What Despair?

I read in a New York Times story today, that 4 firefighters were shot, 2 fatally, in an apparent ambush. They had been called to a car fire in Webster, NY. When they got there, they found both a car, and a nearby house on fire. The shooter, William Spengler, 62, was a man with a lengthy criminal record, who lived in the burning house. He had apparently set the fires in an attempt to draw out first responders, then lie in wait for them to arrive. As the firefighters began to work on the fires, Spengler started shooting from a hidden position behind a nearby berm, hitting 4 before the rest were able to take cover. Spengler was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. You can read the whole story here.

Walking home from the store this evening, I was attacked by someone's Pitt Bull that had gotten loose. I had my trusty Uncle Henry pocket knife in my pocket, but knew there was no way I'd get to it and open it before the dog got to me. The only thing I could do was stand my ground, and hope bravado would suffice. So I yelled and waved my arms. The dog body slammed me, but, thankfully, didn't bite. By that time it's owners had gotten there and had taken control of the dog.  After a few choice words about responsible pet ownership, I went on my way. As I walked, I reflected that my response must have looked like the threat display of an average gorilla. So much for evolution.

My point here is that there is no such thing as a risk-free existence. The very act of living carries with it some inherent risk. Certainly, risk can be managed to a point, like getting rid of assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. But after that, there are some heavy trade-offs with regard to liberty vs. security. Weapons are only useful if you're planning to go into a dangerous situation (like, say, a war). But if you're caught by surprise, or if someone wants you dead bad enough, and is patient enough, odds are that you'll die.

Most people, like those firefighters, know this, yet still have the courage to go on about their daily lives.

I think even conservatives agree that the NRA's call for armed guards at every school is a stupid, unworkable, unsafe idea. Guns aren't a perishable item, and, taken care of correctly, can outlive their owners. But it's the NRA's job to make sure people keep buying guns. If that means sowing fear and discontent, so be it. Consequently, much of what they say regarding public safety, I find to be less than credible.

It's a complex problem, and I don't have all the answers. But I know that putting more guns into the equation is literally like adding gasoline to a fire.

I don't know what despair or insanity could compel someone to take the lives of innocent strangers, but we need to make sure that it's easier for them to get access to a mental health professional, than access to a gun.


Lessons We Refuse to Learn

It happened again. Just as we knew it would. I'm not sure I have the words to describe what I'm feeling. Soulsick comes close, I guess.  What compounds this horror are the inevitable, insensitive, callous comments of people like Mike Huckabee, who blames this tragedy on "God being driven from the classroom". If only we were that lucky.

Let's pretend for a moment that god is real. How stupid does one have to be? How little self-esteem does one have to have in order to worship a being that would willingly sacrifice 26 innocent people, most of them children, because he feels he isn't being worshiped sufficiently? A being like that is worthy only of my contempt. It's one of those times that I wish god were real. Then there would be someone to blame, an enemy to vanquish.

But that is not the case. Not much is known yet about the shooter, but given the nature of all the others, one can make some assumptions. In order for any human being to calmly take the lives of children and others who pose absolutely no direct or imminent threat to them, one would have to have suffered a serious break with reality.

Having spent a good portion of my misguided youth engaged in "better living through chemistry", I can tell you that, even under the most nominal of conditions, our perception of reality is built on little more than a house of cards. One of the most complex things that exists in this universe is the human brain. It's both fragile and resilient. Even with all the technological advances over the last 30 years, and our ability to store a lot of information in a very small space, the closest we've come to true artificial intelligence resembles more the brain of an ant, than a human. Our brains got us to the top of the food chain, and have created most of what we interact with in our daily lives. There is a lot of power there. So, when they break, things tend to end badly.

When those broken brains are in control of bodies that have access to a lot of firepower, things end badly for a lot of people.

To me, America's obsession with guns is indicative of fear. Canada has just as many gun owners per capita as we do, but less than half the gun violence. Why is it so much worse here?

Fear. Fear that has been carefully cultivated by those who have a vested interest in making, and keeping us afraid. We all know who they are. That fear, which we are being spoon-fed with on a daily basis, is one that many of us are all too willing to embrace. We're afraid of everything. Mostly each other.

