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What really, really makes me angry.

Just some thoughts at random. I decided to post because it had been too long since my last one. Take it or leave it.

What really, really makes me angry? Me.

I learned a long time ago, but it was recently re-inforced to me, that anger is a choice. No one can MAKE me angry. They can do or say or write something that I choose to get angry about. I can choose to remain angry about the action or statement, or even at the person or situation. But those are my choices.

Anger does a lot of things, mentally and physically. It is habit-forming. It raises the blood pressure, increases bad cholesterol, reduces digestion, increases stomach acid, and reduces liver function (amongst other things).

"But if it is so bad for you, and it is a choice, why would anyone choose to get angry?" you ask.

Good question. IMHO anger is fueled by expectations. Or, more appropriately, failed expectations. Many of the expectations aren't even conscious ones. I expect that the driver of that Jeep up ahead will wait for me to pass instead of turning out immediately in front of me, cutting me off. When the driver doesn't wait and does cut me off, my expectations have not been met. I am no longer living in the world that I wished I was. It is such a trivial thing, being cut off in traffic, but it literally changes my world view. Not monumental change, but change nonetheless. And nobody likes to have their worldview changed in an instant. Especially not when it is imposed upon them, rather than coming as a result of thought and reflection. So I get angry. Or, I expect my son to take his laundry to the hamper when he changes for bed. Or, I expect that other people will respect my thoughts and feelings. Or, I expect that the dog will not pee in the house. Etc.

I have been working on placing less expectations on my life. Of accepting life as it is, rather than as I want it to be, or as I think it should be. And I have been more of a mellow fellow for it. The idea of simply allowing the statement of "existence is" stand by itself and not needing any more structure seems to be freeing. The more freedom I give to be environment to simply be as it is, the more freedom my environment gives to me to relax and exist.

"OK, that's all well and good. But people get angry sometimes anyway. You mentioned the negative effects of anger, and that staying angry is a choice, too. It certainly makes no sense to choose to STAY angry."

Right you are. Failed expectations don't only cause anger, they also cause emotional pain. And when you are hurt, you need something to "fix" the hurt. If it is physical pain, you take an aspirin. If it is mental pain, you take a nap. If it is emotional pain you take.... what? An apology? What if the person doesn't even know they hurt you (like the driver who cuts you off)? How do you heal the pain? And since anger is habit forming, you just get in the habit of being angry about...whatever. And you stay angry until one of two things happens. Either a person or event comes along to heal (or start to heal) the hurt, or you make a consious decision (again back to choices) to let it go and move on.

Thoughts on a delicate topic

Before you go any farther, understand the following points:

1) This will be about a very sensitive and (for some) emotional topic.
2) I am male. I see things from a male point of view. This does not mean I am incapable of seeing the female point of view, just that it is not my default.
3) I am open to, and even encourage, genuine discussion. I will not accept tirades or trolling.
4) My expectation, before you comment (if you comment), is that you read the ENTIRE post before doing so.

Now that that is out of the way... here we go.

"The abortion issue" from a guy's point of view:

I have a couple of problems with the current abortion debate. First, the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. The "pro-life" campaign has gone off the deep end, and said "no abortion, even if it kills the mother." How is that pro-life? Of course, the pro-choice side says pro-lifers are anti-choice. But note to the pro-choice folks: You made a choice when you chose to have sex. Before you go off the deep end "What about rape?" Got it. Even prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion was legally in most places for rape cases. I do not believe abortion should be outlawed for rape, incest, or where there is a LEGITIMATE threat to the mother's life. Every pregnancy gives a mother health issues. But unless we are talking about death or permanent disability/disfigurement, then I personally believe the unborn child does not deserve to be killed because of two people's irresponsibility. And yes, getting pregnant (or getting someone else pregnant - guys you are not off the hook!) when you did not intend to is irresponsible. Calling it anything else is a blatant distortion of the truth. Again, the caveat for rape is in place. I do not, and would not ever, claim that a rape victim was irresponsible by allowing themselves to be raped. When you have sex, you understand that there is the possibility of pregnancy to occur. You accept that risk when you make that choice. If you are not mature enough to understand this, then you are not mature enough to have sex in the first place.

The next problem is with the ongoing mantra of "my body my choice," and other variants on this theme. There are two separate and distinct issues I have with this. First, the theory that we can do whatever we want to ourselves, even if it has consequences on someone else. By this thought process, DUI should not be illegal. After all, it's my body I am putting the alcohol in. It is my body driving the car. Therefore it is my choice. But the fact is that there is a very real possibility that if I drive drunk, I can hurt or kill someone else. So DUI is illegal to give others protection from drunk drivers. In the same way, that unborn child will be killed by your choice. And thus I am in favor of law protecting the unborn child from your choice.

