Aging

Previously I have written about Death in Chapter 32 (inevitable) and Heaven in Chapter 39 (we’ll just have to wait and see) but now I am going to focus on a young person’s cringe moment:  listening to old people talking about health. 

We have all been in a restaurant or other public place where “old people” talk way too loudly about health issues.  Listening to them can be excruciating.

The sad news is that I, and many of my friends, are now the ones on the other side of the conversation.  I find it almost impossible to talk with a person my age without one party bringing up some medical “problem” that either they or their significant other is experiencing.

Welcome to the golden age.

For us of a certain age there seems to be at least one life changing event that makes us realize that we are now “old.”

For me the realization that I was now “old” came two summers ago at a wonderful family reunion held near Mount Hood, Oregon.  Over 100 family members attended the reunion.  My cousin Jeanne’s daughter Katy had a new baby, Adeline, who was the youngest family member in attendance, she was only about two months old.  I was the oldest. 

Talk about an eye opener.  

Most of my contemporaries I know do not think of themselves as being “old.”  And yet, there are only a few people left who have birth dates prior to mine.

“Old” is a state of mind, not a verifiable scientific/medical measurement.  

I know people who never grew up.  And I know young people with “ old souls.”

As we boomers start to fade into the sunset,  I see us in two different camps: Those who have decided to ‘“Age Gracefully” and those who “Rage against Age.”  

The graceful agers more or less go with the flow.  Downsize. Simplify. Accept.  I am probably in this group.

The second group seems to want to defy gravity, at least for time.  They stay in their homes – “no one is going to take this away from me – I worked too hard for it.”  These “Ragers” use cosmetic surgery to keep their eyes from drooping or to trim neck waddle.  They reject many of the creature comforts available to old people.  

Neither group really wants to end up “in the home-staring at a TV” sadly, the choice is not up to us. As they say, “shit happens.”  

And of course there are the tied and true cliches.  “Getting old is not for sissies.”; “You are only as old as you feel.”;  “Age is just a number.”; “ You’re not getting older, you are getting better.”; “You will never be younger than you are today”; and,“Live each day like it is your last, one day you will be correct.”

All of these cliches have a strong element of truth in them. Nonetheless, the older we get, the less we are able to do.  Until, of course, ….  (We all know the end game here.)  

Ancestors

We cannot choose our ancestors any more than we can choose our birthdays. 

Like it or not, we inherit quite a bit from those who have come before us.  

Nature or nurture?    

As I suspect most parents do, I believe in nurture. Surely our efforts in “raising our kids” have some influence beyond protection, education and some degree of financial independence. 

And yet, there is much we cannot explain about human behavior.  Why are some kids more athletic, better looking or smarter than others?  Why do some follow the “rules” while their siblings seem to take “rules were made to be broken” to heart. Why are some siblings more susceptible to certain diseases? Every parent with more than one child that I know has at one time or other said that their own kids are very different from each other. 

We really don’t know why, but we do know that to a large part of who we are is “hard wired.”  This wiring can only come from one place:  Our parents and everyone who went before them.

DNA has opened up a whole new way of looking at our ancestors.  It has also opened up a Pandora’s box that generates even more questions than it answers.  

Benefits of knowing our DNA results:  I am sure there is a sense of closure for those people who finally find out “who” they are.   It often is the case that having DNA results can confirm the stories that we have heard from our parents and other relatives.  There seem also to be advantages to knowing the medical history of one’s ancestors.  

Problems with knowing:  One’s understanding of who they are is routed strongly in stories told by parents and other relatives.  DNA could expose long held “family secrets.”  It is also human nature to imagine that we are the descendants of some kind of royalty, great wealth or an “important” person.   For many Americans this is just not realistic.  Most of our ancestors left their homes in search of something better.  Left unsaid is that that many of our ancestors were not really successful where they came from.  In some cases they were really just running away. 

I am very interested in my personal ancestry.  So is Marianne.  To the best of our knowledge we share no common ancestors.  And we do not have any direct descendants from our marriage.  This shared  interest in ancestry leads us down separate roads.  We are searching different people and different families.  And yet, the search and where and who we came from is equally as interesting to both of us. 

Marianne’s family roots on the Larkin side lead back to the earliest settlers in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Because her father (Bert Larkin) died from polio at age 28 when Marianne was just three, and he was the only son, Marianne is the last Larkin.  The  Larkin name ends with her.  On her mother’s side the roots go back to south-eastern Minnesota and on her father’s to Lake Piseco in New York State. 

My Simpson paternal roots lead to Northern Ireland via Ontario & Minnesota.  On my Mother’s side the roots lead to Sweden on one side and to England on the other.  Family stories include being among the original residents of Long Island, The Civil War, and World Wars 1 & 2. 

Obviously this is just a snapshot of the entire lineage each of us has been given.  Even if we don’t know exactly who was who, we can be certain that we are the end product of countless generations of people.  Scientists believe all humans (at least the homo sapien part of us) came originally from Africa.  I believe them even though I don’t really understand their methodology.  

But you don’t have to go back to Africa to enjoy knowing who your more recent ancestors are.  One part of the interest for me is  the “why” certain things happen.  The “why” related to most of our ancestors has been lost forever when they died.  

For instance, I know that my Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother on my mother’s mother’s side grew up in Sweden and somehow ended up in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania where they had 5 children.  But why did they leave Sweden?  Why, of all places, did they choose Tamaqua?  Why did they bury their 2-year-old daughter Selma, who died of cholera, in Brooklyn rather than in Pennsylvania where they lived?   Why did they move to Isanti County, Minnesota?  These, and a thousand other questions will remain unanswered.  Or will they? 

In addition to DNA, we now have incredible resources (such as census data and official now-public government records) available to us via Ancestry.com and other providers who can provide documented evidence of at least some events   The internet has also allowed us to quickly and easily learn about history in far away (time and space) places such as Tamaqua where my grandmother was born.  

As it turns out, at the time my grandparents moved there, Tamaqua was a  thriving mining town and often a center of conflict within the labor movement.  The town was the regional headquarters for the  Molly Maguires, the group of Irish immigrants often associated with violence.   Were my family members impacted by this violence and unrest?  It is likely, but I really don’t know – the truth is again lost when they died.  Perhaps they choose not to talk about this?  

My second cousin Craig Aldworth found hundred-year-old property records that seem to show that the land my mother lived on when she was a girl in Minnesota was actually a part of the Cedar Creek Farm which was owned at that time by my great-grandfather, Christian Johansson (AKA Johnson).  The land my grandfather Sayer raised his family on is not contiguous with the rest of the farm which was several miles away. 

Again, the people who could explain this are all dead but having access to historical records about where and when my ancestors lived makes it is interesting to me to ponder what really happened to them and why they made the choices they did. 

Every family has a healthy dose of mystery related to their ancestors.  For many of us this mystery is like a huge puzzle that begs to be solved. 

Some people just don’t seem to care about their ancestors. That’s OK with me, to each his/her own.   I also think that sooner or later at least one person in each family becomes the story teller and custodian of the family history . 

If you are that story teller in your family, my recommendation is to share what you know.  You won’t be here forever and once you are gone the stories go with you.  The best way to do this is not just to research your own family tree, but to document your findings and your own history in some permanent way.  For me that that has meant self-publishing books about my family.  

Soon enough many of us will become ancestors to those who follow.  Our stories will be a part of a much larger quilt.  We all may not be a direct ancestor per se, but almost certainly we will become a part of the family story as an uncle, aunt, cousin or step father/mother.

Tell your story now.  

Terrorists

The first time I remember hearing the word Terrorist was when I attended the Defense Information School in the late 1970s.  

DINFOS, as the Defense Information School is called in the military, was at that time located at Fort Benjamin Harrison, near Indianapolis.  

DINFOS was established as the school for public affairs officers and enlisted persons from all of the services and also for civilian employees (like myself at the time) of the services.  One of the most memorable sessions at DINFOS was a presentation by a guest speaker who was, I believe, either with the CIA or the State Department. 

