Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to end school shootings

The 1962 Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale reaffimed the fact that prayer in public schools was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A year later, the Supreme Court, in the case of Abington School District v. Schemmp, made the corporate reading of the Bible and recitation of the Lord’s prayer unlawful in public schools.

Canada also does not allow prayers in public schools because it is disallowed under the concept of Freedom of Conscience on Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. France does not allow school prayer due to its status as a laicist (religiously neutral) country, This is the country, remember, that declared Joan of Arc a national symbol of France in 1803. Even though it is a predominately Muslim country, Turkey does not allow school prayers since is a strongly secular nation.

Since school shootings in America have become all too common in recent years, there ARE folks who believe that the school shootings would end if we simply allowed prayers in schools again.

Soon after the most recent mass murder in yet Parkland, Florida, a Christian radio host named Bryan Fischer publicly declared that "God allows school shootings like the one that claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, because there is not enough prayer in public schools." Mr Fischer believes: "I suggest we have mass school shootings because we don't have enough God on our campuses."

So ….

Here is a question for you. When did school shootings first start in America?





The answer is ….
1764, which happens to be 198 years before the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed prayers in schools.

The number of instances per decade has been fairly low, and fairly consistent, until recently. You will notice on the chart shown in the link listed below that the average number of incidents per decade started to increase in the 1970’s, and has increased significantly since 2010.

The reason for the increase?

Harlon Carter.

Until the middle 1970s, the NRA mainly focused on sportsmen, hunters and target shooters, and downplayed gun control issues. However, passage of the GCA galvanized a growing number of NRA gun rights activists, including Harlon Carter. In 1975, it began to focus more on politics and established its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), with Carter as director. The next year, its political action committee (PAC), the Political Victory Fund, was created in time for the 1976 elections. The 1977 annual convention was a defining moment for the organization and came to be known as "The Cincinnati Revolution".Leadership planned to relocate NRA headquarters to Colorado and to build a $30 million recreational facility in New Mexico, but activists within the organization whose central concern was Second Amendment rights defeated the incumbents and elected Carter as executive director and Neal Knox as head of the NRA-ILA.

 Just as the election of Barack Obama triggered an increase in gun sales since 2008, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which created a system to federally license gun dealers and established restrictions on certain categories and classes of firearms) started the NRA on a more radical path.

Ted Nugent has been a board member of the NRA since at least 2012. Less than a week after the Parkland shooting, he promoted the right-wing conspiracy theory that the Parkland school shooting survivors who are currently calling for gun regulation are “coached” actors.

Today, the NRA is considered the most powerful lobbying organization in the country. In 2016, the NRA had revenue of $434 million, and expenses of $476 million. As of 2012, 88% of the Republicans in Congress, and 11% of the Democrats, had received money from the NRA at some point in their career. In 2012, the NRA spent roughly $10 million to support Mitt Romney. In 2016, it spend $30 million to help elect Donald Trump.

The members of Congress who have received the most money can be found at the link below:

John McCain is the overall winner, with career contributions of $7,740,521.

All of the folks on the list have sent their “thoughts and prayers” after the various mass shootings have occurred. For some reason, all that prayin’ just has not done much good.

For more than 100 years, the NRA was a great organization.

The National Rifle Association was started in 1871 by Colonel William Church and General George Wingate in order to correct the poor shooting that they witnessed during the Civil War. Their goal was to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis".

The NRA's interest in promoting the shooting sports among America's youth began in 1903 when NRA Secretary Albert S. Jones urged the establishment of rifle clubs at all major colleges, universities and military academies. By 1906, NRA's youth program was in full swing with more than 200 boys competing in matches at Sea Girt that summer.

Today, youth programs are still a cornerstone of the NRA, with more than one million youth participating in NRA shooting sports events and affiliated programs with groups such as 4-H, the Boy Scouts of America, the American Legion, Royal Rangers, National High School Rodeo Association and others.

The NRA's call to help arm Britain in 1940 resulted in the collection of more than 7,000 firearms for Britain's defense against potential invasion by Germany (Britain had virtually disarmed itself with a series of gun-control laws enacted between World War I and World War II).

