Mom, I Turned Out Awesome!

From time to time, like pretty much everyone on the planet, I reminisce about my family, the experiences we shared growing up together and the evolution of our family’s story. Comparatively speaking, I’ve rarely written about them, mostly just a few honorable mentions to make my blog more family-friendly. There was, however, that one time that I blogged about my sister Cindy and how her move to California reminded me of the song Hotel California. Oh yeah, I wrote the blog about my sister Lisa and how I ate her box of Coco Puffs when she was pregnant with Lauren.

I’ve actually written quite a lot about my brother Mike. His downward spiraling journey into mental-illness resulted in an unfortunate decision to end his own life. Writing about Mike not only helped me to come to terms with his death, it also helped me to better understand the lives of so many other of our mentally vulnerable. Now that I think about it, I really should take the time to introduce everyone to the precocious older brother I grew up with before war, biology and the stresses of life pushed him onto a path from which he couldn’t seem to wander. Soon maybe.

I’ve also written a blog about my wife Emily. A favorite of mine is a blog I wrote about my cousin David White after he suddenly passed from a heart attack a few years back. I think, over time and during rare moments of lucidity, I may attempt to honor my favorite things about everyone I care about. Not necessarily because I want to kiss anyone’s butt, but mainly because I think it’s important that my feelings about those around me are known and properly memorialized. People deserve to feel the love from those who hold it dear. It doesn’t really do us all that much good to just sit around hoping someone cares as much for you as you’d hope they would.

Quite a while ago, I decided that I would write and create my own birthday cards. Occasionally I’ve made quite elaborate ones. I don’t do it for everyone but I always make them for Emily and I’ve made a few for my son. My thoughts on the matter were that if I can do it, I should do it. I recognize that I’m not the most overtly expressive person on the planet, I don’t communicate my emotions all that well, but I do have the ability to write about them – so I make the conscious effort to do what it is I’m able to do that offers the biggest emotional impact I can deliver.

For whatever reason, my conservative exterior becomes nearly invisible when I’m writing. My belief is that the shorter attention span of today’s society is far too inadequate for people like me to properly convey a serious thought. I use far more words in my sentences than most people are prepared to hear because I abhor being misunderstood. I lose a lot of people when I speak in the level of detail I’m prone to offer. Said differently, the way I’ve learned to communicate bores some folks to death. Getting cut off or ignored has, over time, led me to become less verbally communicative overall. I save my explanations for a time and place where I think I will be fully heard, or I don’t say anything.

Writing allows me to say things the way I want to say them. I can write fully and expressively; I can write about things in ways that better explain my thought processes without being cut off in mid-sentence. My mother seems to love everything about my writings. She prints and saves every single blog I create. She even printed copies of the papers I wrote in college. Mom does this even though I seldom have ever mentioned her in any of my blogs. It makes me wonder if she’s been patiently expecting to read something about herself, tolerantly waiting to finally be recognized.

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Well, I’m finally doing justice for my mom. I decided to brave the unknown and attempt to summarize the most complex personality on the planet in a few pathetic paragraphs. I will probably fail miserably but it’s all admiration, not admonition, which inspires me.

I feel a deep and unimaginable sorrow for people who were not blessed with a good mother. A mother who thinks everything you do is great. I could literally have been the most disgusting bastard ever delivered from human flesh and yet my mother would probably still think I’m wonderful. Ironically, if any other disgusting bastard came her way, my mother would not hesitate to call him or her a disgusting bastard – or maybe not. It is she, and only she, who chooses when or when not to expose the soul.

I have the kind of mom who might hold her tongue if she thinks she might cause drama down the road. My siblings and I think she very likely could have solved a great deal of the problems we faced as young adults, through marriages and divorce, raising kids, etc., had she only shared her personal thoughts with us. But, our mom understood the potential perils of getting involved in our personal affairs. So, nothing; nada; silence.

I also have the kind of mom who might say exactly what’s on her mind. She weighs the consequences carefully on subjects that come up along the way and if she thinks it doesn’t matter, she fires with both barrels. Our mom can be quite the provocateur. One never really knows which mama you’re gonna get until surprised with an impromptu and sometimes indelicate remark.

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Did I mention that I am the baby of the family? No, ok; I probably shouldn’t have left that part out of the story. My sisters are firmly convinced that I am my mother’s favorite child. She’s never officially confirmed it but since I turned out so well it might actually be true.

I’m joking of course but I certainly won’t mind admitting that the thought of it has probably encouraged me to try and make better decisions in my life than any other factor. If your mom is always watching, you never want to disappoint her; right? There’s definitely something to be said about the positive power of influence from something as simple as just being loved unconditionally.

Yes, I’ve made a few bad choices too, some I’d never admit, but I’ve decided at least for now to blame the really bad ones that everyone already knows about on my rebel-rousing Scottish ancestry. If I decide later to write about my dad, I might have to amend my thoughts slightly in order to pay my proper respects. Right now, let’s just focus on my regal Welsh ancestry.

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I think that is the principle reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about my mother is that she’s very much like me. She’s difficult to know. She’s a loving and nurturing enigma. My mom does not fit the paradigm of typical moms.

When I stop to make notes about the way I’m articulating this blog, it forces me to recognize that what I would normally be writing about is my relationship with my mom, not necessarily my mom. To actually write about Shirley Ragland, I’m forced to dig deep because nothing about my mom is obvious except of course her natural beauty.

But the older I get, the more similarities I find between the two of us. Part of that discovery comforts me and part of it scares the shit out of me. My life literally began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. And in some ways, I feel that it’s been the same for her. But our relationship is more kinetic and intuitive than necessarily vocal. The resultant man I’ve grown to become is also intuitive and less vocal.

My wife has often told me that I’m unapproachable to most people. I’ve actually heard her telling people, “Chris is very hard of hearing so he didn’t know you were trying to talk to him.” What she was saying was true in that instance but a big part of the equation with me and why I might seem unapproachable to some people is that it’s not natural for me to reach out to people or attempt to make friends. I can when I want, but more often than not, I don’t.

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I’m very lucky to have the great friends that I have. But I give all the credit to being married to a social butterfly. My wife pushes me to be more socially active and my life is far more socially fulfilling because of her influences. Without her, I’d probably be writing this blog alone in a crappy basement somewhere.

Lately, I’ve noticed the similarities between me and my mom. When she has active friendships, she usually has very supportive and reciprocal relationships. But, she doesn’t have a great deal of friends and I’ve never really known her to be socially active except for rare occurrences when she was ballroom dancing or when her and her husband were traveling to and from cowboy action shooting events.

That said, her affinity for the cowboy action shooting scene was more about mom getting to dress up as a cowgirl prostitute than any love for guns or history. My mom, like I said, is a provocateur and loves nothing more than to humor folks with a surprising glimpse into her suggestive psyche.

Why? I can only assume that, like me, she rarely finds the necessity to share herself with the world. My mind is perpetually illuminated with thoughts, such as the one’s I like to blog about, and knowing her to be a sharper cookie than myself, I can only venture to guess that she keeps herself entertained with an active mind. She really doesn’t need the rest of us, which is unfortunate for the rest of us.

Obviously, my natural communication skills lacking, I long to be different. I recognize that my wife and son and extended family want and need to really know me and I’m not all that good at expressing myself. After my son was born, I suddenly and overwhelmingly understood the concept of instantaneous love. The same forgiving and acceptance that my mother must feel for me. My blogging and writing provides me with a method of conveying those feelings without having to rely on the same type of intrinsic relationship that I share with my mother.

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As a child, my mother was always in the picture. She was my protector and my emotional barometer. Part of being the baby of any family is that you’re always the perpetual victim. My siblings know well how I played that part. One story Lisa was telling about me when we were traveling in England was about a time when my brother Mike bloodied my nose while our parents were at work. I sat at the kitchen table, head forward so more blood would come out, and waited hours on my mom to come home from work so she could find me in my bloodied and gruesome condition.

But that was our relationship; my mom was my protector. I’m confident now that the dried blood probably gave my intentions away but she never undermined my condition. She knew I needed to be the center of her attention and she gave me that without any judgement. My mom doesn’t say a lot, the Ragland’s in general aren’t known for spilling their secrets. But, despite her complexity and inability to openly emote, she feels and loves and hurts more deeply than most anyone else I know – she just does it silently.

The biggest gift my mom ever gave to me is peace of mind. My mom has tremendous coping skills; something she had to learn growing up in a household filled with division. I think that a great deal of people move about in this world never realizing where they learned the skills they possess. Perhaps they think they just learned them on their own. I feel lucky because not only do I have the self-awareness to know where I got my sense of humor or my rationalization skills, I also have memories of my mother displaying specific examples of those influences – which has given me context and texture to her character and of her keen superior intellect.

For most of her life, my mom was a working mother. A term that seems redundant in this day and age but accurate nonetheless. Knowing her, she’s probably reading this right now hoping that you’ve confused the two terms working mother and working girl. For clarity, she’s never been a prostitute as far as I know. My mom had four kids in five years, working most of that time. She took a few years off work after I was born but returned to work when I was five years old. She continued working productively until she was 70 years old.

The mother I know is intelligent beyond the norm, reliable and sensible. To say that my mom is just a strong woman undermines the depth of the words resilience, capability and adaptability. My mom is all those things and more. I honestly cannot find a word or group of words that could paint an accurate picture of her. Whatever I could say will be utterly inadequate.

In television terms, my mom is definitely more of a Mary Tyler Moore than a June Cleaver. Whatever she did, she excelled at; my mom kicked in doors, broke invisible barriers and hammered away at glass ceilings before those terms were ever associated with women in the work place.

It’s pitiful on my part but I’m finally starting to recognize that my mom is growing old. She’s 78 so it’s taken me a while. With her age and a few spinal surgeries, she’s had to get used to some diminished physical abilities which have hindered her ability to get out and take on those challenges and obstacles that I’m confident exist inside her mind. In addition, her mental acuity and memory are also beginning toe  diminish beyond the norm, and faster than any of us could have ever expected. In fact, there’s a very good chance  that this will be the first blog I’ve written that she likely won’t read. It took me all this time to build a literary structure strong enough to hold the weight of who she is, and yet it seems so unfair that she won’t really know just how many verbs and adjectives it takes to tell her incredible story.

I know my mom pretty well and I’m completely confident that her physical limitations have made her bored out of her ever-lovin’ mind. Retirement for some people is great but retirement for people like my mother is probably closer to hell than heaven. With her, it’s a simple case of carrying around an over-achieving blob of brain cells that are being held back by an uncooperative body and failing memory. I guess that happens to us all eventually but I think it’s particularly difficult for her.

What strikes me hardest right now is that while writing this blog, I recognize that I won’t have her in my life forever. So while I’d love to encourage her to use all that intellectual energy to reach out and develop more meaningful relationships with grandkids and such – I recognize that despite all those deep emotions kept inside, converting those emotions to words aren’t the easiest things to do. I just feel selfish sometimes knowing that Cindy, Lisa and I are the only ones in the family who get to really know who my mother is, and yet we too struggle to know what’s churning ’round in that big ole brain.

While I have an opportunity, I want my mom to know that there’s a two-way street between a mother and a son when it comes to love; it need not be re-acquired; it need not be indulged; it need not be deserved, and it need not be spoken about. The love and respect I have for my mother is an unspoken and unbroken simple peace of mind, like a blessing from above, it is just there, and it always will be there.

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The tools she gave me have not only kept me alive all these years but they’ve influenced people around me, moved projects forward, solved problems and developed ideas. I am who I am because of my incredibly special mother. I see the world the way I see it because of her. I love the things I love because of her.

I write the things I write about because my mother gave me a love for words and made it ok for me to think out loud. She allowed me to be me and supported me in every step and misstep. My mother is an awesome mom and I’m eternally grateful for the many blessings I’ve had and will continue to have because of my mother’s unconditional love and support.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

An Enigma, Wrapped in a Mystery, All Inside a Tasty Little Cookie

I was dining last week with Emily at a Japanese steak house nearby and discovered a fairly evocative fortune inside my cookie that I just had to write something about. It’s not often that I feel inspiration from a fortune cookie but this one immediately aroused a common theme in which I’m always a sucker for writing about – advice. Probably 75% of my blogs are related to life-advice.

People close to me, pretty much my whole life, have told me that I’m a decent giver of advice. As a result, I’ve become sort of a reluctant incompetently competent supplier of advice. It’s important to note, in case you wanna stop reading here, I have absolutely no paying customers.

Although I’m comfortable to offer advice on some subjects, I’m also keenly aware that giving advice can be a dangerous thing to do. To presume that I should be telling people what to do with their own lives implies something very close to egomania, a condition in which I pray never takes me over.

That said, I think that my inclination to write forces me to place what little intellect I do have on-the-line, whether I like it or not. Otherwise, what would I write about, ugh, maybe fortune cookies?

It’s actually kind of funny to me; while you can obtain all these advice-wrapped fortune cookies pretty much anywhere in the developed world, you won’t find them at all in China or Japan – the places you’d most expect to see them. What does that say about America – or East Asia?

Is the Chinese Buffet some sort of hidden metaphor – perhaps that we all should be ‘getting our fair share in life’? The Chinese have discovered that Americans love getting unsolicited advice so much that they created a plain Jane cookie that draws us in like flies to their restaurants.

Regardless of any of that, we ‘Mericans’ love things to be simple, including our life paths. Just give me my high school diploma, a $50,000 a year job, and a cool house then leave me alone. Simple! But simple rarely gets us where we’d really like to be and life generally sucks a little while before you finally bite into to the big ole piece of chocolate with the hazelnut on the inside.

In the likely event that all four of you readers are wondering… my fortune cookie says, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” I don’t know who to attribute that quote to because the cookie didn’t provide a bibliography, so I hope the blog police aren’t paying any attention. All jokes aside, just let that statement percolate for a minute or two. What statement could be truer than this one?

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I say this because no matter how great a job we have or how much money we’re able to bring home, nothing in my life thus far has ever trumped the joy I’ve experienced in meeting an important goal or achieving an important victory. That joy only amplified when my own creativity contributed to the success of the overall project.

A good example is this blog. No one is paying me to spend my free time writing down my thoughts; my pay comes from the personal satisfaction I experience at completing an endeavor I feel passionate about or where someone I love might benefit one day from my insanity. It’s just something I like doing – made sweeter with the idea that someone else may find it entertaining or insightful.

In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else finds that same value, although I love it when they do, it only matters that I entered into a personal creative process from which there derived something tangible and meaningful. When folks are solving big problems, the last thing they’re thinking about at the moment is how much they’re getting paid.

If all of the above is true, then our goal in life might be to play, play, play, work, work, work at something – anything, until such time as we are better able to figure out just what it may be that we most enjoy doing, and what we’re naturally good at doing. Hopefully, a few years of toiling away at crappy jobs while making new acquaintances and conversing about life, one begins to start assessing where he/she is and where he/she may like to go or what job or career may better fit their personality or push certain peculiar buttons that absolutely need to be pushed.

Obviously, not everyone throws caution into the wind to see where things land before picking a career path. Some of us plan out our professional aspirations at dreadfully young ages. Some people are just natural born planners and organizers.

I’m not really writing about those people because those kinds of people don’t really notice people like us, people who start off adulthood without plans. Those other smarter and more organized people suck.

Organizer types don’t have time to worry about us because they, still, are too busy organizing their calendars for what’s happening this afternoon, tomorrow morning and next week. This particular blog/rant is really speaking to the folks out there who may be struggling emotionally because they’re stuck in a rut not knowing what they should do with the rest of their lives or even the right direction their ship should thus be oriented.

Obviously, we are not all alike. While some of us have no problem fixating on a goal then working to achieve it, others of us find it difficult to even pick a goal. I personally think it is an unspoken tragedy of life that we most often seek to understand the goal and not the self. We try to adjust ourselves to the demands of a theory when we might be better off adjusting ourselves to a congruence with our own personal identity. We should never strive necessarily to be a banker, a teacher, a pilot or a policeman. We should strive first to be ourselves.

