What Writers Can Learn from Music

I have always liked to use some musical links in my writing. Many of my writings deal with songs that have inspired me over the years. (Where Have All My Young Friends Gone?) A few years ago, I started wondering what I could learn from music that might infuse my writing with more elegance and passion. I tried my hand at a “musical composition.” I am not sure that it came out very well but if you are interested, you can read my piece at: ON WRITING, MUSIC, CHOREOGRAPHY, THE SEASONS AND LOVE.

Recently, in our writing class, I gave my students the assignment to come up with a 100 word writing piece that used some elements of music in their writing or that writes about the use of music in writing. It was an odd assignment made more difficult because my instructions were pretty vague. The following week students brought in their writings and shared them in class.

The discussion that accompanied our readings was very helpful. Wilma, a writer in the class, found a good article that illustrated very well what I had been trying to say and do in terms of using music to provide creativity or at least another perspective to our writing. I am adding links to Wilma’s article which was in Medium and another that I found while perusing Medium.

The first article is by Mark Benis and is titled: “Is Writing Stories so Different from Writing Music?”

View at Medium.com

The second article is by David W. Berner and is titled: “Writing is Like Music.”

I hope you will find these articles interesting and that they will perhaps inspire some use of these ideas in your own writings.

Famous Last Words or Can Your Epitaph Change the World?

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Once upon a time at the Frederic library, a group of people who met regularly over coffee were discussing the reported last words of Voltaire.  The  discussion soon wandered into the last words of other famous people.  Several of us could think of comments made by some well-known people on their death beds.  Many of these comments are very interesting; perhaps because you don’t think anyone is going to lie when they only have a few minutes to live.  Or perhaps, we are fascinated because of some irony that these last words provide.

Voltaire is alleged to have refused to repent his sins because “He did not want to make any more enemies before he died.”  He was referring to the fact that Satan would be upset if he now recanted on his lack of belief in religion or Christianity.  Socrates last words were:  “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”  (Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness, and it is likely Socrates’ last words meant that death is the cure—and freedom, of the soul from the body.) (Wikipedia reference)

Regardless of the reason for our fascination with these “last words”, there is no doubt that many of us find considerable inspiration in the last words of others.  I am going to share some that I like in my blog today.  If any of these motivate you, please feel free to send me your comments on why they inspire or excite you, or simply send me some famous last words that you like.  I may post again on this subject if you can send me enough inspiration.

  • Adams, John (1735-1826) “Thomas Jefferson–still survives…” (4 July 1826. Jefferson died on the same day.)
  • Barrymore, John (1882-1942) Die?  I should say not, dear fellow.  No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.
  • Eastman, George (1854-1932) “My work is done, why wait?” (His suicide note.)
  • Marx, Karl (1818-1883) “Go on, get out.  Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
  • Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973) “Drink to me.”
  • Runyon, Damon (1884-1946) “You can keep the things of bronze and stone and give me one man to remember me just once a year.”
  • Stein, Gertrude (1874-1946) “Just before she died she asked, `What is the answer?” No answer came.  She laughed and said, “In that case what is the question?” Then she died.”

The above list of my favorites was taken from a much more extensive list that can be found at https://www.djsmapping.com/words.shtml,   “Real Last Words from Famous People.”

As you ponder my list, will it provoke you to think the obvious or maybe not so obvious?  Is it too early to wonder or maybe even plan what you will say for your last words?  My friend Harold’s last words were, “No regrets.”  Harold was the most positive person I have ever met in my life.  Right up to the end (he died of pancreatic cancer), he truly had no regrets in his life.  I always found that unbelievable as my regrets would fill a book.

I wonder what my last words will be.  I am not anxious to find out.  At 76, I am still enjoying good health, a great spouse, and more peaceful days then when I was younger.  My last words will have to await my last breaths.  Truly, none of us will know what our last words will be until our final hours regardless of how we approach death or how we want to die.

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Nevertheless, while we may not have a choice over our last words, we can decide what we want written on our tombstone.  This is something we do have a choice over.  Do you want to leave only your name and date of death on your tomb or do you want to leave some inspiration for future cemetery wanderers?  (I am aware of those individuals who choose to be cremated, which while very cost effective and environmentally ethical is almost a boring way to leave this planet.)  One of my favorite things to do on vacations is to wander in old cemeteries in countries or places that I am visiting.  They are free to visit, and they provide an almost endless source of inspiration, wonder and even amusement.  For instance, in Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona, one of the tombstones reads as follows:

“Here lies Lester Moore.  Four slugs from a 44, no Les, no more.”

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What would you like written on your tombstone?  What do you want the world to remember you for or think of you as they pass by your resting place.  This can be a fun and thought-provoking activity.  Here are some thoughts I have for my epitaph.

