Are We in Good Hands?

Experts in the field of gerontology report that reminiscing is a favored activity of old farts.  That may be true, but take it from one who has been there (and still is), we also like very much to complain.  Granted there is much fertile territory which one may exploit, but when there are no obvious items that deserve our complaints, we are perfectly capable of manufacturing new ones.  Most of us are retired, which allows us adequate time to search for items of which to disapprove.  In previous blogs, I have endeavored to establish my bona-fides as a complainer of the first order however; I now wish to digress and utter a few hopeful words about the future of our country.

The Children Are Our Future

The truism that our children represent the future of the country, or world is what gives me hope that some of the screwed-up policies of my generation can be corrected without destroying too many of its accomplishments.  Of course, I am referring to the recent demonstrations and walkouts by school kids throughout the country in response to our most recent school massacre.  The gun lobbyists, and other 2nd amendment guys insist that the kids are being manipulated and financed by those who would take their guns away leaving them and their families at the mercy of their government and other bad guys.  However; anyone who has reared teenagers would agree that they are better manipulators than manipulees.  Their idea of conformity is to follow the lead of their peers rather than some political activist.  I seriously doubt that adults convinced them to put their baseball cap on backwards or to wear baggy pants belted at a mid-buttock level.

Recently, as I watched some of the demonstrations I was reminded of an incident a little over 70 years ago (I told you I was old) when my high school staged a walkout (there I go again, sucked into that nostalgia stuff).  Nevertheless that was big stuff in those days.  We protested the failure of a levy to build a new school and a good time was had by all, especially after we discovered they couldn’t figure out ways to mete out a collective punishment.  In spite of the stern warnings that horrible retributions would result from a walkout (someone ratted us out), I suspect the teachers were secretly pleased.

It would have been laughable for my generation to presume we could ever effect changes at the national level, but these offspring of the baby boomers channeled their adolescent rebelliousness into a nationwide movement.  They demonstrated that when people (even kids) unite to pursue a common cause all things are possible.  The tool which was used to bring them together was of course social media.  They were able to show there were good uses for this same process that has also been used to undermine our democracy.  They chose to focus their efforts on those legislators who they felt were unduly influenced by the NRA and gun manufacturers.

Tis the time for TV to be awash in political ads and I recently noticed a couple of dandies.  The best was a video of a big guy in camo clothes with a camo colored large gauge shotgun which he proceeded to fire into a television set.  It turned out that the TV was no match for the 10 gauge rifled slug and this candidate for our state representative won that battle.  His qualifications for office also included an A+ rating by the NRA, lifelong support for the 2nd amendment, abhorrence of Planned Parenthood, and support for Donald Trump and his wall.  Now, I ask how could you not vote for a guy like that?  He seems a sure bet to be elected in this part of the country, where men are men and women love it, and machismo is not a dirty word.

History of the NRA

The National Rifle Association has a storied history. It was initially formed by two Civil War officers who were concerned about the poor marksmanship they observed by Union soldiers.  In those days guns were a necessity for many, especially those living in isolated areas, not only for protection but as a means to provide food.  The organization soon became popular.  They sponsored competitions and programs teaching gun safety.  They maintained a close relationship with the military.  In 1906, they were offered the use of the shooting range at the Army’s Camp Perry in Ohio for the NRA’s national marksmanship competitions.  This several-day event is still held there, drawing over 6,000 participants each year.

When the Thompson sub-machine gun became a favorite of criminals in the 1930s the NRA supported the 1938 bill banning the possession of fully automatic weapons; and sawed off shotguns.  They also supported the licensing of gun dealers.  It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the NRA made a right turn and became a politically active organization.  They hired lobbyists, and the first presidential nominee they endorsed was Ronald Reagan.

Today’s NRA

They now number nearly 5 million members and have become among the most powerful groups in Washington, and the states.  According to October 2017 issue of Politifact, the NRA spent $203.2 million dollars on the 2016 election.  Add a few more million from the gun manufacturers and you could be talking real money, as the saying goes.  Their stated goal is to oppose any restrictions on gun ownership.

A tribute to their political power is evidenced by the lack of any significant legislation regarding regulation of guns in spite of the fact that a significant majority of Americans favor some limitations.  Since the recent mass shootings, there has been talk of limiting so-called assault weapons and bump stocks (which was a clever invention to bypass the statutes forbidding fully automatic weapons).  As in the past, Congress offers their heartfelt sympathies, but no action heartfelt or otherwise.

