Apr 12 2013

Political Haiku for the week of 4/12/13

Posted by Steve Ross in Puke

One of the things almost everyone mentioned in my reader survey is the lack of haiku on the blog.

With that in mind, here’s the first installment, of what I hope to make a weekly series…

Political Haiku of the Week!

Campfield runs from child,
On his way to his latest loss,
What a punk move dude.

Stacey confronted,
He will not face the children,
Courage of a mouse.

Haslam’s leadership,
Means saving you a penny,
Thanks for nothing dude.

As the session ends,
True face of our government,
Reveals ugly gaze.

The boot of Ramsey,
Is happiest when kicking,
Poor Tennesseans.

He starves the children,To get in the newspaper,This guys a loser

He starves the children,
To get in the newspaper,
This guys a loser

Dec 09 2012

Why Costas Was Wrong

Posted by Steve Ross in Puke

First of all, I think it was pretty courageous of Bob Costas to take on a controversial issue like gun control in the middle of a football game, and just hours after Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself. Surely he knew what he was getting into.

Unfortunately, I feel like Costas missed the larger discussion that needed to be had, both as it relates to Football, and society in general.

If you managed to miss his comments, I’ve included them below.

Its pretty obvious, on the surface anyway, that if Belcher didn’t have a gun he wouldn’t have shot anyone. Its anything but clear that, absent a gun, he or his girlfriend would have survived the events of last week. The circumstances that led to the problem, and the ones that brought the final result might not have been any different.

When things like this happen, the natural and easiest reaction is to go to the thing that “caused” it…in this case people pointed to the gun. A similar reaction has followed other events, like the 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed 6 and wounded 13 others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

One thing that is clear, guns are not sentient beings. I think everyone on both sides of the debate can agree with that.

Since guns can’t make decisions, blaming the gun is, by definition, missing the point. The old saying “people kill people” rings true here.

And while it is certainly easier to kill someone with a tool like a gun rather than say, a hammer, the result is the same. They’re still dead.

I didn’t hear a loud chorus of hammer control advocates speaking up when this guy killed his parents with one in 2011.

So maybe blaming the tool is misappropriating blame. The ease of use may play a role in the decision, but certain things have to be in place to even seriously contemplate the taking of a life. Maybe there’s something else that binds these three cases together other than the fact that tools were used to kill someone.

Its hard for me to imagine what kind of thinking brings someone to the decision that taking a life is any kind of a solution. Absent the incredibly rare “kill or be killed” moments I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider taking the life of another.

What I do understand is that considering murder as a solution is a pretty good indicator of some kind of mental health issue. What we learned in the wake of the Arizona shooting and the week since Belcher took the life of his girlfriend and himself, is mental health played a role in each.

According to reports, Belcher was struggling with head injuries and addiction. There are reports of domestic violence in the relationship. So do pervasive head injuries and violence in the home, coupled with addiction play a role in the taking of a life? Sure, but they’re not the final determining factors. If they were, we’d see a lot more violent crime than we do.

There has to be more to it.

That’s where things get complicated…much more so than dismissively blaming the gun. See, for someone to decide that taking a life is an option, they must first believe that there is no other solution. For someone to get to the point that taking their own life is the best choice, they must first believe there are no other options.

Of course, there are always other options, but those options can be lost in the haze of the moment, particularly in a society that places a fair amount of shame on mental health issues generally.

If we really want to see a decrease in violence, be it gun violence or any other kind, we need to focus on addressing mental health issues that lead to the violence rather than the violence or guns themselves. That’s the root of the problem. And that’s where Costas got it wrong.

Had Costas chosen to talk about mental health issues rather than the tool used in the violence, the size and scope of his platform might have opened up a discussion about role of mental health in the larger violence problem in our society.

That discussion is valuable, and something we, as a society need to start thinking about if we are serious about decreasing violence generally. An ounce of prevention…

Unfortunately, its just so easy and, to a certain degree, we’ve been conditioned to fall into the “blame the tool” argument that having that discussion right now seems as far away as a distant planet in another universe.

Costas was right about one thing. The outrage from this event has, just a week later, largely faded. We’ve already forgotten and moved on to the next outrage of the moment, in part because Costas chose an argument that pretty much everyone feels is unwinable and unproductive, and partially because that’s just what we do.

Hopefully, one day, we’ll make a decision to really start a dialogue about violence in our society, and work for real long-term solutions to the problem. That’s not in our nature, but here’s to hoping we start acting out of character soon. It would be a refreshing change.

Dec 08 2012

My (Continuing) Battle With Smoking

Posted by Steve Ross in Puke

More addictive than Heroin

I remember exactly when I decided to start smoking. I was in Jr. High. A lot of the kids that I went to school with smoked. I was the new kid. I didn’t really know many folks. I wanted to fit in. It was an easy way to immediately have something in common with the people around me. Turns out, it was about the only thing we had in common.

We moved to the neighborhood after a difficult time in NW Arkansas. It was the mid-80’s. A pack of cigarettes cost about $1.25. At the time, laws that required you to be 18 to buy cigarettes weren’t enforced, and penalties hardly outweighed the financial upside of increased sales.

In my early life, my dad had smoked. He quit for good when I was 11 or 12. From my pre-teen perspective it was effortless. I had no idea how hard it would be to kick the habit later on in life.

Addiction is not just physical. There’s an emotional side to addiction that’s hard to explain. Part of it has to do with the rationale for smoking. Smokers regularly smoke to relieve stress or other emotional events. It can feel calming and comforting. This feeling of comfort is the first thing you miss when you decide to quit.

Over the years since the mid-1980’s I’ve quit several times. In 1989 I quit for 8 months. That was by far the longest stretch I’ve ever made it through.

