North and South – not really all that different when you think about it!

The debate over the Confederate flag has been raging for the past two weeks, but all the attention has been focused on what southerners think and feel about this situation.  There are precious few people talking about what northerners really think about this whole situation.  I tried my first go at this sort of piece in college, but without the wisdom of perspective and with plenty of youthful arrogance.  Today, my approach is far more tempered.

Having been born in New Jersey and raising a good chunk of my childhood in Pennsylvania, here are some things southerners may be surprised to hear about northerners.

We aren’t THAT much different from you.  Northerners like sports, hate lying politicians, and many of us do go to church.  We are just more used to cold weather, narrow roads, and congested cities.  We have to deal with traffic problems, home repairs, and city hall the same way you do and, yes, we have to often talk our way out of a traffic ticket and have our share of crooked police and government employees.  Aside from the accents and some food preferences, we really are the same in many ways.

We do sometimes get irritated when southerners call us all “Yankees.”  The Yankees are a baseball team and most northerners really hate the Yankees if they follow baseball.  Many of us really don’t even know where the hell that word comes from (this blogger does, but I ain’t saying!)  Hell, it even chafes us when Brits and Australians refer to us as “Yanks” because we know it’s usually an insult.  We know you don’t like it when southerners are called “hillbillies” and “hicks,” so please return the favor, that’s all we really ask.

We know Florida is a prank on the South.  We tried giving Tallahassee and the panhandle to Alabama years ago, but they said they had their own problems.  So, we’re kinda stuck with each other there!  Besides, you got Jacksonville and the Florida-Georgia game.

We aren’t all as insufferable as the Griffins.  Seth MacFarland’s Family Guy has really painted northerners with a broad stroke of the brush, and that stereotype has caused its own share of problems.  Granted, he’s spot on with the rivalry and attitudes New Yorkers and New Englanders have with one another, but how his writers consistently attack southerners is, at least to this blogger’s viewpoint, unfair and distorted.  Unfortunately, the south has, like the north, its share of token buffoons who love to say “if you don’t like it, move!”  Northerners just want to be able to enjoy a trip or, if we are transferred someplace with our jobs or like a state because of the schools, live there peacefully, make some friends, have some fun and get along with everyone.  Unfortunately, Ted isn’t all that far off when it comes to describing how New Englanders can be.

We aren’t any better during the winter, we’re just used to it.  Ice and snow are different things.  We know you can get traction in the snow if you hit the right spots, or get behind a salt truck or a plow with deep enough treads.  However, we also know you can’t get ZILCH for traction on ice and, for that reason, we’ve learned – mostly through trial and error – how to either drive on the little bit of usable ice, or just to stay the hell off the road.  For that reason, we are able to use “snow days” far more efficiently than say, Atlanta (sorry to my adopted home, but that’s just truth speaking).  We ground our jets like you do, and tell our trucks to stay off the road like you do – we just know how to do it earlier and read the winter weather a little better, just like Midwesterners know when tornadoes are going to be bad.

Many of us don’t get “Southern Pride” because our families arrived AFTER the Civil War.  We don’t expect southerners to understand what we mean when we say the “Old Country,” so please give us the same latitude when we don’t understand this whole “heritage” thing.  Many of our families came over after the Civil War, so we didn’t witness the whole slavery and states’ rights debates.  Our families just wanted to make a better life for themselves.  Granted, many could have been more tolerant of others, but those countries they came from weren’t exactly diverse cultures.  We’ve really spent the last century and a half playing catch up.  If some of us seem “liberal,” it’s mainly because we are trying to be objective.

Even northerners get annoyed by our stuck-up brethren.  If there is one thing northerners can’t stand, it’s people who act like they are superior to everyone else on the planet.  True, many northerners act this way towards non-northerners (sorry, a bit of a superiority complex flaw we have), which is why we sometimes ignore it, but when they act that way towards one of their own, all hell often breaks loose.  Most northern folks are hard-working people who punch the clock and go home, and just want to have a relaxing time with their families and friends; the last thing we need is a snobby northerner acting like they’re God’s gift to earth, and they usually get it with both barrels when that happens (voice of experience talking here.)

