She Didn’t Deserve This

Standard

Below is what I wrote one week ago upon hearing the news that my aunt was told she has two weeks to live. She made it four days. I loved her dearly and miss her terribly.

17 Apr 16

I just had one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had in my life. My aunt, whom I’ve always been very close to, is dying. She’s been bravely fighting cancer for some time now. She won quite a few rounds and has been declared cancer-free a couple times, but this looks like the end. I just had to hear her tell me she has about two weeks to live. Two. Weeks. To. Live. How does one respond to that? I didn’t know either. It kills me to lose someone so good and so close.

First, a little background. Aunt Patty is my mother’s sister. She’s only 13 years older than me. She was kind of caught in between generations at the family gatherings. She wasn’t old enough to be a full-fledged member of my mother’s generation, but she was older than her nieces and nephews. She spent a lot of Thanksgivings with us at the satellite card table away from the main dining table. Growing up she was much more like an older sister to me than she was an aunt. She was one of a very small handful of people that made me feel important as a kid. She was one of those great people who listened to me when I talked and was legitimately interested in what I had to say. She talked to me as a peer, never talking down to me from some lofty perch that was the exclusive dominion of adults. She was great fun to be around as I grew up. We spent a lot of time on the water boating with my grandparents. We traveled on the boat all over Florida and went to the Bahamas together one summer. I remember her being the first person to get me on a dance floor that trip. Spending time with her was always easy and always enjoyable. We laughed. A lot.

Additionally, she was a role model. I’ve been very fortunate to have a couple brilliant, talented, and independent aunts who really shaped my views on women and Aunt Patty was half of that dynamic duo. She went to college, earned a degree, landed a good job, and bought a house. Each job always became a better job, the houses continued to become nicer houses, her professional accomplishments never stopped. And she did it all on her own. Never did she have to depend on a man. She was strong, independent, and successful.

For all these reasons and more, I love her. A lot.

And for all these reasons and more, our conversation today was difficult. Painful. Sad. It cut through me. It wounded me.

And that really should have been bad enough, but a couple things really struck me after I told her one last time how much I loved her and said goodbye. And I’ve chosen this forum to vent about them a bit. It’s all I know to do right now.

First, a bit more background. My grandparents, Patty’s parents, were living a very comfortable life when I was growing up. Grandpa owned the Goodyear store in Apopka, a small town just outside Orlando. They lived in a beautiful house on a golf course in the nicest neighborhood in town. They had a series of boats starting off with an 18′ bow rider that we went up and down the St John’s River on, progressing to big boats that the family would all go to the Bahamas aboard. Life was good for them. But Grandpa had heart issues and Grandma got breast cancer. The hospital bills ended that good life. They had to sell the nice house and move into a condo. They had to sell the store. They had to sell the boat. The hospital bills devastated them financially. They never recovered.

We all saw it happen. We all felt bad about it. But that wasn’t where it ended for Patty. She was smarter than most. She used that experience to make a plan. She had to be sure it never happened to her. She worked and put aside money specifically for any catastrophic medical situation that might arise. She had to be sure that no unforeseen healthcare issue could bankrupt her. She had a significant amount of money set aside for just such an emergency. She had a plan. It was a good plan. But it wasn’t good enough.

Where did it fail? She was laid off her job during the economic downturn and lost her health insurance. Then came the cancer. She had cancer and no health insurance. Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act had passed and she was able to get an insurance policy. It wasn’t as good a policy as she once had, but it was much more than nothing. But cancer treatment is expensive, much more so in this country than anywhere else in the modern, industrialized world. And it began to eat into her savings. Her health prevented her from going back to work. The radiation and chemo treatments took their toll on her body and her savings. To date, she’s run through her substantial savings because of the cancer. Her solid plan failed. A month ago I was visiting her and she was explaining to me her disbelief that what she thought was a foolproof plan did not succeed. She told me that she had promised herself that what had happened to her parents would never happen to her. But it did. The EXACT SAME THING happened to her. It happened to someone who took deliberate steps to ensure it didn’t happen. How could she have failed she asked me. I told her that the problem is simple – we are the only first-world country on the planet that allows our healthcare system to be run by two giant for-profit industries – pharmaceuticals and insurance. The entire healthcare system is set up for them to make billions of dollars. Most nations have healthcare systems centered around providing quality care to citizens. Not us. We’re set up to pay dividends to share holders. For us, it’s profits over people. And as long as that remains the case, there will continue to be hundreds of thousands of people driven into bankruptcy by medical bills every single year.

