Another weekend to think….

I can’t quite recall why, but I found myself using HL Mencken’s words, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”, in a discussion with my husband the other day. Oddly, I don’t think it was political, but I’ve certainly found that it seems to fit much of our current climate in Washington – and the populism that led us to where we are.

Finding genuine solutions to what are, often, very real problems, takes time, energy, and inclusion – no problem can be solved, or threat eliminated, by excluding those that disagree from the discussion. Or by having a wholly unqualified outsider take them on. Yes, some views are so intractable that the chasm to common ground may seem unbridgeable, but people do open themselves up to other points of view, and possibly even to a change of opinion, when they are treated with respect, and they know that their concerns are being heard.

There is no easy answer. There is never an easy answer. But that does not mean that you have to either give up, or resort to the “easy” answers – it just means that you have to be willing to expend the energy that it takes to find something that works.
Food for thought on a potentially snowy weekend – enjoy!

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Of mice & dogs

Winter is coming, and the mice are back inside. Most years they stay out of the living spaces. Often we don’t even hear them in the attic because there are many feral, and merely stray, cats around that deal with them before they have a chance to come in. One year we took out 4 early in the season because they cannot be allowed in the living spaces. I have nothing against them staying warm (and it is close to impossible to completely seal them out & still breath inside) – but I draw the line at sharing the human living spaces. Or seeing them at all, actually. But at least one broke through this year (the traps are out waiting patiently for any others…)

The mouse was the boldest mouse I’d ever seen. I spotted him first in the upstairs hall on Wednesday afternoon, but he bolted and vanished before I could track him down. We have baseboard heat, and I’ve found that they love those little openings that the pipes come through. On Thursday morning, I saw him bolt into our bathroom while I was getting dressed. My husband caught him & lost him while trying to remove him. We put a trap in that bathroom as well. On Friday, he began taunting us. He deftly avoid the traps, and had a marked preference for high ground (up the vertical blinds we go). My husband caught him & lost him twice – once upstairs and then a bit later downstairs. In between, he kept appearing upstairs while I was working, and my aging dog – fully animated with wagging tail, twitching nose, and ears at full attention – kept trying to catch him. It was clearly the best toy the dog has had in years. And the mouse kept appearing. I think he didn’t understand the dog. Alas, moving downstairs was his undoing.

For the next couple of hours the dog waited between appearances for the next one. Not paying much attention (humans are not nearly as fond of the game as dogs, I guess), I barely registered it when I heard the dog snapping in the kitchen. Then she came back to the family room and laid down looking at the kitchen, and I assumed the mouse had disappeared again. But shortly after, my daughter got home and announced that the mouse was on the floor not moving – well trying to move – well there’s some blood – & no, not moving. So my husband collected it, tossed it into the outside garbage can, and cleaned up the floor. And the dog, already looking sad that the toy stopped playing, was clearly upset that we took the toy away. Game over.

The good news is that it’s 48 hours later, the traps are still unsprung, and I haven’t even heard the mice in the attic since (although I’m sure that’s temporary). The dog has proven that her killer instinct still works (when she’s awake, at least) – not bad for a nearly 9 year old rescued mountain cur based mutt. I apologize to anyone upset by the fate of the mouse – I’m not enthusiastic about killing things either. This was kind of a microcosm of nature playing out in my house, though. And it was fascinating. And now I know that dogs can also be as good as mousers as cats.

And on that note…

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’

— Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

Picture of Crystal, taken last winter by my GoPro.

Thoughts about gratitude and compassion

Originally posted November 21, 2015

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

— John F. Kennedy

The quotes above is one of my favorites. It serves as a reminder that expressing gratitude is more than saying ‘thank you’.

It’s fitting that this month’s optional theme for the #1000Speak posts is ‘gratitude’. After all, here in the US, the Thanksgiving holiday falls on the 4th Thursday of the month. And, although, I have no regard for the highly idealized, largely untrue, story of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims sitting around a big table eating turkey, I do appreciate the notion of having one day a year set aside to think about what we have to be thankful for. Especially those of us living in an area not plagued by war or famine, with steady jobs, and homes, and cars, and families to connect with – even if not geographically close.

