Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

It is August 2015. My last blog appeared on the 30th of December last year. I’ve been busy.

I have written over 100 articles about pianos since I started this blog. The blog has received over 40,000 visits. You would think that the experiences I shared in 100 blogs would have altered consumer behavior. Maybe a few parents would have reconsidered before buying a junk piano off Craigslist. Maybe local piano dealers would stop making outrageous claims about their products.

Nothing has changed. I have helped many people make decisions about pianos – in person, but to my knowledge, the blog has not helped me save the world, one piano at a time. By the way, that’s my company slogan. I changed world to planet. I still can’t decide which I like better. Planet is rather impersonal, but it has more geek appeal.

Grand piano hammers ready for installation

A new set of grand piano hammers are being prepared for installation. New hammers makes a dramatic improvement to the volume and tone of an old piano.

We each need to realize that our work, opinions, ideas and actions do in fact contribute to the sum of all work, opinions, ideas and actions. It just isn’t very obvious or even noticeable at times, but we are each shaping this world we live in – each saving the planet as we are able. I have my hands full saving pianos, otherwise I would offer to help you. If you do your part and I do mine, the planet will be saved eventually. When saving planets (and pianos) it is best to embrace a long term attitude. (Pack a lunch.)

What I Have Been Doing

Like I said, I’ve been busy. I moved. That took a long time. We moved into the new house in November of 2014 (which may explain why I have not been writing blogs!). Six months passed before the last box was emptied or stored in the attic. I had to build a new shop (after I moved all of my pianos from the old place.) My shop is now functional, but it is not yet cozy. It is also no longer located in Coppell, although it is closer to Coppell’s Towncenter than it was before.

I lived in Coppell for 25 years. I knew a lot of people, worked as a volunteer for many  groups, and watched as young leaders destroyed the town one building, one road at a time. It was painful at times. Coppell was such a nice little town when we first moved there, but today it has too much traffic, is over-crowded, and the population turns over so often that the community experience is very limited. You move in, raise your kids, and then leave. After age 50, the demographics drop off. The median age stays around 34. (Time Magazine recently ranked Coppell #8 in Best Places to Live.)

Pianos in my shop are undergoing repair.

The new and improved Coppell Piano Shop.

And that means that the amenities, services and features of the community are guided by the short-term interests of thirty-four year old parents. I do not know if you have been a parent, but 34 y.o. parents do not know a lot about parenting, and even less about running a community.  Coppell is a nice place to raise your kids, but I would not want to live there. That should be the town slogan.  For me, it was time to move – so I headed north to Lewisville.

For the next year I will attending the Lewisville’s Citizen University. I hope to learn about my new community and join other volunteers in community service in some capacity. I try to participate in one major community event each year. It may be a committee, a task force or a

This is Lewisville City Hall, located in the older part of town.

This is Lewisville City Hall, located in the older part of town.

project volunteer. I never know what it will be. Lewisville is a much larger community than Coppell. It is far more diverse in its offerings. There is an established old part of town, a natural lake area, a lake, and a mall area to the south. It is a little overwhelming to understand how people in this community, who are spread out over a very large distance, can share a common view of the city. A large community has many personalities – I seek to learn what those identities are – but it must also have a general and broadly stated common personality. I do not yet know what that is.

Business is Good

The business has not suffered for the move. I am centrally located within the territory of customers I wish to serve. Flower Mound, Lantana and Coppell are just minutes away.  I continue to maintain the pianos at Coppell High School and the Community Chorale, but unlike most technicians, I do not pursue business from institutions often. I much prefer working with individual pianists, and parents of piano students. I have a ton of work to do in the shop, which – in terms of pianos that weigh 500 lbs each, could mean as few as 4 projects – I will busy for some time.

shopblogbreakfast

Eating lunch at the kitchen table, taking a break from saving the planet, one piano at a time.

I need people to buy junk pianos off Craiglist so there will be a need for someone like me to make them playable. I truly wish they would not buy those pianos, but since there is little hope of that happening, it looks like I am going to be busy for a while longer.

As I continue to add articles in this Part 2 episode of my piano blog, I invite you to follow along.

In Search of the Perfect Truck

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Community

The Ford Ranger is history. This news will interest only a very few people. I am shopping for a new truck, so it interests me greatly. I wanted a Ford Ranger.  Here’s the story on what happened to that truck.

Actually, I didn’t want a Ford Ranger, but it was the only thing I could find that was close to what I wanted.  The F-150 is too big. Used trucks are not fuel-efficient, and small cars are not rated to tow a small trailer.

Enter the Proton Jumbuck.

Proton_Jumbuck

PROTON Cars Australia (PCA) makes this car (a 2009 model). Part car, part truck. Pretty cool, eh? So where is the American equivalent? Does not exist!

The Wall Street Journal has the graphs that show what is selling these days. I have no inclination to create an analysis of the data because I already know they aren’t making what I need.  The major manufacturers are chasing after the same customer. You can buy any car/truck you like, as long as it is the same type of car/truck everyone else makes.

eurotruck

You have seen the unusual cars and trucks that are shown in overseas shows.   You may have asked why Americans do not have access to those cars. The reasons most often given have to do with Federal regulations; good reasons I suppose, but that doesn’t help me in my quest for a truck.

American auto manufacturers are a true disappointment. They have been for many years (since the late 70s). I have owned only foreign cars based solely on the incident of repair reports that rank the quality of available cars. American cars never rank high.

I need something with utility. Something that is bare bones. Why waste money on features you do not need; do not want? And yet, the products that are offered today are “confused” products. They are hybrid products which include features for everyone, without being specifically designed for any single purpose.

Big Truck Mentality

American manufacturers cannot grasp the idea that some of us work in small communities, and have no need to climb mountains in a truck, or desire to place extra large tires on our work vehicle.

truckcompare

The Holden VZ Ute Thunder fits the bill.  The Ute has been in production for 60 years by Holden in Australia. The 50-2106 Coupe Utility (FX) first rolled off the production line in January 1951, and since then the Holden Ute has become an iconic vehicle in the Australian automotive industry. A truck has to be cool. American trucks are too similar.

cruck

I’ll call it a cruck – part car, part truck.  Fiat probably wouldn’t like that name. Works for me, if it came with a small tow package rating of 1,000 lbs.  Here is a page with 50 Japanese mini-trucks like the one shown below.  What fun!

minitruck

This is a dump truck. “Fuso Canter hybrid trucks by Mitsubishi are appreciated by International customers for their high quality and cost-efficiency. These sturdy trucks from Japan are also environmentally friendly.Low fuel emission, reliability, and toughness make Fuso Canter Hybrids from Japan as winner in the light-duty eco friendly truck segment.”

fuso

America manufacturers just don’t get it, and I am not going to buy what they are selling.

This is Swampyank's copy of "The Jury&quo...

This is Swampyank’s copy of “The Jury” by John Morgan, painted in 1861, and now in the Bucks County Museum in England. More information about the painting can be found here: [http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/bcc/museum/ea_The_Jury.page|inline= (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine not being able to work for the next three weeks. Imagine putting everything in your life on hold: appointments, vacation, kids; and if you are self-employed, like me, imagine three weeks without an income.

On Monday I was a member of a group of eighty citizens selected to form a jury pool for a trial scheduled to last three weeks. For two days we sat on hard benches in the hallway waiting in turn to be called into the court room, one by one, for interviews by the attorneys and judge. The larger group was divided into three smaller groups, and scheduled arrival times were delayed on the second day which eased the situation a little bit. Still, there was the drive downtown through traffic, the parking, the walk, the security checkpoint, the elevators, and the crowds.

