Thoughts on Thoughts and Prayers


The phrase, “thoughts and prayers”, has become a touchstone of controversy in recent years. The phrase has become repeated so often that the meaning is stretched thin. In modern society in which social media provides instant, ready knowledge of the trials and tribulations that face people to whom we are digitally interconnected, the phrase has become trite.

Diagnoses of cancer and other health maladies, deaths of family members or friends and other circumstances that bring the pain and suffering of others to mind often evoke responses that include thoughts and prayers. It’s a polite, but increasingly empty, thing to say. Particularly in response to all the offerings of thoughts and prayers in response to mass shootings in the last few years, a backlash has even arisen against the use of that phrase.

I assume the sentiment includes the implication that something needs to be done about the problem, and thoughts and prayers don’t get done whatever it is that needs to be done. One CNN article observed after the Parkland shooting, “Among the earnest pleas for social and legislative action, the aftermath of each successive shooting inspires more and more memes and cynical jokes.” (How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme)

The point, with the mass shootings, which is well-taken, is that offering platitudes isn’t enough of a response to such a systemic, serious societal problem. “The further [the phrase, thoughts and prayers,] is embedded in our post-tragedy lexicon, the more it’s mocked as a form of civilian slacktivism….”

Of course, part of the problem is that we can’t agree on whatever it is that needs to be done. For as many cries there are for more legislation to limit guns, there are calls for more guns to arm law abiding citizens to combat the lawless ones. In that context, the critical, cynical snarky remarks about thoughts and prayers expresses one particular political persuasion that promotes tougher gun legislation.

When powerful politicians (who are in a position actually to “do something” about the problem) offer thoughts and prayers, while deflecting talk of gun controls and opposing attempts at more effective gun legislation, the phrase takes on a “form of political obfuscation” that sparks the ire of people who want change.

On the other hand, that cynical response often looks like a shotgun blast, implying (or assuming) that all people offering thoughts and prayers oppose gun legislation (and have no intention of doing anything about mas shootings). It conjures up the stereotype of the gun-toting religious conservative.

God, country and guns may be one characterization of a particular political platform, but it certainly doesn’t include all the people who offer thoughts and prayers. Not all “religious people” are of the same color. If we are going to heal and advance as a nation against the scourge of mass shootings that has scarred our societal landscape in the last several decades, we need to bridge the gaps between people of good will and stop burning bridges.

In fact, I suspect that our growing insensitivity, incivility and lack of respect for people who “don’t think like us” contributes to the socio-psychological environment that spawns mass murderers. I don’t think that connection is a leap, though I can hear the counter voice in my head accusing me of “blaming the victims”.

If there is one thing that is sacred in modern American society, it is victimhood. I know that’s a snarky comment itself, but let’s be real here. I am not blaming the people who got shot. They didn’t “deserve” to get shot.

We have to get past the binary political attitudes. We can’t get anything done that will affect a real societal change by objectifying, vilifying and pissing off half the population. We need to find common ground.

My hope is to start building a bridge with this piece by offering some thoughts on thoughts and prayers and suggesting some ways to work together, rather than against, each other. So, first my thoughts (and prayers).

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Fighting the New Cold War


As someone who tries to look away from the news that bombards me from every public and private corner, like a train wreck impinging on my better instincts, I catch bits and pieces of the news on a continual basis – kind of like an unwanted stream of consciousness – that I would rather ignore. But I can’t. Trump, of course, is lurking in just about every news corner.

Trump and Russia are two of the most persistent and pernicious news themes today. Trump is mentioned together in nearly every news story on Russia’s meddling in American politics. I don’t think I am speaking out of school to say that Russia’s meddling in American politics is fact. We are beyond that question, aren’t we? But there is more to this story than Trump.

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Responding to the Journalism Crisis


Yesterday I was involved in an “animated” discussion about immigration triggered by “the caravan” that is making its way to the US border. I have read the “suggestion” by people on social media that we should carpet bomb the caravan, that the caravan is being funded by George Soros and is full of criminals and terrorists. I’ve also read sources debunking some of the extreme claims made about the caravan.

The reporting is all over the board. That is problem, not just in regard to this “caravan” issue, but in general. Because journalism has all but thrown off the façade of being unbiased, people don’t trust journalism anymore. We are experiencing a journalism crisis in the United States today.

As the “conversation” played out on my social media page, one person demanded a source for the claims that the caravan was trumped up and funded by people like George Soros and infiltrated by criminals and people who have been deported many times before. When another person posted a Western Journal article (with the headline, Reporter Proves Trump 100% Right), the first person responded this way:

“I guess I should ha [sic] said credible evidence. A statement from an independent reporter for a right wing paper trying to spread irrational fear does not work for me.”