So then, this month’s post should have flowed so easily, but it hasn’t. Just as Pope Francis has recently expressed his frustration with the state of the world at to the start of global Christmas celebrations “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace…. The whole world is at war.”

I, too, am having issues expressing gratitude for what I have when so many have so little. And when many others have no regard for human life. And it’s discouraging that the kindness in the world, and there is still quite a lot of it about, gets lost in all of the reporting of violence, and the fear-mongering hate speech that drowns out the voices asking for reason.

“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.”
― Dalai Lama

Fundamentalists from all three of the major Western religions have convinced themselves that the end times are upon us, and they seem to feel obligated to do their part to make sure it happens. There is a massive refugee crisis now due primarily to the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. And yet, too many people choose to focus their time and energy on manufactured outrage – like whether or not Starbucks’ holiday cups are an affront to Christianity. Which is discouraging, at best, when there are so many real things happening that we should be concerned about.

So yes, I feel like what I have matters little in comparison. Which is not to say that I’m not grateful, I very much am. But I’m frustrated. I just wish that there was more that I could do to affect a positive change for the rest of the world.

And so I have to remind myself that, while changing the course of the rest of the world is out of my hands, the small things I can do for others, and even continuing to share thoughts about compassion in my writing, do in a small way help bring about change. Every person that I touch in a positive way has the potential to share that positivity with others that they come into contact with. And the very fact we do pay positivity forward, even when we don’t realize that we do it, is something else that I’m thankful for. AIt demonstrates that there is hope for humanity  to somehow move past the current traumas, and find a way to build a better tomorrow.

“To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn

The future is indeed a succession small events. And in order to maintain our own inner balance, and remind ourselves good can be done, we need to build from the small. Self-improvement and spring cleaning gurus will always tell you to break your list down into small manageable pieces so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and just give up. So it is with life and hope. Focus on what you can do, and work from there.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Tuesday’s Quotes November 14, 2017 – Writing

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
— E.L. Doctorow

Ahh – that explains so much (and it’s a great excuse)…

Still too many competing priorities for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. Even by my normal Nano standards, I am unusually far behind in my word counts (well under 10k at nearly the halfway point) – but I’ve not given up hope yet. Hope my fellow NaNoers are doing much better than I am.

Happy noveling!

Sunset 11/13/2017.

Too Soon? Or Old News?

Yes, it’s time for me to repeat much of what I’ve said previously about guns in the United States in the wake of the slaughter in Las Vegas. But this has been an interesting news weekend, so first – The President and the Vice-President staged a very expensive publicity stunt today (his schedule apparenly shows VP Pence needing to be in California before the game in Indiana would have ended & the president tweeted about the lack of spontaneity – actually claiming credit). I’m curious about the price to tax payers for this little stunt. And the fascinating wordplay involved in the Vice President protesting a protest by walking out in protest was almost too good to ignore. But yet again, this is little more than a bit of political theater – designed to keep the flames lit – and to make a peaceful protest against a persistent racial inequality in this country about something else entirely – an unpatriotic lack of respect for our military. Um no, and as I, and many other have said before peaceful protest is one of those ‘rights’ that we are constitutionally bound to – and the open fanning of the flames of anger against the dissenters by government officials is, surely in opposition to the spirit of the First Amendment. Yes, the protesters can be criticized, but the reminder that they are within their rights as citizens should not be lost. Of course, on the subject of protesters not being criticized by the government, we have, once again, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville. This time a much smaller (reports of 40 – 50 people), much more subdued (so far) group, but I expect no criticism of these protesters – who don’t live in Charlottesville – by the White House for their continued push to promote white supremacy and neo-nazism under the guise of preserving history. The President has made it clear previously how he really feels. And yes, they have a right to peacefully protest. And they, too, can be roundly criticized, and their employers should not be pressured by the government to fire them for their peaceful protesting.

