You Should Apologize!

I can’t believe I’m going to do this:  I’m going to defend Donald Trump.

No, I’m not supporting him, nor would I ever consider voting for him.  People that accuse Barrack Obama of acting like a dictator have no clue what a dictator looks like – but I guarantee he would have some awesome Trump-like hair…

I digress.  My defense of Trump lies in this new era we live in.  This post-politically correct world where every statement made is somehow offensive to someone and an apology is not just needed, but demanded.

When Donald Trump took a dig at John McCain’s war service, people across the political spectrum felt he owed McCain an apology.  My question is why?  For what?  Saying what he thinks?  Was it a shitty comment?  You betchya!  But it was how he felt.  Why does he owe McCain an apology — especially if he believes what he says?

Part of Trump’s appeal is in his anti-PC rhetoric.  The fact he says what’s on his mind without seeing where the political wind of public opinion is blowing.  He’s offensive, he’s a blowhard, he’s rude.  That’s his schtick.  Why does he need to utter a worthless apology to anyone, or any group he offends if he is simply stating his opinion on something?

No one demands that the Klu Klax Klan Imperial Wizard Grand Poobaa apologize for his ridiculous views on racial superiority.  Does Trump owe Rosie O’Donnell an apology for the things he said about her?  Does he owe Megan Kelley an apology?  I’ll opine that Trump owes no one an apology for anything he says unless he truly felt it to be over the top and he desires to attempt to take it back.

This “I’m offended” world we live in is amazing assault on the freedom of speech.  There are so many words now on the list that must not be uttered – from the N-word to the R-word, to the F-word.  Granted when I hear them actually said aloud, it makes me look twice at the person saying it – but I’d rather know that that is how they wish to articulate themselves – it helps me determine whether or not I should continue to socialize with them.

If they played by the PC rules, one would never know…

I’ve counseled one of my co-workers for the repeated use of “retard” or “retarded.”  Not because he’s necessarily wrong – he means to be offensive with his characterization.  No, he’s not trying to be offensive to people with special needs – he’s trying to offend semi-smart people that do things in a less than smart way.  If pressed to make an apology, I think his response would be along the lines of:  “Hey, I’m sorry I called you retarded – I didn’t mean to suggest that you were a special needs person (that would be offensive to special needs people) – I was simply trying to say the decision you made was incredibly stupid and ill thought out.”

Now he probably needs to apologize for saying that the person made an incredibly stupid decision.

I’ve explained to him that he cannot use the R-word – not because I disagree with the use — after all, I drive in Washington DC rush hours 10 times a week.  I explain that if I cannot use the word, neither can he.  After all, I’ve been cowered by the PC police to no longer use specific words as well.

We’ve entered a twilight zone in America where college professors must let the young adults pursuing higher education know in advance if something might upset them.  We have to have “safe rooms” where, once emotionally disturbed, these adults can go rock themselves in to an emotional coma.

Social Justice Warriors – the epitome of the intolerant left – have been driving this train.  An interesting article in The Atlantic this week described the college comedy circuit and how comedians are changing their acts in order to offend no one — or at least as few as possible.

I guess in the end, people have every right to be offended by the opinions of others.  But in a country why free speech is a pinnacle of our identity, stifling speech – or demanding one apologize for their opinions uttered aloud or on the Twitter – strikes me as amazingly Orwellian.

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Just Who Do You Think We Are?

In his dissent to Obergefell v. Hodges – the case to expand the franchise of marriage to same-sex couples – Chief Justice John Roberts asked “Just who do you think we are?” Calling the majority’s decision “an act of will, not legal judgment.”

“It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples,” he said. “It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes under the law.” – Chief Justice John Roberts

Based on his words, using his logic, the Chief Justice — along with his colleagues Alito, Thomas and Scalia – would not have dared to have intervened in Loving v. Virginia – the case that ended anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. Roberts went on to say “The people of a state are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition,” and that the court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage was “stealing this issue from the people.”

The simple application of his “logic” would have left the question of interracial marriage in the hands of the voters – or more specifically, in the hands of individual state voters.

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In 1966, the year I was born, nearly one third of the country had laws – actively enforced – preventing interracial marriage. In the case of Loving, Richard and Mildred were married in Washington DC in 1958. However, they were Virginia residents – when they moved back to their home state, their marriage was not only not recognized, it was deemed illegal. It took 9 years for their case to wind its way through the lower courts before the Supreme Court ruling struck down the ban in Virginia and the remaining states.

Surely, popular opinion must have been on the forefront, guiding the court in reaching its decision. After all, Roberts indicates that the court should not steal such an issue from the people. What was “the mood of the people” with regard to interracial marriage?

As a nation, we didn’t even hit the majority of approval until 1996ish – nearly 30 years after Loving!!! At the time, only a scant one out of five people supported mixed-race marriages. Approval continues to rise; however, 13% of Americans continue to disapprove of interracial marriages – how are they characterized today? Narrow-minded? Bigots? Simpletons? Or do we just tend to ignore them altogether as people that time forgot?

Too often, we view history through a prism of something happened, then everything changed and we moved on. The Civil Rights movement effectively ended when Martin Luther King was assassinated. The fight over interracial marriage ended on 12 June 1967 with the Warren court’s unanimous decision to wipe out anti-miscegenation laws.