  • I searched for the truth but never found it.
  • Why?  Why?  Why?
  • The more I learned, the less I knew, until I knew everything about nothing

Feel free to send me your epitaph or post it in the comments section.  I will look forward to being inspired. 

What Does Summer Mean to You?

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Well, I suppose I should have been blogging about summer two days ago.  I could make the excuse that it is better late than never, but in truth, I am doing everything much slower these days.  That goes for summer to.  We have lots to do this summer with selling our Wisconsin house and moving permanently down to Arizona.  Don’t know what permanently means, but for now it means leaving many old memories behind and embarking on new memories.  We are going to the “land of endless summer” for what just may be the rest of our lives.  Who knows.

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“Summertime, when the living is easy.” That line from the musical “Porgy and Bess” by G. Gershwin seems to always resonate in my mind when the warm breezes start blowing the cold weather away in Wisconsin.  We all love summer.  For many of us, it is a time of vacations and connotations of freedom from school and work.  However, why does the song say the living is easy?  I think it is because summer seems to bring that association to mind despite the fact that it is not now nor probably ever was easy.  Nevertheless, we think of the lushness of fresh fruit, vegetables, the farmers market and long days and nights.  It does not matter that we may work all summer, the dream is still there of “easy living.”

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As we get older, most of us will think back to our childhoods with fond summer memories of doing nothing but kicking rocks, jumping rope, fishing, swimming off of the old bridge, camping with our friends or weekends at the cabin with our family. Perhaps these are more traditional Midwest memories but no matter where you live, you will have your own memories associated with summer time.  All over the world, people are in vacation mode during the summertime.  Maybe you will spend your summer traveling to exotic destinations or simply taking a short trip to visit relatives.  Summer brings a longing for what we want life to have in store for us as we age.  Summer is a time of psychological retirement years before any of us will ever retire.

What are your best summer memories?  What did you once do each summer that is now simply a memory?  What summer traditions do you still celebrate?  What do you hope your future summers will have in store for you?  Are you living your dreams now or waiting?

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”  — Henry James

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”  ― John Lubbock

“The library in summer is the most wonderful thing because there you get books on any subject and read them each for only as long as they hold your interest, abandoning any that don’t, halfway or a quarter of the way through if you like, and store up all that knowledge in the happy corners of your mind for your own self and not to show off how much you know or spit it back at your teacher on a test paper.”  ― Polly HorvathMy One Hundred Adventures

Persico Challenge:  Issue Number 3 – What Will Be the Impact from Increased Life Expectancies Around the World?

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This is the third of three “Challenge” questions that my friend Jane Fritz and I agreed to reply to.  We each sent three questions to the other and we had 12 months to reply to all three questions.  I answered Jane’s first question on Feb 19th of this year.  (American Exceptionalism).  I answered her second question on April 3rd (How Can We Save the Environment)  This is Jane’s 3rd and final question followed by my reply.  I think Jane “cheated” a little on this one since you may notice that there are actually several questions connected to the issue that Jane describes.

Jane’s Third and Final Question:

Life expectancy around the world has increased 10-30 years from 1950 alone, depending on the country.  People born in developed and many developing countries in 2020 can expect to live – on average – to be at least 80 years old.  At the same time, the birthrate is decreasing around the world even faster than was projected.  India’s recent news of its birth rate falling below replacement levels is a case in point.  What will such significant changes in population demographics have on people 30 years from now, when the baby boomers still alive will be 85-105 years old?  What will the impact be on children?  On young adults?  On mid-career adults?  On retirees?  When will people be able to retire when 30% or more of the population is over 65?  Any position(s) on any part of this question is acceptable!

There are several curious things about the issues that Jane raises.  Let me state them as a sort of preamble to my answer.

  1. Much of the increased longevity is due to falling infant mortality which raises the overall average longevity. Looking at a research study that examined people over age of sixty-five found that longevity has continued to increase even when isolating the more elderly.

“The researchers looked at birth and death data for people above age 65 from 1960-2010. They found that the average age of death in those who live to be older than 65 increased by three years in every 25-year period, which means that people can expect to live about six years longer than their grandparents, on average.”   — Lifespan is continuing to increase regardless of socioeconomic factors, Stanford researchers find

  1. Much of the reason for falling birth rates is correlated with increased incomes throughout the world. Data shows that:

“Countries that experience a decline in their birth rate sometimes realize a demographic dividend, an economic boost that can last years or even decades.  Improving health care and boosting literacy have been shown to break the cycle of extreme poverty and extreme fertility.”  — The Relationship Between Fertility and National Income

There are many exceptions to the above finding.  In addition, the age distribution of the population also plays a role in the wealth of a country.  By and large, countries with more elderly people tend to have higher average incomes than those with younger people.

