Three Americas

Elected officials having private email servers:

 First America: That should be punished with prison time!  Unless the official is a Republican.

Second America: It’s pretty stupid, but not really a big deal.

Third America: What’s email?

Assigning blame when diplomatic missions are attacked:

 First America: That’s disgraceful! “Those responsible” should be in prison! Unless “those responsible” are Republicans.

Second America: That’s a terrible tragedy. What can we do to avoid such things in the future? Why weren’t the requested funds for security approved by Congress?

Third America: Is that like having a private email server?

“We need to exclude every person from entering this country who belongs to X religion or is from the Y region of the world!”:

 First America: Yeah, baby! Fuckin’ terrorists!

Second America: Isn’t that a betrayal of some of our highest ideals and the principles upon which this country was founded?

Third America: I don’t know. That’s just so confusing!

“We need to build a border wall to keep out all the rapists, killers, and criminals!”:

First America: You betcha! Fuckin’ wet**** motherfuckers!

Second America: A border fence is impractical, ineffective, and incredibly  expensive to build and maintain. How about we change our own foreign policies that prompt people to leave their country and come here?  Besides, our borders are not being overrun. Net undocumented immigration is zero.

Third America: I don’t know. I like inexpensive produce, but there are so many of “those people” at Home Depot these days.

“I say we bomb the shit out of them. Why don’t we use nuclear weapons?”:

 First America: That’s right! Right on back to the Stone Age!

Second America: Uhhh…no. Just, no.

Third America:  Tell me about that private email server again.

“The elections are rigged, unless I win. We need to monitor election places were ‘those people’ vote because they commit widespread voter fraud.”

First America: The system is rigged! If we don’t win, we’ll get our guns!

Second America: The American voting system is overwhelmingly secure. Stealing a national election is nearly impossible. In-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.

Third America: Again…what’s a private email server?

“They’re coming for your guns and your rights!”

First America: We’re America’s last hope! We have to keep “those people” from voting! We need to shutdown media outlets and reporters! Only our religion is valid!

Second America: Didn’t Obama already take all your guns and lock you away in FEMA death camps? Oh, right…never happened and won’t happen now. And why don’t you want people to vote, or the media to exercise Freedom of the Press, or all people to practice their religion – or no religion – as they choose without government interference as long as they don’t impose their religion on others?

Third America: They’re both the same! Both sides are equally disgusting!!!!

On Empathy

A friend of mine, who on the whole is a wonderful, good-hearted person, voiced a rather ugly opinion of people who frequented the local Walmart.  He made a comment about how much in-breeding must be going on in the area.  Others have wondered what my views about the same people might be, given that I am a frequent critic of others.  What they have failed to understand is that my criticisms are focused on social justice and supposedly intelligent people consistently showing their ignorance.

What do I see when I go to the Walmart where I live?  First of all, I wish I didn’t have to shop there because of the company’s approach to its employees and suppliers, but it is the only place I can find a few of the items I need on a regular basis.  As for the people, I see a mixed bag.  I see middle class people taking advantage of the company’s approach to slave labor overseas and poverty-level wages at home.  But the majority of people there, both employees and the working class people who really must shop there, are an entirely different thing altogether.  I see people beaten down by an economic system that devalues their work and their worth as sentient beings.  I see people forced to live on the periphery of society, robbed of their fair share of the wealth produced by their labor by parasitic executives, corporations, and their bought politicians.  When I go into Walmart, I see the epitome of the failure of capitalism to live up to the mythologized hype of its disciples as a “leveling, democratizing force for good”.

The source for my views is part logic and part emotion.  An economic system that perpetuates such inequality will not survive for long, and its death is usually violent.  Then there is the emotional side: empathy for those who are in some way suffering, even if they do not realize the true source of their predicament.  Empathy is not simply the ability to feel sorry for others and the situation they may be in.  That is sympathy.  Empathy is much more than that.  It is feeling their pain in a very real, physical, and psychological sense.  It is understanding that the conditions they are facing can seem insurmountable from their perspective.  It is knowing that their perception of their reality is unique, a result of the genes they inherited from their parents, the experiences life has brought them up to this point,  and the individual chemistry of their brains.  It is recognizing their individual sentient existence, both with its similarities and differences to yourself.  And possibly most importantly, you have to have this capacity with people who are very different from yourself, of other ethnicities, gender identification, religious persuasion, and sexual orientation.

