Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Meador”

Disasters, death, a curmudgeon, a ghoulish kid

meador

“Mom, what’s a curmudgeon?” asked 11-year-old me. I’m pretty sure I pronounced it “CARmudgeon” and I’m also pretty sure she didn’t correct me. This was long before smartphones and Google.

“It’s kind of like a grumpy old man who just seems grumpy when, actually, he might be nice, underneath his gruff exterior.” My mother didn’t want to know why I needed the definition. She knew I had eclectic interests, even then.

“Sort of like those two old guys up in the balcony on ‘The Muppet Show?’” I persisted. “Statler and Waldorf?” Yep, I knew their names — after all, they were my favorite Muppets.

“Exactly,” said my mother. “Those two are curmudgeons.”

I needed to know the definition because I knew my favorite columnist was known as a curmudgeon. Surely this weird new word meant something special. But, no, it just means a grumpy old man.

Mike Royko was a grumpy old man. And Mike Royko was special. I was 11 or 12 years old and I was reading Mike Royko regularly. I liked him a lot. I thought he was funny. It didn’t hurt that the young Royko looked just a little like Woody Allen.

Royko made me think.

Raised in a politically conservative household, I had always subscribed to my parents’ beliefs without question. I suspect curmudgeonly old Mike Royko was the first to make me consider there might be other legitimate perspectives. It was a small seed that took many years to germinate but it was planted by a curmudgeon who hung out at a place called the Billy Goat Tavern, when he wasn’t in a box seat at The Muppet Show.

If it seems weird that a sixth-grader was a loyal Royko reader, it’s about to get even weirder.

Remember, in 1977, I was 11 years old. Two events — momentous to me and far graver than a Royko column — occurred weeks apart that year. These events would have a profound effect on my life, directing how I saw and responded to the world. Decades later, I mark this moment in my then-young life as a turning point.

The first event took place one Sunday evening on March 27, 1977. On the Spanish-controlled island of Tenerife, two fully loaded Boeing 747s collided on the Los Rodeos Airport runway, killing 585 people.

The tragedy unfolded when Tenerife became an unscheduled stop, a diversion when Las Palmas Airport on neighboring Gran Canaria was unexpectedly closed due to a bomb threat. Both islands are part of the Canary Islands archipelago.

On that fateful Sunday, a Pan Am charter originating from LAX via JFK, was one of many commercial flights diverted. Ahead of it, on an impossibly crowded tarmac never designed for this level of congestion, sat a KLM charter originating from Schipol in Amsterdam. Due to sudden weather, bad communication, poor crew resource management and dumb luck, the two heavily laden 747s collided in dense fog. At take-off speed, the KLM struck the Pan Am as the latter tried desperately to get off the runway.

The Tenerife tragedy remains the worst aviation disaster in history.

The second event took place at the oddly named Beverly Hills Supper Club, located in Southgate, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from the much larger city of Cincinnati.

The Beverly Hills Supper Club was a sprawling, opulently decorated dinner house and nightclub serving the Cincinnati market but drawing performers and customers from all over the region and country. Because of the way the club had expanded over decades, its building had become a maze of dining rooms, bars and performance spaces with all the assorted serving spaces you’d expect tucked in between.

On May 28, 1977 — the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend — the club was packed with over 3,000 people when it burned. Unfolding on live local news, the nation watched as the vast club was engulfed in flames, killing 165 customers and staff. Many others were injured.

The Beverly Hills Supper Club disaster ranks seventh on the list of history’s deadliest nightclub fires.

For months after these events, my local librarians must’ve kept worried thoughts to themselves as the kid with the dark interests repeatedly checked out the newspapers and periodicals associated with the two disasters. I know several Time and Newsweek magazines were worn and dog-eared after I borrowed them, over and over.

It’s not that I was a little ghoul, fascinated by these dark events. Those several months in 1977 taught me that terrible things happened elsewhere — things that had nothing to do with me. A seminal moment, this is the point I lost my childlike self-focus.

It also helped me understand Mike Royko from an adult perspective.

I owe much of my adult outlook to that little seed Royko planted long ago.

If you parsed me politically, I am about one-third conservative Republican, one-third liberal Democrat and one-third Libertarian. I take a small measure of pride that none of my positions conflict with any other.

Although I see my perspective as balanced and well-thought-out, if my true beliefs on everything were public knowledge, everyone would hate me.

This is easily explained by pointing out that it’s a better-than-even bet that I disagree with you on at least one deal-breaker issue. And since most people no longer care to consider the hundreds or thousands of things we have in common, instead focusing on those couple points on which we disagree, I am accustomed to being written off over one deal-breaker issue or another.

Never mind that I hail from the Roykian school where we strove to play well with others. We recognized we could disagree and still be friends, a quality distinctly out of favor these days. But today my natural optimism has been tempered by the cynicism I’ve gained from living — only half-joking, I am fond of saying I’ve been around the block so many times it’s round.

You could probably say I am the most cynical optimist you’ll ever meet. Mike Royko would be proud.

There is, however, method to my madness.

When my conservative friends start bashing the social justice movement, I counter with this: the social justice movement got us to stop saying the R-word, which we shouldn’t have been saying anyway. I go on to detail some of the other improvements that have come about via efforts of those concerned with social justice. It’s not that I am a sword-carrying member of the movement — but I recognize true nonpartisan progress when I see it.

Of course, like most other human endeavors, the social justice movement has taken things too far, too fast. Social change — both necessary and inevitable — works best when it happens slowly, whether anyone likes it or not.

I learned this thinking from reading Mike Royko when I was 11 years old.

Nearly 50 years later — and 25 years after Royko’s death — I’ve remained true to myself, to my morals, to my faith.

I never set out to follow Royko’s path and I do not now claim to have done so.

I got my first newspaper gig in 1984 and I have been writing one way or another ever since. If one day I have a body of work worth reading, worth quoting, worth remembering, I would be honored if my name was mentioned with journalistic royalty like Mike Royko. But I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, have I become I curmudgeon? It’s funny how you bypass the things to which you aspire, managing instead to become the things you never sought. I don’t know that a sixth-grader is capable of curmudgeonliness — I suspect a few of them are — but I am quite certain I’ve attained both the age and the cynicism to now qualify.

That’s okay. If anyone ever labeled me a curmudgeon, I’d be honored to keep Mike Royko company at The Billy Goat or up in that Muppet box.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

Yes, it’s a moral issue

meador

In a darkly perverse way, it’s appropriate this one happened at a church. No, I’ll never be grateful for a mass shooting but there’s a moral to be had in this one — a moral in the most literal sense.

As mass shootings go, the shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama on June 16, 2022 didn’t even make the official “mass shooting” cut.

This mini-mass-shooting unfolded when “occasional attendee” Robert Findlay Smith showed up at Thursday “Boomers Potluck” gathering at St. Stephen’s. The 74-year-old shooter produced a handgun and proceeded to shoot. Authorities said Walter Rainey, 84, and Sarah Yeager, 75, were pronounced dead shortly after and Claire Pounds, 84, succumbed to her injuries Friday.

Another potluck attendee disarmed Smith and immobilized him until police arrived.

According to the independent, nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a mass shooting is an incident during which at least four victims are shot, either injured or killed, not including the shooter. As of today, the 169th day of 2022, the U.S. has seen 270 mass shooting events this year. The St. Stephen’s event would’ve made that 271 but, with only three victims, it doesn’t qualify. Nevertheless, at 1.6 mass shootings per day, we’re on track to exceed two daily mass shootings by Christmas.

When I write on the topic of mind-numbingly common mass shootings, I very frequently get push-back from Second Amendment supporters who tell me it’s not a gun issue – it’s a moral issue.