With a headline like that, who wouldn’t be suspicious of its content? (Unless you want to believe that Trump is 100% right.) The headline is classic clickbait. It’s designed to attract the people who want to believe every word, and it is meant to get a reaction from the people who don’t want to believe a single word.

Is this what journalism has come to?

But, I also had to cringe at the response. While I understand it, the response reveals a deeply flawed, knee-jerk reaction mentality that is just as unproductive as the clickbait headline (which is intended to provoke the reaction). We have gotten so that we dismiss anything out of hand that comes from “the other side”.

It happens both ways. People will say the same thing about CNN or MSNBC or other sources. For that reason (and others), it’s a no-win argument. It might make sense to distrust a source that is clearly biased, but bias doesn’t mean that the reporting is inaccurate.

Stripping away the opinions, the factual statements are either true or untrue – but the truth doesn’t depend on the bias of the source.

Putting it another way, it’s wrong to dismiss the statements of fact in an article out of hand just because we distrust the source. The accuracy or inaccuracy of the factual statements have nothing to do with the source. So, how do we respond?

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Skeptical Perspectives on Kavanaugh

LOS ANGELES, CA – JULY 12, 2018: Protesters showed up at Senator Diane Feinstein’s District Office to protest nomination Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice.

As I write this, Brett Kavanaugh is undergoing ongoing scrutiny for alleged sexual offenses committed against multiple women in his high school and college years. People have lined up along partisan lines for him and against him. Predictable and disappointing – as always.

I fear that that the allegations are true, and we will trample over them insensitively in the rush to achieve political outcomes, both sides using them against the other. I fear that the allegations are false, and we will destroy the name and reputation of a good man and the integrity of our democratic system in the political crossfire.

Due process is intended to prevent hangings, real or political, and to provide a fair, orderly and just way to get to the bottom of factual disputes so that the truth will win out. But that doesn’t always happen. Due process outside of a court of law is more like the wild west, and sometimes the court system doesn’t even get it right. Doe process, even when done right, doesn’t always uncover the real truth.

As the Kavanaugh fiasco teeters and totters forward, Bill Cosby was sentenced for the sexual crimes he committed in 2004. Ironic isn’t it? It’s still hard to accept the verdict that Bill Cosby is a sexual predator.

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America’s Changing Melting Pot


So here’s a thought, but first, consider these statistics:

In 2016, in 26 states, the number of non-Hispanic whites who died was greater than the number of non-Hispanic whites who were born in those states, according to an analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau that was released last week. The 26 states were a diverse group in terms of geography and demographics, from Maine to Alabama to California. Nationwide in 2016, there were 0.98 births for every death among non-Hispanic whites, a rate lower than that of blacks (1.71), Asians (3.87) and Latinos (4.88).

I have seen numbers like these before on a national scale. We are tottering on the edge of population regression. People get married less, marry later, have fewer children, and these factors contribute to our population decline – at least among white Americans. Most European countries are well beyond us in this population regression cycle.

Blacks, Asians, Latinos and others have more children than whites do. If the trend continues, whites will become the minority as compared to non-whites. My children went to a school district in which whites are already the minority.

So what are the implications of this development?

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Suicidal Nation

LOS ANGELES – SEP 11: Anthony Bourdain at the 2016 Primetime Creative Emmy Awards – Day 2 – Arrivals at the Microsoft Theater on September 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA

I recently read an article in USA Today by Kristen Powers in which she cited a statistic that suicides are up 30% since 1999. In the article, she quotes an author who says that “despair … isn’t always caused by our brains. It’s largely caused by key problems in the way we live.” I don’t know if there’s any research or professional opinion to back that up. The author is a journalist who wrote a book. That doesn’t necessarily make the author an expert. Still, I personally think there is some merit to the point.

Kristen Powers went on to assert her opinion that “we are too busy trying to ‘make it’ without realizing that once we reach that goal, it won’t be enough.” For proof, she quotes Tim Carey about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.”

In spite of the lack of real evidence, I think she has a point. The article is prompted by the suicides of two famous TV personalities who seemed to have it all, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. We don’t have to think very far back to remember Robin Williams, who also seemed to have it all. Then there is Whitney Houston who maybe didn’t intentionally kill herself, but she drank and drugged herself to death.

It turns out that the list of famous people who committed suicide is quite long. (See, for example, the Famous Suicides List) The list of famous suicides includes some of the wealthiest people of their times. (See, for example, 10 Millionaire Businessmen Who Committed Suicide and These are 10 Rich People who Committed Suicide)

What is it that possess a person who seems to have everything anyone could want in this life to commit suicide?

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