Tag Archives: Politics

Fifteen Minutes

A couple months ago, I typed up a little thing and posted it on Facebook. It was just a funny little play on recent headlines, meant to point out some of the more obvious hypocrisies in the social-political issues of the day. I put about five minutes into it, and didn’t think much of it.

Imagine my surprise when my Facebook status received over 30,000 likes and shares in a matter of hours. (As a point of reference, I doubt anything I’d posted previously had gotten more than 100 likes. I’m just this guy, you know?) Shortly thereafter, Facebook removed my status update for not meeting community standards.

My assumption is that it was the result of a formula: X Likes + Y Shares / Z Complaints = Post Removed. Sure, I can see why some people might not like it, but it was a long way from offensive. But, whatever.

Wait. Not whatever. I was pretty happy to see my message, no matter how flawed, reach so many people so quickly. I decided that I wanted to get it back out there. I found a cool website (www.cmx.io) that generated comics in the style of XKCD (www.xkcd.com). With just a few minor edits, I turned my status into a comic, uploaded it to imgur (www.imgur.com), and put it back out there.

Meanwhile, in America…

That’s when things got really crazy. Over the next couple days, that comic racked up a quarter million shares and likes. It bled over to Twitter and Pinterest. It was picked up by Lizz Winstead, who has over 100,000 followers herself. It was viewed 750,000 times on imgur. Daily Kos shared it with MILLIONS of viewers. It was (very badly) ripped off to make a new meme featuring some guy from Duck Dimwits. I had to remove Facebook and Twitter from my phone, as I couldn’t use it due to the constant notifications. In short, it went viral.

Well, that was something, wasn’t it? The response was overwhelmingly positive, but that’s to be expected as I was mostly preaching to the choir. The negative responses were far more interesting.

One of the first messages I received after posting was some weird, rambling screed comparing me to the Nazis. It really made no sense at all, but certainly helped prove Godwin’s Law.

Next came a handful of generic whiners: stupid liberal, that’s not true, you don’t like it when conservatives make generalizations, blah, blah, blah.

Most surprising, though, was the number of people who went to great lengths to disagree with me. I received messages from dozens of people who wanted to explain to me, in great detail, why I was being silly. The practical upshot was that no reasonable person would think this way. Conservatives aren’t terrified of Muslims, they’re terrified of radicals of any creed. I was being unfair by making these sweeping generalizations, because no thinking person would use this logic.

To those people I say, “DUH.”

That was the whole freakin’ point. No reasonable person would think that way; I was making fun of unreasonable people. If you are not the type of person who uses this sort of logic, I wasn’t making fun of you.

Everything I referenced in this little wordplay came from real, actual statements by public figures. UNREASONABLE public figures. UNTHINKING public figures. These are the people that drive us liberals crazy. These are the people that should drive reasonable conservatives crazy, too, because they make you look bad, much like Nancy Pelosi makes us liberals look bad. We’re not so different, you and I.

The whole experience was fascinating to me. For one thing, (I’m not gonna lie here) it was pretty good for my ego. It was interesting to see it spread, and it reinforced the speed and power of the internet. It demonstrated that viral can’t be forced. If I had known what would happen, I probably would have tried to monetize it somehow. (Actually, if I had know what would happen, I probably would have edited it a million times and screwed up the whole thing.) I wished I had something to promote or share while I had the internet’s attention.

In the end, it was just a thing that happened. I’m proud of it. It’s unlikely I changed a single person’s mind, but maybe, just maybe, I did.

I Am a Racist

Recently, I posted some quick math on my Facebook page:

1.6 billion Muslims in the world. 184,000 terrorists in the world (an extremely inflated estimate, just to be safe). If ALL the terrorists in the world are Muslims (which they aren’t), that would mean that roughly 0.011% of Muslims are terrorists.

To put it another way:

If you encountered 1,000 Muslims today, you still probably wouldn’t have met a terrorist.

Now, the percentage of Muslims IN THE NEWS who are terrorists, well, that’s a different story.

