The Death of Civil Discourse: Libtards, Nutjobs, and Trolls

Civil discourse is dead in America. Considered thought, rational analysis, and meaningful discussions are a lost art. Name calling is the new debate tactic.

Whenever I write something others may disagree with it is often met with invectives and name-calling rather than rational argument. While this is not universally true (many people who disagree with me engage in intelligent disagreement) it is a growing theme in the national discussion.

Those on the “left” (another shallow, meaningless label) are libtards, trolls, shills, or, my favorite, barking moonbats.

And on the “right” (not correct by default, just different) we have wingnut, nutjob, Rethuglican, and teatard.

Labels accomplish nothing. There are as meaningless and crass as calling someone with glasses four-eyes, an amputee stumpy, or an acne-ravaged teen pizza face (which we did to one of my dearest friends in school.)

Name calling is the equivalent of a playground argument where one yells. “I am taking my ball and going home.”

This country faces serious issues. Whether you see President Trump as the face of the solution or the problem doesn’t matter. If, in a discussion, you resort to name calling over presenting, and listening to, arguments you add nothing to our progress.

Arguing about something a previous administration did as justification, or excuse, for the actions of the present administration is another logical and intellectual fallacy. It is not a valid argument or excuse for continuing behavior.

If you don’t believe me, try this. Next time you get a speeding ticket, go to court and argue there were other drivers speeding. See if that gets you off.

I admit to one thing. I take a somewhat perverse pleasure whenever I receive a vehement response to something I write. I have this mental picture of this person, frothing at the mouth, wailing and gnashing their teeth, as they pound out their response to my words. If the response is virulent, it heightens my enjoyment.  Nothing quite so satisfying as striking a chord that prompts a reaction.

 

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Born in the USA: The Bright Shining Lie of Uninformed Patriotism

Last night we went to the first of six Pawtucket Red Sox games which feature a themed firework display after the game. (I know this may seem like heresy from a Yankee fan, but it is a nice place to watch a game despite the Red Sox aura.)

For the Memorial Day Weekend, the theme was a patriotic one. Commemorating the lives of those who served in the military and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, defending the freedom of this country and others around the world.

There is much for which this country should be proud. We’ve been willing to sacrifice our young men and women for our ideals.  In the words of President John F. Kennedy, we’ve been willing to,

“pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

We survived and thrived because we valued dedication, intelligence, and determination in pursuit of these ideals. We haven’t always been perfect, no nation or people are, but we have always been willing to learn from our mistakes.

I wonder where that brilliance has gone.

One song chosen to accompany the spectacular and inspiring display was the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in America.”

Odd how an anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex song critical of the way we treat veterans has somehow become a rousing “hurray for America” theme. It strikes me as an indictment of our inability to think things through anymore. Our failure to find solutions to problems. Favoring slogans to rouse emotions over doing the difficult things.

To quote the lines I found most troubling amid the applause and cheers of the crowd,

“Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man”

I couldn’t help but notice the families of many Southeast Asians in the crowd. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the lyrics?

This underscores the rising rampant dangerous nationalism within this country that screams for a “target of opportunity.”  Today’s target is Islam.

But our failing to even bother to understand the meaning of these songs we use as a soundtrack to patriotic displays underscores our failure to understand the nature of warfare today.

In World War I and II we helped defeat a military-supported government seeking to impose themselves on others. One can debate the many reasons behind how these wars started, but the goal was clear.

Today is a different world.  Today is a world of asymmetric warfare requiring asymmetric thinking. We face any enemy of ideas, not divisions and tanks.

We must fight the genesis of these concepts of twisted jihad with intelligence and thoughtful policies, not B-1 stealth bombers and cruise missiles.

Weapons such as these have their purpose, make no doubt about it, but we could double the stockpile of weapons and it would have no effect on the enemy. Calling for the leveling of Mecca or Medina may make for rousing sound bites but would be a wasteful, inhumane, and ineffective policy.

Perhaps we should think about the ideas behind Springsteen’s lyrics.

