He Whose Name Shall Not be Mentioned…

Of course I’m referring to the train wreck otherwise known as Donald Trump and his infantile pursuit of the title “Leader of the Free World”.

If you have seen the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy you may want to stop reading; you know where I’m going. If you have not, I implore you to view this masterpiece that, tragically, is playing itself out before our eyes.

At first viewing of the movie, I reasoned that it was plausible, indeed likely, sometime in the distant future. Trump, in his “bull-in-a-china-shop” manner, has hastened this demise of culture and politics.

In fairness to “The Donald”, he is simply the catalyst of a broken media system that relies on titillation rather than reasoned analysis and evaluation…formerly known as “news” and “op-eds.”

It’s been pretty well documented by others that Trump is simply reflecting a certain (and I PRAY, remote) segment of our population that is generally uneducated, or otherwise unwilling to analyze and research the complex issues affecting our society. Some are educated but simply lazy in that they, understandably, want change–someone “to stir things up.”

Yes, a Trump presidency would certainly do that–that we could recover is quite another question.

His ascendancy to front-runner status in his party amazes me. But then again, I dumped cable about a year ago and have received my news largely through various sources online and on the radio (NPR, PRI); but the other day while taking a break at work, I had occasion to see a TV in a nearby shop that was tuned to CNN, and for the entire hour that I ate my lunch, some sort of “panel” was discussing what I assumed was the topic of the “crawl”…that “The Donald” had engaged in playground name-calling of Ted Cruz. I don’t remember the exact specifics, but it was pedestrian and child-like at best.

30 years ago, the topic of the CNN crawl would not have even been a blip on the radar of CNN, or any self-respecting news organization. But today “if it bleeds it leads” has morphed into a mine field of political persuasion that infects the minds of ignorant voters (see Fox and MSNBC).

That a schoolyard bully (and I hesitate to call him that, as today he called his earlier sexual liaisons his own “personal Vietnam”) can garner the attention that a generation ago would have been appropriately ignored is deeply disturbing to me.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m that old guy yelling at the kids to “get off my damn lawn”, but I think not. I still believe in propriety and decorum. And the deadly seriousness of the issues affecting our country call for an adult, not a child.

I still hope Idiocracy is a few generations away, as I don’t think I can bear to watch…

 

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A Brief Detour to the Other Side of my Brain…

 

So the dearth of posts here recently can be explained by something other than my general lethargy or reticence to engage.

For the last year-and-a-half, my academic career (community college) has taken me from one side of my brain to the other.

I originally re-enrolled at the community college that I took my first class in 1979. Yes kids, you heard that right…1979. It was an Emergency Medical Technician class I took as a senior in high school. That class led to a 26 year career as a first responder (EMT, Paramedic, Fire Captain).

When life intervened in 1999 and my world turned upside down as the result of my step-son’s car accident…all the best laid plans I had flew out the door before I realized they were missing. Without rehashing the last two decades (artfully hidden elsewhere in this blog), in the spring of 2013 I decided that a degree in Addiction Studies would afford me a stable career in a field I believed deeply in.

Well, two things happened: when I began my coursework, I also found a job in the field and was quickly disillusioned at the profit-making nature of the business; but more importantly, while taking my basic coursework for the AS, I found a passion for learning again. Not to say that as I younger student that I craved knowledge (far from it), but I found that as an adult with some life experience under my belt, that what I was learning about politics, world history, literature, and mathematics simply enthralled me.

Yet again, I steered a course change and decided to obtain a BA in English at UCLA (other fantasy universities include Berkeley and Georgetown).

Based upon by GPA, I was accepted into my colleges Honors Transfer Program for UCLA, and for the past three semesters I’ve been slogging through Math and Spanish courses. I dreaded Math and looked forward to Spanish. Both expectations were misguided.

It turns out that in order to attain fluency in a language, immersion and more than three semesters of the language is required. So after 3 semesters I can read and conjugate verbs like a boss but am panic stricken if I actually have to form real sentences in my head. Still, I managed to get A’s all three semesters.

Math was the surprise. I have always suffered from profound math anxiety, and frankly was dreading these classes. What I found was a real “duh” moment. If you put in the work, study, ask questions, seek outside help, that math is actually pretty stimulating. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments in Logarithms where I was sure the nuclear anxiety would take me out, but I persisted on and moved onto Honors Statistics last semester; another class that 4 years ago I would never have even had the courage to attempt.  I’ve received A’s in all 3 math classes the last 3 semesters. No one is more shocked than me…

So here I am…finished with the core work to get into university and back to my true love…general knowledge. This semester is going to be very challenging as I have three Honors classes: Physical Anthropology, Cinema, and English (persuasive writing). It also means a boat-load of research papers and familiarity with MLA/APA that I haven’t used in the last year-and-a-half.

