Kierkegaard on Freedom of Speech

As I watch divisive malcontents spew copious volumes of unproductive and odious drivel during these trying times, I am often reminded of the following quote...

Søren Kierkegaard - People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

The Assumption of Privilege is Racism

I saw this video when it came out, and I've always been bothered by it, because it is based on a flawed assumption, draws the wrong conclusion, and promotes a message that is toxic to diversity.

The textbook definition is racism is to act on one's pre-existing biases based on ethnicity; therefore, to espouse the concept of "White Privilege" is an unmistakable form of racism at its worst. To put it another way, if I walk into a room and you assume that I have some form of "privilege" based on my skin color, then for all intents and purposes you are a racist.

Because here's the thing - I grew up quite poor in a single-parent home, then I married young, and fell even deeper into poverty when I lost the dead-end job that I had when we were married. I had no career, no skills, no education, and no prospects for the future. My skin color didn't amount to anything; I was simply another nameless face in a crowd of nameless faces that would take any work to put food on the table. I eventually landed a job cleaning low-income houses after the occupants were evicted. I was paid by the hour, under the table; no insurance, no benefits, no hope.

Out of desperation, I joined the military, which offered me two hopes for the future:

  • I would have an actual/steady paycheck for the first time in my life.
  • I might finally have money to go to college when I was done.

I served eight years in crappy conditions that you can't even begin to imagine, but my perseverance and hard work paid off. I eventually got out, got my degree, and then I was hired by a great company.

It's Just Like Camping They Said

Here's something for you to consider: for everyone who served with me in the military, it didn't matter what color our skin was, what gender we were, whether our parents were together or divorced, how much money our families had, etc. Everyone was dogmeat when they got off the bus at Basic Training; the Drill Sergeants made that quite clear.

When we graduated from all of our initial training and got to our respective duty stations, it still didn't matter what color our skin was, what gender we were, whether our parents were together or divorced, how much money our families had, etc. All that mattered was how good we were at our jobs. If we were bad at it, we got to remain dogmeat. If we were good at it, we got promoted. Those were the rules. Period. (Of course, I am certain that there were racists scattered throughout the military, because in any large group you're going to have your fair share of idiots. But on the whole, none of that mattered.)

Here's what else I noticed: some people's illusions of who had "privilege" were just that - they were illusions. I knew a guy from a well-to-do African American family who went to private school and complained about the clothes his parents bought him when he was a teenager; he joined the military to run away from home. On the other hand, I knew a Caucasian guy who grew up poorer than me; he had to take a job at 12 to help put food on the table for his family. He had to buy all of his own clothes for as long as he could remember, and he commented that would have loved to have had parents that could buy him any clothes.

At the end of the day, the color of their skin was not a factor for either of these two soldiers' lives; one had privilege, and one didn't - but their skin tones don't fit into the "White Privilege" narrative, so you never hear about people like them. But here's the thing: I knew hundreds of stories just like those throughout my time in the military. One way or another, we were all dogmeat, and all that mattered was what we did with our opportunities.

As an FYI - both of those guys I mentioned left the military, got their degrees, and founded their own companies. Neither of them got to where they were at based on their environment growing up; they both succeeded by accepting the fact that they were dogmeat, and they both worked their butts off so they wouldn't remain dogmeat for the rest of their lives. Which is what I chose to do, too.

Several years ago the author Louis L'Amour put it this way: "Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and the movements and changes in the world around him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, 'This I am today; that I will be tomorrow.' The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds."

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

I tend to work late. A lot. Most of the time, in fact. I have done so my whole life - even during my years in the Army; despite being required to show up for formation around 6am every morning, (and therefore rolling out of bed at 5am), I still stayed up until 2am almost every night. It's simply the way that my brain is wired, I guess. To be honest - it often feels as though I'm living two lives at once, although I know of no other way to live.

That being said, it's not healthy. And I know that. I have written blogs about my experiences with Essential Tremors, and a lack of sleep makes my struggles with that disease so much worse. And yet, night after night I find myself back at my computer slogging through another list of issues that I feel I should have resolved a few days earlier. I just cannot seem to turn my brain on and off according to some other schedule - even if that schedule is being dictated by the rotation of the planet.