The second half of the problem is with the idea that it is ONLY the woman's. Last time I checked, it takes a sperm to fertilize the egg. If we continue with legal abortions, then women are allowed to essentially "opt-out" of parenthood. If they don't feel up to being a parent, they can choose an abortion. (Other options are available as well, such as adoption, but for simplicity, I do not wish to digress too far). But men aren't given the option. A man can ASK for an abortion, but he can't demand one. Again, before you get in a tizzy, I do not think men SHOULD be allowed to demand or force an abortion. But I do think that if women are allowed to opt out, without the man's consent, the man should be allowed to "opt out," as well. He should be allowed to declare his non-interest in being a parent - sign legal documentation disavowing any contact, responsibility, or interest - and walk away. No child support, no birthday parties, no graduation, no contact. The flip side is what if the guy WANTS to be a dad? He has absolutely no option to keep the child and raise it. None. If the woman wants an abortion, but the man wants to raise a child, it should becomes a legal matter for court to decide. After the case is heard, if all things are equal, the woman, who bears the greater burden by the sheer fact of having to carry and give birth, has a greater say. But all things are rarely equal. As it stands right now, if a pregnancy occurs, the woman decides whether the child is born, regardless of the man's feelings, and the man has no choice but to support the child if it is born, or to live without a child if it is not.

Now, I understand that the woman has to carry the child, bear the child, risk her health, get stretch marks, go through incredible pain. This lasts for nine full months. But parenthood lasts a lifetime. A woman getting an abortion to avoid the nine months of hell, yet depriving the man of a lifetime of parenthood seems a bit lopsided to me.

Final note: I am 100% in favor of the morning after pill. If you decide something last night, and you are regretting it, and think it might be a bad idea, then take care of it. But if you only worry about it after you find out you (or your partner) is pregnant, then, in my opinion, you are destroying a life merely to solve your own irresponsibility.

So, end state, I guess is this: I do believe the government has the right, as well as the responsibility, to create law to protect human life, even if it is not yet born. I also believe that if we continue to allow legal abortions, the man should be allowed a say. And if he requests an abortion and the woman refuses, he should no longer have any obligation or contact with that child after birth. And if the man desires to be a parent, and the woman does not, he should at least be given a chance to present his case.

That is all... discuss.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

This is from the Preamble to the Declaration of (American) Independence. Go back and read it again, please. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let's break it down, "Barney-style":

Life - there are no qualifications on this. There is no "out of the womb" clause. There is no "too inconvenient to care for" clause. There is not even a "productive member of society" clause. You have the Right to Life. But note, also that there is also no "quality of life" clauses either. You have the right to live - but neither the government, nor I have the requirement to support you in this endeavour. You're on your own, Bub.

Liberty - freedom, most specifically, from the government itself. according to dictionary.com, the top three definition of liberty are: (1) freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control; (2) freedom from external or foreign rule, independence; and (3) freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice. Let's take a look, America. Do we truly have liberty anymore? Seems to me we have given up the ghost on this one. Patriot Act, NDAA, FCC, gun restrictions, mandatory health care, mandatory auto insurance, should I continue? Are we free from control, interference, and obligation? Are we free from arbitrary government? What about despotic?

The pursuit of happiness - the PURSUIT of happiness. Not the guarantee of happiness. Not government subsidized happiness. Not even well-being. Not safety, or security, or happy families, or the "American Dream." The PURSUIT of happiness. Go on, pursue it. But it is not the government's job to guarantee it.

But today's generation, starting with folks my age, by and large, and getting progressively worse in younger generations, is all about the guarantee of happiness. Entitlements. "I deserve" rather than "I earned." Look, you deserve very little in life. You deserve the right to be born. You deserve to not be killed. You deserve to be free from oppressive government. You deserve the ability to make your way and try to find happiness for yourself. Aside from that, you don't "deserve" tiddly-twat.

