Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Effect of Imposing Our Will

There is a phenomenon that is unique to humans. I’m sure it has a scientific name or behavioral pigeonhole. I don’t know the official name but I know we see it every day… in the news, in each other.

People hate to give things up. The longer an idea or tradition has been entrenched, the more people will grasp at it and claw at you to stop you from trying to change it.

Such as it is with the nature of power, social position, or guns.
The longer a politician, has been in their job, the harder they will fight to keep it. Often going far beyond their original charge to do so.

People will fight to keep “The War on Christmas” from overtaking them, even though all of the trappings of Christmas with the exception of the manger scene are Pagan and Christmas itself was ILLEGAL in the US up until about 150 years ago. Too much Popery, not enough real Bible. So, yeah… Christmas with the founding fathers? Didn’t happen.

So too, is our fascination with guns. It goes back to the image of the American as a do-it-ourselves, we-don’t-need-your-help, kind of person. The cowboy bringing law and order to a border town with nothing but his fists and a pair of six guns. The landowner protecting his family from the greedy developers, standing in the doorway with a shotgun, saying , “Get offa my land.” The soldier who becomes a hero by getting off that last shot that kills the villain, before succumbing to wounds too severe to survive, (but not before a ragged close-up and dying nobility speech).

It is not the gun that fascinates us, but the effect of guns as an implement to impose our will, that enraptures us. And, as such, makes some members of our society cling to them with the claws of demons. Some will even go so far as to twist the words of the Constitution, (like nobody is going to check). A “well-armed militia” doesn’t mean a stockpile of auto-mags in your basement, there, Chuckles. The phrase was meant to give citizens the right to protect themselves from invading troops by banding together to protect the common good. Under well-trained leaders.

The Second amendment means the National Guard.

When something tragic and horrific happens, you can be sure that a few well-honed responses will arise. First the gun-rights person, that talking head who’s first response to a shooting massacre is, “Oh no, liberals will want to take my guns!”, (if that’s your first response, you suck as a human being). They respond with something along the lines of, “Look over there! It’s the mental health system in this country that has failed! It’s not guns!”

The well-meaning liberals jump up and shout, “Is it time now for a reasoned debate on gun control? We’ve been waiting!”
But, the gun advocate hears, “Guns are scary and I want them all banned!” and then retaliates based on what he wanted to hear.

And the medical community comes out and says “The mental health system in our country is broken and needs to be fixed.” And you can almost hear the crickets. There’s no glamour in fixing a broken system. Not while we can watch the liberals and gun-rights people slug it out. Again. And again.

And the really awful part is that they are all right.

We’re humans. We’re soft and squishy. We survive by the barest of circumstances, no matter how much we like to think otherwise. Guns make it really easy, but not necessary. You could kill us with almost any blunt object. We’re easy to kill.

The mental health system is broken in this country. It suffers from another romantic infatuation that we refuse to release… the idea that people who suffer mental illness are somehow less worthy of our attention and compassion than those who suffer physical illness. As if contracting malaria is beyond our control but schizophrenia is your own damn fault.

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and you’ll never remove all the guns from our streets. It would be pointless to try. But, asking that current laws be better enforced and reasonable restrictions be enacted is not pointless. It is, in fact, necessary. But that, on its own, will not make the changes we need. Rational gun control is necessary but it’s not the whole thing.

We need to change the value we place on the effect of guns. We value the winning spirit, and we love it when the hero kills every bad guy along the way to get to the reasonable end. A movie can show the hero kill forty or fifty people with a machine gun and that’s awesome! On TV! But, they cut the scene where you could see that woman’s nipple, because that would be wrong to see. Think of the children!

We glorify guns and their effect every day because we refuse to give up on the idea that America is the greatest nation on Earth. We could be. We once were. Being better than everybody else at blowing shit up is no longer enough. We are falling behind in every measurable discipline and it is precisely because we refuse to acknowledge that we have allowed it to happen.

We refuse to accept the idea that we need let go of some of the time-honored ideas of the past and start embracing some new ideas. Like guns are bad. Sure, we’ll always have them and some people like them, but they have one purpose - killing things. That is bad. You might be able to justify that in certain circumstances, but it’s still bad. Christians, back me up here… only God has the right to kill, yes?

