r.l. stollar

Christopher Dorner and the Monsters in Our Heads

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I hate violence. I hate it with a passion. I get sick to my stomach when I think about the shootings in Springfield, Oregon, Aurora, Colorado, and Newton, Conneticut. I cannot fathom what would drive individuals to spill the blood of innocent people, especially children.

Christopher Dorner killed innocent people, too. (I guess to be entirely accurate I should say he was charged with killing innocent people, because technically he was “not…convicted of any crime under the law.”) He killed “the daughter of one of the people he had a beef with.” That woman was Monica Quan, the daughter of Randy Quan,  a retired police captain who had “represented Dorner in the disciplinary proceedings that led to his firing.” He even killed Keith Lawrence, Monica Quan’s fiance, who was neither related to anyone involved nor a police officer. He was, rather, a “public safety officer at the University of Southern California.” The couple was newly engaged: “Days before their deaths, Lawrence…scattered rose petals on the floor of their Irvine home, got down on a knee and asked for her hand.”

When it comes to the actual violence, there’s not a lot of difference between Christopher Dorner and Adam Lanza, the school shooter from Newton. Both took innocent lives; both almost senselessly took sons and daughters away from their families forever.

Christopher Dorner is not the new Batman, neither is he the new Joker. He's a human being who made the wrong decision based on being wronged.
Christopher Dorner was not the new Batman, neither was he the new Joker. He was a human being who made the wrong decision based on being wronged.

But as much as I hate violence, I also hate the words we often use to describe it. What Adam Lanza did in Newton to those kids was deplorable, tragic, and evil. I have no problem saying that. But when I hear people call him a mental case or psychotic or the embodiment of Satan, I cringe. When I hear people shout that Dorner is insane or a lunatic or a monster, I cringe, too.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. I honestly haven’t quite figured it out. But I think that there’s something about saying someone’s a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things. I feel that, even if you do crazy or monstrous things, you’re still a human being. You aren’t just some otherworldly puppet being manipulated by cosmic forces. You aren’t just born broken and thus deserve to be locked up at birth. Human beings can be mean and cruel creatures but we call them “human” still for a reason.

I think I simply want to know what happened. Adam Lanza was just 20 years old. He was a real live person — he played video games, wore short-sleeved, button-down shirts, and liked to read. What makes a person like that massacre 27 other people, including 20 kids? Christopher Dorner was a real live person, too, who dreamed about being a cop since a little boyloved football, and once found a bank bag with almost $8,000 and returned it to its rightful owner. What makes a person like that justify killing innocent people that never wronged him?

I know I’ll never fully comprehend these tragedies. But I’d like to try. Because trying to understand what happens to people like Lanza and Dorner seems more effective in preventing future acts of violence than just saying, “Another crazy monster!” and moving on to the next action-packed news phenomenon.

I think I also want to comprehend these tragedies because I myself suffer from major depression and struggle with suicidal urges. And while I know those aren’t mental disorders that usually lead to mass shootings or cop-killings, they are mental disorders just the same. Some people would call me “crazy.” I certainly think I am crazy sometimes. So when I hear all this anger at “crazy monsters,” I flinch a bit, because I think, “Well, at one point Lanza and Dorner were just walking around like normal people, just like me, then all of a sudden they ‘go crazy.’ What if I ‘go crazy’?”

People with intellectual developmental disabilities don’t like foolish or rash decisions being associated with them. People with mental disorders don’t like murderous rampages and school shootings associated with them, either.

That’s the best reason I can come up with for why I want to know what happened. To know that these people aren’t suddenly possessed by cosmic forces of evil, so easily labeled as “crazy monsters.” To know that they — like all of us — are human beings that experience the difficulty of life with the minds and bodies we are given and then make choices — more or less consciously — that lead to new life-difficulties. What those choices are, and how in control we are of our minds and bodies, will of course determine whether we are acting intentionally and morally. But, like I said, I’m not one to withhold judgment if you decide to shoot innocent people. I will, nevertheless, refrain from calling you a crazy monster — not just because it makes me cringe, but also because calling you a monster actually abdicates you of your responsibility. If you’re a monster, you’re merely acting according to your nature. And what separates me from someone who kills innocent people is not some magically evil enchantment but my decision that killing innocent people is a horrible idea.

There's something about saying someone's a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things.
There’s something about saying someone’s a crazy monster that in itself feels violent to me — even if that person has done crazy, monstrous things.

But some people, like Christopher Dorner, aren’t willing to make a similar decision. And though I vehemently disagree, I consider it important — both for the sake of my taking an educated stance against his decision as well as a nod to his own humanity — to try to figure out why. Adam Lanza seems a much more difficult, elusive case, as do most school shooters. But Christopher Dorner was a very articulate, intelligent person who pretty much layed out his case in his now-infamous manifesto. In fact, some have suggested that, “The manifesto answers a lot of the whys behind what Dorner did. For the most part, the manifesto was minimized by those who were covering the Dorner situation. Instead of pushing the manifesto…sensationalist titles were affixed to Dorner’s name in the headlines.”

Much internet space has already been filled over that manifesto. I care little about contributing to that. But I do want to share a few stories that I found while trying to figure out Dorner’s motives and the context in which he lived (and died). I want to share these stories not to justify his actions, but to simply show that he wasn’t by any means unexplainable. He’s not the new Batman, neither is he the new Joker. He’s a human being who made the wrong decision based on being wronged.

For each of these observations, I give both a few links to the full stories as well as an excerpt that summarizes the point of the story.

Observation 1: There is a serious “use of force” problem in the LAPD.

Christopher Dorner claimed that another officer, Teresa Evans, used excessive force against a man with schizophrenia, Christopher Gettler. It was this claim that got Dorner fired. Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t strike me as abnormal. If you haven’t read or heard about the LAPD’s consistent overuse of force, you should. Here are just a few recent examples:

“A friend of 20year-old college student Ronald Weekley says he was beat up by overzealous LAPD officers in Venice on Saturday. The confrontation was captured on video (after the jump). The friend, Alexis Parker, says Weekley was trying to avoid gangsters on the other side of the street when police asked him to stop — and then tackled him when he didn’t…Parker says Weekley suffered a broken chin bone, a broken nose and a concussion in the confrontation.” (Full story)

“Police tonight said they’re investigating a videotaped beat-down ‘use of force’ by two LAPD cops in its San Fernando Valley Foothill Divison…The woman was ID’d tonight as 34-year-old Michelle Jordan of Sunland…The station described Jordan’s situation as ‘getting your head slammed into the pavement.’ The video, apparently security footage from a nearby business, depicts the officers sharing a fist bump after the woman is slammed to the ground.” (Full story)

“A South Los Angeles woman who was treated to a ‘leg sweep’ by an LAPD cop after allegedly struggling with officers died while in custody, police said in a statement tonight. In-car video of the situation, when the suspect was in custody, ‘revealed some questionable tactics and improper comments,’ according to an LAPD statement. The Los Angeles Times said the woman was stomped in the groin and possibly called ‘fat ass.'” (Full story)

“The civilian commission that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department has taken the rare step of rejecting a recommendation from the department’s chief, ruling that two police officers were wrong when they fatally shot an unarmed autistic man last year. Police Chief Charlie Beck concluded after a lengthy internal investigation that the officers made serious tactical mistakes during the brief, late-night encounter…” (Full story)

“The family of a man who was fatally shot by police after a freeway chase filed a $120 million legal claim against the city of Los Angeles Monday. The claim could be the beginning of a lawsuit…Police fired more than 90 rounds in Arian’s direction, killing him. Officers later discovered that Arian was unarmed throughout the entire confrontation.” (Full story)

Observation 2: Law enforcement agencies should encourage whistleblowing and  transparency, not attempt to hide mistakes from the public.

