Shake’n Bake Politics

When I was a kid, I was hypnotized by those Shake’n Bake commercials. I remember hounding my mom to get us some. It was like watching a magic show to a kid. She never bought in to my demands, thank goodness, but I can’t imagine that I gave in very easily. I don’t know if I was convinced that you didn’t have to cook it or what. The commercials just make it all look so easy; you just put the ingredients in the bag, then the meat, shake it up and voila – fried pork chops.

It’s funny to me that the human brain is wired to assist things into mental completion. We complete each other’s sentences, we answer questions not fully asked, and we assume we know things we’ve been told, even when the things we’re told aren’t true at all. All one must do in order to get most of us to believe something is to provide a subtle hint as to a logical conclusion and allow our brains to make the connection. It’s like finishing a sentence when there’s no sentence – just superfluous information. That’s what television advertising is great at doing.

We’re in the middle of a local election here in Shelbyville, Tennessee and of course there’s lots of tension and drama concerning the prospect that a very popular Mayor could be usurped by a lesser known candidate. In fact, there are four people running for that job. Our current Mayor suffered a fall a few months back and damaged his knee. His rehabilitation has been slow but very steady. He’s back doing the job of Mayor and we’re blessed he didn’t suffer any permanent damage.

That perceived weakness, though, has opened the door for a few others to try their hand at getting that job. Being human, we sometimes seize opportunities to further our own interests at the expense of another person’s weakness. It is a very human thing to do. In so doing, our personal agendas can make so much more sense to people when you provide a logical rationale, a potential conspiracy, and a solution – especially when you allow the person you’re telling to make his or own conclusion as to real truth. The kicker is that the game rules were first established by the story teller.

It’s Shake’n Bake. I give you a bag with magic powder in it. The magic powder that will solve all your problems. I then give you a free piece of meat. We put the meat in the bag and I allow you to do the shaking up. When we’re done, a transformation has taken place. The raw meat now looks like a fried pork chop. The problem? You can’t eat it. It’s not what you thought it was.

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Eugene Ray is an African American living in a small county of about 50,000 people. He represents one man of an approximate 10% demographic. Yet, he was elected and served as a county commissioner for twenty years and has been overwhelmingly elected, re-elected and supported by the good people of this county for three terms. In the previous election, he won every single voting precinct in Bedford County. He didn’t win the overwhelming confidence of the people of this county by conspiracy. He won our trust because he’s the best man I’ve ever known and likely the best man you’ve ever known too.

The biggest rumor going around is that Eugene wants to win the election then immediately step down and appoint me as his surrogate. This is completely false and is not even legal in this state. Whomever created this lie did so because they want to play into your natural suspiciousness to government. They want you to believe that you can no longer trust your government. They used my name because everyone knows that I am personally close to him and that I am a department head with whom he has trusted with several important projects. It makes sense right?

So, let’s just put this rumor into proper perspective so that you can know how crazy it would be. First, Tennessee Code Annotated tells us what the law is with respect to an elected official stepping down during a term. A perfect example can be found right here when our state Senator, Jim Tracy, stepped down from his office last year. When that happens, the Legislative Body of the County (County Commission) is the only entity who can appoint an interim Mayor. Not the Mayor himself.

If that would happen, the chance that myself or any other department head would step up to ask for the Commission to appointment them is nearly zero. I say nearly only because there might be someone who’s close to retirement age who might actually try, but I’m only 53 so that would not be me. The biggest reason it would not be me is because I would have to quit the security of a decent job for an opportunity to serve a few months interim then run in the next general election for an opportunity to win and finish out what’s left of that term.

I would have to quit my job and spend tons of money gambling for a small chance of keeping my new job. Why would I or anyone do something like that? No one in my or any similar position has prepared or raised money for an election campaign, we’ve not been campaigning or getting our name out or gotten to know the electorate, bought expensive signs, or in any way positioned ourselves to compete in any election. It would be completely absurd to think that any of us would do that and its dismissive of our integrity to automatically assume we’d even want to become politicians.

