Thursday, February 15, 2018

FLORIDA: STOPPING THE CYCLE

The date is February 15. Another school shooting, this time in Florida. Seventeen people dead.

Sorry, I can't say I'm sorry.

Correction: I am sorry. I'm horrified and saddened and shocked. As the news broke and as the events were unfolded in the evening news and morning shows, I found myself weeping more than once. I prayed. For the families and school district; indeed, for the community and nation as a whole, I am so sorry.

But according to many pundits and politicians, as well as quite a few on social media, they don't want my sympathy. "I am so fed up with 'thoughts and prayers'," is the common sentiment. In the wake of previous tragedies, some lawmakers have even walked out of the customary "moment of silence" in protest. And as I expressed my condolences on Facebook (under my civilian identity), some of my contacts thrashed me for offering words of comfort instead of  writing angry letters to my congressman. A common meme purports to show the cycle in this country of "shooting--thoughts and prayers--calm--forgetfulness--shooting."

So, no, I'm not going to give public voice to my "thoughts and prayers." Instead, it's time to do what my liberal friends and left leaning commentators demand every time there is a terrible mass shooting in our country: have a conversation, once and for all, about gun violence in America. Since conservatives are fond of saying "now is not the time to fight about gun control,"--because, as we all know, people in crisis don't need hugs, they need hard-hitting partisan debate--I'm going to jump in the fray. To heck with "weeping with those who weep." It's time for a no-holds barred debate on gun violence. Bring it.

Except. . .when liberal pundits talk about a "conversation" or "debate" on gun violence, they usually are thinking of one thing: ban guns. To them, that is the only acceptable outcome of any conversation or legislation. The very thought that that is a somewhat naïve position or that there may be other ways of dealing with the issue either escapes their notice or is mentally repugnant to them. They want to open the gun debate, but they only want one solution: a solution that will alienate a great segment of our population and possibly raise Constitutional questions. "Let's discuss this, as long as you agree with me in the end," is sort of a lop-sided debate, in my humble opinion.

But by all means, let's do this. Yes, let's be serious about gun violence. Let's work on real solutions instead of spewing angry demands that the country acquiesce to our own social agenda. The real cycle in this country is "shooting--angry demands for liberal change--calm--forgetfulness--shooting."

And it's a cycle that needs to stop.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

HARASSMENT AND THE EROSION OF THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE

"It's happened again."

As the news anchor begins the segment with those words, all I can do is shake my head and wonder which lawmaker, preacher, or celebrity will be accused of sexual impropriety today. It's almost enough that I feel like I need a shower after watching the news: not only because of the disgusting behavior being discussed, but because of what our society and legal system is becoming.

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: lewd comments, unwanted advances, and outright assault against women is unacceptable. Let's not rationalize such behavior. I don't care if it's the guy down the street or (yes, we'll say it) the President of the United States. Let's call wrong WRONG.

But as concerned as I am with the terrible actions of (often) powerful men, I am also uneasy with where all this is taking us as a society. Call it a "rush to judgment", call it the "court of public opinion," I think the current trend is leading us to strain one of the most fundamental principles of our legal system: the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

When the accusation is made, the tone and tenor of pundits and commentators is to slam the gavel
down and declare without a benefit of the doubt that the accused is guilty of the accusation against him. There need be no evidence when an accusation will do. If there are indications, no further proof is required. It's a serious problem. Yes, the law says the accused is presumed "innocent until proven guilty," but the prevailing wind would say that someone is innocent until proven guilty UNLESS....

He is unpopular with certain segments of society. Although liberal icons are now being accused, there are a lot of conservative and Christian men who appear in the headlines on a regular basis, much to the delight of the liberal elite. No more can believers appeal to their Christian values as protection: the more the reverend or Congressman quotes the Bible, the more a liberal press will be convinced of any accusation leveled against him. It's almost as if we are wired to spot hypocrisy and moral failure, particularly if it's against our political/social foes. If they don't like someone calling them out on their sins, you can bet that someone is waiting in the tall grass to jump on any hint of indiscretion.

