Friday, October 2, 2015

Common Courtesy: A Way to Prevent Mass Shootings?

With latest mass shooting, the one that happened in Oregon yesterday, the two usual solutions were proposed:
  • better gun control laws. 
  • better mental healthcare.
However, something different was brought up by people this time. It is not that this topic had not come up before, but that people had not really discussed it at length before. At least that was the case with my social circles. The conclusion was that better gun control is unrealistic. Most of these mass shooters have a mental illness, and while it is easy to say background checks should screen for mental illnesses, screening gun applicants for mental illnesses is not that simple. Mental health records are like all medical records, private and confidential. There is no way for the government to even be aware mental health records exist, much less be able to check them if a person has never committed a serious crime. Personal interviews by a law enforcement officer would not even help in screening for mental illnesses. Many with illnesses as serious as paranoid schizophrenia. can pass as "normal" when on medication.  So that leaves us with two options. First, make all medical records public, and second create a database of all individuals that have suffered a mental illness even if is something as common as depression. Privacy advocates are going to balk at the first, and rightly so. No one wants to be passed up for a job because he or she seriously hurt his or her right knee in third grade, and the potential employer assumes that he or she is a medical risk. The second one, privacy advocates are going to balk at more. The idea of collecting any database of individuals that could be used against them is unappealing as we are not but 70 years from Nazi Germany when Jews and other minorities were collected in concentration camps and killed.

As for better mental healthcare, few would argue against that. But in order for people to get better mental health care would mean a total overhaul of our healthcare system. People would have to be taught to spot mental illnesses, and how to convince mentally ill individuals to seek treatment. Even then we could not use any sort of "force" to make people seek treatment. If we start making people seek treatment against their will, esp. if they have committed no crime, it is going to be decried as a human rights violation. Then medical costs such as therapy, doctor visits, and medication would have to be kept cheap enough that all individuals be able to afford them. Improving ways of spotting mental illness will do no good if one does not have a way to afford treatment. Short of going to a one payer system or price controls or something else that will not happen. The American healthcare system is a capitalist system made for profit by corporations. Without some sort of intervention they will  not lower their goods and services even for the benefit of society. This means many Americans with mental illnesses even if they want treatment, may go untreated because they cannot afford it.

Therefore, gun control and better mental healthcare are not as simple as they may seem. And besides, focusing on those two things is overlooking the bigger problem in my opinion. Other countries have guns, a lot of guns, maybe not as many as the United States, but they do not have the gun crime we do. It is true they may have better gun control laws, but we all know if someone is willing to kill people they will obtain a gun illegally regardless of the country they are in. Similarly, other countries have the same percentage of mentally ill individuals in their population. Yet those mentally ill individuals do not go out and shoot a room full of people. Yes, they may have a better healthcare system, but even then that would not explain why people with mental illnesses that have gotten treatment in the USA are killing people. No there is a deeper problem than guns and mental illness at work in the United States of America when it comes to these mass shootings.

People in the United States of America, in general, do not view other individuals as humans. Instead they view them as objects. This lack of empathy towards other humans, the ability to understand their feelings, to share in their joys and sorrows has lead to a lack of compassion on the part of the American citizen. Perhaps, this is a gross generalization, and the majority of individuals are not that way, but I feel enough are that it is showing an impact on our society, and has for many years. Add to this inability to have compassion for others the excessive self-centeredness of many Americans and you have a society that is bound to have a great deal of crime. After all if one views other humans as mere objects to be used, and places his or her own well being over that of all others, what is to keep him or her from killing just to have his or her way?

This lack of empathy and compassion is even reflected in our politics. The Republican Party regularly complains about money spent on social programs such as food stamps, and even cut aid to military veterans that served in wars they started to make profits for their friends. The Democratic Party is no better focusing on such liberal issues as helping illegal aliens while largely ignoring the plight of American citizens in just as much need. But again our politics are symptomatic of our entire culture. People are only there to be used to further our own means. For the Republican Party opposing social programs gains them support from Americans who being self-centered do not want their tax money spent on anything that does not benefit themselves personally. For the Democrats helping illegal aliens allows them to feel good about themselves without ever having to put a bigger investment in the much larger population of American citizens who are in need of better roads and schools. 