Numerically, the next constitutional amendment is the 2nd, but before going back there, I do want to note that, while I think there should be limits on firearms, particularly for the mentally ill, or those on terror watch lists, those limits would not have helped in the case of Stephen Paddock – although reportedly a loner, sullen, and a heavy gambler, he’d never been diagnosed with a mental illness (although it is likely he was mentally ill), and he certainly didn’t have any ties to terrorism. But perhaps looking at our access to semi-automatic weapons – and the corresponding ability to convert them to fully automatic weapons – is worthwhile. These types of weapons have no other purpose than to kill.

It’s important, in any discussion about guns in the US, to understand the 2nd Amendment. I’ve discussed the historical context before, but am repeating it now because it is important to understand. The second amendment to the US constitution, which some people very seriously seem to think is more important that the other 26 – part of a frenzy fortified by the National Rifle Association (more on them shortly) – is a very short, very simple declaration. A mere 27 words, and 3 critical commas, in its entirety, it states this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Oh, if only the founders could have realized how that would devolve through time. But damn those commas. There are two very different ways to read this. One is that the amendment was referring to individuals having a right to bear arms. Period. No exceptions. No restrictions. And it makes no difference what else the amendment says because of those pesky commas. This view is generally referred to a the ‘individual rights theory’. There is a fringe extension of this view, that feels that, again courtesy of the commas, that the individual rights are explicitly to offer protection from the state (which is mostly fueled by paranoia, not the law). The other view is generally known as the ‘collective rights theory’, and is based on the ‘well regulated militia’ opening. The opening clauses are seen as an indication that the true intent of the framers was to prevent congress from interfering with the states’ rights to self-defense. Under this view, the states do have the ability to regulate arms, and the individual use and ownership of them. But the federal government does not.

Until relatively recently, regardless of what some choose to believe, the courts have generally followed the ‘collective rights’ interpretive path in most decisions. The tide began to turn in 2008, though, when the courts ruled that Washington, DC’s highly restrictive gun laws were unconstitutional. Yes, it is really true – a mere 9 years ago marked the very first time that the Supreme Court ruled that a municipality did not have the right to restrict the possession of firearms in the home.

In order to see what happened, a brief history lesson might be a good place to start.

Historically, the collective rights theory partially would include an individual rights view, in so far as individual ownership enabled the states to call upon its citizenry to defend the state, at a time when the state was unable to supply the weaponry. Each of the original 13 States had their own militias, service was mandatory, and you were expected to supply your own weaponry. Therefore, you needed to have a gun so that you could use it in the service of the state. In reality, at that time, you probably had one anyway for hunting your meals. Over time the militias were dissolved, the guns remained, and so did the local and state ordinances that regulated them. The Supreme Court fairly consistently ruled in favor of state control, and in fact, ‘bearing arms’, was considered to be military terminology, and was not generic to owning or carrying a gun for personal use. In fact, in 1840, the Tennessee State Supreme Court, in Aymette v State, specifically stated that the phrase bearing arms “have reference to their military use, and were not employed to mean wearing them about the person as part of the dress. As the object for which the right to keep and bear arms is secured, is of general and public nature, to be exercised by the people in a body, for their common defence, so the arms, the right to keep which is secured, are such as are usually employed in civilized warfare, and that constitute the ordinary military equipment.” They also noted that the state’s statute was in line with the Federal Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Enter the National Rifle Association. Founded in New York in 1871 by a committed group of retired army officers and National Guard members, who were disturbed by the poor marksmanship that they witnessed during the Civil War, the group started out, and indeed spent the next century, as a civic-minded group that promoted the development of marksmanship skills, gun safety knowledge, hunting, and sensible regulation – including the banning in 1934 of the machine guns that were being heavily used by the high-profile bank robbers of the day. But then times started to change, and so did the NRA. Civil unrest and political assassinations in the 1960’s and 1970’s gave birth to a new view – especially after the creation of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Then, as now, there were conspiracy theorists claiming that the assassinations were part of a concerted effort to disarm the citizenry. And by the late 1970’s the NRA had changed focus – from community and hunting to politics and funding from weapons manufacturers. And the Republican party, in a show of just how powerful the NRA had become, charged from supporting handgun control in 1972 to adding a clause opposing federal gun registration efforts to their 1980 platform. It took the NRA nearly 40 years to accomplish, but by 2008 they had successfully swayed public perception enough that they had garnered the political support, and therefore the sympathetic ears they needed on the courts, to begin to see the second amendment reinterpreted. In a somewhat ironic turn – a constitutional coup was accomplished without firing a shot.