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I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be a banker, pilot or policeman – what I am saying is that I think we are better off making our goals conform to our identity rather than mold our identity to conform to a goal. In each of us, DNA, environment, socio-economic forces, family values, etc., have all combined to produce a person with certain desires and aptitude, including a profound and deeply ingrained desire to have a life that is meaningful. We all find meaning and purpose in different ways. For some it’s children, or a great career. For others it may be shiny aluminum wheels on their Honda or a mink coat.

So, as I see it, we need not dedicate our entire lives to achieving any pre-defined goal, but instead choose a life we know we will enjoy. Goals are absolutely secondary: it is our functioning toward the goal which is perhaps most important. Allowing another person to define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes us all individuals.

In short, the formula is as follows: we must choose a path which will let us use our natural abilities, which lets us function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of our personal desires, and in so doing we fulfill a need for expressing our identity and avoid frustrating our potentiality and the fear of watching our goals disappear or gradually lose the charm they once held.

Because, after all, every single day we view those original goals from an entirely different angle. As we evolve, those once powerfully attractive goals may lose some of their glitter. If we’ve dedicated our entire lives to achieving a goal which no longer seems appropriate for us; then what? Once I thought about becoming an attorney. Then I met attorneys and realized that they work all day and do homework every night. My perspective changed by means of experience and insight.

Our perspective on life and goals will change. It is not the pilot or the banker that changes, it is us. Each of us are the sum total of our reactions to different experiences. As those experiences multiply, we change – we’re evolving into different men and women. Because we’re different, our perspective changes. Alternatively, if we wait long enough – if procrastination becomes the goal, then it will be circumstance that makes our decisions for us.

So, in essence, we shouldn’t just throw caution into the wind as I was saying earlier. Metamorphoses shouldn’t necessarily be completely organic. You can and should read and listen and expose yourself to as many different ideas as possible. Every nowhere job you’ll ever have will expose you to new ideas and new situations and new people, all of which provide lots of life-lessons. Those absurd and gross people you despise may offer you one little gem of genius that completely transforms the way you think about something unrelated but nonetheless important to you. Wisdom is everywhere, even in assholes. Your greatest inspirations for obtaining the perfect ‘you-job’ will come from having lots of crappy jobs and knowing lots of assholes.

But, all the wisdom you’re accumulating while you are “doing” will give you the tools you need to eventually make big life decisions. Regardless of everything I’ve said about honoring the soul inside the worker, you still always have the goal of creating and achieving because that is something instinctive that must be nourished. We continually do that with information and knowledge that our experiences turn into wisdom. Wisdom of things and life and self.

Today, unlike the many generations before you, we live in a world overflowing with superfluous information. And yet, with such an abundance of information and data at our fingertips, what we seem to be experiencing is a growing scarcity of wisdom. I think it is very easy to confuse the two (very different) things.

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Many of us think that by having access to more information we can produce more knowledge, which automatically results in more wisdom. The reality is that the opposite is true. The reason I say this is because when a person inundates themselves with more and more data without the proper context, it only jumbles our understanding of the world rather than elevating it.

I see real life examples of this all the time at work. Someone is assigned to lead a task; the leader is naturally a person who lives and breathes those types of issues and thus is highly knowledgeable about the subject matter. Bureaucrats who are intelligent but not experienced in the subject matter quickly digest information from the task leader, along with information found by way of Google, as well as a few phone calls and all of the sudden they become experts themselves, regurgitating lines back to the leader that they learned from him/her not 10 days prior, no longer needing and many times rejecting the wisdom of the task leader because that wisdom and experience doesn’t align with Google’s version nor their own political agenda.

It happens all the time. What is lost is the deeper understanding of experience which can predict and help you avoid pitfalls that 40 hour experts will rarely ever see. Our society has become overly dependent and unconsciously confident because we all have a smart phone and Google to answer every question one could possibly present. Oh, if I had just had access to Google when I was a teenager, instead of the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica, I could have been overwhelmingly smarter than my parents (just kidding mom).

There is a stepladder of understanding that takes a logical path from gaining information to achieving wisdom. At the bottom is a piece of information which basically tells us some small fact about the world. Just above that step is knowledge. Knowledge is the understanding of how different little morsels of information all fit together to disclose some particular certainty about the world. Knowledge hinges on an act of association and clarification – it puts the information into its proper perspective.

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At the very top of this stepladder is finally wisdom. Wisdom is not just a deep knowledge (i.e., I read those crib assembly instructions ten freakin times and called two buddies about it), wisdom combines a moral component to knowledge. It is the application of information that is worth remembering and knowledge that matters to the understanding of not just how our world works, but also how it should work. Trump haters know all about this concept.

To have true wisdom, one requires a moral structure of what should and shouldn’t matter, as well as an idyllic vision of the world at its highest potentiality. And once you’ve achieved some wisdom, you must convince your ego that whatever wisdom you may have acquired, is only wisdom about that one subject under that one set of circumstances. Throughout your life, there will be lots more work to do and many more subjects and circumstances to tackle.

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So while the fortune cookie, in its most basic form, can provide us with all the spiritual and motivational insights as our tummies and our appetite for Moo Goo Gai Pan can endure; the magical tickertape stuffed inside those cookies cannot by themselves offer us the true wisdom we all seek or need. It takes a lot of effort, a good heart, and the shedding of our narcissistic tendencies in order to recognize the depth of all that lie before us.

And sometimes, what we have before us are just ordinary people – people with unique experiences and information and failures and successes which are all different from our own. Yes, sometimes we are not allowed to have wisdom in certain areas because we can’t have experience in every area. In those cases, our wisdom comes from recognizing the value of other human beings around us.

Wisdom allows us the capacity to understand that mastery over any subject is outdated the very moment one achieves it. True wisdom is completely void of any independent identity. It is never about any one person or one group. It only exists in the collective because each of us contributes to the evolution of it every single day. Wisdom follows the doctrine of universal responsibility. It is akin to saying that every part of our body longs for our eyes, our lungs, our legs to be healthy; if one part suffers, we all suffer.

Work and living and parenting and every other important aspect of our lives are most positively affected by just being real. Being true to yourself in your profession, in your relationships, etc., allows you to function at your highest possible levels. Your wisdom will come from expending your energies and experiencing your world with a clear mind and an unambiguous path not littered by obstacles and chaos created by unrealistic expectations or less than honest intentions.

Lastly, I am no expert. I’m just a 53 year old husband and a hopelessly paternal dad, a placeholder of my job and a life-long old guy who loves to write about advice that I wish I could have ignored when I was young. My greatest achievement in life is the recognition that as my son gets older and more experienced, he is finally coming to realize that I may not have been as ignorant as I may have once seemed. Which mainly means I’m now entitled to be as crappy as I want and still exceed all expectations.

News Makes You Fat

Along my own crooked path, I’ve painfully recognized a few of the hazards of this so-called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. Having traveled all over the world, I’ve been witness to how quite a few of our neighbors live. While there are rich and poor people in every place you go, it seems there is a much bigger divide between the rich and poor in most other places.

Statistically, our moderately low income and bottom-middle class demographic in the U.S. are living far superior lifestyles here in the U.S. than how our neighbor countrymen are living abroad. Most people here never travel to see how others live. We don’t know.

Even though the media will tell us our middle class is shrinking, and it may be true for all I know, we have a very large middle class and our middle class is wealthy in comparison to the middle earners in many other countries. We’re also the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say.

Simultaneously, we’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes. This is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. Americans or carnivorous consumers of everything we see, whether its food, entertainment, or information. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve also become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, much like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all.

Unlike reading books and magazine articles, which require a little bit of brain power, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally, but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know, up-front, will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions, such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe we know.

From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. In fact, I think it’s disrespectful to the real news reporters of our yesteryears to even call it news. It should be called entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered like starving hyena’s on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was, at that time, touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus, we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 

Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally immaterial to any of us aside from an occasional Amber Alert – which you can get on our smart phone. The sad reality; most of us would find it extremely difficult to recognize or decipher what is and isn’t worthwhile and meaningful information.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that great marketing ploy as it appeals to our egos. Some of us actually get anxious when we’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of our smart phones. In reality, news consumption produces a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have. Why?

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will the accumulation of tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below a shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies, or frozen food.

If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid.

News Makes You Fat, Chris White

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.

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News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections.

The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda. The news industry has, in some ways, reverse engineered the human brain and developed an information product which was bio-engineered especially for us. It manipulates our senses much like Genetically Modified Food’s (GMO’s) have been designed in labs to taste better. 

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News, as we know it today, severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but our so-called working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed through the results of their study that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. Online news is an intentional interruption system. Online news works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they might have been avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

Now, I realize that it may be my writing skills that are lacking, or perhaps my subject matter a bit too geeky or boring for most, but you’d want to believe that the people closest to me would just read these things to appease me or even make me feel as is I may be a better writer than I am. At this point, I can literally say anything I want, because we’re now way beyond the word-count where my typical fan actually stops reading altogether. It may be pathetic and sad, but my reality proves my theory. Modern bio-engineered news has changed us – maybe for good. 

But this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us. Modern news is also killing our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers, song writers, and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative and productive works at a young age. Their young and pliable brains enjoy a wide, uninhibited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas.

I don’t think I know a single person with a truly creative mind who is also a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries, new restaurant openings, and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news in that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts. Fact’s just get in the way of a good story. 

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But all that stuff is completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining, his long recovery and efforts to walk down the isle unsupported is heart warming, and most importantly, it’s all news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you probably just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

The Psychology Of Police Misconduct 

Television media has become absolutely obsessed with reporting the failures of law enforcement. As much as I want to believe that the media is cultivating and inventing this ramped-up anti-police sentiment, law enforcement officers across our country continue to surprise me with with a growing number of unthinkable actions and outcomes.

These are critical incidents where innocent civilians, sometimes children, die at the very hands of men and women hired and trained to protect them. In their emergency responses, especially to incidents involving men and boys of color, many mistakes continue to be made which convolute and confuse those of us who want very badly to believe and support our men and women in blue.

These are very different times in which we now live. The majority of people today are carrying around high-definition video cameras in their pockets; even our homeless have cell phones. If you’re some random guy in a car or walking to school, and also happen to witness a critical incident where the police are called, you can record anything you see on video, no problem. Not only that, you may even get paid for your troubles. That is, so long as the video either verifies something irregular on the part of the police, or in lieu of that, fails to adequately clear the cops of suspicion. Either outcome is fine for today’s lackluster media. 

It’s important to understand though, civil litigation against our police doesn’t really punish bad cops, it punishes taxpayers. In most circumstances, the cop’s behavior won’t rise to the level of criminal behavior, but instead of a failure to follow policy and procedures. It is an unbelievably demanding job when you’re asked to make people stop doing bad things or stop people from doing bad things when they have no intention of doing what you say.

As a cop, you’re told to only use a reasonable level of force needed to effect the arrest for whatever situation you find yourself. Define that for me please…for an assault using fists, assault using a bat; a knife; a gun; a car! When you read it in a book or on a blog, it sounds kinda reasonable; right? But what about when you’re taking that punch, being spat on, or being threatened while you’re in the process. Situations often start off one way and end another. Fight’s escalate and deescalate. Suddenly “reasonable force” is a moving target. These are on-camera interviews while under the influence of adrenaline, fear, and anger. 

It’s easy to say the right things or do the right things when you’re not being attacked or required to attack and neutralize someone who’s not interested in what you have to say about it. The advent of all these instant video recordings mean that no longer will our cops get that benefit of doubt in court; no longer will they get those career second-chances when chaos, panic, fear, and confusion result in the unfortunate death of an innocent person.

It has become abundantly clear to me that many of our nation’s police officers fundamentally lack the emotional aptitude required for managing the tumultuous, many time riotous, circumstances often facing the 21st century police officer. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, but what exactly would that be? As a former law enforcement officer myself, having worked in uniformed patrol, undercover drug, violent crimes, investigations and in senior management, I have, of course, very strong feelings and opinions regarding what’s been happening.

I just heard yesterday that the family of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old black boy in Cleveland, Ohio, received a settlement of Six Million Dollars from the City of Cleveland. This was for the shooting death of their young son back in 2014. A rookie Cleveland police officer shot and killed Tamir after confronting him while in possession of a pellet pistol.

Due to the officer’s inexperience, we could all say, just as if we were experts on the subject, that it was a lack of training that caused the rookie police officer to fire his weapon so quickly. But, it’s a far more complicated subject than just training or a lack thereof. I believe, more than anything else, that it is an individual’s emotional aptitude that essentially decides the fate of persons entering a law enforcement career path; whether the officer can work for 20 years anonymous to their own community or for 5 years and be known worldwide.

The overall professionalism of law enforcement has definitely increased over the previous 30 years. Oh, I could tell you some stories! Today, a good number of police departments require the minimum of an associates degree as a pre-employment prerequisite. But many people in the profession believe that it is low salaries that prevent local and state governments from attracting and keeping higher quality police candidates.

In no way could anyone deny that low salaries absolutely do have a detrimental effect on police recruitment efforts. I would think that all college graduates and high-aptitude individuals, who are otherwise non-degree’d, look first at potential pay as a principle factor in the decision-making process. But what about all the anti-police sentiments being perpetuated by the media and certain peer groups? Constant national headlines that rally against the police along with the appearance of a public disapproval all work to discourage interest in law enforcement careers for anyone who give’s a rats ass about what people think – usually a higher quality individual.  

That said, I have personally known and worked with police officers who held advanced degrees, a few from Ivy-League institutions. The rationale for these extraordinary qualified candidates putting their lives on the line unnecessarily, is due to the sometimes very rewarding social work elements of a career in law enforcement. These cops have a much higher calling or intense personal interest in the humanitarian side of what police often do. It’s not all car chases and gun play; cops more regularly assist the elderly, insure traffic safety, intervene in domestic disputes, transport organs to hospitals, or protect persons with car trouble while waiting on someone to help. Cops do lots of things. 

Working against all of us, however, is this extreme magnetism that many people have with a career in law enforcement that draws in both the best among us as well as equally high numbers of lesser-evolved souls who are insecure, have emotional, psychological and social disturbances, and in some cases may even have diagnosable mental disorders. If you googled it right now, it wouldn’t be hard to find true stories where notable serial killers posed as police officers to win an victims trust. Hell, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that some may have actually been police officers or attempted to become one. 

Fortunately some 28 states, including my own state of Tennessee, have standards & training commissions, along with state laws that explicitly mandate that a licensed psychologist administer a mental and physical health evaluation as a minimum qualification for police recruits. That’s great for the people living in one of those 28 states but there’s still a major problem in that most of these states have exceptionally vague language in those statutes.

Most have laws requiring only that a police candidate “be free from any impairment, as set forth in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” that would, in the professional judgement of the examiner, affect an applicant’s ability to perform any essential function of the job“.

In the end, it’s completely up to the examiner to make that determination. If their particular arsenal of diagnostic tools is limited, so then will be the psychologist’s ability to make sound judgement’s on these men and women who will be trusted with the authority, defined by their own judgement, to stop us; to detain us; to arrest us; or, to kill us. There is really no consistency among psychologists who perform these critically important pre-employment psychological evaluations.

Example: In one particular police job I worked, the requirement was for me to show up at a Psychiatrist’s office for four days straight. During those four grueling days, the psychiatrist asked me to perform a battery of different styled tests that were designed to examine not only my personality but also my IQ, my hand-eye coordination, coping mechanisms, sexual or other deviance, honesty, and my observational skills. These were all culminated by a three-hour one-on-one interview with a psychiatrist to ensure that my test results weren’t in some way skewed by unknown factors. In the end, it’s his/her professional opinions that matter most. 

In other police jobs, mostly in the more rural jurisdictions where budget is always a concern, I was merely asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI – MMPI²) test then interview with a psychologist and answer questions for 30 minutes. For yet another job, a psychologist simply interviewed me for an hour then cleared me to be hired.

