Fiction and Truth

The novel “The President Is Missing” is as promised, “With details only a president could know, and the kind of suspense only James Patterson can deliver.” Those who like to read fiction now and then will enjoy a well-written novel. Those who believe that sometimes the only way to get at the truth is through fiction should be frightened.

Fictional President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan faces impeachment and a major terrorist has obtained the money and the people with the skills neccessary to develop a virus to infect all U.S. cyber systems.

The story moves along briskly and with lots of the kinds of surprises a good novel requires. Duncan’s political foes often frustrate him and waste precious time. Experts in cyber counter-terrorism are recruited. Questions about who can be trusted interfere with efforts to avoid the disaster.

Is the U.S. in danger of cyber attacks? They have already happened. Many have already been prevented. Is it possible the entire U.S. cyber system could be shut down with one virus? That’s the frightening question this novel has posted in large letters. Will fiction predict truth?

Shifting gears from that dire question and closing on a more hopeful note, without disclosing any specifics, I was taken with the following comment from the fictional president: “Think about how much more rewarding it would be if we all came to work every day asking, ‘Whom can we help today and how can we do it?’ instead of ‘Whom can I hurt and how much coverage I can get for it?'”

“Whom can we help today and how can we do it?”

What a great way to approach each day, provided to us by a fictional president.

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Time To Work On Perspective

Mostly sitting around the house while the nose heals (basal cell surgery) gives me lots of time to read when I’m not taking a nap or engaged in medical appointments.  Lots of time to follow the news, the “fake news”, and news about the “fake news,” and attempt to put things in perspective.  
 
In the words of Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Jon Meacham: “In a twenty-first century hour when the presidency has more in common with reality television or professional wrestling, it’s useful to recall how the most consequential of our past presidents have unified and inspired with conscious dignity and conscientious efficiency.”  (Bold and underlining added.)  From his latest book: “The Soul of America – The Battle for Our Better Angels.”
 
His reference to the “Better Angels” comes from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861:
 
“We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Reality television and professional wrestling indeed; both seem to make more sense these days.

Library Humor

There I was, at the service counter in the library trying, for the third time, to straighten out a problem with my library ID number, when a voice from the past came from behind me: “I didn’t know you knew how to read.”  It was Bill, LNF (which stand for Last Name Forgotten).  He played golf with the Tuesday/Thursday crowd when I first started, around 2012, but hasn’t played with us for several years.  He’s taller than I am by several inches, and is a former school teacher and superintendent in New York and Maryland.
“I’m still learning to read,” I replied, “and not doing such a hot job at it.”
Bill waited patiently while the very nice (and attractive) librarian worked her magic and assured me that the problem with my ID number was fixed.  I asked her to be sure my password was also correct, and when I told her what it was she assured me everything was in order.  
Meanwhile, Bill was making a show of copying my password and telling us he was going to use it to check out a few more books.
The librarian told him to be sure to pick out several bodice-ripping romance novels.
I waited for Bill to check out the books he already had and we stepped away to catch up a bit and share our health problems for a few minutes.  We both have atrial fibrilation and neuropathy in the legs.  Sadly, Bill also has Parkinsons.  
Obviously we didn’t step far enough away, because after a minute or two of our uplifting conversation, our librarian said: “As fascinating as this is, I have some other business to take care of and hope you will please excuse me.”
Who ever said librarians have no sense of humor?

Too Many Police Chief Generals?

Am I the only one who’s noticed that almost every police chief that shows up in a news broadcast or TV show is wearing the insignia of a military general; that is, four stars?

Note that federal law governs the numbers of general officers for all branches of our military, and that all general officers are all addressed as “general” or “admiral,” with no reference to the number of stars they are entitled to wear. Four stars is the maximum number except in times of war, when there have been five-star generals and admirals.

Police departments all over our country have long used military rank to define command structure; e.g., sergeant, lieutenant, captain, but I didn’t notice when chiefs became four-star generals. Federal law limits the numbers of four-star generals to seven Army, nine Air Force, two Marine, and six Navy (admirals).

I certainly admire and respect men and women who have risen to the rank of police chief, but four stars? “The Crossing,” a TV show we tuned into recently, not only has a four-star chief but also a three-star (lieutenant general) as an assistant chief. I think the two of them supervise about five other police officers.

Several police chiefs on national news programs lately, and I hate the thought of what caused them to be on the news, have shown up with collars sagging from the weight of four stars.

Can’t help wondering when and why the four-star fixation got its start. It’s certainly good for the companies that manufacture insignia. Found one company that sells the shiny silver four-star collar item for $41.50. Police departments could save some money just going for one or two stars. Tom Selleck plays the role of the Commissioner of the New York Police Department, and he doesn’t even wear one star.