We need to release the idea that asking for help makes us less. I know, women already know this. Men, we need to shit-can this idea right quick. It is the fundamental idea that keeps mental illness in the stigma-burdened state it’s in. We have to let go of this idea that if it’s in our heads, we can fix it ourselves. Sometimes, gasp, we need help.

While it’s a glorious thing to sit back and imagine a world where there are no guns, no violence and we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya, we have to acknowledge that while most people are basically good-hearted, (I have no stats for that assumption, but without it, I just can’t go on), there are always those who prey on the weak and/or the stupid. There will always be those who feel this in their bones, and refuse to be prey.

They want guns.
Too bad. It is what it is.

You can’t walk into a crowded place and kill a bunch of people with anything other than an explosive device or a gun. If a person tried to do it with, say, a hammer, he would be stopped before the death toll rose. But one senseless killing is too many. The focus needs to be on how we can foresee this kind of pattern in a kid and stop it before it becomes an adult problem. I don’t know how that is to be done, but it’s pretty obvious that the current system ain’t workin’. If we continue to centralize our mental health approach around prison, we’re going to be incarcerating a lot of people and turning them into people who belong in prison.

We need a better solution, and somebody smarter than me needs to step up. And not just one of you eggheads, either. We need a truck load of really smart people, unencumbered by politics and HMOs, to step up, sit down and put together a position paper on how things need to be run. Get it in front of the American people, and do it now. We’ll take it from there. Politicians may be too afraid of special interest groups, but none of them have ever had to face a unified force of scared shitless American Moms who are willing to kick someone’s ass to keep their kids safe. I know some moms, and I’m here to tell you… they know how to get shit done. Put ‘protecting the kids’ in the mix, and watch the ass-kicking commence.

And, by the way, all you people pointing fingers at guns, video games, heavy metal, etc. just shut up. There’s a reason that stuff sells. It’s because we love it. We love to watch a good guy splatter a bunch of bad guys. It serves our sense of righteousness. And it is that very sense of righteousness we have given away and no longer deserve. And, we’ll be needing to come to terms with that, too, if we’re going to make any headway here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping it Real

Editor's note - this isn't true - not a word of it. It's just made up to annoy you. Take it as you will.

As I was shopping today, I overheard a conversation between two people with whom I shared my table in the Food Court. These two gentlemen agreed with each other whole-heartedly.

"A sales clerk had the nerve, the audacity to wish me "Happy Holidays." It's "Merry Christmas" you snot rag! My ancestors didn't come to this country, fight in it's wars, pay its taxes and help to build this great melting pot, only to have some mixed-race teenager, (I thought she was black at first, but I don't know... a lot of cream in that coffee, if you know what I mean), denigrate the Lord's birthday with that secular crap.

We have to keep the Christ in Christmas. It's none of your business that I won't be working in a soup kitchen, or helping out at a children's hospital or tending to the poor, or any of that tree-hugging nonsense. I won't be giving up on presents or feasting or raising a glass or two with my "friends", (some are just business friends or acquaintences, but you know, it's Christmas). I don't need to do any of that... as long as I demand that you use the words I choose, that covers my responsibility. I can stand with all of the other real Americans proudly.

I will be carrying on the traditions of my country, as it should be. I'll go to Mass on Christmas Eve, so I've got it covered. There's no need to be drastic. How I've spent every Christmas will be just fine, thank you very much.

So, the next time you want to show a stranger how little you know about America, wish 'em a Happy Holiday. How dare you wish me peace and happiness beyond the confines of my religious views? Who do you think you are, wishing me happiness, whether I'm Christian or not? I am, dammit. And don't you forget it. This country was built on the idea that you spend what you make, and a little more at this time of year. Give until it hurts. Not in any meaningful way, but just monetarily... so you can say you gave, and you can hold your head up in church while praying for an end to poverty and struggle, knowing that you've done your duty as a good, God-fearin' American.