If your life sucks and you never find happiness, too bad. You had the right to pursue it. I don't care what your ancestors did to my ancestors. I don't care what my dad did to your uncle's brother's nephew's cousin's second roommate. You want something, you go out and earn it your own darned self. You want to be happy, how's about you stop whinging about why your life sucks, and start making some changes. Maybe those changes are a renewed work ethic. Maybe it is a better education. Maybe it is finding love, or raising a family. Maybe it's just stopping to realize that here in America, even the poor have access to the internet, and the ability to be so well-fed they are obese. (Ability, not necessity. I am not calling all fat people poor, nor all poor people fat. But the fact there is even ONE poor person who is also fat, let alone thousands, is a testament to the comparative wealth of our country.) Maybe it is stopping to smell the roses. But it is NOT reaching your hand out to be GIVEN happiness.

When I was a kid, I was given my first car. I totaled it. Twice. My parents used the insurance money and bought me a second car. I ran that to the ground in about 4 months. Then I had to buy my own car. It was old and run-down. But I'll be damned if that thing didn't last damned near 3 years, despite the salesman's honest assessment of a 6 month lifespan. Because I had to go out and earn it myself. I bought it with my own money, which was produced by my own sweat. I understood the value of this car. I took care of it better, made it last longer.

If you are given happiness, you will find that it is fleeting. It wasn't really happiness to begin with, merely pleasure. You have to go out and pursue happiness, stalk it, hunt it, coax it, win it, EARN that happiness. Then it will have lasting effect. And then you will understand its value.

If you want your government or I to give you happiness because you have a right to be happy, you will be sadly disappointed all your life long.

How we view the world. (Part II)

As implied in the previous entry, there is a Part II.

In response to my sharing of Mu and the OK button, it was commented that it is unfortunate that our language does not allow for us to unask a question, or to undoubt, unspeak, or unyell. (For the purpose of this narrative, I will focus on the unasking/question aspect, however feel free to insert doubt/speak/yell where you will.)
I believe the English language does allow for these things, in the form of sincere apology and retraction. Stating "I am sorry I said such a thing. Please forget I ever asked." in essence starts this process. The language exists to allow for the unasking of the question. However the process is merely started, not completed. In order to complete the process, the person of whom the question was asked must allow it to pass as if it had never been. This, to me, is the more difficult part, and where the process always breaks down.
"Never forget" and "forgiven, not forgotten," "revenge is a dish best served cold," and other similar phrases are ingrained into our collective psyche. Western culture in general (what I have experienced of it) and American culture in specific, is very much into grudges. Hell we have multiple blockbuster movies focusing only on this theme (The Grudge, Payback, The Patriot, Kill Bill, The Crow, The Professional, The Mask of Zorro, Mad Max, and on and on). It is considered a positive thing: bad guy slights good guy; good guy smites bad guy; yay for good guy. There aren't a lot of blockbusters that show bad guy destroying good guy's life, and good guy simply letting go.
I am not trying to say that someone raping your wife and killing your entire bloodline, then brutally attacking you and leaving you for dead alongside the road (kind of a summation of all of the above movies) is the same as someone asking an offensive question. The severity of the two is entirely different. Yet the concept is the same. We are very much a "get even" culture. This is what makes the concept of unasking so difficult. A question can be honestly and sincerely retracted by the person who uttered it. But the person who was asked has an extremely difficult time letting go of the question.
Everything that has happened before shapes the way we view everything that happens in the future. Humans have amazing capabilities of deduction and induction, the ability to predict what comes next based on past experiences. This is part of what has allowed us to advance ourselves as a race and to survive. Once we realize that rattlesnakes are poisonous, we can deduce that we don't want to be bitten by one. And we can induce that if we HAVE been bitten, seeking medical aid is imperative. Taking this back to the theme of this entry, we look at previous interactions with people to shape our expectations for current and future interactions. This is really neither a good thing nor a bad thing, it just is. In some cases we take these expectations into an encounter with deleterious effect. Other times it quite literally saves lives. If someone unasks a question, the next time we encounter that person, we still remember the question. We may also remember the unasking, and weigh that in as well, but the human condition, at least in western culture, does not truly allow us to forget the question was asked. (Obviously, aside from mental illnesses such as Alzheimer's, but that is a whole different set of circumstances.)
Americans in particular, and it seems most of western culture (and from what I have seen of Japan, which is becoming increasingly westernized), is very caught up in this process. We enter everything with expectations, and then mold our world and our encounters to meet those expectations. We do not simply take life as it is. If someone tells you that there is a field of beautiful sunflowers at point A, and you go to check it out, you go with expectations. If you are expecting an acre full of thousands of giant golden beauty, and you show up to an acre with about 50 medium sized flowers which, individually, are absolutely exquisite, will everything become somehow LESS because the field did not meet your expectations? Or will you be able to actually appreciate the flowers that ARE there for their unsurpassed beauty and form?
When we engage another person, we engage them based on our previous experiences. Previous experiences not only with that individual, but with individuals we assume to be similar. We continuously categorize our experiences, and use those categories to shape our expectations for the future. When you cash a check at the bank, you are not just building your experience base for John Smith, you are building your experience base for: Bankers, Bank Tellers, Huntington Bank, all banks, men, persons between 30-35, brown-haired people, blue-eyed people, people named John, people named Smith, people with crooked smiles, people with glasses, men who wear ties, married men, and fathers. You may not consciously do this, but you are building the base nonetheless. If John Smith is snarly with you, and then you meet 10 more snarly brown-haired men, and no nice ones, but you meet 15 nice blonde men, then you start to form the impression that brunette men are snarly, while blonde men are nice. And even if, as you are leaving, John Smith puts on a genuine smile, tinged with chagrin and says "I'm so sorry. I just got a call about my son misbehaving in school again. I did not mean to take that out on you. Please forgive me and enjoy the rest of your day." you will likely still take the fact that he was snarly away with you.
As usual, I have run somewhat afield of my intent. So to bring it back home, what I am trying to say is that the unasking of a question is easy. Allowing someone to unask the question is much more difficult. American culture has become caught up in grudges, revenge, and remembrance. But this is not the healthiest answer. In continuously looking backwards, we lose focus on the beauty of the now. And the now can be quite beautiful, if we just stop to smell the sunflowers.

