The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

A LESSON IN PUBLIC RELATIONS

Regarding Obamacare there is at least one area of consensus, that is that it is the “President’s signature piece of legislation.”  Those on either side of the controversy can at least agree to that.

Implementing the law appears to have hit a few bumps in the road.  Accusations as to why this is happening vary depending on your view of the law.  There is no need to discuss the arguments on either side as they are well documented in press and cable.

So I was thinking, if I were Obama, looking at my “legacy” go down the  toilet, what would I do to convince people that this law is truly an act of genius?  The answer seems so simple that it probably escapes those who feel that more than 2,000 pages of law and 10,000 pages of regulations are needed to transform one-sixth of the economy.

All Obama needs to say in his next speech is the following:

“The Affordable Care Act is a good law.  In fact, it is so good that I want to be a participant in it.  So I am issuing an Executive Order that I, my family and my staff, the Vice President and his family and his staff, the Congress and their staff, the members of the Supreme Court and their staff, all those who work for government whether Federal, State or Municipal, all members of trade unions, all people who work for corporations, must enroll in it.”

That just might have an effect on his present 42% approval rating.  It might possibly inch up a bit.  On the other hand, it could take a dive over a cliff.

I figure that this piece of advice is worth some kind of appointment in the Obama administration.  Or, at the least, I should be awarded a no-bid contract.

I’ll let you know what I hear from the White House.

A JURY OF YOUR COMPADRES

A few of my more politically extreme acquaintances think that the best thing that could happen to improve America is if a severe earthquake caused the State of California to separate from the North American continent and sink into the Pacific.  As I said, they hold extreme views.  Among their more sanguine comments about California is referring to it as “the land of fruits and nuts.”  Although I might disagree with their analysis, at least for the moment, everyone is entitled to his opinion.

Recently the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that jurors in that state need not be able to speak English and yet be eligible to serve.  This concerns me for several reasons.  The first and most important is that as a kid, I played the game we called “telephone.”  Perhaps you know the game.

One person whispers something to the next person who then whispers it to the next until the message makes its way back to the originator.  The larger the number of people involved in the game, the more distorted the original message becomes.

Perhaps we can look forward to scenes in our Arizona courts that resemble this episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy is arrested for passing counterfeit money:

While there is no reason to believe that translating a statement that a witness or the defendant might make incorrectly or without the nuance that was used in the original statement would be done intentionally, that possibility does exist.  And barring that, at the very least, as we see in the episode, this translating and re-translating slows down what is already a tiresome and laborious process to begin with.  At the very least, we should expect that allowing languages other than English will add to the cost of a judicial system which is already overburdened.

But as far as Arizona has gone, the Golden State is contemplating going yet further.  Governor Brown now has before him a bill which would allow non-citizens to serve on juries.  Since the state has now begun issuing drivers’ licenses to “undocumented individuals,” (non-Americans who are in this country illegally), this next step really shouldn’t surprise any of us.

But I wonder if a case could be made by a person involved in a lawsuit that he or she would not accept any jurors who were not citizens of the United States.  After all, we are supposed to be tried by a “jury of our peers,” and to many of us, part of our “peerdom” is that we are all citizens of this country.  I guess, were I in that position, I would argue, “Yes,” “Si,” “Ja,” “Oui.”

ARE YOU NUTS? OR IS IT ME?

As I look back over my life I realize that I have had to make many decisions –choosing between two or even more alternative plans of action.  Some of those decisions worked out well – others, not so much.  I have always replayed the thinking that went into those poor decisions to see where I went wrong – not for the purpose of beating myself up in a frenzy of self-flagellation but to avoid repeating the mistake in the future.  But even after deciding on a path that didn’t work out well, I’ve never questioned the state of my mental health.  Until now.

As we have embarked on peeling back the onion which was the life of the mentally disturbed Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, as I suggested in an earlier post, more information would be uncovered and dissected by the media.  After all, they have space to fill.

One of the assertions that was made truly stunned me.  That was that, besides the obvious, Alexis’ several detentions for shooting a firearm in his apartment and shooting out someone’s tire; informing the police in Rhode Island that he had to move to three different motel rooms in one night because “the voices” were pursuing him, a message they apparently ignored; we should have seen his potential for being a violent person for one obvious reason, that being that he was a loner and didn’t have a Facebook account!

