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Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017

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The Las Vegas shooting.

It’s been called, “the deadliest shooting in modern American history”. 59 dead, more than 500 injured, either by bullets or trying to escape the carnage. Could it have been prevented? Those closest to the investigation say, “No”. There was simply no way something like this could have been prevented. Still, there are those who insist that, had some of the concert-goers had weapons of their own, they could have saved lives (not all lives, but some) by returning fire and possibly killing the perpetrator. It’s a fallacious argument, one often repeated by the NRA (aka, the gun lobby), Second Amendment advocates, gun “enthusiasts” and any number of others who have no idea what they’re talking about. Their argument bears not the slightest resemblance to objective reality.

The perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, was situated in a hotel room of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, approximately one-quarter mile (1260 ft.) from the concert venue. The apartment was located on the 32nd floor of the hotel, approximately 400 feet above ground level. From this vantage point he had a clear, unobstructed view (through the broken window; he brought a hammer for the purpose) of the concert site and the crowd assembled there, some 1600 feet (approx. 1/3 of a mile) away from his position. He was armed with a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle modified to fire “full automatic”.

It took the concert-goers several seconds to realize they were being fired upon. Once the first bodies fell, panic, fear and confusion gripped the crowd as they ran for cover, many running for the exits which, ironically, put them in more peril. The exits were between the concert-goers and the gunman.

Police and security personnel at the scene were forced to take cover while doing all they could to aid the wounded and direct others to safety, away from the carnage. Some of the police and security were armed but there was no return of fire from the police and security. In fact, no return of fire would have proved effective, either in eliminating the threat or in reducing the number of fatalities.

Police and security were armed with handguns and standard-issue ammunition designed for “personal protection” with an effective range of 30 – 50 yds. (“effective range”, in this context, is meant to be the distance at which one can be “reasonably assured” of hitting your target); far too limited to combat the fusillade they were being subjected to. In any event, returning fire from the ground would have resulted in more confusion and fear. With shots being fired from several directions, concert-goers would have been unsure of which way to go to safety, and in their fear and indecision would have “frozen” in place, offering the shooter more targets of opportunity and an increased body-count.

Even if some of the concert-goers had been armed, they wouldn’t have had high powered, automatic or semi-automatic weapons, or likely the expertise to use them to good effect. Civilians, and even many police officers, have little or no experience or expertise firing at a target while under heavy fire. Hunters and target-shooting enthusiasts have little fear of their targets returning fire. An effective defense would have required weaponry at least comparable to that of the perpetrator, and a stable platform from which to fire. Neither of these were available on the ground, to civilians or police. Further, it was not known until after the shooting had ceased that the gunman had constructed a “shooting platform” that allowed him to operate from within the hotel room, thus making it impossible to see any muzzle flashes issuing from his weapon as he fired on the crowd. So, even if the appropriate weaponry was available, it’s unlikely anyone would have known where to return fire.

Las Vegas SWAT had all the equipment necessary to subdue Stephen Paddock, but none of it was put to use. Paddock took his own life before he could be confronted by the authorities.

In the aftermath of that horrific night we are left with two questions. Why did this happen? We may never know. Stephen Paddock, as far as anyone has been able to ascertain, left no note, no clue as to what prompted him to this heinous thing.

The other question has answers, but, as the politicians say, “they’re “nuanced”. How can we prevent something like this happening again? We’ve asked this same question numerous times before. We asked it after Aurora, after Newtown, after Miami. And we’re asking it again; this time, after Las Vegas. We know the answer. We all know what we should do, what we feel we have to do. But somewhere along the way, we lost the collective will to do it. I heard one panelist, on one of those interminable “discussion” shows the news networks always put on after something like this, say, “This is the price of freedom in America.” He actually said that! I  could not believe my ears.

In conclusion, I want to make it perfectly clear I have no problem with a person exerting his or her rights under the Constitution; that includes the Second Amendment. I’m a member of the ACLU. I support the Bill of Rights. I have but one caveat: If the price of your Second Amendment rights include your right to kill me and fifty or sixty of my fellow Americans for no reason the price is too damn high!

 

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Written by stevewthomas

October 9, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Random Thoughts . . .

