Impediments versus Inevitabilities

Are most conservatives Christians? Because many of them say that they are. I am not naïve in thinking all – what’s the number everyone is throwing around, 11 million – of the illegal immigrants in this country want to do right by others in seeking immigration. But, I do believe many if not a great many of them wish to. First off, people from both sides need to stop speaking of immigrants synonymously with Central or South Americans. Immigrants come from all over. When you consider in certain countries teenage girls having to move hours away from their families, from villages, to a factory in a big city so that they could make peanuts working twelve-hour-plus days, live in a veritable closet upstairs from the factory-floor, get minuscule breaks, and even go as far as having a supervisor close-pin their eyelids to their eyebrows so that they don’t fall asleep while stitching hems on jeans that we end up buying for $27, why would they want to readily escape this for a better life in some first-world haven? Granting asylum to everyone just as putting all immigrants currently here illegally on a line of buses that would comprise of most of California’s coast is not the answer if we are going to base the seekers upon amoral policies, or obviously if they themselves are amoral.

And when it comes to expressing religious perspective, the views of the Jeneane Garofalo’s on the left and the Phil Robertson’s on the right both piss me off. If you do right by yourself, and others, whether your morality stems from God, or not, it’s all good. This, for now, is the one and only right thing to believe.

It is perfectly valid for anyone to express any view, but it is not accurate to say when we speak about religion in this country, as well as abroad, that we are speaking in terms of moral relativism. Quite simply, rather, it is a fear from moral cohesion. …I read the Bible. A LOT of crazy stuff going on in the Old Testament (difficult to get through, in fact), which of course led to among other laws the creation of the fifteen – oy – ten! commandments. Just as many so-called Christians should not ignore a whole section between the Old Testament and the book of Revelations, they simply cannot cherry-pick what to believe in as good for business. Why aren’t there more chains like Hobby Lobby who remain closed on Sundays in recognition of Exodus 35:2, or who fight like they had and won to legally disallow providing birth control in their health care plans in interpretation of Exodus 20:13 (or, Exodus 23:7, Leviticus 24:17, and so forth)? Because, those other organizations choose to remain morally flexible.

Regardless, there is no apocalypse. We are not heading back to those pre-Ten Commandments days, because we all live according to the laws of a democracy. Freedom of religion certainly includes freedom from religion. Yet this all goes beyond so-called Christians ignoring the teachings of Christ. The governor of Indiana is now getting the hint on this, for instance, though naturally he also blames ‘the media’ in a flimsy attempt to safeguard his political aspirations. He actually signed into law what the governor of Arizona vetoed, and is also being tossed around in other states. I never heard of conversion therapy until just the other day, which several states legally allow therapists to practice. But whether it is a legal form of child abuse, discrimination, or murder like the wacko-lawyer in California is looking to propose indiscriminately against gays in that state, there is a simple solution here. Has any legal authority in the history of this country put to death someone for wearing a garment made of two different threads; a homeowner for planting a vegetable and a fruit side by side in their garden; for working on the day of the Sabbath? Either be willing to re-introduce these things because the Bible says so or stop discriminating against LGBTs.

Homophobia, at the bare minimum, is fundamentally not a bad thing to fess up to. So many kids these days have gay parents. Therefore, like all social phobias based on skin-color, gender, as well as religion and sexual orientation, they are all easily, fundamentally defined as just a lack of familiarization with someone different than you.

When it comes to seemingly every issue in this country, we live in a moral haze. It is making me cray. I cannot blame the mainstream-media for being shallow, when you consider the source of both candidates and incumbents who ‘debate’ for public office treating us like children. So, we go on laughing and crying in a nation afraid to debate actual ideas. With short attention-spans, we largely prefer to live moment-to-moment; prefer not wanting to upset advertisers, campaign-donors, whom we work for, or the general fear of becoming unjustly discriminated against in our delicate communities. We largely tend to keep shallowly entrenched in our extremes, with little regard towards a middle ground, as it becomes increasingly more difficultly and crazily about money over morals. I cannot help but not believe in this.

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American Brother Malcolm

About 18 years ago, while I was still living in Lincoln, Nebraska, my brother-in-law decided to fly further west from being in Chicago for a Catholic Worker’s conference, for a little visit before heading back to Albany.  During his stay, we rented a car and made a pilgrimage out to Omaha for two reasons: to visit Boy’s Town headquarters — literally in the nearby village of Boy’s Town, Nebraska — for my father who was a fan of Father Flanagan, and to visit the birth-home of Malcolm Little, of course also known as Malcolm X.

Figuring we were very close to the house, we spotted a local social justice center in the city to ask.  We introduced ourselves, enthusiastically shared how we came all the way from New York and, well, Lincoln, and asked about some other possible details surrounding the house.  But the guy’s tone unusually erred towards disappointment.  After we told him the address of the house, he pointed over our shoulders and indicated, well, it “used to be” up that hill.

So we drove up, and from the side of the road all we saw was this plaque…

malcolm x plaque

And for some reason the text of the plaque was not even facing the road, but the woods behind it. “Is that it? (emphasis two different times, on “that” and “it”)!  I remember looking down to my left and still seeing the pole with street-signs for 34th and Pinkney mixed with the trees.  My brother-in-law and I both felt a big sense of disappointment and sadness, while mitigating a sense of outrage.  (I could not help but note the choice of wording in the text of “allegedly murdered”, as well as “became outspoken” as opposed to ‘spoke out against’.)

And with that said, fifty years ago this past February 21st happened to be the assassination of Malcolm, in New York City, at both the non-alleged hands and as a result of having spoken out against its ego-corrupted head of his former brotherhood.

Ulysses

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659

“Throbbing Python of Love” contains the funniest moment — the funniest two words — in the history of recorded stand-up. A steady and stern knock suddenly starts pounding on the outside the bathroom door. It’s followed by an equally stern and typical sterile-sounding, voice of a parent. The voice demands, “What are you doing in there?!”

The response:

“GOING BLI-IIIIIIIIIINNNND!!!”

Utter shamelessness. The story of Adam and Eve had been rewritten! I hit the floor in absolute amazement as well as in tears. (…”If it feels this good I’ll take the hair, I don’t care!” …Sorry.)

It was in my pre-adolescent years when I was first introduced to these things called comedy albums, by slightly older kids in the neighborhood. They listened, I could tell, because the recordings predominantly talked about girls and sex. For me, at the time, the taboo-appeal was more because they used swear words. The material was all hysterical (in every way) — funny, wild, crazy, and honest — but of course kept entirely in-bounds.
And though much of the material was doing Blue Angels over my head, what made these guys so appealing to my friends is because they were predominantly, jokingly sharing stories about what it was like to be their age. And I would end up getting my first, authentic, adult, intellectual education for the outside world.

Everything was fair game, and down to Earth, from how you can tell a guy is over 40 by way of how he now always tucks his t-shirts into his jeans, balanced with the less pop, more radical topics of politics and religion. Cable-television was also relatively new at this time, and HBO started showcasing these giants, so that you can see as well as hear hour-long performances by Richard (Pryor), Eddie (Murphy), George (Carlin), Bill (Cosby),Billy (Crystal), and Steve Martin ( 😉 ), among others.

These great ‘stand-up philosophers’, as Cardinal Mel (Brooks) once referred to them, all serve as profoundly indelible educators in the art of freedom of expression.

And I can very easily say that one of the things I revered most from those early years — along with music and sports, like every other male — was stand-up comedy.

And apart from the impact of early M*A*S*H episodes, and with the possible exception of Bill Murray’s flawlessly esteemed wary style of comedy, Robin was king. [His inflection and energy of performance].