What I recall from the presentation was that the main objective of terrorist organizations was not really the damage they caused.  Their “hidden agenda” was to get the government to overreact and, by so doing, further the longer-term political objectives of the terrorist organization.  According to this speaker (whose name I long ago forgot), terrorist organizations do not seek to hold territory or even expect to defeat the military of the country they attack.  

It is also important to differentiate between terror and terrorist organizations.  Most pacifists would probably argue that in one way or another all war is terror.  While I am in not a pacifist myself, in this I do agree, all warfare involves terror of some kind.

In addition to terrorist organizations, the word terrorist has also been used to describe individuals acting alone.  This DIFOS speaker did not address individual terrorists and I believe their motives are all over the board and extremely difficult to identify.  They are also much more difficult to predict or prevent.  I am not sure the word terrorist really applies here.  Perhaps “sick”, “crazy”, “unhinged”, or “pathological” better describes these people. 

The DINFOS speaker was talking about terrorist organizations, not individual acts of terror. What he had to say about these groups went against what I had been taught, and learned, about warfare.

Having already been on active duty in the Marines and having served with an infantry battalion in Vietnam before this presentation at DINFOS, this idea about Terrorist Organizations struck me as novel.  We (The Marines and later the Army soldiers I trained and served with) were taught that our mission was to first defend our own people/country and more specifically the Constitution of the United States, to which we all took a solemn vow to protect and defend.  

As a Marine and later as a soldier, I was always hopeful this mission to Protect and Defend could be accomplished by being strong enough militarily to dissuade potential enemies.  Often, however, we have been unable to dissuade the enemy and thus must either destroy the other country’s military capability or eliminate their military’s “will to resist.”    This usually involves “holding ground” until a more friendly government can be established, or reestablished.  

Even the North Vietnamese Regular Army (NVA), which my battalion fought against in I Corps (Northern South Vietnam),  were not “ A Terrorist Organization.”  They were the army of a country whose leaders definitely wanted to defeat both the U.S. and South Vietnam (ARVIN) military forces.  Then they wanted to take over (hold ground) the entire land mass of the South Vietnam.  

The NVA’s military tactics and strategy were different than ours given the situation and they used both guerrilla tactics and terror to achieve their goals.  They also embraced the idea of “Total Warfare” which meant every man, woman and even some children were involved in the war.  But they were not a “terrorist organization”  using the definition that the DINFOS guest speaker first introduced to me and my classmates.  

I was a student in the Marine Corp’s The Basic School prior to going to Vietnam.  I remember being told that the goal of the North Vietnamese was to prolong the war as long as necessary because eventually the U.S. would grow tired of it all and just leave.  Turns out this is what happened.  The NVA goal was clearly to outlast the Americans, then to defeat the South Vietnamese military and take over the country. 

Terrorist organizations see the situation much differently.  Although they may use similar military tactics and certainly don’t mind killing people, their goal is not to win a war in the traditional sense.  Terrorists don’t really care about protecting anyone.  Quite the contrary, they “win” if the government they attack kills the very people that they come from and often times, rule over.  

Terrorists organizations don’t need to win the hearts and minds of the people, they just need to do horrible things to get the government to overreact.  By overreacting, the government becomes the enemy of those people who were pretty much unaligned with the terrorist organization at the start of the conflict.  

I dislike memes I see on Facebook.  They almost always tell only a small part of a larger story or issue.  Like bumper stickers, they generate a, ”Ya, that tells them!” response without really providing any substance. 

Nonetheless, I did see a meme recently placed on Facebook by a friend of mine that got me thinking.  The meme showed two soldiers firing rifles at each other.  One soldier was labeled “Israel,” the other “Hamas.”  Also shown in the meme were two baby carriages.  One  baby carriage was behind the Israeli soldier and the other baby carriage was in front of the “Hamas” Soldier who was hiding behind it.   

The meme raised numerous issues for me.  Most obvious was that the Hamas soldier was using the baby carriage as a shield.  This speaks to the despicable lengths that terrorist organizations will go to in battle.  It also speaks to the obvious conclusion that the Terrorist Organization members (In this case Hamas) do not really care about protecting people, quite the opposite, they use people.

Less obvious, but equally important is the question, “How does the Israeli soldier eliminate his enemy without hitting the baby carriage?” I saw the baby carriage as symbolic of all innocent people.  The second issue to me is the more difficult one to handle.  How do we eliminate (Kill) the terrorist without killing innocent people in the process.  

Collateral damage is the term used to describe people not involved in the actual fighting but who are killed or injured because of military actions.  The very nature of warfare almost always includes some collateral damage.  But, how much is too much?  

One way to limit terrorist organizations impact with minimal collateral damage is to assassinate their leader(s). This was done by the US with al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden the mastermind and financier of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S.  and a number of others over the years.  However, assassination of terrorist leaders takes a long time and does not immediately answer the cry of the public to, “Do something now!”

And there is another problem with assassination (beyond the obvious legal and ethical issues). Unfortunately, terrorist organizations resemble both the Greek mythological Lernean Hydra which regrew a new head when one was cut off, and the real-life chameleon which can change its color as needed to blend in with its surroundings. 

Terrorist leaders are not only hard to find, but once you do eliminate them, another takes his place and the organization can reconstitute itself under a new name and often in a new location or a totally new terrorist organization can be formed. 

All that is needed for a terrorist organization to succeed is financial backing and to have cult-like followers.  The cult-like followers need not be significant in numbers, they just need to feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and of course, be willing to die.

I wish I had an answer to this dilemma:  How does one “win” when fighting terrorist organizations?

Guns

Redding’s Hardware – Gettysburg’s Largest Gun shop

To say this topic is controversial in the US is an understatement.  

If you think that Americans should not have any means of defending themselves, then please stop reading. 

Conversely, if you feel that any person should be able to carry any weapon at any time, you too, can stop reading.

This post is about “reasonable acceptable laws” or, put more bluntly, “common sense measures to reduce deaths.”

Following are 20 arguments I have heard against any additional federal governmental oversight of people regarding guns.  Each statement is followed by a counter view in italics: 

1.  Argument Against More Governmental Restrictions: 

“The Second Amendment says I have a right to bear arms and I am within my rights to do so.  It is my right.”  

Counter-Argument For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:

All of our rights defined in amendments to the Constitution have limits.  Rights also come with personal responsibilities.  The Supreme Court has ruled and approved limits on the 2nd Amendment such as prohibitions/limitations on ownership of certain weapons and guns being restricted from some locations. See Question 20 for more details on the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment.” 

2. Against More Government Restrictions:

“Any restrictions or attemps to at all identify those who clearly should not have weapons will, by their very nature, impede law-abiding citizens from purchasing or possessing firearms

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“Background checks can be accomplished in a matter of minutes.  Waiting periods are a small price to pay to keep some people (Known terrorists, violent felons, domestic abusers, and certified “crazy” people) from easily obtaining a deadly weapon.  It really is not much of an inconvenience at all.  Most gun owners are already following these procedures. Only non-law-abiding persons need to fear background checks or “red flag” laws.  If you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.”  

3. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Any restrictions at all is a slippery slope eventually leading to total loss of all guns held by any civilian.” 

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“No elected official in the U.S. has ever said that they want to “take away all guns from all law abiding citizens”.   If there were a slippery slope, then how does the U.S. have so many weapons available to civilians?  Gun laws have been in place since the beginning of the country and yet, with the exception of some ethnic minorities such as blacks during slavery and the Jim Crow era and the Japanese during WW2, no sane law-abiding U.S. citizen has ever had the government take away their guns.” 

4. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“There is a criminal element that obtains and sells weapons clandestinely.  Images of sales out of the trunk of a car are not made up. Another way to say this is, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’”  

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“Yes, criminals will always be able to find weapons.  Additional common sense gun laws may make it harder for criminals to get weapons, but some will still be able to get them.  Gun restrictions cannot solve the entire problem, but they can help. Like seat belts, they can save lives; not all lives, but some.” 

5. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“We don’t need any more laws.  There are already laws on the books sufficient to protect us from those who could harm us. Committing a felony with a gun is clearly already against the law in all states.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

Current laws on the books in most states do make it a more serious crime to commit a felony using a gun.  The problem in some states is enforcement.  There is also a need for “red flag” laws which can help identify certified “crazy” people in advance.  Although there is a national background check data base to identify known terrorists and felons, State laws and local compliance are very patchwork on background checks and there are loopholes such as gun shows which make it easy for anybody to buy a firearm.  It is also easy to freely cross state lines.  Existing laws, even if fully enforced, only impact the perpetrator “After” the crime has been committed, they do little to prevent additional deaths.”

6. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Some people have identified the cause of extreme gun violence as being video games and the glorification of those who use guns to kill in very graphic ways in the movies, on TV and in darker corners of the internet.  The killer is often portrayed as a victim of who is seeking revenge.  The argument is that elimination of these media would stop the violence.”   

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

Media glorification of weapons (including guns) in video games or other media is certainly a sick sign of the times and we are wise not to spend money to partake of any of these.  Often these games and videos promote a vigilante theme and portray the weapon users as aggrieved “Heroes” out for revenge. Many of these media efforts are aimed at young males.  That’s where the money is.  Any boycott of these media is of little consequence to those who are making money peddling this sick attitude.  Censorship is also a possibility; it might reduce violence a little but there are problems enforcing this and it does raise other Constitutional concerns.  Thinking that ending violent video games or movies would end or greatly reduce violence is naïve.”

7. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Without guns, we are all vulnerable to a foreign invasion.” 

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:

While guns may be of help during a home invasion by similarly armed criminals, small arms would not be effective against armored vehicles or other coordinated military or police action.  A current example is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The deciding factor in modern warfare is not small arms but artillery, tanks, anti-tank & anti-aircraft weapons, manned aircraft, drones, missiles and electronic and digital warfare.” 

8. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“Without guns we are vulnerable to systematic genocide by an internal government like what happened in Nazi Germany and at other times and places around the world.  Even right now in Myanmar the military is attacking Muslim minorities and others who disagree with the military takeover of that country.  If these people had guns they would be able to resist.  The same could happen here, the government could control people who would be unable to resist.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“There is a grain of truth in this argument.  Autocrats like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jingping and Kim Jong-un do in fact restrict arms from their citizens as one means of controlling them. Where this argument falls down is the assumption that in the US “all guns” are going to be confiscated.  This is just not true.  The gun control laws proposed (such as red flag laws and improved background checks) would not impact sane law-abiding citizens.  Also, there are those within our society who cannot protect themselves with guns:  the elderly, children, and people with serious disabilities. The greatest “protection” citizens now have is not ready access to guns, but rather a stable democratic form of government which “we the people” control.  Power within a democracy lies in the vote, not guns.”

9. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“None of the proposed gun control measures would keep a “good guy” from owning or carrying a gun. There are antidotal stories about “good guys” saving others, but these are few in number.  Even highly trained police officers have an extremely difficult time discerning when/when not to fire their weapons.  The “good guy” is at a terrible disadvantage in that she or he does not want to injure innocent bystanders.  The criminal/crazy person is not hampered by this thought.  The “good guy” is also limited by the fact that police cannot immediately discern who is the “good guy” if they respond to a call.  The police could easily see someone with a gun, and take action against the wrong person.”

10. Against More Government Restrictions: 

“We can “harden” schools and have the teachers and staff all armed.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“While arming employees might work for some teachers and staff, it certainly would not work for all.  Arming educators would increase the likelihood of accidental discharge and of course there are some students who should not have ready access to weapons. “Hardening” the schools, even if it were possible, would only move the problem to other locations.  We cannot “harden” every playground, park, athletic or cultural venue.”  

11. Against: More Government Restrictions: 

“If parents brought up their children properly, we would not have a problem.” 

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Parents cannot always control their children and mental illness, or addiction, or gang membership can happen in any family.”   

12. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“Guns don’t kill people by themselves. No gun ever killed anyone without a person pulling the trigger.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“The gun control measures suggested are aimed at those “people” who should not have ready access to guns. Inanimate objects can only be harmful if misused by people. The proposed gun laws are analogous to controls on the use of automobiles.  Just as some people cannot drive cars, some people should not have guns.”  

13. Against More Government Restrictions:   

“The 40,000 plus killed last year in the US by guns represents less that 1/10th of 1 % of the population.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

Here is what the American Medical Journal reports: 

“US homicide rates were 7.0 times higher than in other high-income countries, driven by a gun homicide rate that was 25.2 times higher. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the gun homicide rate in the United States was 49.0 times higher. Firearm-related suicide rates were 8.0 times higher in the United States, but the overall suicide rates were average. Unintentional firearm deaths were 6.2 times higher in the United States. The overall firearm death rate in the United States from all causes was 10.0 times higher. Ninety percent of women, 91% of children aged 0 to 14 years, 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms were from the United States.”

14. Against More Government Restrictions:   

“Suicides will occur with or without guns and, unlike vehicle suicides, gun suicides usually do not injure others.“

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Certainly, someone who is set on suicide can kill themselves by other means but, if they are at high risk, why make it easier for them?  With appropriate mental health they may be able to recover and not use guns to kill themselves or others.  Red Flag laws could help here by giving individuals time to work out their problems before killing themselves.  This is only a partial solution, but it could save some lives.”

15. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“Most gun deaths are from handguns, not rifles, yet the media focuses on mass shootings and AR-15 type rifles in particular.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“Yes, most gun deaths are from handguns. Handgun deaths seem more predictable and are often associated with specific geographic areas. Handgun deaths are often gang, drug, suicide or domestic violence related.  And yes, the media does focus on the more dramatic “mass shootings” that have become part of our National history:  The University of Texas Tower; Columbine; The Amish School near Lancaster, PA; Sandy Hook Elementary; Margery Stoneman HS; Robb Elementary, Uvalde, Texas; and many more.  The mass killings seem to be much more random and they also seem to be best addressed by comprehensive “Reg Flag” laws and background checks. In many cases the shooter either commits suicide or is killed by police so it is usually the case that the “why” is never known.  AR-15s are a semi-automatic version of the military M-16 which was specifically designed as an assault weapon designed to use the 5.56 mm high velocity round that causes the most internal injuries on enemy soldiers.  AR-15s are often used by mass shooters. It is light-weight, easy to use, and inflicts a tremendous amount of damage to the human body.  This type of weapon was outlawed by Federal law in the past because of its capability to inflict wounds quickly on large numbers of people.  Making this powerful weapon available to just anyone is reckless and unnecessary.”    

16.  Against More Government Restrictions: 

  “Rural needs are different than city needs, this goes for firearms also.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Rural citizens may well have a greater need for firearms to protect themselves given the often-limited support available to them from law enforcement. None of the “Red Flag” or enhanced background check laws would adversely impact sane law-abiding rural citizens.  Hunters would not be impacted by restrictions on AR-15s which fire a round designed to tumble upon impact, ruining internal organs.  It is not a good hunting rifle.”

17. Against More Government Restrictions:  

“Chicago has some of the strongest gun restrictions in the country, yet it also is one of the cities most subject to gun violence. Restrictions just don’t work.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“Without knowing the source of the guns used in crimes, it is impossible to know if local laws are effective.  Americans are free to cross state lines at any time.  Only “National” laws can limit interstate gun runners.”

18. Against More Government Restrictions:

“Today’s weapons (like the popular AR-15 type rifle) are essentially just modern versions of what at the time of the American Revolution was the most powerful personal weapon, the Kentucky Long Rifle.”