The MMPI test is by-far the most widely used diagnostic tool trusted by psychologists to determine whether personality disorders might exist with police recruits. But the laws governing mandatory testing are so vaguely written that unscrupulous psychologists can and do clear candidates from time-to-time where that decision was perhaps, more driven by how a Sheriff or Police Chief may personally view the candidate than with how the candidate fared with any particular diagnostic test(s).

I’ve been witness to incidences where a police candidate, who was personally known and favored for employment by a Sheriff, but who could not get an acceptable psyche report from the department’s contracted psychologist, who were quickly sent to an alternate, more agreeable, psychologist in order to obtain a guaranteed favorable result. It sounds insane but its absolutely true. 

Said more succinctly, if a country-ass cowboy-Sheriff really wants to hire his deranged, fire-starting, sadistic, grandson, despite all common sense and a psyche report that verifies the kid’s complete unfitness for police work, then he can totally do it. Principally because there’s not enough specificity in these testing laws. We need to amend these laws so that they create a strong set of performance parameters whereby psychologists are given very objective criteria in which to test, and strong consequences and accountability should those criteria be ignored.

Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loopholes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological shortcomings.

These psychological evaluations are our very first line of defense. They’re the most reliable tool we have for keeping undesirable individuals out of law enforcement altogether. People whom have the potential to cause great harm to others, to the national trust of government, and to police work in general. Sometimes you really don’t know a person until you put a gun on their hip. Psychological testing helps us to quarry the depths of a person’s psyche and know some of these things prior to them being exhibited against the skull of an innocent guy. 

Good law enforcement officers across this country are getting proverbial black eyes from the very few idiots out there who have no business whatsoever wearing a badge, much less a loaded gun. Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loopholes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological tools. The tests should be modernized and improved and the laws should be amended to create some measurable level of consistency across the country.

But even when candidates are selected for hire who do possess all of the “suitable” characteristics for a good cop, the immensely stressful job duties performed by cops with regularity can impart deep psychological consequences over time. You can do everything right, yet many times it all boils down to an individual and his/her personal threshold for bullshit, fear, and violence. 

The culture of law enforcement, which is unique to that industry, makes it very difficult for any police officer to willingly admit when they are over-stressed. The legal requirement for psychological wellness puts an added level of anxiety on police officers who may be experiencing psychological trauma. This is because police officers fear job termination if they expose themselves as having psychological problems.

The other factor that no one is willing to openly discuss is the fact that these situations, where police officers typically fail, are extraordinarily intense and psychologically demanding. Until you’ve stood in front of an angry mob while attempting to arrest someone who is not willing to be peacefully arrested, wearing a uniform hated by the mob demographic, while also carrying a weapon on your belt that could potentially be used against you – should you end up in a physical altercation with the suspect, then you really can’t comprehend how difficult it is to be a cop. What is it like to be in that scenario?

These so-called great “powers” that our cops have at their disposal can and do cut in both directions. Literally every other sane person in the world can and absolutely would just walk away from that kind of situation. Cop’s can’t walk away; it’s their job to do that sort of thing. By walking away, you’ve just admitted that you’re not cutout for police work, and your co-workers are all thinking the same thing. It’s not true, of course, but that is the mindset of the typical cop. 

You’re simultaneously trying to live up to the culture standards of policing, which denies you the option of leaving without arresting the suspect, and stay alive at the same time. Then when it’s too late to extricate yourself, you’re suddenly feeling what may be an imminent fear of serious bodily injury or death by otherwise unarmed people? That, my friends, is the legal threshold for authorization to kill another human being. 

If you’re not, by that time, holding your gun yourself, you’re basically just a holster for a violent attacker to kill you with your own gun. That said, you can’t effectively fight with a gun in your hand, and if you kill an unarmed attacker, even if he’s going for your gun, the life you’ve known will be changed forever.

What about that rookie cop in Cleveland who made that famed two-second judgement before killing that child? The gun did look like a real gun. If you’re the cop, do you wait to react until a person is directly threatening you, pointing the gun directly at you? If so, you’ve effectively procrastinated your way into an un-winnable defensive situation. If someone already has a gun pointed directly at you, you cannot reach for, draw, aim and fire your weapon fast enough to beat his just pulling a trigger. 

Forget that we’re talking about a pellet pistol, the still dangerous but not deadly pistol looked exactly like a replica centerfire handgun. In the officers’ mind, he was confronting a child with a real gun. As a side note, people buy pellet rifles today that can take down medium sized wild game, including boars. So don’t assume we’re talking about a toy – it was not a toy. Even some of the older technology pellet pistols, if it was an older one, could have easily put this cop’s eye out or worse. 

So what would you do? You’re the cop. Do you take an offensive position and just shoot to stop the potential threat from being realized, or, wait until you’ve compromised your own life and safety to see what the kid does? If you have never been in that kind of situation, then it is impossible for you to judge anyone who has no matter how egregious their acts may seem. How can anyone make a fair assessment of whether this officer was acting appropriately or inappropriately if we didn’t experience what he experienced? Despite the impossibility to recreate the actual events leading up to the shooting, we all know the end result. Evidence tells us those things. 

Let’s touch on the race thing for a minute because it’s real. This is not the 1860’s and it’s not the 1960’s. But to deny that racism exists would be ludicrous. If an officer (white, black, Latin, Asian or Arab) is working in a psychologically intensified high-crime neighborhood with an unusually high number of any one race/culture of residents and he himself is not a member of that same racial or cultural background, and that same officer is constantly involved in numerous altercations where he is physically threatened by large numbers of the more dominant alternate race/culture, then of course that officer will absolutely develop latent feelings of bigotry toward that race/culture group.

If the alternate race/culture is exhibiting violent racism toward him, it would be imperfectly human for him to equally hate those who hate him. Human survival instincts guarantee that sort of racism will never disappear from our existence. Although its a very natural and human reaction, it is also completely indefensible in a court of law or public opinion.

That said, we all know most of the prominent, in your face kinds of racism we see today stem from people who are either mentally compromised with paranoia or schizophrenia or otherwise people from impoverished situations where education is lacking and suffering is high. People belonging to these demographics will commonly assign some rationale for their personal failings by finding fault in other people. People who are different or who they perceive as living the high life off of their struggles. Persons from every race, kind, color or culture do this. 

Society, whether its in the U.S., Scandinavia, Afghanistan, or Ghana, all deal with and do their best to manage these kinds of feelings. Every society has it’s boogeyman. And to be fair, it would be very difficult for anyone not to develop an emotional connection, similar to that of being a victim of crime, when you’ve attempted to act within the law and peacefully make an arrest, then be systematically accosted by large threatening movements of angry mobs. 

The fear for a cop is not just the fear of dying or being assaulted. An enormous amount of fear and dread revolve around the idea of killing another human being. “Will I have to kill someone right now; oh my god, am I about to kill someone?” How many of you have ever had to utter those words internally before?

It’s a much too real, and much too often scenario for the 21st century cop.  When you’re the cop in a situation such as that, it doesn’t feel like a validated social awareness movement, it just feels threatening – and it is. It makes you angry, puts you in fear, and it compounds the issues of race and crime with yet more fear and more distrust. But worse than that, the fear and the angst become synergistic with the next event. You don’t just forget about it and move on; this is the human brain we’re talking about – it adapts to protect us from things that scare us.  

So called victims’ rights advocates don’t just show up and protest when police have acted foolishly. They also rally together with the intent of interfering with active arrests, physically attacking police officers as they are trying to make other arrests. They’re constantly challenging the authority of law enforcement in general. Many of them aren’t at all interested in the news of the day. Some are just opportunistic anarchists who look for opportunities to oppose order and the rule of law. The thing which has always separated us from third-world countries. 

Some of these groups are more akin to terrorist groups than victims’ rights advocates – not only advocating for the rights of individuals who’ve been wronged by government but also for people who clearly were arrested or killed for committing serious crimes or even trying to kill the police such as in the Ferguson, Missouri Brown case – a case still often cited by the media as a legitimate antecedent for the Black Lives Matter movement.

All police officers know that their weapons can easily be grabbed by an attacker then used against them – giving everyone in arms-reach the potential to kill a cop. It’s not necessarily the obvious situations that threaten or kill cops, and cops know that scenario very well. 

Michael Brown had his hand on that officer’s gun and had broken some bones in the officer’s face in an attempt to take possession of that gun. Most believe ultimately with the intent to kill that officer. But the media focused only on the fact that he wasn’t armed when he approached the cruiser.

If you have your hand on my gun then you’re armed; period! The media takes advantage of situations like this in order to fuel interest in their stories, knowing that law enforcement officials can’t immediately defend themselves through the media as they will later have to do so in court when the family files suit against them for wrongful death.

It becomes a political blood bath, fueled by a greedy media then exacerbated by stoic and quiet police officers unwilling and ordered not to talk about it. But statistics tell us that many of the officers who commit the most egregious of these acts are doing so because of severe emotional instability during the event, not bigotry or a lack of experience as many believe.

While 28 states do mandate some sort of psychological testing requirement, there are still a whopping 22 states that do not mandate any psychological assessments. Not only should these psychological inventory’s be required for pre-employment, they should also be highly considered for police officers who have served at least ten years or who have experienced severe traumatic circumstances such as a fatal officer-involved shooting.

The psychological health of anyone working in such a fatalistic environment evolves over time. Tests such as these should not be used to help departments terminate tenured officers but instead to determine if corrective or restorative treatments should be made available for those officers who are on a dangerous path of sacrificing their own mental health for their careers.

The unusually alarming statistics for police officer suicides, divorce, and spousal abuse, only touch the surface in illuminating the long-term detrimental effects of working in such a profoundly negative environment. Diagnostic tools should be made available and potentially required by police departments that keep these citizen soldiers mentally healthy throughout their careers. One such thing being talked about lately is the requirement for police officers to undergo systematic counseling, to help officers cope with the stressor’s of police work and as an early detection system for cops who might be troubled.

Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland, Ohio police officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in November 2014, was just such an officer who’d been previously deemed “unfit” for police duty by his deputy chief in late 2012, after having served only six months as a police officer with the Independence Police Department in Ohio. Then later in March 2014, he managed to get another police job in Cleveland – where he would then go on to shoot Rice within two seconds of arriving on scene to investigate a complaint regarding a boy carrying what turned out to be what the media termed “harmless” pellet pistol.

Loehmann, according to internal records, was also found to have failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s written cognitive entrance exam when he applied for a deputy sheriff position there in September of 2013. He also couldn’t make the cut at police departments in Akron, Euclid, or Parma Heights, failing similar exams. But despite his previous failures, there was one assessment Loehmann did pass during his brief tenure with the Independence Police Department: his psychological evaluation. Another thing about Loehmann, which provides some illumination on many police recruits, he was absolutely determined to be a police officer. Interesting too is that personalities who typically don’t do well on these psychological screenings are the ones who try hardest to land jobs in policing.

So, while I somewhat intentionally deflected the fault away from Loehmann in the beginning, you can see that I’m painting a more complete picture now. A picture that supports the psychological theory of this blog. How did he fail so many tests, then miraculously pass his psyche at the end? The law was doing it’s job, keeping someone out of a profession he couldn’t handle, but a police administrator, for some unknown reason, likely pulled a string or two and was able to find a psychologist to pass the guy. Now what? 

Once upon a time I had an associate who’d bent over backwards to get my attention and win my friendship. He also had numerous other cop friends, blanketing himself with dozens of associates who all carried guns and badges. A few years prior, he’d applied to be a police officer but failed his psychological. So instead he became a reserve police officer which allowed him to have a badge and a commission card but gave him no particular responsibilities.

His motivations for involvement in law enforcement were completely suspect and selfish, having an intense desire to be respected and an overwhelming want of power over others. I’ve never known a more insecure person. This was clearly such a case where the MMPI saved the day. But the loop-hole of reserve policing still gave him a way inside an otherwise gated community. New rules in my state now thankfully require that reserve officers submit to the same psychological tests that full-time officers are required to take. 

Loehmann’s psychological assessment, which also evaluated his personality type and behavior, determined him to be fit for the job prior to his hiring. Just a few months later, Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak recommended Loehmann be terminated, writing that Loehmann was “not mature enough in his accepting of responsibility or his understanding the severity of his loss of control” after he had multiple emotional breakdowns during training. Loehmann was allowed to resign. I don’t know if he took the MMPI or one of the other diagnostic tests but the inconsistent end-results’ from multiple departments is revealing of the insufficiency in Ohio laws.

Dr. Thurston Cosner, the licensed psychologist who oversaw Loehmann’s psychological evaluation at Independence, noted that Loehmann “seems fairly rigid and perhaps has some dogmatic attitudes that could be problematic in police work” – surprisingly Cosner still recommended his hiring. Dr. Cosner also emphasized that Loehmann “appeared particularly stiff and naïve during his evaluation, which had been expedited to meet a July 2012 hiring date, according to internal emails obtained by Cleveland Scene. Of course he was stiff during his evaluation, he knew from experience that there was a high likelihood he’d fail.

The revelations of Loehmann’s previous shortcomings have focused a national spotlight on the need for stricter background investigations of police recruits, but less attention has been paid to the question of whether Loehmann’s psychological screening should have determined him unsuitable for the job, even before his post-hire training – and nothing is being said about forcing departments, by statute, to use specific validated testing or to set parameters by measurable standards that automatically disqualify police applicants, despite whether a licensed psychologist is willing to sign off on a recruit or not. I personally don’t see the Police Chief’s and Sheriff’s association lobbyists allowing that to happen.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

We must be cognizant of the fact that we citizens give up our individual freedoms to law enforcement officers who have power over us in order for them to safely conduct their difficult tasks. Officers who understand the significance of this and who respect the rule of law do well with that power and, for the most part, do not abuse it. Individuals who are emotionally unsuited for this kind of power use it as a tool for personal satisfaction, irrespective of the rights of us as citizens.

Laws dictate what authority police officers have and caselaw guides them to make good judgments, but in the end, it’s a personal opinion made quickly which ultimately decide the actions of a police officer – and police officers often make judgement calls outside the envelope of acceptability. If mistakes weren’t being made daily, our courts wouldn’t continue to create new caselaw on police misconduct on a daily basis. It is this hyper-intensive type of profession and the split-second life-or-death decisions in which they must often make, all while under intense psychological pressure, that guarantee mistakes will continue to happen. 

The point behind such psychological evaluations isn’t solely to determine whether an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder, but also to flag potential recruits whose personality types and behavior are unsuited for a job in which sound judgment, cool temperament, and the ability to make rational quick decisions is key. It’s a determination that plays a substantial role in keeping potentially bad cops from ever soiling the good reputations of good cops – and thus keeping more innocent people alive. It also keeps otherwise decent people from entering a profession in which they are not psychologically well-suited – allowing them an opportunity to ruin their own lives by making judgement calls they’re not qualified to make.

When law enforcement agencies forgo psychological screenings, the result is often violence, some of which results in police brutality litigation. Many of the officers involved in police misconduct cases are known to have either not been given a psychological evaluation during their hiring process or were pushed through the process using inferior testing measures. Consistency is paramount but we cannot have consistency without governmental oversight or a change in the laws of every state. Commissions, such as what we have here in Tennessee, can promulgate rules that have the effect of law, and do some of the things I’ve discussed in this blog.

In my opinion, the problem of low wages only exacerbates the difficulties with hiring unqualified people because the more highly evolved individuals among us are not particularly interested in jobs with low pay, making it very difficult to attract and retain good candidates. The types of people who are naturally attracted to law enforcement can either be idealistic, desiring to do something positive for society or alternatively they may have authoritarian or worse instincts. Maybe they’re just lazy and want a government job with retirement and insurance without having to get sweaty. How would anyone know the difference without valid testing?

The field and practice of police psychology is still a relatively new and emerging specialization in psychology, officially recognized only recently by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2013. The APA’s committee on professional practices and standards for police psychology is currently in the process of drafting guidelines for all mandated assessments. But guidelines such as these are only a suggestion and licensed police psychologists, as with Cosner in his evaluation of Loehmann, must often conduct their screenings in a rush to meet official hire dates.

