Description

The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mass Shotings, redux


If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten.

Mass shootings are very common in our country. Virtually nothing has actually been done to address any of the suspected causes. I'm not aware of Congress debating the pros and cons of any proposed plans to address this problem.

Therefore, we should all be willing to admit that mass shootings will continue at about the same rate (or perhaps greater, since the causes have not been addressed) than before. Right? This is just basic logic. We should all be willing to agree on that regardless on where we stand politically or what we think are the causes of mass shootings.

So... is this something we are willing to accept? Gun control people actually have a plan. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. NRA-types... don't actually have a plan, other than the slow arming of the entire population. If gun control isn't the solution, then what, pray tell, is?

Let's say you make a machine in a factory. Everything is going well until suddenly you start getting a lot of complaints from customers. The product is now defective. What do you do?

Common sense: You do more inspections... hire more people... fire some others... have stronger consequences for bad work and extra praise for good work… add some extra regulations... remove some other regulations... you do SOMETHING. You adjust the process and add extra oversight. You may do this indefinitely, but at the very least, you do this until the problem has been solved.
 
Regulation of some kind is generally part of the solution--both in the short and long term.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in the U.S.A.

We all know the drill, because we have been through it so many times:

IF the suspect in a mass shooting is an immigrant or African-American, then the answer from so many is to build a wall, restrict refugees and increase police and criminal sentencing to the max. We sound the "terrorism" alarm and quickly attack civil liberties and bomb Middle Eastern nations.

IF the suspect is white, we're told that laws and regulations never work because criminals break laws anyway and this is simply the "price for freedom." They say he must have been a "lone wolf" acting out of "mental illness." His whole race, religion and nationality are not implicated, only this one isolated individual.
 
Why the difference?
 
Personal Responsibility
 
Gun rights people tell us that gun ownership increases the sense of personal responsibility. Rather than waiting for the "nanny-state government to coddle and take care of us," they tell us that gun ownership allows us not to outsource our own self-defense but rather take responsibility for it. The sheer firepower in our hands forces us to be mature and act responsibly, they say. Nice theory. The reality is that over 50,000 Americans die every year because many gun owners are not in the least bit responsible. They can't seem to own guns without shooting themselves or others. We need to do with them what we do with children--take their toys away because they have demonstrated that they can't handle them.
 
A better scenario perhaps is to only take the guns away from the people most likely to abuse gun ownership.

Good Guys, Bad Guys and Other Childish Notions
 
The NRA says that "only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun." Besides being outrageously false--there are MANY ways to stop a person with a gun that don't require guns--it also just sounds like something a 10-year old who reads too many comic books would say. My world is much more complex than "good guys" and "bad guys." Are you kidding me?
 
Besides, the track record of gun owners successfully stopping mass shooting is pretty bad.  There was an off-duty police officer at the Orlando massacre.  Even well-trained professionals often do not perform well under fire.  Studies are pretty clear that gun ownership makes it more likely someone will be hurt or killed by mistake than out of self-defense.  That might be justifiable if gun owners were the only ones who bore the consequences of their own actions, but all too often it is not they but family members or strangers who gets shot by their irresponsibility.

Long story short:  Your right to own a gun is secondary to my right to not get shot. Experience has shown us that gun owners cannot guarantee this.

Nukes Don't Kill People...

Nukes don't kill people... people kill people, right? Then why are we trying so hard to keep North Korea from having a nuke? The answer to that question is the same reason why we don't want automatic and semi-automatic weapons floating around outside of a "well-regulated militia": By the time a person can come along to stop them, there has already been far too much damage done. No one wins. If North Korea sends a nuke and destroys an American city, yes, we can retaliate. But we will have lost an entire city. No one wins. The same is true with people with mass shootings. Someone like the Las Vegas shooter will have already killed dozens of people before anyone can stop it. We have to answer the question further upstream.

The 2nd Amendment says... 

