Miscellaneous

Items that simply don’t fit any place else.

The Cost of Saints & Sinners: How Hitler & FDR Came To Us As Saviors, But Only Hitler Left a Scourge

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Believe it or not, I actually see more parallels between FDR and Hitler than I do with Hitler and other superficially similar despots and tyrants. I think to understand the analogy, you must seem them as two sides of the same coin. They rose to power from the ashes of World War I and the Great Depression, stepping into a power vacuum that needed to be filled by a strong and decisive leader, with a steady hand. It may seem an unlikely story, with their radically divergent backgrounds and life stories, but necessity is the mother of invention, and these two men reinvented themselves, and gave the country what it thought it wanted. But only one delivered on most of his promises.

Hitler grew up relatively poor, and after his father died at 13, was raised by a single mother. Young Adolf was a very bad student, and did not do well in school. He was painfully average and unremarkable, and for many years, was lost and directionless. He eventually decided to be an artist, but between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, young Adolf neither worked to earn his keep, nor formally studied, but had gained an interest in politics and history. During this time he unsuccessfully applied for admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He had grown up without a disciplined hand to guide him, and had lived a life so unremarkable, it was the perfect breeding ground for hate, resentment, unchecked ego, and ruthless ambition. Hitler was going to be somebody, whatever it took! He was a self-made man and had carefully crafted every aspect of himself, and his fingerprints can be seen all over the Nazi Party aesthetic and fastidious attention to detail. They are perhaps, the most carefully worded message the world has ever seen. All brilliantly branded by Adolf Hitler himself.

On the other side of the ocean, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born a scion of a very wealthy and powerful American family, fawned over and cultivated…bred…for success and future positions of power. He attended the elite institutions of Groton School and Harvard College. In 1905, he married Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he had six children. He entered politics in 1910, serving in the New York State Senate, and then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. In 1920, Roosevelt ran for vice president alongside presidential candidate James M. Cox but the Cox/Roosevelt ticket lost to the Republican ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921, which cost him the use of his legs and put his political career on hold for several years. Roosevelt attempted to recover from this illness, and founded a treatment center for polio patients in Warm Springs, Georgia. After returning to political life by placing Alfred E. Smith’s name into nomination at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt was asked by Smith to run for Governor of New York in the 1928 election. Roosevelt served as a reform governor from 1929 to 1932, and promoted the enactment of programs to combat the Great Depression that occurred during his governorship. From birth, Roosevelt had been bred to lead and succeed, but also was taught that the wealthy have an obligation to help those less fortunate, and should always be committed to making everyone’s life easier and more comfortable. This last detail is perhaps the most important in understanding the psyches of these two men. To borrow the famous trope, one was the devil on the shoulder of his country, with the sweet voice of an angel. Although far from flawless, the other was closer to an angel on his country’s shoulder, as he labored tirelessly on their behalf. One was motivated solely by personal vengeance and ego, the other by a genuine commitment to improving the conditions of his country and providing relief. (and no doubt, some vanity and legacy building as well).

Where the two men come together, is in the circumstance of despair, which made both of their respective countries desperate and willing to listen to anyone who could promise to end their nation’s agony. Hitler and FDR inherited desperate countries in the midst of cataclysmic financial despair, and at a time when former leaders were seen as weak and ineffectual and also to blame for their country’s turmoil (America: Herbert Hoover + Germany: Paul von Hindenburg). There was an historic power vacuum and it set the stage for a perfect storm scenario, allowing a strong and decisive leader to step in and save the nation. America needed a savior, just as Germany needed a Führer.

Working on both sides of the ocean, both enjoyed considerable and unprecedented power, virtually unchecked or questioned. Both countries needed a Messiah or a Moses to deliver them from their despair. They both had countries at their disposal, and both could have hypothetically gone either way. They had the power, the skill, the ironclad will, the confidence, the charisma, and most importantly, the keys to the city and mandate of the people. But that’s where their paths would split, as one man chose the path of evil and destruction, and the other chose good will and charity to provide comfort and relief to his country’s tired, poor, and huddled masses. Hitler set to the business of sowing the seeds of hatred, and convincing a country it could be powerful once again, if only it rid itself of the “Jewish Problem,” Hitler saw a defeated and vulnerable country with no self-esteem, and exploited it by flattering their vanity and praising them for the virtue of their heritage, and persuaded them to embrace their racial and cultural superiority. Finally, he convinced them to hunt down and punish their Jewish and minority neighbors, massacre them in camps, and even fight another World War all for the glory of country and racial superiority. All this was conceived and executed in less than ten years, and resulted in the deaths of millions and another catastrophic collapse of Germany.

If Hitler represents the devil on each of our shoulders, FDR is our angel, truly delivering us from despair. Both rose to power from out of the ashes of the first World War. Germany lost, and was plunged into financial ruin and widespread poveryy and misery. The country was literally hungry for a solution…any solution…the Final Solution. America had won the war, and their fates couldn’t have been any more different. Unlike Germany’s dire conditions, the United States spent the next decade enjoying unprecedented wealth and lavish indulgence, using peacetime as a celebratory Bacchanalian festival of pleasure and good times. The ‘roaring twenties’ came to a tragic and abrupt end on October 24, 1929 when the Stock Market crashed cataclysmically, and the country was thoroughly unprepared for the consequences, and found itself unable to recover. The free and unregulated ’20s had stripped away safety measures and failsafes, and provided a means for Black Tuesday to occur. The Great Crash, or the Stock Market Crash of 1929 was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, when taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout. The country was plunged into economic despair, and Americans were desperate, with an unemployment rate at an unimaginable 33% and people unable to feed their families. The country was vulnerable and looking for answers. The country was so crippled and hungry, it might have done just about anything to make itself stronger. Germany was in the same place. Germans had been so desperate, they allowed themselves to be deceived by an evil and unscrupulous con man, who was so good at being bad, he convinced them to kill the innocent and help him conquer the world. Could we have done such things had FDR been a Hitler, and motivated by personal vengeance and retribution towards Jews? Could America have punished its minorities? It did. FDR managed to convince America it needed to inter its Japanese population for the safety of the American people. And we listened. We allowed it to happen, Although a gross injustice, America was spared further shame, as FDR tried hard to work in our best interests, and use whatever tools at his disposal. To solve the country’s woes, it was going to take unprecedented moves, and swift, decisive action. It was going to take a leader with enough courage to think outside the box, and deliver something so audacious, it might actually work. And he did. We call it The New Deal. Roosevelt defeated incumbent Republican president Herbert Hoover in November 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression.

Energized by his personal victory over polio, FDR used his persistent optimism and activism to renew the national spirit. In his first hundred days in office, which began March 4, 1933, Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). He created numerous programs to support the unemployed and farmers, and to encourage labor union growth while more closely regulating business and high finance. The repeal of Prohibition added to his popularity, helping him win reelection by a landslide in 1936. The economy improved rapidly from 1933 to 1937, and although it worsened and fluctuated afterwards, the relief was delivered, and the medicine had mostly done its work. The country was on the mend, and strong enough to breathe on its own. Then Pearl Harbor. Perhaps no one had made the connection between the two men’s similar power-grabs and sweeping reforms and legislation, but now there was no ignoring the fact that these two leaders of strong and powerful nations were now at odds, and there would only be one victor. After World War I, America had become very isolationist and pacifist, and was very wary of engaging in any conflict. The stories coming over from Europe were sad and regretable, but not urgent enough to compel the country to take up arms and join England and the rest of the Allies in opposing this madman, Adolf Hitler. And then came the “date that will live in infamy.” Some conspiracy nuts actually point to FDR and suggest he orchestrated Pearl Harbor to give Americans the motivation to join the war. The economy had slumped, and the President knew he needed more than another jobs package. Although he never shared it with us, Roosevelt knew that although lethal and repugnant, war was also very profitable. It might just be what the country needed. It was a war fought ideologically, to protect our freedoms and that of our neighbors, but also fought economically, to make America rich again and ensure our continued success.
Hitler and Roosevelt would clash on the field of battle by proxy, yet neither of them would live to see the end of the war. Yet before they died, they each effectively saw who won. FDR died unexpectedly, but the narrative and legacy were continued by his successor, Harry Truman. The end was in sight for Roosevelt, and it was now just a matter of endgame. Germany was broken and all but defeated, and had retreated back into the depths of Germany. Hitler was isolated and cut off in his bunker, as the Americans approached from the West and the Russians came in from the East. The war was won in all but over in Europe, but still stubbornly raged in the Pacific. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly on April 12, 1945, just two weeks before Hitler took his own life.  FDR knew he had won. Or at least set the stage for Truman to win. Truman was left with having to make one of the hardest decisions any President can ever make: using a catastrophic weapon of mass destruction to annihilate nearly 200,000 innocent people in order to end the war and save countless other innocent lives. It was a no-win situation, and only time will decide if it was the right decision. Either way, it achieved its intended goal, and the war was ostensibly over. If Truman’s difficult choice to end life so catastrophically was hard, perhaps Hitler’s decision to end his own life was easy. Adolf Hitler was a fierce man of conviction and unwavering pride, and he would not suffer such indignity at the hands of mixed-bred and impure weaklings. There was no room for defeat, and he would never be anyone’s prisoner. Functioning as Dictator of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler had effectively started World War II with its invasion of its neighbor, Poland, to the East. His invasion of France, England, Scandanavia, Northern Africa, and elsewhere ensured that his will was world domination, and he was willing to fight any country who stood in his way. Back at home, and in surrounding countries, Hitler had build a vast and extensive network or labor and death facilities, called ‘Concentration Camps” where his troops enacted ‘The Final Solution’ — the mass extermination of European Jewry and other undesirable races and minorities. The Nazis were responsible for exterminating at least six million Jews, and at least 6-8 million other non-Jewish minorities. There had never been any systematic slaughter of this magnitude in the world before Adolf Hitler, nor since, and that is the greatest worst legacy any man could ever have. His Holocaust would never be forgotten, nor would he. Perhaps that’s all he ever wanted: our attention.

Bernie Sanders: The New Hope or the No Hope? How I Bet Against Bernie & Pissed Off My Party

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Bernie Sanders is an incredible man. I recently took one of those quizzes on Facebook, which try and match you to the candidate who most closely aligns with your opinions and shares your same values. I got Bernie Sanders at 98%!!! That’s higher than anyone else I know. I look at his views and proposals and really see someone I can relate to. He does indeed share my hopes and dreams for this country. I think Bernie Sanders is right for America. I just don’t think America is right for Bernie Sanders. Because Bernie might be right for this country, but far too left for its people. Bernie Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist. He might as well have said he was an ISIS Communist. America simply does not trust anything with Socialist in the title. I’m not saying I agree with this notion. On the contrary, I actually like a good deal of socialism, and think it would solve many of this country’s urgent problems. However, my views are not the opinions of mainstream America. Although we’ve had a momentous week, with Marriage Equality passing and the Affordable Care Act being upheld and protected, don’t think we are anywhere close to being a progressive nation. As many of us were thrilled and relieved to have won equality for gays and lesbians last Friday, nearly 50% of this country was in shock and disbelief, as they felt their core values had been betrayed and the sanctity of marriage had been dealt a crushing blow. THAT’S the country we live in. It is deeply divided, and that is why it is absolutely imperative that we run candidates who can appeal to both parties, or more specifically, those in the middle…the swing voters and independents, who vote both ways, and need to be convinced that we have their best interests at heart in our party. Many of them lean a certain way, but are still undecided and hesitant. They need gentle coaxing, and need to be convinced. This can only happen with a candidate whose message and platform is more aligned with the middle, and is a moderate progressive, with Main Street America values, and a willingness to work with the opposite party. He can’t be an extremist or firebrand, who invites the scorn and criticism from the Right and the distrust of middle America. He can’t be Bernie Sanders.

