Bullying and Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Good Luck.

A Ship Called Censor – History Erased

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

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

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

 

Tell me not, in mournful mobs,

Lives of past are empty dreams,

For the soul is dead and there are odds,

That things may not be what they seem.

 

History is real! History is earnest!

And the grave is surely not the goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

And risk forget our histories toll.

 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our-destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

 

Life is long, and Time is fleeting

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Bull horns blaring, marches leading

Spray paint tags upon the grave.

 

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of our Life,

Be not dumb, like driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Dare not stray from living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

 

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

 

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A Forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

 

Men found great by time gone by,

May fall from favor, his deeds undressed,

Should we erase, exhume, untie;

History then becomes suppressed?

 

Lessons lost, apt be Repeated,

Our future yearns for all experience.

Selfishness prevails the child is cheated,

Insecurity manifests the devil’s deliverance.

 

Leave alone and let be the dead,

The shackles’ keys have long been lost.

Bronze and stone statues are tying threads,

And remind us of that fateful cost.

 

Change a name, tear down a marker,

Erase, redact, our right to censor.

Less enlightened – our world is darker.

Sympathy grows an incurable cancer.

 

Let, us then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor, learn to wait.

 

Let your deeds be yours

And not the elimination of another’s.

 

Idiocracy

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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!

 

 

Traveling Ecuador

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Lying in bed in an utter state of anxiety over a lack of restful sleep, realizing that I’m about to spend two sweaty nights in little more than a screened-in porch without air conditioning. Sweltering humidity and intense sun-exposure has caused me to be slightly less-fun and a lot more damp than my normal self and I begin to reflect on our day at Anaconda Island, the balsa wood raft ride through the white-capping Napo river, and the hairy Tarantula that attempted to take a swim with me before dinner. The details of my health-coverage being sketchy, I’m thinking yeah, Ecuador is to die for – literally.

Of course I’m just kidding although there are probably many ways to die here, of which might possibly be the river Cayman, Piranha, Anaconda, the mysterious Tatura flower’s “sweet dreams” tea, and possibly choking on the fried “Iron Palm” pork served at the restaurant at the Center of the Earth Lat’ 000 marker. Truthfully, all I’ve accomplished thus far is to prove to everyone just how entitled I may be because mostly, the Ecuador I’ve visited has been found to be immensely beautiful but I’m still here whining about two hot nights. The temperatures throughout much of Ecuador are actually perfect due to high elevations. You’ve just royally screwed up and found the blog of a spoiled and sarcastic traveler.

Honestly, if bucket lists are something you often think about, traversing through the Amazon jungle has to be somewhere on everyone’s list. It was for me. And now I have the wounds and bug bites to prove it. I’m kinda hoping I end up with a few permanent scars from all of the bug bites so I end up with a few great conversation starters with my unborn grandchildren. The jungle can be dangerous but it can also be uniquely entertaining. On one outing, a grey-winged trumpeter sort of imprinted on Emily while touring an animal rescue center deep in the jungle and proceeded to follow her everywhere she went. It was kinda like having a big chicken for a buddy. She liked it cuz they kill snakes.

Rita, our new friend from Hong Kong, was wearing some sort of bug patch she purchased in Hong Kong. She never got a single bite. I, on the other hand, took a sponge-bath in a mosquito and tick repellent so strong that the warning label warned against applying it directly to your skin. The Amazonian jungle vermin simply laughed at me and my silly Yankee bug potion. Who says the Chinese are always borrowing American technology – I say “bug-bite mitigation technology” is clearly an area where we need to start stealing secrets from the Chinese. Who gives a shit about 3 stage rockets and advanced cell phone technology when you can repel every annoying bug known to mankind?

I’ll admit that Ecuador surprised even me: half of a globe-trotting duo hell-bent on visiting less-traveled destinations. To answer everyone who intimated that we might be crazy for traveling here, I’ve herein provided you with a list of great reasons to travel lovely Ecuador. Y’all know that “facetious is as facetious does” so please try to humor my Southern sarcasm because there really are a few valuable lessons strewn all about. The trick is to find them so sit back and I’ll do my best to educate.

One of my first observations was that traveling Ecuador just may be the polar opposite of traveling around Europe. In Europe, you travel over mostly uninteresting landscapes – forgeries of which you could find somewhere in the U.S. – in order to find magnificent “old towns” and walk among or study the ancient art and architecture. Many of these places are so inundated with the tourist trade that much of the intrinsic beauty of the culture, language, and the natural state of the site is lost. In Ecuador, the travel between places is through a continuity of spectacular landscapes and ecological masterpieces to find cities and villages that will mostly underwhelm the typical European traveler but are instead wrapped in an endearing naïveté. The tourist trade is so new that the destinations are mostly unspoiled and the people are unwitting subjects of our curiosities.

Of course there are architectural masterpieces to be found in Ecuador such as the Jesuit built Church of the Society of Jesus in Quito, but for the most part the masterpieces of interest for travelers to Ecuador are going to be the natural-wonders created by God. There are 84 volcanos in this tiny country, 24 of which are active. It seems that everywhere you travel is within a telephoto lens distance of one of these magnificent geological features. There are also a number of fantastic Haciendas scattered throughout the country. One of which we visited was built in 1680 and included its own beautifully appointed chapel built just 10 years later. Another sitting atop a steep mountain in full view of an active snow-capped volcano was 200 years old and once boasted 200,000 acres of land.

Driving through the country of Ecuador can at one moment mesmerize you with its deep river canyons, cascading waterfalls or the patchwork-quilt of agricultural art that canvas the mountainsides in unpredictable patterns at unexplainable elevations. At other times, it can be dizzying by an uninterrupted sea of unfinished or collapsing concrete homes, storefronts and brick walls that secure the perimeter of every palace and pig pen. It’s not what we’re used to but it is this simplicity of life that draws us in and says without words that these are simple and hard-working people worth every moment of our allotted eight days to better discover and explore.

Regardless of whether you’re seeing straw and bamboo homes on stilts or modern concrete structures accented by clay tile roofs, the homes and villages of Ecuador are almost always resting in the shadows of magnificent volcanoes or foreboding mountain vistas that can instantly turn your attention away from any lessor inspiring view such as the occasional road-side pee-pee bandito. The city of Baños, for instance, sits at the base of an active volcano with a lovely cascading waterfall in full view of its public square, completely nestled inside a circumference of steep mountainous terrain.

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Every city seems to have its own specialties of locally-produced products; a city for roses, one for jeans, leather products, alpaca wool products, chocolate, tobacco, Panama hats (see explanation below), seafood…, you name it. Ecuador also boasts several fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers that one can only find here. Whether you’re in the high elevations where the sweet tree-tomato grows or in the jungles of the Amazon eating lemon flavored ants, you’re always surprised by something new to try.

