After Further Review…

President Obama discussing the tragedy in Charleston.

Guns.

I have previously posted my position on guns and gun control. I maintain my core belief that firearms are a tool and that the tool is not the source of evil or the inherent problem. This is, in my opinion, a fundamentally logical argument.

It’s also an argument that I am now willing to abandon.

After further review, I believe it is time for comprehensive and aggressive changes to our gun control laws. This is a position that I have, for the majority of my life, been against. However, in light of recent events and in the absence of any other real substantive solutions, I am willing to argue for a constitutional amendment to dramatically alter the Second Amendment.

I don’t do this lightly. Although I have been painfully disappointed with several of President Obama’s decisions during the course of his presidency, I believe at the end of the day, he is a decent man, albeit severely lacking the fortitude to accomplish the many things he promised as candidate Obama. But on gun control and his speech after the massacre in Charleston, he got it right. This is the Obama I voted for.

It’s time. We as a nation must enact sweeping gun control legislation to limit the availability of firearms in our country. It must be done. Eliminating military grade, so-called “assault weapons” is a start, but sweeping legislation must be immediately enacted to control and restrict firearm purchases. Money must be spent to upgrade the background check process. EVERY firearm needs to be accounted for.

I hear the hue and cry from the right already and as a staunch opponent of giving the government any more of my information or usurping any more of my liberties, I have to say that I’m willing to take the proverbial bullet on this one.

It’s the only way.

We need to have the political fortitude to stand up to the N.R.A. and the right-wing fear mongerers and say enough is enough. Too much of our precious human capital has been reduced to so many police blotter statistics.

The killing must stop and I’m willing to compromise my core beliefs in an attempt to make this happen. How about you?


How Us against Them became Them against Us…

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I’ve been sitting on this post for the last several months. Not quite sure I could coherently articulate the confusion and rage I’m feeling about the current state of law enforcement in our country.

Here’s my story as it relates to my interaction with law enforcement.

I wanted to be one. As early as I can remember, I wanted to be a cop. I watched “Adam-12” religiously and yearned for the day I would be the one upholding all that is good and decent in our society.

As a young man, I bought a scanner and became immersed in police culture. When I turned 15 I decided I wanted to be an Explorer (Boy Scout program) for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. My dad drove me to the local sheriff’s station, I met with a deputy and learned about the program. I was on fire….

As we drove home, my dad was unusually quiet, but finally said this. “Son, I’ll support whatever you want to do, but I think you are too smart to get into this line of work. Not only that, but cops tend to develop an ‘Us against Them’ mentality that I’d hate to see you become part of.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I respected my fathers opinion a great deal and I eventually turned my interest to the Fire Department (goodbye “Adam-12”, hello “Emergency”) and it seemed that dad was reluctantly more accepting of this decision.

LONG story short: I became a Fire Department Explorer with LA County Fire…became a Paramedic in my early 20’s and ultimately served 16 years with a Fire Department, retiring in 2003 at the rank of Fire Captain.

Here’s how this ties into law enforcement. As a firefighter/paramedic…I was one of “Us”.

We, along with law enforcement, were on the front lines of saving lives and property and protecting the public. Those that would hinder our efforts were “Them” and they were to be mistrusted and dealt with as the threat to the fabric of our society we thought they were.

In my 26 years in public safety, I witnessed a great deal of illegal and often abusive behavior towards citizens at the hands of law enforcement. And I did nothing. In fact, I supported it. These were “bad” people and they were deserving of the street justice meted out at the hands of the cops. That’s just how it is when you’re one of “Us”…

Then I left that field. Prior to leaving I sensed a paradigm shift in public safety after 9/11. Suddenly public safety folks…cops and firefighters were “heroes”…and what I saw before I left was an unrealistic change in self-awareness in these fields. Cops and firefighters were becoming caricatures of themselves…they began to buy into the invincible, hero-worship syndrome and became increasingly arrogant and dangerous. Not all, but some…and as an institution, for me, the shift was undeniable.

Here’s the disclaimer before I go further: I’m painting with a broad brush here, and my exit from the fire department was the direct result of a (now resolved) problem with alcohol that, while not directly affecting my job, led to my employer asking me to resign. So take that into consideration as you evaluate my thoughts. Not all cops and not all firefighters are bad, or are anywhere near the way I’m portraying some in my experience. They both do an incredibly difficult, and yes heroic, job under quite difficult and anguishing conditions. Sadly, they have become victims on their respective institutions…

Here’s my beef. It’s the culture…the institution. It’s changed.

