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Friday, July 31, 2015

Scioto: Part of the "Big White Ghetto"

"There are lots of diversions in the Big White Ghetto, the vast moribund matrix of Wonder Bread -- hued Appalachian towns and villages stretching from northern Mississippi to southern New York, a slowly dissipating nebula of poverty and misery with its heart in eastern Kentucky, the last redoubt of the Scots-Irish working class that picked up where African slave labor left off, mining and cropping and sawing the raw materials for a modern American economy that would soon run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation, as peasants.

"Thinking about the future here and its bleak prospects is not much fun at all, so instead of too much black-minded introspection you have the pills and the dope, the morning beers, the endless scratch-off lotto cards, healing meetings up on the hill, the federally funded ritual of trading cases of food-stamp Pepsi for packs of Kentucky’s Best cigarettes and good old hard currency, tall piles of gas-station nachos, the occasional blast of meth, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, petty crime, the draw, the recreational making and surgical unmaking of teenaged mothers, and death: Life expectancies are short — the typical man here dies well over a decade earlier than does a man in Fairfax County, Va. — and they are getting shorter, women’s life expectancy having declined by nearly 1.1 percent from 1987 to 2007.

"If the people here weren’t 98.5 percent white, we’d call it a reservation."

(Kevin D. Williamson. "The White Ghetto: In Appalachia the country is beautiful and the society is broken." National Review. January 09, 2014.)

Kevin Williamson is a roving correspondent for National Review and the director of the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellowship in Political Journalism. We, here, in Scioto County, Ohio, are residents of this Appalachian "Reservation." All here can attest to the accuracy of Williamson's colorful description of our home. The ever-present misery in our daily existence is cradled by poor health, lack of jobs, and hopelessness for a better life. 

The high unemployment and low wages in the region stem directly from the historical patterns of concentrated land and mineral ownership and industrial development. It is a long history of how a region rich in natural resources has, over time, become a forgotten area for commerce and development.

Yet, great progress has been made throughout the Appalachia region in developing an infrastructure of good highways and interstate access, industrial development zones, and a sound education and health care system. But conditions in the Central Appalachia's still lag behind the rest of the nation.  By 1990 poverty in the Central Appalachia region was still 27%, compared to 13.1% for the rest of the nation.

In 2015, the region still lacks an adequate job base and extremely low income levels. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest report, persons in Scioto County living below poverty level from 2009-2013 was 23.3%. That means a full quarter of Scioto County residents are living in poverty, and indications are that it is getting worse. Habitat For Humanity reported Scioto County was the second in Ohio Appalachian counties for its poverty rate based on latest census figures. Scioto ranks 81st of the 88 counties in Ohio in the highest poverty levels. 

We must understand that inadequate education and illiteracy are major factors in promulgating poverty. The vast majority of educational systems require parental participation, and this does not work well in a community where there is a high concentration of illiteracy. Pride of educational achievement and an ethic for pursuing a life-long education are so vital for any improvement in the poverty rates of Appalachia.

Illiteracy rates are fairly high in Scioto County at 10.8%, yet nearby county illiteracy is even higher (Pike 11.7%, Gallia 11.1%, Adams 12.6%, Vinton 13.0%.)

(County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. A Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation Program. 2012.)

It has been shown that children of illiterates begin to fall behind other children by the time they reach the third month of kindergarten. Look to nearby Kentucky. The Appalachian Poverty Project has reported that less than 62% of adults in Pike County, Kentucky have high school diplomas and less than 10% have college degrees. The reports says, "This number is skewed by the fact that the county has a prosperous town with a hospital, doctors, lawyers and merchants. The difference between the “haves and have nots” is extreme."

(The Appalachian Poverty Project. A Component of The Community Foundation of Carroll County.

Not just Appalachians, but all Ohioans could do much better. Between 1.3 to 1.5 million Ohioans scored in the lowest literacy level assessed on the Ohio Adult Literacy Survey conducted by Educational Testing Service in 1992. These individuals are unable to consistently perform functions such as locating an intersection on a map, writing a brief letter explaining an error in a bill, identifying and entering information on an application for social security, and determining the difference in price between two items. (Ohio Literacy Network)

Everyone should be aware of how serious illiteracy is in the United States. Read these statistics:

•  One third of all teens who enter high school do not graduate with a diploma 4 years
later. (Orfield, 2005)
•  $73 billion per year of unnecessary health care expenses are attributed to poor literacy. (Healthcare Study Report)
•  At the current rate of [reading] loss, literacy reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century. (NEA, Reading at Risk)
•  10 million children have trouble reading and 6 million middle and high school students can’t read at [basic reading] levels. (U.S. D.O.E./Alliance for Excellent Education)
•  Illiterate adults account for 75% of the unemployed and 85% of juveniles who appear in court (Education Consumers Clearing House)
•  Children whose parents are unemployed and who have dropped out of school are five times more likely to become dropouts themselves (National Center for Family Literacy).
•  Lack of literacy skills among U.S. citizens cost American businesses and taxpayers an estimated $224 billion each year (United Way).

("Grim Statistics about Illiteracy in Ohio and in the U.S.")

Then, consider these stats from the Literacy Project Foundation:

* In a study of literacy among 20 ‘high income’ countries; US ranked 12th.
* Illiteracy has become such a serious problem in our country that 44 million adults are now unable to read a simple story to their children.
* 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level.
* 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level.
* 44% of the American adults do not read a book in a year.
* 6 out of 10 households do not buy a single book in a year.
* 3 out of 4 people on welfare can’t read.
* 20% of Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage.
* 50% of the unemployed between the ages of 16 and 21 cannot read well enough to be considered functionally literate, and they read so poorly that they are unable to perform simple tasks such as reading prescription drug labels.
* Between 46 and 51% of American adults have an income well below the poverty level because of their inability to read.
* School dropouts cost our nation $240 billion in social service expenditures and lost tax revenues
* To determine how many prison beds will be needed in future years, some states actually base part of their projection on how well current elementary students are performing on reading tests.

If anything levels the playing field for Appalachians, it is pursuing more and more formal education while developing a true interest in learning of all types. While active brains need information to solve problems and to gain meaningful employment, God knows many residents now lack the interest, initiative, and will power to pursue the acquisition of knowledge, preferring instead to accept slanted opinions from media talking heads and their friends and neighbors. 

A proud yet stubborn population, Appalachians in great numbers have allowed their cherished love of isolation to overcome their duty to educate themselves, making them incapable of competing with others while accepting the outside world and all of its varied interests and thriving opportunities. The sacrifice is not so great as to threaten the valued independence of the people.

Becoming better educated and pushing their educational levels will pay huge dividends for the citizens of Appalachia. How to make Appalachians believe that is another matter.

One more quote from Kevin D. Williamson offers an analogy and a rather depressing closing view ...

"Like its black urban counterparts, the Big White Ghetto suffers from a whole trainload of social problems, but the most significant among them may be adverse selection: Those who have the required work skills, the academic ability, or the simple desperate native enterprising grit to do so get the hell out as fast as they can, and they have been doing that for decades.

