Why All of the Anger?

I have a theory as to why all of this violence is showing up at political rallies, both Republican and Democrat, and in general around society.

My theory is that after years of political correctness and repressed feelings, our society is faced with a truly polarizing presidential candidate in Donald Trump and the most polarizing president since Abraham Lincoln, that is, Barack Obama, and all of those repressed feelings are coming out with a vengeance. The thought police have been telling us about how every tiny thing that is remotely offensive needs to be banned, and people in general are fed up with that.

Like any system under artificial pressure, once the smallest leak occurs, the pressure gushes out with great and terrible force and everything explodes. Our country is paying the price for having forced its people to shut their mouths and not speak what’s in their hearts and on their minds. Instead of normal discourse with its occasional bumpy areas, people have just swallowed their emotions and thoughts and they are sick from it. We don’t let our kids win trophies because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of the kids that came in second place. If nobody wins, everyone feels like a loser. Striving has been determined to be bad. Striving for greatness and excellence is is part of the human psyche. Millennials are becoming disillusioned with capitalism because they don’t think it’s fair. In capitalism, success is the driver behind striving for excellence because excellence equals success and success feels good. Success for some also means that some will fail (although for people of character, failure is the driver to work harder and try again to succeed). You can’t have winners without losers. We must come to grips with the fact that the only fairness that we are entitled to is a fair chance, a level playing field.

So whose fault is this? Is it Donald Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s or Barack Obama’s or the news media’s? No! IT IS OUR FAULT. We have become the frog in the kettle. We jumped in the water when it was comfortable and we tried to keep it comfortable by the de facto barring of free speech and vigorous discourse. We put the ice cubes of political correctness in the water while ignoring the fact that the bunson burner of the human psyche is heating the water just a bit faster than the ice can cool it. We are now at a rapid boil with no end in sight. We as a nation have lost our minds and our abilities to disagree agreeably. We have become so thin skinned that it is a miracle we don’t bleed to death. We are fragile flowers that are offended at everything we don’t agree with.

The First Amendment is a messy thing. It entitles everyone the right to speak freely, without fear of reprisal. It also entitles everyone to peacefully and freely assemble. That does not mean that one group may invade the place of assembly of another and freely speak over the top of those that were already gathered and speaking there. We must respect each other and acknowledge the “right to be wrong.” There are plenty of public squares to go around. If it is one thing we have in great abundance in the United States, it is space.

Until we rediscover the balance between brutal truth-telling and civility, we will be a nation where people continue to either yell at each other or hide in the corner. The end result of that will be chaos and a nation in chaos cannot stand.

True Open-Mindedness

People throw around the term “open-minded” with the wrong meaning. Truly open-minded people know what they believe and why, know there are things they don’t know (a very Rumsfeldian idea), are willing to learn new things, and if those new things impact their current beliefs, then they are willing to change their beliefs. They also have the capacity to understand that people with differing beliefs and understandings can come to those in a logical, thinking manner, and they can respect those differences without feeling the need to embrace them.

A not so chance encounter

I had a wonderful discussion with a man from Rwanda that I met in the parking lot at the FDA where I am serving as a senior business systems analyst. While my French is atrocious, I could see that the book he was carrying was a history book dealing with the struggles between blacks and whites in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994. I asked him if he had seen the movie Hotel Rwanda and if it was accurate. He told me that he had and unfortunately, it wasn’t. We started talking about the Hutus and the Tutsis and racism. He asked about the origins of racism. I talked to him about Dutch and British colonialism, the caste system in India and the Untouchables in particular, and also the treatment of the aboriginal people of Australia by the British settlers and even more contemporary Australians. Then he asked me a very poignant question, “what do we do to get rid of racism in this country?” I told him that the best things that we can do are to dispel falsehoods by teaching the truth and to show ourselves as friendly and respectful toward those of different people groups. We have to dispel the falsehood that there is a unified hatred of one group by another by proving that at least one person of that group doesn’t hate them.
We discussed what sort of teachings might change people’s minds. I spoke to him about the common ancestry of humanity as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. I told him stories of Moses and how his own brother and sister were upset with him because he married an Ethiopian woman. I told him of the Jewish people from Ethiopia that stood as a testimony to the fact that we are truly one race of people, a message he echoed to me earlier in our conversation. I told him of the origin of humanity being from North Africa and drawing the conclusion that if all people came from one place, then the essence of all humanity is identical and we simply have different appearances.
I asked him if he was familiar with the Gospel story and how when the edict went out to kill the male children two years and younger that Mary and Joseph fled to North Africa. He knew the story well. Being a Jew in my heritage and my pedagogy, I asked him a question versus presenting my conclusion. I asked him, “would parents of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy hide in a place where everyone had brown skin and black hair?” He smiled and said, “no.” Then he surprised me. He pulled out a book and asked me if I though it was legitimate because he had a friend that only spoke French who needed this book in French. The title was, “Nouveau Testament.” He knew there were versions floating around that had slight changes to promote the doctrines of certain cults. I opened the book to Jean 1:1, recited John 1:1 in English and asked him if that’s what it said. He confirmed that. I asked him to look at the phrase, “and the Word was God” and make sure that there was no indefinite article there, a trick of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to substantiate their Arian (not to be confused with Aryan) doctrine of Christ. He said there was none. We did a similar drill with Jean/John 3:16. He confirmed that what it says was what I recited. He was very happy because now he could give his friend what he was asking for.
We both ended our work days with a wonderful encounter. I have been telecommuting for five years. While I dislike making the drive, I love meeting people face to face.

