Archive for May, 2013

Governments don’t create rights; your rights are yours from birth

by David McElroy

Bill of Rights

Do you support First Amendment Rights? What about Second Amendment rights? Some people have favorites. They like free speech, so they support the First Amendment, but they don’t like guns, so they don’t support the Second. Someone else might support guns, so they like the Second Amendment, but they don’t think criminal suspects should have any rights, so they think the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are worthless. And so on.

If you do that, you’re confused about what rights are. It’s hard to blame you, though, because you were taught misleading information in school and you’ve grown up in a country where people don’t seem to believe you can talk about rights without finding an amendment to point to and say, “See? That’s where this right comes from.”

Contrary to what you were probably taught, the Bill of Rights doesn’t give anybody a single right. This document was simply a list of a few of the basic rights that some early U.S. politicians thought should be written down and enshrined in the Constitution to make certain that these “obvious” things were protected. But it wasn’t meant to be a complete list. The Ninth Amendment was inserted to make sure that nobody could think that this was all the rights that exist. It reads:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

In other words, “We recognize that you have all the natural rights that are yours just because you’re a human being. We’re listing a few of them here, but that doesn’t make them more special than the ones we’re not listing.”

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Sometimes you’re not ready for a challenge, but you do it anyway

by David McElroy

FrazzledThere’s a building not far from my house that takes me back to December of 2004 each time I drive past. It’s not a good memory, but rather one that still gives me shivers eight and a half years later.

It’s the memory of a night I suddenly couldn’t remember what I was doing and freaked out as I tried to do my job.

We were close to finishing the first day of shooting for my short film, “We’re the Government — and You’re Not.” Even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was the writer and director, and I was sharing the producer duties. I honestly didn’t know until that day just how little I knew.

Even though the day had been a blur, things had generally gone well except for my car having a flat tire at the next-to-last shooting location of the day. (I rode around on the little “doughnut spare” all weekend because I didn’t have time to fix the tire.) I was waiting for one last prop to come in the mail. It was days late, but we thought it would be there. I ran to my house and it wasn’t there — and it was time to shoot the scene. I didn’t have a back-up plan.

The prop was an old-fashioned hand-crank calculator. It was to be used with glee by the IRS agent in the audit scene. In my mind, it was a key to the scene, because I knew exactly what it was supposed to look like. But it hadn’t arrived. I had somehow mismanaged the process of getting it there — and having a back-up solution — so I started panicking. After quickly driving to a couple of other places in a fruitless attempt to find some other prop, I drove back to the location where we were shooting the IRS scene — the building I mentioned at the beginning.

I went inside to find problems. The owner of the building had decided to toss us out, so the production manager was begging, pleading and lying to get us just a few more minutes. The two actors and the director of photography were waiting for me to give orders for the scene.

But my mind was fried. I could barely remember what was going on, much less what the scene was. I suddenly had no recollection of what we had planned for the scene, much less how I’d do it without the missing prop. I was in full-scale panic mode.

The director of photography was the amazingly talented Alicia Robbins. I pulled her into the next room — away from the actors — and said, “Alicia, I’m suddenly losing it. I can’t remember what our plan for this scene was. Will you tell me what we’re doing before I go in there and embarrass myself?”

Alicia saved me by basically making that scene happen. While they were waiting for me to get back to the location, she had worked out something for the actors to do that didn’t involve the missing prop. One of the actors happened to be a very talented guy by the name of J.J. Marrs. Between the two of them, Alicia and J.J. saved the scene and made me look better than I had any right to look.

Even though the film went on to be pretty successful for a low-budget short from a first-time director, that moment of meltdown has stayed with me ever since. In fact, I don’t think I had been aware of how much it had affected me until I started work recently on my next film, “John Crispin for President.”

For all these years, I’ve been terrified to make another film. I blamed it on everything you can think of. The unexpected success of the first one made me fear that it had been a fluke and that I’d disappoint certain people (one person in particular) if I tried again. I blamed it on lack of money. I blamed it on other things. I did everything in the book to avoid taking another chance, because I didn’t want to feel that horrible feeling of being ashamed of myself for not being prepared.