As to where we are now?

First, in spite of memes purporting otherwise – the guns used in most of the recent mass shootings were purchased legally. Even is states, like California, with very strict gun laws.

Second, I am increasingly disturbed by the number of people proclaiming, loudly, that gun laws are wasted laws because only good, honest people would comply. Following that reasoning through to its logical conclusion, those that subscribe to that line of thinking would lean toward anarchy because criminals, by definition, break laws. If we should not bother with a law because  some segment of the population will not comply, then why bother with any laws? And, even if you successfully reframe your argument so that it is only applicable to the weapons used to commit crimes, then you need to also consider the simple fact that ALL weapons, except those personally manufactured, start out legally purchased. And the second amendment has an opening clause that you should not ignore if your only argument against restriction is constitutional – as noted above, there is nearly 200 years of settled case law that not only does not ignore that clause, it also defines ‘bear arms’ as being a military term.

Third – seriously,  the worship of the second amendment while blissfully ignoring the others has really got to stop. How can you not be overcome by the dissonance when you are shouting about gun rights, and also talking about closing Muslim houses of worship? Or about allowing only Christian refugees to enter the country? Or actually suggesting interring US Muslims (because it worked so well with the Japanese in WWII?). Or of demanding that football players “taking the knee” in peaceful protest be fire by the NFL?How many other amendments do you want violated or ignored to satiate hate and paranoia?

Fourth – the very definition of mass shooting is clouding the issues surrounding gun violence. Frankly there isn’t one, and that is leading to highly misleading statistics being bandied about. Statistically, any shooting involving four or more victims is classified as ‘mass’. And that’s fair, but it isn’t really what the general populace thinks of when they hear that there were more mass shootings in the US in 2015 than days in the year. The public, probably rightfully, thinks of mass shootings as incidents like Charleston or San Bernadino, or Las Vegas, and according to Mother Jones, the total in 2015 was actually 4. Now, that is not to minimize the extent of gun violence in this country – there is far too much – but it is to point out that a gang shooting or a family member killing their spouse and children, are different types of crime. Heinous in their own right, and every victim is important, but a Dylan Root slaughtering people at choir practice for ideological reasons, does need to be classified separately. And this argument over what constitutes a ‘mass shooting’ allows the entire discussion about gun violence to be taken down to a pedantic level over only one aspect of the problem. And make no mistake, there is a problem. And that problem, is generally with legally purchased guns.