Christopher Dorner believed that he wasn’t taken seriously by his superiors when he reported Gettler’s abuse at the hands (or feet) of Evans. He also believed that they tried to suppress the fact. Again, that wouldn’t be the first time that happened:

“The Los Angeles Police Department’s news release on an Oct. 12 officer-involved shooting seemed fairly routine…But one crucial piece of information was left out of the release: The suspect’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time and he was lying on his stomach…LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said investigators are trying to understand the circumstances that led to an officer shooting a restrained and unarmed man…The case marks the second time in as many months that the LAPD has withheld important and potentially unfavorable information from the public in cases involving serious uses of force by officers. Last month, the department released an account of an incident in which a woman died after several officers forced her into the back seat of a police car. The news release made no mention of the fact that a female officer was under investigation for berating the woman and stomping on her genitals during the encounter.” (Full story)

Observation 3: Abuse fosters more abuse. It’s a deadly cycle.

This isn't the first time the LAPD has been accused of rampant racism (Rodney King comes to mind).
This isn’t the first time the LAPD has been accused of rampant racism (Rodney King comes to mind).

Christopher Dorner claimed to have suffered abuse his entire life due to his skin color, and that the LAPD were relentlessly racist against him. This isn’t the first time the LAPD has been accused of rampant racism (Rodney King comes to mind). In fact, another former LAPD officer has come forward and said that, while he would never support killing innocent people like Dorner did, he agrees with Dorner that the LAPD has some serious problems. From what I’ve read, those serious problems — and Dorner making them public, albeit with murder — is why some people view him as a hero.

“In the first six months of this year, one Black person every 36 hours was executed. This wanton disregard for Black life resulted in the killing of 13 year-old children, fathers taking care of their kids, women driving the wrong cars, as well as people with mental health and drug problems.” (Full story)

“In 2006, Schefres was interviewed about the punching incident during an investigation into allegations that Dorner slapped the hand of another recruit officer, internal affairs records show. Dorner had accused that second recruit–as well as another recruit — of using a racial slur while they were traveling in a police vehicle during their time in the academy. The department confirmed Dorner’s slur allegation against one of the recruits but not the other, the records said…Two months later, Dorner lodged another complaint against fellow cops, according to an LAPD complaint review report. Dorner said that after work on Oct. 10, 2007, he discovered that his jacket, on top of his duty bag, ‘was wet and dirty,’ according to the report. He believed someone had urinated on it.” (Full story)

“A former LAPD officer who wrote a Christopher Dorner ‘manifesto’ of his own supporting claims of racism at the department told the Weekly today that ‘I understand why he snapped.’…Jones said he didn’t find it unusual at all to hear of a situation like Dorner’s in which a rookie, African American officer’s case against a senior white officer was met with disbelief and rejection by the department and court system…Asked if he experienced racism on-the-job, Jones almost laughed. Asked if he was surprised to see the African American community in L.A. respond so differently to Dorner than the rest of town, he said, ‘Of course they’re going to see it different.’…’I definitely know what it’s like to go through having your name slandered after having done the right thing,’ Jones told us. ‘It’s a terrible feeling.’…He wants readers to know that his greatest sympathy for the victims of the suspect in this case. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t understand him killing people. I don’t understand a police officer that’s dead.'” (Full story)

“Disgraced ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner has been described by police and experts as a delusional and perhaps even psychopathic killer. But in the African American community he’s often viewed in a different light — as a victim of racism who became unhinged only after exhausting legitimate avenues to fight the good fight against his firing. Some are even calling him a hero…Earl Ofari Hutchinson of The Hutchinson Report and the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, says Dorner’s allegations ‘have resonance’ in L.A.’s African American community. ‘I’m not surprised,’ he says, ‘that Dorner would emerge almost as a folk hero, a perverse Robinhood.'” (Full story)

I do not understand the Robinhood sentiment. Yes, the LAPD has some serious issues. But I do not think killing innocent people is the right way to address those. But I also do not understand the delusional, psychopathic killer sentiment.  If you were discriminated against your whole life, tried to stand up for a mentally ill person against someone you believed was abusing her badge, and then got fired for doing the right thing by people who were calling you a n****r every other day — I can make the psychological connections very easily. It doesn’t justify murder. But it’s not a case for the X-Files, either.

What I see is neither an otherworldly embodiment of evil nor a folk hero. What I see is a man who suffered abuse at the hands of an abusive culture — and who chose to further perpetuate it.

When It Rains, It Pours: The News Week in Review

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Nature has a morbid sense of humor. As Americans have been gridlocked, grumpy, and childish with each other over the last year over politics and the upcoming election, Nature was just bidding its time. It waited until the very last moment to unleash a torrent of destruction all over the East Coast. Hurricane Sandy has ravaged many states and “could cause about $20 billion in property damages and between $10 billion and $30 billion in lost business…If the damages hit $50 billion, it would make Sandy the second-costliest U.S. storm after Katrina in 2005. Katrina’s overall costs were $108 billion.” [1]

The death toll in the U.S. from Superstorm Sandy neared 100 victims on Friday.

Power is out in many places, including Canada. “Power outages in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have ‘shattered records’ with over 3 million without power…Three nuclear reactors were shut down and a fourth facility is on alert because of the storm. Sandy has even left 145,000 Canadians without power.” [2] The death toll is rising: “The death toll in the U.S. from Superstorm Sandy neared 100 victims on Friday.” [3]

It seems that Nature was hoping, amidst all our squabbling, to remind us of the important things in life — our loved ones, the fragility of existence, our sense of humanity, and the importance of rising above daily disagreements and treating one another with respect, compassion, and love. But Nature forgot how ingenious humans can be when it comes to ignoring the important things in life and carrying on with our silliness.

The headlines locally reveal that very silliness. As millions were out of power and starving on the other side of the country, we had our own moments that made us say, “Oops!” Literally, in fact, when someone hit a 12-year-old girl with a car and then drove off: “A 12-year-old girl was hit by a car a week ago while walking in a crosswalk – and the driver’s reaction has many residents concerned. ‘They rolled down the window and said “Oops,” and they drove off,’ Brooklyn Kolessar told KVAL News. ‘The bruising in her ribs did make it more complicated to breathe at night and she would have a lot of pain,’ said Carla Kolessar, Brooklyn’s mother.” [4]

A Eugene man was ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to negligently exposing Sweet Home residents to asbestos particles during his 2007 demolition of buildings at an old sawmill site.

