About Weapons

I never really planned on owning firearms.  Frankly, I never gave it much thought.  My father, who passed away a couple years ago, always had a small Ruger .22 pistol at the ready for dispatching marauding groundhogs from his garden to that great groundhog beyond.   But to my knowledge, that’s all he ever used it for.  When I was a little kid, he took me out in the woods and let me shoot it.  My admittedly vague memories of the day are that he told me it was a hair trigger and then I popped off three rounds into a nearby tree and that was that.

At summer camp, I always took marksmanship classes, though for a couple of years, I got really excited about archery.  Archery has a certain elegance about it that I still find appealing.  I even had my own bow and a modest quiver of arrows from the Bear Archery Company and got to be pretty good for a kid of my limited age.  But as most things do when you’re young, I lost interest after a couple of years and discovered some other hobby to pursue.  

Fast forward to the Army.  In my nearly 29-year career, I shot all sort of goodies from howitzers and machine guns to the Beretta 9mm, the standard issue for Army officers for the last half of my career.  For nearly 270 days straight while deployed to Bosnia, I strapped my 9mm to my shoulder and walked around with live ammunition, occasionally loading the magazine into the weapon for trips off post.  That was mandatory.  So was clearing it three times a day on each trip to the chow hall.  Safety first and all that.

I’ve never been shot at and I’ve never fired a weapon in self-defense even though I’ve spent time in places where such things routinely occurred.  Let’s face it, rifle ranges are intended to work in one direction only, and if you find yourself on a two-way rifle range, you’re in a shootin’ war of some sort.  I got lucky and never had to experience that.

So the upshot (pun intended) of all this is that I have fired and carried firearms for most of my adult life. Though even during the Los Angeles riots in the early ‘90’s, I’ve never been in a situation in which I needed to brandish my weapon for defense or for any other reason.  But I understand weapons, know how to use them and have a healthy respect for the damage they can inflict when used for nefarious purposes.  

After the massacre at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater a few months back, I found myself thinking about what I’d do if I found myself in such a situation.   (We guys always do that!  You know, like could I land a 747 if the pilots were all out of commission?)  More importantly, I found myself thinking about what I would do to defend Nate or Garrett, the 5 and 7-year-old kidlings I often take to the movies.   My first thought was that I’d hope I have the presence of mind and the courage to cover them with my body and protect them.  But the more I thought about this, the more I thought that all I was doing was trying to prevent them from becoming victims not really defending them.  As for me?  Well, such an action would have no hint of defense in it for me.  Instead, I would be instantaneously submitting myself to victimhood no matter the perceived nobility of purpose.  And I didn’t like the sound of that.

It’s an academic discussion.  I fully recognize that such a scenario is extremely unlikely to unfold in my presence making it all a fun exercise in mental gum chewing.  But I still didn’t like the idea of immediately submitting myself to victimhood.  It bugged me.  

Then came the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Just as the rest of our Nation did, I watched the news unfold as the information assaulted me from TV, radio and the Internet.  I thought about what it would be like to have been in a position to stop the slaughter or at the very least to mitigate the carnage.  But I would have been just as helpless as the principal at Sandy Hook, Dawn Hochsprung, who armed only with her passion to protect her students, courageously and nobly tried to subdue the vicious, crazy bastard and lost her life in the process.  She didn’t stand a chance.  She became a victim the moment that she took the first step toward the attacker.

I’m not going to make the argument about gun control from the facts in these words I’ve written.  I’m not in a position to make decisions for you or for anyone else.  Each of us has to decide what they can live with and what they can’t.  When you stare at yourself in the mirror in the morning, we each have to live with whatever decisions we make.  I’m not going to make decisions for anyone about what constitutes “having done enough” to protect the people they care about.  But for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that submitting myself to victimhood in order to protect my family is not enough.   

I’m trained and will continue to train.  I have a healthy respect for firearms and what they can do.  I also know that were I ever to draw a firearm in defense of life or property, I’m going for the head shot.  There’s no such thing as “shoot to wound.”  That protects the attacker and not the family. I’m not in the attacker protecting business.  