Granted, this all involves some rounding and some interpretation, but it wasn’t my intention to show exact figures. I just wanted to make a general statement that most Muslims are not terrorists.

Well, that sparked a debate. Some of my more conservative friends felt I was being too PC, or ignoring the fact that every Muslim in the world wants to KILL ME ON SIGHT. The double standards and the missings of the points flew like fur.

I could ramble on for hours about this topic and the related left/right issues that came with it, but I’m actually going to drift off on a tangent now.

Out of all the commentary on the topic, one line really stuck with me:

…the leftist’s incessant need to NOT be thought of as racist or Islamophobic brings cover to the most dangerous religious fanatics on the planet today.

Now, we’ll forget the context of this sentence, as it’s irrelevant to my writing today. What really stuck with me is the idea that not wanting to be thought of as a racist is somehow a bad thing. I disagree.

I don’t want to be thought of as a racist, because being a racist is bad. It’s just that simple.

Unfortunately, I am a racist. (I’m also a sexist and an ageist an probably just about every kind of -ist you can name.) I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in a suburb of Cincinnati, a city that rarely makes the news for its tolerance and equality. I heard racist jokes and racist assumptions as a kid, and I hear them as an adult. Whether or not I agree with them, believe them, or take them to heart, they still reside somewhere in my brain.

If I’m out walking at night, and a group of young black guys starts following me, I get nervous. If I see an attractive woman in a position of power, I wonder how she got the job. And yes, if I’m boarding a plane with a couple of Muslims, the word “bomb” will flash through my head somewhere.

I’m not proud of this. I know these thoughts are wrong and completely unfair. I am a victim of years of conditioning to make me think that way. If I take a second or two to process my thoughts, I come to a more reasonable conclusion.

If I’m out walking at night, and a group of young black guys starts following me, I get nervous. But wait… are they following me, or simply going the same direction I happen to be going? Are they carrying guns and smoking crack, or are they carrying groceries and looking at their phones? Are they even aware I’m walking in front of them, or are they minding their own business?

Lucky for me, I’m a middle-aged white guy. I have the luxury of making these assumptions and revising them at my leisure. No one ever looks at me and crosses the street to avoid me. If I get a good job, no one’s ever going to assume I slept with someone to get it. I’m never going to be profiled while getting on a plane. And most of all, no one is trying to legislate me away. That is my privilege.

Still, I don’t want to be thought of as a racist. Or an Islamophobe. Or a sexist. I don’t want to look at people and assume bad things about them. I don’t want people to look at me and assume bad things about me. I think most people don’t want that.

I will apologize if my words or actions come across as racist, and I will do my best to revise the thought process that led me there.  But, I will not apologize for not wanting to be seen as a racist. I will not apologize for trying to learn to respect my fellow human beings.

I will not apologize for believing that fear of 0.011% of a group is not enough to fear the whole group.

Minimum Wage

OK, this whole minimum wage thing has been bugging me for a while. Then I saw the news about Blue Plate restaurant company essentially making their employees pay for part of the wage increase, and then I got mad. (Also included in that article is the tidbit about some dump in Stillwater adding a “minimum wage fee” to every check. Classy.)

I support the idea of an increased minimum wage in theory, but it only works if everything else stays the same. If you give your lowest-paid employees a raise, but then restructure the system to make sure your highest-paid employees don’t take on any of that burden, NO ONE BENEFITS.

Think about it. You pay them more, but then everything else starts to cost more. They’re no better off than they were. There’s a word for that, it’s called inflation.

(Actually, there is one group who would benefit: politicians. Those in favor of the increased wages can claim they’re trying to help the little guy, those who opposed it can claim they were right all along.)

Instead, what we really need is to structure the system to start closing the wealth gap. I’m not talking about redistribution of wealth, I’m talking about basic, common sense limitations placed upon the selfish rich.

What I would like to see is a percentage-based system: the highest-paid employee of a company can’t make more then ten times what the lowest-paid employee makes. If the CEO wants to make $100 million a year, then the mail clerk needs to make $10 million. More realistically, if you only want to pay the mail clerk $10k/year, then the top CEO only gets $100k. In essence, instead of a minimum wage, we’d establish a maximum wage. We’d probably need a couple of lawyers to word it to close loopholes for bonuses, stock options, part-time employees, etc.

