A dying breed.

Common sense is an endangered species.  


In Nevada we met Cliven Bundy, a rancher who refused to pay grazing fees in order to legally range his cattle on federal lands. While Bundy actually stopped paying the fees in 1993, it wasn’t until earlier this year that the federal government chose to confiscate Bundy’s cattle following a trespassing ruling. Rather than see Bundy as the scofflaw that he was, many people chose to make Bundy into a hero, a kind of freedom symbol. A few of his supporters, armed with assault-style rifles, took sniper positions with law enforcement officers in the crosshairs. Fortunately, no shots were fired. What did these people think… that they could be justified in shooting an agent of the federal government?


Recently, one of Bundy’s sons refused to enroll his daughter in school when he learned that she would not be allowed to carry her pocket knife to class. Sure, there once was a time when pocket knives were commonplace – I carried one myself – but once a rule is established, we have to honor it. But the younger Bundy, like his father, seeks to ignore authority.


A few days ago, a young girl was treated by her parents with a vacation trip in Arizona that included a stop at an outdoor shooting range that features specialty weapons including fully automatic machine guns. Unable to control the Uzi as it fired, she lost control of the weapon and a bullet struck and killed her instructor. Now, I have no problem with providing young people with proper instruction in the responsibly use of firearms. But we should be sure that the child is mature enough to treat that weapon with respect… and we most definitely should not give a child a weapon that she is not physically capable of controlling.


And then… there’s Ferguson, Missouri.


One thing I won’t write about here is the incident that started the unrest in Ferguson, the death of Michael Brown. I won’t get into discussing Brown’s death because there’s so much we don’t know… and will never know. Without objective witnesses – and, especially, without video of the incident – we can’t possibly know what caused Officer Darren Wilson to shoot Brown to death. We also don’t know why an incident report wasn’t filed immediately.


But what we do know, and what I will discuss, is what happened after Brown died.


In the immediate aftermath, the local police department seemed unable to diffuse what quickly escalated into a tension-filled atmosphere spanning a racial divide. Of course, it didn’t help matters when the Ferguson police chose to employ military surplus equipment and to aim their weapons directly into the crowd of protesters. Sure, there were incidents of bottles and other projectiles thrown at police officers, but for law enforcement to point their rifles into a seemingly unarmed crowd caused many of us to flashback to 1970 and the National Guard’s blunder at Kent State.


It certainly hasn’t helped to have television and radio personalities rush to cast judgment. One foolish pundit even suggested that a water cannon should be used to stop the protests. Seriously? Do we really want to see white officers aiming high-pressure water hoses at black protesters… again? Did we learn nothing from America’s struggles over civil rights?


Let’s be honest: there were some bad people in Ferguson over the past few weeks. Vandalism, looting, arson… destructive behavior by a small group of people who were taking advantage of a bad situation. But let’s not confuse those wrongdoers with the peaceful protesters of Ferguson, those who simply were voicing their concerns over what they considered the unnecessary use of force by law enforcement.


I’m a strong supporter of the police, but I will admit that there are a few bad eggs. One in particular stood out in Ferguson. A police officer lost his composure and shouldered his rifle, aiming at the faces of some of the taunting protesters. In an obvious fit of rage the officer told members of the crowd, “I will [expletive] kill you.” Fortunately, a senior officer reached out and guided the policeman’s weapon downward while escorting him away from the scene. The profane language uttered by that officer in a moment when he lost control, captured on live streaming video by a member of the crowd holding an iPhone, was an embarrassment to law enforcement in general. It has been reported since that this officer has been disciplined in the past for unbecoming conduct.


These are all examples of Common Sense Deficiency Disorder.


Think about it: if you don’t pay your bills, you risk losing your property. If you carry a prohibited weapon into a school, you risk disciplinary action. If you allow a child to handle a weapon that is beyond her capabilities, someone could get hurt.


And if you react to anger and violence with more anger and violence, the situation will only get worse.

Common sense. It takes a little effort.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald, 9/4/14)

Remembering the Nixon Resignation

This is probably interesting only to absolute history fanatics and political geeks — like me, of course — but this really impacted my life.

I was 14 and vacationing in Ocean City MD with my parents and my grandparents during that momentous week in 1974.

On the evening of 8/9/74, I chose to stay in the room as the four adults went out for a late dinner… because I wanted to watch this speech live.

I remember sitting on the edge of the motel room bed… fixedly staring at the little TV screen. When I heard President Nixon say, “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow,” I actually let out a cheer of victory. Yes, it was a dark blot on our nation’s history… but the removal of this man from office was not a moment for sadness. Rather, it was the first step toward a healing process.