Sadly, there was was no internet around in 1967 – I searched as best I could for reactionary quotes to the Warren decision. At best, we can see reflections of dissent and rebellion to the court’s decision. Two and one half years after Loving, Alabama continued to fight its cause in preventing blacks and whites from marrying one another.

Indeed, in the wake of Loving, states attempted to pass laws continuing the practice of racial purity marriages. The matter was hardly resolved in one day based on the supreme court’s ruling. In fact, Alabama did not formally amend its constitution until 2000, ending anti-miscegenation law (if not practice).

It comes as little surprise that the same areas and the same people that fought tooth and nail against interracial marriage are again at the forefront of the expansion of the franchise. Only this time, the numbers are not in their favor. Unlike the public’s attitude to interracial marriage, public opinion on marriage equality is overwhelmingly in favor of same sex marriage.

Despite the moaning and lamentations of those that see this as the “darkest day in American history,” (Thanks Ted Cruz…) this day was inevitable once the first same sex couple was married in Massachusetts in 2003. Rights cannot be selectively granted for one group while denied to another. Likewise, marriages that were legally performed in states that previously permitted marriage equality could not not be recognized by states selectively banning marriages.

Now the battle will take a turn. Already evangelical marriage equality opponents are reframing the argument around religious freedom, attempting to make the case that discrimination should be condoned by the government based on religious views. I can hardly think of a more convincing reason for congregants of such bigoted efforts to continue to abandon their religious views. According to the latest Pew Religious Landscape study, more Americans identify with no religion than ever before. The millennial generation accounting for the highest percentage across the board. It’s the equivalent of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

What’s worse, these evangelical bigots – touting their love for Jesus – give the millions of marriage equality supporting-Christians a black eye. This reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling has nothing to do with Christianity, other than the cloak they use to disguise their homophobia, hate, and/or latent homosexuality and self-loathing. They should be called out on it at every opportunity.

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights. – Mildred Loving

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Thoughts on Baltimore

We always try to make sense of what we see and hear. We tend to process this incoming information, through the filter that is our worldview – based on our experiences, knowledge, and understanding. The events confronting Baltimore today are a great example. Some people will see the violence and riots as an outcome associated with the protests over the murder of Freddy Gray and feel that law enforcement officers should crack down harder on thugs that threaten the peace. Others will see the same images and think that if Baltimore police and the city government were not corrupt, none of this would have happened in the first place.

What’s happening in Baltimore is not easy to process through a black or white view (pardon the pun). It is mired in grayness, and that never makes people comfortable. The communities that bore the brunt of the riots have a long history of over policing and negative encounters with law enforcement officials – which makes it incredibly similar to Ferguson, Missouri. To put it bluntly, there is neither respect, nor trust, within the community for police. They are not seen as peacekeepers or protectors – rather, as a predatory threat that could strike out at any moment. Is it any wonder that Freddy Gray ran after making eye contact with a police officer? [It should be said here that even today, after all that has transpired, we still have no idea why Freddy Gray was arrested or what he did to warrant being handcuffed, thrown in to a truck and ultimately die.]

Many are horrified that police have been taunted and injured by rioters. These same people, almost instinctively, share their support for law enforcement on their social media posts, characterizing the “agitators” as thugs that should be dealt with in the harshest of ways. Some see these views as covert racism, substituting “thug” for “the N word.” While not condoning the violence, or the destruction, of the rioters – they’ve not lost sight of the fact that Freddy Gray died while in police custody. They feel that the auto-adoration of law enforcement obscures the very reason people took to the streets in the first place.

Stepping inside the gray, immersing yourself in the grayness, you might see that there is just a whole lot wrong with Baltimore (along with every municipality in this country), our police forces, and the very social contract citizens have with their government.

Let’s start with the police – and acknowledge up front that they have a difficult job, and serve a vital role in protecting our communities. Without them, we would essentially live in a libertarian utopia, or chaos. The system breaks down for a number of reasons – not all of which are linearly linked. First of all, municipal funding for law enforcement, and the public legal system, is dependent on revenues generated by fines and court costs. Second, our legislatures and city councils are constantly passing new laws for police to enforce – each of which have monetary fines associated with them. So we’ve created the perfect environment for systemic corruption. Throw on top of it, the outsourcing for incarceration, and you have the perfect storm.

Even when police just do their jobs, communities suffer. People must be arrested, fed in to the judicial system, forced to pay or go to jail. The system demands this. If, all of a sudden, everyone simply abided by the law, the entire apparatus would crumble to the ground. Lost revenues would force layoffs. But that’s never going to happen – especially as long as legislators pass new laws for enforcement to snare unwitting citizens.

This doesn’t even take into consideration that – just like in any profession – there are just straight out bad cops. But the final piece of the puzzle – police unions – make it impossible to get rid of even the worst of them. Good cops know who they are – just like good teachers know who bad teachers are, or good soldiers know who the dirtbags are. This is just a fact of life. Not every cop is a hero, nor is every soldier a hero. Sometimes, they are just pieces of shit that get by because the system allows them to.