“But that’s not fair! The CEO deserves to make eighty bajillion dollars for doing a crappy job before accepting a golden parachute! The janitor doesn’t deserve to make a living wage!”

Yes it is, no they don’t, and yes they do.

A solid company needs solid leadership. A good CEO needs more education and more experience than the janitor, so sure, they deserve to make more money. But the janitor is important, too. So is the mail clerk and the receptionist. Trust me, no one wants to work for a company (or do business with a company) that doesn’t have a cleaning crew. And, I guarantee that most companies would last a lot longer without their top people than their bottom people.

“But wouldn’t that mean that price of everything would go up?”

No. Somehow, these companies have managed to absorb the cost of ever-increasing executive salaries. They can make it work. Imagine a company at which the top exec makes $250k/year. (No, shut up, that’s SPECTACULAR money; that’s live-like-royalty money for most of the world.) That means the entry-level folks would make at least $25k. That’s not great money, but it’s not bad.

Suddenly, the wealth gap begins to close. Not just the numbers, but the mentality and the lifestyle. People can start to recognize each other as fellow human beings. They can start to find common ground. People can support their families on one or two salaries again. They can spend more time with their kids, volunteering at their church, or just weeding their gardens.

Contrary to what the “job creators” would have you believe, I think this would be incredibly motivational. I could get a lot more excited about washing dishes for a living if it paid $50k/year. I also believe it would be a lot easier to motivate someone to move away from an assistance program (or a life of crime).

Sure, some prices might go up, others might come down. Employers would redistribute their workforces. Real estate would likely fluctuate. It would take a while for the economy to settle down. But, I firmly believe that the vast majority of Americans would benefit, not just with more money, but better health and greater happiness. And I expect that all those poor, starving millionaires would find a way to scrape buy on their new salaries.

Yes, I’m probably over-simplifying this. Yes, I’m probably being optimistic about it. But, in a very real, practical, mathematical way, lowering the maximum wage would be much more beneficial than raising the minimum.

Oh, and don’t worry, these limits would apply to federal employees, too. A senator couldn’t make more than ten times what the guy who gets his coffee earns. If you can’t see the value in THAT, then I can’t help you.

Days Nine and Ten

So, I’ve definitely had to get a little more flexible with this whole thing. Yesterday was not a good day at our house, and as such, I was not able to stick to close to my plan. I whipped up a batch of ABC, took a sip, then my son flung it across the room. I spent the next hour cleaning ABC off the table, floor, Legos, stuffed monkey, crib, my pants, shoes, socks, and of course, my son. By the time that was done, it was time to leave for school with a quick stop to vote on the way. From school, I went directly to a neighboring polling place to work as an election judge for the rest of the day. By the time I was done with that, it was almost 10:00 and I’d had exactly one sip of ABC to sustain me throughout the day. Call me weak, but after a visit to the grocery store for child-feeding supplies, I stopped for some mu shu pork on the way home.

Today, I still have about 2/3 of a batch waiting for me in the fridge. Rather than try to figure out what to add to make it a full batch, I just tossed in a banana and called it good. Yes, I’ll probably be a little low today, but that’s alright. I’ll probably drink a little more coffee anyway.

Fortunately, this should be the end of my five crazy days. My wife will be home a little later than usual, but otherwise, this is looking to be a ‘normal’ day. Plus, my son got another new tooth (his third in six days) which SHOULD signal the end of teething until the two-year molars come around.

I also revised the recipe again. I know, I know, I keep saying I’m not going to do that, but I actually bumped it down to 1800 calories. I’m still not losing weight, and may have actually gained a little, which is not very inspiring. I still need to do more research into how many calories I should be getting each day. So far, I’m getting estimates from 1,500 to 3,300. Hurray for an overabundance of questionable information on the internets!

