Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Let's Solve This!


Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

According to that great fount of knowledge, Wikipedia, Douglas was “an American journalist, author, women’s suffrage advocate, and conservationist…” At a time in Florida’s history when developers were planning to drain the Everglades and erect more strip malls, Marjory wrote the groundbreaking book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), credited with saving that environmental treasure.



Now her name is associated with yet another school shooting.

The Captain has spent this week monitoring social media, following comments on the Florida school shooting.

It wasn’t a pleasant task.

But necessary.

My hope is that as people vent / rant / rage someone will actually hit upon a solution that will effectively stop this onslaught against our school children.

Unfortunately, but not unexpected, immediately after the shooting in Parkland Florida – where 17 students and teachers were killed and 15 wounded – people almost immediately began insisting it is not a gun problem.

Of course.

Yes, this is only the 18th gun-involved incident on or near a school campus since the beginning of the year. But it’s not about the guns…

Some suggested the Russians were again active on social media, this time trying to stir up division using pro-gun arguments.

But most of the posts I saw were from people I know.

Sigh.

Unlike the Marshall County shooting three weeks ago, the Parkland shooter fit the narrative – a troubled teen with an AR-15 – and this story will garner more airtime.

“But it’s not the gun’s fault.”

It’s about a lack of mental health care.

It’s about bad parenting.

It’s about a school system that did not recognize a potential problem.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Despite a troubled past, the loss of both of his parents, and being expelled from school for fighting, this young man was able to legally buy an AR-15 at age 19 – two years before he could legally buy a six-pack of Budweiser.

His social media account was filled with questionable posts, and he was a member of a white supremacist group. He even attended a shooting course funded by the NRA.

A recent video emerged of the him firing a pistol in his backyard. He was wearing one of Trumpf’s “Make America Great Again” caps.

Oh, why didn’t we see the warning signs!?!

But it’s not about guns.

One friend on Facebook insisted it was not a gun problem. Using a prepared meme, she pointed out that we use guns to protect everyone and everything from the President on down, but when it comes to schools, we declare those a “gun-free zone”.



Captain’s Note: Also in the news this week it was reported that a substitute teacher in North Carolina body-slammed a 12-year-old boy over a box of Valentine’s candy.

And you want to arm teachers?

My question to my friend was, “Who are we afraid of? Why are we afraid of them? And what would it take to get to the point where we no longer need guns to protect ourselves?”

Once she understood my question (it took a while), she gave a fairly lengthy shopping list: 
“We need to be able to see each other as humans. We need to help our kids understand that other kids may just be putting on a brave face. We need to think past our own little world. We need to help our kids know that what they see on TV, movies, magazines, etc. is not true. It only appears true, and we need to teach them to think for themselves. We need to be nice to people who may be hurting. It doesn’t have be world changing. Even a smile might make someone feel a little better. We need to start at home. We need to start with self.”

Great! I replied. Let’s get started on all that.

She responded, “You first.” 

To which I answered, “If we (everybody) are not willing to do all that you mentioned, then I’ll go back to trying to keep guns out of the hands of would-be killers.” 

See, here’s the problem. These school shootings are not a simple problem. They are the result of a combination of problems.

Like it or not, guns ARE part of the problem.

And to make these shootings stop will take extreme measures and an almost person-by-person intervention.

And who’s going to do that?

Meanwhile, the federal government is busy cutting taxes for the rich and cutting social services (‘safety nets”) for the poor. State governments are being forced to respond in kind due to federal cuts, resulting in a lot of children and families falling through the cracks.

How are we supposed to do the above-prescribed interventions if we don’t even set aside resources to care for the poor?

And while Congress hasn’t been able to totally repeal Obamacare – and they definitely haven’t replaced it! – they have crippled the program that provided affordable health care to many of our nation’s poor.

So who will pay the bill for the medical and mental health care that our nation so desperately needs?

While Trumpf throws billions of dollars at an already bloated military budget (68% of the federal budget and growing) and insists on tens of billions to build a futile wall between the U.S. and Mexico, our weakest citizens (which include military families) are having their food stamps cut.

Malnourished children and hungry people do desperate things.

And the latest (ongoing) threat is to Social Security, which we pay into separate from our taxes – so it doesn’t even impact the federal budget. But the Republican-controlled Congress says we need to cut it anyway!

