Sunday, January 01, 2017

Word for 2017: life

Life happens. I'm sick. I have faith that I will recover. Hopefully it's just a cold. Someone once reminded me that every healing is a gift of God. Every time we get sick, we could continue to get sicker until we die. So thank God for healing, even if it's just a cold.

New Year's Day has brought a word to me for each of the past years, except 2016. Maybe that's why 2016 has turned out to be so crappy (just kidding). So for 2017, I'm using the word life as in life abundant, more than survival, as my focus for the new year.

The verse that goes with this thought is Psalm 143:8 -- Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

I want to trust God with my life. I have quit my job in order to go in a new direction with my career, and I'm trusting God to show me the way I should go. But beyond that, I want to see life come back to me, whether it's rest and time with family and friends or seeing Nathan develop. I need to feel life abundant in my life.

Past years:


Saturday, September 17, 2016

The debates I wish we were having

So it's been almost a year since my last post, but I have to get some things off my chest. I've been putting off writing about Trump because his candidacy just makes me angry. It took a while for me to figure out what it is that makes him so infuriating. Turns out he is pretty much the polar opposite of me, so now I think I get it. This may sound odd, but it's his belief in himself that I find ingratiating. He basically believes that the solution to every problem is more of himself. I couldn’t disagree more.
Ultimately, though, I have to unload my Trump-fueled anger at our political system by doing more than blogging, facebooking, and tweeting against him. It’s going to take real change before people stop listening to that guy. How about starting with some policy proposals?
1. Tackle immigration reform with incremental changes. Why can’t Congress pass “comprehensive immigration reform,” as the current President likes to call it? Because there are people in the U.S. who are deeply distrustful of immigrants, legal or not, dark-skinned especially. The President tried executive orders because Congress was ineffective and unable to get together on this issue, but had his executive orders struck down at least partially. Therefore, I propose a compromise solution — Pres. George W. Bush proposed a “temporary worker” visa -- intended for workers from the border areas to be able to go back and forth more easily — when he was President, along with a streamlined visa system for immigrants with specialized skills. (Of course, that was before 9/11 and the “fortress America” mentality took hold, but I digress.) Why not have by-then former-Presidents GWB and Obama push Congress on a bipartisan basis to get some smaller reforms through? If GWB and Obama can agree on a way forward, then Congress should be able to, too.
2. SInce I mentioned 9/11, how about resettling refugees? There is a problem brewing in Europe over immigration, largely illegal, from Middle Eastern and African countries. There is a real humanitarian risk caused by people smugglers and desperate immigrants capsizing boats in the Mediterranean. While we’re absorbed with domestic issues, our allies in Europe have been dealing with a wave of immigration that threatens to give right-wing groups more fodder for hate. Why not help them out by resettling some of the refugees here? We’re a big country, with lots of room for immigrants of all kinds, Muslim or not, dark-skinned or not, and especially for people in need. Many European immigrants came through Ellis Island not as prosperous middle-class families but as desperate, poverty-stricken individuals. The American tradition of welcoming the world’s less fortunate and giving them opportunities to thrive is severely strained right now, but it is an important American value and should be upheld, even in difficult political times. I don’t want us to do to Muslims or Arabs or people from the Middle East and Africa what we did to Jews in the 1930s — view them as the Other, and try to keep them confined under terrible, murderous regimes. People from the Middle East and Africa need a way to escape their situations in their own countries, too, so supporting democratic reform in those countries and opposing Islamist extremism will be important as well. We are losing millions of people to a hateful ideology. There are more of them than there are of us, but we can’t view the world in those terms. We have to reach out and win hearts and minds through diplomacy, negotiation, and promoting American values. The only way to end a war is through negotiation. Total war is not what the world needs right now, nor would it be tolerated by this country. The rejection of a American values by candidate Trump is dangerous, not just in the U.S. but around the world.