I had already seen evidence and developed a sense that the best comedians could excel dramatically, as well. And so from my late teens up into my early thirties was ripe time that his comedic and dramatic work in many a film would have an influence on me, particularly, “The World According to Garp”, “Moscow on the Hudson”, “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Awakenings”, “Aladdin”, “Death to Smoochy”, “Man of the Year”, and of course the two most significant – each, I have seen at least a couple of dozen times — would be the extraordinarily colorful and creative, “The Fisher King” (still among my all-time favorites; a beautiful performance from him, and Jeff Bridges’ best performance at the time) and of course the brave, powerful, and beloved film of my late-teens, “Dead Poets Society”[1].

 

I remember the late New York Times’ film critic, Vincent Canby, writing in his review of “Dead Poets” (which left me wondering if he had actually seen the film) that if you were unable to see one of his students “take [Mr. Keating’s] teachings to fatal lengths” then you would have had to have been raised on a space station. I didn’t see Neil Perry’s suicide coming, just as virtually none of us saw Robin’s coming. Why? I think because he left such a mark, from my youth.

It was only after the fact that a great many of us learned he had been seeking treatment for severe depression. Given his huge and hugely generous volume of work — not excluding a great many of his televised interviews which were like comedy routines — his material never seemed to reflect a general fear of death. And thus now, only after the fact, am I able to see it.

So along with herein wanting to pay tribute, concerning the big question in which his death has raised for me, in being creative myself, I have always loathed the myth that one has to be ‘crazy’ — suffering from some sort of clinical depression, diagnosed or not — in order to create something powerful. Thus, I want to share here and now what I have uncovered for the sake of both creative and non-creative, young and older folk, alike.

I was always aware he had a bit of a ‘Hamlet complex’. I don’t know if such a term actually exists in psychology lore, but it is a bit of a cliché among male comedians to try and make light of an inability to identify with and/or please the father (or, the ‘ghost’ of the father, if you will). After the actor/comedian Jonathan Winters had recently passed from natural causes, I caught Robin commenting to a reporter on television how he was the only comedian he had ever witnessed make his father (a former, rather austere auto executive) laugh. No coincidence then how he would become a major influence on the son’s
comedy.

The following is a very revealing excerpt from an article published in The Guardian, in 2010, promoting his film, “World’s Greatest Dad”. About halfway down, the paragraph begins with the interviewer writing, “My worry beforehand had been that Williams would be too wildly manic to make much sense. When he appeared on the Jonathan Ross show earlier this summer, he’d been vintage Williams — hyperactive to the point of deranged, ricocheting between voices, riffing off his internal dialogues. Off-camera, however, he is a different kettle of fish. His bearing is intensely Zen and almost mournful, and when he’s not putting on voices he speaks in a low, tremulous delivering a funeral eulogy. He seems gentle and kind — even tender — but the overwhelming impression is one of sadness.” The next few paragraphs continue on this.

In recent years, anytime I hear of anyone abusing alcohol and/or drugs, or having gone as far as taking their own life, my first impulse as for their main culprit is ‘depression’, untreated or unsought after. Yet, for as long as art has existed the link that being ‘crazy’ and a ‘creative genius’ has always been a very easy and very romantic one to make. Poets, writers, and musicians seem, to me, to be the most associated. George Byron, Robert Lowell, Alfred Tennyson, Anne Sexton, and David Foster Wallace, as well as more well-known sufferers, like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain, and Vincent Van Gogh, to name just a few, all suffered from a particularly debilitating form of depression called bipolar disorder — bipolar I, to be exact; as opposed to the less severe bipolar II. Lowell described living with it as “a magical orange grove in a nightmare.”

From the study, “Creative Mythconceptions: A Closer Look at the Evidence for the ‘Mad Genius’ Hypothesis”, by Judith Schlesinger, published in 2009:

“In his Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes, [Albert] Rothenberg (1990) addresses what he calls the presumably objective work of [psychiatrist, Nancy] Andreasen and [psychologist, Kay Redfield] Jamison, noting the widespread inclination to soft-pedal its limitations: ‘the need to believe in a connection between creativity and madness appears to be so strong that affirmations are welcomed and treated rather uncritically’ (p. 150).”

“To date…the most basic assumption of this whole enterprise remains in the air: there is still no clear convincing, scientific proof that artists do, in fact, suffer more psychological problems than any other vocational group — and probably little chance of obtaining any. So far, neither the National Institute of Mental Health nor the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association keep statistics on the rate of mental illness by occupation. Meanwhile, the biased focus on those creatives with troubled lives will never confirm their unique vulnerability, even if their troubles had unimpeachable documentation.”

So, the rather dangerously tempting and disturbing fact of the matter is, is that there is no proving nor disproving of a scientific link. Nobody can tell for certain how much Robin Williams’ particularly severe disorder/extrovertedly compulsive desire to entertain played a hand in helping to make who he was and ultimately undo him, nor how the scope of his brilliance was influenced as a result.  (The reported early stages of the neurodegenerative illness, Parkinson’s, accompanied by these two elements, along with old age, I believe all played a significant part.)

What makes dealing with this even more troubling is that, I know at least in the case of David Foster Wallace, from having read his biography, is that it can be difficult finding the right medication, the right dosage of the right medication, in order for one to feel as if that can effectively create as well as live with it.

But all told, one certainly does not have to be to some extent clinically, mentally ill in order to create something powerful. Nor would proper medication, should one be able to find it, hinder creative output.

Generally speaking, first and foremost surrounding yourself with friends and a supportive community is most important foundation in order to encourage and sustain your muse. Since the moment I learned I wanted to write I just felt I needed love as a sole foundation, and it took some long, excruciating not-knowing in order to uncover this other necessary foundation.

Robin’s influence will no doubt continue to inspire me to be a well-rounded, and grounded, creative individual [2].

 

When he got going, it was always invigorating to experience. He would seem in every way in speed with the nineteen miles per second the Earth would spin on its axis. His sharp, mesmerizing barrage of calculated wit and highly calibrated sense of irony, for one, were huge influences on me. Classic Robin-isms, like, “Excuse me, Mr. President, in the dictionary under ‘irony’, it says ‘See irony’”, or “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing near you,” were always said out of love.

He was the most worldly and voraciously in every way adventurous, as far as wanting to learn more about something new and exciting. He embodied a child-like curiosity to always want to learn more. He was extremely articulate, even while dipping into a dizzying array of character voices, or musical instruments and sound-effects. He could dole out the obscurest of technical details in the middle of an improvised routine, and was able to conduct this entire compendium at any given time (…I had to pause for a minute after the ‘invention of the bagpipe’, around the 6:40 mark).

He will, like Cy Young in wins, forever remain untouchable in his ability to improvise. I was/am especially amazed by his Shakespearean launches; one of which, in the middle of introducing Rita Rudner at Comic Relief V, which I cannot find on youtube but will try to do justice here:

“…And she just finished her first movie, which she co-stars with Kenneth Branagh [dropping into highly pronounced/dramatic British personae]: Gadzukes! Yes, the woman is here — all the way from The Royal Shakespeare Company! ‘I fear not, Fellatio… This is I damndest cunningly withstane! These queen-sheets: I shall not know thy thread, but yet touched the cock and called her thro! Oh, saucy Worcester, wilt thou deny thy father’s brothers’ eldest son, Vollack? Come to the moisture of all England’s fetted loins — in my loins! Titus has no penis.’ — Act IV, scene ii.”

He was just an incredibly, selflessly theatrical. And that was it for me. And this was in considerable credit to having studied stage-acting at Julliard for three years. He only needed three years, before being recommended to leave by his professors because there was nothing more they could teach him.

And even though he was not always on, or other people did not find him as entertaining, it was also remarkable to me for as long and often he would go on his tangents how he would never lose confidence, never lose control of his context, or just ever allow himself to be overtaken by the slightest of indulgences. He had an enormous and thus rather fearless sensibility to either seriously or exuberantly point out our hypocrisies, and would just go until it was somehow indicated that it was time to move on.