Happy Holidays. As if I care that people of other faiths or no faith at all join my Christian brothers and sisters in poverty, sickness, ignorance and hopelessness. How dare you wish them happiness beyond the embrace of the arms of our sacred symbols? Just because every single religion and culture before Christianity had a way to mark the winter solstice doesn't mean that this isn't really the day of the birth of our savior! So, don't go muddying the waters with facts and reason.

Santa knows. Santa knows that this time of year is for saying one thing and doing another. He knows that we talk about Peace on Earth, but we fund the sweatshops and human rights abuse factories all over the world so Furbys can live again! And, Santa knows all about you, too. I hope you get nothing but coal, you pinko leftist.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Rage. Rage against the dying of the light.

It's arguable that Dylan Thomas was talking about death at long last in this poem. But, rage has moved in the modern era from the end result of provocation to the first response. This is bad for us.

When one is quick to argue, quick to jump to conclusions or quick to blame, that rage snuffs out joy like two wet fingers on a candle's flame. That rage, that small, petty, I'm-better-than-you rage fills us, blocking out even the possibility for warmth or reconciliation. We must wait to "cool down" before we can even consider such a thing.

It is not only our impending mortality that conjures up Fear's ugly little brother. In fact, it would seem that things with much less gravity can ignite the flame of wrath as it bubbles just beneath our surfaces. An extra few seconds- seconds!- waiting in traffic, the failure of another human in living up to our expectations or any opportunity where one of us "gets" to judge another - all of these scenarios are ripe for releasing our contemporary restraints and unleashing our rabid anger.
We must see the results as if detached in order to change this behavior. And, change we should, before somebody gets hurt. The news is filled already with the effects of overwrought and immature rage. Well, I am worth more happiness and I deserve to live a rage-free life. So do you. Yes, you.

So, here are the steps. Do them or not, as you see fit.

1.) Count the seconds.
So many times, I have said, "Come on! While we're young! Sometime today!" at cars ahead of me, while their drivers were making decisions. From now on, I will count the seconds that I have to wait. Is it really an hour? or is it more like 5-10 seconds? I think I have 10 seconds to wait while a seasoned citizen makes their way into a parking spot.

2.) Double check.
I am quick to judge when I hear something that doesn't sound right. Political, social, whatever. If it sounds like it's conservative, I am all too happy to judge the idea as fear-based white-mongery. I have found that when I check the facts, the speaker who inflamed me to begin with usually doesn't have a clue. Sometimes they do, and my research has afforded me the insight into a sound idea. I have learned that my gut is usually right for me, but there are always chances to learn.*

3.) Look in the Mirror
I have kids, so conflict is, well... let's just say I don't always handle it well. Nothing can enrage me faster than looking at a younger version of my very own f*ck you attitude. But, I have determined that what I need to do is stop relying on what I think I mean, and instead try to see what they see. Am I really speaking from experience, trying to help them avoid a preventable crisis, or am I just trying to manipulate the situation in an intrusive, domineering way? Understanding how they see it may not change my position, but it may afford me insight, which is always a good thing.
Out in the real world, I don't find myself in too many conflicts, but when I do, I'll try this technique there as well.

I'm hoping that making a conscious effort to do these things will make me a less stressed, happier person, (to be honest, I'm hoping it for you... I'm pretty calm as these things go). When you consider that we only get a short time on this earth, it seems kind of silly to waste it being all pissed off about things... especially things like how long a traffic light takes.

And when the time comes, and you stand before your creator with fists raised, saying ,"No! I won't go! Do not dim the light of this life! I have more to do!" You can unleash all of that rage and passion and make your case.

It'll have the same effect as yelling at the car ahead of you in traffic.

* Except from you people who think men and women lived at the same time as dinosaurs. You people are just crazy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

House for Sale

If you want to sell a house, even if it’s your own house, you have to “stage” it. Any real estate agent will tell you that there are so many things you need to do to your house to make it “sellable”. You have to get all of the stuff off the kitchen counters so that the room looks bigger. It’s like the people buying the house don’t realize the massive amount of space you waste by having a fucking toaster. Oh my God! We could have had another child! But, sadly, we just didn’t have the room, what with all the space the fucking toaster takes up!