  1. Happiness does not seem to be correlated with higher incomes.

“The results were almost universally consistent across the United States and much of the world,” Aaker says.  “Among low-income people, having a sense of meaning in one’s life is more closely associated with overall happiness.”A Global Look at the Connections Between Happiness, Income, and Meaning

  1. Several studies I have recently seen show that income inequality leads to lower levels of reported happiness. The greater the income inequality, the less happy people are.

“While happiness did track the level of economic development across these 16 advanced nations, the results changed when inequality was added to the equation.  Higher levels of inequality led to lower levels of happiness, even in the most economically advanced nations. In fact, the researchers found that the percentage of respondents who said they were very happy was inversely correlated with income inequality (with a negative correlation of −.618).”Income Inequality Leads to Less Happy People

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Demographics is an extremely important element of social change.  I bring up some of the above points because the questions that Jane raises are quite involved.  Economics, wealth, social justice, politics, technology, environmental factors, and a universal desire for happiness all play a role in social change that in many cases are just as important as demographics.

Experts also attribute social change to ideological factors and the “great man/woman” theory.  This latter theory posits that social changes are more impacted by leadership issues than any other factors.  We can certainly find evidence to support any one of these theories.  My raising these issues is from a belief that we cannot understand the world by simply looking at any one set of factors.  The world is much more complex than humans or even computer models are able to portray.

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So, without any more “excuses”, how will the world change as birth rates fall?  I think the major impacts will be due to a rising standard of living.  The evidence seems to show that standards of living the world over are rising.  In addition, media and technology link the world in a mutual bond that is tighter than any that ever existed in history.  This will mean rising expectations for a better life for many formerly poor and impoverished people.  My caveat here is that with the environment changing more rapidly than was predicted by climate models, I am unsure how rising incomes will help anyone escape the ever more extreme weather events that beset us daily.  In the past, the rich were always more shielded from such events than the poor.  The poor lived in the valleys while the rich lived in the mountain tops.

A rising standard of living is not necessarily  a panacea or a pathway to happiness as I have shown above with the research on happiness.  If ideology is such that people expect more than they will get, rising standards of living could lead to more of the type of dysfunctions that we see in the USA.  Despite some of the highest income levels in the world, the USA does very poorly on a number of social indicators.  In terms of health, the USA shows very poorly:

  • The United States ranks No. 33 out of 36 OECD countries in infant mortality
  • Among the 33 OECD countries with self-reported obesity data available, the United States ranks last
  • The U.S. life expectancy at birth of 78.6 years ranks No. 28 out of the 36 OECD countries

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Health is a major factor affecting the quality of life we live, and how happy we are.  Incomes and affluence have not been distributed equally in the USA where income inequality is some of the highest in the world.  It would seem that not only does income inequality lead to less happiness but it also impacts health outcomes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States’ Gini coefficient was 48.9% in 2020. This ranks as the country’s highest Gini in at least the past 50 years.  The U.S. also has the highest Gini coefficient among the G7 nations. The top 1% of earners in the United States earn about 40 times more than the bottom 90% of earners, and roughly 33 million U.S. workers earn less than $10 per hour, placing a family of four below the poverty line.

The Gini coefficient, or Gini index, is a statistical measure of income inequality developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912.  There are several caveats and limitations to the Gini coefficient and if you are interested you can find more detail about the coefficient and its limitations at:  World Population Review.

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If the world can adapt to the coming climate changes and if the world will allow incomes and affluence to be more equitable, I think the declining birthrates may be a blessing.  In the sixties, I was part of a movement called ZPG.  This stood for Zero Population Growth.  We believed that stopping population growth was key to living within the limited resources that we thought the planet provided.  The movement was never very popular.  Those pushing for unlimited growth and unlimited development continually won battles for more development and more growth. Those that profited from this growth sold the American people that growth is essential to development and that we would all be happier with more growth.  This has been a bigger lie bought by more Americans than the election lie that Trump has tried to sell.

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Bottom line, lower birthrates may lead to increased affluence which may lead to better health care which may lead to happier people.  However, the happiness factor as well as health care factor will depend on how the affluence is distributed.  If it is distributed as it is in the USA, it will lead to increased social fractioning and decreased levels of happiness and health care.  All of this will be mitigated by more extreme and more volatile weather events.  If the “stress” level of the world increases, we will see more violence and warfare as nations fight for the level of affluence that they believe they deserve or as they try to maintain a level of affluence at the expense of nations that are trying to get their share of the affluence.

Thanks Jane for a great set of questions.  I only wish I could have done more justice to them.  I fear my answers lack the perspicacity to fully address the complexity of so many of the issues that you have raised.

A Sign of the Times: Are We Living in Heaven Or Hell?

