A Conversation of Differences

Some thoughts for a cloudy morning

The Writing of Joe Broadmeadow

It is not often that I stimulate a spark of deep thought and inspiring words in others (and truth be told I must share credit with Philosopher Bertrand Russell for the original thought.) Yet a good friend of mine, Kent Harrop, recently penned a post on his blog I believe was inspired by a Russell quote I sometimes append to my email.

Russell (1872-1970) said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” This caught Kent’s eye and he decided to put down some thoughts.

Kent wrote (https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/is-religion-irrational ),

There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all…

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Fake News: Terrorizing America

The fake news keeps coming. Mexico and the Boy Scouts are lying

The Writing of Joe Broadmeadow

There’s a new boogie man in America, fake news. Listening to the rumble and rancor, fake news is either a scourge threatening our very survival or something worse.

Like sheep being fed our own manure, we wallow in ignorance hoping someone else points out the problem.

Fake news is the Anti-Christ and we need to find a way to defeat the dark one.

We do not want to give up our Candysmushed, JPEGged, Youtubed, hashtagged, emoji laden online party where anyone can pretend to be profound, tough, and brilliant.

It is our place where all share their latest ailments, McLunches, or rage against the unfairness of love. Facebook is sacred and all that is holy. It is the glue that binds society. Google is the god of all knowledge. The modern Oracle of Delphi.

The information highway is littered with fatalities of folly.

Do not suggest we educate ourselves or…

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Through a Puppy’s Eyes

On this first morning of my 365-day-long 62nd orbit of the sun, I took stock of life.  Where I’ve been, where I am, and where I am heading.

From the time of my birth, I’ve traveled 556,625,000 miles on this spinning earth. Since my arrival on this planet, I and all my fellow humans who’ve been alive a similar amount of time have traveled 274,661,040,000 miles around the galactic center of the Milky Way.

Our universe, if Einstein and Hubble are correct, continues to expand.  In the time it takes most to read this (say 10 minutes) we will be 85,666 miles further along in our rotating galaxy and about 166 miles further along in our latest rotation of the earth.

The point? We are never in the same place twice. Everything about our lives, our world, our universe changes.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ― Heraclitus

For some, a birthday is a sad reminder of their mortality and aging. For me, it is a day to consider one’s life. Every moment of every day for every human is unique. No other human is like you. No other will experience any moment in the same way.

No other human, not one, lives the same life.

Now for many of our fellow humans, those living in poverty and squalor, tossed by the virulent politics of tribal legacy or totalitarian regimes, they may not see the difference moment to moment.

It is incumbent on us to remember this as we live our more fortunate lives. We do well to do what we can to change the world, understanding that the only way to happiness is through freedom of choice and tolerance of differences. It is not ours to impose our choices on others, but to ensure they can make their own choices.

James Taylor sings that “the secret to life is enjoying the passage of time…” I would agree, for time is an irresistible force. But I think there’s more to the secret of life. One has to look at the world as if for the first time. Recognize the vicissitudes of each moment of your life. Look for the potential for the future, not despair of the past.

What gave me this idea was a small puppy. puppyWalking along the bike path, bouncing back and forth on his leash, everything was new to him. The grass, a fallen leave, a fluttering butterfly, my wife and I passing by.

Through that puppy’s eyes, the world was full of hope, opportunity, and discovery.  As we age, it is hard to hold on to such wonder. Yet to lose it is to lose one’s best hope to enjoy each revolution around the sun.

Life, like the universe, is a matter of mathematics. Each of us experiences our first revolution around the sun and our last. It’s what you do with the revolutions between the first and the last that matters.

In the words of Warren Zevon, dying of cancer, when asked if he had any advice for others said, “Enjoy every sandwich.”

I intend to do just that.

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Trivial Pursuits: Life’s moments in an Emergency Room

In one of those moments in time, I found myself sitting in the waiting area in a hospital emergency room. The specifics are unimportant.

While I sat there, watching the slowly moving second hand struggle to make one revolution, I realized the absurd amount of time we waste on trivialities.

