Saturday, December 30, 2017

Review of Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell

The story of Richard Nixon is one of the most tragic - and also one of the most important - stories in our nation's history. There's so much that can be said, and that has already been written, about him. John A. Farrell attempted to encapsulate Nixon's life in his recent book, Richard Nixon: The Life.

Though the book is over 700 pages long, I feel like it only scratched the surface of Nixon's story. The book's biggest strength is its insight into Nixon's complex personality. Farrell describes him as a man who was both tough and ambitious, but also troubled and insecure. He wanted power and for people to like him, yet he also was introverted and seemed to dislike most social situations. He entered politics as a defender of our nation's old-fashioned values, yet Farrell also portrays him as someone who would do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals, usually while also doing what he thought gave him the best chance to win the next election. Indeed, his actions, particularly on economic and social issues, were moderate compared to his more "conservative" contemporaries, including Ronald Reagan.

Farrell does a great job of showing how Nixon's conflicting personality traits would appear throughout his life, as he rose quickly from his service in World War II to become a U.S. Representative, Senator, and Vice President in less than a decade. After suffering a tough defeat to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Nixon won election as our nation's 37th President in 1968, taking advantage of a fractured Democratic Party and narrowly defeating Hubert Humphrey.

Other reviews of this book that I have seen suggest that Farrell was overly critical of Nixon, but I didn't find that to be the case. Farrell gave lots of credit to Nixon for his foreign policy achievements, including his role in bringing the Vietnam War to an end and achieving a breakthrough in U.S.-China relations. In terms of his capability as a Chief Executive, I came away with the impression that Nixon was talented and accomplished a lot.

Farrell is not so kind when discussing Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal, and I suppose that's fair. I don't feel that Farrell did enough to chronicle Nixon's involvement in the cover-up, though that would have been difficult to do in a book of this scope. I was also surprised at how Spiro Agnew, Nixon's first Vice President, received nothing more than a couple of brief passing remarks. It goes to show how difficult it is to give Nixon's life the full treatment it deserves in just one volume.

The most significant part of Nixon's legacy is that, due to what happened while he was in office, Americans lost faith in their elected officials more than at any other time in the nation's then 200-year history. I would have liked more analysis on this, but again, that's likely outside the scope of this book. The reader will likely come away from this book with the conclusion that Nixon could have been a great President, but he let the destructive parts of his personality get the best of him, throwing it all away due to ridiculous pursuits like a break-in into a Democratic office.

While the book was informative and loaded with information, it still left me wanting more. If you want more information about, say, the 1960 election or the Watergate scandal, you'll want to consult other sources after reading this. It certainly will not be the last source I consult on Nixon's life, but it was an interesting read that I'd recommend to anyone who likes Presidential biographies.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review: The Unexpected President

Chester A. Arthur has to be near the top of any list of the most obscure U.S. Presidents. Among those who actually know anything about him, he is probably best known for those long mutton chops instead of any actual achievements while in office.

Scott S. Greenberger recently undertook the daunting task of chronicling Arthur's life in his book, The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur. (Click here to see the listing on Amazon.) We know so little about Arthur, largely because there were no events of major significance during his time in office (he was President from 1881 to 1885), he was a relatively private man who tried to keep his family out of the public eye, and because he had many of his important archives destroyed before he died.

And yet, Greenberger attempts to show that despite Arthur's relative anonymity in our history books, his Presidency was a consequential one. Arthur has to be one of the most unlikely men to ever hold the office. During the late 19th Century, instead of voters selecting a nominee for their party in primaries like we do now, state parties would send delegates to a national convention and they would vote over and over again until someone reached a majority. In 1880, the Republicans were in danger of splitting over those who favored the spoils system of rewarding loyal party members with government jobs (referred to as Stalwarts) and reformers who thought this system was corrupt and wanted to pass laws that allowed for the selection of such positions based on merit.

As the son of a strict abolitionist minister, Arthur showed a lot of promise as a young man, including defending a black woman against discrimination in New York's public transportation system as a lawyer. But he became involved in the New York Republican Party and worked up the ranks to become one of the most prominent members of the Republican "machine," using government influence to control appointments to important government posts and solicit money to help Republican political campaigns. He loved his family, though Greenberger portrays him as a man who cared even more about his growing career and lavish lifestyle. Arthur's wife, Nell, became ill and died at age 42, and while he took it hard, even that didn't seem to slow down his ambition.