It’s not right. We’re the wealthiest country on the planet. Healthcare ought to be a right. The health of our citizens should be a higher priority than the profits of insurance and drug companies. It’s immoral what these corporations do to people. But for us, we don’t see it as a moral issue. We see it as a political issue. And we’re all so firmly entrenched on our chosen side of the political battle lines that we refuse to consider anything that might dare move us away from that comfortable position. Turn off the Fox News people. Quit listening to politicians who receive millions to be the mouthpieces of these industries. Try to think for a minute about what exactly it is you hate about “Obamacare.” Is it the care? Or is it the Obama? We have to do a better job. Healthcare is a human right. We love to fancy ourselves as the greatest nation on earth. Well if that is the case, we surely ought to have the highest quality healthcare on earth. We don’t. It’s not close. Our citizens should have the longest life expectancies. They don’t. It isn’t close. We should have the lowest infant mortality rate. We don’t. It isn’t close. Our people should be the healthiest on the planet. They aren’t. It isn’t close. And why isn’t it close? Why aren’t we the best? Again – it simply comes down to our system valuing profits over people. We could have the longest life expentancies, the lowest infant mortality rates, the healthiest citizenry, the highest quality healthcare if we wanted these things. But we don’t. Because we CHOOSE not to. We make a conscious choice that money for these huge, insanely profitable corporations and the handful of super-rich assholes that run them is actually more important than how healthy our people are. Think about that from your comfortable position on your side of the political divide. Ask yourself if you’re ok with supporting that. And ask yourself if you shouldn’t be a voice that demands we get better. Ask yourself which you value more – people or profits. Don’t be swayed by the dogma, make an informed and a moral decision. And then, most importantly, take action on that decision.

Speaking of dogma, that brings me to my next point. Two years ago when her fight began, Patty needed a plan to fight her battle. In typical Patty fashion, she formulated a good plan. She assembled a team. She designated seven “Captains” who had specific areas of responsibility: an overall coordinator, someone for the kids and dog, someone for Grandma, someone for communication, someone was in charge of food, someone was in charge of maintaining the house, and I was assigned financials. I was added to an e-mail distribution list that detailed the plan and would be used to keep everyone informed of how she was doing and where help was needed. Although these people were very well-intentioned and I absolutely appreciate their efforts in helping my aunt, the e-mails immediately became an irritant to me. She had to undergo surgery. The e-mails became some weird prayer chain where everyone chimed in with “thoughts and prayers” as if that did anything at all.

As she began her fight against cancer, Grandma was an issue. Grandma was living alone in a condo Patty bought her and it was clear that was no longer feasible. She fell several times and was in the hospital too often. Patty needed to sell the condo and move Grandma somewhere with a little supervision. No one stepped up to take Grandma despite them all knowing what Patty was up against. They apparently couldn’t be bothered to help. So Grandma had to move in with Patty. I went down to Orlando to help move Grandma into Patty’s house. The condo was disgusting. Too many cats, too few litterboxes, and too little attention paid to anything. It was difficult to breathe. We got her moved and Patty listed the condo. After painting, replacing the carpets, etc the condo sold. The e-mails started. The praise for god was universal. These people actually believed that the sale of the condo was the work of god. “Praise him” for his assist on getting the condo sold. I couldn’t believe these people were fucking serious. They were thankful for divine intervention on the condo sale, yet no mention of why the asshole gave my aunt cancer. I let the e-mails roll through my inbox with no response. It was difficult for me to do, but I knew any counterpoint I offered would only upset Aunt Patty. She’s a believer too after all. She was also thankful for god’s help in the condo sale. And she knew that since she had always been his loyal and faithful servant, he would surely take care of her in this fight against cancer. Why wouldn’t he after she had been such a good Christian, right?

It really only ever got worse for me. They all talked about the power of prayer and how good and powerful their god was. They all KNEW he would deliver Patty from this horrible disease. It never occurred to them that he could have saved everyone a hell of a lot of trouble by never giving it to her in the first place. Eventually, she won. She beat cancer. The doctors declared her cancer-free. I apparently was the only one (actually there was one other) thankful for the science behind her treatment, for the team of medical professionals that cared for her and guided her through the difficult treatment, for the doctors, for the nurses, for the technology. The rest of them all knew it was god. He had waved his magic wand and removed the cancer. Again – no thought to why the asshole had made her endure it in the first place or for that matter why the creator of the universe had chosen to invent cancer at all (apparently he has a sadistic side). All they knew was that it was time to celebrate the omniscient and omnipotent deity who had intervened to save one of his followers from a horror of his own creation. Personally, I didn’t care about the hypocrisy of their praise, I was just thrilled that my aunt seemed to be ok. But in the back of my mind was always concern. We all know how this works – cancer usually doesn’t stay beaten. It often returns.

So I guess all the good Christians must have quit praying because the cancer came back. Maybe their god felt like they weren’t kissing his ass enough, so he sent the cancer back to remind them all to bow down and worship him properly. The prayer chains started up again. “We prayed it away once, let’s pray it away again.” Seriously. No thought to praying it away before it happened. Always reactionary. The Bible tells us that if you pray AND truly believe, anything is possible. The Bible tells us we can literally pray for a mountain to be cast into the sea and it will happen. But I guess these were your typical garden-variety Christians we were dealing with here which is to say they probably hadn’t ever bothered to read the Bible. So maybe they didn’t know how powerful prayer was really supposed to be.

I remember one particular period over a few days where she had some tests done. The initial word was that everything went great and the “praise the lord” chorus immediately followed. “Look how powerful our god is!” But a couple days later, the bad news came in that they had missed something. The results actually weren’t good. Silence followed from the congregation. God gets all the praise if anything goes right (even on a temporary incorrect assumption), but NO BLAME EVER when things go wrong.