Mayor Eugene Ray is well-known to be a man of the highest integrity and of the utmost moral character. He is never going to challenge the rumor mill because he doesn’t believe in kicking turds around – giving credence to rumors that undermine the fabric of everything he’s proven himself to be – time and time again. Eugene doesn’t need a magic powder and a mixing bag to produce anything. He’s a man of action – not shake’n bake politics.

Eugene Ray has not only been transformative for our county government but also the people of Bedford County. People love Eugene Ray and I love Eugene Ray. That said, there are still people out there who have never supported him and never will.

What I do know is that he really wants to serve us once again. If we’re fortunate enough to have this amazing man be willing to serve us once more, we’d be fools to not take him up on the offer. I am asking you, if you live in Bedford County, to please come out to support and vote for Eugene Ray one more time. He has earned our loyalty and our trust without trick nor treat.

While other candidates can debate each other over who’s the most qualified among their group, and there are some that I really like as individuals, you and I already know that the highest rated among them could never come close to measuring up to our Eugene Ray – I honestly don’t know another man who could. That is not a fault to any of the other candidates, that’s just reality. Lets do this! Shake’n Bake!

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When the Levee Breaks

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I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.

Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.

I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.

One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.

Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:

  • The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
  • There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
  • There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.

There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.

Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.

What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?  

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People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.

This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.

But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.

We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.

There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.

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One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.

The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.

If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.

Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.

As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.

Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.

The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.

“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.

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In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?

There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.

There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”

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If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.

If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?

On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.

In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.

Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.

The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.

Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy?  Why am I so cynical these days?

How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.

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News Makes You Fat

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In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with 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. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously 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, 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 thinking, 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. 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. It’s 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 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 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 irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.

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 as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.

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 accumulating 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 shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.

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.


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.

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 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 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 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. News is an intentional interruption system. 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 used to be 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.

News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is 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 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 that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.

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 that is all 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 and it’s 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 just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

Income Inequality and Kim Jong-un

Have you been hearing the new catch phrases Income Inequality and Wealth Inequality lately? I have, entirely too much, and to be honest it really pisses me off when I hear it. 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 because my poor wife just can’t take much more of all my long-winded soliloquies about socialism when I hear these idiotic phrases being repeated on radio and television. This 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 suppress. But don’t kid yourself, those ideologies are always present.

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. I like 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” 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 apply for and receive a few farm subsidies.

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 us. 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 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. 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.

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For people who don’t have ambition, the system encourages people to stay right where they are rather than just be there for 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 which had some early success then failed but evolved into a fairly decent side business for me.

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 had to actually report those non-taxable earnings on their tax returns then no one would qualify to be on the poverty tables anymore because 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’ve 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 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 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 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.  It strips them of the liberty to buy, sell, work, and live how they 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. 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 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 themselves then 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 fight their way 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 this fixed thing. “Those people over there are the 1 percent.” “These over here live in poverty.” “That other group is 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 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, 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 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 during it. That’s life though. That in no way means I will stop trying; no, I keep finding more and more things to aggravate my wife over.

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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 and grows. 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 be equal. 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 it weren’t for that 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, 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, 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 just because they can’t have all the same things you or I have. 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 and create and 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 have to create that are necessary in order to give free money away. It costs governments more money to give money away than the money that they are giving away. America has the means to do way more than it is doing without taking more from its doers. 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 I have it to use 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 that 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 and have $800 per month student loan payments 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.

This modern socialistic style of health care is also making it difficult for physicians to earn high wages too. These guys have student loan debt that may require them to make monthly payments as high as $2,500.00 a month. The reason people choose the medical field is so that they can earn big money knowing that they will be relatively poor until their debt is paid. 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 Oklahoma, Billings Montana, 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 delousing 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. 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 every 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.

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.

Idiocracy

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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!