As we waited in the hallway, we got to know each other. We weren’t permitted to talk about the case or the questions put to us in the interviews, so the conversations centered on casual topics. One theme common to all conversations was how a three week trial would interrupt our personal lives. Imagine!

“If I am selected, then I won’t be able to …” was on everyone’s mind. And everyone had an excuse – a reason¬ why serving on the jury would impose a hardship. Those who knew they would get paid while they were on jury duty looked forward to having a break from work. But most people worked for employers that would not pay them for the time they were away from work.

One man was a high school coach. There are five games left in the season: he would miss the next three. A young lady had to borrow money from a friend to afford the train fare to the courthouse. Another woman had to ask a friend to watch her children after school. Very few people waited comfortably, without concern. Most wore expressions of worry, regret, and concern. Three weeks! It’s hard to imagine.

Twelve jurors and two alternates were selected yesterday at 5:00. The rest of us were sent home. The judge thanked us for our public service. In fact, he thanked us several times during the process. But as I reviewed the definitions of the words he used: duty, obligation, service, I had to reconcile his use of the word “service” with my own understanding. I had not volunteered to serve. I was summoned to a courthouse against my will. This was not service: it was servitude.

Jury duty sucks. The clear and obvious reason that we are summoned to the court is because people would not volunteer to serve on a jury otherwise. In addition to being inconvenient, jury duty thrusts each juror into either a criminal or civil argument between two or more parties. That can be very stressful and emotionally exhausting, especially when the trial is held over for days, even weeks. Who among us desires to listen to the retelling of someone else’s misery?

The jury was drawn from a pool of citizens living in the county. The demographics of the county are very diverse. While most of us choose to live in communities or towns that tend to isolate us from the diversity evident in a county-wide area, jury service places you in the same room as people you would probably never want to meet. It is a small crowd of strangers.

Usually jury service lasts only one day. You are selected in the morning and the court case is held in the afternoon. On this occasion, I sat with others for two days. You can get to know people in two days. Some people are more open about their personal lives, but in two days, even the most private people will reveal things they would not tell a stranger.

For some reason, people like to tell me the most intimate details of their lives. Within a half-hour of listening, I might learn of a person’s complete background, family history, names and ages of children, number of times divorced, and every detail of their immediate activities, schedules and responsibilities to others. People are friendly and open.

Moments before the sheriff would read off the names of the fourteen who were chosen to serve, we were drenched in dread as we sat quietly in the hallway. Within moments we would learn our fate. Our lives would be returned to us, or we would be selected to remain – for three weeks. I felt like I was waiting for the results of a medical examination that might reveal if I had a contagious disease. The heavy sigh of relief which visits those who escape a vile consequence does not belie the mountain of tension which builds up inside. Knuckles turn white, stomachs are lashed into knots, and muscles ache.

The door opens. The names are read. It is the lottery. Who will the next victim be? As each name is read, someone’s shoulders slump in submission as a breath of disbelief and regret – even disdain – slips over dry lips. Feet trudge forward carrying a heavy burden and an unwilling mind. The person slips into the courtroom and another name is read and acknowledged again. “Mary Williams…Todd Jenkins….Naomi Clark….”, one by one they emerge from the semi-circle of bodies huddled submissively around the sheriff outside the courtroom. And then we hear, “That is all. The rest of you come back into the courtroom so the judge can dismiss you.” It was surreal.

This morning as I type, I am mindful of those who are sitting in a courtroom listening to pre-trial directions, opening statements and the words of the first called witness. It truly is a service they are performing – a tremendous sacrifice necessary to ensure one of our greatest rights: the right to a trial witnessed and decided by our peers.

One crime committed is like a rock tossed into the quiet water of a lake. The concentric ripples reach out and touch everyone in our society – some more than others. Jurors are drawn from the distance edges of the lake, where the ripples are faint and unnoticeable – drawn closer to the center near the source of the disruption. If not for the single action of the crime committed, no peace officer would be put at risk, no lawyer would be called, no fee paid, no research would be done, no administrator would be needed, no form would be filed, no court date would be scheduled, and no heart would ache. No mother would cry.

On Monday I was drawn to the center. I was afraid. I have lived for too long away from the diversity. I have lived in peace, far from the chaotic noise of the city, or its traffic, or its crimes, or its garbage. I was afraid that I would not be able to perform the task if called upon. The attorneys and judge were wise. They sent me home. Those who remained – you could tell by looking upon them, they were more capable.

But now I am in reflection. I am humbled by what I experienced. I thought I knew so much, and yet, in the isolation of my chosen, distant corner of the lake, I have denied myself access to the knowledge and experiences that define and guide the lives of so many others. What I enjoy as a free citizen bears an obligation of service. Freedom has a cost, and although we are most often located far from the perils of our society, the cost must be paid. I only hope that had I been chosen to serve, I would have reconciled my feelings and accepted the task put to me. As I now think about those who were selected, I am certain they have reconciled their feelings and have accepted their responsibilities and the charge put to them.

I visited with many of them during the past two days. They are good people. Justice will be done.

(Edit: The trial was decided February 19, 2013. Read the story here.)

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The long shot of the produce area in Market Street grocery store in Coppell, Texas

The long shot of the produce area in Market Street grocery store in Coppell, Texas

Republican leaders in Texas continue to fuel the fires of dissent over gun control, blaming President Obama for everything and anything. It was only three months ago that the Republicans appealed to a national audience to replace the Democrats. They lost.

Faced with the news that they must change if they want to win the Presidency, they have so far shown they are unwilling to change, unwilling to work for a good transition in government, unwilling to be anything other than the Republicans we sent packing in November.  Something must be done!

So I went shopping. I went shopping at a Republican grocery store. You know the type. It is a store where you go when you don’t care how much you spend on food.  Ordinarily you’ll find me in the aisles of  Walmart. Over the years, the greedy people in town (aka Republicans) developed our local community of 45,000 into a very expensive community. Property rates increased dramatically. Rents went up, the cheaper grocery stores moved out, until today a percentage of the population must buy groceries somewhere other than our quaint little small town.

There is plenty of wine at the Republican grocery store.

There is plenty of wine at the Republican grocery store.

January Sales in the Tank

Thought I would share some pics while I write about pianos. January marks the worst month for my piano service business I have had in the last seven years. Could it be due to Christmas over-spending? Perhaps. I think part of the problem is that people are upset by the news, the politics, the continual barrage of anti-American sentiment coming from Republican leaders. January is never a great month, but when it gets really bad, like it did this year, it usually means people are living on tight budgets.

Maybe that is why there are so many bottles of wine on the shelves at the local grocery store. The photo doesn’t do the display justice.  The wine area would require a wide angle lens.

The Tea Party is Mad

Let me explain who the Tea Party is. Back in 2000, when George W. Bush won the Presidency, Democrats naturally were advising Americans not to make that choice. We were severely stung by Clinton’s indiscretions and the persistent hate-campaign of Ken Starr.  By September of 2000, the economy was promising to pick up. We were doing pretty good. The GOP won handily and then 9/11 happened. The Tea Party gang did not exist yet.  The Republicans put us back into debt and tried to create a patriotic America by invading Iraq. It became apparent to more and more people that we were headed in the wrong direction.  In 2004 Bush was re-elected and the damage continued. Keep in mind, that was twelve years ago.  People who are now 50 and nearing early retirement (or lay-offs) were 38. Republicans who were 20 in 2000 turned 32 years of age in 2012.

Wow! That's a lot of shrimp. Great for cholesterol watch parties.

Wow! That’s a lot of shrimp. Great for cholesterol watch parties.