A big problem is that psychologists can choose whatever personality inventories they prefer to use and can do whatever other tests they might want to do, all within the parameters of what the departments are willing to pay for. This, again, creates an inconsistent, unstable protocol for doing psychological police evaluations. These inconsistencies lend themselves to a kind of loophole in which one psychologist may determine that an applicant is unsuitable, but another, using a different set of assessment tools, may determine just the opposite, potentially allowing applicants with violent tendencies into police ranks.

Furthermore, the personality assessments routinely used by psychologists vary greatly in their design, predictive validity, and what traits and behaviors are actually measured. Not every test used is specifically designed with the police applicant in mind or are designed to identify traits such as aggression or honesty in police candidates. As previously stated, the most common test used for law enforcement candidates is the MMPI which has proven to be problematic in several aspects, possibly even discriminatory.

It has been reported by some psychiatrists that the test’s normative data for police officers under-represents women and minorities; elicits responses weighted toward sexual orientation, sexual deviance, and religious attitudes; but, fails to measure conscientiousness. Who cares if a local cop is gay, there are far more important things to assess than sexual orientation.

However relevant the MMPI test may or may not be, it was certainly designed to be used in conjunction with other assessments and tools, such as interviews and background information, to paint a more comprehensive picture of the candidate. While the MMPI may be really good at identifying individuals who actually suffer from a personality disorder, it does nothing to recognize whether or not a person has the proper personality traits to be a good police officer.

The MMPI essentially screens-out unfavorable profiles instead of screening-in resilient, stable, and conscientious personalities less-likely to abuse the powers of their badge. There remains no consensus as to the ideal personality profile for potential new police recruits and even if one existed, there are no laws that would guarantee that states, counties or municipalities would employ those tests. Also, even if such a test is required for initial screening, the arrest powers and authority that applicant gains upon hire, and the nature of police work itself, is widely accepted by researchers to affect the personality and psychology of experienced police officers throughout his or her career.

A person’s behavior is determined to a large extent by the situations and contexts in which they find themselves – cementing the notion that abusive behavior cannot always be found in a person’s pre-existing characteristics. Without thorough tests designed to eliminate poor police candidates, the incidence of diagnosable mental disorders in police departments will statistically mirror what’s found in the general population which is about 3 to 5 percent. That said, police work often puts officers in situations where, despite the officers intentions, they must exercise power over individuals, frequently in harmful or violent ways, just to do their job. Despite the particular merits that an individual officer may possess, abuse is often part of the job description, and thus, can expose the officer to a change in psychology that could be emotionally detrimental to that officer over time.

Studies reveal that police officers often experience cognitive dissonance when performing duties that are contrary to their personal beliefs or internalized attitudes. Conflicting social roles can lend themselves toward more fixed attitudes to police work over time, as officers seek to rationalize internal conflicts. Officers can cognitively restructure unethical behaviors in ways that make them seem more socially acceptable, thereby allowing themselves to behave immorally while preserving their self-image as ethically good people. I believe that police officers should be routinely offered counseling, perhaps annually, instead of waiting for them to be reprimanded for bad behavior or found dead by suicide.

We are asking a great deal of our police officers. We put them in nearly unwinnable situations and ask that they perform those dangerous duties in ways that won’t look so violent when played on television. The problem is that those duties are incredibly violent and it is difficult to make a violent arrest look non-violent on television at any angle. When a person forcefully resists being arrested then the cop has to react with a greater force in order to not only protect himself but also to effect that arrest – that stuff is uncomfortable to watch because you can’t feel what they are feeling or experience what they are experiencing.

Fighting cannot be made to look peaceable no matter how many sophisticated acronyms you can come up with to describe it – and fighting is part of the job description. Over the span of their careers, we teach our cops that violence is ok, speeding is ok, breaking in houses is ok, and whatever it takes to get evidence or get the job done is ok, so long as it is done within the boundaries of the law and in an effort to do good. Over time, even the brightest and most responsible among us can lose sight of what all that really means. Can we fix this problem? I honestly don’t know.

Income Inequality and Kim Jong-un

Have you caught on to all these new agenda driven catch phrases like Income Inequality and Wealth Inequality lately? I have, entirely way too much I might add, and to be honest it really pisses me off to hear them. There, I said it. Y’all know how much I loathe to write about political subjects but I just had to get this one off my chest. Chiefly because my poor wife just can’t take much more of my long-winded soliloquies about socialism in the bedroom.

This upcoming national election on the radar with an admitted socialist party member among its candidates has ignited all sorts of latent communist credo’s that the extreme left normally do a good job to suppress. But don’t kid yourself, those ideologies are always present, whether their party members expose themselves or not.

Political speech really gets me fired up and I guess it has that same effect on most everyone else too, which is why I typically avoid that/this kind of blog. Blog’s like this one are always going to have supporters and detractors and you end up making people mad instead of entertaining them. Don’t kid yourselves, no one gets enlightened by political speech. We all just consume more of the things we already subscribe to.

I want people to like and enjoy the things I write, it’s a sick kind of flattery I guess, and political speech brings out all the wacko’s (people who disagree with me) who like to trash your site with unintelligible hate speech. But in the end, I guess I need to decide who it is that I think I’m entertaining; you or me? I pick me, not because I like myself any more than you do; but, because I need the entertainment and you’re probably not going to be all that entertained anyway.

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First, the very term “income inequality” itself is an obnoxiously expressed phrase that presupposes that we are all supposed to be earning the same amounts of income and that something is wrong in the cosmos if we aren’t. It is a hint that we’re supposed to be living in a socialistic sphere and that such a system has actual merit as an alternative to modern capitalism. Sadly, nobody reading this blog gives me any credibility whatsoever anymore in this capitalism versus socialism argument because I’m now a farmer so I’m first in line to apply for farm subsidies when they’re offered.

It’s like I’m on welfare except instead of investing in Meth with my welfare check I’m growing beef that people can eat and I’m using eco-responsible grazing and watering methods to improve the eco-systems downstream from our farm. I’m sounding kinda like Trump explaining all his bankruptcies, “I’m just working within a system that I didn’t design, just like everyone else.”

To address this first issue, we need to agree right now to do ourselves a favor and stop calling it income inequality.  Income is not the culprit and there’s nothing “quality” about my income.  As Americans, we should have no negative associations with the word wealth or income in the context of people having it.  

Poverty and social dysfunction are the bad guys, they’re what really plague us; those things cannot be fixed by taking from the haves to give to the have-nots.  To really improve the situation, the have-nots must eventually recognize the value of doing something for themselves. OMG; I just lost half my readers.

Not only that, it also assumes that American’s are not already giving significant portions of their income to the bottom earners. In recent decades Congress has chosen to funnel significant amounts of our taxpayer contributions as benefits for lower-income and non-earners through the income tax rather than just writing them a check.

Some of these benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Credit for education, actually do make direct cash payments to people who don’t owe income tax. That’s why the lowest earners on pretty much every pie chart show a negative contribution to taxes rather than a zero. They don’t just get a free pass on income tax, we actually pay them to not earn much.

income quintile

For people who don’t have ambition, the system encourages those folks to stay right where they are. This, rather than just a leg-up for the really tough times. I’ve had them myself. When the building bubble burst, I was laid off and didn’t work for nearly a year.

Instead of getting drunk every day or contemplating cutting my wrists, I simply went back to school during that idle time and incubated a developing business model. The business had some early success then eventually failed, but it evolved into a fairly decent side business for me later down the road. And the courses I took opened my eyes to what I’m doing this very second. Yep; you can blame all these self-righteous blogs on the education system.

But most studies show that those bottom earners who pay zero taxes actually receive as much as fifty thousand ($50,000.00) a year in cash and benefits for things such as housing, food, and health insurance. If this particular demographic were required to report those non-taxable earnings on their tax returns, then literally no one would qualify to be on the poverty tables anymore.

It would reveal that our American poor receive more income as benefits than most of the so-called non-poverty low-income earners in the United States – specifically our working young who are graduating high school and college. How many of your kids just graduating college are making $50k a year?

The second big problem I have with so-called income inequality alarmists, can be summed up as them having a general contempt for capitalism and an ignorant fascination with socialism.  Let’s get something straight once and for all.  Socialism is not only to be feared, it is to be summarily avoided at all opportunities.  

Socialism is economic absurdity.  There is no more sufficient way to describe it.  Even if we were to tolerate the idiocy of wealth redistribution, for instance through taxation and welfare transfer payments, this is merely the least offensive socialist idea and one that we as a country have moderately embraced now for 83 years.

True socialism necessitates nationalization, the government management of all means of production and resources.  The state is the main employer and therefore the main benefactor.  

People are reliant on the whims of leaders and technocrats to determine a fair compensation for their labor and creativity.  Because the state sets prices arbitrarily, rationing inevitably follows.  Black markets become a necessity.  

Socialism is an economic system that requires a shadow economy to operate.  It is at every level inefficient and global history has more than proven this by now. You don’t just have to accept this blog as empirical evidence, read about world history and look at this great big old world around you and study those who once felt that same “Bern” you may be feeling.

Perhaps a better way is to look at a satellite image of the Korean peninsula at night.  North Korea is pitch black.  The rest of the world glows while they dwell in darkness.  Who could wish that reality on anyone?  

We shouldn’t be quick to praise seemingly less totalitarian socialist nations either.  As many noted after the death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela may have lifted up its poor through oil subsidies, but it is one of the most violent countries in Latin America and has one of the highest inflation rates in the world.  

As for the socialism-lite of Europe, that’s not to be admired either.  They are facing a very serious financial crisis.  Spain and Greece have unemployment rates above 25%.  In Greece, poverty and the lack of opportunity are giving rise to neo-Nazis all over again. Just try to see a doctor in any European country for any illness without waiting for 4 weeks. How sick are you four weeks later…uh – dead?

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This is not surprising.  Socialism is not a democratic system.  There’s a reason it has always been accompanied by autocracy—it cannot work any other way.  In order for the state to be able to set prices, wages, and benefits, in order for it to manage all of these resources that the market otherwise would, it has to be centralized.  

It may seem to raise up the impoverished, but socialism most certainly does not give these disadvantaged classes a voice.  Instead, socialism silences everyone and makes us all poor.  It strips us of the liberty to buy, sell, work, and live how we would see fit.  Anyone who promotes socialism as a way to empower the masses in America should be shamed out of the public sphere completely. The Bern should go down in flames.

In order for an economy to work, someone has to create; someone must invest. In order for a society to advance, someone must invent; someone must produce. HEY YOU GUYS – step back into the Dark Ages for just a minute.

What happened to create a Renaissance period? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was art and architecture and production and the cessation of the church and state killing all the smart and artistic peoples in order to control the flow of knowledge.

If you and your fellow citizens lose the motivation to create and better yourselves, then absolutely nothing happens. Socialism, in every instance of its existence in society, has never done anything but to rob every individual inside it of all motivation to do anything except to fight their way out of it. It’s so easy to go there, so deadly to get out of it.

Fine, you’re a millennial and you’re proud of being flexible. Don’t screw it up for yourself and undermine the one thing that makes it possible for you to continue longer in the undetermined stages of life.

Stable societies that empower people to be free and productive offer people the ability to prosper. No other known form of government does that. 

It was never a guarantee that every single person would prosper because not everyone has the same abilities and not everyone has the same motivations. Capitalism is simply the conduit for wealth-building that can be used by people who give a rat’s ass. Redistribution of a static supply of resources accomplishes nothing and makes no one richer.

People often talk about income as if it’s a fixed thing; “Those people over there are the 1 percent”; “These over here live in poverty”; “That other group are the people in the top 20 percent.” That’s not the way it is folks. Lots of people move up and down the income ladder over the course of their lives which denotes that there are other important catch phrases that never get near as much attention – one such important phrase might be something I would call Economic Mobility.

Why is there so much movement in income? There are no real surprises here. Raises, promotions, experience, new careers, hair-brained ideas, inheritance, the lotto, sports savants, retirement, and a spouse entering or leaving the workforce can all create large fluctuations in household income.

That top 1% you see on the charts evolves and changes fluidly. Similarly, many people in that bottom 90% and even in the bottom 10% will quickly climb into higher and higher income brackets over the course of their lives.

That happened to me when the economy tanked in ’08. I will probably never earn as much money as I was making just prior to the recession and never any lower than I was earning during it. That’s life though. That in no way means I will stop trying; no, I pledge to keep finding more and more ideas with which to aggravate my wife.

income 20%

The percentiles you see in income charts are living, breathing and evolving. That’s not wealth in the hands of a titled and inaccessible aristocracy as some foolishly intimate.  It belongs to a free class of people that continuously shifts in both directions.  

If America had this much-illusioned situation of an elite oligarchy that controls all the money and opportunity, then Forbes would no longer produce its annual list of the top 400 richest people in America. It publishes that magazine annually because the list changes every year. And because reality television keeps exposing us to these crazy-talented unknowns: #OmarosaActuallyWroteABook.

Income and wealth inequality is only a problem if the goal is for everyone to have equal income. What we have in this country is opportunity.  The entirety of our globe is in a far better place today with medicines, technology, innovations and science because of this crazy American experience.

Technology and the advancement of science grew at a snail’s pace in the scheme of things historically before the existence of capitalism and the drafting of the Constitution of the United States of America. We did this! Capitalism did this!

Be excited about it; don’t be suckered into feeling guilty because you’ve benefited by it more than some other person. We all get what we give in life.

Those in our bottom 80% and our elderly wouldn’t have anywhere near the quality of life they now have if it weren’t for that evil top 20%. The top 20% of wage earners pay 82% of income taxes, but the vast majority of government spending goes to the bottom 80%.

Federal and state governments spend a trillion dollars a year just on welfare programs alone, which does not include Social Security and Medicare. That is more than we spend on national defense. It adds up to roughly $17,000 per person in poverty, and over $50,000 for a poor family of three.

If you’ve ever had a job, you helped do that. I’m sorry if those people don’t feel thankful for what the rest of us are doing for them. A thank you would be nice but that’s not happening because the socialists among us pit us against each other. They want those with their hands out to believe there’s more to get.

They don’t have all the same things you and I have and they’re told there’s something wrong with America because they don’t. If they want those things, they can have them too without having the government wrestle more of it out of my pockets or by stealing them from someone else. They can actually work, train, create, invent and save for it just like the rest of us have to do.

The Census Bureau estimates that our current welfare spending totals four times what would be necessary just to give all of the poor the cash to bring them up to the poverty line, eliminating all poverty in America. One of the biggest problems with social programs is the enormous bureaucracies we must create that are necessary in order to give free money away.

It costs governments more money to give money away than all the money they are giving away. America has the means to do way more than it is doing without taking anymore from its doers.

This is Money that we could use to create more; more opportunity for others to earn, more technology to make life easier for everyone, and more ideas that flourish exponentially into even more of everything…because doers have it to use, create, or invest instead of the government having it to sustain. If we can find ways to lean up bureaucracies then it would be like instantly finding another Fort Knox we didn’t even know we had.

Another issue that is important to note is that the term household income pretty much means nothing. First of all, why is it always measured based on household? It makes it really difficult to compare one’s income to others in their industry or area or even to the U.S. overall.

It also skews the overall perception of wealth– for example, looking at the charts you’re like, “wow that many people make over $100K per year?” But no, that’s mostly *two* people making $55K/year. Secondly income isn’t a very good indicator of wealth. Sure, it’s a major factor. But taken alone it doesn’t tell you much of anything.

If I made $100K per year, but say I went to law school to be able to earn that much and also have an $800 per month student loan payment for 20 years, that $100K doesn’t exactly say much about how much money I actually have. Also, you could work in an industry that includes a lot of highly skilled blue-collar jobs where it’s not uncommon to earn that kind of wage but those people have NO college loan debt, so that level of income means a lot more.

Example:

A young boy runs up to his daddy and says; “Pa, sis is up in the hay loft with her clothes off a pee’in on the hay…and her friend George got all his clothes off too, squattin’ down doing the other thing!”

Daddy says, “son, you got the facts all right but you’ve come to the wrong conclusion.” Sometimes we can study a situation and collect lots of facts. Having facts don’t always mean you’re smart enough or experienced enough to come to the right conclusions.