Unions appeal to more northerners because the industrial revolution laid the wood to us.  Southerners had Reconstruction, northerners had the industrial revolution.  We had our one percent, they were the robber barons, and without unions going up against them, minimum wage laws, workplace protections and vacation/personal time wouldn’t exist.  After Reconstruction, a lot of the old practices started right back up in the South, just under different names by different means.  Yes, a lot of Southerners hate modern-day unions for a variety of legitimate reasons, but a good chunk of northerners have a union affinity because they provided a voice for those who came over to this country and were exploited by old-money interests.  When someone speaks up for you and gets results, you tend to stick with what works and, during the industrial revolution, they did what nobody else could or would, they gave northern laborers a chance at a better life.

Northerners REALLY aren’t trying to change your way of life.  Honestly, most of us really love southerners.  Seriously.  We love the laid back lifestyle, the country feel, the tax laws, the way everyone tries to be polite and tries to show kindness and respect.  When we move to the South, we try to take some of our lifestyle with us to help ease the transition.  If we come across as “know it alls” or “carpetbaggers” or whatever other name gets thought of, it’s usually because we are just trying to fit in and find our place.  Our younger folks are arrogant and stupid and act like they own the place but, hey, we either set ’em straight, or kick ’em out.

So, southerners, give us northerners a chance.  You might be surprised how fast we even start saying “y’all” and “fixin’ to.”  After all, we do love the food, so that’s gotta’ be a good start, right?

Same-sex marriage and the media – how one newspaper dropped the editorial ball

PL_PN_PAMG_NEW_475x2The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania made a rather extreme decision today following the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.  The policy edict states that any arguments that gay marriage is wrong or unnatural will not be published.  This statement essentially states that basic dissent about the gay marriage and homosexual morality is persona non grata.

While the SCOTUS got the same-sex ruling right, the Patriot-News got it so very, very wrong.

Dissent is one of the great things about our country.  We can disagree, argue and fuss over seemingly ridiculous things because, well, we think they are important to the fabric of our country.  Same-sex marriage is that sort of thing – it’s a silly debate because social conservatives was to treat the LGBT community as untouchable, sinful and straight-up evil, yet many of them wish to court their business and employment.  This “separate but equal” attitude is exactly what the SCOTUS chose to address in its majority opinion.  The words of Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts read almost like oppositional-defiant children angry they didn’t get their way, and threatening to take their toys and go home.  Of course, others chimed in, such as Atlanta radio commentator Erick Erickson and ultra-conservative Michael Savage went on the offensive almost immediately.  Based on that, one would assume the print media would be quick to assume the role of keeper of the people’s voice.

The Patriot-News chose to do the very thing the media accuses conservative radio and news outlets of doing; namely, quashing dissent through draconian editorial policies.  It’s understandable to edit hate speech so as not to allow slurs and junk science to be given legitimacy, but the idea of saying “if you don’t agree, don’t bother talking to us” is beyond idiotic – it’s plain anti-American.  It flies in the face of not only the First Amendment, but also the very ideals our Founders risked their lives and honor to make reality.  It is far wiser to allow bigots and hate mongers to spew their venom in a public forum; granted, a token amount of fools will follow their vile rhetoric like lemmings off the editorial cliff, but the vast majority of reasonable Americans will do they have always done – marginalize.  To suppress this sort of dissent legitimizes these opinions, allowing them to co-opt this de facto censorship into a martyrdom of sorts.  The Patriot-News’ policy is hardly befitting of its namesake; it would be more suited to the newsletter for Al Qaeda or ISIS, not the daily paper of one of America’s most historic state capitols.

Russia and China have du jure censorship of the press; America does not.  In those countries, dissent is, at the very least, discouraged where, in our nation, it is celebrated even when it goes over the top.  This is the very essence of what it is to be American.  We would be wise to flood the Patriot-News editorial board with letters, emails and social media messages scolding them for this Putin-esque suppression of speech.  We can, we must do better as a people – allow the fringe and their elements to make their case, and let the majority of sensible, reasonable people draw their own conclusions.  If nothing else, it would prove the media isn’t entirely beholden to an ideological slant.

The SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage was on the money, and why our nation needs a refresher in legal civics

The 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court ruling same-sex marriage is protected by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution really should come as a surprise to nobody.  This amendment has been used, time and again, to establish the rights of the individual to pursue their own lives and livelihoods.  Chief Justice John Roberts, in the lead dissent, leveled the statement that “the Constitution had nothing to do with it.”

Sorry, but I have to call bullshit on that one, Mr. Chief Justice.