Many Americans have a problem with reading comprehension. The 2nd amendment says NOTHING... I repeat... NOTHING about private gun ownership. It only talks about a "well-regulated militia." In other words, all the guns would be locked up in the center of town in an armory and only brought out with a chain of command facilitating it. I think many of us have been so conditioned by the NRA to read the 2nd amendment as private ownership we forget to look at the actual words.

"Well regulated militia" is a conditional clause--in other words, it is the condition that must be met for the rest of the sentence to be true. The "right of the people to keep and bear arms" is ONLY allowed under the CONDITION of a "well-regulated militia" according to the 2nd amendment.

Now, some courts in recent years have tried to interpret the 2nd as a broad support for the right to self-defense. That's not what the text says, but I am ok with that and I think most Americans are as well. But things like semi-automatics belong only in the military along with tanks and missiles, as they can't reasonably be approved as weapons of "self-defense."

Both/And

The answer is both/and. Whenever a crisis happens, the most obvious first step is to tighten up regulations: Add a law, increase oversight, bolster regulations somewhere. Then, yes, in the long run, we have to look at the long-term reasons for why people do what they do.

Look at shoplifting. If shoplifting increased suddenly in your neighborhood, what would your community do? The first is to increase police and tighten up any loopholes in the laws. That's just common sense. Perhaps there are even some bigger loopholes that have allowed crime to get out of control and have made it easier for organized crime to be established. The second thing you do is ask why shoplifting is happening in the first place...we know that enforcement does not always adequately address the problem if there are issues of poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and other issues going on. But we do both. You have to do both. But we have been so paralyzed by the NRA that we are not doing the most common sense adjustments needed.

Whenever there's a problem, you do SOMETHING differently. Change a law, add oversight, SOMETHING. It's just common sense. You might even attempt trial-and-error for a while until you figure out the best thing, but you do SOMETHING.

The low hanging fruit is to first restrict "high powered" arms from civilian ownership. This, I realize, will take some debate to properly define.  Certainly automatic and semi-automatic weapons fit this bill along with silencers. We simply have to classify them as "for military use only" and group them with the tanks, missiles, nukes, bombs and the thousands and thousands of other weapons that are not allowed outside of the well-regulated chain of command of the military.  This is not something new. It is not a major break with the 2nd amendment:  The fist majority of weapons are already classified as such. Second, we need to close loopholes. It makes no sense that guns are restricted in one city but not the surrounding areas. It makes no sense that trade shows have different rules than brick and mortar stores. We should also restrict gun ownership from certain individuals who demonstrate problems with violence and mental health. All of this is tricky and needs vigorous public debate, but we must move in this direction.

Then we can also deal with the existential problem of why evil exists in the world today and why people commit violence.  Tall order. But we do know that the problems of human nature have been with us since the beginning of our species. But the problems of mass gun violence is not a worldwide problem.  There is something about the U.S.A. today that makes them happen, because they very rarely happen anywhere else in the world. This is not an existential problem related to "bad guys" who will find some other way to commit violence if guns are take away.

You Become What You Hate

It's a page out of Greek tragedy: So many Americans are so afraid of the government, that in their fanciful interpretation of the 2nd amendment, they want to stockpile weapons as a way to check-and-balance the powers of the Federal government. The dripping irony here is that people who are constantly afraid, who are "at the ready," are so easy to be controlled by the government.  Any would be dictator knows that a population that is constantly afraid can be made to do almost anything.  People will even give up their civil liberties if you scare them enough about some phantom "terrorist" thereat. 

What really establishes personal freedom is exploration of ideas through education, exploration of creativity through the arts and economic security. Civic and neighborly associations build relationships and rapport. True freedom is not to be found in the paranoid gun owner stockpiling weapons and waiting for some "threat" on a hairpin trigger. It is rather someone confident and secure in their own thoughts who is not easily manipulated by boogey-men phantom threats because he can distinguish fake news from real news. That's freedom.