 

Mel Brooks said it was never enough for him, personally, to just make people laugh but to leave them on the floor. Robin was the same way. He seemed to humbly hold his craft in esteem with other more prominently humane professions, such as in medical science, research, education, humanitarian aid, and so on. At the heart of his brilliance, stemmed kindness rooted in human dignity.

 

Fare-thee-well, dearest King of kings.

 

[1] From which, his character’s recitation of the excerpt from “Leaves of Grass” has now been immortalized in an i-pad commercial.  ‘Seize the day’, youth of the world, by burying half of it into an electronic device?  Hearing Walt Whitman promote Apple is like hearing Hart Crane do a voice-spot for Home Depot.

[2] I do not own the dvd, don’t really need to, and don’t wish to currently pay $500 for a used copy on amazon, but the rest of the scene finishes with the headmaster’s polite reminder of two of the school’s four philosophical ‘pillars’: “‘Tradition’, John.  ‘Discipline’.  Prepare them for college and the rest will take care of itself.”

Mass Silliness

In the midst of all the back-slapping and poignant hypocrisy (coordinated stump-speeches as televised eulogies are pretty tasteless, culminating in the Commander-in-Chief, the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a kill-list, pleading we “Stop hurting each other” and “Peace”), the mayor of Boston, Tommy Menino, opened this morning’s edition of “This Week” with continued trumped-up stumping for what would be an entire episode covering the Boston Marathon bombing.

After incompetence on the part of the BPD in the accidental killing of a college student in the aftermath of the Red Sox winning the 2004 ALCS, the BPD’s Commissioner at the time stated how the police department “accepts full responsibility” for the death of the student, Victoria Snelgrove, “but” immediately thereafter went on to condemn the actions of some “punks” as deserving partial blame.

First of all, there ought to be no “but” after accepting full responsibility.  Also, let it be clear that in the immediate media-aftermath of that tragic incident, the originally worded “punks” started lazily getting lumped together with “fans” throughout the rest of the statement.  I remember how that sparked my ire.  Baseball is a game that can bring out one’s inner child (sometimes in not so good ways, particularly between Sox and Yankees’ fans), and fans of any sport should never be confused with actual vandals who would seek to seize upon a large crowd to commit individual, destructive acts.  Cheering in the streets, or even observing a celebration as Victoria was doing safely and legally atop a one-story parking lot across from Fenway’s left-field wall, is not destructive.  The vandals, or “punks”, are the ones who deserve the partial blame; the inference of accessories to her death.

I was there that night, standing only several feet away from when her unconscious body was discovered on the street.  Moments earlier, one of the riot-officers walking up my side of Landsdowne Street was aiming his pellet-gun up at the Monster, just as another on the other side of the street must have been doing when he fired up — unlike as he was required to, into the ground, in order for the pellets to explode and release their gas on impact.  These officers deserve, and have publically acknowledged the bulk of, the blame for her death.

I am not saying mayhem was not happening elsewhere in order to prompt a reaction from the police, there was just none going on from my vantage point.  Another fan passed right in front of me with his nose bloodied and broken by a mounted police-officer, according to his crying sister in his defense.  One officer, on foot, had a very geared up expression on his face.  Pepper-spray was fuming up the back of the Monster where strangers were helping others trying to safely climb down from the girders.  Then the aforementioned student standing along the edge of that parking-tier somehow had one of those pellets embed itself into her eye-socket, wield its chemicals to her brain where she then fell unconscious onto the sidewalk, where a fellow celebrator screamed in horror.  I did not want to leave nearby the scene until I saw some movement from her, which I did see.  It was not until the following morning did I learn she had died.

Considering the historical fashion of how the Red Sox had won the league championship that night, the historic rival whom they had beaten with only the loss of one year prior as the latest gut-wrenching chapter in that rivalry, the very bitter to very sweet celebration that ensued immediately onto the streets that night should not have only been expected by authorities as very cathartic, but more like a cosmic event.  And given how there was a trend at the time of such celebrations turning out of control in college campuses and towns across the country, in the aftermath of their area’s teams winning championships, in retrospect, I was surprised the BPD appeared so unprepared for this outpouring.

But it was the “but” that still lingered.  For the majority now generally being lauded for their stoic ‘heroism’ in the aftermath of the Marathon-bombing were then labelled partially responsible for this young woman being killed.  Such education in existentialism is not-so-subtly, persistently devolving, as that partial blame slowly culminated to full when the Commissioner and some representatives of the mayor’s office reportedly went as far as meeting with the parents of the deceased young woman a couple of days after the initial condemnation and managed to convince them to publically blame the “fans” for their daughter’s death (according to a banner headline in the Boston Herald which read, “Family Blames Fans”).

I am white, Irish, and lived in Boston for three months in the summer of 1995.  I am perhaps an odd blend of introvert and gregarious.  I intended to try and make a living there, seeing how the city is pretty much the literary capital of the country and I like to write, and about ninety percent of my family happen to be from towns around the south of Boston.  My parents and older siblings are originally from Brockton.  Maybe it was because it was a hot summer that year, as it is a big city of roughly three million residents, or perhaps it had something to do with my just having spent two years living out in a smaller and less crowded city in the Midwest, but a big reason I decided to last only a few months there was from having spent a lot of time walking around Boston-proper on days off from work and not one single passer-by returned a friendly smile.  The only friend I did manage to make was my roommate through a mutual friend, a very nice person from Ohio, whose previous roommate had actually moved out on her only after a short time for the very same reason as myself. 

So I don’t think “tough” is the word I would use to generally describe Bostonians.  Neurotic, distrusting, over-caffeinated, perhaps as a result of a Mr. Donut or Dunkin Donuts on practically every street-corner.  The dose of xenophobia that the “Euro-trash” get practically extends to anyone not from Boston.  Very old-school in terms of social politics.  (Little do people know that over a hundred years ago, the Irish were actually discriminated against by the Germans in Boston.)  I once saw a native Bostonian actually get out of his car in not-so mid-afternoon traffic on Boylston and confront the driver in front of him, yelling, “Go back to your fucking country!”

Cities right now in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, sub-Saharan Africa have to deal with the threat of bombing and random terror attacks on a daily basis.  These are cities well-acquainted with actual, unvarnished fear.  I have trouble understanding these conflicting messages of how Boston can on the one hand be referred to as “tough” yet also “a city paralyzed by fear”.  In very recent, post-9/11 America, it is near-impossible for me to believe the majority living in a city where those planes happened to take off could carry on unsusceptible to the possibility of future terrorism.  Old school politics press on.

If there is anything we the public have learned from this latest terror-incident, it is that America has a continued inclination to oversell.  Boston was a city largely paralyzed by inconvenience from being locked-down for a day, and overcrowded by multi-media tourists.  (How do police bypass peeking inside a resident’s big boat parked in his backyard, very near the scene from where the younger Tsarnaev had fled, bloodied?)  I wish we would learn to not perpetuate any possible, future tragic incident in this country with the disservice of tragically shallow perspective.

Heroes Shouldn’t Exist

The new BBC series “Sherlock” is Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson adapted to the post-9/11, Information Age.

The eponymous character’s eccentric work-ethic, adventurous curiosity, and supersonic observational skills remain illuminated in contrast to the humanism of his chief associate and Afghan war veteran, Dr. John Watson (although not quite so much and in comedic contrast to his older brother, sibling rival, Mycroft).  It is a thrill to see Sherlock Holmes put a smartphone (text included, scrolled along the television-screen) to good use, which has a bit of John Henry-type appeal – to go with a less bulky, flip-open, hand-held magnifier – run parallel with the show’s use of visual editing coinciding with his deductions, as well as the mix of Victorian-against-21st century architecture of London.

But what I most enjoy watching – and re-watching – is the dynamic, true friendship between Holmes and Watson.