Recently the cancer had returned and Patty was going back through chemo. I went with her one day for her labs where they run some tests to make sure she’s up to going through a chemo treatment. She was by now a pro, a regular. She knew everyone there. She navigated the hospital as if it were her home. I took it all in and it was really overwhelming to me. It was so sad to see how full the place was, how many people were enduring what my aunt was going through. I’m sure most of them had the same god or perhaps some other god to pray to, but it didn’t look like they were getting any better response to their prayers. I was struck by how difficult it must also be for the people who work there. They work so hard to help, they spend so much time with their patients, they come to know and care about their patients, and they see many if not most of their patients lose the fight. Despite this, these medical professionals were amazingly upbeat and incredibly helpful. One of the nurses helping us took time to go make some phone calls and get a workaround on an issue with a prescription Patty had. The insurance wasn’t covering enough refills and Patty was out with no money to refill it until the next month. (Makes sense, right? The drug company has to charge an arm and a leg in order to pay a really nice dividend and what would the insurance company tell shareholders if they allowed one more refill at that exorbitant price to help my aunt manage her pain that month. Can’t have that.) But upon hearing of the issue, this nurse went out, did some research, and came back with a new prescription for a different strength of the medication that the insurance would cover and that would last longer. She didn’t have to do that, but she did because she cared. That’s what I’m thankful for – people like that nurse who are actually doing something tangible. She made a difference that every thought and prayer ever uttered in history could not have made.

In the midst of this most recent setback, we had to have a new financial plan. I sat down with Patty and talked about what she wanted to do. The savings was just about gone, assets need to be liquidated. The house went on the market. It’s a beautiful house that means the world to her, but it has to go. There’s no money left. She’d have to find some much less expensive place to live. The first realtor wasn’t very successful. We made a change. It was a good choice. We got a guy who worked his ass off to find someone who had seven figures to drop on a home. And he really went above and beyond too. He often took Patty to her treatments when no one else was available. He helped prep the house for showings. And it looks like he may have found a buyer. That makes me thankful that we found someone with such a good heart and great drive. But as you can probably guess, that’s not how the rest of them saw it. Yep, it was god. “Praise our wonderful lord for bringing these buyers to Patty.” Within a couple days, she found a home in the same school district that she could afford. Again – divine intervention bullshit flooded my inbox. And now, today, with the prognosis as bad as it could be. After being told she has weeks to live, I’m jumping through hoops with the realtor to make sure the sale goes through. He’s cancelled the contract on the new house. And my inbox is silent. No criticism of god. No blame. It must be for the best I suppose. He works in mysterious ways after all.

What really bothered me most was that while talking to her today, she told me she didn’t know what she had done wrong. In her mind, the unanswered prayers and the excruciating pain meant that she must have failed god. At this moment, after being told she has two weeks to live, this is how religion comforts her. It tells her that she must have done something wrong. That she somehow deserved all this pain, this unbearable struggle. And although we didn’t discuss it, I’m sure she’s wondering if god is pissed off enough to do this to her, then maybe he’s pissed off enough to sentence her to an eternity of damnation. You know, because yeah he loves her, but she fell a little short somewhere. What a horrible burden added to an already unbearable load.

So, for all you religious folks out there, I just ask this. Be logical with your religion or be silent. I’m sick of having to be silent so as not to offend ignorant people. How about you people start worrying about offending us logical people? Praise god all you want, but if things go wrong, offer up some blame too. If you contend that prayer works, pray for something worthwhile. Pray that no one ever gets cancer ever again. Pray that there never is another war fought ever. Pray that every sick person is healed. Or at least the ones who believe and are faithful. Don’t they deserve it? Let’s put this prayer to a test. Prove me wrong. Make me eat my words when I tell you it’s a worthless endeavor that does nothing but make you feel better about not making an actual contribution. Otherwise, admit prayer is bullshit and that your god is going to do whatever the hell he wants including put my aunt through a torturous hell on a long road to killing her. I can at least respect the intellectual honesty of that viewpoint.

I mentioned earlier that Patty and I laughed a lot. I’ll remember those laughs, all the good times. The good times far outweighed the bad. But I’ll never get over the conversation we had today. Ever. It’s something that will never go away. I’m going to miss her terribly. I’ll never forget that today I cried. A lot.

pattyandboats

Advertisements

Support the Police (Except When You Aim Rifles At Them)

Standard

First of all Happy New Year to the handful of people who will read this! Maybe I’ll try to drop a few more entries here in 2016 than I did last year. We’ll see.

So, I’ve been following the Bundy sons and their right-wing militia buddies as they took over a federal facility in Oregon and said they’ll be occupying it for years and can’t promise they won’t be violent if they are opposed. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why these idiot rednecks are hailed as patriotic heroes by conservatives. I mean aren’t conservatives the law and order crowd? Aren’t they about always supporting law enforcement personnel? Don’t they label protesters as thugs? So what is it about these protesters that is so different?

I had a brief exchange of ideas on the subject with a friend of mine whose opinions I have great respect for. I began that discussion by pointing out the differences in reactions to the protests in Ferguson and Baltimore compared to those at the Bundy ranch and in Oregon. He had an interesting take, that I’ll get to later. Oh, and in case I don’t cite his thoughts properly, let me give him a co-authorship credit now – thanks Steve!

