Monday, July 27, 2015

Week of 07/27/2015

Don’t Ask Why If You Don’t Want The Answer
So it’s happened again.
Another seemingly senseless shooting in a movie theater.  Just a little over three years after the “Dark Knight Rises” massacre in Colorado, and while the jury hearing that murder case is debating whether the shooter deserves to be executed, we have yet another theater shooting in Louisiana.
This time we have a 59-year old man by the name of John Houser who shows up at yet another midnight premiere of a movie, and opens fire, killing two and injuring nine others before turning the gun on himself.
And to make matters worse, this happens just a few days after two more nationally-publicized shooting sprees.  One involving Navy and Marine personnel in Chattanooga, and one in a church in Charleston.
And, once again, people are wringing their hands and wailing to the heavens and asking the same question.
The air-fluffed ego-driven media personalities click their tongues and shake their heads and they ask “Why”.  The radio personalities – even those not normally political – suddenly become amateur preachers and they click their tongues and shake their heads and ask “Why”.  The newspaper editors splash the carnage on the front page and then write lengthy editorials all asking the same question: “Why?”
No, you really don’t want to be asking that question.
You really do not want to be asking “Why”, no matter how many times we have to go through these kinds of tragedies.
Because, quite frankly, we collectively cannot handle the real answers to “Why”.
Oh we have our usual suspects: TV, Internet, violent video games, guns... all inanimate objects.  The fact that the Charleston shooter and the Louisiana shooter were neo-conservative extremists allow talk radio to get lumped into the pile of suspects.  The fact that the Chattanooga shooter is Muslim instantly makes his act one of “domestic terrorism” and allows the cons and neo-cons (all of them Christians, one would presume) to bring Islam into the pile of suspects, because, you know, it’s... Islam.
But none of it really matters, because despite all of the hand-wringing and the speeches and the funerals and the follow-up legislation and regulation that has followed these things, it has not stopped nor will it stop the next nationally-publicized tragedy from happening.  All it will do is give fascists more reasons to clamp down on our non-existing “free nation” until that next tragedy does happen.
Some think that now is the time to bring in metal detectors to the theaters like they do with airports, schools, government buildings, and stadiums.  Great!  Just what we all need; yet another reason to not go to the theaters!  Go ahead and kiss those multiplex cinemas goodbye.  I’m sure Comcast and DirecTV and Netflix are just salivating at that idea.
While we’re at it, why not put those things in at all the parks and playgrounds?  All of the stores and churches?  Put them in the malls and the banks and in the workplace and the bus stations and train stations, and all the public transportation services too.  Never mind that the ones in the airports have done such a bang-up job finding dummy weapons.
And how about all of those gun regulations?  Somehow they didn’t stop the last few shootings.  Go ahead and ban guns outright.  The mass-killers will simply use knives, like they do in Asia.  Or like one person just did in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  Plus there is no doubt there will be some pompous jackass that will step up and say “This never would’ve happened if someone else in that theater was armed.”  Right, because that worked so well in Tampa Bay, Florida, when a retired cop shot and killed someone in a theater for texting in 2014.
All of it for naught.  All of that effort wasted.
So when that next time happens, we’ll once again wring our hands and cry out “Why?”
Because let’s get brutally honest here... we really do not want to know the answer to “Why”.
Because we live in a society that has a piss-poor record of dealing with mental illness; where you’re expected to figure out problems on your own, even when that disorder prevents you from doing so properly.  We refuse to recognize when someone has a problem, we accuse them of “faking it”, we negate the seriousness of their problem, and we expect them to keep up with everyone else and carry on like nothing’s wrong.
Because we live in a kleptocratic society with a plunder economic system that takes and takes and takes, and we don’t realize that when you take away all the things that tie a person to society, they’re going to want to take it out on the easiest and softest targets.  We assume that we will all unrealistically default to taking every piece of adversity heaped upon us with noble stoicism.  It’s a delusion that has repeatedly come back to hurt and kill us.
Look at Hauser... a man who, according to some accounts, had bi-polar disorder, who lost his family, who lost his home, who lost any source of permanent income, who lost any kind of connections to society and was living on the edge of in terms of both reality and sanity.  Do you honestly expect someone like that to somehow not hold a grudge to what happened to him?  What he did to his own home after it was foreclosed should have been a hint right there.
