Friday, January 4, 2013

What's Left to Say?

Like everyone else, I was horrified at the massacre that took place in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school December 14th. That morning, I had just returned from yet another anxiety-ridden visit to the vet’s with my Mother’s ‘bequest,’ her sick little calico, and I was attempting to finish up some errands before returning home. In line at CVS the patron behind me sheepishly asked, “What is this country coming to?” I turned to look at what I thought would be an elucidating scene unfolding nearby that had drawn his attention and condemnation, only to find him shaking his head while he was reading his smartphone. He looked up.
“The shooting. In Connecticut,” he explained, minimizing his screen. His eyes watered. “How could it be at an elementary school,” he stammered.

My heart thumped. “Right. Because they’re supposed to happen in high schools. And colleges. And schools for the gifted,” I thought.

“How did it ever come to this,” the man asked again. I didn’t know what to say. We inched further toward the cashier.

“When did it happen,” I asked.

“Nine-thirty, this morning,” he replied. “They’re just evacuating the kids now.” It was about 11:30. I began stacking my purchases on the counter after the woman in front of me finished her transaction. “Morning,” I replied to the clerk, when she greeted me. Silence from my interlocutor. Advil, Benadryl, bacterial wipes – a quick purchase this day, if not an awkward one. “Thanks,” the clerk said, handing me my bag. What to say to the despondent man now? I turned, hoping whatever came out of my mouth wasn’t too trite, or somehow inadequate. But then I realized – not only was I not equal to an eloquence required of this moment, I didn’t have anything to say, because, I knew, so many other talented, sincere, driven, intelligent people had, for years, been saying everything that needed to be said about children exposed to a steady stream of violence in the media they consume, and gun violence, and the public health threat of both. Just then, I didn’t think anyone had anything else particularly relevant to say either, a fear that was confirmed not hours later, when I was listening to a supposed expert on gun violence tell the newscaster interviewing him that “inner-city” gun violence statistics were actually steady, or falling, in most areas of the country. “This didn’t happen in South Central,” I screamed at the TV – so forcefully that I scared even myself.

“They’ve got to do something about all these crazy people with guns now. These things can’t keep up, or we’re all done for,” the man opined.

“Yeah, but will they,” I responded half-heartedly. The man glanced away. “Take care,” I heard myself saying, and I started for the door. Then, it hit me. “Of course they won’t,” I thought. “If there had been any will on the part of politicians, or whomever it is that controls them, to make America safe for all its inhabitants, there’d be a whole lot of things that would be different about our country today, never mind regulating the ownership and possession of firearms more carefully. Firstly, there’d be no such thing as a Vaccine Injury Compensation Act – especially, not one that had to be refunded two years after its initial funding because so many people have been ‘injured’ by contaminated vaccines that all the money intended to reimbursement them for lives they’ll have to live in pain, debilitation, and as non-contributing members of society ran out. Instead, there’d be 24/7 inspection by non-biased international health inspectors in every vaccine production facility in the country; the concept of dual-use technology isn’t limited to atomic weaponry/energy, after all, and our blatant disregard for even our own violated bioweapons prohibitions are both now well-known and well-established as the basis for industries such as biotechnology. Second, health care rationing vis-à-vis ‘health’ maintenance organizations? Are you kidding, in the world’s most technologically advanced and expensive medical infrastructure in the world? If we really wanted every person in America to have the health care they need to make them healthy, productive citizens, we’d pay our doctors the way politicians the last 20 years have been demanding we pay our teachers – by the results they get. After all, if you don’t have your health, you’ve got no life. That’s the only way we’re ever going to get rid of cancer (after the lucrative cancer advocacy and research industries have depleted their sizeable endowments, of course). No – there’d be a whole lot of things different here, if the health and well-being of America’s citizens were the primary interest of the politicians purportedly representing us. And we’ve known that for quite some time – just like we’ve known the reasons children and others with access to firearms choose to kill to solve problems for which they cannot foresee any other solution.” I turned on my heels just as I reached the automatic doors. I saw the man weaving toward them, through the lines of customers at the checkout counter.

“Excuse me,” I started. I had no idea what I was going to say to him, this wretch in so much shock he could hardly finish the simple task of checking out at a store without being overcome by emotion. Looking back, I’m frankly surprised at how coherently I managed to engage him. The passion still lives, I suppose. That’s a good thing.

