The Problem With Statistics

Statistically speaking, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, just won the 2016 presidential election. She received the majority of the popular vote. Statistically speaking, and in reality, Donald Trump won last week’s election because in the United States we have this thing called the Electoral College, and the billionaire businessman garnered more than enough electoral votes to claim victory. Both Clinton and Trump “won” this year’s presidential election, and therein lies the problem with statistics. They don’t always tell the whole story. We all know only one person was truly victorious and will soon get to occupy the Oval Office as our new Commander in Chief.

I was kind of expecting Hillary to win the 2016 presidential election, but I certainly wasn’t shocked, or even that surprised, when The Donald came away with the victory. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why Clinton lost the election: Her base was much less enthusiastic than Obama’s was in 2008 and 2012; She was an establishment candidate in an election year primed for an “outsider” to win; And those darn e-mails. I think the Democratic nominee’s loss had more to do with the frequently mentioned, but rarely discussed, 10% of undecided voters. Again, it’s about the statistics. However, neither the pollsters, nor the so-called experts, seemed overly concerned with taking the time to consider what impact the number of estimated undecided voters might have on election day.

To the contrary, I had given the undecided voters plenty of thought leading up to the election, and I had an inkling a good portion of the 10% probably weren’t really undecided. I had a difficult time believing there were still so many people, a couple of weeks before the election, who did not know which candidate they were going to cast a ballot for…or against. I assumed a majority of the “undecided” were closet Trump fans whom most-likely feared the backlash that typically comes with revealing such a thing. Admittedly, I was a tad surprised Trump won the electoral vote, and Clinton secured the popular vote. I had a sense it was going to be the other way around.

By the way, I adamantly oppose electing our nation’s leader via the Electoral College. I felt this way long before the 2016 election, and my sentiments on the subject have not changed. I’m sure the Democrats aren’t too pleased with the system either after losing two out of the last five elections only because of the Electoral College. (Maybe the system is rigged after all.) The current presidential election process just doesn’t seem fair, but that is the system we honor at this time, so there’s no use in complaining. Now back to the topic at hand. Statistics are subjective at best. Many times stats are not only misleading, but they’re purposely distorted in an attempt to provoke us or to “prove” a reporter’s weak point.

For example, since Trump’s victory the media has routinely been using the phrase “a nation divided” when referring to the sparse protests around the country. I think the word divided falsely gives the impression that half of America’s population has taken to the streets. Of course, that is far from accurate. In reality, only a few thousand people, out of approximately 319 million people nationwide, are publically protesting the soon-to-be 45th President of the United States. The number of protesters is microscopic and is a far cry from “a nation divided.” Once again, our trusted media seems willing to attain a story at the expense of the truth.

I never used to be so cynical concerning the media, but I’ve been finding more and more evidence that (like many of our politicians) our mainstream media specializes in false claims, half truths, and out and out lies. Often times statistics are used to give credence to such blatant dishonesty, but the data doesn’t mean much when it’s obviously skewed. I’ve also discovered that many articles appear harmless on the surface, but after further exploration they are found to be steeped in bias and fail to give an entirely accurate depiction of the real story. I think the mother of all dishonest reporting is when a journalist uses both slanted statistics and deceptive headlines when trying to “prove” their feeble point.

For instance, last month I could not help but notice a story in The Arizona Republic (Oct. 6th, 2016). I was curious about the enlarged words and accompanying statistics, directly beneath the headline, more so than the headline itself. I might’ve skipped the article on corporal punishment in schools, but I was so dumbfounded by the sobering stats that were listed. I couldn’t believe I was reading “African-American children in a few southern school districts about 50% more likely than white students to be smacked or paddled by a school worker.” I was even more flabbergasted when reading that in some of those school districts “black children are more than 500%, or five times as likely, to be spanked or paddled.”

I thought how unfair. How can that possibly be? Maybe there is something to all the recent chatter regarding Black oppression. I don’t know how anyone could read those words and not conclude that that’s racial discrimination. But wait. About midway through the story, in much smaller print, the reporter includes a quote from the leader of the corporal punishment study, Elizabeth Gershoff. The researcher said, “The higher prevalence of corporal punishment for black students doesn’t necessarily imply discrimination within schools or classrooms. In many of these districts black students – and presumably black educators – are in the majority.”

So, in a few southern school districts Black teachers are spanking Black children, yet the eye-catching words and statistics of the article certainly implied something entirely different. The story was about corporal punishment in schools, but the writer seemed determined to make it about race. Now more than ever statistics are being used haphazardly, irresponsibly, and even dangerously. During the campaign season we were reminded that statistically there are predominantly more Blacks incarcerated in this country than Whites even though Whites greatly outnumber Blacks. So? Stats also show there are significantly more Blacks playing in the NBA than Whites. Again, so? Not everything has to be 50/50 in order to be fair. I no longer put much stock in statistics because they rarely tell the whole story.