So, let’s take a look at some of the differences…

Catalysts For Protests

The Bundy ranch protests began because Clive Bundy decided he was done getting the required permit and paying the required fee to graze his cattle on federal land. Bundy was ordered by a federal court in Nevada not to graze his cattle on the federal property without the permit and to pay the $1+ million in grazing fees he owes. Bundy continued to graze his cattle in defiance of the court and refused to pay the fees. This had gone on for 20 years when the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for managing the federal land, decided to round up the cattle on this tract of federal property and remove them. Bundy didn’t want to lose his cattle.

The Oregon protest is because a father and son were convicted of arson and sentenced to jail. The father and son, Dwight and Steven Hammond, admit to starting the fires that burned about 130 acres, but contend they did so to get rid of invasive plant species and not to cover up evidence of poaching as the prosecutors contended. So three of Clive Bundy’s sons and a bunch of their right-wing militia buddies grabbed their guns, went to Oregon and took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Never mind that the Hammond’s have made it very clear they don’t want to be associated with the Bundys, don’t want their help, and don’t want anyone to think the Bundys represent them.

The Ferguson protests were in response to a police officer shooting and killing the unarmed teenager Michael Brown and then left him in the street like an animal offering no assistance or dignity to the young man. The grand jury process was flawed at best with the appearance that the prosecutor was skewing it in order to avoid on indictment for the officer who killed Brown. So people took to the streets to voice their frustrations with police use of force and equal and fair access to the courts.

The Baltimore protests followed a very similar narrative to those in Ferguson. Freddie Gray, a 25-year old young man was arrested by Baltimore Police despite the fact that he had broken no law. He was handcuffed, his feet were shackled, and he was placed in the back of a van without being belted into a seat. Somehow his spine was broken in the back of that van and police failed to get him any medical attention.

So, the things that precipitated the protests were a) a refusal to recognize federal authority over federal land and b) the killing of unarmed members of the community by police officers. Conservatives support the former and criticize the latter.

Goals of the Protests

The Bundy protests sought to be able to graze their cattle anywhere they want on anyone’s land without having to follow the laws that govern any of that land they don’t own. They don’t want to pay the bills for using the land that the courts have determined they owe. And in Oregon, they want the people who refuse to be associated with them to be released from jail.

The Ferguson and Baltimore protests sought to bring awareness to unfair treatment of their communities by police officers, of police brutality, and of the denial of justice in incidents like these. They sought to level the playing field.

Yet conservatives hail the guys who won’t pay their bills and refuse to do what they’re told by law enforcement as patriots and heroes.

Means of the Protests

The Bundy supporters in Nevada confronted the BLM officers with weapons and demanded the return of the cattle. They then put out a call for reinforcements to all their other militia buddies who came from all over the country to surround the Bundy ranch in case the government tried to enforce any of the court orders against the Bundys. During this time, these people strategically positioned snipers around the property with rifles pointed at the federal law enforcement officers in the area.

The Bundys and their supporters in Oregon literally took control of a federal facility with a group of armed men. They brought generators, food, and water in and have stated that they plan to occupy the facility for years. They again sent out a call for reinforcements to join them in their occupation.

And while we all know there were some violent actions that spun off the main protests in Ferguson and Baltimore, the majority of the protesters walked down the street, held signs, and voiced their concerns.

And conservatives were hypercritical of the Ferguson and Baltimore protests. All we heard from them was how we had to support the police, that it was really blue lives that mattered, and how the protesters were out of line for confronting police officers. None of that applies with the Bundy supporters though for some reason.

Depictions of Protesters

ABC actually referred to the Oregon takeover as a “peaceful protest.” No one seems willing to call these white men standing in armed opposition to the government what they are – domestic terrorists.

Protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore were regularly referred to as thugs and rioters.

Why the difference?

Government Responses to Protests

The BLM agents confronted by armed militiamen about the cattle capitulated. They released the cattle they had seized. Then they left the area of Bundy’s ranch. All this was done we were told so as not to escalate the tension and to avoid any potential of violence. In Oregon, a memo was released to all land management federal employees to find somewhere other than the occupied facility to work. The memo told them to work from home and not show up at the facility.

In Ferguson and Baltimore, police departments deployed their militarized hardware, SWAT teams, put every officer they had on duty, called in backup from neighboring jurisdictions, and Governors mobilized the National Guard to respond.

Hmmmm.

So to drastically oversimplify things…

– One group protested for money and exclusion from the rule of law while the other group protested to prevent members of their community from being killed.
– One group sought to have debts erased and to be given special considerations not given to any other citizens while one group sought reform that would provide equality to members of their community.
– One group directly confronted law enforcement with firearms and one group walked down the street with signs.
– One group is portrayed as patriots while the other group is portrayed as criminal thugs.
– One group caused the government to back down and leave while the other group caused the government to respond militarily.

I get the conservative criticisms of the Ferguson and Baltimore protests. I don’t agree with them, but I do at least see their criticisms as being in tune with their ideology. But I cannot understand their support for these militias that were born in the white-supremacist movement and whose goal is the overthrow of the government. How are these people and their actions at all in keeping with what conservatives at least purport to believe?

So as I mentioned earlier, I was discussing this with my buddy Steve and he had some interesting takes.

Steve told me that conservatives have put themselves in the position of having to defend anything and anyone conservative and I think there’s something to that. In our “media on demand” lives now, we seek out what we want to hear, what will reinforce our beliefs and biases. Both liberals and conservatives do this. And it has made us more divided. But I’m still not sure why these guys are considered conservative.