The accusation has details. Yes, details are important to establish the credibility of the victim. But sometimes, the commentators are all too happy to assume that, because the account includes the name of a hotel or lurid details of the encounter, it must be true. And it may very well be. But is there a possibility that a) the details are made up? or b) the details are misremembered? Unfortunately, nobody seems to want to raise any doubt.

There is more than one accuser. Yes, if a lot of accusers share the same or similar stories, it raises a red flag. BUT there is also the possibility that some of the accusers are just "piling on." While it is certainly possible that the victims are emboldened by the confessions of others, it is also possible that there could be some shared confusion or even the desire to "be somebody" for a short time (the "15 minutes of fame" syndrome). But that possibility does not seem to occur to anyone and the prevalent stance is "all those women can't be wrong."

And so the accused is established as guilty before a hearing, before a trial, before an investigation. And the presumption of innocence goes out the window and a man's life and career is destroyed.

In case you missed it, the disrespectful, reprehensible behavior toward women is wrong. The allegations are very serious. But some how, some way, we need to have a process to protect the accused from false or exaggerated claims , while at the same time supporting the alleged victims. We need to expose the perpetrator on the basis of proof, not accusation.

Sexual impropriety is serious. . . way too serious to be settled by the latest op-ed from the press.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

GUN CONTROL: A NEED TO LISTEN

I admit it: my connection with guns is very limited. The only time I used a rifle was when I was a young teen. I was put through a gun safety course first before being put on the firing line of a gun range. It was all very safe and controlled. But I had no desire to go out and buy a rifle of my own. While my dad and his friends were avid hunters, I never caught the fever. Arcade pistols and suction cup dart weapons made up the bulk of my weapon experience.

I know people who own guns. I would characterize them as gentle, responsible, and intelligent. Some own firearms for hunting purposes. Some arguably have concerns for safety (I know one or two who have concealed carry permits). Some have never fired a weapon outside of a controlled shooting range. For some, guns are a hobby. For others, guns are a heritage, passed down from father to son.

In short, I don't know anyone who fits the popular profile promoted by the more liberal members of society, that gun owners are a bunch of nearly unhinged lunatics who are one step away from committing mass murder. With the much maligned National Rifle Association boasting a membership of nearly five million gun owners, some memes have declared that: "if the NRA wanted an armed insurrection, you'd know it." I believe it is illogical, and even borderline silly, to think that gun ownership entails a predisposition to indiscriminately shoot people.

picture by Alyeska on Wikipedia, April 2, 2006
And I believe it is the height of naivety to suggest that stricter gun control will end violence. Although there are statistics and figures and reasonings that could show that maybe the amount of carnage could be reduced if the bad guys did not have guns, it does not mean that the bad guys would never get guns. Since when are criminals and mad men bound by laws? A cartoon I saw long ago shows a couple of bank robbers in a car driving around the bank ready to commit their crime. The boss points and says, "Hey, park over there." The driver says, "I can't park there, that's a handicap spot." The humor is that, duh, someone who is ready to stick up a bank isn't going to be concerned about a parking regulation. By the same token, someone bent on mass murder or violent crime is not going to be thwarted just because there is a new regulation that says he can't get a particular kind of modification for his gun, or a particular gun, or any gun. And even if the determined killer cannot get a firearm, there are a host of other methods. Granted, the casualty count might be less, but it is no less tragic. Violence will continue, with or without gun control.

