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

 

 

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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

Adaptation

Repost from October 9, 2015. 

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

–Eric Hoffer

Ah yes, variations on the first rule of evolution – we adapt or we die.

Eric Hoffer passed away at 80 in 1983, and was the source of many, beautifully simple, quotes. He was a philosopher, and a working man, who wrote what he intuited based on the world he lived in. His most famous work, “True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements” (1951), was an attempt to address the whys & hows of totalitarian governments, particularly Hitler and Stalin. I think he was onto something when laying out his argument for the psychology of how they take root and grow. Part of that mass psychology, in his view, is that people who are disaffected and feel threatened by their world, are those that more readily accept the hand of the dictator, because they like the promise of ‘better’ times, the promise of future more like the one they’d envisioned. The more threatened they feel by the status quo, the more likely they are to embrace a radical change. Unfortunately, I fear that we may be witnessing that type of disaffection among some segments of the populace now. Be very careful what you wish for.

I’d not thought about this particular quote in a while. But I think there are many people these days who would do well to heed the words, so maybe they should be dusted off. The majority of my saved quotes are meant to be inspirational in some form or other, but this one is more of an affirmation for me. I do believe that all humans have a remarkable capacity for adaptation – when they choose to engage it. Change & growth run together – stagnation is not a natural human state.

For me, the message in this particular quote is clear – we have to keep learning, and growing, in order to cope with a constantly changing world. Given much of his writing, he likely meant it a bit more literally, but even at its most literal, the meaning is still essentially the same.When confronted with a change in circumstance, it is we that have to change to adapt to it. It doesn’t matter how well you understand how things were, you have to develop an understanding of how they are. To those who are continually fighting to bring back some imaginary ‘good old days’, there is undeniably a lesson in this. Unfortunately, they are the ones least likely to heed the advice.

In a similar spirit, I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes, and rules for living, from Heraclitus:

“There is nothing permanent except change”

Photo of Bridal Veil Falls and Water Wheel – Idaho Springs, Colorado, Judy 2017

We’re 3 years old!

 

“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading: It vexes me to choose another guide.”

–Emily Brontë

It’s very hard for me to believe, but Time for my thoughts passed its third birthday  this past Friday (& yes, I did miss it – I’m terrible with anniversaries). It was September 1, 2014 when I published my first post. It wasn’t particularly interesting or profound, but there it was – written & sent out into the ether for someone to see. Of course, the initial someone was my elder daughter, who said she could hear my voice in her head while she was reading and found it disconcerting. For my part – that was great news. I’d quite literally found my voice! Which is good – it’s much easier for me to write that way. She says she still can, and it still is disconcerting, so if nothing else, I’ve managed to stay true to myself & made the blog’s chosen name more meaningful. Even if I’m keeping my voice in my daughter’s head from halfway around the globe.

I’ve continued to learn over the past year, and, as usual, some things I’ve chosen to disregard, others I’ve incorporated. I’ve gained a surprising number of new followers, and I’ve most likely lost a few more, too, but it would be strange if I didn’t. Some of the bloggers I had been interacting with are no longer blogging, which is unfortunate, but we all need to go where our own paths take us. I’ve never expected a huge following, and to me, my current number is pretty huge considering the fact that my blog is really all about me – Time for my thoughts pretty much spells it out – and I’m not a high-volume blogger (too many competing priorities). I, admittedly, like to see the numbers rise, and am a bit disappointed on a day that has no views, although most days do manage to have one or two. I don’t publish every day simply because I don’t want to make the time – I have a fairly demanding job, a part-time volunteer job, a retired spouse, a teenager still at home, other projects, and a need to make sure that whatever I’m writing is accurate (poorly proofread, perhaps, but accurate), and now we’re also trying to get our house finally ready to sell, and sifting through our post-sale option. My family copes well with my assorted writing endeavors, but it’s nice to have some family time sometimes, too. And some downtime for me occasionally is also helpful.

My current posting schedule still works for me most weeks, so I’ll stick with it for now. Sometimes it isn’t easy to stick to a schedule (and days like this my posts are written quite late), but out of all that I learned in Blogging U that first year, I think it may be the most important. I’ve come to realize that nonfiction works best for me in a blog, so I’ll continue to trudge down that path – although reality lately has often been stranger than fiction. I’m a poor planner, and am not likely to change, so most things that I write will continue to be written on the fly. I do plan to continue with the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion posts each month most months – even though it is no longer following a formal schedule, I still think it’s a wonderful idea, and pushing myself to focus on compassion once a month helps me stay balanced during the rest of the month. I’ll continue to keep those posts close to the 20th just to make sure that I really get the posts written (deadlines: sometimes I really need them).

I’m still wary of social networking. I still have no clue what Google+ is for, so its pretty much exclusively for Time for my thoughts, I’ve recently become a bit more active on Twitter – but 140 characters are hard to work with,  my only Facebook account is my personal one – and one of the reasons I started the blog was to be able to expand on my views somewhere not in Facebook. If I ever find the energy to become a power blogger, I’ll reconsider Facebook. But I am still thinking about grabbing the timeformythoughts URL since it’s still available and I’m still blogging. If anyone has any suggestions/comments/experiences to share about that, they would be much appreciated.

