tragic life– like we are all just a trigger finger away from a becoming a profile on CNN’s website.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun – is a good guy with a gun, except that almost never ever happens – even though Americans are armed to the teeth – we still wake up (on average) to a mass murder every two weeks – and in most of these cases, the only thing that stops the bad guy with a gun, is that very same bad guy, when after killing a slew of people, he decides to eat a bullet.

Unfortunately, many American’s are as delusional as some of these shooters – as they continue to tell themselves that more guns make for a safer society, when the data tells us the exact opposite is true.

We are immersed a culture that glorifies violence, where too many believe that violence and aggression are the solution to problems – we have inadequate and often ineffective mental healthcare and way too many people who should not have access to guns – –  have access to guns.

I am sick and fucking tired of the NRA denying the role guns play in mass murder – there is clearly a gun component to this problem – but any time anyone even mentions, considers, whispers that maybe we should look at gun regulation along with other components of the problem, the NRA ratchets up a campaign of lies and fear.

We need to wake up.

Dear Mr. President

pexels-samer-daboul-705209

Dear President Obama:

Over the last several weeks I’ve tried to remain above the political fray with regard to the crisis in Syria.

I could care less about the back-and-forth commentary from pundits regarding the red line comment, or whether or not the decision to go to congress was a good move or a bad move politically.

I am writing as a father of two boys ages 15 and 17, as a proud citizen of the United States, and a staunch supporter of you and your administration.

Why your supporters are hesitant to agree with you that America must act

Let’s face it, after the debacle of the Iraq war, Americans are skeptics when it comes to intelligence reports as evidence for why America must act. The terribly misguided decision to go into Iraq, the fact that the citizens of this country were persuaded with bogus and fabricated evidence to invade that country, and to see that country today – still being torn apart by sectarian violence – created a huge trust deficit and a feeling that regardless of our intentions in Syria, the outcome will not be in our best interest.

When even the most visceral of evidence fails to sway opinion, there is an underlying problem

Yesterday CNN posted horrific video accounts of the chemical attack on Syrian citizens. As I watched people (many of them children) writhing, twitching, frothing from the mouth, the CNN commentator said over and over again that although experts have said the video clearly shows a chemical attack occurred, there is nothing in the video itself that indicates the Assad regime perpetrated the attack. 

Before supporting US intervention in a Syrian Civil war, most Americans would need incontrovertible evidence as to which side launched the chemical attack. According to news reports, such evidence is being presented behind closed doors to members of Congress – but the case against the regime (with regard to the chemical attack) has not been made to the citizens of this country. Perhaps you Mr. President will make the case when you address the country on Tuesday night.

Another issue that makes even your most ardent supporters hesitate to back a strike against Syria is the nature of the players involved in this conflict. Ideally such distinctions should not matter when children are being gassed in their sleep – but when we also see numerous video accounts of rebel forces brutally executing regime supporters and soldiers, we cannot help but question the humanity (or rather the lack of it) on both sides of this fight.  I understand that America wants to protect the innocent and most vulnerable, but can we do so while not at the same time helping the more extremist elements of the rebel forces?

Regardless of how much the regime and rebel forces hate one another – I cannot help but think they both hate America more. And I have to think that when Assad falls (as all despots do) the forces that rise up in his place will not be friends or allies of this country (regardless of what we decide to do in response to the chemical attacks).

It’s not only about the purpose as you state it, but also how others will interpret our actions

You and Secretary Kerry have been vocal that a strike against the regime is not about taking sides in the ongoing conflict – That any action we take is for the express purpose of punishing the regime and degrading their capability to launch another chemical attack.

You stress that American soldier’s will not set foot on Syrian soil. The argument – that this strike does not constitute a war in the traditional sense – may work on some Americans, but I doubt this distinction makes a difference to Syria and their allies.  I suspect that when missiles are raining down on Syria, they will clearly see this as an act of war and I assume they will act accordingly. Are we prepared to deal with this? Are we prepared to show restraint when Syria, or Iran launch counterattacks? Can you promise that America will not get drawn into a deeper conflict when these counterattacks occur?  How can anyone make such a promise when we do not know what Syria’s reaction will be?

Right now I would not support a strike against Syria. And although initially I thought the resolution would be passed by congress, I no longer think this is the case. If the resolution does not pass, I hope you do not take it upon yourself to launch these attacks.

Also, I am not convinced that having all of this play out through congressional hearings and debates is a sign of weakness – quite the opposite; I think it shows the strength of our democratic system of government.