"As they go, businesses disappear, institutions fall into decline, social networks erode, and there is little or nothing left over for those who remain. It’s a classic economic death spiral: The quality of the available jobs is not enough to keep good workers, and the quality of the available workers is not enough to attract good jobs. These little towns located at remote wide spots in helical mountain roads are hard enough to get to if you have a good reason to be here. If you don’t have a good reason, you aren’t going to think of one."

(Kevin D. Williamson. "The White Ghetto: In Appalachia the country is beautiful and the society is broken." National Review. January 09, 2014.)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fighting Drug Overdoses Now

Overdosing is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, accounting for more deaths than traffic fatalities or gun homicides and suicides. Statistically speaking, the American death toll to overdose averages over 120 people a day.

Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and former senior policy adviser at the White House Office of National Control Policy, says ...

"In drug policy, we have so much culture war screaming that it's very hard to address issues like overdose that take some planning, thought, and reflective approaches to public policy…. The polarized and uncivil atmosphere in drug policy  generates much heat but very little light regarding what we should do to address this problem. Evidence is often left aside as people start screaming at each other. Overdose is a public health problem and everyone should be working together to save lives."


Many people now focus on the return of heroin and say, "It's all the fault of criminals." Humphreys states:

"You've got to remember, 4 in 5 of people today who start using heroin began their opioid addiction on  prescription opioids. The responsibility doesn't start today with the stereotypical criminal street dealer. We basically created this problem with legally manufactured drugs that were legally prescribed."

Key factors leading to this epidemic include:

1) Changes in clinical pain management guidelines in the late 1990s (i.e., Federation of State Medical Boards releases Model Guidelines for the Use of Controlled Substances for the Treatment of Pain; Ohio Revised Code 4731.21 Drug Treatment of Intractable Pain) 

2) Aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies of new, extended-release prescription opioids to physicians. These factors initially led to rapidly increasing use of prescription opioids.

(FDA Warning Letters)

From 1997 to 2011, there was a 643 percent increase in the amount of prescription opioid grams per 100,000 population distributed to retail pharmacies in Ohio (Source: DEA ARCOS). And, in 2012, there was an average of 67 doses of opioids dispensed for every Ohio resident.

(Ohio Board of Pharmacy, Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System)

Additional societal and medical trends that contributed to this complex problem include marketing of
medications directly to consumers, over-prescribing, substance abuse, widespread diversion of medications, deception of providers including doctor shopping and prescription fraud, illegal online “pharmacies,” unscrupulous providers (e.g., “pill mills”), overmedication and mixing medications, and improper storage and disposal of excess medications.

Contributing factors to the recent rise in heroin-related overdose in Ohio include a growing opioid-addicted population, shutdown of southern Ohio’s pill mills, additional recent scrutiny around prescribed opioids, tamper-resistant prescription opioid formulations, increasing quantity and purity of heroin and decreasing cost of heroin compared to prescription opioids.


44,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2013. 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the United States in 2010 when overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year, up from 37,004 deaths in 2009, according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overdose deaths involving opioid pain medications have shown a similar increase.  Starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number of deaths increased to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010.

1. The quantity of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices was four times larger in 2010 than in 1999.

(Jones C, Mack K, Paulozzi L. Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010. JAMA. 2013;309(7):657-659.)

2. Enough prescription opioids were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Signs: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses in the US. November 2011.)

What Can We Do About the Heroin Overdose Epidemic?

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explains ... 

"NIDA has actively pushed research on an easy-to-use intranasal formulation of naloxone, a drug that can save lives in the event of opioid overdose. We have also taken various measures to improve the education of clinicians in pain treatment and opioid prescribing and created resources (NIDAMED) to guide doctors in detecting and addressing prescription opioid abuse in their patients.

"But we and other government agencies must do much more to address one of the major drivers of the overdose epidemic: underlying opioid use disorders. Particularly, we must push for wider adoption and implementation of existing medication-assisted treatments (MATs) for opioid addiction."

(Dr. Nora Volkow. "What Can We Do About the Heroin Overdose Epidemic?" National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 24, 2014.)

Volkow says research has shown ...

"The opioid antagonist naltrexone and maintenance therapies using the agonists buprenorphine or methadone have proven effective at helping patients recover from opioid addiction and at reducing overdoses. 

"Moreover, all three treatments have been shown to improve social functioning, reduce criminal activity, and lessen the risk of transmitting infectious diseases like HIV. They are also cost-effective.

"But less than half of private-sector treatment programs have adopted MATs, and even in programs that offer them, only 34.4% of patients receive medications. Policy-related hindrances and limitations in the area of insurance coverage are among the barriers to wider MAT adoption, as is a shortage of physicians trained and qualified to deliver these medications.

"But another major barrier is attitudinal—namely, lingering beliefs (even among some staff and managers at opioid treatment clinics) that maintenance treatments simply replace one addiction with another. When maintenance treatment is offered, it is often at an insufficient dose or duration, leading to treatment failure and reinforcing the erroneous belief that medication is a poor approach.

"Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will help with some of the insurance coverage issues, but only by transcending old prejudices and misconceptions about opioid treatment (often rooted in stigma) can we ensure they are used and used effectively. We will not reduce the unacceptable numbers of overdose deaths from prescription opioids and, increasingly, heroin, without realizing that addiction—and failure to treat it—lies at the heart of the problem."

(Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., and Stephen S. Cha, M.D. "Medication-Assisted Therapies — Tackling the Opioid-Overdose Epidemic." N Engl J Med 2014; 370:2063-2066. May 29, 2014)

We, as caring citizens who wish to fight drug overdose deaths, must support proven strategies and new research. Most importantly, we must free ourselves from stigmas about abuse and addiction and open our minds to help discover solutions and to help save lives.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Men, Do You Worry If Your "Willy" Wows Women?

It's Fun With Science Day on the blog. I've been preparing an entry on Smart Bullets, laser-guided projectiles that can correct their own course after being fired from a rifle; however, considering the interest factor, I also thought about the Marines' chant of  "This is my rifle. This is my gun. This is for fighting, and this is for fun." And, at the risk of offending some, I decided to explore a related topic after reading some interesting new research.

So, today, let's address an age-old question that forever has caused us self-conscious men to worry and wonder about the most descript of our sexual organs. In our great vanity, we guys simply feel the need to know if our Willy measures up to feminine expectations. We want to know if we have the "goods" to attract women. To be direct, we want to know if our penis actually "looks good."

And, yes, luckily we have a current study that addresses the concern. In a study from the University of Zurich published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researcher asked 105 women of different age groups (16-20, 25-30, and 40-45 years) how important they considered eight different aspects of a penis on a 5-point scale ranging from very unimportant (1) to very important (5).

The aspects were penile length, penile girth, position and shape of the meatus (urethral opening, where urine leaves the body), shape of glans (head of the penis), appearance of scrotum, shape of penile skin, appearance of pubic hair, and general cosmetic appearance.