Thank you for reading and, especially, for  continuing to share your thoughts with me, as I continue on my journey down my own path, and I hope to never forget this wise advice from Albert Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Photo take July 4, 2017 from the Walkway Over The Hudson.

 

On willows and life, and weathering the storms

“The willow which bends to the tempest, often escapes better than the oak which resists it; and so in great calamities, it sometimes happens that light and frivolous spirits recover their elasticity and presence of mind sooner than those of a loftier character.”

Not entirely sure how I feel about this particular line from Albert Schweitzer (but he’s right), but when we think of willows, we naturally think of resilience. Although I once had a discussion with a tree surgeon about willows, and it seems that reality may not quite equal the lofty view we hold of them. But still, they are beautiful trees – and much like humans both stronger and more fragile than we think. My willow lost its crown a few years ago following a freak early-October heavy snow, and somehow it managed to survive. It has, in fact, survived years of outright neglect – I’m not much of a gardener, and trees, in particular, are left to fend for themselves once they’ve been planted. In fact, it lost another section this past winter, but already seems to have filled itself in. It has always fascinated me how the willow, with its bent and twisted limbs, continues to grow around its own difficulties.  And it seems that we humans lose much every day, and, like the willow, somehow we also manage to keep going.

There has been much tragedy, again, in the world recently, which makes it hard, sometimes, to find the motivation to write. And of course, the US government is not making things any easier this year – with science denial, a white supremacy resurgence, and a narcissist – it’s hard to comment on the absurdities when everything seems absurd.

But this weekend, the state of Texas, particularly the southeastern portion of the state (home to many in-law relatives, and a few friends), is truly suffering the effects of a category 4 hurricane, which brought unprecedented flooding, and rainfall measured in feet, and while the media, and most of the country, was focused on the hurricane bearing down on Texas, our president seized the moment to officially ban transgender military enlistments, and to pardon a former Arizona sheriff who repeatedly flouted the law and used county funds as if it was his own piggy bank, from a contempt conviction for which he hadn’t yet been sentenced. And doesn’t seems to be spending much time thinking about Texas at all.

But, just as New Orleans eventually recovered from Katrina, and upstate NY recovered from Irene, and New Jersey from Sandy, and Florida from too many storms to name, Houston, and the rest of the state, will eventually recover, and rebound, from Harvey. We clean up, rebuild, and move on. In that respect, humans are very much like the willow – we are generally resilient enough to survive the tragedies in our lives, and our losses, but we are also changed forever. In ways both seen and unseen.

Photo taken up through the canopy of my lone willow, June 16, 2016

Losing balance & starting to topple

To borrow a line for Sara Bareilles, “Blank stares at blank pages, no easy way to say this”.

I’m still on vacation for a couple of days yet, and, although I try hard to stay out of the fray when I’m away, sometimes it simply isn’t possible. It is not possible. Emphatically not possible. I will, at the start, caution the Trump supporters in my life – and I know there are a few of you still hanging in there – that I am not planning to walk on eggshells for your benefit (in fact, I would really love for you to tell me how on earth you can possibly still feel supportive & what you feel positive about after the spectacle of the past few months – particularly the past few weeks).

First I need to talk about what happened in Charlottesville this weekend. And, not completely germain, but purely in the interests of full disclosure, I need to warn some of my progressive friends that we may have a difference of opinion on the subject of statuary.  I am firmly opposed to confederate flags being displayed on public land, other than museums or monuments, and have discussed that previously – what those flags represent is sedition (and a failure at that), and are not something an allegedly patriotic state, in a united country, should be flaunting, I feel differently about statutes. Perhaps particularly about Lee. Particularly  in Virginia. Robert E. Lee was indisputably a brilliant military tactician, a West Point graduate, who served the United States with honor prior to the Civil War. He was caught between family & country, and made an uneasy, non-patriotic, choice to abandon the US military and the Union to join the Confederacy in support of his family.  Even then, he was still well-respected by his former peers in the Union army. His family roots are firmly in the Charlottesville area. I realize we all view these things differently, and I very much understand the reasons why those statutes of confederate soldiers are being removed, but I think that perhaps the subject of these statues really is more nuanced than that of the flags. Sometimes the answers are not in stark contrast of right and wrong – shades of gray abound in life.