If we have incontrovertible evidence that Assad was responsible for the attack, let’s build the case against him, present the evidence to the world court and charge him with war crimes. I think this approach, though restrained in comparison to a cruise missile attack, demonstrates a different kind of strength that would garner international support.

We are a war-weary nation, and let’s face it, the nations of the world are weary of us. I truly believe our standing in the world would rise if we hold off on attacking Syria while perusing aggressively the legal case against Assad.

While pursuing the legal case against Assad, the eyes of the world would be on this despot – and if he dares to use chemical weapons during this time, I believe the international community would not be so hesitant to punish him.

Truth, Human Nature and the Internet

pexels-andrea-piacquadio-3760778

Everyone wants to be right.

We humans yearn for validation. Bestowed our moral compass by our parents, teachers, religion, origin of birth, and ultimately our experiences, we move through life; sewing affiliations with those that share our viewpoint, accept our opinions, and smile back at us assuredly.

We live comfortably unchallenged and quite purposefully so. We get our news from either Fox or MSNBC and we surf internet sites that mirror our viewpoints. We drink from a river of information filtered specifically to our tastes and preferences. We rarely stray from our comfort zone.

Sure, liberals and conservatives cross enemy lines occasionally. Every-now-and-then we liberals turn to Fox news or listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck – but let’s be honest, we do so mainly to validate what we already believe, that Rush is an asshole and that Beck is a deranged mental case. I suspect that conservatives engage in similar excursions, switching from Fox News to give a listen to comrade Chris Mathews, while muttering under their breath what a Communist-Marxist-Pinko-Douche bag he is.

I used to think that free-flowing access to information would somehow lead to less polarization in society; that availability and factualness were cousins in a sense (pretty naive I know). In reality, unrestricted access to information has made us more polarized, more firmly ensconced in ideology, and (it seems to me) less willing to investigate even the possibility that we might be wrong – about anything.

It seems to me that people are more interested in having their feelings validated than searching for substantive truths that might lead them onto unfamiliar shores. And make no mistake, those who create and deliver the content take full advantage of this. Today when faced with information that is contrary to what we hold true, we have a penchant to disregard it, seeking shelter in pools of information that allow us to continue to believe what we believe, and deflect that uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance.

In a way, truth has become a cottage industry –  and we are all the worse for it.

DOMA, Dogma minus the G

pexels-georgia-maciel-2194355

As the date for opening arguments on the constitutionality of the defense of marriage act (DOMA) approaches, we are seeing a flurry of newspaper articles and talk show discussions related to the case.

The defense of marriage act (DOMA) defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state recognition purposes in the United States.

Predictably, those affiliated with the Catholic church and religious-right believe DOMA is constitutional, but argue their case mainly on the basis of morality.

On the state level, RI lawmakers have introduced bills to legalize Gay marriage. This week Bishop Tobin, called on Rhode Island’s General Assembly to reject same-sex marriage in the state, stating that same-sex marriage is “immoral and unnecessary” .

Now, in my opinion, the catholic church preaching about morality is akin to the Chinese government espousing the virtues of freedom and democracy – that boat don’t float.

Many hundreds of years ago, the religious powers-that-be saw homosexual behavior as out of the norm and, without the benefit of science or understanding, labeled it as sinful, immoral, and abhorrent.

Now, fast forward to today, where, with the benefit of science (and a slightly more tolerant society) we know and understand that sexual orientation is an innate trait. Homosexuality is not a disease to be cured any more than eye color or hair color is. But still the Catholic church and religious-right refuse to acknowledge science, reason, and basic fairness and instead remain blindfully obedient to dogma.

If we woke up in “bizarro world” tomorrow, where heterosexuals were the minority, would we not fight for our right in the same manner that gays and lesbians are fighting today? I believe we would. Would we naturally continue to prefer the opposite sex? Yes, we would. Would we just accept being labeled as perverted, sinful, and immoral? God, I hope not.

I’ll end with a message and some advice to the catholic church:

You are on the wrong side of this argument. More and more people, especially young people (you know, the ones you should be trying to bring into the church!) understand that homosexuality is not a learned behavior or character flaw. They see hardworking, caring, and intelligent people who “happen to be gay”. Be open to the idea that many hundreds of years ago, when mankind did not have the benefit of science, the church mistakenly characterized homosexuality as a sin. Don’t continue to mischaracterize it, instead, embrace the science, reverse your position (no pun intended) and stick to what you’re good at, providing spiritual guidance and helping the needy and the poor.

On the other end of rockets

pexels-spacex-23764

I woke up at 2:30 AM to the thin blue haze of my television, news footage of multiple rockets being launched in succession from flat barren lands somewhere in Gaza.