They’re absolutely right. I agree: mass shootings are unquestionably a moral issue.

As recently as the 1980s, pickup trucks with gun racks and rifles visible in rear windows were common sights in high school student parking lots. Nobody thought anything of it.

Hold on, I know where you’re going to go with this. In many or most mass shootings, the good-guy-with-a-gun scenario is pure fantasy — the odds of a high school kid getting out to his pickup, retrieving his rifle and successfully hunting down a mass shooter somewhere on his school campus simply do not make for a favorable bet. Heavily armed gunmen in body armor routinely kill tactically-trained professional law enforcement officers. Realistically, an amateur stands little chance of dropping many or most mass shooters.

Yes, there are circumstances where a disciplined, cool-headed good-guy-with-a-gun could prevent a shooting. As I have stated elsewhere, a mugging or robbery could well be stopped by an armed good guy. Even the St. Stephen’s incident might’ve turned out less deadly with an armed good guy’s intervention.

But shooting someone isn’t the straightforward one-and-done that American films and television portray — it’s frightening, it’s uncertain, it’s violent and life-changing. Saving the day with a sidearm is best left to those with tactical training. Now more than ever, if we truly want to stop the depravity of daily mass shootings, we must be honest when we talk about solutions for this uniquely American scourge.

And how times have changed. Since most of us feel a level of mass-shooter-related unease far greater than we did in the halcyon 1980s, we don’t see rifles in teenagers’ pickup trucks at school today. And at the rate mass shootings are occurring, we might be forgiven for a little suspicion and paranoia.

Several weeks ago, I saw a man carrying a rifle as he walked the sidewalk across the street from my house. Back in those ‘80s, I would’ve thought little of it, assuming him to be a hunter or target shooter exercising his Second Amendment rights. Today? No way.

Only a fool would dismiss an unknown armed man as harmless — even if you’re the most ardent 2A supporter, you’re probably going to keep an eye on a stranger with a long gun walking through your neighborhood. Sure, he might well be benign. But in this day and age, given our more-than-one-a-day mass shootings, you can’t blame any sane person for being worried or suspicious when armed strangers wander around.

Don’t forget, most recent mass shooters met the textbook definition of good-guy-with-a-gun right up until the moment they raised their weapons and mowed down a bunch of shoppers, worshipers, kids or whoever the victims were in our dizzying array of dead.

That is, most recent mass shooters acquired their weapons legally which, last time I checked, earns the full fury of Second Amendment enthusiasts whenever someone tries to control, restrict or confiscate legally acquired firearms. Then these legal owners kill some people and the chorus of “if only there’d been a good-guy-with-a-gun there to take him down” starts up, conveniently forgetting that the shooter was technically a good-guy-with-a-gun until he suddenly and bloodily wasn’t.

Ultimately, I agree with my conservative friends: mass shootings are a moral issue.

Where we diverge is on how we make that morality happen. I believe it’s impossible to legislate morality in a free society. So if we cannot mandate individual morality, we’re stuck legislating the other part of the equation: firearms. Sure, we can define criminal behavior — we’ve always done that. But it’s not doing anything to mitigate mass shootings and it certainly hasn’t halted moral decay.

On a sweeping scale, we have abrogated our responsibility to raise morally sound children. Some of this is as simple as aloof, indifferent or perpetually distracted parenting. Some of it is a result of parental irresponsibility or immaturity. Some of it is the result of people who have no business producing progeny nonetheless cranking out kids like drunken rabbits.

And it’s not like the media and entertainment industries are worried about their influence on an increasingly narcissistic and self-indulgent culture. No, sir, it’s not their fault — they’re just giving the people what they want. They can’t be held responsible.

Welcome to freedom in 2022.

Often, my conservative friends clamor for a return to teaching Biblical morals, the ten commandments, traditional discipline, respect and deference — robust ethics drilled into our children. Would this work? The funny thing is, it would almost certainly help. But what they really mean is a return to an era that’s long gone — a time we’ll never see again. Whatever the case, mandatory Bible training sounds dangerously theocratic, a sort of right-wing Sharia to constrain the public’s habits and behaviors to fit a Christian idea of decency. That’d never fly now.

This mini-mass-shooting hit too close to home for me as St. Stephen’s is an Episcopal church, a member of the Anglican Communion, to which I belong.

Meanwhile, we talk in circles, endlessly repeating the same tired non-solutions for a problem no developed nation would tolerate — or rather, no developed nation other than us.

It remains an inarguable truth that guns are tools designed to quickly and efficiently kill. When the Second Amendment was drafted, firearms were simpler and slower than they are now — perfectly suited for the well-regulated militia the amendment references. As it stands, we’re placing lethal military-grade equipment into the hands of people who see no value in training and, frankly, lack the competency, maturity, stability and accountability we should expect from bearers of such arms.

While we wait for the return of an epoch that will never happen, we’d be well-advised to update our views on how firearms fit into an amoral era. As it stands, a regression to a latter-day Wild West serves none of us.

Photocomposite © 2022 Josh Applegate via Unsplash; Hosein Charbaghi via Unsplash

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

The good guy with a gun

meador

I got mugged one night. It was nearing 3 a.m. and I was walking about ten blocks in an urban downtown, returning to my apartment.

The streets weren’t completely deserted but neither were they crowded — I passed several other pedestrians. Ordinarily, I’d have called a cab but it was a balmy night with no rain or snow so I’d decided to walk. Undoubtedly, I had been drinking.

I caught sight of a group of seven males who looked to be late teenagers. The group was walking toward me on the opposite side of the street. As they got closer, they crossed to my side. They were laughing and swearing and they made remarks denigrating my skin color as they passed me.

I turned a corner on my way home, glad I only had about three blocks to go. As I neared the next corner, I heard running footsteps behind me and I tensed, quickening my step, hoping I was wrong about what I thought was seconds from happening.

I was not wrong.

Now, I am six-foot-two and I learned to swear in the military. If you’re unfamiliar with that type of cursing, the U.S. military has a unique way of teaching its members to string together impossible combinations of curses and then to release them in astonishingly vulgar streams. My ability to bellow like an enraged moose while unleashing U.S. Navy obscenities had saved me from more than one risky situation. I had come to rely on this skill.

This time it failed me.

The seven thugs surrounded me and wasted no time beating the crap out of me while they disparaged my white skin. In a weird out-of-body-like experience, I listened to them bickering among themselves as they beat me, arguing over who would get my coat and who would get my boots and be careful, don’t get his blood on them. It was my blood they were talking about. And while they hit me and bickered, they continued cursing me.

I fought back and I fought back hard. When I realized my military swearing was accomplishing nothing other than wasting breath I desperately needed, I went quiet, fighting silently. Strangely, I could see myself getting beaten but I didn’t feel anything. I’m pretty sure the whiskey I’d consumed earlier helped this effect.

But there were seven attackers so the outcome was very much predetermined.

Barefoot and bloodied, now coatless, my clothes hanging in shreds, they left me. They took my very nice leather coat, boots and wallet but they somehow missed my watch, which was probably worth more than the coat and boots combined. It remained on my wrist, unscathed — I believe my shirt cuff had hidden it.

A witness across the street had backed into the shadows and called the police, who arrived surprisingly quickly. But the two officers stayed less than 30 seconds because they didn’t care for my attitude. Seriously? I was battered and bleeding, I had just been mugged, I had a moderate blood-alcohol level and they expect me to be mellow and cordial?

They didn’t even get out of their patrol car — they just rolled up their window and drove off.