So while Democrats in 2000 and 2004 were prophetically screaming that corporations were destroying our economy, the Tea Party gang didn’t exist. They didn’t exist because the economy had not hurt them yet. When it did, they woke up. And when they started shouting, it became obvious that 1. they were mad and 2. they were really stupid about politics.   It doesn’t matter where you live: if the economy is bad, people get angry.

The Tea Party entered politics with all the pomp of mid-life Republicans who thought they knew everything and could fix things quickly.  In 2012, they lost – and they will continue to lose because people know now that they are just angry people. If anger was shrimp, we would need a shrimp boat in my town. Fortunately, we have plenty of shrimp at the grocery store. We have some angry people here too.

Seymour Lipset

There is a book you can read which explains everything we are going through in politics.  Seymour Lipset wrote it.  He is the foremost authority on the history of Right Wing politics. I recommend The Politics of Unreason: Right Wing Extremism in America. There is an online version of his book  you can peruse. I’ll save you some time: Right Wing politics is the politics of despair. A good economy ends despair. When the economy improves, the despair will end and the Tea Party will disappear. When the economy improves, the protests will end. Everything depends on the economy.  Anger is the worst motivator for politics. It will destroy you. One of the features of protest that you learn as an activist is that people cannot sustain the energy that is required for a long-term campaign.  If people are not successful in politics, they become cynical. This is what will happen to the biggest part of the Tea Party members. There is one tiny detail they lost sight of.

America has One of the Best Governments in the World

Ale must be gaining in popularity. This store dedicated some serious shelf space to ales from every part of the world.

Ale must be gaining in popularity. This store dedicated some serious shelf space to ales from every part of the world.

Although you may think otherwise, America has a pretty incredible government. While people are killing their brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East, our stores are stocked. We are open for business. Our government is paying its debts, working on solutions, managing foreign and domestic affairs, and the greater number of us are safe from harm each night when we climb into our warm and snugglies. We aren’t living in Mexico thinking about the hazards of crossing the border to a better life. We aren’t trapped in North Korea with a lunatic dictator, and we aren’t being censored by a communist government in Beijing. Get the picture?

We have Freedom, but Little Humility

Americans have opinions. It is quite incredible to me how much the ordinary American thinks he knows. The typical American male will spent months and months learning about politics, and then reveal in ten seconds that he is a complete idiot.  There is a good reason for that though. We each carry a view of reality with us at all times in order to survive. It is part of our  self-preservation instincts. Life doesn’t care if we are humble. Life is out there every day ready to kick you in the butt if you are not prepared. Americans don’t know much, but we know enough about the important stuff to keep from getting our butts kicked. One of the marvelous features of a democracy is that after the vote is counted, the best person usually wins. Bill Clinton proved to be a very incredible statesman, truly devoted to our country, his family, and his understanding. Former president George Bush’s star will rise again when he stands on his own feet before the American people. The majority turns out to be pretty intelligent, for all the idiots that comprise it.

Protest is a Way of Life, but Only if You Choose that Life

The economy is still in the tank. It will be for some time. It will improve for a while, then have a setback. In the long run, it will be strong again. Two things about the economy to consider: it is tied to the world economy, and it has a life of its own. There are thousands of economists who will tell you otherwise, but for the most part, there isn’t a thing we can do about the economy. It is too big, and we are just insignificant consumers reacting to change.   The economy of the past will never return. That is one of the reasons that conservatives and Tea Party members are angry, and why they lost. America has changed, and our competitiveness in a growing world market will require us to adjust to take advantage of emerging opportunities. The proof of that statement is found in thinking about this: If we knew what we needed to do in order to fix the economy, we would have already done it. The economy will reveal its opportunities in its own time.

How to Conquer the Economy

If you can work and make money, you have conquered the economy.  Many Americans bought into a lie long ago. They were told that if they worked hard, they would reap the benefits. We all know a few people who have lost their 401K accounts, were laid-off or forced into early retirement. We know people who have lost their homes, relocated to parts unknown, or had to make difficult life decisions in order to adjust to a changing world.  All of that was in the small print of the lie they embraced. Many people dedicated their lives to work, with all its personal sacrifices, only to learn that the bargain they hoped to get cost more than they were led to believe. Many made their money, but found that the price of life increased dramatically.

How to Conquer Your Anger

Politics never sleeps. You have to choose your battles carefully. Always have an exit plan. People forget that part. They get involved in politics and they think there will be a point where they succeed and can go back to their old life, complete with its own level of ignorant bliss. Politics doesn’t work like that. If you walk away from your victories, the ones you beat will erase everything you accomplished. You need to trust that others will continue your work. If your work was good, they will.

The hardest part about politics is when you stop. No one talks about that too much. You have to ignore every invitation to become involved again. You have to stop watching the news, especially your favorite station. Turn off the radio.  Go fishing.  Learn to paint. Meet new people. Learn to say no to politics. In time, the anger goes away. You learn to forget. For everything there is a season. Maybe you won your battle. Maybe you didn’t. I believe that anyone who dares to make a difference is a winner. A long time ago I learned that the only reward you gain from community service is personal growth. You might have lost your battle, but as a person, you gained much more than your anger will let you know.  Get rid of the anger, the hurt, the passionate indignation, so the wisdom you have gained can emerge. Get to know the new person you have become.

Look to the Future

There is a future, after you recover from your involvement in politics, when you will see others protesting for their cause. You will look into their eyes, feel their pain, and remember how you once felt. And if you recover from your chapter in politics, you will want to let them know that there is a peace they can each recapture. You will want them to know how hard it will be to recover innocence lost. Moreover, you will understand why it was important for you to be involved when you were involved, and why it is more important now that you not become involved in their battle. Or maybe you will be like me – able to get involved, but not be guided in your actions by anger. It is your future. If you are reading this, I need to tell you there is only one person who can make you feel better about what you did, who you are, and what your future will bring. You can’t enjoy all your tomorrows if you are always thinking about your yesterdays. Let them go. Others will take up the fight.

Protesters outside the White House call for gun control measures. January 2013. Politics in America never ends.

Protesters in Washington D.C. call for gun control measures. January 2013. Politics in America never ends. Source

English: , member of the United States House o...

Kenny Marchant, member of the United States House of Representatives, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As expected, Texas Congressional Republican Representatives have issued press releases indicating strong opposition to President Obama and Vice President Biden’s heartfelt and compassionate proposals for gun control.  Their words convict them as obstructionists in this hour when we need reasonable reforms which make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally unfit to acquire assault weapons intended to be used by military personnel.

What is most appalling is the absence of any Republican comment of thanks extended to Vice President Joe Biden for his work compiling the input he received from over 200 groups, including the NRA, in an effort to make sure we are doing all we can to make our schools and communities safe from predators.

If we follow the lead of Texas Republicans, criminals will retain a tremendous advantage in their singular efforts to commit crimes and murder more innocent victims. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, 900 gun related deaths have occurred across the United States, according to President Barack Obama.  During his speech he anticipated strong resistance but he isolated on a compelling truth which we must all address: “We have to try.”

Texas Representatives do not want to try. Their thoughtless reactions show their true colors. You can find your Texas representative’s website link here.   You will find, as did I, that the responses are very similar.

My representative’s press release appears below. (Links open in new window.) My notes appear in brackets.

Marchant Responds to Administration’s Gun Control Proposals

Washington, Jan 16 – Congressman Kenny Marchant (TX-24) issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s gun control proposals.