Hitting a kid with a car and then running away from the crime is certainly an “oops” moment. Similarly “oops”-ish is exposing other people to asbestos particles. “A Eugene man was ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution and sentenced to five months of home detention Wednesday after pleading guilty to negligently exposing Sweet Home residents to asbestos particles during his 2007 demolition of buildings at an old sawmill site.” [5]

Of course, if that Eugene man had been sentenced to jail in Lane County, he might have received a “Get Out of Jail Free” card: “Low revenues from the U.S. Marshals Service is forcing the Lane County Sheriff’s Office to make another cut to the jail, reducing the number of beds, once again, for local offenders…The Sheriff’s Office will close another section of the jail by December 1st, 2012 because it’s not getting as much money as it expected from the U.S. Marshals Service.” [6]

It can hard when you do not get as much money as you were hoping for. But that does not mean you should stab people at fast food establishments. And unless you are really into puns, please do not jack people at Jack in the Box: “Authorities are investigating a stabbing that happened near Jack in the Box on 6th Street around 8 p.m. on Friday. According to Eugene Police, the man made his way into the fast food chain after being attacked. Officers on scene said they are not sure of exactly where the stabbing happened, but an investigation is under way. The suspect is still on the loose.” [7]

Speaking of loose: Sometimes you need to loosen up your marriage and rekindle the fire that used to be there. But according to a local therapist, loosening up the marriage might actually involve tightening, like clamps and belts and such: “Stephanie Steele is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Eugene. She said couples are coming to her with a copy of [50 Shades of Grey] in hand. ‘Surprisingly, I have had couples that have actually been reading it together,’ she said. ‘The most beneficial results are when they read it out loud to each other, which I find very interesting.’ Steele has read all three novels. Her biggest criticism of the books: how James generalizes the BDSM subculture…Steele said the real takeaway from ’50 Shades’ is that any relationship needs communication. The two main characters in the book talk a lot about what they’re comfortable with – and what they are not comfortable with.” [8]

Most people, it is safe to say, are not comfortable with aggressive door-to-door sales people. Especially ones that try to force their way into your house. “A fast-talking young woman may be part of a team of crooks employing an ‘un­usually aggressive’ sales pitch to finagle their way into potential victims’ homes, Eugene police Sgt. Lisa Barrong said Thursday. Police in Eugene have received at least a dozen recent complaints about pushy strangers arriving at homes to hawk carpet cleaning products…What’s particularly concerning to police is that in a few instances, the uninvited visitors have barged into local residents’ homes after being greeted at the front door, then commented about items inside a house or questioned people about their daily schedules, Barrong said.” [9]

In general, it is not good when people barge into other people’s homes. Unless the people barging are the police and the homes are homes that have lots of meth. “Narcotics detectives seized 52 pounds of meth and took out a drug cartel moving pounds of meth through Lane and Douglas counties, the Lane County Interagency Narcotics Team said. Law enforcement executed search warrants at addresses in Cottage Grove, Springfield, Eugene and Roseburg on Sunday as part of a multi-month long investigation. Authorities seized approximately 52 pounds of crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $1,000,000.” [10]

Stephanie Steele, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Eugene, says couples are coming to her with a copy of “50 Shades of Grey” in hand.

On the one hand, meth has a street value. On the other hand, votes do not. But since it is an election year, people are willing to do illegal things to get votes, much as addicts are willing to do illegal things for meth. So it came as no surprise this week to hear that, “The Oregon Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into possible ballot tampering at the Clackamas County Elections Office. ‘We can confirm we are currently investigating criminal felony violations of Oregon’s elections laws, which allegedly took place in Clackamas County and allegedly involved a temporary county elections employee tampering with cast ballots,’ said Jeff Manning, spokesman for the Department of Justice.” [11]

Speaking of abusing a position of power: “Police arrested a University of Oregon employee on campus Thursday on charges accusing him of sexually abusing at least 3 girls between the ages of 6 and 12…The suspect, a building manager with the UO’s College of Education, has been placed on administrative leave, the University said.” [12]

After a week filled with hurricanes, politics, politicians making hurricanes political, not to mention hit-and-runs and sexual abuse, you might just want to grab a beer and check out. That might not be the noblest solution, but if it is your solution, you are in luck: “A brewery district is beginning to bubble up in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood, and now potential tax breaks, backed by city and county officials, are adding yeast to the mix. The City Council and Lane County commissioners are supporting a proposal to expand the west Eugene enterprise zone, which already includes Ninkasi Brewing Co., to also take in property that Hop Valley Brewing Co. and Oakshire Brewing have secured in the Whiteaker.” [13]

Or you could donate to the Red Cross.

Monster’s Blood: A Halloween Cocktail

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“Halloween! Halloween! / In this town we call home / Everyone hail to the pumpkin song” ~ Danny Elfman from The Nightmare Before Christmas

Ladies and gentlemen, it is Halloween! A very merry Halloween to all of you. Halloween means many things to many people — to children, it is a yearly opportunity to binge on candy with parental approval; for dentists, it really is the nightmare before Christmas; for young adults, it is an excuse to add “sexy” as a prefix to any inanimate or animate object in the universe and thereby make it a costume; and for older adults, it is either a time to fork out money for candy for other people or a time to go out and party.

I decided to create a beverage for the 21+ crowd. Whether you choose to stay home and give candy to kids or have a drink at home before you go out and get crazy, this beverage is for you. It is a blood-red concoction that is strong, sweet, and sure to please you and your fellow party-goers. It makes for a mighty fine martini, tastes smooth on the rocks, or can be pumped up with a lemon-lime soda to make a big bowl of punch.

And did I mention it is blood-red? Dexter would be proud.

Ingredients

100% de agave tequila (I chose Luna Azul Blanco)

Red Apple Schnapps (DeKuyper makes a good one; you can also use Sour Apple Pucker if you cannot find Red Apple)

Sparkling lime water (Or lemon, or a non-fruit sparkling water is fine)

Cinnamon

Sugar

Lime wedge

Ice

Tools You Will Need

Shaker

Pint glass

Shot glass or instrument for measuring

Cutting knife

Cutting board

Glass(es) to pour beverage in

Halloween garnish(es), like eyeballs, fingers, or squid tentacles

Directions

1. Start off with a 100% de agave tequila. This is important: If a tequila does not explicitly state on the bottle that it is 100% de agave, this means the tequila has been cut with inferior ingredients. A pure tequila is made with agave juicies, but often times manufacturers will add other glucose or fructose sugars to keep costs down. A “mixed” tequila, referred to by tequila producers and aficionados as “mixto,” can contain up to 49% of sugars not from agave plants. Compared to mixto tequilas, 100% de agave tequilas have a more complex, refined taste and will taste infinitely better in the following cocktail.

You do not have to buy an expensive tequila. As long as it is 100% de agave, it will suffice. (100% de agave does not mean, though, that it is an amazing tequila. But it will be more amazing than, say, Tortilla Gold, which is a “tequila-flavored” grain alcohol.) I bought Luna Azul Blanco Tequila, which goes for about $20 at Northwest Liquor on Coburg Road.

2. Measure 1 part tequila in the shaker. By “1 part” I mean whatever form of measurement you are going to use. If you are making one drink, 1 part would likely equal 1 shot, or 1.5 ounces. If you are making a bowl of punch, 1 part might equal 1 or 2 cups, depending on how big your bowl is. (And if you are making more than one or two drinks, you obviously would not use a shaker. Maybe mix everything in a pitcher or the punch bowl itself.)

3. Measure 2 parts of the Red Apple Schnapps into the shaker. (So if you used 1, 1.5 ounce shot of tequila, you would use 2 shots of Red Apple Schnapps.)

4. Add ice to the shaker, enough to match the liquids. If making drink in a punch bowl, skip Steps Four and Five.

5. Place the pint glass over the shaker. Ensure that the two are securely attached. Shake the shaker vigorously until the liquors are mixed and ice-cold.

6. Now you need to prepare the glass(es) you will be using. In a plastic bag, combine cinnamon and sugar (use a little more sugar than cinnamon). Then pour the cinnamon-sugar mixture onto a plate.