It is a cowardice that, frankly, is embarrassing to witness.

The older I get, it seems, the less willing I am to take another's life, even to save my own. Mostly, I think, that it is because I have already lived through what they have yet to. How could I take a gift of that magnitude from anyone?

For the next few days, however, if anyone within arm's reach tells me that those children could have been saved if those teachers had been armed, or they try to portray this tragedy as "god's will", I may just make an exception in the form of a fat lip, or a poke in the snout.

Just So You Know Where My Head's At

Ah the good old days, back when there was actually such a thing as a lucid Republican. Granted, I disagreed with him on many issues. But that's the point. He was able to prioritize and discern real issues, rather than the stupidity and minutia that today's Republicans focus on.


This speaks for itself.



Pretty much sums it up.


Sound familiar?


Admittedly, I'm not as chipper as I once was....



Sour Grapes?

There are those who think that we Democrats have been overly celebratory in our victory. They have misinterpreted our reaction. It isn't poor sportsmanship. It's relief. Immense relief. It's like being in a horrible car crash, then realizing afterward that you don't have a scratch on you.

We all dodged a bullet.

From Bain and the comical notion that he was a job creator, to offshore bank accounts, to refusal to release tax returns (obviously hiding something; logic dictates it), to his open contempt of not just the 47%, but to every working person in this country, and endless comments that were guaranteed to alienate different voters, Mitt was showing to many why he should never be allowed anywhere near the White House. Putting aside the "magic underwear", his questionable personal and business ethics, and his painfully obvious cluelessness about everything outside of his bubble, he simply was not qualified for the job.

The fact that the election was this close was due, in large part, to people like the Koch brothers, organizations like ALEC, and multinational (read foreign) corporations who, because of Citizens United, were convinced that this election was already bought and paid for. It's the reason for Karl Rove's meltdown on election night, and why Mitt Romney was described afterward as being "shell-shocked". They thought the fix was in.

It is they who are the takers. They who commit crimes on a scale.much larger than some welfare mom  (often vilified by these same people) would have either the will, or the resources to carry out. It should be obvious who does the most damage.

They would gladly turn our elections into a spectator sport. A football game where we still pay the price of admission, but have no say on how the game is played.

A man shared a Facebook post his daughter made that put it eloquently:


"Last thing I'll say about the election and then I'll move on to enjoying these next 4 years, the simple FACT that Obama has won TWICE proves that that times have changed. We are a new America and Republicans need to wake up to this new reality. Open your closed minds and do some simple research. ALL Obama supporters are not welfare recipients or sitting at home waiting to collect another check from the government. Not all Obama supporters are "takers," we are providers as well. We provide for our children, the elderly, veterans.... We work long and hard and pay taxes just like everyone. We watched money being taken from ALL of our checks to pay for a war that was pointless and ridiculously expensive. Please remember the FACTS and go back to the drawing board, because "The Right" is not tuned-in to this new ideology."

He is rightfully proud of her. But her youth shows in her hope that the Right will learn from their mistakes.  If history is any indication, they will double down as they've been doing, convincing themselves that they can change the nature of reality itself, if they can get enough people to believe the lie.

The Most Iimportant Right

Today is election day. If you haven't done so, go vote. Trust me, the most basic of American rights may not seem important, until you lose it.

About a decade ago, I had a raging drug problem.  It progressed as you might expect, and I ended up doing a couple of years in prison. When you're convicted of a crime, the first thing they do, is take your right to vote. I've alway assumed that the reason for this is that since you've committed a crime, you decision-making abilities are therefore suspect.  Of course there is the fact that there are many politicians out there whose decision making abilities resemble that of someone who is mentally ill.  They also have committed crimes on a scale that most of us have neither the will or the resources for.  These are the people who write laws. It's up to you to call them on it.

I'm told I can get my civil rights restored.  It is, unfortunately, way above my price range.  My experience in prison served what I assume was it's intent, and I've lived an exemplary life since, I think.  I don't even jaywalk.