As I’ve said, I like Bernie Sanders, and I think he shares my values and has a clear idea of what America should look like. I share this vision. However, we have different ideas about how to achieve these goals. Bernie wants to barnstorm the nation, overtake Hillary, and win with a clear and overwhelming mandate from the people. In office, he hopes to enact unprecedented sweeping change, and start making America a country which serves all its citizens, not just a few privileged whites at the top. I love the idea of Bernie, I just can’t see that happening. If a relatively moderate President like Barack Obama can’t get most of his legislation passed, and has faced unprecedented opposition and bitter personal enmity from a Republican held Congress, Sanders would really have no shot of getting anything done. His far left extremist views are scorned and ridiculed by the Right, and they would defy his rule even more than they have Obamas. 

When I say that I’ll vote for Hillary if she makes the ticket, even though I seriously like Bernie Sanders and agree with his policies, I am not “selling out” or “settling,” but simply hedging my bets, and aligning myself with a winner. The end game is everything, and I’m in it, to win it. That sometimes means you can’t wait around for Mr. Right, but rather, take home Mr. Right now. Because he — or she, as the case may be — is there right now, and has the best shot of winning. What some may call ‘settling’ I call ‘compromising’ and hedging your bets. Why? Because we had to “settle” for George W. Bush for eight years, two wars, thousands of lives, billions of dollars, irreparable damage to the environment, the appointment of two SCOTUS justices, the squandered good will of the world, and countless legislative damage and attacks on women, minorities, and LGBT rights. All because a large enough number of liberals decided to vote their conscience, and cast a vote for Ralph Nader. Sure, Sanders isn’t a third party candidate, so he’s not going to steal votes from Hillary, but we still have to treat him with skepticism. Is it jaded and less than ideal? Yes. But it’s also realistic and pragmatic.

In order to beat the Republicans, we have to start thinking like them. And taking a page out of their playbook. Do you think the majority of Republicans wanted Mitt Romney as their next Commander in Chief? Probably not. But you’d never know it, because those people know how to win and organize, and get out the vote. They come together, because they smartly know this is bigger than one man or one woman. This is the future of the party and the country. They supported Mitt because he was Republican enough to get ‘er done! Liberals shoot themselves in the foot over and over while they dream of electing the next Martin Luther King, Jr. but refuse to understand that we must throw our support behind who’s most electable. So yeah, in the REAL world, it’s always about choosing the lesser of two evils, if you want to phrase it that way. I’d prefer to say the one with the broader appeal and the more competitive edge. We have to keep in mind that we’re not just nominating a candidate that satisfies all us lefty liberal socialists, and embodies every single one of our hopes and values. Of course, that should always be the aim. Realistically, we’re just trying to get one of our guys in the White House, and once there, can let down their hair and get on with the liberal agenda. At this point, we’re putting forward a candidate not just for us, but for that guy in Ohio who has never voted Republican before, but just doesn’t feel comfortable with Bernie’s views on gun control and what he calls the “socialist agenda.” He doesn’t know if he’s on our team yet, but we know he’s not on the Right’s. He’s ostensibly a Democrat, but spooks easily. Sanders doesn’t live on Main Street, U.S.A. Many are alienated by the stereotypical and much maligned lefty liberal. Sanders embodies this image: a well educated rich elite liberal, New York Jew and Vermont transplant, peacenik-hippie, drives a Volvo, self-described Democratic-Socialist, fervent environmentalist, aggressive in taxing the wealthy, anti-business, outspoken social activist, anti-gun, pro-union and co-ops. and the list goes on. While all of these things sound good to me, they tend to alienate the mainstream, and we lose voter confidence. We need to win the hearts and minds of these swing and undecided voters. Whether you choose to accept it or not, Bernie Sanders is not in the mainstream of American culture, as much as I wish we lived in that country. We have to accept that change comes from within, and the only way to get IN the door is to be at least a little bit moderate and attractive to middle of the road voters. I’m not suggesting a candidate adopt the Republican platform, and give up on the core beliefs and values cherished by liberals everywhere. I’m simply saying that whether I like her or not, Hillary is more of an electable centrist and a far stronger and viable candidate than Bernie Sanders. At least right now. If he keeps barnstorming the country and gaining support, his momentum could carry him all the way to the generals. If that were to happen, I still don’t think he’d beat a more moderate and appealing Republican like Jeb Bush. The only person I could see beating Jeb right now, is Hillary. I don’t have to love HER, but I have to love the party enough that I compromised and accepted a second choice winner over a first choice loser. I don’t think it’s cowardly or dishonest to compromise. That’s what life and politics are about. We simply cannot afford a Bush III Presidency. If that means Bernie takes one for the team, then so be it. Roe v. Wade lives to see another day. And gay marriage continues to be the law of the land. We’re running a marathon here, not a sprint, and we’ve got to prepare for the long game. Or else the Right beats us every time!

I didn’t make the rules of the world, but I acknowledge they exist. I can vote my conscience and feel good about my vote, but gutted about the fact that I just voted a third Bush into office. My problem with some liberals is that they plan for a world that they’d like to live in, whereas Republicans acquire what they need to exploit and profit from the world that we’re actually in. Liberals dream of the ideal America, where everyone is included and valued, whereas Republicans live in their ideal America, and do whatever it takes to preserve it and ensure it doesn’t change. They even takes steps to turn back the clock, and take away hard-won freedoms, and reverse the progressive course of history and our evolving nation. They make no apologies, and they rule with an iron fist. Because Republicans feel they are governed and guided by a higher power, that ensure their victory, and they make decisive decisions based on a black and white absolutist interpretation of right and wrong, and how the hierarchy of this nation and world should work. There’s a pecking order in the GOP, and it’s a survival of the fittest, dog eat dog world. Ironic, considering their views on Evolution. The point is, where Democrats apologize and feel bad about stepping on feet and speaking up for what they need and believe, Republicans will step all over us, and not feel remorse or regret for their actions. They know they’re doing God’s work. We think we’re doing the work of the people. Don’t get me wrong. We need dreamers and visionaries like Dr. King and RFK. They had a vision of a better tomorrow for blacks and whites, women and men, and everyone under the sun. That kind of prophetic forward thinking fueled the Civil Rights movement and the recent Marriage Equality victory. That’s the heart and soul of the Democratic party, and I would never suggest we leave those ideals behind. All great change begins with a dream. But we also need practical thinkers, who can compete with Republicans, and bring the fight to them. We need team players, and if that means insider career politicians, then so be it. 

This party could use more pragmatism, and short and long-term strategy. We could learn a lot from the Republicans. As much as I would like to see him do it, I personally don’t think Bernie Sanders is likely to storm the White House and enact sweeping change across America. His politics are simply not digestible to many Americans. The ones we need. The middle. We still share this nation with another 50% who vehemently oppose most of what we stand for, and the future we envision for our children. And as they have proven, they will do WHATEVER it takes to maintain the status quo and ensure their conservative agenda. They’re a machine over there, and they stay on message. The Republican Party is a dependable brand, and a known quantity. Voters know what they’re getting. And those people…we don’t need their votes. They’re gonna vote for the Right no matter who we run. 

It’s all of those others, who are good, decent, hard working Americans, who see the virtues and pitfalls in both sides, and simply need to be convinced. Is this strategizing and compartmentalizing good for American politics? Probably not. But nobody sitting on the front steps of the Capitol ever crafted and passed legislation, and no one outside the front gate of the White House ever signed it into law. Like it or not, you have to first sit down in the chair, before you can stand up for what you belief in. You have to win it, to begin it.

The dilemma is this. Pragmatists like me are considered by many in my party as jaded, a slave to a broken system, and mercenaries willing to sell out their values to play in this game of political bloodsport. Without the infusion of new voices and fresh hope, there is no possibility for change and a more peaceful and loving society. While this theory sounds legitimate in the abstract, in the practical world, things aren’t quite so black and white. We live in a world of shades of grey, and where strategy, deals, and compromise wins elections. Look no further than another Vermonter — Howard Dean to prove that. He had this same kind of momentum and was a firebrand out on the trail. He preached a message of hope and social justice, and many of the same things Bernie’s articulating and inspiring people with today. Howard Dean was decidedly an outsider, and refused to play the game of Washington. He fashioned himself the liberal crusader, who was going to storm Washington and use intellect and the might of the right to change a broken system. Then came the Dean Scream, and his campaign was effectively dead in the water. I don’t expect Bernie will make the same mistake, but the parallels still remain. The analogy is this: it’s relatively easy to inspire and whip up the base into liking you. Of course his fundraisers and campaign rallies are overflowing with devoted Bernie acolytes. What would you expect? Those are the people who are supposed to love and respect him. He is the embodiment of all our ideals. He is the poster boy for liberal integrity and social justice. Sadly, those aren’t the people he needs to convince. It’s the rest of America.

Very few extremists of note have ever won an election in this country. Many of you argue with me, and insist that Bernie is not an extremist, and actually is quite mainstream. You are sadly deluded. Maybe to you he is mainstream, because you drive a Saab and work as a professor at Middlebury, in Vermont, live in a 19th Century restored Victorian farmhouse, are active in the local green party, belong to a co-opt, act in your town’s local community theatre, and in the 1960s, you worked on RFK’s campaign and attended Woodstock. Sure, in your world, Bernie shares all YOUR middle of the road values. The reality, my friend, is that you live in a progressive cultural bubble of liberal hegemony, and Main Street, America does not take a left through Vermont. Sanders actually refers to himself as a Democratic Socialist. As I said earlier, to many in this country, he might as well have said he was an ISIS Communist. It’s not fair, and it’s not rational, but it’s reality. And this is a campaign of reality. Real lives are at stake. Rights of minorities and the health of every American. And as much as I’d like to live in the land of tomorrow, I think we enact change from within today. Hell, we just passed Marriage Equality and Affordable Healthcare. And who did that? It wasn’t some crusading liberal outsider with an eye to radical social revolution. It was very real justices who were appointed by a very real winning mainstream politician. That person began as a candidate, winning the hearts and minds of middle America, where Joe the Plummer lives, not Andy Warhol. It doesn’t mean radical artists and great visionaries aren’t welcome in the party. We need those people. But Americans want to vote for and elect someone who looks like them, and shares their same values.

The reality of America is that most people fall somewhere in the middle. They distrust ALL politicians, but especially the loud and bombastic zealots from the extreme left and extreme right. Now, I’m not saying Sanders is zealous or radical liberal, but he is a self-described Democratic Socialist, and he favors policy proposals similar to those of mainstream social democratic governments in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. That may not sound unreasonable or undesirable to us bleeding heart liberals, but to the average or slightly conservative American, he might as well have said he’d like to take away all of America’s guns or make Islam the national religion. To many people, socialism is a scourge to society, and spreads like the cancer of Communism — an even worse and more maligned term in this country. The opinion of many Americans is that socialists are anti-capitalism, and rely on taxing the well-earned money of hard-working Americans, in order to subsidize the poor, indolent, lazy, minorities, and otherwise unproductive leeches of society.  They have falsely learned to distrust socialized healthcare, maternity and paternity leave, free education, patronage of the arts and museums, comprehensive welfare and government subsidies, and other social programs. They listen to scare tactics about how single-payer free and socialized healthcare is dangerous and kills thousands of innocent sick people every year, with its long lines and substandard quality and facilities. We have actually come to believe this preposterous propaganda. The point is, whether we like it or not, the truth is, the majority of Americans believe some version of this lie. Socialism is a dirty and obscene word in this country, and that makes Bernie Sanders a dirty and obscene candidate. He believes in the fair distribution of wealth, corporate accountability, is a pacifist, argues passionately for social justice and for rights still divisive and threatening to many, can appear very anti-business, believes in far-reaching regulations, wants to completely overhaul campaign financing, seeks to heavily tax the rich,  and many more controversial issues for voters. You can only deny the truth for so long. Bernie may be storming rallies and fundraisers now, and he may have already captured your heart, mind, and vote, but this is a flash in the pan and unsustainable.

