Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This Is Not Supposed To Happen

Dwight Eisenhower once said, "There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were." The incident in Newtown, Connecticut shook everyone. 26 victims, 20 of them children, had their lives extinguished like a flame being pinched out on a candle. Questions abound with the public. "What could make someone do this?" "Is this what our society had come to?" "Were there warning signs?" In short, we want to know "why."

An unsettling truth when we look for the "why," is that we know that, at least in part, WE are to blame to a certain extent. It isn't as if we haven't seen incidents like this before. In April of 1999, 12 students and one teacher were murdered at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in a similar incident. In April 2007, 32 people lost their lives at Virginia Tech when a shooter went on a rampage. In January of 2011, six people died in a shooting in Tuscon, Arizona which also wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords. In July of this year, 12 people lost their lives in an Aurora, Colorado theater when a man opened fire on the audience.  The warning signs were all over the place, and while we were saddened, outraged, disgusted and/or heart-fallen during each of these incidents, we ultimately did nothing to try to prevent events like this from happening again beyond installing metal detectors in some schools.

Is the problem gun control? In part it is, however it is not the only part. My old buddy, George W. Bush, once famously decreed that one of the greatest threats to The United States was the "Axis Of Evil," comprised of the "rogue states" of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. It was a quaint statement, and made for a great soundbite, and since this country seems to feed on soundbites, I have a new one for them. The problem we are facing, and have to overcome to prevent more tragedies like this from happening is a "Trident Of Terror," comprised of gun control, media sensationalism, and neglect of societal issues.

Yes, gun control is a problem. While I am not a personal fan of guns, I am not anti-gun either. I have absolutely no problems with people who use them for hunting, but even the hunters that I know will tell you that they do not need a fully automatic weapon to bring down a rabbit or a deer. For people who want to carry one for personal protection, I get it - some neighborhoods are shadier than others; however, if you need a clip that can hold upwards of thirty shots attached to a weapon that can empty that clip in a matter of seconds, I suggest you find another neighborhood. 

As is usually the case, The Second Amendment will be in the middle of this debate. The only thing I ask people to keep in mind is that when that was written, the best shot in the world could only fire three rounds a minute. Perhaps it is time that we reevaluate that Amendment through civil discussion, and true debate. Maybe it is time we repeal it. It's not like that would be unprecedented - Prohibition was an Amendment, and it was repealed. Then again, maybe not.

Media sensationalism. One of the reasons we're not likely to see meaningful discussions happen on this topic is that it is bad for business. The media thrive on divisive stories that pit two sides against another in a great epic battle. Nothing sells like chaos and discord. While we may enjoy talking with a friend that has opposing views on a given matter, and reaching an agreement point with them on a given topic, society wants their media to be entertaining, and watching a civil exchange of ideas working towards a compromise without inflammatory statements, cheap shots, or name calling, just doesn't sell well.

Neglect of societal issues. A process of deinstitutionalization began in this country over 60 years ago. It was designed to help clear out some of the asylums and other mental health facilities, and to reincorporate those patients back into society. The hope was that through the use of newly available anti-psychotic medications that there was a chance many patients would be able to survive well enough outside the walls  they were in. The experiment has failed. Approximately 20-25% of the homeless in America have some sort of severe mental disorder. It is estimated that upwards of 50% of mental illnesses in the country are either undiagnosed, or untreated.We need to get a grip on this because the numbers are increasing. 
Keep in mind that these are what would be considered clinical mental illnesses, not to be confused with a guy who snaps because he was backed into a corner due to job loss, and the ensuing financial hardships that can bring. We need to get people back to work. Hands that are busy all day building something, are too busy to be loading and firing guns.

If by some freak happenstance we were to wake up tomorrow and during the night some reasonable compromise on gun control was hammered out, the media vowed to return to its objective (rather than subjective) roots, and people with mental health issues were able to receive the treatment they deserve and everyone was back at work, even then that would not stop a tragedy like what happened last Friday from happening again. We do not live in a Utopic world. Bad things happen. Sometimes they happen to good people. Sometimes, as unfortunate as it may be, they happen to children. Out of all the services I worked on, and all the earth I turned, the most difficult ones were when there was a child in the casket.

When the Reaper comes, death happens, and Charon has the "souls" on his skiff, we strive to make sense of it all - some things are beyond reason.We want to remember, and we want to forget all at the same time - to remember the beautiful memories, and to forget the tragedy. We memorialize the life in some way that is meaningful to us. A fitting memorial to the lives that were taken last Friday would be to break the spikes on the Trident Of Terror, to try to create real change to reduce the likelihood of something like this ever happening again. The natural order says that children should bury their parents. Regrettably, that is not chiseled in stone.