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

One thing I couldn’t help but notice along our way is that there is seemingly an endless strand of aluminum clothesline wire stretching all the way from Quito to the Amazon Jungle dressed in the most intimate of Ecuadorian couture – framed between every porch post and elaborate perimeter wall – of which is dressed atop by shards of colorful broken glass and Dr. Pepper bottles. The rainbow of cotton and alpaca fabric is like a woven fanfare that welcomes visitors to every village and community. I’ve begun to believe that the common Ecuadorian architecture doesn’t include clothes storage and that everyone just uses these clotheslines as permanent open-air storage for their entire wardrobe. The Spanish totally got it wrong, El-Dorado lies at the end of the clothesline rainbow, not on the shores of Lake Parime.

I promise it doesn’t take long to grow a real appreciation for some of the local rituals as the people here are so genuinely kind and accepting of tourists and our own little tourist proclivities such as taking photographs of them in the marketplace like they’re circus animals. You soon grow to love the Ecuadorian people and all of their quirky roadside displays. One trip through West Virginia will remind us that the “other” America isn’t all that shiny on all its surfaces.

Be prepared, however, many of the public restrooms require a “tipping fee” in order to partake of the convenience of a porcelain solution to your biological travel-needs…but the “fee” only provides for three or four tiny little squares of toilet tissue, perhaps enough to remove only the coarsest of organics made from unfamiliar diets. The unintentional consequence of hoarding all that precious paper is that many locals can be found with their “plantains” in-hand urinating in public places or on the side of roadways as a way of national protest. It’s OK though, it helps you to feel like part of the family.

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

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

I cannot fail to mention that Ecuador is very travel-friendly for Americans. In fact, the U.S. Dollar is their official currency. They have a representative democracy, national healthcare and education, good roads, and all the colada morada you can drink. If exotic birds and animals get your blood boiling, they have way too many to mention individually. Individually speaking though, just for reference purposes – the Ecuadorian camel-toe can be found in vivid abundance – just sayin.

If you’ve dreamed of visiting an indigenous Quichua village; trading for shrunken heads; climbing an active volcano; eating BBQ Guinea Pig; floating on a balsa raft down an Amazon basin river; seeing the Galápagos Islands; or watching a monkey ride a chicken through a town square, Ecuador is definitely your next destination. When you make up your mind and decide to book your trip, there’s no doubt that some of your friends might say, “Why Ecuador”! There are many reasons for you to visit here, no doubt, but seriously…a monkey riding a chicken? Where else can you see that?

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I have to give kudos to our travel partner, Gate One Travel. This was our 4th Gate One trip and each one continues to surpass the former – and our expectations. Its just so easy. Also, our wonderful 13 fellow travel companions. We loved our entire gang and I know we will stay in touch with many of them. FYI, Duncan, someone found some damp underwear in your room, they’re waiting for you at the reception desk at Casa del Suizo. Last but not least, our local tour guide Javier Estrella was fantastic. He’s a wealth of knowledge, kind, with a mother-hen commitment to his flock of inquisitive followers. You’ll never find a better person to spend eight days without air conditioning. He also free-lances so if anyone is convinced that Ecuador might be perfect for their next adventure, his contact information is as follows: 59-398-007-5760.

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Emily; A Whole ‘Nother Year

OK, I’ll admit it. When it comes to outwardly living, acting and reacting to emotions, I’m a curmudgeon. I don’t laugh out-loud near enough to express how happy I am and I don’t cry nearly enough to express the deep emotion that helps you to know that I’m not some weird robot from outer space. I’m sure you sometimes read the things I blog about and probably wonder who is this guy eating leftovers off my plate and what did you do with my husband? My mind is always jam-packed with thoughts but they just seem to come out better through my fingertips than from my mouth.

I do get it, I’m not the most outwardly expressive person on the planet; probably not even in the top five billion. I’d venture to guess that there are probably a few ISIS soldiers who are more emotionally expressive than I am. When you’re laughing out loud, I’m just grinning. When you’re overjoyed to tears, I’m just smiling. But what you don’t realize is that those tiny little expressions on the outside of my face are representing billions of happy neurons colliding among the fat cells underneath. I do love and I do feel things strongly, my face just doesn’t always cooperate with my mind.

I like to believe that you get me, that you know the real me beneath my dull and undemonstrative exterior. In a utopian world, you would appreciate the rock-like foundation that supports who you are and what you’re doing no matter what mood I’m in or what has happened at work. That’s utopia, not Fairfield Pike, so I guess it probably helps to get a personal dose of emotion and passion from your husband now and then, especially when it’s your Birthday. This might be an attempt to do you some justice as you are far too important to me and your friends to be let down by the one you lift up so perfectly.

First of all, Happy Birthday! I wanted that to be a sentence all by itself but then I looked at it on paper and decided that it looked lonely. That just wouldn’t do. I never want you to be lonely. That is why I can mostly be found clutching your hand in mine. Your hand is, to me, a perfect hand. It touches me and comforts me in ways that are difficult to write about. It’s the thrill of a soft caress and the solace of a late night head scratch that heal me. It’s the kneading of biscuit dough or the mechanics of a sweet thank you letter that move me. Your hands untangle the knots in my soul while they weave a life worth living. You have the kind of hands that are worth holding and I love holding them.

You are the best friend a person could ever hope to have. I love that you are still friends with most of your childhood friends. That demonstrates that you are loyal and kind and thoughtful. I’m so thankful to get to be the guy who wakes up with and falls asleep beside you. I never suffer from a lack of sleep because I’m forever at peace knowing that I won. I beat the odds and I beat every single other man out there who was looking for the perfect wife. They lost and I won. My rewards and reminders are the long red hairs I find daily entwined in my clothes and in precarious places on my body. When I find one, I laugh (internally of course) then pinch myself to remind me that this whole amazing thing is actually real – that I get to be the one who kisses your lips and holds you close every day of my life.

I love your laugh. You have an infectious laugh and I guess that is why my laughs seem so insignificant and barren. Your laugh makes my laugh look like an indifferent mime without the cool striped mime costume and makeup. Who could ever smile as big or laugh as hard as you? No one can. That awesome laugh cheers me up and makes me want to deserve you. The lines on my face are from 8 years of perpetual smiling. I’m totally getting wrinkles on my face because of you and I don’t even care.

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I think you are absolutely beautiful. If you were a president, you would be named Babe-a-ham Lincoln. In Latin, you would be called “babia majora”. If you had lived during the Renaissance period, it would be called the Emily period as all of the masters would have painted you. You hair is like silky sunshine and your eyes are like maple nut goodies. If you’d let me, I’d lick you all day long. That’s creepy I know but, alas, no licking allowed. It’s ok though, because you do let me hold your hands a lot.

I could never write great things about you without mentioning your amazing cooking but I really don’t need or want to because your fantastic cooking has more to do with the love you have for each of us that get to eat it than it has to do with skill. For you, cooking is a metaphor for love. It’s just one of the many things you make an effort to do that reflects the size and capacity of your heart. You love harder and stronger than anyone I’ve ever met and that makes you an amazing wife and an incredibly rare friend. I pray I never lose you.

I hope that this Birthday is one fraction as special for you as is it is for me because for me it means that I just got to spend a whole-‘nother year with the woman I love and the best friend any person could ever hope to find. My love for you grows exponentially each and every year as I continue to discover more wonderful things about you. Just when I think I’ve seen the whole of you, another rose bud springs forth that redefines the meaning of perfection and the vernacular of love. You are absolutely amazing!