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Zeitgeist is a German word that roughly translates to “tempo of the times or the sign of the times.”   A sign of the times may be “ tattoos” or SUV’s, or black Fridays.   I can see a list developing here.  Some of the things I associate with the “Times” today are:

  • Greed is good
  • Shop till you drop
  • He who has the most toys wins
  • Serial killers
  • Pedophiles
  • Helicopter moms
  • Sports scholarships, sports stadiums, sports salaries
  • Astronomical college tuitions
  • Non-stop news, sports and stupid sit-coms on TV
  • Misinformation, disinformation, over information
  • Increased gas prices
  • Decreased water resources
  • Global warming, climate change, swarms, tornadoes, hurricanes, fire storms and more storms
  • Casinos, lotteries, pull tabs and scratch offs
  • Ridiculous lawsuits, ridiculous litigants, and ridiculous lawyers
  • Celebrities, royal moms, TV Stars, Movie Stars and more celebrities
  • Smart phones, Facebook, LinkedIn and IPads
  • Travel leagues, T-ball, gonzo fans, gonzo coaches and gonzo parents
  • Crooked politicians, stupid politicians, partisan politicians, despicable politicians
  • Outsourcing, offshoring, insourcing, global competition
  • Designer jeans, designer dogs, designer homes, designer weddings, designer funerals, designer people
  • Aging, retiring, and dying baby-boomers
  • Non-stop Covid variants

A “sign of the times” may be the poor attitudes of teenagers today.  But wait, wasn’t that a sign of the times during the days of Socrates?  A quote attributed to Socrates holds that:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Perhaps a sign of the times is the “great recession” that we are either coming out of or going back into.  Maybe a sign of the times is the “war on drugs” or maybe the increased road rage or maybe our attack on immigrants and immigration.  Maybe it is our shift to the political right and the increased influence of evangelicals and Republicans.  A sign of the times is an expression used to denote something that seems symbolic or emblematic of the era we are living in.  “Sign of the times” was a phrase strongly related to Roman Catholicism in the era of the Second Vatican Council.  It was taken to mean that the Church should listen to, and learn from, the world around it.” (wikipedia.org)

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The problem is we do not have any good reference points to compare our times to.  Most of us do not have a very good knowledge of history or of what happened even a few years ago.  We all tend to forget how things really were.  So, we think: crime is worse today, teenagers are worse today, life is harder today, etc. Then we say: “it’s a sign of the times.”  However, it could easily be a sign of many times and eras gone by.  What then are the dependable and predictable signs that would allow us to say with certainty that our times are different (for better or worse) than past times?

trumpVery few things emerge that make good signs of the times.  Rising costs and rising taxes have been true forever.  War, famine, and pestilence were frequent during the days of the Pharaohs and are still with us today.  Disease kills millions yearly and people do not really seem any less or more happier than in days gone by.  Is life easier or more difficult today?  You would probably notice that it depended on who you asked.

How then can we find a true and accurate “sign of the times?”  Bottom line is you will probably not. The idea sounds good on paper, but it is just too subjective.  There are few signs that exist today that could irrefutably tell you what year or even decade it was, without the value of hindsight.  A hundred years from now, it may be possible to look back at today and say things about it with some certainty, but the present is never certain.  That is why the past cannot predict the future.

We seem to dwell on the “bad signs” but maybe you can think of some good signs of the times.  For instance, income levels are rising across the world and many diseases have now been eradicated that plagued humanity for centuries.  We should make a list of all the good signs.  I think it would probably be longer than the list of bad signs.

What do you think are the signs of the times today?  How would these compare to your signs twenty years ago?  Do you think your signs would hold up if you went back two thousand years?  Will these (my list and your list) still be signs five or ten years from now?  When do signs become obsolete?  Do your signs tell you that things are better or worse today?

Why, Why, Why Would Anyone Vote for Trump?

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Perhaps no question in history has spawned more theories and more books to explain the “Trump Phenomenon.”  Why would anyone with one iota of decency vote for and support someone who lacked all morality and all integrity?  Trump is certainly not the first leader to lack any semblance of morality. However, given that he was elected to what some believe is the last great hope for “Democracy,” it boggles the mind that such a person could become President of the United States of America.  Trump and his supporters stand against every principle that this nation was founded on.

1_olMzFxyjypYKzro3iFezQgI have read at least a dozen books and heard a different theory each month on why Trump was elected.  From racism, to sexism, to xenophobia, to white supremacy, to rural alienation, to immigration, to abortion, to anti-immigration, to income gaps, to blue collar woes, to anti-globalism, to Christianity, to government overreach, to tax issues, to wage gaps, to inflation, to isolationism, to lack of American jobs, to anti-education, each one of these and several more have been promoted as the “reason” for Trumps support.

You can read volumes about these reasons, and you will still be looking for a reason.  None of them seem to provide the “whole” explanation and new books are pumped out daily by Trump accusers and sycophants.  These same ass-kissing, boot licking followers who now want to throw shit on Trump while exonerating their own culpability.

