America, You’re Too Young to Die

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America, you’re too young to die. And yet you are.

America is a culture of violence. From urban gang violence to rural hate crimes to suburban mass murders, we are slowly killing ourselves. We kill the unborn, we euthanize the aged and comatose, and we commit suicide in record numbers. When it comes to mass violence, some of it stems from international terrorism (San Bernardino, Orlando) but much of it is homegrown domestic terrorism. Seven of the ten worst mass shootings in American history have happened since 2000. Three of the top five in the past two years (Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs). The tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL is now ninth on that list. The vast majority of mass shootings are by males.

America, it’s clear that we have a serious problem. And it’s going to require more than rocket science to figure it out. Otherwise, the tragic body counts will keep stacking up.

The question is WHY? Why has America become the land of the violent. Our colors now bleed red, white, (black) and blue. Actually, I think the reasons are clear:

1. FATALITY COUNTS HAVE BECOME RECORDS TO REACH. Mass shootings in America are out of control. It’s clear those who are mentally unstable, particularly the young, are using these tragedies to gain “fame.” On the same day of the carnage in Florida, another school shooting in Seattle was foiled. Evidently a kid dreamed of creating the “biggest fatality number” possible. He was turned in by his grandma. Good for her. If you see something, say something. It takes a village.

2. WE AREN’T DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM. Neither the Left nor the Right has a productive answer to the sticky wicket of gun violence. Removing firearms from law-abiding citizens (an objective of the radical Left) will not stop gun crimes. It won’t even curb crime or murder. Bad people will always weaponize their criminal behavior. However, the Right’s fervent, even unhealthy, attachment to all guns–particularly automatic weapons–is equally disturbing. The vast majority of Americans recognize there’s no need for the general population to own AR-15s, bump stocks or any other weapon of mass destruction. It’s time for gun legislation that has teeth. And I say that as gun owner. AR-15 rifles are not for hunting or sport. They are killing machines and should be outlawed from possession by anyone except the police and military.

3. AMERICANS ROUTINELY MISAPPLY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. The Second Amendment–and all “rights”–are not absolute. Every right we enjoy has a natural limit. “Freedom” doesn’t mean we are FREE to do (or say, print, buy) ANYTHING (that would produce anarchy). Freedom is always rooted to responsibility and if we cannot be responsible then freedom must be limited even removed. The Second Amendment’s right to bear arms may need to enforce some limits until other social and cultural issues are resolved in America (see points 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8). Without a doubt, if there’s valid reason (felony, misdemeanor criminal activity, history of violence, mental instability or illness), then such individuals shouldn’t have access to a gun of any type and stiff fines should be levied upon those who sell them. Whoever sold the gun to the shooter in Parkland, FL is equally at fault. It’s not right that firearm sellers are not held responsible for their part in these massacres.

4. GUNS ARE NOT THE REAL PROBLEM. The “elephant in the room” of school shootings isn’t guns or easy access to guns. That’s a red herring of those seeking absolute gun control. The real “elephant” is a popular media (music, video games, literature, television, movies) that glorifies, desensitizes and affirms gun violence. Several studies reveal PG-13 movies “showcase more gun violence” than R-rated movies. Hollywood’s continual stream of violent fare (and those who buy the tickets to see these movies) is clearly a factor to gun violence in real life. Face it, America, we become what we consume. And when we allow our kids to ingest bloody media, we shouldn’t be surprised by their aggressive and violent behavior. Is there a correlation between bloody media and gun violence? The problem is an R-rating won’t stop kids from seeing violent movies at home. But far too many parents tow their kids to R-rated movies at the theater and that can be controlled. Perhaps the “R” rating should change: “No one under 17 admitted.” Prove your age, like with alcohol, or you don’t get in. Movie theaters who violate would face fines.

5. THE RELIGION OF EVOLUTION. The cultural dissolution of morality since the 1960s has created this America we live in. Faith and religion of the Right are now sidelined, even mocked, by those on the Left. If you believe in God, particularly God as Creator or employ science to defend intelligent design, you are considered ignorant, backwards and intolerant. But maybe it’s time we considered how evolution creates a culture of violence. Think about it. Evolutionary theory’s fundamental idea argues that human beings are evolved animals who survive only by being the most “fit.” This survival of the fittest involves destroying weaker beasts. Violence is necessary to evolve. For decades Americans have been indoctrinated with evolutionary ideas and it’s only made us behave as animals. We bully, speak hate, consume violence, oppress, sexually and emotionally harass. If we don’t want a pregnancy we kill the baby. If we don’t like our marriage, we divorce. If we hate our life, we end it. If we want vengeance, we take it. World views have consequences, my friends. Evolutionary philosophy is not benign nor without excuse.