Happy Birthday Emily.

See, I did give it its own line.

Does This Blog Make My Butt Look Big?

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(Warning: Almost 5000 words)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brokeback Bachelorette

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I’ll admit it, I’m always right up in the middle of watching the Bachelorette with my wife as I just can’t seem to get enough of watching superficial train wrecks. Monday evenings just wouldn’t be complete without pigeon induced meltdowns and sumo ball-sack bingo. I’m sure Emily wants to pull her hair out with all my side commentary as I sarcastically narrate the entire show like an off-camera storyteller with a personal grudge – ruining the entire show for her. But I just can’t help it, I mean, think about it – Kaitlyn is supposed to be intensely afraid of pigeons but she has them tattooed all over her body – get real.

First though, what’s up with the Rose Ceremony being moved to the beginning of the show? Do they really think their ratings will go up by losing the one thing we can always count on? Oh, forget what I just said, there are lots of things you can always count on i.e., 30 douchebag losers with ripped abs all vying to interview for the next available slot as a reality television star. They have zero motives whatsoever in finding love, although a quickie in the fantasy suite would suit them all just fine.

This season tells that story even better than any others because ABC was so foolish as to pit two girls against each other for some added drama and the potential of making a pretty but very fake girl cry on national television (which worked BTW). The aftermath that followed was that the guys switched loyalties like I change hair gels. Kupah, the entrepreneur, whose name means “race card” in Swahili, says to Kaitlyn after getting the boot…”I don’t want to go home because you’re hot and you like movie quotes just like me”. Play on Playa!

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What about Tony the healer? OMG! Before the second part of the date, Tony the Tiger tells Kaitlyn he needs to go home because he has the heart of a warrior and the spirit of a gypsy and the mind of child and why can’t they do something peaceful and loving on their dates instead of sitting on the balcony using the F word like any other Ninja child would do. I guess his warrior heart got left on the sumo stage along with all of those over-confident statements in the beginning like – “I would be so frightened right now if I had to fight myself because my inner child might appear as the fighter and then my warrior badass, fighting from either side of my sumo outfit, could explode my Gypsy spirits, causing my inner child to run away forever – which is a metaphor for “I’m a complete narcis-tard and I would make a way better bachelorette and Kaitlyn never took me to the zoo so I’m quitting.”

JJ totally gets on my nerves. He has to be one of the most narcissistic and over-confident contestants ever. He looks like the love child between JFK and Austin Powers. He’s got the Kennedy jaw line but those teeth could be used to seine fishing minnows from a creek. JJ says he loves Japanese culture and sushi. I’m sure that blob’ish tattoo on his shoulder probably means California Roll in Japanese. The ABC editors are definitely attempting to make us think that JJ and Clint are gay but I’m not sure JJ even knows what up yet because his mind couldn’t possibly be occupied by anyone other than his over-inflated self.

What about Jared the restaurant manager. I hated this guy from the get go but then he sort of redeemed himself when he came clean with Kaitlyn about his dreamy fixations on Britt. It was a stupid move, relationship wise, but made me think that he might actually be a real person. Then he started instigating stuff and decides to tattle-tell on the two Brokeback bachelors JJ and Clint for being douches. I’m convinced Jared manages a Chic-Fil-A because you know those Chic-Fil-A folks have a real hard time with the LGBT folks. I can totally see him pushing a 2 for 1 Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap with Avocado Lime Ranch deal. Kaitlyn should definitely think twice before taking him home as he is already showing signs of receding facial hair.

The show ends with Kaitlyn confronting a shameful Clint who acts like he’s more interested in JJ’s “goldmember” than Kaitlyn. Earth to Clint, you don’t have to get a rose to hook up with JJ, an email address will do just fine. I don’t know if ABC is just editing all of this to make us think something that may not true or if Clint is really falling in love with JJ in a romantic – not a bro-mantic – way. Either way, ABC is sensationalizing homosexuality in what I would consider a crass and insensitive way which should really fire up a pretty big demographic of once loyal followers of the show. You can’t increase ratings when you make a total freak show out of real people’s lives. I would be willing to bet a few bucks that these guys turn out not to be gay at all.

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I was hoping they would have picked Kentucky Joe for the sex education class. He’s got weird hair but he brought moonshine so that makes him cool in my book. Joe doesn’t necessarily embrace the Japanese culture like JJ and his version of sushi is probably a sliced up corn dog but he totally rocked his sumo outfit, letting his block and tackle slip out to educate America on the hidden perils of sumo wrestling. As far as the sex ed class, I say Joe would have killed it on the redneck anatomy instruction, “See dis here hole ryte chere? We call it a corn hole back where I come from.” For a reality show that prides itself on exploiting any opportunity that promises to insult a person’s culture or intelligence – they completely missed the boat with Joe.

Anyway, I thought I would just vent a little here instead of ruining the next show for Emily. I don’t want her to lose all her Zen like Tony did and make me go to couples counseling with my bonsai tree. I’m totally going to rock me one of those sumo thongs though. Maybe that would add some levity and brevity to the situation. I wonder though, what will be the next group date scenario. Kaitlyn is so fixated on overly masculine sports maybe her next group date will end up with Pistol Dueling as the Pièce De Résistance. Then Kentucky Joe can take out JJ Powers with a head shot and I can start believing in television all over again.

Living Outside The Box

Everyone knows I love movies. I have been intrigued with and entertained by movies since before I can remember. It is a passion born from mostly my mother who also loved movie going. I’m often quoted by my wife who likes to mimic me by saying that “I even love bad movies because at least they provide an escape from reality for two hours.” My background in law enforcement draws me to suspense and action movies but my overall nerd-ness loves all things technical too – so you can imagine what my favorite movie genres may be.  But since I turned 50 and my testosterone levels have plummeted to levels deeper than Raquel Welch did in the 1966 science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (look it up Jon), I’ve noticed that the increasingly sensitive side of me is starting to totally dig the chick flicks nowadays too.

I have this amazing memory of my mom taking me and my siblings to see a double-feature film at Harding Mall in South Nashville when I was 10 years old. It was Barbarella (Jane Fonda) and another movie called The Groove Tube which was Chevy Chase’s low budget film debut. I don’t know what my mom was thinking at the time but I think it must have been one of those duh moments because she only let us watch about 15 minutes of the second feature before jerking all of us up and getting us out of there. I distinctly remember the film sequence that instigated our hasty exit; a mock public service announcement for venereal disease that covertly used a real penis made-up with a face as its actor-spokesman. At ten, I didn’t fully understand all of the sexual innuendo but I knew we were watching something we weren’t supposed to be watching which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. I still laugh about that all the time because we had brought along my next door neighbor Wayne and I wonder today if he has the same memories I have.

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the testing scene in the beginning of the movie Men in Black. To refresh your memory, let me sum it up as follows:

Will Smith’s character (who later becomes Agent J) is in a room with other candidates so the MiB can supposedly find the proverbial best of the best candidate for the MiB job opening. The candidates are all men from either military academies or elite law enforcement and are squeezed into tiny egg-shaped chairs that barely contain their bodies. They are each given an exam booklet which is sealed in fragile paper that tears easily and a pencil. As they all scrunch up in their pods, twisting, wiggling, crossing and un-crossing legs to find comfortable positions for holding the booklet and writing at the same time, Agent J – after breaking his pencil while trying to open the envelope – stops, looks in front of him, and sees a more traditional looking table across the room.