With Reconstruction over and the next big war still a few decades away, civil service was the big issue of the day in 1880. When none of the top candidates could get a majority of support at the convention, the delegates eventually chose James A. Garfield as a compromise. To satisfy the Stalwarts, who still wielded a lot of power in the party, the Republicans tucked Arthur away as the Vice Presidential candidate. Though this office had relatively little responsibility, he was only one life away from holding our country's most important job. And just a few months after Garfield took office, a disgruntled government job seeker shot Garfield. After an agonizing few months of clinging to life, Garfield died and Arthur was suddenly President.

No man, before or since, may ever have assumed the Presidency as unpopular as Arthur was, well known as a political "hack," as Greenberger refers to him. Many even suspected that he was behind the more reform-minded Garfield's murder so that the Stalwarts could stop any attempts at civil service reform. But if Arthur's loss of his wife didn't force him to have a change of heart, Garfield's death seems to have been a turning point. He was distraught, not only over the President's untimely death, but also because almost everyone in the country viewed him unfavorably, and he took the suggestions that he was behind the assassination hard.

When Arthur took office, he was unsure of himself. But when he became President, he suddenly saw himself, no longer as a leader of the Republicans, but rather as a President for all people. And with the encouragement of a series of letters from an unknown young woman, Julia Sand, President Arthur pleasantly surprised his detractors by standing up to the Stalwarts who inevitably tried to control him and led the effort towards civil service reform. Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law in 1883, and though it didn't resolve the issue entirely, it was a big step forward to ending political corruption and using merit to fill government positions. Though that might be a boring topic to learn about in today's history books, it was an important accomplishment in our nation's history.

Greenberger took on a challenging task of writing a biography on Arthur and probably did about as well as we could expect any historian to do. Besides Arthur's father, there is little description of the rest of Arthur's family. While the author hinted that Arthur's political ambition was a strain on their marriage, there aren't many details in the book on this. It appears that Arthur did a good job of shielding his family from public scrutiny. Besides this, Arthur ordered many of his important papers burned after he left the White House, ashamed of his past as a Republican crony who did whatever he could to keep the party in power.

Indeed, Greenberger is not generous towards Arthur when it comes to much of his political involvement. But one important historical lesson we can take from this book is that Arthur, as he watched his own wife die partly from his neglect and President Garfield die because of the evil effects of the spoils system, was able to change his heart towards the end of his life. His rough lifestyle even took a toll on his own health, as he died at age 57 less than two years after leaving office.

For a topic that may seem a little dry to the average reader on the surface, I had no trouble reading this book and it held my interest the whole time. Greenberger writes with clarity and ease, and he brings Arthur and the other prominent people in the story to life. I would have liked a little more detail about Arthur's personal life, as well as more on his effort to bring about civil service reform. And it was a little frustrating that the latter part of the book relied so heavily on the letters from Sand; indeed, they were quoted at length several times.

But again, with so little to go on, Greenberger may have done as well as he could have. If you don't know much about Arthur - or this era in American history, for that matter - I recommend reading this book. It should provide some new perspective on the American Presidency.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I Did It! 50,000 Words!

Well, I did it. By the time I'm finished with this essay, I'll have written 50,000 words during the month of November. It wasn't easy, and after I quickly fell behind just a few days into the month, I wondered if my goal was unrealistic.

But with enough persistence and hard work, I made it happen. No, I won't win any money for finishing. And no one will give me any awards. But I set a difficult goal for myself and achieved it. I'm proud of myself, and I believe this will help me in the long run.

Going into this, I wasn't expecting it to be easy. I also was hoping that I would learn a lot both about myself and the writing process. And I can say that I was right on both counts. Here are some of my observations after having participated in this over the past 30 days:

1. Finding time requires effort. I have a full-time job, plus plenty of family obligations. We had a major holiday (Thanksgiving), and since my wife and I hosted, we both had a lot of work to do. If I had unlimited free time, I probably could have written 50,000 words in a week. But with everything else going on in my life, I had to take extra effort to make time. There were several nights that I sat at the computer and wrote when I didn't feel like it. But when you're working with a tight deadline, every minute matters. I stayed up later than I wanted to a few nights and gave up some relaxation time, but I knew I had to be persistent if I wanted to reach my goal.