 

 

Now, What? Our Mentally-Vulnerable & Gun Control

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When I was a young fella growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I vividly remember the Victorian-era mental hospital that operated across the highway from the old Berry Field. Of course many things have changed a lot from the 1960’s through today and most people no longer call the airport in Nashville – “Berry Field”. Now, the airport is most appropriately referred to as the Nashville International Airport and the location across Murfreesboro Pike where the old Asylum we affectionately called “Central State” used to sit is currently the Nashville campus for Dell Computers. If you were a kid living near or around “Central State” back then, your parents probably threatened you just like mine did with a short stay there when we were acting a little too rambunctious.

In my late teen’s, my cousin David White (DNA You Can Count On) worked security there. I don’t guess that I ever fully realized back then that the buildings were so old. I later learned, by means of an after-hours non-sanctioned midnight tour with my older cousin that the buildings were actually built during the mid 1800’s. When I was about 19 or 20, David and I jumped a fence and snuck onto the grounds late at night and we played pranks on the night-shift security guards to scare them. We actually did a pretty good job of it at that. But one of the things that struck me then that I still vividly remember were these old subterranean dungeon-type cells in the basement of one of the main buildings.

When we toured the old basement by flashlight, the hallways were mostly obstructed with modern HVAC ducting, water and sewer pipes and electrical conduit. The remnants of prison-esque cells along both sides of the long concrete corridor – many of which still had iron wall-shackles ominously hanging from cell walls – reminded me that the treatment for our mentally Ill was pretty barbaric in 1852 when Central State first opened. This, of course, fueled my imagination with torturous and sadistic imagery, forced-lobotomies and electric-shock therapy, stuff that would excite the imaginations of any teenager.

I cannot imagine that those features were still being used when that institution closed for good in 1995. Lets say, I’m confident that they were not. But Central State Mental Hospital and many other psychiatric treatment centers like it were systematically closed in the 1980’s and 1990’s due mostly with a paradigm shift in public perception where such facilities were widely viewed as inhumane. But a political backlash between the Carter and Reagan administrations over institutional government waste also found the perfect expensive government program ripe for dismantling. Lastly, medical and psycho-pharmacological drug advances and other alternative psycho-medical treatments all contributed to the logic of shutting these dinosaurs down for good.

When you’re young, it’s difficult to relate to an object, place or story like that. It just seemed interesting or funny or pitiful or whatever. You can comprehend what it is, no problem, it’s just not relative to anything personal. But life eventually happens to every single one of us. Our lives become ever fuller, more complex and entrenched with the lives of hundreds or even thousands of other people. One of these days, no matter where your story begins, you’re going to have gobs and gobs of conversational experience to share when your crazy uncle starts bringing up uncomfortable subjects at the Christmas dinner table. You’ll just have to trust me on that!

At that time, I could have never imagined that a member of my own immediate family, my brother who was 13 months my senior, would end up with a serious psychiatric disorder. Until then, that old building meant nothing. Now, at the precipice of 50, a father, a husband and the brother of a victim of a serious psychological illness that resulted in his suicide, my perspectives on life in general and of course my views on institutional treatment for the mentally-ill have percolated. I am at a place in my life where a person has to challenge him/herself politically as well because there are always going to be valid arguments over certain social welfare programs which challenge even the most conservative minds of our time.

People who’ve never had to rely on welfare, obviously cannot find a profoundly positive reason to have it. The negatives, in their minds, out-weigh the positives. Similarly, those of you who’ve never been challenged to care for a mentally vulnerable family member who you love but whom also challenges your definition of the word “unconditionally”, its impossible to know how valuable an in-patient mental care facility really is. These are people you love but people who scare you as much for what they could do to others but also of themselves and your family. These, in some cases, are loved one’s who are not only broken, but who oftentimes break everyone around them.