“Little, if anything, the President announced today that would have prevented the tragedy at Sandy Hook. That’s the problem. [Ed: No, that is the symptom, not the problem.] We must not parade window-dressing proposals around as actual solutions. Trampling on the 2nd Amendment by effectively disarming law-abiding citizens who are seeking to protect themselves, their families, and their property does nothing to prevent another Newtown. [You do not need an AK-47 to protect your family!]

“Ultimately, I believe our states, cities, and local school boards are in the best position to implement solutions that could help prevent some of these tragedies in the future. [Untrue. We need Federal standards to enforce our Federal Constitution.] I do not believe the federal government is best equipped to address the issue at hand. In the coming weeks, House and Senate committees will hold hearings on the twenty-three Executive Actions announced today as well as legislative proposals. I will oppose any efforts by the Administration or those in Congress to abridge the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.”

****

Additional press releases can be found at the U.S. Congressional site listing the names and districts of all of our Texas Representatives in Congress. Of note are the comments made by Rep. Stockton [This new “green-horn” member of Congress threatened Obama with impeachment (before the speech was given) and softened his view afterwards.] and Senator Ted Cruz[The Tea Party radical]. 

Rep Kenny Marchant has been a benefactor of Republican cronyism for years. He is not one of the shakers and movers of the party. He tows the Republican line, keeps a low profile, and just votes like he is told to vote.  He regularly canvasses voters in the district in the spirit of representative government. He is a follower, not a leader. A leader assesses the views of his or her constituents and acts to create solutions, which always contain an element of compromise.

Marchant’s comments do not begin to address the issues raised by our President. You can review an interactive of the major points of the President’s proposals here. The transcript of the President’s speech can be found here. My personal views on gun control can be found in previous blogs entitled Finding the Common Good in Gun Control and Is Gun Control in the Hands of Weekend Mountain Men? respectively.

The Major Points in President’s Proposal

Background checks

88 percent of Americans support background checks on people buying guns at gun shows.

I addressed why universal background checks are necessary in my first blog linked above. America agrees. Representative Kenny Marchant did not address this point specifically.

Military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines

58 percent of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons.

I agree with that wisdom. A nationwide ban on assault weapons will not prevent Americans from defending their families.

Gun Violence Research

Nothing about this proposal infringes on the Second Amendment.  Marchant wants to keep us ignorant as to the causes and solutions to gun violence.

Gun Safety

Is Representative Kenny Marchant opposed to gun safety? President Obama proposes that we “Launch a national campaign to promote common-sense safety measures.” How exactly does that infringe on the second amendment? I agree with the President.

School Safety

55 percent of Americans support placing an armed guard in every school.  President Obama proposes that we “Provide incentives for police departments to hire school resource officers through COPS hiring grants.”

We must not require teachers to carry handguns. It is insane to assign that level of responsibility to our teachers.

Mental Health

56 percent of Americans think inadequate treatment of mentally ill people contributes a great deal to gun violence. President Obama proposes that we “Provide $55 million for new initiative (Project AWARE) to make sure students get treatment for mental health issues.”

Republicans who take an absolutist position on this issue are doing our nation a great disservice. Contact your Congressman and let him or her know that you support our President.

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"Let a new piano indicate your real sentiment."

“Let a new piano indicate your real sentiment.”

Sentiment naturally clings to any possession cherished by one we love. Something spiritual seems to invest material things, especially after the death of those near to us. We used to know of an old, old man, who kept a little rag doll in his trunk — a rag doll moistened now and then with tears, for over eighty years — “ever since little Ellen passed on.”

In many a home today there is a revered piano — revered because it was mother’s piano. It has become a monument of sentiment. Sentiment is one of the finest of all human traits. The individual without sentiment is usually not a very desirable member of society. Many of the strong men we have known — men who have had a reputation for being “hard-boiled” — have merely been exhibiting an armor which they have donned over their  human sentimentalism.

"Sentiment, however, is often misplaced. 'Mother's Piano' is properly a symbol for mother's love for music."

“Sentiment, however, is often misplaced. ‘Mother’s Piano’ is properly a symbol for mother’s love for music.”

Sentiment, however, is often misplaced. “Mother’s Piano” is properly a symbol for mother’s love for music. In one family, where the mother was a great music lover, the instrument was arbitrarily closed by father for two years after the passing of mother – “out of respect.” This was a very queer way of showing respect for mother’s love for music. Meanwhile the children of that home went without the music lessons and practice that mother was so anxious that they should have.

How much more properly and reverently could that father have paid tribute to his wife’s memory, if he had but taken up and carried on her instinctive wisdom in caring for her “babies,” by devoting as large a sum as possible to the higher perpetuation of her ideals. Even if this meant discarding the old piano and buying a finer and newer instrument, it would have been a far nobler symbol of a real sentimental regard for the dear lady who had brought so much joy and beauty to the home through music. Instead, he put a small fortune into a mausoleum in the cemetery which he visits twice a year, A mausoleum may be a fine way of remembering the dead. Isn’t it a far more reverent and beautiful duty to remember the living with a living instrument representing the ideals of one who has passed?’

There are many disgracefully old and dilapidated pianos in homes in all parts of the country, kept there by a false sentiment. Let a new piano indicate your real sentiment. How proud mother would be to see that piano in daily, happy, productive use! ~ The Etude, February 1935

etude.feb.1935.cover

English: Rocky Mountains Trapper

English: Rocky Mountains Trapper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The broad spectrum of opinions on gun control/gun rights is confusing. I think I have found an accurate description of one type of gun enthusiast, found in this video entitled “The Mountain Man.”  Excerpts follow.

0.00:01 “They are the men who hear the call of the wild the loudest.”

0.00:22 “They come for a life of high adventure and wanderlust.”

The Mountain men were the first adventurous pioneers to advance into the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase during 1810-1830, drawn by the promise of the trapping industry.

00:04:25 “…a lifestyle that guaranteed independence and practically no authority and lots of excitement.”

00.06.29 “We’re dealing with three sets of qualities. The first is personal: strength, courage, endurance, fortitude, dexterity of mind and body, the temperament to live a wild and dangerous life in the Rocky Mountains.

00:06:45 “A second set of skills is specialized. They include such things as beaver trapping, game hunting, mountain climbing and various forms of bodily combat.”

00:07:02 “And finally, you have what we call “wilderness skill”. The head of the list here is sign-reading, because the wilderness was full of signs. They were audible signs. They were visible signs. They were olfactory signs.”

00:08:05 “All of these skills are combined with a trapper’s instincts. The ones with the most reliable instincts were the ones most likely to survive. For around every corner lurks a life-threatening situation.”

The 21st Century Mountain Man

Who will deny that these words resemble the descriptions of some gun enthusiasts? From this point of view, screened through the lens of this archetypal temperament, we learn of the arguments for retaining unrestrained access to guns. It must seem natural to men of this cut to see arming teachers as the proper solution to the threat of school shootings. Mother Jones has published a good story showing that armed innocents do not fare well in gun battles. They are most often wounded or killed.  Sometimes the good guys win. The media rushes to tell us about the shooters, but not as much is said about the victims.

 

The flintlock pistol; the preferred weapon of the 18th Century reserved to thwart tyranny

The flintlock pistol; the preferred weapon of the 18th Century reserved to thwart tyranny

wrote previously, we are no longer living in the time of the 18th century, but the temperament of the Mountain Man remains evident in many people living today. One point to consider though.  The survival rate of weekend “Mountain Men” is much higher today.  There are many men who are drawn to dangerous adventures, who think they possess the qualities of “strength, courage, endurance, fortitude, and dexterity of mind and body”, but the securities of today’s society have more to do with the higher survival rate than the adequate possession of these survivalists traits.