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I’ve been spending some time lately thinking about life; not only mine, although that has been my primary focus, but all those affected by the recent natural disasters in Texas and Puerto Rico, and, of course, the horrific carnage in Las Vegas. I guess it’s natural in a way for one’s thoughts to turn to the subject of mortality at times like these. I know mine do, but that could be a function of age; I’m 70 years old and nearing the end of my time here (at least according to the statistical data).

I’m not trying to be maudlin, but trying to cope with the feelings that arise in the aftermath of events such as we’ve all witnessed in the past few months. I know there are people “out there” trying desperately to deal with the pain of the loss of family, friends, neighbors, even total strangers. They’re trying to put things in some kind of perspective, trying to make sense of the senseless. Some, those most deeply and immediately affected by these tragedies, are in deep mourning, trying to deal with what, for them, is completely inconceivable; the loss of someone who “had their whole lives ahead of them”.  Others, whose pain is not so closely felt, are trying to put a philosophical spin on the events and their aftermath, saying things like, “You just never know when your time is up”.

I was fortunate in this respect. Other than a bout of anxiety over whether or not my brother, who lives in Las Vegas, was safe and unharmed. Truth be  told, I don’t know if “Pat” was at the event in Las Vegas, or if he even likes country music, but the possibility that he could be there was enough to cause concern. Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but it also amps up the concern when events beyond our control occur at distances we cannot overcome that could possibly put our loved ones in jeopardy. I have a granddaughter serving in the Navy, in the Pacific fleet, and if this “Korean thing” goes from “warm” to “hot”, she’ll be deployed to deal with it, and there won’t be much I’ll be able to do but worry for her safety.

All these thoughts and feelings brought my mind to the subject of the future. We all worry about the future, what it will be like, how much of it do we have. The truth, though, is something different. We don’t have “a future”. None of us. We all hope we do. Have a future. We try to do the things required to insure that future is there and we are there to enjoy it. We eat right, exercise, get enough sleep. We save what we can so that when that future arrives, we can afford to enjoy it, whatever that means. And when we go to bed at the end of the day, we say our prayers (those of us who pray, anyway), and ask we be allowed to wake the next day to do it all over again.

But there are no guarantees. All we have, every one of us, is today. Doesn’t matter how young or old, how rich or poor, good or bad, famous or unknown; there’s only today. As for myself, I’m going to make the most of what I have, time-wise. A random act of kindness. I won’t be such a “dick” (at least some of the time). Whatever it takes to make this day — the only one I’m sure I have — better than those that have gone before.

I may be mistaken about all this. Then, again, maybe I’m not. Still, it couldn’t hurt. And maybe it’ll do some good. Maybe those things I do today will make someone else’s “future” (provided, of course, they have one) a little less burdensome, a little less dreary and a bit easier.

It would be nice, too, if everyone else felt the same way, don’t you think?

Written by stevewthomas

October 4, 2017 at 12:41 pm

35 Days. . .(and counting)

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President-elect Donald Trump likes present himself as a wildly successful businessman; someone in possession of uncanny abilities, and possessing such rare insights as to be able to best the brightest and most accomplished competitors at the negotiating table.

Mr. Trump also likes to emphasize the magnitude of his intellect by repeatedly exclaiming, he “has the best words” and that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals.” He attributes these amazing faculties to the fact that he’s “like, a smart person” with a degree of disingenuousness that is simply stunning.

All that being said, one could be pardoned for thinking Mr. Trump’s vocabulary lacks depth or breadth, owing to the fact that during and after his campaign his language was more appropriate to an elementary school playground than anything resembling an adult conversation. Those “best words” he alleges to possess must be some words because he is loathe to use them (at least in public) for fear of alienating his worshipful followers. Besides, “The Donald” loves “the in-(under)-educated”; stands to reason he would use language better suited to their limited intellects.

As for Mr. Trump’s much vaunted (by his own account) knowledge of ISIS, the source of this intelligence remains a mystery. Perhaps his varied business dealings in the Middle East have provided rare insights into the inner workings of the ISLAMIC STATE. Could ISIS be controlling the construction industry in Dubai? It’s known they control the flow of oil from their captured territories. Could ISIS be using the sanitation industry as a front for their nefarious schemes. Both the construction and sanitation industries are heavily involved in the real estate business; something Donald Trump knows a great deal about; that and “branding”. Perhaps he has sources in these industries feeding him inside information. Or maybe he just sat through a couple of screenings of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (although that’s highly unlikely, Mr. Trump isn’t known for a long attention span). One can only hazard a guess as to where Mr. Trump’s information originates. One thing’s certain, though, it isn’t coming from his own government’s intelligence sources.