3. On national security, defend our borders and transportation systems smartly but recognize that we can’t keep the world out by building walls. Like it or not, there are people out there in the world who want to do the U.S. harm. Mexico is not our biggest enemy. In fact, they could be seen as a friend in the war on terror. The southern border is generally not where the terrorists are coming from. They’re coming from inside this country, due to the “radicalizing” effects of Internet propaganda available around the world. Why not keep guns out of the hands of radicalized individuals? It’s more than public safety, it’s a national security issue. I propose legislation that would enable law enforcement to smartly take guns off the streets and out of the hands of the most dangerous elements of our society. Forget background checks and gun sales. Let’s stop the black and gray markets for guns and other dangerous weapons by enforcing new federal laws aimed at gun trafficking, terrorism, and related issues. Guns don’t kill people, people do, so let’s stop fantasizing about a 100% gun control system or, on the other side, glamorizing guns as a desirable object. We need to reduce the overall number of guns in the country for other reasons (preventing suicide, accidental deaths, and reducing the fortress mentality), but for terrorism, why not create a law enforcement agency, similar to the DEA, ATF, or FBI (three very different agencies, I know) with the sole purpose of winning hearts and minds in this country? Create a healthy image of law enforcement, not an attitude of distrust. People complain that we live in a militarized state, at least in communities that are predominantly made up of dark-skinned people, because the police have tactics and weapons that vastly exceed the requirements of the job. Why not address that perception first, as opposed to demonizing whole groups of people? Believe it or not, community policing is now the first defense against terrorism. If police know about a problem before it becomes a one-off lone-wolf attack, they can intervene and save lives. We need to do more to help law enforcement control guns and gun trafficking.
4. In the international arena, instead of hunkering down, reach out. Negotiating with Russia over Syria and Iran over nuclear weapons may turn out to be smart moves in the long run. The only way to end a war is through negotiation. Even if it’s unconditional surrender, someone has to agree to that surrender. Japan and Germany were “reduced to rubble,” literally not figuratively, in World War II. If we really want to "make America great,” we have to take the long view and not view negotiation as surrender on our side. Japan and Germany are now two of our strongest allies in the world, proof of how relationships have changed over time. We have the strongest military in the world, but we aren’t using our military force the way we should. I don’t think we should bomb Syria into oblivion or nuke Iran, as some have suggested. We are negotiating from a position of strength in some ways, and of weakness in others. We need to capitalize on our strengths — our open democratic system, our economic power, our high ideals and lack of desire to be an occupying army — and avoid making the mistake of thinking we can go back to the Cold War with a well-defined enemy. On the other hand, our military wasn’t built to take on nation-building, it was built to win wars. Our military capability is a big tool in our arsenal, but it isn’t the only tool. So, basically what we did in Iraq and are trying to do in Syria is to use the military as a wedge to crack open two of the most repressive regimes in the world, then withdrawing. We are also trying to take out known terrorists with drone strikes and CIA operations. I think there are problems with these approaches, but the best option may be to continue some of these policies and avoid the biggest power vacuums and problem areas. I’m clearly not a military strategist, but this armchair quarterback wishes there was some smart discussion going on about how best to use our military, instead of what we have now.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The lesser of two evils...

