11 August 2017

Packing Heat Probably Not a Good Idea for Me, Most People

I like to think of myself as a calm, rational, peaceful, non-violent, non-threatening, non-confrontational kind of guy. I bet most people who know me would agree with that description.

But here’s the thing: I’m not one hundred percent certain that if I’d had a gun in my pocket every day since it was legal for me to own one, something terribly wrong wouldn’t have gone down at some point. At least once. Humans are fragile creatures. I am. The human psyche is precarious. Anyone can snap.

And if I’m not sure that a peace-loving, conflict-avoiding, pacifist, beatnik- wannabe like me wouldn’t have snapped once or twice and pulled the trigger under certain circumstances — changing the course of my life and other lives in one regrettable furious moment — I sure don’t feel safe knowing I’m surrounded by a bunch of civilians packing heat, permit or not, many of whom I’m guessing more inclined to violent ways than I am. What about you? If you happen to live in one of the 33 “right-to-carry” states, which allow everyday citizens to carry concealed handguns, that’s likely to be the case. Makes you think twice about cutting line at the grocery store.

I’m lucky. There hasn’t been a single occasion in my life I can remember when possessing a firearm would have been helpful to me. Knock on wood. Never been mugged, never seen a robbery going down where I could have intervened and saved the day, never been attacked by a bear in the woods.

I can think of a few times when having easy access to one could have caused trouble, though.

There was a very late night in San Francisco when I got a little lost looking for my car. I found myself in a dark and sketchy and unfamiliar part of the Mission District. The streets were mostly empty, except for myself and a man who seemed to be following me, twenty feet or so behind. Every time I turned down a different street, so did he. This went on for several blocks. I felt threatened. I could feel my heart pounding. Now, in my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine myself wheeling around and pulling out the trusty Glock and opening fire. But I’d had a few drinks earlier in the night; maybe my judgement was impaired just enough to do something stupid. I was afraid. Fear distorts. What if I turned around to confront him to find that he was also armed? Whatever the results, it surely wouldn’t have ended as well as it actually did: after a few more blocks, he headed a different direction. I soon found my car and drove home. Chances are, the threat I perceived that night was a product of my overactive imagination. The man was probably just trying to find his car too. The streets of San Francisco can be confusing.

Here’s a little confession: part of being the acquiescing peace-maker/conflict-avoider that I am is that I let things build up sometimes. That’s not always healthy. Sometimes I take in as much as I can and then I lose my cool. Every six or seven years, I have a Mount St. Helens’ moment. I can think of a couple of eruptions when I’m glad I didn’t have quick access to a deadly weapon. To date, worst case scenario has been a slammed door or two and a string of groveling apologies soon thereafter. I’d like to believe that even in the most heated of quarrels, my good morals and proper upbringing and sense of right and wrong and sound judgement and fear of incarceration would prevail. But rage is a powerful thing. Think back to the maddest you’ve ever been. How does it feel with a gun in your hand?

I’m sure many of you reading this know that I’m often critical of law enforcement. Too many cops are racist and too many departments corrupt. I don’t automatically trust the police and don’t always feel safe in their presence. I know my level of distrust pales in comparison to many of my non-White friends, for good reason. I’ll save that conversation for another day. Nevertheless, I do feel safer knowing that it’s trained professionals, most of whom are competent and upstanding and well-vetted, who are the ones carrying weapons in my town. Yes, the bad guys have guns. But a bunch of untrained citizens brandishing weapons, fragile humans like me — each dealing with their own set of demons, some with vigilantism on their minds and grudges in their hearts and “right-to-carry” permits in their back pockets… these good guys prone to road rage and jealousy and subject to accidents and errors in judgment (as we all are)… isn’t helpful to law enforcement and doesn’t make the streets safer; it makes the streets more dangerous.
And that’s exactly what a report released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week indicates; what many of us who promote gun control find unsurprising: allowing citizens to carry handguns doesn’t decrease crime, as the NRA always tried to convince us; it increases it, especially violent crime such as aggravated assault. In fact, after examining decades of crime data, Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue found that states which adopted right-to-carry laws have experienced a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime in the 10 years after enacting those laws.
Simply put, putting guns in the hands of more citizens is no remedy for gun violence. Which seems like a no-brainer to me. You’ll never see one in mine.

01 August 2016

Electing Obama wasn't Sign of Post-Racial America I Was Hoping For (Blogging During the Obama Presidency)

I started my blog just after Barrack Obama was elected president in 2008 - when blogging was still a relatively new platform.  In hindsight, many of my early posts were naive and idealistic, as I still tend to be at times. I honestly thought electing our first non-white president was indicative of a tipping point in US race relations, the beginning of a post-racial America in which MLK’s dream for its people to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin would finally come to pass, at last. What was exposed, instead, in the months and years that’s followed, is a vile and venomous undercurrent of racism, which still sadly flows freely across this nation.

America is a racist nation. Period. The bane of racism is its greatest threat. It tears at the fabric of our society. The Obama presidency exposed its prevalence. Fox News and an emergent social media provided affinity and affirmation for droves of white supremacists itching to come out of the closet. And, as the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump has provided legitimacy to its hateful agenda.  

At the risk of giving in to cynicism I’ve so long resisted, it’s tempting to concede that it is perhaps simply unrealistic to expect otherwise from a nation founded by the savage murder and displacement of millions of indigenous peoples and built on slave labor. Racial disparities are everywhere, still. The kind of racial unrest boiling over in the summer of 2016 is the evil fruit of what centuries of white supremacy have sewn. When police kill black people who pose no threat, or someone bearing the confederate flag kills innocent black church goers, or a black former soldier says he wants to shoot white police - these are all tragic consequences of our history of systemic racism. White America is fortunate that most blacks want only equality, not revenge.