7. Carefully cut the lime into wedges on the cutting board.

8. Make a slit in the middle of a lime wedge. Then run the lime along the rim(s) of the glass(es).

9. Turn the glass over and place the rim(s) of the glass(es) onto the plate of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

10. Make sure it looks both beautiful and delicious.

11. Now that the glassware is ready, remove the pint glass from the shaker. Then measure 2 parts of sparkling lime water into shaker or punch bowl.

12. Pour the contents of shaker carefully into glassware, ensuring that cinnamon-sugar rim stays intact. If you are making this drink in a punch bowl, at this point you would carefully stir everything and then add enough ice to keep the drink cold.

13. Variations for personal taste: I made this cocktail to be both strong and sweet. Feel free to vary the amount of each ingredient to fit your taste preferences. If you want the drink less strong, you can add more soda water or use less tequila. If you want the drink less sweet, you should simply use less Red Apple Schnapps, the source of the sweetness. If you don’t like bubbles in your drink, omit the sparkling water and consider straining the cocktail into a chilled martini glass for a slow-sipping experience. If you are making punch for a big group, instead of sparkling water use 7-Up or some other lemon-lime soda and use a lot of it to stretch out the drink’s longevity while still maintaining adequate flavor and strength.

14. Add Halloween garnishes. Go to a nearby party store and get plastic eyeballs and severed fingers to spruce up the cocktail. Or you can do what I did: I went to Hiron’s and got a squid tentacle. (Squids are my favorite sea monster.)

15. Happy Halloween! And remember to drink responsibly!

On My Honor, I Will Do My Best: The News Week in Review

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“On my honor I will do my best / To do my duty to God and my country / and to obey the Scout Law; / To help other people at all times; /To keep myself physically strong, / mentally awake, and morally straight.” ~ The Boy Scouts’ Oath

The Boy Scouts’ “Perversion Files” revealed more than 20,000 confidential Boy Scout documents identifying more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers banned from the group after being accused of sexual misconduct with boys.

As both a human being and an Eagle Scout, I was profoundly disturbed to read the reports about the child abuse that went unreported or actively hidden throughout the history of the Boy Scouts of America. The reports, released this week on account of an Oregon Supreme Court decision and entitled the “Perversion Files,” revealed more than 20,000 confidential Boy Scout documents identifying more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers banned from the group after being accused of sexual misconduct with boys.

The Perversion Files come at a time when the Boy Scouts were already under heat for not allowing homosexuals to either serve in Scouting leadership as adults or participate in the organization as teenagers. This had become such a heated debate both within and around the organization that a significant number of Eagle Scouts started publicly returning their Eagle Scout badges to the organization. The organization, however, remained steadfast, claiming that excluding homosexuals was both necessary to the safety of the children as well as demonstrative of the organization’s moral code.

The Boy Scouts have long used the potential for child abuse as a reason to keep homosexuals out of the organization. But new revelations indicate that the Scouts should have focused more on the actuality of abuse than the potential for it. The real threat seemed to not be homosexuals trying to infilitrate the Scouts but rather child molesters already within the Scouts’ leadership:

“An array of local authorities – police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and town Boy Scout leaders among them – quietly shielded scoutmasters and others who allegedly molested children, according to a newly opened trove of confidential files compiled from 1959 to1985.” [1]

Allegations of abuse in Scouting troops struck a nerve not only nationally, but locally in Lane County. “A Eugene Police officer and Scoutmaster who ‘admitted abnormal conduct with boys’ in 1966 was allowed to resign from both positions, according to decades-old confidential files kept by the Boys Scouts of America and released Thursday by a Portland law firm…A KVAL News review of the files located at least nine so-called ‘Perversion Files’ kept by the Boy Scouts that involved local men.” [2]

Adults crossing the lines of appropriateness with children is a pervasive problem. And it is not unique to the Boy Scouts. Thurston High School had to face this fact this week when, “A 30-year-old man has admitted furnishing alcohol to players he coached on Thurston High School’s freshmen boys’ basketball team. Byron Parra, who resigned his teaching position at Thurston Middle School in July after the criminal allegations surfaced, pleaded guilty last week in Springfield Municipal Court to a misdemeanor count of furnishing alcohol to minors, a court spokeswoman said.” [3]

Children are vulnerable, and these situations place them in horrible situations that can affect them for the rest of their lives. But every now again, some kid comes around that knows just what to do when threatened. Like when you are home alone and people try to rob your house. In the real world, you can’t just booby trap your house like the movie “Home Alone.”

Two companies have begun an experiment to see if they can create a geothermal electrical generating plant at the dormant Newberry Volcano in Central Oregon.

Paityn Mock, a 10 year old girl, knew exactly what to do, because she “has nerves of steel. The 10-year-old Camas girl was home alone when three burglars broke in earlier this week…Mock said she didn’t answer the door Tuesday afternoon because she saw there was a stranger outside. Instead, she hid in the pantry and watched as the burglars broke in through a downstairs window. Mock called 911 and snuck outside to hide behind a tree in the yard and waited for police…Police arrived at the house about 10 minutes later and arrested one of the men, who is now cooperating with them. The other two men got away, but police are continuing their investigation. After the incident, police even gave her a new nickname. ‘They call me the Home Alone girl,’ she said, a reference to the 1990 hit movie that starred Macaulay Culkin.” [4]

Being home alone can be scary. And the fact that she was left by herself at only 10 years old is a bit fishy. What’s also fishy is the smell of fish — especially a truck-load of fish spilt all over the freeway: “Commuters on Interstate 5 sitting in stopped traffic Wednesday morning near Tualatin might be forgiven for thinking the situation stank. Considering the circumstances, it probably did. Oregon State Police said that just before 5 a.m., a semi hauling 10 tons of frozen fish left the southbound lanes of I-5 near Wilsonville and when the driver, Milan Zeba, 53, dozed off and lost control trying to get the truck back on the roadway. The big rig tipped over on the busy interstate just south of the junction with Interstate 205, spilling fish and blocking all four lanes of traffic.” [5]

Speaking of fishy: Elections can get a little fishy, especially when campaign financiers get involved. Local races are not different: “The man behind Citizens United is putting money into the effort to beat the populist Democratic congressman [Peter deFazio]. Conservative litigator James Bopp Jr.’s Republican Super PAC Inc. (RSPAC) purchased $139,985 in advertising on local television stations KVAL (CBS), KEZI (ABC), KMTR (NBC) and KLSR (Fox) between Oct. 3 and Oct. 12, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) public data records. Bopp formed the PAC with Republican National Committee members Solomon Yue of Oregon and Roger Villere of Louisiana. In the world of campaign finance, Bopp Jr.’s shadow stretches farther than most; he is the legal mind behind Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.” [6]

As it is an election year, debates about political issues can erupt just about anywhere. One of the most explosive political debates is that of alternative energy. And on the subjects of eruptions, explosions, and energy — did you know companies are trying to use volcanic eruptions and explosions as energy?