This makes Baltimore just like any other city in America. With areas of the city that are economically depressed and systemically repressed. The fact that riots took place shouldn’t be surprising – what should be surprising is that they didn’t happen sooner or more often. Our local governments and the apparatuses that serve themselves and not the citizenry have led us to where we are today. It’s a classic case of don’t blame the player, blame the game. Police are by and large simply doing their best to do their jobs and get home to their families after their shifts.

What we need to do is take a strong look at the root causes of the system and how the social contract has become null and void in favor of generating revenue. But to do so would require us to move from the security of our pre-formed opinions and jumping feet first into the uncomfortable gray – and no one wants to do that…

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Houston, We have a Problem

It’s been a bit since I last felt I needed to make sense of the craziness around me.

 
Indiana, oh Indiana…. What to make of you?

 
You let the religious nuts off the leash and look what you got – a crazy law that now needs tweaking to keep people (read: dollars) from pulling out of your state.

 
It was a well calculated, but stupid, move that put you in the nation’s crosshairs. Amazingly, drawing attention away from the “twelve states (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas), as well as two territories (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), prohibit the licensing of same-sex marriages and their recognition from other jurisdictions. Michigan recognizes 323 same-sex marriages performed on March 22, 2014 in the state, the only day the ban was legally unenforceable.”

 
It’s almost admirable that so many have stood up to Indiana, making clear their disdain for legalized discrimination. The NFL, NCAA, individual states, businesses, rock bands, etc., have all made it clear that while the law stands they will reevaluate their business dealings with Indiana – all the while, continuing to happily do business with the 12 states that continue to practice discrimination at its highest form – not allowing people to marry the ones they love based on sexual identity.

 
And Maryland, my Maryland – you stoop to woo those disenchanted with the Hoosier state, offended by a Freedom of Religion law – yet you built in the same verbiage in to the very act legalizing marriage equality in Maryland.

Gentle reminder – the words that Maryland voters were presented on Question 6 in 2012:

Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

“Related entities” includes things like photographers, bakeries, florists, etc. – you know, those marriage-related businesses that cannot be forced to engage in commerce with gay folk…

 
I know, it was expedient and necessary in order to pass the referendum in to law. Sacrifices needed to be made – but come on. Please explain to me how this is any different from Indiana’s law? Seriously, I need someone to explain it to me!

 
It’s 2015, at least last time I checked my watch – isn’t it time to come to grips with the reality that marriage equality’s time has come for the entire country. Wasting useless energy and time to fight a battle that’s essentially over is counterproductive to solving the bigger issues that confront us as a nation.

 

If we really want to invest in fighting discriminatory practices – shouldn’t we be putting the focus on the states that continue to hold freedom at bay? Yep – looking at you Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Time for every corporation, state, politician, and person that looked down their noses at Indiana (where marriage equality is legal by the way) to turn their attentions on these discriminatory loving states.

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Quick Thoughts on our Costa Rica Vacation

For several years now, I’ve had a dream.  A dream of relocating, post retirement, to a place where the weather is warm year round and where the cost of living is such that my retirement dollar would stretch nicely.  Costa Rica seemed to be that place!

Last summer, I booked a trip for the first week of March – specifically timed to escape the cold winter I must of had a premonition of. After one of the coldest February’s in recent memory, March 1st arrived and our vacation was underway.

We landed in San Jose and immediately reveled in the warmth.  I think it was still in the teens when we departed Reagan National and all of a sudden we’re standing in 80 degrees.  It felt like heaven :)

We booked a little home for the week outside of Nuevo Arenal, north of San Jose.  We needed to arrive around 6pm in order to meet Henry, the grounds keeper to pick up the keys and get settled in – so we began our drive straight away from the rental car company.

On that note – I should advise if you plan to visit Costa Rica and choose to rent a vehicle – be forewarned – I used priceline.com to rent an SUV, as advised by our landlord (good call).  I thought I had a great rate of roughly $250 for the week.  This ended up being $660 based on the mandatory insurance coverages.  You could probably get it for less, but the deal was they would put a hold on your credit card for varying amounts — up to $5,000 if you select a cheaper insurance option.

So that put me in a good mood as we started off on our journey.  The mountains soon turned to elevated rain forest and through rain, and twisty roads, we slowly made our way up to La Fortuna and finally our destination – Nuevo Arenal.

The route from Fortuna to Arenal is a long winding two lane paved (for the most part) road that twists its way along the northern banks of Lake Arenal.  I was heartened when I saw the signs saying it was roughly 30 kilometers to reach Arenal – but given that I was barely averaging 40 kilometers on the drive, it was bound to take a while.

The fun began the following day.  We decided to head to The Springs for a day pass in their hot springs.  I’d seen their website previous to the trip and fell in love with the swim up bar

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The poolside bar at The Springs with the Arenal Volcano in the distance.

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One of the many hot spring pools at The Springs – this one surrounded by jungle.

We ended up spending 2 days at The Springs – their day pass included the next day free – which was a pretty decent deal :).  If you get the opportunity – highly recommend visiting, though staying the night there is pretty pricey!

Next stop was the ocean – Playa de Coco. The beach was nice – and the Pacific was its usual cold self.

