Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Son of a Gun, another tragedy.

I will begin this way. I have owned guns in the past. While I owned guns, I never harmed, nor threatened to harm, anyone with a firearm. Luckily I was never forced to use one in self defense. While I owned those firearms, I was not privy to the fact that a legal gun owner is more likely to end up commiting suicide with that firearm or shooting a friend or family member than a criminal.

I respect thoughtful responsible gun owners in general and responsible hunters specifically. However, I am comfortable to assert that sane gun owners would not care to have their fellow citizens walking around with grenade launchers, military sniper rifles loaded with depleted uranium munitions, etc.. Likewise, I presume that responsible gun owners would be outraged if guns were knowingly sold to people with a violent history and/or severe mental health issues. Therefore we start the conversation with the idea that ones "second amendment rights" are not absolute. My point is, even the most fervent sane gun owner favors some restriction. With that as our starting point, if it comes down to a choice between gun owners "rights" and reasonable legislation that may save the lives of innocent people, my choice is clear.

Furthermore, is it my considered opinion that caring reasonable gun owners should be the ones at the point of this spear. The failure of responsible gun owners to stand for thoughtfully considered regulation would only serve to illustrate to the rabid anti-gun people that they are correct in their harshest assessments.

Click this Link Regarding firearms in the home

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The best offense is a good defense

 In free nations around the world there is a marketplace of ideas. In this marketplace we are free to say almost anything almost anywhere. This includes saying things that are ignorant or pointless. I've come to see that saying, "I am offended by that", is an example of a pointless statement. Many people are offended by many things as one would expect in a wide and diverse world.

In the marketplace of ideas, one offers thoughts and information in an effort to convince others that certain behaviors and choices are superior. Therefore, saying "I am offended" is pointless because it presumes you have a right not to be offended. You don't and you shouldn't. Saying that one is offended is not more than whining. It presumes to curtail discussion without a proffering of evidence to support an alternate position.

It is my considered opinion that way too many people of every stripe employ this tactic (ie; taking offense as a strategy in what would otherwise reduce to a contest of ideas). However, the group with the most eggregious record is people of faith. It has always been that people of faith (ok, most people of faith) start with the premise that a set of ideas are true and work backward in a continuous effort to justify and rationalize that position. This position seems like a gift, at first. It is quite a wonderful and powerful feeling to be certain how the world came to be where it is and to imagine one knows a priori exactly what is good and what is bad. The problems only creep in after time as one is forced to defend challenges to those positions. Vis-a-Vis the marketplace of ideas. None should be surprised that people in that defensive mode find it easier claim offense than provide a rational defense. I did this for a significant part of my life and am quite familiar with this line of thought. (I advise everyone who is currently feeling offended to go back and read the last sentence again. I can't guarantee it, but your blood pressure may lessen.) To my great good fortune I was introduced to another method where one begins at the true initial position of humans, which is ignorance, and builds from there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Mormon Problem

The Mormon Problem

To any Mormons, friend or stranger, who has had occasion during recent months to read my various thoughts on the potential of a Mormon U.S. President, let me offer this much. First, I do not feel compelled to be an apologist for Mormonism. Also, I am not without some empathy for those in that camp. This is how I think of it.

I am a member of the Democratic Party. This was a choice I made as an adult understanding full well that, as a human enterprise, it was not perfect. It was also clear to me that my affiliation with the organization would leave me open equally to the criticisms and kudos leveled at this group. I accept this as an unadvertised but clearly implied "cost of membership".

I fail to see how being a Mormon is any different. However, if it might assuage any residual hurt feelings, I will again offer this much. Of the individual Mormons I've known, overwhelmingly, I found them to be decent folks. And when I say decent, I mean that I could easily interact on a civil basis with them. Would I want them imposing their belief system on me or my fellow citizens? Certainly not. What does this prove? One might make the argument (and I do) that I know otherwise decent humans whose beliefs are (and this is the kindest way I can say it) unsupported by logical thought or evidence. For all I know, they may well think similar thoughts of me. My advice? Try thinking of it as- "an unadvertised but clearly implied cost of membership".

