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Ashby sends condolences to grieving Uvalde community

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Trent Ashby in HouseBy Trent Ashby

District 57 Repsentative

The tragedy and senseless act of violence that took the precious lives of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde leaves us all with heavy hearts.

As Texans grieve over this unspeakable loss, we grapple with the unfortunate reality that something this catastrophic can take place in our own backyard. In a place where children are meant to prosper and feel protected, no parent should ever have to carry the inescapable concern of losing their child at school.

As a father, I send my deepest condolences and heartfelt prayers to the families of the twenty-one people who lost their lives. As Texans and as Americans, it is my sincere hope that we come together to find sensible and thoughtful solutions to address the all-to-common occurrence of mass shootings that currently plague our society.

As we mourn the loss of life and grieve alongside our fellow Texans, I'd like to share a verse in scripture that I hope will resonate in the hearts and minds of all those affected by this tragedy:

"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:17-18;21.

In the wake of our most recent primary runoff elections, I thought it would be appropriate to cover the House Committee on Elections for this week’s examination of House Interim Committees and charges.

The House Committee on Elections has the important duty of overseeing the Texas Ethics Commission and the Texas Secretary of State. This nine-member committee has jurisdiction over voting rights, state elections, election code, and campaign finances.

Over the interim, this Committee will spend time keeping an eye on relevant legislation passed in the 87th Legislature and study recent changes to election procedures.

If you're a Texan who is eligible to vote by mail, you can now track the status of your ballot with a digital tool on the Texas Secretary of State's website. Enacted under HB 1382, the Committee will examine this new tool to ensure it is working as intended.

Allowing voters to check their mail-in status eliminates the uncertainty that your vote didn't get counted, thus increasing accessibility transparency, and turnout. The Committee on Elections will also review the implementation of HB 1622, which seeks to increase transparency and efficiency in the elections process by allowing voters to file a complaint with the Secretary of State if early voting turnout numbers are not posted in a timely manner.

Current law requires early voting clerks to maintain a roster listing the number of people who voted during each day of early voting. The daily roster must be submitted to the Secretary of State and posted publicly on the Secretary of State's website.

Ensuring these posting requirements are met in a timely manner helps both administrators and the Secretary of State monitor vote totals for accuracy to identify any problems or irregularities, which helps maintain the integrity of our electoral process.

This Committee is also charged with studying laws related to local ballot initiatives and propositions to assess whether reforms are needed to ensure ballot language is clear, consistent, and easy to understand.

When Texans have an opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment or a local proposition, at times, the wording may be difficult to comprehend, leaving voters unsure as to whether they support the measure.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at (936) 634-2762. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my Official Facebook Page, where I will be posting regular updates on what's happening in your State Capitol and sharing information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

Trent Ashby represents District 57, soon to be District 9, which includes Trinity County, in the Texas Legislature.

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The value of a human life

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” Attributed to Banksy

"Someday soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That's when I will be truly dead - when I exist in no one's memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from the living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?” ― Irvin D. Yalom, Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

What’s the value of a human life? Does it even have individual value, and if so, why?

I often drift into philosophy in these columns, simply because our opinions are based strongly on our individual philosophical beliefs. So I think it’s important that I reveal my philosophical bias when I rant on about this or that. Philosophically, I am an existentialist.

Philosophy is a slippery slope and existentialism is one of the most slippery of the slopes in philosophy. Reduced farther than it should be, it’s the belief that, as the writer Hunter S. Thompson wrote, that we are all alone, and that we are responsible for creating meaning and purpose in our own lives, not teachers, or gods or governments. 

I’ve been thinking about this lately as we are really debating whether life has inherent value, and the nature of that value, when we talk about abortion or mass murder or whether the government should exercise ultimate control over women’s bodies, or who we love, or when and if we have children.

We might argue that life always has value to the individual, because without it we have nothing. The fact of suicide seems to dispute that idea, though. I believe there are far worse things than death, including enduring a life of intractable suffering, of inescapable poverty, of oppression by individuals or governments, only to die alone and lonely.

Many Christians would say that the Bible teaches us that life has inestimable value because God created it. They have used this belief to justify the right of the government to make abortion illegal from the moment of conception, or to make birth control illegal. I think this is a gross misunderstanding and misuse of the Bible.

If you look at the Bible in its entirety, neither the Old Testament God nor the New Testament Jesus appear to place ultimate value on human life. It is the human soul that is the concern of the Bible.

God repeatedly ordered in the OT his people to commit genocide. He destroyed almost all of humanity in the great flood. In the New Testament, it seems clear that Jesus and the NT writers valued the fate of the soul far more than human life. Jesus literally gave up his life to secure the souls of Christians.