To the twenty children that had their light extinguished last Friday, and the countless other victims of such tragedies;
Rest In Peace. I'm sorry that I did not do more to prevent it from happening.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Bill Of (mmmhmm. Yeah,) Rights

On this date in 1791, The Bill Of Rights was ratified.
Let's take a closer look at this.

The First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Unfortunately, freedom of religion has not developed into freedom from religion. I say believe what you want, be it Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Jesus, Flying Spaghetti Monster, but don't expect me to believe the same, or at the same level as you do. Religion can be like a sunset: some of them can be beautiful and have great qualities, but if you stare at them too long you will go blind, and some people have seen better sunsets.

Freedom of speech applies only as long as you don't shout fire in a crowded theater, say the dreaded seven words on the radio, or use a reasoned answer on Fox News. Probably more than any other right, this one has been walked over the most. To borrow a quote from Voltaire “I do not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.”

The right to peaceably assemble and petition the Government for a redress of grievances...unless you are in Zucotti Park, in front of the White House, live on a Reservation, are Japanese during World War II, named Eugene Debs, are accused of being a communist in the 1950s, etc.

The Second Amendment
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is the fun one. “Well-regulated militia” is pronounced “Domestic terrorist” today. The First Amendment was refined by the courts to decide what it meant, this one probably should be too. When this was written, the best shot in the world could squeeze off three shots in a minute, and even with as good as the minutemen were, the likelihood that they would hit their target was fairly nil. Today's weapons are much more rapid and precise. I'm not against hunters owning guns. I'm not even against an average citizen owning one. However, there needs to be a smarter approach to this. If we can not come up with a well-reasoned and logical solution, I say we just regulate the bullets. They can;t form the National Bullet Association because the acronym is already taken.

The Third Amendment
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Citizens cannot be forced to share their house with someone in the military during peacetime. Good idea.
..or during wartime unless prescribed by law. BAD IDEA! The U.S. is currently involved in a few wars (thankfully our objectives in Iraq have been achieved, and we are out of there as of today. Those objectives'll have to get back to you on that. Nevertheless, there are still active wars we are involved in. They are not as grand as the World Wars, or anything like the Civil War (by the way, people in the South, you lost. Get over it and stop bringing it up). Military bases are closing. The Federal budget is a greater wreck than I am. All it would take is one crackpot leader to make the leap in logic and say “to save the operational costs of military housing, the soldiers are moving in with you.” (with that I would like to announce my intent to run for President).

Fourth Amendment
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Kind of a double-pronged one on this. Yeah, a lot pf people get upset when a lawyer gets a client out of a jam by pointing out to the judge that the warrant issued was for the house next door. The system isn't perfect by a long shot. Something to consider: the Fourth Amendment is one of the Amendments that tries to protect a individuals right to privacy (even though most of us can guess what you keep under your bed, in the pillowcase, or in the sock drawer). The right to privacy is also something that is being forfeited by individuals very quickly. Ironically, the web has led to a number of people broadcasting deeds to the world that they should keep to themselves.

The Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

There is a lot in this one. Double jeopardy (not like Trebek), right to remain silent, due process, and compensation. If you think double jeopardy does not exist, think of O.J. Simpson. A jury found him NOT criminally guilty for the murder of his wife and her friend, the public found otherwise. Furthermore, he was found civilly responsible which requires a lower level of proof. Then he screwed up again, and had the book thrown at him (after he threw a lot of other things around the hotel room). Do you really think that there was not a level of retribution going on?

We also need to work on our prejudice against anyone that takes the Fifth. It is widely assumed that any pleading the Fifth has something to hide. Common sense says that this makes sense. Strategically, in a courtroom, common sense does not apply. It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Now for a personal favorite, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Manhattan was sold for a bag of beads. The rest of the country has not been paid for.

The Sixth Amendment
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

The right to a trial as quickly as possible so that you are not sitting in a cell for longer than necessary waiting for the State to make their case. Good idea, but it doesn't happen. Neither does the public trial part. I am a fan of recording devices and cameras in ALL courtrooms. A lot of courts disagree (including that big one in D.C.). The decision (since courts don't have to argue) usually hinges on phrases such as: “We don't want the world looking over our shoulder,” “It protects the sanctity of the court,” and “We need to ensure jury anonymity.” The sanctity of the court comes from upholding the laws, and the only way that we can be certain that the court is doing this, is by looking over their shoulder. As far as protecting the jury, people in the courtroom can see them (put up a screen in the courtroom if this is really a concern).

The Seventh Amendment

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Aside from giving us a starting point for the actual value of a human life ($20, which in some cases is too much I think), this gives us our right to trial by jury. Twelve people who could not think of a way to get out of jury duty will decide your fate. A jury that is not allowed to ask questions, and is supposed to come in to the proceedings as completely impartial.