The 2016 Election

Surely, you must have seen this coming. You didn’t think I’d let this year’s presidential election pass by without offering at least a few words on the subject…did you? It probably would’ve been better, for our peace of mind and our health in general, if we all would’ve just paid less attention to the campaigns that have seemingly been going on forever. I once had a boss who would periodically say, “If you ignore a problem long enough…it just might go away.” Maybe not the soundest advice, but every so often his words rang true.

Unfortunately, there’s been way too much, and at times extremely biased and senseless, media coverage concerning the 2016 presidential race to just ignore. We’ve been undeservedly subjected to whining, bickering, mocking, false claims, half truths, and out and out lies for the past year and a half. Finally, the end is in sight. To clarify, only the days of our answering machines filling up with unsolicited political endorsements, our mailboxes overflowing with umpteen unwanted slick mailers recommending even slicker politicians, and our days of being bombarded with those nasty television commercials are almost over. However, the arguing, finger pointing, and political rhetoric will never end. It’s simply unavoidable with America’s two-party system firmly in place.

It’s still so surreal, and quite baffling, knowing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two remaining candidates we’re left with. I’m well aware there will be other choices for president on the ballot, but they have absolutely no chance (zero, zip, nada) of winning a 4-year stay at the White House. It’s been reported numerous times that Trump and Clinton hold the highest unfavorable ratings ever as nominees of their respective parties. The 2016 presidential election is apparently about electing who we despise the least. I’m not here to offer an endorsement, or attempt to change anyone’s mind (not that it would do any good), but I would like to offer a few observations concerning this year’s election.

I haven’t met anyone who is totally on board with either Trump or Clinton. I know those people must exist because I’ve seen them on television, but I’ve discovered firsthand that most supporters tend to be more anti-Trump or anti-Clinton rather than pro-Trump or pro-Clinton. I also recognize I fit into one of those anti categories. I’ve been sporting a “Nobody For President” t-shirt (thank you Kohl’s) during the last few months, and I have received numerous compliments from passersby. An evening at the Arizona State Fair alone produced no fewer than 30 fairgoers concurring with my 100% cotton statement. It was quite refreshing seeing Blacks, Whites, Latinos, both men and women, and the young and old alike in agreement with one another on something. My t-shirt, albeit not the most positive of messages, has been a reminder that we’re all in this together.

I was all set to use this space to assure everyone the 2016 presidential election is not rigged, but then I looked up the meaning of the adjective Donald Trump has been using on a regular basis, and I must admit he is not wrong. Prior to expanding my knowledge through Wikipedia, I thought The Donald was only suggesting that even if he won the election he would still somehow lose due to some sort of corruption behind the scenes. If that’s truly what Trump thinks then I would have to strongly disagree. However, the word rigged does mean manipulated, distorted, and misrepresented. I think many in the media have been guilty of all those things; hence, a rigged election. Sometimes there have been isolated incidents of voter fraud during an election cycle, but I don’t think that’s germane to what’s been going on these past couple of months.

I do believe this year’s presidential election has been skewed (I like that word better) for a long time now. The resistance to a Trump presidency began on August 6th, 2015, during the first Republican debate, with Megyn Kelly’s initial question for Trump. Actually, it really wasn’t much of a question – it was more of an attack and an assortment of accusations. (I think we all know by now how The Donald responds whenever he’s attacked.) The pushback to Trump occupying the Oval Office has been relentless ever since. I cannot think of any other time in America’s history when droves of respected members from one political party defected to support the opposing party’s candidate.

In addition, for the first time in its 34-year existence, USA Today decided to “endorse” a presidential candidate – NOT Trump! The “pile on” continues. I suppose the overwhelming resistance to a Trump presidency makes perfect sense because The Donald is not your typical Republican. In fact, some might even suggest the American businessman is a RINO (Republican In Name Only). That might explain why the ultra-conservative Mitt Romney initiated the Never Trump movement. There’s no denying Trump has endured a skewed election like no other (some deserved, but some not).

What’s surprising to me is how much Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seem to have in common, yet supposedly the majority of Sanders’ supporters are now in the Clinton camp (although some reluctantly) at the former presidential candidate’s urging. Both Trump and Sanders are “outsiders.” Senator Sanders has somehow managed to represent the state of Vermont as an Independent (instead of as part of the establishment), and Donald Trump is certainly no politician. The “odd couple” frequently speak out against corporate lobbyists and special interest groups. Both Trump and Sanders tend to take a non-interventionist approach regarding foreign policy which happens to differ from Hillary Clinton’s stance. Yes, Trump blathered about “bombing the s**t out of ISIS,” but Clinton has hinted at declaring war against Syria. Those are two entirely different things.

