Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding Our Way

Yesterday was Neil Peart's birthday.  For those who are not Rush fans, Neil spent more than four decades as their drummer.  He was an amazing and talented musician, and I don't say that as just some fan-- his own peers in the music industry have spoken with great admiration about his skill.  He was also a respected songwriter, who helped Rush to go from being just another bar band in Toronto to becoming a well-known rock band with millions of loyal fans all over the world, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.

Drumming was a large part of Neil's identity, and he took great pride in it; he studied the work of other drummers, past and present, and he always gave 100% every time he performed.  If you ever saw Rush in concert, you know that few bands put on a more dynamic and energetic performance-- no opening act, just Alex, Geddy, and Neil, onstage doing what they loved, entertaining their fans.

And then, one day in late 2015, it all came to an end.  Yes, bands break up, but it's usually due to animosity among the members. That was not the case here-- the guys were friends and they remain so to this day.  But Neil announced he would no longer tour, and in fact he was retiring. One major factor in his decision was health:  he had severe tendonitis, and drumming was just aggravating it over and over again.  Another factor was his desire to spend more time with his wife and their little daughter.  As he told Drumhead magazine, he accepted the fact that it was time to "take [himself] out of the game."

At a certain point in life, many of us have to reinvent ourselves, or see what the next thing is for us.  Sometimes, it's voluntary-- some folks hate their job, even if it pays well, and they're eager to make a change.  But for others, it's a difficult decision-- they love what they have been doing, but they realize they cannot continue on with it.  Athletes often confront this dilemma:  as they get older and their skills begin to diminish, they gradually have to accept that it's time to retire.  Veteran politicians also encounter this same problem:  they may have served for years, but now they must agree to step aside and let the next generation onto the stage.  If you've ever been in the situation of wanting to stay but knowing it's time to go, it's not an easy place to be.  

I know it well.  In my own life, I had to accept the fact that the broadcasting industry had changed and my skill set was no longer in demand; the most difficult decision I ever made was deciding to go back to school and study for my PhD so that I could become a professor.  I miss radio every day, but there were no jobs, and it was time for some other way to make a living.  I'm fine about being a professor, but I can't deny I wish I could have stayed in broadcasting.  I imagine many athletes and politicians know exactly how I feel, since they too wish they didn't have to walk away from what they loved.

But Neil doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories-- he wasn't unhappy playing drums for a living (in fact he was devoted to it); his skills were not diminishing (although he was increasingly in pain each time he played); and he probably could have continued on for a while longer, if that's what he wanted to do.  But he knew it was time, and he wanted to leave on his own terms.  And so he did.  I would be lying if I said I've talked with him recently, but I do know several friends of his, and I am told he is very happy with his decision.  He and Alex and Geddy still keep in touch, but by all accounts, he has no regrets about being a "retired drummer."  Fans desperately want him to return to drumming (and return to Rush) but that is not what he wants, nor what's best for his health.  It's a wise person who understands when it's time for a change.  And whether the change is voluntary or not, it's a wise person who embraces whatever the next phase in their life happens to be.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why Everyone Should Fact-Check, LeeLifeson Edition

This past week, as any Rush fan knows, a rock music website published an article containing some quotes from podcaster Eddie Trunk, who asserted that Alex and Geddy would soon form a band that could possibly be called LeeLifeson.  I'm still in contact with the guys in Rush, and I had heard nothing about this; but I'm also someone who does fact-checking for a living. The article contained several red flags for me-- most notably that neither Alex nor Geddy had confirmed Mr. Trunk's speculations.  I was always taught during my journalism days never to assume ("When you assume, you make an Ass out of U and Me," as the old saying goes); while Mr. Trunk had every right to guess what Alex and Geddy might be doing in the future, the article gave the impression that he knew for certain.  And that was enough for Rush fans, many of whom miss the band and would be delighted to see some kind of reunion.  