The LA Times says that he had “hate in his heart”.  Convenient, but hate doesn’t just manifest itself.  Hate is taught, even if it’s self-taught.
But, no, we’d rather say it was “terrorism”, like the folks at Fox News tried to do when the news broke out about the Lafayette shooting.  It wasn’t a disturbed person with a grudge and a gun, according to Fox News, it was “Islam”.  It’s not about the disturbed person with the grudge, it was the gun, according to some liberals.  Yes, because an inanimate object can somehow command otherwise peaceful people to do deadly things; which also explains why we want to give our local police officers military-grade weapons and tanks and then wonder why they’re operating like third-world junta leaders.  Whatever our pet cause is, that’s supposedly the real problem.  Not the disturbed person who felt screwed over one time too many and now wants to take the world to hell with him.
Because if we accept the real answers to “why”, then we’d feel compelled to actually deal with them.  We’d have to deal with the plunder economy and our don’t-give-a-care attitude when it comes to mental health.  We’d have to deal with the real trigger-points in society instead of sticking our heads in the sand and blaming it all on our pet causes.  And it’s an ongoing problem, so we’d have to deal with those matters continually.  It’s much easier in our simplistic minds to blame it all on our pet causes, work on getting them outlawed, then chalk it up as a personal win and then be shocked when the next tragedy happens.
So the next time we have these tragedies – and, yes, there will be next times – we really have no business asking “Why”.  The answers to that question are right before us.  We just refuse to accept them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Week of 07/20/2015

Yes, “Mockingbird” And “Watchmen” Icon Can Be The Same Person
So the literary world has been all ablaze about Harper Lee’s second book being released.  “Go Set A Watchman” is the long-awaited sequel to Lee’s classic 1960 story “To Kill A Mockingbird”, which was made into a motion picture in 1962 and got lead actor Gregory Peck an Academy Award.
An interesting tidbit about “Go Set A Watchman” that has been making the rounds in the media is that this was actually the first story Lee wrote and submitted for publication.  It was her publisher’s rejection of the story and urging to change certain elements of it that led her to come up with “Mockingbird” as a prequel of sorts.
But what has people all fired up is the most drastic change in Lee’s iconic main character: attorney Atticus Finch.
In “Mockingbird”, he defended a black man accused of a violent crime in a very segregated and prejudicial Alabama town in the 1930’s.  His noble sentiments and lofty ideals of how men and women should treat each other were considered examples of a South that bucked the stereotype of time. 
But in “Watchman”, we see a different Atticus Finch.  One who is older, bitter, and very much a segregationist and a racist.  He’s even attended a meeting or two of the Klu Klux Klan in the divisive 1950’s.
Now, in all honesty, I have yet to read either book, so I can’t tell you whether or not these characterizations are really in there.  I’d rather focus on the Internet reaction to Lee’s new book compared to what people know about her original story.
Some folks refuse to acknowledge that the older Finch could even be the same man that once defended Tom Robinson in the 1930’s.  “If Atticus began as a racist... then had a transformational experience... that might make sense,” opined Internet personality “bkay”. “But being first exposed to... a compassionate caring wise Atticus and now to someone with opposite traits is like asking us to go backwards.” 
Some dismiss “Watchman” is being simply a rough draft to the more “polished” original story. One person even went so far as to say that there are four “parallel world” versions of Atticus Finch, with one being the younger Atticus in “Mockingbird”, one being the older version in “Watchman”, one being the Atticus portrayed in the movie by Peck, and then there is the idealized Atticus that people hold in their heads and inspires them to be lawyers and reporters and seekers of truth, and, yes, even superheroes.
Well, I hate to burst your bubbles on this, critics, but I have to disagree.  It is entirely possible for the old, bitter, and bigoted Atticus to be the same man from “Mockingbird”.  Not only is it possible, I’ve actually seen it happen.
Let’s get brutally honest here... our ideas and our perspectives on the world we live in are always subject to revision.  Our experiences can either validate what we believe, or they can force us to update those beliefs.  And while we would like to believe that with age comes wisdom, I’ve seen people go in the opposite direction as well.