I’ll probably change the recipe again here in a couple days, as I’m almost out of whey protein and am going to try soy instead. The protein is the most expensive ingredient, soy is about half the price of whey, and the subtle differences in nutritional quality seem to be applicable only for aggressive bodybuilding. I’d also like to switch to a more natural sweetener, probably honey.

So, I’m not even going to pretend that I’m done fine-tuning the recipe. All these tweaks are pretty subtle, so it’s not like I’m completely changing things daily. I’m just trying to find what works for me.

Day Five

Day Five also happens to be the first day of five crazy days around here. More if you count Halloween, which is actually still pretty tame with our eldest only three years old. But, the kids did not want to go to sleep after trick-or-treat, so it wasn’t the best way to start this particular stretch of mayhem.

Anyway, today my wife went in for a half day, then as soon as she came home, I went to training to be an election judge, then we met at Powderhorn for Empty Bowls where we volunteer as a family. Tomorrow, I’ll get up early and start draining the radiators so I can do some more plumbing work, go to my yoga class while that drains, then come back and work until it’s done, no matter how long that takes. Sunday, I’m planning to mix and pour 1500 pounds of concrete, again, working until it’s done. Sunday night we change the clocks, so I have every reason to believe the kids will be up about 4:00 AM with no comprehension of why that’s a problem. Monday will  be a normal day, except that we’ll be driving to Lakeland after my wife gets off work to pick up a new used car, and hopefully get back in time to not screw up the kids’ bedtime (the first one after the time change). Tuesday is election day, and again my wife will go in for a half day at work, I’ll take the kids to school in the morning, then I’ll go play election judge for 8 hours.

Those of you who know me (and I’m assuming that both the people who read this do actually know me) know that I handle stress and lack of sleep with food. Except that right now I’m not really eating. It should be interesting.

I did mix things up a little in the last 24 hours. Last night, I ate two pieces of Halloween candy. I had an ultra-micro-fun-size Snickers, because that was the closest thing to real food in the bowl, and a York Peppermint Patty, because it was a PEPPERMINT F-IN’ PATTY. Tonight, I had some soup and a couple tiny pieces of bread at Empty Bowls. I don’t feel too bad about it, as I biked downtown for training and spent several hours on my feet tonight. The soup was pretty light, too.

Still, it was food, and it tasted gooooooood. I’m having a really hard time separating the joy I took in eating something delicious from the fact that I had every right to be pretty darn hungry at that point. But, I’m not beating myself up over it. My overall calorie intake is still plenty low for the day. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that when things settle out a bit, I’ll change the recipe to add a few more calories.

I’ve also decided that I’ll add a ‘meal’ to Sunday evening. That will mark the end of my first week (well, 6 2/3 days), and also the end of a pretty active weekend. My current plan is to simply make a half-batch of ABC in the morning, then get a bag of Vietnamese deliciousness from Quang in the evening. I’m very curious to see what real food will do to my system after being on ABC almost exclusively for a week.

Overall, I still feel pretty good. I didn’t get much sleep last night, which never helps. My bike ride was fun, but a definite reminder that I don’t get enough exercise these days. I’m hungry, but I think a big part of that is that it’s Friday night, both kids are asleep, my wife is out, and as soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to park my butt in front of the TV for a while. Hunger isn’t a factor so much as it just seems like a great time for a snack. The last couple hours before bed time is definitely the hardest time for me during this little experiment.

I’m Tired

An open letter to Robert A. Hall, his followers, and particularly those who would attribute his hate-filled views to Bill Cosby.

I’m 42 and I’m tired. I’m tired of people who still think 50 hours a week is a lot. I’m tired of people who are too dense to understand that the realities of employment and economy may have changed during the last few decades. I miss the days when 40 hours was a limit, not a minimum. I’ve spent the last few years staying home with my children and working part time in the evenings and on the weekends, and I still put in 40 hours from time to time.

I’m tired of people who perpetuate the myth that welfare is for the lazy. I’m tired of people who can’t see the point of paying taxes, even though they are happy to claim all the benefits of a functioning government.

I’m tired of people who think their paid-off $250,000 home is modest.