2. Thinking of topics isn't hard, but it requires effort. I didn't go the traditional route for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where many people try to write a 50,000 word novel. I'm sure that's a challenge in itself, trying to keep the story going and getting it written in such a short time. I wrote a bunch of nonfiction essays and also counted some work assignments and letters to my wife. Hey, why shouldn't those count? I wrote a total of 49 letters and essays, and while I didn't strain to come up with topics, I had to think about it. Usually, I write on whatever topics casually come into my head with little effort, but to get to 50,000 words I had to brainstorm and think deeply about what I could write about. I realized that I had a lot more to write about than I knew I had.

3. I didn't have time to carefully proofread everything. For the first several days of the month, I would go back and read what I wrote two or three extra times. But when I got towards the end of the month, I realized I wasn't going to have time to carefully proofread everything. There were a few essays I didn't even re-read at all. I don't have time, and plus it strains my brain. Again, with unlimited free time, I could have proofread everything I wrote and improved it. But NaNoWriMo writing doesn't have to be perfect. It's about stretching your brain and forcing you to keep writing. I can always go back and proofread later, especially if I decide to post or publish anything I wrote.

4. I feel more like a writer. I feel less like a guy who just writes in his spare time and more like a writer. Sure, I've written a book that was 70,000 words, but I did that over the course of ten months. Having written at the rate I have over the past month, I feel the energy that I imagine other writers have, of sitting at the computer and grinding your way through a writing goal and stretching the limits of your patience and imagination. It's given me a new perspective on the writing life.

5. This isn't the end. So I achieved a big goal. But that doesn't mean I stop writing. I'm hoping I can take what I achieved and build on it, to know that I am capable of accomplishing a lot and of pushing myself even more. I plan to take a little time off, perhaps a few days or so, to recover and to celebrate what I did. But it will be for nothing if I don't continue to pursue my writing goals. I'm hoping that someday, I can look back on November 2017 as a critical time in my development as a writer and remember my time of participating in NaNoWriMo fondly.

Friday, November 10, 2017

2018 Baseball Hall of Fame: In or Out?

Candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame need 75% of voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America to support their candidacy to gain election. What would I do if I were a voter? Here's my take on eight candidates who are new to the ballot this year and eight who have been on the ballot in previous years but not yet made it in.

First time candidates:

Johnny Damon: He'll generate some discussion because he was able to accumulate 2,769 hits and scored 1,668 runs, and because he was a big part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry of the 2000s, playing on both sides. But the rest of the numbers just aren't there, and at no point was he an elite player. It was a memorable career, but not a Hall of Fame one.

Verdict: No

Andruw Jones: I really struggled with this one. I still do a double take every time I see that he hit 434 home runs; it doesn't seem like he was around long enough to do that. He was also an elite defender in center field for a long time, winning ten straight Gold Glove awards. But he wasn't a well-rounded hitter; the fact that he didn't reach 2,000 hits (1,933) is a big blow to his case. His career dropped off quickly after his elite ten-year stretch from 1998-2007; with one or two more great seasons, it'd be a lot easier to put him in. I'm going to have to say no, though should he get elected one day I won't take much issue with it.

Verdict: No

Chipper Jones: There's no doubt he should be in. He has the statistics and was a fixture of the Atlanta Braves teams that won 14 straight division titles. But a word of caution: Let's not get too caught up in the fact that he's "one of the greatest switch hitters of all time." Remember that players switch hit to give themselves an advantage and we shouldn't treat it like it's a handicap that a player has to overcome.

Verdict: Yes

Jamie Moyer: He's going to get some attention because he lasted 25 years in the majors and was able to pile up 269 wins. It's a career that warrants a lot of respect, and he did have some great seasons, but he's not a Hall of Famer.

Verdict: No

Scott Rolen: Third basemen have had a hard time gaining election, for whatever reason. Chipper Jones will get in, but there's also Rolen to consider. Rolen had some great seasons at the plate, but he didn't have the stretch of dominance you're usually expected to have to put together a Hall of Fame career. For a position with high offensive expectations, the overall numbers just aren't there: a .281 average, 2,077 hits, and 316 home runs is not Hall of Fame worthy. He was a great defensive player, but not a dominant one, and I don't think that tips the scales enough in his favor.