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Me tentatively approaching the water…

The route to the ocean includes a stretch one Highway One from Canas to Liberia.  On a map, you might assume it’s a four lane highway – in reality, though construction has obviously been taking place for several years, it’s still a work in progress.  Reduced to a two lane highway while construction continues on the other side, it’s a constant game of leap frog hopping slower traffic.

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So the roads suck – take it as a given, then add in wildlife

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Tomalucas checking out the traffic hoping for a handout

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010d026ee1d48b7a2596482fd27465c2f991098d66 (2) And my favorite animal – a snake (undoubtedly venomous!), hanging out in the road. I admit, I took great pleasure in the fact that the truck I had just passed on the previous straightaway took this guy right out! :)

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Toucans are plentiful – though the only ones we saw were in cages.

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Costa Rica prides itself on it’s greenness, deriving 100% of it’s power on a combination of hydro, wind, and solar.

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Overlooking Lake Arenal

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So I mentioned that the roads sucked – but it downplays just how bad some of the stretches were.  The house we rented was roughly 2 miles off the main road – unpaved, predominately laden with rocks and potholes.  Fortunately we had a four wheel drive – just for the clearance.  Unbelievably, there were cars, and motorbikes trekking up and down this stretch.

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After a week, I’m not sold on Costa Rica being the place I want to retire to.  The weather was fantastic.  Many great things to do – ranging from beaches to zip lining over the jungle and of course, relaxing in the hot springs.  On the downside, it was a bit of a shock to see how expensive food was.  Every restaurant we ate at was pretty pricey.  After the first day, we went to the market and bought our own breakfast fixings and fruit.  Even the supermarket prices were in line with what you pay in the U.S.  When we were in Playa de Coco we stopped in to an Auto Mercado – one of the bigger chain stores comparable to a smaller Safeway or King Soopers – and many recognizable American brand items ran about twice as much as back home.

People we spoke with along the way mentioned that land and services are pretty cheap, but food, furnishings and vehicles can be pretty expensive.

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Taking Stock

2014 is just about in the books. At the beginning of the year I, uncharacteristically, made New Year resolutions – something I find unseemly for whatever odd reason.

I decided last January that I would do the following:

1. Shed some pounds and live healthier (hmmm, not like that’s very original)
2. Read more – specifically, 12 books over the year
3. Blog more, at least once a month

In the spirit of making a resolution, I think it requires going back and evaluating how well you did. Otherwise, what’s the point – right?
So I did OK, maybe better than OK. As of yesterday, I’m down 35 pounds from the beginning of last year. More importantly, I’m in far better shape! I regularly run double digit miles, completed a half marathon, and (as my wife likes to say) am on the cusp of having 6 pack abs (5 ½ or so…)

Blogging, I wrote 18 articles (not including this one) over the year. I admit, my passion for blogging has diminished over the years. Of course, I still have my opinions and I still enjoy articulating them, but the number of people that take time out of their busy days to read my rants has significantly decreased. Most times, I write for the sake of writing – a way to organize, or hone, my thoughts on a particular subject. It serves a purpose, but in terms of influencing an opinion it fails miserably.

Reading. I’ve long been an avid reader; however, I’ve noticed over the last several years that I read less and less. The Atlantic Monthly ran an article on this idea back in 2008 under the title Is Google Making Us Stupid? Essentially, the internet has “rewired” our brains to finding fast answers to questions – limiting our ability to concentrate on one thing over an extended period of time – like reading a book…

And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

As much as I love(d) to read, I’ve always been a slow, verbatim, reader. I don’t breeze through books. In fact, some simply become a labor of love to finish. When I find a book(s) that capture me completely, I’m transported. Such was the case with A Song of Ice and Fire. I never really connected with Steven King’s Misery until reading George R.R. Martin – I regretfully acknowledge that if the opportunity ever arises – I will hobble that man straight up and force him to finish that damn series!

As is always the case, when I finish a book that I’ve been engrossed in, I’m always left feeling empty – directionless. I cannot simply pick up another book and plow forward. I need time to absorb what I’ve just put in to my brain and sort out the emotions generated.

Such is where I’m at now, having just plowed through the final two books of the Millennium Trilogy (aka, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest). I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo over a year ago. I enjoyed it very much, but did not feel compelled to immediately jump in to the second book at the time. Despite being a slow reader, I was able to knock out the last two books in less than two weeks.

This is a long segue to admitting my failure in my reading resolution – I fell short by about half! I read Steven King’s Doctor Sleep at the beginning of the year – a great sequel to The Shining I might add! Over the summer I finished World War Z after numerous attempts to finish it previously. I also found time over the summer to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time. Then I reverted back to being too busy to read over the Fall. I was only able to read 5 of the 12 I had set out to finish.

All in all, I did pretty well with my resolutions. As I find myself approaching 50, the notion of taking stock of the previous year is more important than the actual resolutions themselves. This is not for nostalgic purposes, at least I don’t think so – more about an introspective accounting. Time to take stock of the year passed and plan for the year ahead.

So, with this in mind – I need to make some 2015 resolutions.