I’m tired of hearing from conservatives how much they hate liberals, when what they really mean is that they hate everyone who isn’t white and Christian. I’m tired of hearing how Islam is so terrible and violent based on the actions of a tiny minority of its followers. Lucky for you, I don’t judge all Christians based solely on child-molesting priests or Westboro Baptist.

I’m tired of hearing how racist you aren’t, when you so obviously are.

I’m tired of the myth of a liberal media, when the most-watched ‘news’ network in this country blatantly supports a right-wing agenda. I’m tired of hearing how this liberal media twists the facts and plays favorites, when the most-watched ‘news’ network in this country rates lower than comedy news programs for accuracy.

I’m tired of hearing that the United States should dictate how other countries should act, while we thumb our noses at the global community. Oddly enough, the countries that upset you are filled with brown people. I never hear you complain about Canada, from which we get most of our oil, even though a million Muslims live there. I do hear you complain when other countries try to tell the United States how to act, and I’m tired of that.

I’m tired of your complaints about global warming. Yes, Al Gore is a hypocrite, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are to blame, too. America generates more waste per capita than any country in the world. Take responsibility for that, sort your recycling, park your Hummer, and be thankful that you live in a country where we still wash our cars in drinking water.

I’m tired of explaining science to you. Not all diseases come from germs. No human being ever rode a dinosaur. The sun is hot. At some point, you have to accept that scientists know a little more about their chosen fields than you do.

I’m tired of your hypocrisy. I love that you are OK with Catholics coming into this country, but not Muslims, but still consider yourself fair and open-minded.

I’m tired of hearing how every member of every branch of the military is a superior being to every other person on the planet. I have great respect for those who choose to serve, and great disdain for those who act badly while in the military. Here are a few of the things that makes this country different (and worth defending): we treat suspects as innocent until proven guilty; we don’t torture prisoners; we give the accused fair trials. If you throw those things out, we are no longer America.

I’m tired of people telling me that their party has a corner on virtue and the other party has a corner on corruption, too. The difference is that I see that as an accusation of my party, and you see it as absolution for yours.

I’m tired of entitlement, too. Including yours. You are selfish beyond words. Your entire stance is one long attempt to justify keeping everything for yourself.

I’m tired of trying to point out your hypocrisy. You blame the liberals, the president, Hollywood, Muslims, lazy welfare cheats, and illegal immigrants for all your problems, then cry that no one takes personal responsibility any more.

Most of all I’m tired of your lies. If you can’t defend your position without lying, your position is indefensible. There are plenty of folks out there more conservative than I who base their opinions on a combination of facts, experience, reality, and religious beliefs. I will listen to them. As soon as you start making up your own facts, your opinion becomes meaningless.

I’ll give Mr. Hall the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t want his words falsely attributed to Bill Cosby. (Although, I could find nothing on his website where he condemns the practice.) That doesn’t change the fact that plenty of folks on his side of these issues were fine with that. They spread the lies around, because they know people would rather hear from a beloved entertainer than a bitter old racist.

http://tartanmarine.blogspot.com/2009/02/robert.html

http://billcosby.com/2011/09/if-you-got-the-bogus-email-its-time-to-hit-delete/

Change II

When I started writing that last post, I didn’t really know where I was going with it. I had many, many thoughts swirling through my head, and I needed to start organizing them. What emerged in my mind was a 3-part response to the shootings in Connecticut. For simplicity, I’ll label them gun control, mental health, and caring. They all overlap and interact, but for the sake of discussion, I chose to separate them. Part one was about caring. Part two is about gun control. I may end up writing part three on mental health eventually; that one will be harder for me to write.

Gun control; such a taboo subject. For politicians, even mentioning it is to risk losing the next election. Oh, sure, some kids get shot, we mourn, and all the politicians all go on TV and talk about the tragedy. They might even hint at the mental health aspect of gun ownership, but they sure won’t come right out and call for sweeping reforms to our gun laws.

Or will they?

The subject has come up more in the last week than it has in a long, long time. Even conservative gun owners are starting to admit that even they see a need for change. Maybe, just maybe, we can finally have a calm, rational discussion about gun control.