I've only been called for jury duty once. I went without trying to get out of it. I like the idea. I also brought a book with me because I knew there was going to be time to kill while I waited to be voir dired. The book I was reading at the time was The Runaway Jury by John Grisham. I tried to conceal it when I was called to the jury box. The first question I was hit with during voir dire was “What are your views on drug use?” I didn't miss a step. “Legalize them, regulate them, make them safe, tax them, and balance the budget. That being said, I am aware of what the law currently has to say on the matter and can follow that.” I was dismissed immediately.

The Eighth Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Such broad language. Excessive bail and fines cannot be imposed. How are you going to define excessive? By an individual's resources? Let's imagine that the same crime has been committed by two different people. Jaywalking. One person owns a multi-trillion dollar corporation, the other person sleeps in their car and hasn't eaten in three days. The rich man gets a $50. fine, and pays the drop in the bucket. What do you fine the homeless person who has nothing?

Creul and unusual punishment (sounds like Reality TV to me, but I don't think that was what is meant). Again, this is very subjective. Let's look at this under the extreme (because that is what I do). The death penalty. Almost everyone has an opinion on it. Ask yourself this question: Is it more humane to put someone to death for a crime that they have committed, or to keep them locked in a 5'x10' cell for the rest of their life?

Ninth Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

What did that say? Most people have no idea. A lot of judges have no idea. In a very vague way, the Ninth is saying that there are probably other rights that exist that might be violated, but are not necessarily protected by the Bill Of Rights or the Constitution. In other words, “We are not perfect folk. This is just an outline. Use your heads. Sincerely, T.J.”

The Tenth Amendment

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

States rights. You can vote with your feet. If you don;t like the laws in a state that you live in, but like the laws of another state, you can go there and be ruled by that state's laws. The federal government knew that it could not, and probably should not, decree every law of the land. States, and local municipalities, were going to have to step up and be the real driving force. Governmental influence should have operate under the reverse model that it does now. Your local mayors and councilmen, are the people who should be most directly affecting your lives, followed by State Senators, Representatives and Governors, and then finally the guys and gals in D.C. Now, name your councilman or your mayor. Congratulations if you were able to. Most can't.

So there you are. Our Bill Of Rights. It isn't perfect, but it's a start.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Couple of Words of Caution

Issue #1
It is to be expected that anytime something like the Occupy Movement is getting started that a few of the more extremists come out of the woodwork. It seems like for every JFK; RFK; Medgar Evers; MLK Jr.; and John Lennon, there is a Lee Harvey Oswald (or whoever did it); Sirhan Sirhan; Byron De La Beckwith; James Earl Ray; and a Mark David Chapman.

We need to be careful, and carefully vigilant on some of the material that is starting to seep out there. Yes, a lot of the problems are with the Financial Institutions and those who control them. That does not mean that this is, or should be, an antisemitic campaign.

I say this because I stumbled across a couple of things today that blurred that line. Now, I have a personal problem with religions (I have gone into that in the past), but this movement, on this stage, is not the place for grinding axes (especially narrow-minded ones).

Issue #2
Violence should be a last resort, not a first response. I understand the frustrations, but don;t let them cloud your judgement. As I see it, in order for this to work, we need to use our brains, not whatever brawn we may have.

Just had to clear that up. Use your heads. Keep euphemistically fighting!


I started blogging as an outlet for myself. In some ways it is cathartic for me. It gives me an outlet to express and vent my thoughts and frustrations. Sometimes these thoughts and frustrations come across as clear and concise, other times they are little more than the disjointed ramblings of a madman (but hey, I tell you that upfront).

Over the years I have written about various subjects (religion, sex, politics, the arts, humanity, and so on) on assorted sites. I usually get inspired to write something because of a news story that is floating around that is either getting under-reported, or poorly reported on. I am an avid news junkie. The problem with the news today though is that it is not “news,” it's sensationalism and spin.

Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite telling us “That's the way it is,” they have been replaced by the 24 hour news cycle essentially telling us “This is the way we see it.” The news isn't news anymore, it is commentary on a perception of events.

Another problem comes in when the corporate news sources think they are being threatened by actual news events. A case in point is the Occupy Wall Street Movement. For the past three weeks citizens of this country have descended on Wall Street in protest to the corporate greed structure and the government corruption that allows and encourages it to exist. The media has been less than enthusiastic in either their ability, and/or willingness to follow this story.

It's a great story. It's a sensational story. It has human interest qualities to it. It has been widely buried by a lot of the press (who do you know that knows more about burying something than me?).

The model that the protesters have been using, and in fact were inspired by, is what is known as the Arab Spring model. Arab Spring refers to the protests that took place in the early part of this year (primarily the one in Egypt which I wrote about here).