SCREEEEEEECH! The otherwise silent and sterile room is filled with a deafening noise as Agent J drags the heavy metal table across the floor toward his egg chair. The other candidates shoot him some ugly eyes while trying their best to concentrate on the test while Agent J, oblivious to an unwritten decorum, makes himself comfortable to take the test. He repeats this type of abhorrence to all things status quo later when at the firing range.

At the firing range, these same best of the best candidates have no problem at all accurately shooting all the monsters on the targets but Agent J shoots the little girl instead. When Zed (Character played by Rip Torn) asks J “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”, J responded with something like this: “When I saw little Tiffany, I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of the night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit Zed.”
In that scene, Will Smith thought outside the proverbial box and instead of following what everyone else was doing. He was not afraid to literally make some noise, free himself from tradition or modesty, and do something bold that may help him achieve his goals. The situations he was placed in were structured to the point of absurdity, which is an exaggerated reflection of how complicated we tend to make life in general when we could just as effectively do things simply. In J’s view, being quiet and conforming to others’ tin-soldier mentality only hindered his ability to accomplish the goal of passing the tests. His ability to think asymmetrically turned out to be his strongest quality.
Now if you are rolling your eyes at the phrase “thinking outside the box,” I completely empathize. The phrase has become trite and jargony and has an honored place on the list of most overused clichés and axiom’s by teachers and professors, which includes but is not limited to (yes, there are others) “seeing the forest for the trees”, “learning to think like a businessman”, or “An ounce of prevention…”, you get the idea. Personally, I am more moved by axioms which make you think rather than one’s which tell a commonly known truth such as: “99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name”, or “Madness takes its toll – please have exact change.”, or “It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”.

But stripped down to its core, “thinking outside the box” says in four words what I believe to be the key to success in almost any venture as well as general happiness in life. To me, thinking outside the box means not blindly following conventional wisdom as well as challenging assumptions about yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a shift from conceptual frameworks and paradigms to free-flowing uninhibited thought that challenges all common perspective. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself with all that old-school knowledge, it’s just a theory that examines and explores the things unsaid rather than the things said.

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We live in such a heavily controlled environment. The restrictions placed upon us do much to stymie our creativity and our ability to think freely. Perspective and perception are also powerful governors of our minds. We often view reality through narrow lenses sculpted, polished and honed by years of experience and education. But is my reality the same is your reality? In some cases yes. To you and I, red IS red and the number 4 IS the number 4. Those are constants nationally and worldwide. But what about the organic and obscure? Are we looking at the same things in the same way and coming up with the same conclusions? I doubt it.

If thinking beyond this proverbial box is so great then why do so many people encourage (or implore) you to color inside the lines, follow the rules, and stay inside the damn box? Well they are either inside the box themselves and not sure how to get out, are afraid to get out, or even worse — they are actually selling the box. People often disagree with me about these things, citing the importance of their specific life anomalies, and I am often prone to accept the reasons they espouse because I have the heart of a teacher not a preacher. But the reality is that most of these people are simply afraid. An example of this is that in my car, while alone, I believe I’m an accomplished singer…but I’m too afraid to demonstrate just how great I am in public. Is that a fear of performing or fear of revealing how much I suck at singing? I don’t know; ask Emily, she’s probably heard a few subtle a cappella moans and some interesting intonation going on in the car before. Fact of the matter, I will likely never sing to anyone in public – ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to let out of my box.

That “box”, for those whom are afraid, represents all that is stable and controllable and accepted. I get it. I really do. I understand that the box is rigid and sturdy and comfortable. But, it is still a stupid box and I know of no one who can truly spread their wings and fly inside a box. You can paint the box and decorate it and bedazzle the box with rhinestones or Harley Davidson stickers or whatever it is that you enjoy but at the end of your life, you will move from that one beautifully decorated box to another more simple and tasteful box. But will you have really lived? Ask Bruce Jenner what he thinks about living in boxes. For him, his life was always about making the rest of us comfortable. His box was covered in rustic leather and had spikes and beer stains and cigar burns all over it. But the inside of his box looked somewhat different I suspect.

I’m not suggesting the “box” is about gender or sexuality at all, but I’m neither saying it is not. I think the box is different for everyone and the same rules apply no matter what is in that enigmatic box. The box can contain a multitude of things that have the effect of holding you back in life or in situations. It’s just as important to recognize that your box might contain the elements of shyness as it is to recognize that thy neighbor’s box is full of Pollyanna. Both qualities can hold you back from achieving goals but for entirely opposite and unexpected reasons which are only relevant to that one person.

Look, I love plans of attack and guidelines and goals and milestones and all those things you have read about, and yes, in some areas of life there are definite paths that must be followed to reach a specific destination — i.e., you are not going to become a doctor without going to college, taking the exam, going to medical school, passing your boards, doing your residency, etc. But overall, never underestimate the value of thinking outside the box, figuring out your own way to get from point A to point B, and trusting your instincts along the way. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a point B in mind yet. No problem! Think of your current lack of a point B as already being outside the box. We can be sure that people like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg never knew a box existed.

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And look, while thinking outside the box can certainly be about sitting down to solve or approach specific problems, it does not have to be. In fact, I like to think of it more as a way of life. Writing down your ideas or making a vision board is never a bad idea but there is something about saying it out loud that makes an idea sound really stupid or really profound. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off the chests of friends or parents but don’t be afraid to execute a really strongly held idea just because that trusted person doesn’t have the same vision as you. Just be honest with yourself enough to recognize when  you’re being stubborn and when you’re being driven.

Be forewarned, however; sometimes when you operate outside the box, people look at you funny, make not-so-nice comments about you and your actions, and maybe even tell you that you are crazy for doing what you are doing because, oh, I don’t know, you are not making any money at it; or, people won’t like it; or, you’re making people uncomfortable; or, you will never get anything out of it anyway; or, no one else cares but you; or, you are too old; or, you are too young; or, you are not being serious enough to really achieve anything… so what is the point?

Well that is just the thing and the most beautiful part of living outside the box, even if it’s just from time to time. Sometimes we do not immediately know the point when we venture outside our boxes. What is the point of doing as you feel? I don’t know, perhaps it is just because it makes you feel good, and what is the point not to do it? Sometimes a small spark of interest ends up turning into a passion and perhaps then into a new life or career. Or maybe your life becomes enriched with a lifelong love of a new author, subject, art, or activity. Or maybe you develop amazing new friendships that remain long after that particular dalliance outside the box is over. Or maybe your time out of the box is special just because it was time out of the box, and there really is no point besides that. You’re going to grow as a person regardless of the reason, the activity, or the point.