This modern socialistic style of health care is also making it difficult for physicians to earn high wages. These guys and gals might have student loan debt that could require them to make monthly payments as high as $2,500.00 a month for the first ten years after school. The reason people choose the medical field in the first place is to earn a good living. They understand they will be relatively poor until their debt is paid – knowing once all debts are paid, they can earn a great living afterwards.

Poor people don’t understand all that because paying debt off is a complete oxymoron. If you pay it, it’s not debt anymore…right?  If we cannot figure out a way for doctors to continue to be rich, guess what? Fewer people will be willing to make that investment with so little return – that means fewer doctors.

Another problem is that someone could live in Boston, San Francisco or NYC and make $80,000 a year and be a virtual pauper but if they lived in Tulsa or Shelbyville, Tennessee, that same salary/income would afford them a more than adequate lifestyle. The landscape of incomes/lifestyles is very different depending on where one lives.

Unfortunately, I’m concerned with the futures for our younger generation. They don’t necessarily mind work but they definitely lack ambition. I think that our bottom numbers are growing because this generation of young men and women have been given too much to the extent that they can’t imagine themselves without a safety net.

They don’t dream and they don’t stress over their futures like the generation before it did. The good news, fewer heart attacks. The bad news, a lesser ability to eat wonderful things that increase the risk of heart attacks.

When my parents were young, they had empty pockets, cabbage sandwiches and Friday night delousings with kerosene and broken combs. Kids back then didn’t have a whole lot. Their parents were still recovering from the depression and even if they’d found a way out of poverty, they were too paranoid to spend money out of fear that the economy would collapse again.

Annual de-wormings were not just for livestock back then. These days, the new school year means y’all kids get a new Xbox game. My parents got their one annual pair of school shoes along with an enema cocktail that killed ringworm and cured tuberculosis.

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But this group of youngsters today seem to be the most unambitious group of people to ever walk the face of this earth. They don’t strive for anything at all; because, they’ve been given everything. Ambition to them means they might have to work extra hours to pay for their own car, iPad, or anyexcuseforapalooza tickets.

Kids today graduate high school then take a year off to vacation in Europe. Take a year off from what? Kids graduating high school in the 40’s went to Europe to die fighting Nazi’s – not to sample the hashish menu at the mellow yellow coffee shop in Amsterdam.

The problem with poverty is not only that stereotypical demographic that we are used to seeing: people living with perpetual public assistance, people selling drugs and committing crime to get by. The problem is also being exacerbated by a generation of unambitious non-producers.

You cannot grow your own skills or achieve anything by sitting on your ass waiting for an opportunity to come toward you or by spending valuable time complaining about the lack thereof. When one closely examines this ever increasing gap between the non-earners and the rich, the bottom number doesn’t necessarily expand at all. The middle earners are growing and the rich are growing too.

You cannot assume that there is only a certain amount of money on the table to be made and the rich are getting more than their fair share while the poor are getting less. That’s the kind of idiocy that is being talked about. No, the amount of income that Americans can figure out how to make can actually grow, just like our debt can grow.

How can the poor get poorer if they already had nothing to begin with? It’s not like that. The middle class is growing and the rich are growing and that is a great thing. In 1920 our Gross National Product (GNP) was $78 Billion dollars. In 2016 it’s expected to be One Trillion Six Thousand Six Hundred Thirty One Billion dollars. The stack gets bigger and bigger people.

We also must accept that there are among us people, brothers, sisters, and parents who do not have, and in some cases never had, the capacity to create. Age is a fact of life; physical handicaps, injuries, mental disorders, and mental simplicity all present challenges that cannot be overcome by simple solutions or at all.

That is where the rest of us step up and step in. By the way, laziness, and the lack of ambition are not YET listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But, our system of caring for those who cannot do for themselves could and should be improved.

We can do that by adding simplicity to the way we provide assistance. The reason why there are so many rules and so much bureaucracy with providing public assistance is because of the historical abuses and fraud in that system. The government has been forced to react to the problems of fraud instead of being able to thoughtfully come up with rational and sensible solutions. The advancement of technology should offer us ever increasing capabilities of providing higher amounts of government benefits without breaking the bank, so long as politicians have the stomach to do something about it when given the opportunity,

While it is disturbing to contemplate the living situations of people stuck in the bottom income percentiles in the United States, the possibility of such wealth at the top should be thrilling to all of us.  It should not depress us; it should inspire us.  It should not incite jealousy; it should kindle ambition.  People should look at that astronomical green bar and think: How do I get there?  What can I make?  How can I create something of worth?

We know that it takes lots of work and sometimes many tries and failed attempts before an idea takes off. So please try. Who knows, maybe your efforts to be the next big porn star will fail but in the process you discover a cure for premature ejaculation. #HellaBank! – am I right?

That’s what wealth is. Capitalism is not the enemy.  Not for a free people who have prospered because of it. Capitalism has done more to save and enrich lives in Western civilization than we can possibly enumerate.  

Perhaps that’s the problem – most Americans don’t know any other way of life.  They don’t understand how miserable, sick, and poor we’d be without the creative power of a free market. More accurately, they fail to recognize what it cost the rest of us to provide them with shitty free housing and all the cheese and baby formula they can eat. Yes, it’s shitty…but it’s free dumbass and it allows you the free time you need to pursue your dream of becoming the next reality television star.

People simply do not grasp how disturbing socialism has been in actual practice.  In the 1930s, in the larger cities of the Soviet Union, abortions outnumbered births.  People had no incentive even to carry life on into the next generation.  People need incentives.  They need to believe that their children will thrive and prosper.  The only system to successfully and consistently instill that kind of confidence is capitalism.  So, yes, socialism is justly to be dreaded and the returns of capitalism are not to be viewed with contempt.

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The real issue that should ignite anger, fear, and sadness is poverty.  We need to concentrate on that and finally forget our misguided and pessimistic inclinations to pillage the wealthiest among us.  Why should we hate them, they’re paying our way – paying more than 80% of this country’s income tax burden?  

We should want to be them.  To achieve that, we must unleash our creative forces. We should be concentrating on teaching everyone who enters our public school system the value of capitalism instead of padding our public schools with leftist, pinko-commie, bed wetting teachers who indoctrinate our kids with ignorance and utter intolerance of anyone with a conservative ideology.

We all have to recognize that God put and maintains equal numbers of men and women on this planet and he also put and maintains equal numbers of liberals and conservatives on this planet. Not to fight each other over who’s ideologies are right or wrong, but to influence, balance, and temper the other’s views with empath and observance of the other’s needs. Without that, nothing exists but chaos and extremist somethings – extremist right wing, extremist left wing, or extremist no wings.

An example of this would be ISIS. As a matter of ideology, they neither accept the views of women who are viewed as inferior nor will they accept any other idea which challenges their strict interpretation of the Quran. Any attempt at compromise or an offer of alternative interpretation is summarily followed by a beheading.

It’s a little like our Congress except instead of beheading people we just distort their words and ideas then unleash our “incredibly unbiased” media on them, making smart people everywhere regret ever thinking about serving the rest of us.

Who’s left to serve? You got it; dumb people who idolize North Korea, dishonest and pompously fake bureaucrats wearing pant-suits, and self-important narcissists who don’t care that you think they’re stupid because, “look at how hot my wife is!”

The opposite of income inequality is income equality. Income equality, as Churchill said, is the “equal sharing of misery”. He said this because of his experience in observing all other socialist countries where all the wealth is centered in government and all the people are equally poor, equally hungry, equally denied of rights and opportunities, equally frightened of the government, equally distrustful of their friends and neighbors because they may tell the government about your radical ideas, equally cultivated into becoming machines for the benefit of government, equally denied of ideas and information and culture and art or anything that would allow you an opportunity to know.

Income equality is death. We shouldn’t even recognize it as a legitimate phrase much less a cause. It is a term created by a hungry but dying mass-media, embraced by the jealous, and propagated by an exploitative political machine for its own growth.

Bullying and Depression

One of the things I love about blogging is that the format is much more similar to a discussion than it is a story or news or whatever. It’s much more intimate and personal. We can address the things that are going on in our own lives or in the lives of people close to us and not necessarily have to wait for the next big national news event from which to launch our tirades or sweet-talks. Today I want to express my concerns about someone close to us about depression and bullying and offer a bit of advice.

 The biggest problem with being a young adult or adolescent is the fact that you’re, in many ways, an adult with adult brain power. You’re still in school which means you can still do long math, you can probably structure sentences better than most adults, and you can still recite State capitols and quote Shakespeare. All this mental flexibility makes us feel very bright and ready to take on the world. Our parents are the only adults we’re around enough to really compare our own intelligence to and what we see from them at home isn’t always the most representative of the whole person. So, we know we’re pretty smart like our adult parents but in many ways we’re still children, especially so when it comes to emotional intelligence. Your brain is literally wedged between a rock and a hard place.

 What your parents do have an abundance of (maybe…hopefully) that remains mostly unknown to you is the ability to cope with life’s up’s and down’s…a kind of emotional intelligence that we learn from surviving failure, betrayal, disappointments, infidelity, personal attacks, or the plethora of other lessons taught to us in high school and the work place, none of which that can be found in a textbook. Every single time we survive the next disaster, we sort of metamorphose into the next higher version of ourselves, shedding our thinner skins and growing a newer thicker one more capable than the last in defending ourselves or deflecting the danger away.  

 Without these skills, we’re left vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of dehumanizing feelings that are sometimes strong enough to put us in a state of depression that can be so strong that it blinds us from finding a way out. It’s kinda like the dichotomy of needing a car to get a job and needing a job to get a car; we don’t always have the wherewithal to develop these coping skills when we need them most or when we’re most challenged by the pressures of growing up.

 When you’re gifted and smart, it’s way harder because you’re way more sensitive to right and wrong, you’re way more aware of how destructive the behavior is to you, and you’re way more perplexed at why you of all people cannot figure out how to solve the problem. Smart people have good ideas so you think you’re supposed to be able to solve these problems and yet you can’t. Not only is it emotionally damaging to be in the situation, but you’re simultaneously feeling insecure and unprepared to make it go away, maybe for the first time in your life. You begin to undermine your own intellect out of utter frustration at not being able to manage these feelings or solve your own problems.

 Depression is a humiliating human experience. Whether the result of bullying, stress, medical conditions or any number of other causes, the consequences are the same. Everyone experiences some form or degree of depression in their lives although some of us are better at shedding old skin than the rest.

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So, what we want to avoid is allowing a tumultuous situation to evolve into depression. If we allow it or if we don’t recognize the seriousness of our condition at a time when we can still think clearly, the ravages of clinical depression may creep into your life and take its toll on you and everyone around you. Whether you’re recognizing it or not (and some of us cannot), depression can turn intelligent, articulate and outgoing people into relative sleep-walkers and robots who can’t so much as wash a dish or change their socks.

 Depression can affect your ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your own children, lifelong passions, and even your relative good fortune. On top of that, the usual medication for depression is usually some sort of psychotropic drug that helps your brain to quit feeling. So, not everyone does well with the drugs. There are both success and failure stories associated with the treatment of depression just like there are success and failure stories associated with the disease itself. I know people from both camps.

 Treated early enough, you can help to file the sharp edges of life away to help you focus on you and what is making you feel things so strongly. That doesn’t let you off the hook to solve your problems. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reconcile your stress with medical intervention, take your medically induced lucidity serious and work to bring final resolution to the things or situations or people who are causing you problems, even if that means writing that person off completely and moving on.

 If allowed to continue, depression has the ability to scoop out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable muck that finds no pleasure, no delight, and no point in anything outside of a couch. You may alienate your friends at school because you can’t comport yourself socially, your job may be at risk because you can’t concentrate, and you may live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. Sometimes, we’re just not quite ready to grow up and accept all that comes with being an adult and sometimes it’s the opposite, we just need to get the hell out of an environment that might be choking off our air supply. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to emotion and life. 

 My deceased brother suffered from depression. His depression was the result of a psychological disorder that limited his ability to cope in many ways but that never stopped him from feeling – just as you and I do. The world, as viewed from my brother’s eyes, was different than it is to me or to you but he was still a human being who felt and loved and innately understood that he was making the people around him uncomfortable. Although he lost the ability to recognize his own responsibility for how he made others feel, he nonetheless understood fully how everyone suddenly became afraid of him. While his empath began to fade, his overall sensitivities were elevated which made him acutely aware of the world, his family, and how he saw himself fitting-in among everyone and everything around him.

 It’s so sad to think about someone with a mental illness who once had full-competency. To live in a world that you perceive as dangerous, but in ways that you alone can solve if people will just give your ideas a chance. To want nothing more than to protect the one’s you love but to then feel the rejection of your ideas and the pain associated with the recognition that everyone thinks you’re crazy. Depression can be the catalyst that manifests itself into this type of mental illness, especially if you have other stressors that are working synergistically against you.

 Sadly, people with severe depression start to become pathetic and they know it. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the condition. Depression, if untreated, can manifest itself into more serious conditions leaving its victims with little or no capacity to stop the downward plunge they see as inevitable. They begin to lose all perspective, all emotional reserves, and have no faith that things will ever get better. So they begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their inability to deal with life like any regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation.

 Those of us around the depressed grow increasingly insensitive because we don’t understand the logic of it all (There is no logic). We only see how our loved one’s condition negatively impacts our own lives. Our loved one’s problems can be so overwhelming sometimes that we just want to run away to escape what we see as unnecessary chaos. We become desensitized to the whole affair and even duck and evade our troubled loved ones in order to find some normalcy and solace in our avoidance of them. I’m guilty of that myself. The guilt associated with that avoidance can also be overwhelming. You find yourself either victimized by psychotic drama or by self-guilt for not wanting to subject yourself or your family to psychotic drama. No one wins.

 If you’ve never been depressed, give thanks to your DNA providers and back off the folks who need to take a pill just so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over a typically turbulent normal life. That said, normal life is typically turbulent and we all take a few fastballs to the chest occasionally; it’s all part of stepping up to the plate of life.

 As I’ve written about previously, if the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to a part of your history or a part of your destiny. Discovering that you have the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers, resilience being one of those. Depression cannot thrive among resilience.

 Recognize that we’re all perfectly flawed. Yes, you’re a kind and sensitive person and you need a pill right now to help you cope. But, alternatively, the bully has way more problems than do you. If you really think about it, what type of false-reality is that person living in right now? How much further toward adulthood or success or realizing your dreams are you right now compared to him/her? That person has a long hard road ahead and reality is going to suck way worse for him/her than it is for you right now. If anything, you should be feeling sorry for them.

 Stop judging yourself unnecessarily. The person bullying you is likely so selfish and full of themselves right now that they don’t even believe they’re a bully, much less able to recognize how destructive they are to those around them. While you’re reconciling the bully, don’t fail to recognize your own responsibility in how these situations evolve and encompass everyone and everything around them. Don’t be guilty of believing that the “high road” is somehow conveyed by your absence or refusal to stand up for yourself. If chaos is met by silence, chaos still exists because it creeps into new places you would have never expected. It’s also not anger or retaliation that defeats chaos, its wisdom and order – which, BTW, also defeats depression.

Depression is not just an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It can run in families and it can ruin families. Most of us cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy. But that is exactly what victims of depression do every day. My goal is two-fold; I want to scare you into facing whatever it is that is luring you into depression, and, I want to help you and others empathize with those who are suffering now.

 Bullying is real. Just because you’ve never suffered from it doesn’t make it imaginary. The way you survive it is to confront it and just proudly announce that what is happening to you is hurtful, whether they care about or want to take responsibility for it or not and that you’re done worrying about it. There’s something profoundly powerful about vocalizing your intentions that has a way of making your words come true. If you tell them you’re done…you’re done. 

 

Good Luck.

A Ship Called Censor – History Erased

In quiet observance of some of our latest pop-culture absurdities, I found some useful truisms in an old Longfellow Psalm that I decided to doctor up a little bit with some Chris’isms. The moral of the story is multifaceted. First: Although you may be hurting individually or even as a community, history is always going to have winners and losers. That doesn’t mean we should erase the history so you can feel better about yourself. History belongs to everyone. We and our children learn from history, both good and bad.