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So imagine my surprise when I came across this explanation for why people followed Hitler written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He wrote this while in jail for his resistance to Hitler’s policies.   Bonhoeffer was a famous Lutheran pastor and theologian who threw caution to the wind when he decided that he had to speak out against Hitler.  He was arrested, tried, and found guilty.  He was too well known for Hitler to immediately execute.  Hitler put Bonhoeffer in prison but on April 9th, 1945 just three weeks before he died, Hitler opted for his trademark vindictiveness and cruelty.  He ordered Bonhoeffer hung along with several other conspirators.

This writing was done while Bonhoeffer was in prison.  In a very short piece,  he sums up why anyone would support someone like Trump, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin or any other actual or would be dictator.  It explains “Why Trump” better than any of the long-winded studies I have read.  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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Bonhoeffer:  On Stupidity

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.

Against stupidity we are defenseless.

Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed — in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical — and when facts are irrefutable, they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.

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For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid.

We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them.

We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem.

It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity.

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It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.

The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

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Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity.

Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person.

This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from people’s stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.

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You can keep looking for explanations.  I think there surely will be more raised.  However, I am content to stop here with Bonhoeffer’s explanation.  I may not agree with everything he says but he explains quite well why discussion and debate with these people are a total waste of time. 

Why A Gun Will Not Make You Safer!

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Every gun sold in America makes you less safe than you were the minute before that gun was sold.  The gun lobbies and Second Amendment devotees want you to believe the opposite.  There are two motives for this.  One is to sell more guns.  This is a motive for the gun lobbyists, gun manufacturers and NRA.  The second motive is by the Second Amendment advocates who seriously believe that guns will protect you from “bad” guys with a gun.  This is wishful thinking which more often than not is false.  However, there are many cases on record where guns have protected people from criminals and other deviants.  Nevertheless, statistically speaking, you are not safer with more guns.  In fact, you are less safe as each gun sale adds to the growing epidemic of gun violence in USA America.  You will only be safer when there are less guns to be had for sale.  The argument I am going to present will clearly prove my point.  However, before I present it let me state the following truths.

  • I am a gun owner
  • I am a military veteran
  • I actually like guns, knives, and other weapons (nunchakus, hunting bows, etc.)
  • I have hunted moose, seal, elk, pheasant, and deer
  • I do believe that some guns should be available for hunting and sports shooting

So, why do I believe that more guns lead to more school shootings, massacres, homicides, suicides, and other violence?  Why do I think that we need to seriously dial back on the following three aspects of guns?

  • Gun availability
  • Gun lethality
  • Gun carry

To understand why more guns are dangerous, we must first start with understanding human psychology.  You will accept that anger is a normal human emotion.  Assuming a bell-shaped curve of ranges for anger, some people will get much angrier than others.  Some people will resort to violence, road rage, domestic abuse, fights, etc. when they are angry.  Let us assume that one percent of people sometimes fall into the “extreme” anger range.  Thus, out of 1,000,000 people, there will be 10,000 people who may become violently angry at some perceived slight, disrespect, or abuse.

young-girl-firing-two-gunsNext, let us establish a lethality of weapons.  I will put it thus:  fists are not as lethal as brass knuckles.  Brass knuckles are not as lethal as clubs.  Clubs are not as lethal as knives.  Knives are not as lethal as guns.  Handguns are not as lethal as rifles.  The range of lethality that I have noted is “most” often true but there are always exceptions.  Thus, I will say again, the lethality of the potential weapons structure I have described is most often the case but not always.

Now, let us assume that one percent of the people who fall into the “extreme” violent range might act out using a weapon of some sort.  That would mean that during any particular episode of extreme anger, a hundred people or one percent of 10,000 people could conceivably pick up a gun to use as a weapon.

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If we take the fact that there are 257,000,000 people over the age of 18 in the USA as of 2020 (Annie E. Casey Foundation Data Center), then extrapolating from the one million people we started with, we would have to multiply the 100 potentially violent and angry people who might use a gun by the percentage of gun owners in America who have a gun available.  According to a Pew Study, four-in-ten U.S. adults say they live in a household with a gun, including 30% who say they personally own one.

So, we need to multiply as follows:

257,000,000 million adults over the age of 18 in the USA

X

30 Percent of adults who personally own a gun in the USA

X

100 potentially very angry people per every million adults who might be tempted to use a gun

257,000,000 x .30 = 77.1 million X 100 per million = 7710

That gives us the following:  7710 potentially very angry people on any given day who might use a gun in some act of violence.  Now let’s half that number since women are not usually as violent as men and we arrive at the following figure of 3855 adult men in the USA who might go berserk, grab a gun, and enter what domestic abuse counselors call the “Cycle of Violence.”