Meanwhile, setting aside the mystical bits, we probably have many more things in common than things dividing us. We all want to prosper. We all want to feel safe and loved. We all want to satisfy our curiosity about our world. We all want our children to grow strong and have opportunities in the world. And so on. Perhaps, we can agree this is sufficient.

Though I believe it is clearly implied, I will expand briefly. Though I only mentioned Mormons, the reader would be safe to infer that his/her religious affiliation probably falls into the same category in my mind.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Drawing upon sixth century thinking

I came across this and felt a need to respond.

Five Ridiculous Things You Believe About Islam

If the intention of the article is to convince me that there are any number of reasonable, rational, compassionate, educated, civilized Muslims in the world – we can shake hands and consider it a job well done. The problem is, this is not news! Any reasonable person would have ceded this ground a priori. However, I suspect that the true intention was to bolster respect Islam in general from the perspective of an apologist. I do not find the arguments helpful in bolstering respect for the brands of Islamd currently practiced in a number of places. In short, I suggest the whole article is based on a strawman argument.

We are meant to suddenly have a positive feeling about Islam based upon the amplification of some positive behaviors practiced by some adherents in some places. However this simply throws the real problem into stark relief. Simply stated, the underlying belief system comes from a text (Koran) which can, too easily, be interpreted to justify all manner of violent and heinous acts. Thus, arguing that some of the disciples, during some periods of time, in some places, choose to view the message in a more moderate way does not diminish the original argument.

If the reader has jumped ahead of me and has inferred that this same proposition would hold true for other religious texts (ie; Bible, Torah, etc.), Bravo. We are in lock step. It is not a matter of opinion to state that the people of the Middle East (Muslim and otherwise) have a strong case against the Christian world with regard to terrorism and religious zealotry. For the historically challenged, Google The Crusades.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Angry Desert Gods

It is comforting to know that all the war and angry god references in the bible are safely confined to the old testament, well before the warm fuzzy Jesus bits. Well, ok, not exactly all of them.

Quote from the King James Version (1Timothy6 verses 1-3):
[1] Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
[2] And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
[3] If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

Gosh, who doesn't love the "under the yoke" bit? The whole image of people treated as cattle is always a crowd pleaser. I know it leaves me frightened of the people who believe in this fellow.

And remember, God loves you. Unless you are a slave. Or a woman. Or a member of a group who has had some dustup with his favorite children. Parenthetically, this is a little reminder about good parenting as well. One should always have favorites. It helps keep the others on their toes. But that is a story for another time.

New Angle on DARE program?

Let's call this one, I dare you to find life saving prescription drugs.

Erin Fox, is the manager of the Drug Information Service. Citing ongoing manufacturing problems at several U.S. plants, Fox said, “All of these companies have had quality issues, yet they make the majority of drugs used in our country.” The U.S. has logged record numbers of drug shortages in the past two years, fueled in part by sudden closures of drug plants because of problems with contamination, crumbling infrastructure and other issues. “Between the shortages and the quality issues, it is difficult to have any kind of confidence in our drug supply,” she said.

This is so acute in some areas that Physicians are unable to administer anti-cancer drugs. Also, first responders and emergency rooms are using drugs from expired lots. Luckily there is a safety margin built into these things, so they are probably safe enough. However, I'd guess that is rather cold comfort to the loved ones of those forced to rely upon such measures.

So, what is the lesson we have learned today, class?

1: America was once such an enviable place in so many ways. The only thing Americans need to do in order to maintain that vaulted status is to continue asserting, preferably with great vigor and patriotic background music, that all is well.
2: Continue to elect leaders with a scanty understanding of science and a vaguely anti-intellectual stance. If they are also willing to stand on ideology, all the better. No worries, there is no requirement to provide evidence bolstering ones position.