More than a half century after Governor Wallace stood at the front of Foster Auditorium blocking blacks from entering the University of Alabama, racism is an illness that still infects our institutions to the core, the worst of which comes in the form of racist, corrupt, morally bankrupt police departments and at every level of the legal and justice systems. Institutional racism is by design, not unintentional. There are systems in place (and have been since slavery) to keep blacks down and dis-empowered.

The Black Lives Matter movement took root in 2013 following George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It gained momentum as the number of senseless killings of blacks by cops mounted, many of which caught on police dash cams or camera phones providing irrefutable and damning evidence of rampant police brutality those of us heretofore inclined to give cops the benefit of the doubt could no longer ignore. Predictably, white supremacists countered with cries of “All Lives Matter” and illogical inferences to reverse racism. Whereas rational people have always understood an implicit “also” or “as much as” at the end of the Black Lives Matter hashtag, racists conjured an implicit “instead” or “more than” at the end - threatening to their sense of supremacy and privilege, spurring retaliation and fueling further racist acts and widening the divide.

This is white privilege: When I read about the deaths of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling or any of the other horrifying instances of police brutality against black people, I am outraged instead of terrified. I am able to voice my anger, to show up to protests, to loudly condemn the racist criminal justice system because I will not be its next victim.

As racial tensions heightened throughout the land, the vitriol hurled at President Obama was unprecedented in its viciousnessRepublicans have plotted and planned to destroy the man and his administration since his first day in office, flooding the country with an intentional and negative barrage of misinformation about him. There’s no way you’ll convince me that the animus directed against Obama was based on his policies or politics. No, it’s based on something far deeper: a gut-wrenching fear of color change in our nation. The foreshadowing of a browner America which is relentlessly approaching just over the horizon.

Consider this: when Obama took office, the country was hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Financial institutions were in shambles under the weight of its own greed and gluttony while our deregulate at all cost government turned a blind eye. We were in process of destroying Iraq (killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, women and children and losing over 4,000 of our own, along the way) – destabilizing the region and creating the kind of terrorist backlash that exists there today - as many predicted it would - in a misguided act of retaliation by President Bush.  Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden was still alive (you know, the one who actually had something to do with 9/11, not Saddam Hussein). Gas prices were hovering around $4 a gallon. The unemployment rate was 7.8% by the time President Bush left office, but was on a skyrocketing trajectory that would eventually peak at 10%. The stock market was in free-fall. 

The country was in the throes of the Great Recession with somber speculation that a depression was right around the corner. 
Today, the unemployment rate is under 5% (about 7 million more people have jobs than when Obama took office).  In fact, the country has added five times more jobs than it did during the Bush administration. Gas prices are under $2 in most places. The resuscitated auto industry produced 11 million vehicles in 2014.  Stock prices have soared. The economy has enjoyed 70-plus straight months of private-sector job growth. The deficit has shrunk by nearly $1 trillion and Medicare's long-term solvency has been extended by 13 years.  The Great Recession is over.

Osama bin Laden was executed during Obama’s first term. Gays can now serve openly in the military.  Solar energy installations are up nearly two-thousand per cent, and carbon emissions have dropped. More Americans have health insurance than ever before (despite continuous efforts by Congress to thwart the Affordable Care Act). Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

America is safer than it’s been in decades too. Even though 70 percent of Americans think that the crime rate is increasing, in reality, the national crime rate is about half of what it was at the peak in 1991. And while an average of 101 police officers were intentionally killed every year during Reagan’s presidency, the annual number is just 62 under Obama — the lowest recorded amount, even as the far right describes Obama as a race-baiting cop hater responsible for the shootings of police officers in Dallas earlier this summer.

I have no doubt that history will be kind to Barack Obama. The accomplishments are many, indeed. But instead of acknowledging the President’s steady leadership out of tumultuous times, he’s mocked and vilified. Just imagine, though, what could have been accomplished had the Koch-sponsored Congress not successfully attempted to obstruct and sabotage everything President Obama attempted. Electing Donald Trump would be disastrous on many levels.  But the inevitable escalation of racial unrest unseen since the days of Appomattox and from which this country may never recover might be the worst of it.
Supremacy isn’t just about violence, though. White privilege, white ignorance, white apathy… is in no great shortage. Think of it as the bulging middle of the bell curve with small percentages of whites who are openly racist and dangerous on one end; and enlightened, activist, open-minded whites on the other. The majority in the middle are whites who are indifferent, clueless, naive, misinformed, and content with the status quo. They don't burn crosses in their yards but their inaction is harmful, nevertheless.

Now, the Obama presidency is in its twilight. As I write this, the General Election is less than one hundred days away. The choice between the two candidates vying to follow Obama is as stark as it has ever been: a seasoned public servant with unprecedented international and domestic experience and credentials prepared to build on the progress made during the Obama administration against Donald Trump, a poisonous mix of white supremacy and ultra-nationalism, woefully unfit to be president. A misogynist, ego-maniac whose candidacy is built on anger, fear, lies, and racism.

For the sake of the country and the future of my children and yours, choose wisely, America.

12 August 2014

Drug Testing Confirms that Welfare Recipients are a Bunch of Drug-Addicted Slackers Looking for a Handout


1 out of 812 applicants tested positive for drugs in Tennessee.


After instituting dehumanizing drug-testing requirements to welfare recipients on July 1, just one person tested positive. That means that just 0.12% of all people applying for cash assistance in Tennessee have tested positive for drugs, compared to the 8% who have reported using drugs in the past month among the state's general population.