Out of frustration with my personal dilemma, I penned the following:

If you burn a candle at both ends
To slave throughout the night
It illuminates your toils
To your struggles brief respite

But its glow is a deception 
And does not dilute your plight
Its candescence will soon wither
As shadows reclaim their right

Two flames convey no solace 
For despite their pretty sight
Candles last for half as long
When they
burn with twice the light

burning-candle-both-ends


(H/T Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Sometimes It's Better Not to Chase Your Dreams

A friend of mine recently posted the following quotation from G. K. Chesterton, which caused me to step back for a moment and reflect on some recent discussions about how my life turned out…

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Just a brief bit of honesty - I played guitar for several bands in my younger days, and I was particularly obsessed with "making it" as far as that industry was concerned. I focused on performance, songwriting, technical skill, etc., and I had a STRICT no drugs/alcohol policy; those things ruined musicianship and relationships, and unless you could be totally sold out for music, then you didn't belong. In short, anyone who wasn't as 110% passionate about being a success got booted from my band. I abandoned that form of obsessive pursuit when I became a Christian, and I briefly played in couple Christian bands before I eventually gave it all up and joined the Army.

A lot of time has passed since then, and my wife was recently commenting that it's too bad that I didn't have "my chance" when I was younger, for I am admittedly far too old to be packing up a guitar and headed out on career-starting tour. I countered her condolences with the following self-observation...

No, it's a great thing that I didn't chase my "dream." The entertainment industry ruins people, as Hunter S. Thompson once observed, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

I have no misconceptions that I would have failed miserably as a human being the closer I got to "success" in worldly terms. Sure, I may have continued to avoid drugs and alcohol, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have succumbed to other vices - perhaps something seemingly acceptable as materialism. (e.g. I still own 20+ guitars.)

But the pursuit of success - at least in the way that my brain was wired to pursue it - was a form of idolatry, and I have no misconceptions about that. Even in the Christian music business, most people get destroyed by the industry. So I have no illusions about missing "my chance" when I was younger. I became a husband, and a dad, and more importantly a decent human being; those are far better legacies in my estimation. Don't get me wrong, there are a handful of people who can balance "success" and basic human decency, but tens of thousands of people cannot do so, and I'm one of them.

Reflections on an Mi-24D Hind

I recently saw this old warhorse at the Pima Air and Space Museum outside Tucson, AZ:

Mi-24 Hind

The Mi-24D was a formidable enemy in its day, so my first thought was that this once-mighty gunship living out the rest of its years as a rusting museum piece seemed such an ignoble end for this amazing aircraft. And yet - like the empire this beast once served, its days of usefulness have long passed.

With that in mind, this ancient relic seems a fitting epitaph for the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Its fortuitous demise and relegation to the junk heap of history should serve as a stark reminder of the atrocities committed in the name of Communism during the 20th-century's flirtations with that particular brand of unspeakable evil.

My hope is that future generations will leave this aircraft, and the failed political system that it represents, in the past - where they belong.

Atheist Prayer Warriors

Did you ever notice how many atheists are actually the fiercest prayer warriors?

Every time they declare, "GD this!" or "GD that!," they are - in fact - calling on a God whom they claim does not exist to intervene on their behalf.

The tragic part about this fact is that in so doing they are praying more times per day than most Christians.

We Are a Nation of Immigrants

Living in a border state, I am constantly reminded of the need for immigration. Here in Tucson, we see the myriad of ways which immigration has shaped the culture; our entire Southwest identity is a melting pot of Hispanic, Native American, and Old West subcultures. But if you would permit me to put things in perspective, unless you are 100% Native American, then you are either an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. For example, my ancestors were immigrants: my father's family arrived from Ireland in 1858 as refugees of the Great Famine, and the patriarch of my mother's family travelled to the fledgling American Colonies as an indentured servant in 1807.

No person of European, Asian, Latin American, or African descent can lay claim to native status in North America; (although if you go back as far as possible, even the ancestors of the 'Native Americans' migrated from somewhere else). Nevertheless, it pains me to see people who suggest that we should close our borders. To do so would be ludicrous; immigration has been and always will be the lifeblood of the United States.

However, immigration must be a legal process, and those who do not adhere to the letter of the law must not be allowed to continue residing here. To be fair, the United States' path to citizenship is long and difficult, but that is no excuse for violating the laws by which our nation is governed.

For those people who insist on incorrectly labeling illegal immigrants as undocumented workers, I would like to redirect your attention to an analogy that I saw the other day:

  • If you are of legal age and driving a car with your driver’s license in your pocket, then you are a legal driver.
  • If you are of legal age and driving a car but you forgot your driver’s license at home, then you are an undocumented driver.
  • If you are not of legal age or you do not have a driver’s license, then you are an illegal driver.

Make no mistake about this: if someone enters the United States by anything other than legal means, then they are not undocumented, they are here illegally, and they have no legal right to remain here. However, if someone if someone enters the United States using any of the methods prescribed in our nation’s laws, then they are here legally, and from my perspective they are more than welcome to stay.