How we view the world. (Part I)

It has been a long time since I have posted. And I haven't really come up with anything else every American should know lately. But there is nonetheless a bit of thinking I have recently done, which I would like to share with myself for posterity (because, let's face it, I am the only one who reads this.

As I was going through my bookmarks, both internet and mental, I found the juxtaposition of these two items both amusing and enlightening.

First I took a look at the Buddhist concept of Mu.

Mu is the response given by a Zen monk to a question that cannot be meaningfully answered. It suggest that the question's premises are not real, that there is a state of emptiness that lies beyond yes and no, that the asker should unask the question - indeed, that anyone who would ask such a question in the first place might well to question his entire perspective on life.

Then I applied this to he "Make everything OK button." (http://make-everything-ok.com/)

After you click the button to make everything OK, the screen tells you that "If everything is still not OK, try checking your settings of perception of objective reality."

I really like this idea. Maybe, no matter how bad we think our lives are, everything actually IS "OK." I was raised with the religious philosophy that God has a capital-P-Plan. I read about the suffering of some of the most religious, trusting, and revered men in Jewish history. Many of them could have looked at their lives as "not OK." How did Job survive his trials? You think Noah was not consistently scorned? What about Lot? Yet God had a capital-P-Plan. And, in the end, their lives really WERE "OK." So maybe, when our lives are downright crappy, we need to change our outlook. We need to apply Mu and unask the question, question instead our perspective on life. "I felt bad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." Really, our life isn't so bad after all.

I recently returned from deployment. Deployed life sucks. 12 hour work days, 7 days a week. No movie theaters, Arcades, Chili's, or Clubs. And it is HOT over there. But you know what? We had air conditioning. The Army has spent a lot of time and money on research and evaluation in mental health, and believe it or not, is on par with any mental health program out there. And we lead the fight in research and treatment for traumatic brain injury. And the Chow Hall is pretty damned good. And we had internet. Oh, yeah - we also all volunteered. We had it so much better than those poor draftees of Vietnam. Or Korea, WWII, WWI, etc. And even counting progress into modern day, it was FAR better to work a 12 hour day, living in luxury on our FOB than it was to be "independently wealthy" and not have to work at all, living outside the wire. Was deployed life significantly worse than the standard of living we were accustomed to? Absolutely. Was it REALLY that bad? In perspective, probably not.

In conclusion, I guess I would just say that when life is really bad, and the horizon is bleak, maybe we need to stop and ponder Mu in our everyday lives. Maybe the reason we keep getting unsatisfactory answers is because we are asking the wrong questions.
OK America, LISTEN UP!

The political arena in our nation has become toxic. How about everyone starts acting like adults? Remember when we were young and we were taught to attack ideas, not people? Remember when we were taught to respect others, even when we disagreed? Remember when we learned about the great orators of yesteryear and how they won people with elegance and truth? What happened?

There are many great Issues in America today that lend themselves to lengthy and even fierce debate. But American politicians have chosen to move away from reasoned, intellectual, FACTUAL debate, and chosen to take up the banner of name-calling, finger-pointing, at-least-I'm-not-as-bad-as-THAT-guy sound bites. Based on my completely informal study, Americans seem to spend more time voting against candidates they don't like rather than for candidates they do.