And speaking of intelligence sources, how could someone as supposedly brilliant as Donald Trump fail to recognize the danger in inviting a foreign government — one that admittedly does not have the best interests of this country at heart — to spy on his competition?  If the last of the three pigs opened the door for the wolf, the wolf would be an idiot to insist on huffing and puffing instead of simply walking in. Does Donald Trump believe Vladimir Putin is an idiot? I think not. Mr. Trump sees Mr. Putin as a friend. (A friend, by the way, who spent his entire adult life in the espionage services of his country on his way to absolute power). After all, Mr. Putin complimented “The Donald”, calling him “an amazing fellow” (in Russian, the same way you or I would say, “Isn’t that squirrel on a surfboard amazing?!” or “Isn’t that bear on a unicycle amazing?!”) I’m sure Mr. Trump is of the opinion a friend wouldn’t do something as crass and underhanded as spy on the opposing candidate and swing the election in his favor. What would he have to gain? What indeed.

During the Cold War, anyone who openly promoted reductions in nuclear weapons or the expansion of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) was labelled “a dupe of the Kremlin”. In the run-up to the first Gulf War, anyone who advocated for continued diplomatic efforts to avert the war was labelled “a dupe of Saddam” and accused of “giving aid and comfort” to the enemy. I think, in the present circumstances, that label can (and should) be assigned to Donald Trump, a man who invited an adversary to spy, denied do so and, when faced with the fact that spying took place, said, “It could’ve been anybody. It could’ve been China. It could’ve been Korea. It could’ve been a 400 pound fat guy in his bed in New Jersey.”(Chris Christie?)

Come on, Donald! You know you’ve been punked. Admit it.

It’s the smart thing to do.

Here’s To The Crazy Ones . . .

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“There was never a great genius without a touch of madness”

–Ben Jonson

According to the results of  a study published in the journal, Nature Neuroscience on Monday, Ben Jonson actually was correct.  According to the study, scientists in Iceland (of all places) report that “genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions.  Painters, musicians, writers and dancers were, on average, 25% more likely to carry the gene variant than professions . . .judged to be less creative, i.e. farmers, manual laborers and salespeople.” (Wonder why they didn’t include accountants?)

Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings point to a common biology of some mental disorders and creativity.  He told the GUARDIAN, “To be creative, you have to think differently. And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.” Stefansson’s comment seems (to me at least) to contradict the validity of the study’s findings, saying creative people are viewed as mentally ill more as a result of operating outside of established societal or cultural norms than because of any biological (or genetic) abnormality. And I’m not the only one who’s skeptical of the study’s findings.

Albert Rothenberg, professor of psychiatry at HARVARD UNIVERSITY, is not convinced. “It’s the romantic notion of the 19th century, that the artist is the struggler, aberrant from society, and wrestling with inner demons,” he said. In 2014, Rothenberg published, “Flight of Wonder; an investigation of scientific creativity”. He interviewed 45 science Nobel laureates and found no evidence of mental illness in any of them. He suspects such studies pick up on a different phenomenon.

“The problem is that the criteria for being creative is never anything very creative,” Rothenberg said. “Belonging to an artistic society, or working in art or literature (two of the criteria used in the Iceland study, as well as the results of a questionnaire in which subjects self-identified as “creative”; and who doesn’t want to be considered “creative”, in this day and age?) does not prove a person is creative. But the fact is that many people with mental illness do try to work in jobs that have to do with art and literature, not because they are good at it, but because they’re attracted to it. And that can skew the data.”

It’s easy to see the results of this study are going to be debated, hashed and re-hashed for some time to come. The discussion’s been ongoing for millenia, with no sign of letting up. So, take heart all my fellow “creatives”, especially all you writers out there, staring at your computer screens, thinking, “I must be crazy to think I could do this.” You’re not, then again . . .

And the Answer is . . .

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          Curiosity is a key element of the creative process. 