Verdict: No

Johan Santana: During his prime, he was arguably the game's best pitcher. But he doesn't have the longevity that warrants induction, only playing 12 seasons with just eight as a full-time starter. It's too bad that injuries derailed his career; he'd have made it if he'd lasted four more seasons.

Verdict: No

Jim Thome: A player with 612 home runs and 1,699 RBIs should be in with little debate. If he doesn't get in right away - aside from the steroid suspicion, which hasn't been proven - it's because he played in the most prolific offensive era in history and that some feel hitting a lot of home runs isn't the accomplishment it once was. But still, 612 home runs is a big deal. Hopefully this doesn't take long.

Verdict: Yes

Omar Vizquel: I feel like if we're going to include Ozzie Smith, then we have to include Vizquel. Smith was a once-in-a-lifetime defensive talent; Vizquel might not quite be on that level, but he's still among the best defensive shortstops of all time. Vizquel was also more of an offensive force than Smith was, finishing with 2,877 hits. It's hard to elect someone primarily on defense because it's so subjective, but given his longevity and the fact that he did contribute on offense, I'll give him the nod.

Verdict: Yes

Returning candidates:

Vladimir Guerrero: I don't remember ever seeing another player who had a more intimidating presence at the plate than Guerrero did. If the pitch was within two feet of the strike zone, he was probably going to swing and probably do some damage. The biggest question for his candidacy is whether he hung around long enough, as he was done at age 36 - not great for a position player - and failed to reach any of the milestones (449 home runs, 1,496 RBIs, 2,590 hits) that normally get you in automatically. But he was a dominant player for over a decade, which includes 11 consecutive years (1998-2008) of batting at least .300 with at least 25 home runs. And while he made a lot of errors in the field, he also threw out a lot of baserunners with his rocket of an arm. I'm going to go with my gut and say yes.

Verdict: Yes

Trevor Hoffman: He just missed last year and is going to get in, but I'm generally against electing relief pitchers. I just don't think they do enough to have a major impact on the game. Saves is a junk statistic; getting three outs before giving up three runs is something that every pitcher should be able to do at a high success rate, even if it is in the ninth inning. I'm willing to make an exception for Mariano Rivera because he was a key part of one of the all-time great dynasties and because of his postseason dominance. Whether it's fair or not, Hoffman didn't play on a lot of great teams and therefore doesn't have many key moments that defined his career like Rivera does. Since relief pitching is becoming more important in today's game, my opinion may someday change. But as of right now, being second all-time in saves is not enough to warrant induction.

Verdict: No

Jeff Kent: If he played almost any other position besides second base, he would not have lasted into what is now his sixth year on the ballot. But because he played a traditionally weak offensive position, some still think he should be in. 2,461 hits and 377 home runs is not quite enough unless you were also a great defender, and Kent did nothing to stand out in that regard. I'll admit that the 1,518 RBIs is impressive, but since his case is solely based on offense, I don't think he quite did enough.

Verdict: No

Fred McGriff: I like to compare McGriff's career to that of one of his contemporaries, Craig Biggio. Neither was an elite player, but while Biggio made the Hall of Fame easily, McGriff's chances don't look good. There are two big difference between their careers: First, Biggio reached one of the "automatic" milestones for election of 3,000 hits (he finished with 3,060), largely due to the fact that he played for 20 years, while McGriff just missed the magic mark of 500 home runs, finishing with 493. The second difference is that while Biggio played his entire career with the Houston Astros, McGriff played for six different teams and therefore is not a legend to any one fan base. It may not seem fair, but that's the way it is. Playing in the most prodigious offensive era the game has ever seen, McGriff just didn't do enough to distinguish himself from his peers.

Verdict: No

Edgar Martinez: This is a tough one. I have no problem letting designated hitters into the Hall of Fame; it's a position that somebody has to play, so we should be willing to recognize greatness. Plus, we've elected some hitters that weren't exactly great defenders. Martinez was a great hitter, but looking at his numbers, it's a tough case to make. He finished with 2,247 hits, 309 home runs, and 1,261 RBIs. None of those numbers stand out. His saving grace may be his ability to get on base. We live in an era in which we love walks, and Martinez earned 1,283 of them. Compare that to Vladimir Guerrero's 737 walks, and Martinez actually reached base more times than Guerrero did. Martinez is on the ballot this year for the tenth and final time, and he only reached 58% last year, so it's going to be an uphill climb. It feels like this vote will be a referendum on whether designated hitters should receive recognition, now and in the future. Reluctantly, I'll give my blessing, though I don't think it will be a travesty if he doesn't make it.