Trump and Sanders were against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from the beginning. The pair consistently link the TPP to NAFTA and insist the proposed agreement would only further the outsourcing of American jobs and hurt our economy. Hillary praised the TPP while acting as Secretary of State in President Obama’s administration, but she has since come out against the trade agreement as well. However, some political insiders, including Eleanor Clift: a liberal panelist from sadly the now defunct The McLaughlin Group, believe Clinton may secretly still be in favor of the TPP. I guess only time will tell.

Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have recently voiced their opposition to the possible merger of AT&T and Time Warner. I’m not too familiar with the specifics of the planned merger, but once again the real estate mogul and the Larry David look-alike appear to be of the same mind on this particular issue. Meanwhile, Clinton has taken a position of neutrality by only saying the AT&T-Time Warner merger “raises questions and concerns and they should be looked into.” It’s a little difficult, at least for me, to understand why any Sanders supporter would completely loathe Trump when some of the odd couple’s reasoning and proposed policies are identical. Likewise, I don’t know how any Trump supporter can dislike everything about Sanders. There are definitely some conflicting views between Trump and Sanders, but it sure would be nice if occasionally someone from one political party would publicly acknowledge when he is in agreement with someone from another party. I reckon that’s just asking too much in this day and age.

I assume lots of people will go to the polls this year with an angry us versus them mentality, and that’s disappointing, but at least they’ll be exercising their right to vote. I think if we’d all take a closer look then we’d see that the majority of candidates are more alike than we are usually willing to admit, and by acknowledging that maybe we’d have less vitriol in this country during election cycles. Some people will vote their party while others will vote their conscience. Some will go to the polls very concerned about possible Supreme Court Justice nominations while others will be more interested in a candidate’s proposed policies. I do think not voting though, when a person favors one candidate over another (even if it’s ever so slightly), in actuality aids in the success of the less liked candidate.

This past Sunday, my pastor said he needed to say a few words about the upcoming election. I must confess I cringed at first because I’ve witnessed pastors overstepping from the pulpit before, but then I quickly remembered – this is Pastor Brad. Our leader began by telling the congregation that Copper Hills is an apolitical church. He then acknowledged his flock included both Democrats and Republicans who are equally passionate about their candidates. Pastor Brad then said we should vote. He and his family moved here from Canada several years ago, eventually becoming American citizens, so he cherishes his right to vote and believes the rest of us should as well.

Pastor Brad also stressed the importance of praying for our elected officials at all levels of government whether we agree with their agendas or not. The Bible tells us to do so. The Apostle Paul doesn’t halfheartedly suggest Christians pray for their leaders – he practically commands it (1st Timothy 2: 1-3). Pastor Brad finished relaying what was laid upon his heart by assuring his congregation that regardless of how the November 8th election turns out, “God’s got this.” Those three words are always a comfort to me. Before, during, and after the 2016 presidential election…God’s got this!


I Thought I Was Done

I thought I was done writing about race relations and protests against our National Anthem, at least for a while, but this past month I’ve seen and read so much misleading information, on those hot button topics; therefore, I’d like to set the record straight. We keep hearing over and over how America is divided: politically divided and racially divided. I agree that currently our nation is somewhat politically polarized; however, it’s always been that way especially during general elections. If that were not the case then every candidate would receive 100% of the vote – 100% of the time. I adamantly disagree though with those who spout that this country is racially divided. I think many times the word divided falsely implies an equal split, or in this case it fosters a message of Blacks versus Whites. I think in actuality there’s only a small percentage of Black citizens who truly believe they’re purposely being oppressed by Whites due to the color of their skin…although they seem to have the loudest voices.

A select few from the Black community, a select few from the White community (yearning to be politically correct I assume), and the majority of mainstream media are responsible for creating this mirage of racial divide we’re experiencing today. It certainly doesn’t help race relations when renowned talk show host, Tavis Smiley, tells his national audience, “There’s no doubt about the fact that America owes Black folk a debt that it can never repay. Period. Point blank. No debate with me about that.”

Well, I guess that’s that. Case closed. There’s nothing else to say on the subject. Not! Smiley made his “non-debatable” statement (Sept. 12th, 2016) while interviewing “Reparations” website founder, Natasha Marin, who was there promoting her Facebook group which is intended to explore “white privilege” and provides aid to minorities in need. “Reparations” is similar to the GoFundMe website and encourages people to donate either their time, talents, or money to others in need. Marin’s website allows White people to give, but only minorities can receive.