          Knowledge and experience are also essential components.

          Combining these elements will help to enhance the creative effort by aiding in the formulation of question.

          Questions demand answers which, in turn, generate more questions. 

          But asking questions isn’t enough. 

          You have to ask the right questions.

          Knowledge and experience will lead you in the right direction.

          How will you know when you’ve asked the “right” question?

          It’s the one nobody ever thought to ask.

Written by stevewthomas

June 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm

True Believer pt3 . . .(it could have happened this way)

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          Pilate’s summons was not unexpected.  For the past week the city had been rife with rumors of the arrest of the Baptist.  The outcry prompted by the rumors had thrown Jerusalem into a state of near chaos; leaders of the various factions within the city had flooded the Temple with pleas for the High Priest to intervene on the Baptist’s behalf.  For his part, Caiaphas could not believe Herod was act so rashly as to arrest as popular as the Baptist, one whom many considered a holy man.  The summons from Pilate could only mean the rumors were true, which put Caiaphas in a precarious position. 

          While he did not agree with the Baptist’s teachings, he could not deny the preacher’s right to interpret Scripture as he chose, regardless of the official interpretation.  The Baptist’s sermons were a powerful attraction for the masses who flocked to hear him speak.  Many saw him as the Messiah, or as Elijah reborn.  This, combined with his recent vocal criticism of King Herod, a less-than-revered monarch,  proved irresistible; many deserted the Temple when the Baptist preached.  Herod’s arrest of the charismatic preacher had only served to increase the Baptist’s standing.  Caiaphas had to admit one thing, though; with the Baptist’s arrest money would, once more, flow into the Temple coffers now that the troublesome preacher was no longer distracting worshippers.

          The civil unrest created by Herod’s actions was, undoubtedly, the reason for the Procurator’s summons.  Pontius Pilate took a dim view of any action which disturbed the status quo, and the arrest of the Baptist had done precisely that.  Caiaphas knew there was no love lost between the Procurator and the Galilean tetrarch.  If the High Priest could find a way to ingratiate himself with Pilate, perhaps offering his services as a mediator, he could garner some much needed political capital and improve his own rather tenuous standing with Procurator.  As his caravan, with its heavily armed escort, sped through the countryside toward Cesarea, Caiaphas pondered how best to accomplish his goal.

          When the High Priest arrived at Pilate’s seaside residence, the Procurator was storming about, ranting about the “asinine, inbred fool who supposedly ruled in Galilee.”  A guard stood nervously at attention outside the door to Pilate’s suite, unwilling to risk his commander’s ire by announcing the visitor.  Seeing the guard’s hesitation, Caiaphas  announced himself.

          “I see the Procurator has taken the news of the Baptist’s arrest with his usual good grace,” he said.  The High Priest’s sarcasm, under different circumstances an unwise move, had the desired effect.   Pilate stopped in mid-rant and turned to face the High Priest.  The expression on his face showed a marked lack of appreciation for Caiaphas’ sense of humor.

          “Good grace be damned!” he snarled.  “If not for the fact Herod enjoys the Emperor’s favor, I’d have one less troublesome Jew to deal with in Galilee.”  Pilate strode to his writing desk, riffled through the documents scattered there, produced a parchment and handed it to the High Priest.  “Herod’s spies have convinced him this Baptist person is responsible for the attack on Sepphoris.”

          “I take it your Excellency doesn’t agree,” Caiaphas said and dropped the parchment onto the table.

          “My own sources tell me this Baptist is a preacher.  Oh, he draws crowds, sometimes several hundred, but he never preached violence, never incited the people to rebel against the king.”

          “But Herod thinks otherwise?”

          “It appears the king has thin skin when it comes to having his relationships criticized.” Pilate responded.  “It seems the Baptist took exception to king marrying the wife of his half-brother; something about its being against his god’s law.”  Pilate had been pacing about the room but with this last statement he turned to face the High Priest, an unasked question in his expression.

          “The Baptist was not the only one to question the wisdom of Herod’s divorce and remarriage,” Caiaphas said.  “Many of the more conservative among the Sanhedrin refuse to accept the king’s marriage to his brother’s wife while his brother lives.  Of course, it doesn’t help that she is a gentile, a non-believer.  The Baptist and a number of Pharisees believe the king should dissolve this marriage; a union they see as an abomination before God.  The Baptist, of course, was the most outspoken of the king’s critics.”