(Norma Katharina Ruppen-Greeff, Daniel M. Weber, Rita Gobet and Markus A. Landolt. "What is a Good Looking Penis? How Women Rate the Penile Appearance of Men with Surgically Corrected Hypospadias." Journal of Sexual Medicine. July 20, 2015.)

Through this information, the researchers discovered what women regard as important for overall appearance.

The Results

First of all, let's establish "normal." Earlier this year, scientists revealed what is considered normal for penis size and length. Researchers believe this information could help to counsel men worried about their size, or with investigations into how condom failure relates to penis size and girth.

Some men are concerned about their penis size, and those who are preoccupied and severely distressed may even be diagnosed with BDD -- Body Dysmorphic Disorder, also termed body dysmorphia or dysmorphic syndrome, a mental disorder via obsessive preoccupation with a perceived defect in one's own appearance

Authors of the study say some men have been teased by sexual partners about their length, and there are lots of men who are likely worried about inadequacy, so reassuring men they are in the normal range will help. Here are the results:

* The average length of an erect penis is 5.2 inches (13.12 cm), they found.

* The average length of a flaccid penis is 3.6 inches (9.16 cm) and 5.2 inches (13.24 cm) when flaccid but stretched.

* When it comes to girth, the average erect circumference was 4.6 inches (11.66 cm) and 3.7 inches (9.31 cm) when flaccid.

* The British research also found there was a small correlation between the erect length of a penis and a man's height.

(David Veale, Sarah Miles, Sally Bramley, Gordon Muir and John Hodsoll. "Am I normal? A systematic review and construction of nomograms for flaccid and erect penis length and circumference in up to 15 521 men. British Journal of Urology International. March 02, 2015.)

And what did the Journal of Sexual Medicine research find most attractive to women? Here are the findings in order of most important (1) to least important (8).

1. General cosmetic appearance 
2. Appearance of pubic hair
3. Appearance of the skin around the genital area
4. Girth
5. Shape of glans
6. Penile Length
7. Appearance of Scrotum 
8. Position and Shape of Meatus

Men may be surprised to discover women rated length as the sixth most vital asset. With all the attention given to drugs and methods of creating extension, many are obsessed with doing anything to add length.

To summarize what ladies find pretty in a penis ...

* Women look at the overall genital appearance rather than at individual penile aspects.

* A penis can be short as long as it's pretty.

* Perhaps not even previously considered, pubic hair ranks Number 2 on the list. Does "art" beg for a good "frame"?

* A penis will never be criticized for being too chubby.

However, one other biologist, Brian Mautz, now from the University of Ottawa, affirms "size does matter" in some cases and evaluation is not at all simple. His team set up an experiment in which 105 Australian women -- averaging 26 years old -- each looked at 53 life-size images of various computer-generated male silhouettes projected onto a screen. Each woman watched a random set of 53 figures and rated their attractiveness as potential sexual partners on a scale of 1 to 7.

"'The first thing we found was that penis size influences male attractiveness,' Mautz says. 'There's a couple of caveats to that, and the first is that the relationship isn't a straight line.' Rather than the attractiveness rating consistently improving with each jump in penis size, the team found what Mautz calls 'an odd kink in the middle.' Attractiveness increased quickly until flaccid penis length reached 7.6 centimeters (about 3 inches) and then began to slow down, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The reason, Mautz says, is that penis size isn't the only thing that matters. It interacts with other traits, and its effect depends on whether those other traits are already attractive to begin with. If one of the model men was tall and had a masculine, V-shaped torso with broad shoulders and narrower hips, for example, he was considered more attractive than his shorter, stockier counterparts, regardless of penis size.

"An increase in penis size was also a bigger benefit to attractiveness, and a smaller penis was less of a detriment, to the taller, fitter figures than it was to shorter or potato-shaped ones. For example, a model that was 185 cm tall (about 6 ft) with a 7-cm-long (about 3-in-long) penis got an average score for attractiveness. To get that same score, a model that was 170 cm (about 5'6") needed a penis of about 11 cm (about 4.5 in) in length. Boost the taller guy's penis by just about centimeter, and the shorter guy needs double that to keep up and get the same attractiveness score. After that, the shorter male pretty much can't continue to compete. To really reap the benefits of a big penis, a guy needs to be attractive in the first place, Mautz says. If he isn't, even the biggest penis in the world won't do him that much good.

"So have women been responsible for the male penis getting larger—at least over the course of evolution? That's a distinct possibility, the researchers say. Women may have selected for larger penises because they're linked to higher rates of female orgasm and sexual satisfaction, which may explain why the human penis is proportionally larger than those of our evolutionary cousins."

So, sadly, like most things us guys worry about -- the best beer to drink, how to improve BBQ methods, and if favorite sports teams can improve this season -- whether we honestly have an attractive penis may remain a bothersome part of our existence. I guess the good thing about the aesthetics of the privates is that, unlike the nose on our face, we reveal our "love gun" only to those we wish, so, also unlike our nose, we don't mistakenly stick it into anyone else's business. Well ... you know what I mean.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Americans: Hating Islam or Islamic Terrorists?

We best love those things close to our hearts -- family, friends, freedoms, ideals. We are quick to come to their defense when we feel someone else threatens to harm our precious gifts. And, when we must, we adamantly defend them with life and limb and willingly risk our own lives to keep them secure.

Yet ...

When we realize others from all around the world differ with our particular standards, we lack patience and understanding. We automatically consider our beloved traditional American interests and practices to be the only "correct" ones in the face of opposition. Although there are people in other countries who do practice inhumane customs and practices, we often assume all those in such nations are evil and deserve not only our disdain but also our armed aggression.

The voice of reason should allow us to examine different viewpoints. The Muslim belief system is particularly worthy of our study. We detest Islamic terrorists, yet so many in the United States seem to harbor hatred for all Muslims. Quite frankly, it is a hatred stirred by a bandwagon mentality.

Islamic terrorism is defined as "terrorist acts committed by Muslim groups or individuals who profess Islamic or Islamist motivations or goals. Islamic terrorists have relied on particular interpretations of the tenets of the Quran and the Hadith, citing these scriptures to justify violent tactics including mass murder, genocide, child-molestation and slavery."

(Greg Botelho. "ISIS: Enslaving, having sex with 'unbelieving' women, girls is OK."
CNN. December 12, 2014.)

Is this the nature of all who believe in Islam? The Princeton University Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis, states that Islamic jurisprudence does not allow terrorism. In 2001, Professor Lewis noted:

"At no time did the (Muslim) jurist approve of terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism (in Islamic tradition). Muslims are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged, and not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners.

"The rules and regulations concerning prisoners of war in Islam to give fair warning of the opening of hostilities, and to honor agreements. Similarly, the laws of Jihad categorically preclude wanton and indiscriminate slaughter. The warriors in the holy war are urged not to harm non-combatants, women and children, "unless they attack you first."

"A point on which they insist is the need for a clear declaration of war before beginning hostilities, and for proper warning before resuming hostilities after a truce. What the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York (9/11). For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam."

(Bernard Lewis. Islam: The Religion and the People. 2009.)