“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” (Phil. 3:20-21)

We don’t have to spend much time talking about how little our society values human life. 

Billion- and Trillion-dollar corporations control our society and government because money is deemed speech and has corrupted our representatives. Social problems that directly affect people and events, such as mental illness, are ignored as “too expensive” to solve, while we have the most expensive military in the world, and our government constantly erodes individual liberties by at the same time arguing for restrictions on gun ownership because, well you know, life is valuable.

What’s my argument in all of this? Do I actually believe that life is without value? Of course not.

To the existentialist, individual life is the ultimate value.  But our government and the giant corporations that control it, are using a supposed concern for life as a tool of control. And, where we as a society focus our attention and wealth seem to clearly contradict the idea that we care, ultimately, about human life. And that ultimately falls back on our lives as individuals. Because it’s not governments or gods or authorities who are responsible for giving our lives meaning or purpose. It is us. Don’t give up that power in the pursuit of shiny baubles.

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Guns…Again

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By Jim Powers
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Jim Opionin Here we are again. A bullied kid turns into an angry teen who buys a couple of guns on his 18th birthday and takes out his frustration on children in an elementary school. And with a mid-term election fast approaching, politician’s outrage is raising to a fever pitch. The events are awful. Shouldn’t have happened. Heartbreaking.

Of course, the senseless loss of life is maddening. But, as usual, renewed demand for gun control overwhelms any hope of solving the real problem of disaffection in our society. I’m an old guy. I grew up in a different world. One common denominator though was that the world I grew up in was awash with guns. And, it was a lot easier to buy a gun.

Walk into one of the popular GI Surplus stores in East Texas during the 1960s and you would find barrows scattered around the store stuffed with military surplus rifles from various countries.

In one barrow would be Italian Carcano rifles in 6.5 caliber, in another variations of the British Lee-Enfield in .303 caliber, and on and on. Not locked up behind a counter. I bought both as a teenager, just picked one out of the barrow, plunked down $10 bucks, and walked out the door. Nothing to sign, no background check. I would get home with the gun, hang in on the wall loaded in an open gun rack, without concern.

 If the difference isn’t the availability of guns, which are much harder to legally own these days, it’s hard to blame the guns. But blaming the guns is easier than dealing with the real problems of our society. What are those problems?

One factor in the rise of gun crimes is population. The U.S. population in 1960 was 180 million. It is now 329 million. People are more crowded together, and as the population grows, the number of bad guys grows with it.

Another factor is the difficulty in this country of accessing mental health care. Unless you regularly fantasize about buying a couple of rifles and killing a lot of elementary school children, you understand that your average well-adjusted person isn’t a mass murderer, even if he has access to a hundred guns and thousands of rounds of ammo.

And then there is the Internet and social media, where mental health challenged people are regularly radicalized by constant bombardment with bizarre and dangerous conspiracy theories.

Yeah, I get it. It’s easier to ban gun-shaped objects than solve the social and mental health issues plaguing our country. And it’s a convenient rallying cry for politicians seeking office or re-election. But the gun control debate is only a distraction from solutions to heal our sick society.

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Time wasted looking for wrong answers

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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As a parent, one with school-aged children, the news from Uvalde is gut-wrenching in more ways than one.

Children should be loved, and cherished, and face the best things the world has to offer, and should not have to face such horrors as a homicidal rampage.

This one hits much too close for comfort as well. As terrible as it is, leaping to conclusions and tossing blame around will not now nor has it ever.

A very good friend of mine was interviewing an editor candidate for his newspaper, who turned down the job so his children could remain in the Uvalde school system. He lost his child.

His point is that we’re the smartest nation on the planet, so we should be able to find a solution.

But not as things stand.

During a briefing by law enforcement officials, which included Gov. Greg Abbott, Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke storms in and laying the blame for the shooting at Abbott’s feet.

Abbott pulled no triggers, nor was even in the area. It is not Abbott’s fault.

Media pundits of most stripes, liberal lawmakers across the board, all began the expected call for gun control. Given that mass shootings have been occurring with more frequency regardless of whether laws exist or not, this doesn’t seem like the proper path.

It is not the gun’s fault.

I’ve seen arguments that the creation of gun-free zones and the rise in mass school shootings. I’ve also seen calls for legislation to arm teachers, or to ensure that all schools have police presence, or single-entry points with metal detectors, or a host of other things that are expected to end this.

It’s not the fault of the law or laws.

