What do you believe?

On January 20, Joseph Biden, was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Many people heaved a collective sigh of relief, while others cried out in rage. There are still people who believe the election was “stolen” from the incumbent, Donald Trump, and there are still people who believe that Trump was an illegitimate president from the beginning. And all the while, political labels are being thrown around like grenades: Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Centrist, Libertarian, Independent. From where I’m sitting, the squabbling between the various political parties seems like a throwback to tribal style politics, where one group yells at another one until they back down in submission, or the two groups engage in open hostilities until one is standing and the other is thoroughly trounced. Up until January 6, United States politics has rarely gone to the level of violence, but if the collective mood is anything to go by, it’s going to become more common.

I must ask weather or not people from the various groups are even trying to find solutions to the nation’s problems any more. They seem more concerned with making sure their side has all of the cookies in the jar. What’s worse, it seems to all be about labels. If you’re a Democrat, the Republicans hate you are are determined to destroy you. If you’re a Conservative, Liberals have labeled you as a monster that needs to be purged from the collective conscience, and so on.

Does anyone look beyond the party labels any more? If they don’t, they should. I recently read a very interesting article by a woman named Lori Gallagher Witt called “I am a Liberal.”[1] I found this article very thought provoking, and not because of her political views. My own politics tend to lean Liberal, but like Witt I don’t always fit the classic mold. I liked was how she took various key issues and described her views on them, while actively avoiding references to one political philosophy or another. It’s at the end, when you’ve seen the totality of her views, and her overall values, that she says she’s liberal. It’s not because of one issue, or one set of events, or one particular person. It’s a summation of different views on different topics.

Given how politically divided the United States has become, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to try writing an essay like this. If we all sat down and actually thought about what we believe, and not what some political spokesman says we should believe, then we would all be in a better position to make decisions. We would also be better able to call out some of the less savory members of the government.

I tried to take the structure of Witt’s essay and come up with a series of questions that we should all ask ourselves. Notice that I specified the structure of her essay. You don’t have to agree with her politics, or belong to one school of thought or another. And you don’t have to broadcast the results all over the world the way she did (and how I plan to do). These are just the things that I believe every US citizen should have some sort of answer for. If for no other reason than to have a concrete answer when these questions arise. (And surprisingly, they often do!)

That being said, the structure of Witt’s article went something like this:

  1. What is the purpose of the government? Some say it’s to help look after members of society, while others say it’s only purpose is maintaining law and order. What do you think?
  2. Is health care a right, or a privilege? Think carefully on this one, because it’s a hotbed.
  3. Is education a right or a privilege?
  4. What is your opinion of taxes? No one likes them, some consider them a necessary evil, others consider them just part of life, and others oppose them with ever fiber of their being. Where do you fall, and more importantly, why?
  5. Do you believe that every person should have a living wage? Or are their some jobs out there that simply don’t warrant a living wage?
  6. Do you believe in the separation of church and state? This one has become surprisingly blurred in recent years, as politicians keep trying to legislate their religious beliefs into law. Spooky stuff.
  7. Do you believe that everyone should have the same core rights, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation?
  8. How much control should the government have over day to day life? Most people dislike regulations and laws, but human behavior has so much nasty stuff in it that such things are necessary.

The essay goes into other specific issues, like sustainable energy and gun control. Those would be worth looking into as well. I can also think of some other issues that deserve discussion. But let’s just start with these. You may discover your views aren’t quite what you expected, and that your traditional opponents may not be as crazy as you thought. Sometimes liberals and conservatives what to achieve the same things. The difference lies in how they go about achieving them. I’ve found that when people actually share what they believe, instead of what their political party says to believe, they often have more in common than they originally thought. And once we can agree on goals, then we can discuss how to get there.

So I ask you, wonderful readers: what do you believe?

  1. The article has been floating around the Internet for almost two years, and for a while it was wrongly attributed to film maker Ron Howard. I suspect that at some point Howard forwarded Witt’s article to a major media outlet, and the pedigree became confused. That sort of thing is actually rather common on the Internet.

Image credit: Roosevelt Review.

Defining grief

Little Washington, Virginia

In the weeks following Michael’s death, many people tried to empathize, and reach out to help us deal with the grief. The support was greatly appreciated, though one question that came up was how would I describe what I was feeling? What exactly is grief?

