12.29.2014

A Quick Question

If all that's required to avoid a physical (and potentially fatal) encounter with law enforcement officers is simple compliance, why do so many who advocate that very position also swear they need guns to protect them from tyrannical government overreach? 


Wouldn't compliance work equally as well there, too? 

12.22.2014

Two Disparate Sides of the Same Tragic Coin

In June 2014, a man and a woman walked into a pizza restaurant in Las Vegas and shot two Las Vegas Metro Police officers who were eating lunch there. One of the shooters reportedly shouted, “This is the start of a revolution,” before killing one of the officers execution style.

The killers stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition, and then covered the officers with a cloth that featured the Gadsden flag; this yellow banner, with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t Tread On Me,” was adopted as the symbol of the Tea Party Movement in 2009. (In fact, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you can choose this “Don’t Tread On Me” image for your vehicle’s license plate, which evidently quite a few people do.)

At the time of this horrendous crime, there was no outcry from the law enforcement community or the public in general against media figures such as Glenn Beck for their organization of Tea Party protests. And no citizen who took part in those protests was considered to be anti-law enforcement, "sympathizing with criminals," or "part of the problem" in America. It's also notable that the still-popular Gadsden flags are not viewed as symbols of hatred toward police.

Nothing was said in June about "[T]ons of PAID protestors being bussed around now, raising a ruckus and acting foolish. They are supported by elected people who are attempting to affect social change by causing people to fight with each other. Meanwhile, action groups and other coalitions of rabble-rousers are making money through donations, getting rich on anger and discontent." 

Why now? 

Why not then? 

What is different about this tragic ambush murder of two New YorkCity police officers?

Why are even the remotest apparent ties to a national protest movement worthy of castigation in one sad circumstance but not in the other?

12.06.2014

In Fact, It Is A Wonderful Life

[Originally published 12/2/2008]

I doubt I'm anyone's idea of a starry-eyed romantic, but I take issue with Wendell Jamieson's facile perspective on Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

From Jamieson's viewpoint, this classic film "is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams." He feels it's "a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away." He also thinks that the vice-ridden, alternate reality of Pottersville depicted in the film "looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls—the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night."

It's easy to be glib about values that you don't share, a culture for which you don't care. For some, so long as things are glossy on the surface, everything's okay. Until it's not. Then those same folks are often first in line to loudly lament where it all went wrong.

It's simple to say that life appears to be more fun in flashy Pottersville than in drowsy Bedford Falls. As with many things, it helps to see what you're looking for rather than what you're looking at. Years ago, I went to Atlantic City for the first and only time. Things looked glittery when I was on the Boardwalk at the casinos; a block away from the glitz, on a dreary side street, I saw a man take a half-empty bottle of beer from a sidewalk trash can and drink from it. That's life, beneath the shiny surface.

The point is also made, by commenters responding to Jamieson's article, that Mary's fate in the George-less world of Pottersville was hardly horrible, that she was educated and had a career. Which is all to the good, provided you don't bother looking beyond appearances (which is the same problem with the Pottersville-looks-like-more-fun theory). It is to forget that Mary's dream all along had been to make a life with George. (She says as much on their wedding night, after cobbling together a honeymoon for them in an abandoned house: "Remember when we threw rocks at this old house? This is what I wished for.") How ironic, then, that those who lament George's "lost dreams" fail to recognize the loss of Mary's own dreams in George's absence. It also speaks volumes about the values of these readers, this idea that an education and a career are enough to make a complete life. The failure to notice the futile, unhappy nature of being a librarian in a town where clearly no one reads is also quite telling.

It's a Wonderful Life shows that our existence isn't all about what's on the surface. Life is often messy. Life requires compromise. It can uplift you and depress you—often simultaneously. You can, for instance, be happy for your brother's marriage to "a peach" while at the same time resenting its impact on your own future.

This film is about growing up; it isn't, however, about giving up your dreams. It's about realizing that what you think you want and what is actually important to you are often very different things. It's a recognition that love, and family, and friendship mean more in the end than naked ambition. It's about community in the truest sense of the word. It's about being somebody, being a leader, being an influence and a force for good in your world—even when you don't realize you're doing it. It's about facing the idea that your actions, on a daily basis, do make a difference. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

10.17.2014

Perspective, Reason, and Dignity Fall Victim to Fearmongering

Within the entirety of the United States, there have been five individuals who have tested positive for the ebola virus. Three of those contracted the illness outside American borders. Of those three, two were known to be infected when they entered the country. Of those same three, one has died; the other two were successfully treated and released. Two other individuals have since been diagnosed with ebola, due to their proximity to the person who later succumbed to the disease – and almost certainly resulting directly from their employer’s lack of preparation in properly dealing with this or other highly infectious illnesses.

With this in mind, the President of the United States may soon appoint a czar whose sole job is to “oversee the nation’s ebola response.” This czar will likely have no power to mandate any actions, restrictions, or protocols pertaining to how the ebola virus is dealt with in this country. Rather, this person’s job will be to act as a token, to embody the nebulous notion of "doing something," to serve as a now-necessary symbol for those who have succumbed to fear, anger, paranoia, and misinformation. 

All of which is being stoked with malevolent gusto by an irresponsible news media that has dug deep within itself, found whatever remained of the ideal that viewed journalism as a public service, has shredded that credibility, flung it to the ground, and danced upon it with fervid glee.

It’s troubling enough that such rampant antipathy for The Other already exists within what holds itself to be an exceptional, enlightened society. That media entities and, by extension, political partisans have chosen to knowingly fan these flames of suspicion and misunderstanding is truly beyond the pale.

10.01.2014

What-If Becomes What-Now

It's been a little more than a month since the height of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze, at which time, (to the consternation of some) I posted here that perhaps we should seek a more lasting way to do good and raise awareness for the causes we believe in.

I can speak only for myself, but in the time elapsed I have heard nary a peep containing any combination of the words ice, bucket, challenge... or (sadly) ALS.

It's not in the news, it's not on Twitter, and it's certainly no longer overrunning my Facebook feed like it once was.

I imagine that those who were passionate about ALS before all the dousing commenced still are.

I also suspect that those who were so recently toweling off after their 15 seconds of YouTube glory – to say nothing of the finger-waggers who viewed people like me as churlish contrarians – have since washed their hands of the matter and moved on.

What's been your experience?

8.20.2014

The What-If Challenge

What if you just gave your money – or your time – to a concern you're really passionate about? 

What if you did it with no fanfare, without posting about it on Facebook, without making a YouTube video?

What if you did it because you care, not because someone challenged you, not because everyone you know is doing this one thing right now?

What if, instead of using social media, you went out and spoke to others, face to face, about this thing you ardently believe in?

What if, a month from now, you were still as enthusiastic about this cause? What about a year from now?