Sitting there for those passing hours, I engaged in the mindlessness of Facebook and email. Alternating between a debate over Trump vs. Obama and sorting through nonsense mail.

A family arrived ahead of a rescue bringing a loved one. The hospital paging system bellowed “CPR team to the CPR room” drowning out the sobs, uncertainty, and fading hope.

I tried not to intrude, but in such a small environment, with all the growing evidence of an unhappy end to the rescue run, I couldn’t help but notice the tears, the hugs, the hopeful looks, and the ones who understood the reality.

What drove this home was a moment after the family had all gathered, accepted the news, and started discussing the next steps.

Two young brothers came in, running to their grandfather as he fought back the tears. He tried to soothe their baptism into the reality of death by saying she was in a better place.

I don’t know if this was sudden or expected. A drawn-out struggle to the end or a quick exit. What I know is it made all the nonsense we waste time on not just silly, but obscene.

It won’t matter what President turns out great. It won’t matter what political philosophy proves most useful. It won’t matter if whatever party occupies the White House is the cause of the end. What will be, will be.  Not one word in cyberspace will make any difference at the moment of one’s death.

What will matter, is the time we lost worrying about the trivial when the things that matter were right in front of us and we missed it.

All those moments lost to the dust of life can never be regained.

In the last moments before they left the hospital. One young boy sat next to his grandfather, holding his hand.

One young man learning to face the realities of life and death and one husband facing the specter of regret for lost time.

Think about it while the time is yours to spend.

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A Rumor of Greatness: Lessons in America’s Past

If we are to make America great again, shouldn’t there be a point in time we can look to as the standard for this greatness? When did we hit the peak of American greatness? What started the decline?

Don’t we need to know what we seek before we go looking for it?

Here’s a look at post-World War II, when America emerged as the most powerful nation on earth.

In the 1950’s institutional racism was an accepted aspect of life in most of America.  Court decisions such as Brown vs. Board of Education moved the country, kicking and screaming, closer to our professed, but inconsistently applied, philosophy of equality.

The first routes of our involvement in Vietnam began with advisers.

America developed policies of equipping South and Central American police agencies with tactics to counteract communist insurgencies. These amounted to classes in sophisticated methods of torture.

Lessons learned from MKUltra Project (https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp91-00901r000500150005-5)

were turned into HOW TO classes for interrogation. We created the Office of Public Safety (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Public_Safety) as a cover for this training.

We put a kinder and gentler face on a monster. Unleashing it on others while decrying such tactics as barbaric.

Our fear of a communist takeover in Central and South America drove us from our ideals. Our proclamations of the shining example of American rule of law fell on deaf ears, punctured in the torture chambers of police agencies we trained.

In the 1960’s the US intervened militarily in Vietnam. Our involvement cost millions of lives, supported a totalitarian government, and damaged the military in the eyes of many Americans.

We trained South Vietnamese Intelligence services with new and improved methods of interrogation. Guidelines spelled out in the CIA’s own manual on counterintelligence interrogation called Kubark. (https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/CIA%20Kubark%201-60.pdf)

The programs were further documented in the fascinating (and horrifying) book, A Decent Interval, by Frank Snepp. A CIA interrogator who took part in the interrogation of Viet Cong suspects.

We created the Phoenix Program. A controversial program of capturing, interrogating, and killing Viet Cong and NLF suspects.

Meanwhile, at home, the still smoldering embers of racial inequality grew hotter. The war in Vietnam tore America in two. Poverty and racial inequality reignited the fire. American cities burned.

It forced President Johnson from office and led to the election of Richard Nixon with his “secret” plan (sound familiar?) to end the war. A war he also covertly worked against any resolution before his 1968 election. Read Haldeman’s book Inside the Nixon Whitehouse if you don’t believe me on that one. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NCYX17R)

In the 1970’s, anger fueled the raging race issues. “Activist” Judges had to order Boston schools desegregated.  Over 100 years had passed since the end of the Civil War and institutional segregation still existed.