The take Steve shared with me that really got my attention though was this, “what if we replaced ‘white militia’ with ‘group of Muslims’?” What if indeed?! Think about that for a moment. What would the headlines read if this was a group of armed Muslim-Americans who took over the federal facility? What would conservative reactions be in that case? I think we can all agree there would be calls for drone strikes, tanks, fighter jets, whatever the hell it took to reclaim OUR federal facility from these outlaws. What if a group of armed Muslim-Americans had told the federal government to pack sand in regards to grazing fees for their goats and confronted BLM officers to demand the return of their goats at gunpoint? Would conservatives support that group? Clearly not. And that’s a problem for me. If your condemnation or approval of a behavior depends on who is responsible for the behavior and not on what the behavior is, that’s a problem. Not only is it bigoted and prejudiced, it is illogical.

And I hate arguments that are illogical. Bothers the hell out of me.

So my only conclusion is that this is more white privilege in action, that conservatives aren’t approving of the actions as much as they are excusing them because of who is carrying them out. At the end of the day I think the differences in the two groups that matter most to conservatives is that one group is white and rural while the other is black and urban.

I welcome your comments, but please understand that I’m not interested in re-litigating the Freddie Gray or Michael Brown cases. I don’t care to hear how much you think they deserved their fate. Let’s keep the discussion about why conservatives support these people who appear to act well outside of what conservative values are supposed to be. If you get off topic, your comment won’t be posted.

Thanks all,
Boats

Veterans Day

Standard

Wanted to do a little more than just wish everyone a happy Veterans Day, so I thought I’d leave my thoughts here instead of a Facebook post that would be too lengthy for many to read.

So, first and foremost – Happy Veterans Day to all who served! Thank you for what you have done and are doing. I appreciate each and every one of you and the contribution you have made. I consider myself very fortunate to have met so many great people throughout my Naval career and treasure the lifelong friendships that have been formed. I will always be proud to call myself one of you.

To my fellow veterans – we share a bond that none but us understand. Regardless of if we served together or not, we know what it meant to rely on each other. We know what it means to depend upon your brother or sister to do their job so that you can do yours. We have quite literally placed our lives in the hands of our brothers and sisters and have done so with confidence. We enjoy the benefits of that devotion to each other – the camaraderie, the support, the fraternity. Others can try to imagine what that is about, but only we who have been there truly know. It is the mission that binds us. It is that common cause towards which we all contribute that makes us lean on each other. And while the missions change throughout the years, let us never forget we always have a mission. Think back through the annals of our history and remember the sacrifices of those who came before us. Think about how they paved the way for us and made our service easier. Think of the countless doors our predecessors knocked down so that we could pass through. And please realize that for those of us who have moved on from active duty, our mission is to continue their work. It is our duty to continue to fight for our brothers and sisters to ensure they are taken care of. We must protect the rights we have all earned. Too many of our brothers and sisters struggle to survive today. Their lives are in our hands today just as they were then – we can not let them down.

For those who didn’t serve, I say thank you for all the support. It really does feel great to know how much the citizens of this great nation love and support our military members. We all feel the love and we appreciate it. But I challenge you to also be active in your support. Ask yourself if the offered thanks and the ribbon magnet are enough. Ask yourself if they aren’t there at least in part to make yourself feel better about you. And challenge yourself to do something that will actually help veterans.

So what can we all do? That’s the $64k question I suppose. And while I don’t have all the answers, I’ll offer some. (I welcome my readers to offer additional suggestions in the comments)

– First and most importantly – please do your due diligence when casting a ballot. The notion that everyone should vote is complete and utter bullshit. It is your civic duty to educate yourself on the issues and the candidates before you cast that vote. If you can’t take the time to make your decision an informed one, please stay home and let the rest of us make these decisions. So study those issues and those candidates and please give sufficient weight to veterans issues in your decision-making process. How willing is this candidate to put troops in harms way before exhausting other options? How supportive of veterans is this candidate after the war is over? What does the candidate do for the VA, for veterans healthcare, for veterans education, for veterans employment, for veterans compensation and retirement benefits, for veterans housing, for veterans families? Beware of those who wrap themselves in the flag and most loudly claim to support the military. Be sure to make the distinction between those who are supporting defense contractors and those who are supporting the people who wore the uniform. Wrapping yourself in the flag and screaming about doubling our defense budget does nothing to help service members. Buying more hardware doesn’t help people. So do some research and please give the needs of veterans serious consideration when making your voting decisions.

– Financially support veterans charities. If you’re a person who likes to donate to a good cause, find a good veterans cause. There’s so many out there. And don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be cash – many veterans groups will accept everything from vehicles to furniture to clothing to frequent flier miles. One of my favorite charities looking for support is Puppies Behind Bars which is a program that has prisoners train dogs to be service dogs for veterans suffering with PTSD and other issues. Helps the prisoners and helps the veterans.

– Donate time to veterans. Contact your local VA, VFW, DAV, American Legion, Homes for Our Troops, etc and ask how you can help. Volunteers are always needed and I promise you that you will get more out of it than you give. There is nothing better than spending some time with veterans. Best storytellers ever! One of my favorite charities in need of volunteers is The Honor Flight Network which works to provide WWII veterans with a free trip to the WWII Memorial in DC. They will be expanding their services to Korean and Vietnam veterans soon as well.