Wars are started by ambitious politicians but fought by young men and women.

Wars are won and lost by these same politicians. (See Vietnam as an example.)

Our enemies today are enemies of everyone who opposes their ideas. We must bring the world together to fight these insidious twisted 14th-century concepts, not push ourselves into an America first isolationism.

Before entering into both World Wars, we sought to stay out of the “European” problem. That was the world where most people never traveled more than fifty miles from where they were born. Where communications between countries took weeks.

That is not today’s world.

The time of unleashing “Ole’ Blood and Guts” military leaders of Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur is over. Now, more than ever, we need intelligent policies that utilize the selective application of military power to compliment our once formidable determination.

It is the only way to change the conditions that breed these terrorists.

We have the big stick, we need to remember to walk softly.

I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime, but I hope for a day when we celebrate the passing of the last veteran. For when that day comes, all the sacrifices of every veteran will be worth it.

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Giving the Donald his Due

There are not many things I can think of to compliment President Trump about. I disagree with just about everything he’s done so far. TrumpHis performance has been dismal as illustrated by the many disasters in such a short period of time.

Although I do not think his golf game suffered, his country has.

There are many items to consider.

His fundamental ignorance of diplomacy and intelligence matters.

His policy of slash and burn over domestic assistance programs.

His wanton destruction of Universal health coverage.

His ignoring established science on global warming.

His courting of tyrants and oppressive governments.

His arrogance toward the press.

His selection of sycophants as advisers and cabinet members.

But, if I am to expect fairness I must give it in return.  A recent decision by the President shows some flashes of brilliance. Not the self-proclaimed bigly beautiful kind, but real sound judgment and decisiveness.

By hiring an attorney to protect his interest, in what now is clear to the world is a criminal investigation into Russian influence within his organization, he shows he can do the right thing.

In his own words, “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you’re innocent why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” So, I suppose it’s good news he won’t need to do that.

Or will he?

Perhaps we can get an answer to that from General Flynn. Or the President’s consigliere, Stephen Bannon.

Still, I must defer to the facts.

Finally, I have something to admire in this President.  He is at least smart enough to “lawyer up.”

While he’s at it, he can add a new theme song to his campaign organization.

I suggest “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” by Warren Zevon. Get a coffee, click the link, then let the vitriol begin.

“Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money…the shit has hit the fan.”

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God is Deaf

The motivation behind the latest terror bombing in England remains to be seen, but I cannot help but be struck by the pleas for an intervention by some Supreme being as a salve to the pain and anger.

One segment offers prayers to the healing power of a god while another offers prayers rejoicing in the blessings of the same god bestowing success in their efforts.

It underscores the dilemma of a god who either can do something to prevent these tragedies but chooses not to or is powerless to stop it. Thus prayers or petitions for intercession are a waste of time.

If it turns out the underlying motivation is some twisted interpretation of another monotheistic text compelling such acts in pursuit of pleasing this same god, all the more tragic is our continuation of similar pleas to our version of the same being.

Until such time as humans learn that our actions affect this time and place in the universe.

Until such time as we understand that our differences need be resolved with words and rational thought, not offerings to an invisible deity.

Until such time as we all realize that each of our lives is intertwined on this planet.

Until such time as humans learn to live with our differences, not seek to impose one way by force of arms, acts of cowardly terrorism, or exploitation of our fellow humans, I fear such acts will continue.

The short-term answer here is to hunt down those responsible and prosecute them within the law. The long-term solution is much more complex.

As long as human beings see these acts through the spectrum of us versus them, of our interpretation of god opposing theirs, of our way as the only way, all the prayers in the world will be lost in a black hole of futility.

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Words Illuminate the Mind, Actions Unveil the Heart

Wandering around the state of Virginia, visiting various historical locations, I had the opportJeffersonunity to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

The man who played such a pivotal role in the formation of this country; writing the Declaration of Independence, influencing the development of the Constitution, writing definitively on the separation of church and state, and serving as the third President of the United States, is a study in contradictions.