You have to take the pictures down so the potential buyer can imagine the room with their pictures. They can imagine their own pictures on the wall, but they can’t if your pictures are there. It’s too much! “We can imagine a bunch of rectangles on this wall, but… oh crap. There are already rectangles there! We’re screwed! I can’t see anything now. “

Real estate agents come in and tell you to paint this, and fix that and move this, and you think, “Great! I get to pack fifteen years of life into an endless sea of cardboard boxes, make four hundred and seventy two trips out to a truck carrying said boxes, move all of this shit and then throw it all away when my wife decides that we really must buy a new this and a new that. Not only do I get to do all of that, but I get to do your fucking job, too!”

Gasp! There’s a light bulb out in the upstairs bathroom! They’ll never buy it now! Because we all know that whoever buys this house will never have a day when a light bulb goes out! It’s just you… because you are a terrible person.

But, the day will come. The day you finally sell your house. You laugh, you dance, you cheer. You drive down the driveway for the last time, and you wonder, “Have I done the right thing? Maybe we should stay.” Idiot.

Ah, but, it’s too late now. You are on your way to the lawyer’s office to sign over the ownership to the new owners. The lawyer has drawn up the bills of sale, the escrow documents and all the rest of the forms you could buy in a booklet at Staples for $17.95. And, he’ll only charge you $6,000.000. The lady that takes your forms to the Tax Assessors office gets at least a C note, and everyone else who has their hand out is there with big smiles. I think home buying is second only to a wedding when it comes to how many people are in line to get paid for your continued happiness.

At long last, the deed is done. It’s time to secure your next dwelling. But, when you go hunting for a new house after you’ve convinced some other couple that your cave-like dwelling is actually a spacious palace because you hid the fucking blender, all of the previous pain will melt away. It’ll be like childbirth, where you only remember the parts of the story that make a good story.

You find that you have become one of those people. One of those people who just can’t tolerate anything less than perfection. “I’m sorry, sir,” you’ll say. “We would love to buy your charming little home. It’s perfect for us, really. But, dear man, we just can’t. Because, you see, you have… dare I say it? You have a… a can opener! On the counter!

Good day to you sir!”

Friday, August 31, 2012

The “Ardor’s Bridge” campaign is over.

It has been a stressful month. Between the people supporting the idea of “Ardor’s Bridge” and the stress of watching our contribution numbers creep too slowly toward our goal, I feel torn.

I’m relieved to at least know the outcome. I’m sorry that I couldn’t drive this project home.

Here is the letter that I sent out on my social media and email channels today:
The “Ardor’s Bridge” campaign is over.
We didn’t hit our target goal. No one that pledged a contribution to our kickstarter campaign will be charged. The campaign is done.
We didn’t make it.
We tried to develop an idea and raise funds to see it through. We raised about 20%. To the 18 people that did contribute, and those who wanted to do so but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, I want to say “Thank You”. Thank you for taking the time to read what this project was about. Thanks for reaching into your own pocket in a time when we all feel the economic pinch. And, thanks for believing that every kid deserves to be part of the dialogue that helps to change the culture they face every day.
We didn’t make it. We’ll pull back, regroup and explore some other options. If we can find a way to bring this about, we’ll let you know. I hope we can count on you again in the future for your support.
Thanks for all of your belief and support. I appreciate it.
For my first play, it wasn’t a bad effort. Sure, it’s not Shakespeare, but, it was written in the right spirit. It was written as a tool for positive change. I wanted to do my small part in helping schools change the culture of indignity and bias that faces every kid that doesn’t feel like they “fit in”. When you realize that the kids who don’t fit in vastly outnumber the kids that do, you start to see the frustratingly stupid way we as humans treat each other, and allow ourselves to be treated. You start to understand the frustration and fear each kid faces, to varying degrees, every day in school.

My play/video project didn’t raise enough funds on kickstarter to get it off the ground. That doesn’t mean the problem goes away. Kids will still be bullied. Kids will still be mocked for who they are perceived to be instead of who they are or what they do. But, since enough of us haven’t taught our children not to punish others for having the audacity to be themselves, the state has stepped in.
The state government has passed a law that charges schools with changing the culture in their buildings.