But none of that matters. Because money is now free speech, and that freedom is now being held for ransom by the state.

There are millions like me, and that number is growing every day.  So, go vote. Because, trust me, you don't want to spend the rest of your life on the outside looking in, with a blog that few people read as your only voice.

Sympathy

I haven't posted in a while. My brother passed two months ago today.  It was sudden and unexpected. One of those cancers that show little in the way of symptoms until it's too late.

I'm not exactly what one would call emotionally demonstrative, unless you count being perpetually glib an emotion. (Yeah, I know. Yada yada defense mechanism...I'm workin' on it, alright?).  So I was caught off guard as far as how much his loss affected everything I was doing. Especially writing.  I usually write a blog post down on paper, then go back and read it a day or so later. At that point, I usually think, "What crap", and try again. 

You're welcome.

My brother and I weren't close growing up. He was 15 years older, and out on his own before I was really aware of his presence. As a teenager, I spent a couple of summers with him and his family. I had a lot of hair, and an equal amount of angst. But he was patient with me, and I was lucid enough between bong hits for some of it to take. He would occasionally get the look on his face that hard to describe. It was his way of calling bullshit when I did or said something stupid. Whatever it was, it worked.

After I became an adult, my brother and I found that we had two diametrically opposing political viewpoints. This made for some interesting Thanksgivings, and a couple of decades' worth of spirited emails. 

For me, it began when Reagan was elected.  I knew it was bad. Really bad. I knew that the consequences would be far-reaching.  Being able to say, "I told you so" isn't as fun as I thought it would be.

I suspect now that, much of the time, my brother was playing devil's advocate in order to get me to think logically, and back up my opinions. If so, I owe him a debt of gratitude.

But what I've learned, is that logic and reason must be tempered with empathy and compassion. Otherwise, we tend to end up doing what is expedient, rather than what is right.

Part of my liberalism, and my atheism for that matter,  is the belief that most people are good, decent, hard-working folks just trying to do the best they can.  Sometimes this is little more than a carefully cultivated delusion. But it's a necessary one, I think. When I'm wrong, it is often spectacularly so. But the times I'm right more than make up for it. If I'm to err, I prefer it to be on the positive side. The problem is, that it requires a strength which I don't always posses. It's at these times, I tend to go into a sort of hibernation until it passes.

Otherwise, I run the risk of seeing, in my mind's eye, that look on my brother's face.

Life Eternal

I'm an atheist. I don't believe in an afterlife. If you think I'm happy about that, you're wrong. The average 78 year lifespan of an American male is entirely too short for my liking.

On the other hand, if one were to think it through, eternal life would be a fate worse than death.  After a relatively short time (compared to infinity), you would have thought your last original thought. No more sense of wonder, your every action done by rote.  Assuming finite memory, you would eventually forget how you came to be, everyone you ever loved, everything you once thought important. Eternal life as a zombie? Thank you, no.

I'm sure there's a happy medium in there somewhere. We may even achieve it someday. How long is long enough to reach one's full potential? I'm sure the answer is as varied as every member of humanity.

Early in our relationship, I tried to explain to my wife (a believer) how I came to be an atheist. As I did so, I began to see a sort of fear, even panic behind her eyes. For days afterward, she was depressed. I felt horrible, and I've never brought up the subject again.  I vowed then, that if a person's belief did them no harm, and gave them comfort, I'd leave them their illusion. In the end, they'll never even know they were wrong.

As for me, I've taken Carl Sagan's advice: "Better a hard truth, than a comforting fable."

Unfortunately, believers like my wife, people whose moral compass isn't swayed by people like Pat Robertson, and other prophets of hate too numerous to mention, are becoming an endangered species.

There are those, so conditioned by their beliefs, that they would cheerfully commit the most horrible of atrocities if they believed it to be the will of their god.  For them, the wage of sin is death.  Of course, their definition of sin is often a matter of convenience.

These arbitrary definitions are a common occurrence in the Middle East, and could easily be here, if Dominionists ever succeed in their efforts of doing away with the secular nature of our government.