I have my opinions on just about every topic, and every issue. Are my opinions right? Maybe, maybe not. But I am willing to DISCUSS those opinions with anyone, and present my side based on reason, logic, and when I have them, facts. When I don't have the facts, I don't make them up. I don't create statistics that I later claim weren't intended to be factual. And when I am arguing my cause, I often get excited, even heated. Especially when the other side refuses to see the obvious (to me) truth of the matter. But I never attack my opponent in debate. There is a GREAT deal of difference between a stupid idea and a stupid person. And remember: if it's stupid and it works - it isn't stupid.

Should we balance the budget? Most definitely. How? There's the rub. But rather than attack the plan based on rhetoric "SEN Smith's proposal wants to create "death squads" and raise the unemployment rate" how about an actual discussion, line by line, of what is palatable, and why? Raising the unemployment rate? Oh, you mean cutting 15,000 duplicated bureaucratic federal jobs which waste taxpayer money. Yes, technically that will raise unemployment. But it will also save the Government 1.5 million a year in wages and benefits. Chump change in the federal budget, to be sure, but it adds up.

This is where America's two party system fails us. Because we have a majority and a minority. And rather than come up with ideas which can be debated on merit, our Congress is reduced to political posturing.

I seem to have gotten off-course. I'll try again on same topic in the future. Look for part VIa in a theater near you.
Listen up, America. We have this guy. He is in a position of incomprehensible power, authority, and, more importantly, responsibility. He got there through a rigorous process of selection. He was selected by a group of people to represent them. After that, he was selected from amongst a group of similar representatives by a larger group of people to represent even more. And so on and so on. And now he represents you, America. All of you. You may or may not have chosen him, individually, but you definitely chose him collectively. He is the President. And he deserves your respect, for a number of reasons.

First, he is at the pinnacle of his profession. And yes, in today's America, politics is a profession. He has achieved something that less than 50 people in the entire history of this country have achieved. Think about that. If you were introduced to a 4-star General, would you call him "Sir," (or in the case of GEN Dunwoody, "Ma'am") or just refer to him by his last name? And there are way too many 4-star Generals floating around now, let alone throughout American history. If you were to meet Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, the top astronauts of their day, you would surely be at least a little in awe, instead of referring derisively to their middle names (incidentally, they are Alden and Eugene, respectively). And the man at the top of the political "game" is scorned by many.

Second, love him or hate him, he is "your guy." If you live in New York, Dallas, or L.A. you may not be able to relate to this. But I am a Detroit Lions fan. And that's my team. I root for them in every game. It doesn't matter what bad decision Matt Millen just made at the draft. The past incompetence of the Ford family is irrelevant. What matters is the future. And the President is the future, at least until the next election. So you have to support him. You don't have to agree with him. You don't have to agree with his decisions. But you have to support the man. Support the Office (with a capital "O"). I may not like Ford's decisions, but come game day I'm rooting for all three of those 1st round wide receivers.

Thirdly, he is very, very powerful. Look, the simple fact of the matter is, the President of the United States can end Life As We Know It. Seriously. He has the power to launch global thermo-nuclear war. Just like in "War Games", except Tic Tac Toe won't save us this time. He has the power to deploy any and all Armed Forces wherever the heck he wishes. Granted, if he wants to KEEP them there, he has to get approval from Congress. If he wants to follow international law before attacking, and declare war, he needs Congress. But he can easily send 5 divisions of army and 400 fighter jets someplace - say the border of Iran - and wait for them to attack us. Then he doesn't need a declaration of war to retaliate, he is just fighting back. He can go on TV and provoke countless nations. He can go on TV and provoke the American people. His words carry Weight. Not weight. Weight. He speaks, and people listen, and stock markets move, and the dollar rises, or falls, or plummets. Et cetera. He has ENORMOUS power to completely ruin your world instantly. And he doesn't. You can argue, if you like, that he is ruining your world slowly. That is another debate for another time. But, all in all, considering how bad he COULD screw up, everyone has to agree that he isn't doing so bad, after all.

Lastly, you picked him. This is kind of point one and point two come together to have bastard child, point four. The majority of America voted for him. He's your guy. Don't be a fairweather fan. You picked him, you put him up there, now you support him. 'Til death (or next election) do us part. If you didn't want him up there, you shouldn't have voted for him. And if you say "well I *didn't* vote for him, then goodonya. But you should have convinced others not to vote either.