What happened to in-patient mental treatment? It’s mostly all disappeared  except for a few temporary hospital wards and the VA Hospitals. The institutions which had been once hailed as a safe refuge for society’s most vulnerable men and women had, in reality, earned a reputation as becoming dehumanizing and prison-like. Before the 1980’s and 1990’s, pharmacology for mental illness was pretty much non-existent. We and the rest of the civilized world had been institutionalizing our mentally hopeless for many centuries as we knew well that regardless of the love we have for these people, they can and do cause great harm to others if we don’t take some sort of preemptive measures to control their accesses and ability to act on their impulses.

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Before asylums, the burden of keeping vulnerable individuals rested entirely on family. ‘Mad’ people, as they were often referred, who could not be kept at home wandered free, begging for food and shelter often finding neither. Families cannot be counted on to care for them because they often put so much stress on their family that it forced them to free themselves of the responsibility or suffer harm themselves. One must often choose between their spouse and children or a family member who, by no choice of his/her own, introduces instability, irrationality and fear into an otherwise happy home.

All that said, the de-institutionalization of our seriously mentally-ill has gone terribly wrong. There has been a steady decades-long push to move mentally-ill patients out of mental hospitals and into community-based care facilities or no structured facility at all. This push coincides with a steady increase in the percentage of mentally-ill prison inmates nationwide. Likewise, the rise of homelessness in America began to skyrocket in the 1980’s, ironically the same time mental hospitals nationwide began to close.

As psychiatric hospitals continue to close and our government leaders keep choosing to inadequately finance exploitative entrepreneurs in community-care and residential programs where no medical psychiatry exists, where are our mentally-ill going to be getting their much needed treatments? Just recently, the Obama administration’s Eric Holder began cracking down on states who still have psychiatric treatment centers. This continued attempt to move vulnerable people to community care programs where they have little or no access to any form of treatment other than massive cocktails of pills prescribed by general physicians who have no training whatsoever in mental illnesses is a prime example that our government still isn’t getting it.

Prisons & Jails are the new de facto asylums’ in the United States. Is it really fair to jail our mentally-ill instead of just caring for them so they’re not in a position to commit crime in the first place? What’s worse, real prison with real bad people or a prison-esque asylum? 65% of the populations of local, state and federal prisons are people with serious mental health issues. In 1970, it was reported that 5% of inmates were seriously mentally-ill. Studies from the 1920’s reported that only 2% of inmates were seriously mentally-ill. In Philadelphia, for example, mental-illness related incidents increased 227.6% from 1975 to 1979, whereas felonies increased only 5.6%. The mentally-ill are 3 times more likely to be arrested than the average citizen.

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My own brother followed these same statistical patterns. He would drift away from medication because the medication brought about undesired side effects, then he would fall into a state of manic mental decline and depression. Just like the movie Groundhog Day, he would again and again do something incredibly scary to some innocent person with whom he would fixate his attentions, which would bring in the police and justice system. Then, we as a family, would attempt to speak with his VA case worker and/or physicians which resulted in complete incompetence, apathy, denial or forced acknowledgment of the HIPAA privacy law which was/is an excuse not to do anything at all.

After inaction on the part of non-existent medical healthcare and his VA social workers, he would be re-arrested for whatever scary thing he was doing to undeserving people, then we would work with the District Attorney’s office to seek a more appropriate legal remedy which might or might not result in court-ordered treatment at the VA Hospital psyche-ward for a few months where he would be forcibly required to medicate. After a few weeks of treatment, he would slowly regain whatever equilibrium available to him through the use of undesirable psyche medications, then summarily released back to his own care which would begin the cycle over and over again. When that system failed, he’d spend months in the county jail with predatory room mates and guards that treated him horribly, instead of humanely.

The only thing that would change was that each time he entered and exited the system, he would become increasingly more difficult to deal with. My brother would further and further push the boundaries of his fixations when he was off his meds, and his jail sentences would become ever longer because his record of arrest was becoming ever more impressive. His experiences in jail and in forced-treatment were also systematically crossing the fragile thresholds of inhumanity as his own bizarre behaviors, not understood by simple jail guards, invited such a response, not just from workers in the system but also by other inmates and VA patients.