 For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“The hand-made (by a gunsmith) Kentucky or Pennsylvania “long rifle” was the most advanced readily available personal weapon at the time the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1791.  The rate of fire was about 2 rounds per minute for a highly trained marksman. The long rifle had an accurate range of about 200 yards.  Americans used this rifle to their advantage first during the French and Indian War and later during the American Revolution. Snipers using these rifles could shoot enemy soldiers at a great distance.  Currently semi-automatic weapons have magazines with 30 rounds of ammunition and can fire one round as fast as one can pull a trigger. Magazines can be changed quickly in a few seconds, even by an untrained user.  An AR-15 (with its 5.56 mm high velocity round) is accurate from 500 -1000 yards.  The politicians who wrote and approved the Second Amendment had no idea of the lethal capability of weapons readily available today in the United States.”

19.  Against More Government Restrictions: 

     “They” want to take away my guns.”

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives:  

“This argument assumes that the reader/audience knows who “They” are.  It is an example of drawing on the polarization within the US. There is not a coordinated effort to take guns away from sane law-abiding responsible adults.  Gun control efforts are aimed at those people who should not have ready access to firearms:  Terrorists, violent felons, children, domestic abusers, and severely mentally ill individuals.  Gun control efforts also attempt to limit the amount of damage a crazy or terrorist individual can do (e.g., limits on the availability of assault type weapons.)”

20. Against More Government Restrictions: 

   “The Supreme Court has supported the Second Amendment.  Their decision is final.”

Warning to Readers:  This answer is very long and complicated.

For Common Sense Laws to Save Lives: 

“The Supreme Court often changes its decisions over time.  Additionally, Supreme Court Decisions are almost always complex.  In a landmark 2008 split decision (5-4), The District of Columbia vs Heller, the Supreme Court reinforced the right of government to limit/specify what “arms” are protected under the Second Amendment.

This 2008 Supreme Court decision was highly publicized because it delinked the right of gun ownership from membership in a militia and it clarified the individual’s the right to own a gun to protect one’s home.  The DC law that was challenged had restricted ownership of handguns in one’s home and this Supreme Court decision overturned that law.  

The entire text of the Second Amendment is:  “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.”

One of the major controversies involves the Supreme Court’s decision to overlook the basic commonly understood English language meaning (both now, and also in 1891 when this amendment was ratified) of a restrictive clause.  The Supreme Court decided to treat the restrictive clause, “A well-regulated Milia, being necessary for the security of a free State,” as unrelated to the rest of the sentence, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  It is possible that a future Supreme Court could revisit this decision and re-link the right of the people to their participation in the well-regulated militia (Now called the National Guard).  For now, the Supreme Court decision stands, but it is being questioned.

Left unresolved in the 2008 decision was the individual right to bear arms outside of the home.  

The majority opinion in DC vs Heller was written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  Most of the publicity around the decision focused on the delinking of the right to bear arms from membership in an organized militia (i.e. The National Guard).  Not talked about so much is the very clear statement by Scalia that the Second Amendment is not unlimited.  In this majority opinion Scalia goes on to say, “…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The Supreme Court clearly reinforced the authority of Government to regulate the sale of arms.  In other words, governmental limits on which types of arms can be owned by individuals is clearly consistent with the Second Amendment right to bear arms. 

The recent Supreme Court decision (2022) NY State Rifle and Pistol Assn. v Bruen overturned conceal carry laws in several states that imposed specific requirements that the individual prove a need for the conceal/carry permit.  More or less, this opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, clarified the right of individuals to protect themselves by owning and bearing arms, even outside of their homes.  This same decision, however, also clearly reinforced the right of governments to designate certain areas as gun-free “Sensitive Places” such as courthouses, mass transportation systems, schools and private businesses (which are free to set their own requirements).”

Jim’s Take 

I like to think of myself as open to “different” ideas.  As this Blog’s title “Common Ground” infers, I am also a fan of reasonable compromise.  

I do not, however, appreciate nor ascribe to “simple solutions” to complex issues. The “guns” issue is very complicated. It is also clearly a national problem/issue.  

The question for most Americans is not whether there should be some limits on gun ownership/use. Clearly society needs some protection that only government can provide. There need to be governmental guardrails that give us all some degree of assurance and safety in our public places.  At the same time, we can, and should, allow sane non-criminal adult citizens the ability to defend themselves and their families. 

As with everything important, “The devil is in the details.”  As many people have pointed out, we already have some limitations on the right to bear arms. Some of the relevant questions that we Americans as a people have yet to agree on include: 

What weapons fall under the term “arms”?

What additional laws, if any, should be enacted?  

Which current laws need to be enforced?

Is this basically a State issue or one that requires National Government involvement?

Who should not be allowed to have guns readily available to them?

Terrorists? Certified Mentally Ill? Convicted felons? 

Domestic abusers? Young Children?

Where are guns allowed and where are they prohibited?

Schools? Court Rooms? Parks? Transportation Systems? Hospitals? Private businesses?

Under what circumstances should citizens be allowed to own/carry guns?

What “responsibilities” go with gun ownership? 

Safety training?  Gun Safes? Liability?

What happens when one citizen’s right to bear arms threatens another citizen’s unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

 Please enter your thoughts on this issue by clicking on the word “Comments” below and then scroll down to the bottom to make your reply. 

Statistics

Is this good or bad?

Mark Twain is often associated with the quote:, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.”  Twain attributed the quote to nineteenth century British conservative politician and former prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. There are variations of the quote stated by a number of people and it is not exactly clear who first uttered these words/came up with the thought.  

It really doesn’t matter who originated it, there is a large element of truth in the quote. 

Recently I have seen memes on Facebook that seem to indicate that one politician or another is directly responsible for a particular set of economic numbers.  These numbers can be either good or bad.

One Facebook meme that caught my eye was posted by a friend who agreed with the sentiment that President Biden was responsible for the current high rate of inflation.  The meme used statistics and a chart showing that the inflation rate was 1.4% when Biden became President and then it was 8.3% in August of 1922.  The accuracy of the numbers (statistics) is not my point here.  Even if they were correct, the numbers only show part of the story. 

I am not sure why my friend posted this meme in September, 2023, over a year after the numbers cited.  Perhaps the August 2023, inflation rate of 3.7% did not sound bad enough?

There is no mention of the fact that the low inflation rate at the beginning of Biden’s term was probably driven more by the covid pandemic (and related shutdowns) than the wise economic policies of the previous administration. 

Additionally, the meme avoided other figures that showed progress during the Biden years.  These include: Unemployment (Down from 6.3% in January 2021 to 3.8% in August 2023; and growth of gross domestic product which increased from -2.8% in 2020 to a current estimate of + 2.2% annual growth for 2023. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. wages and salaries increased 4.6 percent for the 12-month period ending in June 2023 and increased 5.3 percent for the 12-month period ending in June 2022. 

So, is the economy good or bad? 

The economy is often a mixed bag.  It is also driven by a number of variables, only some of which can be impacted by government action. 

Gasoline prices are currently at an all-time high.  While it is easy to blame the government, what impact do private interests play?  Why are energy companies recording record profits?  Why is OPEC restricting oil production?

One of my favorite quotes that is certainly relevant to the economy and associated statistics is, “For every complex problem there is a simple answer….and it is wrong.”  

Some people don’t even go as far as endorsing memes.  They rely on bumper stickers to address complex issues.  As aways, the important issues of the day (any day) are very complex and require much thought and analysis by people in the know. 

Are statistics at all useful?  Yes, they are very important.  So important in fact that without quantification and recording of details there can be no facts applicable at a macro level, only beliefs.  Beliefs do have a place in our personal lives.  However, void of the facts that only accurate statistics can provide, personal beliefs are very little help in addressing macro subjects such as climate, the economy, or societal trends.

So, what is the problem here Jim?  Part of the problem is that people often start out with a belief and then find the “facts” that support said belief.  Statistics being one of the strongest kinds of proof.  

The other commonly used method is ancedotal first or second-hand experience.  Anecdotal evidence can be useful on a personal level, but the application of this “wisdom” derived from antidotes is only useful more broadly if it is substantiated by statistics. In short, we need to know if an example is a real trend or circumstance or just a one-off occurrence.  