 Now, let's all stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, after which we will raise our fists in the air and, with index fingers extended, shout, "America, Number 1". I know we'll all feel better.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Life can be so Taxing

Though it can be nauseating and mind-numbing, I make an attempt to keep up with what the far-right is (and,here, I use the term loosely) thinking. In looking over some of the drivel that passes for Tea Party punditry, I came across the attached graphic. For the record, I know that I am preaching largely to the choir. This probably won't make its way to those who most need to hear and understand this thought. Nonetheless, let me make this very simple and clear. The sentiment expressed in the graphic is true. The tragic bit is, the hordes of lazy selfish people, imagined by the right wing, are not found in some ghetto. If one wished to put a face on the offending group, it is my assertion that the one-percent of people in this country who own most everything and control most everything are the people for whom you are looking.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Shoot it. Shoot It.

I wanted to shoot it but he wanted to Shoot It!

This is another Nature Update, of sorts. For those who've been following on Facebook, you already know that we've had confirmed coyote sightings in our yard close to the forest line. (See recent posted photo.)
My first reaction to the sighting was amazement and wonder. I know these creatures always live here but it is relatively rare to see one because they are very stealthy and primarily nocturnal. So, of course, I shot it. Then I posted the photo for everyone to see.

The fellow next door, who does not usually pass more than a pleasant "howdy" with me, walked over to share his story regarding the coyote. Judging by that conversation, my liberal, hippie, nature-lover response is the less common of multiple options. What immediately occurs to my neighbors is to shoot them. Shoot them dead, that is. Relax animal lovers. To the best of my knowledge, no animals were hurt in the making of this story. Though, I can not guarantee how long that will hold true.

In any case, this large powerfully built young fellow, who I know to be a long-time hunter, had been startled by the coyote while walking in his yard. Clearly he was down wind of the animal and moving quietly in the grass and had gone briefly unnoticed by the coyote. This highly unlikely scenario had put the two in relatively close proximity. Rather than enjoying the wonder of the moment and realizing that he was sharing space with an amazing member of the animal kingdom who meant him no harm, he became fixated on destroying the creature. He'd come by to "warn" me that there were "coyotes in the woods". He advised me that I should be concerned for the safety of my dog. It was all I could do to refrain from laughing out loud at that suggestion. Perhaps if I owned a shih tzu, this would be a concern. The only rational statement he made was that it was unusual to see a coyote during daylight. I will concede that if you see a normally nocturnal animal in daylight and it acts strangely or seems unafraid of humans, there is a possibility it could be rabid (though this is quite rare with coyotes here). In this case, the coyote immediately ran to the shelter of the forest upon noticing the man.

What strikes me about the whole thing is that it all comes down to this fear response that seems to persist in some. And, look, I get it. When frightened I do not act as my best self. However, the customary flow (for me and many folks) is: the further I get in space and time from the negative stimulus, the more rational thought begins to supplant fight-or-flight. Though, clearly, my emotional flow chart is not a model that works for everyone.

All that said, jesushbloodychrist! Why is it that so many Pennsylvanians purchase homes in or adjacent to the forest and then act as though they are under siege by every creature who resides there? And, oh by the way, does anyone else suspect a correlation between that sort of relationship to nature and a more generalized militancy?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shooting from the hip

Shooting from the hip

One of the big news stories of the day focuses on the decision by multiple hospitals in Colorado to waive the cost of treatment for victims of our most recent mass shooting. I found my self wondering how bizarre this must appear to members of other civilized societies. On the one hand, Americans regularly (and, often, loudly and vociferously) proclaim their adherence to the precepts of the Church of Capitalism. They are comfortable meshing the access to health care with the same principles regularly applied in the field of commerce. The idea that other thoughtful, educated, reasonable people around the globe have long since abandoned the practice of leaving their citizens to fend for themselves with regard to basic health care, leaves Americans unfazed, unconvinced and even perplexed. Except for the fact that– this is not exactly the case.

As we begin to drill down and deconstruct American health care policy and practice, it becomes evident that we are really of two minds in this. Or, three. Or more. Upon reflection the whole thing is reminiscent of our policies and practices with regard to race and other social issues. Perhaps these connections will become apparent to the reader as we proceed. Or, perhaps, not. (Some of my other blog posts may help to clarify.)