Now, Tennessee, go test your state legislators and mayors and city councilmen and judges and see how those numbers stack up.

In Tennessee and other states, suspicions that welfare recipients are a bunch of drug-addicted slackers were proven dead wrong.

(a nice graphic to put things in perspective)

In Utah, just 12 of 4,730 (0.25%) welfare applicants tested positive for drugs over the course of a year. 

In Florida, just 2.6% of applicants tested positive, costing the state much more than it saved. The program was thrown out in court last December as a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In Virginia, a similar drug testing program was scrapped after analysts found it would cost $1.5 million to implement and save just $229,000 from un-disbursed benefits.

Maine’s governor set out to prove welfare recipients in his state were using their benefits to buy booze and cigarettes at bars and strip clubs, but turned up nothing.

Requiring people to pee in a cup for no reason other than being poor and in need of assistance is demoralizing and won’t pass constitutional muster.

And test results thus far only confirm what researchers already knew: Welfare recipients are not rampant drug users, and most of those who do take drugs are not addicts. Those who do have substance abuse problems mostly drink alcohol. It's a tired stereotype perpetuated by those who wish to further drive a wedge between the haves and the have-nots and is rooted in racism.

But even if the tests were finding many more drug addicts, denying them benefits would still be a cruel, stupid policy. It's the children of poor drug users who stand to lose the most if the food stamps get cut.

Nevertheless, last year, House Republicans voted to require states to drug test food stamp applicants (in the same bill that also cut benefits by $40 billion, by the way).

I’ve always thought it made a lot more sense to test members of Congress than Welfare applicants. The taxpayer funded checks they cash are much bigger.

16 May 2014

On Donald Sterling

I’ve known many Donald Sterlings in my life. I bet you have too.

When they start sentences with “There’s not a racist bone in my body, but…” you can pretty much be guaranteed the rest of the sentence will be racist. Ever notice how people who truly aren’t racist don’t really have to spend a lot of time convincing people? 

I listen to Donald Sterling and I see the likes of Strom Thurmond and Jessie Helms and George Wallace, each of whom pointed to all the good they’d done for poor blacks in their states as a way to appease their racist attitudes and policies - in the same way plantation masters described their relationship with slaves as symbiotic, in the same way Donald Sterling talks about providing homes and cars and clothes for his players. You'll find various incarnations still lingering today in state houses and Congress halls and presiding over corporate board rooms.

Racists in the spotlight, like politicians and celebrities, are easy to see through.  Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves. Or just keep recording long enough. Just as burning crosses are easier to spot than glass ceilings, today’s racism may be less noticeable...but there's no shortage of it, mostly flying under the radar and occasionally rearing its ugly head for all to see, as it is now. Will it die off with the eighty-somethings? Even an idealist like me knows it’s naïve to think racism will ever be fully extinguished. But there’s reason to be optimistic that it will fade in time - as society evolves and the US becomes more multi-cultural.

I was born in the rural south at the height of the civil rights movement.  I grew up with racism all around me. Racism is always inexcusable. But to be honest, I shrugged off a lot of racist attitudes among the old timers from back in the day who never made it past the county line as them “just not knowing any better.” The same latitude can’t be given to a savvy businessman who lives in a world-class city and associates with fellow millionaires of all colors, even if he is eighty years old. 

What the audio tapes and subsequent interview with Anderson Cooper reveal is an old man completely out of touch with post-millennium America. Adaptability is the key to growing old gracefully and Donald Sterling epitomizes the opposite - a curmudgeonly old man, stuck in his ways, desperately trying to hold on to the day when white men held all the power and did whatever they pleased to whomever they wanted because they had enough money to settle out of court.  

But his dirty old tricks aren’t going to work this time. There still exist places in America where minorities have no voice.  The NBA is not one of them. Legends like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and current superstars like LeBron James wield tremendous influence and power. The league’s commissioner acted swiftly and decisively when he banned Mr. Sterling from the NBA for life. Adam Silver seems genuinely disgusted by Sterling’s remarks. But he’s also no dummy. He knows that the multi-billion-dollar empire could come crumbling to the ground in an instant if the league’s most high profile minority players stand in solidarity and walk away.

For most African-American players, I’m imagining, this moment is bigger than the Clippers, bigger than basketball. It’s about the weight they’ve inherited from generations prior. It’s about their fathers and grandfathers who bit their lips and walked away from the condescending boss man because they needed to put food on the table. It’s about not having the votes to unseat a Strom Thurmond or the clout to face down Bull Connors. It’s about a legacy of powerlessness … But right now, with a hugely popular and successful professional sports league as the backdrop, and the whole world watching, they hold the power. And they’re not about to squander the opportunity to make a statement.

Some white people may not understand the level of ire Sterling’s comments inspired. We’ve all heard the tapes. When it comes to racist tirades, I’ve heard much worse. So has every NBA player, I bet. If Mr. Sterling were a decent guy, I imagine the NBA front office and league players would be open to giving him a second chance… a hefty fine and a suspension probably, but not a lifetime ban. Who hasn’t said things they didn’t mean in the throes of an argument with a lover? Maybe dismiss it as the jealous rant of an old man whose mental faculties might be on the decline. But he’s not a decent guy. He’s a slum lord with a long history of racial discrimination. He’s the antithesis of what the NBA is trying to project. The tapes provided the league with the ammunition it needed to get rid of him, and they did.