Liberals are such dreamers, and get so excited for moral crusaders and radical revolutionaries, we forget to vote for the candidate who can actually win us the White House. The one who actually signs bills, and actually appoints justices, and actually has their finger on the button and starts wars. We need to think in actual terms, in the real world, and who we can actually elect. Dreamers are great because they inspire and motivate the liberal base, but they’re rarely the ones who win elections. Even the unrealistic and improbable win of Barack Obama wasn’t as radical and unprecedented as we may think. Obama was relatively moderate, and had certainly called for change and made progressive moves, but he was still palatable for mainstream America. He was like the nice boy your daughter brought home for dinner. He was polite, well spoken, intelligent, funny, talented, and respectful of all your family values, even when he didn’t always agree. He had dignity and integrity, and Americans realized that. They saw a rags to riches story of one man overcoming impossible odds and an improbable ascent to the highest office in the land. His story was our story, and Obama embodied the American Dream. The color of his skin was more of an asset than a liability. We voted him in for his merit, but also because we collectively thought it was time, and a black man deserved to be President. Obama whispered quiet change, but spoke loudly for an America everyone could enjoy. He advocated justice, but ruffled relatively few feathers. He was acceptable to middle America, and for a brief time, Obama lived on Main Street, U.S.A.

Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama, Most people think of Sanders as an elite educated New York Jew, who moved to Vermont and ran for office. They see him as a social activist, and do not see themselves in him. The Sanders we’re seeing selling out stadiums and overflowing campaign rallies is energizing the base and whooping up a frenzy in the left wing liberal demographic. But again, that’s NOT AMERICA. Sanders will face just as much distrust and scorn as Howard Dean did before him, and Ralph Nader did before that, and generations of far left extreme candidates, who keep the party honest and inspired, but ultimately cannot hope to win the highest seat in the land. Change comes from within, and in baby steps. The Republicans are pragmatists, and do what is ultimately best for the party, even if that means sacrificing a man who most embodies their message. Democrats need to start being just as ruthless with their candidates. As painful as it is for me to say, it is always about more than just one man. And I say that with the knowlege that the Civil Rights party most certainly would not have been the same without MLK and the 1968 Presidential Race would looked completely different without RFK. We likely would not have had Nixon, more Vietnam, and certainly not Watergate. Individuals CAN change the world. But most of them did it from within, as much as without. MLK used mild civil disobedience, but he met with the President and opposing leaders, and he used peaceful protest and civil law to achieve his goals. No war. No revolution. Just peace and ideas. More recently, gay and lesbian Americans have been working tirelessly for over two decades (at least!), in an effort to win rights and change legislation barring them from marriage, inheritance, and discrimination in the workplace. They have achieved remarkable hate crime legislation and other protections, but the crowning achievement came last Friday, when they won Marriage Equality with a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in their favor. It was a momentous and historic day. Yet it didn’t come about through radical change, or violent revolution. It came about slowly (actually, quite rapidly, compared to gender and racial equality). and it was achieved through measured legislative change and lobbying. It came about through winning the hearts and minds of the American public. Because some house wife started to watch Ellen, and “really liked her, even if she is gay.” They wore down our “traditional family values” as generations of black Americans had worn us down to prepare for Obama. He stands on the shoulders of giants, as do gays everywhere, stand on the shoulders of men like Harvey Milk. CHANGE COMES FROM WITHIN, AND IN SMALL GAINS.

As much as we’d all like to immediately live in one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, it doesn’t work like that. Dream big, change small. It’s better than NOT getting elected, and not only being unable to make changes for the better, but have to suffer the Right making changes for the worse, and rolling back the rights and liberties we’ve won. We simply can’t afford another eight years of Bush III. That’s the reality. If Bernie can promise me that, then I’d love to vote for the man. And I likely will vote for him in the primary. But when it counts, I’m going to vote for who I think can win and protect and fight for my values and way of life. Voting my conscience is about more than just voting for one good man. It’s about voting for anyone who can ensure my way of life and the values I hold dear. My “conscience” sleeps just fine knowing my vote counted, and I put one of our guys in the only chair that matters.

If #LoveWins & #HateLoses, I Dare You To #LovetheLoser

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“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” —Galileo Galilei

I saw this quote, and I thought it applied to the recent victory for marriage equality. Not the long journey to get to that point, nor the win itself, but these next few days….these next few years….these next few decades. These are the ever important next few delicate steps. It’s not how you handle defeat, so much as how you handle victory. How will we conduct ourselves? The answer to that question might very well hold the fate of relations between the Left and the Right in this country, and for generations to come. We must walk proudly, but tread lightly. Naturally, these are happy times for equality and social justice, but I think it’s important to remember that while it may be a milestone for what the LGBT community has won, it’s also a time when the whole other half of the country grapples with all they have lost. So what? They’re bigots and they deserve to lose. To the victor go the spoils. While I completely agree with the sentiment, I am wary of where it may lead.

Of course those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history, and bigotry is savage and unacceptable in any civilized society. No one has the right to legislate another person’s body, dictate who they should love, or deny them the right to marry whomever they please. Those are innate and inalienable rights, and those who disagree, deserve to be called to task. They’re in for a fight! It’s not that I’m suggesting we don’t hold these bigots accountable, but only that we look to the way in which we do it. Calling them ignorant slobs and white trash gun nuts and religious zealots is not exactly the most tactful way to win the hearts and minds of a group as wide and diverse as we are. Some may foolishly oppose Evolution, others may fly Confederate flags, and still others may try and pray your gay away, but they are human beings, and deserve our respect and attention. To give someone your undivided and open-minded attention is one of the greatest gifts a human being can endow another with. I”m not suggesting we agree or validate their opinions, or even that we not argue our side of the issue. Of course. I’m just saying that the Right isn’t the only hateful and hostile side in this debate. We on the Left do a disservice to ourselves and this country when we sweepingly dismiss nearly half the country as idiots, and speak to them as if they unquestionably were. That’s one out of every two Americans. Is THAT bitter enmity acceptable in a civilized society?

I used to teach high school in the inner city to poor, at-risk black students, and I can’t even describe the kind of severe learning deficits these kids possessed, and the kind of unthinkable classroom behavior I dealt with day in and day out. If you were to walk into my classroom, and see kids climbing the walls, braiding each other’s hair, throwing sunflower seed shells on the floor, and very little learning being done, you would likely question my abilities as a teacher. But if you saw these ninth graders barely reading at a fifth grade level, and kids that knew nothing of basic grammar, you might begin to shift the blame on them. After all, every class you had seen that day was the same, and every kid struggled to succeed. Perhaps you might choose to make generalizations about race, and conclude that black kids are less intelligent than whites, and have far greater intellectual deficits. If so, you wouldn’t be alone. I knew many teachers in my time in education that came to the same conclusion, and that attitude was evident in the way they taught and disciplined their students of color. For the rest of us moral crusaders and bleeding heart liberals, we held onto the truth that it was no wonder these kids lagged behind. Most came from difficult single working mother families with few positive male role models, and even less exposure to adults with degrees and diplomas. They also attended horrible underfunded schools with overworked and overtaxed teachers like me, who were trying to undue a system that had failed them, in the course of a single school year. That’s an impossible task, as we all know. My point is, until you’ve walked in another person’s shoes, you don’t know their true journey. Sure, what’s there to know about hatred and bigotry? Who cares? Evolve and be civilized! But I could have thought those very same things about those kids. I could have determined they were dumb, and effectively given up on them, That’s what many of their teachers before had done, and what society did long ago. But I got to know them as people, and I grew to love them. And I saw how much innate intellect these kids really had. They might not have been built for standardized tests, but they sure could fall into the rhythm and meaning of Shakespeare’s verse better than any white classroom I ever had! They were instinctively smart, but it came across as street smarts only. And attitude.  But these weren’t street thugs, they were fragile and innocent kids who had gotten a rough break in life, and grew up undereducated and instilled with beliefs that might sometimes conflict with the goals of education and social equality for those unlike them. But that’s why it was even more imperative that I model good behavior, and try to impart the value and worth of an education, and the greater odds of success in life with a degree and a career. Not just a job. Many who oppose gay marriage come from similar backgrounds, deeply rooted in Church and traditional family values, and for many, the rich legacy of being a white southerner. Or a black southerner. The face of the person we call “bigot” may not be what we imagine. If every bigot learns to hate, then every bigot can unlearn it too. Lest we be judged…

Just as you and I learned to love and embrace diversity, bigots learned to hate and distrust those who were different. Or at least mildly disapprove of such behaviors. For progressives, such ignorance and intolerance is revolting and an indignity suffered at the hands of oppressors for too long. And yet, if we learned how to love, surely they can too. They are our friends and neighbors, teachers and politicians, coworkers and family members. They are us. If we truly believe in the value and importance of education in unlocking doors of tolerance and acceptance, we must give it as well as accept it. Now is not the time to gloat and rub their noses in their own fetid defeat, no matter how satisfying and justified we might be in doing so. We must be better than them, and model the kind of behavior we want our children to learn and adopt. In this time of pent-up anger and resentment, and all the vitriol being hurled at us from the Right, it would be easy to match their anger and use the same old scorched earth battle tactics employed by them for decades. Drop a nuke, obliterate the enemy, and throw a party. And we would all be perfectly justified in doing so. But we can’t preach the values of #LoveWins and then turn around and only apply it to gay marriage. LOVE wins. If love is a blind and boundless mercenary of the human heart, it would stand to reason that it has the capacity to work its way into even the most tightly guarded of places, and as you might guess, those are the places that need it the most. If we wish to emerge from the shadows, we can’t wait for the sun to rise, we must shine a light into the darkness ourselves. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Bigots aren’t cured of bigotry by divine intervention, but by human intervention. They are cured by love and the human decency they didn’t have the capacity to extend themselves.

No one has a monopoly on love, and we can’t hoard it to ourselves just because it has been cruelly withheld from us. If we truly believe in educating the ignorant, and honestly believe that love conquers all, then we must allow it to conquer US. It’s easy to love those who look like us and share our hopes, dreams, and beliefs. That’s what bigots have been doing for centuries. BUT SO HAVE WE. It’s much harder to love your enemy, and take steps and make inroads into their heart, even if you despise everything that’s in their head. We learned through teachers and adults who modeled tolerance, and passed on a legacy of acceptance and social justice. Now we must really put those egalitarian ideals to the test, and see if we can tolerate those who harbor even the vilest of beliefs. I’m not saying I’m about to go have a beer with Paul LePage or Rick Santorum any time soon, but rather, I’m going to try and hold myself to a higher standard then they ever granted us, and try and remind myself that we aren’t just talking about a small minority of haters and bigots. Over 40% of this country opposes gay marriage. That’s nearly half the country. Try and remember that when we elected Barack Obama, he opposed gay marriage. And if you remember Hillary’s interview on Fresh Air, Terry Gross grilled her to admit that she in fact once firmly opposed same sex marriage too. Admittedly, the jump is far closer for a liberal than a conservative, but it goes to show that as a people, we are all growing and evolving. Some of us are just doing it more rapidly. The point is, we can’t simply choose to ignore half the country and label them bigots and backwards yokels. These are our neighbors, and we must all live together. If Washington gridlock and vicious partisanship continues at this rate, there will be blood in the aisles before too long, my friends. We must find a way.

