Thursday, July 26, 2012

Word of the Day: MASSACRE [Part 3 of 3]

Thirteen years ago, I attended a special reception at the church where I belonged at the time.  The reception was really a thank you party for those of us who had participated as canvassers in that year's canvass campaign.  (The canvass campaign was the name for its annual pledge drive.)  A few days after, I received a note in the mail from one of my fellow canvassers, Jan.  It was a brief note; she said that she could tell I was upset at the reception, and that I could call her if I needed to talk.

What I was upset about was what took place just days before -- the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Indeed, the news on that Spring day in 1999 out of Littleton had shaken me up.  It wasn't a case of one student taking a gun to school to go after another student who had picked on him, which is horrible enough on its own, but it was the cold and calculated nature with which the two boys carried out their horrific plan that got to me.  It was also that a high school -- well, any school, for that matter -- that should have tests and detention or any other disciplinary action as its greatest fears for students, was turned into a war zone...a place where lives hung in the balance.  It had been some time since I was in high school when the Columbine massacre took place, but I thought of my time in high school.  I thought of those students in Columbine experiencing such terror at such a young age.  I thought of how precious, and sometimes precarious, life is.

In addition to the tragic element, the irony is that the towns of Littleton (Columbine) and Aurora (Century 16 movie theater) in Colorado are only approximately sixteen miles apart from each other.  For those who mourned thirteen years ago over Columbine, the Aurora movie theater massacre must have seemed eerily similar and equally horrific.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, overreacting is not helpful, although taking whatever necessary steps in the aftermath is appropriate.  I have heard people calling for metal detectors to be put in movie theaters.  Much like how it must have made students feel like they were in a military institution, or maybe even a jail, when metal detectors started popping up in schools across the country, I do not want to see moviegoers subjected to the same environment.  And let's be honest here: What good would metal detectors have done in this situation?  Holmes didn't have his weapons with him when he bought his ticket; he had them outside in his car.  Therefore, if metal detectors had already been in place at the Century 16 movie theater, he would have walked in like he did, walked out of the theater like he did, propped open the door like he did, suited up like he did, and reentered to kill everyone like he did.

Part of the human impact from this situation needs to be to respond in the future wisely, not in a reactive manner.  Changing gun laws to violate the rights of those who have them legally, use them legally, and never use them illegally is not a wise response.  Relaxing already-relaxed existing laws is not wise response, either, as is the case with doing nothing at all.  Having a statewide or national database that tracks purchases which, when looked at as a whole, are a warning sign, is one example of a wise response.  Admittedly, wise response is not always easy when emotions and wounds, both physical and emotional, are high. 

Eluding back to part one of this series, another part of the human impact is individual response.  It is natural to want to be safe.  It is natural to protect yourself when you can.  One response an individual can have is to not go into movie theaters...self-protection...and it is an understandable response.  Another response is to go into movie theaters with an uninformed air of bravado, as if to say, "I dare anyone to try that here."  That would be foolish.  Going to movie theaters now, or eventually, and being mindful and aware of your surroundings, but not overcome with fear is one example of a wise individual response.  It is important to remember that this particular kind of behavior isn't happening every week, even month, or even every year.  Individual response is up to the individual, of course, and "big ticket" matters, like gun laws and state/national databases, are for the larger scale. We can and should be part of that larger scale by adding our voices in calling for what responses we think appropriate.

Another human element in all of this is blame.  Who do we blame?  Just the shooter?  The shooter's parents?  School officials?  Friends?  Who?  Some are blaming the film The Dark Knight Rises because of the violence in it.  Really?  I thought an appropriate response by the studios was to pull a preview for an upcoming film, which included a scene of a shooting in a movie theater.  Blame a movie?  Okay, let me address that.  Have there been movies where people emulated acts in the film in their own lives?  Yes.  Have some of those acts been benign or likely to only hurt the person him/herself?  Yes.  Have some of those acts been to hurt others, intentionally or accidentally?  Yes.  And have some of those acts been to hurt others on the scale as what happened in Aurora or Littleton?  Yes.  Therefore, to blame movies, or video games, as solely or mostly responsible makes sense?  My answer is no.  However, ignoring that some individuals, by far the minority in their accumulative numbers, are going to see the same things that millions of others also see and slip a gear in their head is not wise response.