Two companies have begun an experiment to see if they can create a geothermal electrical generating plant at the dormant Newberry Volcano in Central Oregon. They’re pumping cool water thousands of feet down to crack the rocks. They hope to create fissures that will store millions of gallons of boiling water so it can eventually be drawn to the surface and create steam to turn power turbines. The federal government and private investors have put up a total of more than $40 million for the experiment. The rock-cracking work is expected to continue over the next month.” [7]

All the mudslinging during election year can make me feel sick, in the same way that malls make me feel sick. I don’t like malls, personally. But for some people, shopping at malls is to die for. And for others — well, for one person in particular — the mall is where you literally die:

A body was discovered in the undergrowth between the Riverbank Bike Trail and the Willamette River on Sunday night, near the Valley River Center mall. Eugene Police said that the deceased appeared to be a male transient around 40 years old. Police suspect that he was living in a campsite nearby where his body was found. Police said that the body was found by another transient Sunday evening off of the Riverbank Trail near the Valley River Regal Cinemas. The transient reported the location of the body to mall security, who in turn relayed the information to police.” [8]

Project Truth, a group that travels around to different colleges to promote pro-life beliefs, displayed graphic images of the abortion process in front of the EMU Amphitheater Monday afternoon.

Not everything that happens at malls, though, depresses me. Sometimes they can be places of economic opportunity. For example: “In a spacious room at Gateway Mall in Springfield, David Wells is opening a door of opportunity for vendors like himself. ‘It is a 14,000 square foot space,’ Wells said. ‘We have room for 55 merchants who want to come in and bring a home-based business … and bring it to the mall.’ The new marketplace, called the EuGenius Market, is open to anyone who wants to sell their own inventions or products. The only rules are that vendors can’t sell animals, guns, or knives. All vendors pay a flat fee of $25 for a 10-by-10-foot space.” [9]

Not selling animals, guns, or knives in a crowded, public place is a probably good idea. But what about airing your political opinions with graphically violent images in a crowded, public place? That is apparently up for debate at the University of Oregon:

“Project Truth, a group that travels around to different colleges to promote pro-life beliefs, displayed graphic images of the abortion process in front of the EMU Amphitheater Monday afternoon. Pro-choice student protesters took a place right in front of Project Truth to try to comfort students and to defend women’s rights. ‘We find that their tactics are really wrong. It’s using other people’s suffering for political gain, and it’s just wrong,’  said Aurora Laybourn-Candish, the organizer of the counter protest…’We think abortion is the biggest Holocaust in the world,” Don [from Project Truth] explained, ‘and we have biological facts on our side.’ When asked why his group uses such controversial graphic images in their displays, Don responded, ‘My team has been to over 76 schools, and we hear the same thing at every campus: “I never knew this is what it looked like'”.'” [10]

The fact is, sometimes we don’t know what things look like. Like the many decent and good people in the Boy Scouts that didn’t know what abuse looked like and therefore couldn’t stand up for the abused. But we cannot let ignorance be our excuse. I know I can’t. Because I took an oath years ago to “do my best, to do my duty” to help others and make this world a better place. And that’s something we should all — Scout or not — commit to doing each and every day.

Political Kisses and Sewer Misses: The News Week in Review

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October 11 was National Coming Out Day. An internationally observed day of celebrating individuals who publicly identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender, the day was founded in 1988 by New Mexico psychologist Robert Eichberg and National Gay Rights Advocates head Jean O’Leary. They chose October 11 because it is the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

October 11 was National Coming Out Day.

At the University of Oregon, National Coming Out Day was met with wild fanfare, with rainbow balloons and a parade making its way through the University Street Faire. But advocating for LGBTQ&A rights has evolved over the decades: “Sylvester, who came up with the idea for the banner and planned many of the week’s events, decided to make a last-minute addition to the afternoon’s happenings after experiencing a moment of prejudice earlier in the week. ‘Some of the street preachers said some pretty insensitive things to me,’ Sylvester said. ‘So in response to that I called in a “kiss in.”‘ Sylvester explained that a ‘kiss in’ is an event where people may hug, kiss, or hold hands in protest of homophobia and ignorance.” [1]

Kiss-ins have become all the rage. After the controversial National Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day happened earlier this year, protesters protested back with their own protest: that’s right, a kissing protest. Activists planned “‘National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A’…As part of the event, couples [were] encouraged to go one of the chicken restaurant’s locations and take a photo or video of themselves kissing.” [2]

Public displays of affection are now political, apparently. And you don’t have to look hard to find other political PDAs, like the Eugene City Council’s public displays of affection for the Downtown Exclusion Zone. But not everyone likes such PDAs: “Instead of allowing the exclusion zone, also known as the Downtown Public Safety Zone, to expire Nov. 30, the council voted 4-4 (with Mayor Kitty Piercy breaking the tie) to extend the zone for another year…[But] Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center plans to file suit against the city in November regarding the exclusion zone and a host of human rights issues related to the homeless in Eugene. Regan has won several legal cases and settlements against the city.” [3]

You don’t have to look hard to find political PDAs, like the Eugene City Council’s public displays of affection for the Downtown Exclusion Zone.

The City of Eugene also ran afoul of public affection when it scheduled a vote regarding the coal train debate without providing the opportunity for public input. “Despite the controversy surrounding coal trains running through Eugene and Lane County, the Board of Lane County Commissioners had scheduled a vote in support of coal trains and the Coos Bay Bulk Terminal for Oct. 3 with no public input. After outcry against the resolution arose, Commission Chair Sid Leiken suggested the vote be moved to Oct. 17. The commission will take public comments at that time, and also at its Oct. 16 vote in Florence.” [4]

Not letting the public weigh in on an important city issue can be perceived as dirty business. But what’s really dirty business is the business of cleaning up sewage mishaps. “A weekend break in a sewer line connecting the Oregon coast communities of Gardiner and Reedsport has sent an estimated 50,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Umpqua River. The World newspaper reports that the Gardiner Sanitary District shut down the line and sewage has been rerouted through a temporary pipe.” [5]

Speaking of sewage spewing everywhere: the Vice-Presidential Debates took place on Thursday night. While the night consisted of mudslinging, smirks, and ad hominem attacks, a rare moment of humility and authenticity arose when the candidates addressed the issue of abortion. “With two Catholics on stage for the first time, [moderator Martha Raddatz] stressed that they ‘talk personally’ about how their religion affects that stance. In a rare and brief quiet moment in the debate, the men obliged. Ryan told the story of seeing an ultrasound of his first child, weeks after conception, at Mercy Hospital in Janesville, Wis. She looked like a bean, Ryan said. And that’s her nickname to this day. ‘Now, I believe that life begins at conception,’ he said. Biden, speaking quietly, said he’s a practicing Catholic. He accepts his church’s opposition to abortion, he said, ‘in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews,’ he said.” [6]

The City of Eugene ran afoul of public affection when it scheduled a vote regarding the coal train debate without providing the opportunity for public input.

On the subject of abortion, people disagree pointedly. But on the subject of fugitive child molesters, people tend to have but one stance: Get ’em. Lane County was thus in full alert when news broke that, “One of the 15 most wanted fugitives in the United States is suspected to be hiding in Eugene, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday. Frederick Cecil McLean is a fugitive child molester who fled the San Diego area in 2004-05. The USMS said he molested dozens of children over a 20 year period while in California, using his position in the Jehovah’s witness Church to find victims.” [7]

On the one hand, fugitive child molesters are in serious violation of the law. On the other hand, drunk Duck funs are not — though they can be a public nuisance. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that, “Eighty-two people were ejected from Autzen Stadium during last Saturday’s Oregon-Washington game. Of that total, 60 spectators were kicked out for alcohol-related violations. Seven of them were issued citations, according to statistics compiled by University of Oregon officials. Authorities ejected 12 more people for unauthorized entry into the game, and three for misusing a ticket. Three spectators — one of whom was cited for assault — were ousted for fighting, and two more for disorderly conduct. One person was booted from the stadium for a drug violation, and another for urinating in public.” [8]

One of the 15 most wanted fugitives in the United States, child molester Frederick Cecil McLean, is suspected to be hiding in Eugene.