Love and tolerance are learned and modeled, and ignorance isn’t cured in a bubble. It happens through repeated exposure, glimpsing the humanity and shared bonds in someone ostensibly unlike you, and being treated with the kindness and respect you might have denied many countless others. It’s about being the better human being. And above all else, it’s about sharing love and unconditional kindness to those who least deserve it and whose beliefs may violate everything you stand for. Remember the words of MLK: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let’s take this incredible moment in history to spread love, not hate, and be the change we want to see in the world.

Love the Sinner: Modeling Tolerance for Those Who Hate & Celebrating Victory For Those Who Love

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In a way, marriage equality is kind of like winning the lottery, but then realizing the cash prize is all your own money already. It’s like having a fortune you were born with and entitled to, but somehow deprived of and kept away from by generations of short-sighted and powerful men clinging desperately to your birthright, in fear that they’ll lose theirs. Marriage equality is not a threat to the institution of marriage. It’s a threat to the people in power. Power that has been hoarded over like a vast inheritance since time immemorial, and is suddenly being distributed to those who not only need it the most, but those who innately possessed it all along. Those at the top are scared, because for one of the first times in history, those at the bottom are not only hungry, but patient. They’re clever and capable enough to use the system against itself, in order to right past wrongs and ensure we all live in a society that serves every citizen, regardless of gender, orientation, faith, skin color, wealth, and all the other characteristics that make us unique and different, yet unmistakably alike. But this journey is one fraught with peril, for we must be vigilant that the oppressed doesn’t become the oppressor, and that love trumps vengeance every time. If ever there were a moral imperative, that would be it.

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I can’t help but think of the great Dickens’ story, Oliver Twist. As we all know, Oliver is a poor orphaned boy who doesn’t know his parentage, and is one day sent to a miserable workhouse to toil his days away. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes up forward, bowl in hand, and begs Mr. Bumble for gruel with his famous request: “Please, sir, I want some more,” to which Bumble increduously replies, “More?!?” In the end, we of course find out that Oliver had money all along, and had a rich inheritance denied to him all those years. In that time, he had been abused and beggared by society, and cast aside and worked to the bone by the rich and powerful. Even Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and other poor castoffs took advantage and exploited poor Oliver. And yet, throughout the course of the novel, Oliver is always generous and kind, and even when he earns his much overdue inheritance, his kindly benefactor Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his meager inheritance to his no-good half-brother Monks because he wants to give him a second chance. Oliver, being prone to giving second chances, is more than happy to comply, and he shares it with the dissolute man.

Since time began, minorities such as gay people and blacks have suffered lives like Oliver Twist, and had to live in the shadows, and slave away quietly while others got rich and lived loud and proud. They were oppressed and exploited, and always made to feel like an unwelcome outside. During the Civil War blacks and whites both fought for the preservation of the Union, but knew they were fighting for something greater. They were fighting to emancipate a group of human beings who had been enslaved, beaten, killed, and mistreated for centuries, all in the name of PROFIT! Slavery was a rich legacy in the South, and that war opened a wound that has never healed, and has recently started to fester and ooze. But that fight was won by and for the African Americans in this country, and we are all the better for it. Of course, we all know that hard and bloody conflict wasn’t enough to deliver equal rights and protection to black men and women, even when ensured these rights by laws and Constitutional Amendments. And thus, nearly a century later, blacks once again raised the banner, and peaceably demonstrated and marched to win the rights they were supposedly born with, but had never properly enjoyed. Again, they were met with violence and terror, yet they persevered and stayed strong. Their efforts, like the efforts of their ancestors before them, were successful in earning them their long overdue rights. Today, we are seeing another movement on the rise, and its another cry from the black community, who have suffered at the hands of whites again. Contrary to the condemnation of many on the Right, the African American community is not whining and moaning, nor are they too lazy and unmotivated to work and make a living for themselves. This is a group of people who have supposedly been granted equal rights and are protected by American law, yet are still victimized by the sheer color of their skin. They are denied employment racially profiled, discriminated against in the workplace, denied loans, given subprime predatory loans,unfairly assaulted and terrorized by law enforcement more than any other group, met with violence by overzealous gun owners, subjected to poor and inadequate educations, and many other small and large offenses. In short, they are forced to live in a society and under a government that wasn’t built for them. Even the very language we use is loaded, and full of implicit and explicit racism. It’s around every corner. It’s called Institutional Racism, and it permeates our global culture. Having dark skin is a liability in this world, and there’s seemingly nothing anyone can do about it. Except there is.

In the book, Oliver Twist lived an impoverished life of squalor and deprivation. At every turn, he was taken advantage of and denied his rights. Literally, this poor boy was denied his inheritance and natural birthright. Such is the case for minorities, women, and LGBT Americans, and more globally, citizens of the world. There are millions of proverbial orphans out there, in search of their homeland, and it’s often the land beneath their feet. But they are not truly home, because they are unwelcome there, and met with hostility. Poor Oliver had a fortune all along! He was born with it. So are all these people throughout the world. MORE?!? Yes, more!!! Naturally, the analogy I’m drawing is that Oliver was just asking for the bare minimum. What was due him. He was just looking to survive. He just wanted what he thought he deserved. So too are oppressed and persecuted Americans and global citizens everywhere. A meager bowl of gruel. No more than anyone else gets for free.

What Bumble saw was not just a meager bowl of gruel, but a valuable chess piece that he was withholding from Oliver, as he played the classic Master-Slave paradigm and deprived the boy of not only his meal, but his humanity. Yesterday was a victory for equality and social justice, but we it should be obvious that we still have a long way to go. The fact that the LGBT community has been fighting this battle for centuries, all to win a right that men and women have enjoyed since time began, should tell us how far we still have left to go. They broke even! They fought to win back their own inalienable right we were all born with. I am not saying this to minimize their effort and the sweet satisfaction that comes with earning their rich reward, but just to demonstrate how deeply rooted this bigotry and intolerance really is. Everyone who fought and died and shed their blood and tears for this cause is a hero, and I am so humbled by their struggle. I have tried to help in my own small way, but it’s never enough. I just hope we take this time to celebrate how far we’ve come and all that we’ve accomplished, but remember…the rights they earned were theirs already!!! Now let’s start capturing the rights and rewards the powerful and intolerant have been enjoying since the dawn of time.

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As we move forward though, I only hope that we can strive to keep the civil in civil rights. This was a major victory for those who have struggled, fought, died, and surrendered so much all for being who they are, and to try and win the right to love whomever they choose. There’s understandably a lot of anger and resentment out there. And I am not gay, and would never presume to know what it’s been like for all these brave men and women everywhere. But as a human being — which we all presumably are, first and foremost — I can only hope that we aspire to be better than our “masters” and have the integrity to not gloat or taunt the opposition, but celebrate proudly and respectfully. Would they do that for you? NO. But that should be the very reason we do that for them! Winning a decisive victory like the LGBT community won yesterday is a special moment, but it shouldn’t be about flipping the tables, subjugating the bigots, or punishing the plantation owners. Just the opposite. I feel that those of us who support marriage equality should conduct ourselves with dignity, compassion, mercy, empathy, and a heart big enough to forgive past injustices. I’m not asking anyone to forget, just consider forgiving. Otherwise, that’s a lot of hatred and anger to carry around and constrict you, when you’ve just won your liberty! We don’t ever want to become like them, but we will if we allow hate and retribution to dominate and guide our words and actions. Rather, if we can lead by example and model civilized and open-minded behavior, eventually time, attrition, and exposure to diversity and tolerance will eventually turn hearts and minds. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” You can’t win the hearts and minds of a people you’ve just decimated and dehumanized. The debacle of the Reconstruction proved that. We’re still reeling from the reckless and thoughtless treatment of the South after the Civil War. We won no hearts and minds then.

It’s important to remember that we’ve got allies out there in those bigoted masses. Think about how appallingly racist the South was at one time. Yes, I’m aware there’s still an alarming number of racists still there. But I’m talking about the average citizen in my own mother’s lifetime that actively and vocally supported segregation and even violence against blacks. It makes me think back to my time in Pittsburgh, when I saw a provocative and compelling traveling art exhibit called “No Sanctuary” with dozens of photographs depicting actual lynchings in the South. The horrifying bodies were hanging grotesque and lifeless, but the real horror was in those that looked on. Every picture chronicled a shameful moment when a huge crowd of white folks gathered to see the black man hanging. There were women and children, fathers and husbands, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The town grocer was there. The used car salesman. The elementary school teacher. And those kids. Big eyes and smiles, as they learned what it meant to hate. Unlike inalienable rights, Intolerance isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we learn. For many bigoted Americans, they are still clinging to their legacy, and they’re terrified what would happen if they were to lose it. It’s the only life they know. To them, THAT is their birthright. It’s all they know. They think that that is their genetic inheritance. They are “Just as God made them.” This is actually not the case. They are solely the product of their environment. Sure, some are more prone to anger and violence, others have less brain capacity, some others still are less able to comprehend nuance and grey areas. But we are kidding ourselves if we actually believe that all bigots and right-wingers are slow and unintelligent people. They are certainly as diverse and varied as any of us, they just tend to be more vocal in their beliefs and condemnations, and adhere strictly to their principles and faithful devotion. But that describes many on the Left. It’s convenient to point figures at churches and houses of worship, but even these are as diverse as the spectrum is wide. Just as many of them want to save us, we must desire to save them. The difference is, we must do it with love, and not hate. We must find ourselves in them, and at least make the effort to convert the stubbornly bigoted to the path of peace and equality. They must understand that it’s not about taking away their rights and enslaving them, but building a safe and supportive community together. I know that I sound pie-in-the-sky and probably unrealistic, but they are our neighbors, and unless this country breaks up into separate sovereign and ideological territories, we all have to live together. They think they are born that way, and gays choose it. It’s important to change that misconception, first and foremost. They can only learn through repeated contact, not through isolation and exclusion. The Left can be just as partisan, uncompromising, and resort to just as much base demagoguery as the Right. We must somehow find a way to reach across the aisle — both literally and figuratively.

Unlike the misguided beliefs of those who deny the theory of Evolution, and cling to the idea that they were born in God’s perfect image — gay men and women rightly declare that they too were born the way they are, and that genetics determined their identity, as much as environment. Even transgender people clarify that the bodies they were born with aren’t necessarily how they see themselves and how they necessarily identify. Biological Gender (sex) includes physical attributes such as external genitalia, sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, and internal reproductive structures. At birth, it is used to assign sex, that is, to identify individuals as male or female. Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. It is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s sex (gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither (gender identity) as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors (gender expression) related to that perception, including their gender role. Together, the intersection of these three dimensions produces one’s authentic sense of gender, both in how people experience their own gender as well as how others perceive it. They rightfully insist that they be allowed to self identify on birth certificates, for example, with or without sex reassignment surgery. Ultimately, we are who we think we are, and how we see ourselves. How can anyone deny another person the right to be who they are? Especially considering such declarations harm absolutely no one. And yet, many still see it as a threat to traditional family values, and the cherished beliefs they were raised on. Unlike the learned hatred of many in this country, gay and transgender people inherited a genetic legacy, and that should be enough for them to proudly and openly live it.