I have seen dozens and dozens of horror films and "slasher flicks" and there has never been one time that I even thought about doing what was done in Aurora and Littleton.  Why?  Because I'm odd?  Or is it because, like most persons on the planet, I do not have something going on inside my mind first that simply needs something, anything, to set it off?  That's it!!!  There is no preexisting condition, as it were, and that is key!  I'm not in favor of more violence in entertainment and other media, and I do think less of it would be a good thing, but I do not see a wise response in removing some things across the board because of the few who already have mental issues lacking that something inside of them that keeps the fantasy and reality separate.  

To make that across-the-board-elimination argument would also validate an argument that, for example, the war films of the 1940's (i.e. Prelude to War, Destination Tokyo, The Fighting 69th, etc.) inspired those who were young, but old enough to go to the movies, to go out and create more wars in their lifetime.  Anyone arguing in favor of that?  When's the last time you heard of someone pinning any blame on Frank Capra?

I almost wanted to subtitle this third part 'Innocence Lost' because another piece of this in terms of the human impact is just that, losing our innocence.  We have lost more and more of our innocence as time has progressed.  Look at how stunned we were as a nation of the events of September 11, 2001, and yet it was lost on many of us how we were attacked sixty years earlier (December 7, 1941) at Pearl Harbor.  Granted, Pearl Harbor was a military base (and Hawaii was not a state yet) and 9/11 was on civilian soil, but we lost lives in both attacks.  Our loss of innocence did not begin on 9/11, although that was the biggest blow in recent times, and it did not begin with Watergate, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, or even World War I.  Our loss of innocence has been an ongoing process.  Speaking of responses, as I was earlier, the important issue is how we respond to when some of our innocence is lost.

The oldest to die in the Aurora movie theater massacre was 51, one year older than I.  The youngest was just 6 years old.  Most of those killed were in their 20's, with the average age of the dozen persons killed being 26.  The youngest shooting victim who survived was only three months old.  This massacre, like Columbine, was a moment of innocence lost, for no one expects such horrors to happen in a movie theater.  (That is, no horror any worse than a really lousy movie that you paid to see.)  In addition to those in Colorado, we, as a nation, need to mourn.  We need to feel that shock of lives and innocence lost.  And we need to respond.  Wisely.

Peace, love, well-wishes, prayers, and good energies to all who lost loved ones on July 20, 2012.  Let us remember those who died in this senseless and terrible tragedy:
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Alexander J. Boik, 18
Jesse Childress, 29
Gordon Cowden, 51
Jessica Ghawi, 24
John Larimer, 27
Matt McQuinn, 27
Micayla Medek, 23
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
Alex Sullivan, 27
Alexander C. Teves, 24
Rebecca Wingo, 32

Grateful that my electric only blinked a few times during the storm while I wrote this post,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Word of the Day: MASSACRE [Part 2 of 3]

If you have been following the story of the massacre at a Colorado movie theater last week fairly closely, then much of what I will cover here will be repetitious.  In addition, much of what is known now will be added to exponentially between now and the time of trial, not to mention the trial itself.

It now appears that the alleged perpetrator, James Eagan Holmes, had been building his stockpile of weapons and bomb-making materials for approximately two months.  During that time, no doubt as he added to his collection of incendiary materials, he rigged his apartment with booby traps.  The intended purpose of the booby traps did not come to fruition, although they almost did.  Holmes' neighbor directly below him, Kaitlyn Fonzi, went upstairs when a timer in Holmes' apartment switched on very loud techno music exactly at midnight.  Even though her boyfriend had recommended that she let the police handle it, she went upstairs to Holmes' apartment.  Ms. Fonzi went so far as to try the door handle, which she said was unlocked.   In what can be called luck, fate, or divine intervention, something told her to not open the door, so she didn't.  (I don't think I'd be able to sleep well for a long time knowing that.)  His intended goal at his apartment building, based on initial reports of the materials found in there, was to not only kill whoever opened his apartment door, but to take out most, if not all, of the building.

Around the time he began to build his arsenal in May, Holmes' grades dropped to the point where the University of Colorado's Medical School was seriously considering placing him on academic probation.  Whatever was going to slip inside him had already begun.  In June, he had dropped out of college.  (Some reports say that he was in the process of dropping out.)  On July 20, the massacre took place.