The Sunnis, who account for over 80% of Muslims, have over centuries fragmented into three clear strands - the Political, Missionary and Jihad movements who possess individual characteristics and vary in global view. Many researchers contend that it is only the Jihadists, however, that pursue and promote an armed Islamic struggle, which led by the mujahideen can occur in an internal, irredentist or global capacity.

(International Crisis Group. Understanding Islamism: Middle East/North Africa Report.
No 37, March 2005.)

Contrary to a common image held by many Americans, many Muslims have spoken out against 9/11 and against terrorist attacks in general. Most often, they are ignored by newspapers, television news, and other media outlets. Actually, there are lots of fatwas (legal opinions or learned interpretations) and other statements issued which condemn attacks on innocent civilians.

(Charles Kurzman. "Islamic Statements Against Terrorism." March 15, 2012.) 

You can click here to read many of these statements:

We particularly detest those in America whom we suspect are terrorists. And, granted, there are Muslim extremists in America, terrorist Jihadists dedicated to waging war against civilians. They are here to wage a war of death and destruction with their warped beliefs. To combat these terrorists, we must increase our abilities to expose these criminals and to impose harsh measures upon their capture. We must also do everything in our power to protect our own populate with proactive security and enforcement.

Still ...

As lovers of democracy, liberty, and freedom, we must not judge all Muslims as bloodthirsty terrorists. To do so would be to betray our own tenants of justice and equality. In fact, I believe we must make great efforts to understand all minority populations as part of the fabric of our great nation. I believe, upon close inspection and person-to-person contact, we will find other persuasions to be much like ourselves.

In fact, research has found that U.S. Muslims sometimes more closely resemble other Americans than they do Muslims around the world. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, about half of U.S. Muslims say that all (7%) or most (41%) of their close friends are followers of Islam, and half say that some (36%) or hardly any (14%) of their close friends are Muslim.

("Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism". Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. August 30, 2011.)

The study showed that 64% of Muslim Americans thought that there was not much or no support among them for extremism, while 6% thought there was a great deal, and 15% thought there was a fair amount.

Here is what the Pew study revealed about Muslim belief in violence:

"More than eight-in-ten American Muslims say suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are never justified (81%) or rarely justified (5%) to defend Islam from its enemies.

"Worldwide, most Muslims also reject this type of violence, with a median of 72% saying such attacks are never justified and 10% saying they are rarely justified. Just 1% of U.S. Muslims and a median of 3% of Muslims worldwide say suicide bombings and other violence against civilian targets are often justified, while 7% of U.S. Muslims and a global median of 8% of Muslims say such attacks are sometimes justified to defend Islam."

For many, all it takes is one terrorist act of an extremist Muslim to make them condemn all Muslims and their true beliefs. After such atrocities, a logical person has to question if there is a necessary and distinct causal connection between belief and violent behavior. And even if he can establish the cause of a terrorist action is connected to Muslim belief systems, he must also examine whether those beliefs have been grossly distorted merely to justify internal hatred and revenge. To immediately conclude that the actions of Islamic extremists are either necessarily or exclusively the result of their belief in Islam is so unfair.

Some Americans go so far as to believe they must destroy all Muslims. Aren't they, themselves, extremist homeland terrorists if they feel they are justified in killing a believer before his or her beliefs turn into action simple because they think they inevitably will? In his bestselling book The End of Faith, anti-theist activist Sam Harris says ...

"The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.

"Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense."

I do not want to live in a nation or in a world that condemns beliefs and employs this condemnation for the sake of destroying innocent human beings. Harris's words echo the sentiments of many so rigid in their views that any perceived threat causes them to stereotype foreign concepts and people who are, quite honestly, just different from them. In doing so, they lose all ability to reason with an open mind and an open heart.

It sickens me to see outright intolerance and hatred from anyone, but seeing it on a daily basis from Americans, who by their own birthright should know better, is extremely disturbing. Once in my lifetime the "Boogie Man" was Communism in all its boasting of "We will bury you." Now, much of the American populace consider Islam to be the monster ... in my view erroneously so. Islamic terrorists are the evil entity and ... most definitely ... so are we when we take the old adage to heart of "Kill them all, and sort them out later."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ohio's Young Activist Rebekah Bolser -- A Woman With a Voice

"I cannot believe that the only way to stop this epidemic is to punish people who weren't given a fair shot to begin with. I can't pretend I know how t
o stop heroin, among other drug activity, from breaking down
communities across Ohio, because I don't.

"But I think the first step is realizing that every death we see on the news
and in our local papers is not just another overdose-they are people. With families. And lives. And that there are typically a multitude of issues surrounding these deaths.

"I don't know the solution, but I think the first step is consciously choosing to reach a level of understanding we've been avoiding for too long. Our job,
as neighbors, peers, and friends, is not to put away "the bad guys."
Because people... are too often not "bad guys," but are not given
the chance to be seen as anything else.

"Our job is to make sure every student, no matter their background, is given the opportunity to succeed. And that those who have fallen behind are given
the opportunity to get ahead. We cannot keep assuming that every person associated with the things we've come to fear is a bad person,
because developing solutions based off these assumptions
will keep us from moving forward."

--Rebekah Bolser, writer and activist

(Rebekah Bolser. "On Heroin, Ohio, and Storytelling for Change."
Huffington Post. July 07, 2015.)

Let me tell you a little about Rebekah Bolser. Rebekah (Bekah) Bolser is a youth activist from Hamilton, Ohio. She is an advocate for girls, education, and sustainable development as well as a consultant on youth policy and digital organizing. She is a self-proclaimed optimist.

Bolser is a 2013 graduate of Hamilton High School. She has just completed her freshman year at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Diplomacy and Global Politics and a second major in Strategic Communications.

Her projects have included OneCommunity, an art exhibit that challenged elementary school students to create artwork that depicts issues within their community including racism, discrimination, and immigration.

Bolser founded Teens Against Teen Suicide at 14 years old, an organization dedicated to raising awareness on issues surrounding teen suicide and depression and began "teen on teen counseling" groups at local high schools where students could seek tutoring, advice, and mentorship from their classmates in an open, inclusive environment.

She also established the Pocahontas Project in 2013, a local based project that sought to teach students about environmental sustainability through art.

Rebekah founded EveryGirl, a scholarship fund and leadership immersion forum dedicated to giving incoming college freshman girls the resources and skills needed to become leaders on their campus. EveryGirl seeks to make college more accessible to young women, as well as give them the tools needed to succeed.

Bolser currently serves as the USA Chapter Chairperson for the International Youth Council, where she works to create national and global programs that encourage young leaders to get involved with issues surrounding the MDGs, Post2015 Agenda, and the role of young people in creating these policies. Her current initiatives also involve comprehensive sex education and reproductive justice.

Rebekah is also director of the Student Voice Project. She oversees student representatives of Ohio and also serves as the chair for the Congressional Youth Council Implementation Committee.

 Rebekah has written for several sources including the Huffington Post, ProgressWomen, and GenYNot.