But it wasn’t just Ducks fans that got drunk last week. A Duck player got drunk, too. “The Ducks indefinitely suspended a senior defensive tackle who was cited for DUII ‘pending clarification of an incident that occurred Friday morning in Eugene,’ head football Coach Chip Kelly said in a press release. Kelly did not describe the incident or how senior defensive tackle Isaac Remington was involved.” [9]

It is because of situations like this that public safety organizations try to teach people to not drink and drive. But sometimes lessons are hard to teach. Fortunately for Oregon public schools, however, lessons are being taught — and better than they were before. “Oregon education officials have released the report card ratings for public schools and districts. The state said Thursday that 31 percent of Oregon’s 1,155 schools were rated outstanding in 2011-2012 — up from 28 percent the year before. But schools judged to be in need of improvement also increased, from 8 percent to 10 percent.” [10]

Sometimes all a kid needs is someone to look up to as a role model. But in a world of lawsuits, spilt sewage, child molesters, and drunk athletes, it’s understandable why kids these days might feel like something’s amiss.

Viewpoint: Time to Rethink the OLCC

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The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) is truly a Prohibition-era relic.

You will often hear that in the news, from commentators and editorialists to politicians and talking heads. But what you might not know is — they are serious.

The OLCC was created by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1933 — literally days after the repeal of Prohibition.

Prohibition in the U.S., otherwise known as national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, began in 1919 with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was in place from 1920 to 1933, being repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. The public realized that the liquor ban had essentially caused a vast spread in organized crime and the solidification of the American Mafia.

Despite this fact, the OLCC was created by the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1933 — literally days after the repeal of Prohibition. The idea was, instead of having the American Mafia have a monopoly on liquor, the Oregon government would — so how could anything go wrong?

But things have gone wrong. The history of the OLCC in the last decade is honestly an embarrassment to the State of Oregon. In 2005 and prior, the OLCC was repeatedly accused of racism. In 2006, Teresa Kaiser, the director of the OLCC, resigned after being arrested for drunk driving. After resigning, Kaiser said, “I am confident the commission will move forward.”

And the commission certainly did move forward. Right into another scandal, when the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service discovered the OLCC had employed a Bulgarian national, Doitchin Krastev, for eight years. Krastev used the Social Security number of a boy who was murdered in Ohio in 1982.

The OLCC requires all alcohol servers to check the IDs of customers who order alcohol. But apparently the OLCC does not know how to check the identity of its own employees. That was the question the Bend Bulletin asked in 2010 — “how he was hired by the OLCC, which routinely conducts background checks on liquor license applicants, club owners, bartenders and other servers of alcohol.”

Krastev, then known as “Jason Evers,” was supposedly a “rising star” — but it seems rising stars at the OLCC are people whose employment careers have “been clouded by questions about [their] credibility,” on account of continually accusing bars falsely of misconduct. Even though, in 2006, the OLCC hired an independent investigator to look into Evers’ actions in the false accusion cases, and even though the investigator discovered the evidence in both cases contradicted both Evers’ written reports and his testimony at an administrative hearing, the OLCC did nothing.

Well, not nothing. His punishment was a promotion. “Evers was later promoted from an inspector to regional manager over a territory that includes Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson and Wheeler counties.”

Fast forward to today. Today the chair of the OLCC is accusing the director of the OLCC of preferring “to operate without public input or transparency,” to the point that an Oregon senator is saying that, “This is an agency that is 100 percent unaccountable. They’ll do whatever it takes to protect their fiefdom.” And to make matters worse, “A lobbyist for Northwest grocers touched off what could be the next round of liquor wars in Oregon on Thursday, telling state lawmakers that if they don’t liberalize alcohol laws the next step will be an initiative to privatize the entire system.” This is the same lobbyist who worked with Costco and other big grocery chains to get Washington to eliminate its government monopoly on liquor last year.

To be fair: the OLCC is trying to modernize. They recently made a smartphone app. So that’s progress, right?

Oregon, it is time to rethink our relationship with the OLCC.

Oregon is “one of a dwindling number of states where the government exerts near dictatorial control over an alcohol system designed 80 years ago to prevent the likes of Al Capone from horning in on the trade.” For a state that takes public pride in its public perception as a “progressive” place to live, this strange obsession with centralized liquor control seems out of place. At a time when residents are clamoring for the legalization of marijuana, residents are still going to hour-limited, state-run liquor stores to buy alcohol. And businesses are still paying huge fines to a government monopoly that only recently had the idea that, instead of just fines, maybe “we need to be out and educating folks in the communities in the different places that we’re doing the checks, and explaining to them a little bit better about how we need to check ID.”

You think?

There’s also a serious disconnect between the OLCC and the public. Recently, the now-chair of the OLCC Cassandra Skinner Lopata has said, “What’s interesting is the OLCC has done such a good job of preventing the abuses that came up during Prohibition.” The abuses, according to Skinner Lopata? Blindness and paralysis.

This disconnect was best expressed recently by Brendan Monaghan at OregonLive:

“Oregonians pride themselves as living in a modern, progressive state; however, as The Oregonian recently reported, words like ‘abuses,’ ‘evils’ and ‘morals’ are still the written basis of our state’s alcohol laws. OLCC Chairwoman Cassandra SkinnerLopata, presumably with a straight face, recently cited the rampant social ills of blindness and counterfeit liquor in such far-flung and discordant locales as Louisiana and India as a prime reason for keeping her regulatory relic.”

I frankly don’t understand this. The only reason I can see for having centralized control of liquor would be to ensure that people consume liquor safely. And yet the numbers show this reason does not bear weight. As of this year, there are 18 states known as “alcoholic beverage control” (ABC) states. 3 of these states — Montana, Mississippi, and Wyoming — are 3 of top 5 states with the worst drunk driving statistics.

There is clearly, then, no correlation between ABC states and protection from alcohol-related accidents. And even non-government organizations acknowledge this. Misty Morse, a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, when discussing the worst states for drunk driving, mentioned that there are a few key laws that make a real difference. She said, “We’ve found that when convicted drunken drivers are given a short, hard license suspension with a longer period of time where they cannot drive without breathing into an interlock, the state’s drunken driving fatalities are lower.”

Notice that centralized liquor control does not make a key difference.

The OLCC does not even make a key difference when it comes to preventing underage drinking. The minor decoy operations are a joke. In 2011, the OLCC spent one day — yes, you read that right — one day investigating Eugene businesses. According to OLCC reports, they visited 14 stores in Eugene. On one day. In the entirety of 2011.

Granted, the OLCC visited just about every city in Oregon. But for one day each? And just a handful of stores in each place? What kind of real enforcement is that? I could visit 14 stores in Eugene in an hour. By foot.

And granted, the OLCC has limited resources. But apparently they need to focus their energy on the sale of liquor rather than protecting the residents of Oregon. Or as Jim West at Mucho Gusto said recently, after failing to pass a sting merely because his employee miscalculated a decoy’s birthdate by a year, “I wish they would focus their limited resources on the more problematic spaces that create the real tragedies.”