Second: Our good history is another’s bad history. What makes you proud, hurts another. What you run away from, other’s run to. If history is hurting you and not healing you, grow up – history cannot by itself hurt you, you are hurting you. If we are successful at erasing the history that hurts us most, we’re putting our children in danger of becoming secondary victims of lessons we’ve already learned – then summarily lost.

Lastly, if you cannot find one morsel of empathy or logic in another’s alternative ideology, you’re not thinking deep enough. Although I may not agree 100% with everyone I encounter, I seldom hear any opinion with which I cannot somewhat empathize. Don’t be afraid to prove yourself wrong. It’s liberating to be wrong sometimes.

 

Tell me not, in mournful mobs,

Lives of past are empty dreams,

For the soul is dead and there are odds,

That things may not be what they seem.

 

History is real! History is earnest!

And the grave is surely not the goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

And risk forget our histories toll.

 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our-destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

 

Life is long, and Time is fleeting

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Bull horns blaring, marches leading

Spray paint tags upon the grave.

 

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of our Life,

Be not dumb, like driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Dare not stray from living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

 

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

 

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A Forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

 

Men found great by time gone by,

May fall from favor, his deeds undressed,

Should we erase, exhume, untie;

History then becomes suppressed?

 

Lessons lost, apt be Repeated,

Our future yearns for all experience.

Selfishness prevails the child is cheated,

Insecurity manifests the devil’s deliverance.

 

Leave alone and let be the dead,

The shackles’ keys have long been lost.

Bronze and stone statues are tying threads,

And remind us of that fateful cost.

 

Change a name, tear down a marker,

Erase, redact, our right to censor.

Less enlightened – our world is darker.

Sympathy grows an incurable cancer.

 

Let, us then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor, learn to wait.

 

Let your deeds be yours

And not the elimination of another’s.

 

Idiocracy

I had this subtle thought a few weeks back and I admit that I cannot for the life of me recall what happened to put these thoughts in my head but the gist of it was that I took the notion that people are definitely getting increasingly ignorant in this country. Scientific analysis actually confirms this theory, by the way, even more so than I’m comfortable admitting. It reminds me of the 2006 film “Idiocracy” where human evolution and natural selection had taken a seriously wrong turn and began to favor traits that weren’t necessarily the strongest, fittest, smartest or noblest. Evolution began to reward those who procreated at the highest rates and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.

To give you some idea of what to prepare for when you rent this movie on Netflix, here is some representative dialogue from the character Doctor and the movies’ Narrator: Doctor: “Don’t worry, scrote. There are plenty of ‘tards out there living really kick-ass lives. My first wife was ‘tarded. She’s a pilot now.” Narrator: “Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them.”

Oh yeah, now I remember why I had these thoughts. My friend Tony was telling me that he’d read a recent study explaining how a large percentage of PhD’s are choosing not to have children. The same study points to the fact that women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than women of lower intelligence. The conversation surrounding that study talked of the doom and gloom associated with that type of decision and how stupid people never seem to concern themselves with the logical considerations of having children they cannot afford to support, they just keep having more. Thus, the conversation evolved, sufficient inspiration is galvanized, voila é blog.

Then, when I began doing research for this particular blog I found out all kinds of things that made me wish I’d just wrote about ISIS or politics or anything less controversial. It seems that one of America’s foremost testing agencies, the Educational Testing Service, released a report about ten months ago that was quite shocking for me to read to say the least. It demonstrates that adult Americans, regardless of educational achievement are, as a group, less literate with respect to both words and numbers, and less capable of solving problems, than their counterparts throughout the industrialized world. Despite all efforts and the trillions of dollars we’re throwing at education, if anything, the problem of low achievement has worsened over time despite the fact that formal levels of educational attainment across the board have risen.

America has a higher emphasis on education than it ever has before, but Americans are, relatively speaking, clueless about the most basic knowledge needed to communicate effectively and make decisions in an increasingly complex market economy. Moreover, the millennials (those born after 1980) know less than their elders. To be a bit harsh, in America, we’re led to believe that the dumb just keep getting dumber. States, including Tennessee (my home State) are proposing dramatic changes to higher education including our own Drive to 55 program which plans to bolster the number of Tennesseans with college degrees and professional certificates but will these Euro-styled free educations work here when they’ve been disastrous in Europe?

I say that because in every European country that Emily and I have traveled where free two-year colleges are provided by the government, the locals there repeatedly say that those 2-year higher-Ed degrees essentially become more akin to high school diploma’s – the expected bottom level of achievement – while the value of undergraduate degrees become deeply eroded due to the systematic down-escalator of achievement requirements. Students worldwide are getting educated but are learning less. Higher education in America has mirrored the trend of general education…increasingly inefficient per dollars spent and progressively less effective. The lesson here, if the government gives it to you for free, it’s worth exactly what you’re paying for it.

Whatever is going on, it is having a profound effect on not only the intelligence level of the American population but also its ability to learn, process, reason, and think for itself. Are Americans really getting dumber? Statistics say yes. In 2011, the average American IQ was measured at 88.54. (Average intelligence is estimated to be 89-100.) This means that a large percentage of the American population is now considered below average intelligence! Also in 2011, a benchmark occurrence happened. For the first time in American history our children were less educated than their parents. In other words, as generational families have little by little strived to ensure their children enter and graduate college at higher rates than themselves – throughout the entire history of modern America – for the first time in 2011 the generation entering college shrunk from that of their parents.

Looking at this problem more specifically, among 24 developed countries in comparison, the U.S. millennials ranked surprisingly last in numeracy (along with Italy and Spain) as well as in “problem-solving in technology-rich environments”. The youngest examined, those 16 to 24 years of age, ranked dead last in mathematical ability (along with Italy). Even our “best and brightest” fared poorly. Looking specifically at numeracy, the scores of Americans aged 16-to-34 years ranked in the top 10 percentile of U.S. students taking the test, the score of 323 was statistically below the average of 334, and even more below that of such industrial competitors as neighboring Canada (336) , Japan (342), or Sweden (346).

Worse are those in the bottom 10th percentile. The U.S. numeracy scores for that group for those 16 to 34 were the freakin lowest in the world – no one else was even close. As a consequence, the gap between high and lower performers was far greater in the U.S than in the group of developed countries as a whole, and bigger than in any other nation. Borrowing again from the movie Idiocracy: Private Joe Bowers“…and there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!”

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So, is it because we have this growing inner-city elementary and secondary school problem in America that is systematically denying our countries underprivileged of a decent education? No not really. Our problem is way bigger than that. Our suburban, rural and privileged students in America are doing poorly too. The American phenomenon is definitely not a lack of formal schooling – we are above the average in that regard, even with respect to higher education. The problem is we impart less learning per year of schooling than almost all other major nations in the world and colleges are far from immune to these charges. To quote the report verbatim, “U.S. millennials with a four-year bachelor’s degree scored higher than their counterparts in only two countries: Poland and Spain. Our most educated – those with a master’s or research degree – scored higher than their peers only in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.”

So the problem is not simply bankrupt inner-city elementary and secondary schools, where the educational care of students borders on the criminally negligent. The problem also persists in our colleges and universities, where master’s level students with years of collegiate training are far poorer than their industrial world counterparts in such core knowledge as basic numeracy. It’s not just the Degree-Mart’s of the world where you can get online degrees served hot or cold, it’s our state colleges and our ivy-league universities alike. Our children are bringing home 100’s on tests and our young adults are graduating with honors, just like all the others before them, it’s just that the high grade of today’s education system is irrelevant to whether the student is actually learning the things they need to learn.

My grandfather may have done better in chemistry than I did but perhaps it’s easier to memorize a periodic table with 11 elements than it is one with 118. Maybe he was smarter in the ways of science and math but he also thought it was perfectly acceptable for black people to drink out of different public water fountains whereas I do not. My grandfather lived in an era when we believed that Gay men were these unicorn like humanoids who would come out of their cocoons for a few years, marry Liza Minnelli, then disappear. I’m being ignorant, of course, but I’m trying to point out that there are plenty of areas where I believe Millennials are far and away smarter than the people we’ve coined “The Greatest Generation”. Yes we’re becoming more tolerant and that is a wonderful thing but what important data is being pushed out our ears as all this emotional intelligence is being added to the top.

We have to ask ourselves why America is doing so poorly. It is definitely NOT lack of money. Our spending-per-pupil levels compare favorably at the K-12 levels, and we blow the world away in per-student higher education spending. In part, the answer relates to a growing disdain for learning facts, basic concepts, historical references, etc. It is reflected at the collegiate level in a decline in the relative importance of general education, and of core liberal-arts type learning. The “self-esteem” movement and the idea that we should not say anything “hurtful” to students is a further manifestation that education is increasingly viewed as less about learning and more about “feelings.” Everyone is a winner in my school – not to say that you guys are losers or anything.

We suffer as a country for much of the same reasons. The same political correct movement that teaches us that all children should win every game and that self-esteem is what we give children – not what they give themselves – has become so powerful that we can no longer point out potentially socially divisive situations for fear of being ostracized as being insensitive or an ogre, a bigot, racist, homophobe, or anti-Muslim/Christian/Semitic. We’d rather put our citizens at risk of being a target of terrorism than admit that some Muslims might be taking Quran 2:191-193 just a little too serious.

Does this sentence make my Fatwa look too Mufti? Our government, in fear of ostracizing anyone entering our country from an Arab State, creates a system of torture for law abiding citizens at our airports. Background checks on immigrants might make us seem bigoted so please just remove your shoes and underwear for the gloved inspector.

Some studies indicate that the I.Q.’s of Westerners have dropped 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era. Other studies say that our I.Q.’s scores are rising at a remarkable rate. Could it be that it’s just our genetic potential that is changing or perhaps that we’re being judged today on antiquated standards? I mean seriously, smarts cannot simply be defined as just one thing. What makes a person clever on the African Savannah could be nearly useless in the financial centers of New York City. It’s not just a matter of intelligence going up or down, different parts of intelligence could be changing in lots of different ways.

A 1912 8th grade test from the State of Kentucky indicates that 8th graders once could tell us “through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?”, or, “How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?”, or, spelling words such as pennyweight and bequeath. But, wouldn’t 8th graders from 1912 be equally stumped if we asked them to explain a DNA sequence or Supercolliders? We’ve come a very long way from barnacles and botany to nanotechnology and wormholes and who uses the word pennyweight anymore?

Our everyday vocabulary alone is full of neologisms, expressing ideas that we wouldn’t have even imagined a few years ago (i.e., Have you Googled it yet?)(i.e., I’m blogging about neologisms.) Although the standards are a moving target for sure, one thing that can be certain is that we very quickly lose abilities when we no longer need them. A great example of that fact is that my own ability to recall telephone numbers in the 80’s was astonishing. Now that I have a robot in my pocket that remembers thousands of numbers and faces, I no longer have the ability to remember phone numbers.

Comparatively, most of us have lost much of what would have been considered to be common knowledge in the 1920’s but I believe our 1920’s counterparts would be equally lost in today’s world. One would have hoped that we would carry over all that previous knowledge into each next generation only adding and building onto base knowledge as we evolve further. But that is apparently not possible. Perhaps our brains are only capable of carrying around just so much information. The Victorians lost what was common of the Baroque Era and they had lost much of the Renaissance standards and the Middle Ages saw mass exoduses of the intelligence from Roman times and so on and so forth.

Now, neuro-scientists refer to our brain’s Amygdala as the reptilian brain only because we know it to hold all of these deep instinctive and intuitional survival mechanisms that we’ve completely lost all first-hand knowledge about. I.Q. is always going to be relative to the society that we live within. Average I.Q. is always going to be 100 no matter how advanced or devolved we become. It is more a measure of “how” you know, not “what” you know – Megahertz not Megabytes. Said differently, a caveman could have had an I.Q. of 180 simply by being the only one who could start a fire. Fire is of course not considered to be an advanced science today but it once was the 3D printer of the Neolithic Revolution.

All that said, it appears we have dug ourselves into this deep dark education hole that we’re going to have to learn more about then teach ourselves how not to teach. One has to wonder about whether all of the most modern educational benchmarks set on teachers by which we’re supposed to be able to measure their effectiveness has spawned educational programming that is designed to disguise the failures of children and teachers.

An example might be that children are no longer required to learn cursive writing. Another example is that we now teach our children to memorize words without actually teaching them what those words actually mean, their derivatives in foundation languages (Greek, Latin, Germanic, etc.) or how the word can be used alternatively. It seems the common denominator among students using Common Core is remedial studies. In my opinion, Common Core creates nothing but commonness.

Another aspect of this so far unexplored is this growing trend of anti-intellectualism, anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science that has been infused into the modern political and social fabric of America. The greater emphasis we put on acceptance of everything and the stronger we push ourselves away from traditionally conservative value systems the more we feel compelled to join this cult of ignorance nurtured by the false notion that real democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge – my poor conditions are equally as valuable to society as your high standards – my failure to take life seriously has significance that pars your diligence and responsibility to yourself and your community.

We get all caught up in the fight for equality, not realizing that the focus we place on one group shades out the light to other groups. We’ve never seemed to learn exactly how to be kind and respectful to all cultures, groups, ideologies, and religions all at the same time. Today we’re focused on the issue of gay marriage and of course that is an important issue, but, its way more important to gay couples than it is to non-gay couples. That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn and grow as a human being during the discussion. We need to be able to learn, fix things, and then move on without denigrating another’s belief systems in the process.

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Similarly, the issues of race seem to be explosive right now. How on earth, when most white people have no concept of racial inequality, can we be having these kinds of problems in America? I’ll tell you what I believe…education. The collapse of our education system has become the new Jim Crow, incubators of criminal behavior by means of failure and lack of self-esteem. They’re becoming conveyor belts into the nation’s prison system. The stigma attached to felony drug convictions eliminates employment opportunities for those who take this path then we and they are stuck into a life of crime.

So, if you’re black, perhaps you have a different perception of how great things are for black people in 2015. White people are running as fast as they can away from any conversations about race or equality because they’re woefully unprepared and mostly in denial. We just point to affirmative action and ask “what’s the problem?” But, the problem is bigger than that. If things are bad for white kids in suburban schools, imagine how bad it is for black kids in inner-city schools. They’re not the ones using the affirmative action programs. It’s the upper middle class and above black kids that are trying to get into ivy-league schools who are using the affirmative action benefits. Sadly, if you’re reading my blog, I doubt your kids are attending an Ivy-league school so what does it matter?

I’ll admit a bit of cynicism here but doesn’t this breakdown of consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good thing actually put this generation in a position to trust least the people who best know what they are talking about? In this new media age, everybody is an expert. Just Google it. There seems to be this universal suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization. We don’t seem to be as concerned with educating people anymore. We just train them to get jobs.

Our teachers are skimming through the most basic elements of curricula without focusing on the one thing that turns aptitude into intelligence, a students’ mastery over the basics, before moving on to the next topic. Public schools are the biggest bureaucratic budget item in every city or county. They have little accountability to the general public, and their marching orders come from State and National think-tank’s, not local and regional stakeholders.

History textbooks are badly written and so politically correct that they’re more like comic books than school books. Minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable attention while people of major consequence like Thomas Edison are given very little space at all. Pop culture icons and minorities have their sensibilities massaged into the new history which is taught in categories like Women’s History, African American History, Environmental History, etc., so that many students have no sense of chronology, no idea what followed what.

If generations graduate high school not knowing our past, do not know who we are or what we have done as a people, how will they know and love America, rebut her enemies or lead her confidently? We’re more likely to accept the excuse that Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program overemphasized math and reading so that’s why our children are failing in history. We buy this kind of nonsense when of 31,000 students tested by the National Assessment of Education Progress, most fourth-graders could not identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a reason why he was important.