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As I approach the conclusion, I just want to implore people everywhere to celebrate and savor this momentous occasion, but never forget that the fight still goes on. Rights are violated and denied everywhere in this country, every day of the year. There’s a considerable number of those bigots and intolerant folks around this country, in every city, town, and state. But remember, they are also our own friends and neighbors. They are sometimes our very own families. They are us. That lottery I spoke of is something we all are born with, it’s just that many of us have been robbed and deprived of ever enjoying our rich inheritance. It’s alarming that there are still so many people who wish to deny any human being their guaranteed birthright. Although a hypocritical and conflicted man himself, Thomas Jefferson was nonetheless visited by a muse the day he wrote the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Right now, we are still fighting to get to the same starting line and ensure we all are afforded those same rights Jefferson eloquently penned.

Women and minorities face obstacles seen and unseen, written into the very fabric of our nation. Our world. White men wrote the rules at one time, and we are still living by them today. When you listen to Fox News or hear soundbites from candidates like Rick Santorum, it’s easy to lose hope, and give up on the human race. The obstacles still seem insurmountable, and the protracted war un-winnable. And yet, think of those lynching pictures I witnessed, with the shocking faces of the curious, amused and entertained spectators looking on as a human being hung lifeless and desecrated. Then think of all those white people that gathered with signs to block a little black girl from integrating at an all white school. Think of the KKK, with its once swelling active membership. And then think about today. Sure there’s still bigotry, but I’d bet that over half those people who peered our from those pictures evolved in some small way over their lifetimes, and learned to at least tolerate the rights and liberties of their once maligned black neighbors. Some likely came to support and befriend African Americans. How do I know this? Because history has proven that the entrenched racial hatred which once permeated the South, and the majority of those who once oppressed blacks and supported segregation. eventually came to change their opinions, as their views on race grew and evolved. Sure, there’s still racism, but considering it’s been less than fifty years, that’s incredible progress. And yet, still not enough.

We must remember those faces of hatred and bile and remember that even some of them managed to change, and see the humanity in their fellow man. As we move forward, let’s try and remember the humanity of those who have and still would oppress us, and be better than they ever were, and kinder then they might deserve. They may be our foe now, but tomorrow they might be our ally. Hatred is learned, and though challenging, it can be unlearned. When we use the hashtag #LoveWins, we must try not to fiercely hold onto that love, but extend it to those who would not likely extend it to us. That’s the true definition of love. And only through love can any of us truly hope to live.

We must never give up hope. I always take comfort in the wise words of those who came before me, so I’d like to share a few meaningful quotes:

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” —Galileo Galilei

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” —Nelson Mandela

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.” —Isaac Asimov

“I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other man’s rights.” —Abraham Lincoln

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Harms in Our Arms: What’s Wrong With Our Right

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Armed Anti-Islam Bigots Protest a Mosque in Phoenix, Lawfully Brandishing Guns and Intimidating Innocent Americans 

Breaking News: Friday, May 29, 2015

“Armed bigots protested outside a Phoenix, Arizona mosque on Friday, openly carrying guns as state laws allow. That’s what the gun lobby (and the gun manufacturers who profit from greater gun sales) is pushing to have legal all across the US — that’s federally mandated concealed carry.’ The two groups lined both sides of the street in front of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and yelled at each other, with a line of police officers standing in the middle of the street to keep them separated.

Jon Ritzheimer, organizer of the rally, is a former Marine, and he has no middle ground when it comes to Islam. His T-shirt pretty much says it all: “F— Islam.” Some of the counterprotesters wore shirts that said, “Love Thy Neighbor.”

The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix is the mosque that Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi attended for a time. They’re the men who drove from Arizona to a Dallas suburb to shoot up a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest there. Both were killed by police early this month. Many Muslims consider demeaning depictions of Mohammed to be blasphemous and banned by Islamic law.”

Protesters gather outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Friday, May 29, 2015. About 500 protesters gathered outside the Phoenix mosque on Friday as police kept two groups sparring about Islam far apart from each other.(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Protesters gather outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Friday, May 29, 2015. About 500 protesters gathered outside the Phoenix mosque on Friday as police kept two groups sparring about Islam far apart from each other.(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

While I second the sentiment of those brave citizens who staged their own counter-protest under the banner #NotMyAmerica, it’s another “second” that is far more tricky and divisive, and that of course, is the second amendment. I don’t pretend to be the most patriotic American there is, because frankly I think this guaranteed Constitutional freedom is misguided and not interpreted as the Founders intended. Arming a militia is one thing, but open carries in schools and at peaceful assemblies in front of religious buildings and around children is another. Although I love my country, I don’t always agree with its laws and how their applied. Who’s to say a 200+ year old document is sacrosanct and fulfills the needs of our modern America? Has it evolved with the country it serves? There simply are things that I think other countries do better than this country, such as healthcare, social services, the abolition of the death penalty, full or partial education awards, multi-party political systems, and finally, a sensible policy on gun control and the right to bear arms.

I am not a hunter, but I support a hunter’s right to own a gun. I just can’t see any justification for these high powered assault weapons, high round ammo, fully automatic guns, and laissez faire screening process for purchasing a firearm. Are hunters using machine guns to take down game? What exactly is the purpose of a weapon that lethal other than to decimate another living thing? Increasingly, it is other human beings who stand in the cross-hairs and are the hunted. Apart from the battlefields of war, I cannot conceive of a place in civilian America where such a weapon of warfare would be needed, nor belongs. We don’t allow citizens to possess deadly toxins like Ricin or anti-ballistic missiles, so why should we allow the average American to possess lethal machinery meant to kill in large numbers, in the shortest amount of time?

TomWiley-SlugHunterWhen it comes to sensible restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods, why is the powerful gun lobby so hostile, defensive, and unwilling to compromise for the sake of public safety. They argue these measures don’t work, and that a criminal will gain access to a gun regardless. Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. A teenager will likely acquire alcohol if they want it, and drive if they choose, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to prevent such a tragedy. Why exactly does anyone need a weapon on the spot? Gun activists would say, because I bought it and it’s my right to take it home upon purchase, as I would a DVD player or new car. The difference is, a gun’s primary function is to kill, maim, wound, or mark a target. It was invented and engineered as a lethal weapon, for the purpose of killing or incapacitating a subject. That is its purpose. A car may kill someone in a crosswalk, but that’s not the intended use for a vehicle. We don’t allow 12 year olds to have licenses or vote for similar reasons. Owning a gun is a responsibility, and handing over such a deadly piece of machinery must be a careful and thoughtful move. Not everyone deserves to own a gun, and we must keep them out of the hands of those unfit to possess them. If that means a law-abiding gun owner has to wait three extra days to get their weapon, so be it. That is the price of safety and protecting the general good. Americans sacrifice every day in this country. After 9/11, we selflessly and sometimes begrudgingly gave up some of our freedoms and conveniences for the sake of safety and security. We even allowed far reaching legislation to tread on our rights of privacy and autonomy. We’ll never fly the same again, like we did before 9/11. These are the sacrifices mature adults make in the interest of public safety. With gun violence at an all time high, we are at war in this country, and public shootings have become a sad everyday occurrence in America. If there were any possible way — no matter how remote — to save one life and prevent one stray gun from falling into the wrong hands and endangering men, women, and children, why wouldn’t you choose to act? Isn’t it our moral duty and responsibility to our fellow citizens. If that minor inconvenience outweighs the worth of a life, I am frankly more frightened of those who would choose their lawful weapons over the life of a child, and act as recklessly as those who carry illegally. Who occupies the moral high ground, when both parties place such little value on human life. The right to live should trump all other freedoms.

Many gun advocates like to argue that a hammer or broken bottle can be used as a weapon and kill just as easily as a gun. That of course, is patently untrue. The carnage at Sandy Brook and Aurora, Colorado could not have been inflicted by a butcher’s knife or any sharp object. Not even a bow and arrow or crossbow. That could only have been done by a high powered assault weapon, with high capacity magazines, and capable of discharging ammo at a frightening rate, and with bullets that are lethally designed to inflict as much damage as possible, and exceedingly more destructive and fatal than the limited range and carnage a simple knife or machete could inflict. A gun is a weapon with fatal results at any distance. The range and versatility of a gun is unlike any other weapon, and just isn’t in the same league as any other weapon.

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Guns are dangerous instruments, and if I have to live with the fact the Second Amendment will never be struck from our Constitution, we should at least be able to compromise for the sake of public safety. And yet, of all the freedoms afforded by the Constitution, it seems that this one is the most cherished and fiercely guarded by gun enthusiasts and guardians of the second amendment. As if any day now our tyrannical government is going to take away guns and enslave its citizenry. They speak of arming themselves for another civil war, in which Americans are pitted against their totalitarian government and fascist regime. They see this cultural armageddon on the horizon, with absolutely no evidence of a conspiracy, and a very unlikely and infinitesimally small chance of something ever occurring. In the 200+ years since we overthrew King George, has the government institutionally and egregiously restricted the rights of the people or abridged their freedoms in any substantial way?

The Civil War was the closest time the government has infringed upon the rights of its citizens, but it came only after the South had seceded, and Lincoln officially decried the contemptible institution of slavery and called for it to be banished from this country. It was the South’s livelihood, and it’s no wonder they were bitter and defiant. But they were wrong, and they were (and some still are) on the wrong side of history. Lincoln took drastic measures to hold the fragile and crumbling Union together, suspending Habeas Corpus and restricting other rights and imposing the North’s will on all Southerners. He knew to take the fight to the South, and fought to preserve the nation on their sacred soil. Men like Sherman punished the South, and they would never forget the treatment they received at the hands of the North If it hadn’t been for the long tradition of gun ownership and hunting in the South, many of the Confederate’s soldiers wouldn’t have had arms to fight the “war of Northern Aggression,” as many of them still call it to this day.

revolverAmericans have a long and storied relationship and attachment to their firearms. We wouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War without the civilian arms provided by citizen soldiers. The Civil War might have been different had Americans not been in possession of so many guns. The West was won by the flints of America’s guns, and the pioneering spirit of Westward expanding settlers. Guns were used to fight off Native Americans, whose own troubled history might have been different had they had guns to fight off the aggressive and land grabbing Europeans and their descendants. Guns were what provided food for Americans, in every state and territory in the Union. Guns were what young boys learned in their youth, and prepared them for the harsh realities of life in the trenches of World War I and on the beaches of Normandy in the second World War. That tradition lessened over time, and there were less gun savvy youth in the jungles of Korea and Vietnam, yet they still represented. Each subsequent war has seen less practiced sharpshooters, but with a volunteer military, the men and women that do enlist are more likely to come from gun owning households. Today’s wars are increasingly becoming more and more remote, as we try to minimize casualties and conduct warfare remotely. As long as there’s war though, there will always be soldiers, and more than likely be a need for ground troops trained in guns and infantry weapons.

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That being said, we live in a different world than even our grandparents lived. Despite the surge in terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, the world is actually moving slowly towards peace and global harmony. It may seem hard to believe, given the carnage we see in the news everyday, but the planet is much safer than it used to be. There is more civility and more of society values human life and are willing to at least work towards peace and compromise. And yet, we still possess guns, and gun owners still cling to a diminishing relic of a bloody bygone era. As a sporting tool, I see no problem with some guns and regulated ownership. But as lethal machinery designed to kill and maim on the battlefield, certain guns are more of a danger and threat to innocent Americans than a right worth protecting. Time and time again, it seems that the news is full of stories of home invasions gone wrong, mistaken identities, and innocent children being gunned down by mistake. Statistics prove that those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death. The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6). Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. The misconception that guns magically protect their owners more than harm them is a myth, and numbers prove greater numbers of accidental and intentional self-harm in houses with guns. Somehow those of us who don’t own guns manage to more often than not survive home invasions or take other measures to prevent them from happening, and we are not dying in staggeringly greater numbers because we have no gun to protect our homes and families. In fact, those of us without guns are not only dying less in our homes than gun owners, but actually living more safely and longer those with firearms. Perhaps the truth many gun owners can’t understand is that the very guns they consider their God-given right and defense against anything that threatens their traditional way of life and long-held beliefs is the very object of aggression and symbol of defiance that makes the rest of the country view them as hostile countrymen and unwilling bargaining partners. Guns are safety blankets for many, but ironically provide little safety and often more harm.