John Crispin-logoIt wasn’t until after I started working on “John Crispin” that it hit me. More than anything else, I was running from those awful minutes when I felt like a fool and lost the ability to think or remember or do much of anything coherently. I had felt shame, because there’s a part of me that believes I’m supposed to be perfect. And this horrible little meltdown reminded me clearly of just how imperfect I was. I’ve been afraid to experience that again.

Since I’ve been working on “John Crispin,” I’ve realized something. I guess I might have known it intellectually, but I’ve experienced it in a way that felt more real.

I’ve realized that you’re never really ready for the next big step in life. If you feel ready, you’re probably not taking much of a step. You’re probably just repeating what you’ve already done over and over before. You’re probably staying in your comfort zone. You’re probably wasting your life.

I needed to step out of the little box where I’ve been comfortable and take another scary step toward things I said I wanted. I don’t enjoy feeling uncomfortable, but I know I’ve needed to do it. I’ve been playing it safe ever since I made that first short. As a result, I haven’t done a whole lot of things that I’m proud of. Playing it safe lost something very important to me about four years ago and ever since, it’s made me feel that my world was shrinking. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I felt afraid much of the time.

Since I started work on “John Crispin,” I feel like my old self again. I’m taking chances that I haven’t taken lately, and I know that it’s possible I’ll fall on my face. But playing it safe has made me feel dead. Taking a risk to get what I want is making me feel alive again. The results almost don’t matter as much as taking the chance.

I’m not ready for the project I’m working on. I’m making it up as I go. I’m making mistakes. But I’m doing it even though I’m not ready — and I’m starting to think that’s the only way to do what you really need to be doing.

Unless you’re suicidal, an armed march on D.C. is a very bad idea

by David McElroy

Adam KokeshIf you’re going to Washington, D.C., for the Fourth of July, I strongly suggest that you don’t take a gun. And I suggest even more strongly that you don’t follow Adam Kokesh on a “peaceful” armed march on the city.

We can agree about the outcomes we want, but still strongly disagree about how to get there. We can even disagree about whether there’s anything reasonable to be done which would bring about the desired outcome at the moment.

Kokesh calls himself a libertarian, but I’m not familiar with what all he believes. I just know of him as a flamboyant and loud activist. If that’s your thing, it’s your business. It’s just not my way, so I’m not especially interested in that sort of activism. And I definitely don’t have a death wish — or a desire to lead a bunch of people into being arrested in order to play the role of martyr or victim.

Kokesh had already been promoting the Fourth of July armed march, but he upped the stakes last week. After a recent arrest in Philadelphia — which appeared unjustified based on my cursory viewing of the video — Kokesh called for an “American Revolutionary Army to March on 50 State Capitols.” Here’s his full announcement, if you’d like to make sure I’m not taking him out of context.

If you’re following someone who suddenly calls on an “army” to march on every state capitol in the country and forcibly demand the immediate dissolution of the national government, you should seriously wonder about the person you’re following. Even if we agree on desired ends — and I suspect that I would generally agree with what Kokesh wants for society — you have to wonder about the judgement and mental stability of someone making that sort of plea and hoping for people to obey.

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Mass. principal cancels honors night so losers won’t have hurt feelings

by David McElroy

Everyone wins

A middle school principal in Massachusetts apparently thinks it’s bad to reward high achievers — because it might hurt the feelings of those who don’t do as well.

David Fabrizio is principal of Ipswich Middle School in Ipswich, Mass., and he canceled the school’s annual honors night this year. Here’s what he said in his explanation to parents.

“The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average,” Fabrizio wrote in his letter to parents.

Fabrizio also cited fairness as a reason to cancel honors night. He said in his letter than academic success can partly be about the amount of support a student has at home — so honoring high achievers isn’t fair to those who don’t have the same support at home.