My son and I independently came to the same conclusion about the cause of many of our society’s problems:  a lack of empathy.  His approach is that people need to look inside themselves, come to recognize who they are through careful self reflection, and then they will see themselves reflected in others and able to be more empathetic.  My approach is almost the polar opposite.  Life experience has shown me that most people lack the ability for real self-reflection, living lives of self-denial.  To me, these people will look inward and self-justify their ongoing prejudices and hate.  I believe people should truly look at others as individuals, as independent sentient beings who face their own trials and tribulations while they walk a path both similar and dissimilar to our own.  When we come to see others as individuals facing unique challenges and a social system that treats us differently based on race, ethnicity, gender identification, sexual orientation, and religious persuasion then we can step away from judging them based on our prejudices.  We can change ourselves and the social structures that value some more than others.

Either approach is probably valid, in its own way, and may be complementary.  As we are all individuals facing our own unique path, perhaps both work in their own ways.  There are likely many other approaches to the same goals.  One approach that is unlikely to consistently lead to those goals is religion.  Religion usually divides us.  It promotes tribal thinking.  It focuses on defining “us” and “them”.  “We” are chosen and will live in some eternal paradise in a life after death while “they” are heathens (or worse, apostates) and will never know the “love” of our “god”.  For example, the actual teachings of Yashua bar Yosef (Jesus, for those who don’t know his real name) promoted understanding, love, and acceptance of the “other”, but you would never guess it from the beliefs and actions of many who profess to “follow” him.  When the leader of the largest denomination of his followers tries to actually promote those teachings in the best traditions of the religion and Catholic teachings, he is criticized by conservatives and fundamentalists who prefer to maintain their privileged positions in society and their sense of superiority.  Their reactions speak to the challenges we face as a species if we are going to transcend our baser instincts and really see the value in other sentient beings.  I firmly believe our survival as a species depends on it.

I have consistently used “sentient being” throughout this post instead of “human being”.  I do not believe the value of an individual is limited to the human species.  There are other species who have self-awareness and a sense of self on this planet.  Like it or not, and if we do not destroy ourselves before our technology reaches this level, but we will someday create human clones and mechanical, artificial intelligence.  Will they be less worthy of respect as sentient beings because their creation did not come from sexual reproduction or because they are silicon-based?  And despite the vast expanse between star systems, I am sure we will someday encounter extraterrestrial sentient beings who are also worthy of respect as individuals.  We should prepare ourselves and our society now for these eventualities…again, if we don’t destroy ourselves first.

Religious Pluralism and the Niggling Test


By Mike Appleton, Weekend Contributor

“The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

-Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968)

“This commission chooses to stand by the tradition of opening its meetings in a manner acknowledging the beliefs of a large segment of its constituents.”

-Brevard County (Florida) Commission Chair Mary Bolin Lewis (August 15, 2014)

On August 19th the County Commission in Brevard County, Florida voted unanimously to reject a request by the Central Florida Freethought Community, an organization of atheists, agnostics, humanists and free-thinkers, to be added to a rotating list of groups invited to give the opening invocation at commission meetings. Instead, the commission approved a letter drafted by the county attorney offering the group three minutes to speak during the public comment portion of its meetings. According to the letter, the rejection was appropriate because, “The prayer is…

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Thoughts On Life and Saying Goodbye

It has been nine days of lots of emotions.  The drive to Idaho helped me reflect and gather my thoughts.  My dad lived a full life, and contributed to the lives of so many people by simply being a fun-loving, caring person.  This was very evident from all the messages we received, and the packed church for his funeral.  The service truly reflected my dad…religion was downplayed, but evident in the caring and sharing.  There were some moments of reflection, and laughter broke out several times.  We had a photo display with pictures that spanned his lifetime, from a very young boy growing up in a working class home through the stages of his life through being a grandfather.  Photos from his grandparents’ house, with his mom and her sisters, from the navy, his wedding to my mom, their first child, the growth of the family and its contraction as my sister no longer appears and then my mom deteriorated before leaving us.  But it also showed how his family grew with my brother’s family growing and then my own and then my sister’s.  There were photos of his active life, goofy faces he would make, even a “fashion show” he was part of for Mother’s Day at the church.