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The “Cycle of Violence” can be described as follows:

“The term cycle of violence refers to repeated and dangerous acts of violence as a cyclical pattern, associated with high emotions and doctrines of retribution or revenge.  The pattern, or cycle, repeats and can happen many times during a relationship.  Each phase of the cycle may last a different length of time, and over time the level of violence may increase.  It often refers to violent behavior learned as a child, and then repeated as an adult, therefore continuing on in a perceived cycle.”WIKI

maxresdefaultThis cycle explains quite well what happens in many cases of gun violence or other types of violent outburst.  In phase two, tensions are building up.  This could be from a variety of different causes.  It might be strains from the work place or strains from home relationships with family and children.  The strains are often cumulative particularly with people who may lack the ability or means to discharge their stress.  The stress builds up until the individual finally explodes.  The explosion could be in words or actions.  Actions might involve throwing things, punching things, hitting things or various levels of assault against things or people using a wide range of weapons.

download (1)Phase three is the incident itself.  A trigger is needed to set the individual off.  Perhaps the individual gets fired or their spouse asks for a divorce.  Maybe they have a fight with a neighbor, or a car cuts them off at an intersection.  When the trigger occurs, the individual explodes.  The explosion could involve a violent attack that might go from simple threats or curses all the way to shooting someone.  The availability of weapons will play a major role in the level of violence.  This is one reason why a “waiting period” for purchasing a firearm makes  a lot of sense.  In two recent mass shootings, there was no waiting period for the purchase of a high-powered rifle and the individuals engaged in shooting massacres within a week of buying their rifles.

Phase four is a down period or a period of extreme remorse.  The violent individual feels a deep sense of guilt or regret and longs for forgiveness and to makeup to their victim for their transgressions.  If their victim is still alive they will apologize profusely and swear to never do it again.  They will promise anything to make amends and obtain forgiveness.  Obviously, if their victim or victims are dead, one act that they can take to escape their feelings of remorse is to end their own lives.  This explains why so many of these mass shooters commit suicide before they are apprehended.

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If the violent individual makes it through phase four and is still alive, there will be a phase of calm and peacefulness.  It will seem like everything is going to be okay.  Phase one may last days or weeks but unless the individual receives some type of therapy, the tensions will inevitably build up again.  The result will be another explosion after another triggering event takes place.  This is how the cycle of violence works over and over again.

The result of this anger cycle combined with an easy access to guns is an epidemic of gun violence.  It is an epidemic that includes nearly 25,000 suicides a year and about 14,000 homicides a year.  There are clearly only two solutions to reducing this death rate.  One solution would be to reduce the potential number of people in our society who are prone to violent outbursts or what some might label as mental illness.  The second solution would be to reduce the number of guns available or at least make it more difficult to obtain a gun when someone has a violent outburst.

downloadMany anti-gun control people push the solution that more mental health is needed.  The problem with this solution is that anger and angry outbursts are as normal in the population as mom, God, and apple pie.  There is no way to treat all the people in America who might lose their temper on a given day.  There is no way to tell when or where these outbursts will take place.  Therapy for “normal” people is not on the radar.  Make no mistake, your best friend, your neighbor, your cousin just might “lose” it tomorrow and go on some type of violent jag that results in death for someone else.  It happens all the time.  The papers are full of reports of people who lose it and end up killing their loved ones and themselves.

20150404_USD000_0The other solution is to reduce the availability or the lethality of guns in society.  This solution makes the most sense.  We can somewhat reduce the availability of weapons through background checks, waiting periods, age restrictions, gun training, and reducing the ability to carry a gun in public.  We must get rid of these ridiculous concealed carry laws.  It should be illegal to carry a gun in public concealed or otherwise unless you have a permit with a valid reason for why you need to carry a gun.

1999-_Gun-related_deaths_USAWe can reduce the lethality of guns by limiting clip capacities and by eliminating rifles that were designed for military purposes and not hunting.  Why anyone would need a rifle with more than a three round capacity is beyond me.  Rifles should be for hunting or target shooting and nothing else.  Any game that you are hunting will be gone long before you can chamber and fire your third round.  A .223 caliber was first designed for the military in Vietnam.  I had to qualify on an M-16 in 1965 when they were first issued.  It was like shooting a bb gun.  Easy to shoot with a round that was designed to wound and not kill.  They said this would take two or more people out of the war instead of just one dead body.  The individual shot by a .223 would be severely wounded and would need someone to take him back to a medic or out of the war zone.  Read any of the gun magazines today and it looks like they are selling guns and accessories to someone who is going to war.  Helmets, bullet proof vests, high-capacity magazines, laser sights and guns more fit for killing humans than hunting are touted and readily available.

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I don’t deny that it would be difficult to make some distinctions between a military or assault rifle and a rifle that could be used for hunting.  It some cases it would be like trying to differentiate between tweedle dee and tweedle dum.  However difficult it might be, it could be done as long as two reasonable people could agree on the definitions.  No definition will convince or persuade everyone.  We must not let perfection stop us from trying to protect the lives of our children and our citizens.  If some mistakes are made in banning guns that are best designed for killing then so be it.  We will all be better off for it.   It is the only solution that will end the epidemic of gun violence in the USA.