Now, if you will notice, I did not specifically mention one particular President. This goes for ALL of them. Left, right, Dem, GOP, big, tall, short, fat, slim, black, white, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Mormon, or Jew. (But no Buddhists. Enlightenment just wouldn't work in the Oval Office.) My personal politics are out of it.

So, in summation: You ain't gotta like the man, but you should respect his accomplishments. And you should DEFINITELY respect his position.

Christmas musings

Christmas in America, what have you become? I know I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to bemoan the sad secular state of Christmas. However, I try to add something new every now and then. And here's the twist.......I don't mind secular celebrations of Holy days, including Christmas. Here's the deal: There is a 99.8% chance that Christ was NOT born on the 25th of December. The date was chosen to closely correspond with existing Pagan winter celebrations in order to get them to convert more readily and easily. And many Pagans converted in name and kept their own traditions alive within the "Christmas" framework. Which is where many of our Christmas traditions come from. I am not trying to claim Christmas as a Pagan holiday, of anything of that nature. I am merely explaining why I don't mind if non-Christians celebrate Christmas, too. In America, Christmas has become a National Holiday. Day off work, etc. Just like the 4th of July. I have no problem with this.

But I do have two problems with what Christmas has become in America: First, and foremost, avowed Christians who turn it secular, as well. Look, this is the day that the Christian faith, en masse, has chosen to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour. That is probably a little bit more important than saving $25 by being to Wal-Mart when they open the doors on Black Friday. It is probably more important than catching that cute secretary under the mistletoe at the office party. And it is DEFINITELY more important than making sure there is enough rum (or not too much) in the egg nog for uncle Louie at the family Christmas gathering. I am not a proselytizer. My personal religious beliefs fall far outside those of any organized religion, and I disagree with organized religion as a rule. But shouldn't we, as Christians, be trying to teach others, not necessarily by preaching, but by EXAMPLE, the "reason for the season?" You know, a kind word to a random stranger is an EXCELLENT Christmas gift. Letting a struggling mother or an elderly man "cut" in front of you at the inhumanly long check-out lines is a kind and generous act that goes so much beyond a bumper sticker with that famous slogan on it. Dammit Christians, start acting like it. And they will know we are Christians by our love.....

Now that that horse is dead, on to my second one: Consumerism. I am sick and tired of love being defined by price tags. Look, a well-thought inexpensive gift is worth more to almost everyone in the world than an expensive but useless one. Which is worth more to dad: A $300 bowling ball, even though arthritis caused him to give up the game 2 years ago, or a $25 heating pad that conforms to his back to help ease the arthritis? Yet Americans consistently go for the proverbial bowling ball. Because it COSTS more, it MUST be better, right? Wrong. And sometimes this is even true with items that are the same. A $200 28 speed blender that is programmable so that it can walk the food over to the table for you is not necessarily better than a $30 5 speed blender that does exactly what it is supposed to do, and nothing more. You know how long it takes to read the manual for the first one? America, as a nation, is in serious financial woe right now. Not all American, but America as a whole. Yes, spending increases by those that HAVE money will help the economy. But massive credit card debt by those that don't have money will NOT help the economy. And in the long run it won't help the credit card users either. America: STOP BEING STUPID WITH YOUR MONEY. And while I hate the cliché "it's the though that counts," there is SOME accuracy to it. Look, a guy thinking of me, and sending me a pink teddy that fits just right... well... umm... thanks but no thanks. I don't know what the "thought" was... but it certainly didn't "count." But if I really need a new bathrobe, and he sends one in a red that shades toward pink... Hey now the thought does count. OK, so he got my colour wrong. But he was at least thinking bathrobe, and I can still get good use out of it. And if I happen to know because I had already been shopping for a robe for myself, that that particualr colour was 20% cheaper, am I offended? Nope, not at all. I got a robe, which is the important thing. If he saved a few bucks getting a certain colour, that is fine by me. Honest. And really America, it should be fine by you, too.

Which ties into my previously unthought of third thing wrong: Criticality. Often, people go through a lot of effort to find you a gift they think you will like, or think you need. So don't bitch. If you get that slightly pink bathrobe, don't complain about the colour. Seriously. Accept the gifts for what they are: GIFTS. Remember that other old cliché, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth." It is a GIFT to you, it didn't cost YOU anything, and most likely you can exchange it at the store for the RIGHT colour if you don't like this one. So stop complaining and start appreciating.