Verdict: Yes

Mike Mussina: I'm having a hard time understanding why Mussina isn't getting more votes. It's time for everyone to come to terms with the fact that we're not going to see another 300 game winner, at least in the foreseeable future; the game has just changed too much. Mussina's 270 wins are a tremendous accomplishment, even if we are valuing the win statistic less and less. Some will discredit that because he pitched for a lot of high-scoring teams, but when we look at his entire career, he was one of the game's most established pitchers for two decades. Hopefully he'll eventually make it.

Verdict: Yes

Curt Schilling: The elephant in the room is Schilling's political views; I hope the voters are not taking that into consideration, although I can't help but think that some of them are. All that aside, when we look at Schilling's regular season numbers, it could go either way: 216 wins and a 3.46 ERA. This is a case in which his postseason achievements may tip the scales in his favor. He was a key figure on two of the most important championship-winning teams of this past generation, the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2004 Red Sox. Taking that into consideration, I'd put him in.

Verdict: Yes

Larry Walker: He was a great hitter, and I don't hold it against him that he played many of his games at Coors Field, the most hitter-friendly park in the league. But I don't think the full body of work is there. He only played in more than 143 games one time in his career, playing in fewer than 2,000 games overall (1,988). Yes, the .313 batting average is impressive, and 383 home runs is nothing to sneeze at, but he needed more at-bats for his numbers to reach Hall of Fame level.

Verdict: No

Time to Take a Bigger Moral Stand

Has anyone else noticed that there have been a lot of "sex scandals" in the news lately? If you watch any news at all, there's a good chance you have. A lot of women are speaking up and accusing famous men of inappropriate behavior, and some are even being accused of molesting children. It's difficult to say how much of it is true. But in any case, women and children are supposed to be treated with respect and we should oppose all behavior that runs contrary to that.

But as I look around and observe everything happening in our society, I have one question to ask. It may seem cruel, but we need to ask ourselves:

Should we really be surprised?

I'm always amazed at how everyone acts so shocked when they hear that some celebrity acted inappropriately. Has anyone watched prime time TV lately? Crass and immoral behavior is everywhere. How about turning the radio on to the top 40 stations? I can't believe the lyrics to some of the songs on there. Many of them glorify treating women like objects (or in some cases, female singers are doing it for men, too). And listening to it is as easy as turning on a radio. No one seems to have a problem with any of that; in fact, we can't seem to get enough. Why the double standard?

I was in my early teens when the Bill Clinton sex scandal was in the news back in the late 1990s. I'm sure this was not the first time that a President ran around on his wife or acted with moral indecency while in office. But up to that point, such behavior was usually concealed from public view. This was partly because we went a long time without the technology and ubiquitous news media we have today, and partly because we at least had enough decency to protect the public - especially children - from such lewd behavior.

This was a potential turning point in our nation's history. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that the public was forced to confront the moral transgressions of President Clinton. Parents had a chance to teach their children a lesson in right and wrong, about how it's important to stay strong while living in a sinful world. With technology starting to make it easy to bring immorality into our homes, this was an opportunity for us as a nation to stand up and say that we will not allow filth to run rampant in our society.

But if this was God's way of testing us, we failed miserably. We were told that "it's just sex" - that it's none of our business and that we should focus on the more important task of helping the President do his job. Did Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs impact his ability to make military decisions or to try to fix the economy? Well, maybe it didn't. But that's missing the bigger point. We didn't have to impeach Clinton to take a stand. We could have examined ourselves and decided it was time to tone down the sex and violence on TV and the radio, or at the very least not make it so easy for children to access.

Instead, it's become much worse. Nothing is sacred. I remember being shocked when I heard the occasional bad word on TV; now it's everywhere, even on the over-the-air channels. Sure, the media shoves this down our throats, but if we stopped watching it would affect their bottom line and they'd have to take it off the air.