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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Unless you live the life of Theodore Kaczynski you may have noticed that we have some issues with race and police brutality here in America. A recent spate of state-sanctioned killings of unarmed black men has yet again divided the country along emotional and ideological lines.

While not immune from forming opinions, I’ve tried to be thoughtful in my attempt to understand what is happening without rushing to knee jerk judgments.

People are outraged that police officers can simply take a life without consequence. It’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that we have too many bad apples spoiling the barrel of America’s police departments.

It’s also tempting to take the position that if people weren’t breaking the law in the first place, they would not be in the position to encounter a situation that ups the odds of death by cop.

Unfortunately, these positions offer a simplistic understanding of what is happening. It allows us to compartmentalize, judge, and move on with our lives that for the most part have nothing to do with the events that dominate our news viewing.

We are where we are at this point in our history; unable to escape our past and uncertain where the future lies. America is facing a moment – no less meaningful than 50 years ago when civil rights marchers came to Washington.

This is, and is not, about blacks and whites coexisting in a Martin Luther King dream. It’s unfortunately, much worse.

A nation at war for over a decade, always on the lookout for the next terrorist attack, we’ve devolved in to the worst of ourselves. An insecure country always looking over our shoulder at what is creeping up behind us rather than looking forward; and on those rare occasions we do look to our future, we see diametrically opposing views of where we want to go.

It would be naïve to not understand that we’ve sacrificed too many freedoms to the “homeland” in the guise of “security.” In this 1984 version of America in which we currently live, threats to safety must be dealt with swiftly if not necessarily justly. Our police forces are militarized, ready to respond with lethal force when called upon. Threats to safety can range from a child with a toy gun to selling loose cigarettes.

We also have an economy that remains incredibly uneven throughout the country. Tens of millions of citizens are barely scraping by. Where poverty is at its worst, chances are some laws are being broken. Unfortunately, to our nation’s shame, African Americans continue to bear the brunt of the worst economic conditions.

Now, combine over-militarized police with those stuck in poverty, you have a situation that statistically places more African Americans at risk of encountering police than the average suburbanite and the occasions where someone is bound to have their life extinguished have been greatly enhanced.

There is also outrage that there is a lack of accounting for these actions. In two vastly different events in the last week, grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York failed to return indictments on police officers involved in killing unarmed black men. Enough has been written on both, but the bottom line is that the district attorneys seeking indictments rigged the presentation of evidence to gain the outcomes they sought.

This isn’t a bias against the police officers – this is simply an acknowledgment of facts. Watch any Law and Order episode:

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”

Again, it’s naïve to expect that any district attorney would vigorously pursue the conviction (or indictment) of a police officer when they are partners in the criminal justice system. The only way to rectify the injustice of this incestuous relationship is to reform the way charges against police officers are handled. It requires an independent criminal investigation outside the local district attorney’s office – in fact, it should be completely removed from the state apparatchiks and handled at the national level under the Justice Department.

Some people don’t understand the outrage. They look at Ferguson and shake their heads wondering why people are burning buildings. It’s misdirected rage, but rage demands an outlet and buildings don’t shoot back. Compare and contrast two very different demonstrations:

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White people with guns show up at a protest against law enforcement – no one gets shot. Black people without guns get shot (or choked). That’s not being simplistic – that’s rationally looking at reality. Guess the message should just be – suck it up. Sucks for you, too bad you were born with the wrong skin color.

This country yet again finds itself at a crossroad on a major social issue. We can ignore it at our peril or we can begin having a rational discussion about how best to fix it and move forward. Unfortunately, I don’t see the latter happening. In order to have that conversation we need to be frank and tread in to uncomfortable areas of political incorrectness. This is not about stupid white politicians saying things in an interview that the PC police will jump on as yet another example of insensitivity – that’s not a conversation – that’s a lecture.

Many people refuse to listen to the likes of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson – seeing them as self-aggrandizing on racial issues that infect the nation. This makes having that “conversation” all the more difficult. In fact, we don’t have conversations of national importance any longer – we have speeches and talk radio and talking heads – it’s a one way dialogue that we cannot escape from. Ultimately, we herd ourselves in to ideological camps of thoughts and surround ourselves with those that think as we do without entertaining the idea that the other camp may have valid grievances or constructive ideas. This is our generations’ crossroad and there is no good way forward. Like our Congress, we’ll probably do nothing while Rome burns.

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The Concert For Valor

I’ve never used this forum to review a concert before; however, this seemed an opportune time to start.

Yesterday was Veterans Day.  In celebration of the holiday, HBO and Starbucks – along with a bunch of major musicians and celebrities – put on a celebration to veterans on the Mall in DC.  Organizers planned for approximately 800,000 people to show up and enjoy the show.

Several people I know elected not to attend, fearing the size of the crowd and the logistics of getting in and out of DC.  Not to mention the fact that the show was being telecast live on HBO!

I, on the other hand, was motivated to see Bruce Springsteen live – something I’ve never done before – as well as many of the other acts perform.  I also used the rationale that when people take the time to say thanks to our veterans, you actually have to show up, otherwise, the whole thing rings hollow.

So here’s how I saw the show: the good and the bad.

The Good

The weather was amazing — couldn’t haIMG_1561[1]ve asked for a better day in mid-November in DC. Temps were in the mid-60’s, no rain, light winds – shorts weather!