Mr. Sterling will undoubtedly fight this to the bitter end. The matter could be tied up in litigation for years. If the courts inexplicably return the team to him or his estranged wife, we can surely expect much upheaval… probably a boycott by NBA players who would likely refuse to play in a league that includes Donald Sterling. It could be the end of the NBA as we know it. 

And I would support the players 100%.

Side note: Dear Lord, if I’m ever a billionaire, please grant me the wisdom to suspect that a girlfriend fifty years younger just might have ulterior motives.

09 April 2014

America is Beautiful in Many Languages

In 1971, when Coca-Cola launched its  "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad promoting peace and included a variety of races, it ignited an outpouring of protest among segregationists and war-mongers and isolationists and bigots - still clinging to the then not-so-distant past when “coloreds” used separate water fountains and Jim Crow ruled the day and races certainly did not intermingle in “perfect harmony” for all the world to see. And, oh, the audacity of a company as Americana as Coca-Cola promoting world peace during the Viet Nam war!

Fast forward to Super Bowl XLVIII and, well, I guess nothing much has changed.Promptly after Coca-Cola aired an ad with “America the Beautiful” sung in a number of languages, social media was littered with claims that the company was unpatriotic and plans to boycott its products.

Sadly, there exists a contingency of people still longing for the good old days when blacks rode in the back of the bus and gays stayed hidden in the closet and women in the kitchen and children were seen and not heard and everybody spoke proper English, y’all, and old white men ran the nation. Thank God those days are over because it’s most certainly not the America the beautiful in which I aspire to raise my mixed-race children. Its diversity, in my opinion, is what makes America beautiful.

What’s so scary about languages? English will always be the dominant language spoken in the USA. But, it’s certainly not the only one. Spend an afternoon at a café in SoHo or a tea house in the Castro and you’ll likely hear dozens of languages being spoken in the tables around you. Right here in America. That's really okay. Note: Chinatown is just as much a part of America as Lubbock, Texas.

There are supposedly 27 different languages represented at my daughters' elementary school - diversity that adds to the richness of their education and childhood and better prepares them to engage in the 21st Century multicultural world in which they live. So far, neither of my daughters has contracted any contagions as a result, nor are they leaning toward Socialism because they hear non-English words spoken every now and then.

America is a big ol’ country and there’s a place for everyone. I’m sure there are plenty of trailer parks or country clubs in sprawling suburbs where everyone looks, talks, thinks, loves and votes the same way. If that's your cup of tea, embrace it. Meanwhile, the rest of us can appreciate the inspirational message Coke was trying to send, even as we’re shocked, yet again, by the things that get labeled unpatriotic by some.

28 September 2013

Would You Let Your Child Play Football?

Would you let your child play football?

That’s a hot question these days as information about long-term medical problems among former players in the National Football League (NFL) continues to be revealed.  The NFL recently settled a lawsuit for $765 million involving thousands of its former players. The players claim that the league knew of the potential risk of brain damage due to repetitive concussions, but did little to educate them or prevent the injuries from occurring.

Some former players link their current medical conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and other neurodegenerative diseases to their football playing days. A recent study suggests that professional football players are three times more likely to have such conditions than the general population. 

The study, which was published September 5, 2012 in the medical journal Neurology, surveyed nearly 3,500 retired NFL players who were in the league between 1959 and 1988.

The NFL has taken major steps in recent years to make the game safer for its players, both in terms of equipment and protocol. In the past, though, whenever a player got his “bell rung” and wobbled to the sideline, he was sent right back into the game as soon as possible, exposing the player to further head injuries.

Obviously, there’s a big difference between Little League and the NFL. The massive size, speed and power of players competing at the highest level is in no way comparable to young kids just picking up the sport in elementary school. You won’t see the kind of violent collisions in Pee Wee games that you do on Monday Night Football.

On the other hand, there’s also a big difference in the quality of protective equipment used by pros versus youngsters. And, whereas qualified medical staff is always on the sidelines at practices and games for college and pro teams, that’s not the case for younger players.

The barrage of recent media coverage regarding the NFL lawsuit is shining a light on the dangers of the sport and making parents across the country wonder whether the risks are worth it.

Undeniably, football at any level is violent. Toughness is rewarded. To “shake off” an injury and get back in the game is seen as admirable.  That’s just part of the culture of the sport and true whether it’s the New York Jets or some Pop Warner team in Chapel Hill. Taping an ankle and limping back to the gridiron to the applause of the fans in the stands is one thing; returning to the line of fire once you’ve “shaken the cobwebs” after a blow to the head is an entirely different matter.

It’s hard for a parent to draw the line. Maybe youth leagues are safe but reservations start to creep in along about the junior high or high school level as the size, speed and power of its participants increase. Regardless of the dangers, the sport remains a very popular activity among young people. It is estimated that 3.5 million kids play in youth leagues and one million play in high school.

Most youngsters who play football don’t sustain serious injuries, although almost everyone who plays long enough will get a little banged up from time to time, a twisted ankle or bruised knee here and there.  Head injuries, however, aren’t as easy to detect as a twisted ankle and a bruised brain poses a much greater risk for problems down the road.

But how risky is it? A group of researchers in North Carolina and Virginia is hoping to shed some light on the subject, according to an article in Technology Review.  The researchers worked with two youth teams and one high school team, representing children aged 6-18, during the 2012-2013 football season. With helmets equipped with accelerometers, more than 16,000 head impacts were recorded and measured over the course of that season. Players were given neurological tests and brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography to look for changes in the brain before and after the season. Results are still being analyzed.

The researchers hope to develop tools to identify when a player has been hit hard enough, or repeatedly enough, to risk a concussion or other brain injury.