Holmes had parked his car behind the theater, walked around to the front, bought a ticket to the 12:05 a.m. showing of The Dark Knight Rises, exited theater 9 through the exit by the movie screen after the movie began, propped opened the door, suited up, and reentered the theater.  He threw two canisters of what appears to be some sort of gas or pepper spray, which went off with an explosion and filled the theater with smoke, into the audience.  He first fires two or three rounds up into the ceiling.  Then...he begins to fire at audience members.  A number of surviving witnesses say that one of the things they noticed was how calm he was as he was shooting people randomly.  It appeared his goal was carnage.  The result, which may have been even worse if his first weapon hadn't jammed as it did, was fifty-eight persons injured and twelve persons killed.

However, I believe his goal may have been beyond carnage.  Here is what Holmes purchased in the months leading up to this tragedy...
The gear:
Ballistic (bulletproof) helmet
Gas mask
Throat protector
Ballistic vest
Ballistic leggings
Groin protector
Ballistic gloves
The weapons:
Two .40-caliber handguns (at least one or both, depending on the report, was a Glock)
One Remington model 870 shotgun
One Smith & Wesson model AR-15 .223-caliber rifle (some call this an assault rifle)
The ammunition:
3,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition [handguns]
300 rounds of 12-gauge ammunition [shotgun]
3,000 rounds of .223-caliber ammunition [rifle]

To this blogger, Holmes' goal was to kill every single person in that theater with no survivors. 

All of his arsenal were purchased legally.  That's right...he broke no laws in the purchasing of any and all of his one-man army stockpile, including all four weapons.  My question is How?  On one level, that can be answered with In stores and Online.  Fair enough, but my question is on a deeper level.  How was he allowed to amass all that he did with not a red flag, not a single warning sign going off to anyone, anywhere, in any way?  Not only is it appropriate to ask what in the world does anyone who is not serving in the armed forces (and while on duty) need with all of that, but to also ask how he was allowed to do it. 

Gun laws in the state of Colorado are very relaxed.  That is reason number one why Holmes was able to do what he did.  Another reason why he did it, more specific to why he did it in Colorado, is that the gun laws in California, where he was born and attended the University of California, Riverside, are far stricter than in Colorado.  They are considered some of the strictest gun laws in the country.  Harder to accomplish this in California?  Try a state where the gun laws are much more relaxed.

I, personally, am opposed to guns.  I have held them, but have never fired them.  I am no "anti-gun liberal".  Anyone who wants to hunt, there are weapons -- none of Holmes' stockpile are included -- that you can use.  If you want to defend yourself, there are weapons for that, too.  It appears that Holmes had no intentions of hunting (at least not wild animals) or of protecting himself.  I can find absolutely, positively, unequivocally no reason for him to have all that...and I can find absolutely, positively, unequivocally every reason to have methods, policies, procedures, etc., in place to take steps to try and prevent this from happening again. 

To the general gun-owning population and to any NRA members who are on the fanatical end of its spectrum -- those who'd wave the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in my face at the drop of a hat even if I said something like no one could own bullets unless they were colored pink -- I have this to say: If you think my last statement in the previous paragraph means that I am, in reality, an "anti-gun liberal", think again.  No one having any weapons, aside from those who use them for their work, would be ideal, sure.  (Not so surprising, huh?)  That, however, is unrealistic and, quite frankly, unconstitutional.  Yes, I get that. 

What you may find surprising is that I believe that you have the right to have the right weapons for the right reasons, absolutely!  The right weapons for the wrong reasons, however, is not, in my view, granted and protected by the Second Amendment.  Not having safeguards in place is a form of idolizing "freedom".  Not valuing it, but idolizing it.  Gun laws in Colorado, and in the United States, need to change.  They need to change not for the purpose of devaluing constitutional freedoms, but rather to value human life.  That can and must be done without even thinking about taking away people's guns.