After the war, the NRA concentrated its efforts on another much-needed arena for education and training: the hunting community. In 1949, the NRA, in conjunction with the state of New York, established the first hunter education program.

In 1956, NRA became the only national trainer of law enforcement officers with the introduction of its NRA Police Firearms Instructor certification program, which became fully operational in 1960.

The Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program was started in 1988 in order to protect kindergarten through 4th grade students.

In 1990, the NRA Foundation was established in order to ensure that gun safety and educational programs will be fully funded in the future.

The NRA’s first step into political activism was in1934, when the organization formed the Legislative Affairs Division. Although it did no direct lobbying, it DID mail facts and analyses to members of Congress.

In 1975, the organization became more aggressive in their approach, and formed the Institute for Legislative Action.

Since its founding, the NRA has had 26 presidents, but the best known leaders were Charlton Heston and U.S. Grant. The current president is Pete Brownwell, but the most prominent spokesman for the organization has been Wayne LaPierre, who is the executive vice president, a position that he has held since 1991. His annual salary is $972,000.

To his credit, he actually DOES have a few good ideas:

·         Having armed security personnel at schools.
·         Increasing funds for a stricter and more efficient mental health system, and reform of civil commitment laws to facilitate institutionalization of the mentally ill when necessary.
·         Creating a computerized universal mental health registry of those adjudicated to be incompetent, to help limit gun sales to the mentally ill.
·         Increasing enforcement of federal laws against and incarceration of violent gang members or felons with guns.
·         Project Exile and similar programs that mandate severe sentences for all gun crimes, especially illegal possession. LaPierre stated, "By prosecuting them, they prevent the drug dealer, the gang member, and the felon from committing the next crime... Leave the good people alone and lock up the bad people and dramatically cut crime."[9]
·         Restriction on "bump fire" type rifle stocks, in the aftermath of the Vegas shooting in 2017.
·         Bans on fully automatic firearms 

Not all of his ideas, however, are good ones:

·         Universal background checks, as he believes this will lead to a universal gun registry.
·         The Assault Weapons Ban of 2013
·         Any limits on the law-abiding public's access to semi-automatic weapons.[8]
·         Some gun control laws which he views as a form of government tyranny: "What people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government. If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they're going to be out there alone, and the only way they will protect themselves, in the cold, in the dark, when they are vulnerable, is with a firearm." There are some laws, however, he supports, such as the ban on gun sales to, or possession by, convicted felons or those adjudicated as incompetent or mentally ill.

Ironically, the best way to bring an end to school shootings is to use EXACTLY the same methods that the NRA used to become THE most successful lobbying group in the country.

As former Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos said, "Let me make one small vote for the NRA. They're good citizens. They call their congressmen. They write. They vote. They contribute. And they get what they want over time.

In 2018, the GOP is on very shaky grounds with the voting public. Even though legislatures in Arizona, Florida, and other states STILL refuse to take meaningful action after the shooting in Parkland, the tsunami wave is going to hit in November, and it’s not going to be pretty for the Republican Party.

During the Vietnam War, opposition to the war on college campuses was the primary catalyst for our withdrawal from Vietnam. Today, the charge is being led by high school students, who are fed up with the fact that there have been fatal school shootings since Columbine.

Including non fatal shootings, there had been 270 shootings – and that statistic is from February of 2016.

It may still take a little longer, but America is eventually going to be saved -
by its teenagers.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Runnin’ down a dream

Motor vehicles deaths reached a peak of 54,589 in 1972, and have decreased every year since – except for the last 2 years, when they started to rise again. In 2016, the number of people who died in motor vehicle accidents was 37,451.

For the first time since records have been kept, accidental injuries are now the 3rd leading cause of death in America, right behind cancer and heart disease. The increase in preventable injuries (10% higher than it was in 2015) was due to two factors: (1) an increase in motor vehicle deaths and (2) drug overdoses arising out of the opioid crises. In fact, more people died from drug overdoses (37,814) than from car crashes.

There’s a reason for that.