The decision can be a tough one for parents. Most of us want our kids involved in extracurricular activities and believe participating on an athletic team builds confidence and discipline. We may wonder whether football is really more dangerous than soccer or skateboarding or surfing or driving a car or other activities in which we allow our child to participate. Many of us have fond memories of Friday nights under the lights and feel like a hypocrite denying the same experience to our children.

Still, keeping our children safe is a fundamental task as a parent. Each family must consider the pros and cons and make a decision that’s right for their child. 

01 June 2013

A Note to My Classmates on the Occasion of Our Thirtieth High School Class Reunion

In the 30 years since graduation, we have seen the Berlin Wall come down,  the dawn of a new millennium, and our first non-white President (regardless of where you come down politically, this is an event once thought unimaginable), a technology explosion which is allowing me to sit in my living room on my iPad in my pj’s and communicate with classmates across the world. You would have all said I was crazy back then had I tried to explain Twitter or Facebook or Skype or YouTube… who could have pointed to Silicon Valley on a map… who wouldn't have been giddy at the idea of listening to any song ever recorded for free on ear-buds plugged into your phone that sounds just as good as the stereo in Michael Gann’s mustang?

We have a robot roving Mars sending back pictures and drones in the fields fighting our battles. We've seen fascists and dictators and empires rise…. and fascists and dictators and empires fall (repeat again)… and desert storms and Arab Springs and a meltdown in Chernobyl and New Orleans under water and our beloved Gulf of Mexico sullied with BP oil. A disease called AIDS we had never even heard of in 1983 has since claimed the lives of 30 million people.

We've seen our share of triumphs and tragedies…we all remember where we were when the space shuttle exploded and when the twin towers came tumbling down. Nelson Mandela was released from prison; OJ Simpson may spend the rest of his life there.  We've seen unprecedented wealth.  And unprecedented poverty. The stock market soared, the housing bubble burst. Many of us have brought children into the world. Many of us have said goodbye to our parents. Who knew back then: Madonna would still be relevant and the USSR wouldn't?

Take any three-decade chunk of time in world history and you’ll find good and bad, progress and setbacks, heroes and villains, optimists and naysayers…just like this time has seen. I would like to think that we've become a little more understanding, tolerant, compassionate, aware, sympathetic society and that the ties that bind us will trump the differences that seem to be tearing us apart (although sometimes I wonder).

My dad remembers a time when there were only a handful of cars in Marion County. He remembers seeing a black person for the first time. He remembers drawing water from a well and the first house he lived in that had electricity and remembers picking cotton from sunrise to sunset. Yet, he predicted our generation would experience even more change than his. He was right. Change is exponential. It’s happening at warp speed. And inevitable. Embrace it. Adaptability is the key to growing old gracefully.

ANYTHING is possible!

Stephen Raburn
HHS Class of 83

19 January 2013

What Bothers Me Most about the Manti Te’o Story

As everyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows by now, the story of the deceased girlfriend of grieving star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was all a hoax. Who knows whether Te’o was the victim or perpetrator? If I were a betting man, I’d say somewhere in the middle. I can imagine a scenario in which he fell for a girl on-line and then let things spiral out of control instead of ‘fessing up when he realized it was a ruse.

Or, Manti could be entirely complicit: he could have conjured the entire story from scratch as a carefully plotted strategy to win sympathy and, presumably, votes for the Heisman Trophy, as some have suggested. That’s weird, but somewhat plausible.

He claims he’s completely innocent, save for telling a few white lies about actually meeting the girl since he didn’t want his family to think he was nuts for falling in love with someone he’d never seen.

Only Manti Te’o knows the honest truth. 

What bothers me the most has been the reaction to the story.

My Facebook page and Twitter feeds have been littered with jokes and sneers about the situation since the story broke.

This isn’t a politician who asked for our trust and got caught with his pants down. This isn’t Lance Armstrong who deliberately set out to ruin people’s lives in the interest of gold and glory. This is a college kid who, chances are, did something really stupid and is paying for it today.  I don’t know about you, but I did a lot of really stupid things in college. Still do.

The kid owes his family and close friends an explanation. Apparently, he’s satisfied the University of Notre Dame, who came out in full support of him. As a casual college football fan, he owes me nothing.

If he were a punter on a Sun Belt Conference team, the story wouldn’t have made the back page of a single second rate weekly newspaper.

But he’s not. He’s the best player on one of the most notorious brands in sport. So, that gives everyone with a keyboard the right to poke fun, I guess.

In the overall scheme of things, I know Manti Te’o, who is poised to become a very wealthy individual come NFL draft day, is unaffected and likely unconcerned about what some hack in Spokane posts on his blog. To me, the bigger story is about who we are as a society:  quick to judge and quick to kick someone when they’re down.  Callous and uncompassionate and snarky and insensitive and hypocritical.

It’s a strange story, for sure. But, in the end, whether he brought it all on himself or not, a college kid who just happens to be a talented football player is having a rough day. He’s embarrassed, humiliated and probably kicking himself for letting things get this out of hand. To me, that’s just not funny.

21 December 2012

Tell the President, Congress to Stand Up to the NRA

People kill people. 

If we pass the strictest gun laws imaginable, people will still find guns and use them.

If we eradicate all guns from the planet, violent people will find other tools to carry out their violent acts.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't enact common sense gun laws in an effort to reduce the number of gun killings.

The NRA would like you to believe that those of us who support reasonable gun restrictions are unpatriotic or that we want to repeal the Second Amendment or that we all naively believe that gun control is a panacea to end all murders or that we want to take away all your guns.

None of that is true.

The NRA spews lies in order to incite paranoia and hysteria among a radical fringe of its membership.