Another problem is that statistics are by their very nature complex.  Take unemployment for instance.  The U.S. Federal Government (Bureau of Labor Statistics) has several different definitions of “unemployment.”  The most commonly used is called U-3 which includes only those people who are actively looking for work.  Retirees like me are not included as being “unemployed” using this definition.  Another BLS metric is U-6 which includes people on the “margins” which includes those discouraged, underemployed, working part time and disabled.  Some economists say this rate (which is always higher than U-3) is a more accurate measurement. 

Unless the reader fully understands the data being presented to them, they are easily misled.  In most cases we need “Experts” to help us maneuver through numbers to get to the “truth.”

One number often tossed around is the number of undocumented aliens living in the U.S.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that in January 2021 this number was 10,220,000.   I’m not sure how DHS counts these people.  But even if we accept their number as being accurate, this still begs the question: “Is this good or bad?”  

10,200,00 is a lot of people.  Only 9 states have populations greater than this.   On the other hand, it is only about 3.1% of the total population.   

The number taken alone is not particularly insightful.  For instance, this number can be used to show that even after 4 years of effort to get rid of undocumented aliens, the last outgoing administration left a huge number of undocumented aliens in the US when they left office.  Conversely, the number is less than what it was four years prior thus showing some “progress.”  Not considered in this number were the important factors like age, sex, home country, and most importantly, the reason why these people were willing to risk arrest and/or deportation.

Like all important issues, undocumented aliens, and the larger issues of legal immigration and refugees, is extremely complicated.  Statistics can play an important role in finding solutions, but only if used by “experts” who have extensive knowledge of the myriad of numbers related to the issue.  

Sadly, virtually all politicians lie to some degree or other.  In a democracy it is almost impossible to get elected if one really, “Tells it like it is.”  Liberal politicians are not likely to admit that they cannot pay for all of the social programs that they support.  Conversely, conservatives like to believe that people really don’t need to pay as much as they do for taxes and that giving more money to the wealthy will “trickle down” to the rest of us.

Dictators of course, are not bound by any tie to the people they rule.  Often people who live under dictators just assume that what they are being told by their “leaders” is not the truth.  They may not like it, but, short of a revolution, they really have no say in the matter. Statistics produced by regimes headed by a dictator are not reliable, there are no checks and balances.

Mark Twain differentiated between “lies” and “damn lies”.  The difference between “Lies” and “Damn Lies” is one of those areas where you have to concede that you know it when you see it.  The difference is subjective. 

“Liars” selectively choose the numbers that further their cause or which benefit them personally. Quarterbacks with losing win/loss records can focus on total passing yards gained.  CEOs can focus on increased sales when profits are low.  Politicians can pick the financial numbers that best support their personal goals. 

“Damned liars” just make up their own numbers. For example, former president Trump said repeatedly when first running for office and during his term of office that the trade deficit with China was $500 billion when he took over.   The real number was $367 Billion.  Damned liars just don’t care.  They tell people what they want to hear. 

Statistics, on the other hand, do offer the facade of being impartial and in a way, they are.  But only if the numbers are “real” and, also, only if they are used properly. Most of the time this requires analysis by someone who is an expert in whatever field is being covered.  

In researching for this post, I came across a concept called,  “Simpson’s Paradox” (No relation).  Simpson’s Paradox is only one of many ways that statistics can be misused to make a point.  Simpson’s paradox involves leaving out a key variable so that, although the numbers may be accurate, they don’t really give a correct picture of the larger issue.  Sometimes the picture given is exactly the opposite of reality.  

An example of this paradox is hospital death rates.  Unless the condition of the patient when admitted is taken into account, we easily could get a false view of the “success” of certain hospitals and “failure” of others.  A given hospital may have an overall lower death rate but in vital life-saving trauma situations they may not be the best, they could even be the worst.

The display of the data itself can be very misleading and cause the reader to misinterpret what they are looking at. Here below is a chart produced by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement intended to show the impact of the “Stand Your Ground Law” on murders committed using firearms. At first glance it appears that there was a reduction after the law was passed.  A closer look reveals that the chart has been turned upside down (The y axis usually has 0 at the bottom) from what we normally expect.  

The chart at the beginning of this post has incomplete descriptions of both the X and Y axis.  At first glance it may appear positive with things trending upward.  But is it?  We really don’t know.

Many of the graphs and representations of statistics we are exposed to regularly tell only half-truths and require extensive research or expertise to really tell what is going on.  This applies across the board:  Both liberal and conservative politicians and pundits are equal opportunity offenders when it comes to using statistics and related charts.  

Mark Twain (or whoever it was originally) hit upon a “truth” when he questioned the use of statistics and lumped them with “lies and damn lies.”   What he did not tell us was how to deal with them.  

My recommendation is to pick reliable sources for information and to rely on “experts” you trust in any given area/field.  My previous post “Truth” (Accessible through links in the Menu above or by entering jimsim.com/truth in your browser) attempts to address this fundamental question: “Who are you going to believe?”

Heaven

News of the death and funerals of friends and relatives inevitably raise questions about one’s own mortality.

Happy Sailing

“We’re all gonna die!” I am not sure of origins of this reality shocker when I first heard it as a child.  It must have been a difficult concept.  

At some point we all come to the realization that we will not always be here.  But when we are younger this idea is easily put aside as we head out into the world.   

Even the loss of close loved ones can be pushed aside by finding differences between those who died and ourselves such as: “she/he was/had …(X,Y or Z).and I am different because ….(fill in the blanks).”

I have now reached the age where I can no longer ignore the reality.  Within the next 25-30 years, all of my high school and college classmates, Marine and army buddies, cousins, siblings and other contemporaries will all be gone.  Also, some of my younger work colleagues and friends and relatives will likely be gone as well. 

Is there really a heaven

Aside from atheists and agnostics, most people seem to believe there is something else awaiting us when we die.  The major religions all explain this differently, but most have some description of an afterlife be it heaven, hell, or reincarnation. 

Is Heaven right for you?

What if everyone was truly equal in death?  What if in heaven there is no one who is very wealthy, poor, healthy, sick, brilliant, dull, gifted or limited in abilities? 

If everything was “fair” in heaven, then the very rich, healthy, brilliant and/or gifted people would no longer have an advantage. They would no longer be special.  They might even see this situation as a kind of hell.

Getting In

Another great unknown is the criteria for entrance. 

I was raised in a Christian Protestant family and even as a child I had trouble with the idea that some people would not get into heaven.  I was taught to understand that “bad” people and “non-believers” would be left outside the pearly gates.  That part I could understand.

What I had trouble understanding was what happened to babies too young to know about Jesus, or even to be baptized.  And what about the millions of people who were never exposed to “The word of God” that was presented to those of us who were lucky enough to be members of a Christian (preferably Protestant) church.  Were all of the millions of other people in the world all damned? Even the “good” ones? 

Heavenly Bodies

Another unknown was the form that we will take in heaven, assuming we will get in.  Do we have bodies like we do here on earth.  If so, will it be a young body or an old one? Will people who had to deal with disabilities in life be suddenly able bodied in Heaven?

Or will we become more of a spirit?  Will we have memories of our life on earth?  

Aunt Bunk

A number of years ago while on a family vacation in North Carolina, I attended the funeral of an in-law, Vivian’s Aunt Nelly Grace (AKA Aunt Bunk).   Prior to her death, Aunt Bunk had joined a very traditional, very Southern, Baptist Church. 

I had seen movies and tv shows that depicted a booming minister in a packed and very warm, Southern church where congregants shouted out, “Amen Brother!” at the top of their lungs.  However, this was no movie, it was the real deal!

I don’t think the preacher was really close to the late Aunt Bunk as he seemed to be looking often at his notes when it was time to insert her name (Nelly Grace) into the sermon. 

He was, however, very familiar with preaching at funerals and he painted a very vivid picture of where the dearly departed was now.  Aunt Bunk had walked through the pearly gates in the clouds and was now walking down streets literally paved in gold.  Liquid gold flowed down a river.  It was always sunny and comfortably warm in Heaven. 

According to the preacher, Aunt Bunk was now in the presence of our Lord and Savior who had been there to greet her personally. Or, as kids today might say it, “Bunk was now hanging out with none other than her bestie, JC himself.”

