Rush to judgment

In our increasingly politically correct and bifurcated world, it seems the human instinct to pass judgment on people or events has only grown more acute. And, with that judgment, the punishment meted is often out of proportion—and possibly wrongly targeted– to the actual event, not to mention seldom without the facts being known or contemplated.

The things that trigger this response of outrage and anger are as varied as the human experience allows.

A prominent celebrity dies by his own hand. There are simultaneous outpourings of grief and vituperation.

A cop shoots a minority youth and the world rises up in arms.

A sports team owner is castigated and stripped of his ownership rights for uttering intemperate thoughts in what was thought to be a private—but turned out to be an illegally taped—conversation.

This is not to say that, in the case of racially or ethnically-charged incidents especially, people should merely accept the initial “official” version of events.

Initial statements regarding any occurrence should always be taken as simply putting out information as it is known at the time. The actual “facts’ invariably come later.

The inestimable Robin Williams died, an apparent suicide, while suffering from a debilitating mental disease. All manner of ill-informed commentary ensued as to his financial status, his well-known history of substance abuse, even the very nature of what depression is and is not.

In the same week, Michael Brown, a black youth, was gunned down by a policeman in a St. Louis suburb and almost immediately there were riots in the streets, death threats against the officer involved, and national protests against police brutality. Within days, however, details surrounding the shooting have made the events surrounding the incident anything but clear cut.

Donald Sterling seems to be everyone’s favorite sports mogul to hate. After all, he uttered the dreaded “N-word”—albeit privately—and for that reason, he can no longer own an NBA franchise. The concern other owners expressed over the relative severity of the punishment, and whether they could be similarly dealt with for unspecified transgressions was similarly demonized. The response was instant, and it was harsh.

I wonder who among us, on reflection, can say they have never made a bigoted statement toward any other person or group in private conversation? If we are honest with ourselves, I would say virtually no one has. Not right, perhaps, but reality.

None of this makes these reactions—and countless other, similar circumstances—right or wrong. But thorough review of facts paints a very different picture than what too many of us react to, or remember. Rushing to judgment seldom ensures a dispassionate or righteous outcome.

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about “teachable moments.” I think the phraseology is wrong. Most parents and school teachers will tell you that it isn’t what you teach that is important or meaningful to the student. It is what they learn. I wish we would learn something from these events.

Ballot-box planning

There is probably no better example of the flawed thinking that has driven the “land planning by ballot box” crowd than the vituperative back-and-forth now playing out over the controversially named “Open Space” initiative in Escondido.
This ballot measure is being floated by the would-be developer of the former Escondido Country Club site stuck in a quagmire of lawsuits and conflicting stories of outrage and deceit. Emotion has displaced logic and invective takes the place of reasoned debate. Lies and half truths enough to sink a battleship litter the conversation, and the voters of Escondido are being asked to navigate the shoals.

Of course, in this particular case, the stage was set for this by the city council’s caving in to an organized group of homeowners whose interests do not extend past the confines of their enclave.

I have been monitoring social media discussions on the proposed Specific Plan, and am astounded at the blatant disregard for factual representation of it. The most vehement opponents trot out red herrings at an alarming rate, either through ignorance or in an attempt to obfuscate and thus confuse those less fully engaged.

The developer is not blameless in all of this. Stuck in the Rough, the developer, has helped to create the emotional climate that now pervades the issue through a pattern of ill-advised counter measures in the wake of neighborhood opposition. And supporters of the proposed development have sometimes been a bit fast and loose with the facts.
That said, they have put on paper the plans and methodology for the project and they are technically sound. That the project could be better is the sad result of the city council’s decisions that essentially took the drafting of the plans away from themselves and their planning professionals.

While this measure is not being driven by the requirements of Escondido’s infamous Proposition S, the philosophy behind the move is essentially the same: people who are not familiar with the intricacies of government and land planning will be asked to decide what is best for the community rather than trusting the judgment of those they elected and the professional staff they employ.

The underlying premise is that the people we elect cannot be trusted to make the right decisions on our behalf, so therefore we need to do it. Huh?

If the electorate is too ignorant or disengaged in the process to elect the right people to represent their wishes, how can they be expected to make the right ones on such complex issues as land use?

The great fear on the part of homeowners in the Country Club area is that voters will not be sympathetic to their plight or not be interested enough in the whole thing, succumbing to the campaign efforts of the developer.

This issue should never have been put in the hands of voters, regardless of the outcome. That’s called kicking the can down the road. A process bringing all the stakeholders to the table to do what is best for all parties? That’s called leadership.