6. PARENTS WHO NO LONGER PARENT. It’s a common criticism of today’s parents: they let their kids do whatever they want. Discipline is lax, disregarded or even excused as disability. Children curse openly. Children lie and steal. Children punch, beat, bite and hurt. Children experience stuff far too young (and usually with a parent watching, even laughing). Few children are taught simple “ten commandment” morality anymore. I grew up in a gun culture (Montana). I grew up shooting firearms. Every pickup had a gun rack (usually sporting loaded rifles). But I was taught a very simple rule: you never point a gun (even a toy) at another human being. And I never did. I wouldn’t even play “war” video games later in life. I watched a parent the other day as their preschooler boy playfully pointed a gun at his parents and said “bang, bang!” I watched his parents laugh. Not once did they tell the tyke “we don’t point guns at people.” Trust me, if your kid points a toy at a person now, including you, he won’t have a problem doing it later with the real thing. Attitudes and actions of violence don’t happen by accident.

7. THE OBSESSION OF BLOOD AND VIOLENCE BY THE NEWS MEDIA. Let’s be honest: the news media’s 24/7 addiction to blood needs an intervention. Every news writer knows “if it bleeds, it leads” but that doesn’t mean the mikes and cameras need to roll for hours. Is it wrong to conjecture the media creates these “mayhem monsters?” Is it possible the violently predisposed are influenced, even inspired, to think the only way for a “name” and fame is to commit violent crimes (with huge body counts)? I believe so. News media used to be more tempered but ever since OJ Simpson it’s become a tragic norm. In the competition to be first with a story, the news media peddles fear, distrust, hype and anger…and often gets the story wrong. An oft-shared Parkland “fake news” story, propagated by reputable journalists, mainstream media and Facebook ignorants, was how it was the eighteenth school shooting in 2018. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t even close to being true.

8. THE SOCIAL MEDIA SEWER. The world has changed since Columbine (April 20, 1999). From Facebook to Twitter to YouTube to SnapChat, social media has become a cesspool for ignorance, hate, disrespect and evil. Because people can say (photograph and film) whatever they want, and post it, they do. For example, the Left has engineered a “resistance” of hate for various cultural nemeses: Donald Trump, evangelical Christians, police and white men (to name a few). And with the help of left-leaning national media, the sewer keeps boiling. The Right is just as bad, preaching it’s own brand of inflammatory and hurtful rhetoric (wrapped in patriotism, values and the Bible). Out kids are watching though. They’ve grown up in a hostile political climate where adults bicker, badmouth and berate about everything openly. Disagreement is now considered “hate” by some and “ignorant” by most. My “truth” is right and I’ll just plug my ears and shout my points louder (until you hear me). In reality, we all need to take a big breath and listen more. Facebook has become a sewer for “fake news” and poor commentary because too many Americans cannot discriminate or think critically outside of our theological, philosophical, geographical, economical, educational and political boxes (even though we profess to be tolerant and open-minded). Here’s an idea: If you get caught saying something wrong on social media (and we all have), accept it and apologize (then correct or delete).

The bottom line is EVERY AMERICAN NEEDS TO HAVE A POSITIVE AND PRODUCTIVE VOICE TO DISSOLVE THIS CULTURE OF VIOLENCE in America today. We all have skin in this game and if we’re not careful all we’ll be left with is bloody bones.

Face it, we can scratch our heads when another Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs or Parkland happens but it’s really not hard to understand why it’s happening. It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s not a religious issue. It’s not a poor versus rich issue. It’s not just Hollywood or white evangelicals or Muslim radicals.

It’s all of America.

And the question is whether we have the guts to change it.

Because, America, you’re truly too young to die.

 

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Bye, Bye Miss America Pie (Saying So Long to Those We Lost in 2016)

goodbye2016Don McLean was wrong.

The music didn’t die in 1959 in the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.  It didn’t die in 1970-71 with the drug deaths of rock gods Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison. Nor was it buried in 1977 with Elvis or Lynyrd Skynyrd or Bing Crosby.

The music didn’t die in 1980 when we lost John Lennon, Bonham Scott (ACDC) or John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). And it somehow lived through 1998 when Sonny Bono, Carl Perkins, Carl Wilson, Linda McCartney, Frank Sinatra and Gene Autry left this earth.

The music played on in 2003 when icons Maurice Gibb, Edwin Starr, Barry White, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash and Robert Palmer passed away.  Five years later, in 2008-09, the music survived the tragic deaths of Bo Diddley, Michael Jackson and Les Paul.  Somehow the music even continued after 2012, when we lost legends like Dick Clark, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, and Jon Lord.

But the music is dying now.  Well, at least the original artists who carved a genre and created a mystique.  The truth is every year from now on will possess a tragic sense of loss.  When we were young we said goodbye to our musical gods who drank themselves to death, overdosed, committed suicide or died tragically in some crash.  Occasionally we said goodbye to musicians who died younger than we expected, like George Michael did this past week.  But the grim reality is we now have to say goodbye to the rock and roll generation more and more.