And besides that, there is nothing more stifling and frustrating than feeling boxed in, and that is because we are not honoring that part of ourselves that wants, that needs so desperately to get out. Last year I was feeling like I was in a box. A box of social and political correctness. The box grew more and more confining as the accepted conditions of my career held me back from engaging and being myself. So, after suffering as much as I could stand, I decided to leap outside that box of political correctness and even beyond my own normal social boundaries and resolve my situation in the only way my life has trained me to do. Was I right to do it or wrong? That is a matter of perception for others but for me there’s no question that I did the right thing?

So what this blog is really saying, I suppose, is that thinking or living outside the box is not about what others think and it’s not about what’s good or comfortable for everyone else. Living outside the box allows you to shed the layers of social acceptance and just be the person you need to be at the moment. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Creativity comes from peeling away the things which quintessentially make us adults, and instead, looking at situations and life from pure naiveté. Living and thinking outside the box is just a cliché way of expressing that same thought. When we strip away those latticed layers of conformity, maturity, shame, rationality, power, ego, reciprocity, and emotional clutter, then we can harness those crumbs of ingenuity floating around in a sub-consciousness that is much less chaotic.

I’m stepping outside my box right now. When I express my inner thoughts about life, love, parenthood, or politics, I’m pushing my own self-imposed boundaries that characterized the first 50 years of my life. While I’m nowhere close to inventing an Alfred Hitchcock character like in the movie “Vertigo” nor could I possibly do justice to a character like Russell Crowe played in “A Beautiful Mind”, what I can do is articulate the things that keep my mind busy when put into a square room and asked to administrate black & white procedures all day. One little dalliance out of the box last year and now here I am carving out the next half of my life, only differently, more honestly, and more deliberately. Maybe the lyrics from “Carry on My Wayward Son” will never resonate beyond the confines of my Jeep but the lyrics of my life and my thoughts will resonate in words on some digital cloud somewhere forever and that is enough reward for me to keep writing, teaching, entertaining or whatever it is that I’m doing these days.

When is the last time you stepped outside of your box?

Resilience – Navigating the Art of Moving On

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Most of us are living lives that started off in one direction, confident that we would become this or end-up doing that, but instead we dove in head-first only to come up for air in some totally different place or profession which was never even on our radar at the time. We just knew that we were going to marry a certain someone, have X number of kids, have a well-paying job with excellent benefits, then retire with a great big house overlooking God’s glorious creation in its most subjective splendor. If you’re a woman, your dreams may have been much loftier and may or may not have included a sparkly crown, glass slippers, and a blue-eyed Greek shipping magnate.

Nowadays, you’re lucky to find a guy who regularly plucks his ear and nose hair so if you’re still waiting on the sparkly crown, I shouldn’t have to be the one to inform you that your high expectations may be to blame for perpetual loneliness. You could be one of those people who are thinking about all those daydreams-gone-bad and or instead you may be living and gorging yourself on every ounce of your prepubescent insight. Most of us, however, are probably somewhere in-between being pissed off at our parents for not being honest with us about our true capabilities or just happy to have a decent car, job and mortgage debt.

To put it bluntly, where I am today and where I thought I’d have been at fifty-years-old couldn’t be much further apart. I actually thought I would grow up and become a psychiatrist. A short time in college majoring in Pre-Med cured me of those dreams as I quickly realized just exactly what I was a naturally gifted at and what I sucked at. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still love giving advice or tinkering in psychological subjects. It just means that I wasn’t prepared for everything else that comes with an education in science, particularly all the stupid crap I don’t like.

So what happens when you suddenly realize that all of your dreams were simply well-intended hallucinations? In many cases, our parents push us toward our most outwardly apparent aptitudes or instead the things they always wished they’d have done and our teachers push us toward the trending job market. We were provided with lists of job-titles along with their equivalent salaries and were immediately driven toward the big 3 – Pilot; Doctor; Lawyer…? Sometimes we have dreams that don’t fall into any of the above categories. Maybe you wanted to be a musician or a dancer or an artist but you were discouraged by worried parents.

School was very easy for me. I honestly never really took schoolwork all that serious and my grades were high enough that my parents never really worried about me enough to check on what I was doing or not doing. I just sort of did what I wanted and floated through school never worrying about my grades or if I’d have benefited from making higher grades or challenging myself. My parents had much more serious challenges with another sibling so I guess it was easy for me to fall between the cracks and pretend that I was doing everything I should be doing.

That all came to a head in college when I suddenly realized that I hadn’t really paid all that much attention in high school. A perfect example of this was in my sophomore year. I was enrolled for an honors level English class but my best friend was enrolled in a resource English class. On the first day of school I showed up to his class and took a chair because I just wanted to hang out with him and when the teacher didn’t call my name from her list of students she asked the class, “Is there anyone here whose name I did not call?” I raised my hand, she wrote my name down on her list and I ended up spending that year in a class that I could sleep in and still make straight A’s. The good thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the system; the bad thing was that I was just smart enough to fool the very system that was trying to help me.

Maybe if I’d have paid more attention and taken school more serious, I’d have been writing professionally instead of writing for fun. On another note, maybe if I hadn’t have done all of those stupid things in life, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to overcome my own adolescent ignorance with better adult decisions which led me to the wonderful life and the precious wife and son that I have today. It’s kind of like the song by Rascal Flatts called Along the Broken Road, “Every long-lost dream – led me to where you are…God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” The lyrics are a metaphor for adolescent stupidity mixed with a little luck or a lot of grace, whichever form of mercy you subscribe to.

Broken roads and broken dreams are just part of the plan it seems. We don’t realize it when we are fifteen but most of those dreams are pretty lofty anyway. Plus, that girl you like so much turns out to be bi-polar at forty and the football quarterback with dimples and a hairy chest is on disability, has diabetes, and plays video games well into the wee hours of the morning. Fifteen turns out to be way too young an age to determine just what is and what is not a good quality in a spouse. Boobs are a wonderful thing but if that girl don’t love you enough to protect you from your own ignorance then she ain’t worth having.

resilience-dandelion-through-asphalt

Resilience, the subject of this blog, is something you learn from all of the little and big faux pas we are destined to make along the bumpy, curvy, divided, and forked road of our youth. Even though you’re way smarter at fifteen then you are at fifty (Just ask Jeff Foxworthy), you don’t have enough real-life experiences with which to relate all that natural born brilliance. You end up learning a lot more about the real world from good ole Murphy than you ever would have if you’d actually listened to all those lectures. Murphy is a complete asshole. He helps to thicken your defenses and sharpen your offenses. But, he could also destroy your confidence and leave you crying in a fetal position if you’re not prepared.

Never afraid to pack up and move or to take on some exciting new adventure – my mistakes have spanned an immense territory and I’ve met many hundreds of people with whom I have shared some pretty stupid experiences. That kind of adventurous free-spirit comes with a price. I was talking to my wife, Emily, a few weeks ago trying to figure out just how many times I’ve moved since I first left home as a fledgling adult. The number was much more difficult to figure out than you can imagine because the number was pretty high; like 26 or something. It was this painful exercise that inspired me to write this blog.