Similar to Tavis Smiley, Deion Sanders recently took advantage of his profession, as a television sports analyst, to speak out on race relations. The National Football League (NFL) Hall of Famer used his air time last week as a bully pulpit to voice his support of Collin Kaepernick’s decision to bring attention to “Black oppression” in the United States. The mediocre quarterback protests his country by not standing during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Sanders proposed that the increase in sales of the player’s jerseys was proof that many fans must agree with his stance. Either “Prime Time” doesn’t realize why so many of the jerseys have been sold, or he’s intentionally omitting some pertinent information to make his claim appear more plausible. I presume the increase in sales of Kaepernick jerseys are in large part due to them being used for patriotic ceremonial burnings and other anti-protest protests. I know of at least one sports bar that’s using the jersey as a welcome mat.

When a select few from the White community hop on the political correctness train then the rest of us are prompted to get on board as well. When both Blacks and Whites promote the manufactured mirage then their way of thinking appears more credible to the public. I was disappointed to see our local sports columnist, Dan Bickley, lobbying for the train conductor’s position. The White reporter called out White former athletes and coaches, who opposed Kaepernick’s actions, in his weekly column for The Arizona Republic (Sept. 24th, 2016). Bickley begins his article by telling his readers that much of the criticism surrounding Collin Kaepernick is “steeped in ignorance.” He condemns Trent Dilfer, former quarterback and current ESPN analyst, for saying, “A backup quarterback should know his place and shut his mouth.” He criticizes Hall of Fame player and coach, Mike Ditka, for stating, “Anybody who disrespects this country and the flag, if they don’t like our flag, then get the hell out.” Bickley said Mike Ditka’s advice “sounded like what you might expect from someone who is old, wealthy and out of touch.”

The columnist placed legendary baseball manager, Tony La Russa, in the same category as Ditka. He took the current Diamondbacks Chief Baseball Officer to task for saying, “If you play for the Diamondbacks, you are representing a team, a culture and a brand.” La Russa noted that if any of his players wanted to protest the National Anthem they could do so simply by remaining in the clubhouse until the song was finished. Well, call me an old, ignorant, out of touch White guy because I totally agree. I found a couple lines from Dan Bickley’s column to be a bit humorous and quite ironic. The sportswriter seems troubled as he declares, “Sports are supposed to heal, not divide. They are not supposed to play out along racial lines.” Does he not understand Kaepernick is to blame for the division (at least any division in the NFL)?

It’s bad enough when people are allowed to use their words (and get paid) to cause division and to alienate others, but I think it’s worse when those same type of people attempt to silence any opposing view. For instance, last month (Sept. 13th, 2016) Lil Wayne, while appearing on the TV show Undisputed, was asked what he thought about the heavily publicized National Anthem protests. The famous Black entrepreneur and Hip Hop recording artist hesitantly answered, “I don’t want to be bashed, because I don’t want to seem like I’m on the wrong side.” It’s unfortunate when a select few can make the rest of us feel as though we’re being prodded to choose the “right side” when expressing our opinions.

Lil Wayne went on to say, “I have never…never is a strong word. I have never, never dealt with racism, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. I don’t know if it’s because of my blessings, but it is my reality.” “Weezy” then mentioned his fan base is predominantly White, and his younger generations of fans thinks racism is “not cool.” The Hip Hop artist also told of a time when a White cop saved his life. Lil Wayne did not get his wish because he was bashed by some in the Black community, for taking the “wrong side,” immediately after his appearance on Undisputed.

And there it is. With all the nonsense making the headlines lately it usually comes down to taking sides (or so we’re being told). Sometimes it seems like I’m the only one not buying what the media is selling. The recent police shootings of Black men are being chalked up to blatant racism, or at the very least an unconscious racial bias, but I think the majority of police shootings are justifiable and have absolutely nothing to do with race. The fact is nearly every shooting has involved resistance to authority. Say what you will about Donald Trump, but I find his position of promoting law and order, and his fondness for America’s law enforcement, refreshing.

I’m reminded of a quote I just heard while watching a Blue Bloods rerun. Police Commissioner Reagan, played brilliantly by Tom Selleck, is reminding his police officer son that he cannot hesitate while on the job. The concerned father then says, “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.” I think part of being a good cop is being able to make the spontaneous, tough decisions that allows an officer to go home to his loved ones at the end of the day. The clever quote is sound advice for the person being questioned as well. If we’re honest with ourselves – I mean truly honest – we’d be forced to admit that the number of shootings of Black men by White police officers are minute in comparison to the number of interactions our law enforcement agencies have with the public day in and day out. However, you’ll never hear that coming from the mouths of our trusted journalists.

The media needs us to be polarized. If there’s no conflict – no side to take – no David vs. Goliath – then there is no story. The media depends upon conflicts of interest, division amongst people, and stories about conquering giants (even if sometimes they’re fabricated) to stay in business. I imagine we’ll continue hearing about Black oppression as long as someone somewhere believes it to be true, and the media continues to provoke the illusion. I for one am not convinced Black oppression exists. Some racism still exists, and it goes both ways, but I find it difficult to believe that a Black man could be elected (twice) as President of the United States if Black oppression was real. Slavery is a thing of the past (rightfully so), and we now have laws securely in place to assure equality amongst all legal citizens regardless of their race. There…now I’m done.