It all goes deeper than just attitudes though, and it can be seen in the everyday interactions of people in America. How often do you hear, "please" and "thank you" anymore? When was the last time you saw someone allow an elderly person to go ahead of him or her in line at the store so the elderly person would not have to wait as long on his or her feet? How often have you seen a pregnant lady be forced to stand because no one will offer her a seat on the train? We have forgotten common courtesy, and I think therein rests the sickness of America. We are not taught to be kind to other people. Somewhere after preschool we cease being taught to be loving and caring. Instead we are taught to do for ourselves in accordance with whatever the establishment tells us we should be doing, and we expect others to do the same. Somewhere after preschool we forget how to share, how to say "please" and "thank you," to wait our turn in line. 

I think the way to prevent more mass shootings and killings is to again ingrain in Americans so it is second nature the ideas of courtesy and politeness. Teach people to be kind to other people, to do acts of kindness. Perhaps, in time folks could learn to love their fellow man, Being kind, doing the right thing, helping others is so unusual that it sometimes makes national news. Recently, some college football players came into a store that unbeknowst to them was closed. The system that locked the place up and turned off the lights had failed. They shouted for a worker, and looked for them, and finding none they got the items they needed, walked to the counter, waved at the security camera, and left the exact amount of money on the counter including the tax for the items they purchased. Had this happened 70 years ago no one would have thought it an unusual occurrence. Now it makes national news. 

Our country's citizens have become so used to people doing the wrong thing that doing the right thing is unusual. And how we treat people is no different. It is little wonder then that mass shooters feel misunderstood, lonely, and under appreciated. The latest shooter in his manifesto complained about having no friends, and having no girl friend. These shooters have, as all of us in America have, been met with unkindness at every turn. People cut us off in traffic, people butt in line at the convenience store, someone forgets to say "thank you," the cashier at the store ignores us. Each one of these things can make us angry. Now imagine you had a mental illness and had no way to shut that anger off, and it built up and built up with no relief. That exactly is how mass shooters are created. No one has been kind to them. No one has given them a way to feel good about themselves. No one has given them a way to let go of that anger. But if we dismissed no one's feelings of loneliness, if we sought to help even a little those in a bad situation, perhaps then that person who has a mental illness will not become the next mass shooter.

Research shows random acts of kindness improves one's mental and physical health as well as the health of the person one is being kind to. The only way to end these mass shootings is to change the entire mindset of our culture, to make Americans value the lives of others. It will take years to do so, but if we start today, encouraging folks to be kind to others, to place others above oneself, then perhaps there will be a day in America when mass shootings are as rare as they are in Europe or other places in the world. There is no short term solution to the problem. If guns were banned tomorrow and as many confiscated as possible there would probably be another mass shooting. If every person with a mental illness got treatment in America there would still be one that went rogue and shoots up a school because they feel lonely and unappreciated. No, we need a long term solution, and that solution is in how we view and treat other human beings. The solution to me is for people to treat each other with kindness, to show common courtesy, and go even beyond that to greater acts of kindness.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Promoting Central Missouri Events

One of the problems in promoting a fair or festival or any local event these days is where to publicize it. Most groups cannot afford TV and radio ads, and even promoting a post on Facebook or other social media does not mean one will get wide coverage. Even posters are expensive, and then there comes the problem of where to post them. It is no longer as simple as making press releases to the newspaper or radio.  Where once that is all one had to do, many folks no longer listen to the radio or subscribe to a newspaper. People now get their news and information from a wide variety of sources, and while one information source will reach one person, it may not reach another. Too, people often plan which events they plan to attend well in advance which means event planners must get information out early. This is not always easy to do with newspapers, radio, and TV as those news sources may not see the event as being relevant until only a few weeks before it takes place.