The NRA is a powerful lobby that pretends to represent gun owners. In reality, it represents the deadly interests of arms dealers and gun manufacturers and has been astonishingly successful at blocking regulations that would make the country safer from gun violence.

Most gun owners are unaware of the organization's extreme stances that have blocked the passage of any significant piece of gun legislation in nearly two decades.

Through lobbying, campaign spending and propaganda, the NRA has helped defeat common sense gun measures that polls show an overwhelming majority of gun owners support, including: 

  • Efforts to limit the availability to purchase military-style semi-automatic assault rifles and high capacity ammunition clips (the kind that were recently used in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT). 
  • Efforts to restrict weapon sales to individuals on the US terrorism watch list. 
  • A United Nations Arms Trade Treaty which would have required countries exporting conventional weapons to certify that they weren't being shipped to a terrorist group or a nation under a UN arms embargo like North Korea or Iran.  
Due to a legal loophole the NRA is determined to keep in place, 40% of all guns are sold through private sellers who are not required to conduct a criminal background check. Over 80% of all gun owners (including 74% of NRA members) support criminal background checks on people buying guns.

In the past four years, a wave of measures across 37 states have made it easier to own, carry and conceal weapons.

America now has 300 million firearms, a barrage of NRA-backed gun laws, and record casualties from mass killers. 

The NRA relies on overly-simplistic rhetoric and bullet-point jargon. Guns don't kill people, they say.

That may be true, but unstable people with unfettered access to guns and an unlimited amount of ammunition kill people (thanks NRA). Guns may not kill people, but people who kill with guns kill a lot more people when they do kill people.

Reasonable, common sense gun control legislation is just one step - but a necessary first step - in addressing perhaps the greatest social issue facing our nation: the senseless deaths - through murder and accidents - of thousands of innocent people, including children, every year by gunfire.  

Did You Know?

  • The gun murder rate in the US is 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populace countries combined. Every one of those countries has stricter gun laws than the US.
  • Add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80% of those are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those countries, 87% were American children.
  • Killings with handguns last year: 48 in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 42 in Germany... and 10,728 in the US.
  • 32 Americans die from guns every day. 
  • The US loses more people to gun violence in six months than all the casualties of terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
Two common sense gun control measures we all should be able to agree on: 
  • A ban on the manufacture, possession, transfer, and sale of assault weapons, such as AK-47s and AR-15s. These weapons of mass destruction are intended for the military and law enforcement and designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible. They have no place in the general marketplace. Over time, a ban of these weapons will decrease the numbers in circulation and make it more difficult for people with sinister intent to get their hands on them. 
  • Close loopholes to ensure that felons, people with mental illnesses and perpetrators of domestic violence are not able to buy guns at gun shows and over the Internet. 
Please join me in demanding President Obama and Congress stand up to the NRA and do the right thing: pass reasonable gun control legislation in 2013.  

See: Pro Gun Myths Fact Check

Related articles: 
Smoking Gun
An Open Letter to the NRA                                                                                                                                                                                                

15 December 2012

Smoking Gun

Guns don’t kill people. 

But unstable people with unfettered access to guns and unlimited amount of ammunition kill people.

Guns don’t kill people. 

But people who kill with guns kill A LOT more people when they do kill people.

Killings with handguns last year: 48 in Japan, 8 in Great Britain, 34 in Switzerland, 52 in Canada, 42 in Germany.... and 10,728 in the US. Are we that much more morally bankrupt than these other countries? Or mentally unstable?                                                                                               
Mike Huckabee thinks it's because we don't make 3rd graders pray in class any more. Been to Amsterdam lately, Mike? Not exactly the most puritanical place on the planet, yet Holland has exponentially fewer gun murders than we do. 

Guns don't kill people? 

I'm over the overly-simplistic ideological slogans and rhetorical soundbites.

The gun murder rate in the US is 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populace countries combined. Every one of those countries has stricter gun laws than we do. Add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80% of those are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those countries, 87% were American children.

The gun lobby has one agenda: sell more guns to make more money. They buy politicians and dupe the naïve into believing it’s about the Constitution then laugh all the way to the bank with blood on their hands. Every one of its members is an accomplice to murder, in my opinion. One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and now we all take our shoes off at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine but not a single change in our regulation of guns. That's the power of the gun lobby.

Ultimately, everything that's wrong with the US comes down to one thing: greed. And that includes the senseless death of 20 innocent children and six innocent adults and one fragile gunman, hardly more than a child himself, at an elementary school in Connecticut on December 14, 2012.


12 December 2012

My Christmas Story

“You know Santa Claus isn’t real, don’t you?” my older brother asked me, somewhat exasperated at my naiveté.

“Yes,” I replied matter-of-factly, with my eyes rolling slightly.

In actuality, it was the first time I’d even considered the possibility. Now, I just felt stupid. Like I was the oldest kid in the world who still believed in Santa.

I asked my mama.

“Tommy said Santa Claus isn’t real. Is that true?”

“He’s real if you want him to be, son,” Mama said.

Maybe deep down I’d known for some time, but I wasn’t ready to let it go. Maybe I knew that, if I did, Christmas would never feel the same again and in the deep recesses of my mind I wanted to hold onto this little piece of childhood just a little while longer.

But things started to make better sense. Like when Mama told me not to expect too much for Christmas this year, times were tough. I knew times were tough but that didn’t really seem to matter when it came to being naughty or nice. Now I get it.

To say times were tough is an understatement.