The fact is, same sex marriage is something which our nation has been grappling with not because of its legal meaning, but because it cuts right to the heart of a moral issue.  Of course, every American is guaranteed the right of practice of worship under the First Amendment, as are they also guaranteed the right to speak their minds free from government reprisal.  That right, however, is limited in its scope; the notion of being able to speak freely does not absolve one from the consequences of that speech when it offends private citizens, the saying of “the right to swing one’s fist ends at the tip of another’s nose,” so to speak.  The same application of the law was imposed in the case of same-sex marriage.

Simply distilled, just as we cannot restrict how one worships when doing so peacefully, we also cannot restrict how two consenting adults choose to practice their lives, so long as it is done peacefully.  Just because the sight of two men or two women kissing repulses someone, that does not give that person the right to make it illegal to for those individuals to do so anymore than banning the flying of a flag from private property, even if it is in view of others.  We are supposed to be a nation of reasonable individuals consenting to be governed by elected officials and, when those officials overreach in the name of the passion of the day, our courts are expected to step in and reestablish the boundaries set forth in our Constitution.

What makes this situation worrisome is the reactionary statements by some on the far right and in the religiosity.  This notion of our nation being a “Christian Nation” has been buffeted by calls to make the Bible the law of the land.  Some have even called for a Constitutional amendment to make the Ten Commandments paramount and its authority supercede that of even the Constitution itself.  Fortunately, the American system of government has a traditional, built-in safeguard against this.  That being the fact that ours is a nation created through revolution, not evolution.  Our Founders understood that an elected government can trample one’s rights as easily as an autocrat.  They knew humanity had a predilection to handing power over to someone who can “make the trains run on time,” or settle scores.  While many Presidents have abused executive privilege and authority, they have often been brought to heel by our system.  We, the people, must hold ourselves to a higher standard as we have only one body which can bring us to heel; ourselves.  Ours is not a theocracy, nor a direct democracy.  It is a Democratic Representative Republic, meaning the ultimate power rests in the hands of we, the voters.  We hold performance evaluations on our elected officials every few years via the ballot, and those officials are expected to select justices who apply the law through an objective lens.  The dissenting opinions in this case were clearly subjective, allowing moral absolutism to override constitutional reason.  Thankfully, the majority displayed that very reasoning for which our nation has been so able to weather many storms.

Justice Roger Taney’s decision in the Dred Scott decision went down as the single worst in American history, and is believed to have contributed to the Civil War on some level.  While many on the far right have declared a “Second Civil War” has already begun, it is hard to imagine that this court’s decision on a subject such as this, which poses no imminent economic or military threat to our nation, would be anywhere near the equivalent of Taney’s blunder.  If anything, this ruling merely affirmed what has been a foregone conclusion by many in the legal profession for years; that morality cannot and should not be legislated, and that the rights of the individual to pursue their own life, liberty and happiness should be sacrosanct.

The Real ID Act: How good intentions have made a part of our life hell

ddsOne of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced has continued to dog me since moving to Georgia.  You see, my own wife was adopted shortly after being born, but there is no record of the adoption, nor any source documentation we can find to prove her birth or baptism.  This has been a challenge with the advent of the Real ID Act, a piece of legislation which the U.S. Congress passed with the intent of controlling illegal immigration and combating terrorism.

Of course, with all acts stemming from good intentions, there are unintended consequences and my wife is one of thousands of Americans who are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to secure a new drivers license.

In Georgia, the Real ID statute is enforced in strict fashion.  According the Georgia Department of Driver Services, only a birth certificate, U.S. Passport, Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship, or equivalent record from a U.S. government agency.  “Keepsake” birth records or baptismal records don’t work, and anything short of that requires a special waiver granted by State of Georgia.  As of this point in time we have been able to assemble all required documents except the primary one, and that has required a certain degree of investigative work which has could honestly rival what journalists do when looking for a smoking gun.  Unfortunately, we haven’t found our informational Colt .45 yet, and it has become frustrating, because Georgia’s Department of Driver Services, while empathetic, has been unable and unwilling to bend.