I consider myself so fortunate to have served in the greatest Navy the world has ever known. I worked with people from all walks of life and I’m a better person today because of it. I formed bonds that can never be broken with some of the highest quality people around. And I know that I have an obligation to those who have served and those who still serve. I’ll do my part to help and I ask all of you to consider doing some real good for veterans as well.

Thank you.
-Boats

(Black, Blue, All) Lives Matter

Standard

Ran across this comment recently on Facebook: (Was initially going to author a Facebook post in response, but I probably have a bit too much to say for that forum.)

“40 Police Officers, count ’em…40, have been killed year to date so far. Yet the lamestream media, the Al Sharpton’s, Jesse Jackson’s, Barrack Hussein Obama’s, Eric Holder’s and other race baiting a-holes SCREAM police brutality and racism when a thug and/or criminal is killed by police.

Where are the protests and rallies demanding that thug criminals stop killing police officers?”

And I thought – wow, 40? That seems like a lot. Have there really been 40 cops who were “killed by thugs” this year? So, I took about 20 seconds of my day to answer the question. (Google is amazing – wish more people used it.) And here is how the 44 line of duty deaths this year break down for police officers nationwide:

9/11 related illnesses: 2
Accidental: 1
Automobile accident: 12
Accidental gunfire: 2
Heart attack: 11
Motorcycle accident: 1
Struck by vehicles: 2

That is 31 of the 44 deaths that had absolutely nothing to do with any thugs. So what about the other 13? Let’s take a look.

Vehicle pursuits: 2 (Both officers crashed their cars while pursuing vehicles. The operators of the vehicles being pursued were immediately arrested.)
Assault: 1 (An officer sustained a concussion breaking up a large bar fight in 2005. He underwent surgery where there were complications that made him a quadriplegic and eventually died 10 years later. The person who pushed him to the ground was immediately arrested and then convicted and served 3 years in prison.)

So, it doesn’t look like those 3 cases involved thugs intentionally killing cops either. What about the remaining 10 deaths? Well they were all from gunfire. So this must be what the original poster is pissed about. Let’s take a look at the 10 cops killed by gunfire year to date.

Every one of those 10 cops was shot and killed while performing their duty. Of the 9 suspects (1 suspect killed 2 officers), 5 were shot, 4 were killed. The 5 suspects who lived were all arrested.

So, not 44. 10. Still tragic. But 10. How does that compare to the number of citizens killed by cops? It’s hard to say.

Here’s a list of 420 so far this year: http://killedbypolice.net/

And how many of these families saw justice? I’m guessing not many.

According to the most recent data available from BLS, law enforcemnt has a 10.6 fatal injury rate. That’s a dangerous job for sure and puts it in the same neighborhood as some other dangerous occupations like: painters (9.4), supervisors of mechanics (11.0), passenger transportation workers (11.8), and waste management services (11.2). Thankfully the cops don’t work in these industries: farmers (22.9), mining machine operators (26.9), roofers (40.5), aircraft pilots (50.6), fishermen (75.0), or loggers (91.3).

So, do blue lives matter? Of course. The protesters aren’t claiming otherwise. They are pointing out the huge disparity in the application of force against their community and the lack of justice when cops kill their sons. There is a real problem in this country with excessive and unwarranted police force. If you can’t see that, put down the Fox News and try google. It’s your friend.

The Great American Melting Pot

Standard

All you readers of a certain age remember Schoolhouse Rock, right? Everyone loved Schoolhouse Rock as a kid. Remember this one? The Great American Melting Pot As was the case with most of the Schoolhouse Rock videos, I just kind of dug the tune as a kid and didn’t pay much attention to the message. But what an accurate message it delivers – we are a melting pot. We are a nation that has brought together so many disparate people and cultures into one beautiful mixture that makes us not only more unique, but also stronger than any nation on the planet.

I’ve written here before about my feelings on diversity, so I won’t rehash them in their entirety. But I will just reiterate what the Navy taught me about diversity – it is undeniably a strength. Having people from every walk of life made the Navy so much stronger than it would have been had we been a more homogeneous organization. Diversity does the exact same thing for us as a nation – it makes us stronger. Valuing the diversity we have and recognizing it as a strength only helps us all. It is such an advantage for us to be able to count on contributions from men, women, and transgender Americans; from whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans; from Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and atheists; from rich, middle class, and poor Americans; from those who speak English as their primary language, those who speak English as a secondary language, and those who do not speak English at all; and from straight, gay, and bisexual Americans.

And that’s what has me thinking about diversity today – the desire to discriminate against non-heterosexual Americans that has become so prevalent today exemplified in the ridiculous, bigoted, and unnecessary “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” recently passed in Indiana. What was the motivation to pass this bill? Had religious freedom in Indiana been eliminated? Did it need to be “restored?” Of course not. This was clearly a move by the GOP and the religious right in Indiana to infringe upon the civil rights of the LGBT community. They wanted religious people in business to be able to deny service to members of the LGBT community.

Why alienate and ostracize these Americans? Didn’t we decide in 1964 that segregation, discrimination, and inequality are not what we’re about as a nation? Didn’t we make a commitment then to allow for the fair and equal treatment of all? So why does this Republican and religious segment of the population want us to go backwards?