“You know, there are – and have been – lots and lots of people, working intensively around the issue of violence and how it affects children in this country for many decades, and they’ve researched and told us that things like this are both foreseeable and preventable for almost as long. The problem isn’t that we don’t know why things like these happen; we know all too well. Children exposed to violence will use violence to solve their problems. And the problem doesn’t have one particular factor, the altering of which would stop such things from happening, like gun control. The problem is the political will to change what’s become a preference for a brutal society – and your representative not representing you, if you don’t want that type of society.”

I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. I barely paused to take a breath as the man nodded, before I continued.

“When I was in college I was fortunate enough to study with an expert in the violence that’s pedaled to children in their media and the damage it does to them. She lives right here, in the so-called world’s smartest zip code. I remember her asking me, after I began my teaching practicum in one of the city’s more progressive kindergartens, how I found it, and my trying to explain the perplexing phenomena I was witnessing in some of the children’s dramatic play. ‘I don’t think I was exceptional when I was in kindergarten, but I do remember being able to make up a story that had a beginning, middle and an end,’ I told her. I didn’t know at the time her life’s work was demonstrating how children’s cognitive abilities are undermined when they are routinely bombarded by gratuitous acts of violence – violence that makes no sense, contextually, to stories they watch in their cartoons and programs on TV and video games – and that that diminished capacity for logical thought precludes their ability to posit outcomes other than violence when negotiating challenging situations and encounters with others.”

You’d think I would have said enough by then and would have taken pity on the man, whose face now began to transform into a mask of bewilderment, but, for once, I was able to reach that point of global awareness, that ‘ah-ha’ logical conclusion that puts it altogether in the narrative I was creating extemporaneously.

“And the best way to teach children how to think constructively in logical ways – to teach them to problem solve by positing many alternatives – is in an environment that supports constructive thought, not in the type of classroom that Bill Clinton’s so-called No Child Left Behind drive for standards created, where teachers only teach children how to answer inquires posed to them in a particular way, instead of teaching them to think through possible solutions, if they teach them at all. Information and indoctrination – not education. When you’ve got industry demanding the right to corrupt children’s minds through the media they consume, and you’ve got no outlet for them to learn to think on their own, and they’re bombarded with images of violence, of course, they’re going to choose violence as a solution to their problems. And if it’s not violence with a gun, it’s violence with their words and violence with their fists. It’s bullying. It’s gang activity. It’s what the warmongers running our country want – beasts to do their empire-building bidding when they grow up.  Remember - Ronald Reagan was ecstatic when he learned kids were dumbing themselves down in front of video games because they were learning how to become proficient using joy sticks and would one day be as proficient at remote warfare.”

"Well, it is a complex issue,” the man offered.

“Only because we choose to see it as such,” I replied. “We solved the mysteries of atomic fission and DNA. We could solve both community and domestic violence issues – and world hunger and peace – if we wanted to. But we don’t. Because wealthy people profit from violence. And profit is all that matters to our representatives.”

We had drifted out into the parking lot by then, and I was as anxious to extract myself from what had turned into a soliloquy I had not intended as I believed the man was to be relieved of me. But he just stood there with me, in silence. I relaxed and fished my sunglasses out of my bag.
“I suppose there’s some truth to that,” he mumbled. “It’s undeniable now.”

I ought to have felt elated for the seldom-experienced validation he was giving me, but instead, I just felt deflated. Hollow. Not much of a victory, when you so want to be wrong.
“I don’t want to leave you as depressed as I am about the sorry state of our Congress,” I said. “The woman I was telling you about? She’s got several good books you can get on about what I was telling you. I think it’s helpful to focus on the hopeful, and her work offers very practical guidance to counteract all of the negative influences that bear on our children these days. You should read them, and share them, and talk with your social circle about demanding a complex answer to the complex issue of violence perpetrated against and then by children.” I gave him her name, and the title of the book most relevant to our discussion, Who’s Calling the Shots, wished him a better day, and left him.