Where have the years gone?

I have made a number of mistakes in my lifetime, and done more than a few things of which I am not proud. One thing I definitely do not put in the mistake column, however, is asking Kaye to become my wife. That she said “yes” and ultimately bore us two children who are a source of boundless pride are the two greatest gifts a flawed man can possibly hope to receive.

This coming Monday marks the beginning of our fifth decade as a married couple. For forty-one years we have loved and hated; fought and collaborated; told truths and kept secrets from one another. In short, we have done the things—good and bad– couples often do while making their way through life together.

She has always been the steady one. Me—not so much. Not for lack of trying, but I have chosen career paths that have been extremely volatile and, as a result, she has been the rock upon which our marital foundation is based.

Our emotional temperaments are a study in contrasts as well. Her rational nurse’s demeanor in most situations clashes with my sometimes volcanic temper. To her credit, Kaye does not back down when she feels she is in the right.

While I rarely admit it, she has kept me from doing stupid things that I would otherwise do without her disapproving comments.

I have been by her side to offer advice when asked and to comfort when needed. She has never failed to do the same for me.

The fact that we have even a modicum of financial stability is testimony to her usually subtle—sometimes less so—input into our monetary affairs. It’s also a product of her fierce work ethic, something I am proud to say both of our children have inherited.

Some might wonder what the secret to our marital longevity is. In truth, I have no earthly idea. I suspect it is the result of many things, indicative of the shear complexity of challenges that life throws our way.

Without doubt, one answer is perhaps unsentimental: we’re just used to being around one another.
As prosaic as this may seem, this is the basis of many long-lasting relationships. There are worse things than being comfortable.

It seems that while marriage is hard work, staying married is even harder.

Lately, more than ever, I’ve come to realize we should not take what we have for granted. We’ve seen many long term marriages abruptly come undone and the factors that seem to lead up to these dissolutions run the gamut.

Merriam-Webster defines love as: “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” I doubt anyone who is truly honest about a relationship as long-lasting as ours could ever attest to “constant” affection. I think it is more likely something that regenerates with the experiences we share.

What I can and will say on the threshold of our forty-first anniversary toast is: Kaye, I love you. Here’s to many more.

Gun violence: Enough

Enough. It’s time to move beyond the prevailing national conversation about guns and gun violence and get to work on solving an issue that is becoming a nightmare.
For far too long the debate has been boiled down to a presumption on two extremes that there is some kind of zero sum solution–“Arm everyone and the mass shootings will stop”– “Ban all firearms to end the killing.”

Taking away guns from law-abiding citizens raises the disturbing specter of government forces swooping into homes to confiscate weapons—something that should send chills through the hearts of conservatives and liberals alike.

And, of course, critics of the ban guns philosophy are correct in saying that if you take away the guns from the people who obey the law, only those who don’t will be armed.
Just as chilling to me is the rather absurd argument by the NRA and others in the pro-gun crowd that if we just armed everyone, the mass killings that seem to have become so prevalent lately would largely be a thing of the past. It should be noted that in one of the latest shooting episodes, one of the dead victims was an armed citizen trying to do just that.

If we are to believe the mantra that “guns don’t kill people…people kill people,” doesn’t it follow that, if you give more people guns, there will be more killing?

Many, if not most, of the vocal advocates for gun bans seem to come from the more liberal and densely populated East and West coasts of our country. For the vast majority then, police protection is generally minutes away and game hunting a foreign pastime.
In the rural West and Midwest, as well as sparsely populated regions of the two coasts, police protection can be considerably further away, and hunting is part of a lifestyle. City-dwellers presuming to impose their sensibilities on these people to solve a problem that, for the most part occurs only in the more densely populated parts of our country seems patently unfair, not to mention targeting the wrong thing.

Better mental health screening and stronger laws to keep guns out of the hands certainly seems a logical answer to at least one component of the problem but, where does the line get drawn and will more extreme measures to protect society from the mentally ill inadvertently keep some from seeking help? Would people suffering from conditions like depression and schizophrenia be tagged with a scarlet letter that makes them and their condition social pariahs?

And what of the possibility of violent video games having at least some influence on the behavior of young, impressionable boys and girls (mostly boys)? Video game makers—a multi-billion dollar industry, don’t forget—point to studies that absolve them of any responsibility despite what seems to be a growing frequency of shootings by young, disturbed shooters who played the games. Auto makers in the 1950s and cigarette manufacturers in the 1960s and 70s did pretty much the same thing. People with logical minds cannot be so sanguine.