So, I did what any fact-checker would do:  I contacted Alex and asked him. (I tend to speak with him more often than I do Geddy, plus it was Alex's birthday and I wanted to get in touch anyway.)  I figured if a reunion was in the offing, he might know something about it.  However, as I suspected, he didn't... because there wasn't one.  Nor did he think there would be one at any time in the near future, given how busy both he and Geddy are with individual projects.  He and Geddy speak often, and they are often at the same events; but that doesn't mean they're auditioning drummers and preparing to go out on the road.  So, with his permission, I posted to the site that first had the article, and got them to update and correct the original piece.  Mr. Trunk also walked back his comments, which was greatly appreciated.  I've never met him, I don't think, and I'm sure he's a good person.  But he has certainly seen first-hand how easy it is for speculation to be taken as fact online.

And that is what really bothers me.  While this is a post about what happened with some untrue assertions about two beloved rock stars, I can point to hundreds of claims I've read online that don't have an ounce of truth in them, yet they get forwarded, re-tweeted, re-posted, turned into memes.  More troubling, they get widely believed.  I see these myths and rumors a lot on internet fan sites. ("Did you know that Geddy and Alex haven't spoken to Neil in two years???" Umm, NOT TRUE.  I have it on good authority that they speak to each other quite regularly.  But never mind...)  However, more often than that, I see these false claims on partisan political sites, where people who love Donald Trump and people who hate Donald Trump eagerly toss around unproved and unverified stories that make them feel better but do little to provide accurate information.

The internet can be a great blessing, as I've often stated.  It can put you in touch with people you might never otherwise be able to talk to. It can create world-wide communities where people with shared interests can share their views.  It can give you access to old newspapers and magazines and books, making historical research much easier for students, and for professors like me.  But it can also spread hate and bigotry and stereotypes at lightning speed.  It can be the source of misinformation and misunderstanding, and it can contribute to inaccurate perceptions of politicians, rock stars, celebrities, or ordinary people who made one foolish remark and are immediately shamed by folks who evidently have never made a mistake in their lives.

So, whether you read speculation about the members of Rush or speculation about Donald Trump or speculation about Barack Obama (please don't send me those memes about how Obama messed up Hurricane Katrina-- he wasn't president then... Bush was), consider the source.  Is it a partisan site that always hates on that person?  Is it a site where the writer has never really met the folks he or she is writing about?  Is it a site where fact-checking never occurs but lots of conspiratorial speculation does? (I was always taught that Correlation is NOT causation:  if two events happen at the same time, that doesn't mean one caused the other.  But in the online world, if X goes wrong and someone I never liked was there when it happened, then that person must have caused X. It's rarely true, but in the online world, that's a frequent tactic of certain websites.)

I know I've asked this before, but it seems rather timely this week:  before you forward an article from a fan site, see if it has actual quotes from the person being written about, and find out if what the author is claiming has been verified.  This is true for politics too:  before you send around that meme, find out if the person actually said it.  You may think it's fun to spread fake quotes or fake stories, but it can have some really unfortunate consequences.  Meanwhile, I am not good at predicting the future, so I don't know if Alex and Geddy will ever reunite.  I love them (and Neil too), and I wish them health and happiness.  But I must say that whether it's about rock and roll or whether it's about politics or whatever else, facts matter.  And I wish all the folks who enjoy spreading rumors would just... stop...

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Learning the Wrong Lessons from History

As someone who is fascinated by history, I can understand why many white people in the south have felt passionate about preserving statues of Confederate figures like Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee.  These are historical artifacts from a bygone time, and in their day, they were meant to honor how the south seceded from the Union and fought against what southerners called "northern aggression."  Today, our views are somewhat more nuanced: the generals may still have some fans among Civil War buffs, but most of us wish the war had never happened, and most of us are glad the Union was saved.  Today, the statues are a reminder of a difficult and contentious time in US history, and they reflect our changing attitudes about it.