And continues to this day (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/a-mississippi-school-district-is-finally-getting-desegregated/519573/)

In the 1980’s Reagan (the hero of “small” government) launched the biggest government spending program in history, Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), reigniting the potential for nuclear confrontation. We also went on the violate our own policies by negotiating with terrorists (Iran-Contra)

In the 1990’s Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, defining Marriage as a union between one man and one woman (and one intern), bowing to the politics of placating those trapped in a whitewashed false past of a more moral America.

We fired a few cruise missiles at some targets in a desert and ignored the Rwandan Genocide.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. The people who suffered by the duplicitous nature of our foreign intervention in their governments came to despise us. We compounded the very problems we were seeking to prevent.

There were more positives than negatives in these time periods. But we gain nothing from celebrating all the good we’ve done without an honest appraisal of our mistakes.

America wasn’t “great” then and worse now, it was flawed. The lack of a 7-day 24-hour news cycle, controlled by a profit-driven media, made it seem a better time.

Here’s one example, in 1978, the year I joined the Police Department, more than 210 cops were killed that year. The death toll among law enforcement began a slow and steady increase in the 1960s and 1970s, peaking in 1974 with 280 cops killed. One might argue they were casualties of war. The war on drugs.

Here’s an interesting fact, the most dangerous year on record for Police Officers was 1930 when 307 officers were killed. The safest years in the 20th and 21st century, 1943 and 1944, when 87 and 93 officers were killed.

It gives one pause.

Now one officer being killed is unacceptable, but the perception is there is a war on cops. It is a media-driven brainwashing of America which compounds the problem. Are there people out there who hate cops? Of course. Given the chance, they may act on that, but to think things were better “back in the day” is naive.

We look to Europe and see their policies of open immigration as disasters, threatening the stability of those nations. What we forget, while countries like Germany and France well remember, is the irrational fear of a group because of cultural differences leads to a Holocaust.

We fought a long and difficult war to end such horrors, we shouldn’t let those lives go to waste because we’ve papered over the ugliness that still plagues the world.

America can never be defeated by an external enemy. We can only be defeated from within if we forget the principles upon which we are based. It will not be an infiltration of 14th-century flawed fundamentalist philosophies that destroys us. It will happen only if we abandon those principles that guide us.

If we have ignored our principles in the past, we must strive to make sure they guide our future decisions.

America’s greatness is in our future. We must admit to our mistakes, take pride in our accomplishments, and seek ways that preserve our security without sacrificing our freedom.

There is a slogan often used by those who wrap themselves in the flag, Freedom is not Free. There is a truth here, one I suspect they do not see. Freedom requires us to defend it at any cost to protect not just those with whom we agree, but more so with those with whom we differ.

It is by embracing differences America shows true greatness.

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Crimetown: Villains with (Questionable) Virtues

The series, Crimetown (https://gimletmedia.com/crimetown/), is a well-made production telling the story of organized crime and its effect on Rhode Island. While much of the story centers on Providence, the series illustrates the state and national implications of organized crime.

The producers, Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier, did a masterful job of telling the story.

My issue with the series is with what followed.

Post-production images on social media of former investigators sipping cocktails with aging mobsters give the impression these were former opponents in the Super Bowl. Not opposing forces engaged in a fight against criminality.

These investigations of organized crime carried much higher implications to society. Law enforcement had its successes, but largely fought a battle it could not win.

The show, to some extent, perpetuated the many myths of the mob.

PatriarcaThat “old school” mobsters didn’t deal drugs. That the streets of Federal Hill were safer when the mob ruled the neighborhoods.

All myths and fallacies whitewashing the truth.

If the mob could make money off cancer, it would.

If the mob didn’t deal drugs, they extracted a street tax from those who did.  But the truth is it did more.

All one must do is read the story of The French Connection to see the mob’s early involvement in heroin. The latest revelations out of the Whitey Bulger case adds to the growing evidence of mob involvement in drugs.

The negative effect on society continues to this day, despite the ravages of time on ‘La Cosa Nostra.’ In Rhode Island, the legend of Patriarca lives on. The “I know a guy” wink and nod of doing business.