Today, I hear elementary and middle school kids regularly using words that I didn't even know when I was their age. Adults aren't off the hook either; I frequently hear them use language in everyday conversation - even in front of children - that would have been unacceptable just a generation ago. With our moral standards lower than ever, why do we act so stunned when we hear about inappropriate behavior on the news? I don't understand it. We can't have it both ways.

Our lax moral standards may have brought us to a new low last year, when we were forced to choose between two Presidential candidates with far from stellar moral reputations. We either had to pick Bill Clinton's wife, who tried to shame many of the women who spoke out against her husband, or a man with his own history of treating women poorly.

How could it have come to this? As a Christian, I had to make a decision with which I was not comfortable with either of the choices. But that's what we get for letting our country slide so deeply into the moral abyss. Speaking out against Bill Clinton and then voting for Donald Trump is not necessarily hypocrisy. For many of those who did this, it was a necessary evil for living in these dark times. I believe that Trump's ability to gain the nomination from a major political party is a direct result of our failure to stand up to indecency in our public officials two decades earlier.

Whether we want to admit it or not, our elected officials are a reflection of us. And so is everything else we see in the news and on our televisions and computers. It wouldn't be there if we didn't ask for it. So what are we going to do about it? Are we going to continue to become outraged for a short moment the next time a big scandal breaks then go back to all the same TV shows and movies? Are we going to complain about the lack of leadership from our elected officials do but keep putting the same types of people into office?

Or are we all going to decide that things will only improve if we change our attitudes and our actions?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." This saying gets overused to the point of, well, insanity. But this is one instance in which it really applies. We can't act outraged over one moral indiscretion but glorify another. We need to hold our fellow citizens to high moral standards, but it may be even more important to do the same for ourselves. Evil will never completely go away, but if we find the courage to do this, maybe then we'll see fewer disturbing stories on the news.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Yes, My Thoughts and Prayers Do Matter

"Your thoughts and prayers don't matter."

How many times have you heard someone say this recently? Or seen it as a comment on a Facebook story about yet another awful shooting? It seems to be the fashionable thing to say lately.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of hearing it.

I get why people say it. They're sad. They're angry. They're confused. They want to know how yet another gunman was able to slaughter an innocent group of people. And I agree that we need to do as much as we can to prevent these incidents from happening in the future.

But none of that is an excuse for disrespecting someone else's attempt to express genuine concern for those who lost someone. It seems that compassion for our fellow man is something we should encourage, not condemn. Isn't it disregard for others that causes most killers to do this?

Thoughts and prayers are all I can offer, as they are all most of us can. I couldn't have prevented this shooting from happening. I never met any of the people involved and never heard of them until this happened. I wish I could have stopped this, but I had no way of knowing it would occur.

None of us have the ability to prevent all bad things from happening. We can argue that changing this law or that law would have prevented this latest shooting, and maybe that's true. But evil people will do evil things. Guns have been used to kill people, but so have knives, trucks, bombs, and many other items for a long time. Evil has existed since the book of Genesis and will, unfortunately, always be with us, regardless of what weapons are available.

For those of us who feel helpless, offering condolences and seeking guidance from God is sometimes all we can do. These events don't make sense to us, so we have to look for hope in something bigger than we are, to trust that God has a greater plan even in the worst of times.

It's ok to ask questions. It's normal to cry out to God and wonder how this could happen. But God doesn't "cause" bad things to happen, nor does he "allow" them. Bad things happen because Satan is in control of this world. Mankind has chosen to turn their back on God, starting with The Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, we have had to see what life is like without Him. It's not pretty.

It's because God is not of this world that we seek Him. We put our faith in Him, the faith that despite all the sorrow we see here, this is not the end game. There is a greater plan in place. For many of us who are left behind after such a terrible event, that is all we have to hold onto. That's how we try to get through this. It's how we try to be there for those who are hurting the most.

If that's not how you want to cope, that's fine. If you think it's important to pass more laws to prevent killings, that's great. But don't put down other people for trying to show compassion. If you really believe that thoughts and prayers do nothing, than neither do your criticisms of those who care. Please have some respect.