When he wrote the words, “All men are created equal”, his concept of the word ‘men’ was limited to free white males, not the inclusive embracing concept of ‘mankind’ the words have come to mean.

The list of his contradictions is long and it bends towards complicating his memory.

He held fellow men and women in bondage.

He championed education but denied it for slaves out of fear that an educated, literate slave posed a threat.

He ordered the whip not be used against his black butler, a favorite slave, yet let the use of such terror continue for others.

He conducted scientific research trying to find a less labor intensive crop to sugarcane to reduce the onerous workload borne by slaves…and shift that burden, albeit lessened, onto the children of slaves.

He used the promise of manumission as a carrot to control those slaves he owned. Dangling the opportunity as an incentive, and threat, to maintain order.

He fathered children with Sally Hemings; holding this woman as a slave and never granting her freedom.

A man whose words inspired a nation to greatness, fostered the emergence of the anti-slavery movement, and lit the beacon of America believed slaves to be inferior humans not capable of controlling their own destiny.

He promoted the idea of teaching them skills and then sending slaves back to West Africa because he could not conceive of an America where black and white could live as one people.

He was a bigoted genius whose mind conceived universal truths and whose heart refused to recognize the contradiction in his denial of those very truths to some men and women he considered mere property.

From this, I took away several things.

First, the words of the founders are timeless. Their application from the limited scope of “white males” to the universal application today demonstrates our nation, our constitution, and our laws are subject to the progress of society.

Those who would argue the constitution is inviolate and not subject to changing interpretation ignore the contradictions of the founders such as Jefferson.

Jefferson was a product of his time. His words ring with a universal truth even if he himself would have found 21st century America to be a foreign, unimaginable world.

When we discuss things such as constitutional changes, we need to keep in mind the contradictions demonstrated by the authors of these words. Times change and we must learn to adapt our laws to this change.

The principles established by Jefferson and the founders stand the test of time. Their application requires constant review.

There has never been a time when the universal truth, “actions speak louder than words”, is more apropos. The current leaders of this nation show the same contradictions.  We can learn from Jefferson’s flaws as much as we can from his genius.

Pay attention to what people do, in their actions are the truths behind the rhetoric.

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Measuring our (Failure at) Success


Wars, if we are to accept their necessity, need a goal by which we can measure success. The war on drugs is the poster child for a lack of goals.

This is not our first dance with wars lacking measurable goals. We have a recent history of sending troops into war without clear goals.

Korea. Technically we and our allies the South Koreans are still at war with the North, albeit paused by a truce that is 64 years old. So that’s a stalemate, with continuing implications today.

Vietnam. In 1973, we ended combat operations, declared victory, and went home. By 1975, the last vestiges of our efforts there were fleeing the country by helicopter from the roof of our Embassy.

One could say our foray into Afghanistan was based on sound argument, which we then squandered by moving into Iraq. This all started in 2001 and we still have troops on the ground.

No end in sight. No end defined to measure success.

In the continuing saga that is the war on drugs, the lack of a measurable goal or, depending on your perspective, our measure of failure continues.

For if this is indeed a war, we sorely lack measurable success. Unless our success is measured in the number of prisoners captured, then one might argue we’ve done very well.

I won’t bore you with numbers. I invite you to search for the information on your own. You might be surprised at what you find. You’d be shocked at the number of arrests, and associated costs, for possession of marijuana.

In light of the debate on legalizing personal use of marijuana, I will offer some perspective. The price of marijuana, compared to 1970’s and the beginning of the war, has fallen and availability has increased. (This is somewhat related to several states legalizing it yet need be included in our discussion. The camel’s nose is in the tent on that one.)

The price of cocaine has fallen and availability is up. In 1980 cocaine cost $100-150/gram. Today, it is $60-90. This doesn’t even consider the comparison of 1980 vs 2017 dollar.

In 2015, the federal government spent an estimated $15 billion dollars on the war on drugs. This doesn’t even take into consideration cost of housing prisoners.