I borrowed a .38 revolver from a friend and packed that thing in a shoulder holster for the next month or so. I lived downtown and I was determined to avoid a repeat episode.

Carrying the gun was probably a stupid idea even though I had pretty broad experience with firearms.

I got my first gun — a .22 rifle — when I was in grade school. My father was a police officer in Southern California during the Watts Riots so I had a good teacher.

I suck at a lot of things but for some reason I am good at shooting — I could shoot straight early and I got to be a crack shot. Later, after I had kids, whenever we played laser tag, everyone wanted to be on my team because I can shoot quickly and accurately.

I know laser tag isn’t real life but that’s kind of my point. I learned to shoot early and I am comfortable with my ability to do so accurately. I am familiar with firearms. But I do not have the skills to be the hero who drops a mass shooter with one quick shot.

And therein lies the problem.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard intelligent people make decidedly ignorant statements about mass shootings. These well-meaning people firmly believe the lie they’re telling. Talking about the problem of mass shootings is a good thing but fantasizing is not.

“If only there had been a concealed-carrier in Buffalo, there wouldn’t have been a massacre!” I heard this one dozens of times.

“If only there was an armed teacher in Uvalde, there wouldn’t be all those dead kids!” Ditto this one, dozens of times. These 2A supporters are deadly serious when they say this. They believe what they are saying.

This clearly false narrative is being used to justify doing nothing meaningful to combat the scourge of daily mass shootings. With 239 mass shootings so far in 2022, we are well above one mass shooting per day this year.

The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) defines a mass shooting as an incident having “...a minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.” The GVA is a non-profit organization that tracks and tabulates shooting “...incidents collected from over 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources daily in an effort to provide near-real time data about the results of gun violence.” The organization is an independent research group with no link to any advocacy organization.

The lie being presented essentially boils down to “if only there had been a good-guy-with-a-gun at [insert mass shooting location here], there wouldn’t have been a mass shooting!”

They say the only thing that takes out a bad-guy-with-a-gun is a good-guy-with-a-gun.

If only it was that simple.

I am an odds-figuring kind of guy which is probably why the only vice I never had was gambling. When the odds are heavily against me, I don’t bet. The odds of a well-intentioned good-guy-with-a-gun dropping a mass shooter with a clean shot are so small as to be laughable, if the situation wasn’t so deadly serious.

When I ask 2A supporters to explain how a guy in jeans and a t-shirt, armed with a single sidearm, could take out a heavily armed mass shooter with one quick shot when a professional law enforcement officer could not, they repeat the good-guy-with-a-gun mantra and do not answer my question. Or they call me a liberal gun-grabber and block me.

I am neither a liberal nor a gun-grabber but I do pride myself on having disciplined critical thinking skills.

I take great issue when firearms enthusiasts make outrageous statements like a good-guy/gal-with-a-gun will quickly take out a heavily armed mass shooter clad in body armor. They say it like it’s a certainty, if only the anti-gun folks would let them carry.

When a nutcase with an armory of semiautomatic rifles and handguns, thousands of rounds, body armor and some weird grudge carries out a planned attack at a church or school or from the 32nd floor of a hotel, the most earnest and courageous good-guy-with-a-gun stands almost no chance of taking out the shooter.

Without tactical or military training, practicing at a range might make good guys and gals fluent with their weapons and teach them steady aim but taking down a madman who’s got evil intentions, body armor, multiple weapons and nothing to lose generally takes something more than handgun competency and a good eye. In the second-to-second violent chaos that makes up a mass shooting, even professional law enforcement officers with tactical training have lost their lives when trying to stop the bad guy. These dead professional officers should be evidence that an average John Doe with a concealed-carry stands a less-than-ideal chance of dropping a mass shooter.

Having endured the mugging described above, among other incidents, I know a good-guy/gal-with-a-gun might very well stop a street attack, albeit with some risk. The good-guy/gal-with-a-gun could also intervene if he or she encountered something like a mall disturbance among a horde of angry teens where one pulls out a pistol. Or with luck, even stop a liquor store robbery. Yes, a good-guy-with-a-gun can end certain shootings — I fully agree with my 2A friends on this. But mass shooters like the ones in Buffalo, Uvalde, Las Vegas and so many other places? Not a chance.

In my case, I was taught to never draw a weapon unless I intended to use it and never use it unless I intended to kill. I know some will disagree with me, but brandishing a revolver in close quarters with seven angry thugs could’ve made my situation worse because, even with exceptional aim, there is no way I could’ve taken out seven thugs with six rounds. If I had been determined to defend myself at all costs, I would’ve had to have extraordinary luck to brandish my .38 and scare my attackers away — one or more of them could easily have been armed.

As it was, I lost a coat, boots and a bit of my pride and none of that is worth even a single human life, let alone seven. And it certainly wasn’t worth my life — the risk to me would’ve increased exponentially if I had drawn a sidearm.

I am not opposed to Americans exercising their Second Amendment right to defend themselves. Indeed, when I packed that .38 around after I was mugged, that’s pretty much what I was doing.

But I am opposed to people who delude themselves into thinking a gun can make them do the impossible. I am opposed to arming people who do not take firearms ownership deadly seriously. I am opposed to arming people who cannot demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability. I am opposed to arming people who see no value in training.

I am opposed to arming people who believe fantasies. I am opposed to arming morons.

Photograph © Andrey Zvyagintsev via Unsplash

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

Worth a thousand rounds

meador

This innocuous photograph could tell any of a thousand stories. A young woman seems to be alive with joy, moving to the beat of silent music emanating from the stage to which her upraised left hand gestures. It’s an ordinary moment, memorialized in a photo.

But what you don’t see in the photograph is the true story. It’s an ugly contrast to the simple image of a girl dancing — the rest of the story is bloody and tragic.

It is a story repeated so often we should be ashamed.

The girl in the photograph is my niece, Hannah. Her left hand points to a banner hung over a music stage in Las Vegas — the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The photograph was made October 1, 2017.

In a small but disturbing coincidence, my niece’s upraised right hand points to an area of the Mandalay Bay hotel where, moments after the photo was shot, the glass was broken out and 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd below with a veritable armory of assault rifles.

From his 32nd-floor suite in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Paddock unleashed more than 1,000 rounds, killing 60 people and wounding over 400. The ensuing panic brought the total injured to 867. Paddock’s motive has never been determined.

The incident remains the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in U.S. history.

Is this our destiny? Our culture has decayed to the point mass murder is commonplace and we accept it? We take no action to correct or mitigate?

We would never accept daily arsons or daily bombings, but we can excuse daily mass shootings because rejecting them might hinder our own easy access to guns? And yes, that’s daily. We’re about 150 days into the year and we’ve already experienced 214 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2022 — that’s roughly 10 per week.

I have a cynical urge to ask Americans what they would prefer: eliminating most mass shootings or providing guns for (almost) everyone? I already know the answer. We choose mass shootings over any attempt to restrict gun ownership and we do so faithfully every time: Springfield, Columbine, Santee, El Cajon, Blacksburg, Newtown, Roseburg, Parkland, Uvalde — those are just a few notable mass shootings at schools, never mind the mass shootings at other locations. We’ll take the shootings, thank you very much. Every single time.

The Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, May 24 killed 21 people, most of them grade-school children. I do not care what your politics are or how much you love the Second Amendment, you should be revolted that this event was at least the 30th shooting at a U.S. K-12 school this year.

Mass shootings occur with such mind-numbing frequency that it’s difficult to keep track of them. When I write yet another essay addressing yet another shooting, I always go back and review what I’ve previously said. But just like we endure shooting after shooting, I find myself repeating my remarks over and over — really, there’s only so much a sane person can articulate.