So now I’m armed.  Not all the time, of course, but I’m not going to publish openly under what conditions I will be.  I don’t like the idea, but for me it’s not enough to hope that you’re not going to get hit by a random gunman’s bullet.  Hope is no more of a defense than it is an economic strategy.  My checkbook balance represents this harsh reality.  My legally concealed handgun represents it too.

Our world has become a very different and very weird place since my dad took me out to shoot his .22 Ruger back in the early 60’s.  The world has even changed since I left Los Angeles just ten years ago.   It used to seem that you could stay safe by avoiding parts of town known for higher crime rates, but it seems as though it’s getting tougher and tougher to do that.  It’s not enough for me to avoid bad areas and plan to sacrifice myself for the safety of my family.  

It’s just not enough.

The Morning After the Night Before

To all my politically inclined Facebook friends:

Good morning!  Either congratulations are in order or condolences.  Either way, our Nation has chosen its leader without war, without bloodshed and without a change in the fundamental way our Nation is governed.  Our system — the American system of government defined in the Constitution of the United States did its job and a peaceful selection of a leader by the masses has occurred.

Do not take this for granted.

There are many nations around the world in which a transition of any kind results in death, destruction and the suppression of rights.  As I write this at 9:25 AM on the day after election day, my cable TV is still working, my Internet access is still blazingly fast (according to Comcast) and I can still search for and find opposing views on any issue my meager brain can conjure.

Do not take this for granted.

Yes, there ought to be election reform. Yes, there ought to be less pissing and moaning between candidates for any office.  Yes, it would be lovely if the candidates focused on ideas for the Nation instead of on how to get elected.  And yes, the governed need to feel as though their vote actually impacts the election; that they’re closer to their government than they are now.  But I would not trade this system of government for any other system of government in the world.  

I will not take this for granted.

I’ve listened to the sniping among my friends and colleagues.  I’ve seen the anger over whose candidate is better, more qualified, more personable and more competent, and most of that has really turned me off to the political process.  But I voted.  I’ve had my say.  And now it’s time for all of us who are far more alike than we are different to recognize that we are Americans FIRST.  Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Yellow, Purple, Chartreuse — frankly I’m not interested in your partisan rants.  We are Americans, dammit, and we can and should come together and stay together regardless of who won last night.  We are stronger, better, more productive and more compassionate when we concentrate on our similarities than our differences.  

So today, instead of gloating or drinking heavily, look at that person on my Facebook page whose posts you hate to read ’cause it really gets on your nerves and think to yourself “We’re both Americans.  I’ll bet that person likes ice cream just like I do.”  Find the commonalities.  Find the things that make us alike rather than the things that make us different.  You’re all my friends for a reason:  I’ve found something in each of you that is similar to something I find in myself.  You all, my Facebook friends, have me in common.  (And there’s no one more common than me!)  

See if you can find what else you have in common with one another.  You might just be surprised that you’re far more alike than you think.

And never take that for granted.

Dan

The Reluctant Astronaut

neil-armstrong-nasa-600Neil Armstrong was a true hero to those of us who grew up in the 60’s. The moon landing in 1969 was the one brief moment in my albeit lousy memory in which, in the midst of domestic upheaval, Humankind — not just Americans were united. His quiet seclusion over the decades since belies his importance to that pivotal and fleeting moment in our history. While others have stepped forward to varying degrees to share with us the memories of those heady days and gotten their just rewards, Armstrong remained in the shadows of his equally heroic colleagues. As the focus of the world for his first steps on another celestial body, he deserves much more. He as the hero I wanted to be. He was the hero we all wanted to be.

Annoying Phrases

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Did you ever have one of those phrases that isn’t quite a pet peeve, but sticks in your craw nonetheless?  A phrase that just doesn’t really make sense or that is so overused and misused that it makes the little hairs on the back of your neck twitch every time you hear it?  Sort of like an earworm but shorter?

Yeah.  You know what I mean.

Well, I’ve got one that’s been bugging the hell out of me, and there’s a lot of hell in me to bug, and that’s the phrase “their fair share.”