It’s time people on all sides admit a complex, ongoing tragedy such as the one we are witnessing can only be solved by finally acknowledging we all have a stake in it’s solution.

Dissatisfaction with government: A new American pasttime

I’m not sure the word “dissatisfaction” adequately describes my complete and utter disgust with the entire political process in this country as it now stands.

Left or right, it doesn’t matter…the political discourse in the nation is dominated by finger-pointing, innuendo, and outright lies. There is no appetite or consideration for achieving concrete solutions.

This is not merely the fault of the political class. It is also a result of the sins of business, organized labor, and a citizenry either too caught up in their day-to-day existence (or too disinterested) to care…much less act…to change things.

In the case of the current crisis of unaccompanied, undocumented minors entering the US illegally, the right demands our President follow the law regarding immigration, then, when it is pointed out he is doing it, they demand he somehow change the law.

The President, for his part, ignored dire predictions of just such an outcome over two years ago if nothing was done, and, like so many other things under his watch…nothing is exactly what was done. We get the government we deserve. It’s up to us to make it one that our children and grandchildren deserve.

The unreality of the rich

I like nice things. And, like most people in our capitalist society, I believe that those of us who have done well enough to indulge themselves by acquiring nice things as a reward for their hard work and good fortune are entitled—to a point.
The old joke that there are 500 different channels to watch on TV nowadays but nothing’s on is sort of true, but I know that a lot of what is on is “reality” programming that is anything but real.
Flip on any number of shows and you will subjected to “Housewives”, “Bridezillas”, “Extreme Homes”, Wealth TV, people buying their won private islands—on and on. A common thread for many of these programs is ego-driven self indulgence where money is seemingly no object.
One program I happened to catch a family member watching one day was recounting a bedroom closet remodel for twin teenage girls. The closet remodel cost over $500,000! This was important because they needed proper storage for their clothing, which included belts that in some cases cost over $2,000 apiece. For fourteen year-old girls.
Another recent program was an installment in a series that is chronicling the construction of the new penthouse manse for Aaron Spelling’s widow, Candy Spelling in Los Angeles. Everyone knows real estate in LA can be expensive. You can imagine the two-story, 41st-floor highrise penthouse would be pretty spectacularly priced, and that since she sold her last home for what had been at the time supposedly the highest price ever paid for a private home in the U.S.—rumored to be $150 million.
Mrs. Spelling’s television program goes to great lengths to show how laboriously she pains over even the tiniest detail and in the episode I stumbled upon, shows her winging her way to New York so she could select handmade cabinet knobs, doorknobs, and hinges for her home. The price for this kind of quality craftsmanship? Anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000—each.
I don’t care who you are—except maybe the guy who makes knobs for a living—there is no way anyone is going to know the difference between a $1,000 cabinet knob and, say, a $100 knob. Unless you tell them.
Which of course is the idea.
I guess my point is I understand liking nice things but, if you have to point out to people why they’re nice, isn’t it maybe a little excessive?
If you have to wear clothes or accessories that have the designer’s label on them so people know they’re expensive are they really all that special?
Is it really any surprise why so many people in the poorest regions of the world have a hatred of the west?
I know, you hear it all the time—and it is true—people from these poorest parts of the world (the ones brave enough, the ones who can) do all they can to come here for the opportunity. That doesn’t erase the resentment they feel in this Information Age when they see television programs like the ones I’ve described or hear stories of the latest escapades of spoiled do-nothing celebrity rich kids from Hollywood or elsewhere while they try to figure out how to feed themselves or their children tomorrow.
Unlike those on the left side of the political aisle, I do not believe it is right or proper for government to determine how much, if any, of an individual’s wealth they should be entitled to keep, and how much they should consider dedicate to people and causes whose need is greater than their own. It should remain an individual decision—every case is different, and I think if people were left to make up there own minds more often, the results might truly surprise people.
It would be a welcome change, however, if people had as an entertainment option to these train-wrecks of opulence and excess some programming that championed the spirit of giving and a humbler life.

Filner: Due process…or only if you agree?

  Mayor Bob Filner’s (mostly liberal) supporters are desperately parroting his refrain that he should be given “due process” in responding to the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual battery lodged against him over the past several days. The irony of this struck me when I began to consider the very real likelihood that these same folks are loudly joining the chorus of those bemoaning the injustice of the George Zimmerman trial verdict.