Us against Them had become Them against Us…

We, as taxpayers in a civil society, create law enforcement institutions to protect our communities. They are our employees and they work for us. At some point, the institution of law enforcement has forgotten this basic fact…

When two NYPD officers were killed, the rank-and-file openly showed their disgust for their boss, Mayor DeBlasio at the funeral services of these officers. They can disagree with the Mayor’s policies all day long, but the level of disrespect they showed the mayor is equal to the level of disrespect they show the taxpayer…their employers.

They’ve become entitled with an Us against Them attitude that literally leads to a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality. We, as their employers, have allowed it to happen.

To be clear, this is not a 9/11 response syndrome. Police brutality and misconduct has been widespread for generations. The paradigm shift in recognition has been the direct result of technology…specifically cell phone cameras.

The officer that shot and killed an unarmed black man is the sentinel example. Here’s a case where a white officer shoots a black motorist after a traffic stop. The official story, a story that has been repeated countless times for decades in this country, is that the “suspect”…the black man, reached for the officer’s gun/taser. The reality, as caught on video, is quite different. We see the officer shooting a fleeing man in the back, then planting his taser on the man. If not for the video, the officer is back on patrol instead of facing murder charges.

If not for the video…

Law enforcement personnel have for years been allowed to cross the line, break the rules, stretch the truth. They have collectively lost all credibility. They have been allowed to be the alpha dog and escalate otherwise non-violent encounters into fatal and tragic events. A man is killed for selling cigarettes in New York. A 12 year old boy is shot for having a pellet gun in a park in Ohio.

And now this. Feras Morad…an honor student from one of my local high schools and community colleges, decided to try mushrooms one night in Long Beach. A dumb decision for sure, but one which was punished by the death penalty in Long Beach.

The African American community has dealt with this racial genocide for years. And we didn’t listen.

If the cold blooded murder of Mr. Morad doesn’t provoke outrage, then we deserve the fascist law enforcement that we have allowed to exist for far too long.

RIP Mr. Morad. I’m so so sorry, you became one of Us…


Skool Daze….

I’ve ruefully neglected this blog for the last several months.

I just finished 2.5 years at a community college (no really, I took my last final less than an hour ago) while in pursuit of a transfer to UCLA and the ever popular Bachelor of Arts in English.

To date (today), I’ve managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA. Um…pretty sure that ends this week when grades are released.

I’m 54 years young, work full-time and have been carrying just under a full-time schedule in school. This year, in order to satisfy the requirements of the Honors Transfer Program I’m in, I needed to take Elementary and Intermediate Algebra (all the basic Algebra leading into Stats, Calc, etc.) as well as Spanish I and II.

Two distinct languages to learn. Two VERY hard classes for me. Although I’m an English major, I triaged my time and concentrated primarily on Algebra. I’ve always suffered from major math anxiety, but through a ton of hard work, have actually learned to enjoy math this year.

Well right up until last Saturday when I had to take my final that would release me to UC level math (I need to take Honors Stats next Fall)…

Thank God I walked into that exam with a 96% because after the first problem, all the formulas in my head magically disappeared behind a veil of clinical panic.

I simply couldn’t remember simple formulas after I saw a problem I specifically decided NOT to study for…certain it wouldn’t be on the final.

I could go on and on about my anxiety and depression after the test, but suffice it to say I pulled my head out of my ass and put things in perspective.

What I did learn is my ego has carried my through this 4.0 journey and as with all things pride, I needed a knock upside the head. Time to quit relying on my ability to “see” the answer during these tests and actually put in more hard work than I have been willing to exert.

At the end of the day, if I do that, I will excel. If I don’t, I’ll continue to ride this tenuous GPA right into the ground.

So hello blog world. I’m back for at least the summer on a semi-regular basis to hone my writing and try desperately to forget logarithms and rational equations…

Goodbye 4.0…hello humility.


Why Truth Matters

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Stop what you’re doing right now and tell me which way is north.

Not sure? OK, grab your smartphone and access your compass app…this should do it.

What does this have to do with truth? The question: “Which way is north” refers to a baseline or default direction from which we measure the other elements/directions within that world.