All the politicians, pundits and radio talk show weasels (full disclosure:  I wish I were one of those radio talk show weasels.)  are using this phrase, but mostly I hear it in the context of the super rich in the United States of America being chastised for not paying “their fair share.”  I wouldn’t have a huge problem with the phrase if it weren’t being used to demonize the rich and promote class warfare in this country.  (“Class warfare” is almost there as my second most annoying phrase.)  But for the moment, let’s break down the phrase “their fair share” from the perspective of our close personal friends at Merriam-Webster.

“Their” is an adjective meaning “… of or relating to them or themselves especially as possessors, agents, or objects of an action.”  In short, it indicates ownership.

“Fair.”  I like definition 6.a: ”… marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.”  Please note the last words in this definition:  “free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism.”  (Makes me think that no politician in this day and age falls into this category, therefore, none of them are entitled to use the word “fair” at all.  But that’s just me.)

And last, of course, for those of you keeping score at home, we have the word “share.”  This is where it gets a little murky and you may pick a definition to suit your liking.  I picked 1.a.: “…a portion belonging to, due to, or contributed by an individual or group” because it’s the simplest and it seemed to suit my premise, which I’ll get to in a minute.   You could also go with 2.a.: “the part allotted or belonging to one of a number owning together property or interest.”  I suppose this is OK as well.  In any case, the sticking point in these definitions comes down to how you define the “group” of the first definition, or the “number” of the second.  Essentially, those two words define the demographic comprising those who will do the sharing.

I’m no Constitutional scholar, and I’m way too lazy to do a whole lot of digging, but I don’t believe that the founding documents of this Nation made nor did they intend to create any distinction based on net worth.  Oh sure, they made distinctions, but the whole gender and race thing were adjusted in the Constitution’s 19th, 15th and 13th Amendments.  Not to say that these three amendments completely solved the problems they set out to solve, but it removed more distinctions from the Constitution.

Bottom line from my foxhole is that the Constitution from its first words: “We the People of the United States…” and supported in its following paragraphs and Amendments indicates that it was intended to apply to everyone.  Not just the rich.  Not just the middle class, the poor, the upside-down-on-their-home owners, Wall Street workers or cartoon characters, but everyone.

Everyone.  All-inclusive.  What you have when you add everyone else and me.  Everyone.

So, “their” implies “everyone.”  “Fair” implies impartiality and “free from distinction”, and “share” is a portion.

Therefore “their fair share” means everyone contributes equitably. Everyone.  All-inclusive.  What you have when you add everyone else and me.  Everyone.

I’m not going to quote statistics about who is paying what percentage of income tax under our ridiculously complex and hilariously comical tax code. (Really, the IRS should distribute its 1040 form on the funny pages.)  The details really don’t matter to me.  To me, “their fair share” means everyone has an interest in and a responsibility to contribute to this Nation’s prosperity through hard work and yes, even paying taxes.  Everyone uses the services provided by our government, and everyone should share the burden.  The Constitution doesn’t say “We the People making over $250,000.00 annually of the United States…” it says “We the People.” We. Everyone. All-inclusive.  What you have when you add everyone else and me. Everyone.

The super rich are not to be leaned on because they have deep pockets. The middle class is not to be leaned on because they and small businesses are the engine of our economy.  The poor is not to be leaned on because they can’t afford it, but neither should they be exempt.  There’s no class distinction in our Constitution and there should be no class distinction in politics.  “We the People.”  We.  Everyone. All-inclusive.  What you have when you add everyone else and me.  Everyone.

We’re all in this together and we all share the responsibility for and the burden of our collective successes and failures.

To the members of Congress and the President, to all the politicians and pundits who are segregating this Nation based on wealth, you are behaving in an unconstitutional fashion.

Knock it off, wouldja?

We The People deserve better.