          “So you think this has nothing to do with the attack on Sepphoris?”  It was clear Pilate wanted to steer clear of becoming embroiled in a religious dispute.  He had no understanding, nor appreciation of Jewish law and no desire to acquire any.  If this matter of the Baptist was, in fact, a religious quarrel, he would leave its resolution to the Jews.

          “I believe the king is using Sepphoris as an excuse to censure his critics,” Caiaphas replied.  “It would appear he is having little success in tracking down those responsible for the attack and is using this as means of retaliation.”

          “Leave it to that fool to try to douse a fire with oil.”  Although he was angry with Herod, Pilate was more disturbed by the distraction the incident with the Baptist was creating in dealing with the Zealots.  His spies in Galilee had been unable to identify any of those responsible for the attack on Sepphoris.  These criminals disappear into the wilderness like ghosts and the people refuse to help ferret them out.  They fear the Zealots more than they fear the Romans, and with good cause.  Those who give aid to the authorities, Roman of Jew, against the Zealots are killed without exception.  “It’s hard enough dealing with rebels without something like this happening,” Pilate complained as he lowered himself into a chair, his brow furled in concentration.  “You seem well-informed in this matter, Caiaphas,” he said.  “Perhaps you could use what influence you have with Herod to resolve this problem.”

          The High Priest smiled.  This was the opportunity he had been waiting for.  If he could remove the burden of dealing with what was, in effect, a religious dispute, the Procurator would be in his debt.  It was a rare opportunity and one Caiaphas was quick to exploit.  “I have already dispatched a delegation to Macherus, where the Baptist is being held, Excellency,” he responded.  In fact, Caiaphas had done no such thing, but would see to it upon his return to Jerusalem.

          “Very good.  That will allow me more time to deal with rebels instead of preachers,” Pilate said, pushing out of his chair.  “My spies suggest the Zealots have camps here, in Judea.  I’m sending troops into the wilderness to hunt them down.  If Herod’s mercenaries can’t find these rabble, perhaps my legionnaires can.”

Written by stevewthomas

April 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm

And now for something a little different. . .

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A few years ago, I decided I wanted to write a book about Jesus.  I was somewhat inspired by a quote by Oscar Wilde to the effect that all beginning writers start out writing about Jesus Christ or themselves.  Since my life doesn’t lend itself to “thrilling narrative”, I thought the subject of Jesus a worthy one to investigate.  Besides, I carried with me an ill-defined “anger” against God and thought writing such a book would, in some equally ill-defined way, serve to mitigate that anger.  But a curious thing happened during my research and writing.  I discovered I wasn’t so much angry with God as I was angry with those who purported to “serve God’s interests” on earth; specifically the Roman Catholic Church. 

Strangely enough, as my anger dissipated so did my desire to continue the book.  I’d only ever showed the pages I’d written to one other person, (my brother, Mike), whose opinion I valued (and still value) above all others.  His comments were “encouraging” and allowed me to believe the project was worthy of completion.  However, my own lack of self-confidence, as well as any credentials that would lend support to any conclusions I may, or may not, have reached in the book, dissuaded me from finishing the work.  I put the hundred or so finished pages in a box and promptly forgot about them . . . almost entirely.

The other night I was watching a tape of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice rock opera, when I began thinking of my long-forgotten book about Jesus.  I’ve always enjoyed the album and the film, finding Andrew Lloyd Weber’s lyrics slightly “subversive” (but only slightly) and tending to support my feelings regarding organized religion (which are more than “slightly” subversive).  I came to the realization my book, should I ever decide to finish it, was every bit as valid an interpretation of the Gospel “facts” as anyone else’s.  Granted, I’m what you would call an “intuitive” writer, willing to write what I “know” based on historical evidence (of which there is none), rather than reiterating the established dogma of previous writers.  In any event, the material presented in the Gospels is so contradictory, so removed from the events they supposedly recount, what difference would it make to add one more retelling?  And besides, it’s entirely possible my posting of these pages could provide the impetus to complete the tale I started so long ago.

Enough “back story”.  Without further ado, I give you . . .

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