There are dictionary definitions, of course, and the literary works on the subject are too numerous to list. The funny thing is that grief, by nature, is unique for every person who experiences it. And each occurrence will be unique. For example, the grief I felt when my mother died was entirely different from what I felt when Michael died. What Lisa experienced was very different from what Caitlin or I did.

One book that we were directed to was by C.S. Lewis, called A grief observed. Lewis is best known, of course, for his Chronicles of Narnia cycle. But he also wrote numerous religious and philosophical works. In this particular work, he describes the grief that he felt after the death of his wife, and the healing process he went through along the way. But nowhere does he claim that his experience was typical, or that anyone else would feel the same way he did under similar circumstances. He described his experience as best he could, hoping that it might help future readers to describe their own grief.

That being said, how would I define my particular experience? The most obvious word would be emptiness. I felt that I was thrust into an emotional and spiritual void, where every possible emotion was being balanced, and cancelled out, by the sheer sea of nothingness that surrounded me. The only thing that could fill that immense void was the smiling face of my son, which is something I will never see again. (At least not in this existence.) It was a very lonesome and often hopeless feeling that would linger for days and weeks at a time. Even now, after over a year, I still haven’t fully come to terms with what happened. I can only hope that with time I will.

But then, death is inherently hard to deal with, though there are many approaches that one can use. Writers, philosophers and theologians have explored the subject for centuries, and one recurring notion is that everyone has “their time.” The exact way in which they leave this world doesn’t really matter. When it is time for us to die, we die. It usually doesn’t make sense to those effected. It is especially hard to fathom the notion of a six year old boy having reached “his time.”

But it isn’t altogether impossible. The Buddhist and Hindu traditions use the image of a universal network of gears, springs and balance wheels, representing how every person (or soul, or spirit) is connected to many others. It is rather like a giant clock.[1] Everyone of us has a role to perform within this system, and for every person it is different. For some people, their designated role may take many, many years. But for others, it may only require a few.

At Michael’s memorial service, a wide variety of people came to pay their respect. Many of them were from the school system, or were otherwise connected with the special education programs within the regional system. Many of them spoke of how Michael affected them, how much they learned by working with him, and how it changed the way they worked with similar children. That got me thinking in new and different ways. Michael apparently had a positive effect on how many of his teachers work with special needs children. Many of his teachers will be in the profession for many more years, and the lessons he provided may have a positive effect on other children in the future. Michael may have set some important things in motion, and the benefits may not be visible for some time. But he appears to have had an effect on that universal clock.

Truth be told, I prefer this clockwork idea over the more nihilistic notion that we live for a time, then just die, with absolutely no rhyme or reason. Within the universal clockwork metaphor, it could be that Michael’s role only required a few short years. If Michael was put into this world to initiate a chain of events, which could lead to greater things in the future, then it looks like his mission was successfully completed. I can take some comfort in that.

  1. The Judaeo-Christian tradition supports a similar idea of creation being a giant, interconnected machine. It is a major part of the Deist tradition, for example. But it doesn’t use the great metaphor of a giant clock.

Un-united states?

I am still flabbergasted. On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, something happened that until that day was generally considered unthinkable: a mob attempted to overthrow the government of the United States. OK, that’s not totally accurate. Technically a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol with the aim of preventing the two houses of Congress from tallying and certifying the Electoral College voting results of the November 2020 presidential election. Had this coup d’etat succeeded as planned, it would have prevented the duly elected presidential candidate from taking office on January 21.

I suspect most people know the chain of events leading up to this disaster. But for those who are not, I would summarize it as follows.

The Presidential election of November 2020 was numerically won by the challenger, Democratic candidate and former Vice President from Delaware, Joe Biden. The incumbent was New York Republican businessman, Donald Trump. Trump had been a highly controversial president since his first day in office. Many of his political opponents have been fighting him at every turn for four years, with varying degrees of success. Many of his actions have been heavily criticized, and most of his actions as President have been overshadowed by his personal behavior. But even so, Trump has always been an interesting public figure, and he has always had an uncanny knack of generating populist support from a variety of demographics.

When he lost the election in November, he refused to accept the results. In the months leading up to the election he had been expressing concerns of voter fraud, vote tampering, and illegal manipulation of tallying equipment. When the numbers were not in his favor, he cited these issues as his reasons for rejecting the results. He and his staff mounted numerous lawsuits to have votes either rejected or recounted.