Laws mean consequences for those that run afoul of them, and punishments for the offenders. But, you can’t change fear and ignorance through punishment. That can only be done through dialogue. Understanding between kids is the only thing that will start that change. Schools will need your help.

For those parents who do not teach their kids to hate, your kid is going to need your guidance. Singling other children out for being different is a common way for kids to act on their own fears. This can get out of hand pretty easily and surprise those parents who teach tolerance at home. Schools will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to bigotry and will err on the side of caution in the early days of these new laws. Please make sure that your kids are aware of the new guidelines, even if they seem outrageous to you. They are still real, still laws and will still be enforced. Change will come as common sense takes hold, but for now, remember that administrators, teachers and your kids are all going to need you to be involved. Dialogue, understanding on all sides and tolerance for the views of others is what is needed, now more than ever.

For those parents who still feel that LGBT kids should be mocked, made fun of or brutalized, be aware. This is just the beginning of change. The days when it’s acceptable to openly and actively discriminate against another American based on their sexual orientation are coming to a close.

I wanted to help by writing a play with a story about tolerance and acceptance, filming it as a movie, and then making that film available to schools to be used as a way to get those dialogues going between students and their peers. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t expect to change the world or cure the ills of society. I just wanted to help. To that end, I gathered together a bunch of people who also felt that this was a worthwhile cause. Still more saw the value of it and contributed funds. Even more planned to do so but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. We all knew that we weren’t going to single-handedly fix the world. We just wanted to help a little. If we all help a little, that can add up to a lot.

We’ll find a way. As the creative and generous people I brought together for this project move back to their regular lives, the dream lives on. We will all find ways to help. And, who knows… maybe we’ll find another way to produce “Ardor’s Bridge”. If it’s a good enough idea, the universe won’t let it die.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm A Little Worried

With only a few days to go, I have to admit, I’m getting worried. For the past three weeks, I’ve been trying to raise money for a project. I’ve raised about 10% so far, and that’s not without a bit of spamming and shaming my friends and family. I live in a reasonably stable section of the planet. The amount I’m trying to raise shouldn’t be too big a deal. I have two meetings coming up where I’m hoping to convince some people of the importance of my ideas, but, one never knows how those things will turn out.

Perhaps a little background is in order.

A few months ago, the local school district where I live hosted a meeting outlining the latest ruling from the state. It was actually bigger than that. A law had been passed, outlining the steps schools had to take to ensure that bullying, discrimination and general assholery would no longer be tolerated among the students. No more shoving the geek in a locker, no more marginalizing the fat kid. The real thrust of it, though, was tolerance. Kids that identified as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual were to be treated as if they deserved basic human dignity. They were to be treated as if they should be judged by their actions instead of being judged by how far they were from “normal” or “typical”.

Excellent in theory. Impossible in practice.

Rules and laws, by their definition, require punishments and consequences. But, you can’t legislate intelligence. You can’t punish someone into believing something they don’t believe. If you have a kid who delights in pushing around a smaller kid, no amount of punishment will change that. The only option is to try and reach that kid through meaningful dialogue. The only chance to change that kid is to prove to him that there are no “groups” or “communities” of people except the one we all share.
Schools are going to need tools that they can use to get those kinds of conversations started.

So, I wrote a play. I plan to produce it and film it. I want to make the subsequent film available to schools to be used as a way to help get those conversations started.

After I wrote it, I took it to a school administration official. I asked him if he thought I’d hit the right tone. I asked him if I had gone too far, or not far enough. I picked his brain and made sure that what I had on paper was what was needed to make a difference. He assured me that this was a worthwhile idea, and my script was definitely something that could help.

My confidence bolstered, I sat down with some really creative people and asked them to help me. I asked them to read it and consider directing it and handling the musical direction. Gracefully, they agreed. So, I started a campaign on one of the online crowd funding websites. After a few fits and starts, I got my project up and running.