War Zone

What is the answer to gun ownership?  The NRA never says, but it seems like the answer they support is that every citizen would be trained, armed and at the ready at all times. The problem is that this is a definition of a war zone, not a civilized society. This is not "freedom" but rather an incredible burden of near-constant obsession with self-defense that has been proven unnecessary and counter-productive in civilized societies.  It is simply not a reasonable scenario. Imagine every child walking up to every individual and assuming they are armed is a horrible way for kids to grow up. This would severely limit creativity, exploration and fun. There would be no leeway for accidents, experimentation or just goofing around. You could never jump out of the bushes and play a trick on your uncle, because he might shoot you. Everyone would need to be dead serious constantly. This would impact the way children grow and develop.  PTSD would be a way of life. It has been well-proven that fear limits growth and personal freedom.

Most people in war zones want to get out of them as quickly as possible. Trying to establish one on our home turf is insanity multiplied. It makes me think that NRA-types have simply watched too many action adventure movies and have confused them with reality.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

My Animal Saver Device

I got tired of reading about wildlife getting trapped in human garbage. I've seen enough disturbing pictures of turtles deformed by six-pack rings and seabirds strangled in plastic grocery bag handles to want to do something about it.

Trash that is hazardous to wildlife is everywhere: I see plastic rings from milk and motor oil containers, plastic bags, elastic hair ties, packaging ties and all sorts of other items in a ring shapeincluding the dreaded six-pack plastic rings. I find them laying in parking lots, park trails, in my front yard and just about everywhere.

It's hard to just leave it there and walk away, knowing the damage it can do. But who wants to touch someone else's trash?

My Animal Saver Device

I found this tool at Wal-Mart for $3.97 plus tax. Super cheap. They're called "aviation snips." I have no idea what that is or how this device is generally used. All I know is that it works swimmingly well at cutting things.

The package states that it "cuts through 1.2 mm of cold, rolled steel." I can tell you from experience that it does all that and more. You don't need a strong grip for this tool to work for youso ladies (or anyone else with dainty hands), you need not be intimidated in trying this. You can cut through all sorts of metal wire or thick plastic as if it were warm butter. It's quite a rush, actually.

I keep this tool in the side compartment of my car door, so it's readily available. I snip things all the time. Sometimes I carry the objects to a trash bag, but if I have to leave them where I found them, at least I've minimized their threat as a wildlife trap.

I keep a small box in my car trunk to haul stuff away, as well as one of those "arm extender tools" so that I can grab stuff that I wouldn't want to touch with my bare skin.

Not On My Watch

You might think this is the hobby of an extremely obsessive, eccentric person. Perhaps that is true. But I can tell you that this is extraordinarily easy to do. It takes no time at all, and it's not even the least bit dirty. Even a germophobe could do this (speaking from personal experience here)! It's something anyone can do, and that is why I'm sharing it.

I may not save all the wildlife out there, but at least the trash I come in contact with has been rendered safer for wildlife. 

At Home

In my own home, I try to make sure that anything that goes in my garbage can or recycling bin has been properly cut. Any loops or rings (including the garbage bag handles themselves) are cut through. This gives me a little bit of reassurance in the odd chance that what I throw away gets loose somehow.

Items floating around in parking lots are more at risk for coming in contact with wildlife than trash sealed away in a landfill. However, you have to imagine at some point in the future that anything in a landfill can and will eventually get loose again. It may take a million years, but it will eventually happen, and I'd like the wildlife that may come in contact with it to have a fighting chance.

For Further Thought

Consider being part of efforts to ban plastic bags and six-pack plastic rings. Look out for petitions and other efforts. There are more wildlife-friendly options being developed, such as edible six-pack plastic rings. Public pressure can do a lot to speed up the process. There are lots of different groups doing this work. The groups in the previous link are large, well-known organizations, but don't overlook small, local organizations, which are often very effective, as well. You can adopt a highway, either as part of an official group or simply tend to the road in front of your home.

We all have to do our share, because if we don't, who else will?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The (Probably) Perfect Deodorant

I wrote about my quest for natural deodorant alternatives so frequently on this blog in years past that I feel obliged to write this post to set the record straight. I have for the foreseeable future concluded my search. I found a deodorant that works amazingly well, is cheap and seems relatively healthy (there is one very small potential caveat, but we'll get to that in a bit).