These musical icons are now salty and seasoned elders. And who knows how long they’ll remain with us.

For example, in 2016 alone, we watched some of our greatest songwriters, artists and musicians leave this life, including:

  • David Bowie (January 10)
  • Glenn Frey of the Eagles (January 18)
  • Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Starship (January 28)
  • Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire (February 4)
  • George Martin, who produced the Beatles (March 8)
  • Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (March 10)
  • Merle Haggard (April 6)
  • Prince (April 21)
  • Leonard Cohen (November 7)
  • Leon Russell (November 13)
  • Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (December 7)
  • George Michael (December 25)

But we’re losing more than just the rock ‘n roll generation, we’re also losing those who created the culture in which Boomers and Gen Xers, in particular, came of age.

The tumultuous 1960s launched the age of television while the 1970s anointed “superstars.” Boomers and early Xers watched men walk on the moon, Hank Aaron out-homer the Babe, and the emergence of a “pop” culture that made pet rocks, disco and streaking (naked people running around) suddenly hip. The 1960s and 1970s unleashed civil, women and gay rights. Living together was no longer a sin. Our Watergate government leaked with scandal and coverup. Spirituality was cool (from Hare Krishnas to Dianetics to Jesus People to the “Force”). Movies were bigger, better and bloodier. Star Wars. Jaws. Rocky. The Godfather. Saturday Night Fever. The Exorcist. James Bond, Monty Python and Superman sold millions of tickets.

The wide world of sports carved a national obsession. The Steel Curtain Steelers, Silver and Black Raiders and America’s team “The Cowboys” ruled the NFL   The Minnesota Vikings went to four Super Bowls in the 1970s and lost them all. They’ve been losers ever since. In baseball, superstars by the name of Rose, Ryan and Reggie reigned supreme. Olympians like swimmer Mark Spitz and gymnasts Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci were golden. Meanwhile the sport of boxing was never bigger. Muhammad Ali. Joe Frazier. George Foreman. Sugar Ray Leonard. Leon Spinks. And don’t forget the most fearless of them all…Evel Knievel (who launched his motorcycles over everything imaginable and created bone-cracking crash highlights).

Maybe that’s why 2016 is growing old on those of us growing old.

For those 50 years or older, this year has been a sobering reminder that even “the greatest” cultural kings (like Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe and John Glenn) are not eternal. In the past twelve months we lost former first lady Nancy Reagan, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and famous surgeon Henry Heimlich. We saw several foreign leaders pass away, including: Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Egyptian statesman and UN secretary), Shimon Peres (former Israeli prime minister) and Fidel Castro (a Cuban dictator and U.S. nemesis for half a century). We also lost television and movie celebrities like Alan Thicke (“Growing Pains”), Florence Henderson (“Brady Bunch”), Gene Wilder, Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Patty Duke and Garry Marshall (the creator of “Happy Days”). We gave a galactic farewell to Princess Leia (Carrie Fischer) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker). We lost ESPN broadcaster John Saunders, CBS journalist Morley Safer and PBS anchor Gwen Ifill.

The rock ‘n roll generation is slowly passing away.

The heroes of 60s and 70s screen and film are saying goodbye.

The gods of sport are growing old, much too old.

I’m grateful to have been born in the early 1960s and experience adolescence in the “Me Decade” of the 1970s. I’m 53 years old, the same age as George Michael and Michael Jordan. Like these former superstars, my beard is now mostly gray and I also battle the midriff bulge. My eyes no longer are as sharp, my coordination as clean nor my hearing as good. Wrinkles now form more easily, my joints hurt more often and my brain seems foggier.

I get more mail from the AARP and wonder if it’s time to stock up on Geritol.

George Michael breathed his last on Christmas Day.  And God only knows where Michael Jordan is.

But the good news for me is I’m still here. And I’m still standing.

Every day I’m vertical it’s a good day. There are plenty of people who would love to have one more breath, one more heartbeat, one more moment to enjoy this grand carousel we call life.  I’m not afraid of growing old as much as growing old alone.  And maybe that’s why the loss of Carrie Fischer, Glenn Frey and the others in 2016 have given me pause.

These people were the cultural names that framed my youth.  I taped their photos to my bedroom walls. I wore out the grooves of his or her song that soothed my soul.  I circled their shows in the TV Guide.  Friday and Saturday nights were as sacred as Sunday morning.

So, yes, I say goodbye to these friends of my youth. Their music brought me peace. Their acting brought me joy. Their athletic ability inspired me. Their writings influenced me. Their heroism changed me.

Their passing has taught me to squeeze every drop I can out of this life because one day the last drop will come.  Last drops always come.  We will all have that day.

And on that day I pray I left this old world a bit better and, hopefully, with a smile, too.