What we’re doing simply isn’t working.

I support the Second Amendment but I do not support blind stupidity. With its many firearms enthusiasts and a Constitutionally-enshrined right to bear arms, our society would never permit any attempt to ban or eradicate firearms. Even if we somehow managed to survive the civil war that would erupt if the government came for citizens’ guns, we wouldn’t see the last gun leave for at least three generations — there are simply too many.

A firearm is a tool designed to quickly and efficiently kill. We should be treating guns with the respect they deserve, not as a mis-named God-given right. This doesn’t mean making arms unavailable, it simply means requiring those who wish to bear them to first demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability. Yes, a maniac can simply pick another tool like a knife, a hammer or even a panel truck. But comparing these objects with guns creates clear false equivalencies.

We like saying we’re a free country — I like saying it, too. But we’re not a free country if we send our kids off to school with a constant fear they’ll be shot. We are not a free country if we cannot go out without worrying a heavily-armed madman will mow down a crowd of children, students, shoppers, worshipers or concertgoers.

Common ground

Let’s establish some things we can all agree on.

First, we can all agree that mass shootings are unacceptable. This is a pretty big point of common ground. We should detest mass shootings enough to work together to develop solutions.

Second, I know my 2A-supporting friends love their children as much as I love mine. I know they love their children more than they love their guns.

Third, the status quo isn’t working. What we’re doing now isn’t quelling mass shootings. The 214 mass shootings we’ve already seen this year translate to about 1.4 mass shootings per day.

Fourth, guns are here to stay. The natural instinct to seek eradication each time we see a bunch of dead children is understandable but not realistic. The Second Amendment isn’t going anywhere and the so-called gun culture is embedded in the American psyche, whether anyone likes it or not.

Fifth, we must do something. While the Second Amendment guarantees certain freedoms, it was never intended to be a free-for-all. Minimizing mass shootings will take an earnest and honest dialogue coupled with earnest and honest effort from those on both sides of this divisive issue.

Well-meaning myths

Before we talk about solutions, let’s examine several proposals currently being suggested.

With straight faces, people tell me we should flood our schools with guns — that arming teachers is the solution to this problem. Aghast, I cannot imagine converting the places where we teach our children into fortified citadels. The solution for mass shootings is more guns?

The N.E.A. has already weighed in, labeling the idea of arming teachers ludicrous. If educators, themselves won’t agree to being armed, what then?

Even if the unions could be convinced, arming teachers is preposterous for other reasons. It’s not just a good-guy-with-a-gun who’s going to drop a shooter. No, if we’re honest, it’s a good-guy-with-training-and-a-gun — teachers would need to be trained tactically. Sure, a few outlier educators would agree to the training and probably make useful security guards but beyond this minority, it’ll never happen.

And ponder this: arming teachers would place tens of thousands of guns right there in classrooms. Knowing human nature, do we really believe armed teachers would manage to effectively secure their weapons from curious or malignant students? Did we consider that busy teachers might be careless or distracted and end up accidentally providing a gun to a student who wouldn’t otherwise have had one? Maybe a sidearm left in a handbag or backpack? Or a forgotten handgun left in a desk drawer?

Arming teachers would be ridiculously complicated, prohibitively expensive, enormously time-consuming and fraught with risk — all with results that would almost certainly be dubious at best.

While we’re on the subject of absurd suggestions, let’s tackle the myth of the good-guy-with-a-gun. American films and television have convinced a huge number of 2A supporters that they are ready to step up when confronted with a mass shooter. All they’ll have to do is stand firm, draw their legal sidearm, aim and — bang! — no more bad guy.

It’s not that simple, not by a long shot.

While well-meaning people see the Lone Ranger saving the day, reality would far likelier resemble Barney Fife or Roscoe P. Coltrane, panicking, fumbling, fatally hesitating, firing blindly. Without military or law enforcement tactical training, the odds of a civilian good guy taking out a mass shooter are slim. In recent mass shooting episodes, more than one professional cop has lost his life as he went up against a body-armored maniac toting semi-automatic rifles and handguns.

To those people who don’t believe training is necessary, I ask this: do you have the psychological strength and discipline to perform properly in a situation calling for instant life-or-death decisions and lightning-fast reflexes? As earnest as you may be, overestimating your true abilities will result in you worsening an already awful situation and increase chances of you or others dying.

Solutions

There is no single solution. As I said, it’s going to take a willingness to work together to craft solutions.

Currently, we are discussing increasing the age at which a person may purchase a gun. We are talking about background checks on every sale. We are talking about red-flag alerts. I keep hearing an assault weapons ban mentioned but this stands no chance of clearing Congress in the current climate.

While some of these proposals may collectively do some good, I believe the real solution lies elsewhere.

I believe we need to establish robust minimum national training standards. Training standards would change the way many people view firearms, elevating them from a mere sporting good to a specialized tool, requiring specialized handling skills. Training standards would ensure firearms owners could demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability before they took possession of a tool designed to quickly and efficiently kill — a respect currently lacking. As applicants are receiving training, background checks and psychological assessments could be completed.

Training standards of various levels could be developed for classes of firearms, tailoring neccesary training to maximize effect and minimize time requirements.

I know such standards would inconvenience or even anger many firearms enthusiasts but we should be able to hash out the details, streamlining the process. I know many firearms enthusiasts already take gun ownership seriously but many more do not. By implementing training standards, we will increase public competency and weed out most of the people who shouldn’t be allowed to own guns.

Training standards would prevent totally unqualified teenage boys from buying semiautomatic rifles.

Reexamining the way we treat — or don’t treat — mental illness should make a difference, too.

Is this idea perfect? Of course not, but it should dramatically reduce these daily mass shootings unique to this nation — no other country comes close to experiencing this problem like we do. Training standards would benefit us all.

A national concealed-carry is a big-ticket item greatly sought by many Second Amendment supporters — I’d trade that for establishing meaningful minimal training standards.

Whatever solutions are implemented will be interpreted as a violation of someone’s rights, somewhere. In order to keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have them, it’s going to become a bit more difficult for everyone to get them.

In the meantime, one proposal being discussed could help — I hate this proposal and I hate myself for saying that it might work. If we had professional security personnel — with body armor, tactical training and armed with the same assault weapons they’re likely to face — stationed throughout schools, this should act as a deterrent in both thought and deed. I am not suggesting a single guard per school — to be effective, we’d need squad-sized details assigned to every school. Expensive? You bet, but this proposal could be implemented, unlike the armed teachers suggestion.

I think it’s awful that we are seriously proposing turning our schools into fortresses but I’m willing to try it if we also attack the sickness at its root, in addition to treating the symptom. We never should’ve let it get to the point we need to station soldiers in grade schools.

Ultimately, we have a problem and we need to do something about it.

Even free societies must have baselines and guidelines. But common-sense rules established to avert a very real crisis should not be confused with weighty terms like tyranny. Freedom isn’t a free-for-all. Without reasonable rules, we get chaos — or endless school shootings.

My niece was physically unhurt in the Las Vegas shooting but emotionally she’s scarred for life. Sweet Hannah had to witness sights, sounds and smells a normal human should never have to experience.

As things currently stand, our young children risk experiencing scenes of horror like Hannah did. No child should endure the gruesome sights, sounds and smells associated with mass shootings. No child should die of gunshot wounds at school.

Absolutely none of us should be okay with this.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.

Photograph © Chelsea Clay
 

Questioning Roe

meador

I have been dreading writing this column, although I’ve known I had to write it eventually. My reticence stems not from an inability to sort my mind — on the contrary, I have strong and clear thoughts on the matter. But how can I respectfully write about a topic that often devolves into hateful vitriol? How can I address a subject about which most people — including me — have very strong feelings without insulting or disrespecting those who disagree with me? How can I be true to my morals without damning the other side?