You’re probably asking yourself why I started back. The answer is complicated and not something I really want to rehash, but lets just say I sought the comfort that I once had in the form of a cigarette. I think this describes all kinds of addiction.

I quit a couple of other times, usually for a month or two before falling off the wagon again. They say that after three days you’ve kicked the physical addiction. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I can tell you you never kick the psychological addiction.

Back in October, after months of respiratory problems that began in earnest 8 months before, I quit again. My resolve was strong, the reasons were evident, quite honestly, it was easy…for a while.

The problem with quitting for purely health reasons is that once you start feeling better, your reason has gone away. The first month was easy. The second, as my health concerns faded, it became harder.

I was just days away from two months when I decided to buy a pack of cigarettes. I had been slipping for a couple of weeks, but managed to convince myself that it was temporary and I could get back on track at any time.

Now I’m not so sure.

Its not the physical addiction that I’m worried about, its the emotional dependency. That’s the thing that I’ve never been able to kick. That’s the thing that I think keeps lots of people from quitting…and not just cigarettes, any number of addictive substances.

I’m neither a professional addiction expert nor a prohibitionist. I don’t think making something illegal stops anyone from attaining that something. This should be clear based on the success of our 40 year “War on Drugs” alone. Demand will primarily determine supply, though other factors may weigh in on that relationship as well.

What I do believe is that in our search for a quick fix to all kinds of problems, from addiction to education, we’ve squandered our most precious resource…time. For decades now we’ve known about the psychological…the mental health element to a vast array of problems in our country. For that time and longer we’ve done everything in our power to try anything else to correct them…and failed.

We’ve doubled down on bad policy, enacting mandatory minimums on people suffering from addiction, and in the process, created a gateway for people who never engaged in violent crime to be forced into it in prisons, while truly violent criminals were let out to make room for people suffering from a mental health issue.

I won’t delve into the decriminalization issue except to say two things:

1. Washington and Colorado will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade by not prosecuting and incarcerating non-violent marijuana users who would have been declared criminals just weeks ago.

2. If those governments would set aside just 10% of the savings and appropriate them for increased mental health services, they will ultimately save hundreds of millions more on healthcare and incarceration for any number of other issues and see increased revenues through increased productivity as more people do more than they ever imagined possible with their lives.

Because the problem isn’t the drug, be it nicotine or an opiate…the problem is the addiction…a mental health issue that when untreated, leads to all kinds of other problems.

I’m starting my battle with addiction again today, and hopeful that I’ll find more success this time. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m working to strengthen my resolve and fight the urge to give in again.

There are thousands of people, just like me, who are struggling with their addiction, be it nicotine or something else. While its easy to judge these people as weak or broken in some way, I hope we all would find the strength and courage to not pass judgement…but show them the support they need to fight their addiction.

It’s only through that support that they will find any success.

Aug 08 2012

The Hangover

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, elections, Puke

With the August 2012 elections behind us, and my campaign completed, I’m finding myself wondering what to do with all this spare time that, just a week ago, was completely consumed in the final preparations for election day.

Don't get caught up in the aftermath, get ready for your next move.

This is common for all kinds of people who put all of themselves into something. When I worked in theater we called it “the hangover”…for a couple of reasons, but it also applies to newlyweds, the newly retired, and pretty much anything that represents a major life change.

Its easy to get caught up in the “the hangover”. The joy, or relief of a milestone can fade very quickly. The disappointment of a loss can be easily amplified. Both can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless.

The key to getting over “the hangover” is figuring out what to do…making a decision on what’s next and committing to it.

For some folks it takes a long time to figure out what it is you will decide to commit to. For others, its easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re committing when you’re really just kicking the can down the street. But if you want to make a difference…if you believe you CAN make a difference no matter how big or small, you find a way to get back up on the horse and ride.

In the short term, for me anyway, I’m working to restore some normalcy to a life that has been dominated by a campaign for 8 months. This means getting ready for another semester at U of M, catching up on some things that fell through the cracks, and spending more time with my family.

I’m also going to follow through with my oversight and investigation of wrong ballots at the Shelby County Election Commission. Still a lot of work to be done on that front. (A big thank you to Memphis City Councilmen Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland as well as the whole Council for honoring me with a resolution yesterday for working to expose the problem.)

There are some other things I’m looking at as well. Things that can make a difference not only here in Shelby County, but around the state.

I’ll save that for a later post, but for now I challenge you, dear reader, to think about ways you can make a positive difference: for your neighborhood, City, County and State.

What can you contribute, through your time and talents, to make things better?

Change takes commitment. How far are you willing to go and how much are you willing to do to make our state a better place?

Think about that tonight. Tomorrow I’ll offer some suggestions of things you can actually do to show that commitment.

Mar 21 2012

Primum non nocere (First, do no harm)

Posted by Steve Ross in Puke

There are few maxims in the western tradition that are more misunderstood than this one:

“First, do no harm”

I say misunderstood because it is often difficult for people, in their haste or excitement, to see the impact of their actions beyond the immediate thrill.

It is, of course, most prevalent in the “gotcha” politics of today, where everyone’s a hypocrite.

There are ways to make a point, beyond the most blatantly obvious.

There are ways to make a stand without making it look like a purely political device.

There are ways to bring change without needing to take full credit for it.

In politics, more than half of message is the messenger. When the messenger is more interested in self-interest than public interest, the message will turn against him.

There’s an arrogance in wanting to get credit for certain things. An arrogance and a lack of recognition of other people’s realities.

That’s where the harm, now two-fold, is committed…upon yourself, and your victim’s victim.

And through that harm, so too is lost the opportunity to make a larger point, that would have served the public good rather than your short-term self-interest.