("Rebekah Bolser." LinkedIn)

I found Rebekah's "Blog" post in the Huff Post about the current drug epidemic in Ohio to be very insightful and brutally honest. After investigating her and discovering her fervent activism, I became very impressed with this young lady and her many varied accomplishments. Here is a link to many of Bolser's articles I'm sure readers will enjoy: You can also follow her at @RebekahBolser.

As I sing her praises, let me give you a few quotes from Rebekah in other articles she has written.

"Easing restrictions and allowing young people over the age of 21 to carry a hidden, loaded weapon with no training, permit, or background check can only lead to higher incarceration rates among this group of people. We are not building a future for Ohio's young people, we are taking it away. If we truly value the lives of Ohio's youth, we must advocate for commonsense gun legislation, work to create safer communities, ensure equitable education for Ohio's students, and expand opportunities for our most marginalized communities."

(On Hillary Clinton) "I, like many of my millennial peers, have been waiting for the day when that glass ceiling shatters. I spent a good portion of my childhood reading about Eleanor Roosevelt and imagining what the world would be like if she had been the one sitting at the resolute desk. I would tell my parents that I wanted to be the first woman president while simultaneously praying it wouldn't take that long. And now it's so close I can feel it. My first time voting in a presidential election and it could very well be for a woman who will pave the way for so many more."

(Praising Obama's State of the Union Address and the resulting "A Seat At the Table" summit. While we recognize that this is a complex issue and it's going to take a lot of work to empower youth across the country to be active and participating in our government system, we believe that by giving young people the opportunity to create change on the local level, they will feel more invested in their community and that will translate to how they participate in the political process on every scale."

"As you learn more, don't be afraid to be wrong or change your opinions. Life is about growing and changing as a person and it's something you'll find happens a lot -- no matter what you decide to do. There is nothing wrong with saying 'I used to feel this way, but after some research and reflection, I have come to a different conclusion.'"

("The Key to Being a Youth Activist." July 10, 2014.)

Dear Bill O'Reilly ... "Because very few people are buying your Beyoncé = teen pregnancy theory, I thought I would do you a favor and put together a list of issues you fail to discuss when you decided to take on the topic of teen pregnancy. You can thank me later..."

1. Comprehensive Sex Education

"Did you know that only 13 states required that sex and HIV education, if provided, should be medically accurate? Teens are going to have sex. How can we help them make this decision and be safe about it? Hint: It's not by providing them with inaccurate information in hopes to get them to stay away from a natural activity that 95 percent of Americans will have before they're married. Let's talk to students about birth control and contraception and encourage open conversation."

2. Slut Shaming in Schools

"There has been talk, mostly by you, that Beyoncé is "harming" America's children with her music videos. I understand that children and teens are impressionable, but I think more damage results from schools telling girls that guys would rather marry virgins, because if you have sex, you're like a chewed up piece of gum -- used up and worthless."

3. Socioeconomics and Teen Pregnancy

"I know you've never been one to truly recognize income inequality, but I think this topic is a lot more important than Beyoncé's music videos. Teen pregnancy can be related to poverty. In fact, state inequality rates correlate to teen pregnancy. Income inequality is a real problem here in the United States, which has the highest rate of teen pregnancy compared to other developed countries."

("Teen Pregnancy and Beyoncé: What Bill O'Reilly Is Missing." Teen Pregnancy and Beyoncé: What Bill O'Reilly Is Missing. May 08, 2014.)

Ms. Bolser, I find your viewpoints both interesting and thoughtful. You are destined to be an invaluable resource for America as you continue to mature and to accept many leadership roles. Your voice is wise beyond your years, and I marvel at how many great accomplishments you have at such a young age. I praise you for your complete commitment to action, which legitimizes your ability to help enact needed change.

Other organizations/projects Rebekah has been involved in/affiliated with include UNICEF, UNA-USA, UNDP, Bundles of Joy, Femellennials, and Math Is Music, among others. I don't know how this young lady has time for her studies at Miami. To say, Bolser is becoming well-versed is quite an understatement.

It would behoove us all to pay attention to the writing of this aspiring female. In a recent Facebook post, Rebekah said: "Finishing off my freshman year with one last exam, big kid internship interviews, a city council meeting, and this killer new AK necklace courtesy of my momma. Thanks to everyone who has supported me (and all of my projects) this year. So pumped to see what the next three years bring."

I am also "pumped" to follow your progress, young lady. I can tell you this, no matter the chosen direction you take in your future, you will bring intellectualism, honesty, and untold initiative to the table. Please, Rebekah Bolser, keep on keeping on.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Long-Standing Lie: The U.S. Does Not Negotiate With Terrorists

"In May 2014, after lengthy negotiations, the U.S. government secured the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo. Instead of celebration, his release led to stinging attacks by Republican lawmakers who claimed President Obama had abandoned the decades-old U.S. policy that 'we don’t negotiate with terrorists.'

"The charge, however, was completely ahistorical. While it is true the public position of the United States had long been that it would never deal with terrorists, previous presidents, including Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush, all Republicans, had in fact negotiated with terrorists."

(Jonathan Powell. "We must negotiate with terrorists: The dirty secret our government does not want to admit." Salon. Excerpted from Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating Is the Only Way to Peace."
July 12, 2015.)

Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff for thirteen and a half years and the chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland dealing with the IRA, says governments in all countries and of all political parties say they will never talk to terrorists. But they almost always end up doing so. Just consider history.

For example, Powell cites that during the decades of decolonization, the British government called Menachem Begin a terrorist after he blew up the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, but later lauded him as statesman. They locked up Jomo Kenyatta as a terrorist but later released him to negotiate Kenyan independence. And they exiled Archbishop Makarios to the Seychelles as a terrorist but released him to become the first elected leader of an independent Cyprus.

During the Iraq War, the Bush administration cut deals with Sunni insurgents in Iraq’s Anbar province -- working with and even paying people who had been killing American soldiers.

Also, President George W. Bush made his position on negotiating with terrorists crystal clear. On April 4, 2002, he said, “No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.” Bush said that the United States would work for the return of kidnapped American military personnel and civilians, but will not pay any ransom: “We, of course, don’t pay ransom for any hostages,” he stated firmly.

But, Micheal Crowley of Time reports ...

"In fact, a month earlier in March 2002, the Bush White House had helped arrange a ransom payment to the radical Islamic group Abu Sayyaf. ABC News reported that the U.S. government helped pay $300,000 in cash to the group, known to be part of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. The ransom was arranged to secure the release of two American missionaries, Martin and Gracia Burnham, taken hostage at a resort in the Philippines on May 27, 2001. The Burnhams were Protestant missionaries who traveled widely handing out Bibles and spreading the gospel. The ransom was paid, but the hostages were not released; one was later killed."

(Michael Crowley. "Obama Didn’t Negotiate With ‘Terrorists’ for Bergdahl."
Time. June 02, 2014.)

Probably the best known negotiations with terrorists was the Iran-Contra affair, in which the Reagan administration sold missiles to Tehran to secure the partial release of American hostages held in Lebanon.