The coal mine closed down and Daddy hadn’t worked in almost a year. We had food on the table but not much else. Daddy was gone a lot, I remember. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to learn that he spent most nights coon hunting and most days drinking moonshine from a still he had hidden in the woods behind the house. It’s hard on a man when he loses the only work he's ever known. I remember my mama crying a lot and being awakened in the middle of the night to the sounds of the two of them fighting.

Besides, it didn’t much feel like Christmas anyway. Most winters are mild in the deep south, but this year was even warmer than usual. All the trees were still covered with leaves until a vicious thunderstorm roared through and blew them all to the ground, just a couple days before Christmas. It hadn’t snowed in three or four years. I'd never experienced a white Christmas before and wanted one more than just about anything. Every night I prayed for snow. 

I fell asleep early on Christmas Eve, but was jolted awake just after midnight when I heard loud clanking and banging coming from somewhere. I was thinking that maybe another storm had come through and blown tree limbs onto the tin roof. I got up to investigate and that’s when I saw him, standing in front of the Christmas tree beside the fireplace. A man with a flowing white beard and red coat and black boots. It was Santa Claus.

Santa glanced at me and smiled a smile that danced across his entire face and called me over to him to give me a big hug.

“You are real, Santa,” I said.

“Of course I am,” he said. “Now where are my cookies, boy? Every year you leave me oatmeal cookies and a tall glass of milk.”

I ran as fast as I could to the kitchen and came back with cookies and milk for Santa and some for me too. His crystal blue eyes lit up when he saw them.

“I’m sorry for all the commotion. The reindeer got a little reckless landing on your roof tonight.” We both laughed.

Santa asked me if I could hold the bag open for him while he got out the presents, which were many more than I could have ever dreamed of – a bicycle for me, a basketball for my brother, a radio for my sister, a coat for Daddy and gloves for Mama... and so much more. The presents just kept coming until they were spilling out from under the tree and into the dining room.

Finally, after all the presents were put out and all the cookies eaten, Santa told me it was time for me to go back to bed and time for him to head to the next house, as he caressed my face with his gloved hand.

“But I have one more present for you,” he said. “Go look out the window.”

From the window, I watched Santa and his sleigh disappear into the black Winter sky then noticed the first flakes of snow begin to fall. It snowed the rest of the night and all of Christmas Day and most of the days leading up to New Years Eve. There’s no telling how many snowmen my brothers and sisters and I built or how many snowball fights we had in our back yard. We’d never laughed so hard in our entire lives.

The next Spring my daddy got a job in another town and we moved away. Mama and Daddy quit fighting and life got back to being normal. Many Christmas’s have come and gone since then, but that's the one I remember the most. I guess you can say it’s the best Christmas I ever had. It’s the one and only time I ever saw Santa Claus, but I’ve never since questioned his existence.

Now, when my children ask me if Santa Claus is really real, I always say “Yes, he is.”

He’s real if you want him to be.

13 November 2012

So, you want to sign a petition to secede from the Union, do you?

So, you want to sign a petition to secede from the Union, do you?

Ask yourself: How’d that secession thing work out for us the first time? Abraham Lincoln is rolling his eyes at the absurdity. What a mockery of the hell our fledgling country endured during the Civil War in order to preserve a more perfect union.  

It’s not surprising where these petitions are being circulated, which, for the most part, are the states of the old Confederacy; the sons and daughters of Jim Crow who can’t concede that a brown man is their leader. 

Do I think everyone who signs one of these petitions is racist? No. But I certainly believe racism is playing a role. And ignorance of history, as well. Mostly, it’s just about being a sore loser.

I get it. Both times Dubya won, I swore I was moving to Costa Rica. But I didn't.  I pouted for a while (like a child) and moved on (like a grown-up).

It’s time for all of us to put aside our petty differences and get down to the business of fixing the problems of our country. It sounds like Congressional leadership is finally striking a more conciliatory tone in the interest of moving the nation forward. You should too. 

Your window to pout is closing. Time to act like a grown up.

09 October 2012

This SEC Purist Having a Hard Time Accepting Mizzou into the Fold

As the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide prepares to travel to Columbia on Saturday to take on Missouri, I have to admit I’m still having a hard time accepting the Tigers into the SEC.

There are very few things in life about which I consider myself a traditionalist, college football being one exception. I’m just now warming up to the idea of South Carolina and Arkansas, some twenty years after they joined the conference. Don’t even bother asking my opinion of those hideous uniforms everybody's wearing these days.  

I know. Time marches on. The world evolves and that includes uniforms and athletic conferences. Nothing is permanent.  There was a time when Sewanee was a member of the SEC, after all.

Nostalgia is experienced through rose colored glasses. My good old days are charted by countless hours in my Alabama backyard pretending to run the wishbone alongside imaginary teammates as Paul “Bear” Bryant looked on with nodding approval from the sideline. The wishbone formation has long since found its way to some grandma’s attic next to a dusty typewriter and Thin Lizzy 8-tracks. But, in my nostalgia-warped mind, it represents Bama’s heyday, the Tide’s current dominance on the gridiron and its uber-successful coach notwithstanding.

When it comes to football, I'll admit that I'm a little bit stuck in the 70's. No, I don't think we need a playoff. Yes, I think it's fine for games to end in a tie. Yes, I think a 9-6 defensive slug-fest is a thing of beauty. And, yes, I think the SEC was fine the way it was.

I understand the economics of big time college sports and the motivation for adding the St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets into the equation. I know those high dollar television contracts help fund dozens of non-revenue sports across the conference. Revenue from major college football programs dwarfs other sports and other university departments. Football is money. And when so much of it is on the table, neither history nor geography are particularly relevant.