Perhaps not being a Facebook subscriber is an indication of mental illness.  I have read countless studies that suggest a majority of the homeless who live on the street have mental problems.  Obviously, when you’re living in a cardboard box you aren’t likely to have Wi-Fi up and running to allow you access to the internet on your laptop.  And while you might consider connecting at your local Starbucks, I wonder if you would be any more welcome there than those carrying weapons – or whether you could afford any of their beverages.

There are a number of people whom I know who feel that Facebook provides them with a valuable way to communicate with their families in an efficient manner.  That makes sense to me.  But I wonder how many of the subscribers utilize the platform in that manner.

My sense of the “social media,” mainly derived from anecdotal evidence and from the statements of those who are avid users, is that it they are a crutch which people who have difficulty communicating or relating to other people on a direct, interpersonal basis prefer to use to express themselves.  One of my acquaintances who is an active Facebook user, recently broke up with his girl friend by sending her a text message, announcing the end of their relationship.  Such is our modern, technological world.

It is always dangerous and probably inaccurate to make sweeping statements about any group of people, particularly when they number in the millions, and expect that we are categorizing them in an accurate manner.  Having made that disclaimer, I look at the social media with a certain amount of distrust – if only because they themselves admit that at least twenty percent of the profiles which are listed are either misleading or outright false.

As a child I was extremely shy – overly so.  I do not know if that was a result of a poor self-image or what other reason there might have been that caused me to be that way.  It was not because I was ugly and the kids made fun of me – I wasn’t.  It was not because I struggled in school – I excelled there.  It was not because I had no talents – I was musically gifted.  It was not because I was unpopular – my classmates generally liked me and sought me out as a friend.  Nevertheless, I was extremely reserved, introverted and uncomfortable when I met new people.

Fortunately, I overcame that.  But the way that I overcame that was that I had to overcome that to survive.  There was no anonymous platform called Facebook behind which I could hide.  My experiences and those of my contemporaries naturally forced me into associations with others on a direct, person to person basis.  That was the only basis that existed and I am grateful for that.  But I wonder if I had grown up today with the anonymity of the internet, whether I would ever have had to face dealing with people on a one on one basis and might still be that shy, introverted child.

If you were to take a poll of everyone with whom I have dealt during my life, I suspect there are a few of those who would check off the box marked “Dislike.”  But those would be very few in number.  (There’s no pleasing some people).  But I am confident that an overwhelming majority of the people who know me would be pleased at our association.  But the kind words or accolades of others doesn’t validate a person’s behavior.  That has to come from within the individual.

If I were to do something wildly outrageous, I suspect there are a sufficient number of moral heathens in our global society who would enjoy my performance and actively share that with others of their fellow degenerates.  My Facebook “Like” button might well get near being worn out.  So does that constitute an endorsement for my behavior?  I guess if you look at the raw numbers you might say that it would.  But if you consider the character of those who are the plebiscite, you might draw a different conclusion.  We all know that bad news sells.  So does bad behavior.

Several years ago I was playing poker and seated across from me was a fellow who claimed to be one of the people involved in the “Girls Gone Wild” tapes that were being sold on television.  He went on for some time about how much money he and his partners had made with this venture.  I believe that he was probably telling the truth.  Other than the ads, I never viewed the tapes, and based on what was presented in the ads would certainly not purchase an hour and a half’s worth of watching young women getting drunk and allowing their libidos to take over their actions.  But there are people who have different tastes and who found these tapes entertaining and titillating.  Would I feel proud if a large number of these went to my Facebook page and clicked the “Like” button?  I don’t think so.

If I saw a value in the social media I would have a presence there.  But I don’t.  I would rather have a sage person offer me good constructive criticism than a group of self-absorbed, self-adulating people tell me how wonderful I am and want to be my “friend”.  But that’s me.  I guess that makes me suspect in the minds of the madding crowd.  And that’s okay.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  What’s yours?

THE MILLION MUSLIM MARCH

Twelve years after the original 9/11, theories surrounding what really happened that day are flowing as fast as the blood in Cairo.  It’s fifty years since the JFK assassination and that is still the subject of new books.  And it’s almost seventy years since the Holocaust and there are still those who deny that it ever happened.

Interestingly, some of those who claim the last event is a fabrication and whose co-religionists are widely blamed for the first event will be marching for “Muslim rights” in our nation’s capital – if things go according to plan.  Truly, these are strange times in which we live.

In all probability, the “March,” if it comes off will have far fewer participants than the organizers’ goal of one million.  From the admittedly inaccurate numbers of perhaps 2.6 million Muslims in America, that would require nearly every other Muslim to participate.  Islam, which is the fastest growing religion in our prison systems, would have to secure a one day release for some of its incarcerated adherents to achieve its goals.