Writing for this show must be a very complicated undertaking, hence the only three, 90-minute episodes, per season.  The genius of the show for me plays up the classic superhero-versus-super-villain, in a league-of-their-own battle of wits extremely well.  For the acting and writing of the seemingly incredible mindsets of the two adversaries, Holmes and James Moriarty, dueling it out in the modern maze of our collective unconscious, are made to feel tangible.

Take the following clip from a scene halfway through the season one finale, “The Great Game”…  Holmes and Watson had just fought the clock in order to solve a case dictated to them over the phone through yet another innocently connected hostage, by a so-called ‘fan’ of Sherlock’s (later, to no real surprise, confirmed to be Moriarty).  Although they solved the case, they are sitting in their living room having just watched footage of the hostage’s unforeseeable mistake in judgment: she had begun to reveal an ever-so-slight part of Moriarty’s identity, resulting in her and a large section of her apartment-building being ripped apart, killing 12, in total.  After shutting off the television news in disgust (something we should all do more often, in general) and deliberating over where the bomber might be with his latest case, Dr. Watson asks why he might be playing these ‘games’ with them in the first place.  Holmes then coolly replies in his suddenly detached way, believing it maybe because he is bored – or, as he puts it “distracted”.  This finally brings things to a head for the good doctor (not before muttering under his breath, “You two would be perfect together”)…  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=5yN5O2XG-Mk

What an audacious thing to say from a self-proclaimed “consulting detective”, no less, to someone who is a doctor, war-veteran, and lives in reality at least as we know it.  But he gets no argument in return.  This to me would become the signature line/defining moment of the series.

Anyone has the capacity to be selfless.  S/He would, at best, humbly, mortally acknowledge any a special action.  Anyone else would more or less be considered an asshole.  Nor would anyone wish to be portrayed as some sort of valiant disconnect for any a villainous entity to seek to manipulate.  Thus, the term ‘hero’, in this sense, becomes completely relative and obsolete.

Make a difference, stay true to a calling, but not without some basis of understanding.  It is very fortunate many of us do not live where violence occurs in any of its forms, to various degrees, on a daily basis, but what of the many persistently made all too aware of such surroundings?  Instead of obliging to more shallow and rehashed manifestations of scapegoated fears, never intending to separate the ‘super’ amongst us to begin with, why not recognize our better capacities now?  It is enough for me to try and stave off cynicism, for the time being.

A Meaningful Discussion: A Left-to-Center Understanding of Guns in America

The gun-violence/control debate could be less complicated to discuss, overall, if it were not so undeniably interconnected with other big issues like education, the economy, healthcare, racism, immigration, the drug war, campaign-finance reform, to name a few. One thing is for certain, this discussion makes those pertaining to our ongoing fiscal controversies appear, well, shallow.

The history of our ‘dueling’ nature…young men in abject poverty conforming to gangs and/or desperation…our retro-ideological, inarticulately overlapping, time-and-patience-evaporating, posturing, and overreaching arguments towards responsibly revitalizing economic opportunity in this country…films, music, and video games sensationalizing violence…and a thus far extraordinarily understated re-emphasis on secured storage of firearms in the home, among the key mental health aspects largely, exclusively surrounding the recent rash of shooting rampages can keep law-abiding folks on both sides of the issue awake nights. But, whenever the national discussion is impelled by a horrible gun-incident the conversation reverts to default polemics, politicians prefer to altogether avoid the issue, and/or the whole conversation proceeds nowhere. Obviously, things need improving, just as ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

Every reasonable, responsible, law-abiding gun-owning and non-gun-owning citizen has the same goal: how to reasonably keep ourselves, as individuals, safer from violence. For, now—although, marginally—I am grateful more have decided to contribute to what is being dubbed along both sides of the aisle as ‘meaningful discussion’ […or, ‘action’, ‘conversation’] to de-escalate future scores of gun-violence.

 

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, over 1,384,000 Americans have died from firearms. 1,309,000-plus Americans have died over our whole history of combat (http://www.militaryfactory.com/american_war_deaths.asp). Almost the same amount of Americans have died from firearms, than in wars, in about one-fifth the time. A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun-murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Studies suggest that about 80% of gun-crimes in the U.S. are committed from guns which were acquired without any federal monitoring. …The preferred weapon of choice in mass-shootings (62 in the U.S. in the last 30 years; 7 in 2012, alone) is either the semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity detachable magazine or a semi-automatic handgun, in the hands of the mentally unstable, which points again to the controversy of whether to seek to ban ‘military-designed’ firearms and high-capacity magazines as beyond that of a mental-health matter.

Since the ratification of the 2nd amendment, revolt and revolution had not only been stirring here but as well as in Europe, leading to our Revolutionary War, our 2nd Revolutionary War (of 1812), ‘manifest destiny’ and the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. After WWII and the Korean War—and for that matter, on into Vietnam and the Persian Gulf—we made the decision to globally extend our interests. In the early to mid-fifties, we assisted in the overthrow of Iran, followed by Guatemala, followed by an embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt in Cuba, in 1961, and followed by what a considerably high percentage of polled Americans imagine (though I strongly hope against) to be a successful overthrow of our own, in 1963… Throw in our most recent double-whammy in both Iraq (despite the WMDs being in North Korea), and Afghanistan—where things are as yet stabilized, drone-might is not necessarily making right, and after hundreds of billions of dollars al Qaeda is spreading across North Africa, entering Syria, as well as maintaining in Pakistan. All the while, European countries’ economies are getting thinner. Department of Justice indictments against the big bankers responsible for the lending-crisis: 0. According to the D.o.J.’s assistant attorney general, Lanny Breuer, as to whether there was enough criminal intent to prove massive fraud in the selling of and investing in outrageously bad mortgages to the public, there is still “reasonable doubt”. (And as there always seems to be a moreover in cases like this—and not to mention, separate cases involving the big banks, UBS and HSBC—in a somewhat recent speech before the New York Bar Association Breuer made reference to “losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution”?) What does it matter how wealthy some people get, what kind of military do you expect to have leftover to defend you and us?

So, given our exploits, and what we are still very capable of, we are not very far beyond our covetous and aggressive nature. Might it very well be far from ironic or impractical, then, to assuage citizens from believing they should one day go without being able to purchase—albeit, hopefully, more carefully and universally monitored—semi-automatic firearms for the purpose of home-protection, as a means to (goodness forbid) defend against a threat of tyranny? Perhaps this particular notion may not entirely stem from a powerful lobby’s ever-fluctuating, bottom-line, after all (even though only around 4% of the nation’s licensed gun-owners are members of the N.R.A.).

Why do some of us voters, every two to four years, campaign and argue vigilantly on behalf of those seeking to best represent our ideals and values—at times going against our better judgment in legitimately scrutinizing their sincerity and ambition, or not so much voting for one person but against the other—while much of our past still has a great deal to atone for?

I think about my nieces and nephews, that little girl at the elementary school with 10 or 11 bullets in her, the young teacher at the same school who sacrificed her life in defending her students and the part of the argument around whether to prohibit beyond the date of a bill’s possible enactment anyone from being able to purchase a semi-automatic firearm that can accept a detachable magazine of more than ten rounds—however, continue to allow for anyone who may already own such a firearm to legally keep and use it—begins anew.

 

Let’s face it, the recurring controversy around guns largely centers around one aspect: semi-automatic rifles. The perception problem with the most popular of them all, the AR-15, for example, is it looks like a machine gun. But it isn’t. By itself, it can only fire a single shot at a time, less than a second at a time, with each pull of a trigger. They are equipped to be of better quality and more convenient than say a bolt-action rifle, which requires considerable more manual action between shots.

Fully automatic rifles, which are and have largely been prohibited for civilian use, are actual machine guns. They have been outlawed since 1934, in accordance with The National Firearms Act, for civilians to own without special permission from the U.S. Treasury.