Each one of those moves, however haphazard it may seem now, had something to do with career, emotion, opportunity, relationships or going broke. I’ve certainly never been afraid to try new things. That has probably been the defining statement of my life. The excitement that always comes with some new discovery has driven me almost on auto-pilot. You might say I have the repertoire of an articulate hobo. I’m sure my mom must have been pretty worried about me for a long time but all of that uncertainty and seat-of-the-pants living contributed to the broad vernacular you see in my blogs today. And don’t think that every move I made was done so by choice.

That resilient protective layer I’ve been talking about comes from standing in the batter’s box and taking a few wild pitches into the torso. Just being honest and good or generous doesn’t gain you any immunity from trouble at all. It turns out that Murphy is an Atheist and doesn’t care that you sent $50 bucks to Joel Osteen last week. There is a literal cornucopia of chaos that life can throw at you at a moment’s notice. Surviving these moments grows our experience-knowledge and helps us to nurture more buoyancy and assuredness so that we are able to survive the next wave of pandemonium. That level of comfort grows and grows with each struggle until we emerge with something very close to confidence. Then our confidence can be shattered when we learn that Murphy also throws a great knuckle ball.

An old Chinese proverb says “Failure is the mother of success” and I believe it wholeheartedly but sometimes people get caught up in the failure itself instead of the lesson. Failure is never a person; failure is an event. How would anyone ever know how sweet success really tastes when they’ve never tasted the saltiness of sweat and failure? So you strike out every now and then…knuckle balls are hard to hit. The players that make it in the big leagues learn how to ignore the pain or embarrassment of striking out and absorb something valuable from each failed attempt in order to improve their odds of their next “at bat”.

In discussing our near future a few days ago, Emily and I were talking about what type of home we may build on the farm and she said to me that she’d come to a place in her life where she no longer cared about what people might think about how she lives or how successful others may think we are or aren’t, she said she just wants to build exactly what we want and need within the limits of our budget. I think that moment where you live your dreams not because of what it will prove but because that is all you want to do is the definition of contentment. I’m very lucky to have her.

Being married to Emily has helped me to realize that love is not always about winning or losing. Perhaps real love is more about a few sweet moments in time, followed by an eternity of growth and discovery. The fruits of marriage can last indefinitely through our children and the people we touch. From this perspective, I realize that we not only benefit in life from the one’s we love the most, but we also benefit from the love’s we have lost and the relationships that have failed for whatever reason. We as spouses both get to benefit from each other’s failed endeavors and marriages.

That level of recognition comes from the ability to let go of baggage, hate, failures, and the heartaches in your past. Letting go of unnecessary baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care about that person or that endeavor anymore it is simply the realization that the only person you really have control over is yourself. If the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to be a part of your history or a part of your destiny.

Letting go of anger and hate is also an incredibly important concept in moving on. If you hate something or someone it/they will always be with you. You may think that you can move away from a person you hate but as long as you are feeling the emotion of hate then they are going to be with you metaphysically. Discovering that you possess the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers which are Resilience, Courage, Dignity, and Peace.

  • Resilience we learn from getting back up after being knocked down and discovering that no matter how hard the punch – we will always be able to find a way to get back up.
    • Courage promotes discovery which contributes to wisdom. We obtain courage from ignoring our fears and just being ourselves.
    • Dignity is a personal emotion that is derived from doing the right thing even when doing wrong would better serve you. Resilience and Courage allow us to maintain our dignity even when others question our motives.
    • Peace comes when you no longer even think about any of the aforesaid attributes. Peace is not caring either way. You know you’re going to do what’s right so why waste time worrying about what others think. Your resilience to criticism and your courage to stick to your guns give you a place of peace that only time and experience can buy.

The rest is all up to God, thus forget trying to know what all that means. God knows; man thinks. It is how knowing differs from knowing-about or wisdom. Man thinks he gets to know when he thinks, but he never does because he only thinks from his own singular experiences. Each of our human perspectives about life, the world, family, sexuality, war, or whatever are molded and shaped by what we have personally observed and learned in the way a blacksmith hammers and forges iron. Our brains are like hot furnaces that shape, anneal, and organize whatever metals get thrown inside and what comes out are products of that very individualized mixture. No matter how smart you think you are…you really don’t know much in the big scheme of things so get over yourself and be real because cousin Murphy is always watching for an opportunity to let some hot air out of you.

Finally, resilience requires you to stop judging yourself unnecessarily. There is not one human on this earth that is not also a sinner or worthy to tell you what kind of life you should be living. Insecurity, especially religiously oriented insecurities are like Kudzu to the psyche. It climbs, coils, and latches onto every part of your life if you allow it. There are few things in life that can be as destructive to your soul as the counterfeit son of Man.

As I already stated: God knows; man thinks. If I cannot really know you as God knows you and if I cannot really know why you are the way you are or why you do the things you do then how can I judge you in a religious context? I have no problem judging you as a singer or a mechanic but judgement of the soul is reserved for God only. Interpreting the word of God is not just about reading specific words; it about reading the whole book and understanding the context in which those words are describing something.

Example:
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians 2:3 “…we were by nature deserving of wrath.”

What I’m trying to point out is that we all have this very modern and contemporary view of religion which always involves some particular sub-faith being taught to us by some particular sinner, among a building full of other sinners who all have an unhealthy interest in what you’re doing such that people are less likely to be asked what they themselves might be doing. Even the idea that one church has a higher favor with God over another faith is an arrogant and sinful concept. It’s exactly what we humans do. Every generation thinks it’s smarter than the generation before so we evolve our beliefs and attempt to gain followers in order to prop up our own arrogance. Your faith, or lack of it, exists inside you and is a personal relationship you have between yourself and your God. Simple as that.

Whatever your weaknesses and guilty pleasures may be – you can be forgiven by the One who really counts. It’s not up to me and not up to your neighbors. Stop allowing the judgement of others to undermine your own confidence and self-esteem. You are always going to be whatever you are – always. If you believe that you’re sinning by being yourself then also believe in the concept of Grace. God knows that human biology creates an occasional misfire and sometimes those misfire’s can be beautiful. It’s a Grace thing. The God I know is anything but mercilessness.

There are enough land-mine’s in life and enough bully’s to fight without having to deal with them in a place of worship. Stop worrying about your failures and start looking for the hidden carrot in those failures. We all have weaknesses, find out what you’re great at and do that instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole. If you cannot find that special job – create it. If you can’t find that special person – be that person yourself and maybe they will find you. Above all, do something. Be brave and be bold. Resilience is about fighting back.

Fully Automatic Prozac – The Weapons of Delusion

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What comes to mind when you hear or read the words Sandy Hook Elementary? What about Columbine High School? When you and your family go to watch a movie nowadays does the 2012 Aurora Colorado movie theater massacre come to mind? When you drag your hand across the bottom of the popcorn bucket and pull up 30 kernels of buttery corn goodness, do you stop to remember those who’ve lost their lives in the line of movie-going before shoving the whole thing into your mouth – grateful to have skipped the latest Liam Neeson film? What are people thinking about now that all of the media-hype and sensational reporting are mostly over?

Members of the media and other left-of-center political advocates want you to believe that some “reasonable” level of gun control could have saved these and hundreds of other victims of gun violence over the previous couple of decades but is that really true…or should I say more sensibly, is that really probable? How do you feel about gun control and why? Does the issue of public mass-shootings make you believe that our government should amend the constitution and eliminate the private ownership of guns altogether or pass laws that limit or control gun purchases and ownership?