However, because of the heightened concern over voting accuracy and security, many of the states had implemented many safeguards during the election. These safeguards varied from state to state, but the overall goal was to insure that each vote was correctly and accurately counted, and that the process was well documented and recorded. So unfortunately for Trump, his lawsuits were generally thrown out by the legal system, because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to proceed.[1]

But even when the courts threw out his suits, he still refused to accept the election results. He frequently claimed it was “stolen” from him, and that there was no way we could have lost. A large part of his support base believed this as well, and held protests all around the nation. Some of these protests got rather dicey. Generally the demand was that the standing results be thrown out, recounted, or that a new election take place.

The process of electing a United States president runs from November 4 to January 6. For most of the elections I can remember, the steps that take place after the general vote are usually ignored by the general population, and viewed as simple formalities by elected officials. But this time it was different. Trump and his supporters tried to reverse the results whenever and wherever they could. So while most of the country assumed that Joe Biden would take office on January 20, there was a sizable faction that was determined to stop that from happening.

Trump himself had been pressuring some state governors to change their designated electors, with the aim of tipping the final vote on January 6. This was very evident with Georgia, where regardless of the numbers, Trump seemed absolutely certain that he had won the state, based on the size of the campaign rallies he had there. On January 3, just three days before the essential joint session of Congress, Trump spent almost an hour on the telephone with Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. Trump urged, begged, and even threatened Raffensperger, demanding a recount that would win Trump the state. Raffensperger flatly told President Trump that his assumptions about the voting in Georgia were wrong, that he did not have sufficient votes to win the state, and that the voting tally would stand. This was just a taste of what was to come.

Congress assembled for their joint session on January 6, with the certified electoral vote ballots in their handsome wooden boxes, to officially certify the results of the election. This is when things went haywire.

Before I continue I need to point out that the news sources I generally use are Reuters and Axios, sometimes USA Today, and occasionally the Washington Post. The AllSides media bias chart puts the first three into the “centrist” category. That is, they generally don’t lean Liberal or Conservative in their reporting.[2] The news is depressing enough as it is. I don’t need to make it worse by slogging through whatever political slant the news source may have.

Back on topic, the growing drama of the presidential election came to an explosive head on January 6, and went something like this:

10:02am, January 6: Vice President Mike Pence informs President Trump that he does not have the authority to reject the electoral vote, which Trump had been pressuring him to do. The president criticized Pence for doing this, saying on Twitter:

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

Trump’s supporters echoed this sentiment.

11:00am: Trump addressed a group of several thousand of his supporters who had gathered outside of the White House, saying that Republican law makers were challenging the election results and that they would “stop the steal.”

1:10pm: Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, objected to the acceptance of his state’s certified Electoral College votes, prompting a debate. This was expected to be the first of several such objections from Republicans in Congress.

1:47pm: The large group of pro-Trump protesters had reached the Capitol building and were attempting to gain entrance. Capitol Police had begun to evacuate some of the surrounding congressional office buildings.

2:00pm: Protesters gained entry to the Capitol building, having broken some glass and barricades in the process. Officers were seen firing pepper spray into the group in an attempt to quell or disburse it.

2:20pm: Both chambers of Congress abruptly recessed as the protesters began traveling about the building. Most members of Congress remained within the Capitol, following established shelter in place procedures.

2:40pm: Pro-Trump protesters were filmed fighting with Capitol police officers, many of whom had guns drawn.

2:50pm: Pro-Trump protesters were still fighting with police, while breaking windows and other objects. The members of Congress, still following shelter in place guidelines, donned gas masks as pepper spray began to be used within the building.

3:00pm: Protesters break into the offices of many lawmakers, including the office of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

3:30pm: Reports surface of one protester having been shot by Capitol police. Trump, again via Twitter, urged the mob to disperse and “go home,” while also calling them “very special.”

3:36pm: The White House Press Secretary announced that the D.C. National Guard was en route, and that other law enforcement agencies were coming to assist as well.

4:00pm: Reports surface of an explosive device found near the Capitol. It was also reported that the device was no longer a threat.

4:10pm: Joe Biden, in a televised statement, urged the protesters to stop, stating that destroying government property and threatening the safety of elected officials is not a protest but an insurrection. He also urged them to step back and “allow the work of democracy to move forward.”

4:25pm: D.C. Police report finding at least five weapons, and confirmed 13 arrests.

5:00pm: Trump’s social media video from earlier in the day is removed. Facebook claimed that under the circumstances it was likely to generate additional violence.