So, of course the panic has set in…but it’s a panic that has enabled me to maintain (fingers desperately crossed) a 4.0 GPA during my time here. I didn’t set out to do this by any means; it has simply been a by-product of my thirst for knowledge and has now become self-perpetuating.

Three more semesters to go and I’m hoping to report my entrance into UCLA (or CAL or Georgetown or, as my life seems to arc, somewhere else I haven’t planned) as a junior.

Until then, my brain has shifted back to the other side, the non-math/language side and I’m hoping to crank out some more Conversations with the Moon…

 


In Search of Compromise…

“For man seems to be unable to live without myth, without the belief that the routine and drudgery, the pain and fear of this life have some meaning and goal in the future. At once new myths come into being–political and economic myths with extravagant promises of the best of futures in the present world. These myths give the individual a certain sense of meaning by making him part of a vast social effort, in which he loses something of his own emptiness and loneliness. Yet the very violence of these political religions betrays the anxiety beneath them–for they are but men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark.”

Alan M. Watts, The Age of Anxiety, 1951

“…for they are but men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark.”

This line broke the wall. The wall that has divided me from expressing anything other than contempt for those that would support a presidential candidate like Donald Trump.

When I envision these folks, frightened…alone…huddled in the dark shouting for courage…I am able to set aside my incredulity, derision, and anger. I am able to feel empathy for my fellow man.

For I too am that man huddling together in the dark with my tribe…holding onto my ethos with a sense of triumphant superiority. And it is at this intersection that I have lost all ability to compromise. To seek consent. To reach out and experience life as another does.

I cannot call on others to share or even respect my point of view until I am willing to understand and embrace the motivation behind theirs. And until we are both willing to take this leap of faith, not only is consent impossible, progress is virtually shut down. The democratic political system becomes mired in gridlock.

Sound familiar? It should. We are experiencing exactly this discord at the present political moment. I challenge you to seek to understand your rival/enemies motivation before you dismiss him out of hand. Seek the motivations behind the rhetoric. Understand that the 300 pound armed gorilla you are arguing with is, fundamentally, a scared little boy screaming in the dark for his mommy. This doesn’t diminish the man. It humanizes him and it empowers YOU to do the right thing. Explore your empathy and seek compromise rather than dissent.

I watched the democratic presidential debate tonight. Up until now, I have been undecided about which candidate I would support. I was enthralled at the political mastery that Sec. Hilary Clinton displayed. There is no doubt in my mind that she is, as she claims, the most experienced candidate/politician to occupy the White House come January. And it is also precisely why I cannot support her. As I’ve previously documented my disappointment with our current President, I’m willing to let faith and hope have another go at it. I’m willing to take a shot on Bernie Sanders. If for no other reason than to support a candidate outside the norm. And yes this is the same ideology leading several of those on the right to support Trump. But let’s be honest. A reality TV star is not the man I want running my country…especially one who plays fast and loose with the truth and appeals to the fears of those huddled in the dark…


The Obama Conundrum…

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But at the end of the day we couldn’t.

I voted for President Obama in both elections. I like the man. I believe he is genuine and his heart is in the right place.

But at the end of the day, his presidency is a failure on many levels. Not the least of which are the broken promises. The promises of change. The inspired campaign speeches that rallied a post-Bush nation.

Very little of it came to pass.

Mr. Obama’s tears discussing Sandy Hook during his Executive Action announcement on gun control were moving and no doubt heartfelt. But they represent everything that was wrong with his administration. Too little. Too late.

True gun reform is within reach, if the deal maker’s in Washington are willing to make the political sacrifices necessary. A reasonable compromise can be struck between the second amendment and those demanding a ban on all weapons. I won’t bore you with the details, but it can be done.

My point is that, yet again, President Obama’s actions in this area are weak and ineffective. Certainly not the actions of Candidate Obama. Not the president I voted for.

The president I voted for would not allow the egregious violation of civil right this administration has displayed. The unprecedented intimidation of journalists and whistle-blower’s by this Justice Department is truly stunning. Certainly not what I expected from this president nor what was promised.

The lack of foresight and action on the Ukraine and Syria demonstrate just two of the administrations catastrophic foreign policy blunders. Don’t even get me started on their complete lack of leadership in dealing with the despot Netanyahu and how our relationship with that failed government has threatened our national security.

At the end of the day, there were some wins. The economy, jobs, and most notably the Affordable Care Act. But if these wins came at the price of the aforementioned disasters, they were certainly not worth it in my estimation.

Here’s what really scares me: I believe in Obama the man. I believe he is decent and truly wanted to do the right thing. But he was clearly outmatched politically. And this doesn’t bode well for any idealistic outsider running for our highest office.

It appears that the entrenched/corrupt insiders (read Hilary) will be the only liberals able to affect change, albeit within the framework of the current plutocracy.

I would love to sit down with Mr. Obama someday and ask him what happened. How did his grand vision come apart. Alas, I don’t think we will ever know…

 

 

 


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.


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