But the issue isn’t whether a million people show up in Washington.  It is a matter of the presumed motivation which is causing the organizers to make the effort to pull this event off.  That is, theoretically, “to combat the discrimination that Muslims endure in America and to give us non-Muslims a better understanding of what Islam is really about.”

Perhaps I’ve been fortunate.  My third and fourth years of college I lived across the street from Elijah Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #2.  There were always a few young men, nicely dressed in suit and tie who stood outside the Temple and made sure that no incidents occurred there.  This was about a mile and a half from the complex that Muhammad Ali built.

Because I lived in a very well-integrated neighborhood – not just in terms of race but in religion as well, I knew a number of Muslims who were proprietors of stores.  One family started in this country with one brother who came from Pakistan, who worked two jobs and saved enough to buy a Standard Oil gas station.  He then brought over two other brothers and his wife and all of them worked in the family business and purchased several more gas stations.

These were people who came here for opportunity, worked hard in what has clearly become the old-fashioned and now passé way and were well-integrated in their communities.  But that is my experience and one that is not shared by a lot of Americans.

What is the American perception of Islam?  It is rather different – and perhaps more accurate than mine.

The Twin Towers; the Taliban; accurate stories about the suppression of women’s rights in countries in which Sharia law rules the land; the Boston Marathon; the persecution of Christians; the constant defamation of Jews as pigs; Afghanistan; Pakistan; Iraq; the issuance of fatwas against anyone who speaks ill of Islam; well, the list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

In some respects, the presumed “persecution of Muslims in America” is very little different than Al Sharpton’s categorization of how blacks are mistreated in this country.  And the problem is that when any group engages in what most of us consider to be uncivilized behavior, it is hard for even the objective observer not to extrapolate from that and conclude that is how all members of that group behave.

It is understandable to me that Americans who see constant reports about the number of violent deaths which occur in Chicago and our other major cities and see that the assailants and the victims are mostly black conclude that blacks are violent.

It is understandable to me that Americans who read about young girls in Islamic countries who are the victims of rape or refuse the advances of a male whom they spurned being stoned to death or being the victims of “honor killings” conclude that is the way Islam works.

Well, although it isn’t the politically correct thing, there is a tremendous amount of violence in our inner city black communities.  And there is a tremendous amount of medieval behavior in countries where Islam is the majority faith.

If we start by admitting that, perhaps we’ll look for the path which will lead us to fixing those problems.  And that would be worth a great deal more than having a march on Washington – or anywhere else.

CAN WE TALK?

Under the heading of “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” – who is it that pays for the “Lifeline” program that President Obama introduced – better known as the “Obama phone program?”   The answer, of course, is that if you have either a landline phone or a mobile phone, you do.  The charge comes to about thirty dollars per year per line.  Of course, it is not clearly identified on your phone bill but usually reads something along the lines of “government surcharge”.

The Lifeline program is designed to allow those who are poor to have the ability to communicate with their loved ones and the NSA.  Fortunately, the program does allow the Federal polizei oversight to make sure that it is not abused by those who participate in it.  It allows them to verify the statements that the applicant made in obtaining the phone and is actually getting responses from all but forty-two percent of those it has queried.  I guess by government standards, that has to be counted as a success.

I don’t know if that number is a co-incidence but in yesterday’s news were poll results that indicated that exact same number – forty-two percent – give the Prez a positive approval rating.

Since I’m on the subject of phones, I want to bring to your attention one additional point that we should not overlook.  With all three branches of the Federal government now officially on vacation, you might think that Washington, D. C. is completely devoid of political life and nanny-government good works.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

At least the FCC is still around and operating.  On Friday, August 9, 2013 that commission is set to take a vote on reducing the cost that our citizens who are imprisoned are paying for their telephone service.

It’s good to stay in touch – and to know that the government is there to help us do just that.

THE LATEST TECHNOLOGICAL iMPROVEMENT FROM APPLE

The word is out – well, it must be.  I’ve heard it – and like the proverbial mother (using that term in its genealogical sense) – I’m always the last to know.

Apparently Apple, Inc. has been working on yet another “upgrade” to its line of iPhones.  This time they are trying to improve the security of the devices, by installing within each a unit a fingerprint reader which can identify the person who is using the phone as the actual owner.  Now that sounds pretty good – at least on the surface.