5:15pm: Police used tear gas and percussion grenades to disperse the protesters.

5:30pm: District officials announce that the Capitol building was again secure, and that the mob of protesters was dispersing.

6:00pm: Many protesters remained on the streets of Washington, in defiance of an earlier announced curfew. Meanwhile, Trump posted on Twitter that events like this happen when a “sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” He ended with “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

6:10pm: Officials confirm that one person had died during the storming of the building, but did not provide details.

6:30pm: Twitter suspends Trump’s account, claiming that his statement from thirty minutes earlier was a violation of its public interest policies. Trump was also warned that further violations could result in the permanent closure of his account.

6:55pm: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Congress would resume proceedings of the Electoral College certification once the building was declared clear and safe by law enforcement officials.

7:59pm: Seventeen members of Congress urge Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, in response to Trump’s actions during the riot.

8:00pm: Congress resumes proceedings.

8:10pm: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announces that Congress “will not be deterred” in performing the confirmation, and that it would not be intimidated by “thugs, mobs, or threats.”

8:40pm: Some Republican lawmakers, who had planned to object to the voting results, reconsider their decision.

9:55pm: Republican Senator Josh Hawley made statements saying that we would still object to the Electoral College results, and while he objected to the violence insisted that the Senate should continue with a legal process to address his objections.

10:00pm: Officials confirmed 30 arrests.

10:15pm: The Senate voted against the Republican challenge to Arizona’s Electoral votes, 93 to 6.

11:00pm: The Associated Press confirmed four deaths during the violence in the Capitol. Both police and protesters are reported to have used pepper spray during the exchange.

3:40am, January 7: Congress certified President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

Those are the raw facts I have found. This particular time line draws from a Washington Post article, but other sources concur with it. Subsequent news reports said that Pence, Pelosi and McConnell had all been moved to undisclosed locations during the crisis. This is certainly a good thing because it has also been suggested that members of the mob were searching for them. I suspect that had they found Pence or Pelosi, the Vice President and the Speaker would have been murdered. I’m not sure about McConnell, but I don’t think he would have had a good experience either.

Worst of all, this violence had been encouraged by none other than President Donald Trump himself. There is now talk of a second impeachment, or removing him from office using the 25th amendment. This is a mess no matter how you view it. Sadly, even after Trump leaves office, the attitudes he catered to will still be with us. Including the belief that the election had been stolen.

There are all kinds of theories floating around now. Did the mob intend to kill some of our nation’s lawmakers? I suspect they would have, if given the chance. One protester seemed to think that if they killed enough Democrats, the remaining Republicans would be enough to grant Trump a second term. Apparently many Americans have no problem with killing representatives of an opposing political party.

Some commentators have also suggested that has these protesters been largely African-American or Spanish, the Police would not have hesitated to use deadly force, and would have done so very early. This crowd has handled the way it was because it was largely White.[3]

At this writing, Donald Trump has been permanently banned from most social media platforms. The consensus is that he is likely to use them to inspire more violence, and his historical pattern supports that. He seems to thrive on conflict, especially when the conflict is about him. His narcissistic need for constant adoration thrives on such behavior.

At any rate, I don’t really know how to finish this piece, other than by posing some general questions. Could something like this happen again? Have we learned anything about ourselves? What do we have to change?

Most importantly, where do we go from here?

  1. Some instances of voter fraud were found, but the numbers were very small, and in no case required a recount. This actually happens with most elections in the United States, especially when older tallying methods are used. Such as hand counting paper ballots.
  2. The Washington Post often does have a noticeable liberal slant, so I use it with caution and generally only view if for headline briefs and regional stories.
  3. A better term might be European-American.

Image credit: ThePrint.in.


Chen, Shawna. “National Guard, state and federal police deployed as mob breaches U.S. Capitol.” Axios, January 6, 2021. Hyperlink.

Gardner, Amy. “I just want to find 11,780 votes: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor.” Washington Post, January 3, 2021. Hyperlink.

Petras, George, Janet Loehrke, Ramon Padilla, Javier Zarracina and Jennifer Borresen. “Timeline: How a Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, forcing Washington into lockdown,” USA Today, January 8, 2021.Hyperlink.

“U.S. Capitol put on lockdown as pro-Trump demonstrators storm the Capitol.” Reuters, January 6, 2021. Hyperlink.