Later that day, I watched coverage of the shooting on network news. It was the first time I watched network news in I couldn’t say how long; it’s always the same five, largely irrelevant and increasingly inaccurate sound bites interspersed with infotainment garbage, so I don’t ingest it, ordinarily. That’s when I lost it and screamed at the TV, and then I started reading accounts of the shooting on the web, instead of watching the boob tube. And, as I had predicted, I soon discovered that there really wasn’t much different in the content, tone, or volume of pundits’ disquisitions on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre than there was in that of the reporting on the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting – the reasons for them, or how to prevent future horrors of a similar nature. It’s always gun control, ‘experts’ tell us.

I casually surveyed HuffPost and Common Dreams over the next few days, and learned that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was a former mild special needs student who had long harbored resentments toward his mother over the time she had spent volunteering in the kindergarten at the school and that it was, ironically, her weapons he used to murder her in her bed before heading off to Sandy Hook.  Among the outcries and finger pointing and excuses I found only two essays worth the time and energy to read – only two essays that had anything of worth to say, or could demonstrate just how intractable the courage deficit is in our leaders. No more poignant essay was penned last month demonstrating this than Simon’s Rock College shooting victim parent and former gun control activist Gregory Gibson’s New York Times piece, “Why America Lets the Killings Continue.”  If anyone should know why, it’s this man.
“My wife and I learned about the Connecticut school shootings on our way home from the cemetery, where we had just finished observing the 20th anniversary of our son’s murder. Our son, Galen, who was 18, and a teacher were killed on December 14, 1992, by a deranged student who went on a shooting rampage at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts.” Gibson tells us how his son, a gifted kid, had thrived at the college, unlike the student who would take his life, and how the event changed his own life by turning him into an avid gun control activist. He wrote a book about the shooting that took his son from him. He attended gun control rallies. He spoke about how he believed we should treat gun violence as a public health issue. He signed petitions and wrote letters. And when he saw that none of it had any impact on the will of politicians to do practical things to curb gun violence – when he saw the massacres get bigger and become more frequent – he gave up. “I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it.” Though I disagree with Gibson about who it is that ‘we’ to whom he refers are, and though I know it is people who kill people, not guns, and that we should look at the way we’ve indoctrinated people to believe they need to use violence to manage their relationships, I do believe he has a point, and that it’s the only point worth remembering: whoever it is that’s in control of America wants America to be a place where gun violence becomes the first and most prolific response to settling our differences. A nation of George Zimmermans – that’s what they want. I became convinced of this fact reading the second essay that piqued my interest that week – this one, by a former politician.

Former Michigan governor and TV commentator Jennifer M. Granholm lays the blame for the proliferation of gun violence at the feet of a weak-willed and greedy Congress: “This gun debate, the fiscal cliff, and frankly all important and difficult issues demand leaders willing to be uncomfortable. Willing to lean into an oncoming storm rather than be blown along with it. The men at Normandy risked their lives for what was right. Our politicians could at least risk their campaign donations.” Our politicians, she wants us to believe, are too intimidated by the gun and defense lobbies. I’m sure she has a point – all politicians pander to those who will keep them seated. But I strongly suggest that there is a much larger power than simple self-interest at work here.

There can be no question that the first name on that registry of mentally ill people Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association has called for the creation of as a way of preventing future Sandy Hook Elementary School-type shootings should be his very own for suggesting this Nazi-esque proposal and also suggesting that we turn our schools into battlefields by stationing armed soldiers in them, but the fact this monster is given prominent airtime a week to the day of the massacre to make these proposals, when funerals and memorials were being held, and people haven’t even had time to grieve properly, speaks volumes about who has the privilege of freedom of expression in our country. Activists, who for decades have tried to warn us that violence-prone children would be the natural result of letting corporations and others who derive a benefit from our children becoming warriors shape their minds and characters have systematically been removed from positions of influence and prominence through intimidation and the type of covert warfare documented on this website. That’s where those leaders Gov. Granholm decries the dearth of have gone. Followers of Peggy Charren’s Action for Children’s Television were dismayed – to say the least – when she declared an end in 1992 to the advocacy work for which the non-profit group was once famous, after coming out in support of the V chip, the technology that makes parent controls possible in, at the time, future television designs, disappointing supporters who, for years, had been advocating for the regulation of children’s television, understanding that many children – particularly, those whose parents had no choice but to use the TV as a babysitter for their children while they were at work – didn’t have parents with the time or knowledge to program these then-high-tech televisions their parents likely wouldn’t be able to afford so as not to harm them. I remember being in that lecture hall at Harvard Divinity School the day she made that announcement, and there far more audible gasps and whipsawing of heads and alarmed faces than there was the smattering of applause she received that day.  I don’t have to imagine the pressures she likely endured before she exited children’s advocacy – and then received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, interestingly. I’ve heard plenty of tales of the type of harassment and intimidation those activists experienced and experienced it myself.
And, really, what more is there to say? Every aspect of our society is shaped by the values of the warmongers that control our government. Every aspect. Because they have the power to eliminate anyone who isn’t a warmonger. Duh. Warriors. It’s what they do. And it’s easy to see, how we’re all being indoctrinated to live not by humanity’s highest ideals but by our most base instincts, if we just look around: mass media gives us parking, storage, yard, wedding, house, dance, and umpteen other types of ‘war,’ and the most popular video game of all time is World of Warcraft. And those of our religious communities that are wholly complacent are a disgrace. Homophobia that’s reached an insane level of intolerance, with things such as Michigan’s License to Bully law. How anyone with half a brain cannot see the degree to which we are being entreated to become what, incidentally, the Nazis prized as the model citizen, is really quite astounding to me.