I don’t know the answers. But I am going to forge bravely or foolishly ahead.

The abortion debate is one I rarely address. I have strong and simple feelings that are immutable yet I recognize others have the opposite feelings about which they’re equally passionate.

Why am I weighing in now?

I believe the debate reaches well beyond women’s health care because it asks an existential question affecting all of humankind. If it was strictly a matter of women’s health care, I’d have nothing to say.

At its root, the question of abortion has less to do with a woman’s body than it does defining the moment when a human life attains value. Although women’s health care makes for a much easier argument, the body is arguably incidental to the disagreement since part of the overarching issue asks whether that “part of a woman’s body” is in fact, a separate human life.* No, the fundamental debate is establishing the moment a human life becomes a human life, worthy of the full protection of the law. Both sides know this but, since there will never be an earthly answer putting the issue to rest, the debate has shifted to something we can answer: women’s health care. It makes for heated — if pointless — back-and-forth while the real question remains answered only by current arbitrary law.

Here’s where I see disturbing logical disconnects under existing policy: What real difference exists between a fetus moments from emerging and a baby freshly born? Or two babies delivered prematurely where human worth is assigned to the one who’s wanted while the one who’s not is nothing more than waste? Or that a fetus killed by a drunk driver can earn a wrongful death charge as long as it’s wanted? Would any D.A. in his or her right mind bring charges against a drunk driver who killed a fetus destined to be aborted? Human value assigned solely based on whether a life is wanted seems to echo inhuman eugenics policies of monstrous regimes we’ve seen before. I find this deeply unsettling.

As I’ve often said, if you parsed me politically, I am about one-third liberal Democrat, one-third conservative Republican and one-third Libertarian. I am quietly proud that none of my positions conflict with any other. I am also an Anglican Catholic. My faith is a crucial component of my feelings on abortion. As a white male and member of the honorary patriarchy, I recognize many people do not want my opinion on a procedure I will never undergo.

If pro-choice people are right and I am wrong, then there really is a reasonable point when a human life gains worth and current laws might well define that. If pro-choice policy is right and I am wrong, then a fetus is no more or less than a part of a woman’s body and it’s absolutely none of my business what she elects to do with it.

If, on the other hand, I am correct and pro-choice people are wrong, bluntly speaking, we are killing our young in the name of circumstance and we will have to answer for this later.

The unexcogitable problem of this debate is we will never be able to settle this question in earthly terms to quell the issue — the debate cannot be satisfied until the God of my faith settles the matter on his terms or until human knowledge advances to the point it can prove beyond a doubt there is no god.

In the 1980s, I got tired of seeing letters to the editor smugly quoting scripture, invariably aimed at people who believe scripture is fantasy — I thought it a pointless effort, akin to putting out fire with paper. But it did pose a question I could not ignore: could I learn to debate the entire Republican platform on wholly secular terms? To my surprise, after some exploration and experimentation, I found I could defend the entire conservative platform with no religious or biblical reference, wholly secular terms. I learned to be good at it.

I cannot do that now because it’s disingenuous to pretend my faith plays no role in my position.

My faith is an integral part of my conviction. As I said a moment ago, you won’t find me addressing this issue often and you won’t hear me calling hellfire and brimstone upon those who disagree with me. I am offended when people from my party immediately and loudly label progressives “baby killers” — this tactic brings nothing useful to the conversation.

As unacceptable as I find it, abortion is not a deal-breaker issue for me. In other words, I can work politically with Democrats who support choice. In fact, I believe strongly we must work with those who disagree with us or we’ll continue down this hateful, suspicious, tribal path we’ve taken. My progressive friends and I agree on many other issues just like my conservative friends know I’m with them, too, on many issues.

But there is another reason I won’t shun my progressive friends: women close to me — people I deeply love and respect — have undergone abortions. They did so for profoundly personal reasons, agonizing over their decisions, often entangled in unspeakable circumstances. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish accompanying such situations. So I rarely speak about abortion and I do not now intend this essay to condemn them.

It makes me physically sick to my stomach to think I should have anything to say about what a woman can or can’t do with her body or that I should hold sway over her health care. If that’s what this was, the answer would be easy. But as outlined above, a debate defining the moment a human life attains value is existential, transcending a woman’s body to envelop the entirety of the human race. Put another way, if an unborn fetus had the same value as a newborn infant, most of us would be horrified if a parent sought to harm it.

I must emphasize I believe there are moral exceptions to bans on abortion. I understand there are circumstances I cannot possibly understand that would affect a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. Plus, the women I know who’ve gone through hell as they decided their only solution was termination — I am a male who will never be faced with such a decision. This, alone, usually convinces me to stay quiet on this debate even though I have deep convictions — and it is why I now take pains to weigh in quietly, with empathy and respect.

My innately sinful nature as a flawed human leads me to a dark confession: even though I believe life begins at conception, I would have a much easier time denying life to a ten-day-old cluster of cells than I would a one-term baby. I will also admit that, had I created a surprise pregnancy back in the reckless days of my youth, you can bet abortion would’ve been on the table, if I had had any say in the matter.

These failings on my part aren‘t entirely in vain. They are part of the complicated equation that gives me empathy for women who are confronted with a situation I will never experience. This is another reason why I do not often declare my opposition to abortion — I, too, have had conflicted feelings, if I am brutally honest. I have questioned people who loudly decry abortion yet fail to contribute to alternatives. I’m jarred when a robust defense of the unborn goes silent once the unborn are born. I have considered the cynical argument that we’ve spared children from unspeakable poverty and abuse. I’ve pondered the equally cynical question of why it’s such a big deal from a Christian perspective if, by Christian logic, the souls of the departed get a fast pass to paradise.

Abortion is nearly always argued in stark black-and white terms. While I agree it’s a clear-cut question, no one can say it’s not surrounded by a chaos of swirling grey.

I have been labeled a left-leaning Republican, which is not entirely inaccurate. But I remain committed to many conservative ideals and my opposition to abortion is one of them. My position is based on the fundamental issue of arbitrarily assigning value to human life — to me, a baby newborn and a baby about-to-be-born should have an identical innate worth but in Oregon they do not.

If nothing else, the disconnect is jarring.

Photograph © 2022 Maria Oswalt via Unsplash. Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

Not what you think

meador

When I first saw the term “white privilege” being used commonly in discussions on race, I assumed it meant I had it easier than people of color simply because I am white. I assumed it was a broad condemnation of whiteness or even an accusation of white people taking something that doesn’t belong to them.

I was wrong.

If you get mad every time someone mentions white privilege, read on. You just might see white privilege through new eyes.

White privilege has an actual definition and it’s not what many people think. If you know me or if you read my regular columns or essays, you might be familiar with how I came to understand one of the most divisive terms in the current vernacular.

I am going to repeat a number of incidents I have personally witnessed. I am going to contrast them with what people of color experience — people of color close to me. The final example is a deeply personal one. At the end of this column, I will give the actual definition of white privilege.

White privilege starts very small. As I cross a crosswalk in front of an older white woman in a Lexus, I get six-or-so paces beyond her car when I hear her hit her loud electric door locks. Turning, I see a Black man crossing a dozen paces behind me. That is white privilege.

I can shop at Nordstrom, free to wander without scrutiny. But the store security staff closely watches the Black man who came in right after me. That is white privilege.

White privilege is another department store offering a wide variety of makeup colors for white women but few for women of color. White privilege is a white woman entering a boutique with a large shoulder bag and being allowed to browse at her leisure while the Black woman behind her is asked to surrender her bag at the counter before she can shop.