I have an opinion and I’ll share it with you at the end of this blog but I’d prefer for now to just share some historical facts and ideas with you then allow you extrapolate your own opinions intellectually instead of emotionally. I personally think it’s impossible to write any story about any subject which doesn’t contain some level of writer’s bias and my blogs are certainly no exception because of course I have my own personal life experiences which have shaped and honed my world perspective thus I share my thoughts with you under the inebriation of those experiences.

Politically, few of us are what I’d call dumb. We are all just ignorant of the other person’s perspectives. Although intentional bias does occur, especially when it comes to guns, race, conservatism and religion, most writers do form their opinions honestly and we ALL THINK we are in possession of the BEST ideas. That said, lots of people will disagree with me here and I get that. It’s one of the reasons I seldom write about guns even though no one who knows me would question my expertise on the matter. But controversy aside, I felt a strong personal obligation to write about this subject today.

OK, let’s move on to the more subtle but well-meaning bias…I mean theory. I opened this blog in the first paragraph with a number of well-studied and reported mass killings. What do they all share in common with one another? The number one thing that we all focus on is that they all involved the use of guns. So in theory, if there were no guns then there would have been no mass murders right? But are there other more important commonalities that matter to us more than the issue of firearm ownership?

crazy-gun-weapon

To answer that question, one needs to study a couple things, motive and causation being two but also whether it could be possible that mass killings would occur without the use of or access to firearms. In other words, do we now know the motives behind the killings and what caused these people to commit seemingly indescribable acts of violence? The answer is yes. After the dust settled, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have pieced together a substantial amount of information related to the perpetrators, their motives, causation’s and other contributing factors.

The answer to the other question about whether killings could occur without guns is a resounding yes. Although one could argue that knives or other weapons may not be as efficient at killing as guns; that has not discouraged a number of people who lacked access to guns to try and mirror what the armed kids have done.

Stabbing deaths and injuries occurred in schools on 17 different incidences just in the year 2014 alone; one of which occurred in Murrysville, Pennsylvania on April 9, 2014. That particular incident involved a 16 year old student, Alex Hribal, who allegedly went on a stabbing rampage through classrooms and halls of the Franklin Regional High School only apprehended after 25 victims were stabbed – 7 with “life-threatening wounds” to the torso and back. That’s an enormous number of student-victims for a kid with a knife which demonstrates just how dangerous any committed killer can be.

If a person is inclined to kill people and committed to die themselves, they will use whatever tools they have available to them to execute whatever heinous agenda they have. That said, it’s a pretty convincing argument when I point out that all of those 17 different incidences occurred in 2014 – not over a decade. I might also sarcastically point out that many of the Neanderthal skulls on public display in the Smithsonian show evidence of death due to blunt force trauma from the very rudimentary weapons of their time. This is to say that it is an historically proven fact that big ole rocks are pretty effective weapons for killing people in the event you can’t get your hands on a gun, knife, bow, deep pit, bluff, billy-club, sword, piano wire, axe, fire poker, frying pan, lamp, aluminum flashlight, spear, shuriken star, sharp stick, or poison.

What then is the other thing I spoke of; the most important thing that all of these mass killings have in common?

Without exception, every single one of these events as well as 100% of the last 20 incidents of mass public or school shootings were perpetrated by individuals who were in some way mentally impaired. The single largest common denominator in all of these shootings is the FACT that all of the perps were either taking powerful psychotropic drugs or had been taking them in the immediate past before they committed their crimes. Additionally, there are scientific studies going back more than ten years as well as internal documents from pharmaceutical companies that preponderantly demonstrate well-known but under-reported side effects from the use of SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors) that include suicide and other violent behaviors.

It might be hard for a ten year old to understand all of this stuff but most adults, including myself, have had family members or close relationships with someone with whom suffers(ed) mental illness in varying degrees of severity from depression and eating disorders all the way to bipolar schizophrenia and murderous psychopathy. Many of these individuals are taking these powerful SSRI category drugs.

By far, most people who suffer mental illnesses are benign and non-threatening to the rest of us. There are, however, significant numbers of others who are suffering from delusional thoughts with genuinely felt emotions that include killing and suicide as solutions to personal and community or world-wide problems. Many of them don’t want to be bad, but want to be recognized by others as important figures who brought attention to major societal issues. They know we all think they’re crazy but in their minds they are far from crazy which makes them feel victimized by friends, family and society.

A perfect example of this was Eric Harris, of Columbine High School fame, who suffered from bouts of depression, anger and suicidal thoughts. He was prescribed Zoloft and Luvox – anti-depressants, to treat his growing anxieties but sometime before the shooting decided to stop taking his prescriptions.
The FBI published a report saying Harris was a clinical psychopath and his partner in crime Klebold was depressive. Harris having been the mastermind described by the FBI as having a messianic-level superiority complex and hoped to demonstrate his superiority to the world by bringing attention to the problem of bullying.

I personally think that someone like Eric Harris would have done something just as horrific and grandiose had he been denied any access to firearms – remember they found bomb making materials at his home – but his access to firearms by unwitting and irresponsible parents made his journey ever so easy. The same could be said about Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary. His mother, having grown insensitive to her son’s odd behavior for years with no government options to assist her – a broken marriage and disassociated father – took the path of least resistance which was to emotionally detach herself and try her best to live a normal life outside of her enormous domestic responsibilities to her son. How many parents do you know who fit that description?

If she’d have had options and help, she might have asked for assistance when her son Adam, already diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder, Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia started to become fascinated with mass-shootings, most notably Columbine High School and the Northern Illinois University shooting in 2008. But, she didn’t see it because she was emotionally missing, much like most of us would do under the same circumstances. So, he took her guns, killed her then drove to school and wreaked havoc on 20 innocent children and the adults who stood between him and his victims. His motive was that he had self-identified (learned through the discovery of his writings) as a pedophile who secretly advocated for the rights of pedophiles and mentally equated sex and killing. Seems odd huh? Of course it does because you’re not suffering from mental illness so you’re incapable of understanding it.

School Shooting Transparency

When you begin to get it – let the rest of us know so we can avoid you. I should have said that I would turn you in to the authorities but we all know that the authorities can’t and won’t do anything to help you in a case like that. That’s much of the reason I’m writing about this subject. We should all be smarter than we are – it’s 2015.

The idea here is that no law or rule or catechism of ethical standards could possibly dissuade a person from exercising their will, illegal or not, when that person suffers from that kind of delusional mindset. Additionally, school officials and police had all been made aware of Lanza’s behavioral issues but no laws or rules or procedures now exist nor government facilities that could have caused the Lanza kid to be observed and studied long enough to understand what evils lay entrenched in his fragile mind.

The 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting by James Eagan Holmes is yet another one that stands out. Holmes also suffered from mental illness. One month prior to the shooting Dr. Lynne Fenton, a psychiatrist who treated him, reported to the campus police that Holmes had made homicidal statements to her. Additionally, two weeks before the shooting Holmes sent a text message asking a graduate student if he’d heard of the disorder “dysphoric mania” and warning the student to stay away from him because “I am bad news.” The police knew about this and yet nothing was done because nothing can be done…we don’t have mental institutions anymore.