First and foremost, let’s be clear on one very important issue: the Constitution is subject to change. The Second Amendment gets thrown around a lot in these conversations, as if the Constitution is some sort of stone tablet that can never be altered. If we think about this for even a brief moment, the fact that we’re discussing an AMENDMENT means it’s not permanent. Legally, we could write a new amendment that invalidates the Second.

I would argue that the Second Amendment doesn’t make much sense in our current world. Two hundred years ago, a well-regulated militia meant something very different than it does today. Now, we have a well-regulated militia. It is comprised of the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, and hundreds of different police forces. The government will not be calling on the citizens to help defend the state. Personally, I would be fine with seeing the Second Amendment go away.

I think we’re still a long way from invalidating the Second Amendment, but perhaps we can clarify and refine it through some more specific legislation. Let’s look at some of the common arguments against gun control laws.

First up, there’s hunting. Living as I do in Minnesota, I am well aware that hunting is still a huge part of many people’s lives. Some do it for sport or tradition, but for many, it is a part of their lifestyle. I am not a hunter, so I’m no expert, but the way I understand it, no one hunts with a handgun or an assault rifle. A semi-automatic weapon is a convenience, but by no means is it a necessity. A high-capacity magazine is essentially useless to a hunter. So, let’s say whatever new gun regulations would need to make exceptions for hunting.

Closely related to the hunting question is that of sport. Some folks just want to go to the shooting range and sharpen their skills. They want to learn to use a variety of firearms just for the sake of the experience. This is fine, but I think these situations need to be highly controlled and regulated.

There are legitimate reasons for gun ownership. I haven’t heard anyone calling for a wholesale ban on all guns. Those of us in favor of gun control want stricter regulations. We want bans on certain types of weapons. We want licensing and training and background checks and mental health screenings. None of these things would prevent a well-informed, rational, healthy individual from owning a gun for a legitimate purpose.

Then there’s the idea that if we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. There’s a lot of truth in that statement, but it’s pretty narrow. My thought is that if we outlaw guns, it’ll be a lot easier to identify outlaws with guns. Heroin is illegal. If you are caught buying, selling, making, transporting, possessing, or using heroin, you are breaking the law. No license, class, or background check will change that. If all handguns were illegal, then anyone caught buying, selling, making, transporting, possessing, or using a handgun would be breaking the law. Right now, a violent drug dealer could go get a conceal/carry permit, purchase a completely legal handgun, and carry it around, and there would be no legal reason to stop him. So yes, if we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns, but then we’ll have a perfectly legitimate reason to arrest those outlaws.

Some have made the argument that we don’t outlaw lighters because of arson, and we don’t outlaw cars because of drunk drivers, so why outlaw guns because of mass shootings? Again, there is some truth here, but it’s still very narrow. Lighters are very useful: you can use them to light a cigarette or a candle or a campfire, that’s their purpose. You can also use them to burn down a building and collect the insurance, but that was never the intention. An assault rifle capable of firing multiple rounds every second with a high-capacity magazine has one purpose: to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time. If you have an overwhelming urge to own an assault rifle, I can only assume that’s your goal.

The drunk driving argument is actually an argument in favor of gun control. In order to drive a car, you have to take a test and get a license. You have to prove that you understand the basic traffic laws, have decent eyesight, and don’t suffer from any medical condition that would impair your ability to drive. Infractions of the traffic laws can impact your ability to keep your license and continue to drive legally. We put up stop signs and traffic lights, we paint lines on the road, we require brake lights and headlights, we impose speed limits. In short, we legislate and enforce car control. Can’t we do the same for guns?

Another popular argument is that if the teachers were armed, these tragedies could be prevented or at least ended sooner. If an armed homeowner gets robbed, they can fight back. If you carry a gun, you can defend yourself against a mugger. All the facts and statistics show that this is simply not true. You can choose to accept or ignore these facts; I’m not likely to change your mind.