A Not So Holly Jolly Christmas

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder. My afternoons of sweating profusely, in the Arizona desert, have somewhat dissipated, and taking an evening dip in the swimming pool is no longer a sensible option. Starbucks is now serving up their popular Pumpkin Spice lattes, and department stores everywhere have swapped out their summer merchandise for shared shelf space between Halloween and “the other holiday.” I am a bit surprised I haven’t had any eggnog sightings as of yet. (Pumpkin eggnog does not count.)

However, last week I did see, for the first time this year, a Christmas commercial on TV. It just so happens I purchased my first Christmas present around that time as well. In barely over a month (Nov. 1st) I’ll be listening exclusively to the illustrious sounds of the season, at home and in my car, until midnight of December 25th. No wonder this is the time of year when I prematurely focus the majority of my attention on Christmas! Therefore, it’s time for another Christmas story, from yours truly, although this one is not nearly as cheery as my previous tales. The following story is about a not so holly jolly Christmas.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all was well. The year was 1998, and it had been a splendid holiday season leading up to the “big day.” The gifts were all wrapped, positioned neatly underneath the tree, and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The list of Christmas Eve traditions, shared each year with my lovely wife’s extended family, had been completed: The Norwegian feast had been devoured (minus the lutefisk, of course – who wants to eat dried whitefish with a gelatinous texture?). Every song had been sung (some more than once) from the small, treasured hymnals used only on December 24th since probably the early 1900’s. The ice cream cake had been savored (one thin slice per person).

The only thing left to do this Christmas Eve, before trying to get some shut-eye, was to attend a candlelight church service with my side of the family. Almost immediately after cramming into a pew with my loved ones, I realized all was not well. As I was jubilantly singing “Joy to the World,” with the rest of the congregation, the joy inside of me was rapidly diminishing. I was overcome by maddening chills. Not only was Jack Frost nipping at my nose, but the icy villain was mauling my entire body. I’d never experienced anything like that before (nor have I since). As soon as I got home I took some Alka-Seltzer Plus (my usual cure-all) and burrowed into bed without even considering taking off my winter coat.

Christmas morning I awoke, and instantly I knew I was in trouble. I was still frigid, and now adding to my misery was a pounding headache – rhythmically pulsating as if keeping time with “The Little Drummer Boy.” (So much for the Alka-Seltzer Plus.) I was painfully aware what this meant, but I certainly wasn’t going down without a fight. I could not bear the thought of “missing” Christmas, so I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair, and tried to act normal (normal for me, anyway). I knew trying to disguise the fact that I felt much worse than the night before was selfish of me, but admittedly the well-being of others wasn’t my greatest concern at the time. Partaking in the day’s festivities was.

It really didn’t matter what my plan was because the missus was not fooled. She has an uncanny way of immediately detecting when a person is sick simply by looking at their eyes. My wife was not about to let me contaminate the rest of the family especially on such a glorious day. However, she did allow me to wander out into the living room to check out the goodies St. Nick had left for us underneath the Christmas tree. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a Scooby-Doo cookie jar for the missus, a Super Nintendo for our son, and plenty of sports memorabilia for me. Santa did good. He always does.

Those few short minutes of excitement were almost more than I could handle in my delirious state. I knew I had reached my limit of exhilaration for the day. I also knew it was time for my wife and son to leave. They headed off to my parents’ house, for a fun-filled day, while I settled down for a long winter’s nap. As the rest of the world celebrated our Savior’s birth, or Santa Claus, or both, I laid there in bed thinking of all that I would be deprived of on this blessed day.

There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head – just nightmarish thoughts of what I was missing out on a mere mile or so down the road. There’d be no customary Christmas “breakfast” (usually served around noon) for me this year. None of my father’s famous fried eggs. No bacon, no sausage, and no biscuits and gravy. Gone was the anticipation and the delight of watching loved ones opening their gifts that were thoughtfully selected just for them. Lost forever was the cherished time spent with family – typically even more precious on December 25th.

I spent the entire day in bed…and in a desolate daze. At one point I attempted to get out of my lowly condition by turning on the television, but even the holiday classics emanating from the screen could not cure my sadness. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”? I don’t think so. Clement Clarke Moore’s ending line from his legendary holiday poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, did not ring true for me in 1998. That year was a not so holly jolly Christmas.


Teddy

I remember it well. It was a long time ago, yet it’s one of those life altering moments a person never forgets. I was only a child, around 8 or 9 years old, when my world came crashing down around me. I could no longer keep my emotions buried deep down inside of me. I sat there motionless in my father’s La-Z-Boy Rocker Recliner, stunned by what had transpired over the past few weeks, as tears cascaded down my cheeks. I made no effort to conceal my tears as I gazed down the hallway at my mother who was conversing on our one and only rotary dial telephone. In fact, I was hoping my immense sorrow would not go unnoticed, so I could finally release some of the burden I’d secretly been carrying around with me ever since I made that awful decision…to give my teddy bear away.