To become a registered owner of a fully automatic, a complete FBI background investigation is conducted, checking for any criminal history or tendencies toward violence, and an application must be submitted to the ATF including two sets of fingerprints, a recent photo, a sworn affidavit that transfer of the NFA firearm is of ‘reasonable necessity’, and that sale to and possession of the weapon by the applicant would be consistent with public safety. The application form also requires the signature of a chief law enforcement officer with jurisdiction in the applicant’s residence. And since the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act in May of 1986, ownership of newly manufactured machine guns has been prohibited to civilians. Machine guns which were manufactured prior to the Act’s passage are regulated under the National Firearms Act, but those manufactured after the ban cannot ordinarily be sold to or owned by civilians. (They also cost about the same as a new car.)

However, regarding semi-automatic rifles, here’s the hitch: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/how-make-your-gun-shoot-fully-automatic-one-easy-step. The Slide Fire Solutions bump fire stock is still for sale and, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, still legal. The bump-fire stock entirely changes the semi-automatic to a fully automatic, with increased accuracy at about one-tenth the price.

Preventing and prohibiting the manufacture and/or sale of this (which Senator Feinstein’s newly proposed bill does seek), and not the semi-automatic rifle itself, would only be consistent with the full-auto ban.

 

But still, I myself still do not own nor have ever felt compelled to own a gun—which I take as a good sign. I am actually a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, to show how far I have had to come in analyzing this issue. I also happen to prefer other, more creative means of tension-release, than, say, the instantaneous appeal of extending one of our more powerful phallic symbols, squeezing a finger, and feeling that resolute bang at a gun-range. (Hence, I suppose, this is one reason why pink guns are now being manufactured.) My sister and brother-in-law are Catholic Workers—pacifist activists who have little problem with intervening in conflict resolution, and who live a life of voluntary poverty, working in solidarity with the poor. For several years they have lived in a three-story apartment-house in an abjectly poor, inner-city neighborhood.

Would it be valid to consider either of us as ‘crazy’ for not owning a licensed firearm, for self-defense purposes? Not at all.

But I can acknowledge that carrying oneself in such ways can only protect so much. For one, any a more mentally stable, licensed gun-owner could be capable of losing their cool and fatally overreacting in an instant. Any person then ought to have the right to likewise protect, minus the compulsion to try to be a media-hero. (Although the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which exists in about 24 states, is too open-ended to interpret as ‘defense’).

But as mentioned, studies suggest roughly 80% of those who have used a firearm in a crime had acquired the weapon without any federal monitoring, and you can obviously be certain a criminal will not willingly relinquish such guns. An estimated half-million of guns used in crimes are reportedly stolen from the home every year because they are not securely stored. So, for the time being, and for a good while hereafter, we have the overarching, undeniable, and unfortunate truth that there are still millions—plural—of illegally owned guns in the U.S. And also for the time being, with that said, an equally compelling truth that is easy for non-gun owners to overlook is how the presence of the second amendment serves as a major protectorate.

 

In May of 1999, in front of Congress—as well as in December 2012 episode of “Meet the Press”—Wayne Lapierre advocated on behalf of universal background checks. But, lately, not so much, instead advocating what would a criminal care about a background check? Did he mean to word this as what would a potential criminal as yet having to fear a background check care? The solution is obviously not for Americans to buy more guns, for who is to say which potential owners would be potential criminals?

But I have to disagree with Senator Durbin in declaring Lapierre had completely missed the point behind the idea of universal background checks, during his most recent argument in front of Congress. He purposely missed the point. This recent line of thinking of his, and not of most gun-owners, either reflects paranoid-delusion or drunk-with-power salesmanship. I think it is more a case of the latter. Funnily enough, when it applies to winning an election or to economic policy, over 50% can considered a “mandate”, but when polls indicate over 90% of the public supports universal background checks, word is this proposal is “likely to happen”. …Backwards logic?

The amount of illegally owned guns is certainly where the personal traverses with the political, in everyone. As many know, the so-called “straw purchaser” technique is a popular method by which guns fall into illegal hands. Criminals purchase firearms by enlisting an aforementioned type of individual, as yet lacking in a criminal background, to travel to certain states to purchase firearms from gun shops. The criminals then safely travel the interstate to transport these guns back into states which happen to have stricter state-laws, mark up the price of the gun(s), and privately resell them to anyone.

There also of course exists the so-called “gun-show loophole”. As of the “Summary of Federal Law” by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence from their website, http://smartgunlaws.org/private-sales-policy-summary/, updated in August 2012:

“Five states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) and the District of Columbia require universal background checks on some or all firearm purchasers, including purchases from unlicensed sellers. In California, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, universal background checks are required for transfers of all classes of firearms; Maryland’s law applies only to handguns and assault weapons; the Connecticut and Pennsylvania laws are limited to handguns. Delaware, Nevada and Oregon have laws allowing voluntary background checks by unlicensed sellers.”

Thus, there just seems an obvious solution to drastically lessen gun crimes, in the future: make every firearm dealer in the country a federally licensed firearm-dealer. This would also include outlawing the private sale a gun to your neighbor (I don’t care how well you think you know him/her) and cracking down on anyone hanging in or around a gun store looking to sell in case a person claims to ‘need’ a gun right away. Federal law could also extend to what California does: prohibiting gun ownership for people convicted of any kind of violent crime, drug offenses, alcohol abuse and juvenile offenses while underage.

How the idea of making every firearm dealer a federally licensed dealer went unchecked for so long is positively beyond me.

Let the idea for a gun-registry pass if the ultimate goal behind universal background checks is to prevent people with criminal backgrounds or mental instability to be able to buy a gun, anywhere, and to thus assure all federally licensed dealers with the proper funding and resources to conduct checks through the NICS system. (On a side-note, I wish mainstream media pundits would also be impelled to immediately defer to the psychological elements behind why a tyrant is why he is, or why an unstable person who shoots multiple people is why he is, instead of sensationally ramping up the rhetoric of either as ‘crazy’ or ‘evil’.) If gun-owners as so-called patriots wish to believe there one day could be a military coup in this country, and then imagine themselves serving as the last line of defense against tyranny, then let them believe that. I don’t believe such a coup could ever possibly, remotely get off the ground, in this country.

 

So how then do we further help abate the fear induced by the millions of illegally owned guns still currently out there?

For one, targets for a large or small act of gun-violence do often seem to be ‘unsuspecting’. Doing away with signs outside of an establishment indicating guns are not permitted would be an obvious plus. But what if federal legislation were to be suggested for a responsible and licensed private citizen to be permitted to carry a concealed handgun, anywhere, apart from federal establishments currently secured under restriction? The suggestion itself can in a way sound exactly like: just hire more police. And it does sound more cost-effective than implementing walk-through metal detectors in any public establishment (one of which could cost around $3500-4000).

If one is compelled to own a gun, s/he is expected to bring with this responsibility the mental, emotional, and physical preparation to be able to use it in an instance of self-defense. This expectation, of course, is not always a given. The annual number of revoked Carrying a Concealed Weapon permits—for which there are several types, and are all regulated on a state-level under four possible policies: Unrestricted (which I am currently not wild about), Shall-Issue, May-Issue, and No-Issue—are always small, and often on the grounds of DUI, unlawful carry, and aggravated assault. Of course, next to preventive, common sense there is still no threat of close bodily harm which a good can of mace or pepper-spray, or even a small, blunt object along with alert thinking to call and/or run for safety or help, still could not ward off.

Typical conceal carry requirements under a ‘Shall-Issue’ jurisdiction indicate that a granting authority literally shall issue a permit if certain permit requirements are met, as opposed to where an authority decides it ‘May Issue’ a permit, at their discretion. Thirty-seven states are currently Shall-Issue; eight are May-Issue, 4 are Unrestricted, and only Illinois (although some counties ironically have an Unrestricted policy, as the state will be required by a recent court-order to establish a better policy by May of 2013) and D.C. are the current no-issue jurisdictions, which forbid open and concealed carry for private citizens.