Jail/Prison staff and police officers are not properly trained in crisis intervention for the mentally-ill. It is no more fair to incarcerate mental-ill persons alongside committed criminals as it is to ask untrained and unprepared jailers to appropriately care for them in a place which is not designed to render such care. Likewise, we as taxpayers are having to foot the bill for their expensive incarceration and hold our noses while our mentally-ill loved ones are being treated like criminals when many of them do get their prescribed medicines while incarcerated and are completely lucid and fully functional once they’ve been inside for a week. But, we’re afraid to let them come home. You end up feeling incredibly guilty because you don’t want them in a jail but you don’t want them staring into your refrigerator with glassy eyes either.

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Our current approach is way more archaic in some ways than the asylums of our past. Instead of questionable accommodations and horrible surgical procedures, we just lock them in jail with hardened criminals, expose them to prison rape, inmate assault and bullying on a daily basis along with an environment which exacerbates paranoia and distrust – the very thing that most of them live in fear of and try to avoid. In mental illnesses, it is difficult to draw a line between what is treatable and what is without hope. Confinement may be necessary for some to protect the patient and society from bizarre, irrational behavior but that incarceration should not be a prison cell with a rapist for a bunk mate and predators around every corner.

Hospitals won’t keep them due to demands of patient advocacy groups. They sometimes assault other patients and staff, which unfairly exposes them to libelous actions. However, such patients should be treated the same as anyone else with any illness. Physicians have the same obligations of care to the mentally-ill as they do to anyone who is ill in any other way. The complicated part rests in the physician’s responsibility to the patient versus his/her responsibility to society. But, that’s only because they have no options available to them otherwise. Our government has closed them all down.

Regardless of the position of a hospital or a particular physician, society’s principle loyalty and duty should be held in the best interests of any vulnerable American (i.e., infant, child, elderly, or physically or mentally handicapped). As a country, we can’t continue to ignore the needs of our country’s most vulnerable while subsidizing the lifestyles of citizens who can take care of themselves but refuse to do so. We must draw a line in the sand somewhere. If money is the issue, we must do what is necessary to care for our vulnerable first, then take what is left to divide among the bottom feeders. If that statement offends you, read a different blog.

The formal mental health care institution was among the earliest fruits of the American social welfare programs of the nineteenth century. Contemporary medicine and ideologies have allowed us to outsmart ourselves and take the self-aggrandizing bait believing that we can create pills that will eradicate mental illness. But instead of solving the problem we’ve just created a new demographic of society called “public mass murderers”. These are kids and adults who’s insurance companies require them to forgo any real psychiatric treatment for mental illness, get psyche pills from a general practitioner and pain meds from a licensed drug dealer (pain clinic), neither of which know a single thing about mental illness, then after living a miserable existence for weeks, months or years, decide to take a gun to school, a movie theater or mall and put as many people out of their perceived misery as they can before taking their own lives or being gunned down by cops.

I’m not suggesting the return of lobotomies or electric shock therapy, I’m suggesting the return of common smarts and a sense of loyalty to our most vulnerable population. We can’t afford not to care for them because they are killing us and themselves while we are loving them to death. Prisons are far more expensive to build than humane hospitals yet 65% of the incarcerated are now considered seriously mentally ill. How many new jails and prisons could communities forgo the construction of if we just did one smart thing and built a place to properly care for our sick with real psychiatrists and psychologists? We don’t have a gun problem, we have a crisis-level of incompetence and lack of common sense in our capitols who’d rather blame the other team than do the hard work to solve real problems.

I find it so ironic today that as a young guy, I tried so hard to get into one of these places when decades later my brother worked so hard to stay out of one. But, he’s gone now, another victim of a failed political policy and a broken bureaucracy. Yes, he was broken too, but that should have just amplified our responsibility to help him, not become an excuse to ignore him. Now, what?