Unfortunately, some southern cities placed the statues on the grounds of the state government or in a public park, which seemed to show support (or even nostalgia) for what the Confederate generals did.  Giving the statues such a prominent location may not have been a problem in the era of segregation; but it certainly sends the wrong message in 2017.  That said, it's not surprising there are traditionalists who get upset whenever there is a plan to move the statues to a museum (where they belong), or to tear them down (something that, as a historian, I oppose; I may not be fond of Confederate generals, but they were real people and we shouldn't pretend they never existed).

The people who show such reverence towards memories of the Confederacy (including the Confederate flag) often insist it has nothing to do with prejudice:  they simply believe they are honoring the history and heritage of the south. But what they are honoring means something very different to black southerners, who lack that same nostalgia for the era of slavery or segregation.  And in fairness, many southern whites (especially younger people) no longer feel positive about those old symbols either. Still, for a certain group of white southerners, some of whom identify as white nationalists (or white supremacists), the statues and the Confederate flag are something to celebrate.  And when the city of Charlottesville VA decided to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and rename the park where it stood, some of these folks decided to take a stand.

On Friday night, a large group of angry protesters, many aligned with the Alt-Right, came to Charlottesville to express their outrage.  They carried torches (much like the Ku Klux Klan of years ago) and shouted neo-Nazi slogans.  They talked about "white genocide," and painted themselves as the true victims of discrimination. (Hint: they're really not.)  I believe in the First Amendment, and I do understand that even when protesters (on any side of the issues) are hostile or hateful, they have every right to express their views.  But I still found it disconcerting to see images of flaming torches, and to hear rhetoric from the era of Adolph Hitler.  Okay fine, it was only a few hundred white nationalists, but in my view, one is too many.  My father (of blessed memory) fought the Nazis in World War II; he would not be amused to see a resurgence of Nazi views here in America.

It got worse on Saturday, as the white nationalists held a "Unite the Right" rally, with more neo-Nazi and white power chants and more outrage; accompanying them were some members of all-white militias, carrying weapons.  They were met by counter-protesters, most of whom came from churches or local social service groups and held peaceful vigils; and a few of whom came from more activist groups and clashed with the white nationalists.  Meanwhile, some of the white nationalists were very vocal in their praise of President Trump; some gave Nazi-like salutes and said "Heil Trump," while the ever-present David Duke, former head of the KKK, basically reminded everyone that Mr. Trump was their inspiration, and it was time for white people to take their country back (I had no idea they'd lost it). In the midst of it all, a car intentionally slammed into the counter-protesters-- the people who were hit had been peacefully expressing their opposition to what the white nationalists were saying. One person was killed and at least nineteen were seriously injured.

I had hoped President Trump would forcefully condemn the white supremacists or speak out against neo-Nazi rhetoric.  He did not. He sent out a vague statement about how violence on "all sides" was wrong, as if the peaceful counter-protesters were as culpable as the folks carrying Confederate flags or banners with swastikas. He later read a statement about how we are all Americans and we should all get along.  I'm glad he said that; but given how quick he has been to specifically criticize Mexicans or Muslims or undocumented immigrants, I found it disappointing that he refused to criticize white supremacists or neo-Nazis.  Perhaps since they seem to be his supporters, he feels he shouldn't be too harsh.  But I wish he had been.

I know what some of my conservative friends are going to say:  "But what about ANTIFA? What about [pick some other example of alleged left-wing bad behavior]?"  Please, let's not go there. This is not the time for "whataboutism."  Some things are just wrong, no matter which side does them.  And in this case, the last thing I want to hear is folks defending the white nationalists or justifying their actions.  What they believe is contrary to what America is supposed to be about.  And while they have a right to hold those beliefs, we do not have to agree with them.  In fact, the last thing we need is tolerance for white supremacist or neo-Nazi views.  We tolerated them in the past, and it did not go well for us as a nation.  As I see it, Mr. Trump missed an opportunity to call these folks out, not with a vague statement, but by name and directly.  He should have told them they're doing more harm than good, and that he doesn't want their support.  But then again... what if he still does?  
  