It is these people that should be fought tooth and nail, with every resource at our disposal. Their vision of the future is this twisted, monocultural utopia where selfishness is a virtue, compassion is a sin, and diversity is not tolerated.

Courage and Common Sense

As a liberal, I think that the Second Amendment is a good thing. Our founding fathers were worried about tyrannical government, and foreign invasions, and the Second Amendment has done an admirable job of deterring those things. Of course, at the time it was written, one man with a gun was only slightly more dangerous than one man with a knife.

Liberals aren't generally big fans of firearms. But there are those whose fear is such, that they would turn this country into an armed camp in order to feel secure.

The mistake that our founding fathers made was in assuming that their descendants would have courage and common sense.

Certainly, risk can be managed to a point (that's the common sense part). But after that, you begin trading liberty for what is often the illusion of security. As far as courage, well, the conservative obsession with the myth of a risk-free existence is indicative of a cowardice that is embarrassing to watch. Their response to that fear is to actually make things more dangerous. Maybe it's because they believe that it's not their liberty that they'll be trading.

There is no such thing as a risk-free existence, nor should there be (that way lies extinction). A certain amount of stress and strife is necessary. Of course we would prefer it to be more in the way of positive challenges. But, life is risk, and all the firepower in the world won't change that.

Big business, and the politicians that they own realized long ago that fear is a great tool for manipulating the masses.  A very lucrative tool, at that.  It's unlikely that those who crave power could ever take our freedom by force.  But they don't have to.  They have frightened people to the point where they've been gladly voting against their own interests, and selling their security and freedom, a little at a time, for decades. 

It isn't a TV show, or a video game. I can guarantee that anyone who says that they could have prevented a tragedy like this, if only they had been present and armed, hasn't ever actually had real bullets shot at them. A firefight is the very definition of chaos, and, unlike TV, someone who is mortally wounded rarely has time to deliver a moving soliloquy before a graceful exit. The end is most often horrifying, undignified, and immediate.

It's impossible for a sane person to take a human life without some damage to the psyche. It's the curse of having imagination and empathy. In times of war, or self defense, it has to be overridden, and that's when the damage occurs.

Most recover, but like any injury, there are scars.

So when I read about people like Russell Pearce, and his armchair heroics, I find it decidedly less than credible.




Aurora

I won't go into much detail about the tragedy in Aurora. Nor will I address the question of gun control, and the NRA. The situation speaks for itself. We're just not listening. I will say this:

There is a difference between the 2nd Amendment's intent, and what's going on today. The founding fathers were worried about tyrannical government, and foreign invasions.

They never considered the possibility that their descendants would actually allow public policy to be decided by those whose only qualification is a large pocketbook. They never thought we'd be so short-sighted as to allow our nation to be sold out from under us for such a pittance. They trusted the future of this nation to us. Their mistake was assuming that we'd be worthy of that trust.

Indeed, I think they would feel betrayed, and that we deserve whatever we get for that betrayal.

And they would be right.

Some statistics.

A nice lady contacted me with some good information regarding this country's obsession with putting people in prison.

Until we love each other's freedom as we do our own, none of us are free.


No Justice For All
Created by: OnlineCriminalJusticeDegree.com

Anonymous

We went to the memorial service for my friend, Jason, last Saturday. It was held at the DeGrazia Mission, which, despite it's name, is more of an art gallery than anything. To my relief, there were no clergy present. But too much talk of him being in a "better place" for my liking. I can't really fault people taking what comfort they can from loss.

As for me, I would take it as a kindness if, when my time comes, those I leave behind would forego all that silliness. Given a choice, I prefer a hard truth over a comforting fable.

It is a hard thing to know that the only immortality we get, is in the memories of those we leave behind. It behooves us to make sure those memories are good ones. But even those memories only last a couple of generations, if you're lucky.

We live our lives on the crest of a wave, crashing through time, until eventually we end up as a single drop, among the countless others, in that great sea of Those Who Came Before.