There were people there from throughout dad’s life, and people I have known all my life.  There were also people I had never met before, people whose lives he touched in his simple, caring way.  Dad always liked to see people laugh and be happy.  He hated to see  anyone sad or down.  It did not matter who you were, he did not care.  If you were sad or unhappy, it bothered him and he would do what he could to help.  It was the essence of the man.

We had a closed casket funeral.  We wanted to remember him as he was, not as a lifeless body in a casket.  And the photos brought him to life, back into our lives.  He was present with us, in the thoughts and hearts of everyone there and everyone remembering him this past week.  It was also the time I broke the most.  My dad was one of those people who is everyone’s friend, every kid’s father, and the town shared it with us.  It was still very deeply personal, feeling the pain of loss, of not having someone in my life who has been there for me for fifty years.

We have also spent the past week working on his effects…in his house, in a storage unit, the knickknacks accumulated over seventy-nine years.  Some things have only emotional attachment, loaded with memories, and you look at some things and think “why in the hell was he keeping this???”  But that was also my dad, the ultimate pack rat.  But even the things we want to keep, that mean something to us, are just things.  Dad lives on in us.

Dad’s funeral was on Friday.  On Saturday, I stopped in to see a friend I have not seen in years to talk and catch up.  He was doing well, back to his normal jovial self after getting through years of medical issues I can definitely understand.  It could not have been two hours later that I received a call from him…he had just learned his father had died as well, a week after mine.  His father had been sick for years, and now my friend and his sisters and just beginning to go through the same things I just went through with my brother and sister.  My friend and his family are definitely in my thoughts.

I also found out today another friend’s parents are in bad shape…people I had seen at my dad’s funeral.  His father suffered a severe stroke while driving with his mother, crossed the median and oncoming traffic before hitting a tree.  His dad is in pretty bad shape from the stroke, and his mother has a compression fracture in her spine so she is in considerable pain.  It has not been a good August.  But that is also part of life.  These people enter our lives, and they never leave because they are part of who we are.

The Long Road Home: Day Four

I’m finally all set in my hotel room in Coeur d’Alene.  I drove into the Dave Smith Car Lot Kellogg right around 12:30 this afternoon.  Some things change…some things stay the same.  One thing that has definitely changed in Kellogg over the past 30 years is that it is MUCH greener than when I grew up.  It is in fact much greener than it has been in almost a hundred years.  But that really should not be a surprise.  Nature has a tendency to bounce back once we stop polluting the environment with toxins, even if it takes decades (or in the case of some places centuries).

Dad loved Kellogg, warts and all.  It did not matter that the canyon he grew up in was called Deadwood Gulch, and for good reason.  That little gully is basically blocked off from all access now.  He enjoyed the people, the memories, all that Kellogg had been.  He was tied to the place, and tomorrow the place will celebrate his life and all he contributed to the lives of so many who grew up there as it says goodbye.

We have received countless notes, messages, cards, text messages, and emails from people whose lives dad touched.  Those people live all over the world now, but started in that little town tucked in the western foothills of the Bitterroots in northern Idaho.  Dad had a full life, with lots of ups and downs, just like the little town he called home his entire life.  He saw his wife nearly die from chronic diseases, buried a daughter, watched his other children get college degrees, buried his wife, and had one son move to Texas and then Ohio while the other son went overseas to the Middle East.  He watched his town thrive, even when it was choking on industrial pollution, watched it nearly die from an economic catastrophe, and witnessed it slowly creep back into being a viable community.  We could have never convinced him to leave, and we never tried.  It was home.

The Long Road Home: Day Three

Dateline: Butte, Montana and 546 miles farther down the road.