Monday, July 31, 2017

Seeing What We Want to See: Confirmation Bias Strikes Again

I'm going to do something that will surprise some of you:  I'm going to defend Donald Trump.  There was a video circulating online several days ago, and it appeared to show the president ignoring or intentionally refusing to acknowledge a little child in a wheelchair who wanted to shake his hand.  Many well-known critics of the president tweeted and re-tweeted the video, labeling the president's actions cruel but typical-- after all, this is a man who mocked a disabled reporter during the campaign, and here he was snubbing a little handicapped child.

But as we often find with online memes and videos, there was much more to the story.  Mr. Trump had not ignored him; he had already gone over to the boy and greeted him before the speech he was about to give, and yes, there is video to document that.  At the end, it's true he was looking beyond the child, shaking a few hands and-- as often happens when any speaker is leaving the stage-- focusing on making an exit.  Yes, the portion of the video that circulated did make the president look callous, but it was taken out of context.  Fact-checkers caught it immediately and even took several of the people forwarding it to task, including author J. K. Rowling. http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/jul/31/jk-rowling/jk-rowling-falsely-accuses-trump-not-shaking-disab/

Now, I know what some of my conservative friends are thinking:  SEE? The internet is biased, everyone is against Mr. Trump, liberal media, fake news, blah-blah-blah.  And if that's what they are thinking, they are not being entirely honest.  Truth be told, there are just as many taken-out-of-context videos and just as many fake quotes/memes about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and even Bernie Sanders. I've refuted hundreds of them-- not because I'm (gasp) a liberal, but because I believe in accuracy. I have NO problem with folks who disagree with Mrs. Clinton or any other Democrat. I have a big problem with putting false statements in their mouth or doctoring videos to make a partisan point.  That's why I thought it was important to be fact-based in discussing the anti-Trump video.  I only wish my conservative friends (who are OUTRAGED whenever they believe Mr. Trump is being unfairly attacked) would be equally outraged when they see fake quotes or distorted videos that unfairly malign Democrats.

But above all, I wish both sides would avoid forwarding false claims and distortions about the folks  they dislike.  Retweeting or re-posting fake quotes just because it makes you feel good has become a huge problem with our political discourse. It's also hurting our ability to communicate-- on social media, we're often talking past each other, throwing talking points and memes rather than having an actual conversation.  It's largely due to confirmation bias-- seeking out sources that reinforce what you already believe, and only trusting folks who tell you that you're right to believe it.

It's easy to get into that mindset:  for those who already believe Donald Trump is cruel and heartless, a video that seems to show him snubbing a helpless kid in a wheelchair fits perfectly with their belief about him.  And for those who believe Hillary Clinton is a crook or Barack Obama is a secret Muslim or Bernie Sanders is a Commie, there are numerous online "proofs" for you to choose from, even if what they seem to show is utterly false.

So I have a favor to ask of those who read this blog post, whatever their politics or their ideology. Please consider the importance of critical thinking:  before you retweet or re-post, take a minute to find out if it's actually true.  In other words, don't just rely on sources that are nothing but opinion, or sources that tell you your side is perfect and the other side is evil.  Be skeptical whenever you are sent something that has been widely retweeted:  there may be more to the story.  Don't be afraid to use fact-checking sites (no, they're not all "liberal"-- there are many reputable sources that will tell you if some event actually occurred, or if someone actually made that controversial quote).

In the end, there's plenty to criticize about Mr. Trump (or any political figure from either side) that is based on actual facts. Don't be one more person who thinks it's okay to spread misinformation just because it fits your own beliefs.  And if you can, find out what "the other side" actually does believe-- not to start an argument, but just because it's good to be informed.  Who knows-- you may end up defending someone you never expected to...

Monday, July 10, 2017

It's My Turn to Drive: Finding Inspiration in the Lyrics of Rush

For some reason, I got a number of new followers on Twitter this past week. Some came over because of a friendly exchange I had with Fox News anchor Bret Baier (he and I probably don't agree on politics, but he's a good reporter, plus he likes the music of Rush, so he's definitely okay with me). Others came over because every time I mention Rush on Twitter, new folks find & follow me. I hope I am not going to disappoint all of them:  sometimes I blog about Rush, yes, but a lot of the time, I blog about politics or sports or religion or some other subject that captures my interest.