I made the hasty decision to part ways with my stuffed animal soon after attending a Cub Scout meeting. (I was a Cub Scout for an entire two years during my youth.) My Pack leader announced we’d be taking part in a local toy drive. The Christmas season was fast approaching, and he thought collecting new and slightly used toys, for those less fortunate in our community, was the least we could do as a civic minded organization. My ears perked up when the gangly Cubmaster mentioned there’d be prizes awarded, to the top three toy collectors, on the evening of the upcoming annual pinewood derby competition. I don’t remember much more about the meeting after hearing the word prizes, but I do recall thinking what a glorious night that will be: taking first place in the pinewood derby and receiving one of three prizes just for gathering some toys.

When I got home I immediately ransacked my overflowing toy box and found a few items I could donate to help my…ahem…I mean…to help the…worthy cause. The next day I scoured the neighborhood (probably only three or four houses) for contributions. One weekend a few of us even went out with our Pack leader in hopes of finding more donations. The contest’s end was nearing, and I felt pretty good about the number of toys I had garnered, but was it enough? I rummaged through my toy box one last time, but I didn’t find anything. At least nothing else I could bear to part with or what would be acceptable as “slightly used.”

And then it happened. I spotted my blue and white teddy bear, in his usual spot, on top of my bed. I hadn’t even considered parting company with any of the assorted inanimate creatures arranged next to my pillow. But what a greedy little guy I was. All I kept thinking about were those darn prizes. It’s not even as if they were all that spectacular to begin with. I think the grand prize was maybe ten dollars. A nice sum at the time, for a young lad, but certainly not worth the guilt I’d soon be facing.

I began to rationalize how giving away my teddy wasn’t a big deal. Wasn’t I too old for such a thing anyway? I hadn’t even given my stuffed bear a name for Pete’s sake. What kind of an owner doesn’t give their teddy bear a name? Surely he’d be better off with someone else. Rationalization completed.

My mother noticed I had added my teddy bear to the modest pile of accumulated toys situated in the corner of my bedroom. She mildly suggested that I reconsider my decision to give away my teddy. A day or so later, seeing my stuffed animal still occupying the corner, my mother strongly recommended I heed her advice. She then made one last plea for me to reconsider my stance, as I was heading off to the big event, but my infantile mind had already been made up. My excitement that evening quickly waned as the names of the three prize winners were announced, and the realization of what just happened set in. I lost the pinewood derby, the toy drive contest, and my precious teddy bear in one fell swoop.

A few days passed, and I quickly got over not being victorious in the pinewood derby and toy drive competitions. I truly hadn’t given my teddy bear much thought with the hustle and bustle of the season’s festivities and with Christmas just around the corner. However, after the blessed 25th day of December had come and gone, and every child’s coveted winter break was coming to a close, I became fixated with the loss of my blue and white teddy bear. I could not believe what I had done. That’s why I couldn’t stop crying, and hoping my mother would notice my anguish, as I sat motionless in my father’s La-Z-Boy. (My father must not have been home at the time since I was sitting in his chair.)

At last, my mother’s eyes locked onto mine, and instantly I felt a sense of some much needed solace. I was relieved, although only for a moment, until my newfound comfort swiftly transformed into a state of trepidation. After all, it was my mother who earnestly tried to convince me not to give away my one and only teddy, so why should she be sympathetic to my self-induced predicament after I (now regretfully) ignored her previous sound advice? I guess I was about to find out since my mother had hung up the telephone and was headed in my direction. To my surprise, she was sympathetic…and how!

After comforting me for a while my mother came up with a brilliant idea. She couldn’t bring back my teddy bear, but she could do the next best thing. My mother is a fine artist, so she drew (from memory) a life-size, near perfect replica of my teddy onto a large sheet of drawing paper. She then brought the picture to life when filling in the bear’s outline with a couple of colored pencils – precisely matching the light blue on the piece of paper before us to that of the real thing now somewhere in the arms of some lucky kid.

Over the next few days my mother did the same for the remaining stuffed clan arranged on my bed…just in case. She fashioned the likenesses of my light green bunny, small raccoon pillow, and my Ronald McDonald collectible onto other sheets of drawing paper, so I could add them to the teddy bear masterpiece she had created for me. What a mother! Her act of kindness eased much of the hurt her little boy was experiencing.