Fantasyland: Transforming Belief Into Truth

A review of Fantastyland – How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History, Kurt Andersen, Random House, 2017.

Where to begin and end? As a pal in my book club put it, this book is “so rich” with content we may need two meetings to discuss it.

From 1517 to the present time, the author relentlessly exposes how and why Americans tend to believe what we want to believe, regardless of the facts. Americans, free and independent, have built a nation in many ways on a foundation of fantasy – Fantasyland.

The author doesn’t conclude that all beliefs, conspiracy theories and dreams are irrational, just the ones that go “…overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts.”

From beliefs in recent trips to and from Heaven to government conspirators hiding all manner of truths and conspiracies from us; from Satan on Earth today to real estate prices that would always increase; from believing risky debt isn’t risky to extraterrestials among us; from the dangers of vaccines to life’s creation several thousand years ago; from the phony moon landing to the government’s 9/11 plot; from hoarding firearms to thwart thugs and terrorists to the origins of AIDS; from pretending we’re soldiers “…or elves or zombies….” to sitting at our personal computers to engage in virtual battles; from believing the vapor contrails formed by aircraft at altitude are really secret gasses emitted to control us to believing Satan recruited Indians from Asia to North America to impede Christianity – in Fantastyland many have believed all this and more, and in some cases still believe, therefore it’s true.

In a footnote on page 7 the author discloses the source of survey data that tell us only a third of us believe emissions from cars and factories are causing global warming; only a third of us don’t think telepathy and ghost are real; a fourth of us believe Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016; a third of us believe the government is keeping natural cures for cancer a secret so “Big Pharma” can make more money – the list goes on.

We have facts and access to facts in America, but in many aspects of our lives we are exposed to misrepresentations, made-up stuff, spins, alternative facts, misdirection, and outright lies, and we’ve had all of it in varying degrees since the first “settlers” arrived.

In its 462 pages, including an index, this book offers an opportunity to discover how the differences between opinion, belief, and fact all got blurred in America from the very beginning of the country, and how by now have all but disappeared.

“You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The 2nd Amendment and Gun Control

United States Constitution, Amendment II: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I recently saw on the news (CNN, June, 2017) that nearly 1,300 children were shot and killed in our country every year. I don’t want children killed with a gun at school or anywhere else.

First, a bit of what the media like to call “Breaking News.” Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has called for a repeal of the 2md Amendment (Raleigh News and Observer, March 27, 2018). I agree, mostly because I’m convinced the 2nd is, as Justice Stevens notes, “…a relic of the 18th Century….” and hasn’t been correctly interpreted since roughly 1850. Here is my take on understanding it.

Let’s begin with the first clause: “A well regulated Militia….” Those are the first four words, and as my education in the subject of the English language concludes, they are the basis for the rest of the sentence. Everything that comes later in the sentence relies on and refers to “A well regulated Militia….” (Dictionary definition of a militia: a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.)

Next comes: “… being necessary to the security of a free State….” When that was written, the “free State” had not much of an army, navy, air force, coast guard, or merchant marine. None of those were at all enough to ensure the security of a free State. In fact, a couple of them (air force, coast guard, and merchant marine) didn’t even exist. Hence the need for “A well regulated Militia,” intended to be what was needed to secure the “free State,” not unregulated hundreds of thousands of individual gun owners, but “A well regulated Militia.”

Next comes: “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms….” The long accepted use of the phrase “the people,” as in “We the people…,” the first words of the Constitution, is that “the people” means the total population – “the people” equals the entire country. “The people” refers to all the people, the entire population, not individuals who just want a gun, or a collection of guns.

The last few words of the 2nd, “…shall not be infringed” means that the people, the country, shall not be forbidden, precluded, disallowed, to form those well regulated militias to protect and defend the free State. It does not mean individuals stocking up on guns and stockpiling ammo for target practice, amusement, drive-by shootings, school shootings, night club shootings, or any of the other horrible shootings that taken the lives of children and other innocent people, shootings that happen more in our America than in any other country.

Here is what I would include in a new Constitutional Amendment. The right of individuals who have reached a minimum age of 21 to purchase and own guns for limited and legal uses; however, I would ban private ownership of any automatic, military-style weapons. I also support rigorous background investigations, waiting periods, firearms training, and limits on the number of rounds in a magazine for a semi-automatic weapon. After background investigation, training, and a waiting period, I would require a license to complete all purchases of guns, said background investigations and licenese(s) to be renewed on an annual basis. I would make ownership transfers between individuals, including family members, subject to the same requirements as those transfers and purchases from a gun dealer. There should be due process required of anyone to obtain and keep any gun from any source.