How many people do you know that changed their views after what happened on September 11th of 2001?  How many people went from tolerating Muslims to outright hating them and becoming bigoted fundamentalists after that day?
There’s an old joke that says “Do you know how to turn a liberal into a conservative?  Rob him.”  Sadly, though, there is truth to that as some people have changed their views on life because they were the victims of a violent crime, or because of some other kind of tragedy that either affects them or someone they know and love.
In fact, regular life experiences can force us to change and revise our views.  How many fun-loving libertines became bible-thumping neo-conservatives simply because they became parents?  How many progressive and acceptable parents became bible-thumping fundamentalists because they realize that they’re old and they only have a few more years left on this planet?  How many “tolerant” people became “Tea Party” hoaxers because Barack Obama got elected President?  Even the people you work with and interact with on a regular basis can have an effect on how you view things.
Of course, most of these changes don’t just happen overnight.  You don’t wake up one morning and totally change your views to be a complete opposite of what you previously stood for.  Two decades pass between “Mockingbird” and “Watchmen”.  Two decades full of life and life events both great and small getting in one’s face and saying “There!  What do you think about that?”
There’s something else that needs to be said.  As I understand it, both stories are told from the perspective of a young woman named Jean Louse, aka “Scout”.  In “Mockingbird”, Scout’s just a little girl.  In “Watchman”, she’s an adult.  We sometimes see our parents to be something larger than life when we’re little, only to see them in a new light with adult eyes.  And maybe Scout did see her father as being someone good and decent and noble, only to discover when she’s grown up that he wasn’t really that person at all.  That too is one of life’s events that cause us to re-evaluate what we believe.
If anything, Harper Lee should be praised for coming up with a character that isn’t static between the two books.  For coming up with a character that changes with the times, even if it is for the worse.  And rather than mourn the “loss” of a literary icon that stood for something good and decent, we should use this as a cautionary example, to show that even the best of us can change into something that our younger selves would barely recognize.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Week of 07/13/2015

We Need To Walk From Iran Talks
There is a term called “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”.  It’s when you have a sure thing on your hands, you’re about ready to win, and you do something phenomenally stupid to end up losing the whole thing.
I remember when my mom found her long-desired dream car.  It was during a time when she had some money to spend and she visited a dealership just for kicks.  As soon as she saw the convertible on the lot, she knew this was the car that she had always dreamed of driving.  It had everything she was looking for.  The right color, the right features, the right price, and pretty much the right everything.
So she went to the dealer and took it for a test drive.  It ran like a dream.  She told the guy she’d buy it on the spot.  He got the paperwork, they walked into the office, and he pulled out his calculator.
“What are you doing?” she asked him.
“Well we have to figure out the full price,” he replied.
“It’s on that piece of paper.  That’s the price I’m willing to pay.”
He started to talk about financing, and she said she will pay the whole thing in full with a bank check, but only for the price on the paper.  He tried to talk about extras.  She said she didn’t want any of it.  She was willing to drive the car off the lot that afternoon as it was.
But the dealer didn’t listen.  He was still fixated on adding extra things to it to pad his commission.
“How much are you willing to pay?” he asked her.
My mom told him $25000, which included the price of the vehicle, plus tax, tag, title, and all of the other normal costs.  He said “okay”.  But then he pulled out the calculator again to try to add to that.
That was when my mom turned to my father and said “Let’s go, we’re done here.”
My mom walked away from her dream vehicle because the dealer tried to screw her over with the price.  And she never regretted it.
That’s how you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  It could’ve been the easiest sale the guy ever made, but his greed and his ego ruined it.
This is the situation the United States is in right now with Iran.
At stake is an agreement that would supposedly limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions to “energy-producing” only and not the “global-thermonuclear Armageddon” kind.  They agree to that and we (as in “the world” but it’s pretty much the U.S. right now) will eventually end the economic sanctions that have been placed on them for years.
The problem is that just when it seems like we’re about to come to an agreement, someone comes up to piss all over it.
First it was Israel.  The eternal warmongering leadership there were whining and kvetching about any kind of agreement would be worthless and how Iran shouldn’t be allowed to get so much as a pair of matches for fear that they will use those to torch Israel and the Western World to the ground.  Oh, and you need to blindly follow us and support us because we’re Israel and we’ll whine even louder on Fox News if we aren’t satisfied.