I can enjoy excellent service at my favorite bistro while the Black couple two tables over experience mediocre service because the waiter incorrectly assumes they’re lousy tippers. That is white privilege.

White privilege is when a fellow resident of my secure apartment building holds the lobby door open for me even though he doesn’t know me but then quickly pulls the door shut behind me because a Black man is heading in next.

White privilege is me relaxing poolside at a resort, unmolested by hotel staff while the Black family two rooms down is repeatedly asked for their pool pass, their parking permit or to show their room key to prove they are legitimate guests.

White privilege is me ordering breakfast at a diner, then settling the bill when I’m finished while the Black party seated across the dining room is asked to pay in advance because the white manager thinks they look “suspicious.”

White privilege is me applying for a loan to buy a house and getting approved, even without stellar credit when a Black family of similar means is denied repeatedly. White privilege is a Black home appraised well below its market value but increased by a full third when the bank orders a second appraisal before which the homeowners “whitewash” or remove all objects indicating the occupants are Black.

White privilege is me able to win a seat in our state legislature and freely canvass neighborhoods in my constituency while the Black woman elected in the next district has the police called on her repeatedly as she hands out reelection campaign leaflets in her district neighborhoods.

White privilege is me carelessly fumbling with my documents when a police officer stops me for a minor traffic violation while the Black man the cop stopped earlier had to very carefully maintain awareness of where he slowly moved his hands, asking permission each time he did so, trying not to appear to be reaching for a weapon. White privilege is the same cop allowing me to remain in my car while he writes me up when the Black motorist would have a much higher chance of being handcuffed — emasculated, humiliated — detained and left to sit on the curb before being released and handed his ticket.

Remember when I said I had a deeply personal example?

White privilege is me getting busted on federal cocaine charges in the early 1990s and enjoying a complicated adjudication that included six months in a cushy federal halfway house instead of prison time when a Black man would likely still be serving his prison sentence for the same crime, even as I type these words.

That, my friends, is white privilege.

White privilege is generally defined as societal privilege benefiting white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly when they are otherwise subject to the same social, political or economic circumstances.

White privilege has nothing to do with how difficult a white kid’s childhood was or the difficulties a white adult is experiencing. White privilege is not related to abuse, poverty, sickness or persecution.

White privilege manifests itself in those little details you never thought about because you didn’t have to — details Black people face constantly. The term itself is unfortunate because, to many white ears, white privilege sounds pejorative if we don’t understand its true meaning.

We shouldn’t be arguing over white privilege.

White privilege isn’t anything to be ashamed of — we didn’t ask for it. White privilege isn’t something we can give up. But to understand our friends of color, we must be aware of it. White privilege makes our lives easier in ways we very often do not consider.

Next time someone brings up white privilege, don’t react defensively. Try to see everyday, ordinary life through the eyes of a person of color — they are reminded of their skin color many times, every day.

We are not. That is white privilege.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.

Photograph © Octagon via Wiki, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported, GNU Free Documentation License
 

Ukraine VI: Putin the Ploughman

meador

The Ukraine situation, sixth observation

It looks like any one of a hundred semi-rural towns scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest. Modest, single-family homes lining quiet streets, damp with rain. Unpretentious barns and outbuildings are scattered behind and adjacent to many houses, marking some plots as small farms. The skies are grey with mist and the trees are bare of leaves, awaiting spring growth.

The corpses lying in the street ruin any sense of Northwest idyll. Over these scenes of death in Bucha, the leaden skies assume an air of menace.

In one month, the earth trembled, bringing despair to the continent. Led by a despot, one of the great nations sacrificed decades of difficult and complex work — it had scrubbed much of the grime of its Soviet past, repackaging itself as a modern and productive state. It had been so successful that an inattentive Western Europe had ignored the decade it had to wean itself of cheap-and-dirty Russian energy. It almost seemed as if Russia had come of age, presenting itself with a countenance of trustworthy reliability to carry it forward. Western Europe wasn’t too worried about a little dirty oil.

Except that it was a lot of dirty oil and, in just 45 days, Russia regressed to a belligerent state the world hadn’t seen for nearly 50 years. Russia shed its bright progress as if its success was nothing more than one of those brooding, brutalist likenesses of Stalin that once littered the land. It lost its place among the civilized nations, overnight becoming a terrorist state, guilty of scores of atrocities, its leaders war criminals.

What a colossal waste.

Russia’s target, of course, was Ukraine. Russians like President Vladimir Putin believe the common roots of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples cement them as one. Ukrainians disagree vehemently with this perspective. Ukraine is no vassal of Russia — and Ukrainians will fight fiercely to preserve the separation.

The Churchillian Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of the imperiled state of Ukraine, thumbed his nose at Putin, declaring defiantly, “Russian troops failed… in the first days of the invasion. They thought Ukrainians would be frightened. They thought Ukrainians would not fight. They were wrong.”

Boy, were they wrong.

A spoiled child, Dictator Putin is accustomed to getting what he wants — a very dangerous bully child who will take what he wants by force. Like Russia’s cloak of respectability, Putin’s decades-long predictability fell by the wayside as he sought to salvage the legacy he’d envisioned for himself, rebuilding the Imperial Russian Empire.

When he failed immediately and spectacularly, Putin was angered by such humiliation. The fallen tsar tightened his grip on his long-suffering proletariat and sent his drunken soldiers on an orgy of destruction to raze the prize he’d sought. For one who came of age with the threat of the Soviet bear looming over world peace, it was almost painful to see how low the once-mighty Red Army had sunk.

Putin believed he would crush Ukraine but he was wrong.

Putin thought he’d split U.S. determination but he was wrong.

He was convinced he’d scatter NATO but he united the alliance arguably better than it has ever been.

Putin believed he would destabilize Europe and he was wrong — so far.

It’s crucial the world isn’t distracted at this moment. The Russian military may have lost its luster but it remains capable of reducing Ukraine to a wasteland and the far-ranging fallout such action would cause.

The U.N. estimates 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes. Of those, 4.3 million have left the country. About 2.5 million evacuees remain in Poland.

These are staggering numbers. And they’re not the only shocking figures.

NATO estimates up to 40,000 Russian troops are out of commission through death, injury, capture or desertion. Up to 15,000 of them may be dead. Compare this to the 2,000-to-4,000 range of Ukrainian fighters killed. The vaunted Russian army is being humiliated by a ragtag force wearing sneakers and homemade body armor.

Two weeks ago, the Russian newspaper Pravda accidentally posted Ministry of Defense figures listing 9,861 Russian fatalities and 16,153 injured. The post was quickly removed.

Last Tuesday, the U.K. Ministry of Defence reported: “Ukrainian forces are carrying out successful counterattacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital, and have probably retaken Makariv and Moschun. There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces are now able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin.”

As of Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense reports Russian commanders have fallen back to regroup, shifting nearly 25,000 troops east, away from Kyiv. Heavy fighting has resumed in the east.

According to the Global Firepower Index (GFI), Russia’s military strength is ranked second out of 142 rated countries. Ukraine is ranked 22nd. Russia maintains a fleet of over 4,000 military aircraft to Ukraine’s 318. In tanks, Russia ranks third with nearly 12,500 compared to Ukraine’s 2,596. Russia ranks first in all modes of artillery with 17,536 pieces while Ukraine lags between sixth and twelfth positions with 3,597 pieces. Ukraine’s naval power is almost nonexistent next to Russia’s second ranking.

But figures like this are deceiving when the Goliath is an ill-prepared, badly led, poorly supplied mess of troops with inadequate training and bad morale facing a lithe, quick and very angry David.