In the aftermath of the shooting of Ronald Reagan and his press secretary, the Brady bill was introduced, and a ban on assault weapons was put in place.  The NRA however; was able to use its clout to insert a 10-year sunset clause, and the ban was allowed to expire since there was no interest on the part of Congress to renew it.

It was the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Heller decision in 2008 which would frame the NRA’s talking points which persist to this day.  The decision rendered was the result of a lawsuit that challenged the ban on handguns in The District of Columbia.  The court ruled that the phrase “a well-regulated militia” in the Constitution was meant to include individual private citizens.  Now support for the 2nd amendment has attained almost equal status with “right to life” for nearly all republican politicians.

Back when I was a card-carrying member of the NRA

It is at this point in my discourse that in spite of my best efforts I feel compelled to once again regress back to those good old days for I can’t help but reflect on the time when I was proud to be a member of the NRA.  As a teenager, I looked forward to the monthly issue of the American Rifleman which I shared with my brother.   It was full of articles about all kinds of guns, recent innovations, tips on marksmanship and safety, the proper loads to use, antique guns, and gunsmiths who produced works of art.  Many of these men produced rifles and pistols capable of amazing accuracy.  They combined art, engineering, and craftsmanship in their work, often from basement workshops.

The few guns I collected during that phase of my life are now locked away and I haven’t been a National Rifleman Association member for nearly 50 years.  I do not sleep with a gun under my pillow nor do I have loaded pistols at my front and back doors as one of my very sane and otherwise sensible friend does.  Studies have suggested that having guns readily available to defend one’s home against an intruder is more likely to result in shooting the wrong person than a bad guy.

Good Guys with Guns Strategy

The usual response to these shootings by the gun lobby guys is “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” and it appears that many buy into that approach for the shooting ranges are said to be crowded, and after each mass shooting the gun business skyrockets.  There are now 594,000 Ohio citizens with concealed carry permits and the number of new applicants increases each year.  There are enough guns in the U.S. to arm nearly every citizen, and that number is growing.  No other country in the world even comes close.  If the good guy/bad guy premise is correct, we should be the safest people in the world as we obviously have the most good guys with guns.

One example of an extreme position taken by gun lobbyists was the passage of a law in 2011 which forbade physicians from talking with patients or families about firearms in the home.   This was especially worrisome to pediatricians and we psychiatrists.  Pediatricians, well aware of deaths caused by access of kids to loaded guns, under this law, were prohibited from asking if guns in the home were safely stored.   As a psychiatrist, I was witness to several instances resulting in death from suicide or delusional thinking by guns in the home.  Under this law we were forbidden from advising family members to remove guns from the home.   The law was initially declared constitutional, but three years later common sense prevailed, and it was revoked by the state’s Supreme Court.

How many mass shootings does it take?

If those committed to the absolute ideal of no legislative limits on gun ownership or manufacture were not swayed by the Sandy Hook episode, it is safe to assume their beliefs will never change.  Gabby Giffords, the  2nd Amendment congresswoman who was shot in the head did change and became an advocate for sensible regulations.  On the other hand Representative Scalise who was shot, nearly died and remains crippled insists that he is more committed than ever to opposing any limitations.  He remains proud of his A+ rating by the NRA and supports a bill to allow reciprocity for state’s concealed carry permits.  He agrees with his fellow travelers that the solution to gun violence is more guns.

The more obvious solution of getting rid of all the guns is impossible for that horse has already left the barn and such an effort would be monumental. It would also be met with massive resistance even by people like me.  After all we have a long tradition of using guns to kill each other.  After we had successfully subjugated those Native Americans, we hadn’t killed, we had a Civil War in which 620,000 were killed.  Now we have fatalities over the drug wars and gangs of young people who seem to be spawned from the ranks of the disenfranchised.

Efficient Killing in Full Force

Now in the era of mass killings, we have much more efficient ways of killing people.  In the Parkland High School shooting, it took 6 minutes and 30 seconds to kill 17 kids while the Vegas shooter was able to kill 58 and wound 850 in 10 minutes with the aid of bump stocks on his rifles.  The AR-15 rifle is a favorite of mass murderers.  It is available with a 30-round magazine and can be easily converted to automatic fire which mimics the fire power of a machine gun.  It is patterned after the U.S. military M-16 rifle, which of course is designed to kill people.  It is not known for its accuracy and is not very good for hunting, unless one chooses to spray an area with bullets in hopes of hitting something.  Other than as a weapon, it’s only other use is as a toy for grown men to play soldier.  In spite of all this trauma, there is not even consideration for limiting the number of cartridges in a clip for either the AR-15 or pistols.