Is still evil. In preparing for the Democratic Presidential debate here in town tomorrow, I am reminded of an article from the Time magazine columnist, Joe Klein, who labeled Hillary "the lesser of two evils" remarkably early in the election cycle. His reason was the Clinton Foundation scandal and Hillary's response to it, which he decided would make Hillary a difficult candidate to elect. Republicans seem set to run devastating ads against Hillary in late fall of next year, if she is the nominee, but I'm not sure if I like the "lesser of two evils" mindset that has already taken hold in some people's minds.

I haven't made up my mind on this election cycle yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing Jim Webb on stage. I like him as a true center-left kind of guy, although he is a little more aggressive on foreign policy than I might like. He seems sensible and sane in an era of swagger and braggadocio (see Donald Trump). Whereas Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders can be described as typical liberals (especially Bernie), and they are pulling Hillary to the left, Jim Webb fits neatly to the right of Clinton in most areas, meaning he is more conservative than Hillary on many issues.

It's too bad Jim Webb isn't really trying to outgun Clinton in fundraising totals or name branding. He is an old-fashioned candidate in a fast-moving, tech-savvy, hyper-social-media-ized world. He would make a good VP candidate in the Joe Biden mold, someone who wouldn't overshadow the name on the top of the ticket but would give good foreign policy credentials to the ticket.

In my mind, he's the guy to watch tomorrow night. If he gaffes or looks uncomfortable, he's probably done as a Presidential candidate. But if he has a good performance, it could kickstart his campaign, meaning he may have a shot at VP. Still, I'm rooting for him.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The President is right about gun control

Responding to yesterday's heartbreaking mass shooting in Oregon, I have to say, enough is enough. I don't know what I would do if gun violence broke out where M works and she was threatened, and I'm tired of the 2nd Amendment arguments. A "well-regulated militia" is not what we have in this country, and the President is right to question whether the founders could imagine our current weaponized world, when the most deadly weapon they knew of was a musket or a cannon. Also, the regulations we have on the books are clearly not enough. Gun control can work better than it does now. We Americans love our guns, but do we really need the technology of death that we have now in the hands of all these lunatics?

Preventing a dangerously deranged person from getting access to guns is one way to try to stop these tragedies before they start. Better access to mental health services and things like that can also help, but without the force of law enforcement focusing on gun control, I don't think additional mental health resources will do the trick. Why not try to improve the system we have, instead of rolling back to a forgotten past?

Pres. Obama called for "common-sense" gun laws in a speech from the White House today. He failed to specify what laws those are in his speech, but V.P. Joe Biden put together a plan to reduce gun violence that is on the White House website ( under "violence prevention," which specifies what the President is after:
"The single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings is to make sure those who would commit acts of violence cannot get access to guns. Right now, federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks on those buying guns, but studies estimate that nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are made by private sellers who are exempt from this requirement. A national survey of inmates found that only 12 percent of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it from a retail store or pawn shop, where a background check should have been run.
Congress should pass legislation that goes beyond closing the “gun show loophole” to require background checks for all firearm sales, with limited, common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes."
The President also failed to mention that the Charleston, S.C., shooter mistakenly passed a federal background check when he purchased the gun used in that mass shooting. So would a more comprehensive background check system prevent gun violence? I think it would. A more comprehensive system would have to include all 50 states -- 17 states had less than 10 mentally ill people in the background check system, according to the White House plan -- and would have to avoid procedural problems, which is what plagued the FBI investigator doing the background check on the Charleston shooter. The system can and should be improved and expanded to include private gun sales. Gun shows like the massive ones we have here in town ought to be regulated just as heavily as pawn shops and retail stores.

The President challenged news organizations to put the number of U.S. gun deaths up against the number of Americans killed by terrorists in the past decade side-by-side, and NBC News obliged tonight. I'm not sure I would have done that as a news editor at NBC, but the statistic shocked me. It was over 153,000 people killed by guns over 10 years, compared to more than 3,000 killed on 9/11. That's roughly 50 times as many people killed. And the comparison is scary -- how much money goes into international efforts to fight terrorism vs. "everyday" gun violence? I once did a news story about a young man killed by a gun shot through his bedroom window. My editor at the time told me that every death has a story to it, and it's true. Every death is someone's life, ended. I don't think I did a very good job of conveying that person's death or life, but it opened my eyes ever so slightly to how a gun shot, intentional or not, can have the ultimate impact. Another news story in Time magazine many years ago tallied every gun death in America for a week. I was shocked by how many there were, and then shocked again that many of them were middle-aged men committing suicide or accidental deaths.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Presidential politics silliness

We'll see how different this race looks in a little while, but for now, here are some relatively recent political cartoons I like.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Presidential Debate Nicknames

The Republican debate was sometimes fascinating, sometimes entertaining, sometimes harsh, and in the end, uninspiring. Here's my view of the winners and losers of the debate, with descriptive nicknames:

1. Carly "i carly" Fiorina -- biggest genuine applause line of the night was her response to Mr. Trump's attack on her appearance, which she deflected with a line about how women across the country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump had said. In that instant, she put her faith in the people, where it belongs, and I think she'll be rewarded for it. She did interject herself awkwardly into some debates. She also won the foreign policy debate at the beginning with specific answers and the closing question with two coherent images -- Lady Liberty and Lady Justice.