It’s no coincidence that today is National Teddy Bear Day. I really don’t think we need a specific day of the year designated to honor our teddies, but what the hey. Later this month (Sept. 19th) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so I suppose, all things considered, a day established to celebrate our teddy bears isn’t so strange after all. I do think about my blue and white teddy sometimes, and I wish he was still with me. If you’re fortunate enough to still have yours…please hug your teddy bear today.


Why I Write

I’ve written more than 100 blogs since acquiring my lifewithtruthandcommonsense.com blog site two and a half years ago. That’s well over 100,000 words I’ve put from pen to paper – then paper to laptop – typing one letter at a time – with only one finger…my right index finger to be exact. I’ve written on many subjects including the two no no’s: politics and religion. I’ve been an open book in regards to my thoughts on controversial issues, hot topics, and life in general. It hasn’t always been that easy either.

Someone once said, “writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” I watched an interview last year with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Don Henley, and he was discussing the art of writing with Charlie Rose, the show’s host. The famed musician and Eagles co-founder said, in essence, that having an epiphany or a great idea is easy, but translating them into written form is difficult. I can attest to that. Everything I’ve posted on my blog site has been a challenging labor of love. So then…why do I write?

I mainly write to prevent my head from exploding. I have difficulty ridding my mind of my multiple thoughts until they’re written down. I just can’t seem to completely move forward with my life knowing I’ve left some unwritten thoughts behind. I feel as though I’m incapable of retaining any new material unless I let some of the old stuff go. I guess I’m one of those who needs closure. I’ve heard that humans use only about 10% of their brains, so I’m sure there’s plenty more space available in my noggin, but I’m not willing to take a chance.

I also write to leave behind evidence that I once existed (in case anyone in the future is interested). I certainly wish I knew more about my heritage…more about my great grandparents…more about my grandparents…and even more about my still living parents. Some people are just more aloof than others and unwilling to share much of themselves, even with their family, and that’s okay. However, I don’t mind at all if people want to get to know the core of my being. In fact, I prefer my relatives know who I was and what I was about. I at least want future generations to have the option of knowing.

I write to remember, reflect, and reminisce about the good old days. So many memories are precious, and sometimes that’s all we’ve got. I put pen to paper because I enjoy the process. There’s nothing like penning my thoughts at 4:45am while sipping on a Starbucks coffee. To me, writing is akin to taking a seedling of a thought or an idea and nurturing it until it blossoms into a bouquet of words worth reading. I write because of the satisfaction I get when seeing the end result of my toil emanating from the computer screen.

I also write so my voice can be heard (even if I’m the only one listening). In case you’re unaware, I tend to have an opinion about everything. I read the Sunday newspaper and watch the local newscasts, and I’ve noticed journalists and reporters alike (whether intentionally or not) usually miss the real story. I write what I think, no holds barred, and what I think others really need to hear. I write because of my desire to be part of the discussion.

I write publically to examine, to explore, and to even sometimes entertain someone’s unorthodox behavior that has already been made public. For example, by now everyone and their mother knows about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of our National Anthem. The reason given by the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback, for his defiance, was that he wanted to call attention to what he perceives as failed race relations in this country. The disgruntled Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” I expect more patriotism and less oppression drivel from a biracial (raised by White parents) millionaire football player.

The primary discussion seems to be whether or not the mediocre quarterback has the right to turn his back on the American flag (and this nation). Unfortunately, he does. In this country – the land of the free – a person even has the right, if so inclined, to set fire to the Stars and Stripes for crying out loud. I think an American athlete not standing with his teammates (and everyone else in the stadium) while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is being played is like not brushing your teeth before going to the dentist: It might not be the law, but it’s certainly expected.

The National Football League’s response to this matter was to immediately issue a statement which said, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.” I highly recommend the NFL adjust its laissez-faire attitude concerning the time-honored pregame ritual. The League OWNS its players. That may sound a bit harsh, but it’s absolutely true. Every NFL player must conform to a strictly imposed way of life, both on and off the field, or risk being fined, suspended, or even terminated from the League.

Players are not allowed to promote any charities (unless sanctioned by the League) while inside a National Football League stadium. They cannot alter their uniforms in any fashion whatsoever, and their conduct is heavily monitored throughout the entire game. The players don’t even have a say as to what brand of cleats are attached to their feet. Therefore, I would think adopting a new, more respectful policy, regarding what’s acceptable during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” isn’t too much to ask of the mighty NFL.

And there you have it. My mind has been cleared of the whole Colin Kaepernick situation. I now have some space in my noggin for another seedling of a thought.


2031

In the year 2031, I most-likely will be in prison. Maybe sooner, or maybe a little later, but I just can’t imagine my life’s path detouring in any other direction. Of course, this prediction is only plausible if Lord willing I’m even still around in 2031. It’s not too difficult to see where this country is headed, and I can’t envision any type of escape from what I perceive as the inevitable. I’m not alluding to our deplorable political landscape although I suppose ultimately it will be our government’s justice system deciding my fate in the near future. The reason for my probable transitioning from a law-abiding citizen to a willing lawbreaker will undoubtedly be due to – in a word – technology. Rather, more explicitly, it will be my refusal to embrace some technology that will provoke a prison sentence by 2031.