The line-up of musicians was amazing!  The fact they “donated” their time to support the event speak volumes about them as people and not just artists.

The crowd!  According to the local news, only 3 people were arrested last night (for fence jumping!?).  We met several, nice, single-serving friends that saved our spot when we needed to stretch our legs and wander around the pen we were enclosed in – which is a decent segue…

It was a free show – so everything that follows is simply a critique, not a complaint.  Had I shelled out bucks to attend, it would be a different story…

The Bad

With 800,000 planned for attendance, I didn’t have high hopes for a decent view.  We arrived on the Mall around 3:30pm, made our way through security, and found our way to the pen we would stay in for the rest of the evening.  However, the pen nearest the stage — a vast area that could easily hold about 100,000 people was as vacant as a megachurch parking lot on a Tuesday!

We had to ask, what was that area reserved for?  Come to find out that HBO and Starbucks (and the National Park Service) preselected people to fill in this area.  As organizers of the event, I guess that was their prerogative – and we heard they made sure that a good number of the tickets were distributed to military units so active duty soldiers, zoomies, squids and jarheads could attend (forgive my service bias…).  Couldn’t, and won’t, argue with that.  The folks that made the first pen saw a decent show — everyone else, not so much.

The stage was so low to the ground it was impossible to see even the outline of a performer on stage.  Fortunately, there were big screens lining both sides of the mall for the “props” in attendance. Unfortunately, the sound system was so poor that you could have a conversation with the person next to you, in a hushed voice, that carried over the music.

The show started promptly at 7:00pm — after all, HBO had a schedule to keep.  They opened the grounds at 10:00am for people to fill in (sans the VIP pen), so for nine hours, people did – well, not much of anything but camp out.  The organizers really failed on this — they could have had local music acts playing throughout the day.

But when you get down to it, this concert IMG_1566[1]was not about those in attendance — it was tailor made for those watching at home on HBO – the vast majority of the crowd was nothing more than a prop for the event.

The lineup:

Many of you may have watched the show on HBO, so no need to provide a setlist – though if you’re interested, you can find it here.

Just my observations – I’m a Dave Grohl fan. Love the Foo Fighters and can’t wait to see them on the 4th of July at RFK Stadium in DC!  That said, Dave did acoustic versions of My Hero and Everlong (and I love both!).  As I mentioned, the sound system was really poor and the crowd lacked any energy – maybe everyone was trying to be as quiet as a church mouse to hear the music – but the set fell flat.

The Black Keys and Zac Brown Band were both great sets!  Not sure if the organizers did anything to fix the audio – probably not – I just think both bands kicked it up a couple notches and got the crowd in to the show.  Highlight of the night was watching Zac with Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen play Credence Clearwater’s Fortunate Son.

Speaking of Bruce – he went the Dave Grohl route – played three songs that barely registered with the crowd.  While I loved the melodic take on Born in the USA – a song that was so overplayed in the 80’s that I can barely listen to today without putting the Canadian Bacon twist on it – in front of 800,000 it put about half the crowd to sleep.

Hit of the night was without a doubt Metallica.  When we got home, HBO was repeating the show and it was right at the point of Metallica’s set.  Watching it on TV was much flatter than being there – not sure I could say that about many of the other acts.  Raw, driving performance that was able to get the crowd engaged and head banging. I was hoping Zac Brown would join them on Enter Sandman (his cover is amazing!), but that wasn’t to be…

We left the show with Rhianna on the stage and only Eminem to follow.  I still can’t figure out why the organizers felt that Eminem was the best act to close the show out — we watched his set on DVR when we got home and wow!  So happy we left when we did and avoided the crowd on the Metro.  I wouldn’t say he was awful – but less than stellar is as kind as I can get.

All in all, for a free concert, it’s hard to complain.  The show did exactly what it was intended to do — give HBO subscribers a fun show to watch from home and hopefully get people to donate their time and/or money to Veteran’s causes.  Speaking of which, while their are plenty of worthy causes – please check the administrative fees for any charity you donate to.  The higher the percentage, the less money you donate actually goes to those the charity is designed to support.

So I’ll make a shameless plug:  If you want to help soldiers and veterans, please consider donating to The Fisher House.  Only about 5% of your donation goes to administrative and fundraising costs, meaning that 95 cents of every dollar donated goes to homes the foundation has near military and VA hospitals so families can be near their loved ones while recovering from surgeries without shelling out hundreds if not thousands in bills. Please read more about them and give generously! Thanks!

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Are Atheists Really Attacking Carrie Underwood?

One of the more disturbing features of Facebook is when a friend “likes” a link it shows up in my newsfeed. A few days ago, I was “blessed” to see the following appear:

Underwood

I love the headline – so sensationalistic! “ATHEISTS VICIOUSLY ATTACK…!”

I admit, I was a little intrigued, so I morbidly decided to research this story. Who are these atheists out there viciously attacking Ms. Underwood and her song?

