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Gun Violence and the NRA

The following essay of mine was published in the Op-ed pages of the Orlando Sentinel on January 10, 2013. I weight it against the unreasonableness of the NRA:
In 1989, in response to the Stockton school shooting, in which five children were killed and 29 were wounded by an assailant with an assault rifle, I wrote a newspaper essay describing the utter stranglehold the NRA had over our politicians and Constitution. Rereading the article today, I am struck not only by the utter lack of progress on gun control in the last twenty-three years, but that things have gotten shockingly worse. I wrote, in part:

“If Thomas Jefferson or George Washington could visit the scene of the recent massacre of children in Stockton, Calif., they would likely weep. They would weep not only for the gun-downed children of Vietnamese refugees seeking a sanctuary from war, but also for the Constitution itself.


“They could not imagine in their wildest fantasies that the Second Amendment could become as warped and perverted as to immerse their precious country in any bloody sea of AK-47 assault rifles and Uzi machine guns. They would weep to find that, alone among the Western democracies, the United States offers death by gunfire as an everyday occurrence.”


“Behind this historical perversion, wrapped in bloodstained flags of deranged patriotism, stands the National Rifle Association.

The shocking complacency of our society for twenty-three years is only exceeded by the NRA’s Wayne Lapierres antidote for bullets buzzing as thick as flies – more bullets. The NRA is actively trying to cram loaded and concealed weapons into the last hallowed venues left in our lives – churches, the work place and schools. I am trying to imagine a venue in this country where the NRA would agree that guns are inappropriate. I would venture to say baby cribs, but I remain unsure.
What has happened to our politicians in the twenty-three years since Stockton? They are, I feel, collectively suffering from the “Stockholm Syndrome,” a condition whereby prisoners or abductees begin to admire their captures. To say that our politicians at the time of the Stockton massacre were captives of the NRA would be an understatement. But to describe the situation just prior to the Connecticut school shooting is difficult, since the notion of senators and representatives as slaves is such a paradox. I picture them as the captive zombies in the “Walking Dead,” neutered, with nose rings, being led quietly across an apocalyptic landscape.
Even our Supreme Court (surprise) in Columbia V. Heller, has given its Constitutional blessing to reasonable gun control legislation. But when even the most tepid whiff of reasonable legislation is brought up, the NRA screeches about the “slippery slope” which ends in black helicopters and UN led house to house searches for guns. This is childish. Horrifically enough, the motivation behind this argument springs not from its member’s fear of criminals, but fear of the U.S. government itself. So, in essence, we are witnessing the most powerful lobby in the country reserving and expanding the rights of those who want the option to use military grade firearms against our current government sometime in the future. What a noble cause. What sort of nightmare have we sleepwalked our way into?
The original core of the NRA, the hunters, have been quietly left behind by the NRA as they are an aging and shrinking block of support. This explains the NRA’s two decade pandering to the paranoid right. While all other industrialized democracies in the world have moved toward rational restrictions on guns, far beyond what will or should occur here, we continue to stockpile a cache of almost 400 million weapons because of the fantasies of a fearful minority that these guns will be taken. A deadly snake has swallowed its tail.
In the early 1950’s, during the “Red Scare” Senator Joseph McCarthy similarly bullied this country and cowed our politicians. He finally went too far and was publicly called down by Army lawyer Joseph Welch, who said, as McCarthy blindly attacked an accused “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” Similarly, we need to demand decency and true citizenship from the NRA. Our zombies/politicians needed a ____ slap in the face. If the deaths of these children won’t’ wake them up out of graveling serfdom to the NRA, nothing ever will. Let’s at long last be adults about this – no one is going to break down gun owners doors and hysteria over reasonable restrictions should be treated for what it is – selfish, unthinking and unpatriotic.

This Story was Written by a Client who Suffered a Severe TBI During a Car Accident


Let’s start with my name, it is Michael Jason Saranko, but most people call me Mike. At the present time, I am a full time student at Hillsborough Community College, and a proud father of my son Alexander Nathaniel Saranko. From time to time, I often think about what my true goals are in life, and what I hope to accomplish by going to college now, and in the future. I have come to realize that there are differences between what I need to do, and what I want to do. In a few simple words one could say, “I do the things I need to do, to get to where I want to be in life.” Saying that has made a huge difference among the things I have chosen to write about.