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I should reiterate that although I am fundamentally and spiritually opposed to the very concept and idea of guns, I am not so unreasonable, that I am calling for their boycott or a their legal status revoked. I do feel that SOME other countries have struck a good balance between gun ownership for sport and defense, and violent makes and models flooding the streets and used as violent weapons in crimes. Most other developed countries in the world have stricter restrictions or outright bans on guns, and as one might expect, they have dramatically lower rates of gun violence and violent crime. Their homicide rates and suicide rates are remarkably lower than that in the United States. Zealous gun rights activists don’t want to admit the correlation between stricter gun control measures and the significant drop in gun deaths and violent crime. Having said all that, I don’t necessarily want to take away all Americans’ guns. I see it is a time honored tradition, and a cherished right of many Americans. I simply want to be reasonable, and add sensible restrictions and safeguards on gun ownership. How can  a gun enthusiast even credibly make an argument against background checks? We can’t just put guns in the hands of anyone. Police run background checks on drivers they pull over, employers run background checks on potential hires, credit card companies run credit checks when approving credit cards. As hard as it may be for some Libertarians and Tea Party members to accept, we live in a nation of laws, designed to protect us, and provide the most freedom and liberty to the most people. But such freedom has a price, and that is the personal sacrifices we make to live in a peaceful and law-abiding country. Our laws and regulations are what keep us above the mire of chaos and anarchy. Some would shrink the government to a size that would fit on the head of a needle, ensuring greater personal liberties and more states’ rights. Unfortunately, history has taught us that society, when completely left to its own devices, actually recedes back into a primal and combative state, where survival of the fittest dominates the landscape, and there are no laws to protect people from each other. Big businesses won’t voluntarily police themselves, and regulate their carbon emissions, Wall Street CEOs won’t stop themselves from price gouging, and GM won’t willingly recall its large batch of defective cars. The environment will have no protector or steward, and America’s relationships with other nations will wither and die. We live in a nation of laws, and although there sometimes are too restrictive and stifling regulations, industry needs the watchful eye of the government. If Libertarians and government conspiracists distrust the government so much, how and why do they consider themselves proud Patriots? Don’t they understand that the government we have is roughly the same one our Founding Fathers chartered over 200 years ago? The Constitution is a document of laws and regulations and sensible checks and balances. Requiring a background check might be a minor inconvenience, but it is a sort of checks and balances, to make sure our weapons are ending up in the right hands.

Why should a gun owner object so vociferously to a three day waiting period on guns? It seems that hot tempered and inconsolable psychopaths and mass murderers should be the only ones desperate and frothing for a weapon immediately, as they attempt to act quickly on their troubled and feverish urge to kill. These unstable individuals are deeply disturbed, and are hell bent on acquiring a weapon, if they don’t already own one. Similarly, crimes of passion are committed by men and women caught up in jealousy or some other dangerous passion, and are more apt to commit murder within 24 hours of making the decision. They must rapidly acquire a gun in order to fulfill their murderous rage. And lastly, those who commit suicide have thought about the act for days, months, and years, but when they actually decide to act on it and make an attempt, it is a spontaneous and unthought out decision, made in desperation and cloudy judgement. If there is no access to a gun in the home, those with suicidal tendencies head to a store that sells firearms, in hopes of procuring a weapon to end their lives. The very presence of a waiting period would allow each of these individual cases to cool off, and perhaps seek another solution. It demonstrably could prevent hundreds, if not thousands of deaths in this country. There is no reason why a hunter or gun enthusiast needs a gun in less than three days. We often buy items and have to wait for them. This is more than just purchasing a book on Amazon. A waiting period is hardly an imposition, but has the potential to save countless lives.

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Guns are only tangentially used to hunt for meat for the family, and have come to be tools of sport and leisure. They also provide many with the game of target practice for fun or for competition. And sometimes war. They no longer accompany us to war, and wars have increasingly made them obsolete. Guns aren’t practical at our side in public, as we rarely have need to attend a gunfight at noon. Guns in our homes for protection are dangerous, but a large majority of Americans would rather die than give up their right to bear arms. But what of the assault rifles and weapons of lethal destruction, meant for no other purpose than to cause mass carnage? Where do they fit into the American landscape? These are weapons for the battlefields, and have no place on our streets or in our homes. Realistically and rationally, there simply isn’t any revolution or governmental attack coming in the near future. There is absolutely nothing to indicate otherwise. And honestly, if there was, an attack, what could a rugged bunch of militia men do with light weaponry against the full force of the United States military, with state of the art missiles, sophisticated drones, ships, planes, ground vehicles,  and all the other myriad toys of modern warfare? It is the most powerful army in the world, so do a rag-tag group of armed outdoor civilian militiamen think they can actually defeat a sitting government. This isn’t scrappy Patriots vs. old King George and the British Empire. America is here, and would be more than capable of squashing any organized rebellion. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s not going to happen. Placing restrictions and limits on gun ownership isn’t taking away the right, but regulating it, as we do voting, driving, expressing free speech, and pursuing personal liberties. No matter what, such a measure to curb gun violence is no excuse for a second Civil War and revolution against a perceived oppressive government. We have a right to protect children and the innocent from gun violence, and if a relatively unobtrusive background check saves just one life, it has done its job.

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Once again, I call for responsible gun ownership, a waiting period on purchases, a background check on buyers, an end to the gun show loophole, a ban on assault weapons and fully automatic guns, and any other restrictions and regulations that are reasonable and least restrictive to gun owners. I do not suggest we ban guns or regulate them as severely as other nations. Like I’ve demonstrated, guns are an undeniable part of this nation’s history, and are inextricably linked to its people, for good and for bad. Americans are often called ‘cowboys’ and it seems a fitting sobriquet as any. I ask for sensible gun control and reasonable legislation. Putting limits on something is not the same thing as taking it away. I applaud responsible and reasonable gun owners, and have many friends who own firearms. I see their value and worth, and although I don’t want them in my life, and think the world would be better off without a single gun on earth, I respect an American citizen’s lawful right to possess arms. My attacks are on those who refuse to compromise, and those who show up at Mosques with guns meant to frighten, bully, and intimidate. These are bigots, plain and simple, and their xenophobia is blatant and dangerous. They descend on Muslims and accuse them of terrorism, but who’s the ones with the guns and the hatred in their hearts? There dangerous men and women are the domestic terrorists, wielding their guns and their cowboy mentality, and threatening the very essence of what this country stands for. These are the gun owners I attack, and not the reasonable and lawful ones.

Belligerent gun owners and hostile lobby groups like the NRA are some of the most powerful, vocal, and aggressive groups in this country, and seemingly unwilling to budge an inch, no matter what good it might do. These men and women would apparently give up the freedom of speech before they’d surrender one weapon. Yet all we’re asking for is sensible gun laws to protect our families and children, and a ban on weapons of war meant to decimate and inflict carnage, not hunt with. They simply have no place in a civilized society. We also take issue with some right to carry permits and freedoms, especially in areas of sensitive need and soft targets like churches, mosques, and schools. Gun advocates would argue those very places without guns are the very ones that need them, because they are the ones targeted by lone shooters. As mentioned earlier, there is no statistical evidence that the presence of a weapon in crisis situation provides significantly more protection or stops the event any faster. That includes bank security guards, school SCO officers, armored car heists, military base shootings, and others. Often, those that get hurt or killed are the innocent victims and bystanders.

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When would a gun at a protest rally ever be a productive and responsible decision? How is such a decision helpful or necessary? The truth is, it is a clear and deliberate declaration of war. Without a doubt, brandishing guns in a menacing way in public is a calculated act of aggression and a provocative show of force and intimidation. They were there to at least symbolically massacre Muslims and remind them just whose country this is. These “patriots” who wrap themselves in the American flag, and who bleed red, white, and blue forget and desecrate the very inclusive and egalitarian principles this country was founded on. Even if our Founding Fathers could not practice what they preached, and extend freedom and dignity to their slaves and other African Americans, women, Native Americans, and other minorities, Jefferson’s words transcend the contradictions of his own human frailty and the unavoidable ceiling of social development and human enlightenment of the age. Despite such realities, the words of the Declaration of Independence ring out with fundamental intrinsic truths bestowed on each man and woman from birth, regardless of class and station. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America is not the possession of any one group, but is all our inheritance. Holding on to one’s guns because the right is enshrined in the Constitution at the cost of innocent lives all around is sick and depraved.

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Waiting for three days or submitting to a background check is a minor inconvenience, if it helps save even one life. Why would you violently resist such an easy and harmless imposition? No one is proposing taking all guns away, but reasonably removing the most lethal and those that pose the greatest threat to public safety. Showing up with guns blazing to threaten and intimidate law-abiding Muslim Americans is reckless and ignorant. Such bigoted aggression is the very root cause of distrust and division between many Islamic Americans and those touting traditional American values. Showing up with their guns sent a message loud and clear, and declared their intentions in no uncertain terms. Sadly, their guns were legal, even though I can think of only a few unlikely scenarios where these modern cowboys would need to draw their weapons for protection and in defense of the common good. More often than not, history has shown us that civilians who respond in times of deadly gunman often end up catching innocent people in the crossfire. A gun is often as useless as a woman’s purse, but much more apt to kill the wrong target. Those who carry guns to protect and defend often end up poor clumsy cowboys. as bad at the draw, as they are at tolerance. The U.S. Constitution ensures that these xenophobic bigots had the right to openly carry firearms to what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. It begs the question: Just because you can do something, does it necessarily mean you should?