High school seniors given an excerpt from the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education – “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate education facilities are inherently unequal” then asked what social problem the court was seeking to correct, only 2 percent of high school seniors answered “segregation” when the answer was right in front of them. We can no longer isolate education from politics because we’ve allowed one political party to take ownership in all things education. But, the issues we’re seeing in public education are the fault of everyone and the responsibility of everyone. It’s too big to blame on a party. We have to be bigger than that. We must de-politicize education before we can fix it.

Schools have also become incredibly inefficient with tax dollars, riddled with group-think ideology, and are perpetually searching for ways to spend more without any accountability in terms of success versus cost. What other group could survive these kinds of epic failures yet continually convince the general public that if they just had less portables and higher wages then they’d be able to show us real success? It has become so politically incorrect to chastise the school system so that local politicians have learned to just leave them alone for fear of the whole group banning together to oust them from office. We can’t criticize schools or else we’re pinned as being radical and uninformed.

It is exactly this kind of power that has shielded our education system from all accountability. Like some great big anti-trust violation, school boards have taken the path of big corporate monopolies – starving out ideas and innovation in favor of the status-quo. If you take nothing else from this blog, know that that teachers are not the problem here. Our problems lie in a quagmire of bureaucratic dogma pushed downward from modern idealists desperate to dazzle us with new theories on education when 1912 techniques will do us just fine until we catch up with our Great Grandparents. I won’t even attempt to say why or how because I’m one of those Americans who might be missing his 14 I.Q. points.

Since I’m nowhere near informed or educated enough to offer any solution for all these issues, I’ve decided to let “Doctor” from the movie Idiocracy wrap this blog up as I’m certain he can articulate my fears much clearer than I ever could and potentially entertain you at the same time. Doctor: “…Well, don’t want to sound like a dick or nothin’, but, ah… it says on your chart that you’re fu**ed up. Ah, you talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded. What I’d do, is just like… like… you know, you know what I mean, like…? Ditto!

 

 

Traveling Ecuador

Lying in bed, in a state of anxiety over a lack of restful sleep, and realizing that I’m about to spend a second sweaty night in little more than a screened-in porch without air conditioning, I’m thinking – this is vacation? Sweltering humidity and intense sun-exposure has caused me to be a slightly less-fun-self, and a lot more damp than normal.

I begin to reflect on our day at Anaconda Island, the balsa wood raft ride through the white-capping Napo river, and the hairy saucer-sized Tarantula that attempted to take a swim in the pool with me just before dinner. The details of my health-coverage being sketchy, I’m thinking yeah, Ecuador is to die for – literally. If it weren’t for the wild pack of jungle chickens moving through the hacienda eating ticks every evening, I’d think this might all be a dream.

Of course I’m just kidding, although there are probably many ways to die in this place, of which might possibly be the river Cayman, Piranha, Anaconda, the mysterious Tatura flower’s “sweet dreams” tea, and possibly choking on the fried “Iron Palm” pork served at this hokey little restaurant at the Center of the Earth Lat’ 000 marker. Truthfully, all I’ve accomplished thus far is to prove to everyone just how entitled I may be. I say this because mostly, the Ecuador I’ve been traveling through has been immensely beautiful. Yet, I’m still here whining about two, out of fourteen, uncomfortably hot nights.

The temperatures throughout much of Ecuador are actually surprisingly perfect. I’d venture to say, mostly due to its high elevations. Unfortunately for you, you’ve royally screwed up and found the blog of a spoiled rotten and highly sarcastic traveler. Please forgive me.

Honestly, if bucket lists are something you often think about checking off, traversing through the Amazon jungle has to be somewhere on most everyone’s list. It was for me. And now I have the wounds and bug bites to prove it.

I’m kinda hoping I end up with at least a few permanent scars from all of the bug bites so I end up with some great conversation starters for my unborn grandchildren. The jungle, while it can be quite dangerous, it can also be uniquely entertaining.

On one outing, a grey-winged trumpeter sort of maternally imprinted on Emily while touring a jungle animal rescue center. This was located deep in the jungle, seemingly unserved by public roads. The personable big-bird proceeded to follow her everywhere she went, in the way a puppy follows it’s new mother. It was kinda like having a great big chicken for a buddy. Emily especially liked having it around cuz she was told that they kill snakes.

Rita, our new friend from Hong Kong, was wearing some sort of bug patch she purchased back home in China. She never got a single bug bite. I, on the other hand, took a sponge-bath in a mosquito and tick repellent.

This was a repellent advertised to be so strong, the warning label warned against applying it directly to the skin. The resilient Amazonian jungle vermin simply laughed at me and my silly Yankee bug potion.

Who says the Chinese are always borrowing American technology – I say “bug-bite mitigation technology” is clearly an area where we need to start stealing secrets from the Chinese. Who gives a shit about 3 stage rockets and advanced cell-phone technology when you can repel every annoying bug known to mankind?

I’ll admit that Ecuador surprised even me; half of a globe-trotting duo, hell-bent on visiting less-traveled vacation destinations. To answer everyone who intimated that we might be crazy for traveling here; I’ve herein provided you with a list of great reasons to travel lovely Ecuador.

Y’all know that “facetious is as facetious does” so please be patient and try to humor my Southern redneck sarcasm, because there really are a few valuable lessons strewn all about this blog. The real trick is to find them, so sit back, nibble on some barbecue guinea pig, and I’ll do my best to educate. While you’re doing that, I’ll hang out in the pool until bedtime, to lower my core body temperature.

One of my very first observations was that traveling Ecuador just may be the polar opposite of traveling around Europe. In Europe, you travel over mostly uninteresting landscapes – forgeries of which you could find somewhere in the vastness of the U.S. – in order to find magnificent “old towns” and walk along 2000 year old cobblestone streets built by Roman armies, among fantastic examples of ancient art and architecture. Many of these places are so inundated with the tourist trade that much of the intrinsic beauty of the culture, language, and the natural state of the site is lost.

In Ecuador, the traveling between the destination places is through and among a continuity of spectacular landscapes and ecological masterpieces. What you find at the end are cities and villages that will mostly underwhelm the typical European traveler but are instead wrapped in an endearing naïveté. The tourist trade is so new that the destinations are mostly unspoiled and the people are unwitting subjects of all our curiosities.

Of course there are architectural masterpieces to be found in Ecuador such as the Jesuit built Church of the Society of Jesus in Quito, but for the most part the masterpieces of interest for travelers to Ecuador are going to be the natural-wonders created by God. There are 84 volcanos in this tiny country, 24 of which are active. It seems that everywhere you travel is within a telephoto lens distance of one of these magnificent geological features.

There are also a number of fantastic Haciendas scattered throughout the country. One of which we visited was built in 1680 and included its own beautifully appointed chapel of the same age. Another fantastic hacienda we stayed in was sitting atop a steep mountain in full view of an active snow-capped volcano. It was 200 years old and once boasted 200,000 acres of land.

Driving through the country of Ecuador can, at one moment mesmerize you with its deep river canyons, cascading waterfalls, or the patchwork-quilt of agricultural art that canvas’ the mountainsides in unpredictable patterns at unexplainable elevations. At other times, it can be dizzying by an uninterrupted sea of unfinished or collapsing concrete homes, storefronts and brick walls that secure the perimeter of every palace and pig pen.

It’s not what we’re used to but it is the utter simplicity of life that draws us in and says, without words, that these are hard-working and decent people with a unique story to tell, worth every moment of our allotted fourteen days to better discover and explore.

Regardless of whether you’re visiting tribal villages and sitting cross-leg in straw and bamboo homes on stilts or in a modern concrete structure accented by clay tile roofs, the homes and villages of Ecuador are almost always resting in the shadows of magnificent volcanoes or foreboding mountain vistas. There’s never a dull moment. Except for the occasional road-side pee-pee bandito – which, it seems, is fairly common.

The city of Baños, for instance, sits at the base of an active volcano with a lovely cascading waterfall in full view of its public square, completely nestled inside a circumference of steep mountainous terrain.

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Every city seems to have its own specialties of locally-produced products; theres a city for roses, and another one for jeans. A town for leather products, a place to buy alpaca wool products. There’s a chocolate city, a tobacco town, a Panama hat (see explanation below) village, you name it.

Ecuador also boasts several fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers that one can only find here. Whether you’re in the high elevations where the sweet tree-tomato grows or in the jungles of the Amazon eating lemon flavored ants, you’re always surprised by something new to try.

Ecuadorians are a complex homogeneous tribe of haves and have-nots, just like the snobs we love at home. They’re a tall, short, skinny, chubby & lovable, dark or light skinned group of hard-working and honorable people who want all the same things we want. They just ask for them in a completely unintelligible language called Spanish. In case you’ve never heard of it, I can report that when spoken by a local it has a romantic sounding cadence (pun intended).

One thing I couldn’t help but notice along our way is that there is seemingly an endless strand of aluminum clothesline wire stretching all the way from Quito to the Amazon Jungle. These clotheslines are always dressed in the most intimate of feminine Ecuadorian couture – framed between every porch post and elaborate perimeter wall. The walls, yet another interesting feature, are embellished atop by shards of colorful broken glass and broken Dr. Pepper bottles.

Rainbow’s of cotton and alpaca fabric are like a woven fanfare that welcomes visitors to every village and community. I’ve begun to believe that the common Ecuadorian architecture doesn’t include clothes storage and that everyone just uses these perpetual clotheslines as permanent open-air storage for their entire wardrobe. The Spanish totally got it wrong, El-Dorado lies at the end of the clothesline rainbow, not on the shores of Lake Parime.

I promise, it doesn’t take long to grow a real appreciation for some of the local rituals as the people here are so genuinely kind and accepting of tourists. Especially our own little tourist proclivities such as taking photographs of them in the marketplace like they’re circus animals.

You soon grow to love the Ecuadorian people and all of their quirky roadside displays. One trip through the backroads of West Virginia will remind us that the “other” America isn’t all that shiny on all its surfaces.

Be prepared, however, many of the public restrooms require a “tipping fee” in order to partake of the convenience of a porcelain solution to your biological travel-needs…but the “fee” only provides for three or four tiny little squares of toilet tissue, perhaps enough to remove only the coarsest of organics made from unfamiliar diets.

Perhaps an unintentional consequence of hoarding all that precious paper is that many locals can be found with their “plantains” in-hand urinating in public places or on the side of roadways as a way of national protest. It’s OK though, it helps you to feel like part of the family.

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If ornamental iron is your thing, Ecuadorians have lots and lots of it. That said, most of it is carefully shaped and sculpted from rebar. If you have lots of leftover rebar from a building project and have absolutely no idea of what you’re going to do with it, come to Ecuador for inspiration. You won’t be disappointed.

The Panama hat? You’ve heard of it? It’s really from Ecuador only there was a mix-up at the hospital and it went home with the wrong parents. It’s a very old story that ends in the collaboration of an indigenous Ecuadorian hat and a Spanish hat which resulted in the famous head cover known the world over by its alias because the hat was exported to Europe and North America through the port of Panama before the canal was built. Now, you know, the rest – of the story.

I cannot fail to mention that Ecuador is very travel-friendly for Americans. In fact, the U.S. Dollar is their official currency. They have a representative democracy, national healthcare and education, good roads, and all the colada morada you can drink.

If exotic birds and animals get your blood boiling, they have way too many to mention individually. Individually speaking though, just for reference purposes – the Ecuadorian camel-toe can be found in vivid abundance – just sayin.

If you’ve dreamed of visiting an indigenous Quichua village; trading for shrunken heads; climbing an active volcano; eating BBQ Guinea Pig; floating on a balsa raft down an Amazon basin river; seeing the Galápagos Islands; or watching a monkey ride a chicken through a town square, Ecuador is definitely your next top destination.

When you make up your mind and decide to book your trip, there’s no doubt that some of your friends might say, “Why Ecuador”! There are many reasons for you to visit here, no doubt, but seriously…a monkey riding a chicken? Where else can you see that?

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I have to give kudos to our travel partner, Gate One Travel. This was our 4th Gate One trip and each one continues to surpass the former – as well as our expectations. Its just so easy. Also, our wonderful 13 fellow travel companions. We loved our entire gang and I know we will stay in touch with many of them. FYI, Duncan, someone found some damp underwear in your room, they’re waiting for you at the reception desk at Casa del Suizo.

Last but not least, our local tour guide Javier Estrella was fantastic. He’s a wealth of knowledge, kind, with a mother-hen commitment to his flock of inquisitive, sensitive, and spoiled-rotten followers. You’ll never find a better person to spend 14 days without air conditioning. He also free-lances as a private guide, so if anyone is convinced that Ecuador might be perfect for their next adventure, his contact information is as follows: 59-398-007-5760.

Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Big?

(Warning: Almost 5000 words)

Lately, more than ever before, I’m finding it very difficult to digest some of the more popular dialogues being discussed in this country. Am I really all that disconnected from reality or so naïve that I can’t comprehend what’s supposedly happening before my eyes? Perhaps I’m subconsciously hiding from the truth as a result of guilt or maybe I’m just so caught up in my own life that I can’t see the forest for the trees. Whatever it is that is causing this denial, conscious or unconscious, has left me feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. Either I’m in denial, I’m being intentionally left out, or the whole damn world has gone crazy.

25 years ago I was attending this lecture at the University of North Florida Institute of Police Technology and Management as a part of a Drug Unit Commander school and the instructor was lecturing about crowds, riots, and mob violence. Apparently there is a whole psychology built around crowds. One of the few things my tiny brain remembers from that lecture was something called the Emergent Norm Theory. The Emergent Norm Theory is a predictor for how mob violence occurs, how it is instigated and how it is perpetuated through an event from a psychological/clinical perspective.

Obviously I’m not qualified to lecture about the science but in summary it essentially states that when a large group of people crowd together for a common cause or complaint, they initially may have very little if any real unity except of course for that original singular common theme or complaint. But during a period of milling and spouting about, the key members or alpha personalities start suggesting actions to be taken by the group. If there is a lack of negative response from within the crowd itself, then the whole group will typically stand together in agreement to the legitimacy of their (The alpha members) message no matter how inappropriate their suggested actions may be. We’ve seen that a lot lately haven’t we?

So to all of my readers, friends, family, acquaintances and haters who might be hating on me…if you find yourself in a group of protesters who are pissed off about…hmm – maybe something I might be labeled with… and someone in the crowd yell’s “lets stone him!”, then please speak up and do your part to be the voice of reason because scientists all agree that if you don’t then some fool standing on the hood of a car with a bull horn and a can of spray paint will direct the crowd to start throwing rocks at me.

I was born in 1964, the same year that our most recent civil rights act was passed by congress. That said, I and others my age are among the first generation of racially integrated American school children. I can’t say that there were huge numbers of black kids going to school with me back then, maybe 5% of the student body, but we certainly integrated much better than our parents probably expected we would. My son, born in 1989, grew up much differently. Integration to him was likely just some old-school historical reference used to describe the way African-Americans worked to overcome racial injustices back in the old days when uneducated white men wore powdered wigs, fought injuns, and dined on opossums.

The point I’m trying to make here is that for modern white American’s, racial injustice is mostly considered a thing of the past – something we’d like to forget – and scarcely even thought about. The biggest reason for that is because America is only about 2 generations in to equal opportunity law reform and our kids don’t have any experience with racial injustice. Another factor that plays a bigger role than you’d expect is that all of the people we baby boomers tend to closely associate with the days of widespread bigotry are now mostly dead and gone. Maybe third on that list is that we don’t like to believe that it was our loved ones who perpetuated those atrocities…it makes us feel bad. White people see this world through a different lens than black people. That doesn’t equate to racism, but it could be considered dismissive of the black experience. What it really goes back to is the tried and true theory that perception equals reality. The perception is that the world is fair now so we should all just put our big girl panties on and forget about all that negative stuff.

I didn’t grow up with parents and grandparents who warned me not to trust the government and who had horrific personal stories of tragedy, slavery, violence, rape, and an overall destruction of the family unit that were perpetrated by mostly everyone, sanctioned by the government, and substantiated by the church. I think – I don’t really know – that growing up black would be quite different from growing up white whether we feel comfortable recognizing that or not. The minds of black people are exactly like the minds of white people. They just have an alternate experience. Whether or not they have personally experienced racial injustices or not, they all carry the weight of it from birth which causes many of them to react differently to the same news stories papered on the rest of us. Their perceptions are different so their reality is different.