*** Edit:  I am quoting with permission a cogent response from a fine gentleman on another site.  Never let it be said that I don’t try to be fair! ***

His retort:
“Well, although it serves your ultimate point better, definition 6a for “fair” in Merriam Webster really does not make any sense when you attempt to fit it into the phrase “their fair share.” Definition 6b is better, especially since Merriam Webster itself suggests that definition in relation to the phrase “a fair share.” Did you miss that entirely? 


Here is definition 6b (1) : conforming with the established rules : allowed (2) : consonant with merit or importance : due (a fair share)


So, if the Congress, which WE THE PEOPLE elected, finds it in their wisdom to decide that the very rich can afford to pay more (and why shouldn’t they be able to afford it – they pay the same price for a loaf of bread as the poorest of the poor. The difference is in how much the rich and the poor have left over after buying the bread.) then Congress can pass a law to that effect, and the higher tax will be “conforming with the established rules.”


The poor pay taxes, any way. They are not exempt. They pay sales tax, they pay tax on their unemployment checks if they still get them. If they have jobs they pay payroll taxes. For many of the working poor, their federal income tax burden is offset by the Earned Income Tax Credit. So it is disingenuous (read: false) to claim the poor aren’t paying, as much so as it is to pretend the very rich will be overburdened by some additional taxation, say, the levels they paid back when the USA was thriving.”

And my response:

Your point is granted. The second definition does say what you say is does, and that’s all well and good. However, I don’t believe that the application of unfair rules, even if legally levied, are by their nature fair. So item 6b above is a matter of opinion more than it’s a matter of fact. “Conforming to established rules” does not imply equity.

And you’re right. Everyone pays SOME tax. I probably should have specified income tax. But everyone pays some form of taxes regardless of income earned. The richest of the rich and the middest of the middle all pay social security, medicare, sales, gas and other taxes without regard to net worth. But NOT everyone pays INCOME tax. Some have it withheld and then get it back at the end of the year because of lack of income. Some deal in cash only. There ARE folks who don’t pay income taxes.

I also advocate taxing all income as income. I think interest income, capital gains, wages, you name it all should be taxed at the same rate.

Too damned many loopholes. My ideal tax code would be everyone sharing the burden and everyone sharing the benefit.

Have We Forgotten?

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So much has happened to me personally and professionally since that day and the day in September 2001 that ultimately set up this strong memory.  I find myself on a most unexpected but not unwelcome path altered by the events of 9/11.

Much of those early months in The Pentagon were focused on the aftermath of the attacks and supporting the operations in Afghanistan.  Lessons on Army staff procedures, Congressional affairs and foreign policy were learned hourly.  Working on the Army’s crisis action team as the public affairs representative required immediate fluency in all these things and I had none of them.  Fortunately, as did the rest of the Nation, the crisis action team pulled together coaching one another, making things happen sometimes by a relentless force of will.  We took care of each other.  After all, we were all in the same boat.

Now a decade later, the National Geographic Channel is running various documentaries about the events of 9/11 and the days and weeks following.  On one documentary in particular, I saw images of three people I knew and worked with, fellow members of the Army Public Affairs team who were outside The Pentagon that day helping rescue the injured and trying to bring at least a little bit of order to the chaos of the day.   I’ll bet you they’ll never forget that day.  I’ll even go so far as to bet you that the memories of the carnage of that day are with them every day.

Is it with the rest of us?

Do we remember how we felt that day?  Are the events of 9/11 fading from our memory like old wallpaper in an abandoned structure?  Does 9/11 only live in the minds of my colleagues and those like them, but not in the rest of us?  Have the Katrinas and the debt ceiling and the tsunamis and the earthquakes and the divisiveness all overtaken our memories?

Yeah.  Pretty much, I think.

In watching the documentaries, it brings up my feelings of that day, even though I was in my home in Los Angeles and nowhere near The Pentagon.  I find myself wondering if anyone else is moved to tears again as I was watching and reliving the events of that day.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but it still makes me chuckle to think that the two children with whom I live weren’t yet born when this happened.  To them, 9/11 WILL be just a documentary, a collection of facts to be learned just long enough to pass the test.