The United States holds 45% of the worldwide pharmaceutical market. In 2016, the share was worth $446 billion. Most people (including me) take more than one medication every day, and it’s relatively easy to take the wrong medicine at any particular time due to the sheer numbers we all take. Unfortunately, the medical profession is unable to prescribe any NATURAL alternatives, since they have no training in that. Medical marijuana is one possible solution, but the current administration is trying to DECREASE the amount of marijuana available to the citizens, when the trend should be in the opposite direction.

On January 29, a former drug company executive named Alex Azar was sworn in as Trump's new health care chief. He replaces Dr. Tom Price, who was forced out of the position last fall due to spending irregularities, principally the use of expensive private jets for official business. That lesson apparently has been lost on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who flies first class due to the fact that people in coach are often mean to him.

Incidentally, if you think appointing a drug company executive to head a department charged with tackling a drug problem is a bit like a fox guarding the hen house, you are exactly right.

In order to combat the opioid crisis, logic would tell you that you need a drug czar who had had many years experience dealing with drug issues to solve the problem. True to form, Trump nominated 24 year old Taylor Weyeneth, whose only work experience after graduating from college in May of 2016 was working on the Trump campaign. Since he was expected to resign by the end of January, it is likely that he is already gone.

Being a professional musician is physically, emotionally, and mentally very taxing, which Bob Seger explained in his 1973song, “turn the page”.

Tom Petty got the bug to perform when he was 11 years old. Elvis Presley was filming “Follow That Dream” in a Florida town close to where Petty lived, and he invited Petty to the set.

Petty’s first band was called Epic, and it later changed to Mudcrutch. In 1976, he started Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and performed with them through 1987. In 1988, he joined the Traveling Wilburys, and he also started a solo career. Runnin’ down the dream was one of the songs on his first solo album.

In 2017, the Heartbreakers embarked on a 40th anniversary tour, which ended on September 25 in Hollywood. After that tour, Petty continued to perform solo, and was still performing at the end of September.

Due to the fact that his body was wracked with injuries due to his performing, Petty took a variety of prescription drugs. 4 were opioids, 2 were analogs, 2 were sedatives, and one was an anti-depressant. During his last performance, he fractured his hip, which caused him great pain. On the morning of October 2, the fracture gave way and became a full break, causing him even MORE pain. In desperation, he took more pain killers, which led to a full cardiac arrest the same day. 

He was 66 years old.

There are people who claim that Petty’s death was a suicide - but I think that’s utter nonsense. Petty was simply a young man, inspired by Elvis Presley, who was simply following a dream. In spite of the words to his best known song, his dream DID come to him. 

In the end, though, it exacted a very high price.

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin'
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin' little Runaway
I was flyin'

Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream
I felt so good like anything was possible
I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes

The last three days the rain was unstoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine
Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

Friday, February 9, 2018

Teaching tolerance

The other day, I noticed a copy of a magazine titled “Teaching Tolerance” on a desk in a local high school. The magazine is published every quarter, and it is printed by an organization called

I was born the same year that Jackie Robinson became the first Negro ball player in professional baseball, and I witnessed the civil rights movement blossom and flourish. Emmett Till was murdered on the same day that I turned 8, and Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech my birthday in 1963. 

Overall, I would say that our society has become more tolerant than it was when I was a kid, but there has always been, and also will be, a certain percentage of our population who will forever remain intolerant.

Unfortunately, our society has become LESS tolerant in recent years due to the ascension of Donald “you’re fired” Trump, who has surrounded himself with people who are very much like himself. His senior advisor, Stephen Miller was brought up by a liberal Jewish family in California, but became radicalized after he read Wayne LaPierre’s book, “Guns, Crime, and Freedom” when he was in high school.

After graduation from high school, Miller went to Duke University, where he met Richard Spencer, an American white supremacist, who is president of the National Policy Institute as well as Washington Summit Publishers. Spencer was one of the featured speakers at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August.

To say “there were a few good people on both sides” at the rally in Charlottesville is EXACTLY the wrong thing to do, since depicting Nazis as ordinary gives them power. The link below takes a broader look at the issue:

According to the FBI, the number of hate crimes reached a 5 year high in 2016, and took a noticeable uptick at the end of 2016 after Trump’s surprise victory.