Former President Barack Obama built an equivalence between the shooting in Uvalde and the death of George Floyd, who died while being arrested.

It’s not the fault of the police.

The ultimate fault lies with the perpetrator, the person or persons who made the decision to be evil, to take up arms and kill. Motives aside, there was a decision made.

I saw a video recently where a man on a subway train tormented other passengers, and even assaulted and took one as a hostage, and no one in the car attempted to intervene. It was described as another example of the “slow extinction of the values necessary for the proper functioning of a civilized society.” (h/t Gad Saad).

There is credible evidence that there needs to be a stronger attention paid to mental health issues and intervention. Seems like something worth exploring, anyway.

I agree with my friend that we’re a very, very smart country. One of the smartest things we can do is to stop pointing fingers and start talking with each other.

There has to be some way, some connection, something to create or find that will start all of us, perpetrator, potential perpetrator or victim, to heal, to step back from the brink of a heinous act that puts out ripples of evil, ever growing.

Some way to convince us that this barbarity only makes it worse.

Some way to reach out a hand, one not holding a weapon. This only will happen together, not apart.

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When did we stop looking into mirrors?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“There comes a time when you look into the mirror, and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.” Tennessee Williams

I’ve spent years writing a sci-fi novel in my head based on a thought experiment first offered by Rene Descartes in 1641. While Descartes used an evil demon, Gilbert Harman updated it in 1973 by substituting a vat to replace the demon, and the Brain in a Vat thought experiment was born.

The idea of the experiment is that you are not actually a human being, but a brain floating in a vat filled with a nutritive substance to keep the brain alive. The brain is connected to a computer that is taking inputs from the brain and simulating your experiences. The conclusion is that there is no way for the brain to know the difference, whether it is in a skull or in a vat, so it can never determine whether anything it experiences is real, or just an illusion.

There have been novels and movies based on this concept. The 1999 movie The Matrix is probably the most well-known example. I have a novel (pun intended) twist to the story that I think would be a real hit. But I will never write that novel.

Not because I can’t technically write a novel. I have written millions of words in my 71 years. I know the process. Sit down and write two or three pages a day for a year, and you’ve got a novel. I’ve written to deadline for decades. I’ve won awards for my writing. So, what’s the problem? Self-awareness.

Untold numbers of people want to write novels. Many begin novel after novel that they never finish. Other’s complete the novel, but never show it to anyone. Still others never publish because they are just bad writers. And others just talk about writing a novel but never write the first word. They waste their time  because they have limited self-awareness. They have never developed the ability to see themselves clearly. They stopped looking into mirrors.

I would never write my sci-fi novel for the opposite reason. It would never sell and would be boring and technical. I’m very aware of my shortcomings where writing novels is concerned. 

I intellectualize everything, nerding out on technical details. I tend to think dispassionately about things, with limited emotion. I hate the required strained relationships and love interest conflicts that people expect in novels. They seem silly and contrived to me. I can suspend reality enough to enjoy some fiction books and movies, but it drives me nuts when they break the rules of the imaginary world the writer created. And it happens all the time.

The ability to see my shortcomings, to be self-aware, allows me to assess my own shortcomings more accurately and not simply accept at face value the world around me. To understand my strengths and weaknesses. Achieving self-awareness can be an uncomfortable process. It’s far easier to just stop looking at mirrors.

I don’t know objectively if I’m human, or just a Brain in a Vat because I can’t get outside my consciousness to examine its location. We are like a fish swimming in the water. 

Fish don’t know they’re in water. If you tried to explain it, they’d say, “Water? What’s water?” They’re so surrounded by it that it’s impossible to see. They can’t see it until they jump outside of it.  Derk Sivers

But we can’t jump out of our minds.

By becoming more self-aware, you work to understand what you believe and why you believe, and whether those beliefs affect you positively or negatively. As a result, you can judge the truth better based on whether what you are being told is consistent with your considered presuppositions. When you don’t know what you believe and why you believe it, it’s easy to fall for anything. We buy into lies and conspiracy theories because we don’t want to face the truth about ourselves and the world.

We don’t become self-aware by pretending to be perfect, though. We become self-aware by embracing the darkness we all have. And learning to avoid that darkness when it intrudes on living the live we want to live.

So, what conclusion did Descartes come to when he considered his version of the Brain in a Vat dilemma. You’ve probably read or heard the Latin expression cogito, ergo sum. Translated into English it means, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes concluded that the fact that he can question his existence is enough to prove that he does exist. It doesn’t prove, though, whether he exists in a human head or a vat.

And if you have trudged through all 800 or so words of this column, you now are clearly aware why my novel would never sell.

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