But as it turns out, today happens to be a good day to blog about Rush.  I often find that music reflects my emotions.  For example, I turn to it whenever I'm feeling frustrated or discouraged, or when I want a temporary (and harmless) escape from problems that seem to have no immediate solution.  And of course, I turn to music when something wonderful happens too.  In fact, if you're anything like me, you have songs that are the soundtrack of your life.  These songs remind you of people you once knew; or places you went; or events that hold a special meaning.  There are also certain rock bands whose music consistently resonates, year after year.  As a former deejay, I feel that way about the Beatles-- much of their music is timeless, and it sounds as good to me now as when it first came out.  And of course, I feel that way about Rush.

I'll be honest:  I don't like every song on every album.  If I had to be alone on a desert island, I'd want to take "Moving Pictures" or "Permanent Waves" or perhaps a greatest hits collection like "Chronicles." But as I've told people before, when I've been interviewed, I can always find at least one song on every Rush album that speaks to me.  Most of the time, it's the lyrics that attract me-- even a simple song like "Working Man" speaks to those trapped in a routine, who wish things were different but don't see anything changing immediately. (And haven't we all felt that way at one time or other?)  But then, sometimes the change isn't what we hoped for-- I witnessed my profession (radio) change, and not necessarily for the better, so I can really relate to "Spirit of Radio."

But that song isn't just about radio-- as I interpret the lyrics, it's also about the effort Rush put into being true to themselves:  "One likes to believe in the freedom of music"-- but most record labels wanted artists who would produce lots of top-40 hits, something Rush didn't want to do.  And then there were the "glittering prizes and endless compromises" which "shatter the illusion of integrity"-- the guys in Rush somehow managed to remain relatively untouched by the music industry.  They never sold out, they never let it change them, and they never became arrogant. Yes, they wanted to make money (for their families, the charities they believed in, and their own personal pride), but they were not willing to compromise or give up their integrity to succeed. That's one of many things I've always admired about them, and it's a lesson worth learning:  be true to your ethics, and don't sell out for money or fame or power, or you will lose your integrity.

Another song with lyrics that I find inspiring is "Freewill."  I particularly like (and as my students will tell you, I often quote) the line about "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."  Some people say the song is anti-religion, but I don't see it that way.  I interpret it as a request to avoid substituting belief for action-- there's nothing wrong with faith, but just sitting back and thinking your beliefs are all you need isn't useful.  Positive action is what's needed to make the world better, and so is critical thinking-- whatever side you are on, just believing everything you hear is no substitute for seeking out the facts and doing your part to make things better.  (I see the lines in "Tom Sawyer" similarly-- the part about "his mind is not for rent by any god or government" to me says don't give up your ability to think, to choose, to decide.  Don't rent out your mind to others, whether religious leaders or political leaders.  Don't abdicate your responsibility; gather the evidence and make up your own mind, in other words.)

Maybe that's why the line in "Driven" about "It's my turn to drive" appeals to me-- we are all driving on a road with twists and turns, trying to avoid danger, but we cannot let our fears stop us from making the journey.  Every day, we have an opportunity to decide what we can do; sometimes, the choices may seem equally bad, but at least we can decide how to react.  And even if we make some wrong turns, we have to find a way to get moving in the right direction.  No-one can do it for us:  after all, each day, "it's my turn to drive."

I am sure you have some Rush songs that speak to you too.  (I've also got a few interpretations of lyrics that some of you may disagree with, but we can do a blog post about that some other day.)  What has always impressed me about Rush is that their music is multi-dimensional; it speaks to fans in so many different ways, and on so many different levels.  And there are so many new opportunities for inspiration when you listen to their lyrics.  It's just another reason why I love these guys, and why it's such a privilege to know them.        