More creative people signed on. I secured the actress I wanted for the lead role, and another that I had written a pivotal role for as well. Through my director friend, I am excited about the choreographer that has agreed to be involved. My wife has agreed to manage the project, and no better project manager can be found. My friend who will be in charge of costumes is second to none in terms of tenacity and brilliance under fire. It is all coming together. Now I just need to secure the rest of the funding.

If I don’t make it, the project may be shelved for a while, while I try other sources of funding. More likely, though - this project will die.

Please help. Follow this link to contribute. Dance Play project.
I could tell you the story, I could tell you all about my childhood and how I got to where I am now. I could tell you why this is important to me and why it should be important to you. But, the bottom line is that these kids need to be able to go to school and learn without fear or having to smile through the indignities other kids visit upon them. I want to help make that happen.

I was telling a friend about this project and how worthy it is and he said to me, “Hey, what are you going to do? The world is a cruel place.” I thought about that for a minute, and replied, “No, it isn’t. It’s just full of cruel people.” But to his question, I indicated my project and said. “This is what I’m going to do. What are you going to do?”

And so, I ask you the same question. Will you help? If so, thanks. If not, thanks for reading this far. I hope you find a way to make a difference, too.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Choosing Your Bigotry

About a hundred years ago, the first all black Boy Scout troop was implemented in New Jersey. While the subsequent decades saw integration in the Scouts in the Northern states, it was almost 50 years before an integrated troop could be found in the Deep South. Racism was a tough nut to crack. Many scout events or jamborees would be broken up, sometimes violently, by the Ku Klux Klan if they so much as sympathized with the idea of black scouts. Black Americans of the day were seen as morally inferior, with many people looking to the Bible to support the righteousness of that position.

That was how it was. That was common thinking of the times. At the time, many could not even conceive of a day when it would be wrong to treat a segment of our society in such a way. Fast forward to today, and that time has come. It would be unthinkable for the Boy Scouts to treat a black scout or troop leader in such a way. Speaking purely hypothetically, if the Boy Scouts of America were to go back to the days of separate troops and the view that African American kids were less in the eyes of God, they would certainly be vilified, demonized and denounced far and wide.

They certainly would not have unfettered access to use taxpayer funded buildings for their meetings.

Today, however, the Boy Scouts of America discriminate in the new fashion. It’s very much like the old-fashioned racism - based on a belief system that doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny, and wholly based on a cherry-picked line from the Bible. The Boy Scouts of America will not allow a gay person or someone who identifies themselves as a practicing homosexual to be a troop leader or have any position in the organization.

And, thanks to Former President George W. Bush, and his inclusion of this organization by name, in the No Child Left Behind Act, they have the right to have fair access to any school building that receives federal education funding.

After announcing that they would discuss it, the Boy Scouts of America decided to mull over the idea of whether they should continue to openly and actively discriminate against a portion of our society.
Their conclusion: yeah, we will.

From the BSA website:
“The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their rights to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” explained Bob Mazzuca, the Boy Scouts chief executive, in a prepared announcement about the decision.

Let’s forget for a moment that there is not a single shred of credible evidence that indicates that a homosexual is any more a danger to a child than a heterosexual. Push aside for a moment that lesbians are denied access to Scouting leadership roles when their children participate, (so the idea of sexual predators being the issue kinda gets muddied here). Let’s table for a moment the implication that a gay person just being themselves would be enough to automatically spark a conversation about an inappropriate topic at an inappropriate time, (as opposed to, say , being a parent and doing your job, which is to prepare your children for the actual world they live in). Let’s look at the real reason this discrimination is allowed to continue without angry mobs forming, as they would if the discrimination of a century ago were to reemerge.

The Boy Scouts of America have an oath which maintains that its members be morally straight. And, as a private organization, they have the right to exclude whomever they see fit. Homosexuals, atheists and anyone else that doesn’t fit into their Christian ideal are removed.

I agree.

I agree that as a private organization, they have this right. I agree that they have the right, just like the people at Chik-Fil-A or the asshats boycotting Oreos or anyone else, to state their case and be heard.

I DO NOT agree, however, that they should be subsidized with my tax dollars. I DO NOT agree that they should be able to use school buildings maintained with my tax dollars.