In these economic times, it makes little sense to allow a state monopoly on liquor. Money would be better invested in actually enforcing the liquor laws, taking sting operations seriously, and truly emphasizing the power of education when it comes to serving alcohol responsibly.

Viewpoint: Remembering 9/11

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“Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.”

~ Billy Collins, “The Names”

Today is a good day for the industry of information. As it is the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001, everyone wants to get in on the action. The talking heads, the politicians, the Facebook trolls, even t-shirt and bumper sticker and meme makers — political capital and quick money is on everyone’s mind. I don’t even know how many thousands of articles and essays begin with “as it is the 11th year anniversary,” or how many million product items mention 9/11 or “Never forget.” Which is funny — no one seems to be forgetting and no one seems to need a reminder. It’s on everyone’s mind and yet we all want to re-post articles, wear some anti-terrorist swag, or email each other inspirational messages just to prove to each other that we remember more than they do. That our electronic chain letters make us all that more patriotic. Or to take time to once again stir up controversy with our belief that it’s all a hoax.

Whatever our meanings or intentions, whatever side we took on September 12, 2001 and whatever side we take now — I think we’re all safely categorized as Americans and we all — despite what any conservative essayist might claim that a liberal anthropologist or sociologist might want to say — have some common values and basic human goodness. That’s not to say anything about a macro-ethical view of human beings or enter into a philosophy of ethics debate. I stand confidently on my experience of humanity with the idea that we can understand each other, relate to each other, and can communicate our thoughts and feelings to each other. And that, when we do so patiently and thoughtfully, we can find that we don’t stand that far apart.

This isn’t always the case. It wasn’t the case for whoever killed thousands of people in the Twin Towers eleven years ago. It wasn’t the case ever since when even more thousands of people in Iraq died on account of the Twin Towers attack. It’s never been the case. We have some basic human goodness and we have some basic animal selfishness at the same time. We twist each other’s words, we mock each other, we kill each other over territory, money, love interests, and ideas. I have little faith in my fellow human beings at the same time that I acknowledge that they themselves have the power to give me more faith in their humanity.

So while I grant and put in conversational brackets our failings and mass stupidity, I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we can do when we try to rise above our laziness, ignorance, and bigotry. To think of how many names were called, how much patriotism was called into question, and how easily we abused the concept of a “terrorist,” I mourn — first and foremost, of course, the lives lost and the lives forever altered by those lost.

But I also mourn the absence of a sense of civility and openness and willingness to dialogue with each other. I mourn that, in the days immediately following September 11, 2001, anyone who began an article with “I mourn x” (where x is anything but the lives of those in the Twin Towers) would be verbally beaten and sometimes physically threatened. I mourn that, increasingly and dangerously, Americans view their intellectuals with great distrust — choosing to listen to people based on political affiliations rather than how many decades’ worth of experience they obtained with the purpose of bettering our understanding of the world. I mourn that it is so difficult for us to accept that people can have multifaceted views and mourn for more than one thing at a time. That defending innocent Muslims makes one a traitor. Or that defending the invasion of Iraq makes one a stupid commoner.

We need to break free from the sound-bites. We need to rise above the bumper stickers. We need to reach across the political spectrum and ask each other the hard questions and be willing to sort through all the much harder answers. It both saddens and sickens me that (1) people who question everything are slandered as “trolls” and (2) most commonly, the people who question everything usually are trolls and don’t care about the actual truth.

I have a strange relationship with this 9/11 phenomenon because I was, when the planes struck, a Christian and a Republican. I did dislike George W. Bush, but that was because I preferred Gary Bauer’s advocacy for international human rights. But at the same time that I was a Christian and a Republican, I was an amateur expert in Middle Eastern affairs due to my involvement in academic speech and debate. So while I watched the TV all day, seeing the planes crash over and over in slow motion into the towers, my blood boiling in rage at whoever dared to strike such a low blow against my country, I felt distant from my fellow Christians and Republicans.

As everyone around me was screaming, “How could they? How dare they?” And most importantly, “Why? Why? Why?” I quietly thought to myself, ” Well, I know why, and let me give you at least ten reasons.” I could have quoted Howard Zinn or Gore Vidal and been labeled a terrorist myself. Or I could have cited Ron Paul or other true conservatives and been labeled a loony bin. Or I could have done both and cited news articles and Middle Eastern experts and been labeled unpatriotic.

But I don’t really care about any of that now. Though I still wonder why we always ask questions and then forget to follow them up with a dedication to find the answers; why we scream Why? Why? Why? and then just wait for the 9/11 Commission Report instead of actually making an effort ourselves.

Though I know why: we’re lazy.

Moreover, what I do care about is that both the Republicans and Christians I grew up with as well as the Democrats and liberals have equally gone this route of labeling. And what good does that accomplish? Now we know what we are? What category we fit into? And we don’t listen to people in certain categories?

We need to stop this incessant slandering and start conversing with one another. We need to encourage each other to research, not re-post Facebook statuses. We need to stop Tweeting and start thinking. Life cannot fit into a couple hundred words and neither can complicated international political issues. We cannot understand an issue via inflammatory blogs while thinking we are better experts on an issue than those who have spent a lifetime becoming an expert. Intellectuals need to speak softly to the uneducated and the uneducated need to be willing to listen. The uneducated need to educate themselves so that they can wisely, not spitingly, keep the intellectuals’ honesty in check.

Why is it anti-American to ask questions? Questioning authority is in the heart and blood of our country’s veins. We are a nation of rebel rousers, outsiders, and immigrants. We are a defiantly independent people. “Liberty and justice for all” — why must our nation be divided between these values? Why must justice for those who harmed us mean the end of the freedom to speak, to research, to ask, to challenge? Why must freedom mean we cannot want to justly seek out those who harmed us so that we can feel we can once again live our lives in peace and security?

When we rage and foam at the mouth when our justice system lets someone off the hook when we (having read a few blogs and Facebook statuses) think they were guilty and a jury of peers thoroughly listened to so much more evidence than we had access to and determined their innocence, I worry. I worried about Rick Perry’s execution record but less than I worried about how enthusiastically that execution record got lauded. I worried about how eager we were to see Bin Laden’s body after he was shot. I don’t worry because I dislike justice. I worry that we are becoming a mob. I worried equally that Casey Anthony might get shot by someone convinced of her guilt as I still worry that she will get a reality TV show. We are so transfixed by celebrity, popularity, name brands, political labels, pundit talking points, campaign slogans, and memes. We have no time or we choose not to take the time to listen, reflect, and be willing to let reality impose upon our formulaic and anachronistic mindsets rather than imposing our formulaic and anachronistic mindsets on reality.

This isn’t a game, people. When we bomb someone else’s country, that someone else is going to get mad and want to bomb our country. That’s not a matter of patriotism or terrorism or any sort of conceptual -ism. It’s a basic fact of life. And until we get it into our skulls that our actions have consequences, we are going to get ourselves deeper and deeper into danger. I say that as a patriot and an American. I want to be proud of my country, not ashamed of its bullying and fueling international conflicts. I want to be part of a world superpower that understands something so simple as a Spiderman quotation — that with great power comes great responsibility.

I want to be able to say that and I want you to be able to know that I am still, ten years after the fact, having nightmares of those planes crashing into those towers. That I don’t plan to move to Canada and that I don’t watch “Team America” every September 11. That when someone posts something liberal or conservative on Facebook, I will take the time to read as many articles as I can from as many different news outlets as I can. Because I don’t believe you because you are liberal or conservative, because you are a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist. I don’t believe you unless I did the work myself to determine the authenticity of your claim. And I believe that you should do so, too.