Thankfully, some parents were outraged and voiced their disapproval, at which time the principal demonstrated that he was not only politically correct, but was quite willing to talk out of both sides of his mouth. In a second letter to parents, Fabrizio said he plans to honor top-performing students at the annual end-of-the-year assembly, when honored students can be recognized in front of the whole student body.

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If you want to honor military dead, stop supporting unnecessary wars

by David McElroy

Vietnam memorial

It’s Memorial Day in the United States, a day we set aside to remember men and women who’ve died in wars. Politicians make a lot of speeches today and lay a lot of wreaths, but the best way to honor the fallen would be to quit using the men and women of the military as expendable pawns in a global game for world influence.

There’s something honorable about fighting for something you believe in, and I respect the dedication and bravery of many thousands of those who’ve died. But since we can’t bring them back to life (and we can’t change the horrors they lived through), the best we can do is change how the U.S. government conducts itself around the globe so that fewer Americans will join the ones being honored today in military cemeteries — and fewer loved ones will face living without them.

Even if we set aside the question of the legitimacy of the state, there’s much to be gained from making U.S. foreign policy less intrusive and less aggressive. It’s not the business of the U.S. government what happens around the world, and it’s not U.S. taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for whatever happens elsewhere. It’s not U.S. soldiers’ legitimate role to die invading countries which haven’t attacked their country.

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Coming soon: Meet John Crispin, Demopublican for U.S. president

by David McElroy

DemopublicanEight years ago, I made a short film and it had a successful run at 20 smaller film festivals. It even won a few awards. Since then, it’s been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube. It’s finally time to make another one.

I never dreamed I’d wait this long to get serious about making another film, but work has finally begun.

The working title is “John Crispin for President.” It’s a short parody of a political film for a presidential candidate of the “Demopublican Party.” Not only is Crispin willing to promise absolutely anything to anyone in order to pander for votes, but he also has a very serious and glaring physical flaw — which everyone completely ignores since he’s a powerful man.

The primary point is to satirize candidates who are willing to promise the moon to voters, but the secondary point is that a candidate can be completely flawed in obvious and serious ways, but few in the mainstream even seem to notice.

I’ll be launching a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to raise some money to make it, so you’ll be hearing me talk about that when the sample footage is shot and we have a promotional video. Indiegogo is similar to Kickstarter, but I like the way the service works better.

I’m not going to spoil what Crispin’s major flaw is, but bringing it to the screen requires very specialized special effects makeup. Finding the person who can produce the look I need has been holding the project up for a couple of years, but I finally found a makeup artist recently who specializes in what the character requires. I think you’ll find the candidate’s look funny and outrageous at the same time. It’s something that might help in making the piece go viral online when it’s out. I have my fingers crossed.

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Does mainstream schooling model bring out the worst in teen-agers?

by David McElroy

Bullying teen

About six or seven years ago, I got a late-night phone call from a woman I know. She was really upset and on the verge of crying when I answered. I remember the feelings associated with the conversation far more than I do the details, but I’ll never forget the emotions because I’ve thought about it over and over since then.

The woman was a teacher who hadn’t been teaching long. I don’t recall whether it was her first or second year, but I know she loved her middle school students very much. She was a very good and caring teacher — with a brilliant mind and flair for communicating effectively — the prototype of the rare sort of teacher who anyone would gladly trust his own children with. But on this night, she was upset and confused.

She was on a school trip with her students to Washington, D.C. At some point along the trip, some sort of bullying or rivalry started among her girls. I don’t remember if there was just one victim or if it was a conflict between groups. But whatever it was, it was the sort of ugly, mean, nasty thing that only kids of that age can do to one another. For this kind and loving teacher, it was enough to break her heart — partly because of the pain it was causing for students she loved and partly because it was reminding her of her own miserable school years at that age.

As we talked that night, I sat in a parking lot and listened, but I didn’t have any useful advice to offer. For all these years, I’ve been wondering about it. What causes kids to act this way to each other? And what can we do about it?