Update – February 2018

The recent school shooting in Broward County Florida reminded me of this blog I wrote a few years ago. Once again, politicians are using victims as pawn in a political argument and once again, people are focused on the tool of a mad man instead of the mad man himself. Our police tell us, “See Something, Say Something”. But, didn’t people say something and didn’t they say it pretty often?

The problem was not the gun, the problem was not apathy on the part of the public. Nope, people did get involved and they reported him time after time. The problem was that the police had no options available to them. The man was obviously mentally disturbed but he’d committed no crime that allowed them to remove him from the public. If the police had been able to arrest him for something long-term, would that have helped? No, because that’s not what this man needed and the police are not the people who we need to solve these kinds of problems. We need mental institutions that are geared for long-term in-patient mental medical treatment and care.

If you see something then say something, what next? Well, uh, nothing is next unless what you saw was a serious crime. If what you saw was a warning sign of something terrible about to happen, what in the hell can the police do about a warning sign? Nothing people! Not one damn thing. So stop with the “See Something, Say Something” mantra. It’s not ever going to work.

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This man should have been picked up and transported to a mental care facility and hospitalized, diagnosed properly, treated for his illness and cared for indefinitely until such time as he was safe to live among the rest of us. His physician should have been able to enter his name onto a HIPPA compliant Mental-Illness registry that is integrated into the NCIC Database that is searched when a person makes a gun purchase. And when he attempted to buy that weapon, that HIPPA compliant registry would have triggered an automated response that wouldn’t tell the gun store clerk what he was diagnosed with, but would deny the gun store the ability to sell that weapon to him – just like it would if he’d been a felon.

But that automated registry doesn’t currently exist and that treatment hospital doesn’t exist. Nothing exists but jails and prisons and police but jails and prisons and police can’t do anything until after the murders occur. So, “see something, do nothing” is perhaps a more appropriate jingle don’t you think? What’s horrible too is that disturbed young man will live out his life in a prison that will never treat him for his mental illness. Instead, he will live a hellish life of chaos and fear in a place he really doesn’t deserve to live in and children are dead that should be going to school and dating and taking their driving tests and fulfilling and enriching the lives of their parents and siblings and communities. None of this should have happened and it all could have been prevented.

President Obama, in his first term, had control of both houses of congress and the white house…if he had thought gun control would have solved this problem, he could have certainly tried it. But instead, he put all his political capital in passing a health care bill that still ignored the mentally-ill. He totally ignored gun control and was the only president in recent history who had the power to modify the way we buy guns.

I personally don’t think gun control is the answer because it can’t address the way criminals buy guns and statistics prove that the number of guns in the hands of a country’s citizens has zero correlation to the amount of violent crimes committed. So gun control is really an ignorant argument that is entirely predicated on political activism and not the greater good.

What we need to focus on are two things: What we’re doing with our most vulnerable populations; and, how to keep that population from legally purchasing firearms. We desperately need places that know how to care mentally vulnerable people – long term, and we need a national registry of those people that is integrated in our NCIC database that alerts gun sellers that the buyer is either ineligible for his/her criminal past or because their name is on a mental health registry. The sellers have no idea why a person is denied now, except that it must be criminal, so what would be the difference if we added another layer?

We need to do whatever we can to keep our mentally-ill out of jails and prisons, and instead inside places that know how to properly care for them, and we need to keep them from buying guns without restricting lawful purchases of guns by law-abiding citizens. That’s it. There’s nothing political about it. It’s the right thing to do for the greater good of everyone.

American Politics: An Illegible Mess!

Americans are very fortunate. Our rights, privileges and entitlements are massive in comparison to what citizens of other countries enjoy. We may not be able to afford it, but we are very happy to have it? Just imagine a life without something you maybe never think about; the freedom of information. No one now living in America can comprehend living life without such a basic right. But citizens whom reside in many 1st world countries are living such an existence every day. Life and government in places like Italy, China or Russia are oh so different. Government corruption is so pervasive in those places that I’m not sure it can be stopped and the citizens there have no rights to know of the details.