If Americans can stop falling into these three simple traps at Christmas, then it really WILL become "the most wonderful time of the year." Spread the love, folks. The honest-to-goodness, unfettered, unblushing, all-inclusive LOVE. Then it will be the season to be jolly fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-love.
In my last posting, I promised to re-visit this topic because I had wandered rather far afield. Here it is: the re-mix.

So, look, America. It's simple. We have this great, wonderful, AWESOME document that says what you can and can't do. But you keep ignoring it, because it doesn't fit what you believe America means.

The right to keep and bear arms? Well it's not really important, anymore.

Freedom of religion? Only as long as your religion is one I approve of. And as long as you only practice your religion where I can't see, hear, smell, or know anything about it. Especially if your job is paid for, overseen by, feeds in to, or in any other tangential way TOUCHES the government. Any government, even township council government.

Unlawful search and seizure? Well, it's lawful now, as long as we do it to keep you "safe."

Next thing you know, the Pentagon is going to decide to cut costs by doing away with housing and making civilians take us in, and then the government will start censoring the media. Wait... what's that? FCC? you mean the media is ALREADY censored? %((&^%!

Now, I know I am starting to come off as some radical nut-job who thinks blowing up the entire government and all of the people who run it. But that is not my intent here, honest. First off, our bureaucracy is too well entrenched. You could nuke DC and wipe it off the Earth, and the NSA, TSA, FBI, FCC, CIA, and DoD would still keep running, and would lock down even MORE of a police state. And the new politicians would be elected in a sweep of fear, doom, and gloom, and do NOTHING toward re-instating the freedoms which have been casually abridged by my government. (Side note. After those last 4 or 5 sentences, I wonder how many CIA computers are tracking me right about now....)

Secondly, terrorism, in the end, never works. Terrorists never seem to understand that blowing up the enemy just creates more enemies. Especially when you blow up civilians. Of course, America has a kind of hard time understanding that, too. I am NOT calling America terrorist. After Korea, America has turned more towards fighting wars of attrition rather than wars of acquisition. The one exception to this is Desert Storm back in 1991. I think it is no coincidence that the only war we have actually "won" since Korea is Desert Storm.

Since you, dear reader, may or may not be familiar with my terminology, or the concept here, I shall digress for a moment and define the terms. If you understand them already, please... skip ahead. From a "combat philosophy" standpoint, there are two primary ways you can plan, prepare, and engage in combat (I oversimplify, but I am getting to a point, honest). First, you can set out with a battle campaign where each engagement has a specific terrain based goal, i.e. "take this ridge." You go out, you take the ridge, then you solidify your front line, bring up the supply trains, and get ready to push forward and take the next ridge. You have cleared everything behind you, so you do not need a whole lot of rear security. As long as your front line doesn't get broken, and your flanks are secured, you can continue to slowly push forward, and clear, pacify, or kill the enemy as you take the land, and either "liberate" it (if you are a "good guy") or take it over (if you are a "bad guy"). This is a war of acquisition. The second basic philosophy is when you set out to hole up in one place with security in all directions. From this central stronghold you go out and engage the enemy with a simple goal: Kill more of them than they kill of you. Eventually you may fight to take one of their strongholds from them, and you may abandon one of yours to move to where the fighting is heavier. But the stronghold is not the focus. You are not trying to consolidate a line of advance. Your line is "everywhere." The goal is to kill all the bad guys. This is a war of attrition. Both philosophies honestly have their strengths and weaknesses, but in the end, wars of attrition only work if the enemy has a finite number of combatants... and your finite number of combatants is significantly higher.

The final reason I am not a "blow it all up" advocate is because...well... it's our own damned fault. We elected the wackos, now we have to deal with the aftermath. All of the freedoms that "We, the People," have lost are a result of our elected officials. New laws have to be created be elected officials. At all echelons. New government agencies have to be approved by elected officials before they are created... and then they have to be funded annually by elected officials in the budget.

So, I guess that, in the end, what I am saying is this: Start fighting for your rights. Start telling your elected officials exactly what you think of backscatter X-Rays at the airport. Start telling them that you have the right to worship your God IN PUBLIC. Start telling them that you love your guns, and you vote. Whatever it is, protect it. You have to fight for your rights. All of them. Speech, Press, Assembly, Bearing Arms, Religion, Petition, and most importantly, your right... to PAAAAAAR-TEEE!