Today, when we hear so many weak-minded people toss around the notion of impeaching President Barack Obama… I wish that those people would take a moment to understand: impeachment is a serious step to be taken only when there is justification due to actual wrongdoing, not because you just don’t like the guy.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/spc/character/links/nixon_speech.html

A few less clowns, please.

Remember the class clown? The kid in school that you could count on to say or do something outrageous… obnoxious even… to become the center of attention. We’ve all known at least one. Maybe it was the boy who chugged his carton of milk then burped the alphabet. Or the girl who could make the infamous armpit noise. Usually the entire class got in trouble for laughing. All because someone wanted to be noticed.


It’s not limited to goofy juveniles in the classroom. How often do you hear about a young actress who experienced a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and suddenly exposed herself, coincidently just when the photographers were there to capture the moment? Or the singer who became involved in a minor scuffle with a fan, and the incident conveniently occurred right when a new album was about to be released? A few personalities have taken it much further, signing up for their own ‘reality’ television show, though more often than not what you’re shown is scripted and rehearsed.


Sadly, the phenomenon isn’t limited to those we would normally refer to as entertainers. More and more, our political world has become dominated by the type of scandalous behavior one shouldn’t expect from adults given the weighty responsibility of operating our government.


Radio and television personalities are well-known for stirring up their followers with one conspiracy theory after another in an effort to boost ratings. Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Michele Malkin, the list goes on and on. They claim to have evidence of secret plots by our government to confiscate our guns or establish internment camps or purposely collapse the economy. They’ll chatter about the creeping influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia law… or how you should fear George Soros and Saul Alinsky  It’s all fantasy designed to gather and maintain an audience to whom they can then market products like books, freeze-dried foods, virility pills, and gold.


You’ve got Ted Nugent, a one-time big name in rock who is known today more for his off-the-rails remarks against President Obama. I can’t blame poor Ted for trying to make a living doing something, since his music isn’t really bringing in a flood of cash anymore. The Nuge performed last week in Kansas City for a crowd of less than a thousand in a theater that easily seats three times that many. On a side note: why is Nugent so beloved by the Right for his outlandish (and usually profane) attacks on President Obama but the Dixie Chicks were subjected to protests by talk radio hosts and a nationwide radio boycott for their opposition to war a decade ago?  


It’s one thing when these entertainers and pundits spread their tales of imagination. It’s another when the politicians decide they also want to play the game.


Recently we’ve heard Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, breathlessly claim that the influx of children at our southern border is part of a secret plan by President Obama to: “put at risk the American people, our culture, our way of life, our economic standing, and also he’s willing to allow a pandemic of disease to come into our country.” Mind you, the congresswoman provides no proof to back up her remarks.


Bachmann isn’t alone in the Congressional Cavalcade of Clowns. From the great state of Iowa – land of that coveted prize of presidential hopefuls, the Iowa Caucuses – you get Rep. Steve King, who can be counted on for either making snide comments that are offensive to Hispanics or suggesting that the president be impeached for… well, something. Out of Texas we have Rep. Louie Gohmert who claims to know that terrorists want to have their babies born in the USA to gain citizenship, then whisked off to another land to be: “raised and coddled as future terrorists” so that they could return, programmed I suppose, as adults bent on destruction. Louie must think “The Manchurian Candidate” was a documentary.


And then there’s that reservoir of wack-a-doodle speech, former Gov. Sarah Palin, who looked around the political landscape and decided that what the world needs is a subscription-funded website that, for $9.95 a month ($99.95 for a year), gives you the opportunity to watch a video in which she stands in her kitchen talking about vegetables. No, I’m not kidding.


This is probably where some readers will say, “There he goes, picking on poor Sarah.” Look, I know she was once elected the governor of a sparsely-populated state and was handed the opportunity to be the number two name on a losing presidential ticket… but that doesn’t insulate her from criticism when she serves up her typical word salad of nonsense. Sure, she’s popular… but so is Honey Boo Boo, and I wouldn’t seek out her political meditations either.

Let’s be clear: all of these people have a right to voice their opinions. But we have the responsibility to filter what they say, separating fact from fiction.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald, 8/7/14)

Stuck in the Middle

My favorite sport is baseball. I fell head over heels for the game when I was a young boy, and that love affair continues today. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of turning a double play, the crack of a wooden bat as it slaps the ball between two fielders for a base hit, the feel of a leather glove that you spent weeks pounding into shape so it practically became a part of your hand. And then there’s the math! Baseball is all about math: batting averages, slugging percentages, calculating the Magic Number as your team tries to clinch the pennant.