An Independence Day Letter to my Students

I am privileged to be an adjunct professor for Everest College.  The opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of students is something I greatly relish.  On Independence Day, 2014, I wrote the following to my current students.  If you are a former student of mine, or if you just came across this blog for some other reason, I hope that you’ll take to heart the following:

Dearest Students:

As we go into this holiday weekend, I hope you all remember what we are truly celebrating. The independence that our nation gained over 200 years ago is something that allows us to be studying as we are here today. We don’t need any sort of royal decree to allow us to teach. In slightly over two centuries of existence, our great nation has accomplished many wonderful things. We face challenging times, as is often the case in any great nation. What makes America truly great is not only our great freedoms, but how we deal with struggles and the hard times in life.  We are an exceptional nation made up of exceptional people.
It’s important that you are always aware of the great sacrifices that it took to get to where we stand today. If while you’re watching a parade, you happen to see a veteran, go up to that man or that woman and express your thanks for that person’s service to our great country.  Having been a soldier, I can tell you that the greatest challenges are those we face when we get back into the “real” world. While many of our veterans don’t bear their scars on the outside, a great number bear scars on the inside. One out of every four homeless people is a veteran. On any given day, 22 veterans die at their own hands. If you started counting the number of veterans who died this way from New Year’s Day until Labor Day, the number would exceed those who died in the entire Iraqi conflict. Independence is something that we enjoy freely, but it didn’t come cheaply.
You have great things waiting for you after this class is done. College is one of the few places where you have the ability to determine almost everything that happens to you. You choose how much to study, you choose how hard you work on assignments, and you choose how much you participate in the discussion threads. If there is anything that I can tell you about your educational experience to come, it’s this; it doesn’t get easier. I have a dual Bachelor’s, a Diploma in Military Science, two Master’s degrees, and I’m working toward a postgraduate degree, and it is as hard today as it was when I was a college freshman 35 years ago. It’s always a challenge, but it’s always worth it. During the introductions to class, we ask you about those who will be your greatest supporters. It’s wonderful to have support, but remember one thing, the only one that you need to impress with what you do at school, is yourself. When you look at your grades, don’t gauge yourself so much on the letter grade as you do on the level of effort that went into achieving that letter grade. If you get a C in a class, and you put every bit of your being into earning that, then feel good about it. The size of the diploma of a student that carried a 2.9 GPA is not any smaller than that of a student who earned a perfect 4.0.

Best wishes to you all,
Andy Knaster, BA, MA, MSIS
Adjunct Prof., Everest College Phoenix Online

The Oligarchy Times: How the President could Really Change the World

The Oligarchy Times, Volume 2, Issue 2

In the past, I have made suggestions for the President that he was highly unlikely to act upon. I have a few very realistic actions that President Obama could take that will take care of several issues and truly change the world:

1) His dropping pole results
2) Fuel costs in the US
3) The loss of the US’s position as a true super power
4) Unemployment
5) Our impotent threats against Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine

If he would drive getting rid of ridiculous EPA prohibitions against fracking and northern drilling and push for the passing of the XL pipeline, we could take a large portion of that oil, sell it to European nations dependent on Russian oil at a rate far lower than Russia’s, and bankrupt the Russian economy by removing that income stream.  We could win that “war” without deploying a single soldier or firing a single bullet.  Fuel costs in the US would drop, we’d have a viable economic weapon to diplomiatically impact the world for good, tens of thousands of jobs would be created, and Russia would be forced to stop these invasions that are based on its stabilizing its major income stream.  It could happen.