And actually, the surface is proving to be a bit of an impediment.  Apparently the delay in releasing this new device has revolved around the fact that the glass or the protective film laid over it have a tendency to smudge – thus making the scanner’s job more difficult and the results less accurate.

That, of course, might prove to be a blessing in disguise for the owner – who might be prevented by his own phone from making a call because he just ate a whole slab of ribs and didn’t get all the barbeque sauce off his fingers, potentially getting some foreign substance on this device which might damage it.

And a further unexpected positive consequence might be that we would have to start paying better attention to personal hygiene, using our lavatories more often after eating and performing other bodily functions to wash up.  That would indeed be a blessing to all.

But, of course, the greatest unintended benefit might be that if the device failed to secure a positive match with the owner’s print, he or she might well be prevented from making a call that the  NSA was monitoring.  (This would be particularly good if he had figured out how to disable the GPS chip inside the phone).

You know, with the revelation that the NSA (Not So American) is monitoring not only potential terrorists here and abroad (something I think most of us would favor) but almost everyone else as well, it makes you wonder if any reasonably intelligent person would even want to own a “smart phone.”  Think about it for a moment.

Okay, the NSA can monitor calls whether our phone calls are made from either a smart or traditional phone (I guess that traditional = dumb).  So there may be no getting around that, other than filing a law suit to require them to stop on Constitutional grounds.

But consider all these apps and GPS data and all the other gizmos that these phones include which enable the NSA (or a clever hoodlum phone hacker) to acquire so much personal information which we unwittingly give out in the process of the simple task of trying to communicate with business associates, family  and friends.

Now add to that the fact that we will be publishing an outgrowth of our personal DNA in the guise of a thumbprint for all who wish to hack in and take a peek.

I guess it will save the government money in the long run (and in theory us taxpayers) when it decides that for our safety we all need to be fingerprinted.  But this strikes me as an incredible intrusion (or is the word collusion) between private industry (Apple, Inc.) and our government over lords all being done in the name of security.

I was thinking about the value my smart phone has for me.  I realize that I am not one of the “with it” generation for whom a smart phone is as necessary a part of life as thinking for ourselves is for others of us.  What are the benefits that I really get from this phone?

Well, I don’t pay bills using it – that just seemed too risky long before the NSA scandal broke and certainly nothing has changed for me.

I do occasionally access the weather – but I can do that by looking out the window.  Besides, from July through August I know that Las Vegas weather will be “hot”.  If it’s 102 or 109 doesn’t really make much of a difference.

I don’t use the GPS feature on either my phone or the car (it doesn’t have one) because I generally know where I am and if I get lost (which rarely happens) I can call someone at my destination and ask for directions.

I seldom use texts – although I did send one the other day that read, “Yo bro – say dude awesome.”  Surprisingly the recipient found this to be a complete and meaningful message.

I do have one of those old-fashioned dumb flip phones which has been acting up lately and which I have thought about exchanging for a newer and more reliable model.  (How strange that these phones only last a couple of years – and the ones that Bell invented were good for a lifetime).

Now as I was thinking about which new smart phone I would trade this two year old relic in for, I began questioning myself.  Do I want another smart phone – or will dumb do for me?

So I thought, let’s see – the dumb phone let’s me list phone numbers for friends, family and businesses –  just like the smart phone.  If the name is in memory, when the caller buzzes me it shows who’s calling – just like the smart phone.  If I want to ignore the call it will send it to voice mail – just like the smart phone.  Golly, this dumb phone does just about everything that a smart phone does in the way of handling conversations – which is, to my old-fashioned way of thinking – the precise reason that phones exist.

And then I had a scary vision.  I had just won an all expense paid trip for one to the heart of Alaska – a Christmas getaway (or as they put it “an Xmas trip not to be forgotten”).  While the donor preferred to remain anonymous, I couldn’t help notice that there was government franking on the announcement envelope.  Well, who could turn this down?  It would be ungrateful to do so as I live in the land of the Freebie and the home of the Bewildered.

So I’m flown to my destination and on parachuting from the plane am told by the robo-pilot that there is a settlement of Inuits only about 10 klicks or so from my campground.  Of course, it’s bitterly cold but I have my smart phone to keep me company.  But in order to play a game (I hear that’s one of their features) I have to turn it on.

I pull off the heavy fur-lined glove on my right hand – immediately feeling the blast of Arctic winter weather as my extremity starts to succumb to frost bite and try to turn on my phone, applying my right thumb to it.  Lo and behold it actually powers up – even in the inclement weather.