Does government corruption exist in America? Absolutely. There is and there always will be some level of corruption in American government for at least one very good reason…power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton 1887). But, the biggest difference here is that with our Freedom of Information Act, we have the ability to uncover most if not all of what occurs in our government so long as we know the right questions to ask. Couple our right to all non-privileged information with the advent and widespread use of pocket communications devices with video/audio recording capabilities, social media mania, mass media and the occasional whistle blower and you end up with a place which presents big problems for people who tend to abuse power for illegal or unauthorized purposes. Just ask Edward Snowden, he’d be happy to let you listen to an NSA wiretap and show you surveillance photos of you stealing a box of crayons from Lucy May’s lunchbox in 1973 then later bragging about it to your brother on your Midland hand held walkie-talkies while playing army in the back yard.

If you are able to expose corruption, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will listen nor does it mean that people will care. It just means that the information is usually available for anyone who wants to know. Mass media, in particular, news and political journalism, presents its own set of problems. Blogging, what I am doing right now, essentially rose in popularity out of two things…access and popularity of social media together with a desire to present both unfiltered or alternatively biased news and information. Much of the motivation to blog was brought about by the widespread abuse of bias in mass media. When we read something in a newspaper or watch it on the Nightly News broadcast, we once assumed we were learning facts. But in reality, Walter Cronkite is dead and so is non-biased news reporting.

The end result is multifaceted. On one hand we have a large demographic of people who only watch or listen to liberal media, a large demographic who only watch and listen to conservative media, a large demographic who are repulsed by both, and a large demographic who couldn’t care less because it is ALL seen to have no credibility or in some cases they just don’t really care at all. In my opinion, the divisiveness we see in Washington DC is a direct by-product of what our mass media has unintentionally created. In a narcissistic way, mass media conglomerates decided years ago that they were smarter than the average Joe and they could use that intelligence to embed ideas into their stories or frame a particular story in a certain way in order to push the American consciousness toward whatever agenda they supported.

The problem is that Joe was a lot smarter than was expected and Joe’s political perspectives, if they were naturally opposite from those propagated by media bias, became much more serious and perhaps a bit extreme. But Jane, in reaction to Joe’s spirited contempt for opposing political views, became more protective of her own political views in order to promote her own agenda. Now, instead of having a broad centrist political ideology in America as we once did, we have two teams fighting for their lives for a collective of ideas in which we may only agree with half. The few remaining centrists are so hamstrung by focused ideological positions that they have little influence and no voice. Probably half or more of the die-hard conservatives or die-hard liberals really subscribe to ALL of the platform of either party. The rest of them only support the party vigorously because they want their party to win, regardless of their more centrist leanings.

Journalists in general can be divided into a few small groups: the independents and bloggers (few, heroic and frequently marginalized), the slaves (numerous, exploited and paid per article to have a particular opinion), and the great mouthpieces of the system hired or appointed to important positions by the parties and the lobbies (newspaper editors, editors in chief, famous names, or academics who are well-known in their field). Although we have this wonderful power over our government, The Freedom of Information Act, how that information is framed and presented to us is determined by whether that actor/hero/offender is a friend or foe of the media giant who is providing the information. We don’t get the whole story and decide for ourselves if it is good or bad, we get only bits and pieces of the story that appear to be either wholesome, moronic or demonic, depending upon how the media wants us to view it.

Who decides whether we will get the CNN version of Hillary Clinton or the FOX News version? I ask this because the two versions are rife with differences and anomalies you wouldn’t otherwise hear about from the other side. It is, of course, we ourselves who decide what we listen to but it’s the decision itself that bothers me. Why are we forced to watch biased news? We as Americans are forced to make a deliberate decision to have our news filtered to our own ideological standards. If news weren’t biased, then we wouldn’t have to watch the version which most appeals to our sense of right and wrong. If this weren’t happening, would we really be so disagreeable in the political spectrum? Could we then expect our politicians to actually accomplish things in Washington as we once did?