One of the first things Americans decided, while perched high upon their throne of Capitalism, was to circumvent one of the basic tenets of their religion– market forces. But, oddly enough, that is not the interesting part. What draws in the curious mind, is the fact that they decided (legislated) who would be exempt from market forces. In an effort as warm-and-fuzzy as it gets, they decided that health care for elderly citizens, who were after all frail and no longer employed, would be wholly or partly subsidized. Even the strictest disciples of Capitalism found their heart-strings plucked by this 'exception'. The basic underpinnings of the Church were deemed sound and life went on. A hearty, "well played" all round.

The next set of troubles followed swiftly and predictably on the heels of the first. In a word, veterans. Goodness, gracious me. We couldn't have brave Amerians soldiers who have fought for our freedoms to be subject to the law-of-the-jungle when they require health care. Such a thing would be darn near anti-American. Legislators and citizens alike got all weepy and, in due course, disaster was averted. Slaps on the back all round. Again, well played.

For those with above average predictive abilities, you will have seen the next set of challenges on the horizon. Of course, it would be poor folks and children. And, after some grinch-like grumbling, these vulnerable citizens are also exempted from the forces that Americans 'believe in'.

Again, for those precocious predictors, this will come as no shock. From relatively humble beginnings, our little exemptions have grown and multiplied like, well, rabbits. We start out with a few "old folks" ( and they were few mainly because most did not live to become old folks at that time) and, the next thing you know, we no longer have exceptions. We could safely state, the exceptions have become the rule. One would be forgiven for running a silent tally in ones head to determine who we missed in our exemption free-for-all.

At the risk of appearing to take a sledge hammer to a flea, allow me to finish this way. After long observation and association with Americans, I can unequivocally call them a generous people. I can also say, without reservation, that they could hardly be more quirky or capricious in their generosity. There is something about the attempt to weave together disparate parts of the American psyche that leaves an observer gobsmacked. The determination and can-do spirit often leaves one in awe. The yankee-ingenuity regularly inspires. And, frankly, the ability to inexplicably exclude members of their own society from the benefits of that society leave this observer near despair.

**Note to the persnickety. My casual history is not meant to be taken as a literal chain of events. Programs for veterans and the poor can be traced to early America.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Judgment or Prejudice?

After hearing/seeing two different but somewhat related stories recently, I found myself as troubled by what was not said as by the troubling issues raised. One was an NPR story about the writer and human rights activist Ms. Eltahawy in Egypt. The other was a TED talk given by Mrs. Melinda Gates (yes, that Mrs. Gates). Links provided below.

My first thought was, both were brave and thoughtful women. However, I would add that the two women shared another thing in common. They both tried, in my view, to argue both sides of an issue. Mrs. Gates was simultaneously arguing for condoms and other aids prevention in Africa while admitting that she considered herself a practicing Catholic. What is the largest most powerful organization suppressing condoms and other thoughtful aids prevention in Africa? If your answer was the Catholic Church, give yourself one point. Thus the poor woman (yes, I considered the irony of that word) was reduced to arguing for something good and noble in this world (the reduction of pain and suffering) and at the same time being an apologist for the organization working hardest to counter those efforts.

Ms. Eltahawy, was laboring under the same difficulty in my opinion. She argues that there is a culture that treats women in these horrible ways and at the same time can't bring herself to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Muslim culture as it is practiced currently in the Middle East. Her dodge is the use of the terms misogynists and patriarchs. It's true that the people who employ these suppressive behaviors are displaying the attributes of misogynists and patriarchs (the latter in its worst form). But to say these are the root causes is to appear disingenuous.

These stories make my point for me. We have been frightened into submission. We no longer feel confident to make the distinction between prejudice and judgement. Prejudice is to judge first in the absence of facts. Of the two, this is the bad one. Judgement is another animal altogether. It presumes that we have amassed evidence and thought through to a conclusion. This is not only the 'good one', it is the one upon which we depend to sift though the information and make sense of the world.