P.S. -- Tomorrow, in part three, I will focus more on the human element and impact of this tragic event.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Word of the Day: MASSACRE [Part 1 of 3]

By now, you have probably heard of the terrible events of this past Friday, June 20, in Aurora, Colorado.  After four months of preparation and planning, a 24-year-old recently-dropped out Ph.D. student in neuroscience, James Eagan Holmes, booby-trapped his apartment in the hopes of someone detonating a highly-destructive explosion and fireball.  He goes to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora for the midnight screening of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and commits one of the worst massacres in American history.  Timeline of events

Before I go further, let me offer a disclaimer.  While I will be discussing a different aspect of this tragedy in this post, I fully acknowledge that the most important aspect in all of this is the senseless loss of life.  That point is not lost on me, but I will focus more on that in subsequent posts.

My parents took me a couple of times to drive-ins when I was very young, but I wanted to go home as soon as I ate and saw the first feature.  My lack of interest in the second feature -- yes, you could see two features for the price of one at a drive-in -- which was usually a western, my dad's favorite genre, did not endear me to him on those two occasions.  Needless to say, those two trips were the extent of my folks taking me to the drive-in movies.  (When I was older, I went to them and loved them...and stayed for both features.)  So, the first time I went to the movies was not in a theater, but I tend to count my being a fan of movies beginning with the first film I saw in a theater, the original The Poseidon Adventure in 1972.

I have been an avid fan of motion pictures for forty years.  Peter O'Toole, when he received his honorary Oscar in 2003, captured my feelings in a couple of lines from his acceptance speech: "The magic of the movies enraptured me as a child.  As I totter into antiquity, movie magic enraptures me still."  While not tottering into antiquity (or even walking zig-zag, for that matter), movie magic has, indeed, enraptured me, too.  It is an art form in which I once aspired to work and has always held a very dear place in my heart.  In fact, in my movie-going heyday, I would see anywhere between 80 and 100 films in a year...not counting films I went to see again.  (And I did, from time to time, go to see films more than once back then.)

While having watched films on television, online, or by playing DVDs on my computer myself, and with many of my friends being technologically acclimated as to watch films via services and websites such as Netflix and Hulu, I am what I might call "old school" or a "movie purist".  Sure, the convenience of watching it at home on your computer means you don't have to get dressed and go out, but nothing, for me, beats the experience of going to the movie theater and watching films on the big screen -- the way they were meant to be seen. 

I have seen movies in theaters that have well over a dozen screens and those that had only one screen.  I have been in some rundown theaters (i.e. ceiling tiles missing, damp smell from a leaky roof, seats that were as comfortable as sitting on mattress springs) and some beautiful theaters (i.e. serving cappuccino, stadium seating).  I even remember an instance during wintertime when one cashier told me that the heater was out in the theater that the film I wanted to see was playing.  (I went in anyway.)  There was one time when I drove to see a film (for a second time) over forty-five miles one way because it wasn't playing anywhere else any closer!  I even worked for a while as an usher in a long-gone theater when I was still in high school.

Not that I think the movie theater is necessarily sacrosanct, as in sacred exactly like a church building, but I have an almost sacred affinity for the movie theater.  The word "sacrosanct" means "to not be tampered with".  I take that seriously.  I never have caused any disruptions and, like most people, I hate it when someone else does.  To me, while being a place where I have been happy and laughing, moved and inspired, deeply touched and crying, and even scared and creeped out, one thing has remained a constant...I have felt safe.  The movie theater was and is my kinda-sorta temple of entertainment where the worst harm I faced was tripping over someone else's feet while I slid past them in the row to get to an empty seat.  (Well, there was that time when I got someone's gum that I didn't notice on the seat stuck to my favorite jacket...which I never fully got out.)

Similar to shootings that took place in churches in Knoxville, TN in 2008 and in Ellicott City, MD earlier this year, which were indeed shocking, this shooting in a crowded movie theater on July 20th is almost like "breaking a sacred seal" that movie theaters are safe havens into which one can retreat.  Who would have seriously thought a shooting would take place in a church or a movie theater? 