Set against a peaceful pinkish-blue sky, the angry hiss of missile-fire – followed by a few seconds of pre-dawn serenity was eerily beautiful, as witnessed from a darkened bedroom thousands of miles away.

On the other end of the rockets, Israeli citizens huddle in bomb shelters, enveloped and cradled by rock and earth, they wait and listen to muffled explosions. Warning sirens blare in the distance, they sit in dimly-lit rooms stocked with gas masks and crackers.

In Gaza, Palestinians scramble and crawl over a pile of dusty rubble, twisted steel, and flesh, courtesy of a reflexive trigger finger and weapon system designed to target individual terrorists and minimize civilian casualties. They dig and scream, dig and scream. I begin to wonder if over time (generations actually), that the repetitive dig and scream might somehow become part of Palestinian people’s make-up, branded into their psyche, to the point where it becomes as natural an act as waving goodbye to their children as they go off to school.

It’s all too big to absorb at 230 AM, my head comfortably cushioned by 3 large pillows, my snoring yellow lab warmly wedged between my wife and I, as the thoughts of my own pending day begin to seep into my consciousness, steadfastly pushing aside and supplanting my thoughts about the other end of rockets, I reach for the remote and turn the TV off, the blue haze dissipates quickly, surrendering to the darkness I close my eyes. It is 2:36 AM.

From 169 to 168 – an Election Day casualty

pexels-element-digital-1550340

Watching the election returns last Tuesday night was all about the numbers. Which candidate will get to 270 first? How does Romney’s path to the presidency change now that PA’s 20 electoral votes are in Obama’s column? Will Obama finish with 332 or 303 electoral votes?

But for me, the most surprising number was 168.  That was the number of Facebook friends I had the day after the election – one less than the day before.

In the month leading up to the election, I often logged on to Facebook to engage in spirited discourse with my Republican friends. Tuesday night, I went there to revel in the joy of victory with my Democrat friends.

On election night I watched with bemusement as Chuck Todd moved battle-ground states into the Obama column with the wave of his hand – like a mythological soothsayer.  As the night wore on and it became apparent the President would be reelected, I felt euphoric and somewhat vindicated (selfishly so). Vindicated, because I had argued with some republican friends that Obama’s vision for America was better than Romney’s, and that most Americans would see it that way.  To me it was a choice between two very different views about the role of government in America. It was about social and economic justice. And watching Karl Rove stubbornly deny the science of polling (in much the same way his party denies climate change and evolution), only to be smacked down emphatically by truth was the frosting on the cake. It was remarkable.

In the heat of an election candidates and voters can let their emotions get the best of them – taking on an aggressive tone and speaking words that normally they would not.  On election night as my son and I sat on the couch watching the returns, the network cut away to Todd Aikin’s concession speech. It was a divisive speech, ungracious, and full of the vitriol and misguided views of a typical Tea Party candidate. I immediately typed a statement on Facebook in which I referred to Mr. Aikin as the dime-sized part of the human anatomy directly south of the tailbone and north of the nape of the knees.  Without forethought or hesitation I tapped the Enter key and sent my words into the infosphere.  A few seconds later my son chided me with a “that’s not a very nice thing to say dad”, and of course he was right.

I am convinced that my actions resulted in being “unfriended” by an old high school classmate.  It had been many years since I had seen or spoken with him in person, and if not for Facebook we probably would not have kept in touch. My friend’s Facebook page was  like everyone else’s,  a reflection of his likes and dislikes, from pop culture and sports to politics and religion. He has strongly-held views about the role of government (keep your hands off my money, put my god in your classroom, and put this trans-vaginal probe in your vagina).

Politics is a blood sport, and to the victor go the spoils.  In this case those who elected Obama are the victors and the President has a sacrosanct responsibility make good on his campaign promises. At the same time, the President must be mindful of the 49 percent of American’s who voted for Mitt Romney’s vision of America. Some republicans would argue that Obama does not have a mandate. I strongly disagree. That said, the President has a difficult road ahead – pushing his vision for America while at the same time keeping the 49 percent who disagree with that vision “in the fold” of the American family. He needs to extend an olive branch to Republicans, while staying true to his principals – no easy task. Push too hard and he risks further fracturing the country, don’t push hard enough, and the same risk applies.

While the president does his part, I will do mine by reaching out to my republican friend in an effort to get back to 169.

Mitt’s image problem

pexels-sharon-mccutcheon-1212407

Yes, I voted for Barack Obama in the last election.

Yes, I will vote for him again.