But I am unable to loosen my thumb from the face of the phone.  And with my thumb thoroughly attached I cannot access any of the phone’s features – including getting help from the nearby natives.  So I wander aimlessly, trying to find assistance but there is none to be had.  And so I freeze to death and my remains are consumed by a Kodiak bear and her family after the spring thaw.

I have to stop reading Jack London late at night.

Well, as you may have guessed, I’m going to replace my old “dumb phone” with one that is equally stupid but that works a bit more dependably – at least it should for about the next two years.  And I’m going to try my hand at writing some poetry.  I think my first work will be entitled “An Ode To J. Edgar Hoover”.

If only he were alive today – he would be having a blast.

AMERICA THE BABEL(ING)

Genesis 11:1-9 describes the familiar story of the Tower of Babel:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

It has often been said that what differentiates people from other animals is our ability to communicate through speech.  Of course, it is not important that we can make speech but that that speech has meaning to our fellow human beings.  A Finn only fluent in Finnish can not communicate any more effectively with a Bantu who speaks only Bantu than an elephant can communicate with a wombat.

The new secular humanism that we find throughout American society today, in its efforts to establish itself as the new state religion, recognizes the importance that language plays in their efforts to divide and conquer.  It is my belief, for that reason, that in their role as pseudo-lord, they are making every effort to confuse Americans by attempting to make this nation into a polyglot country.

If we have any question that a common language serves to unify a people, we have to look no further than the example which China has set.  One of the key programs which the government of China imposed was that it recognized Mandarin as the official language of the country (guo yu).  While people could continue to speak the over one thousand different dialects that existed, they were forced to learn the official language.

In fact, the government went about the work of simplifying the characters in which Chinese had universally been written (although the spoken word was quite different from province to province) in order that more people would be able to learn to read it.

The United States has moved in exactly the opposite direction.  While we have no officially “ordained” language established by the Constitution, for over two hundred years, English was the “de facto” official language.  Immigrants who came to the country realized that they (or at least their children) had to learn it in order to have a chance of success in their new homeland.

In part, that was because signs, legal documents, election ballots, bank statements and virtually everything else that was of legal or financial importance were written in English and only in English.  There was no government pronouncement on English as our “official language”.  But neither was there any intervention on government’s part to alter the customs of the country which were well established.

That, of course, has changed dramatically.  The “progressive” agenda of the government has begun to play a serious role in how we Americans communicate with one another – or fail to do so.  The Justice Department believes that it has the right to dictate to local election districts in what language(s) they must print election materials including ballots to accommodate minority populations for whom English is not their primary language.

And businesses have, as a matter of self-interest rather than merely through government pressure (although there has been much of that as well), adopted that same technique.  We have all experienced calling a bank or utility and been told by the robotic menu to press “1” for English or “2” for Spanish.  This morning, my ATM offered me those two choices in which to continue my transaction.  (Why not Swahili)?

The man who invented Esperanto in the late 19th century, Dr. Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof realized that a common language was essential to establishing a common understanding between people who were diverse:

“The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bialystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind.  Although many people may smile at such an ‘anguish for the world’ in a child, at that time I thought that ‘grown-ups’ were omnipotent.  So I often said to myself that when I grew up I would certainly destroy this evil.”

We really have to do little but sit down with a few days’ worth of news stories to understand the vision that Dr. Zamenhof had, even as a child.  The Zimmerman verdict is an obvious example.  Although in this case, those who are outraged at the outcome and those who support it mostly speak a version of English – but they are two separate and completely different languages.

Were I to sit down with those who are the most vocal and try to engage in a meaningful conversation, I know that I would have to select my words carefully.  That is not for fear of offense but in order to communicate with them.  I would have to try not to employ words that I learned past my grammar school education.

I suspect that if I had written and printed up this post in time for last week’s rallies and distributed it to those marching for “justice,” only a very small percentage would have been able to comprehend much of the vocabulary and an even smaller percentage would have understood the thrust of it.

That paragraph was not written with the intent to demean those who have been under-served by our “educational” system.  It was written to point out a harsh reality that unfortunately exists.  We have managed to “educate” several generations of an underclass that can only communicate with one another; that no intelligent business owner would hire; and that is lost in the mire of limited and garbled verbiage, unable to express their frustration other than through bursts of outrage.

“With all thy getting, get understanding.”  – Proverbs 4:7

There will never be understanding between people if we cannot comprehend what each of us is saying.  And our present policies, unfortunately, are designed to insure that we communicate by using sticks and stones rather than through a dispassionate conversation and a warm handshake.

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