Fight for a Change

I believe that we have forgotten how to fight in this country. The further we get from the fighters of the 1950’s and 1960’s such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the further we get from fighting that makes a difference in society. The Occupy movement was a perfect example of this. For all of their bluster, they accomplished nothing and broke dozens of laws that had nothing to do with their cause in the process. They left filth on the streets and caused problems for people that had nothing to do with those they were protesting. In comparison, think of the four young men from North Carolina A&T who in 1960 quietly sat at a lunch counter and simply asked to be served coffee. They were refused because of their skin color. These four young men took up a fight as gentlemen (in the old sense of the word) and with dignity and grace. They were heard. They caused real change.

Fighting involves risks. I believe that Dr. King knew of his impending death and spoke of it just before he was assassinated. Corrie Ten Boom knew that if the Nazis discovered evidence of her fight against totalitarianism by hiding Jewish people in her home, she would lose her life. The Chinese students who died in Tiananmen Square gave their lives so they could raise their voices.

We need to recapture the fires of change in our bosoms and stand against all forms of injustice. Find your passions and fight for them. Take risks. Be willing to lose what you cannot keep so that you can gain what you cannot lose (Jim Eliot). Remember that “a man [that] hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” (Dr. King). Maintain the pressure on your “boilers” so you are hot enough to fight but not so hot as to explode. Leave nothing on the battlefield except the echos of your cries for change.

Student vs. scholar

I am sitting just a few months shy of my second Master’s.  Three weeks after I get that, I undertake a second opportunity to get a  doctorate, only this time at age 50 instead of age 32.  In one of the uncounted number of random thoughts that come during periods of solitude, I was considering what the difference is between a student and a scholar.  A student sees studying as the means to an end such as a diploma or a degree.  A scholar sees studying as a beginning without needing a particular end in sight.  When I was 32, I was merely a student.  Today, I am scholar.

If you want to say, “I told you so”

I am inviting anybody in the United States that held a different opinion than mine about our newly re-elected president to say, “I told you so” to me when any of the following happen:

  1. The national debt ceases to grow for 12 months straight
  2. Our credit rating goes back to AAA
  3. We completely leave Afghanistan
  4. A budget is passed
  5. The president sets foot in Israel
  6. Real unemployment stays at or below 6% for three consecutive months
  7. DOMA is repealed and benefits like Social Security and military spousal privileges are extended to all legally married people
  8. The academic rating in science and math of U.S. students gets back into the top ten in the world
  9. The president fulfills his 2009 promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay
  10. The number of appearances the president makes on talk shows in a year is less than the number of press conferences he holds in the same year
  11. There isn’t a single presidential appointee at the USDA that has not or does not benefit from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

You know where to reach me.

What is more dangerous?

I was corresponding with pinkishey, a fellow citizen of the blogosphere, about the incessant bombings in her soon to be home in Israel.  She writes beautiful prose of her adventures there.  It takes me back to my younger years in Teaneck, NJ where I and many of my Jewish friends dreamt of living in the Holy Land.  I remember giving serious thought to moving there and joining the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) when President Carter re-instituted the draft.  She wrote of the impact of missiles in her soon to be home-town of Netivot (http://kvetshing.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/grad-missiles-from-gaza-hits-home-in-netivot/) and how that related to her feelings of relative safety.  I wrote the following to her.

What is more dangerous, living in a country where your government seeks to protect you from your enemies or living in a country that gives aid to your enemies? I used to be proud of how our (U.S.) government treated our (Jewish) people. Now I have a president that hasn’t set foot in the Holy Land while in office and would rather appear on Late Night with David Letterman than meet with Israel’s PM. Here is one of my favorite Israeli’s view of this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YK7UGytvs8.

I hope she is able to stay there.

Are you willing to sacrifice a night at the movies?

I’m going to break out my Jewish guilt for just a moment here. Do you go to the movies? I do. My wife and I enjoy about two hours of freedom from the insanity of the world by paying about $24 to see a movie. What if that same $24 could buy a night of freedom for a young girl that is forced to the live the life of a prostitute in Thailand? By sacrificing one night of comfortable entertainment, you are giving a girl or young woman a night free from being a sex-slave. We talk about how much we need our days off from work. How about giving someone a well-needed day off from the disgusting occupation they are forced to be in.