For instance, this morning on YouTube, I was watching some very early films. Street scenes from Edwardian England, taken around 1900. As I watched, I realized that even the youngest of those pictured were gone now. I found myself curious about them. How they lived their lives, and what became of them. Life is precious. They deserved remembrance. I felt myself grieving a little. Not only over their lives and deaths, but over their anonymity.

But as I continued to watch, I would catch a glimpse of...something. A smile, a gesture, a resemblance, a gait. Something that reminded me of someone I know today.

And I thought that perhaps we weren't so separate and anonymous, after all.


Loss

One week ago today, my friend, Jason, was murdered.  Last Wednesday morning, paramedics were called with a report of a man slumped over in his car.  They found my friend, badly beaten, perhaps shot. His car was parked in a nice, middle class neighborhood. Aside from the obvious, there were no other signs of foul play. He was 30 years old. He was also a nice guy.  So much so, that I have trouble imagining a situation in which he could anger someone enough to kill him.  When I first moved to Tucson, I barely knew anyone. I'd only known Jason for a couple of days.  But without hesitation, he offered to help me move into my apartment.  My second floor apartment.  As I write this, I'm wearing shoes that he gave me.  He was that kind of guy.

In situations like this, most people struggle to find sense in what is inherently senseless.  While it's happening, violence is a base, mindless thing. It's only later that people try to rationalize and justify.  What was it? Money? Gang initiation? Road rage? These questions are useless.

When you strip it all away, one person will harm another for no other reason than that circumstance, or in some cases, authority, have given them an opportunity to do so.

That's it. No thought. Just predatory instinct.

When I think of this, my sense of loss is increased tenfold.  It's not only the loss of my friend, but of all the potential he held.

And for me, the world is smaller and diminished.

Such a Nice Young Man

A couple of days ago, a young man came into the store and up to my register.  He wanted a pack of cigarettes, but was a little short (I let him slide).  We got to talking, and he explained that he had all but quit smoking, and rarely bought cigarettes anymore.  He further explained that his girlfriend only let him do so when there was enough accumulated pocket change lying around the house.

Then he asked, "Have you got a copy of the (Tucson) Weekly?"
I indicated where they were.  He went and grabbed one, brought it back, and started scanning the pages.

"Ah, there I am.", he said.  He had the page open to the Weekly's 2012 Election Guide, which gave some background on the various candidate running for office.  Then he turned to me, stuck out his hand, and said, "Hi, I'm Brandon Patrick. I'm running for State Representative."

I glanced down at the paper, and was privately relieved to see he was a Democrat.  He went back to reading, then said,
"Ouch, wish they hadn't included that little gem."

I asked him to explain.  He pointed to the paper and said, "Last year, I worked as an aide to Paul Cunningham."

I couldn't help but laugh.  Paul Cunningham is a city councilman who got into hot water on a recent trip to San Diego by drinking too much, and making some inappropriate comments to some female colleagues.  It's the sort of boorishness that the male of the species engages in at least once during his life.  They usually get past this type of silliness while they're fairly young - a process that is usually helped along by a poke in the snout, and a stern talking-to by an older friend or relative.

We spoke a little more, then he took his leave.

When I got home that night, I did a little online research, and was appropriately impressed. But I think what impressed me more was that, when talking to him, he was honest without that slight hesitation that most politicians have when considering how that honesty might affect them politically.  There was also none of that using-a-lot-of-words-to-say-nothing thing that seems to be a prerequisite for politicians.

So, if I were allowed to do so, I'd vote for him.  He's well-spoken, honest, has a firm grasp of the issues, and some good ideas.

And, if nothing else, there something endearing about a politician that occasionally has to scrounge for change like the rest of us.

Tag & Release

Recently, former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini wrote a letter to the editor of the UA's newspaper, The Daily Wildcat. The letter was in response to an op-ed expressing concern over DeConcini's involvement with CCA (Corrections Corp. of America) as a member of its board of directors.  DeConcini is also a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.

In the letter, he calls the students' concerns "irresponsible journalism", and tells them to stay off his lawn.  Ok, I made that last part up. He stated that, "The CCA took no role in the creation or passage of SB1070."