When they’re old enough and if I’m not around, I hope someone takes the time to show them not just the collection of facts, but also the collection of faces — the faces of the innocent people who were murdered on American soil.  And the faces of evil that perpetrated the atrocities of that day.

Even with that knowledge, it’ll never be as real to those two boys as it was to we who were glued to our TV’s that day watching the horrors unfold from afar.   And for certain, it will never be as real to those two boys as it was to my Army colleagues and the hundreds of others like them who experienced it first hand on the Pentagon grounds that day.

Darryl Worley, a talented country music artist who I had the great pleasure to meet and brief, asked the real question back in 2003:  Have you Forgotten?

It frightens me to believe that for most of our Nation, the answer is “yes.”

“Complacency” ought to be a four-letter word

 

 

Amazing Start to Today

So I’m on my way to Milwaukee for a trade show, and as usual, flying anywhere is a less than pleasant experience these days. Oddly enough, today seems to be the exception to this dismal rule and has changed my expectation not just of the day’s travel, but of the nature of people.

As I’ve said before, people generally suck. So when so many things come together as they have so far this morning – and it’s not even 11:00 yet – it contradicts my usual pessimistic observation about people and gives me hope that there are still decent human beings to be found in the wild.

First, and absolutely the least important, is that not only was traffic sparse on the trip to National Airport today, but no one cut me off. Score one point for the day.

Next, I found a parking spot without a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth. No profanities either, which if you’ve experienced me behind the wheel of the Prius or any other vehicle, is unusual under even routine circumstances.

After a short walk from the parking garage to the terminal, I was greeted by an energetic man behind the AirTran counter who checked me in. He asked how many bags I had and I told him two. After poking around the computer for a few minutes, he asked, “Would you like to upgrade to first class? Baggage is free in first class, and with the cost of your coach bags, I can upgrade you to first class for just four dollars more. Would you like to do that?”

This is something I hadn’t considered. But it took less time to whip out the Visa card and agree to these favorable terms than it usually takes me to sneeze. So I’m upgraded to first class for four extra bucks over what I would have paid for my routine coach ticket.

Nice.

VERY nice.

Bags checked, I headed over to the security line in Terminal A. People had gathered there waving flags in anticipation of the arrival of their travelers. I waited and watched as two or three World War II veterans in wheelchairs came down the aisle and applause broke out among those anticipating their arrival.

This made me smile broadly. I had the good fortune to be assigned to the Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, and I know and appreciate the heroism and sacrifice of these fine veterans of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” So I took the liberty of joining in the applause.

And my smile widened.

Proceeding to the large rotunda which serves as Terminal A, i discovered a celebration in progress. Non-stop applause filled the echoing rotunda and there was music in the air. A planeload of WWII veterans from Wisconsin had just arrived and were being greeted by a very appreciative crowd, what appeared to be a political figure, and an older gentleman who played various patriotic songs solo on his French horn. (And he was pretty good, too!)

I stood and watched the joy of the veterans as their heroism was being recognized by the crowd and joined in the applause for these fine people and those who gathered in support.

As I type this now, the French horn player no longer knocking out repeat performances of “On Wisconsin,” I am still smiling. Yes, people apparently do have the capacity to be good and kind and all things the evening news reports that we are not. To see such joy and pride in the faces of both the Wisconsin veterans coming to DC to celebrate their service together and the people gathered to welcome them is the perfect beginning to what could have really been a crappy day. Though I gained personal satisfaction and a good mood from this morning’s experience, I find it more important to note that Americans haven’t forgotten the service of their veterans no matter their age.

To the veterans from Wisconsin and your families, thank you for making my day.

 

Sing Along with Dan!

 

Sung to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus.”

The Dow Jones Av’rage Goes down, down, down.
Down, down, down.
Down, down, down.
The Dow Jones Av’rage Goes down, down, down,
And investors frown.

The U.S. Debt goes up, up, up.
Up, up, up.
Up, up, up.
The U.S. Debt goes up, up, up,
China squeals with glee.

Congress doesn’t seem to care.
Why should they?
They’re not there.
Congress doesn’t seem to care,
‘Till two thousand twelve.