Look, we don’t all have to like each other to be a great nation. We don’t all have to approve of how each citizen lives their life, the decisions they make, how they dress, what music they listen to, what kind of food they eat, what deity they do or do not worship, what language they speak, where they live, or who they love to be a great nation. But we MUST value and appreciate the diversity of our citizenry, we MUST support equal access to and protection of the law for each citizen, and we MUST recognize the humanity in each of our citizens in order to be a great nation.

And that’s my biggest issue with the religious right – they want special privilege. They want our laws to be based on their beliefs. They want our schools to teach their beliefs. They want our elected officials to adhere to their beliefs. They want to perpetuate the myth that our country was founded on their beliefs. Well religious right – no. We are not now, nor have we ever been a Christian nation. We are a secular nation. There was a time when Christian theocracies dominated the planet. It was called the Dark Ages for good reason. I fully support everyone’s right to worship whomever they want however they see fit. But that worship doesn’t get to extend into the public square. It doesn’t get to infringe on anyone else’s rights of citizenship.

The good news I think is that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of “people of faith,” do not agree with this push to legalize discrimination. The vast majority of Americans know that we made the right decision in 1964 and want to see us continue to move in the direction of progress and equality. Look at how quickly that pizza parlor had to shut its doors after voicing their intent to use the law to discriminate against the LGBT community.

That said, if most Americans don’t want to see these types of laws passed, why are they being passed? Enter your GOP. The GOP is controlled by two interests: the super-rich and the religious right. Isn’t it interesting that every major potential Republican Presidential candidate supports the RFRA and Governor Pence’s actions related to the RFRA? Why do the ALL the Republican candidates support such an unpopular viewpoint? Because the Republican electorate has been overrun by these tea partying types who want to see us regress on the issue. The candidates know they have to appeal to their base. And their base is a scary lot.

But they’ll die soon. The youth will take their place and I have a lot of confidence in the youth. Our young people look at being gay the way that my generation looked at being left-handed. No big deal. Something you’re born with.

The question for the GOP is what is the long range plan? What do you intend to do as your base dies and isn’t able to teach their bigotry to the next generation in large enough numbers to get you elected? You’ll either return to a more centrist party of reasonable people that is inclusive of all Americans or you’ll have to die too.

I’m fine with either decision.

Je Suis Charlie

Standard

kissing_hebdo

Some random quick thoughts on what happened in Paris…

12 people died. 12 people will never go home to their families. 12 people will never enjoy another day. 12 people’s lives were violently, suddenly, and tragically ended. And for what? Freaking cartoons. Because Muslims have some stupid idea that their prophet can’t be insulted and can’t be depicted in any fashion.

Well, first of all let me just tell all the Muslims out there that your prophet was a charlatan. He was no prophet of any god, he was a con man. And you’re all a bunch of sheep, no different than the followers of Jesus, Yahweh, or any of the other imaginary friends invented by men. Additionally, Muhammad was a particularly despicable human being. He was a hypocrite who limited his followers to 4 wives, but imposed no such limit on his own marriages. He was a pedophile who married a 9 year old child. He was a barbarous murderer who regularly and violently killed his enemies and those who criticized him. He was a practitioner of genocide who ordered and participated in mass executions of Jews. He failed on the most basic moral question ever – human beings owning other human beings. He bought, captured, sold, and impregnated slaves. So, as far as the major religions of the world are concerned, I take particular issue with Islam because the guy at the top was such a horrible human being. Screw Muhammad and screw Islam.

danish-cartoon

And that’s the point I really want to make here I guess – that while I KNOW all religions are superstitious, nonsensical creations of man, I take particular issue with Islam. This one is particularly dangerous. We don’t have Hindus flying planes into skyscrapers. We don’t have Jews blowing themselves up in the market. We don’t have Christians beheading people in the public square. Other religions aren’t kidnapping hundreds of girls for going to school. But we do have all those things and more with Muslims. The common denominator is always Islam. Let’s take a look at just the last 30 days and see what Islam’s contribution to the world has been:

15 Dec – 2 dead in Sydney hostage situation

16 Dec – 142 dead (including 132 children) in Peshawar school attack

16 Dec – 26 dead (including 16 students) in Yemeni suicide car bombing attack

17 Dec – 150 women (some pregnant) killed by ISIS for refusing to marry ISIS fighters

18 Dec – 32 dead and 185 women and children kidnapped in Nigeria

18 Dec – 230 victims of ISIS found dead in mass grave in Syria

22 Dec – 20 dead in bus bombing in Nigeria

24 Dec – 33 dead in suicide bombing in Iraq

25 Dec – 9 dead in attack in Somalia

28 Dec – 30 dead in attack in Cameroon

7 Jan – 12 dead in Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo office

8 Jan – 100 dead in attack in Nigeria

Anyone keeping score? That’s 786 deaths, scores of injuries, and 185 kidnappings just this month. All in the name of Islam.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an Islam problem.

Want to know how big a problem? I wasn’t even able to type 500 words out before news comes in that there are at least 2 more dead in a hostage situation in Vincennes related to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The hits just keep coming, huh?

