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Happy Halloween

When I asked my kids what video to include with a post on Halloween, they quickly suggested this one. For a kid like me who grew up in the 1980's, there could be no other.

Halloween was one of the highlights of childhood. Virtually every child, after all, welcomes the opportunity to get boatloads of free candy from throughout the neighborhood. The dressing up in costumes and carving faces into pumpkins were just an added bonus. When I became a teenager, however, Halloween started to lose much of its magic. Sure, there would be some good parties and occasionally decent costumes during my young adult years, but nothing can really compare with the joy of getting free candy when you are a child. So Halloween evolved into just another day on the calendar.

But then my wife and I eventually decided to have children, and once they were old enough to walk, the childhood ritual of trick or treating was back. Only this time, I experienced the joy of Halloween vicariously. Like many of the experiences of parenthood, Halloween became a chance to do it all over again.

One of the great things about kids is their ability to become completely absorbed into the moment and become excited about what is happening with every fiber of their being. For some reason, we tend to lose some of this capacity as we become adults. Some of this is the result of self-consciousness. We worry about what other people are thinking, fearing what may happen if we let too much emotion show. This is not an entirely bad thing. Children’s ability to show emotions very freely can be cute when they are happy, but when they get upset in public, it can be a complete nightmare. And happy or sad, the general noise level produced by children can be irritating to those not accustomed to it.

Older people’s lack of spontaneous emotional expression, however, can also be the result of experiences just getting old. When many years pass, many of the simple joys in life can lose their freshness. Thankfully, many of us adults eventually get the chance to have kids, and through their eyes, we can sometimes recapture those moments when everything was new.

Unfortunately, many of us parents can be tempted to take living vicariously too far. Through our children, we may try to achieve goals that we were unable to fulfill personally. So we may push our kids to be great athletes, musicians, students, doctors, or any other number of things. We justify this by saying that we want the best for them, an assertion that is somewhat true. But on some level, our goals can be rooted in selfishness, and we look forward to the opportunities to brag about our kids and show everyone what great parents we are.

If we push our kids too hard, we are in danger of wiping away that natural childhood enjoyment of life. Activities that they may have initially enjoyed become a chore, and they start to become one of us boring adults far too early. So here’s hoping that there are some parents out there, myself included, who are able to step back from time to time and let kids enjoy themselves. We have as much to learn from them as we have to teach.

So tomorrow night, I will do my best to look at life through the eyes of my children. And maybe, just maybe, I can score a piece of candy or two from their plastic pumpkin bucket when they are not looking. Don’t worry. It will be just a little taste. Old people like me get a little nauseous when they eat too much of that candy stuff.

I Might as Well Dance

A song from the time period when I should have been a teenager.

My wife is trying to put together a group of people to go dancing on Friday night. There is a club where they play ‘80’s music on Fridays, and if there is a musical era for my generation, that would be it. (Never mind that I generally listen to music either pre- or post-eighties.) If the DJ at this club does his or her job correctly, I will be transported back to an era of big hair, bad clothes, strange videos, and synthesizers blaring in the night.

Before I graduated from college, I generally avoided dancing whenever the opportunity presented itself. This was partly the result of my inherent whiteness. I also lacked any proper training in dancing techniques, making my ethnic lack of rhythm more difficult to hide. Much of my reluctance, however, was more about self-consciousness than lack of dancing skill. Many of my dancing friends, after all, were not exactly God’s gift to choreography. They seemed less concerned, however, with the possibility of making an ass of themselves. As time has passed, I have become more like those dancing maniacs throwing caution and self-respect to the wind. Part of this is a result of aging. For some reason, the older that you get, the less you tend to worry about what others think of you. It may be a part of the natural process of becoming old and, therefore, uncool. Standing in front of people talking all day also tends to wipe away inhibitions. Screwing up on occasion is unavoidable, and you realize that looking stupid is not a big deal.

I have also learned over time that the opinions of most people are not worth very much. And even more importantly, most people are not paying much attention to me anyway. They are generally too busy thinking about themselves and the details of their lives to notice me for any significant amount of time. And if a person does on occasion think about me or anyone else, he or she is often, like everyone else, self-consciously worrying about the opinions of others. So if the opinions of others have little impact on me, and if they are probably too busy to notice me anyway, I may as well get out and dance. Once I learned to ignore my inhibitions and give in to this urge, I found that it was actually pretty fun. I have always loved music, so if I relax and let myself go, dancing actually comes (somewhat) naturally. Believe it or not, I have actually been complimented a few times for my “skills.” For a semi-self-conscious, uptight, white boy, I’m apparently not too bad.