I do not want to take guns away from these guys. I want to take them away from the nutcases. There is much that can be done to make gun ownership safe and reasonable.  But as I listen to the same sound bites from politicians that you hear, I wonder … are we listening to reasonable men, or just weekend warriors who hear the call of the wild?

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It has taken very little effort to learn how to not write fiction. In that sentence I am using the word not as a negation of the act of writing fiction, not as a word which connotes incorrect fiction writing. There are plenty of books available that seek to instruct a writer how to avoid the pitfalls of poor writing (i.e. how to not write fiction). I know of no book which explains how easy it is to not write fiction.  That is probably because to not write fiction you simply must not write.

That is what I learned last week when I started to write a piece of fiction. After writing a few pages, I decided that attempting to write fiction was a bad idea. I will revisit that idea many times, as I have done in the past, but I now recall how easy it is to decide not to write fiction. If it was easy to write fiction, more people would do it, I suppose.  It would then be no great feat and fewer people would decide not to do it. Things are as they should be.

Book Ideas

Among the many book ideas I have had, a couple rank higher than others.  Years ago I stumbled upon the idea of writing a cookbook for Freshmen students. Young men are most often ignorant about the basics of cooking, most probably because they do not understand how it fulfills the prime objective of attending college. If I shaped the title of the book accordingly, I think it might become popular. The title of the book was to be How Learning to Cook can Help You Get Laid. There might be a better way to say that. (That is what editors are for.) I think male freshmen are more likely to pick up a book by that title than Joy of Cooking.

Cover of "Joy of Cooking"

Cover of Joy of Cooking

Another book idea came to me in a dream. I dreamed the entire book. When I woke, the idea was so fresh upon my mind that I wrote the synopsis in one sitting. A rugged man living in the suburbs inherits an estate in the mountains of Colorado and decides to make a long desired transition in life, sells all he owns and moves to Colorado.  He arrives to find that he has inherited a wonderful home (I drew a picture of it) on a good parcel of land, bordered on the back side by a thin forest of trees nudged against a long cliff which has long been the home of bats that live in the cliff caves. The fissures are accessible, (after a perilous climb) through the portals of caves visible here and there.

On the higher elevation is a small college town. Access to the town is gained by use of a small valley trail which winds upwards from the inherited homestead. The rugged man, whom I named John, acquaints himself with his home, and after accidentally dislodging a fireside stone, finds a tiny wooden box hidden away by his grandfather. He opens the box and retrieves a small tear-drop shaped amulet  attached to a gold chain.  He slips the necklace around his neck and opens the crunchy folds of a letter that was tucked into the box along with the amulet.  He reads a set of cryptic directions on how to use the amulet in order to begin a mystical spiritual experience. There is no reference to what the experience entails. That piece of information will become known later, during a trek to explore the caves on the cliffs, and after he falls in love with a college professor he will soon meet. There was an antagonist too – a young man who secretly admired the very college professor that John would soon meet. A drama ensues and resolves as a prelude to the eventual discovery of certain secrets found in the caves, and John’s decision to act out the alleged mystical ritual.

The finding of clues in the cave are not what solely prompted his curiosity. It was instead the consistent appearance of bear tracks leading to the doorway under the house which went into the root cellar. While the door was locked, the tracks laid upon the ground in a fashion that indicated that a very large bear had walked right through the doorway and the thick wooden door which should have precluded that option. The idea of a bear that could walk through doors haunted him until he found the clues he sought on the walls of the caves he explored with his interested companion, the aforementioned and lovely college professor.

The ritual itself, initiated after dropping the amulet into a blazing campfire whereupon a cloud of red smoke engulfed John, causing him to succumb to an intoxicated trance, revealed the meaning of the four stages of manhood: birth, adolescence, maturity and old age. All of this was revealed to him by a spirit bear which served as his dream guide. He would follow the bear from the campfire near the house and walked directly toward the doorway under the house. Later when he awoke from his dream state, the only confirming evidence of his adventure, would be the tracks of the bear leading to the doorway, with the exception of the appearance of his own tracks stamped into the earth alongside those of the bear’s.

Several chapters of reconciling spiritual drivel and meaning follow until at last the story reveals that John marries the college professor. [Scene.] They stand together on the timbered front porch of the grandfather’s abode  ready to enter as husband and wife. One last embrace on the front porch is interrupted by the distant appearance of a female bear crossing the grassy pasture which sprawls for miles in front of the house, followed by two bear cubs. John’s bride submits a knowing grin and turns to walk into the house. John follows, but in reprise, turns one last time to gaze across the field when he spies a gigantic male bear raised on his haunches to his full height of almost twelve feet, and while looking directly at John, roars with all the territorial bravado one’s imagination can muster.

John roars back. The two are suspended in a stare until the mother bear sends a signal of impatience to the towering male, who quickly acquiesces as he resumes his sauntered step across the field.  John smiles while caught in the moment when a delicate hand reaches from within the cabin to grab him by the collar and not-too-gently pulls him into the house. The door shuts. [Pan out with aerial view to panoramic scene showing the house, land and the distant and continued trek by the family of bears.]

[Credits]

And then I awoke from my sleep and the full-colored dream ended.

It occurs to me now that not writing fiction is going to be more difficult that I originally thought. For the immediate future, as is probably just and wise, freshmen are on their own.

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I understand the basis for the positions taken by the National Rifle Association more than you might know. In 1993 I published a newspaper that was strongly opposed by local elected officials. In fact, city councilmen openly approached advertisers telling them not to advertise in my newspaper. One particular city councilman blatantly stole stacks of newspapers from Town Center and threw them away. The theft was caught on video, reported to me by a police officer several weeks later. When I requested to see the video tape, city manager Jim Witt told me the tape did not exist. During the 18 months that I published the newspaper, government repeatedly violated the Texas Open Records and Open Meetings Acts with impunity.  I was threatened with  legal action about a dozen times, had personal contact with four or five FBI agents, was accused of arson, libel, and being a homosexual because I was considered highly intelligent. (Insider note: My dearly departed friend Walter Pettijohn told me that. He explained, “It’s because all those homosexuals are real smart, so people just figured you were one too.”)

After the smoke had cleared, four city councilman decided not to run for office again, two police captains left the department, the chief of police was fired (and secretly rehired and retained on the payroll for eight months in order to keep him quiet about who on council had ordered him to get dirt on a citizen without probable cause), my campaign to create an “ethics ordinance” resulted in the implementation of today’s Code of Conduct, and to top it all off, I won a national award in journalism for my “significant achievement” in the effort to shed light on government, the quintessential Sunshine Award awarded annually to a nominated and chosen recipient by the Society of Professional Journalists, considered to be the “heavy-weights” of the journalism community. At the conclusion of my activities, I received a call from the FBI asking if I thought the city government of Coppell, Texas had violated the Rico Act. I responded, “I just think we have a lot of good people here doing some really stupid stuff.” That was the last time I ever heard from the FBI.

I know a little bit about government. I know a bit about tyranny, conspiracy and intentional wrong.  It’s more than 20 years later. After I shut the paper down, I returned to serve as a volunteer in the community. I did not “disappear” from view, or dismiss the merits of community service. I did not succumb to  cynicism, or waste away as I fumed about conspiracies. I took some time off, found my smile again, and went back into the fray of public service in order to serve the community.

Throughout my adventures in journalism, I was trying to trace the origins of morality. That may seem odd, but I believe everyone has a fundamental reason or interest which drives them in a social cause.  it was my hope, and plan, to come to understand morality and freedom from the perspective of a small town – the smallest unit of American government. I started with a hypothetical, “If freedom exists, then it must exist at every level of government.” The test for freedom is not measured solely by our relationship with our Federal or State governments. The truer test is found in our relationship with our locally elected leaders.  I cannot write about all that I know, but I wanted to share some perspectives about small town “freedom” so you can consider my comments as you think about gun control.