The answer is: Milk of Magnesia (MOM).

Yes, the same stuff that relieves constipation. 

You apply it to your underarms in a thin coat. My wife paints it on with a paintbrush. I just pour some on my hands and slop it on.

We haven't noticed any problems with odor, even with heavy perspiration, and we've been using nothing but MOM for about three years. It works as well (if not better) than commercial deodorants, and it by far surpasses any of the other natural alternatives. There is simply no need to look elsewhere. The protection is long-lasting and secure. Case closed, end of story.

MOM works far better than baking soda, which is what I previously used for several years. I'm still a fan of baking soda, but you do have to manage it to get it to work right and not burn out your skin.

The one caveat mentioned above involves the inactive ingredients. In some brands of MOM, there are lots of chemical inactive ingredients. The most concerning is sodium hypochlorite (AKA bleach). I go to great lengths to only use MOM that has no other inactive ingredients besides "purified water." No artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and definitely no bleach. Again, these are listed among the inactive ingredients. All brands of MOM have the same active ingredient--magnesium hydroxide. Sometimes it is hard to find the inactive ingredients on the label, but keep looking, they are there (examples are below).

I buy the DG brand, which is found at Dollar General. I believe the Kroger's brand is also good. There are a few other options that I can't remember right now, but not many. 

One internet commenter made the point that bleach is most likely used to purify the water, and that the ingredient "purified water" may have just as many traces of bleach as the labels that actually come out and specifically list it. The good news is that there are other way to purify water rather than with bleach, so there is at least a fighting chance that bleach is not part of the process for all of them.  Given that generics are often made at the same locations and by the same people as name brands, there is a chance that going out of my way to buy a brand that doesn't list bleach is a fool's errand, but there is at least a ray of hope. I seem to be one of the few who maintains a small bit of skepticism on this. Most are satisfied that the brands that only list the following two ingredients are safe: Magnesium hydroxide (active) and purified water (inactive).

Here is an example of a GOOD brand:
(click for a better view)



The following is definitely what you DON'T want:
(click for a better view)




I can't take credit for this discovery. There are many folks exploring healthy uses of magnesium--both internally as a nutrient and topically to relieve achy muscles and joints and for skin care. This is one of their many discoveries. For more info, check out the Facebook group "Magnesium Advocacy Group." 

MOM has all sorts of other topical uses.

Also, check out this article for similar information on MOM as a deodorant.

As news of MOM as a deodorant is beginning to spread, some companies have seized the moment to build MOM-based products. I suppose they have additional essential oils and fragrances for an additional price, but all that seems unnecessary to me. I prefer my $2 bottle of DG brand MOM. I wonder what the cashier thinks of my colon health when I arrive at the checkout counter with a half-dozen bottles of MOM, but so far that has been the only socially awkward moment in using MOM as a deodorant!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Padmé Amidala: A Feminist Critique

Taken from:
http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Padm%C3%A9_Amidala
Staying up late with a newborn baby is one way to get re-acquainted with movies and late-night television. I've been enjoying the nonstop Star Wars marathons that have been running since May the 4th. It's been a while since I've seen the prequels, and I have to admit I like them a lot better now than I did when they first came out. Yes, I know fans are supposed to hate them, and they do have flaws, but each one pulls me swimmingly into the drama and mystery of this world that George Lucas created. I think they "work" better now than I originally thought.

However, one glaring flaw gnaws at me. Perhaps it is because of this newborn baby girl and our recent experiences with childbirth, but I have been tuning in much more to the story of Padmé Amidala. She's the young woman who marries Anakin Skywalker (the man who later becomes Darth Vader) and is the mother of Leia and Luke.

At a young age, Padmé was princess and then later queen. She was a highly-influential intergalactic senator who was an outspoken advocate for peace and diplomacy during the Clone Wars. She survived several assassination attempts and took part in her own share of gunfights and space odysseys. She also more than held her own with the increasingly cantankerous Anakin. They married in secret and she was pregnant with their twins.