If you love America, if there’s one thing you can do to best remember those who died — those who still die, American, Iraqi, or whoever they may be, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise — you should make this country something that you can be proud of. That you find out how best to make this country something enviable rather than attackable. Whether that be guns, brains, balls, or purity of heart — put a little effort into it, please.

Viewpoint: The Illegitimate Use of Language

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What Rep. Akin said is a very real statement on how so many people still sadly think about rape and abuse — that there is “legitimate” rape or “forcible” rape and then there is “all that other stuff.”

By now, you have likely heard – maybe more than you want to — all about Rep. Todd Akin’s infamous statement. Everyone has been up in arms, and rightly so. In case you missed it, here it is:

“It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.

Referring to rape in terms of legitmacy has no place in public discourse, whether the reference is a slip of the tongue or not. It is a directly slap in the face of the approximately 25,000 women who every year become pregnant as a result of rape. The statement was so jarring and inappropriate that there has been a universal denouncement of the man’s words. Republicans and Democrats alike have distanced themselves from Akin, calling for him to step out of his Congressional race against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

The fact is, so much has already been said. And I do not feel I can make any productive contribution to the haelstorm in general. So I want to take a step back and ask us to look at this whole controversy from a different perspective. While the news media has made it into a Republican PR disaster that demonstrates the inherent wrongness of the Republican opposition to abortion and an example of the Republican war on women –  advocates for the right have used it to try and emphasize that “one wrong ought not lead to another wrong” –  that abortion cannot be legitimized because of rape.

But we are missing the real issue here: Akin spoke of rape in terms of legitimacy. And yes, the context was abortion. But we’re letting the political pundits and news media and politicians take this moment and turn it into political fodder, feeding off of the pro-life and pro-choice movements. We need to reclaim this.

This hasn’t become a universally declaimed statement because it has anything to do with abortion. It is universally declaimed because it is about rape.

Don’t let anyone make rape into political capital.

Rape is abuse at its worst, the fundamental stripping of another person’s dignity, safety, and humanity.

And this abuse occurs everyday all around the world.

Jerry Sandusky might have you believe otherwise — but then again, Jerry Sandusky would want you to know he did not legitimately rape any of those kids.

What Rep. Akin said is a fundamental betrayal of those who suffered abuse at the hands of other human beings. What Rep. Akin said is not a misstatement when you shift your perspective from the abortion debate to the reality of abuse. What Rep. Akin said is a very real statement on how so many people still sadly think about rape and abuse — that there is “legitimate” rape or “forcible” rape and then there is “all that other stuff.”

What other stuff? Well, you know, the fact that women are emotional and crazy and make stuff up. Or that it is unreasonable to expect a drunk man to pay attention to the fact that his terrified wife could only whisper “stop” while he was raping her.

How else would Akin describe “illegitimate” rape? How would you? Would he or you really look an abuse survivor in the eyes and say, “Well, that sure sucks, but, really, whatever you experience — it’s not legitimately abuse. It’s only sort of rapey.” In terms of both our humanity and any real contribution to the community, what good does making any distinction — any at all — accomplish?

To be sure: people can lie about being raped. People can falsely accuse other people of abusing them. But I think we’re more in danger of not paying attention to the fact that people are being abused than we’re in danger of being deceived by fake victims. Jerry Sandusky might have you believe otherwise — but then again, Jerry Sandusky would want you to know he did not legitimately rape any of those kids.

I’m not accusing Rep. Akin of being pro-rape. Since his statement, he has apologized for his comment and spoke words in public about how he feels bad for victims of abuse. But actions speak louder than words. If Rep. Akin sincerely wants to demonstrate that he does not think prominently in terms of “legitimate” versus “illegitimate” rape, he ought to dedicate significant time and resources to help out victims of rape and survivors of abuse.

Here’s a productive idea: Rep. Akin could become an outspoken advocate for women fighting the parental rights of rapists. That would be a concrete means of showing, rather than telling, that he understands thinking about rape in terms of legitimacy is a mistake.

“Pregnancy from rape creates unimaginable obstacles for women who decide to raise the children they conceive through rape. In the vast majority of states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy.”

Making a step like this — a step of direct action — would not just be good politics. It would be basic human decency.

Like less, love more

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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely viewed as the authority on mental illnesses, plans next year to include “Internet use disorder” in its appendix.

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

So I admit it:

I am addicted to Facebook.

The next step is putting the problem in context:

It’s not just me.

I am one of many individuals addicted to social media. In fact, so many of us are internet addicts that even executives at Facebook have no problem admitting it. Stuart Crabb, a director in the executive offices of Facebook, recently told the New York Times,

“If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll boil to death — it’s a nice analogy.”

So apparently you and I are slowly-boiling frogs. So boiled frog-like are we, in fact, that we are becoming a new disorder. The New York Times reported,

“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely viewed as the authority on mental illnesses, plans next year to include ‘Internet use disorder’ in its appendix.”

This statement blew my mind. In fact, my mind was so blown that I promptly lifted my finger and clicked Like. I was so stunned. I had to do something, right?

Congratulations are thus in order — to myself and to you. We have just created a new disorder. And our parents once said we weren’t doing anything productive when we spent all that time online. Well, parents, can you say that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders added anything of interest to its appendices that you inspired? Yeah, I thought not.

But really — you, me, our entire culture — we spend a lot of time online. In fact, it was recently predicted that Facebook will have 1 billion users sometime this month. That’s a lot of people. And that’s a lot of time those people spend raising farms on FarmVille, killing vampires on Vampire Wars, talking smack to each other in the comments sections of “Things Liberals Hate” or “Things Conservatives Hate,” and sharing videos of kittens sneezing and dogs humping.

To really like someone or something, action must take place.

And that got me thinking: That is a lot of time we could be using to make the world a better place.

To be fair, there is a time and place to relax and unwind. Social media allows us to reconnect with old friends, to stay connected to current friends, and to meet new ones. But the digital world and its illusions also create a disconnect. We start to see our popularity in terms of how many “friends” we have, rather than how many friends we actually spend time with on a daily basis. We start legitimating or validating our beliefs based on how many people “like” what we say rather than the truthfulness, sincerity, or kindness of our words. And we start to believe that something going viral — like the Kony 2012 film, for example — can make a difference just by going viral.

Our addiction to social media has accustomed us to an activism of ease, or “click-activism.” We post images and quotations and statements for the entire world to see — that we oppose this or that war, that we stand for human rights, that we are appalled by atrocities around the globe — and we feel that we made a contribution. Then we go about our lives, not actually contributing anything real to the world. You can “like” Julian Assange all day long and that will never lead to freedom of speech. You can post pictures in support of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama all day long and that will not lead to the votes necessary for either’s election. You can argue back and forth with people you don’t know about the Chick-Fil-A controversy and that will get us nowhere in the gay marriage debate.

What we need is to unplug, to disconnect from the politics of convenience that Facebook and other social media sites offer. And we need to come face to face with the necessities of real life.

We need to realize that to support a cause, we actually need to do something about it. To really like someone or something, action must take place. To make the world a better place, we need to express love for one another in a real, tangible way — by donating money to charities, by volunteering for soup kitchens and human rights groups, by taking to the street to voice our opinions on candidates and political issues.

Facebook might not “like” that. But the world will.