As citizens, we are increasingly required to relinquish our freedoms. I think the NRA would agree with that. The justification used to limit our freedoms always depends on a debate between the interests of the community and our reserved rights.

When you try to enter a school in this town, you must check in at a kiosk in the main office. You swipe your driver’s license in a machine and your identity is checked against a database. I do not know what is in the database, but I assume that if you have a criminal record, are on a list of known sex offenders, or maybe if there are outstanding warrants out against you, you will not be permitted to secure an ID badge required to enter the school.

Is that a violation of your freedom?  It might be, but your right to privacy, or right to enter a government building, is not as important as the effort to protect the interests of the children and staff who work in the school building.

Often, you must prove to others that you are not a criminal. You are considered guilty unless you submit to tests that confirm your innocence. If you coach children in sports, you must first submit to a criminal background check. If you want to be employed by government (or many corporations), you must submit to periodic drug tests. You cannot carry a firearm into a government building.  In these and other examples, the safety and well-being of other people is considered to be of more import than your right to privacy.  If you want to retain your privacy, or if you insist that you are “innocent unless proven guilty”, then you will not be permitted to coach, or visit your child during school, or participate in city government. It’s your choice, but relinquishing your freedom is required in order to participate.

Now I am going to write something that you have probably never read. What I am about to write is a view about freedom that I discovered on my own: I have never read this idea expressed by anyone else. I believe it is a critical philosophical conclusion that is missing in the debate between community standards and the rights of individuals. Here it is: Freedom is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

If you are a philosopher you recognize the power of that assertion, and after some reflection, you will encounter the difficulties it creates. Freedom is not an end in itself. You cannot rightly assume to be a member of a community but at the same time, maintain a right to be free from the obligations of that community. This means, if you want to coach children, you must first submit to a criminal background check. If you want to coach children; be a source of power in the determination of their development, you MUST submit to the tests imposed by members of the community you seek to serve. End of discussion (for now).

Let us now compare the power you have as a coach of children with the power you gain by carrying a concealed firearm.  There is a considerable — monumental — difference in the amount of power that you have when you carry a firearm. It is absolutely ridiculous to maintain that you can own a handgun simply because of a few ambiguous words written in our Constitution.  If you believe that you can use freedom as an end in itself – to the end that you remain absolutely separated from any social obligation, responsibility or accountability, then you have completely misinterpreted the definition and limits of freedom.

Some readers of my blog live in Europe, and take great interest in reading the ideas expressed by Americans. Let me tell this next story for their benefit. I was once a national sales manager for a very large company. I managed a sales force of fourteen territory sales managers, seven telemarketers and two administrative assistants. As part of my “assimilation” into the company, I met individually with every officer and manager. During most of those interviews, the officer or manager in question withdrew a firearm from his desk and placed it on the desktop. The gesture was clearly an act of bravado, not intended to intimidate as much as it was to demonstrate membership in a defiant and masculine club of independent and strong “Americans”.  The message was clear, “I can shoot you.”

On another occasion in Phoenix, Arizona, while accompanying one of my salesmen on a sales call, a young man carrying an electric guitar walked into the music store. The owner asked him, “Where did you get that guitar?” As soon as he asked that question, before the adolescent had time to answer, every employee in sight withdrew a firearm and placed it on the counter in front of them. I was a spectator. The event was surreal. Later I learned that the owner had received a call from another guitar dealer who reported that a person, matching the description of the young man with the guitar, had stolen a guitar from his store. The youth was trying to sell the guitar quickly to an unsuspecting music store. The police were called and the youth was soon arrested. The guns disappeared from view.

When you travel the nation, as I did, you see that America is really a large nation of many different cultures. When I was once in Wisconsin, it was expected that I would join others and drink beer during the sales presentation – at 11:00 in the morningWhile in Louisiana, you will invariably encounter people who want to tell you “Little Boudreaux” jokes,  or explain the correct pronunciation of LaFayette, a town in Louisiana. If you make a sales call in the “Valley” (Texas – Mexico) while wearing a Brooks Brothers suit, you will become the brunt of many jokes. In Atlanta, years ago, there was a music store owner who would randomly shoot at a cymbal hung in the corner of the ceiling of the music store. Salespersons would point out the bullet-ridden cymbal to customers for effect.

I recant these stories to establish in your mind the extremes of cultural values that are evident in America, and to underscore the difficulty anyone would encounter forming gun control legislation that would appeal unilaterally to every member of every sub-culture in America. To be certain, we have the right to bear firearms. It is also certain that we have the power to create legislation which protects the standards of every community. Those standards differ from community to community. It is represented by the NRA, and others who embrace an absolutist view about freedom, that the Constitution sets the national standard. Reason dictates otherwise. We are no longer a nation of 18th century pioneers.

I have never had cause or been uneasy when in the presence of a gun owner. In my experience, I have found that gun owners have a heightened sense of responsibility. Personally, I do not want to be placed in a position where I must rely on a firearm to protect myself, but if that situation arose, and perhaps only as  a matter of principle, I would at least want someone to get a shot off in the direction of the perpetrator. It seems only fair that if someone is intent to shoot me, that someone would shoot him a couple of times too.  With that concession made, I see no harm done asking gun owners to meet very strict requirements in order to carry a firearm. I would think they would agree for no other reason than because to do so would increase the integrity of their own membership.  I assign absolutely no credibility to arguments that hold that such requirements would constitute a government conspiracy to usurp our constitutionally protected freedoms. I will add that, in general, gun owners — the vocal ones — have a temperament of masculine bravado that weakens the credibility of their arguments. When I hear someone shout in defiant anger, “I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY RIGHT UNTIL YOU TAKE THE GUN FROM MY COLD, DEAD HAND,” I tend to think, “Okay, someone shoot this guy now and we can continue our discussions after lunch.”

If there is a common good that can be done, it must be done by people who understand the many cultures that are evident in our country. That group is not going to include me. The outcome of their decision making is going to affect people in Texas and Arizona differently than people in Wisconsin (after they sober up). Creating a national standard can only be done by people who understand far more than I understand.

But I do understand freedom at the local level. In my past, I have been a big fish in a small pond. As power increases, so does responsibility and accountability. If the people in my community feel safer for my having submitted to the rigors of a criminal background check before I am permitted to coach their children, then I will meet their requirements with haste.   Gun owners do more for their cause, their rights, by volunteering to submit to fair and reasonable tests too. But for those gun owners who say they have a right which is not beholding to the community standard; that their right to carry and conceal is an end in itself – I believe they have a warped and inaccurate understanding of what freedom really means. We confer power to government officials; except for those rights which we reserve for ourselves. But just as the conference of powers must include stringent rules of accountability, we are right to insist that the same level of accountability is assigned to those citizens who act on their reserved rights. Power, whether it is evident in government or an individual, requires checks and balances to protect us from the tyranny of government, or the tyranny of any individual.

Responsible gun owners (which I believe applies to most gun owners) should be outraged to be represented by political extremists such as our evident among the leadership of the National Rifle Association. The integrity of the membership of those who carry firearms is being drawn into question as a matter of this national debate, and it should therefore be gun owners who attend to the heartfelt concerns of community members who seek to hold gun owners accountable. Remaining resiliently opposed to reasonable challenges is no different than if government remains resiliently opposed to inquiries about its activities. That is to say, for every citizen who acts on reserved rights, the same level of accountability, checks and balances should be in place which protects the citizenry from a tyranny that might one day be imposed by any single citizen. It frustrates me that I have not yet seen this argument in print. A government can become a tyrant. An individual can become one too.