Russia’s losses are shameful — they are not the losses of a superpower’s world-class military. For Vladimir Putin, these slovenly yields must be embarrassing. To the West, the losses are telling.

On the optimistic side, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claims Russia has lost 722 tanks and 1,911 armored personnel carriers. It claims the Russian air forces have lost 152 fixed-wing aircraft and 137 helicopters. Further, the General Staff claims Russian losses of 342 artillery systems, 108 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 55 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 1,384 military vehicles, 112 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) of operational and tactical level, 25 special equipment units and four mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) systems.

On the conservative side, independent military analysts Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans posit somewhat lower totals via their Oryx organization. Oryx is respected for its painstaking documentation of materiél losses — its numbers are lower because each loss is confirmed, nothing is estimated. Oryx notes Russia has lost 446 tanks and 824 armored personnel carriers. It states the Russian air forces have lost 20 fixed-wing aircraft and 32 helicopters. Further, Oryx claims Russian losses of 158 artillery systems, 49 MLRS, 69 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 787 military vehicles, 27 UAVs of operational and tactical level and 16 special equipment units. Oryx data on SRBMs was unavailable.

Oryx requires photographic or videographic evidence for each item in its tally. Thus, the organization is careful to note actual numbers of destroyed materiél will be “significantly higher” than Oryx figures.

Whether you use estimates from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or verified losses from the Oryx organization, Russian losses are staggering — and far worse when compared to Oryx accounting of Ukrainian losses.

For comparison, Oryx lists Ukraine’s losses at 94 tanks and 171 armored personnel carriers. It claims the Ukrainian air forces have lost 15 fixed-wing aircraft and three helicopters. Further, Oryx claims Ukrainian losses of 45 artillery systems, 15 MLRS, 44 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 223 military vehicles, 12 UAVs of operational and tactical level and 17 special equipment units. Oryx data on Ukrainian SRBMs was unavailable.

Russia has lost several small coastal naval vessels. A week ago, Ukrainian fighters attacked three Russian warships at the quay in Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port occupied by Russian forces. A 370-foot Alligator-class landing vessel called Orsk was destroyed and at least one other damaged. A Russian state television report revealed the location of the moored vessels to Ukrainian intelligence personnel.

Ukraine has lost around 15 small coastal vessels.

With his army busy drinking, looting, raping and deserting, Comrade Putin had no choice but to weaponize a commodity he created in enormous numbers: refugees. Where he failed to destabilize Europe with decisive military action, Putin will now try to destabilize from within. The 2.5 million displaced Ukrainians currently in Poland require massive resources as the hospitable Poles treat them to benefits: housing, food, medical care, schools and transportation. Western Europe and North America need to step up with aid for Poland and generous refugee resettlement — short term and long term — for displaced Ukrainians.

When Putin fires rockets into civilians, mothers with children, entire families, it’s no random mistake. The scorched-earth destruction Putin is inflicting on certain cities and his repeated attacks on innocents are designed specifically to herd Ukrainians from one place to another. The more he can displace, the more havoc he can wreak, the more upheaval he can induce throughout Europe and beyond. He also hopes he’s a step closer to breaking the Ukrainian spirit.

Hundreds of Russian atrocities have been documented by Ukrainians and international media covering the war. At some point, whether a nation is a signatory on any accord or agreement is irrelevant. When crimes against humanity are committed on a large scale, a Nuremburg-style tribunal is in order. President Vladimir Putin along with Russian political and military leaders, field officers and conscripted personnel accused of war crimes can be tried in absentia, if necessary. Such an action transcends the limited jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposes a joint operation of the ICC and the U.N.’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Brown wants to charge Putin with aggression. A model indictment has been crafted, using the definition of aggression under international criminal law set forth in Article 8 bis of the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Brown said, “A group of American lawyers has already done impressive work documenting what they consider to be acts of aggression committed by Putin, starting with his 2014 decisions to seize Crimea and to deploy troops in Ukraine’s Donbas region.”

The ICJ was to hear arguments from both Russia and Ukraine over the 1948 treaty to prevent genocide. Russia boycotted and its French attorney, Alain Pellet, resigned, writing, “Enough is enough. It’s become impossible for me to represent a country that so cynically despises the law.”

At least 136 Ukrainian children have been slain. At least 73 Ukrainian schools have been destroyed. At least 64 hospitals have been bombed.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said 90 percent of his city is destroyed and 40 percent of its infrastructure is unrecoverable.

Every bit of this Russian violence is coldly intentional and it all leads back to one man.

Putin has destroyed his own credibility and severely damaged his country’s standing in the world order. Putin has brought shame to his people.

“Russian troops destroy our cities. Kill civilians indiscriminately. Rape women. Abduct children. Shoot at refugees. Capture humanitarian convoys. They are… looting,” declared Zelenskyy. “They burn museums, blow up schools and hospitals. The target for them is universities, residential neighborhoods… Anything! Russian troops do not know the limits of evil.”

While some labeled it a gaffe, U.S. President Joe Biden may have said it best when he spoke in Warsaw, Poland on March 26.

“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty,” said Biden. Then, unscripted, he emphatically echoed the thoughts of every sane person on the planet. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”

Later, CNN host Pamela Brown asked Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, whether Biden’s remark should be taken literally. Cynically but totally accurately, Moulton replied that every American with the possible exception of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Geo.) wanted to see Putin ousted.

The war in Eastern Europe is real and ghastly — the war possesses an urgency that takes precedence over many of our current domestic issues. We mustn’t forget Ukraine.

Economic sanctions take time to work and too often penalize a population who had little to do with the initial beef. Sometimes, sanctions don’t work at all.

Even when sanctions do work, they’re ponderously slow. That the West only last week pursued oligarchs’ adult children and families was a blunder with predictable consequences.

We must consider that what restraint Putin has shown to this point is almost certainly a result of his fear of Western retaliation — and I don’t mean sanctions. With a 20th century-style belligerent on a rampage, it may well be time to up the ante and examine military solutions. Or consider more creative solutions usually only proposed in whispers.

Sensibly, Western restraint wants no chance of Putin deploying nuclear weapons, an option Putin mentioned right up front as both a threat and a bargaining chip.

Block after block of burnt-out apartment blocks stand like charred urban forests in cities across Ukraine. A thriving and vibrant nation is being destroyed in body, if not in spirit. Putin considers himself exempt from rules of civilization. And he has the resources to see this nightmare through to the bitter end, wherever and whenever that may be.

Unless somebody makes him stop.

Photograph © Taine Noble via Unsplash

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

The leader she was meant to be

meador

She’s clear-eyed and focused — she’s confident she knows what she’s doing and where she’s going. I suspect this quality characterizes most aspects of her life, from her long-term personal goals to her daily work ethic.

She’s a born leader, the type of manager who’s affable and easygoing but focused on doing her work right. People naturally look to her for guidance because she knows what she’s doing and others recognize this quality instinctively. She’s the sort of person you’d want nearby if there was an emergency — she’d take charge and take decisive action without panic or indecision.

If she’d been on the Titanic, she’d undoubtedly have taken charge of a lifeboat, organizing cold and scared passengers and crew into a cohesive group, focused on survival and rescue.

That’s Tierney Ferguson.

I’m not the only one who recognizes Tierney’s talents and natural abilities. Less than three months after starting a job at McDonald’s, General Manager Kayla Planck recognized Tierney’s leadership qualities and promoted her to a management position. When Tierney’s on duty, she’s the boss.