Even Israel, in 1993, secretly negotiated the Oslo accords even though the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued its terrorist campaign and refused to recognize Israel's right to exist. And in 1985, Israel released seven hundred prisoners with American approval for the freedom of Americans held hostage on the hijacked Trans World Airlines Flight 847.

(Simon Engler. "The U.S. Does Negotiate With Terrorists." June 03, 2014.)

In the words of British Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell, “All terrorists, at the invitation of the government, end up with drinks in the Dorchester.”

Despite the fact Jonathan Powell has not always been in favor of talking to terrorists (His father had been hit by an IRA bullet in an ambush in 1940, and his eldest brother was on an IRA death list for eight years while he worked for Margaret Thatcher.), when Powell left government in 2007, he argued, on the basis of his experience talking to Irish terrorists, that the country should be prepared to talk to Hamas, to the Taliban, and even to al-Qaeda.  He believes it is unsound policy to find it acceptable to talk to the IRA and the PLO but not to these new groups.

Now, the United States has negotiated a cease-fire in Gaza with Hamas and the release of Sergeant Bergdahl with the Taliban. Even al-Qaeda appears not to be beyond the realm of negotiations. According to Powell, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, proposed in a speech in 2011 that Western governments should talk to the group.

We presently face a new, extremely violent, terrorist group, ISIL. It is unlikely we can destroy them by bombing alone. So, do we put massive numbers of "boots on the ground" in an effort to end their atrocities? And, what is the probability that invasion will end the conflict and prevent other terrorist groups from arising?

Let's be reasonable and think about the outcome of such policies during the last thirty to fifty years.

Powell speculates that "if we wish to end the conflict rather than just contain it, we must talk to ISIL, or whatever Islamist extremist organization succeeds it, just as we have with all the previous terrorist groups we have encountered."

(Jonathan Powell. "We must negotiate with terrorists: The dirty secret our government
does not want to admit." Salon. July 12, 2015.)

Oh, yes, we hate the extreme terrorism carried out by ISIL, and we are terrified of such groups already threatening citizens within our borders. Yet, in the past we have talked with such horrific factions. It is something new to dismiss the very idea of talking.

And, yes, it is hypocrisy for governments to claim they don't talk with terrorists; however, the history of such actions cannot be swept under the political carpet and forgotten. Jonathan Powell says ...

"When governments do eventually engage with terrorists, they almost always leave it far too late. General David Petraeus admits that in Iraq, the U.S. government delayed too long before talking to those 'with American blood on their hands.'

"In the case of the Taliban, in part because of the focus on preconditions like the release of Bergdahl, a sustained peace process has still not begun even though NATO forces have already started leaving Afghanistan. The process of engaging with these groups and winning their trust takes a lot longer than people realize. They need time to adjust to the outside world and grasp what might be a realistic demand and what is not.

"When we do eventually engage, we forget the techniques and skills we learned last time. Terje Roed-Larsen, the Norwegian facilitator of the Israeli–Palestinian talks in Oslo, says, 'What is truly shocking to me is that it seems as if every new set of negotiators . . . [is] trying to reinvent the wheel once again as they make exactly the same mistakes.' Even if individual governments do not stay in power long enough to learn these lessons, surely we can do so collectively."

(Jonathan Powell. "We must negotiate with terrorists: The dirty secret our government
does not want to admit." Salon. July 12, 2015.)

Powell's experience over the last seventeen years has led him to believe that "shared risks that helped establish a relationship of trust where progress could be made." He says, "If people are going to make mistakes negotiating with terrorists, they should at least make their own, new, mistakes rather than repeating those already made by others." It is brutally clear that each new terrorist threat is unique in its operation.

Limited research has confirmed success with terrorist negotiations. Researchers from the University of Denver and the University of Maryland studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict between 1987 and 2004 and found that Israeli humanitarian policies that raised the standard of living in Palestine resulted in fewer terrorist attacks from groups, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, in the ensuing months than offensive measures such as bulldozing suspected terrorists' homes and establishing curfews.

Erica Chenoweth, co-author of the study, says ...

"A lot of research has tried to dispel the idea that terrorists are mentally defective or have an unpredictable value system. They're generally trying to achieve a specific political aim … they're using a terribly flawed method to achieve that aim, but they've come to the calculation that using terrorism is the best way to pursue their political goals."

By incentivizing peace rather than punishing violence, Chenoweth believes terror attacks can be reduced.

(Jason Koebler. "Why Governments Should Negotiate With Terrorists.
U.S. News. July 31, 2012.)

Perhaps the most pertinent question posed may be, "Is the present, aggressive U.S. 'War on Terror' making America any safer?" I, like many others, am very skeptical that all armed aggression is having the effect of improving the safety of our citizens.

Critics of negotiating with terrorists assert that any talks will be music to the ears of the Islamic State’s terrorist leaders. They say negotiating with these groups provides them with legitimacy, which the groups' leaders have been eager to secure. Yet, we must consider the problems are often a question of religious radicalism versus nationalism. Some leaders of foreign nations are open to dialogue and compromise as a means of reducing terrorism in their own countries.

The argument against negotiating with terrorists is simple: Democracies must never give in to violence, and terrorists must never be rewarded for using it. Where is this upheld? Not in the U.S.

People can claim the United States does not negotiate with terrorists, but those who take time to research will find to find this political maxim is false. It is a lofty ideal, and pretty much nothing more. We tend to believe that claim because we rightfully hate terrorists and all acts of terrorism, and we tend to employ all our heated emotions to that steadfast loathing. There is nothing to respect about those who defy human rights and use unspeakable violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

However ...

Negotiating with terrorists has been the de facto policy in America and around the world for decades.

Peter R. Neumann, Director of the Center for Defense Studies at King's College, London, believes the key objective for any government contemplating negotiations with terrorists is not simply to end violence but to do so in a way that minimizes the risk of setting dangerous precedents and destabilizing its political system.

Neumann cites Bruce Hoffman, of Georgetown University; William Zartman, of Johns Hopkins University; and other experts who believe that terrorists' stated aims and ideology should be the decisive factor in determining whether they might be willing to compromise. Hence, these experts draw a distinction between nihilistic terrorists, who have "absolute" or even "apocalyptic" goals (often religiously inspired) and for whom violence has become a perverted form of self-realization, and more "traditional" terrorists, who are believed to be "instrumental" or "political" in their aspirations and so have the potential to become constructive interlocutors.

Neumann says sometimes this distinction between supposedly rational terrorists and irrational ones is often in the eye of the beholder.

(Peter R. Neumann. "Negotiating With Terrorists."
January-February, 2007.)

Yet, perhaps the most persuading argument for negotiating with terrorists involves U.S. armed forces involvement in war and their capture. Please allow me to let Neumann explain in this case ...

"But how can this rule apply when warfare involves an enemy who does not wear the uniform of a warring nation and are avowed terrorists?

"Our war in Afghanistan is not one being waged against the Afghan government. As a result, the enemy involves those we deem to be terrorists who do not wear the uniform of any nation—only the uniform of an unofficial band bent on America’s destruction along with their more immediate goal of dominating Afghan society.