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trying to Make Some Sense of It All

There's a guy who stops by periodically to leave nasty comments on my blog.  I have no idea why he does it: I mean, if you don't like my blog, don't read it.  But he likes to keep reminding me that "the left" is ruining America, and that my blog is just a bunch of "liberal garbage."  Of course, he's entitled to his opinion about "the left" in general and my blog in particular, but I still find both comments puzzling.

As I see it, there's no such thing as "the left"-- not every Democrat or liberal marches in lock-step, and no, we don't all take our cues from the (gasp) Saul Alinsky playbook, the way Newt Gingrich and other Republicans say we do.  (I must admit I was unfamiliar with Mr. Alinsky until about a decade ago. I mean, yes I heard the name before, but he wasn't someone I studied in college or even in grad school.  I guess I received an inferior education in what Democrats allegedly believe.) My point is, there's a wide range of beliefs on "the left," as I am certain there are on "the right."

When I first began blogging several years ago, I hoped that I'd be able to do two things:  thing one was express my views on various current issues (and for Rush fans, that included talking about our favorite rock band now and then); but thing two was to create the possibility of dialogue between folks on the left and folks on the right.  Of course, I never expected that my little blog would bring about world peace, though that would be nice to accomplish.  I just hoped that maybe some folks who don't talk much to Democrats might come to the conclusion that this Democrat isn't such a horrible person after all, nor are most other Democrats.  Both political parties don't always agree on issues, but at least I hoped we could have an exchange of ideas and seek some common ground.

Ever since Mr. Trump took office, however, I've noticed a change in tone, both in our politics and in how we communicate.  Day after day, I read endless postings on social media that demonize "the left."  They say we're all violent (umm, I thought we were all a bunch of too-sensitive snowflakes; now suddenly we're violent?).  Or they say we're all fascists.  Or Mr. Trump says that Democrats are keeping him from moving his agenda forward (Democrats find this a bizarre claim, since Republicans control all three branches of the government. If things aren't getting done, don't blame us.)  Meanwhile, every conservative I know is firmly convinced that the media are liberal, and college professors are liberal, and anyone whose views they disagree with must be liberal, and every problem in society was caused by someone liberal.  In the age of Donald Trump, it seems more people than ever believe the big problem in life is the existence of liberals. 

I know how much conservatives love that Mr. Trump is a "fighter" who "punches back" when people "insult him."  But as Democrats like me see it, he's not a fighter; rather, he's an autocrat who doesn't like criticism of any kind. Of course, this is a major difference in our two parties, but at least we always used to have a president who acted with courtesy.  This one does not.  Whether it's a cable news commentator on MSNBC or a member of the White House press corps or Democrats in general, Mr. Trump is always ready with a rude (or sometimes crude) comment.  He shows no interest in staying above the fray or acting in a way that historically was considered presidential; nor does he show any interest in bringing both sides together.  He seems perfectly happy to perform only for his base and say what they want to hear.  Everyone else is just "the enemy."

More and more, I see many of Mr. Trump's supporters modeling his behavior-- they see no need to talk to anyone on the other side, and they not only applaud the president each time he makes another combative or insulting remark-- they also emulate his way of speaking.  And if the folks who are on his side regard everyone else as dishonest, terrible people, it does not bode well for the future of our country.  As a professor of communication, I worry when people praise a man who believes name-calling is a good thing; and who believes it's okay to be lash out at anyone who disagrees with him.

It's not just that I don't like many of his policies: I respect that he won the election, and I've disagreed with presidents before.  But what I really don't like is how he talks to people.  Rather than bringing out what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature," he is empowering the worst in many of us. And in a world where angry and impulsive behavior is considered normal (and even admirable) by his followers, what's the end-game?  Are we becoming a country that is re-segregating itself, not by race this time, but by ideology?  We already have a country where people watch/read/listen to media that reinforce what they already believe. Should we now have a country where opposing beliefs aren't wanted? 