  Zimmerman sought due process, but according to those who vehemently disagree with the trial’s outcome, our system has failed. This begs the question: Does “due process” only mean when you agree with the verdict?

  I marvel at the hypocrisy of people who hide behind platitudes like, “Let the people/courts decide,” yet when the decision doesn’t come down in their favor they condemn the stupidity or malfeasance of the very same institutions upon which they purported to place their faith.

  Of course, Filner’s gambit is fully wrapped in his comfortable belief his accusers will never go public out of fear of the media scrutiny, or their jobs, or the scorn of the true believers in his camp who will vilify them for not putting political ideology ahead of their petty “feelings.”

  As we have seen on far too many occasions, life isn’t fair, and due process by no means ensures an outcome to everyone’s liking. While Filner’s hope for due process to leave him vindicated seems far-fetched it’s really the hope it never gets that far that he is counting on.

  In any event, in the tradition mentioned in the opening paragraphs, should Filner have his day in court, I predict he will continue to deny his guilt and his supporters will rally to his defense and declare the system has been rigged. And San Diego will suffer through yet another embarrassing period in its political history, one that was fully aided and abetted by the would-be kingmakers of the city—on both sides of the aisle.

  I say this not because Republicans and those from the right side of the aisle had anything to do with getting this particular individual elected but rather because both major party organizations have a disturbing habit of ignoring the less than savory character flaws of some of their candidates so long as they appear “electable.” This needs to stop.

  While voters should be expected to their own due diligence on a particular candidate for office, we all know in practice party affiliation plays an important part. When a sleaze like a Bob Filner or Duke Cunningham (to name just two) can get elected, repeatedly, even when alarm bells are—or at the very least should be—ringing like a railroad crossing with the train approaching and party leaders put up no fight to have them booted, there is something really wrong.

  I’m having some difficulty understanding the reactions of the men around Filner after these revelations were made public. I have a wife and daughter. If I found out either one of them had been treated by Filner in the manner that has been described, I wouldn’t be holding a press conference—I’d punch him in the nose.

Why would anyone think Filner would resign?

  Anyone who wonders why Mayor Bob Filner stubbornly refuses to resign in the face of the mounting evidence of his appalling behavior toward women over the years needs to spend a bit more time reading the transcripts or watching the video of his accusers recounting the details of his transgressions to get their answer. This is a man who has no shame.

  How else do you explain behavior that is so outside the norm, not to mention repugnant?

  If you lack the basic filters that would tap you on the shoulder and say, “This is not the way you should act”, you might do things like belittle colleagues in front of a room full of reporters and community leaders, or pick petty fights with other elected officials simply because they are perceived to be a political threat. Or worse, you might threaten those who work for you—directly or indirectly—with job loss if they do not act according to your wishes—whatever they might be.

  It’s disgusting that Filner’s treatment of women has been under cover for so long. It’s disheartening that people accepted his bullying tactics, which often were every bit as damaging to the individuals who bore the brunt, were accepted for thirty-plus years as “just Bob being Bob”.

  One of the most interesting things that has come out of this kerfuffle and gets little to no coverage is how long Filner’s past instances of sexual harassment had apparently gone on with behind-the-scenes tongue-wagging among Democrat insiders. In Marco Gonzalez’s recent news conference comments, he alluded to behaviors known of for at least a decade or more.

  One accuser in a news interview claimed that Democrats knew about rumors surrounding Filner’s indiscretions at the time he was running for mayor, but told her they would rather have one person in office who didn’t respect women than have the office in control of an entire political party that didn’t respect them.

  Without starting a debate over which party “respects women” the most, it should be noted that both major political parties have women in the membership, both political parties have women in leadership positions, and both political parties have women representing them in elected office. And both political parties have Neanderthals among their male members—whether they openly admit it or not.

  That certain Democratic Party leaders have been complicit in keeping Filner’s proclivities from public view seems to be increasingly evident and needs to be examined. His behavior not only in office as mayor but as a congressman bears scrutiny, if only to determine what abuses of power he might have exercised while in pursuit of sexual conquest.

  Complicating everything, of course, is the somewhat understandable unwillingness of the various women accusers involved in this mess to come forward and lend more credibility to the charges that have been leveled against hizzoner. This adds to Filner’s increasingly smug assurance that he will survive. Unfortunately given his combative nature and utter belief that he will prevail, San Diego should prepare for a long and civically embarrassing ordeal. Without firm evidence, sooner or later the media storm will peter out and things at City Hall will get back to their dysfunctional “normal”.