So what happens to her? Here's where I'm going with this: At the moment of childbirth, she simply dies... of a broken heart. Seriously. The robot midwife cannot figure out why she dies, because her body has no physical issues whatsoever.

I hate to stereotype anyone along gender lines, but is this consistent with any woman you know? Despite her incredibly distinguished career, despite being an international leader during the monumentally turbulent times of war, and at the very moment her newborn babies need her the most, she simply gives up and bails out on life. And why, you might ask? All because she makes the comes to the realization (that I'm sure no other woman has ever had) that her husband is actually an a$$hole. Really.

So to George Lucas, I say: It is easy to believe that this story unfolded a long tie ago in a galaxy far, far away. It's easy to believe that Jedi knights bring peace to a galaxy filled with robot droids, marauding bounty hunters and conniving Sith lords. I find it entirely plausible that there would be an intergalactic war between robot droids and human clones. But I find it more than a little far fetched to think that this woman Padmé would simply fall apart 100% at such a critical moment in her life all because of the shock of discovering that the love of her life turns out to be a galactic jerk of epic proportions.

Would that discovery be soul crushing? Yes. Might she go through some post-partum depression and buyers remorse for her marriage? Absolutely. But this woman has "survivor" tattooed on her soul. You would think she would at least hang out another day to see what tomorrow brings. And then another day... and another. I can imagine her wanting to run screaming into the hills of Naboo from time to time. But I can't imagine her just checking out so totally and so soon.

Just check out her bio on Wookieepedia.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

One Year Post Chips

My kitchen counter not too long ago.


It must be going well when the anniversary of giving up an addiction goes by and I don't even notice.

I meant to publish this on the anniversary, but it's a couple days late.

October 25, 2015, is when I stopped my bag-a-day habit of eating chips. I gave away the 4-5 bags I had in the house and said, "I'm not doing this, anymore." 

I probably averaged at least 5 big bags of chips each week, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if I were 7 or more. There were often several bags of varying sizes in various stages of consumption in various locations (car, work, house) at any given moment. Saying it was "a bag a day" habit seems entirely fair.

I would eat exceptionally healthy meals, except for the fact that one meal every single day (if not more) was just chips.

I wrote about this at the nine-month mark, so I figured I needed to write a follow up at the one-year mark.

How did I do?

In short, I basically don't each chips anymore.  I can put a period at the end of at that sentence and stop there.

There were a couple of exceptions and room for growth in the future. The fact that they are so few tells its own story.

Exceptions

To start, I gave up chips without a lot of confidence in my ability to succeed. I had tried so many times in the past. In fact, I was always in a state of quitting only to snap back like a rubber band a day or two later.

It took almost two months after giving up chips before my resolve built up enough that I was ready to make my commitment absolute. In those first two months, I basically gave up chips but indulged a couple times--a significant achievement, despite that. I remember gorging myself on some corn puffs and such at a work gathering in early November. I was lacking in energy and that's all that was available, so I justified it. I think there was one other time, but I can't recall the particulars. It was mid-December when I told myself that those kinds of exceptions had to stop. 

Using food as a crutch in general had to stop. Losing about 15 pounds this year also made a big difference. I basically severed an over-dependence on food in that process. Yes, I can survive without constantly stuffing myself. I can even do quite well in "fasting mode." I can run leaner and tighter. Breaking that psychological barrier helped immensely.

Mexican Restaurant Exception (MRE)

I have also been allowing myself to eat corn chips whenever visiting a Mexican restaurant. My rationale has been that the salsa is just so nutritionally wonderful that it would be a sin to skip out on it just to avoid the accompanying chips. In retrospect, I am not sure that argument holds up very well. I can just put the salsa on top of my meal and avoid the chips entirely. It's great mixed into beans & rice or on top off a burrito, for example.

I previously figured that the MRE was not a problem for these reasons:

1. It was in the context of a meal.
2. It didn't seem to stir up chip cravings.
3. I wasn't going to Mexican restaurants solely to indulge in chips.
4. It was only about once a week.
5. Plain corn chips were never high on my list of cravings, anyway.