I think I probably ran afield of my intent again... but such is life.
I very intentionally titled this little experiment "What every American Should Know" as compared to "What Everyone Should Know" or "Every Person" or "Every Westerner" or any other such thing for a couple very important reasons. First and foremost, I am well versed in American culture, and understand it about as well as anyone who has not made it a particular focal point of study (anthropologists, social scientists, etc.). But secondly, I also knew this column was coming. It deals with the laws of the country, most specifically the Constitution. Telling a Londoner or German or Iraqi they should know the American Constitution is ludicrous. And while I am often quite silly, I try to stop short of downright ludicrosity. (Yes, I just made up that word. Technically, the word is ludicrousness, but that just sounds weird.)
Our Founding Fathers were some pretty radical dudes. They did the unthinkable, and told England to go stuff it. Then they figured out that it would mean war, and figured out how to defeat one of the great superpowers of the world at the time. They were not trying to create some social experiment. They did not have a grand plan of the Constitution, or even of the United States. Manifest Destiny was a long way off. They were just tired of being abused and decided to stand up for themselves. But, they were also something else: very smart. Back in those days, representatives were chosen based on social standing, but also on ability. And social standing was 50% wealth, and 50% brains. Our first statesmen were some pretty brilliant dudes. And after the war was miraculously won, they had to figure out how to create a government. They had these Articles of Confederation. But they weren't strong enough, or well codified. The Founding Fathers figured out pretty quick that they needed something bigger. Something better. Something bolder. And they created the Constitution.
After fighting a war against an oppressive regime based on a strong central government which had no form of check, they realized the dangers of big government, and of abuse of power. While Lord Acton had not yet uttered the phrase, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," nonetheless the Continental Congress was aware of the theory, and had seen the phenomena first hand with King George. (Lord Acton did not use the phrase until 1887, and then it was in a letter, not spoken, but I digress.) The Congress, in drafting the Constitution, wanted to limit the role of the federal government, and the roles of all three branches. But they also realized that an impotent government would not hold together, and the states, independently, could not stand. Therefore, "in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity," they drafted the U.S. Constitution.
Now that the history lesson is over, let's take a look at what the Constitution actually says and does for us. Remember that the Constitution is THE SUPREME LAW in the country. It trumps the President. I trumps state Constitutions. It trumps the Supreme Court (even though the Supreme Court gets to interpret it). And it trumps Congress. The only thing that trumps the Constitution is the people, via amendment TO the Constitution, which has to then be ratified by the individual states. The purpose of this document, in an amazingly concise 4543 words (including signatures!), is to provide the framework with which the government of an entire nation would operate. And it does a pretty good job. It goes over all of the major points, tells who has the power, how they can use it, and leaves it up to the individual politicians/bureaucrats to execute. An amazing document. Article I sets up Congress, Article II sets up the President and VP, and Article III sets up the judiciary. Article IV covers States' rights and States' powers (and limits therein), and Article V does the same for the federal government. It wraps up the Articles VI (Amendments) and Article VII (Ratification). That's it. Merry Christmas, you have a government. There are also 27 Amendments, the first 10 being created and included before ratification.
Now let's take a look at what the Amendments do for us. I am not going into the ins and outs of each individual Amendment, but here is what they do for us:

Rights/Freedoms: Press, Assembly, Religion, Petition, Bear Arms, Speedy public trial, Trial by jury, Know charges against you in trial, Legal counsel, Confront accuser, Due process, and Suffrage, regardless of race, color, sex, or age (over 18).

Prohibits: Unlawful search/seizure, Quartering Soldiers in private homes, Double jeopardy, Testifying against yourself/spouse, Trial without indictment, Excessive bail, Excessive fines, Cruel and unusual punishment, Slavery, States from abridging individual freedoms, Poll taxes.

That's a pretty powerful document. There are other Amendments as well, like those that limit Congressional pay raises, give DC Electors, prohibit alcohol, and subsequently repeal prohibition. And so few Americans know anything about this document. Every American should take the time to sit down with this thing. Parents: Got a teenage kid? Sit down and go over this thing Article by Article. Don't have a kid? Read it on your own. Study it with a friend. Seriously. Take an Article a week, then an Amendment a week. That's 34 weeks. Sit down with your kid and read the Article on Monday. Then on Friday discuss what it MEANS. Talk about why it was put in place, and what the effect is. Talk about how it relates to America today, as well as America of then. For the Amendments talk about how it was before the Amendment, and why it was necessary. Then do it again in two years. Learn with your kid. This is the single most important document in the nation, ad less people know it's concepts than know the complete lyrics to "Spongebob Squarepants" or can tell you the entire history of Carrie Bradshaw.
Anyway, I'm done sermonizing. But seriously, read the thing.


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