I feel the need to explain something before proceeding.  Although a writer is not bound to offer explanations for their work, I believe that such is necessary for this post.  I want to avoid as much confusion and misunderstanding as possible.  I know that readers come to any work with their own preset baggage, and view what they read through the prism of their own lived experience.  It is something I have worked to avoid, and avoiding as many of our pre-existing prejudices as possible was part of my training in history.  One must be on constant alert for them, or at least recognize that they can color our interpretation of anything we read.

What should be understood, if it has not become apparent already, is that I loved my father very much.  He was on balance a wonderful, caring person.  But I also have the ability to do what psychologists call “compartmentalization”.  I can be in a given situation or relationship, “put” it in one part of my brain, and analyze it separately in another part of my brain.  This can lead me to new or novel conclusions that others would not have considered.  While this might sound kind of cool, my second wife can attest to it also being problematic.

Further, I do not accept the concept of having anyone as a hero.  When we put someone up on a pedestal, we hold them up to an unreasonable standard and make them a caricature of who they really are.  We take away their humanity and replace it with our own wants and desires for someone to follow.  I cannot remember a time of having a hero, but rather people I respected and admired…people I knew had their own faults.

We all have faults.  It is the essence of being human.  I recognize a plethora of faults in myself, and while I try to work on them I realize I will never rid myself of them all.  I can only minimize their impact.  Knowing that we are all less than what we want to be, and less than what anyone who idolizes believes us to be extends to everyone, including our parents.

With mom’s illnesses in the 1970s, we learned at very young ages that our parents were not perfect, indestructible beings.  We saw just how fragile we all are, including our parents.  We understood that our parents were regular people, with their own flaws and shortcomings.  I find it interesting that some people never fully recognize this about their parents.

Dad was no exception (none exist).  As I mentioned yesterday, I know he had his own self-doubts.  He was unsure of himself in many ways, and avoided taking any risks as much as possible.  I believe this held him back, kept him from realizing much of his own potential.  I accept it was his decision, but I also sensed some regret on his part.

Another aspect of my father that virtually no one ever saw was his temper.  He had a terrible temper when he was younger.  And most people do not know he spent a night in jail because of it.  Those of you who know me from when I was much younger might also remember my temper, and my son has one as well.  But we all learned to control it.  Dad never gave anyone an inkling of what he was capable of, and both I and my son have our tempers under strict control that rarely gets loosened.

Dad avoided situations where his temper might erupt.  He avoided confrontation as much as possible.  He never disciplined us growing up, leaving that to my mom (who at 4’11” could still swing a paddle pretty damn hard).  We were always told it was because he was afraid he would break our bones – he had rather large hands for a man who was at best 5’5″.  But I think there was more to it.  I think he was afraid of losing control.

Dad also had trouble with “caring too much”.  He found it difficult to tell people “no” (guess who we went to first when we wanted something).  He would give well beyond his ability to give and give too much.  I know – he did with me when I was going through the roughest patch in my life.  Just ask my brother and sister.  This could often result in dad doing without and suffering himself.  The problem was that he would do this when some of the people asking were not really in the dire situations they claimed and it would get him in financial trouble.

This wanting to please could also get dad in trouble with mom.  He never was much of a heavy drinker, and almost always kept it to a few beers when he did go out.  But there were a couple of times while we were growing up where he would stay out with some of his friends who came to town and drink way too much.  I can only remember it happening once or twice, but it did (and to be honest it is rather funny to remember it now).

His dedication to being involved in the community could also be a two-edged sword.  I remember times as a child when it felt like he was more a father to everyone else in town than to us.  It could be painful at times.

But then as is very evident from all the support we have received the past few days, dad was creating a much broader legacy than simply in his own family.  Everyone who has kept us in their thoughts and wished us all the best has a piece of my father living in their spirit.  You are sharing his passing with us.  Dad was never wealthy, never held any position of public office, and never achieved any lofty presence in business.  What dad did was much more important: he helped make a community that includes all of us.  He was not perfect, he was not a hero, he was not a caricature: he was a flawed, loving person who added to all of our lives, and I will miss him terribly.