But that said… What happened was, of course, only superficially about the statue of Lee. What it really was about was a massive gathering of, often armed, white supremacists and neo-Nazi’s – mostly, it seems, NOT from the Charlottesville area, who took this opportunity to throw a prolonged tantrum. And to try to terrorize Charlottesville into bending to their will. And make no mistake – there is a reason the FBI has always tracked these groups as domestic terrorists – that is what they are.  And their purpose was not peaceful, it was intimidation. The large number of swastikas and confederate flags that the demonstrators brought with them, should give us all pause. World War II was fought in Europe and Africa to end Nazi aggression – many countries were allied on this point – including the United States. The Nazis lost the war – badly, in fact. The Nazi party and the neo-Nazi’s really don’t get to have a place at this table. And, although this seems unclear to some folks, the Confederacy lost the Civil War. Neither of those things changed with Donald Trump’s election – no matter what they may think, and no matter how poorly our president “speaks out” against this (yes, Ivanka did, but seriously folks, this group would like to see her family, and all other Jews, wiped off the earth – they were chanting anti-Jewish sentiments at the rally). Donald Trump’s apparent inability to firmly call domestic terrorists what they are has moved beyond appalling to blatantly absurd. Call white supremacists what they are, and stop worrying about offending that horrible segment of your base. And stop pretending that they aren’t a part of your base. David Duke, former leader of the KKK, and ardent white supremacist actually said at the rally in Charlottesville:  “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back, we’re going to fulfil the promises of Donald Trump, and that’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back and that’s what we gotta do”.  And then when the president tweeted against the violence on Saturday afternoon, Duke responded by tweeting “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.” Indeed. They recognized the code, and Trump reinforced that code by playing cute about Duke’s endorsement of his candidacy (“I don’t know anything about David Duke”) – and even his subsequent refutation of the white supremacists was negated by his choice of an actual former Nazi, Sebastian Gorka, among his advisors. And then there’s Steve Bannon. There is always Steve Bannon – cheerfully explaining that he is a “economic nationalist” not a nationalist nationalist.

Let’s be clear – this was not a ‘peaceful’ demonstration disrupted by radical leftists that were paid to be there. For pity’s sake – pay attention, get over your freaking conspiracy theories, and take your head out of Brietbart, Infowars and the Daily Wire for a bit of outside information – you might even find it enlightening. I’ve even heard some truly incomprehensible claims that this was a ‘private’ demonstration and the counter demonstrators had no right to be there. This is public land – you can’t have a ‘private’ anything on public land, and the First Amendment applies to everyone.  The videos, and the eyewitness accounts of the clergy members that were leading the counter demonstration, make it very clear where the aggression was. And the sole purpose of this gathering was to try to intimidate a community into embracing its confederate history.

And most importantly, let’s never forget Heather Heyer, a 32 year-old paralegal who lived in Charlottesville. She was killed, while walking with friends as the rally was breaking up, when 20 year old James Fields of Maumee, Ohio (yes, indeed, he came from Ohio to join the rally) deliberately drove his car into the group of counter demonstrators – and then backed up into more of them. In other places, when an Islamic terrorist has driven a vehicle into a crowd of people, President Trump has been quick to decry Islamic terrorists, and call for immigration bans. When a domestic terrorist, for that’s what this is, drives a car into a crowd, he laments the violence on “all sides”. And everyone on the right can lament the actions of a lone mentally unstable individual. (And can completely ignore the bombing of a mosque in a suburb of Minneapolis because well, it was a mosque that was bombed). But, as with Dylan Root and the Charleston church massacre, among other acts of domestic terrorism, we don’t stop to consider, much less talk about, the radicalization of the white guys (and sometimes women). We just talk about how this country has a mental health issue. But when the perpetrator has been ‘radicalized’  by Islam – then we have a terrorist, not a mentally ill individual. The double standard needs to stop if we are ever seriously going to denounce white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other domestic terrorists. They are not what the vast majority of US citizens are about, they are not representative of the nation as a whole, and they are certainly not “patriots” by any definition of the word.

And that brings me to Russia – Putin expels 750 diplomats, and President Trump tweets a thank you for helping to reduce personnel costs? Someone on team Trump please, please, explain why this makes sense. Why he seems completely incapable of criticizing Putin or Russia for much of anything? (And side comment, the Russia investigations in the house, the senate & DOJ are not made up stuff – our intelligence agencies know definitively that Russia attempted to interfere with the election – it’s why the sanctions were not only renewed, they were toughened, by congress nearly unanimously; and Eric Trump really did meet with Russians looking for promised dirt on Clinton, & Paul Manafort & Mike Flynn really were double-dealing and probably will be the ones indicted by Mueller’s grand jury).

And then there’s the North Korean quagmire. I grew up in the Cold War.  Fallout shelters, Duck and Cover, good times, really. No not really. Watch Atomic Cafe some time. I never would have imagined that my children, as young adults, would now be facing the specter  of nuclear war, largely due to the bluster and threats of the president, and the sheer incompetence of a president that tells the Governor of Guam that the threat of nuclear was would boost tourism to Guam (because of course it would – mushroom cloud selfies are everyone’s dream). I assume that since science is not his strong suit, he doesn’t quite understand the full ramifications of a nuclear war.

And after you explain to me why nuclear war, or any war, with North Korea (& China) would be a good idea, then you can also explain why we even entered the fray with Venezuela? Are we seriously considering military action to deal with their INTERNAL problems? No, of course not. But if we beat the war drums loud enough, we stop the news about Mueller. Or about Charlottesville. Distraction is clearly a specialty of this administration.

And on that note, I’ll go back to trying to enjoy the time remaining of my vacation.

Pax vobiscus.