If we want to measure success by the reduction of the number of people dying from illegal drugs, we failed there as well. Deaths have increased. Opioid overdoses are increasing.

I know I said I wouldn’t bore you with numbers, but here’s just one chart about deaths from drugs in 2015. (Marijuana didn’t make the top ten. There were no documented cases of death by marijuana toxicity.)

1 Tobacco 480,000 + deaths
2 Alcohol 26,654 deaths
3 Prescription Painkillers 16,235 deaths
4 Heroin 8,257 deaths

 

When a strategy is failing by all measures, doesn’t it make sense to change tactics? That’s what one does in a war. If something is causing more harm than good, you stop.

Focusing the bulk of our resources on criminalizing the personal use of substances such as marijuana is not achieving its expressed purpose. If adults can be trusted to make rational decisions when it comes to the risks of using substances such as tobacco and alcohol, with well documented, sometimes fatal, effects, then it may be time to reconsider the rationale behind making those same adults criminals if they choose to use marijuana.

This is not an argument for legalizing all drugs. I’m not certain legalizing marijuana is a sound policy. But I do know that continuing down the same path will fail. We will continue to turn otherwise law-abiding individuals into criminals, ignore the opportunity to focus our resources on addiction treatment and education, and stumble down the road to another measurable failure.

We’re not losing this war. We lost the war before we started because our policy consisted of Ready, Fire, Aim.

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LFL (not ROFLMAO) The Little Free Library: Preserving the Art of Reading (and thanking a teacher)

On Sunday, April 24h, I had the pleasure of donating copies of my novels to Cumberland’s Awesome House of Books. (https://www.facebook.com/CumberlandLFL34034/)

This is one example of the growing phenomenon of small, volunteer-run, free-standing places where one can borrow, read, and return books. There are no library cards (who remembers those?) No late fees. No time limits.

It harkens back to a time when people trusted each other and accepted the responsibility of that trust. Meeting Arlene Griffin Smith and her family, the caretakers of the library, was a pleasure.

In a world where “Brevity is the soul of wit” is twisted, corrupted, and compacted into a 140-character assassination of writing, preserving the art of words and books is a worthy goal.

At a time when HD TV putrifies imagination, books serve as the last defenders of our ability to use our mind’s eye.

For a writer, people who read are our most precious commodity. Without them, our words remain just symbols on a page. The act of offering books to preserve the joy of reading is one dear to my heart.

I want to thank Arlene for devoting her time to such a worthy cause and encourage all to stop by, visit, find a book, and lose yourself in an author’s world.

There was also an unexpected bonus to my visit. A teacher I first met in 1969 at the brand new (at the time) McCourt Middle School (Cumberland, RI) was there.

Dan Walsh, a teacher I had for quite a few classes, and I spoke of those very different times in school. Both of us had the pleasure of growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island at a time quite idyllic. We shared the nostalgia of a Cumberland from a different era.

As I progressed from middle to high school, Dan moved up with us. He was among several excellent teachers my fellow CHS class of 1974 members were fortunate enough to experience.

Dan taught English. He offered many classes in subjects such as Elizabethan Poets, Composition, Writing, American Literature. I took as many of them as I could.

I sometimes cannot remember what I had for lunch, but I recall the beauty of the words of William Blake, The Tyger,

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

Or William Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn,

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness!

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time

I have always enjoyed writing and reading. The joy of taking bits and pieces of imagination, mixing it with twenty-six letters and assorted punctuation and producing a character, a story, or an entire world is as close as one can get to being a magician.

Teachers like Dan Walsh gave me the magic. They unlocked the power of words. They taught me to think.

For that, I am eternally grateful.

Sometime in 1974, I walked out of my last class with Dan Walsh. But I thought he might like to know that those classes never walked out of me.

(Now I must go back and make sure there are no grammar errors in this piece. Forty some years later and still apprehensive of the critical eye of Dan Walsh.)

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