There will not be an improvement in our country until Trump is either forced to resign or forcibly removed from office, but there ARE things that can be done in the meantime to make our country a “kinder, gentler” America.

At the local level, the Tucson Unified School district has taken steps to ensure that our local school system is as tolerant as possible. Last September, the Governing Board adopted a resolution stating, "the Governing Board and the District, and its administration, teachers, counselors and staff will support all students equally, whether their immigration status is documented or undocumented."

On March 8, the district will hold a multicultural symposium (designed to build relationships among different cultures) at one of the local high schools. In order to further that goal, the district currently offers interpretation and translation in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Kirundi, Somali, and Swahili.

I have been in 2 schools so far that have support groups for students in the LGBTQ community, but I am fairly certain that there are a lot more schools than that who do the same thing.

I am not aware of any specific courses in tolerance that are being taught in Tucson, although many teachers undoubtedly make efforts to do so. If they are unsure about how to go about doing that, a woman named Kathlene Holmes published an article in UT News (the newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin) in 2005. Her letter can be viewed at the link shown below:

If more teachers had taken her advice years ago, it’s possible that Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown would still be alive today.

One of the paradoxes of today’s political environment is that the most conservative religious voters in the country overwhelmingly support a thrice-married lying crook because they believe he was “chosen by God” to lead our country.

One of the troubling trends created by this group is the fact that more and more states are passing legislation to allow the teaching of the Bible in public schools.

The West Virginia legislature introduced a bill in January of 2018 that would mandate an elective course in both private and public schools that teaches "knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture" while also adhering to "religion neutrality." If the bill is passed, it would make West Virginia the 8th state to do so.
Not surprisingly, the push to pass the bill has taken place in the “red’ states. The Republican platform of 2016 encouraged state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as a high school elective due to the fact the Republican Party believes that “a good understanding of the Bible is indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.

The danger with Bible study courses is that they can easily stray into attempts to proselytize religion. As a result, the courses have occasionally run into legal problems in places like Texas and Kentucky.

In April of 2012, Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill that allowed the Bible to be studied in Arizona classrooms.  Fortunately, the classes aren’t mandatory. In addition, the elective courses teach students about the Bible’s history as it pertains to its influence on Western civilization (this is starkly different than, say, preaching based on the holy book’s tenets).

The best approach to the problem is to NOT teach strictly about the Bible, but about other religions as well. According to, research shows that a world religions course helps reduce intolerance among students without undermining students' religious beliefs.

If you are creative, there ARE ways to fight back against the folks who are too rigid about religion. One example of that is the Church of Flying
Spaghetti Monster, which originated in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education’s decision to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. Believe it or not, it is recognized as a legitimate religion in New Zealand and the Netherlands.

 I encountered a similar problem last spring when I taught a biology class and encountered a student who was a 7th Day Adventist. That religion does not consider the theory of evolution to be valid. The permanent teacher of the class advised the girl’s mother that her daughter could say “scientists say” rather than “the facts are” when discussing evolution, and the problem was solved.

Although I consider myself to be a tolerant person, the truth is that tolerance is not actually a virtue, and that odd statement is more fully explained in the article below:

Martin Luther King Jr. achieved his goals of racial equality by means of peaceful protests, but he never used the word “tolerance” in his speeches. For him (and he was right) “it would have been an obscenity to say white people should learn to tolerate us more.” The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was not simply appealing to liberal magnanimity, but demanding equity, including economic equity. Tolerance is a request that represents a retreat from that ambitious vision. When King marched on Washington D.C., he didn't say, "Learn to live with us." He said, "We're here to cash a check".

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

ANOTHER man of integrity

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick took a stand against police brutality, when he started kneeling during the national anthem. Ultimately, his commitment to a cause cost him $12 million (his 2016 salary), since he was not signed by any professional NFL team for the 2017 season. His story can be found at the link below:

ANOTHER NFL play who has integrity is Philadelphia Eagle player Chris Long, who has now played for 2 consecutive Super Bowl winning teams.