Then there’s the GOP, who wanted to remind the whole world that there’s this thing in our Constitution that required all treaties be ratified by Congress, which is (as of this article’s posting) currently controlled by the GOP.  And, of course, the GOP will do anything they can to hurt President Barack Obama, even and especially if it hurts America.
Well thank you for the civics lesson, GOP.  Why don’t you go back to your little flat-earth friends and keep on trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and denying the existence of climate change?
But, you know what?  Even after our crazy allies and our crazy relatives had their pissing contests, the two sides stayed at the table and still hashed things out.  And that was good.  It looked like things were really starting to work.
Until Iran’s supreme leader, Supreme Extra-Guacamole Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stepped up to whiz all over the talks.
Remember Saddam Hussein and all of the talks prior to the Iraq War?  Yeah, I know it was almost fifteen years ago, but work with me here.  Every time Iraq agreed to whatever terms the U.S. put in, Saddam demanded... hell, he screamed like the little bitch that he was... that all of his sanctions be lifted.  Guess what?  Didn’t happen.  Then we bombed him out of power, send him hiding like a cockroach, dragged him from under his little rock, and then let his own people try him and put him to death.
Well, that’s what Iran’s supreme leader wants.  He wants every agreement tied into the immediate end of all sanctions against Iran.  No verification or confirmation of them living up to their side of the agreement.  Just lift all the sanctions right now and trust them that they’ll live up to their end of the deal.
And just when you think he couldn’t be even more of a dickhead, Khamenei is proclaiming that this is now non-negotiable.  And given how Iran’s constitutional theocratic government is set up, their extremists pretty much are the final word for that country.  It’s like giving ultimate veto power in the United States to Glenn Beck.
Well, even though this dickhead of a demand is putting a kibosh on the talks, Secretary of State John Kerry thinks that the talks should still go on.  So they’ve agreed to a delay... and another delay... and another delay.  And now we’re almost a half-a-month beyond the June 30th deadline for talks.
I’m sorry, Secretary Kerry, but it’s time for you to be the bad guy.  It’s time for you to walk away from the table if Iran doesn’t bend after Monday’s deadline.
Let’s get brutally honest here... Khamenei is being a dickhead because he believes the United States is weak.  The country that took down Saddam, that overthrew the Baath Party and gave power over Iraq to Shiites, that hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden, is still viewed by Iran’s extremist nutcases as being weak and easily manipulated.  And Secretary Kerry hasn’t given them reason to doubt that yet. 
So we agree to talks, we set a deadline, then push it back, and then push it back, and then push it back... and then what?  At some point the whole thing will just be worthless.  You’re just wasting your time and theirs just going through the motions.  You want real progress?  You need to be willing to walk away from the table.  You need to be able to say “Let’s go, we’re done here.”
Remember this well: the Iranian people are the ones with the most to gain from this.  It doesn’t hurt the United States or the other Western countries if the status quo goes on.  Hell, it doesn’t even hurt the Iranian leadership, because their extremists – just like our own power elite – thrive off of poverty, ignorance, and misery.  They need the masses poor and stupid and miserable because then the masses can be manipulated into hating whomever the power elite choose.  Why do you think they hate Israel so much?  It’s manufactured by the nutcases!  All so the masses don’t turn on them.
Look, even if you crank out an agreement, Secretary Kerry, you’re still going to piss people off.  Fox News will still blame Obama, because they’re Fox News and they’re regurgitating a script, and they’ll still accuse you and Obama of making the world a more dangerous place.  Hell, they’ll accuse you of doing that simply because they’re Fox News and they’re being told to follow that script.
If you walk away from the table, nothing really changes.  The sanctions stay in place.  Israel will still whine and kvetch because their warmongering extremists aren’t being coddled and gratified.  Fox News will still blame you and Obama, because they’re Fox News and they’re still regurgitating a script.  But the Iranian nutcases would know that there is a point that they can’t push beyond.  The power over the negotiations stay with the Western nations, where it belongs. Then it is Iran’s defeat, not that of the world.
It’s one thing to want progress.  To want to make a positive change.  But you can’t do that with people that refuse to change and have no reason to change.  That’s when you have to cut your losses and let them deal with the consequences on their end.