This is where Event Calendars come in. An event can generally be posted on these calendars months in advance. There are those that are in print and on the internet, and then those that are just on the internet. The ones in print often will not come out until the month or week of the event, but the ones on the internet may have listings as far out as a year before. The following list was made specifically for Central Missouri and is focused on Randolph County. Some are statewide however. If you are in another area of Missouri it is a simple matter of doing a Google search for the name of your town, county or region, and "event calendar." Most all of these listings are free. Perhaps the most important one is the Missouri Division of Tourism's Travel Guide as your listing will be both in print and on the internet months in advance of the event.

Print and Internet

Missouri Division of Tourism Travel Guide:
Missouri Life:
Moberly Chamber of Commerce Calendar of Events:

Internet and/or Other

Columbia Daily Tribune Events Calendar:
KMIZ Event Calendar:
KOMU Community Calendar:
KWIX/KRES Event Calendar:
VOX Magazine Events Calendar:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Follies of Burning the American Flag to Protest the American Government

You are disenchanted. You are tired of a government whose police beat and shoot people in the street at the slightest provocation. You are tired of a government that taxes the Middle Class to the breaking point. You are tired of a government that allows itself to be bought by corporations and billionaires. So what do you do? How do you show your anger? What symbolizes the government? What governmental emblem or symbol you can take out your frustrations on? Well, the American flag of course. It makes perfect sense. It is the symbol of the government that has maltreated you. Sound thinking, right? There is a problem with this. Not everyone sees the American flag as symbolizing just the government.

You see many people see the American flag as not being the flag of the government of the United States of America, but as being a symbol of the people of the United States. So when you burn it you are not just attacking the government, but attacking the American people as a whole. That makes you a traitor in many people's eyes. It goes further than that. Many see the American flag as symbolizing a certain set of ideas espoused during the American Revolutionary War. They link it to ideas as justice, freedom, human rights, and such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the United States of America Constitution. It is in the original Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
 It does not say "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the Government of the United States of America..." but "to the Flag of the United States of America" i.e. all of us that are American citizens, to all of us that are a part of this country. Further, it says "with liberty and justice  for all." So there in the very pledge it says the flag represents the people and stands for certain ideas. If the government no longer represents the people, or no longer represents the ideas that this country was founded on, then the government's flag is no longer the American flag. The American flag, I feel represents the American people, human rights, freedom, and justice.

So next time you decide to destroy a symbol of a government you see as repressing you, do not choose the American flag. Instead, loudly proclaim that the American flag does not represent tyrants, bigots, or oppressors. State that it is your symbol, and you plan to take it back from those whose ideas conflict with those the American flag represents. Find another symbol of the government to take your frustrations out on. Burn politicians in effigy, but I beg you do not desecrate the our flag, the flag of the American people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Marriage Equality, Oaths to Uphold the Constitution, and Public Officials

I have been seeing a lot on the gay marriage issue or the marriage equality issue (whatever phrase you prefer). Most are speaking from a viewpoint of a) "Christian" values or b) gender equality. I plan to address neither. What I plan to address is the fact public officials made oaths to perform their duties.

Every public official in Missouri takes an oath to "support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and demean himself faithfully in office." This can be seen under Chapter 51 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. And like it or not The Supreme Court of the United States of America has deemed according to the Constitution that people of the same gender can marry each other. It does not matter what you or I think. All that matters is what the Supreme Court thinks the Constitution says. When county clerks refuse to issue marriage licenses to people of the same gender or county judges refuse to perform weddings they are not supporting the Constitution. Indeed, they are acting against it. As such they are breaking their oaths, and perhaps should be forced from office because of that.