Which again raises the question, who is going to do all those noble things that my friend thinks need to be done to stop school shootings? At this moment in our nation’s history, we are moving in the exact opposite direction! Your Captain foresees even worse trouble ahead as the gap between the rich and poor grows exponentially wider.

The Captain doesn’t see the present administration having the backbone to do something about the easy availability of guns in America, although I believe it is time for extreme measures.


It should be noted that following the 9/11 terrorist attacks – in which 2,996 people were killed and 6,000 injured – Americans were willing to temporarily give up some basic freedoms in the fight against terrorism.

We still submit to searches of our luggage and our persons before boarding an airplane.

Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, there have been at least 300 school shootings, resulting in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of school children. There have been more than 146 other mass shootings in the last 50 years (defined as a gun incident resulting in four or more dead). But all we get from our elected leadership is “thoughts and prayers”.

Naturally. Because most of our legislators are funded by the NRA. For that very reason.

Call it a “Hail Mary Pass”, or just the course of last resort, but the Captain is challenging churches to step up. After all, isn’t that what the Church is supposed to be about? Followers of Jesus Christ caring for the least, and the last, and the lost – as he did?

There are approximately 280 million self-proclaimed Christians in the United States. Surely we can make a difference…


Unfortunately, many of the strongest pro-violence gun-deniers are leaders in our churches.

In fact, the Captain was amazed, in the emotional wake of the Marshall County shootings, to see how many church members were ready to arm themselves and kill an intruder! 

“Love one another.” - Jesus 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus 

“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” – Jesus 

“You have heard that it was said of old, thou shalt not kill. But I say to you, if you are even angry with your brother, you will be subject to judgment.” – Jesus

It’s very difficult to reach out to others with the love of Jesus when we are holding a gun.

America, you claim to be a Christian nation. As supposed followers of Jesus Christ, I say it is time to lay down your weapons and take up the cross.








Friday, February 16, 2018

Too Soon?



It has happened again.


A 19-year-old with an AR-15 entered his former high school in Parkland, Florida, yesterday and began shooting.

Seventeen deaths.

The boy is in custody.

This makes the 18th school shooting since the beginning of the year. Ten that actually resulted in student deaths or injuries.

Eighteen shootings on school campuses in 45 days. The Captain figures that’s about one every 2 ½ days. Including weekends.

As usual, the internet blew up!

‘It’s about bullying!’ (In the Florida case, the shooter was the bully.)

‘It’s because of a lack of the availability of mental health care!’ (Those who need it most rarely take advantage of what mental health care is available.)

‘It’s just bad parenting!’ (Tell me that again when it is your child who shoots up a school.)

‘It’s caused by violent video games!’ (Hogwash! I grew up watching “Gunsmoke”; my favorite movie is "The Godfather"; I’ve played my share of violent video games. Yet I've never owned a gun nor fired anything more powerful than a BB gun.)

‘It’s because they’ve taken God out of schools!’ (You can’t “take” God out of schools…if you never brought God in with you in the first place.)

Many more insist it is a gun issue.

Sadly, one cannot simply paint school shootings with a wide brush. The problem is all of the above. And none of the above. Each shooting has been qualitatively different.

Which is one reason why it is so difficult to figure out this problem.

There is no definite profile of a school shooter. No way to tell who the next shooter will be.

And by federal law now, the Center for Disease Control is not allowed to research gun violence, thanks to lobbying and cash bribes to legislators by the NRA.

The backlash to the suggestion that guns might be the problem was fast and furious…


‘Guns don’t kill people!’ (But people with guns do. Therefore…)

‘We should arm the teachers!’ (We don’t even give teachers the supplies they need to teach!)

‘This isn’t about a gun it’s about another lunatic.’ (Yes, another lunatic with a gun.)


“Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda?”

The Captain happens to agree with this person. It IS too soon to be talking about the Parkland shooting; and probably too soon still to be talking about the Marshall County shooting three weeks ago. But let’s talk about the California shooting… and the Texas shooting… and the Seattle shooting… Pick one! Hell, we haven’t talked about Sandy Hook or the Columbine shootings yet!


The Captain thinks it’s time.