I followed the link from the Facebook page to the story on the Americannews.com site (full text of the article follows):

American News
Interestingly, the article points out in the first sentence that “atheists have founds [sic] a new target: Carrie Underwood.” But it never goes on to say who or what they’ve done – only that Ms. Underwood has a message for detractors. That quote comes from a different site: The Blaze. Maybe it goes in to more detail there?
Under the innocuous headline “Famed Country Singer’s New Tune Tackles Some Major Christian Themes — and Ends With a Rendition of One of the World’s Most Popular Hymns,” there is a another bread crumb to follow.

“As Deseret News noted, Underwood has always defended singing about religious themes, telling Glamour magazine in the past that country music is generally more welcoming of Christian themes.
“Country music is different. You have that Bible Belt-ness about it,” she said. “I’m not the first person to sing about God, Jesus, faith [or] any of that, and I won’t be the last. And it won’t be the last for me, either. If you don’t like it, change the channel.””

Surely in the Deseret, I’ll finally find who are these dastardly atheists that dare attack Ms. Underwood and her faith? Um, unfortunately, no oasis of insight to be found in the Deseret.

The song concludes as a choir joins Underwood in singing the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.” Despite its spiritual message, Underwood hopes that all fans will enjoy the song regardless of their religious beliefs.
“The song is hopefully uplifting no matter where you are on your spiritual journey,” Underwood told radio DJ Cody Alan. “Hopefully, it can still just make you feel happy.”

So despite the sensational headline and the appeal to good Christians to fan their hatred of atheists, there is no story there. Paul Loebe summed it up well in his article Carrie Underwood: Not a Single Atheist Cares What You Sing.
The story itself is of such little value – largely because it is so amazingly contrived. If an atheist is viciously attacking Ms. Underwood, surely there would be blood – or at least a pointed quote attributed to Richard Dawkins, or some similar horseman of the atheist apocalypse… No, the story isn’t there – the story lies within the thousands of comments in the Facebook link itself.

Staggeringly, as of today, there were 25,888 comments to the original link posted by The Patriot. While I don’t have the time to read each vitriolic comment, a random sampling suffices (quoted with original typos):

– Atheist [sic] offend me I want them banned
– Screw the atheists
– To heck with them.the atheists are crazy.That is the reason they are atheists.
– Time to tell the atheists to shut up. I am tired of the MINORITIES trying to tell the rest of us what to think…when and if and who we can pray to.
– Have not heard it yet, but if it annoys atheists then it must be good!
– Again go live where they don’t want God…
– Why can’t we just ban the Atheists?
– I think all atheist [sic] need to be band [sic] from our country, I know that is not possible but it sounds good.
– They need to move somewhere else and start a country of their own. Because this country was built on the foundation of Christianity
– Tell the Atheists to go to hell
– Atheists are probably some of the most ignorant people on this planet
– Atheist [sic] needs to go to hell
– All Atheists ; Go join the muslims …… You have more in common then you think

Even if some atheist out there was critical of Carrie Underwood’s song and for whatever reason felt that demanding it shouldn’t receive air time due to its religious content, I think we could all agree that that person is simply a nut and is not representative of an entire group of people.

Unfortunately, people such as the ones expressing their views towards atheists, as noted, fail to understand the importance atheists place on the Constitution and most especially the 1st Amendment – the freedom of speech and the separation of church and state. It’s based on this principal that 99.99% of the atheists in this country would defend Ms. Underwood’s right to sing about whatever she pleases and to make sure that people of all religious beliefs have the freedom to pursue their religious liberties without government interference or coercion.

Alas, these same individuals fail to see that by begging the government to endorse their religious beliefs places their religious freedoms at risk. Conflating secularism with “evil” as many outspoken religious leaders have done in the recent past, is simply the proverbial road to hell, paved in good intentions. It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for them, but then again, this is America and intelligence is not necessarily our strongest attribute…

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”- unattributed

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The Joy of Running?

I left the Army in 1996. One of the many things I loved about hanging up the uniform was that I’d no longer have to run. To say I hated running would be downplaying the disdain I had for it. I hated waking up at Oh darkthirty to stand in a PT formation as the sun would rise and go off on a 3-4 mile run. No more 2 mile runs for a PT test. No more running!

I held fast to my anti-running position for almost a decade when my wife Ellen suggested we join a gym in 2004. She’s always the smart one when it comes to health. She knew, despite the fact I’d lost quite a bit of weight due to a change in diet, that I wasn’t getting any cardiovascular training and conditioning. She suggested we begin playing racquetball so could actually get a little exercise. She jokes that she wants to keep me around longer, but I’ve wondered over the years if she just isn’t trying to induce an early heart attack…

One day, I can’t remember why, but I got on a treadmill. I had no idea how to operate it – so I began pushing programming buttons and found an option for APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to see just how far I’d fallen. Not that I was a decent runner to begin with, but struggling to cover 2 miles on the treadmill in under 20 minutes (a far cry from passing by the way) was an ego bruiser. When I finished, panting, sweating, wheezing, I found an inner determination to improve on that time. Of course, this meant I needed to actually start running again. Was I losing my mind? I was pushing 40 – was this what a mid-life crisis looked like? Why couldn’t I just be content to buy a corvette like regular guys? Why did it have to be running?

Slowly but surely, I began to improve on times and distance – which really wasn’t that difficult considering just about any time or distance was going to be an improvement.