Our un-governed and unlimited 1st Amendment has worked to completely eradicate the role of “statesmen” from the American vernacular. George Washington himself could not have survived the onslaught of media bias in today’s political environment. Abe Lincoln would likely have been pinned a radical tea-party wacko and closeted girly-man for his rumored sleepovers with his BFF. Perhaps the brilliant statesman known the world over would never have emerged at all because he’d have been too busy poling voters and defending his awkward man-scaping. How many would-be statesmen have we sent to Washington that will never realize their potential – our potential – because of sleazy political correspondents whose sole purpose in life is to ruin the career of a candidate who represents a certain political party? It’s a sad reality when we would so quickly deny ourselves of a great leader just because he liked to wear onesies and wake up next to a bearded assistant.

Americans are being manipulated by the parties, the banks and by industry and these all use the media to distort reality. America has become one enormous reality show of three hundred million people that listen to fairy stories, and fantastic tales in such massive doses and for so long that they have transformed the country into a gigantic “Truman Show” in which truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. The more the system decomposes, the more the media becomes the last ferocious rampart (in fact, there is no further line of defense) losing every scrap of restraint and shame.

We witness the in-fighting and feigned hate in political dialogue, especially at election time, and I say to myself that it is incredible that anyone could accomplish a single goal. The ferocity with which the disagreements are carried can only result in a complete inability to listen to anyone who disagrees. And the worst part is that most of it is staged anyway. The majority of those guys who are beating each other up on stage are having dinner together to discuss strategy afterwards. They’re just pandering to the vocal majority of each of their particular groups. In reality, they just want to keep you entertained long enough to get another 4 years. In Washington, you’re either at the table or on the table. Strong public support gets you a seat at the table so you can feast on the carcasses of the once principled and incorruptible.

The moral of my blog today is that America has many items which should be on a to-do list. But in order to check them off that list, our system of collaboration (House of Representatives and Senate) requires that we hold the hands of others as we grasp the pencil to write. If one is left hand dominant and the other is right hand dominant, the pencil remains unmoved or scratches an illegible mess on the paper. Both hands must find balance and each must allow the other to have its moments. The incredible system we have never allows for an all-out win…never. Such a feat is impossible and for good reasons. You must accept each win with some concessions for the opposing force or you must accept abject failure. The American system of government, as I understand it, does not allow for tyrannical dominance, even if the views of the tyrant are pure or even best.

On that to-do list, first and foremost, should be the creation of some 1st Amendment don’ts for mass media and some sweeping election reform. There are some limits to free speech…you can’t yell “fire” in a movie theater unless there is a fire. So, let’s also make political comments free from annotation. Until we can erase media bias as a go-to lexicon for American political commentary, we will continue to propagate divisiveness and political radicalism. The term “spin” should be a dirty word. Both sides do it and both sides are wrong. Its manipulation plain and simple and it should be illegal because the fabric of a strong government rests on an educated public, not bamboozled bobble-head dolls.

Am I crazy or did our American forefathers study thousands of years of civilized society and politics in order to invent something original, lasting and as close to perfect as could be possible only to allow modern politicians, in an attempt to make it more perfect, try to change it into quasi-versions of other failed political and economic systems from fallen or bankrupt governments all over the industrialized world? I mean, what part of “almost perfect” don’t you get? Nothing is perfect except one thing and I promise you He/She/It will not have anything to do with running our government.

So everyone please forget the idea of sweeping change, it is an impossibility in the democratic system of government. Expectation is everything. Instead, look for a scaled and reciprocal approach which will have the ability to be hung and flown on a pole. Then democratically choose the pole. Otherwise, we can begin creating bronze plaques that read, “On this the 14th day of October in the year of our Lord 2014, NOTHING HAPPENED”.