But come on. Missouri? Don’t you think a southern drawl should be among the criteria for inclusion in the Southeastern Conference? Do they even eat grits in Missouri?

To me, it’s more about sociology than athletics. Football is just different in the Deep South than it is in the rest of the world. The SEC is a source of tremendous pride among its residents who, perhaps, still have a chip on their collective shoulders and something of an inferiority complex - still fighting stigmas and stereotypes held over from Reconstruction and reinforced during the ugly days of the civil rights movement.

The South may still lag behind the rest of the country in numerous measures of well-being, but college football is something it does better than anybody else.

When we chant “SEC” in unison at our gargantuan sold out cathedrals it’s not so much about an athletic conference as it is about all things southern. It’s Major Ogilvie and Johnny Majors and Archie Manning and Pat Sullivan and Uga and The Swamp and the Iron Bowl. It’s about not having to explain why you don’t plan a wedding on the third Saturday in October. It's gravel roads and sweet tea and mama’s biscuits and Leonard’s Losers and kudzu and a congenital disdain for Notre Dame. Does all that fly in Springfield and Jefferson City?

Don't get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the University of Missouri - undeniably a fine institution of higher learning which will do well enough in most of the teams it fields.

I just don’t think they belong in the SEC, y’all. 

I bet "Bear" agrees with me.

21 September 2012

Romney's disdain for "those people" (the poor and the elderly)

Mitt Romney:

“There are 47 percent of the population who don’t pay taxes. That’s 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And so, my job is not to worry about those people; I’ll never convince them.”

Clarifying Romney’s numbers:

First of all, it's inaccurate to say that 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes at all. Most people pay state taxes, local taxes, and property taxes. Almost all pay sales tax, and most pay payroll tax. Only 18.1 percent of American households paid zero or negative federal income tax and zero or negative federal payroll tax in 2011. Of the 18.1 percent, more than half were elderly and most of the other half were non-elderly people making below $20,000 a year.

Whether it’s 47 percent or 18.1 percent, it is clear by his rhetoric and policy positions that Mr. Romney despises the poor and elderly (might as well throw in women and minorities while we’re at it).

Interestingly, among the 18.1 percent who paid no federal income taxes are approximately 3,000 people who made more than $2,178,866 in 2011 (putting them in the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers). Those people are likely hedge fund managers, real estate investors, or other wealthy financiers whose income comes primarily in the form of capital gains, which is taxed at a much lower rate than ordinary income. Combine the capital gains rate with a magical thing called a "tax-loss carryforward," which allows an investor to use last year's big loss to offset this year's gains for tax purposes, and voila — no federal income tax. Can we see some tax returns, please, Mr. Romney? Could it be that YOU are among the very group you're railing against?

In reality, Romney only cares about the wealthiest 1%, a vast majority of whom are white men like him. But, of course, it’s hard to win an election appealing to such a small minority, no matter how rich and powerful. So he does what his party has been doing for decades now: pandering to the gullible evangelical right - using deception and fear-mongering to cloud real issues, laughing (probably at them) all the way to the bank and in some cases into office.

It’s unrealistic to believe that the entirety of the “other 99%” will wise up and see Romney for who he is: a greedy and uncompassionate liar. Thankfully, enough seem to be catching on to prevent him from being the next president of the United States.

12 August 2012

An Open Letter to My NRA Supporter Friends about Assault Weapons

Dear NRA friend, 

Please remind me again exactly why it should be legal to manufacture and sale assault weapons in the US? 


I'm not trying to pick a fight. But for the life of me, I just can't figure this one out. I'd like to understand your rationale.

In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I don't like guns. I don't own one and likely never will. I have no interest in shooting anyone or anything. I don't even know how. I do, however, respect the 2nd Amendment and your right to own a gun to protect your family from me if I choose to break into your house or to go hunting turkeys in Tennessee or moose in Montana if that floats your boat. 

But do you really need an AR-15 assault rifle that can hold 100 rounds (the kind James Holmes legally bought and used to open fire in a crowded Colorado theater recently) or an AK-47 (the kind that’s being legally bought at gun shows along the border and smuggled to Mexico to arm drug warlords)?

Weapons that were intended for the military to kill as many people as quickly as possible? Weapons of mass destruction?

Yes, you have the right to bear arms. But civilizations evolve. The need for arms is very different in the suburbs in 2012 than it was on the frontier in the 1700's. I bet our founding fathers are rolling around in their graves at how you guys interpret the 2nd Amendment to justify your obsession with weapons.

Should Kroger have an Atomic Bomb aisle or your corner Handy Pantry sell hand grenades? Of course not. Reasonable restrictions on the sale of weapons isn't a radical, socialist position.  Or a threat to your rights as an American citizen.  Banning assault weapons seems like a reasonable restriction to me. 

Do I think it is a panacea? No. I agree with you that the bad guys will always come up with tools with which to carry out their bad deeds. But I do think we should at least make it a little harder for them. I think an inadequate and woefully underfunded mental health system in the US is equally to blame for the kind of violent acts we've been seeing lately (but that's a topic for another day). 

To be honest, it doesn't really make me feel so safe to think that good guys like you have an arsenal in your attic.  I think there are a lot of vigilante wannabes out there itching to dust off the oozie, which is kinda scary to me. Everybody has the potential to snap one day, ya know. 

But let’s be honest. The gun lobby in DC is untouchable. You’ll win this one.

Still, I want to understand your perspective. Tell me something good that comes from this type of ammo being in the marketplace? What's the benefit? I'm honestly having a hard time coming up with one. 

Fire away.


Stephen Raburn (baffled pacifist)