I am not opposed to gun rights. I am opposed to the abuses of gun ownership, and I recognize that gun owners are a valuable member in the debate. I only suggest that any presentation which carries the tone of angry defiance, laced with accusations of governmental conspiracy, probably isn’t the best way to make your argument.  If gun owners rely on extremists to carry their message, then the public will soon regard all gun owners as extremists. That consequence would be a grave injustice toward all responsible gun owners.

English: President Barack Obama delivers the 2...

English: President Barack Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union address a joint session of the 111th United States Congress on January 27, 2010 (audio file). Deutsch: US-Präsident Barack Obama während seiner Rede zur Lage der Nation vor dem 111. Kongress am 27. Januar 2010 (Audioaufnahme); im Hintergrund Vizepräsident Joe Biden (in seiner Rolle als Senatspräsident) und Nancy Pelosi, die Sprecherin des Repräsentantenhauses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An editorial by Dallas Morning News columnist Bill McKenzie (published January 31, 2012) references an opinion published January 25, 2012 by New York Times writer Jackie Calmes.  McKenzie relies on Calmes’ summation of a “theme that has run through President Obama’s career: “President Obama’s Government and citizens are responsible together for the common good, even as they celebrate individualism and free markets,” as he referred to Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address to Congress. [Full Transcript]

McKenzie then asks, “How do we build a common good today? He then deferred to the opinions of several leaders who qualify for inclusion in the discussion.

The guidelines define leaders as those “whose religion involves belief in a divine power or those who may not believe in a transcendent power but leave room for the possibility of one.”

Why make that stipulation? Who is being excluded from leadership?

The whole idea of excluding people from leadership roles is antithetical to the notion of “common good”.  What this says to me is that the furtherance of the common good will only be realized within the constraints of a faith-based solution.  I am not going to participate in that narrow-minded forum. I will pen my ideas here instead, as a leader who offers no qualifying statement of belief or non-belief.

What is the common good? Understanding the Rhetoric.

A good that is common to all? In the 2012 State of the Union message the President was very specific:

We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.

McKenzie writes:

The president, for example, wants clean energy, better schools and housing opportunities for more Americans. Good goals but they cost money. And we are $14 trillion in debt. Someone has to pay for all these new ideas… Often, it is the rich who are asked to pay, which leads some to wonder why they [the rich] are singled out to pay for the common good.”

Why are the Rich Asked to Pay?

Let’ me address this quickly. The $14 trillion number only tells us one part of the story. It isn’t really relevant to the discussion though. We would still need a solution that promotes the common good even if we had no debt at all.  McKenzie adds the $14 trillion number for effect. Why do the rich have to pay? That is the question he wants to raise, and it sounds better if it is delivered under the shadow of a big number.

Obama already provided an answer in his address – clues at least:

Let’s remember how we got here. Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete. Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.

In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money. Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior.

It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hard-working Americans holding the bag. In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.

In short, the rich haven’t been doing a very good job, and they haven’t been paying their fair share in taxes. However, as the economy has soured, the rich managed to continue to make more money. Second, you pay less taxes from investment gains than you do from wages.

As it pertains to McKenzie’s discussion about the common good, should we defer to the opinions of leaders who do not understand that the rich need to pay their fair share of taxes? Probably not, but let’s look at what they have to say.

Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis of Flower Mound goes first. He blames Ayn Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” argument as being “firmly concretized” in our tax code, our interpretation of the Bill of Rights.” Actually, Ayn Rand recognized that human beings do not operate based on altruistic intentions. People are self-interested. Granted, some people do wonderful, selfless deeds for others. But when people are selfless, it is because they are furthering a self-interest to be selfless.  The good rabbi prefers the the ethos of the irrational C.S. Lewis, who “quipped” that we are all “pensioners under God’s rule.” The rabbi believes we are all obligated to ourselves and each other and that we must attend to that obligation if we are going to create a workable future for America. He does not mention who obligates us.

Senior Pastor George Mason is next. He added a list of issues, each worthy of discussion.  I inferred that he meant to say, “In order to promote the common good, we must correct certain social and economic problems.”

There are problems with his assertions. First, he says we suffer a loss (similar to the loss of tax revenue from the wealthy 1-2%) when 47% of Americans pay no federal income tax. “We should ask those who make above the poverty level to contribute something.” This means that people who are just over the poverty line should pay more taxes. I have a moral objection to that line of thinking, but the economic argument will serve: An incremental increase in revenue for the 47% would not amount to a significant increase in revenue. The pastor needs to remember that personal income has not kept up with growth.  In the words of our president, “Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.”

Mason makes the same mistake as McKenzie when he threw out that ominous $14 trillion number. Forty-seven percent of nothing gets you nothing. Just because it is 47% of something does not mean it is a significant number.

Let me say this another way, in a way that maybe Pastor Mason can understand. “We don’t have any money George!”

William Lawrence of Perkins School of Theology is next to speak. His words are dangerous when he writes, “It is therefore the case that the common good is a higher priority than an individual’s good.” As support, he offers that individuals must risk life in order to provide for the “common defense” of the nation. I have to add a stipulation here. The common good is not a thing which is equal to an individual, inasmuch as the former does not exist and the latter does. Lawrence is restating the old debate question, “In times of conflict, which is of more import, community standards or individual liberty?” You cannot reconcile the two.  Leaders who, by definition,  are charged as stewards of the interests and well-being  of others are always going to side with sacrificing liberty in order to maintain the good for the greater number of others. The Bill of Rights was created with the express purpose of reserving certain rights for individuals. We reserved those rights so that good-intentioned leaders like Mr. Lawrence could not easily compel us to submit to their methods to protect the common good.

So I say this differently than Lawrence, “The common good is the priority of American individuals when that common good fulfills each person’s self-interest.” In Lawrence’s statement, someone else decides what priority to place on the common good. In my statement, the assignment of priority rests with each individual. That makes the problem of providing for the common good more difficult to resolve, but that is one of the caveats of reserving liberties. Leaders aren’t primarily concerned with preserving liberties. Individuals are responsible for preserving their liberties, and must take care not to defer to those who would quickly surrender them. The remainder of Lawrence’s comments read better if they are reviewed in light of my comment above.

Theologian-in-Residence Jim Denison is next in line. He favors the altruistic view (see comment above) and cites Woodrow Wilson “To work for the common good is the greatest creed,” and Jesus’ “Love one another,” and asks us to imagine “a society in which we imitated Jesus’ altruistic commitment.

It is important to point out that our society does not function as an altruistic civilization. We can “imagine” as Denison asks, but we will not find a practical solution within his religious Idealism. American was founded on the principle of institutionalized self-interest, whereby it was acknowledged that “men are not angels”, and a system of checks and balances were necessary.  I have never seen it written that our nation was founded on the ethic of public service, as Denison states.  We empowered government to act on our common needs (based on our self-interests), and we accept common obligations (based on our self-interest), and bind together to promote the public good (if our self-interest is served), but we did not create and empower a government to dictate how each individual should fulfill those obligations, other than as our self-interest might direct us.  And we most certainly did not form a government based on an altruistic motivation, except for those who confused altruism with their own self interest to be altruistic!

Our Founders (specifically James Madison) hoped that Americans would recognize that by promoting the common good (first) each would best ensure the realization of self-interest (second). But this wisdom was left to the discovery of each individual, and was not mandated by an authoritarian government or religious leader. It is only by this method that the needs of a community are met by persons who are motivated to provide those needs.