The preacher delivered the sermon with a gusto and flair that was legendary.  He went from a barely heard whisper to a 10 on the Richter scale in an instant.  It was clear to me that no one slept thru his sermons!

Then it turned really dark.  Yes, according to this preacher there was another place.  It was reserved for those who did not believe as he (and apparently his congregation) believed.  

The preacher’s description of Hell was not pleasant to say the least.  

I may have imagined it, but it seemed to me that he was looking a little too much and too often at those of us relatives who were sitting together and clearly were not members of his church. 

I also seem to remember that the “plate” was passed around right after the preacher’s warning about Hell.  It was a good time to “pay” for our sins and of course a healthy donation would increase the odds of “getting in” to Heaven.

Somehow, I think the good Rev had taken some liberties with his descriptions of both Heaven and Hell.  But, then again, who knows?

Singing to the Heavens

Singers across the spectrum have talked about death and Heaven including: 

Bob Dylan, who sang about, “Knocking on Heaven’s door.”

Country star Kenny Chesney sang, “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but not now.”

Led Zeppelin questioned the idea of buying one’s way into heaven in their classic, “Stairway to Heaven”, saying, “Ooh, it makes me wonder.”

Soul, gospel, and blues legend Mavis Staples sang about a question many of us wonder, “What are they doing in Heaven today?

Willie Nelson who, while reminiscing about his departed friends, said he does not want to be, “the last man standing,” but then Willie wryly adds, “… well, on second thought, maybe I do!”

From Dust to Dust: Eternal Existence

Pop scientists like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson are able to explain that matter is not destroyed, it just changes shape or becomes energy. Everything that existed at the time of the Big Bang 15 billion years ago still exists today and will for eternity.  So, in a very real sense we do last forever.  

It is not particularly reassuring, however, to know that the term “dust to dust” is a reality proven by science.  It may be true, at least about our bodies, but it is not what most of us think of as Heaven. Science so far does not have a good answer about what happens to our soul.

We all want to know the answer to the questions:

When will the bell toll for me?

And then what?

There is only one way to find out.  

Some people have committed suicide.  None of us know what causes people to take their own lives.  Like Willie Nelson and Kenny Chesney sang, most of us are more than willing to wait to find out what Heaven is all about.

Also, most of us will not know either when or how we will meet our end.   Some of us will have warning signs such as illness, others will have no warning. Here today, gone tomorrow.

To our loved ones left behind, how we die is bound to be less important than the loss itself. Will they find comfort in the fact they we may be reunited in Heaven?  Or will they just “go on” without us?

Too much?

Of course it is “too much,” but that is kind of my point.   Death is an important aspect of life.  We need to be able to face reality. The question, “What is next?” is hard to ignore.  

Please share what you believe about Heaven by clicking on the word “Comments” below and then scrolling to the bottom and leave your reply.

#

Questions?

Socrates is credited with using thought provoking questioning to help his students identify, “The Truth.”

My own late father, Jim Simpson Sr., frequently asked, “What have we learned?” Dad used the question as a means of helping people make sense of what had just happened in any number of situations. 

We can all learn a lot from both Socrates and from my father by asking ourselves some really difficult questions.  We then need to be brutally honest with ourselves in analyzing our answers. 

One of the most popular phrases in the 60s came from the song (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David) and popular movie (starring Michael Caine), “What’s it all about Alfie?”  My takeaway: “The bigger the question, the more important and difficult the answer.”

Seriously questioning oneself is a sign of maturity.  It is also an indicator of people who are able to face reality.   

The hardest questions are the probing ones we ask ourselves:

On what sources am I forming my attitudes and beliefs?

How am I spending my time? 

What is really important to me?

Is there a God?  

If so, do I do what he/she asks? 

 If there is not a higher being or cause, what is the point of it all?

Are my relationships as I would like them to be?

How do I need to change?

Many of my contemporaries (Old guys) have their own questions:

How much time do I have left?

Where do I want to live now that I can choose?

What are realistic expectations of myself (e.g., capabilities, health)?

What is my legacy?

Examples of people who do not ask themselves hard questions include those who display:

Blind obedience to a religion (Any religion).

Total fealty to another person (Any person). 

Unwavering belief in oneself or to one’s team or organization.

Of course, it is much easier to ask questions of others in identifiable groups with whom we have differences.  Following are some questions for some typical groups of “others” identified in today’s culture wars.

Here are some questions for Trumplings:

Do I really believe what he says?

What traits does he display that I would want to see in my own kids or grandkids?

For the lefties:

Do I really think that society can exist without police or military protection?

Are people better off when things are given to them or when they earn them?

And here are questions for the Independents among us:

Is it OK for me to just to sit on the sidelines?

When, if ever, do I speak out against extremists?

If the power of the vote is taken away from us, what will I do?

Answers

One of my favorite one-liners is, “For every difficult situation there is a simple answer…and it is wrong.”

Of course, this statement contradicts itself by providing a simplistic answer to a difficult question, but, hey, there is a huge grain of truth in it. 

Questioning ourselves is not easy.  Often, we may end up with complex and confusing answers we really don’t want to know. 

The truth is not always what we believe or want it to be.  Truth is also extremely difficult to determine.  It is an aspiration, not a destination. 

We can never fully understand what is absolutely true.  If we think that we know the absolute truth, we are deceiving ourselves.  

Nonetheless, both Socrates and Dad were on the right track. We can get closer to the truth, at least in our own lives, by honestly trying to answer the hardest questions we can ask ourselves.

Slump?

Boom or bust?  I took both of these photos on July 12. On the left is a homeless encampment across the street from the Fred Meyer store in our Seattle neighborhood where we shop regularly.  To me it demonstrates desperation and decline.  On the right is a new high-end housing complex just two blocks away. The words that come to mind with this picture are prosperity and progress.  It is a paradox.

Pundits in the regular and social media are currently crowing with negativity about the US economy.  The term “slump” is often used to describe the economy.  Bad news travels fast.  

Bad news also sells.  Virtually all the major news medias are jumping to the suggestion that we are in a “slump” and heading for a recession and/or stagflation (high inflation AND high unemployment). 

The problem for the pundits is that all of the news is not bad. The economy is also an area that politicians have limited control over and which is global in reach and nature. 

The inconvenient truth is that now, and almost always, economics is mixed bag.

Here for your consideration are some current bellwether economic indicators:  

Inflation is up (E.g. gas prices at all time high), highest in decades (This is bad).

Wages are up (good for workers, mixed bag for small business employers, great for Standard & Poor’s 500 CEOs whose salaries increased 18% last year).

New unemployment claims down (Good).

There are 11 million jobs available right now (Mixed: good for those looking for work, bad for small business employers)

Unemployment rate in the U.S is 3.6% (This is Pretty good – some economists use 3% as a sign of full employment – zero employment being impossible to reach because of normal changes in the workforce including job changes initiated by individuals.)

Stock market Standard and Poor’s 500 index was up 26.9% in 2021; but down so far in 2022. (Short term: Stocks go up, stocks go down; Long term, stocks generally go up – the key unknown is when, “How long do I have to wait?”)

According to the Federal Reserve, US Household Net Worth was at all time high as of the end of 2021 at $149.8 Trillion (On one hand this is good but then… There is wealth inequality and a disappearance of the middle class in the US.  Measuring wealth is complicated and there is no easy single number to look at. Suffice it to say that a very small number of people control vast amounts of wealth and the rich are getting richer.)

Media pundits and naysayers also tend to focus on what might happen as if it is happening now. (E.g. billboards and memes denouncing how the current administration has raised taxes). Hint: there is no legislation that has been passed that would raise federal tax rates. The last big tax hike was the tariffs on consumers who bought certain goods from China placed in 2018 (btw: any way you slice it, tariffs are a form of taxation. Remember the Boston Tea Party?) Federal Tax rates have not changed since 2017.

The Good Old Days?