I'm not sure which to be offended by.  The lie itself, or the insult to my intelligence.  CCA, MTC, Gov. Brewer, Russel Pearce, and the glue that binds them all: ALEC, all had a great deal of input on that legislation.  They were scouting areas close to the border for potential prison sites a year before anyone heard of SB1070. 

DeConcini also stated that the CCA doesn't involve itself with regard to sentencing or incarceration legislation (see the beginning of the previous paragraph).  This is demonstrably false.  They've been lobbying for tougher sentencing laws for decades.

The concept of attaching a profit motive to the loss of anyone's liberty is something which I find abhorrent.  It obviously lends itself to abuse by both the private and public sector.  For the private sector, profit of course. For the government, I suspect it's kind of a tag and release program. They get your fingerprints, your DNA, and those pesky civil rights, including that of voting.

It's something that cheapens the concept of liberty itself. Society must necessarily bear a burden when taking someone's freedom.  Otherwise, freedom becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold.

Over the last two decades, I've seen rights slowly and insidiously transformed into privileges granted by the state.  I can see a future where those who can afford it, order items off the Bill of Rights as though it were a fast food menu.

If bearing this burden leaves a bad taste in your mouth, too bad.

If being a free society were easy, everyone would do it.

Lazy Thinking & a Risk-Free Existence

I read an article on Huffpo citing a study claiming that conservatives are lazy thinkers (calling Dr. Obvious).  There was some heated discussion in the comments section as to whether conservatism caused lazy thinking, or vice versa.  To me, it doesn't really matter.

My major problem with conservative policies is that they lack foresight.  In my home state of Arizona, almost every piece of legislation produced by our Republican controlled legislature seems to be a reaction to some perceived threat.

Sagan's Warning

What follows is an excerpt from Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. When I first read it, years ago, I thought he was just speculating a worst-case scenario. I was wrong. He was all too accurate.
Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you're in love, you want to tell the world. This book is a personal statement, reflecting my lifelong love affair with science. But there's another reason: science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking.

I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time - when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. Beavis and Butthead remains popular (and influential) with young TV viewers.

The plain lesson is that study and learning - not just of science, but of anything - are avoidable, even undesirable.

We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements - transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting - profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
                Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

You can see it today in the GOP's war on women, and their overt racism. You can see it in their disdain and suspicion of science and education.

When those who would hold the highest public office in America refer to colleges as "indoctrination mills", something is seriously wrong. When they confuse quantifiable, observable fact as mere opinion, it is dangerous.

They would casually discard everything we, as a people, have venerated for centuries, in favor of some twisted, corporate theocracy.

If they succeed, it won't end well for any of us. But make no mistake, it will end.

Grasping the Concept

Recently, a judge in Montana, Richard Cebull forwarded a racist email that referred to President Obama, which I obviously won't repeat here.  He has since apologized, saying,

  "The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."

His apology seems sincere enough, except that he's apologizing for how the email was perceived, rather than it's substance. Still, it's not really the point. This man's sole job is, essentially, to use good judgement. In this case (and perhaps many others), he failed to do so.

He admitted that he read the email, and knew it was racist, but decided to forward it on to some "old buddies" anyway. A part of his job description is to maintain an appearance of impartiality. To me, his failure to do so makes every one of his rulings suspect.

This isn't about free speech, as the Republican senators in his state would have you believe. He is free to have opinions, and discuss them privately.  But this man holds the life and liberty of American citizens in his hands daily. To use such poor judgement precludes having a job with that kind of responsibility, and for that reason alone, he should step down.

If he can't see this, it's just another indication of his poor judgement.

Weighing the toad

Rush Limbaugh's most recent vulgar tirade caused, in his words, "a national stir".  I think a better term would be shitstorm.  At last count, 33 companies have pulled advertising from his show.  He's still on the air, doing his best to portray himself as the victim in all this.  Just a regular joe, under attack from the liberal elitists for trying to get the "truth" out to the American people.  The thing is, that six months, or a year from now, that's exactly how a significant percentage of people will see it.