To those who are distraught from this latest shooting, or who are still hurting from a previous tragedy: I hope you will accept my thoughts and my prayers. I wish I could do more. I would love to be able to bring your loved ones back, or to at least take away all the pain you've suffered because of your loss. And I wish I could prevent this from happening to anyone else ever again. But I can't. The best I can do is let you know that I do care and that I can pray for healing and understanding in this difficult time.

Perhaps if more of us did that, there would be less hatred and less evil in this world.

Why I Write

If you've been around me for any length of time, you've probably made the same observation as just about everyone else: I don't talk much. In high school, people who knew me referred to me as the quiet kid, and I haven't changed much in that regard since I graduated almost fifteen years ago.

I've always found it interesting that it's the quiet people that seem to stand out like a sore thumb. "Boy, you're quiet." "Why don't you say much?" This is what I've heard dozens of times from people I've just met, or even people that have known me for a while. Why do other people notice this so quickly? I've never understood that. I'm not trying to be a troublemaker. I'm not even trying to be different. I'm just being myself.

But that doesn't always go over well with everyone. We're expected to be talkative, and some people even get offended when we don't. Talking is almost our way of letting everyone else know, "Hey, I'm normal." Those who talk a lot often like to make sure the non-talkative folks know that they're different. Imagine it the other way around. I would never say to a garrulous person, "Wow, you talk a lot!" That would be rude, right?

I understand that, as humans living in a society, we all have to interact with each other. And I understand there are times that talking is necessary. I've even forced myself to get good enough at public speaking that I can teach a 90 minute computer class at work without any notes. But it's not how I'm most comfortable expressing myself. And I know I'm not the only one in the world who's like that.

Some people, when they are interacting in person with others, always have plenty to say. They know how to respond immediately. They're able to come up with answers right on the spot, without taking the time to think about it. There's nothing wrong with that. I think it's great that there are people like that. We need them.

But that's not me. I'm an observer. I need to absorb what's around me. Just because I'm not talking much doesn't mean I'm stupid, or I have nothing to say, or that I don't like you or don't care about a situation. Maybe it's easy to assume that, but it's also wrong. In many social situations, I would rather listen to others than hear myself talk because that's how I learn. But when I take time to reflect on what I see around me and want to make some observations and offer a response, I may want to express it somehow. And writing is how I do that.

When I have points I want to make, I like to take the time to sort them out and get the message as good and as clear as I can. You can't do that through talking; once you say something, it's out there and you can't take it back. Again, some people are fine communicating that way, and I don't have a problem with it. Just respect the fact that I'm not the same as you are.

Communicating is not just how we work with other people. It's how we make sense of the world around us. Writing is my favorite way to do both. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with me. I just like to see what I'm thinking on paper (or on the computer screen) so I can make sense of it and rearrange it so that it best reflects who I am and what I'm thinking.

I've been discussing why writing is important to me personally, but in this talkative world, writing still has a place. It's still an effective way to communicate with large groups of people. If I have a message I want to send out to the world, writing is the best way to do it, whether it's through websites, newspapers, or books (and I've done all three). Though people can get turn on their TV or get on YouTube to hear the news or to view a big speech, the written word is still available and isn't going anywhere.

Even writing between two individuals still has a place. It allows us to have a record of our correspondence that we can go back and look at again and again. We can read messages that we write to each other over and over, so we can absorb them and appreciate the other person for taking the time to do that.

But the biggest difference between voice/pictures and writing is that the latter requires use of imagination. I think that's why a lot of people are disappointed when Hollywood turns a book into a movie; more often, I hear that the book was better. When we read words, we have to visualize what the writing is describing in our heads. Television, for instance, does that for us. Our brains don't have to work as hard. When we read, whether we realize it or not, we're becoming better communicators. I'm proud of the fact that, through writing, I can even help others in this way.

Not everyone has to be a good writer. If you have other skills, be proud of them and use them to the best of your ability. But if you see someone who isn't talking much, don't make them feel bad about it. It's easy to do, even if you don't mean to. Quiet people often have a lot to say and have a lot going on in their brain and prefer to express it in different ways besides trying to impress everyone with their verbal skills or their ability to be loud.

And to all the non-talkative people reading this who prefer to write: Keep writing. Practice and get better at it. Find ways it can be useful. And most importantly, don't feel bad about who you are. The world needs all types of people, even if some of us aren't willing to acknowledge that.