I do find it ironic that those in favor of arming the teachers are generally those who oppose spending money on education. They don’t want teachers to make a living wage, have a manageable class size, or have the books, supplies, and equipment they need to teach our children. These folks expect them to dig into their pathetic salaries to buy pencils and chalk, but would happily send them all to firearm training and buy them a shiny new revolver.

Finally, there’s what might be the oldest argument of them all: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Once again, this is true, but incredibly narrow. Guns don’t kill people, but they make it a lot easier for people to kill people. If an individual makes the decision to go an a killing spree, would you rather see that person carrying an assault rifle and hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines or a single-shot hunting rifle that takes a few seconds to reload? Or a baseball bat?

I try to keep an open mind. I try to look at the arguments of those who disagree with me and consider them. If I can present a solid counter-argument, I will, and if I can’t, I try to rethink my position. I can’t promise I always succeed, but I try. I’m willing to concede that my stance on gun control is probably a bit extreme and more than a bit to the left of center. I’m quite willing to accept some compromise between what I personally see as ideal and the current state of things. I am not willing to accept that the current state of things is working. This country is in desperate need of stronger gun laws.

 

I would like to add a thought here about technology. We are living in an age in which condensing databases should be relatively easy. All 50 states should have databases of drivers’ licenses that talk to each other. Those databases should talk to those of social security and unemployment and welfare (and citizenship, but that’s a whole other discussion). There is no reason we can’t begin to create and maintain a flexible, widely compatible database of gun ownership. Technological implementation should not be a factor in any of these discussions.

Change

My head is still spinning from the shootings at Sandy Hook. I have an overwhelming need to vent, to rage, to cry, to scream, but I don’t have the words. I thought that if I waited a few days, maybe the words would come, or maybe my feelings would fade. I don’t know anyone in Connecticut and I don’t have any personal connection to the events. Once the initial shock wears off, I’m sure I’ll file this away in my brain with all the other school shootings.

But I can’t. Maybe this was one too many. Maybe it’s because this time, the victims were so young. Maybe it’s because this time, I just happened to be online when the news broke, so I could watch it in almost real time. Maybe it’s because we just finished a particularly nasty campaign cycle, and I still see so much impotent anger.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired of feeling impotent, and so are a lot of Americans.

Liberals can rage against the Tea Party for being closed-minded, and the Tea Party can rage right back at the liberals for being lazy hippies. Republicans and Democrats can do nothing but rage at each other. Everyone knows the system doesn’t work, and everyone has a strong opinion about who is to blame: the other guy.

Whether it’s the Federal budget, a dysfunctional Congress, intrusive airport security, gas prices, childhood obesity, or home foreclosures, it’s a problem that was caused entirely by someone else. Politicians never say, “It’s my fault.” Lobbyists never say, “We caused this.” Americans never say, “We asked for this.”

No one wants to see 10% unemployment. No one wants to see manufacturing shipped overseas. No one wants to see little Chinese kids working 16-hour days for pennies. But, everyone wants a 50-inch flat panel television for only a few hundred bucks. See the connection? We asked for it.

The housing bubble? We asked for it.

A deadlocked Congress? We asked for it.

More frequent severe weather events? Endless war in the Middle East? High-fructose corn syrup in everything we eat? Yeah, we asked for it.

No one wants these things, but when we make unrealistic demands of ourselves, each other, and our country, these are the side effects. We want everything faster, cheaper, bigger, and better, and we want it now. We don’t want to save for it, we want it on credit. If the whole thing comes crashing down around us, we’ll just blame someone else.

I believe most people are generally kind. I believe most people want the world to be a better place. I believe most of us try to do the right thing all the time. Well, most of the time. Well, sometimes. It’s hard. It’s hard because the right thing can be hidden. It’s hard because the effect can be so far removed from the cause. It’s hard because we’re up against advertisers and lobbyists and peer pressure and job demands and bills. It’s hard because that new Android phone is really cool, and who cares where it’s made or what they did to get the minerals for the battery?

We need to care. We need to care about the homeless. We need to care about factory conditions in Malaysia. We need to care about student-to-teacher ratios. We need to care about fair trade. We need to care about reduce, reuse, and recycle. We need to care about genocide. We need to care about the 2.5 million Americans in prison. We need to care about abuse in all its forms. We need to care about the mentally ill. We need to care.