Some will say I’m proposing too many safeguards, too much cost, and too much regulation that will never work. Some will say it’s too late, that too many weapons are already in the hands of people who have no business owning them. I know this article will be met with those criticisms and more, but I am sick and tired of learning about shootings, dead and injured children, dead and injured innocent people. We cannot simply hope another shooting won’t happen. We cannot just offer thoughts and prayers to families that have lost children and other family members. We must act now. We must convince our elected officials to act now. Americans can and must do better.

I don’t care how much time and money and regulation it takes. I don’t want children killed with a gun at school or anywhere else. I don’t want innocent lives lost by gunfire no matter what and how long it takes to achieve a safer democracy. I don’t want to minimize the risk of mass shootings; I want to eliminate that risk.

Guns for Teachers?

This morning’s newspaper described how our NC legislators might be considering arming teachers as a method of preventing or at least discouraging school shootings. An NC School Safety Committee is being formed and requested to produce recommendations to the Legislature.

One NC legislator was quoted as referring to the reactions of people in favor of better methods of gun control as “useless hysteria” that “we have to get over.” One can only hope he won’t get up in front of a group of grieving parents and classmates of murdered fellow students and tell them they have to get over their useless hysteria.

Heard another NC legislator on NPR state that she didn’t think there would be much action on school safety in NC unless and until we experienced a school shooting in NC. Reminds me of a comment from a long-time Wake Forest resident who once told me NC wouldn’t install a traffic light “until 2 or 3 people were killed at the intersection.” Good grief.

Never mind that roughly 7 of every 10 Americans think there should be more strict background investigations and a ban on privately owned automatic, semi-automatic weapons, and the “bumpstocks” that make semi-automatics fully automatic (all hereinafter referred to as “military-grade weapons”).i   As a certified geezer with experience as a teacher, coach, FBI Agent, legal administrator, and real estate instructor, I can think of more reasons than I’ll have the time and patience to include here about why arming teachers is not a good idea, but here are a few:

  1. Arming teachers means there will be guns in our schools, lots of guns, every day, available for misguided people to figure out ways to get at and use them.

  2. Shooting at targets, no matter how much one does that, is not the same as shooting at someone who is trying to shoot others, especially if that someone is shooting at you. Odds are that an armed teacher would be sending rounds into unintended people and other targets; e.g., the classroom across the hall.

  3. A teacher with a handgun has no chance against someone with a military-grade weapon.

  4. Teachers are not law enforcement officers, and no amount of training will transform them into law enforcement officers.

Consider these questions. Would teachers be required to arm themselves? Would teachers have a right not to bear arms? And suppose a disgruntled teacher decides to open fire at school? More “useless hysteria” to follow? And more “thoughts and prayers?”

It has become quite a distasteful burden to listen to our leaders offer “their thoughts and prayers” to the families of murdered school children and teachers, who have lost everything they were and everything they were yet to be. My thoughts and prayers are that our government officials at all levels will ban private ownership of military-grade weapons and not allow sale of any kind of gun to anyone under the age of 21, require extensive background checks and waiting periods and licenses for all purchasers of any gun of any type, require regular of issued firearms licenses, and that the NC School Safety Committee will consider the above and much more, and will produce better ideas than arming teachers.

Some say it’s too late, that too many military-grade weapons are already out there, privately owned.. Others say under the 2nd Amendment we have the right to own those weapons. I say it’s not too late to attempt action that will rid this country of mass shootings of all kinds. I also say that the authors of the 2nd Amendment could not have predicted the killing power of the weapons that would be available to anyone 200 years later.

In the meantime we need much better security at our schools, security provided by trained police officers. I would allow only two entrances that provide access to any school facility; lots of exits, but only two entrances, each of which would be staffed by trained police officers and equipped with metal detectors.

If I’m engaging in “useless hysteria,” so be it. I don’t want any more students, teachers, or anyone else murdered with military-grade weapons.

i People, including the media, often confuse the different types of military-grade weapons. To clarify, with a semi-automatic the trigger must be pulled for each shot; with an automatic (or with a bumpstock on a semi-automatic) the weapon continues to fire as long as the trigger is held in the firing position and there are live rounds in the weapon’s magazine. Both automatic and semi-automatic weapons use magazines loaded with bullets, called “rounds,” although as a general rule the magazines for automatics hold more rounds because they can fire more of them in a brief time. As either type is fired, the round in the chamber is on its way, the empty shell is ejected from the weapon, and a new round is slipped from the magazine and inserted in the chamber for the next shot. To fire 12 rounds from a semi-automatic, the trigger would have to be pulled 12 times; from a fully automatic the trigger need only be held in the firing position until the magazine is empty. There are automatic weapons that are capable of firing upwards of 100 rounds in a matter of seconds.