That was fine for a while, but lately I do feel those chip cravings stirring.

I believe the MRE is unnecessary and crosses a line, so to begin my second year without chips, my commitment is to scratch this clause. 

Focus

Avoiding chips is much easier when I focus on that goal. Recently, I have taken my eye off that ball, and it's easy to find myself on slippery slopes. Avoiding chips is just part of life now, and I don't need to think about it as constantly as I did several months ago. The problem is that this lack of focus makes it easier to make mistakes. I have found myself almost unconsciously grabbing for chips at a social gathering a time or two. I was once at another work-related gathering, and I saw some corn chips on the counter with some hummus and other dips. It seemed like the MRE scenario, so I had one. The chip clearly had some kind of a Dorito-like flavoring and that crossed a line, but before I could collect my resolve, I had another. Then I stopped.

It is exhausting to be constantly on the watch, but I think it is important to keep it up. Sometimes it feels like I'm holding my breath and it would be good to just let go, but I'm not quite ready for that, if ever.

I find that if I limit my overall carb intake and especially avoid fast food, it is much, much easier to avoid chips. Regular carb consumption as well as all the chemicals put into fast foods make me want to reach for chips all the more. Eating fast food and then expecting to kick a junk food habit is not smart. You're either setting yourself up for failure or at least working severely against the grain. I recently had an Arby's sandwich and had to fight cravings for the next day or so.

In summation, the fact that I can list so few problem areas is a great sign. You have got to understand that I used to plow through a entire large-sized bags of chips on an almost nightly basis. I would plan my days around chips. I made sure they were stockpiled in my car and home. It's like I needed them for my very survival.

Incremental

Struggling with an addiction involves walking a fine line. It's important to make it black-and-white.  You've got to be strict. It's serious--even the slightest exception can bring a crack in the wall, setting the stage for a dam burst later. 

At the same time, mistakes can and do happen. If you beat yourself up so badly if a mistake happens, you can make it impossible to get on the horse and try again. Basically, you've got to make it a positive experience, not one crouched in negativity, guilt and shaming of yourself.

My way of dealing with this is to see it as a process. I am deepening my commitment over time and strengthening my resolve. If this were a graph, I need to see the line going up and to the right. A dip or two isn't a big deal if that's all it is.

I used a similar process when I lost weight. I'm also using a similar process now fasting from unnecessary purchases to better manage money. I start with a modest but significant commitment, and as I gain momentum, confidence and experience, I tighten up going forward.

Going Forward

Sometimes I wonder--what would it hurt to have a few chips? They do taste good and I've clearly overcome this addiction in profound ways. That I have gone a full year without them would have been unthinkable not too long ago. There are times it would seem natural to have a few. However, I still think it's too soon, if ever. The paradox is that I could probably have them again at the moment I no longer want them.

Even one year later, I am continually amazed that I still experience cravings on a fairly regular basis. There are other times when the last chip seems like it was 90 years ago, and it's hard to believe I ever indulged like that, as if it were just a figment of my imagination.

I should not be so over-confident to think that a few chips at a gathering is harmless. I don't need to open that door. I resent the power they once had over me, and I no longer need or want something to have that role in my life. I have found that it's important to set clear boundaries with myself.  Wrestling with those internal demons has been a huge factor here. Opening the door just a little can generate an internal tug-of-war which is not smart--if you wrestle with yourself, you'll lose half the time, since you're equally matched. No, the adult me is in charge, calm and confident, and I like it like that.

I'm not sure how to end this post. I don't think it needs one. Hopefully, there will come a time when avoiding chips is completely second-nature, and for the most part it is already.  But I do have to keep that focus, at least a little bit on some back burner of my mind, at least for now.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Compliant

People say that this man is not compliant:


Quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during national anthem.

People say that this man was not compliant:


Terrence Crutcher with his arms raised before being killed by Tulsa police.

It makes me wonder what people mean when they want more "compliance."

The only image that comes to mind is this:


Black man forced to kiss the boots of a white man in the Jim Crow South.

Yes, that must be what people want.