While we are talking about the movies, check out this 4 minute video (http://youtu.be/21vyrOfNgag) from Freedom 4/24, the non-profit that is working to help stem the tide of human trafficking and the sex-trade.

Are you willing to give up a night at the movies yet?

On October 20, 2012, I’m participating in the Run for Their Lives 5k run (I’ll be walking, I’m dedicated but I don’t have a death wish). The purpose is to raise awareness for Freedom 4/24’s mission and raise funds to support it. You can donate very easily. Go to http://www.freedom424.org/donate/ for instructions.

Are you convinced yet? If you aren’t sure, just think of a poor young girl being used by a disgusting pervert while you are waiting for your movie tickets. Enjoy the show.

Still not convinced? If you have $24 of discretionary money and you aren’t willing to sacrifice it, I have one last request. UNFRIEND ME/UNLIKE ME/UNFOLLOW ME/DON’T VISIT MY BLOG AGAIN!

A Second Open Letter to Sen. Tom Harkin

On September 24, 2012, I posted the following letter to Senator Tom Harkin’s Senate Web page.

________________________________________________________________________

Senator Harkin:

As a veteran and taxpayer, I appreciate your desire to have the money used to educate our veterans be used effectively and efficiently. However, the presentation that you authored has issues. I’m trained in statistics and because of that, I could make a laundry list of issues. You are a very busy man so instead of going item for item, please allow me to point out one blatantly wrong slide. You have a slide entitled “For-Profit Colleges Employ Many Recruiters But Few Placement Staff.” From a subjective perspective, to have a slide with a title that indicates an issue with For-Profit Colleges as a group but then indicts a single one is disingenuous and ineffective because your case is that many schools have this problem, yet you showcase only one. It also smacks of a lack of objectivity and personal bias. Even if your chart is accurate, it does not make the point that this is a systemic problem.

Objectively, the slide in incorrect. University of Phoenix, the largest school under the Apollo Group umbrella, has an extremely robust Career Services site that covers the gamut of services from resume writing to career research to interview preparation. The site also lists major employers that Phoenix partners with to help find jobs for its graduates.

Your data was gathered from 2007 to 2010. I started at Phoenix in 2010 and I don’t know what its career placement services were like then. It could be that in 2010, your statement was accurate. However, it is nearly 2013 and it definitely is not accurate.

If I had the 20-30 hours free to write it, I would write a report that shows slide for slide, just how bad this report is. I don’t have the time to write it and anyone as busy as you doesn’t have the time to read it. Please consider making this “update” to your report as a show of good will. I’ll be the first person to thank you for that by making a post to that effect on my blog, andyknaster.com.

Since your Senate Web site has a link to that report on its home page, it appears that this is a report you are proud of and feel the people need to read. Don’t you owe it to your constituents and all of America to be accurate and up-to-date?

This is my second letter to you. I requested a response to the first one and I have not received it. I posted to your Facebook page and got no response. Please respond to this message. This is a very non-partisan issue. In this highly contentious and partisan time, taking action on a non-partisan issue is something I think would resonate well with many Americans.

Respectfully yours,
Andrew Knaster, BA, MA, MCP
University of Phoenix Master of Information Systems student, class of 2013

Festina lente

I’m an analyst by trade and temperament.  Sometimes I catch things quickly.  There are more times when I don’t.  When I am working with a customer, and the customer’s expectations are unclear to me, I have to make deductions, take them to my customers, confirm or correct them, and then move ahead.  Some people feel that I take too much time to do what I do.  Time is important but accuracy is essential.

There is an adage in Latin, festina lente. It translates to “make haste slowly” and it means to progress with urgency while maintaining precision. It’s a very feng shui sort of thing. I learned it as an artilleryman. In artillery, we faced the dual challenge of having to move forward at the greatest possible speed while being mindful that our compasses were circumscribed in mils and not degrees. There are 6,400 mils in a circle and a firing equation that is five mils off misses by five meters at a kilometer and 100 meters at 20 kilometers, the distance at which we often shot.  The Infantry was fast.  They could sacrifice precision in exchange for speed and ferocity.  We artillerymen had to be precise.  As soon as we missed a target by 100 meters, a counterbattery attack was launched on us, firing over the same trajectory as we fired.  If they were more precise that we, our end was imminent. 

I’ll stay with making haste slowly.  Gandhi said it best, “there is more to life than increasing its speed.”