In other words, within our socio-political world, the abrogation of truth has led to a warping of our moral compass…a dangerous precedent.

Without a frame of reference, the short shrift we increasingly give truth is denigrating our ability to hold ourselves, our society, and our leaders accountable to the truth; to that element of our existence that allows us to judge right and wrong. To that precious commodity that allows us, as a society, to call out those who would harm us and declare “this is wrong”.

When we play fast and loose with the truth, we lose the moral high-ground.

Case in point:  the political assassination of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov.

It doesn’t take an individual with a degree in international relations, criminology, or Soviet history to surmise that Putin is holding the metaphorical (if not literal) smoking gun.

In another era, our government, our media, our so-called political “leaders” could, in good faith, call out the modern day Russian Czar Putin on this travesty of justice. While Putin is many things (among them sociopathic) he is not stupid. He must realize the American government, media, and Congress don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to claiming the moral high-ground. In fact, he’s already spun the assassination as the work of American agents.

Sigh.

Let’s take our government first. Yes, we’ve never been fortunate to have a completely transparent government, but as the heroic revelations of Edward Snowden have illuminated, our government is actively and aggressively lying to the folks that empower and employ them…you and me.

And what of the media? The fifth estate formerly occupied by luminaries such as Murrow and Cronkite…

Those luminaries have been replaced by America’s most trusted news source, Fox News.

If this doesn’t cause you concern, stop reading now and return to whichever reality show of the moment or televised pursuit you are watching and please increase your cholesterol intake. If it does concern you, take heart. When was the last time those individuals who are truly curious, consumers of real news, watched network news anyway. I’m encouraged by the fact that there is a large portion of the country that was not included in this poll. At least I desperately, if not naively, cling to this hope.

And finally, what of our most precious representatives in Congress? You know, those individuals whose very existence is based upon their ability to accept corporate donations and spew whatever soundbite adds to those campaign contributions. Still not with me? These are the folks who are currently walking the razor’s edge of treason by undermining the constitution and the executive branch with respect to the Iranian nuclear enrichment talks. Fine upstanding individuals who wouldn’t know a moral compass if it hit them in their fat coffers.

Those who live in glass houses simply can’t throw stones and we are quickly becoming the inhabitants of the largest glass mansion in the (and I use this word cautiously) “civilized” world.

 


Mid-Term Malaise…or How I Found Courage in the Gallows of Boredom

No, this post isn’t about the midterm elections this week, although I do have a whopper brewing in my head vis-a-vis my utter disappointment with the incumbent president’s performance.

This is about the space I find myself currently in.

Sheer boredom. Malaise. Mind numbing…nothingness.

I’m just slightly halfway through my fall semester at college. I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I’m slogging through core class requirements as I muddle my way towards my final two years at UCLA.

I worked 88 hours the last two weeks while studying for two exams in my Spanish and Algebra class respectively.

I have no life.

I have no time to blog/write anything other than vapid responses into the lamest online Spanish software ever created. Software that the instructor admits is inferior and responds to our concerns with “it’s not my problem, it’s your problem”.

Welcome to junior college.

This sucks…

I had an extraordinarily rare day off today that I spent getting a flat fixed, driving to my old college to begin the academic renewal process for an “F” I received 29 years ago in a Poli Sci class; and riding my bike 20 miles. I then spent well over 5 hours grinding through my Spanish exam and homework.

And it hit me.

Courage isn’t what happens when you are facing an immediate threat. Courage is borne out of the little things.

The willingness to persist when giving up would be so much simpler; when you can find a hundred reasons to rationalize your decision.

Courage is faith. Being willing to put one foot in front of the other when you can’t see the finish line. When you’re not even entirely sure where that finish line is and what it will look like.

I walked into the middle of a physical altercation the other day outside my apartment. A fight was in progress and I was in the midst of it before I was even sure what it was. I responded forcefully and decisively and defused the situation. Not because I have courage, but because it was reflexive, muscle memory gained in a previous lifetime.

Courage is simply not giving up when you’re not entirely sure what the outcome will be. But you know you’re doing the right thing, despite the sheer pedestrian nature of the task. And the long hours. And the absence of a social life.

It’s a quality problem to have. As tough as this road is right now, I know how fortunate I am to be on this path.

So to all those erstwhile meek students out there, grinding out those core classes, quietly tolerating those professors who are phoning it in while they collect their checks…I salute you.