With each shooting, there is more talk of arming more people, most recently teachers, and even preachers.  Gun free zones are identified as soft targets, therefore, in need of more armed occupants.  Consequently, our Governor recently signed a law that allows concealed carry gun totters to enter churches, schools and bars.  What a great idea that now when we check into our favorite watering hole, we may be able to see a real gunfight rather than a boring fistfight.

The concealed carry laws concern me as I believe more guns are likely to aggravate rather than lessen loss of life.  I have witnessed first hand those of good character experience rage which overwhelmed judgement resulting in tragedies for victims and families.  Road rage has already taken on a different dimension; although, more guns may mean less flipping off of the aggravated.  There have always been accidents with guns, and children seem to be more prone or is it that such shootings are just more tragic?  There is also the problem of domestic violence which often gets out of control.  In this country self-inflicted gunshots are the most common and lethal of suicide attempts by men.  Many attempts are impulsive in nature, but there is no turning back after a bullet enters  the brain.  There is also the question of what effect all this gun stuff has on our police.   With all those people out there packing heat as the saying goes, if I were wearing a badge I would be especially wary and much quicker to draw my gun.

Back to our Future

Undoubtedly kids being kids some were probably enjoying the drama of the whole thing, but the maturity and discipline they displayed, along with the seriousness with which they pursued a lofty goal was indeed impressive, but even more so were the kids who gave speeches and were interviewed on television.  In marked contrast to the political rhetoric and propaganda which we usually hear, these junior orators responded to questions in a frank, unequivocal manner.  They showed no signs of discomfort at being in the spotlight of national broadcasts.   We can only hope they will not be swayed by less idealistic forces as they take charge.  Adult demonstrators would do well to emulate their offspring who chose to pursue their cause in a dignified and non-violent manner.  When one of the kids was asked how he hoped to change the political landscape, he replied “we will outlive you.”  Martin Luther King would have been proud of them all, but even more so of his nine-year-old granddaughter who led the chant at Thurgood Marshall Academy with “Spread the word!  Have you heard?  All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation.”  From what I have seen so far she might be right about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BOOMERS’ KIDS

While the baby boomers head toward retirement, their kids are beginning to take the reins.  They are commonly referred to as the millennial generation.  We can only hope they will do a better job than have their parents or grandparents.  These millennials have received a good deal of bad press, mostly from old farts like me  They have been called narcissistic, spoiled, inept, lazy, and trophy kids among other things.  They are the first generation to prefer a computer screen to stuffed toys or rattles.  This was brought home to me yesterday when I passed a grocery cart in the store containing a baby in a child seat who was apparently entranced by something he was holding which looked very much like some kind of mini ipad.  With that in mind is it any wonder that digitally deficient old folks like myself rely on kindergarten grandkids for computer lessons?

Educator Marc Prensky in his publication, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, defends the millennials and insists that our misunderstanding of them is the result of our speaking different languages.  He posits that their nearly total immersion in the digital world via computers, video games, digital music, cell phones, video cams etc. has resulted in their “thinking and processing information fundamentally differently from their predecessors”.  They even prefer to communicate digitally.  As a matter of fact, the geeks may be the new heroes of the millenial generation.  Prensky concludes that all of this leads us to feel apart, since these geeky kids do inhabit a different world.

Pensky goes on to quote Dr. Bruce Perry of Baylor College of Medicine who echoes his assessment with the statement, “It is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed and are different from ours-as a result of how they grew up.”  Although the idea that a whole generation of brains might be changed in both function and structure seems farfetched, recent research concerning the elasticity of the developing brain suggests it not so much of a stretch as it seems.

David Burstein, himself a millennial, in his book “Fast Future” coined the term pragmatic idealism to describe millennial philosophy and insists that millennials in general have “a deep desire to make the world a better place.”  He goes on to say that their idealism is tempered with the realities of what is possible, and consequently, they will be able to bridge the divisiveness that currently prevents solutions to world and domestic problems.

He is an ardent defender of his generation, and insists that they are optimistic about the future as is he.   He points out that soon his millennials will represent one third of the population and mostly represent a consensus on societal, environmental and economic issues.  It is easy to see how when these kids (to me all people under the age of 40 are kids) ascend to positions of power they could conceivably bring about massive changes to the status quo.