Allowing to conceal and carry in certain restricted yet more randomly unsuspecting targets of desperation or bigotry—hospitals and places of worship, respectively—vary from state to state. Despite popular opinion, recent mass-shootings, at their foundation, are not entirely mental health-based. There are dual elements at their core (the other I will get to, very shortly). The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act under The Federal Gun Free School Zones Act grants exceptions to current and honorably retired law enforcement officers to carry a weapon within a thousand feet of a school zone, per any state that happens to disallow certain conceal carry permit-holders to legally carry a firearm anywhere in public (except, as mentioned, in all federal buildings).

Schools are generally now in fact very secure. Nevertheless, implementing safety plans as a means to significantly decrease the impact of a future incident, in advance, certainly could not hurt.

 

An extremely important and decidedly overlooked attribute from any and all updated discussion on guns is one that does not call for new regulatory intervention at all. In any mass-shooting or gun-crime exists the potential shooter’s empowered knowledge of easy access to a gun. Now, when it comes to secured storage of guns in the home, the majority of gun-owners are deeply responsible. However, still, a great many annual gun-deaths and gun-crimes in the U.S. stem from folks who are to some greater or lesser degree tragically blind in believing their gun(s) could fall into immature, irresponsible, depressed, mentally unstable, or criminal hands. (Half of all teen suicides, for one, are by the gun.) Steel-safes with a key-coded locking system cost anywhere from only $25 to upwards around $230, depending on the size and amount of guns being stored, along with the ammunition. A small price to pay for safety.

Keeping tabs on more irresponsible gun-owners would realistically be more the responsibility of those who have an interest in guns. Rest assured, non-gun-owners could find tactful ways to address it as well. But as an altogether savory incentive, the prospect of less shooting incidents will come with less shouts for regulatory gun-control.

 

As for the final and herein most prevalent aspect, there is certainly a recurring pattern to mass-shootings. They involve a male; young and/or unmarried; socially frustrated and/or possibly abused in some way, possibly into substance abuse, and/or mentally and emotionally unstable. As information regarding the recent incident at Newtown is still being analyzed, the young man responsible in this case was a mentally/emotionally unstable resident of a legally qualified gun-owner.

Violence in mental illness is rare, and thoughtfully seeking as well as maintaining faith in proper courses of action for schooling and/or treatment, is obviously a very delicate matter for the family involved. Measures in the Affordable Care Act will allow access to care and treatment of the mentally challenged to be easier, as well as for the rash of violent cases involving combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder back home, all victims of domestic abuse, random street-violence, and bullying.

It is now perfectly essential to improve the accuracy and availability of information in order to get every state to adhere to the law already in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (or, NICS), prohibiting the violently/mentally unstable from being able to buy a gun. Every state must be able to have the financial resources available to report dangerously, mentally imbalanced people to the NICS.

The very first thing which tends to come to my mind upon hearing of a shooting incident is the missed warning-signs. There always has to be some. Within hours after Newtown, I could not help but think back on something I had read regarding the Virginia Tech incident. Here was a case where the future shooter, among other ignored signs, was in a college English class seriously scaring the crap out of his fellow students with his writings. The professor took this upon herself to consult with the Dean. …Proper thing to do. However, the professor was then instructed to dismiss the matter as not too serious and to then privately tutor the student back in his dorm-room?! She followed through, but not without deciding to set up a code-word with an assistant standing outside the dorm-room in case she was to suddenly feel threatened. The assistant would then immediately call for help. Although, eventually, as we all well know the student ended up killing 32 on campus, injuring several more, had sparked a national incident, and then took his own life.

There is a recall to do our best to listen for, be cognizant of, recognize, acknowledge, and utilize whatever our powers of peaceful persuasion to intervene and mediate more obvious warning signs. It is always heart-rendering to hear examples of obvious bullying in schools still treated by any and all of the powers-that-be as some matter-of-course; as something a teen or pre-teen needs to somehow endure on his/her own. Considering not all teens are extroverted, gregarious, nor for that matter perhaps properly guided enough, this is ridiculous.

It takes a number of things to go wrong for a plane to go down, or for a nuclear meltdown to occur, and thus multiple precautions have been put in place to prevent these things from occurring. So, I don’t think it is too much to ask to have the same approach when it comes to observing and initiating more amicable threat assessments. Over 120 school shooting and/or bombing threats have been stopped across the country by some form of intervention since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School (http://www.reporternews.com/news/2012/dec/18/many-school-shootings-prevented-according-list/).

The Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness sums up quite nicely the whole matter of gun-violence in the final paragraph of his following August, 2012 post: http://blog.nami.org/2012/08/gun-laws-and-mental-health.html.

 

Finally, and just very briefly, a New York Times op-ed published the day after 2012 Election Day (appropriately titled, maybe, “We Need a Little Fear”), included an alarming stat: in 1960, 5% of American children were born to single mothers; as of 2010, that percentage grew to over 40%. Of course, most single mothers are not necessarily single by choice. Some are because of irreconcilable differences with a former spouse or partner. And many cases involve the father-to-be deciding to split upon hearing news of the pregnancy. Then, the anti-abortion/pro-choice woman—oftentimes, of low-income—is left to decide whether to have the child and possibly piece together a support-system. I don’t wish to get into that debate because the ultimate decision should be left up to her. I only dare, frankly mention this particular scenario because raising a possibly male child without a father, on a small income, takes more energy. And with the help of family, friends, and a community—and/or the option to find a more palatable place to live, if available—is not always a given. Love, love, love, communicate with, and guide that child to no end, should she decide to have him or her.

 

If there is a middle ground on reducing gun-violence it is responsible control through reasonable means of protection. (Slide action stocks: unreasonable.) The ultimate social and political goal would be to significantly pacify the threat of violence, in general, as well as come to a better understanding of ourselves. The usual catalyst of a mass-shooting is primarily related to a call for easier access to mental health care and support in every way. And the best annihilator of any gun-crime is all-around, damn-near impossible access to any firearm.

I have never liked the idea ingrained in our culture of a singular hero. And whether we ought to do less with the word or think upon anyone who plays a helpful role as one would be of the same difference. But this issue, among others, is in need of serious, practical re-examination, and requires a group-effort.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvWokFcD22E

The Mistake of Youth Matters: A Diary of the 2012 Presidential Campaign

This might sound radical, in light of a continued culture of personal wealth, but regardless of all its intents and purposes not every person measures personal growth in the context of money.

Not every person is born with the same opportunity (this should go without saying), or taught with the same set of ambitions. Not every person is interested in learning the ins and outs of the stock-market. Not every person is wired to seek the kind of career which traditionally pays very well. Not every person aspires to maintain any sort of power or prestige to establish or strengthen a personal or family legacy through wealth.

“If you are young and not liberal, then you have no heart, but if you are old and not conservative, then you have no brain,” a quotable luminary said. Many times, it feels. Or, in short, ‘liberals’ have hearts and ’conservatives’ have brains. I say and write such things as this because of a yearning to feel equal in every possible way. I do not seek it for myself but for a conventional wisdom. I don’t look to government for help (although, greater promotion of the arts would be nice, and would cost nothing). One can only gauge his or her expectations to the other at hand. Our livelihood is a constant discussion between the heart and mind.

The fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats—which many people do not know, and defining them might significantly help or interest an undecided, unmotivated, or misinformed voter, in the midst of any campaign or debate—comes down to who is considered more or less trustworthy: the federal government or the extent of a deregulated financial system.

I once overheard a gentleman leaving an expensive restaurant comment on then Presidential candidate John McCain as not being a “true” Republican. A Democrat believes in regulations that strictly apply to the general well-being of the nation. An actual true, fiscally conservative Republican likes the idea of less regulation and generally less federal involvement. As far as how every issue in some way comes down to its financial expense, Republicans believe in individual liberty over legislating commonality; letting you decide what is best to do with your income. That always has a very nice ring to it (as well as a homey way of painting Democrats as conversely untrustworthy).