In your own redundant ways, you’re displaying a great deal of courage.


Selfies Are Tough With Tears in Your Eyes…

Sean Newport
A little over two years I birthed this blog while I was on leave from work after hip replacement surgery. My first and second posts concerned the reality that my first-born was off to college. She’s now a successful college junior in D.C. I made sure to memorialize our last moments together with a (sort of) selfie of her and I together. Actually, the man taking the picture was my son.

My son. The man that less than a half an hour ago I kissed and embraced very hard as I said goodbye to him. My youngest begins his collegiate journey tomorrow. I meant to take a selfie to continue the tradition but a couple of things happened.

At some point in the evening after our awesome “guys” dinner at a local steak house and our post-feast visit to Starbucks, I needed him to go. Not because I wanted him to go but because the reality was starting to set in. And so were the tears. And the lump in my throat that is still present.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t about me at all…it is. The empty nest just showed up at my door and for the first time in my life, I have no genetic family within driving distance. But it’s so much more…

It’s the sadness of physically parting with my best friend. My son. My little guy who is now bigger than me.

It’s the joy of and excitement shared of watching him embark on what I am absolutely certain will be a wonderful experience at a Division I school and the promise of a bright future as he studies Biology and Pre-Med.

It’s the sadness of seeing the sands of time fall in front of my eyes. Each grain hitting the sand pile like a hammer on marble. It was acutely present tonight.

It’s the joy of accomplishment. My son and daughter are each talented and unique individuals who have set off on their own paths with enthusiasm and discipline. Four eyes on the prize for sure…

It’s the sadness of loss. Of saying goodbye to a man that means more to me than I could ever express in words. To a young man that carries my hopes and dreams for him along with his own.

So…any selfie I took tonight would have been smeared through the eyes of a proud father…

I miss you already buddy. Vaya con dios my son…


How I Spent My Summer Vacation…

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My fourth semester of the “Return to College Tour” starts tomorrow so I thought I’d share a few thoughts regarding the last few months.

When I finished the last semester I posted a blog stating I would use this summer break from school to hone my craft…blog-wise.

Ok, so that didn’t happen. What happened was that I realized life happens. And when life happens, I tend to get sucked into the vortex of drama that daily life can be.  To whit:

I moved back to the City of Los Angeles for the first time in 35 years.

I transferred jobs…to a more high-stress, high-return sales environment. So far so good. The challenge being to not get swept up in the upward shift in income as I will again need to downsize in 2017 when I enroll at UCLA.

And as always, people can be counted on to do the wrong thing. I’m currently mired in a landlord-tenant dispute with my old landlord (I’ll spare you the details, suffice it to say they are sticking me to the tune of several hundred dollars despite the oral assurances of their representative)…so yeah, that’s pretty fun.

And oh yeah, when I moved, as I was pulling in front of my new apartment complex, my nice shiny Penske rental truck saw fit to take the front bumper off a parked car. More fun.

At the end of the day though, I’m loving life. Although the next three semesters of school are core classes for the transfer to UCLA and have nothing to do with writing, I suspect the discipline needed to maintain my GPA will lend itself to actually doing some creative writing, aka my blog. We shall see…

Finally, I’m frankly staying as busy as I can to avoid the sense of impending doom I’m experiencing with the loss of my youngest child to the University of Oregon. My new Duck is also my best friend (he’s the handsome one in the photo above) and I am really sad that I won’t be able to see him as much as I do now. Of course, this is tempered by my immense sense of pride and love I have for him. I am incredibly excited to watch his journey, just as I have marveled at the journey of my now college-junior daughter on the east coast. But there is a special bond between father and son and I’m already hurting…the good kind.

So, much like every other chapter of my life, my best laid plans got waylaid. Life got in the way.

And it’s a good life.

*Note to self: quit making plans. Just do the footwork and let the results take care of themselves…

 


Killing the Disease

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The actor and comedian Robin Williams took his life today. Beyond this, I personally know very little of the details of the death or the events leading to the suicide.

There will be (and already is) prolific speculation regarding his motives in ending his life.

I’ll confine my discussion to what I know and how it may relate to this sad event.

Mr. Williams was a self-identified alcoholic/drug addict. Media reports indicate he had over 20 years sobriety before a relapse in 2006. He reentered rehab this year as a maintenance measure to maintain his sobriety, according to his representatives.