"Things were not much different in Iraq where, once Saddam Hussein was deposed, our war became a fight with various terrorist factions rather than the Iraqi government.

"Consider the absurdity of the Iraq situation when attempting to apply the principle of no negotiation with terrorists.

"If we are to follow the principle, a member of our military captured by the Saddam’s Republican Guard on the day before Saddam was sent packing would be entitled— and expect—that the full effort of the US government would be put to use to bring that solider home.

"However, a soldier captured while engaged one month later in a battle with al-Qaeda in Iraq could expect to be left to rot.


"Because we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

"Does this make any sense to anyone—particularly those whom we depend upon to volunteer his or her service to our nation by signing up for military duty?

"Those courageous enough to risk their lives to fight the wars their country asks them to fight do so with the knowledge that they are laying their life on the line. But how would they feel about enlisting were they know that should they be sent into battle with terrorists rather than a uniformed military enemy, their country would not be working to bring them home?

"When we are talking about civilians, it is a different situation. If a civilian contractor heads to Afghanistan because he or she is being paid big bucks to work in a war zone, it is on them if they fail to purchase the security necessary to keep them safe or fail to conduct themselves in a manner designed to avoid capture.

"Our military does not have that luxury.

"So, let’s make an adjustment.

"Let’s change the axiom to reflect an understanding that any member of the military captured during a time of war by anyone on foreign soil is, in fact, the victim of an act of war thereby making that individual a prisoner of war—not a hostage—who is entitled to the full efforts of the United States government to free them and bring them home."

(Peter R. Neumann. "Negotiating With Terrorists."
January-February, 2007.)

This is all food for thought and a firm recognition of something we often claim falsely: "The United States does not negotiate with terrorists." It has done so throughout its history. It is doing so now. And, like it or not, it will likely continue to do so in the future. Let's hope that talks and negotiations lead to better understandings between factions and eventually, to world peace. And, above all, let's hope that these dealings save American lives.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Truth: The Greatest Ally of the Powerless In Portsmouth

"The powerful have no need of intrinsic worth, for they have the means to create and rely upon more convenient values - wealth, prestige, 'success.' Truth is above all the ally of the powerless, because no bully can take the truth away from him. That is what it means to say that truth has intrinsic worth - its worth cannot be taken away."
--Saul Tobin, philosopher, composer, writer

Is there intrinsic value in the truth? In other words, does the truth have value relating to its essential nature or "for its own self"? Although we seem to live in a world where the truth, in itself, has less and less value to the masses, a person's "word" has traditionally been his sacred bond fueled by constant integrity. In our world, it may seem the truth pales as power and greed overtake those bent on personal gain. Yet, truth is definite and certain without the slightest compromise.

Winston Churchill once said, "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is."

Tobin relates, "Other values bow before power, but truth cares not who you are or what you have accomplished, only the correctness of the content of your speech and thought. No person is infallible. Therefore, to seek truth is to be constantly humble, willing to adjust one's beliefs in the face of the absolute. The arrogant, whatever they espouse, can do no more than pay lip service to truth."
 (Saul Tobin. "Is there intrinsic value in the truth?"

People respect a truthful voice -- it illuminates pure motives, and it helps establish a wholeness of personality. For a person without the benefits of class and privilege, the truth is a golden possession in a world full of deception and opposition. A truthful individual finds peace of mind in the knowing of his personal veracity.

Nevertheless ...

All it takes for an honest person to question everything is the first incomprehensible lie he faces from another. Our justice system, enforcement community, and political office holders relentlessly lie to maintain control and to gain power. They do it routinely without realizing the devastating results. The lack of respect held by the public for these vaulted protectors of justice dies with the first falsehood told from a representation of a trusted organization.

In my own town of Portsmouth in Scioto County, Ohio, I faced the realization that there is no equality of justice when ...

I was shocked to hear a state enforcement officer lie in court under oath.

I was in disbelief to discover that officials from the police department redact information and reformulate justice to protect their chosen allies.

I was devastated to hear lies from high-ranking enforcement officers about how "things would be taken care of" and about "how indictments had been made."

I was conveniently dismissed from receiving redress without being given ample reason or sufficient opportunity to reveal the falsehoods of certain authorities.  

I couldn't believe how the system used lie after lie merely to appease people like me who evidently threatened to uncover deceit and unlawful behavior. It is no secret the lack of transparency in my county is maintained by little "white lies" and major perjury.  

I understand what Tobin believes when he says "the powerful have no need of intrinsic worth, for they have the means to create and rely upon more convenient values - wealth, prestige, 'success.'" My town is controlled by politics and good old boys, so deception by enforcement likely stems from lack or veracity from on high.
Michelle Alexander of The New York Times says this of police deception:

"Are police officers necessarily more trustworthy than alleged criminals? I think not. Not just because the police have a special inclination toward confabulation, but because, disturbingly, they have an incentive to lie. In this era of mass incarceration, the police shouldn’t be trusted any more than any other witness, perhaps less so....

"In September it was reported that the Bronx district attorney’s office was so alarmed by police lying that it decided to stop prosecuting people who were stopped and arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless prosecutors first interviewed the arresting officer to ensure the arrest was actually warranted. Jeannette Rucker, the chief of arraignments for the Bronx district attorney, explained in a letter that it had become apparent that the police were arresting people even when there was convincing evidence that they were innocent."

(Michelle Alexander. "Why Police Lie Under Oath." The New York Times. February 02, 2013.)

Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm. In his article, Keane gave these two major reasons the police lie so much:

* "First, because they can. Police officers 'know that in a swearing match between a drug defendant and a police officer, the judge always rules in favor of the officer.' At worst, the case will be dismissed, but the officer is free to continue business as usual."

* "Second, criminal defendants are typically poor and uneducated, often belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record.  'Police know that no one cares about these people,' Mr. Keane explained."

(Peter Keane. "Why cops lie." San Francisco Chronicle. March 15, 2011.)

When police officers lie to the public and even lie to judges and juries, it's because they know they can speak falsely with impunity. In the criminal justice system, too often it's like the old saying: "the foxes are guarding the hen house." 

True, a finding of dishonesty can carry major professional consequences for an officer. Yet, consider a judge who thinks an officer’s testimony is not that believable, but who is not certain, so the judge errs on the side of crediting the officer because of the severe consequences to the officer. Thus, the severe consequences to being caught lying likely cause judges to underenforce the requirement of honesty.

Lies have devastating impact on the population. Today, there are 7.5 million people under the control of the U.S. criminal justice system and countless more impacted by the kidnapping and caging of their family members, loved ones, employers, employees, coworkers, and neighbors. The disproportional impact on demographic groups with darker skin -- primarily people perceived to be Black, Latino/a or Muslim -- has been well documented. Certainly, police deceit, which should be intolerable, is a factor in many incarcerations.

As misrepresentation, deception, and outright lying appear to be part of a police officer’s job description, the term testilying, is now common vernacular for police falsifications. The term was actually coined by NYPD officers as something of an inside joke.