And what do so many of my friends on the left have to say about this? They say we shouldn’t criticize Islam, that the perpetrators of all this violence aren’t “real” Muslims, that to associate Islam with these attacks is racist, and even that religion should somehow be off limits from ridicule in order to avoid these situations – that religion deserves respect.

Seriously. They say that. With a straight face. And apparently believe it.

Well, screw that too. Religion is an idea. A monumentally stupid, horrible, and damaging idea. It isn’t off limits. It deserves no respect. People deserve respect, not ideas.

The left has even gone as far as to invent a new word that is supposed to equate criticism of this religion with racism – Islamaphobe. They contend that to call Islam out for exactly what the hell it is is to be a racist. Islam is not a race. There are Muslims of every race. Ridiculing Islam and pointing out the role it plays in the death and destruction we see every day on the news is not racism. That makes a little less than no sense.

But I’m not here just to condemn Islam, I will be critical of Muslims too. I keep hearing about all these “good” Muslims that are not represented by these terrorists. Funny thing for me is, I never see them. It’s very easy to see Muslims protesting a Danish cartoonist’s depiction of their prophet. They even come with signs showing us all how peaceful their religion is. But when Muslims murder people over a freaking cartoon, where are these so-called good Muslims? Why are the streets empty? Where are the signs condemning the violence? These “good” Muslims seem to have the same publicity problem all the “good” cops have – there just is no awareness of their efforts to rein in the bad apples in their ranks and hold them accountable. It’s almost like they agree with the actions of the bad apples. Weird.

Want to know why it seems that way? Because it’s true. They do agree with the terrorists in troubling numbers. I really don’t have the time to break down all the numbers here, but I will refer you to an excellent source of data compiled by the Pew Center available here. Just click the “vast new study” link there to get a pdf copy of the full report. Take some time and look at how many Muslims support sharia law, death for those who leave Islam, subjugation of women, terror attacks in certain circumstances, etc. It baffles me that this many people can think this way.

And we all know exactly what it takes to make people think that way – religion.

We, as civilized human beings, have to be united on this issue. We can’t make apologies for Islam. We can’t attempt to make ourselves feel better by “taking up for the good Muslims.” I leave you with the words of a brilliant author who was driven into hiding by a worldwide fatwa calling for his death for writing a book that was never read by those who wanted him dead for writing it.

‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion’. Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

-Salman Rushdie

Jesus Take The Wheel

Standard

So, I ran across this interesting article from Fort Wayne, Indiana. A woman named Prionda Hill tells us that while driving down the road, God told her that he would take the wheel from here, so of course she obeyed (would hate to be burned and tortured for eternity for disobeying the big guy after all) and let go of the wheel. She almost immediately runs over a motorcyclist named Anthony Oliveri, almost killing him. What is the motorcyclist’s reaction? He thanks God for sparing him from death (which is puzzling since death is supposed to lead to an eternity of life in paradise for believers).

Seriously. It happened.

Let’s examine the possibilities here.

They’re both right. God really did tell her to let go and then he promptly steered the car right over Anthony breaking every rib on his left side, damaging his spleen, bruising his kidney, and giving him about as bad a case of road rash as once can have; but out of mercy for his loyal follower, decided not to kill Anthony. What can we surmise about God if they’re both right? I contend that this would mean God is a real asshole who goes out of his way to hurt people for his own sick enjoyment. What a sadist.

Prionda is right. If God really did tell her to let go, and really did mow over Anthony, is there any other conclusion to be reached other than God’s an asshole? He’d actually be an even bigger asshole because if only Prionda is right, the sole focus of God was in inflicting pain on Anthony with no regard for his life at all.

Anthony is right. If Prionda is as crazy as I hope we all know she is, and only Anthony is right, what does that say about God? I suppose the religious folks would make the case that it speaks well of God that he intervened and prevented his loyal follower from dying. I would contend that if God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then he surely could have responded a second earlier and prevented his loyal follower from enduring such pain and injury. Why would God allow Anthony to be hurt so badly and then come in late and save his life? He’s still a real asshole for not helping Anthony when it would have done Anthony some good.

They’re both bat shit crazy. For this to be the case, one must assume that either there is no invisible space guy at all (welcome to the world of reason!) or that God doesn’t involve himself in the mundane daily activities of people. If one holds either of these positions, then one would believe that Prionda heard nothing. I find that a very reasonable position and I hope you do too. One would also believe that either there is no God to intervene on Anthony’s behalf, or that the God who is there doesn’t work that way. I find one of these views significantly more reasonable than the other, but I at least appreciate the intellectual honesty of the other. If they’re both wrong, what does that say about God (assuming he exists)? A couple things I think. First, it says that he isn’t involved in the activities on Earth. He doesn’t intervene in man’s actions. He is a hands off God. I would think that would be what believers in God would want to argue considering how many awful things happen on Earth that God does not prevent. Secondly, it says quite a bit to me about his followers. If they’re both wrong, they have both dramatically inflated their importance to and relationship with this God. It says that they are egomaniacs who actually believe that the universe was created exclusively for them and that its creator is intimately concerned with every trivial detail of their personal lives.

So basically it comes down to if God exists, he’s either a real asshole or his followers are. Which is it religious people? Of course, there is an out. Enjoy free inquiry, reason, science, and logic. Return to the atheism you were born with, reject the indoctrination of your parents, and just go one God further.