If I was putting money on it…I’m guessing he died sober.

Here’s what I do know. The effect chronic alcohol and drug use, particularly cocaine (a substance Robin admitted abusing), has on the neurochemistry of the brain is devastating. It takes at LEAST 2 years of complete abstinence before the user’s brain chemistry returns to a state of being where the individual is able to experience the same level of “happiness” that they did prior to use. Chronic, long-term use further damages/inhibits these receptors.

I know of many in the recovery community that suffer from profound depression; surprisingly, quite often after several years of sobriety. Unless you have been afflicted with this disease, it’s very hard to impart just how cunning, baffling, and powerful the allure of these legal and illegal chemicals are on the biology and chemistry of the brain.

In short: years of alcohol and drug use will cause changes in the structure and chemistry of the brain…often leading to profound depression.

Here’s what I also know. Robin didn’t need to take his own life. There are a myriad of drugs that combat these chemical imbalances and help maintain the homeostasis of emotion needed to…well…live.

Again, I don’t know the precise circumstances. I’m as heartbroken as anyone over the news of his death. He was a beloved celebrity that brought all of us many hours of joy. But I also lost a brother. A brother in sobriety. We lose brothers and sisters every hour of every day to this disease.

And it is a disease…

When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, I made the argument for the disease model of alcoholism and drug addiction.

It is a disease. Just like depression. Just like heart disease. Just like cancer.

But nobody seems to care.

As long as it doesn’t happen to you or someone you love, it seems much easier to judge…to question the “will”…the “fortitude” of the sufferer. God forbid one did that for someone with cancer, but we do it with alcoholics and addicts every day.

And they continue to die of the most insidious and hated disease in our culture.

And we lose a lot more folks from this disease then we will from the current hysteria over Ebola.

It makes me sick…

Rest in peace brother. I know you are…I’ve witnessed the aftermath of enough suicides in my professional life to know you didn’t kill yourself Robin…you killed the disease.

If only we, as a society, could have killed it for you.

 

 


There is a Solution…

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I heartily profess to be no expert on middle eastern affairs, Judaism, Islam, Palestine, or the history of any of these regions/religions.

I am however a human being with empathy and an opinion. And a sense of fair play. Some call it common sense.

28 Palestinian children…children…have been killed in the last 24 hours. 27 Israeli soldiers have died since Operation Protective Edge has begun. Young men defending their country against an onslaught of rocket fire from the terrorist organization Hamas. They didn’t need to die.

This is the broad outline. The justifications are spewed by both sides. “They don’t recognize our right to exist…they are terrorists bent on genocide…we have a right to defend our citizens”. Hyperbolic statements are the order of the generation. And the truth lies in all corners.

The Jews have indeed suffered since the times of Ramses II. They are the so-called “chosen people” and have suffered a millenia of genocide and displacement. They are the proverbial abused child.

But study after study shows that the child who is abused, quite often becomes the abuser. And institutionally, I believe this is the case with the state of Israel.

Don’t get me wrong. They have terrorists at the door step (and tunnels) and they certainly have a responsibility to defend their state. But how much is too much?

I’m reminded of the legal concept of self-defense. An individual is allowed to use the same measure of force when repelling an assault.

Can the state of Israel claim this moral high ground? Of course not; and therein lies the fundamental problem and the solution to this conflict.

We, the United States, have wisely invested in the security of Israel for generations. However, the politicians who have been the beneficiary of this military aid…this state of the art weaponry, have been irresponsible in their deployment.

And I, as a tax paying American citizen, demand that my government take immediate action to stop the killing. We have the ability to be a game changer in this centuries old conflict, but we lack the moral courage to do it. It simply doesn’t poll well.

I see a glimmer of hope when the moderates in Israel are finally speaking out against their grossly aggressive government policies. For too long Israel has received a pass, largely as the result of empathy with their historic plight.

That ends now…at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s time for those moderates in Israel to demand restraint. To demand that their government take the moral high ground and rely on their superior defensive technologies. Put the onus of blame on the extremist in Hamas and garner the support of the region and the world.

Stop being the bully, protect your citizens through restraint. Stop the campaign to eliminate your neighbors and just take a deep breath and realize…children are dying. Innocent little boys and girls.

A paradigm shift is all that will end this endless loop of blood.

The killing must stop…

 


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