So now that I've gotten my high fives and hoorahs from my conservative friends, it's time to drop the other shoe on my opinion about guns and gun control:

First of all, I think the anti-gun control lobbies (like the NRA) need to lighten up a little. People are scared. And yes, there are some ways that bad guys can get guns that are all too easy. Standing up in the aftermath of a mass shooting and proudly saying, "You will never take our guns," is a little cold-hearted.  I appreciate the stand the NRA takes on things like safety and the responsible use of firearms and the second amendment. But guys (and gals), a little empathy and acknowledgement that good, sensible, intelligent citizens are struggling for answers will go a long way. I know the official statements say the right things. But the moment a politician calls for "gun control," the knee-jerk reaction is to once again draw the line in the proverbial sand.

You see, just as the NRA and pro-gun advocates are not all wild eyed, fanatical armed extremists (NRA, by the way, is a very diverse group),not all anti-gun citizens are so-called bleeding heart, snowflake liberals. Enough with the stereotypes.

Second, I think there should be a certain amount of gun regulation. Certainly not laws that would toss the Second Amendment out the window, but something more akin to common sense. Here is why: if one of my family members was a shooting victim, I would want the police to have every tool at their disposal to find the criminal. I want the cops to be able to track that gun to its rightful owner. And if the rightful owner no longer owns the gun, I want the police to know where that gun went. I want the shooter found and brought to justice.

"But, Dean, if the government knows what guns we have, won't they be able to take them away, thus making us vulnerable to government tyranny?"

Honestly, I don't know. My gut feeling is a lot of the talk about the repeal of the Second Amendment and the confiscation of our guns is so much "sky is falling" rhetoric designed to reinforce the battle lines. In the future, I'll give you my take on the Second Amendment and fears of government overlords. For now, I want to help the police do their job and if that means giving them the ability to check a database and find the perpetrator of a gun crime, then yes, I'm for it (and if you can intelligently and respectfully disagree with me, you can add a comment below).

Some informed knowledge and reasoned thought will go a long way in helping our country find some common ground on the ever-present gun debate. We owe it to ourselves as a country to listen to one another, whether we own and enjoy guns or not.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

FOUR QUESTIONS BEFORE TAKING A KNEE

Last weekend, NFL players "took a knee" during the National Anthem in protest of remarks by President Trump about how players who kneel during the anthem should be fired. Of course, the whole "taking a knee" in protest began with former 49's quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who wanted to call attention to police brutality.
 "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder"  ("Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during national anthem," Steve Wyche, NFL.com, August 27, 2016)
And now, the "protest" has mushroomed into over 200 players refusing to stand for the National Anthem because of the President's speech. Predictably, because many of the players are African-American, some have suggested that anybody against the protests are racist. Take late night host Stephen Colbert for instance
“Wow! ‘Son of a b****’? That was unnecessary roughness!” Colbert reacted. “There should be a flag on that play, and I’m going say a Confederate flag.” ("Stephen Colbert: Donald Trump. Like NFL Protest, Has Everything to Do With Race," Lisa de Moraes, Deadline.com, September 26, 2017)
Trevor Noah's commentary on those who object to the player protests is summed up with the following headline:
"Trevor Noah Wants to Know: Is There Any Kind of Black Protest Republicans Won't Find a Way to Criticize" (Marissa Martinelli, Slate.com, September 26, 2017) 
Let's break this down into two parts: 1. Is it okay to protest during the National Anthem? and 2. Is it okay to protest during the National Anthem? I know, I know, it's the same question. Bear with me. . .

First of all, President Trump was wrong in calling out the NFL players for "taking a knee" during the anthem. I know some of my friends are lining up to take away my "conservative" creds or slapping me with RINO horns or something, but hear me out: the right to speak out against the ills of society, object to the direction of our culture, and even protest the actions of our government and its leaders is not anti-American--no, it is distinctly American.  I can't emphasize this enough: we live in a country that is so great, so wonderful, that we allow even those who hate us to express their views in complete freedom. God bless America. Certainly there is room for discussion on whether NFL rules or workplace rules in general allow those kinds of demonstrations, but setting that aside, the basic fundamental principle is that it is okay to protest during the National Anthem.