My son-in-law was born in Canada, and over the course of several years I watched as he navigated the steps to citizenship. I can tell you with complete honesty that many of the setbacks that he faced were ridiculous and unnecessary; for example: after years of work on his application for citizenship, someone simply failed to sign one document in my son-in-law's paperwork, (which is easy to do when you are dealing with hundreds of documents). When the mistake was discovered, common sense dictates that the single document would be returned for the appropriate signature. However, the United States government is apparently incapable of using common sense, and it rejected the entire packet, so my son-in-law was forced to restart the entire process. As I said earlier, the United States' path to citizenship is long and difficult, but my son-in-law persevered, and this past year I was privileged to attend his citizenship ceremony.

That being said, while the bureaucratic process should certainly be improved with regard to efficient process management, the need for a detailed and lawful path to citizenship is still required. For example, background checks are necessary to ensure that immigrants are not criminals escaping prosecution in their native countries, and basic health checks are required to ensure that other countries are not simply reducing the burdens on their civic responsibilities by relocating their infectious populace across our borders. Once immigrants have passed the basic checks set forth by our laws, I see no problem with making the path to citizenship a much-easier process than our nation currently possesses.

If I suddenly became emperor for a day, I would revamp our immigration system as follows:

  • First, I would announce a temporary amnesty period, where everyone within our shores who is currently residing here illegally has five years to voluntarily report to the United States Immigration Naturalization Services (INS).
  • Because of this temporary amnesty period, everyone who voluntarily reports to INS will be automatically granted work visas for the duration of the amnesty period, after which they will be required to renew their visas, (which should be an easy process).
  • Those who do not report to INS during the temporary amnesty period will be subject to deportation, and possibly barred from applying for work visas or entry into the United States in the future.
  • And lastly, the path from worker to citizen would be revamped so that productive immigrants will have a much-easier process to complete in order to remain in the United States indefinitely as full citizens.

Believe me, it's a good thing that I'm not emperor, but that being said - I am not alone in my desire to see our system of immigration preserved and legally enforced; here are like-minded thoughts from several former United States Presidents from throughout our nation’s history:

  • "Even as though we are a nation of immigrants, we're also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and they must be held accountable." Barack Obama
  • "Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans - liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal - the largest voluntary migrations in recorded history... Immigration is not just a link to America's past; it's also a bridge to America's future." George W. Bush
  • "We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years and we must do more to stop it." Bill Clinton
  • "Why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems; make it possible for [immigrants] to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they're working here and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back." Ronald Reagan
  • "The [United States]  flourished because it was fed from so many sources - because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples." Lyndon B. Johnson
  • "Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life." John F. Kennedy
  • "Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • "We came to America, either ourselves or in the persons of our ancestors, to better the ideals of men, to make them see finer things than they had seen before, to get rid of the things that divide and to make sure of the things that unite." Woodrow Wilson
  • "Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular." Thomas Jefferson
  • "I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong." George Washington

In closing, I think the following quotation from Ronald Reagan sums up what it means to be an immigrant to the United States:

"I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don't know why he chose to write it, but I'm glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can't become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can't become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. But he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American."

Saying Goodbye to an Old, Trusted Friend...

I was going through some boxes recently, where I discovered the following book…

Natural History Book

My parents gave me this book in the early 1970s when I was eight years old, and I carried that book everywhere. Way back then, my life’s ambition was to become a paleontologist, and this book had some excellent chapters on dinosaurs which I read over and over again.

However, my copy of this book was definitely showing its 45 years of age; it’s binding had worn away to nothing, countless pages were torn… even though I didn’t check, I’m pretty sure that some pages were missing. There is no doubt – this was a well-loved volume of knowledge back in its day; but now it was little more than a shadow of its former self, and a sad relic of days gone by.

Natural History Book

Still, though, it’s amazing the history through which this book persisted in my personal (albeit negligent) care… when I received this book as a gift, Richard Nixon was President of the United States, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was 39 cents, the United States was still embroiled in the waning years of the Vietnam War, Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, and the biggest single of the year was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn.

Nevertheless, this compendium of natural history knowledge had outlived its usefulness several years ago, and it was time to say goodbye. So with a heavy heart I unceremoniously dispatched my once-faithful companion to the recycle bin, where I hope that some part of it might wind up as another book which will spark another child’s imagination in decades to come. Or perhaps that’s just what I tell myself in order to feel a little less guilty…

Sad smile