In a time in which our electronic gadgets are obsolete by the time we old codgers learn how to use them, these geeky kids stand a better chance of utilizing the best features of a cyber world, and warding off nefarious uses of technologies that seemingly progress at warp speed.  The dangers inherent in artificial intelligence and robotics was the subject of previous blogs, but there is also the problem of cyber warfare which seems to be already underway via Russia’s attempt to undermine our democracy.  A criminal element will always be with us and they have found ways to do much harm with only a keyboard as a weapon.  A digital world will require our best millennial minds to sort out the good and protect us from the bad.

In such a world it is vital that those scheduled to take over be forward thinking if they are to be successful in adapting; however, in doing so they tend to ignore traditions important to previous generations, undoubtedly convinced that history is no longer relevant in their digital wonderland.  Materialism is frowned upon, and new lifestyles are in vogue.  To own a home in the suburbs is no longer the ideal for many.  Those women who choose to marry are more likely to sign up for the Wal-Mart bridal registry, and could care less about inheriting the family silver.  In many areas the antique business is on life support.  In their zeal to move forward, let us hope they will not lose sight of the lessons painfully learned by their ancestors which led to the origin of many of those irrelevant traditions.  Prensky posits that we have been remiss by failing to teach “both legacy and future content in their language”.

There is evidence that Burstein’s positive assessment of these kids is valid.  One example of which I am aware seems to fit his “pragmatic idealism” mold quite well.  It all began when four college students at the Indiana University became interested in beekeeping, and ultimately, concerned about the plight of the vanishing honey bee.  With further study they learned to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.   It is said that nearly 70% of the world’s edible crops depend upon honey bees for pollination, and we are now losing nearly half of all the colonies each year.  The extinction of the species would be catastrophic.  Other animal life could also be affected due to the lack of pollination of plants on which they feed.  The Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that without honey bees it would be impossible to feed the 9.1 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050.

This group of four college students formed a club to study bees, and noted that although there was ongoing research into the problem, little was known about life inside the hives.  The university annually hosts a contest, Building Entrepreneurs through Science and Technology (BEST), for would-be entrepreneurs with an award of $100,000 to be used as seed money for the students to put their idea into action.  After an application process, the finalists present their business plan to the venture capitalists involved much as in the TV series Shark Tank and our heroes won. Click here to see the press release.

They incorporated in February 2016 under the name “The Bee Corp” and set about to use their grant to purchase some bee hives in order to have a cohort on which to learn, but were not averse to harvesting and merchandising nearly 1,000 pounds of honey the following year (one jar of which I enjoyed).  Those hives had suffered a great deal of neglect prior to their purchase by Bee Corp consequently; there was much sweat equity involved in the production of that honey.  This business success while in the pursuit of their stated mission “to drive innovation on traditional beekeeping practices through scientific research and technology in order to foster sustainable honey bee populations” a perfect example of Burstein’s pragmatic idealism.

Meanwhile, they continued in their efforts to develop the means to monitor the health of bee hives and indeed to collect enough data to learn what parameters were most healthy. Not surprisingly they came up with a digital solution.  They proposed to monitor intra-hive conditions by placing sensors in the hives which could transmit data wirelessly to the beekeeper.

Soon another instance in which business opportunity coincided with mission occurred.  In their contacts nationwide with beekeepers, they learned that a secondary problem had accompanied the loss of hives.  As the shortage of hives became acute, those remaining became more valuable, and there developed a widespread business of hive theft.  More than 1700 hives were stolen in California alone during the 2016 almond season.  They were able to enhance their intra-hive technology by developing a GPS tracking system which could be forwarded directly to police.

On January 1, 2018, this trio of kids who were now full time into the bee saving business were rewarded with a grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $225,000 to further develop a database which can used to “create a baseline model of a healthy hive to detect anomalies” as stated in the award.  The award allowed them to hire their first full time employee: a data scientist.   The beekeeping industry welcomed the news that there was an effort underway to solve their problem.  Successful Farming magazine wrote “Ag tech start-up The Bee Corp is causing quite a buzz as it begins to monitor conditions inside commercial beehives.”

the bee corp crew

It so happens that one of the co-founders of this corporation is well known to me, as a matter of fact he is my Grandson, but you may rest assured this in no way affects my objectivity in writing this for he would be an exceptional person no matter who was his Grandad.  Simon has always been interested in business but is not lacking in altruism, or environmental concerns even ending up with a major in environmental science while working nearly full time throughout college.

So, there you have it.  Millennials working hard to provide themselves with a comfortable lifestyle while simultaneously improving the lives of others.  Where could you find a better example of “pragmatic idealism”?  Let’s hope there are many more like them, and that greed will not blind them to the second part of that phrase.