Naturally—and, important to note—both sides come with their share of both good and bad contradictions regarding how these principles affect a wide range of social issues. But, non-ideologues (including myself) continue to have difficulty trusting Republicans in power; difficulty, trusting corporate lobbyists who seem to envy the concept of power by finding equal or greater power in abusing it.

A bank’s primary purpose used to be to serve the people. The culture here has changed dramatically. In all fairness, which set of ideals has continuously proven responsible for interpreting the concept of lower tax rates among the very highest percentage of income-earners into the idolatry (a word which always spells certain doom) of wealth, contributing to a hole in federal revenue due to a lack of enough jobs created to help regenerate taxable income, and thus an increase in the national debt? Which campaigns with decided reluctance to specify a deregulating—palpably ‘trickle-down’—economic policy not unlike their past aspiring or elected executive predecessors, and continues to pigeonhole blue-collar voters into looking daft and naïve while broad-stroking the corresponding other as lazy and irresponsible?

Late in the 2008 Presidential campaign, around the time news broke of the economic crash, I felt the Republican Party was suffering from an identity crisis. Over the past 32 years, the mistruths and consequences along the surface of national election races have spread even wider and the stakes elevated even higher. Any political discussion comes with an examination of personal identity, for no one ought to be above self-doubt.

And what has made this 2012 campaign very interesting—and at times hot-tempered—is how different these two personalities are, in terms of professional responsibility. One is contemplative, soul-searching, and tries to imagine what the best decision would be to balance progress. The other: super-charged, singularly locked-in, yet self-marketed to where nobody on the planet can tell for certain which way he leans on almost anything; most importantly, fiscally—towards the center or once again out to the right?

Several amongst the wealthy on up to the super wealthy insist we at least maintain their current personal income tax-rates. But never talked about really in-depth is the issue of registered as well as unregistered lobbyists getting laws (many of which they tend to write themselves, but for the sake of here discussion) passed to create loopholes in order to pay less than their required personal or corporate tax rate (the latter, which I agree with both 2012 candidates is too high) even throughout our longest period of war, and stack their representative’s campaign chests in order to secure a variety of business interests. (Thank you, unregistered A.L.E.C., among many of your other inspired pieces of legislation; including, Stand Your Ground). Both sides are guilty of this, although Republicans in fact much more so. And it is worth mentioning how every two to four years Democratic organizations request donations to fend off Republican lawyers seeking to discourage registered voters, in “urban” areas, in court, beyond Election Day. Meanwhile, newer Republicans in the Tea Party accuse the President of never compromising. From the article, “The Tea Party Pork Binge”, Newsweek, Oct. 30, 2011: “The stack of spending-request letters between these GOP members [including several by Representative Eric Cantor] and federal agencies stands more than a foot tall, and disheartens some of the activists who sent Republicans to Washington in the last election.” But the President did compromise on the size of the economic stimulus package and then on the Bush tax cuts. I listened to criticisms as to how both compromises would not break us enough out of recession and knew the President would be labeled as the failure, in a fight for re-election, over the economy.

No wonder so many can easily tune out politics.

The root of all evil and freedom without responsibility. President Truman’s proverbial ‘buck’ has taken the size, speed, and shape of subatomic particles smashing into one another in order to recreate the Big Bang. Close to a billion dollars each will have been raised over the course of this Presidential campaign to ironically decide who can best manage our economy. We are not mutes, even though its’ ‘speech’ is distending beyond sight and sound.

So, with monetary policy (the relationship between the price at which money can be borrowed and the total supply of money) a non-spark, how much of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was in fact wasteful, not enough, or weakened—perhaps, understandably—by gun-shy thriftiness on our part? Maybe, a little of all three. The recession later revealed to be much worse than any unemployment projections at the time it was written up. Many small-business owners who traditionally voted Republican have decided to once again this year vote Democrat. The incumbent’s American Jobs Act, which had Republican provisions in it, the Bring Jobs Home Act, the Payroll Tax Cut Renewal, the Veterans Jobs Corps Bill—about 20 recent reasonable proposals, to date, were all brushed aside by the Congress of the past two years. A healthcare plan which largely resembles his opponent’s signature legislation while governor of Massachusetts and hugely contributed to his decision to run for President, the first time around, this time: awful idea; plan to repeal…most of it. Recent claims, such as, “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term”, by the current Republican Senate leader a couple of years ago during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, in among other more conservative organizations; the infamous Taxpayer Protection Pledge by (conservative lobbyist) Grover Norquist, as signed by 95% of Congressional Republicans; Republican insiders (including former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich) at a private dinner on the night of the President’s inauguration having mapped a strategy to “show unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies” (Robert Draper, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives), altogether, make for a very simple, political priority. Jobs = President looking politically good or filibuster and block debate on every such legislative proposal the White House has presented over the past two years to hopefully keep the whole outlook symbolically the President’s fault while their candidate virtually makes it the case of his entire campaign. Visit youtube for “Obama on GOP’s Refusal to Vote on American Jobs Act” in Mesquite, Texas, October 4, 2011, for his take.

Despite very false claims that regulations quadrupled in the past four years and the size of government has doubled, as a result of our fiscal domestic and foreign policy over the first eight years of this century having so presumptuously veered us from ‘a danger of paying off the national debt too quickly’ (to paraphrase former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan) deeply back into the red, the hard-bitten reality remains that a properly monitored and regulated federal government work to help revitalize every other sector of ownership. One reason cities tend to vote Democrat is because people see first-hand poorer neighborhoods that go untouched by private investors and entrepreneurs. It is naturally unrealistic to expect communities of investors to then re-build these neighborhoods all by themselves. All I wish to suggest here is instead of consistently being a culturally right-of-center country, how about being center-of-center? Then, we can argue whether we are ‘maximizing government’.

I was as surprised that a more hands-on approach towards working with Congress was not initially asserted—or apparently even nudged along to the new President by more established Democrats in Washington. And I am annoyed at myself for giving too much benefit of the doubt towards things in general looking to even out again, over the past four years. This President has, and has in various ways indicated a second-term agenda focused on among other things creating new jobs, tax cuts for middle-class families, and balanced deficit reduction. Also, any reasonable person knows for certain the President will continue to lean towards the center. Yet, in his case, it is much more a question of how; of style igniting substance in order for both sides to work together.

At this point in our country’s development, at this stage of a campaign, when circumstances are this pivotal, I don’t know how anyone can defend an idea based upon the (ever-shifting) appearance of patriotism. Although the Republican candidate proved to be more prepared and engaged during the first Presidential debate, he ‘won’ by appearing moderate. (Senator Marco Rubio’s stating that the millions of dollars Democrats had spent trying to paint the candidate as an out-of-touch rich guy having been wiped away in one night was not a point very well argued.) Then, after he had ‘lost’ the third debate on foreign policy, immediately according to one conservative yet fair analyst he had managed to succeed at appearing Presidential.

Beyond appearances, here is the one and only gamble concerning a vote based largely around job-creation and the economy—as well as repeating history, in more ways than one: the Republican candidate proposes to reduce everyone’s income tax-rate by 20%. But to offset or neutralize this sudden lack of hundreds of billions in federal revenue he must specify which loopholes and deductions he wishes to lower or close, currently benefitting the upper-crust. Morally, this gaping lack of specificity should have been of daily, primary focus throughout this campaign—the “backbone” the Republican candidate alluded to having during the third debate, if it were not the preference against alienating voters who could always simply fact-check things themselves, accompanied by a mainstream media’s more often than necessary shallow and congenial coverage of the campaign. (So much for ‘Afflicting the comfortable…’) What the candidate explained during the second debate about everybody in the middle-class getting the “I’ll pick a number” $25,000 worth of pick-and-choose personal deductions and credits still would not add up. Either he is extremely confident enough jobs will be created to help fill the hole, yet the overall concrete implications still leaves economists, tax experts, businesses, and every middle or lower income person legitimately anxious. Even if right-of-center tax-policy experts leaned any likely set of sacrifices from the current federal tax-code as favorably as possible towards lessening the potential burden on the middle-class, less taxed income would still be going to the federal government and to a greater or lesser extent every income below $200,000 will likely see their taxes raised so to meet the expressed 20% promise. The numbers do not—in fact, and not in appearance—remotely add up.