That's not a vision of America I'd welcome, and it's not just because I'm a Democrat.  I would hope there are some Republicans who also don't like the way things are going.  Showering insults on those who disagree with you may be comforting; but it's no way to solve the problems our country faces... And no, the problem is not too many Democrats.  It's too little kindness, too little empathy, and too little commitment to following the Golden Rule.  I admit I don't know what to do about the ever-widening divide between us.  But I still want to believe there's a positive discussion we could have-- although lately, that seems like less and less of a possibility.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Conversation We Never Seem to Have, Revisited

It goes without saying that the man who shot at Republican members of Congress, while they practiced for a charity baseball game, was a disgusting human being; I don't know anyone who would defend what he did.  But here's what else was hard to defend:  turning a tragedy into more of the same old politics. Almost as if on cue, some of my conservative followers on Twitter, along with several Republican pundits, immediately blamed "the left."  Excuse me, but the last time I checked, "the left" didn't shoot any congressmen; one angry loner with an assault rifle did that.  (Note to my Republican friends:  given all the violence in our society, I strongly doubt that only Democrats are guilty of it; and I also doubt that Republicans spend all their time reading the Bible.  Truth be told, there are violent and hateful people from both political parties; so don't be so quick to assign blame.)

There was something else that bothered me about today's senseless violence.  It's the fact that it happens so often.  Sadly, violent episodes such as workplace shootings, which are often perpetrated by a lone gunman, have become so common that many of these incidents don't even make the national news.  We don't always know why these gunmen decide to do it, just like we don't always know what their politics are.   Some of these shooters have been mentally ill.  Some were religious zealots.  Some were just angry about whatever (a boss they hated, the unfairness of life in general).  And contrary to internet myth, few of the mass shooters of the past several decades were immigrants:  most were born here, and a majority were white males.

But whatever the race or color or ideology of the shooters, we find they all had one thing in common:  they all had NO trouble getting guns, whether assault rifles or handguns; and these mass shooters all had NO trouble getting lots of ammunition.  But every time some of us try to discuss what could be done to prevent further mass violence, the conversation goes nowhere.  Why? In large part because our country and its politics are dominated by a small but influential group of "Second Amendment Absolutists."  Encouraged by the National Rifle Association, these are people who believe there should be no limitation on gun ownership, and they reject even the smallest restriction on what they see as their total right.  No matter how much gun violence out there, their answer is that more "good guys with guns" are the solution.

Of course, this answer is very beneficial for the NRA, and for the small percentage of gun owners who share the view that more is better:  I read one report from 2016 that said only three percent of American adults own half of America's guns.  Meanwhile, as soon as anyone dares to ask why the average person really needs assault weapons and high capacity magazines, the Absolutists scream that their rights are under attack.  And as soon as any politician dares to question why more and higher-powered weapons are a good thing, the NRA spends its money (and its considerable influence) making sure that politician is defeated in the next election.

No, I am not opposed to gun ownership, and no I am not against the Second Amendment.  I am, however, against the current extreme interpretation of it.  I have never heard one good reason why anyone other than a member of law enforcement or the military needs an assault rifle.  When such weapons were briefly banned, somehow the republic did not fall.  Sport shooters continued to compete.  Hunters continued to hunt.  I agree that banning assault weapons is not a magical cure, but when it was tried, some studies suggested it did reduce certain kinds of violent crimes.  (Common sense would dictate that not having access to semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines would result in fewer people get hit by someone attempting a mass shooting.)   

But people who love their guns don't want to have a discussion about reducing gun violence.  Any time such a discussion begins, it usually ends with both sides being incredibly frustrated.  One thing I do know:  encouraging more gun ownership is no guarantee that there will be less crime.  And another thing I know:  unless our politicians begin to show some courage and not bend to the will of the NRA, violent incidents will continue.  Pundits will choose sides, accusations will fly, and absolutely nothing will change.  Evidently, that's okay with most people, but it's not okay with me.  And what about you, dear readers?  Is the status quo okay with you?  And why is discussing ways to reduce gun violence the conversation we never seem to have?