Weaver, Stephanie. “Timeline of the pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol: How the chaos unfolded.” FOX TV Digital, January 8, 2021. Hyperlink.



Travel during a pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major effect on many aspects of everyday life. One thing that has been particularly hard hit is travel. The virus moves wherever people are in large groups, and the more groups people move in or through, the more vectors the virus has. So, travel has been actively discouraged across the board. On many occasions the government, CDC, or both, have advised citizens to cancel or postpone whatever travel plans they may have. Some areas have actively prevented travel for all but emergency respondents, and even they have restrictions. Regions of the USA, especially California and New York City, are in full scale quarantine. Simply put, traveling is a pain these days.

Even so, on this holiday season, my family did elect to travel, specifically to Louisiana, where much of Lisa’s family lives. Still we had to ask ourselves, did we really need to travel? In this particular case, I think we did. We had just started to recover from the loss of Michael when this pandemic kicked in. We have been trapped in our house, which was full of memories and associations. We needed a change of venue, and needed to get away from home for a little while. Speaking only for myself, I needed to step out of my routine for a few days so as to finally put the past year into perspective, and try to decide what to do next. So, when the opportunity to travel presented itself, we elected to take it. Fortunately, when the time to travel arrived, we were not in a state of national lock down.

Even so, we had to take some precautions. Wearing a face mask at all times it just the beginning. We also had to maintain the recommended six foot distance, avoid large groups where possible, not make extended small talk, and so forth. All of those things can give the virus opportunities to spread. So, as we waited for our flight in the Charlottesville airport, we kept our masks on and stayed in one place, largely away from others. The airport was largely empty anyway, and our flight was one quarter capacity at best.

Then had a near four hour layover in Atlanta. Being stuck at Atlanta international airport for four hours is a trying situation under the best of circumstances, but with social distancing practices in place, it was worse. Again, we stayed away from other groups of people, kept our masks on, and didn’t interact with others unless we had to. The flight from Atlanta to New Orleans was about two thirds full, but was uneventful. Everyone kept their masks on and kept to themselves. I dozed the whole time.

When we finally arrived in New Orleans, we were quickly picked up by my father in law. Once we arrived at their house, we immediately changed clothes. In Louisiana at least, that is recommended of travelers. The assumption is that if the virus is hiding in your clothes, the sooner they get into the washing machine, the better. So throughout our trip to Louisiana, we continued to exercise caution and obeyed local recommendations.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning our trip on Facebook. A few people scolded me for traveling, and said that my selfish choices could result in people dying. Our emotional health wasn’t as important as the health risk we were creating, and we should have stayed right where we were.

Even as we visit with family, we still keep our masks on and maintain the six foot distance where possible. When we visited one of Lisa’s sisters, we had the gathering on the patio, picnic style. The six foot separation and face masks were an inconvenience, but nothing more. Following these guidelines isn’t difficult, and I can’t think of a good reason not to follow them.

To my surprise however, roughly half the population of New Orleans did find an excuse! We made a day trip to the
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas[1] in downtown New Orleans, and then to Cafe du Monde for their famous beignets. The visitors in the aquarium were OK about masks and distancing, but many of the people in and around Jackson Square were not wearing masks, were congregating in tight groups, and generally throwing all social distancing guidelines out the proverbial window. New Orleans is famous for its food and drink, and it’s one of those cities where “what happens here, stays here.” But that doesn’t really apply to a highly contagious virus!

I was not amused, and my daughter was noticeably upset.

Anyway, we played by the rules, and still enjoyed our trip. We we returned Virginia, we again wore masks all day, avoided crowds, maintained a six foot distance, and started doing laundry when we got home. We’re also looking into where we can be tested.

So I can safely say that it is possible to travel these days, and that the social distancing guidelines are not a serious buzzkill. But if you’re going to travel, you should be socially responsible and follow the pandemic related guidelines.

As a final note, regarding those people who get upset about having to wear a mask, and claiming it’s a violation of personal rights and liberties? (Like roughly half the people we saw in New Orleans?) These people really need to calm down, pull in a deep breath, and consider taking a break. Perhaps even a vacation.

  1. I strongly recommend visiting this place if you like sea creatures and other things oceanic. The Audubon Institute also operates a very good zoo in New Orleans, which I also recommend. We only had time to do one of them on this particular trip, but if your time and budget permits, try seeing both.

Image credit: Megson Fitzpatrick.