The games themselves can be decided in nine innings… or they can go on and on and on until one team is victorious. You may argue close plays… you may dispute an umpire’s call… but in the end there are clear winners and losers; there are no ties, and the losing team goes home disappointed but anxious for the next game.


My second favorite sport is politics. I fell for that game in my teens but really became a fan in my late twenties. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of watching the election results scroll along the bottom of the TV screen, the crack of a smile on a winning candidate’s face, the feel of the leather chair you plop into after a long and successful campaign…


Meh. Who am I kidding? Politics isn’t fun like baseball, at least not anymore. Politics has become a necessary evil. Our system of government depends on the game of politics, but the game has lost its glory. Gone are the days when elections were a choice between two or more qualified candidates, when the point was to find the best person for the job. Yes, popularity was always a factor. It’s no secret that John F Kennedy’s charming smile was a key factor in his 1960 presidential victory. Dwight Eisenhower stood a better chance of winning than Adlai Stevenson thanks to Ike’s status as a military hero. And let’s face it: any Democrat was destined to win in 2008 thanks to a pair of unpopular wars and a very unpopular financial crisis.


But popularity isn’t enough. The Kardashians have a huge following but I don’t see anyone making the argument that any member of the family should hold elected office. What we need are men and women who have a sense of the huge obligation that comes with accepting such positions. What we need are men and women who understand how important the job is and are willing to accept the responsibilities of the post with maturity and common sense. Unfortunately in recent years our elections are giving us the exact opposite.


Even a casual observer can see that our current Congress is populated with bad-tempered fools and their numbers are growing.  One Senator can place a ‘hold’ on a nomination and prevent his colleagues from taking any action, even if the other 99 are in favor. In the House, a committee chairman can simply refuse to call for a vote on a measure… and legislation dies, even if a majority of representatives want to vote for the plan. Do Americans find it entertaining to have their elected officials act like petulant children rather than adults who can work together to accomplish common goals? In many ways, I think the answer is ‘yes’. We are going through a phase where both politicians and pundits have tapped into a well of anger and fear and will do whatever it takes to keep those emotions flowing. My guess is most of these people couldn’t tell you specifically why they are angry or afraid, but their radios and televisions are encouraging those feelings and that’s all the justification they need. So they tend to elect candidates who reflect those same emotions.


Sadly, there’s no simple fix for the problem. In this 24-hour news-cycle world we have created, you’re less likely to find a sensible person willing to toss a hat into the ring. Who among us would welcome the scrutiny? More important, who among us would want to be the target of so much negativity? It’s incredibly easy to plant a false story about an opponent that will quickly take root and command the attention of reporters and onlookers.


America has become the Land of the Uninformed. That may sound ridiculous, with such easy access to information on our computers, tablets, and smartphones. However, what we read and watch is easily tainted… manipulated, distorted, fabricated… so that we may be glued to our electronic devices but we’re not any smarter as a result. For example, there’s a reality TV star who has been able to single-handedly control large amounts of news coverage by merely suggesting that a birth certificate isn’t a birth certificate. Such wild goose chases dominate our radios and televisions, and there is a large audience eager to waste time on this nonsense.

I’m not trying to turn my readers into a swarm of cynics. What I am hoping is to see are larger numbers of people who take the time to filter the news to see what does and doesn’t make sense. The more outrageous the story, the more it deserves the common sense filter. Listen, really listen, to what people are saying. Maybe… one step at a time… we can bring back some civility to American politics.

So it begins…

Here there be monsters…

Finally, all of my musings are to be gathered in one forum. Here for your reading pleasure you shall find those thoughts that rise from deep within my personal cabinet of curiosities.

No subject is off-limits. I spent too many years holding back on my opinions… for the sake of my business, or because of some internal self-restraint gnome. That time is long gone.

I don’t believe in lashing out recklessly… and I don’t think that’s what you’ll find here. Instead, my opinions are based on facts and I’m not afraid to express my opposition to those who seek to distort reality.

Politics, religion, entertainment, science… whatever is on my mind will be exposed before your very eyes on these pages.

I hope you’ll enjoy what you read… and that you’ll share these posts with others.

As for the content, aside from any sourced quotes (and I will endeavor to provide permalinks where possible) the words here are my own. Unabridged and unfiltered.

Feel free to disagree, but come prepared.

“Oh boy, is this great!” – Flounder, Animal House (1978)