PS

I think my theory above accounts for a large percentage of mass murders and some suicides. I know that a small percentage of mass murders are committed by individuals with a grudge against another group, ethnicity or race. Call them racists or ideological nut cases. I doubt they go through any “cycle of violence” such as I have described. My guess is that they develop some screwball theory and believe that their violence will help them wipeout whatever group they harbor negative attitudes against. Their hatred could be political, racial, or other wacko ideologies.

As for suicides, the major reason for suicides according to the mental health literature (retreatbehavioralhealth.com) is due to depression. Women tend to overdose with pills while men tend to use a handgun. Gun checks, gun licenses, gun waiting periods are probably not going to reduce deaths by suicide substantially since I cannot imagine how a background check or a license would stop someone who is depressed from owning a gun. Nevertheless, the easy availability of guns and their lethality does make them very dangerous for anyone suffering from depression.

A Gettysburg Address for the 21st Century

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Twelve score and six years ago our founding fathers (and founding mothers) brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in hypocrisy, and dedicated to the proposition that most white men were created equal, but women, Blacks and Indians were subhuman and much less than equal.

Now we are engaged in a great cultural war, testing whether this nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battlefield of that war, called Washington, D.C.   Many of us have come to protest on a portion of that field.  A chamber where those who raised enough money to get elected can further their dreams of power, glory, and greed.  Our enemies would strip us of the little democracy that is left in our country.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should protest this attack on our democracy; though it will probably not make much difference and may only end up with us getting beaten and clubbed.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot succumb — we cannot give up — we cannot forget– this ground. Brave men and women, living and dead, have struggled here before us, have protested here before us.  From those honored protestors who have gone before us, we make increased devotion to the cause for which some gave their last full measure.  It is perhaps far above our ability to add or detract from their valiant efforts.

The world may little note, nor long care what we say here.  It will all too soon forget what we tried to do here as well.  But let us not surrender to world opinion.  As Americans one and all, we must be dedicated to the great task still remaining; to make this nation truly proper to be called a nation of justice, equality, and freedom.

We here highly resolve that those living, and dead shall not have struggled or died in vain. That this country, under manifold Gods, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that a democratic government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.  And that someday, America will manifest the dream of Martin Luther King to become a country where little children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

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Our Kind of People

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He’s not our kind of people.  She should stick to her own kind.  I don’t have anything against his kind, but I really think people belong with their own kind.  It’s like the saying, “birds of a feather stick together.”  I think people get along better with people who are more similar.  Like parrots with parrots and robins with robins.

I’m not prejudiced against anyone.  I have noticed that people seem happier when they are with people who are like them.  It’s a big world out there and its got room enough for everyone, so why should we crowd it?  Don’t you want everyone to be happy?

So if you like coke 

And you like dope

You’re my kind of people

(My kind of people)

You’re my kind of people

(My kind of people)  —- My Kind of People, CeeLo Green

 Why force people who are different to live with people who are not like them?  We would all got along better if like stayed with like.  You don’t mix salt and pepper or sugar and pepper so why mix people?  People are much happier when they are with people who have a great many similarities to them.  Fish eaters get along better with fish eaters and vegans get along better with vegans.

Stick-to-your-own-kind-...-or-not1-254x3001It’s not about racism or privilege but everyone should have a right to say who they have to live with and go to school with or church with.  I am all for equal rights for everyone and that includes my right to stick to my own kind.  Does that make me a racist because I like one group of people more than another?  We all have our baseball and football team preferences.  That is what makes sports so much fun.  I don’t have to like your team and you don’t have to like my team.  Teams stick together and play with their own kind.  You don’t see football players playing against baseball players or lacrosse players playing against rugby players.

“I’m waiting, for what, my kind of people, what kind is that?  I can tell my kind of people by their faces, by something in their faces.” — Ayn Rand

If you took a can of blue paint and red paint and yellow paint and mixed them all together, you would get something really strange.  If you blended the rainbow together, you would just get gray.  That would be boring and uninteresting.  You need to keep colors separate and then you get all of the beauty of the spectrum.  Keeping people with their own kind improves life for all since the colors do not fade.  Unless you get a tan and they never seem to last very long.

My kind of town, Chicago is

My kind of people, too — My Kind of Town, Frank Sinatra

imagesThat is why I am not a racist because I believe in the beauty of all colors.  I don’t think one color is more beautiful than another.  I prefer blue while I think my wife likes pink or green more.  I just think you don’t want to mix the colors too much or you lose the beauty.  It is also easier to clean a paint brush when you just use it for the same colors.  Have you ever tried to clean a paint brush that has been used on too many different colors?