Before continuing, it is important to note that July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, was not the first time violence broke out in a movie theater. Here's a list of notable events to that effect:
March 1991: A Brooklyn man is killed in a New York theater, and fights break out in Sayreville and Franklin Township (both in New Jersey) during opening weekend screenings of the thriller New Jack City.
July 1991: More than two dozen violent incidents, including a fatal shooting, are reported at theaters around the country showing Boyz in the Hood.
November 1999: (Here's an example from abroad...)  A gunman kills three people and wounds five others at a Fight Club screening in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
December 2008: A disgruntled movie fan in Philadelphia shoots and wounds a noisy audience member during a Christmas Day screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
January 2009: A security officer stabs an unruly moviegoer after a showing of My Bloody Valentine in 3D at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y.
April 2009: An Oregon man commits suicide, shooting himself during a showing of Watchmen. [Source article]

It is clear to see that, while rare but not unique, the sheer scope of what happened in Aurora is what makes it so shocking on a such a large scale.  Keeping in mind how I feel about movie theaters, that this happened in a movie theater stuns me and breaks my heart.  Yes, it could have happened in a church or in a school or in an open field, but its occurrence in a place that I hold dear is heartbreaking, in addition to how my heart breaks for all who were killed and injured.  Keeping in mind how I feel about the magic of the movies, this is an example of how a place of escapism was turned into a place where you had to escape for your very life. That's not what a movie theater should be.  That's not what a movie-going experience should be like.

I admit, I am not terrified to go to the movies now, but I do have some pause.  Even after the events listed above, most of them I had read about when they occurred, I was not deterred from going.  I still believe overreacting is not helpful, either, but something like this is going to cause moviegoers and avid movie fans such as myself to have second thoughts.  I think that is only natural.  True, tragedies can occur at any time, when we expect it or not (usually when we don't expect it), but should we give in and not go?  Do we see not giving in as begging to be killed?  Or do we see it as something terrible that happened unexpectedly and choose to not live our lives in fear?  That choice is yours, mine, and anyone else's to make.

Instead of focusing too heavily on the endgame (the aftermath of the tragedy), put yourself in theater 9 on that fateful night and ask yourself this: How could you have prevented the perpetrator from doing this in the first place?  If your answer is like mine -- "I couldn't have done that." -- then we can try to accept that terrible things happen, to be alert, to hope that they don't happen to us or our loved ones, and to move on.  Or we could just stay home. 

Then again, how safe is that?


P.S. -- Tomorrow, in part two, I will focus more on the events leading up to that night and the night itself, as well as societal behaviors and gun laws.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I had the opportunity last weekend to go with a friend to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times exhibit on display there.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are well over 900 scrolls of Biblical and extrabiblical texts first discovered sixty-five years ago and dating back 2,000 years. 

We both had mentioned an interest in going a little over a month ago.  We both arrived a little early -- they were doing timed entrances -- and we sat down a chatted a bit.  When our time came, we went straight in. After an initial presentation, we were ushered in...and we were not disappointed.

The entire exhibit was nothing short of amazing.  In addition to the scrolls -- more on them shortly -- there were artifacts dating back roughly 3,000 years.  There were coins (shekels, among others) that were smaller than the American penny.  My uneducated guess would be that some of them were the size of an old two-bit piece, maybe even smaller. 

There were clay jars -- some used for storing food, some similar to those inside which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found -- on display, some even four or five feet tall, that dated back to 1st century B.C.E.  (There were even some various kinds of pottery that were once possessed by kings, labeled "Belonging to the King", that were from the 8th century B.C.E.)  There were ossuaries (boxes into which families placed the bones of departed loved ones and were placed in family tombs) that dated back to the same time period as the clay jars.

There was even an example of an altar -- I'd say no more than a couple of feet tall -- that was used for religious rituals.  (You could even the scar marks where incense had been burned!)  I have seen pictures of excavations of homes in and around Israel that had altars inside of them for worshiping at home, not in the Temple.  There was a pair of sandals also dating back to the time of the clay jars I mentioned earlier (1st century B.C.E.), with one looking in really bad shape and the other looking more like a sandal than the other.

There were examples of weapons of the time: arrow heads and slingstones dating back to 701 B.C.E., during the Battle of Lachish (the Assyrian takeover of the Judean town of the same name).  There was even what they said was a three-ton stone from the Western Wall (Wailing Wall), although I have to admit that my first thought was when the floor was going to give way. 

There were all of these things and so much more.  Then there were the scrolls themselves.  Actually, there were ten sections of the scrolls.  The scrolls themselves, even though many describe how well they had been preserved...that is, considering the passing of thousands of years...are very fragile.  Even though I don't read any of the languages used in the writings of the scrolls (mostly Hebrew, but also Aramaic and Greek), I would have done myself a favor to have brought a magnifying glass because the print on them was so small.  The pieces of the scrolls were encased, of course, but I have to say it was truly awe-inspiring to be in the presence of something so important and from so long ago.  To be just inches away from the scrolls was an experience I will never forget.

My previous exposure to connecting with the past, save for videos of old television series and movies on YouTube, had been art museums.  In 2003, that changed during my trip to Romania, in which I not only got to see a book by Spanish physician and theologian Michael Servetus that dated back to the 16th century, but I actually got to hold it!  In addition, I got to visit churches which dated back even dating back to the 12th century.  Needless to say, this exhibition far outdid all that.

It is amazing to me that people like myself can learn about people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago before I even existed.  (I'm sure it is even more amazing to those who study such things regularly and actually work onsite.)  It is truly fascinating and humbling to be able to connect with the past that way.  It is fascinating because it shows us from where we've come, as well as in what we have changed and in what ways we have stayed the same.  It is humbling to see items of war, royal pottery, religious artifacts, as well as something as simple as a pair of sandals to be covered by sands and forgotten in time.  As I not only learned about peoples of those eras, I thought about how the sands and time made everything the same...each item's purpose insufficient to elevate it above the elements and the passing of time.  I thought about how what we are, have, use, and possess, etc., can also be covered over by the elements and passed over by time.

It was then that I thought of connecting with the past in a different light.  It wasn't from where we are now looking back, but rather as though where we are now was the past that people 2,000 years from now would be looking back at to study.

And I wonder what those walking through that exhibit 2,000 years from now would learn about us.


P.S. -- If I wrote about everything there, even cursively, I might give War and Peace a run for the money.  Instead, what I will say is that, if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to see this exhibit which will be at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, until mid-October.  (See link above, first paragraph, for more information.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Word of the Day: IMMIGRATION

We've been hearing a lot of rhetoric for the past several years regarding illegal immigration, which I define as people coming here to work and live illegally...and employers who hire them illegally. I have some comments on the issue.

First off, let's get semantics out of the way.  A number of years ago, former Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich said that there are no illegal individuals.  My understanding was that he, too, was addressing semantics.  True, an individual is not illegal; what that individual does is illegal.  That is why you hear of people being convicted of crimes, not of themselves.  (If people were convicted of themselves, it would seem the population would drop off pretty quickly.)

I believe Mr. Kucinich's point was regarding the term "illegal immigrant". Okay, fair enough.  No, there are no illegal individuals.  However, what they do is illegal.  Whether you use "illegal immigrant" or "immigrant who is here illegally" is, to me, nothing more than semantics.  They are here illegally.  Period.  If they are hired by employers, and I don't care if they are paid "under the table" or are on the payroll, then the employers are also breaking the law.  Period.

I recently read an article about several dozen persons who were sworn in as American citizens on or close to July 4th.  You could tell, by the words they used, that they were joyful and proud to be naturalized American citizens.  I can only imagine how that must feel.  I remember both my father and mother telling me about how my father's parents, who were immigrants to this country, felt overjoyed when they became U.S. citizens.  My grandfather became a citizen first because my grandmother had a harder time with learning the English language.  She hung in there, learned it well enough, and felt pride once again when she, too, became a citizen of the United States of America.  My grandparents did what they needed to do, as did those in the article who were sworn in as citizens, and they became part of this country.

One piece of the illegal immigration rhetoric that I find confusing (and, I admit, irritating) is the following phrase, or something close to it: "We need to create a path to citizenship."  Let me start with that statement at face value.  When you say "create a path" and not "create another path" or "create a new path", you are saying that no previous path exists.  It seems to me that such a statement would be false...just look at those new U.S. citizens or my grandparents for your proof.  For further reading, check out this link about the naturalization process and this link about Ellis Island.  Better yet, ask someone who became a naturalized U.S. citizen about his/her experience and how he/she felt.

Let's assume that those who use this "create a path" terminology really mean another or new.  I would ask, "Really?"  If you mean "another", then tell me how the naturalization process already in place is insufficient that having an additional path is necessary.  If you mean "new", then tell me how the naturalization process already in place has completely failed this country that replacing it is necessary.  I have heard lots of people tout how great it would be and how it is the right thing to do.  I have heard no one explain clearly the necessity of another or a new immigration process being implemented.

As a side note, speaking of semantics, I have had my fill of people using the terms "immigrant" and "illegal immigrant" interchangeably, or as though they are the same thing.  Neither those newly-naturalized U.S. citizens days ago nor my grandparents nearly 100 years ago are/were illegal immigrants in this country!  What they went through is the kind of immigration that made this country great.

It may seem that I fall in either one or another category politically.  I am not interested in falling into, or standing squarely in, one political category or another; I couldn't care less about that.  An old saying, though, comes to mind on this issue: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Maybe a number of people actually think that the United States' naturalization process is broken...

...or maybe, in reality, something else is.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012


When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

It is with these seventy-one words that a document, the likes of which had never been seen before, begins.  The document was the Declaration of Independence, and the likes of it had never been seen before because what was happening on this land had never been done before on this scale -- a grand experiment, if you will. To be sure, the idea of breaking off and breaking out on your own was not first conceived by those who came to what was to be called the United States of America to settle.  Smaller factions of cavemen breaking off from larger factions of cavemen occurred.  The Exodus narrative in the Bible is also an example of this, as is the Protestant Reformation the result of a breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church.  

The settling here in America and the establishing of a new country, and even formally declaring independence in an official document, was broader in its size and scope.  These and other likewise examples were exercises of establishing a level of autonomy, of achieving freedom. We often hear the phrase "Freedom is never free" usually in terms of war.  The same can be true in terms of effort in general.  That is to say, freedom is never free from effort...the greater the desired freedom, the greater the amount of effort required.  By extension, responsibility is part and parcel of freedom.

In her 1960 book You Learn by Living, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility."  How true!  How often do people, maybe even ourselves, think of freedom as simply doing what you want to do when you want to do it and nothing more than that.  Freedom and responsibility are, in my mind, inseparable.  

Think of when you were a kid -- and hopefully old enough to know about and remember going out to play -- and your parents said for you to stay out of a neighbor's yard or to be back home by suppertime.  You may have seen those as some sort of a restriction -- and your parents knew that it was a restriction for your own good -- but it was instilling in you a sense of responsibility.  You could have the freedom to go and play, but you had to also be responsible to respect others' property or to be home at a decent time for a specific reason.  In fact, if you weren't responsible, you likely lost some of your freedom for a while.  Your parents, if they were like mine, didn't give you freedom without responsibility because freedom includes responsibility; it is not carte blanche.  Not enough of us see it that way...too many of us look at others who do see it that way as odd.

If you have never done so, or haven't in a while, read the Declaration of Independence sometime.  You'll find a list of grievances against, and wrongdoings of, King George III, statements contrasting government in good standing and government in bad standing, statements regarding no desire for confrontation with Great Britain (although I'm sure they expected it), and stating their independence from their former homeland. 

What you will not find is anything even remotely suggesting: "Hey, we're outta that place, so let's go crazy in this place!"  This wasn't a school recess; they knew work, lots of work, lie ahead.  In seeking freedom, the forefathers of America declared their independence from Great Britain, not their independence from responsibility.  

While those of us today, separated by centuries from those tumultuous birthing days of this country, do not have to worry about declaring our independence from Great Britain (or any other country, for that matter), we seem to have lost our way.  As I stated earlier, too many of us see freedom as separate from responsibility.  We want to be left alone with no one to tell us right from wrong, no one to hold us accountable.  Since when did being responsible become so wrong?

Tell those who first came here that being responsible is wrong; tell those who immigrated to this country for centuries afterward to become part of this country that being responsible is wrong; tell those who built up this country from the ground up that being responsible is wrong; tell good parents that being responsible is wrong; tell someone working two jobs to pay his/her way through college that being responsible is wrong...and see what kind of responses you get.

Convince all of those people of those same things...and let's see where we'd be today.

While we celebrate today this nation's 236-year-old independence, let us pause after the parties and parades and think about how this country was built through, among other things, being responsible time and time again, and never shirking that responsibility.  To that legacy we owe our thanks.  To that legacy we are called to give nothing less than our best efforts by being not just free persons, but free and responsible persons.

Happy Independence Day, America!