Nick Malinowski of the Brooklyn Defender Services claims "testilying," even done in the interest of public order, or some imagined ideal of keeping the bad guys off the streets, has wretched results. Malinowski says ...

"It is the exception, not the rule, that these lies are exposed by judges or prosecutors in the courtroom for the public to consider (for the defendants the lies are quite apparent), and the results, when it happens, are twisted."
(Nick Malinowski. "Testilying: Cops Are Liars Who Get Away with Perjury." February 03, 2013.)

Most devastating of all, lies from powerful groups formed to safeguard the public -- groups such as enforcement officers and court officials -- obliterate all trust in government. Without sufficient trust, citizens "without power" become hopeless individuals forever distrusting those institutions meant to provide equality of justice. This has happened in Southern Ohio, in Scioto County, in Portsmouth.

You can write it off as a few bad apples or as a matter of irresponsible leadership. Still, you must ask yourself if the present population is more accepting of pathological liars because society is simply indifferent to the problem, or perhaps, because they are totally brainwashed under the control of deceitful authorities. 

Exposing police lying is difficult largely because it is rare for the police to admit their own lies or to acknowledge the lies of other officers. Part of this reluctance derives from the code of silence that governs police practice and from the ways in which the system of mass incarceration is structured to reward dishonesty.

I know this: Those who believe in the intrinsic value of the truth will not compromise their belief. It is too important for their ability to live with themselves. Yes, I do believe truth, in all its simple virtue, is the greatest ally of the powerless.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Folly of Believing "You Are Closer To the Truth"

Metonymy as an Approach to a Real World

Whether what we sense of this world
is the what of this world only, or the what
of which of several possible worlds
--which what?--something of what we sense
may be true, may be the world, what it is, what we sense.
For the rest, a truce is possible, the tolerance
of travelers, eating foreign foods, trying words
that twist the tongue, to feel that time and place,
not thinking that this is the real world.

Conceded, that all the clocks tell local time;
conceded, that "here" is anywhere we bound
and fill a space; conceded, we make a world:
is something caught there, contained there,
something real, something which we can sense?
Once in a city blocked and filled, I saw
the light lie in the deep chasm of a street,
palpable and blue, as though it had drifted in
from say, the sea, a purity of space.

--William Bronk. from The World, the Worldless (1964)

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. Example: "Let me give you a hand." (Hand means help.)

"Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted."
~Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, 1821

So, you think you know your world, and you feel qualified to communicate accurate understandings about your perceptions of life. Yet, what if, no matter how hard to try, your human limitations show you to be wrong, and your interpretations of any and everything are actually off base?

Could it be that your senses fail to comprehend many other obscure worlds around you? In other words, your perceived "world" of existence is no more than a minute slice of "something" which is a bigger reality -- a reality you seldom ever view with clarity. If so, your everyday conception of "real" world is merely a metonymy, a related substitution for the truth, and all of your vaulted communications are merely attempts to describe the unknowable.

William Bronk (1918–1999) was born in a house on Lower Main Street in Fort Edward, New York. He had an older brother, Sherman, who died young and two older sisters, Jane and Betty. William attended Dartmouth College, arriving there at the age of 16, and after graduation spent one semester at Harvard.

Bronk served in World War II, and he was discharged from the Army in October 1945 and started teaching English at Union College, Schenectady, New York. He left Union in June 1946 and returned to Hudson Falls. There, during the later half of 1946, he completed work on The Brother in Elysium.

In January 1947 Bronk took over management of the Bronk Coal and Lumber Company which he had inherited when his father died unexpectedly in 1941.

After his one semester of graduate school at Harvard, Bronk “decided I couldn't take any more of that.” He taught English at Union College. After his father died in 1941, he decided to return to the family business temporarily. He ended up staying more than 30 years. He retired from the business in 1978.

Bronk said that the poems were created in his mind as he went through the business of the day. When one was ready, he put it on paper, working in longhand rather than at a typewriter. As his manuscripts attest, he seldom rewrote, or even modified, a poem once written on paper. For the 1981 collection Life Supports he won the National Book Award for Poetry.

Poet and critic Daniel Wolff claims nobody reads William Blonk. Why? “First, it’s hard,” Wolff writes. “The second reason is: it’s hard.” He outlines Bronk’s ars poetica:

"Everyday things—which includes people—are indeed real, but they’re not what you think they are. They don’t correspond to their names.
And they never will. Whatever you call them, it’s a 'miscalling.' It
would seem to follow that the act of writing, of trying to put things
into words, is impossible. Because anything any poem tries to describe is, by this definition, unknowable."

(Dan Piepenbring. "A Green World" The Paris Review. February 17, 2015.)

William Bronk investigates the nature of consciousness, time and space, and the poetic fictions that will suffice in an age of disbelief and uncertainty. He uses a language stripped of ornament, imagery, and metaphor. Michael Heller, poet and essayist, says Bronk's work "offers another way of looking at our common humanity, not in some imagined concurrence of shared knowledge, but in our need to construct and reconstruct worlds, in our attempts to appease a common metaphysical hunger."

Yet Bronk's poetry does not succumb to despair. Instead, it considers the limits of human knowledge. "The natural world, Bronk would insist, is a world we can never know," explains Heller. Bronk's work suggests that the recognition of this basic estrangement between man and nature "illuminates and clarifies the human situation."

Heller also applauds Bronk's attempt to find a suitable language for describing human perception and its limits; he notes that Bronk seeks to discover "the exacting and naked process of realization."

In explaining theme, Heller says this about Bronk: “We look around, and, in the absence of any system that could explain our actions to ourselves, whatever 'dream' or 'diversion' we cook up is understood to be just that -- a distraction from nothing. And about 'how whatever reality is,' it is something we only know in the negative -- by being constantly wrong about it. Yet the poems are moments of aesthetic transport which weld beauty to beauty, occasional angles which offer a glimpse of something endless and compelling."

 (Kay Ryan. "William Bronk. Prose from Poetry Magazine.
February 28, 2006.)

"Once in a city blocked and filled, I saw
the light lie in the deep chasm of a street,
palpable and blue, as though it had drifted in
from say, the sea, a purity of space."

On rare occasions, it seems we do view the natural world as it is -- simple and pure, stripped of all obscuring veneer of human realization. It is then we connect and marvel about how inadequate our past perceptions have been. It is then we acknowledge our own inadequacy to understand and the fallibility of using metonymy as inaccurate substitutions for the truth. And, perhaps, it is then we actually find what Bronk terms as "something of what we sense may be true," something "palpable and blue."

I believe we do have a great need to appease a common metaphysical hunger -- a yearning to comprehend these questions: "What is there?" and "What is it like?" The needs to explain the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it are honorable quests for the most basic human truths. Yet, the wise make these journeys with the knowledge that both the limitations of their human intellect and the physical restrictions of their brains make answers partial at best.

And, I believe as man strives more and more to live in association with nature, not within his natural association, he loses touch with meaning and purpose. What if, in all their disassociation from the natural world, people move further from the basic truths of existence. Then, perhaps there, in their expensive domiciles filled with every possible ornament of invention, they are nothing more than purveyors of metonymy.