Long attended St. Anne's-Belfield Academy in Charlottesville, Virginia

Long had the rare distinction of having his jersey retired at St. Anne's-Belfield School.  Long also played basketball, lacrosse, and baseball in high school

He is the Son of Pro Football Hall of Fame member Howie Long. He played college football at Virginia, where he was recognized as a unanimous All-American

Long's #91 jersey was retired at the University of Virginia on November 24, 2007, making him the first to have his jersey retired while an active player.

 Long has also played for the New England Patriots, winning a championship with them in Super Bowl LI in 2017. The following season he won Super Bowl LII with the Eagles.

In May 2015, Long launched The Chris Long Foundation which helps raise money for the Waterboys.ORG Initiative. The initiative is dedicated to building wells for communities in East Africa. In 2017, Long stated that he would donate his entire base salary for that year's NFL season to charity.
Last spring, Long signed a two-year contract with the Eagles that included a $500,000 signing bonus, a $1 million base salary and a $1.5 million roster bonus.
Long donated his first six paychecks of 2017 to fund scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. He says he was inspired to give after seeing the violent protests held by white nationalists in August.
Defensive end Chris Long told Pardon My Take that he plans to skip another White House visit if the Philadelphia Eagles win Super Bowl LII.

Long was a member of last year's New England Patriots team that won Super Bowl LI but was not in attendance for the team's visit with President Donald Trump in April. Long has been very vocal on social media against President Trump. Long has also participated in the protests during the national anthem before games by putting his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins.

Last year, Long explained his decision not to attend the White House in a video by Green Stripe News.
"My son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I don't want him to say, 'Hey dad, why'd you go [to the White House] when you knew the right thing was to not go?'" Long said.

Monday, February 5, 2018


When you think of “Hollywood”, you normally think of it as a place of fantasy, fame, and glamour – but that isn’t how it started out.

On February 1, 1887, a man named Harvey Wilcox registered “Hollywood” with the Los Angeles Country recorders office, four years after he and his wife moved to California from Kansas. With the fortune that he had made in real estate in Kansas, he bought 160 acres of land in the foothills to the west of the city of Los Angeles.

When he founded the town, Mr. Wilcox envisioned it as a utopian-like community where devout Christians could live a highly moral life free of vices - like alcohol. By 1900, the population was only 500 people, a lot smaller than the city of Los Angeles, which had 100,000 people. A 7 mile streetcar trip to the “big city “ took 2 hours to complete.

Then, as now, Hollywood was short on water, so the town merged with Los Angles in 1910 in order to obtain a more reliable supply of water. Not long after that, the movie industry moved in – and things were never the same.

Prior to 1998, when area code 213 split into area code 323, my sister’s phone number was 213-666-xxxx. As you are aware, 666 is “the sign of the beast”, which does not imply anything resembling virtuous living. During Prohibition, of course, both Los Angeles and Hollywood had their share of speakeasies, and one of them still exists today:

The famous Hollywood sign was erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a local real estate development called Hollywoodland, and it has remained in place long after the completion of the development was completed. It has been vandalized a number of times, but now has a security system to deter vandalism. It is now protected and promoted by The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization, and its site and surrounding land are part of Griffith Park.

The original sign had deteriorated badly by 1949, when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a contract to repair and rebuild the sign, but their efforts were only a temporary fix.
By 1978, it needed repairs again, and 9 donors contributed $27,777,777 each to repair the sign. Here are their names:

·         HHugh Hefner (founder of Playboy)
·         O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer)
·         L: Les Kelley (founder of the Kelley Blue Book)
·         LGene Autry (actor)
·         Y: Terrence Donnelly (publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper)
·         WAndy Williams (singer)
·         OWarner Bros. Records
·         OAlice Cooper (singer), who donated in memory of close friend and comedian Groucho Marx, and who joked that he would also donate an "O" from his last name
·         D: Dennis Lidtke (businessman) donated in the name of Matthew Williams

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few words from a famous Hollywood character: