Saturday, June 18, 2016

Getting There

Today is a good far.  If things stay the way they do, I will finally get to the Grove this afternoon with a bunch of my friends.  Fingers crossed!  Over the past several weeks and with more and more frequency, a lot of people have been contacting me to check on how I am doing.  I really am a lucky guy to have so many people in my corner, and I am truly appreciative of your concern.

The purpose of this post, especially for those of you who are not intimately connected to me, but do like to keep apprised on my situation, is to give you an update on my progress.  From what I've learned over the past four weeks now, sciatica is a very painful (Amen!) condition that can take a long time to heal, but it will heal.  I can see that now...

The above graph is a weekly summary from an app on my phone called Pacer.  Basically it's a pedometer that keeps track of your daily steps. As you can see, the number of steps I've taken this week has varied, telling the tale of my state of progress these days.  Even the highest day, Thursday, was at a little over 5,000 steps and is much lower than my normal 10,000, but still it is encouraging.  

The pain I'm experiencing now is still pretty much keeping me stationary, especially after a day when I've done a lot of walking.  Those have been work days for me, Tuesday and Thursday.  Yesterday was an especially bad day, as I was pretty much rendered immobile and in pain virtually all day long. Today, however, the pain has definitely subsided.

So I guess that I am healing, slowly but surely.  As encouraged as I feel on the good days, I'm feeling just as discouraged on the bad ones, but I just have to remember that eventually I'll be back to least I hope so.  Fingers crossed!


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Gun Angle to the Orlando Tragedy

The man in the picture above is 20 year-old James Wesley Howell, from Jeffersonville, Indiana.  In case you may not have heard, Howell was arrested yesterday in Santa Monica, California after police uncovered a virtual arsenal of weapons in his car, including "three assault rifles, high capacity magazines, and ammunition and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that can be used to make an explosive device (WLKY)."   He told authorities he was heading to the L.A. Gay Pride Parade. Though he never revealed what he intended to do there, I think that after yesterday's tragedy in Orlando, we can only imagine. Thank God he was stopped and we never got to find out.

Of course, there's speculation that Howell was going to perform a similarly heinous mass attack to the one perpetrated by Omar Mateen, but we may never know the truth.  For one thing, James Howell is bisexual and even has a boyfriend, so targeting gays may not have been his intent (though I have a contrary theory on that matter best saved for another time).  What we do know is that a possible, potentially disastrous catastrophe was averted, and only hours after the horrors that unfolded first came to light.

Should all LGBT's be alarmed at this news?  Perhaps, but as I said in my previous post, what happened in Orlando is not about one issue alone.  We should all find it troubling that this young, 20 year-old man had all of these terribly deadly weapons in his possession.  Why does anyone need three assault rifles?  For protection?  Should our answer be to have assault rifles of our own so that we can defend ourselves against someone like James Wesley Howell or Omar Mateen?  Maddeningly, some people think so.   

Throughout history, mankind has come up with some of the most incredible of inventions, technologies to help us survive, to get around, to entertain us, but there is one invention that I wish never happened, and that is the invention of the gun.  Aside from the most incredulous number of them in existence today, the gun is responsible for a lot more harm than we ever even think about.

As a teacher to youngsters who are not only learning history, math and science, but our language as well, I have to explain things to them in the simplest of terms so that they'll get it.  And sometimes when you explain things in such a manner, everything becomes ridiculously clear.  

Two of the greatest human tragedies in history can be attributed to the gun: slavery and the genocide of the Native American.  Think about it.  When the European colonizers went to Africa to gather slaves for hard labor in the New World, how were they able to do so?  It's simple, they had guns and the African peoples did not. It's the same with the Native Americans.  Bows and arrows, or guns? Imagine if guns did not exist during the colonization of North and South America.  Would we exist as we do today?  Like I said, simple yet clearly true.  

The Good Ole Second Amendment

There has been so much said on both sides of the aisle about the Second Amendment to the Constitution that I will not tackle the issue too deeply here.  If you'd like to read some informative pieces from non-partisan authors, I suggest you do a Google search for 'origins of the Second Amendment.'  I will reiterate what I said earlier, that it was written in a very different time, under very different circumstances, and since the Constitution is supposed to be a living, breathing document that changes with the changing times, then it needs to be scrutinized, and sooner rather than later.

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists did not have a well-trained, cohesive army.  They were up against the strongest professional military in the world and so were very mismatched in their struggle for independence.  The average citizen was at the mercy of random British military units and so having the right to defend themselves as such was necessary for the times.  The organization of local militias in such circumstances, was the original purpose of the Amendment.  

Of course these days the Second Amendment has taken on a whole new interpretation. There are no superior armies walking amongst us, and we have one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.  Today, we view the right to bear arms as a defense against anyone who would do us harm, like Omar Mateen or James Howell or pretty much anyone out there who's got one...and that's a lot! Did that happen yesterday, or during any other of these horrific massacres that have taken place over the past twenty years?  How many murder attempts have been thwarted because the victim had a gun?  I wonder even if that's a realistic statistic to find, but I'd bet it'd be far less than any gun supporter would lead us to believe.

In my research for this post, I Googled "number of guns per country statistics," and I found that the way it is counted is per hundred people.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. leads the pack by a large margin with 88.8 guns owned out of every 100 people.  Next up is Yemen (54.8), Switzerland (45.7), Finland (45.3), and Serbia (37.8).  Though the United States represents less than 5% of the world's population, we carry 35-50% of the world's civilian owned guns at an alarming 270 million owned privately.  

I was surprised at some of the countries on this list, like Switzerland and Finland, as you might be. There is a difference, though.  The U.S. also represents the highest firearm homicide rate, as well, wheres none of these other countries even make the top ten. Why is that?  

Please note that I am not a professional journalist and I realize that statistics like these can be spun and analyzed in virtually any way a spin-meister wants to spin them.  Simply put, though, that's a lot of damned guns and a lot of unnecessary murders, too, just like those poor souls who lost their lives just yesterday at the hands of guns.  

The Gun Angle to the Orlando Tragedy

Of course, commentary on both sides of the aisle on that good old Second Amendment argument have abounded and will continue to in the coming weeks.  It's sad that this issue comes up way too often these days, yet nothing ever changes.  Yesterday's press conference on the Pulse shootings by President Barack Obama was his 16th such meeting with reporters during his eight years as President.
That's a sad fact, and to reiterate what I said yesterday, I don't remember any of the others being called terrorism.

The graphic above shows just a few of the too many mass shootings that have happened in this country over the past 17 years.  High schools.  Elementary schools.  Universities.  Movie theaters. Even churches.  Yet, there are many in this country who continue to cry out that the answer to this problem is leave us to our guns.  If guns never existed, there'd be 156 people in this image alone who would still be alive today.  It's pitiful and it's embarrassing!

A couple of years ago, I wrote of an experience I had in Nashville during one of my Roller Coaster Road Trips with two pals:

While we waited (to get into the Grand Ole Opry), there was this nice local girl working a lunch menu from the entrance to the tour, and I asked her about something I'd been noticing ever since we had arrived in Tennessee.

Practically everywhere we went, there was this sign in the front window indicating "no handguns allowed." I though it was odd, and since the girl was so friendly I thought I'd ask her about it...

Do that many people really carry around guns?

Well, no, not around here in Nashville, but yeah, in the surrounding areas. Sure.

She seemed surprised that we don't carry guns around on our person in New York.  I wouldn't even think of it, unless there was maybe a zombie apocalypse.  Well, there are more murders in New York than Tennessee, so maybe....oh, wait a second!  There are way more people in New York than there are in Tennessee, and actually the gun murder rate, as a percentage, is higher there than it is here. 

Yup, just like I thought...more guns, more murders!  
Clearly, what happened yesterday in Orlando, Florida exposes several terrible realities of our society, and one of the most critical is our love affair with guns. I only hope that this time, more people will tire of these terrible events and start doing something about it.  I don't hold much optimism, but I do hope. 

Stay tuned for more on this mess of a mess, and in the meantime, check out yesterday's post:

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons - Council on Foreign Relations

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The First of Several Angles to the Orlando Tragedy: Terrorism

What can I say that hasn't already been said about the horrific tragedy that happened in Orlando early this morning?  For one thing, this was something that was always in the back of my mind whenever I went into a gay club, even from my early days of clubbing.  We all know there are a lot of sick people out there, and any one of us, in virtually any situation, in virtually any place, could face the very same horror those poor people experienced in the wee hours of this day, June 12th, 2016.  That is just a sad truth.  

Even though the terrible mass shooting that happened today made headlines as the deadliest such attack in our history, the incident was unique in that it is the first such tragedy that touched upon several issues, and depending on which spin-meister you listen to, the way you might see it is the way they spin it.  Whatever the case, this tragedy surely drew new and valid ire towards terrorism, but three other important societal problems surface here, and over the next few days I will be devoting some space here to discuss these issues as I see them.  

Life never has and never will be black and white.  We need to look at our society holistically and through all that gray matter in between in order to make any real progress so something like this never happens again.  Until then, I am afraid that these sorts of incidents will continue to happen.  

The Terrorist Angle

50 killed in shooting at Florida nightclub in possible act of Islamic terror - Fox

Orlando Shooting: 50 killed, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance - CNN

Islamic State linked to worst mass shooting in American history - USA Today

These were among the first headlines that I found while doing a search for 'Orlando shooting' in preparation for this post.  Notice any special groups of similar words that come up in these?  Islamic terror.  ISIS allegiance.  Islamic State.  Now, look up at the meme at the top of this post.  Curiously, the word 'gay' appears in none of these headlines, yet I'm pretty damned sure that, regardless if the attack was ordered by the ISIS supreme being himself or if it was perpetrated by Mr. Omar Mateen on his own, these 100-plus people who were killed or critically wounded in the shooting were targeted because they were gay.  

The headlines above each appeared on popular American news outlets, and links are provided for you to read them.  Another headline I found was on Al Jazeera, a, ahem, 'Muslim' news outlet scorned by most Americans from way back in the days of Al Qaeda.  It reads, Scores dead in gay nightclub shooting.  Now before any Muslim-phobes read into my angle here, the article does make mention of the terror connection, and I am not disagreeing that it shouldn't in any of these stories.  

The problem here is the placement and the angles of those headlines that seem to be purposefully trying to point our minds towards that aspect of this deadly massacre.  The topic of my Master's Thesis was 32 pages about how five huge media conglomerates purposefully drive the discussion, and though that paper was written about 15 years ago, I am sure it still holds true today, as evidenced by these headlines.  Ah, the masking of other, more troubling issues that come from within.  I speak of headlines because they, the media outlets, know that a great majority of we busy Americans get our news via the headlines, not the stories themselves, and thus are important in swaying the debate the way they want to.

Surely this incident could and should be classified as a terrorist attack.  The very definition of terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims (Google), and the attack in Orlando surely fits that description.  But this morning's events at Pulse Nightclub were much more than that.  When we hear the words terrorist attack, we automatically think Muslim radicals and our anger gets directed at them.  I wonder if the attacker was a white American that those words would have appeared in those headlines. Probably not!  We've been trained to equate the word Muslim with terror and that's just not right.  It only works to create Muslim-phobia and more problems.  Really!

This massacre earlier today was an attack on gays, fueled by religious radicalism.  Homophobia is rooted in the scriptures of many of the world's largest religions, most written thousands of years ago. Though this was one extreme result of homophobia, are the thousands upon thousands of bullying and gay-bashing incidents that happen every day any better?  

The murders were perpetrated with an assault rifle and a pistol.  One man given the opportunity to murder so many innocent and helpless people just like that.  And some see no problem with that because of an Amendment to our Constitution that was written under very different circumstances a very long time ago.  These people will fight and fight hard to defend that principle in the coming days and weeks despite the fact that this was the 16th mass shooting in the last eight years.  

Yeah, what happened at Pulse was a terrorist incident, but it is so much more than that.  All we can do right now is send some positive energy to those people who are still critically wounded and to the families of those who were slain so horrifically.  They were our brethren, gay brethren, fellow Americans, people just like you or me.  Rest in peace!

Stay tuned for more...   

The LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition Picks Up the Pride Parade Torch


I mentioned in my Song of the Day post on John's Music World yesterday that it was a pretty sad day for many LGBT's on Long Island:

...throughout the month of June, LGBT Pride Parades and festivals take place virtually each weekend day somewhere around the world. Now the one in New York City is one of the grandest anywhere, but we here on Long Island have had our own reputation for being one of the largest suburban celebrations of pride anywhere. For the past 24 years, Long Island's Pride Parade and ensuing celebration have taken place in the town of Huntington, and though there will be a celebratory festival at Heckscher State Park today, the parade is no more, much to the chagrin of this writer and many other angry LGBT residents of both counties...the cancellation of this year's L.I. Pride Parade, citing security and logistical concerns, is an absolute travesty.

I had said in that post that I would talk about the issue more on John's World, and so here I am.  It was sometime back in March that the Long Island LGBT Network, run by CEO David Kilmnick, announced that it was cancelling the parade.  Though I had seen news items on the cancellation, I first looked into it after my friend Sean posted an angry rant about it on Facebook.

Within Sean's post, I was steered to a freshly created Facebook group page called LI Pride March Cancelled by LIGALY, We Will Fight Back.  I immediately joined the group, which now numbers in excess of 1,300 people.  The cause has morphed itself into an organization that calls itself the LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition, lead by organizer Erinn Furey.  Their aim has been to do just what its name says.  First, they tried to fight the cancellation of the parade, and when that got nowhere, they organized a boycott of today's Pride Fest and a march of their own for today, Sunday, June 12th, at 12:30 in gay-friendly Sayville.  

A Disconnect Between Corporate Politicos and LGBT's

I see the whole issue as a culmination of several years of a growing disconnect between the politically minded and very corporate LGBT Network and the every day LGBT person on Long Island.  It all started a few years ago when the LGBT Network first took control of running the event. Several changes were immediately made to the parade and festival, most notably a change in the day it was held.  Upon taking the reigns, the event was immediately moved from Sunday to Saturday in order to allow for the sale of alcohol.  The decision automatically shortened the route of the parade because the town of Huntington does not allow for closures of Main Street on Saturdays.

This early decision lead to a very different animal than the whole pride celebration started out to be. I've attended some of these events, both before and after the LGBT Network's takeover, and the festival has morphed into one giant corporate expo, with a multitude of businesses selling their wares in the name of pride, and with big name acts giving performances for the spectators.  Not necessarily a bad thing, right?  

I am sure most other pride celebrations are the same, and we the people like to be entertained and sold to, don't we?  I, personally have no issue with the Pride Fest.  To me, it's all part and parcel of how we Americans like to spend our time, and it's actually a good thing that we are getting this particular kind of attention geared specifically toward us.  I just don't agree with wiping out the parade.

I will admit that this particular parade was never really a giant, moving spectacle like the one in NYC, and the parade committee has tried to make it a little more exciting over the years.  I particularly remember one time there was a high heeled running race on Main Street...amusing, but not too much so.  Still, the central idea of any sort of pride celebration is to show face in a very public way, and that is to march in a parade.  

What would St. Patrick's Day celebrations be without parades?  Bagpipes and kilts, Irish green pride all on display for everyone to see.  Columbus Day...Italian-American pride.  The NYC Pride Parade is a very moving experience for any LGBT spectator.  I've attended several of those and I can tell you firsthand the feelings of pride you get when you see LGBT police officers, firefighters, EMT workers, teachers, and even corporate workers showing off their pride.  It helps us!  But David Kilmnick and the LGBT Pride Network have eradicated all of that in the name of logistics and security concerns.  As I said, it's truly a shameful thing.  

Today's March

As I mentioned above, the LGBTQA+ Visibility Coalition will be holding what it calls its own visibility march at 12:30 in Sayville.  I would have loved to go, but unfortunately my physical condition prevents me from walking around.  I do hope they have a nice turnout and that the newspapers will give them the same visibility that yesterday's fest was given.  After all, it is all about visibility!