Finally, let me say that I have no wish to be sharply critical and, in fact, have great empathy for these women as they attempt to find justice for women in this world. The difficulties are enormous and I'm certain they (and many others whose names we do not know) are trying their best to 'say what must be said' while giving consideration to 'what safely may be said'.

Here is the often cited criticism: This is a different culture and a different religion and you are just trying to impose your outside or western values on this region. I think any of us would have difficulty answering this more in a more eloquent or concise manner than Ms. Eltahawy, "I don't think that rights or living a dignified human life are Western. We are no different from anyone else. We want to be free and we want to live dignified lives."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The tool is democracy

in response to this article: 

1- As we advance in our ability to ask better questions and expect, through technology, to receive reliable answers in the neurosciences our assumptions about ourselves are going to evermore butt up against new found realities. Much of what we find will be anti-intuitive and/or unflattering. I don't find this surprising. It would seem to me that a hopeful rosy assessment of ones self (despite obvious or subtle evidence to the contrary) is likely built-in to our psyche. This would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint as self confidence would be a component of generalized success.

2- The answers that we are beginning to find will cause us re-evaluate our historical choices and responses to various situations including those in the political arena. Barring an apocalyptic collapse, we will face an increasingly complex and globally interrelated society in which we can expect heightened pressure to make advantageous, rational, evidence based decisions. This will be difficult enough under the best conditions and we can presume that we will not be operating under the best conditions. One of those conditions is that even the most intelligent and rational humans (upon whom we depend for answers) themselves depend upon a brain design evolved over millions of years to live in a simpler and more brutal environment.

3- It is clear to those who work in the neurosciences or read about this work, that humans are not what we imagined ourselves to be. This is problematic in that we have, in large measure, arranged our societies and institutions based on our "hopeful rosy assessments" of ourselves.

4- I would suggest that even the best and brightest among us do not possess enough evidence to fully advise us. However, I can say with some confidence that direct Democracy was not favored by the framers of the Constitution. Illustrative of the foresight displayed in that document is the fact that centuries later our current scientific evidence is largely coinciding with their thoughtful intuitions.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Open letter to David Gregory (of NBC's Meet the Press)

Mr. Gregory,

Regarding your recent Meet the Press entitled Faith in America.

To broadcast a program with a journalistic ethos that was so blatantly lacked an opposing or balancing voice was disappointing. Running so closely on the heals of the recent Congressional debacle in Washington in which important and deeply personal issues for women were discussed without a single woman on the panel was especially egregious. As an American citizen, U.S. military veteran, and proud Atheist/Rationalist/Humanist I am personally offended.

How is it that you can feel justified to speak about us with none of us in the room to speak for ourselves?

John Forest
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

To which, I add the following.

I understand that Meet the press is touted as a broadcast journalistic benchmark. I suggest that, if the recent edition on Faith in America is any indicator, they've fallen short of the mark and, perhaps, missed the bench. There is a place in the world for a set of backslapping religious apologists making unsubstantiated assertions. I submit that this place is not in the newsroom.

Allow me to be clear, if these same folks were saying the same things on, let's say, the Christian Broadcast Network, I would be among the first to stand for their right to engage in such activity. But, I draw the line at selectively infecting the slender thread of our national conversation still available to us through journalism.

Is it not sufficient that religious people are the vast majority? Is it not sufficient that believers own most everything, control most everything? Is it not sufficient that, despite these obvious facts, they subject us all to unending paranoid whining. None of us is allowed to pass a day without hearing how the clear and obvious majority of the population are treated as though they were a powerless minority. If we are to assume their view, they and/or their "values" are always under nefarious attack or in retreat. Apparently it is not sufficient that believers daily lay claim to a moral high ground where they "own" basic human values of decency and compassion.

I could scarcely do better than offer the words of the Pastor and Congressman from Missouri Emmanuel Cleaver, who stated on the show:

"Religion at it's very essence requires theological arrogance. Because we have to declare 'This is what I believe in. I believe this is the way'."