Every day, every one of us needs to make a conscious decision to make the world a little bit better. Pick up a piece of trash. Hold the door open for someone. Praise a child for something. Turn off a light. Take a walk. Take a break. Take a breath. Take responsibility. Imagine 300 million Americans doing the same thing. Imagine seven billion humans doing the same thing.

You might think this is all a bunch of tree-huggy liberal nonsense. You might chuckle at the irony that I’m typing this on a brand new laptop. You might think you’re already doing enough. You might read this and think it doesn’t apply to you. It’s that other guy. He’s the one not helping. You might be right, but you might not.

We may never understand what drives someone to pick up a gun and start shooting. We will never be able to prevent all tragedies everywhere. I do feel pretty confident that our odds would be a lot better if every school was fully staffed with well-paid, well-educated teachers. We would catch more instances of mental illness earlier if preventive health care was affordable and accessible. We would accomplish more if we were all working for everyone’s benefit.

None of this is easy or fast. Change will take hard work, discipline, and time. And money.

And it will take everyone. Even you.

A Guide to the Liberal Mind

10 Things Conservatives Need to Understand About Liberals

1. We know what the word “Socialist” means. Please make sure you do before you throw it at us. Some of us are OK with being labeled a Socialist, but only when it actually applies.

2. We know welfare (and Social Security, for that matter) is broken, but we still feel compelled to help until we have a better system, even if it means some people can abuse the current system.

3. We don’t want to see the government grow out of control, either. Really. We’ve just grown attached to clean air, clean water, functioning fire departments, safe workplaces,  medicine that doesn’t kill people, smooth streets, edible food, etc.

4. We’re very concerned with illegal immigration. We think it reflects some deep fiscal, foreign policy, and human rights issues. We like to think of illegal immigrants more like people taking a huge risk in an attempt to better their lives and less like ants trying to get into our cupboards.

5. We don’t like war. Never have, never will.

6. When a hurricane/earthquake/tsunami/Godzilla hits, we send help. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter what the budget looks like. We believe this is one of the things that makes America great.

7. We value intelligence and education. We may never understand why someone wouldn’t. This might be a failing on our part, but it’s not likely to change.

8. We’re not pro-abortion. No one is. Instead of making abortion illegal, we want to give women the right to choose while trying to make a world in which no one would ever need to make that choice.

9. Yes, we do feel self-righteously smug while biking to the co-op with reusable bags to buy local, organic produce to prepare a healthy, vegetarian meal for our gay mixed-race Buddhist neighbors to thank them for watching our rescued greyhound so we could volunteer at some tree-huggy art fair that raises money for orphans in Whateverstan. It feels good. It feels really good.

10. Some liberals may disagree with my list, but they won’t threaten my life over it.

Bullshit

OK, I rarely write anything political in here, but I’m so riled up by recent events, I feel compelled to do so. I don’t care if anyone reads it or agrees with me, but I just need to spew my thoughts out in the hope of getting it off my chest.

I do not believe for one second that Sarah Palin (or her aides or her design firm or anyone else involved) intended those crosshairs to be surveyor’s symbols. It’s bullshit. Anyone with even a shred of honesty and intelligence in them knows it’s bullshit. There is only one way you can change my mind on this: invent time travel, go back 9 months, and ask her. I feel supremely confident that the “invent time travel” part is the most likely to happen.

I’ve worked on enough design projects to know damn well that IF those were not intended to be crosshairs, someone would have brought it up.

“Would anyone outside the profession know that those are surveyor’s symbols? They could easily be mistaken for crosshairs. Maybe we should use little stars or donkeys or something. I’d sure hate for anyone to think we were encouraging gun violence.”

It’s bullshit.

The extreme right wants more violence against the left. Period. Don’t believe me? Look it up. The facts will bear it out: the extreme right WANTS MORE VIOLENCE against the left. If you support them with your votes, your money, your words or your actions, then you are supporting violent acts against fellow Americans. Period.