When a healthy childhood for every child in America is made improbable, and no one in a position of authority and power bats an eye at the clear violation of human rights represented by the offending customs, institutions, and so-called values that no longer make childhood inviolable and sacred, you know hope is lost – because all of those people in positions of authority and power, all of those so-called tribunes and representatives and leaders, have actually been working to create the state in which we live. There isn’t any other explanation possible for this dearth of courage and leadership than that our leaders aren’t. They don’t care about our children; if they did, Sandy Hook wouldn’t have happened. They get paid to pander to the NRA by crafting legislation that makes it happy, and to look the other way when things such as the Assault Rifle ban expire. And if Jennifer Granholm has a hard time trying to find leaders to fill this void, all she need do is read the pages of this blog to see that those leaders are the ones that the warmongers in control of our country have been systematically eliminating from American society for decades.

Before I finally sat down to write this essay I had no intention of posting another missive to this blog. Every day, like countless millions across the globe, I’m tortured with sleep deprivation, food contamination, bioassaults that leave me with one bout of bronchitis after another for months at a time, and various PSYOP, and every day, I get up, try to go about the business of living and face the day and the minions around me with a measure of equanimity. I know perfectly well that those in charge took to heart industrialist Jay Gould’s observation, “I can always pay one-half of the poor to kill the other half,” and that the people engaged in covert warfare against me and those like me are no different than the Nazi underling, trying to survive the endless nightmare created by Hitler’s cabal of monsters. Though things never change for me in and around my 386 square-foot prison, and radiation weapons fry my head, chest and torso, making me feel as though I’ve just come back from a day at the beach without sunscreen and as though I’ve run a marathon, and causing my intestines to bleed, I know they’re not likely to change because war against decent, caring people is what this country has been about for a long, long time. But then I remembered that even though my lack of freedom means not being able to associate freely with others, and even though I’m not allowed commerce with whomever it is that reads my blog, it’s still worthwhile to remind whomever I can that there was a time when things were not as bad as they are right now in this country – when children didn’t take assault rifles into elementary schools and movie theaters and shoot other children and people. That that time could be resurrected – if they were only willing to use their own freedom to do so, come what may. To remind them that that country doesn’t exist because that country’s leaders no longer exist; they’ve been eliminated - the Paul Wellstones and Ray Carnahans and Paul Tsongases and the Kennedys - and that it is up to them to choose to become the next leaders willing to confront the military dictatorship that has evolved as our country’s premiere agent, remember that people like me are still here, still working as best they can, and still supportive of them even if they can’t see, or hear, or feel our impact. I promise you, if this liberal target of the U.S. war machine had been allowed to create the type of learning environment in which all children felt safe, respected and valued and could learn in peace, instead of being made a bioslave of it, there would be plenty more Paul Wellstones, Ray Carnahans and Paul Tsongases thriving today, no matter how long or short their lives and careers.

And that’s rather the point. The fact I’m not allowed to say things in an impactful context is as much the reason I have nothing left to say as is the fact that it’s all been said before. Now, it’s up to you.