A Second Amendment Conspiracy Theory

This is one of the stranger songs from The Beatles' White Album.

A few weeks ago, I read an article on “HubPages” talking about the importance of Second Amendment rights. In this article, the writer argued that “power seekers” who want to keep guns out of the hands of individual citizens are manipulating “liberal pussies” that believe a gun-free society will be much safer. I wrote a brief comment explaining why I have no desire to have a gun, and he wrote a response that said, among other things, the following:

 “The establishment -- government, major and international corporations, media, government ‘clients’, etc. -- does not want an armed citizenry. At least two reasons:
1) They are aware of what happened in 1776+
2) They know that a helpless, dependent populace will lead to increasing their power, as that populace will bleat ‘save me’ to the establishment.”

So I decided to write a longer response with my own conspiracy theory.
Keep in mind, however, that I do not entirely believe in the following thesis. Like all conspiracy theories, it exaggerates the ability of the “establishment” to formulate and execute a grand, nefarious strategy to control the masses. In other words, it assumes that the “establishment” is some sort of a single entity, giving the “powers that be” much more credit than they deserve:

I understand both your desire to have a gun for self-defense and your disdain for gun laws that criminals, by definition, will find ways to get around. I also agree that the Second Amendment was largely created in order to prevent the national government from having a monopoly on gun ownership. Like all of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, it was created in order to set limitations on federal power and prevent the national government from abusing individual citizens. What confuses me, however, is your description of an alliance between “liberals” and “power seekers” in creating some sort of a liberal establishment. So I decided to spin my own conspiracy theory. I don’t know if it is entirely accurate, but like your interesting take on things, it may contain an element of truth.

You seem to think that gun-hating liberals represent a grave threat toward individual liberty in the United States. Now from what I can tell, the institutions that represent the greatest potential threat toward individual freedom are those in the security establishment: the military, defense contractors, police forces, and justice system of courts and jails. Officially, they have the function of protecting us. But in the name of security, they also have been given the power to fine, spy, imprison, physically coerce, and even kill. Ideally, these powers are used for the good of individual American citizens. The potential exists, however, for these institutions to become the oppressive central authorities feared by those who created the Bill of Rights.

Few would question the fact that these security establishment institutions tend to support and benefit from conservative political policies. Conservatives are often the ones, after all, pushing the hardest for defense spending, tough sentencing, tight security surveillance, and plenty of cops on the streets. One might counter, however, by saying that conservatives are also the ones who want to protect individual gun ownership. So if, as I claim, there is a conservative security establishment that could be a threat to personal liberty, then why do conservatives want individuals to have guns? Gun owning individuals, after all, are able to defend themselves from central government oppression.

There is a fundamental, practical problem with this line of reasoning. Militias just are not what they used to be. In the late 1700’s, militia groups might be able to resist the U.S. military if the need arose. Today, a battle between militia groups and the U.S. military would be a joke. First of all, few individual citizens are likely to take up arms against the United States. Loyalty and a sense of national identity are much stronger today than when our nation first began. But even if a significant number of people did rise up against central authority, they would not stand a chance. My money would be on the $700 billion dollar a year U.S. military to mop up any modern day “minutemen” in short order.

It is in the interest of the conservative security establishment, however, to let people play the part of “minutemen.” People can then maintain the delusion that they are able to defend themselves against central authority. Also, as an added benefit, conservatives can keep gun enthusiasts paranoid about those liberals who want to oppress them by confiscating guns and restricting future access to them. And in the meantime, the real potential threat to individual citizens can linger and possibly grow even stronger.

The Roman Republic lasted for hundreds of years. But then, once they grew into a massive empire, military leaders asserted control and established a dictatorship. Will this someday be our fate? I hope not. We would be wise, however, to heed the words of Dwight Eisenhower, a man who could hardly be called a member of the “liberal establishment”:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

I hope that Eisenhower was wrong. For if the future of our democracy is dependent on an ‘alert and knowledgeable citizenry,’ then we might have a serious problem. And all of those guns, which more than anything else provide a false sense of security to those who own them, may be one of many factors in maintaining the illusion that we are still living in a democracy.”