Uncovering History’s Inconvenient Truths: Separating Art from the Artists

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Not long ago, I responded to a friend’s recent posting of an article detailing how the actor Gary Sinise was openly supporting a group committed to curing sinners of their homosexuality. The article can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/mmgfnzz. As one might expect, my liberal friend had many messages of support and outrage at such casual bigotry, seemingly in the face of science and common sense. People expressed disappointment and betrayal at being ‘duped’ into liking Sinise’s work, and enjoying his long and impressive career. Finally, they nearly all affirmed that they would no longer support the actor, and would actively boycott his work. This cultural shaming is quite common in the media and entertainment field, and certainly thrives in the world of politics as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this response, and I have taken similar actions on many occasions. However, tonight I decided to pose a moral dilemma, and questioned the wisdom of silence and solidarity against supporting an artist versus engaging them further, and/or simply separating the art from the artist, and selfishly enjoying the product, even while at odds with the maker. I was surely being provocative, but by no means a troll. After all, I seek discourse and reason, not discord and treason! I began by relaying my own personal connection to Gary Sinise, whom I have never met, but have several close connections to. Sinise graduated from the theatre program where I did my graduate work and earned my MFA in Directing, as did many of the other co-founders of Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre, which Gary helped found. When I directed in Chicago, I worked with many of his famous colleagues — many of whom are also renowned actors of stage and screen. Where most of them are predictably liberal, I often heard them speak of how conservative Sinise was and a what a devout and committed Catholic he was. At least one of them — an actor you would all know — is openly gay and married to his partner of many years, and arguably stood the most to lose from Sinise’s hateful views. And yet, to hear him and the others speak, although they don’t share his unenlightened beliefs on homosexuality and marriage equality, they are loyal friends and love him regardless. Can we, his fans, do the same, and somehow manage to separate the art from the artist? History is replete with flawed icons and troubling heroes. How do we reconcile ourselves with the beautiful art of Wagner, Hemingway, Eliot, Woody Allen, and countless other objectionable artists, who reportedly hold/ held hateful, sexist, anti-semitic, or racist beliefs? Or sexual predators such as Roman Polanski? The troubling thing about learning the values and belief of our most celebrated and respected artists, is deciding whether it’s morally reprehensible to support them, even after learning of their hateful transgressions. Do we do ourselves a disservice by lumping all offenders in together, and dispelling them all from our lives? While we must be consistent and honor our values and beliefs, while simultaneously undermining the hatred and intolerance of others, perhaps there is wriggle room when we consider historical context and take all factors into consideration. There seems to be something tangible in the different approaches and strategies we take to handle a piece of hateful and intolerant work. After all it’s a slippery slope of approval, having to vet our tastes, for fear the sins of the father aren;t delivered upon the son. If others saw me as hijacking the post or pushing an agenda, that was not my intent. As always, I came seeking knowledge and fellowship, and for me, that often means good natured debate and exploring the boundaries of any given situation. Whether it is possible or right to separate the art from the artist, and enjoy guilt free, is an age old question within the art world. At the very least, I thought I might challenge people to reconsider their inflexible stances, if not because I disagreed with them, but because it is intellectually honest and discerning to consider all sides of an argument. Whatever glaring faults I may possess, I have an aptitude for asking the right questions and breaking down people’s enmity and resolve. I am unwavering in my belief that the truth and solution are invariably closer to the middle, than either extreme side. Although I most closely identify as liberal, I am a moderate and independent at heart. I always seek to assert myself into conflict, and find ways to argue for both sides. Some see this as two-faced or disloyal, but I see it as the greatest act of love a person could do. Why go out of your way to burn a bridge, when you can help to rebuild it? I wish I could more closely live by my own words, but at least I think I can say I learn from my mistakes, and always seek reconciliation and peace. However, such feats of derring are incapable of being faked, manipulated, or pulled off without a few basic–yet integral–concepts: trust, love, humility, courage, acceptance, respect, good faith, a willingness to compromise, and a commitment to peace over unconditional comfort and sacrifice.

I say all this because when we confront the reality that our heroes and icons are somehow frauds who deceived us with beauty and virtue, and all that art holds dear, while harboring hateful and vindictive thoughts and beliefs. And sometimes, even actions done in the name of oppression, disgust, contempt, pity, or any other number of motivating factors. If the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and somewhere in the mix we both have valid points, the easier it is to find a common ground. Admittedly, there should be no tolerance for violence, hatred, willful ignorance, or bigotry, but we must still be willing to sit at the same bargaining table, and take steps to resolve animosity and enmity. You both know you are right, and have the full weight of….the Bible? Socail justice? Liberty? The Constitution? The fill-in-the-blank.. If nothing else, open and honest engagement with an enemy or objectionable piece of art is a learning experience, and goes a long way towards earning respect, seeing a situation from another’s perspective, and learning about prohibitive obstacles to another person’s understanding — geographical location, access to schools, history of domestic violence, incidents of rape or incest, educational attainment, physical and mental disabilities, crippling poverty, strong handed religious exposure and enforced obedience, and many other factors. We are both nature and nurture, and invariably products of our time and place. We are not raised in a vacuum or arid dessert, but in the richly embroidered world of some kind of family unit, perhaps a spiritual community, a cultural one, ethnic identity, and increasingly larger concentric circles of membership and identity. It is with these eyes that we must necessarily see, and we are as we so often were raised and reared. The world is full of a wide range of circumstances, entitlement, access to wealth and resources, and inherited physical and intellectual limitations. At the same time, we are all human beings of worth, intrinsically endowed with inalienable rights as human beings, including an innate dignity and special value, That means that we are all valuable and indispensable souls, with our own unique strengths and shortcomings, and most importantly, worthy of respect and the greatest gift of all – one;s undivided attention. Each of us has something to say or to add, and it is high time the responsibility fell on us to search for those qualities in others that we recognize in ourselves. The burden of proof should no longer fall on our foes and enemies to prove their worth and goodness. Nothing will ever get solved in this world if we continue to shift blame, point fingers, and go into each dispute with the foregone conclusion that our adversaries are morally corrupt, savages, incapable of feeling, humorless, devoid of mercy and sympathy, and generally the monsters we make them out to be. Love is the elixir of all hate, misunderstanding, and strife, and it all starts from the accepted truth that none of us are better than anyone else, and that we are all capable of loving and being loved. Regardless of whether you are a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology or a simple and unassuming impoverished tenant farmer from Jackson, Mississippi, you are equals in the eyes of the law — perhaps both secularly, and for some, spiritually.

When we approach a work of art — the careful and passionate expression of one’s closest thoughts and feelings — we cannot ever fully understand what the artist intended, but because it’s subjective, it hardly matters. It’s not just beauty that’s in the eye of the beholder, but the intrinsic value of art, which means something different to all of us. If and when we find out that an artist;s actions or beliefs are deeply at odds with our own value system, it is completely understandable to reject the artists work — all future endeavors, as well as past favorites. And perhaps that is where it becomes the most complicated. If art is subjective, the experience is transcendental and deeply personal, and in many ways, a confidential conversation between a fan and the work/ artist. When tragedy strikes, we are shaken to the core, and all our accepted truths are thrown into disarray, and we must somehow struggle to condemn those that we once loved, and disavow ourselves from work that inspired, entertained, or perhaps only distracted us from our otherwise meaningless lives. I am not suggesting consumers and fans go on supporting a celebrity with despicable views, but only that we take time to process our true feelings, and what it means to abandon something or someone we once loved so dearly. Grief and despair come in many shapes, and we do ourselves no favors when we impulsively reject people and groups, without at least first learning what they are all about. It’s far easier to say goodbye to a truly hopeless cause, than to burn a bridge where you could have built one, and missed a genuine opportunity to educate and enlighten a soul just as worthy as yours, but perhaps not quite so fortunate and privileged. Not only do we owe it to each other to treat one another with respect and the assumption that they are good and valuable, our very livelihood as a species depends upon it. Since the Industrial Revolution began, our brains and our value systems have dramatically changed and evolved, and we generally place higher premiums on things like education, personal betterment, social justice, a commitment to less violence and an end to war, egalitarian principles of love and respect, a less punitive and more reformative criminal justice system, laws that promote freedom of speech, personal liberty, and other freedoms believed to be innate to humanity, and an unmistakable attraction to science and the virtues of an enlightened mind. 

And yet, somedays it seems like we have so far to go. We are confronted with artists and leaders we followed and were moved by, suddenly revealing their toxic belief in suppression of civil liberties and a denial and invalidation of another group’s right to exist. In all cases, is it best to disinvest from the situation, and publicly shun them for their actions, or is it ever acceptable to continue to engage the artist, or take steps to enlighten their stunted world views?

I simply raised the question out of intellectual curiosity, and perhaps to play devil’s advocate and generate discussion. I personally find it difficult and dishonest to consume the art of an artist who loudly espouses bigotry and hate, and who does not share your fundamental values of love and inclusion. Sinise is wrong, and deserves censure, as do all contemporary offenders. On the other hand, I suppose I would be less rigid in holding our dead and predictably less evolved artists to quite the same rigid standards. That’s not to excuse away deplorable acts like the Inquisition or the Holocaust, but to perhaps take context into consideration. If nothing else, there would hardly be anything left to read, admire on a wall, or listen to if we held past masters to the same inflexible criteria and divorced the work from its historical context. There is plenty of incontrovertible and demonstrable truth that the Industrial Revolution accelerated the efficacy of the human mind, which led to innovation in all the areas that contribute to greater equality and commingling of races and cultures. After millennia of much of the same barbarism and the rise and fall of countless Imperial empires, the last two hundred years of so have seen remarkable innovation and an evolution of thought.

It would be unfair to boycott Shakespeare because he may or may not have been anti-semitic. We must not read him with rose colored glasses, but always with a keen eye focused on context and intent. It may change the way we feel about certain passages, but it should never deprive us of drinking from the cultural well of those who shaped our very humanity. Even the most highly evolved and progressive figure from history was invariably a product of his or her time, and would likely fail miserably at any modern American dinner party. In such cases, we may not agree with the vitriol, actions, or objectionable beliefs of the artists we are exposed to, but still recognize that they were giants in their fields, and made invaluable contributions to Western culture. Indeed, one ignores such legendary icons at one’s own peril. In such cases, we have just as much to learn from those whose rhetoric we despise than those who only echo and reaffirm our own sentiments. When it comes to boycotting art, perhaps time and perspective are the only way to neutralize toxic hate and prejudice, and allow us to even consider historical context and biographical restraints when assessing the intrinsic worth of a piece. No matter how horrifying it is to learn of unconscionable acts of slaughter, slavery, and social injustice, it is somehow more palatable than being subjected to hate speech and bigotry today. The severity of condoning present transgressions is that their affect is compounded by the fact that we share oxygen with those being persecuted, and the bigoted words and deeds of contemporaries have immediate and far reaching consequences for tomorrow and for future generations.

In short, we cannot change the past, but we can shape the future by manipulating events of the present. It is our social duty to censure, scorn, and condemn hate speech in contemporary artists, businessmen, politicians, or anyone else who shares a public spotlight and has any modicum of influence. It is our civic responsibility to hold these men and women accountable, and never surrender love and inclusion for messages of hate and oppression. Yet still, we must not fall victim to the same sorts of knee-jerk reactions of those we oppose. We must handle each case judiciously, and carefully make informed decisions about intrinsic worth, contribution, and whether it promotes and upholds our most basic values. And if not, we should always consider its historical relevancy, and place it in its proper historical context, while deeply considering its influence on our shared cultural history — for good and for bad. Just because a work is objectionable, does not mean it is devoid of merit, and unworthy of consideration. On the contrary, the true scholar…social activist….loving human being…must consider all sides of an artifact and never forget that every piece of history can tell us something about where we are and where we’re heading.

who we are today. Keep an open mind. You’ll need it.

The Economy of Despair & Stewardship of the Soul

Lone_Tree_by_studio7designs

It’s occasionally frustrating to accept how out-of-step one person may be with the rest of the world, and how divergent their values and broad interests can be from the society they emerged from and were presumably shaped by. It is in lonely and isolating moments like this when I surrender myself to hopelessness and despair. In these times, I cannot help but be gripped by negativity and anguish during those moments we all have of uncertainty and self-doubt. Although infrequent, I find myself most often vulnerable when I seek validation and affirmation from my peers. The mind can be a lonely place, and inevitably ends up being a sounding board for various sundry complaints and criticisms  — both real and imagined, and both at the micro level (you) and the macro level (the greater society). In times of reflection and clarity, I find it useful to write and record my various griefs and grievances with our troubling world, and the various factions that inhabit it. It’s probably worth noting that although many of the questions ostensibly appear to be bitingly acrid and shockingly negative, they are in fact indicative of a deeply seated optimism and hope for the human race. Although obviously bitter and hopeless at first blush, perhaps it may help to keep in mind that I wouldn’t express such concerns so passionately, had I no faith they may some day be remedied. These items are by no means a complete or comprehensive list, but a sample of themes and obstacles I see as standing in the way of a peaceful, fair, and equitable world. Many betray my own distrust and disillusionment with the zeitgeist of our age, and all its many incarnations.
Is it possible to deplore the shifting values of your own generation, while not being labeled a lunatic or cultural heretic?