It is they, not Rush Limbaugh, who I blame the most.  Limbaugh is a just a sad, unremarkable, little toad of a man.  The world is full of 'em.  The fact that this cretin has such an unreasonably large amount of influence over conservative politics, is due to those who listen to his hatefulness, his disinformation, his vulgarity, and his racism, and then point to it as truth. 

He represents their  twisted, obscene vision of what America should be.  He is the symbol they point to, to legitimize their fear, their hate, and their ignorance.

Rush and his followers figure that all they have to do is wait until the next new cycle, and they can go back to business as usual.

I say that if we don't draw a line here, and now, then there really is no point past which we won't go as a people.

AWOL

First of all, I must apologize.  Almost two months into 2012, and this is my first post of the year.  It's not like there has been a lack of subject matter.  Quite the opposite.  Therein lies my problem.  As hard as it was to keep up with the hatefulness, the insanity, the religious fanaticism, the racism, and the criminal lack of foresight that is displayed by conservatives on a daily basis, I still felt it necessary to call them on all of it.  Keeping silent felt too much like complicity.  Then one day, shortly after Christmas, the enormity of what we're facing as a nation and a people became clear.  It scared the hell out of me.  It was a personal fear, because I realized that the world that those like Santorum, Romney, Palin, Bachmann, and Limbaugh are trying to make will target me, and those like me, and, for that matter, many who aren't remotely like me.  (They also hate diversity).

I became, for lack of a better word, soulsick.  It's a word that, as an atheist, I'm not particularly comfortable using, but it's a little more poetic than depression.

So, I took a break, and tried to regain some perspective (and maybe some hope).  I hope I succeed.  On to the subject at hand:

In the beginning, one of the things that made the U.S. different from other nations - what made us exceptional - was a relatively mild social stigma attached to failure. Perhaps because it happened so often.  Marching off into the wilderness, into the unknown, often took a curious combination of courage and desperation.  Americans became famous for taking risks.  The inherent danger of taking a risk, is failure.  It was worth doing, not only because of the great rewards for success, but because the very act of taking a risk symbolized many things that we as a people venerated.  Faith in ourselves.  Faith in each other. Hope.

One could start a business, and have it fail, and still be free to try again.  In most other countries, the same failure would have meant years in a debtors prison.  For that matter, if one made a mistake and committed a crime, he would have gone to prison, just like anywhere else.  But afterward, provided he learned from his failure, he would have been free to choose another path.  To re-invent himself.

Those days are long over.  For a number of reasons.  One is simple supply and demand.

In the days of sailing ships, if one of the crew were found guilty of some transgression, the punishment was usually swift and severe.  But it rarely resulted in death.  Once his forty lashes were done with, he was once again a part of the crew.  Why?  A ship required men to sail it, and killing an able bodied seaman put everyone else at risk.  There are more of us now.  So many, in fact, that even the best and brightest of us are considered by the public and private sector to be inherently expendable.

Another reason is a lack of anonymity, or even basic privacy. Years ago, before the internet, I read that every every person in this country had an average of 15 other people in both the public and private sector who, for whatever reason, had access to information considered private.  Since the internet, we've lost the ability to even measure how many people have access to information not only considered private, but to the smallest aspects of a person's life.  It's hard to re-invent oneself when the details of their life are open to quite literally everyone.  Especially when a significant percentage of those people are all too willing to use that information for reasons one can't even imagine.

Which brings me to the last reason.  As a people, we've become less patient,  less tolerant.  We live in a society where almost every human endeavor carries with it some sort of zero-tolerance policy.  Where stepping out of line, even a little, can mean sanctions that last a lifetime.  Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is forgiven.  And your debt to society never gets paid.  A country where the loss of liberty for one, means financial gain for another, is destined to be a place where even the concept of freedom itself is somehow cheapened.  Just another commodity someone would buy at Wal-Mart.

Someday, the consequences of failure - any failure at all - will be so great, that people will cease taking risks altogether.  If you look, you can already see the initial signs of our slide into mediocrity and irrelevance.  And if left unchecked, it could eventually even mean our extinction.