Over the next several months I realized I needed motivation to continue pursuing my new found hobby. I needed to put event runs on my calendar to give me a reason to train. Otherwise, I was just running to run and why on earth would I run to run? Remember, I hate running! Even as I was lowering my times, increasing my distance, and gaining a certain level of satisfaction from the result – I still was a far cry from liking what I was doing.

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Crossing the finish line at the Army 10 Miler

I can’t remember the first event I ran in – it was probably the Crofton 10K – but I began running a number of 5Ks and before taking the next leap to the Annapolis 10 Miler, then my first Half Marathon in Washington DC. This led to more 10 Milers, more Half Marathons, and ultimately my first (and only) full Marathon in Phoenix in January 2008.

All through this period, I was consistently focused on lowering my times, increasing my distance. Come race day, I would be disappointed if my result didn’t match my expectation that I had trained for. Some runs were perfect, others, not what I wanted. Often this fueled harder training to get it right the next time.

Unfortunately, following my marathon, I never felt like I was improving. I ran a few 5Ks and had good times, but I began struggling with longer distances. I found that longer runs led to a series of mental negotiations and compromises, and copping out.

When I took a new job in 2009, it signaled the end of my endurance running. While I occasionally donned my Asics and hit the road or the treadmill, it was without purpose. Lacking a goal, those runs became fewer and farther in between.

By the beginning of 2014, I had not run in nearly a year. Not that I’m big in to New Year’s resolutions, but adding running to my list of to dos in the coming year never even crossed my mind. It wasn’t until March that I decided I needed to begin working out again. [Again, this was largely due to Ellen’s motivation and her desire to keep me at least semi-fit].

Unfortunately for me, I’d put on quite a bit of weight, so running wasn’t immediately in the cards – I needed to build my cardio, strengthen my legs, and shed some pounds before logging some miles. The first step was to hit the elliptical machine. I approached it the same way I did to my earlier regimen – longer, harder, faster than the day or the week before. By April, I could start putting in some miles on the treadmill.

But I still needed additional motivation. My local 10K was a couple months away – coinciding with my 48th birthday. I had run it several times before, so I joined up giving purpose to my conditioning.

When I ran previously, I think my best time in the Crofton 10K was right around 48 minutes – right about an 8 minute mile pace. When I ran it this past June, I finished about 10 minutes slower. Seven years ago, I would’ve been disgusted with that time. But the older version of me left the course very content – I’d set out to complete the course, not to set a new PR. I ran the entire time, albeit slowly, and that’s all I wanted to do.

The next event run I would enter was the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Philadelphia. From 10K to Half Marathon in three months seemed reasonable. I began training with that in mind, running 4-5 days a week, with a long run every Sunday. I did the majority of the runs on a treadmill – primarily due to the fact that there is less wear and tear on my joints and my bounce back recovery is significantly minimized. I focused on the cardio aspect and while my pace on the treadmill was pretty good, I knew that it would not translate to asphalt. But adding incline and elevation was a must. Nearly every run I took on the treadmill incorporated an ascent.

When the Half Marathon came around, I knew I wasn’t going to be fast, or set a PR. Just like the Cofton 10K, my goal was to run the whole thing and finish. With the exception of stops – one to kiss Ellen on the course, the other to avoid a collision at the last water stop – I hit both goals.

My first Half was in 2007. I finished in 2 hours 7 minutes. I walked the majority of the last 3 miles – all uphill up Minnesota Avenue back to RFK Stadium. I left the race pretty disappointed – I thought I had trained well in advance and my result challenged that assumption. My next Half would be 6 months later in Virginia Beach. Again, I trained to finish at 1:45, and I came in at 1:51 (six minutes off my desired pace – but an improvement). I should note that Ellen ran this Half as well – her first – and she finished, although not a runner, because she’s a little studette!

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Moving in to give Ellen a smooch

So my time in Philly, 2:12, was the worst 13.1 miles time I’ve ever had – yet it turned out to be the best race I’ve ever run. There was no expectation for a personal best – only to finish and to run the whole course. That’s all I had set out to accomplish and I met that goal.

I’ve discovered along the way that I still don’t love running. And while it’s hard to escape the fact that I am indeed a runner – I’ve made my peace with running and I can grudgingly acknowledge that I kind of like it now. Distance running becomes a series of negotiations, bargains, and understanding – but the compromises are no longer part of the equation. Every run has a purpose and a goal to achieve. If it’s a 5 mile hill run, a 6 mile interval run, or just a 4 mile speed run, there is no room for compromise along the way. The longer the run, the more my brain likes to insert itself in the conversation, playing the part of Satan, offering tempting rewards for cutting it shorter. That must be Freud’s id in full force – yet the ego fights back with the superego in tow. All I know is that I need to keep moving.

I doubt that I’ll ever find the motivation to run another marathon along the way – possibly due to the fear that by doing so will eliminate whatever passion I seem to have for running. Been there, done that. But running 13.1 is well within the bounds of my possible. Maybe I’ll try to improve on my times in races to come, but for now, just lumbering through the course at a comfortably slow pace is just fine – it’s not like I was in a position to win it anyway…

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