The issue I find really scary is that such public officials are refusing to do their duties which under their oaths they must perform based on their own personal beliefs. This is very dangerous ground. If we allow public officials to violate their oaths based on religious beliefs then we open doors for all kinds of mischief. What happens If I am elected County Clerk, and decide I won't issue marriage licenses to Jews or Mormons because they do not believe as I do? What if I decide laws not allowing people of different races to marry from 100 years ago were right and just and refuse to issue any marriage license to any couple not of the same race? I would be booted out without a moment's notice, and for good cause. Like it or not the issue with people of the same gender marrying each other is no different. The Supreme Court has said they can marry. So every public official, at least in Missouri must abide by that fact and perform their duties thanks to the oath they gave. If they cannot do that due to their personal religious beliefs they should have never taken an oath to support the Constitution. Myself, I could care less who marries who. The only marriage I was ever concerned with was the one I was in.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on Slavery, Racism, and the American Civil War

The American Civil War is a very complex issue especially for states like Missouri where sympathies were very much divided. Here in my part of Missouri (which is called LIttle Dixie by the way) many wealthy slave holders were Union men. Meanwhile, many that did not even own slaves fought for the Confederacy. The Confederate Bushwhacker "Bloody Bill" Anderson who grew up in my hometown never owned slaves, nor did his father, or his father's father. Meanwhile, wealthy slave holders like Benjamin Lewis of Glasgow, Missouri were Union men. He was beaten nearly to death by Anderson for that very reason. This was very, very common during the war. Wealthy slave holders often were pro-Union while those that owned no slaves served the Confederacy. This was largely due to the propaganda of the time. Wealthy slave holders in states like Missouri were under the impressionism they could keep their slaves after the war. Meanwhile, many felt the war was being fought for states rights, and that the Union Army were nothing more than Northern invaders. The North had similar issues. People there were often under the impression the war was being fought to "preserve the Union." It never occurred to many on both sides that the issue at heart was slavery. Even the issue of slavery is not as simple as it seems. For example, I often recommend people read the slave narrative "The New Man: Twenty-Nine Years a Slave, Twenty-Nine Years a Free Man" by Henry Clay Bruce. The picture of slavery its author paints is neither consistent with the Antebellum white literature, nor that of today, or even the Northern literature following the war. It paints a picture of good and bad inconsistent with white American literature of any era. It is in stark contrast with the Southern Antebellum literature about the "happy slave" and the Abolitionist literature about the cruelty of slavery. The issue for folks like Mr. Bruce pure and simple was freedom. Still, even with the simple idea of freedom being the main concern, post-war society was very complex. For example. what is surprising about what is talked about in this narrative is the author himself is guilty of prejudice against darker skinned African Americans, as well as what he calls "poor white trash." Mr. Bruce is sometimes more sympathetic to former slaver holders than he is his fellow African Americans and whites living in poverty. As much as racism was an issue in the South, classism was as well. I know this complex situation concerning slavery and race issues firsthand. My Great Grandfather Towles' three slaves begged not to leave him. The fear of being on their own with no money, and having to seek jobs terrified them. My great grandfather was sympathetic, but being a Middle Class farmer and carpenter he could not afford to pay them. He had fed and clothed them from goods produced on his farm, not profits from his business. And unlike the image of the racist former slave holder, he taught his children, "Never mistreat the colored people." This flies in the face of the PC view of the cruel slave master quick with the whip. My Great Grandfather Canote and one of his brothers fought for the Union. And while Southerners intermingled with freemen following the war. Two of my Great Uncles on my mothers side fought for the Confederacy. You even had Southern sympathizers drafted into the Union army. While the war may have been fought over slavery, the personal views of many then were often contradictory in the State of Missouri, or not what we would expect. One fact remains, the Southern States seceded over slavery. There was no other reason. Even the argument they seceded over states' rights holds no water as the "right" they were wanting to preserve was to own slaves. What bothers me most in all this though is the North seems ignorant of its own racism and prejudice. When desegregation of schools is brought up, it is always Little Rock that is mentioned first. They ignore the riots in Boston in the '70s over "busing" that were racially motivated. In fact the issue of desegregation in what is sometimes called the "most racist city in America" is almost never mentioned. The Boston desegregation race issues have been in my opinion swept under the rug. People also ignore the fact that the draft riots in New York City during the Civil War were in part racially motivated. During the riots blacks were attacked in the streets mostly by Irish immigrants upset that wealthy men could buy their way out of the draft. Even the treatment of the Irish and other immigrants in the North is a lesson in the prejudice of Northern Anglo-Americans. Lynchings were not unheard of in states like Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In some areas of the North African Americans were restricted to living in only certain neighborhoods. Racism to many only exists in the South though. However, it can be seen in the North as well. Meanwhile, there were areas in the South like mine where the KKK was driven out with guns and baseball bats. Yet it still flourishes in Northern States like Indiana where one sees the Confederate Battle Flag much more often. I will concede that racism was more prevalent in the South esp. in places like Mississippi and Georgia, but the North is not without its own sins in that area. The issues of the American Civil War, slavery, racism, general prejudice, even classism are in many ways as complex now as they have ever been. And I think instead of focusing on one part of the country we need to look at all of it. I often have to wonder if all this hoopla in the media over the Confederate Battle Flag is smoke and mirrors to take our minds over the treatment of blacks by the police in places like New York City and Chicago. One thing is clear though, things must change.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Advocating Social Programs Does Not A Socialist Make