But is it really okay to protest during the National Anthem? Answering that question involves raising a whole bunch of other questions. Since we don't have time for a "whole bunch," we'll just have to settle for four:

1. Is protesting the protest a sign of racism? Quick answer: no. The more complicated answer is "who knows?" There are racists in our society: true, honest-to-devil men and women who genuinely hate and fear those of color and believe themselves superior. So are there racists disparaging the NFL players? Yes. Do they represent the views of every single person who objects to the "taking the knee" movement. No. In the future, we will address this tendency of the liberal left to blame "isms" (racism, sexism, and so on) for all of society's ills. But for now, let's move on. . .

2. What is the symbolism behind the protest? Protestors insist they are not disrespecting the flag, country, or the military. But what does it look like to the average person? The Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem are symbolic expressions of one's loyalty to and love for country. I know there are some who argue that such symbolisms are passé, but, historically, men and women have fought and died under the banner of the flag of the United States of America. It means something, it's important--and an affront against the symbols is perceived to be an affront against the substance.

As I watch player after player "taking a knee" during the Anthem, I cannot honestly believe that they aren't thinking of the symbolism. Otherwise, why not protest in other venues, at other times? Why not take advantage of their power to have a dozen or more reporters show up for an interview in which they can explain in detail their grievances? No, instead, they choose a symbolic gesture that translates as a proverbial slap in the face of millions of Americans--and then they wonder why millions of Americans have a problem with what they are doing.

3.  Do they really know the symbolism behind "taking a knee?" For as long as I remember, "taking a knee" either meant someone was tired or it meant someone was getting a pep talk or it meant someone was praying. Coaches in locker rooms would deliver a rousing speech, then whip off their caps and tell the players to "take a knee," followed by an equally inspirational prayer. The famous quarterback  Tim Tebow became famous for "taking a knee" in gratitude to God for a touchdown (something that irritated sportscasters and dour fans). When the NFL did it, it meant the QB, not wanting to blow a narrow lead with only a few minutes left on the clock, would intentionally down the ball by receiving the snap and immediately kneeling (or a receiver not wanting to return the football after a kickoff).

So how are we to interpret the current phenomenon of "taking a knee?" Some have claimed they are praying, but many more are very clear they are ticked off with societal problems and ticked off with the President. Not necessarily in that order. So it would appear that these players have co-opted an expression for themselves that has nothing to do with prayer, inspiration, gratitude, or playing strategy.

4. Does it work both ways? Police brutality is a real thing. Racial injustice is real. While there is an ongoing argument as to the degree and motivations of these social problems, there is enough to prompt people of good conscience to want to protest. As a result (and excuse the expression), the NFL stands with its players who are taking the knee during the anthem.

But within our society are many ills and injustices. For example, let's take some evangelical players who object to the horrible legacy of abortion in our country. It could be legitimately argued that, if there is a mark against the goodness of our country, it is the willful termination of millions of unborn children. So these Christian players, not wanting to stand and show pride in a country that allows such atrocities, decide to "take a knee" during the National Anthem. The million dollar question: would there be such tolerance and sympathy toward those players?

My guess is no. I think the mainstream press would mock and ridicule the cause to begin with. And then I would predict that these same guardians of the First Amendment would insist that insulting the flag and the anthem was an inappropriate way of protest. The NFL would probably find a broad way to fine or discipline the players. Sports pundits would argue about how politics should stay out of sports.

A willingness to honestly discuss and debate the whole issue of abortion would not even occur to the liberal left. So no, it would not work both ways--liberal causes will continue to be protected while conservative positions will be downplayed, ridiculed, or even suppressed.

So YES, it is completely okay to protest during the National Anthem. That's how great our country is--and I would urge my conservative friends to affirm this.

But NO, it is not appropriate. It sends the wrong message and its unnecessary provocation of millions of nice people takes attention away from the actual cause that is being protested.  In other words, "taking a knee" is an example of how, just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you SHOULD do it.


Vit Lustinec, Wikipedia