I don’t have to eat at Chik-Fil-A if I don’t want to do so. I can buy Oreos or not as I see fit. But, I have no control over the federal government tacitly approving of an organization that openly and actively discriminates against a segment of our society based on a concept in the Bible.

For those who haven’t read Leviticus, here it is:
Leviticus, Chapter 18: 22: Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
But, there are a lot of things prohibited in Leviticus, like tattoos. In the very next chapter.
Leviticus, Chapter 19: 28: Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
So, scout leaders, be warned, they may come for you if you have tats next.
But, perhaps my favorite line in Leviticus, among many gems, is this: Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country.

That means everyone should be treated equally. One sin is as grievous as another. So, people with tattoos, people that mix wool and cotton and people that find love in the arms of another person who happens to have the same genitalia should all be killed in service to the Lord.

But they won’t advocate such a course. No one in their right mind would. That would be ridiculous. Not as ridiculous as picking one line out of hundreds and using it as a club to deny basic rights to a segment of our society, but utterly bat-shit crazy nonetheless.

The worst part, though, the part of this story that really pisses me off? The local Boy Scout troop IS NOT the national organization. Sure, there are zealots wherever you go, and I’m sure you can find those willing to sacrifice common sense to a force-fed ideology, but in general, they are just people. People who want their kids to have the basic understanding of civic duty, personal pride and to be able to tie a decent knot. The local troop leader in your town isn’t necessarily carrying the banner of the national organization, actively shitting on the rights of others. I even have to think that the former President who signed this bill thought he was doing a good thing for the right reasons.

But the group that they have affiliated themselves with, the group that they thought was above reproach because of their time-honored, All-American status, has come out on the wrong side of this issue. Make no mistake. The National Organization that makes these choices for the Boy Scouts of America are wrong. They are wrongly discriminating against Gays and Lesbians and they are assholes for doing so. In a hundred years, it will be unthinkable for an organization that receives any kind of public awareness to openly and actively discriminate against people. They will look upon this chapter of their history as an unfortunate blemish among many fine and not-so-fine deeds. And the people that support them in their position today will all be dead.

But, while we’re all still here, let me sum up, lest you cast aspersions unwarranted:

I don’t think my local Boy Scout troop is evil. I do, in fact, think they have a unique place in the annals of American history and continue to do good works as they see them.
I think private organizations should be allowed to create whatever rules they want for the governance of their own members as long as it doesn’t harm people.
I don’t think any group that openly and actively discriminates against a segment of our society should be approved, either expressly or tacitly, by my government.
I don’t think any group that openly and actively discriminates against a segment of our society should be allowed use of any building supported by my tax dollars.

I firmly support your ability and right to disagree with me on this, or any topic. If you must, do so respectfully. Just because we don’t see eye to eye doesn’t mean you have to be a tool about it. Thanks!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Dads of My Fathers

TV shows always had a Dad when I was growing up, and he wasn't the bumbling knucklehead that he is on today's TV.

When I was a kid, TV Dads were the rock of reason that stepped aside gracefully when their children gushed about movie stars or sports heroes. They were the final word on logic, grace under fire, and knowing the difference between right from wrong.

Shows like Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy, and even I Love Lucy, (all of which I saw in reruns... I'm not that old that I would have seen them in their first runs), all portrayed the husband and father as the one member of the family to be convinced, consulted and satisfied.

TV has always been about advertising and selling products, but somewhere along the way, Madison Avenue saw the writing on the wall. They realized that while the concept of Dad's approval of every household purchase was waning, Mom was still in the trenches, slugging it out at the grocery store, the department store and dealing with the people who come and go through our families.

Viewing The Honeymooners as an exception to the rule, it began in the 1960's & 70's. Shows like That Girl and The Mary Tyler Moore Show put the males of the culture in secondary roles, often as comedic relief... exasperated with their own weakening power as they faced the fact that women were actually people, with minds of their own.