No, these two facts do disqualify me from, or make me incapable of, providing an unbiased assessment of what I perceive as Mitt Romney’s and the Republican Party’s image problem(s).

So here goes:

  • They both take too much direction from, and put too much credence in the far-right faction of their party. Rush Limbaugh calls a US citizen testifying before congress a slut – and Mitt Romney does not have the courage to take him to the woodshed. He looked weak and ungentlemanly.
  • They are out of touch with the American populace on almost every social issue of the day. I provide the following discussion with my kids to demonstrate :

Me: Do you think the government should stop Gay people from getting married?

My kids: They look at me, dumbfounded at the question itself. Why would the government try to stop people who love one another from getting married? That’s stupid (and TOTALLY unfair) Dad!

Why we are even talking about such silliness, when we have soldiers getting killed in Afghanistan, rioting and violence in the Middle East, and people out of work in America? Anyone?, Anyone? – –  Bueller?

Me: Do you think people who are gay should be allowed to serve in the military and not have to hide the fact that they are Gay?

My Kids: Again, mystified at the ludicrousness of the question. They ask innocently (I think), “Does being gay prevent them from loving their country and doing a good job Dad?”

Me: Not that I am aware of boys.

My Kids: Then who cares Dad?

Me: Good point boys.

Me: Do you think that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools?

Kids: What is creationism dad?

Me: I explain the concept and point them to a definition of the word.

Kids: But that does not sound like science Dad – that sounds more like a personal belief.  I do not understand how or why you would teach something like this alongside evolution Dad.

Maybe they could teach this in a class about religion –  “would that be OK Dad?”

You see, the kids do not want to tell people not to believe in something -but they are smart enough to know the difference between scientific theory and personal religious beliefs.

Kids: Hey dad, I heard in school today that we are falling behind other countries in math and science. Maybe those schools that teach creationism can drop that course so the kids can bone-up on real science and math.  What do you think dad?

Me: I think that is a swell idea kids. Write the republican governor of Texas.

Me: Do you think immigrants should have a pathway to citizenship in this country?

Kids: Yes they say – almost immediately.

  • White, bright, and way too uptight. When the camera panned out at the audience at the Republican convention – all I saw was white people. Don’t get me wrong, I like white folks (hell, I am a white folk!).

However, my perception was that that the populace in that convention hall was not representative of America as a whole – instead, I saw it as a subset.

My perception is that the republican’s quilt is mostly one color – white (with maybe some dark stitching on the outer edge), while the democrat’s quilt is multi-colored and more representative of the “fabric of our country”.

My perception when Michelle Obama spoke about her and Barack’s early day’s was that she was being genuine – and that “genuineness” resonated with me.

When Ann Romney spoke about her and Mitt’s early days, my perception was that she was trying too hard to paint a picture – trying to strike a chord with a segment of the population that she does not have a lot in common with. My perception was that it seemed faked and rehearsed, almost like she was trying to be something she was not.

And (I know this is superficial) but the contrast of Barack Obama crooning an Al Green classic to Mitt Romney’s geeky and stiff rendering of “America the Beautiful” remains fresh in my mind. Basically, when I see Mitt Romney, I see a decent rich white guy who made his bones on making other rich white guys richer.

Who knows, maybe a predisposition towards one party over another makes you hear and see things differently.  I suspect that my republican friends had a totally different perception.

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them”

pexels-harrison-haines-3536235

I remember how those words, spoken by then candidate Barack Obama, caused such and an up-roar in America.

Yesterday, as violent uprisings spread throughout the Arab world, I thought to myself these same exact words, used to describe attitudes of Americans in small midwestern towns, could also be used to describe the  Islamists storming our embassy in Egypt and Libya.

What does it mean to “cling” to one’s religion? Well obviously it’s not a flattering comment (that’s why so many people got pissed). It’s kind of the opposite of saying people are getting strength from their religion. It conjured up images of angry, white (only because a black man said it); uneducated families huddled around their own prejudiced thoughts while holding a bible in one hand and shotgun in the other.

What Barack Obama was saying was that when times are tough, especially economically, people grab onto these two things (religion and guns), not as a means to get them through difficult times, but as a way of nullifying what they believe to be socio-economic injustice. I may not have all that you have, but I have Jesus Christ and a semi-automatic hand gun – and that trumps everything!

Those extremists storming our embassy have been on jelly-side down side of the socioeconomic sandwich for generations – for many of them, the only thing they have is their God and their religion.

Insult that, or demean it in any way, and they see it as an attempt to take away the one thing they believe they have that is superior to all things material, their God.