I rarely associate myself with organizations because of what I see as the inherent corruption that exists in many of them. It seems like, most of the time, whenever there is an organization formed, organized corruption is not far behind. However, I made one of my rare exceptions in this instance, mainly because these people are doing exactly what I wanted to see done in my blog.

Since these people are actually making a stand in a way that I thought that we should months ago, and since the media seems reluctant to devote significant coverage to it, I would be remiss and extremely hypocritical if I did not lend my voice and support to them now. I hope you do too. Even though I was horrible with math in school, even I know that 99>1.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (On Facebook)

The purpose of raising your voice or standing up against something that is wrong, is not to be recognized for being right. The reason you do it is because something is wrong and needs to change. There are thousands of people in this country that are speaking out and standing up that will never get recognized.
Here's my idea for the night: For those of you that have a Facebook page or Twitter account, Change your profile picture to a picture of "V" for the next week to show solidarity with those in NY and elsewhere. I've seen a lot of you change your picture for lesser reasons. Remember that it is not about recognition.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


As anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, or any other social platform knows it seems that some things (as insignificant as they are) have a way of picking up steam and developing a life of their own. Most of these "jewels" tend to be asinine fallacies such as Facebook starting to charge for services or other such nonsense.

The way I see it (and I will concede that my view can be more askew than Kevin Smith's production company), we may as well use the viral nature of the web to actually say something that is short, sweet, and simple - because let's face it, it seems that there are a lot of people who cannot handle much more than short, sweet, and simple.

So here is what I want you to do, I want you to take the famous video clip from the movie Network and start circulating it on your social platforms and/or email. It's not difficult to do. Just start doing it, and let's see how far it goes. Here is the link

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Calling in a Contract

When I was able to work, I did a lot of retail management. By many accounts I was extremely successful at what I did. I quickly ascended to overseeing multiple stores at the same time, and assembled some of the best people to work for, and with me.

The common assumption that was made was that I was not actually comfortable unless I was in a leadership position. That was actually not true. The truth be told, I always preferred being the strong second to someone (think Alexander Godunov's Karl to Alan Rickman's Hans in Die Hard). However, I loathed incompetent leadership, and in my view, if the leadership was going to act irresponsibly and in a reckless fashion, then I might as well take over because the right-hand-man is usually the one in charge of keeping the eye on the target and navigating towards it.

So I took over one store, which lead to taking over another store, which lead to overseeing other stores, and became known as a “District Hitman.” The short and sweet job summary of hitman boiled down to: if I showed up at your store, someone (probably you) was about to get fired. I was good at what I did (if you don't believe me, ask around).

Incompetent store managers were replaced by either myself, by someone I trained, or by both. District Managers, Regional Managers, and a few executives sought my advice. I was in a good position, well respected, and even feared to a certain extent.

My immediate supervisors openly told me that I made them nervous because they never knew when I was going to replace them. What my bosses failed to grasp was that I would have only taken their job if they weren't doing it properly.

Which brings me to the world today. The great experiment in Democracy has failed. I don't know exactly when or where it skidded of the tracks, but it has skidded of the tracks and we are plummeting into the ravine. I think, although I cannot prove this, that a majority of the people in this country agree with this assessment, but yet nothing is being done.

Since our leadership has failed, and continues to act in an irresponsible and reckless fashion, and since nobody else seems to be willing or able to step forward and say or do anything about the level of corruption, the degree of incompetence, or atmosphere of hopelessness/helplessness, then I will stand up on my one good leg, lean on my cane, and fight this storm.

In my experience, the best way to re-build is to start from scratch. A case in point: there was one store that I walked into once and systematically fired everyone that worked there (with the exception of one worker who was actually doing the job). The same thing needs to happen, and happen now (actually it needed to happen years ago) with our government. It is past time to rip everything down to the studs, and to begin rebuilding with the knowledge we have acquired from our mistakes.

Another thing that I have learned is that I could not do everything on my own. While I was doing what I did for the companies that I worked for, I always made sure to surround myself with similar minded individuals. I never brought on a “warm body” to fill a spot on my staff, I always hired the right person for what was needed for whatever particular location I was working at. Some of them I got along with; others I didn't, but that didn't really matter because they were capable of getting the task at hand done – which is exactly what we need now.

I am looking for people who agree with me AND who disagree with me. I am looking for leaders AND followers. WE know what the problem is. WE know where the problem is. What WE need to do now is set aside whatever petty differences that we have (religion, sexuality, Left/Right wing, dog or cat person), and focus on the similarity that we do have: We are all in this boat together and the boat is sailing towards an iceberg. Help me steer the boat.