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Hospital’s five-year fight to move shows health care isn’t free market

by David McElroy

Trinity hospital building on US 280

We’ve been told over and over that problems with health care in this country prove that the free market has failed. But what if the medical industry is already so regulated that its problems have nothing to do with the free market?

There hasn’t been a free market in health care for a long time, certainly not in my lifetime. Probably not since sometime in the 19th century. An item in the local news this week is a stark reminder of that to me.

In 2008, Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham proposed relocating from an older part of town to a fast-growing area along U.S. 280, very close to affluent southern suburbs. A major hospital company (HealthSouth) had built a state-of-the-art building already, but the company was hit hard in an accounting scandal involving the company’s founder and former CEO. The company unloaded various properties around the country just to survive, including this hospital which was about 90 percent complete. (That’s the new building above, framed by a nice sunset I shot last year.)

Trinity is currently in an older part of Birmingham near downtown that’s declining. The hospital was founded as Baptist Medical Center-Montclair many decades ago, but the Baptist system sold that hospital to a private company a decade or more ago. Before too long, the new management was looking to relocate to a newer facility closer to a suburban population that didn’t have a hospital close by.

In the current location, the hospital competes with various huge hospitals downtown. Although most people don’t realize it, Birmingham is a major center for medical research and health care. The medical industry — clinical and research combined — is the biggest in the area by far.

After an aborted plan to move to the suburb of Irondale, Trinity decided that moving to the unused HealthSouth building was more economical and would provide access to a better market. There was only one problem.

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City rushes to demolish $4.5 million transit station after only 13 years

by David McElroy

MAX station-Birmingham

Why would someone tear down a $4.5 million building that’s only 13 years old? If you’re a government agency, you do it because you simply want to build something else. After all, you’re not spending your own money.

In Birmingham, the local mass transit agency built a fancy new central terminal for buses in 1999. It’s across the street from the Amtrak station, and the Greyhound bus station is a few blocks away, in a location where it’s been for many decades. When the new terminal, shown above, was built, it was supposed to be the first phase of a larger project that would combine a terminal for Amtrak, Greyhound and local transit buses. The agency has been talking about an “intermodal facility” for years.

The Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority is a county-wide, inter-government agency, but it’s the Birmingham city government that drives the bus, so to speak. Mass transit is important to a substantial number of people who live in the inner city, but it’s irrelevant to almost everybody who lives in the suburbs. (I’ve never been on one of the buses and I see many of those big buses riding around the area virtually empty.)

So why is this very expensive new building being torn down this summer? That’s not clear. Nobody seems to ask hard questions — and make them stick — when it’s “government money” involved.

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Vulnerability is scary, but failure to be open guarantees loss of love

by David McElroy

Barbed wire fence

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about emotional vulnerability. I wrote about this subject about 15 months ago after I discovered social work researcher Brené Brown. I found her TED talk on the subject terribly compelling.

As I’ve continued to think and read about this, I keep uncovering new things to understand about myself — sometimes things I’m not so happy to discover. I knew that the dysfunctional home in which I grew up left all of us feeling shame and fear, but I seem to keep uncovering new layers of the effects it’s had on the ways I’ve lived my life so far.

Over the weekend, I had an epiphany of sorts when I realized the role that shame and lack of vulnerability played when I lost someone important to me about four years ago. I think I’d sort of already known, but it somehow came together in a very clear way that dropped a load of bricks on my head. Or heart. I’m not sure which.

I didn’t realize this for a long time, but I don’t like to take emotional risks, because I’m afraid of being hurt. If you happened to see the piece I wrote for Mother’s Day last week, you might understand why I have a long-term fear of losing women I love. I’ve understand that piece of the puzzle for years, but I don’t think I’d been clear on the fact that I set myself up to lose someone I wanted badly by not being vulnerable — by pulling back when trusting more was the healthy and loving thing to do.

So here’s what I realized.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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What kind of "educational film" would the U.S. government release today to teach Americans how to be good citizens?
We're the Government — and You're Not
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