Can we move forward and inch towards egalitarianism, while abandoning common sense and that which makes us uniquely human?

Is it blasphemy simply to question the role of technology in our lives and suggest safeguards?

How does one embrace the inevitable zeitgeist, look to a more equitable future, and retain the curiosity, scholarship, and rigorous aestheticism of the past?

How does one make peace with diverse interests and curiosities in an increasingly specialized society of parochial common interest groups and homogenized learning environments?

How do we continue to work towards a democratic society that educates everyone equally, while not diluting the content, rigor, or meritocracy of scholarship and those who work tirelessly to excel, both for the virtue of acquiring knowledge and the urge to succeed?

How does a society effectively become smaller and more connected, while inversely becoming more hostile,  ignorant and disdainful of each other’s cultures?

How does a society assimilate new cultures without stripping color and cultural heritage, and neutralizing everyone into a dull, homogenous pablum?

How can a single adult navigate a world built for families and breeding, without fear of reprisal and scorn?

How is it more acceptable to allow a mind to wither and atrophy, than for a body to age and betray the inevitable ravages of time and neglect?

How can a society become ostensibly so self-obsessed and motivated by praise and attention, without losing its ability to empathize and protect our weakest members?

If time travel were possible, could a man ever find solace in the erudition and aesthetics of the past, while being forced to endure their primitive beliefs about faith, science and racial hierarchy?

How can one so repelled by the virtues and priorities of many of their contemporaries ever hope to enjoy any sort of life in the public sphere?

Can those afflicted by varying degrees of mental illness and depression ever find empathy and support in a nation terrified of ‘crazy and dangerous individuals’ intent on hurting and killing innocents unpredictably? Will those afraid of unprovoked and random attacks ever be convinced that only an infinitesimally small number of mentally ill are ever violent, and that they have a much higher and probable chance of developing mental illness in their own lifetimes than they do of being hurt by someone else who suffers from it?

Can an increasingly compartmentalized and loyal public ever embrace cultural pluralism and the virtues of curiosity and diverse interests?

Will we as a society learn to be less polarizing, and appreciate seemingly conflicting styles, pastimes, passions, and interests, recognizing that two superficially opposite things need not be mutually exclusive and consumed ‘either-or?’

Will we ever stop leaning towards extremism and absolute fidelity to a position, at the expense of compromise, good will, generosity, respect, and good sense?

Can art and sport ever peacefully coexist and ultimately attract devotees who enjoy both endeavors?

Is there a useful and valuable place for faith and religion in an increasingly secular, scientific, and faithless world? Can science and religious belief belong in the same universe, and not seek to disprove the other, but have ‘faith’ that there is something uniquely human and valuable in both systems of thought?

Invariably, there are innumerable other questions I grapple with, and things that challenge how I avoid/confront/attack the world in which I live. At this point in my life, I have received all the formal education I’m going to get, and for the first time since I first began school, I am adrift without the structure of education. I have three formal degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts, and several certifications. Until now, I have ostensibly been in school or teaching school for nearly 25 years, Learning and academics have fundamentally been apart of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always thirsted for both knowledge and structure, and school always provided me with that. I have also spent over thirty years working as an amateur, collegiate, and professional actor, director, designer, and crew member in the theatre, and boast a resume of well over a hundred and fifty plays, musicals, and other live performances. My career was my life for much of my adult life. When I was performing on stage, I was learning how to in class. For various reasons, I no longer actively work in the theatre or are enrolled in any school or classes. My life has lost much of what defined me up until now, and much of my life is occupied by attending to my physical and mental good health and learning coping mechanisms to pursue other interests, diversify my loyalties and pastimes, and find new and productive ways to thrive in the relatively unstructured culture outside academia. I will not lie and try and convince you that I haven’t faced serious challenges over the last three years. I have. I suffer from debilitating depression, mania, and crippling anxiety, and am acutely sensitive to stress and other taxing realities of life. I continue to teach because it gives me great pleasure to educate others, but many of the more social aspects of my life have changed or been eliminated entirely. Although I’m convinced nobody reads my blog, I continue to write, as a way to reconcile myself with my demons, hopes, and desires, as well as challenge myself stylistically, intellectually, and artistically. With few opportunities to engage in the deep and rigorous intellectual debates and challenges to my thinking I once was exposed to in the classroom — and woefully took for granted — writing allows me to play the dialectical, and explore an idea, concept, or feeling with some degree of rigor and regularity. I have a complicated history with social media, and a few isolated instances of frequent and erratic posting, writing provocatively on other’s walls, and generally abusing the accepted standards and rules of the medium. Although not a regular or frequent occurrence, these isolated incidents have been problematic and hazardous to many a personal and professional relationship. I have since mended many fences, but I must be vigilante, and realize I have many of the same temptations a recovering alcoholic has towards drink. The chemistry of my brain demands constant intellectual stimulation and craves nourishing art, politics, sport, and other distractions to feel occupied. Only at the age of 35 was I finally diagnosed with severe ADHD and an overactive mind. Social media is a dangerous elixir, and there are endless conversations to engage in, and things to learn. Nowadays, with a safe and reasonable use of social media, no classrooms to deliberate in, and a an unfortunate absence of friends in my immediate vicinity, I must find healthier outlets to my intellect and imagination. In many ways, writing has become an acceptable substitute for the intrinsically more public and social art form of live theatre. I no longer crave the instant gratification I once did, nor feel as satisfied in the entertainment field. Some would suggest I have become more morose and withdrawn, and while that may be true, I have also become more reflective, accountable, and healthy in my approach to the world. As the list above demonstrates, I have daily frustrations with much of the state of the world, and my perception that much of our cultural and technological progress often comes at the expense of other things. I worry about the world, yet still engage it, in my own modest way, and believe it or not, have proud hopes for its future. But first, we must wrestle with just some of the many concerns I expressed above. I often wish I could find employment in a think tank, where I would be spoiled by constant stimulation and debate, while also serving a more practical and applicable function. My sensitivity often leads me to want to save the world from itself, and all its sundry ills. My epistemological, sociological, metaphysical, and ontological observations and thinking prompts are far fancier than my solutions and answers. My remedy and absolution of guilt stands at the center of most organized religions, and is nothing more than love, empathy, abstaining from judgement, communication, common sense, and faith in the intentions and good faith of others. I say that these are the backbones of many world religions, but the application and follow-thru has historically been fatally flawed, misguided, and corrupted by the acts and motives of humankind. Nevertheless, they are words and ideals to live up to, and with considerably more vigilance and commitment, we might be able right half this world’s wrongs. If we could only see ourselves in our foe, we may make more concerted efforts at peace and reconciliation, rather than empty promises and posturing.

I realize that I see the world in simplified terms, and perhaps have no business interjecting my thoughts. At the same time, I also know that somehow my mother raised me in such a way that despite my many given flaws, I have a unique capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and resolution through open and honest communication. I have damaged many relationships over the years, and some irreparably, but I never stop trying to repair past wrongs and look to within myself for lessons learned and chances for self-improvement. As such, I have a considerable number of friends and family, each from very different national, cultural, educational, vocational, and religious backgrounds. What they all have in common is me. Because for one reason or another, I have a sizable capacity to accept and tolerate a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultural value systems. I have always traveled widely, sampled foods enthusiastically, and greedily embraced new and foreign cultures. But that hasn’t always meant leaving the country. America is packed full of its own multicultural challenges, and these days, there are plenty of chances for cross-pollinating with ‘them’ and the ‘other’ than ever before. Sometimes without scarcely leaving your own hometown. Yet still, we are rigidly guarded in our beliefs and interests, and myopic in our stilted view of the world, and what it takes to peaceably coexist and even work in collaboration, towards one common goal. For some reason, although I have very firm beliefs and values about certain inherent rights and civil liberties, I make an effort to understand the motives and animus that fuels another person. I practice concerted empathy and do my very best to see the other person’s side. That may be surprising to some, given my aggressive debates on social media, and seemingly steadfast opinions on how things ought to be. And I still feel that way. Love, freedom, unconditional acceptance, and empathy are my guiding principles, and must underly every choice we make as a society. However, I recognize that as humans, we all more or less share the same feelings, wants, and needs. Sometimes educational inequities have stood in the way. For some, poverty and abuse were mitigating factors. Others are simply willfully ignorant and combative, but even for them, I try and hope that clarity and egalitarianism will one day knock on their door. However noxious their beliefs and ignorance may be, I’ll never accept that most humans are beyond saving. Having said that, I am also a realist, and at least superficially, a cynic and pessimist. Yet still, my eternal and deeply buried optimism will not allow me to deny someone redemption, the right to change, and opportunities for personal enrichment. I’d rather be called naive and unreasonable, than to stridently and emphatically deny someone their capacity for change and progressive socio-evolution. As I said before, though we may all talk a big game (myself included!) about acceptance, love, and a deniability of prejudice and bigotry, in practice, most of us fall far short of our stated goals and beliefs. In fact, most of us are intractably territorial, selfish, suspicious, and unyielding in our relations with others. Or rather, those who look and feel different than us, and who we presume holds none of our cherished morals and values. Therefore, most attempts at peace and reconciliation are ceremonial, at best, and neither party is a trustworthy negotiator. How could they be? When we bring all our grudges, prejudices, and inability to humanize those who sit across from us at the bargaining table, we betray ourselves as actors not in good faith, and essentially only present to uphold certain beliefs and ensure they lose no ground to their enemy. There is rarely an atmosphere if trust, respect, compromise, humility, or accountability for one’s own actions and culpability.

I am by no means a saint, or some charismatic figure of peace and social justice. I’m just a simple man who was raised a certain way, with perhaps a unique perspective, and the sincere desire to negotiate peace and understanding between all the valued and polarized groups in my life, and in the world around us. Although I fail quite often, I always attempt to see both sides, and find strengths and weaknesses in each tenable side. As a theatre artist, educator, and writer, I always strive to seek compromise and find common ground amongst cultures, and value the building of bridges, rather than burning them. That being said, many of my best laid plans and good intentions were thwarted by my own troubled mind, insecurities, stubbornness, and sometimes combative nature. More often than not, my abject failures have been impulsive and irrational outbursts of hurt and anger, and seldom ever premeditated. Invariably, time and distance provides me with empathy, understanding, and a renewed desire to make peace and find helpful solutions moving forward. If only I could always be successful in my application of collaboration and compromise, and if only our world’s most intractable and disingenuous community leaders, clergy, politicians, corporations, scientists, and other players could show an honest commitment to peace and negotiation. Perhaps we’d finally be able to live in a world where everyone can feel safe, supported, respected, and accepted. I firmly belief that once those needs are met, the rest more easily falls into place.

My philosophy and world outlook aren’t complex, but nevertheless, ask a lot of people. Such stark nakedness and vulnerability might frighten most people, and the trust and faith it takes to surrender beliefs and assets for the sake of compromise may just be too much to ask. And yet, I firmly believe that there is no other viable way. The cost of Peace is embracing humility, adopting respect, parting with those things that most likely divide you, and ultimately, committing to finding a way to put faith in your foes, and turning them into partners. It takes good faith and steel resolve. Only then can we ever hope to learn that we share infinitely more in common with out enemies, than the vexing thorns which have for too long kept us apart.