Does this surprise anyone? I will say it again: We don’t have mental institutions anymore because our government thinks it’s too expensive to provide institutionalized mental care. Now, we have community care programs which are designed principally for those who have no problem following directions, take their meds on their own, and generally live benign lives. What about the population of mentally ill who refuse to take their meds and have dangerous and delusional thoughts of mayhem? Well, those people are summarily denied assistance by the government for their real problems which are health related and instead they’re expected to commit petty crimes and end up in local jails so that local taxpayers are burdened with building new 30 million dollar jails to accommodate a growing percentage of prisoners who really just need a .30 cent pill, regular counseling and some oversight.

We are locking up these victims of mental illness and treating them as criminals when they’re really just sick. We are all afraid of them so no one cares until your taxes are raised in order to build new jails (the new asylums) or when it’s your brother or father who gets locked up alongside rapists, predators and gangbangers for something they wouldn’t ever have done if they’d just had someone to manage their care and keep them on their meds.

No one is saying that we should build scary Victorian looking institutions that conduct forced lobotomies and shock treatment. But we should have places that manage the ethical mental health for those who without appropriate medical supervision and regularly taken medications could carry out destructively deviant acts upon masses of innocent people – just as they are now doing. This is not a local issue, it’s a National issue that should be driven by big government and no longer ignored.

It is already illegal to transfer weapons to someone who is under the care of a physician for mental conditions but these individuals have not been branded on their foreheads with big “M’s” and it is illegal for the government to put these folks on any sort of register or database so in the end gun retailers have no idea that a prospective buyer meets those restricted sale criteria’s unless the purchaser himself/herself chooses to be honest on their application. That’s a lot to ask from a homicidal and suicidal maniac don’t you think?

What differs most between the diagnosed mentally ill and criminals with respect to the typical gun acquisition is that criminals usually don’t buy their guns from retailers and subject themselves to criminal background checks and paper-trails while mentally ill persons usually do buy guns legally but are dishonest on their applications. Since the criminal background checks that gun buyers are now subjected don’t include a registry for the mentally ill, the check only serves to disqualify honest people whose names are similar to convicted felons. The so-called “reasonable background check” advocates don’t consider either of those two issues and the only people who are burdened by these background checks are law-abiding citizens.

Have you called your insurance carrier lately or tried to get in touch with Verizon about your bill? If you do, you’re immediately confronted with a computer that is designed to cut labor costs for the organization you’re dialing and supposedly get you to the right department as expeditiously as possible. What really happens is somewhere between the movie Lawnmower Man meets Healthcare.Gov. The same thing is happening with gun purchases and background checks. Yes, it’s an unintended consequence but it is happening nonetheless.

In Tennessee, if you attempt to purchase a gun today, the retailer enters you name, date of birth and social security number into a State issued device and voilà; a computer which operates much like the one in the above described scenario decides if it shall kick your application aside which has the immediate effect of denial or instead approve you for a gun purchase. The problem is that there are plenty of people who share the same name with you and even the same or similar dates of birth so the computer software is intentionally designed to loosely interpret the data and kick out people who are close biographical matches to bad guys.

Otherwise, people who may have fraudulently obtained biographical data from innocent people might trick the system into approving a purchase. So, the state very intentionally denies innocents of gun purchases every single day which is justified by the low cost and simplicity of a computer doing an inexpensive and less burdensome investigation rather than hiring a number of persons who could simply distinguish individuals by social security numbers – intentionally not considered in the automated search.

So how does the State deal with these mistreated souls? Well, they require you to fill out a form and submit it to them which appeals that automated decision and nearly 100% of them are summarily approved – only like 30 or 45 days later. The good thing for the State is that they get to use this unusually high number of automated denials as a marketing tool that praises the good work done by this knightly and chivalrous computer; keeping guns out of the hands of thousands of suspected criminals. The bad thing is that almost 100% of those suspected criminals turn out not to be criminals at all – just regular Joes’ who happen to look digitally similar to a lot of bad guys. I suspect that the few applicants that make up the rest of that 100% are people who didn’t even file the appeal form in the first place.

Now that we’ve established the reason background checks don’t work, let’s get back to the issue of the mentally ill. The reason we have so many mentally impaired people who are perpetrating these crimes and other crimes is not because we have an out-of-control pro-gun lobby or because the NRA is too powerful. The reason these events are occurring and will continue to occur is because our own government has decided to opt out of the mental healthcare business and leave those problems for families and communities to deal with. Instead of owning their own failures and decisions to get out of the mental healthcare business, they’ve decided that it’s easier and much more popular to make the NRA and the 2nd Amendment their scapegoat than it is to actually solve the problem.

My personal opinion and one that I share with millions of other so called delusional conservatives is that guns are not the problem. We know what the problem is, we just need to acknowledge what it is in an honest conversation and recognize that until we convince our government that it needs to get back into a business it started one thousand years ago, mental institutions, then we will continue to have these unfortunate events occur. The only level of gun-control that would have saved these victims would have been a complete ban and confiscation of all privately owned firearms in America, some three hundred fifty million guns, which is not only impossible to accomplish but is something that is never going to occur in this country nor should it.

There is also some evidence that a restricted and HIPAA compliant National registry or database of persons diagnosed with certain mental disorders be created and available to gun retailers by a simple computer query with a simple YES/NO answer that assists responsible gun retailers in deciding whether to transfer or sell weapons to certain individuals – similar to the one used to perform criminal background checks. A simple fee at the point of sale will pay for the database and search.

The NRA is not the problem. Gun ownership is not the problem. A government which fails to take care of its most vulnerable citizens is the problem. Government officials who prefer to politicize pork projects and cater to special interests, spending thousands of millions of dollars on programs designed to tender votes instead of simply taking care of mentally vulnerable people who have no way to care for themselves is the problem. Local jails with up to 60% of their inmate population diagnosed with some level of psychological disorder and no special beds/dorms/segregation facilities available is a problem which ultimately costs local taxpayers in the expense of lawsuits and expensive new government mandated jail facilities is a problem.

If you really want results instead of rhetoric, don’t waste your time, money, energy and emotions on trying to outlaw guns which is contrary to our constitution, ignorant of the rights and needs of an entire populace, and lacking any hope whatsoever of being effectively enforced. Focus instead on doing something that can be done; should be done; helps innocent children live yet another day; keeps our most vulnerable ill from being further victimized in a jail environment; stops and/or mitigates the senseless acts of mass-violence in our homes, schools, movie theaters, restaurants and other places; saves tens of millions in tax dollars per community in the construction of new jail facilities; and finally, these things will help families to properly love and care for their mentally ill family members in an environment designed to respectfully keep them safe from us and us safe from them.

We need to stop chasing an ignorant socialistic dream which solves no problems yet creates a multitude of new ones. It’s the fully-automatic prescriptions of Prozac that delude our thinking, not the most ingenious piece of political expression known the world over – our United States Constitution.