Denison continues to support altruistic public service by quoting Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism and Buddhism. But then he reveals his own confusion when he writes, “Unfortunately, it is tempting for religious leaders to focus more on building our organizations than on serving our communities.”

No, my dear friend, that is precisely what you should be doing! When you build your organization, you are serving the community. You need to trust that others are building their organizations.  The view of a leader is upside down.  Stronger individuals are the foundation of a strong community.  Religious communities attend to the growth of individuals, who in turn go out into the world to serve.  If you want to promote the common good, promote the individual first. If you want to protect the common good, protect the individual first. If you want to improve the economy of our nation, improve the economy of each individual first.

Unitarian Senior Pastor Daniel Kantor echoes my sentiments when he writes, “I can only speak about the institution I know best, First Unitarian Church of Dallas”.  Exactly! Leaders of organizations need to grow better organizations. When called upon to offer opinions, they should confine theirs to what they know.

Darrell Bock mentions “shared goals” as part of the common good. Rightly so. Shared goals are shared interests. Ric Dexter (Buddhist) sees common good as a function of individuality when he sums with a quote from Daisaku Ikeda, “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, can even enable a change in the destiny of all human kind.

I will add a quote by President Andrew Jackson, “One man with courage is a majority.” Show me a member of the clergy who will preach that from the pulpit and I will show you a person who is secure in his or her understandings.

Do you now see the common theme in determining how to promote the common good? The battle is between the power inherent in the individual and the power conferred to organizations by individuals. As a nation, we must promote the common good while retaining respect and dignity for each individual member of the nation. By this we can promote a good that is common for all.

Can we do that?

Why would anyone think that we are not already doing that?

The answer is that we have problems. But we always have problems, and always will. So why do we assume that we are not providing for the common good?

Mike Ghouse of Foundation of Pluralism misses the mark when he writes, “Each one of us is individually responsible to achieve that [shaping of the common good] with the state as a mere catalyst.” Close. Each individual is responsible to provide for his or her self-interest.  It is imperative to retain the sense of our individualism in language. I am not on this earth to tell you what your responsibilities are. If there were 500 of me running around, my obligation to direct your responsibilities would not increase. But when 500 people form a religious organization, somehow they start telling you what your responsibilities are. I will tell you two things. You are responsible to yourself. It is in your self interest to be responsible to others; that is your free choice however. Personally, I agree with Mike. But I would not presume to speak for you on the matter of how you perceive your responsibilities.

Mike also writes, “The biggest victim of the bad economy is our attitude.” I must amend that. We became a victim of a bad economy because of our attitudes. Mike does however ask a very essential question, “What am I doing as an individual to maintain the harmony and cohesiveness of one nation under God with Liberty and Justice for all?”

The answer to that question is evident in all of the answers given to McKenzie’s prompt: “How to promote the common good?” Some relied on the authority of the organization to tell us what to do and what our responsibilities are. Others recognized that the strength of the whole is dependent on the strength of each part. Many answers: none of which are alone correct. We can choose which answer we like, but it is the accumulation of the strength of all of the offered opinions that will be most inclusive of the needed solution.

The opinions are at odds sometimes. How do we reconcile the conflict between opposing opinions?

The problem for the clergy is that they must resolve the conflict and also maintain the sovereignty of their chosen faith.  This is demonstrated throughout the several responses, but none more than the opinion of professor of theology Cynthia Rigby who acknowledges that the “church” is a self-interested actor in the support and improvement of the public school system.  Just as every writer wants to measure the common good in terms of his or her own views, Rigby wants public school education to be “consistent with what we say we believe, that is : that EVERY child is made in the image of God, and that God desires EVERY person enjoy – to the fullest – God’s gift of life.” On the surface, this sounds good – but note that the religious views of the author are retained. The idea of being “made in the image of God” is nonsense. I mean to say, if you think about what that really implies, it is a very ridiculous notion.  Second, the idea that life is a gift bestowed upon us by a supernatural being, whose very nature is incomprehensible to us,  requires a tremendous imagination. Rigby is a self-interested actor who seeks to shape the common good to conform with her beliefs. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, that is my recommendation. But it is just one view among many, and like the fabled blind men who described the proverbial elephant, it is only partially true.

The common good is bigger than our individual ideas, and no self-interested institution is going to promote a view that does not also promote the interests of that institution. As Rigby writes, “Protestant churches advanced public school education because they saw it as a means by which ALL people would be equipped to read the Bible for themselves.”  The church will help as long as the church gets something out of the deal. Rigby is honest about the motivations of the church. I will credit her for that! She concludes that by turning our backs on “public schools, creating exclusive, alternative schools at the expense of promoting education for all”, may have worked against the self-interest of the common good, something that many of us said long ago, prophetically, when churches banned together to promote their own fanciful ideas at the expense of public schools.

She concludes by asking “What better way to flavor and brighten than to devote our energies to improving education for all children, and not just ‘our own'”? The answer is all too obvious and elementary. Few religious organizations will promote a public school system which does not promote, and might openly oppose, the beliefs of that religious organization.

That suggests that religious communities are a big reason why the common good is not being promoted. I love irony. Religion is one of the biggest problems we face in this nation, and McKenzie is deferring exclusively to leaders within the religious community to offer opinions on how to fix the problem religion caused. That is rich!

Matthew Wilson, assistant professor of political science at SMU, takes up the same argument. “In a society that stresses, both individual right and group identities, it can be difficult even to identify or achieve, the common good.”

This implies that the common good is something that cannot be achieved. Let me go one step further. Not only can the common good be achieved, in practical terms, it IS being achieved. The common good is the collective output of a self-interested people. Now, it is arguable that we are not doing a good job promoting the common good – but the real cause would be that we are each not doing a very good job as individuals. And there are forces at play (the greed of actors in the economy) that keep individuals from being all that we can each become. Has there ever been a time when these conditions did not exist?

My view is that things are as they should be, and we are doing all we can to promote the common good. Instead of debating about what more we can do, we should be celebrating all that is being done! McKenzie and I differ in that view.  For me, the glass is half full.

Now let me answer McKenzie’s question, How do we build a greater sense of the common good today, given the many issues we face.

1. All ideas that foster solutions must promote the fundamental merits of individualism.

2. We must acknowledge that we are self-interested and how a self-interested society can act in altruistic ways.

3. We must recognize that our opinions about the whole are limited by experiences gained within the part. That is to say, if we each choose to live an isolated life, within our own tiny provincial pool of influence, we should kindly refrain some entering into discussions that go beyond the scope of our experience and expertise. Even simpler, don’t fix my house: fix your own.

4. Honor the principle of separation of church and state.  Humanitarian institutions should refrain from political activities.

5.  Try to see the bigger picture. We are already doing a pretty good job promoting the common good.  We face challenges, and we will always face challenges.

6. Define and accept your responsibilities to self and others. If you are going to hold a mirror up to the world to reveal its problems, don’t forget to take a glance in that mirror so you can see the problems you can most easily correct.

7. The principle function of a religious organization is to manage people. Do not confuse spiritually with religiosity.

8. If you want to keep knowing, you have to keep growing. Forming solutions that promote a greater sense of the common good might not be the best topic for you to explore right now. Ask not what you can do for your country: ask how you can become a better person.

9. Trust your president. You elected leaders. Support them as they do their work.

10. For every hour you spend tearing down what others have built, invest a hundred hours building something that only you can build. For it is only have you have invested in building something of lasting value can you then be trusted to be judicious in how you attend to what others have built.

To build a better common good, we must each first build the good in ourselves.

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