2. Rand "Mr. Marginalized" Paul -- he got into it with Mr. Trump at the very beginning and had cogent answers on marijuana that actually had people on stage thinking about what is needed to fix our criminal justice system. His foreign policy positions were a little vague -- he talked about engagement and was eloquent in arguing against the Iraq war, but he didn't say how he would fix the problems in the Middle East without boots on the ground.

3. Chris "straight shooter" Christie -- he came across as genuine and prepared, not overly aggressive but no doormat either. He did fade a little toward the end, but I liked his answer on the $10 bill -- Abigail Adams would be my choice, too. He also tried to relate to the people and the audience in the room, and succeeded in some ways.

4. Marco "True Believer Jr." Rubio -- long, coherent answers on foreign policy made him appear more Presidential. He also looked young and inexperienced in some cases.

5. Donald "Shiny Object" Trump -- Mr. Trump was center stage, and combatted all efforts to put him in the rear view mirror by reasserting himself. However, his statements got more and more incoherent as the debate wore on, and his flimsy ideas of "I will fix it" started to wear thin.

6. Jeb "the incredible shrinking candidate" Bush -- his answers on marijuana and defending his brother made him seem more real, but he consistently took positions that were more liberal than Mr. Trump's, which will not help him win the Republican primary.

7. Scott "testy" Walker -- a fairly forgettable performance

8. Mike "the Forgotten Man" Huckabee -- Mr. Huckabee failed to say much new; he seemed to be repeating claims from the previous election and refusing to engage in debate with his fellow Republicans for the most part.

9. John "Mr. Liberal" Kasich -- his positions on foreign policy spoke to the difficult decisions facing the next President, but his domestic policy positions were too liberal for me.

10. Ted "True Believer" Cruz -- every answer was conservative "red meat," but started sounding shrill and inflexible to me.

11. Ben "above it all" Carson -- avoided conflict whenever possible, didn't have the fire in the belly that the next President will need.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Seven quick takes on 9/11/2015

1. 14 years seem to have flown by. Personally, 2001 was a rough year. I was struggling my way through my first few weeks of student teaching when 9/11 happened. My parents were supposed to be flying home that day (they ended up driving home), and my future in-laws were in the air, landing at Logan Airport in Boston that morning. I was essentially alone that afternoon and evening, trying to absorb the news and find out how far-flung friends and family were doing. I was dating M at the time, and we talked on the phone, but I don't think she came over.

2. I have really grown apart from many friends since that date. I was all of 5 years out of college, age 27, at that time. I didn't make any lasting friendships in college at Stanford, so I relied on friends from high school and from Intervarsity at UNLV for support. It's surprising how far apart those friends have grown since then. We barely see the ones that are still in town any more, except mostly on Facebook.

3. Speaking of Facebook, did it even exist in 2001? Now it's got 1 billion users.

4. I wouldn't trade my family for anything. Family and friends make life worth living.

5. Memory plays tricks on you. Going back that far is hard for me. It gets too close to some painful memories involving a severe depression that preceded 9/11. I'm glad I got help before that day.

6. Speaking of depression, does anyone know any good jokes? They say it's important to laugh at yourself, so I'm trying to lighten the mood. Humor is helpful.

7. People absorb ideas through film and TV much easier than through reading. How has our culture changed since 2001? Look at the popular films and TV shows from 2000: Gilmore Girls tops the list. Now, in 2015, the list is dominated by serious dramas and heavy action thrillers. This list may change, as time goes on, but for right now, I'd say we're in a serious comedy drought. Our culture has absorbed 9/11 in a lot of ways, and has become more extreme in its violence and its sense of itself as embattled. Some things never change -- Star Wars, for example, will continue to draw a large crowd. But even that franchise has gotten darker and more violent over the years. Does anyone remember any other movies from 1977? I'm not sure, but the Oscar that year went to a little film called Annie Hall by Woody Allen. I'm not sure 2015 has room for a whimsical film like that to make an impact.