Because the day after the Parkland shooting, a 15-year-old posted this:
 

When the boy was arrested, he claimed it was just a joke.

No one is laughing, son.

Nonetheless, counter-news stories were spread to deflect:

In St. Louis two teenagers were arrested for throwing an acidic liquid on a fellow student.

‘See? It’s not about guns!’

Deflection.

A man in Portland slashed his way through a crowd with a knife.

‘See? Are you going to outlaw knives now?’

Deflection.

Obviously not every act of violence in America involves guns.

But what happened in Florida yesterday did involve a gun. You can't remove the AR-15 from the equation.

I mean, seriously. How can you look at graphics like this and not realize we have a gun problem in America?


The country closest to the same level of gun violence as America is Yemen.

Yemen! The poorest country in the Middle East. Widespread poverty, unemployment, and corruption. Currently enduring a civil war and facing a cholera epidemic due to lack of safe drinking water. It’s system of government is widely considered a “kleptocracy”.

Kleptocracy: a government with corrupt leaders that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political power.

And yet we have more gun violence in America than they do!

Your Captain believes it IS time to talk about the problem of gun violence.

And not just talk. We must do something – both personally and at the state and national levels. 

"We must reaffirm the value of human life - every human life! - and curb our nation’s fetish for firearms." -The Captain

(You can quote me on this.)
 
As others have pointed out, when someone poisoned a bottle of Tylenol back in 1982, the federal government took immediate action and required tamper-proof seals on all medications. When someone tried to blow up an airplane with a bomb in his shoe in 2001, the federal government took immediate action – and now everyone must remove their shoes before getting on a plane. Since 9/11, passengers are searched for box cutters or anything else that might serve as a weapon. And as Dan Rather pointed out, when the deadly Ebola virus threatened our nation, the federal government utilized every resource possible to make sure it did not spread; only one American died from the virus.

And yet, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have died from gun violence over the past 50 years – in the past five years, more people have died from gun violence in the U.S. than have been killed in overseas wars.

And our lawmakers send “thoughts and prayers”. They tell us it’s too soon…

Your Captain says it is time to talk about it.

It is definitely time to talk about it.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

In the Eye of the Beholder



On Monday, the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama were revealed.


These portraits will now hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. along side the iconic portraits of:

George Washington

George and Laura Bush

Stephen Colbert (no, really!)

The Obamas’ portraits reportedly took many by surprise, even angered some.



Of course they did…

Here’s the thing. The Obamas were allowed to choose the artists for their portraits (as have every other president of recent). Which means they also had some say (within the limits placed on them by the artists) what the portraits will look like.

For his portrait, President Obama chose Kehinde Wiley, a Yale-trained African-American artist known for his “Old Master” style.


When President Obama first chose Wiley, his opponents (who always seem to be lurking in the shadows – although since the election of Trumpf they have moved out into the daylight) ignored the bulk of Wiley’s work.



No, they quickly pointed to two paintings Wiley has created depicting black women beheading white women.


However, both of those paintings are modern interpretations of a classic image of Judith beheading Holofernes, a story from the deuterocanonical Book of Judith.

Captain’s Note: “Deuterocanonical” means the Book of Judith is considered a “sacred “writing” among Christians, but is not contained in the canon of scripture Protestants know as The Bible.

Here’s how Caravaggio painted it in 1602.


For her portrait, the First Lady chose Amy Sherald, whose works focus on race and identity in the American South.



Sherald describes her work as “stylized realism”.

She paints African-Americans in shades of gray to downplay skin tones as a dividing factor.

Captain’s Note: Sherald was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at age 31. She had a heart transplant in 2012 at age 39 and is doing well.

The Captain learned many years ago that “Art/beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Like this masterpiece from the great Pablo Picasso.


As a budding artist in college – or was I just taking electives that would provide an easy “A”? – the art professor’s requirements were that we just paint.

Anything we wanted.

Turn in five canvasses at the end of the semester and get an “A”.

Because art/beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Captain truly believes the detractors were more upset that the Obamas chose African-American artists – a first for Presidential Portraits – and that their portraits do not conform to the classical (i.e. white) style they prefer.

Of course, I’m sure they will be gratified when President Trumpf commissions his official portrait.  


Is that a penis in the background…?