Robin Miguel was wary of Tierney, at first. Robin serves as operations manager and chef for the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas, a popular feeding ministry in McMinnville, Oregon. Robin runs a very tight ship — she has high standards and she’s not exactly easy to please. When Tierney started volunteering regularly at the soup kitchen in October 2018, Robin kept a close eye on her. After she’d demonstrated her commitment and reliability, Tierney’s talents were eventually noted by Robin. A serious testament to Tierney’s nature, she was put in charge of the soup kitchen on Robin’s day off. Robin doesn’t assign such responsibility lightly.

Three years ago, Tierney wouldn’t have been given this trust. Three years ago, Tierney was getting high and digging her way to hell.

Paradoxically, it took jail for Tierney to taste freedom.

“I was sentenced to 30 days in the Yamhill County Jail for a failure to appear charge,” said Tierney. “It was weird because no one ever gets 30 days for a low-level charge like that.”

The date was Sept. 11, 2018, a day Tierney will never forget. Even if it ever somehow slipped her mind, the date is tattooed on Tierney’s forearm.

It’s the date Tierney gave up drugs and never looked back.

“That 30-day sentence was a literal godsend,” said Tierney. “The time in jail allowed me to get clean and stay clean.”

The way she describes it, she was almost giddy with relief. She made up her mind, never once doubting her decision. Her suddenly sunny outlook did not go unnoticed by her fellow inmates. “They were mean to me because I was happy,” laughed Tierney. “They were resentful — they wanted me to be miserable like they were.”

Tierney’s childhood was a disturbing blend of religious strictures and sexual abuse. A parental prohibition on “worldly friends” was at least partial motivation for Tierney to run away from home at age 13, the first of many such attempts. A year later, she found comfort in the numbing effects of drugs for the first time.

Dropping out of school in the ninth grade, Tierney earned her G.E.D. in 1998. In 2000, her first son, Justin, was born followed by his brother, Austin, one year later.

In the bizarre way that addicts sometimes experience, Tierney met a man who was an addict but became a father figure for her boys. Hector Martinez was lost in his own addictions but stepped into his role. “Hector accepted my sons as his own,” said Tierney. Clearly, the situation was far from ideal but it hinted at events to come. Tierney got lost in her own addictions to marijuana and methamphetamine in the time that followed.

Tierney gave birth to daughter Emily in 2004 and Izabell in 2006.

In 2014, the family experienced tremendous turmoil when they lost their home. In short order, Hector went to prison and Tierney was forced to surrender her kids to state custody. Her behavior spiraled — she turned to intravenous drug use.

Then came Sept. 11, 2018 and Tierney’s 30-day sentence — or 30-day saving, depending on how you look at it.

“I didn’t see the blessing of having my kids in foster care until I got sober,” Tierney said. “After I cleaned up, I thanked God he’d protected my children from me.”

Today, Tierney is enrolled in classes to become a social worker. “I want to use the nightmare of my own experience to shepherd others,” she said. Among other things, Tierney credits the time she spent volunteering for the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas to keeping her focused and occupied, not allowing her time to relapse.

Plus, if you ask me, nobody who has their sobriety date tattooed on their body wants to screw that date up.

Tierney has successfully completed rehabilitation therapy along with the Rethinking Barriers to Employment workshop, a Willamette Workforce Partnership (WWP) program encouraging addicted, homeless or incarcerated women to think “I have something to offer” rather than the self-defeating “nobody wants me anyway, so why try?”

Tierney is working on repairing her relationships with her children and — possibly heading toward the realm of fairy-tale happy endings — Hector. “I give Hector tremendous credit, too,” said Tierney. “He kept me accountable.” It should be noted that Hector used his prison time well — he has more clean time now than Tierney. The two live next door to each other and Hector has become a model father.

What’s the point of telling Tierney’s story? In addition to a remarkable story of redemption, the next time you see a charitable ministry or organization that operates in your area mentioned in the news or on social media, consider the people like Tierney who are able to atone and repair, to find freedom and triumph. Real people find real redemption with the assistance of these ministries. Unfortunately, such organizations are often misunderstood or looked down on by neighbors and townsfolk, because “they’re enabling ‘those people’ by giving handouts” or some such uncharitable — and inaccurate — characterization.

I have lived next door to the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas in McMinnville for 25 years. You could probably consider me an expert on the topic of living adjacent to a charity that ministers to people struggling with addiction and mental illness, people down on their luck, homeless people. I can attest that the good such a ministry accomplishes far outweighs any problems it causes.

Granted, I have a longstanding affiliation with the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas — at one point, I occupied a non-voting seat on its board and I’ve been associated with the organization in one way or another ever since.

If you have doubts or concerns about charities or ministries in your area, think about Tierney. By any account, Tierney’s story is one of triumph. She stands for countless people who’ve succeeded in exorcising their demons to turn their lives around.

Best of all, Tierney plans to combine the painful experience of her addiction with her talents in leadership to serve her community — my community. I have no doubt Tierney will help change local lives. I have no doubt Tierney will have a quantifiable impact on this community.

I am grateful for talented and focused people like Tierney. And I am thankful for the organizations dedicated to helping Tierney become the effective and dedicated leader she is — the leader she was meant to be.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.

Photograph(s) courtesy of Rusty Rae © 2022 News-Register, McMinnville, Oregon
 

The definition of an extraordinary woman

meador

She was confirmed.

You know deep down she deserves confirmation. Ketanji Brown Jackson is, after all, a woman of great professionalism, accomplishment and dignity.

She is a woman of distinction.

You hear that? I said “woman.”

Ketanji Brown Jackson is a woman. An accomplished Black woman. She’s an intellectual without being an academic — a real-life trial judge who belongs on the highest bench in the land.

Was that really the best you could come up with?

When you first started spreading the nonsense — that Ketanji Brown Jackson “doesn’t know what a woman is,” you almost sounded like you believed your own attempt at mockery.

Or maybe you did believe it.

I hope you realize that, yes, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson absolutely knows how to define a woman — she, herself, is a woman of great distinction and accomplishment.

You’re something of a dullard if you didn’t recognize the loaded nature of that question, that it was far less a request for the judge to quote a dictionary definition of “woman” than it was a demand to know how she’d rule on any case involving transgender people. Surely you know it was an absolutely volatile question, posed with no small measure of hostility. Brown Jackson’s refusal to answer was true to her character — she’s likely to rule on cases involving transgender issues in the future.

She kept her composure and didn’t take the bait.

So the woman thing was looking a little skimpy — even to your jaundiced eye, it didn’t look like much but, by golly, the Democrats just love Brown Jackson so there’s gotta be something seriously wrong with her. It doesn’t matter that some of the most esteemed members of our nation’s judiciary — jurists from one side of the political spectrum to the other — are excited to see such a perfect candidate confirmed.

It was also convenient to ignore Brown Jackson’s statements regarding her deep Christian faith.

So you added the child pornography offender sentencing to the clamor, even though every one of Brown Jackson’s sentences were in line with sentences imposed by her colleagues, including conservative judicial appointees.Legal experts agree Brown Jackson’s sentencing was neither out of the ordinary nor inappropriate when examined in context and compared to practices of her peers.

And that was it.

Not a shred of stain beyond two patent absurdities. The irony is Brown Jackson might be the least controversial candidate put forward to that bench in my lifetime. Put another way, she might be the closest thing to a perfect candidate as I’ve ever witnessed.

C’mon, people, this is a historic moment in which we should all take pride.

Let’s celebrate the confirmation of the first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

You can bet this erudite and accomplished woman knows exactly how to define “woman” because she’s had a little experience being an extraordinary and consummate example of the very term.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com (https://matthewmeador.com/).

Photograph © Wikicago via Wiki Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)