Yes, we can debate mental illness, and wring our hands, and yes, pray for the victims. But while that may make us feel better, it does not address the issue. There are an average of 297 people injured every day in the US by guns – and 89 of those die. 7 of those that die are children under the age of 19. 55 of those that die are suicides – with another 10 surviving an attempt. Annually 824 children and teens deliberately kill themselves with firearms, and another 124 are killed unintentionally. And they kill unintentionally as well. And we can debate what constitutes responsible gun ownership when children are around, and acts of God, when a 5 year old kills a 2 year old sibling with a gun that he received for Christmas. But we should also look at a culture that has bought into the notion that a child lacking the muscle development to adequately use a pair of scissors should be handed a loaded gun as a gift simply because the manufacturer decided to sell a line of small & cute pink long guns directed at young children. And oh yeah, it’s my second amendment right. No, it isn’t. These are CHILDREN. When a toddler shoots and kills mommy in Walmart because she foolishly left a loaded gun in her purse, we can all say ‘what a shame’ and be grateful that the child is probably too small to remember what they did. But what about the 9 year old girl that shot her weapons instructor during a vacation outing at a range that specializes in allowing anyone to fire automatic weapons? She was not old enough, or strong enough to manage that weapon, but she is old enough to have what happened haunt her for the rest of her life. No these tragedies were not an ‘act of God’ – they were irresponsible parenting, they were incredibly poor judgement on the part of the adults in the vicinity, they were the byproduct of a culture that has decided to buy into the notion that everyone having ready access to any type of gun, with no restrictions, really makes us safer. The statistics would seem to demonstrate that they don’t. And more importantly, while gun ownership, of hunting and sport, has always been popular in rural areas, including in my home town, and children had historically been given hunting guns in the middle school years, the trend – so obviously started by, and fueled by, a weapons manufacturing industry in search of new markets – of providing guns an ammunition to very young children is obscene. There is really no other word for it. We have allowed gun manufacturers to convince us that beyond sport and defense, guns are suitable toys. A young child, one that has not yet developed the physical ability to perform fine motor tasks, or the cognitive ability to understand death and object permanence, is not ready to possess a firearm.

“When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.”

– Samuel Johnson

 

 

Thoughts about Compassion and Peace

Repost from September 20, 2015 in honor of yesterday’s International Day of Peace. Have a peaceful weekend.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

— Lao Tzu

Back in February, when the wonderful initiative started – what an awesome idea it seemed having 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, by blogging on the same day – I wanted to take part, but struggled a bit with an approach.  Since the blog is for my thoughts, I decided that the best thing to do was to be me. Since then, the quarterly piece I’ve started twice, and not managed to finish, has been on the subject of compassion being at the core of societal DNA, falling second, really, only to our own instinctive need to survive. We need others to help us survive, and they need us. At it’s very core, this is how and why non-familial communities form, and from those smaller units, larger groups from, governments are developed, and on, and on. Without compassion, the entire structure comes apart.

Perhaps December will be the right month? Because I decided to switch gears a bit, again, this month when I realized that the International Day of Peace was Monday, September 21 – merely one day after this post was due. So first, the pitch for PeaceNow, and their quest to obtain one billion signatures on their petition to the UN to adopt a resolution containing a framework for establishing global peace – please read the resolution, and sign the petition, if you haven’t already done so >>>  International Day of Peace  http://www.peacenow.com/.

“The true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms, but in mutual trust alone.”

— Pope John XXIII

When I gave it some thought, I realized that the gear switch wasn’t as big as I’d feared, for after all, a lack of peace – internal or external – indicates a lack of compassion. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves, we cannot find inner peace. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves first, we cannot adequately feel compassion towards others – we may very well be polite and kind, and very nice people, but practicing compassion moves beyond that. Bringing about true peace globally requires a very large commitment from a very large number of people to act with compassion.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

— Lao Tzu

Human nature, at its very core, may well make that impossible – there has never been a time of peace throughout the entire world, and, sadly, it is unlikely to happen. But knowing that, sometimes even despairing in that knowledge, does not mean that we should give up our quest. Like ripples in a pond, the acts of compassion spread out – they can impact others in ways we may not even be aware of – and they encourage others to act with compassion, and so the ripples extend further and further out. Conflict is unavoidable, but if enough people are able to act as voices for reason and compassion, perhaps the conflicts that flare up will not escalate into huge conflagrations if there are enough people surrounding those in power, and, perhaps some conflicts can be avoided entirely simply by recognizing the humanity of those we disagree with.

In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru:

“Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.”

And finally, because Peace and Compassion cannot be separated, I’m also reposting the Charter for Compassion:

For additional information & resources, please check out the Charter for Compassion website, and consider signing on.

The full Charter For Compassion is reprinted below:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Photo taken near home – December 2016