A political discussion today made me think about how folks associate social programs with socialism. The truth is the United States of America has been a bit socialist in a technical sense since the beginning. The government has always taken care of and owned the public roads, the military, public buildings such as courthouses and capitol buildings, public schools, owned and maintained land.

Republican President Abraham Lincoln said, "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities."

This is the basis for social programs. People cannot individually maintain the roads or have a military. Several European countries like the United Kingdom take this a step further. They feel people individually cannot take care of the poor and ensure all have decent medical care. These are social programs, not socialism in the strictest sense. Socialism as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies."

At no time have many of those accused of being socialist in the United States of America today advocated that the government take control of the major industries other than the medical industry, And to be honest the medical industry should not in my opinion be an profit driven one. Everyone in my opinion should have a right to descent, affordable medical care. It is clear our current ways of ensuring the good health of the people of the United States is a failure. People cannot afford to buy drugs, go to the doctor, get adequate treatment. It is clear that the people cannot run a medical industry "well." It is therefore something, going by Lincoln's quote something the government should "do for a community of people." It along with maintaining the roads and the military would be the closest we come to socialism. Few I think we advocate we eliminate the military and maintenance of public roads on the grounds they are socialist.

 However, much of what folks refer to as socialism in the USA is not. Social Security can be thought of as a social program as can welfare, and many other services provided by the government as they do not impinge on any major industries, or did not at the time of their creation. Even where a major industry arose to take the place of social programs like Social Security it is clear in my opinion the government does it better. One can hardly go a week without reading about lost corporate pensions due to bankruptcy, embezzlement, or other financial disaster. While many politicians argue that Social Security is broke, it is not. Politicians have borrowed from it to pay for other things and were that debt repaid, the system would be totally solvent. My whole point is that a socialist program is one that takes over what a major industry handles, and can do well. A social program is one that either a major industry does not handle, or cannot do well. We do not expect private corporations to supply us with soldiers, road maintenance crews, or rent buildings to the government for courthouses and state houses. Those things are handled by the government for the public good. Much of what is being called socialist, other than "socialized medicine" are indeed social programs.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How Things Do Not Change: The Antebellum South and Present Day America

With the recent shooting in Charleston that was racially motivated, and the hatred for the fact that the Confederate flag still flies over the North Carolina state house I have seen a hatred of the South arise. A lot of folks feel that while only 1% of Southerners owned slaves in the Antebellum South, that the other 99% could have done something about it. They feel the 99% were guilty of complacency. They therefore feel that the Old South is something to be hated and reviled and that everything the South produced was somehow connected to slavery. The sad fact is the 99% that did not own slaves probably could not do anything to stop slavery, other than do things that we today are not willing to do. Those against slavery or who simply tolerated it simply did not have the money or political power to ban slavery, or felt they did not. In addition, they were encouraged by those in power and those in control of the media to think slavery was a necessary evil.