I am now at the point where I am putting out a call to my readers and followers – if anyone happens to know how to find some of these “lesser known records,” or have connections within the State of Georgia who may be willing to help, I would be grateful.  This is a matter which has come about because our Congress, in its zeal to “protect,” ended up doing far more harm than good.  Obtaining a falsified birth certificate is not difficult, but it is a path that my wife and I, as law-abiding citizens, refuse to embark upon.  We would rather resolve this issue through legal channels and then work to adjust this very poorly written law to allow for accommodations to be made to those who are clearly U.S. citizens but, for one reason or another, do not have a birth record on file.  After all, the concept of birth certificates was actually devised as a means of eugenics during the early 1900s, when America was suffering from its first bout of the virus called Social Darwinism.

Just as a matter of record, I have put out multiple inquiries to state-level elected officials in Cobb County, Georgia and have received ZERO response.  It would seem they are more concerned about partisan bullshit than about helping people affected by poorly worded and enforced laws.

Anyone who can help me, please go to my Facebook page, or tweet me @GetinJohnshead.  I look forward to, and will be grateful for, all assistance or guidance.

What the tragedy in Charleston may have done to help America

The tragic mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina has everyone talking, and it really has affected our national consciousness.  When the ability to find safety and comfort in a house of worship is compromised in such a gruesome, savage manner, one has to wonder how the wounds ripped open can ever be healed.  Still, something must be said and it may be uncomfortable for some to read.

Dylann Roof, to me, is an insult, an abomination.  Still, he did accomplish something, though it was likely the exact opposite of what he set out to do.

Rather than ripping us apart, his evil may have brought us together as a nation.

Yes, there are fringe elements like him on both sides who want a race war, either for the power it brings them, or the money sure to be generated by the services they would peddle to one or both sides.  Their kind must be rendered irrelevant.  This does not mean banning hate speech, as it only serves to elevate it to martyrdom, and allow this sort of evil to work in the shadows where it can’t be seen until it’s bred in such manner it overruns us like cockroaches.  Instead, we must combat this sort of hate and vileness with the one weapon at our disposal powerful enough to not only bring those like Dylann Roof to justice, but expose them for what they really are.

The light of truth and love must now be shone upon everyone who subscribes to and endorses this sort of toxic behavior.

We cannot, as Americans, attempt to ban or erase hate speech from our nation.  If we do this, we become no better than those who wish to impose the tyranny and oppression of bigotry upon us all.  We must, as citizens, collectively elevate ourselves above the anger and hatred that such a small segment of our society embraces as acceptable and useful.  We are, as a people, better than this sort of behavior, and the services, memorials, vigils, and peaceful but spirited debate about the causes and solutions to this sort of tragedy are not only a natural byproduct of this tragedy, it is exactly what we need.

For white Americans, what is needed is a critical look at our own house.  Too many of us have screamed about the behavior of blacks in this country, and have been pointing the fingers.  Roof’s evil deed aimed the spotlight squarely back on the skeletons in our own closet.  Now is the time for us to look at that closet and do some house cleaning.  How on earth can we possibly lecture one subset on their behavior when someone of our subset admits to law enforcement he wanted to start a race war?  It is the height of hubris and hypocrisy to claim a moral mantle on this issue.  To those who claim to be such cultural authority figures that they see fit to go off on another rant about how white culture is so superior, they would do well to recognize that before one can prattle on about one’s superiority, one must be absolutely certain that the evil of another not come out paint us with such a broad stroke.

Dylann Roof’s sort of evil is doing something no amount of political grandstanding or debate could ever do – it’s forcing us white Americans to take a long look in the mirror and think about what we can do to be the solution to the problem.  Until we do that, we have absolutely zero room to complain that others aren’t doing their part.

So yes, this young man is a monster, a vile, hateful monster, but the Almighty does use evil to serve a purpose, and perhaps, just perhaps, that purpose was to remind us that pride truly goeth before a fall.  This isn’t about “white guilt,” but instead the basic outrage all Americans, all human beings should feel for this violation of one of our society’s most cardinal rules, that any house of worship is a safe haven, a place of refuge in a ever maddened world.  For the sake of our nation, we must see this violation as a call to arms to expose those who see a house of worship as little more than another target in a du jure paramilitary campaign of hate.

For those of us in white America, our pride will be our undoing unless we use Charleston, South Carolina as a rallying cry for change in our own backyard.  Let us all pay respects and tribute to the memory of those nine souls who perished at a murderer’s hand not as victims, but as martyrs to the cause of peace, harmony, and the pursuit of a nation which we can, regardless of race, creed, or gender, ultimately be proud of.  Those before us who paid with their lives for this dream would surely expect nothing less.