Pastor Cleaver went on to opine that religious arrogance could and should meet with diversity and tolerance. To which I respond, if this worked as well in real world practice as it does in high-minded oratory, the Pastor and I would be seeing much more eye-to-eye.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sitting this one out

Why I do not plan to march for Trayvon.
Let me answer the obvious question first. Don’t you care about this poor young man who was needlessly and tragically killed? First, for all those who thought this, thanks for starting out by imagining that I am a heartless piece of crap. Now to my answer. Yes, I am saddened by yet another tragic victim of gun violence on the streets of my country.
Now, I have a question for all of you. What about the little eleven year old girl who was shot in the face by a stray bullet in Asbury Park, NJ the week before Trayvon? (note: Her name was withheld by news reports because she was a minor. See link below) Why weren’t all of you at the march for her? Let me help you with this as I already know the answer. There was no march for little “Betty” (I will call her this so that she is humanized for this little rant. I feel it is the least we could do for her.) Why was there no protest or march? Who can say? Wasn’t her life as valuable? I can only say that for whatever reason, Americans decided not to get all spun-up about that particular victim of gun violence. One mention on the news and done. Should we be surprised? Not really. This is the most common way that we Americans respond to these crimes.
“Oh, my god! A little girl was shot in the face. That’s so sad.” Then we have a latte.
I will offer my fellow citizens more credit than many of you were willing to extend to me at the beginning of my rant. I do not think Americans are heartless or unsympathetic. All tolled, I find the people of this country to be mostly decent kind folks. They simply look about at their environment and feel a bit helpless and overwhelmed. I can scarcely blame them. The problems are immense. Even the smartest among us would have a difficult time finding an edge on which to begin chipping.
Back to the reason I don’t plan to march for Trayvon. Stated in the simplest terms, I don’t trust the “chain of events” to be pure. That is to say, I think something bad happened and people quickly jumped to exactly the scenario they wanted it to be about. For some folks in Florida, that means, young black male equals trouble. It was all probably justified. Notice I didn’t say, for some “white” folks in Florida. Can you guess why? Let me make this perfectly clear. For any number of well-to-do black people in Florida, a young black male (with a subtext of ‘poor’) is considered with the same suspicion as he is by many white folks. Ouch. But, seriously, you didn’t see that coming? The other side has no better claim to fame. Many immediately saw it as a white person basically executing a young black man on mere suspicion alone.
The other reason I don’t see myself marching for Trayvon is because I think there is a chance that all the protests will make it more difficult to arrive at a clear answer followed by clear justice. Prior to the point at which the Prosecutor was focused on the case, yes, there was some reason to press the system. Now, I think pressuring the system is more likely to induce error than justice.

Finally, I suspect that there is more than a small chance for more violence to result directly or indirectly from the protests. If you doubt this, google the whole Spike Lee/Trayvon fiasco. Then ask the folks whose address he mistakenly tweeted to his many followers as the address of Mr. Zimmerman. Oh, that's right you can't ask them because they felt a need to flee their home in mortal fear.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Race, Protests, and Justice.

I am so saddened by the death of Trayvon and all the victims of gun violence in our country. I wasn't there and I certainly was not in the mind of the shooter, so I can't say whether, or to what extent, prejudice factored into it. But here is a sobering thought, neither can any of the protesters!
What can I say with some surety? No matter what legal results come to pass, this young man’s life was tragically obliterated and nothing will fill the void in the hearts of his family. And, in my considered opinion, “race” (in the way Americans have come to envision it in our public discourse) muddles rather than clarifies the issues.
Gun violence and the proliferation of guns in our society are essential discussions. This can not be overstated. Here is the tricky bit. Beyond the guns, we need to have a national class on class. Anyone who doubts this should ask around in poor white or hispanic neighborhoods in Florida. Do you think those folks feel they are looked at or treated so much better than black people?
Most thinking people would agree that prejudice is a continuing factor in our society and especially in our criminal justice system. The problem is, sifting out the facts in a particular incident is rather trickier than invoking a sweeping societal judgment. And it should be.