Think of it in today's terms and you will see what I mean. The Waltons, a member of today's 1% pay their workers such low wages that many of the workers have to go on welfare. Does that mean, that I, a member of today's 99% am to blame for that? No, as I am powerless to change it. Were I to run for office on a platform of raising wages I would lose no matter how popular my position may be simply because I do not have the wealth or political influence to do so. And while racism may have been common in the Antebellum South, hatred of the poor is pervasive in our society today. Why? Because the folks of the Antebellum South were told the slaves were subhuman, lazy, and without white masters would accomplish little. Similarly we are told today that the poor are lazy and always looking for a handout, content to live on the government dole.  Hating the poor is the racism of our age. Does the fact that many in the 99% hate the poor that I as a part of the 99% do also? No, I do not, I advocate for the poor. I am no different than the Southern Abolitionists of the pre-Civil War South who made a lot of noise, but could not change the system without outside help. The Antebellum South bore a striking resemblance to the United States of today. The politicians and businessmen guilty of keeping a system hurtful to the people were kept in power because the folk were told to hate a certain class of people, and that the system in place was a necessary evil which is what is happening to the people of the United States today. Those that do believe the poor are lazy and willing to stay on welfare have been manipulated to believe so by those in power and who control the media. In addition, like the Antebellum Southerns concerning slavery, we are told that low wages are a necessary evil, that wages must be kept low to keep prices of goods low.

How then are we to hate all things connected to the Old South when we as a people are guilty of the same sort of transgressions? If we are to do so, should we not also hate everything of our culture since we are guilty of the same type of transgressions? Further, hating the Old South and present day Southerners s is in and of its self a form of prejudice. To class a whole group of people, in this case the 99% that did not own slaves of the pre-Civil War South in a period when things were much different, who were unable to change the status quo is no different than creating a stereotype of Jews, Blacks, and other minorities. You are creating a stereotype of Southerners as ALL being a group of racists. It is in its own way a sort of bigotry. The fact is the 99% who did not own slaves in the Antebellum South were powerless to change the situation, were told the system was beneficial, while others like Sarah Moore Grimk√©, Moncure Conway, Jasper Collins, and their followers were even Abolitionists. There were reasons Southerners tolerated slavery, just as there were reasons many in the North of the time tolerated the Industrialists and their below the living wage. We do the same thing with allowing the Waltons and Koch brothers to do what they do. We are guilty of sins not much different than those of Antebellum Southern society.

To attempt a change in any society requires wealth and political power, and may mean putting our own livelihood at stake. It is true most Antebellum Southerners were probably racists, but so were many, many in the North. Many in both the North and South still are. Racism is by no means merely a Southern thing. There are good reasons Boston is sometimes called the most racist city. It is true they allowed the institution of slavery to exist. But is this no different than the myriad things that we allow to exist that benefit only a few, and hurt many. I mean we live in a nation that has gone through three wars just to make war profiteers wealthier, that keeps wages low so we do not have to pay ten cents more an item at the checkout line, who think a class of people are lazy. So who are we to judge the 99% of people that did not own slaves of the Antebellum South?

We allow a hurtful system to remain in power just as the 99% of the Antebellum South did. We keep voting into power men that support a system that hurts many, We still do business with businessmen that want to maintain the status quo. We like the pre-Civil War 99% are led to believe a group of people are lazy, We are guilty of the same sort of complacency they were. In closing, it is okay to hate the Confederacy, it is okay to hate slavery, but it is not okay to hate the South and all things Southern because of those things. There are many things the South produced worth preserving that had nothing to do with slavery such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights which the Bill of Rights were based in part on. There are the writings of the Southern Abolitionists such as Sarah Moore Grimké, Moncure Conway, and Jasper Collins. Not to mention Southern cuisine. If we are to discard everything connected to Southern culture simply because we feel the 99% were complacent then we are hypocrites of a great degree. They allowed a system to stay in place that was wrong just as we do.