The once multi-tentacle reach of the mob into state government, the judiciary, and law enforcement may have faded, but the damage to confidence in government remains.

A former Major on the Rhode Island State Police, Lionel Benjamin, once compared the respect people had for (RISP) Colonel Walter Stone to the respect shown Raymond L.S. Patriarca by his men.

Really? That’s a standard we embrace in Rhode Island? This underscores my point.

To this day, if one mentions the name, Raymond, almost everyone in Rhode Island would know who that was. Not the same for Walter, which should make one wonder about such things.

Time has changed the mob. The ravages of age, nepotism, and cultural blending took their toll. They are a more nostalgic memory of “better” days than a powerful force. The state figured out a way to control gambling with the lottery and death, rather than indictments, silenced the once powerful men who ruled the Patriarca family.

Which brings me back to the point.

All those resources we sent after the mob, all those bookie wiretaps draining the lifeblood of organized crime, all those RICO indictments in Rhode Island and what do we have to show for it?

Images of once feared, amoral, and brutal men sipping cocktails with retired cops once tasked with arresting them. Talking about the old days like it was a football game.

It gives me pause.

Crimetown did a service by telling the story of what happened. Let’s make sure we don’t forget the ugly truth by continuing to embrace the myth of the mob. I’m willing to bet Raymond wouldn’t have had a Facebook page. He’d know better than to give people a peek into his reality.

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Welcome to America (here are the rules)

As shocking as this may be, I am not a Trump fan. But this post goes to show how, if you look hard enough, you can find commonalities where you least expect them.

The debate over ICEhow, or even if, we should deal with illegal immigrants seems academic. Call them what you will-undocumented, illegal, or otherwise-they are breaking the law.

Mr. Trump’s focus may be inarticulate and mean-spirited, but it is not wrong.

Now nothing is ever black and white. Individual circumstances call for careful consideration.  An eighteen-year-old high school graduate heading off to college, but here illegally because of her parents’ choice to break the law, should not be unilaterally tossed out.

I have no sympathy if this same graduate’s parents have been here for fifteen years, yet made no effort to become citizens.

What sparked this is an interview I read of a twenty-five or thirty-year-old woman, brought her illegally as an infant who said she wants to stay here to support her family in her homeland, but does not want to become a citizen.

Whoa, there Nelly. That’s not how America works.

This country guarantees opportunity, not success. We offer a pathway to citizenship, not a shortcut to enjoying the benefits without taking part. It’s like saying I want to play for a World Championship baseball team (let’s use the New York Yankees as a neutral example) but not go to practice or be in the game. I just want the salary.

If the problem with the law is it prevents one from applying for citizenship because of how you came here, we can work with that.

How about this as a compromise?  Regardless of how you got here, everyone can apply for citizenship. If you have no criminal record, we’ll overlook your entry in exchange for your making the effort at joining the team as a fully participating member.

We’ll issue you a provisional driver’s license good for five years. At the end of five years, if you’ve did not achieve citizenship, then out you go.  If within the five years, you achieve citizenship we’ll extend the license and classify you as a provisional citizen for another five years.

Maintain the peace, obey the laws, pay your taxes, take part in our society and at the end of the five-year period, your citizenship becomes irrevocable.

The only way to do this is to put teeth into enforcing immigration laws, tie federal aid to cities and towns to ensure their cooperation (including accepting the amnesty of the five-year grace period for reaching citizenship), severely penalize companies that hire individuals not taking part in the path to citizenship program, and tighten the borders.

The solution to strengthen the borders is to listen to the ICE officers who’ve been dealing with the issue for decades, not some idiotic unworkable campaign promise.

Even amid diametrically opposed philosophies, compromise through rational discussion is possible. The ingenuity, determination, and courage of what many illegal immigrants go through to get here may be an untapped resource. An opportunity not to be squandered.

As Americans, we offer an opportunity to enjoy our freedom but expect you to bear the same burden to ensure it survives.

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