To begin with, my for most important goal is to ensure my son has everything he would ever need and most of the things he may want, and to ensure his health and happiness. At the same time, I want to maintain a happy and healthy life for myself. In order to do so, one of the goals I want to accomplish would be to graduate from college, then pursue a degree somewhere in the field of law possibly becoming a lawyer. Becoming a lawyer has been a long time goal of mine since I was a child. I can recall times as a child watching my father at the law library studying case law to win, or get out of any lawsuits he may have been involved in. I soon came to realize law is just a bunch of paper work in defending a point of view for whatever reason a person may have. Basically, saying who ever did the most ‘homework’ for their case, and got the best facts usually won. Incidentally, an obstacle I am currently dealing with, and have had to try to overcome happened nearly five years ago on August of 2007. This event happened only two months after I had graduated from high school, and was in the process of moving into my own apartment to begin college. It was a normal day just like any other. Everything was going well as I was driving about to make a left turn to enter a gas station, when out of nowhere my life changed forever as I was involved in a motor vehicle collision in the middle of my turn. My vehicle was only traveling around five miles per hour. As I turned another vehicle ran a red light and plowed into me going nearly sixty miles per hour hitting me on my right passenger side. The impact folded the passenger side of the vehicle onto the driver side. I suffered many injuries including, but not limited to a sub-dural hematoma, a right collapsed lung, and two fractures in my top two vertebra. I was very lucky to have survived, seeing how the top two vertebras I fractured controlled my breathing, and motor functions. Shortly after the collision, a homicide crew came to investigate my wreck as if I was not going to survive. The result, lead to me being in a coma for around eight days before I awoke to the worst head-aches anyone could ever imagine as my brain swelling receded. I awoke not knowing that this whole experience would change my life forever, but I soon realized as time progressed that it did. This experience to date would be one of the most difficult points in my life I have had to overcome. Many people have said to me that the person I was before my wreck, and the person I was when I awoke were two different people, but sadly more for the worst than the best. Around thirty days after staying in the hospital I was released, having to wear a neck brace for the following five months. I have had to overcome a great deal having to cope with the great strain of a brain injury that left me with seventy eight micro-mili-meters of hemorrhages throughout my brain. Basically, saying that seventy eight micro-mili-meters of my brain was damaged beyond repair, and I had to re-learn what I had lost. From this point on, some aspects of my life changed forever. However, the real long term goals I have always had since the beginning have not changed, but have become harder to achieve.

Another goal I have always had is to become a private pilot. Not to work as a pilot, but to fly myself, and friends from place to place. The year prior to my collision I was attending flight lessons at a nearby airport. But unfortunately, after my collision I lost all ambition to fly, for fear that I would not be able to perform my duties as a pilot. As time progressed, I have been able to overcome that fear. Currently, I have started flight lessons again taking one per week. As the years passed following my collision I lost all interest on the important things I needed to do in life to get to where I want to be in life. Mostly in the years following my collision I was in a care free phase in my life, because school was too hard, and focusing on anything was too difficult for me. It wasn’t until August of 2010 when my son was born I had realized I was taking things for granted I shouldn’t have, but also gave up on things I should have tried harder to achieve. My son has given me “that spark” I had lost since the motor vehicle collision I was involved in. I thank God for blessing me with my son; he is the fuel for mostly everything I do.

Overall, life is full of up and downs. No one should ever lose sight of the true things in life they want and desire. If you fall get back up, and push harder. My goals in life are to do good in college and someday possibly become a lawyer. While at the same time, being the best father I can be in every way possible. In the meantime, I am taking flight lessons to someday become my own private pilot. Everyone has dreams, no one should ever lose sight of them. In my view, life is about finding happiness in what I do, and fulfilling my dreams. Life is too short to stress over the small things. I try to enjoy every day as it could be my last, keeping my head up and moving forward in this dream I like to call life.


In recent years a theory has been developed describing the brain as actively employing memory against incoming sensory data in order to avoid focusing on known factors and to try to predict instantaneously what is going to happen next. The brain has thus been called “a prediction computer.” It has also been called the “top-down prediction theory.” It rose through evolution and it allows our brains to function and not be overwhelmed by the amount of incoming sensory information.


A very interesting example of this can be shown on a YouTube clip (see Hollow Face Optical Illusion). There, we see something that is virtually never seen in the real world, namely a hollow face, which our brains “interpret” as a normal face, based upon 100% of our past experience. This shows how the “top-down” prediction model of how the brain works can actually alter our perceptions of what is really coming in through out sensory organs. Our brain is saying “this can’t possible be a hollow face” so it recreates what we see as a normal face. We have perception of an object, our brain’s instantaneous attempt to understand it, and to predict what it means. In the vast majority of instances, we sense things that we have previously sensed before. In that way, scientist have described the way the brain works as “saving band width” or not sending along sensory data that is or has been well predicted. Another example would be comparing your memories of a random day in the past thirty days with your memories of, say a vacation to Europe. Because your brain is less able to “predict” what is around the corner in a new and novel place, the experience is much better remembered than a day through the daily routine.

These theories and studies (Friston 2010; Bubic 2010; Keraga, 2007) also lead us into some interesting directions regarding rehabilitation of an injured brain and perhaps methods to utilize during our lives to strengthen the brain against the ravages of old age and dementia. Neuro-regeneration of brain cells is known to be enhanced by confronting “novelty.” It is obvious how this might occur – new connections and memories must be developed to accommodate confronting sensory data (visually, through sounds or taste) that is novel as unpredictable.