Many things I disapprove of have become acceptable in today’s society, and that’s okay. However, there’s much speculation that some things I’m opposed to may eventually become mandatory, and that I cannot (will not) accept. One such thing on the horizon is the possibility of being forced to utilize driverless cars. It has been rumored that in the near future we might all be required to surrender our driving skills to “intelligent” sensory control systems. Supposedly, computers are better drivers than people.

The main reason commonly given, for enacting an autonomous vehicles only policy, is the anticipated reduction in collisions on our roadways. I’m sure we could reduce accidents, without banning physical drivers, by prohibiting cell phone use while driving, imposing stricter penalties on repeat offenders, and expanding photo enforcement nationwide. I’m not averse to those who are fond of the new technology, but I am against revoking a person’s choice in the process. I know I for one will not give up my right to manually control my own vehicle. I will continue tooling around town in my laguna blue Dodge Dart regardless of any new laws that may be imposed concerning self-driving cars.

Another thing which might land me in the slammer is in regards to dealing with our beloved government every April. I fill out my tax returns by hand, and I like it that way. That’s how I’ve done it for 34 years, but now the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suggests (almost demands) I file my returns online. Each year I have to call the IRS to request the most recent instructions booklet, and each year the government’s representative on the other end, not even attempting to conceal his disgust towards me, argues his case for why I should file via computer. Each year he loses. However, I’m painfully aware my preferred choice of filing will one day be taken away. The day I have no other option than to file my tax returns online is the day I no longer file tax returns. This will surely pose a problem for me, and it may very well be the reason I’ll likely be sporting state issued, black and white striped attire in 2031.

If neither my refusal to get on board with driverless cars, nor my intentional refraining from filing tax returns electronically, sends me to the big house then possibly the contempt I have for drones will. I despise the uprising of drone enthusiasts, and I think it’s sort of ridiculous for anyone to own one solely for personal use. The preceding sentence reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld when Jerry, during a family dinner conversation at Manya’s house, amusingly says, “I hate anyone that ever had a pony when they were growing up.” Of course, the elderly Manya immediately divulges that she had a pony as a young girl. Can you say awwwkwaaard? My apologies, if I too offended, but let me explain.

Drones have increasingly been showing up on countless Christmas lists, of the young and old alike the past couple of years, and this is quite bothersome to me concerning my privacy. I do not wish any harm on drone owners, but I don’t want their voyeuristic robots anywhere in the vicinity of my residence. The lion’s share of drones have both photo taking and live streaming capabilities. It is my understanding a drone can legally invade my home’s airspace, but it’s illegal if I see fit to capture it or shoot the hovering nuisance out of the sky. I don’t think I can play by those rules; hence, appointing myself as judge and jury in the matter could realistically result in me being fitted for an orange jumpsuit by the year 2031. I live in Arizona. It’s hot! I should be able to shed my clothing in my own backyard without having to worry about an uninvited drone joining the party. I will not give up my constitutional right to privacy.

This past decade I’ve seen much that is wrong with our country’s infatuation with technology. I’ve witnessed cellphones (and the like) replace meaningful relationships. I’ve seen the blatant discrimination against those who would rather pay their baggage fees at the airport than beforehand online; The airlines charge more if paying in person. I’ve also noticed the obvious bias against traditional coupon clippers and people who prefer to pay with cash. Grocery stores have begun presenting their best deals to only those who are willing (and able) to download digital coupons, and some businesses are now offering consumers more if they pay with plastic instead of with cash. I recently experienced this type of injustice firsthand when putting air in my car’s tires at a local convenience store. Using a credit card would’ve given me 5 minutes worth of air whereas good ole American currency only afforded me 4 minutes for the same price.

We are continuously coaxed (strong-armed), many times by way of a small threat to our pocketbooks, into using debit or credit cards and managing all of our finances and business transactions online. Why go that route? The last I knew, one’s identity cannot be stolen or their life hacked into when using cash. For convenience? In my household we use the tried-and-true envelope system, so online banking would actually be a great inconvenience to us. Do we kowtow to every technological advancement simply because we want to appear as though we too are hip (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) and to avoid pompously being accused of “not being with it” or “still living in the horse and buggy days”?

To each his own I guess. I know it’s much easier to conform…to society…to the government…to the world. There just comes a time when enough is enough. For me, I can never accept commuting in driverless cars, submitting tax returns online, or drones invading my personal space. I may be in the world, but I am not of this world. My hope is I’ll be able to joyfully sing like Paul and Silas, knowing God holds the key, while locked behind prison doors in 2031.