Some would have us believe that everything was rosier under the previous administration, and yet…

The unemployment rate In Jan 2021 was 6.4% Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2020, the final year of the last administration, the economy (GDP) shrank 3.4% and lost 9.4 million jobs

National debt grew over the four years from $19.5 Trillion in Fiscal Year2017  to $27.7 Trillion in FY 2020. This is a huge increase, especially during a time when we were supposedly cutting back on federal government spending. Source: US Treasury Department. 

Throughout history there has been a continuous cycle of feast or famine when it comes to the economy.  This is a world-wide cyclical economic phenomenon dating back to ancient times. The Bible refers in Genesis to seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine.  This is nothing new. 

Of course, even during hard times there are those who do well financially (e.g. buying property at bargain rates).  

Also, during the best of times there are always some left behind or displaced. The adage that, “A rising tide raises all ships.” is true; unless you don’t have a ship, in which case the adage, “How long can you tread water?”, is more appropriate.

My point: the economy is always a mixed bag.  

The economy is also extremely complex.  Pulling a few stats out randomly to prove a point (Like I have done here above) always gives an incomplete picture no matter what your political viewpoint. There are just too many ways to slice and dice the numbers.  And the numbers themselves can be very difficult to obtain, much less understand. 

Take unemployment for instance.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports six different rates including the one most commonly used by the press (BLS calls this U-3) which I used above.  It only includes those actually looking for work.  The other rates reported by BLS use different numerators and denominators so of course come up with different rates. This allows politicians, pundits or for that matter, anyone, to pick the rate that supports one’s views. 

So, Jim, what am I to think?  Do?

Economists use two terms that might be helpful to us: macroeconomics and microeconomics.   

Macro being society as a whole and micro being an individual.  Almost all of the talk is about macro with an occasional individual used as an example of how that person or family are impacted as a part of a macro trend. 

This means that most people, myself included, focus on “other” people.  

We might also want to ask, “how am I doing?” or “How are things where I live?

My suggestion: We all look closer to home and honestly ask ourselves these questions:

Do you have a job?

Have you been forced to change careers in the past two years?

Are you retired with a steady income?

Do you own a home?   

Do you own it outright or have a mortgage?  Interest rate? Monthly mortgage payment?

If you rent, how much do you pay monthly? 

Is your rent or overall housing costing more than 30% of your gross income?

Is your car paid for?

Do you have any long-term debt beyond a mortgage?

How much $ do you have in savings? Retirement accounts?

Do you know what your net worth is?

Have any of your tax rates, (local, State or Federal) increased in the past year? Note: This question is about the rates, not the amount paid because one’s income and or property values may have changed.  Rates are all set by law. Has the rate actually changed?

Have you lost your job in the past year? Are you on unemployment?

Do you have high speed Wi-Fi in your home? Air conditioning? Cable TV? A Smart phone? Computer?

Do you have any school loans outstanding?

Has a family member lost their job in the last year? 

If so, were they fired or did they quit?

Are most people you know personally who want a job currently working?  

Is anyone you know personally on unemployment?  

If so, are they actively looking for work?

Are there empty business store fronts around you?

Is there construction of new buildings or homes near you?

Are there “Help Wanted” signs out in your neighborhood/town?

Are there homeless people living in tents or RVs?

What kind of cars are in the parking lot at your local Target or Walmart? (E.g. Beaters or newer models?)

Are parking lots empty or full? 

Do you see any trains, trucks or ships near your home? 

Are they moving goods?

Are roads around you busy or empty? 

Are there any active food banks in your neighborhood?

Are there items you need but cannot obtain?

Items you want, but cannot get?  

Are items you need or want unavailable or are they available but too expensive?

Do you have grown children or other adults living with you?

Have you moved out of state within the past year?  

Have you moved within your state in the past year?

Have you bought or sold a home within the last two years?

Have you bought a new vehicle (car or truck) within the last year?

If you can answer the questions above you should be able to answer the question, “Is there a slump where you live?” And, perhaps more to the point, “How am I doing financially?

At this point you might say, “OK, I have answered these questions about microeconomics, but, “How do we get to The Whole Truth about the economy? After all, macroeconomics does impact us all, especially our investments.”

Certainly, we can and should read/watch/see/listen to a wide range of responsible news sources.  Investments such as in the stock market or cryptocurrency are not something we can personally observe, and we must rely on other sources of information.  (Note: You are welcome to read the sources I use and consider reliable in my previous post on this blog titled “Truth”)

At the same time, we need to look around us and see what is really going on in our own hometowns.  What is really going on in our own economic life and in the lives of people we know personally?  What signs of economic activity can we see in our own communities?

What are your thoughts on the economy?  Are you personally doing OK?  

I would love to hear your take on this issue.  You are invited to click on “Comments” below, then scroll to the bottom and leave your reply.  

Equality

“We are not all equal. “

This headline on a meme recently placed on Facebook caught my attention.  It clearly was intended to evoke a response, and it certainly did.  

I instantly flashed back to a line in the popular political satire book by George Orwell, Animal Farm, which was required reading in my high school.  In the story there was a sign painted on one of the farm buildings that read, “All animals are equal.” The barnyard revolution described in the metaphorical book had a tragic ending when the pigs who had started the revolution assumed the same roles as their former masters.  The sign was then modified to read “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The meme I saw logically led to the same conclusion:  If we are not all equal, then some must be unequal.

The meme went on to state that the writer had worked hard all his life and that some “unnamed others” were wanting not to have to pay their debts.  Defenders of the meme note that this was really the message.  Sure, some people do work harder than others and I actually agree that everyone should pay their debts. Had the meme started with, “Some people work harder than others.”, or even,“Some people want something for nothing,” I would have listened to their argument.

But this meme was not really meant to be about either hard work or debt.  It was used as a first step in justifying unequal treatment of some people. The first sentence, which was in larger type and bolded, was perfectly clear, “We are not all equal.”  

Autocrats are only too happy to promote and to justify the idea that people are unequal.  It serves their interests in keeping power to themselves.  They need an “other” who, because they are unequal, does not enjoy equal treatment under the law. This can include virtually anyone who disagrees with the dictator.  

Just like the new barnyard rulers in Orwell’s book, autocrats can justify unequal treatment by identifying those who are “Not Equal.” 

Identifying some people as “Not Equal” has historically been used to justify wrongheaded governmental policies. Examples include the following: Slavery, the decimation of native peoples, the Holocaust, and keeping women from voting.

Personally, I believe that all people are created equal.  Virtually all religions teach that all people are equal in the eyes of God. 

As an American, I am a strong believer in both equal opportunity and in equal treatment under the law.  No, we don’t always measure up to this ideal, but nonetheless, I believe equality for all is worth striving for.

Saying that, “We are not all equal.” is just wrong. 

What do you believe?  (Please Click on “Comments” below).

“Them”

I am bothered by a pronoun I see and hear used a lot recently in both person-to-person conversations and in on-line discussions, “Them.”  Another problem word is the closely related subject pronoun, “They.”

As pronouns, these two words relate to plural nouns such as a word like “Presbyterian” or “Canadians,” used to describe members of an identifiable group. 

 I am bothered by the way “They” and “Them” are now being used indiscriminately to ID people one hates or fears.  

“Them” and “They” can be wielded without having any regard for the truth.

These words are being used to create a false binary choice (e.g. “My way, or the highway”).

The use of “They” or “Them” allows one to broadly assail anyone who the user does not agree with on virtually any issue. 

The improper use of “Them” or “They” is yet another way in which Americans are being pulled apart. 

I have seen “They” or “Them” used by extremists from both the far left and the far right.  More recently, I have even seen these words used by people who have seemed to me in the past to be open to differing viewpoints.   

EXTREMISTS HAVE NO SHAME

Extremists will use any means to tear us apart.

Where do you live?  Where do “They” live?

Friends have talked about the differences between Red States and Blue States.  Depending on the individual’s prejudices, either “Red” or “Blue” is often simply categorized as being either all good or all bad.  

Examples include, “They want to have a socialist government” or, “They just want to scare people by carrying guns openly in public.” The population of the entire state? Really?  