“‘It’s not as if the entire philosophical approach he’s pursuing is doomed,’ said Alan D. Viard, a tax expert at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute. ‘But he’s going to need to cut rates significantly less than 20 percent if he wants to honor his other goals.’” “‘Everything is on the table,’ R. Glenn Hubbard, a top economic adviser to the campaign, said in an interview, declining to elaborate any further.” Both excerpts are explained in better-detail in the New York Times article, “Romney’s Tax Plan Leaves Key Variables Blank”, September 9, 2012. R. Glenn Hubbard, by the way, was an economic advisor to then President George W. Bush. He also declined to elaborate further, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=zlIoeTObmEk&feature=endscreen

But now appears the young, high-profile, reputable deficit-hawk from the Wisconsin 1st district agreeing to be the candidate’s running-mate. However among many of his ideological contradictions, how can the current Chairperson of the House Budget Committee who signed off on cutting $331 million in diplomatic security from the 2012 White House budget suddenly agree to promote $2 trillion in increased military spending, over an approximate ten year-period, the amount of which the military is not in fact requesting? (And what sort of ideas might the two have with my portion?)

So, the unbiased and updated math, as far as mid-October: minus-20% tax-rate cut, plus [blank] tax-code adjustment, equals trust that they will create 12 million new jobs.

Whoever does become President obviously must be more hands-on involved with a Congress whose approval-rating over a year ago was 9%. Their rating has averaged roughly in the teens, in every poll, over the past two years. One would think a rating of around 40% would be cause for immediate alarm.

Ultimately, we are all in various ways responsible for not being as better off than we wished by now. And we are, although slowly but surely, collectively better off. We need more honest, mature debate, in general, in order for change to come to as well as from above Congress.

A couple of ideas… There would be much fewer fireworks along the campaign-trail by keeping the other factually in check—more often and far less costly than singularly stumping and advertising, and repeated returns to swing-states, by virtue of thoroughly debating substance. The risk of alienating voters has proven not nearly as distressing as leaders alienating each other.

Second, speaking to what continues to be the main problem every time we assemble like this—gridlock—as it does not seem the following suggestion is really being pursued throughout either chamber right now, might I suggest leaders reaching across the aisle in terms of the old-fashioned gesture of inviting a co-worker over for dinner. Personal aspiration unconsciously, profoundly, and subjectively reflects personal experience. In this country alone, tens of millions are capable of interconnecting on various messaging and internet platforms. Add the Citizens United decision to the universal appeal of celebrity created by reality t-v, to the birth of 24/7 cable-networks and a new wave of individual radio-commentary programs created during the 1990s, and a bent towards disinformation has almost supernaturally compounded. In conjunction with the White House and Congress, we altogether live and communicate in an increasingly depersonalizing and intense time of scrutiny. Some things which reflect the nature of elected leaders’ ‘opposing’ visions desperately need to be illuminated but only confided in a non-political setting. No cameras or media-alerts to inhibit any public whiff of a power-struggle or ‘political stunt’—just a breaking of bread between intelligent public servants to amicably deconstruct one another’s vision.

No person likes having their convictions shunned, snubbed, scorned, or depersonalized—and the grudge can be lasting, thus making the inclination for conservative constituents and poor people alike to feel these effects only worse for everyone. I want to believe every aspiring or elected public servant to have decent intentions.

What is acceptable philosophy for a few is obviously not mathematically possible for all. According to a report by the impartial Economic Policy Institute (“CEO pay and the top 1%”, May 2, 2012), “Using an alternative measure of CEO compensation that includes the value of stock options exercised in a given year, CEOs earned 20.1 times more than typical workers in 1965, 383.4 times more in 2000, and 231.0 times more in 2011.” These U.S. ratios are still ridiculously above those of other developed nations. Meanwhile, the average worker’s salary—adjusted for inflation—has risen barely if at all since 1979.

Hard to imagine that about fifty years ago the middle-class made up about 90% of the American public, the compensation-ratio was much more reasonable, and America prided itself more on fairness. And, to quote James Madison: “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” It always pauses my breath to think, staring at what he later estimated to be 1-and-3 or even odds at potential armageddon, with two post-WWII military superpowers not helping by pushing each other’s buttons (for lack of a better term) in an accelerating, fate-riddled storm of fear, loathing, high anxiety, and suspicions of weakness on his part over a particularly intense thirteen days, the Commander-in-Chief held to the will of good men. And the sun came up the next day. The strains of war’s profound and in many ways unpayable debts need to be foreseen, prevented, and resolved far less expensively than as of late. Certainly we can apply a sense of fiscal responsibility to a jobs bill for veterans relative to our two unpaid wars.

Conventional wisdom, and the fact that life’s ideas can only regenerate themselves in a forward process shows that if one extreme pushes one way then the other will push back. And so on and so on… This is called, simply put, reactionary thinking—a persistent problem with youth. We still like to tout ourselves as a young country in every practical way. We are very idealistic but do not know how to properly explain ourselves, get impatient with trying, and secretly wish we could all live like we were in our twenties. For as much as we are obsessed with youth, we are obsessed with remedying the past.

Nothing is more crucial to a community’s enrichment than greater liberty and wherewithal to bounce ideas off of like-minded others in healthy, furtive, and organized settings; to organize, build, and/or invest in brighter outlets rather than blindly churn along in the cynical cogs of personal, philosophical, and/or professional isolation. We all develop a sort of multi-layered cynicism over time—which doesn’t age as we age—invariably shaped by our respective family legacies. And by respecting/delving into these legacies to advance our individual futures it is obviously important to not advance the cynicism. Then, opportunity creates itself, for nothing less would be expected.

Empowered minds shape the conversation and very easily shift the concentration of power. People who claim to dislike politics ought to be more involved for this very reason. The strange homogeny of neoconservative economic practice and fiscal conservative poetry has more than significantly reshaped our political discussion. But shifting the conversation to something sane again, and keeping it there, is—although slowly but surely—happening.

Think.

Outside of yourselves.

Before reacting.

The more we all know, the less expensive things will continue to be. This is the so-called Information Age, with technology continually striving to make things more accessible for everyone. So, try to seek it responsibly—especially during an election-year.

But as I alluded to earlier and pervasively throughout, in a Presidential campaign centered predominantly in terms of jobs and money; its impossibly interconnected nuances, what sacrifices will have to be made as for whether a more faith-based or more pragmatic vision gets elected, and how every person campaigning is in some way influenced by the overall billions donated—spurned by the desperate disinformation, knucklehead distractions, and genuine sins of omission, a still relatively well-informed person can still end up feeling like a stranger uncomfortable to intervene with a couple arguing over: money. …It was only natural. But, here is where we rely on knowledge of the fundamental differences, how they have been applied in recent history as well as how they have been reflected in this campaign, as to who will more likely acknowledge and confront the other related matters: campaign-finance reform, climate change, equal pay, crumbling schools, gun-control, foreign policy, among pertinent others depending upon who you ask.

Perhaps to some I sound more socialist than capitalist, or more liberal than conservative. But such labels are irrelevant. Generally, unattainable perfection plus a desire to atone through possession equals any a self-destructive corruptibility. There is plenty of money to go around yet what helps make this world go ‘round requires a collective growing-up. If ever asked to label myself, the term practical progressive is really just a misnomer for a person looking to both personally and socially catch up with all things humane.