Thus, persons who are hardwired to seek novelty (neophilia) would tend to strengthen their brain over time when compared to individuals who stay within the confines of the very well known parameters of life. Likewise, it would seem that experiencing “avant garde” art and the added effort on the part of the brain, should be promotional of neuro-regeneration since, by its nature, it will confront the brain with new and unexpected sensory input, whether it be new modes of music, painting or even food. Studies have shown that the uncomfortable feeling people have when experiencing atonal or novel music is in part created by the brain sending out signals that it is confronting something unexpected. Further studies need to be done to confirm this connection.


The unexpected, the new, the novel, the challenging – all of these should be part of a regular diet for a healthy brain. Try to fool the prediction computer, shake it up a little bit.

End of Year Book Roundup

Here is a list some of the books that I have read this year, some outstanding some less so. In no particular order:


1. “The Root of Thought, Unlocking Glia the Brain Cell That Will Help Sharpen Our Wits, Heal Injury and Treat Brain Disease” by Andrew Koob – As you can tell from my earlier blogs, this book, one of the first describing the new found importance of Glia was very thought provoking to put it mildly.


2. “The Mind and The Brain” by Jeffrey M. Schwartz – This book describes the fascinating new research on neuroplasticity and has been the source of some of my earlier blogs.


3. “The Information” by James Gleick – This panoramic history of information and communication over the past 250 years was both interesting and relevant to many issues today ranging from computers to brain injury.


4. “Jeff in Venice, Death in the Varanasi” by Geoff Dyer – In this book the great British writer Dyer contrasts his experiences at the Venice’s Biennale, amid a decadent crush of social climbers, with transformative experiences in India.


5. “Dirt: The Erosions of Civilization” by David R. Montgomery – Here one learns that dirt is the vital skin on our earth that truly does decide the course of civilizations. Interestingly, Darwin, in one of his last books, described his theory of how earthworms created dirt. He was laughed at until proved correct seventy-five years later.


6. “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett – A sprawling picaresque novel in which incredible medical discoveries are made in the Amazon jungle. It gives us insight into the sometimes non scientific ways in which science progresses or fails to progress.


7. “Zone One” by Colson Whitehead – This is a “literary zombie book” and it probably indeed has all of the problems that the terms conjures up.


8. “The Man in the Rockefeller Suit” by Mark Seal – This incredible true story almost defies belief. A young German boy, who learned English by imitating Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island, comes to the United States and successfully impersonates a series of fictitious millionaires and finally successfully becomes a Rockefeller until arrested. This speaks to the primacy of our speech and diction in social interactions and prejudices.


9. “Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and the Struggle for the Soul of Science” by David Lindley – This book describes the battle over the true nature of Quantum Mechanics and how Einstein ended up on the losing side of whether or not “entanglement” and other phenomenon really existed. Einstein never accepted Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle” and was left behind by other physicist starting in 1925.


10. “How the Hippies Saved Physics” by David Kaiser – A historical follow-up to the earlier book, which shows howsome outcast scientist in the ‘60’s revived interests in “entanglement” and Bells theorem, aided strangely by defense department and CIA funding, resulting in breakthroughs that are now part of our everyday lives in internet security and communications.


11. “The Escape” by Adam T. Hirlwell – A comic British novel charting the comic activities of the main character as he comes to grips with his past, giving rise to stories of World War II, and whether he had a life well lived.


12. “Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees” by James Reidel – At mid-century Kees was a pivotal figure in modern art and poetry, but after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, his contributions were largely forgotten. An interesting journey into the cultural changes that predated the 1960’s.


13. “The Thousand Autumn’s of Jacob De Zoet” by David Mitchell – Mitchell, the author of the great book “The Cloud Atlas” (coming soon as a major motion picture) imagines life in Imperial Japan at a Dutch trading outpost and vividly creates the clash of cultures that this, the only trading outpost allowed in Japan, caused.


14. “A Ticket, A Pack and A Chart: Episodes from a Borderless Life” by Buz Donahoo – My good friend Buz Donahoo, a lifelong adventure guide, has put many of his interesting adventures into this all to short book. Worth reading.


15. “Joan Mitchell” by Patricia Albers – A biography of the one of the only woman painters allowed into abstract expressionist canon. Before becoming a painter, Mitchell was the youngest person to ever be published in Poetry Magazine.


16. “Busy Monsters” by William Giraldi – This high spirited comedy follows the epic failures of heartbroken protagonist Charlie Homar as he gets involved with fringe characters of all stripes after his girlfriend leaves him to capture a giant squid. A very funny book.


17. “Incognito: The Secret Lives of The Brain” by David Eagleman – Eagleman, now famous on television and radio, relays some of the interesting new breakthroughs in brain research. His method of describing some of the paradoxes in the brain is similar to the economics book “Freakonomics.”


18. “Remainder” by Tom McCarthy – This well reviewed British author’s book begins when the protagonist receives a huge legal settlement after being struck by a falling satellite. It gets even stranger after that. It does show some of the odd behaviors one can see after brain injury and how the actual “reality” that the victim sees can change dramatically as well.


19. “Inside Scientology: The Story of American’s Most Secretive Religion” by Janet Reitman – Scientology is much, much scarier than Tom Cruise jumping on a couch, it is almost like a paramilitary group that intimidates through litigation.


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