Just think for a second about the popular website and the corresponding television show, Ancestry.Com, and the interesting stories behind actors and other famous people as they work with historians and genealogists to uncover these compelling family stories that have been mostly forgotten by time. Have you ever thought about how black people respond to that show? For the most part, white people not only denied their African slaves of a present life, but they also denied them of a family history. To this day, black people do not have the simple luxury of going to visit a family cemetery or to research family genealogies because those graves don’t exist and their families were sold and traded like baseball cards. Few records exist for them at all.

When white people see an ignorant redneck on television who is obviously still fighting the civil war, we just see one lone racist with a mullet…we don’t think that much about it. When a black person see’s the same guy on TV, I can imagine that it is both evocative and personally felt. There is a real disconnect between our races that no one really discusses but it’s very important to recognize. In some ways, we have become the Divided States of America because we white people feel hamstrung by political correctness instead of just being real and thus black people are forced to digest that canned insincerity that modern political correctness forces white folks to use – which leaves them feeling manipulated. We are both left wanting for anything resembling something real.

Ferguson, MO 2014 is an perfect example of much of what we are discussing here because all the elements came together in one imperfect storm. They had the rioting and the mob violence perpetuated by a few people who completely distorted the facts of the case but somehow illogically managed to engage an entire nation including some National figures (ala Emergent Norm Theory); and, you had lots and lots of white people who were honestly trying to empathize with the black community but couldn’t really because they had no idea what the facts were and they have no idea what it really means to be black (ala Political Correctness meets Empathy); and, you have a nation of black people who now know the facts but really don’t care because their sense of identity as historical victims has been re-ignited even though there were no real reasons (In Ferguson) for that to have happened (ala News Media Fanning the Flames for Ratings). White folks are laying in the streets side-by-side with black folks but neither knows why.

There are literally black Americans out there who have grown up in a mostly color-blind country and whom are enjoying the fruits of their own successes without any racially inspired obstacles to education or employment who are now suddenly talking about 2015 like it’s 1965 when the only thing they have in common with the black folks in Selma, AL on Bloody Sunday is the color of their skin. That’s not happening because it’s real today…its happening because it once was real and the media has fueled the embers of a flame which may likely never go out. White people are appalled by it, black people are moved by it and our country is paralyzed by it.

I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist in this country because clearly it does. We’ve also had dozens of police killings of black people since that Ferguson incident which have further fueled those flames and a few of them have surprised me too. The cop who shot the black man in the back nine times as he ran away was definitely an eye opener. But, as a white guy who spent 20 years wearing a badge, I see a rogue cop doing a terrible thing and trying to cover it up. It doesn’t look racist to me because a bad cop like that could just as easily have shot and killed a white person and reacted similarly. But, I can totally see how a black person could see this as evidence of racial injustice perpetrated by police.

Our country, like every country, is a combination of the haves and have not’s. It’s not only a symptom of a capitalistic society but a very natural and necessary one. God and nature have very systematically produced nearly equal numbers of men and women just as he/it/she has produced people with different skills, strengths and weaknesses in order that we all rely on one another for survival. We take all that for granted but if you stop for a second to think about how organized the human species really is then good luck trying to justify your atheism. Depending on the century you live in, different skill sets have demanded differing levels of income thus creating division among us. Have you noticed lately who is finally starting to earn a decent living? Yup – farmers. Farming is finally getting cool, just when there is a shortage of pork and beef. Who’d have thunk it? No matter your skill, we all have our time in history when our skill was or will be a highly sought after skill – be patient.

Tinkering with the natural balance of things usually results in failure. Carl Marx recognized the unfairness between the social classes of the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat’s and became the founder of a political system we now call socialism. Although his ideas are considered valuable in the overall understanding of the dynamics between social classes, we’ve learned through historical contexts that socialism doesn’t work because it eliminates the drive to produce and create. If you want the government to help people, somebody has to be earning enough to pay those taxes – as it turns out the top 5% are paying 90%. Those people don’t exist in socialistic societies. Thus, here we are with an incredibly wealthy society with some very poor people living among us and a disproportionately large percentage of those poor happen to be black.

Is that by chance? I think not. I think that black people have two things working against them which have kept them demographically among our poorest. The first element is that the institution of slavery itself and its common practices of selective breeding and denial of education has yet to be fully overcome. We are only a few generations beyond the days of slavery and even fewer ahead of equal rights and educational opportunities. That says nothing of the psychological weight and stigma it carries if you happen to be among those who’ve been born with the legacy of it. An inheritance of victimization creates two kinds of people in general, one who challenges the status quo with conviction and distrust and one who accepts his fate and believes that he must be flawed and imperfect. Animosity and apathy, a legacy born of victims – our victims.

The second element is the social welfare system itself. For those who are born into it, moving beyond it forces you to not only be different, which attracts negativity and sometimes violence, but it also forces you to peel away the arms of a protective mother only to jump off a cliff of uncertainty and competition. Competition that you’ve not been prepared for or exposed to. Most of us have no idea just how difficult it is for someone rise up from those circumstances. For the people who grow up in that environment, they have little that is precious to them nor do they have the same respect for laws and rules which have done more to protect white people from blacks rather than protect blacks from whites.

It’s really similar to what’s happening in the Middle East. If those Shiites and Sunni’s who hate each other but collectively hate Americans had a decent income, an Xbox and satellite television then why in the heck would they choose to strap a bomb on their chest and kill people they really don’t know anything about? In every country where Muslim’s are a minority and living in societies where they have opportunities, they are generally passive with the exception of either low-functioning individuals who’ve been radicalized or by those who’ve immigrated for the purpose of conducting terrorism. In every country where Muslim’s have a majority and where all of the wealth is centered on those in charge leaving the citizens destitute and poor…guess what you have? Yup, terrorism, despair, hunger, and an overall lack of humanity.

Not every Muslim country has a ruthless dictator who steals all the money for himself. In those countries who share the wealth with its citizens – a la the UAE, they have stability, a robust economy, and peaceful relationships with others. Personally, I think the religion itself promotes intolerance of other cultures and religions, that’s just me looking through my own lens of life, but you can certainly parallel how poverty and despair effect lifestyle, opportunity and political views even if the motivators are unique.

Similarly, in America, some of our social welfare systems, while good intentioned, have been allowed to manifest themselves into perpetual class makers whose unintentional outcomes have resulted in a separate society of the mostly self-disenfranchised. We’ve long since recognized the consequences of that system gone amuck but no one has stepped up to the very hot plate of political correctness to fix the broken system. Those who are stuck in that place between veritable impoverishment and a safety-net have little motivation to do anything other than what they’ve been schooled their whole life to fleece. Why would they – life without a net can be difficult. If you pull the rug out from under those who have grown up dependent on it, what would we do to prepare them to live without it? It’s very complicated.

White people get especially roused up when black people start talking about reparations for slavery but when you stop to hear the argument, it actually made sense back then. I’m not smart enough to know if it makes sense now, I’ll leave that one up to you but here me out. This country made it legal to enslave human beings, mostly Africans, from about 1619 until the conclusion of the civil war in 1865. That’s almost 250 years. During that time colonists, farmers, plantation owners and simple households alike were allowed to inflict any form of oppression over their slaves as they saw fit because those people were not considered, under our laws, to be human. Of significant importance was that they denied their slaves of all forms of education – social, scholastic, legal, or otherwise – to ten (10) successive generations of human beings. Those human beings are now our neighbors, friends, co-workers, preachers and soldiers.

It took another 100 years (4 more generations) for the US government to recognize that blacks deserved the same rights as any other American – with some white Americans kicking and screaming all the way. When blacks were finally set free, America just handed them a green card and said, “Here ya go”. No one offered to help educate them or assist them in their assimilation with the rest of the country or offer them any financial means of self-reliance to get started. These people were woefully unprepared to live autonomously anywhere but somehow they did. We put them in boats of isolation and poverty and yet we marvel at how each vessel has traveled in alternate paths, never really able to reach the same destination. Maybe we do owe them some penance to help them catch up. It’s difficult to rationalize the fairness of it 150 years after-the-fact but it’s also difficult to ignore the consequences of not having done it.

Last year, I re-connected with an old friend from middle and high school who happens to be black. It’s kind of funny because Emily was out-of-town for work and the TN Walking Horse National Celebration was going on in town so there were these food trucks situated all along Madison Street selling/grilling BBQ and since I was technically a bachelor that week I decided to visit one of them and get some take-out for dinner after work.

All of the sudden, this great big black guy comes up and gives me a huge hug. It was late August and he’d been grilling BBQ in the high heat which made him quite sweaty but he was so expressive and affectionate that it scarcely phased me…I just wanted to know who he was. “Chris White! Damn I sure have missed you, I think about you all the time.” All of the sudden I recognized Isaiah Kelly from school. We played drums together in Jr. High and played football together on a team my dad coached. I ended up hanging out with him for at least an hour or two catching up on him and his life since school then stopping in again the next afternoon to get more BBQ and another big sweaty hug. I had also dropped by the horse show grounds to get a box of Optimist Club doughnuts to give to him and his crew which was a big hit.

For Isaiah and I, there were no barriers of race or history or distrust, we were just two 12 year-old’s both turning 50 and happy to be doing so. Just two happy Guinea Pigs, one white and one black, from a 1960’s social experiment that seemed so very ordinary and normal to us. It’s funny that when you talk about race on a macro scale, it always controversial but when you bring it down to a personal level it’s always just about personality. Once you wipe off all of the dust that gets kicked up by people who don’t know or understand each other, it’s just you and I that remain. While Isaiah may have his doubts about white folks in general and while I might look over my shoulder in a bad part of Nashville, he and I have no doubts about each other and I have no doubt that time, honest conversation and a ban on political correctness could heal much of what plagues us in America today.

Going back to our conversation on reparations, what if black people would have been treated differently after emancipation? What if we would have offered educational opportunities, a place to live, and some spending money? What if white America would have embraced those terribly mistreated souls instead of segregating ourselves from our own shames and what if we would have admitted the horrible mistake of slavery instead of being indignant about it? Do you think that perhaps America would be different today? Do you think that a natural assimilation of the two cultures could have emerged, trust would have prevailed and we’d all be speaking, acting, living, working and praying similarly?

Looking through my own lens on the world, I seem to see a lot of that anyway. I see our country as mostly healed and I see lots of black success stories both on television and in our community. But, the one thing we all have to remember when we begin to put our judge robes on…we all don’t live in the same city, we all don’t have the same life experiences, we all don’t have the same familial and generational stories and backgrounds, we all don’t have the same political ideologies and none of us are privileged to see things from the same viewpoints, heights and angles.

I cannot help to think that America may be repeating the sins of our colonial cousins today, only with a new victim…homosexual people. Yes forgive me, I said it, gay people are being mistreated horribly, just like black people were back then. Of course no heterosexual male stereotype worth the weight of his own pot-belly wouldn’t first say up front that “I AM NOT GAY” when trying to write about a subject like this. I guess I might as well say “up-front” that I’m not black either. Anyway, with all the proper documentation now expressed, let’s now proceed and put this blog to bed.

Humans, no matter what generation we live in or what behavior we are trying to support or condemn, we can always find biblical references to support our beliefs. If you’re a supporter of capital punishment then you subscribe the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). If you’re debating the legitimacy of capital punishment then you would cite Exodus 20:13 – “Thou shalt not kill”. During slavery times, it was just as easy to find supporting scripture to justify your behavior, i.e., Ephesians 6:5 and Titus 2:9, “They asked who should question the word of God when it is said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”, or “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect”.

I’m not suggesting that the bible contradicts itself, what I’m saying is that there are contexts with which those scriptures are written and they are not to be used selfishly and without a thorough understanding of their meanings within the contexts and confines of the particular message being conveyed. It’s not hard to find all sorts of biblical references to all sorts of common behaviors or lifestyles especially homosexuality, but, when you choose to make a personal judgement are you not missing the forest for the trees? Opponents of gay marriage follow a very literal approach to the bible when they cite Old Testament passages that declare, “You shall not lie with a male as with a women; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)

There’s not a lot of ambiguity in that passage, however, shouldn’t Christians be citing passages from the New Testament instead of the Old Testament? Why did God put Christ on this earth anyway? John 3:17 clearly states, “For God sent not his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 12:47 says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
You see, we as humans are not capable of understanding everything that God has put before us. There are some things that are beyond our abilities to fully comprehend. We, as humans, like to put things in neat little boxes so that we can be comfortable and safe in our little worlds. But God knows our fallacies and our accomplishments without explanations or YouTube tutorials. Clearly we should not be judging anyone as even Jesus Christ did not think it was his place to judge us, but God only.

I’m carrying a few extra pounds and that would be called gluttony in the bible and thus a sin. But God knows my troubles and my weaknesses and he forgives me. Some people might smoke. Some people might covet another’s wife or husband. Some of us, including me, have lied a few times and have used God’s name if vain. The bible says we are all sinners. Every stinking one of us. We cannot escape what God says we can’t escape. We are born to be sinners. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better, it just means that one day we will all be judged for something.

Maybe your sin was small and mine was big but I made amends for mine and felt genuine guilt and empathy for my victim and yet you felt nothing and did nothing but try to conceal your tiny little sin. Maybe God gives me a pass for my big sin and fry’s your ass for your little one. Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. Again, just another reiteration for you… “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…”(John 3:16 (17)(18).

What I’m saying is that we should stop looking for ways to condemn anyone for anything, whether we personally accept or approve of the behavior or not because we all have offensive behaviors and we are all sinners and none of us have the biblical authority to judge other human beings. If Jesus Christ said that he doesn’t have the biblical authority to judge or condemn people then I’m terribly sorry to inform you that you don’t either. If a gay couple gets married, it’s not taking a single thing from you. Why should you care? If you think that it offends your religion because marriage is a religious institution then stop personalizing Christianity as being yours. It’s not. It belongs to anyone who accepts ALL of what it teaches, including but not limited to homosexual people.

The New Testament values faithfulness, love, sacrifice and promise-based commitment. Those things can be just as prevalent in a gay marriage as in a heterosexual marriage. Your faith is a personal relationship you have with God through Jesus Christ (if you’re a Christian). Your sins are between you and God and He knows your heart, drives, weaknesses and sacrifices. The rest of us don’t know all those things about you and thus should not be doing the work of God without all of the personal inside information with which to conduct a fair assessment of just how great or terrible you really are.

All that said and 4892 words later…please stop all your judgement’s for just one minute and start to think about your faith and your influences on those around you. Are you perpetuating and teaching positive things or negative things? Black people deserve to be heard and their voices shouldn’t be silenced just because the dialogue makes us feel uncomfortable. I get that you’re a generation X’r and that you have no idea what racism is…that doesn’t negate the fact that racism still exists or that black people are naturally going to feel more threatened by the perception of it. There are messages inside those speeches and on those posters that we all need to digest so that we don’t dismiss the very things that are causing so much dissension and chaos among us.

Gay people deserve to be heard too. All they are asking for is to be treated equally. If you or I don’t understand why their brains are programmed the way they are then it’s ok, we will all survive. I don’t understand a lot of people’s brains but that doesn’t give me the right to decide whether or not they deserve to be treated equally and/or with some dignity. We need to stop thinking of homosexuality as a behavior and start to recognize it as simply an alternative way of thinking. It’s a brain thing not a penis thing. If you’re born with the instinctive attraction to the opposite sex then we like to consider you a heterosexual. If you’re born with an instinctive attraction to the same-sex then we like to call you a homosexual. They’re words not swords. At the end of the day, we’re talking about that which is instinctive, not that which is decided. Gender and Sexuality live in our brains, not our sexual organs, and they are not always going to be consistent with our genitalia because they reside in separate places in our brains.

God says I can’t be all-knowing because I’m human – SO, even though it pisses me off to say it – I hereby officially accept that I don’t know every f’ing thing. I get that not everyone will agree with me. It’s a controversial subject.