A little rock and roll

A whole lot of soul

You’re my kind of people

(My kind of people)

You’re my kind of people

(My kind of people) — My Kind of People, CeeLo Green

kkk-chicago-flashback-0125-20150123-e1446548107862-2lw7l8q-1080x633Now I suppose some of you will still say that I am a racist or prejudiced and that nothing I can say will change your minds.  But I don’t dislike those kind of people, I just want to live with my kind of people and those kind of people can live with their own kind of people.

Don’t you think there would be less problems in the world if we all stuck with our own kind of people?  Listen to what the bible says:

Leviticus 19:19 “Keep my decrees.  Do not mate different kinds of animals.  Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.  Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

I have to show this to my wife because she wanted to get a Golden Doodle and now wants to buy an Aussie Doodle.  I guess the bible says no doodle for her unless she wants to buy a pure doodle whatever that is.

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The above blog was inspired by my friend Kwame who was discussing race with someone who made the comment that we should all stick to our “own kind.”  The thought resonated with me since we have all heard it at one time or another repeated as a “code” for discrimination and disrespect.  “Stick to your own kind” sounds so benign but it is really a phrase full of hate and fear.

“It’s hard to be different,” Scarborough said.  “And perhaps the best answer is not to tolerate differences, not even to accept them.  But to celebrate them.  Maybe then those who are different would feel more loved, and less, well, tolerated.”  ― Bill Konigsberg, Openly Straight

Can Birds Really Save My Soul?

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I am looking out my back window.  The headlines from another senseless tragedy still scroll across my video screen.  But my backyard is serene and peaceful.  I have a clothesline pole with three bird feeders and two suet feeders.  A minute or so ago, there were more birds than I could count.  Throughout the day, Karen and I watch the birds come and go.  Sometimes there are more than twenty birds all taking turns at our feeders.

Yesterday, we saw hummingbirds, ravens, woodpeckers, finches, doves, grackles, robins, and several other species that we could not identify.  Karen keeps a bird guide and binoculars at the ready and is always on the lookout for a new species to add to the list that we keep.  We are not true birdwatchers, but we enjoy watching the birds.  Amidst the carnage of life with its murders and wars, the birds are our escape.  They help us to remember that there is indeed sanity in the universe.

Some of the birds we see are using the water fountain for a drink after an appetizer of suet.  Several species prefer to eat the seeds that fall on the ground from the feeders.  Birds are not always neat eaters.  Eventually a few squirrels will come around.  We never chase them away and they always appear happy to rummage about on the ground for food.  We have never had a bear problem with the feeders, but we have had some raccoons that like to take the feeders down and enjoy a hardy meal.  It does not bother Karen and me.  We just reload the feeders and put them back up.  In our daily scheme of things, bird feed is very economical.  Even if it meant eating less red meat to buy more bird seed, we would gladly make the sacrifice.

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Today, with the thoughts of yet another school massacre still running through my mind, I can’t help but notice the birds and how they interact.  In all our years of watching the birds outside our kitchen window, I have never seen any bird fights.  I see many birds of different species and they all get along.  They take turns at the feeders.  They come and they go but none attack any other birds.  If there is such a thing as “bird discrimination” or “bird racism,” I have not witnessed any evidence of it.

Jesus told his disciples:

“See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither

do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father

feeds them.  Aren’t you of much more value than they?”  — Matthew 6:26

This translates for me as an admonition to worry more about my soul than about physical things.  I do not need to acquire, accumulate, hoard, and stow away toys, stuff, and merchandise because God will take care of these things.  She/he does it for the birds, so it will be done for me.  With less concern for worldly things, I must turn my attention to my soul.  I need to do the things that will make my soul worthy of continuing existence after I leave this third rock from the sun.

Now, those of you who know me will be pondering my above words with some confusion.  I thought John was an atheist some of you will say.  Others will say, I thought John was an agnostic.  One of my best friends who is a pastor, says that I am more Christian than many of the people in his congregation.  In truth, I disavow religion.  I claim no knowledge to prove or disprove the existence of something or someone that created the food and earth that I survive with.

I write the above words from the perspective of an individual who wonders why so many people who profess to be Christians do not take Jesus’s words to heart.  Call them hypocrites.  They are in many religions.  It frequently seems to me that religion is one large stew of hypocrites.  A pot full of different denominations that unlike the birds cannot get along.  A big stew that does not mix well with other stews.  The Christian stew does not mix well with the Islamic stew.  The Islamic stew does not mix well with the Jewish stew.  Even within the same stew we find acrimony and bigotry.  “My religion and my God are the one true and righteous paths to salvation.  I will slaughter anyone who disagrees with me” says the “true believer.”

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Before this blog becomes too negative, I need to go back to my bird watching window.  The birds will restore my equanimity and smooth out the hills and valleys of my life.

Birds are the saviors of our souls.

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