I challenged one friend to tell me if Pennsylvania was a Blue or a Red State.  I got no response.  Of course it was a trick question because Pennsylvania has elected politicians from both parties and power within the state is clearly balanced between the two political parties with a large segment of adults, about  30%, who sit out the democratic political process and don’t even vote.

There is clearly a divide between rural and urban counties in virtually every state. However, even where we live much of the time, in mostly rural and staunchly Republican Adams County, Pennsylvania, one can find real live Democrats.  

Go into the Ragged Edge Coffee Shop in Gettysburg on Tuesday mornings and you may well find a group of aging hippies loudly and publicly announcing very progressive stances, right here in the middle of what some might call a “Red” county.  

Likewise, in Seattle there are arch conservatives and even some domestic white nationalist terrorists.  Don’t believe this, just listen to Seattle conservative radio talk-show host Jason Rantz for a few minutes, you will get the idea.   

In either location, or for that matter any location, it is a gross overstatement when talking about an entire population to say, “They just want to (fill in the blanks).” 

Extremists use “They” or  “Them” to categorize entire groups.  But they don’t stop there.  To further pull us apart, they use even more inflammatory phrases than just “Red” or “Blue.” 

To really add shock value, these extremists use phrases such as, “woke bleeding-heart tree-hugging libtards,” or, conversely, “ignorant mouth-breathing racist redumblican trumpanzees.”  

Using “Them” or “They” allows one to cast blame broadly without being tethered to any facts or personal knowledge of what an individual believes, much less who these people really are and what they actually do. 

I have seen right wing users link gun control legislation directly to Chinese efforts to invade the US, as in, “Why do you think “They” want to take away our guns.?

Other right wingers have said things like, “They” just want something for nothing and “They” do not want to work.  “They hate America and our way of life.”

Lefties can use this tact also as in, “They are supporting Big Money interests bent on keeping the common people in their place.” Too many people try to explain something complex by saying that, “they are really all just racists.”

“They” want to avoid taxes in order to keep wealth they have unfairly garnered from others.” Or, “They” are all gun-crazy racist lunatics who want to intimidate others.”

Worse yet, the use of the word “They” allows the user to conflate a number of issues or ideas and focus anger that in some cases is not warranted.  This allows dispersions at an unspecific “They” or “Them” which is used to describe anyone who disagrees with the user on virtually any issue. 

FUZZY THINKING

Psychologists use the term Fundamental Attribution Error to describe the tendency for people to under-emphasize situational and environmental explanations for an individual’s observed behavior.  People often over-emphasize dispositional and personality-based explanations.  

A simper way to describe this is the tendency to believe that what people “do” necessarily reflects who they “are.”  This thought process overlooks and/or discounts the circumstances that may lead to the “Why” which often tells a lot more about what is really going on. 

When we use phrases like, “They are all (lazy, racist, war mongers, tree huggers, or fill in the similar character assumption)” statements, we are making the Fundamental Attribution Error.  

We often assign fundamental character faults to explain the actions of others while giving ourselves a pass for exactly the same action.  

For example, when someone else is late for work it is easy to say “they” just don’t care about their co-workers.  And yet, when we are sometimes late ourselves, there is always a good reason.  

CANCEL CULTURE

I believe this discounting of the circumstances and not focusing on facts leads directly to the practice of simply identifying a person as either a “They” or “One of them.” Disregarding circumstances and details also more easily leads to cancel culture.

Cancel culture is total rejection of anyone who disagrees with the expected actions or beliefs of their “tribe.” This is true for the right as well as the left.  Just ask Republican Representative Liz Cheney, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, writer j. k. Rollins, or Natalie Maines, lead singer for the Dixie Chicks.  Each of these well known people has been berated and chastised by members of their own “tribe” because they have not strictly conformed to a set of behaviors and ideas that are expected of them. 

Step out of the line with an idea some extremists don’t like and you may find yourself banned. One can be banned even from groups they were once a part of or even revered by. One can quickly become one of “Them” by expressing an idea or acting in a way that is different than what is expected by their tribe.

Extremists on all sides engage in what we now call cancel culture as in, “ If you don’t ascribe closely to all of my agenda you are, “one of “them”.”

JAIL THE GUILTY BASTARDS

Don’t get me wrong, there are clearly assholes on all sides of virtually any issue that divides us.  I am in no way suggesting we refrain from calling these jerks out.   

In some cases they should be jailed.  My concern is that we tend to paint everyone with the same brush without a serious consideration of the circumstances and facts.  The details matter. 

We build straw men who are easy to hate, then lump them into the whole and automatically assume “they” all condone the actions of this obviously wrong straw man (or straw woman).

AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY OFFENDER 

Phrases used by both the left and the right include:

“They” want to take over the U.S. by means of force. 

“They” want to take away our liberties. 

“They” don’t care about the people, especially those of us who work for a living in the middle class. 

“They” just want power for themselves. 

“They” don’t care about the Constitution. 

“They” lie. 

“They,” are haters. 

Depending on who is using the word, “They,” we can include any of the following: as “one of them”:  Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Bill Gates, The Koch Brothers, The Russians, The Chinese, the Israelis, the Palestinians, “Hollywood”, “Red necks”; Evangelicals, Atheists, Proud Boys, or Antifa.  For that matter almost anyone who is wealthy, famous, powerful or happens to be on TV is subject to being “one of them.”   

FIND SOMEONE EASY TO HATE

Typically the user of the word “They” will identify some specific issue that is of concern to that person.  Then the person will identify one well-known person or celebrity who is opposed to the user’s position and has made some outrageous statement or done something obviously wrong. The clearly assumed position is that all persons who disagree with you on any number of other issues automatically ascribe to that statement and condone the actions of this person.  

Right wing people will pull up some obscure statement by a “celebrity” like Barbara Streisand and declare, “see, that is what “they” all think. “

Lefties pick certified religious extremists like Franklin Graham (also accused of weird sexual activity) and then say, “see, “they” all think the same way as Franklin Graham and do not really want religious freedom, they just want everyone to buy into their views on religion.”

In many cases the condemned statement being quoted may have pulled out of context.  The statement can also be twisted something like, “They” just want so and so and then, “They,” will only be happy when “they” can…(fill in the blanks).’

HERE ARE MY RECOMMENDATIONS:

A partial solution would be to forego using the words “They” or “Them” altogether and then either substitute the name of someone who has specifically supported an idea or position or done something you don’t like.  Stick to the facts.

Use “I” when talking about our own positions and use the word “we” when talking about someone who disagrees with you in part but with whom you want to find common ground. 

Examples:  “I” vs “We” statements 

““I” believe that we need to limit access to guns for certain individuals, like felons, terrorists and the mentally deranged.” Or conversely, “”I” want to be sure that my right to bear arms is not taken away.”

“We” need to find ways to ensure that all law-abiding citizens can “bear arms” to protect themselves while at the same time keeping guns out of the hands those who are most dangerous and who should not have access to guns.”

“I think the system is not fair to certain individuals.”

“We need to work together as citizens to ensure that working class people have an equal chance to succeed based on their own merits.”

“I” am convinced that elections are vital and conducted fairly or conversely, elections are not fair because some people keep others from Voting, or conversely people who are not quailed to vote are voting.”

“We” need to work together to identify means to make sure elections are conducted fairly while at the same time ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to vote.”

Remember, “we” doesn’t mean people who agree with you – it includes those with whom you disagree. “We” need to find common ground. 

Also, drop the use of memes.  Memes are the worst.  Try not to use them.  

Yes, occasionally an idea will be very well articulated in a meme, but often quotes are mis-identified and the factoids are overly simplistic.

Also, I really don’t want to see a meme you send to me, I want to know what You personally think and believe.  

After all, blindly forwarding a contentious meme is just what “They” want.

Note: To respond with your thoughts click on “Comment” below. Then scroll to the bottom where you can leave a reply. If that does not work, you can send a response to my e-mail and I can post your response – sorry, somehow the “Leave a comment” option is not visible anymore.