Somewhere between then and now, though, men became the joke. Watch any sitcom, or even most commercials, and men are portrayed as buffoons to be saved by their all-knowing wives or better halfs. Conjuring up one hair-brained scheme after another, (I can almost hear Lucille Ball's "Lucy" character saying, "Come on... really?"), today's TV Dads are little more than child-men who can't find their way home on their own, have no idea what to say to their daughters or spend most of their time trying to convince their wives that they really do deserve compassion.

I didn't have a Dad growing up. My parents split when I was a baby, so the concept of "Daddy" was one that other people had. I learned what it meant to be a Dad from those old TV shows, (which I watched over and over and over). Sure, Lucy was crazy and Marjorie Lord was way too hot for Danny Thomas, but the men of that era still ruled the roost, (at least in their own minds), while making sure that the audience knew that they respected their wives and believed in the power that women have to turn a bunch of people into a family.

I don't wish for the days of "women, barefoot and pregnant". I don't pine for the "way things used to be". I embrace the mirror of society that TV can be, while shunning the worst of it, (yes, Reality TV, I'm looking at you). I only wish for the days before everyone realized that, as a Dad, I don't have a clue about most things, and would be utterly lost without the stable influence of the women in my life. They don't need to be shown all of that, all the time.

They already know.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Viewpoint

I have kept my promise to myself. I promised myself that I would not get involved in the misinformation and juvenile politics of this school budget season. No attacking or defending of people or policies. No opinions offered unless asked. For some, I wish they had asked, for I could have helped guide them to a better path, but they didn’t, and so, I didn’t.

Now that the dust has cleared, the real issue was one brought up during the budget season, but tabled in view of the politics at hand. That issue was the evolving state of education itself.
Two years ago, I submitted an idea to a Scholastic contest, for changing the way kids are taught. Flip the Model was the idea, where a given lesson was learned at home via video, and the resulting homework was done in class, providing more comprehensive attention from a child’s teacher.

I alerted the local school administration to this idea. It didn’t win the contest. It got no traction at the district level. This year, upon attending a seminar regarding the Khan Academy, an online effort to put high school and college-level lessons on video, our BOE mentioned it as a possible direction for education.

As long as someone is noticing, great!

The point of all of that is simply this: the way we educate our kids must change. We don’t need to churn out obedient factory workers anymore, but we’re still teaching kids in the 19th century way… rows of desks, sit up straight, bend to authority, and memorize, memorize, memorize a plethora of data that they will never use again. Much of it, especially in history and civics, isn’t even true.

In order for America to regain its status as the Dream Factory for the world, in order for us to allow our children to achieve the potential they deserve, we must begin the change in two ways. One: our current system doesn’t work and is unacceptable. The enemy of change here is the state education process, NOT the locals who are trapped in a failed system, and not the federal-level educators who are trying to implement a core curriculum to prevent some states from rolling our education system back to the 18th century. We must, as parents, continue to poke and prod the system, (while keeping our dignity whole and our egos in check, please). We must continue to illustrate the benefits of individualized education models and shun the one-size-fits-all machine that leaves so many of our kids behind.

The second way is to realize an uncomfortable truth. Our schools cannot, by their very design, handle this new model completely. They can do some of it, but there just isn’t room, funds or the knowledge base to teach an entire school system of kids individually. We, as parents must take the lead role. If you’re smart enough to do that, then it means doubling down your efforts and making sure your kids are challenged. If you’re not, admit it to yourself and get help. As this idea grows, help will become available.

What’s the alternative?

We can bitch and complain, as did our parents and grandparents, (how many times, as a kid, did you hear from an adult, “What are they teaching you in these schools?), but the bottom line is that we have to make this happen. Teaching kids about critical thinking starts at home, with parents willing to answer questions about anything, and provoking more questions from our kids. Teach them to question authority. Even yours. If it has value, it’ll maintain itself when faced by a child’s inquiring mind. Teach them to throw off the yoke of religious intolerance, bigotry and ignorant hate. If we are to pull our country up from the polarized mess we are in, it will take all of us. We have to put aside our differences as adults, demand that our leaders start representing all of us, (instead of the party faithful), and, above all, stop expecting the schools to do the whole job.

Our kids only get one life. It’s up to us to prepare them for it.
Preparing them for college is a whole post unto itself. I’ll hit that next time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fixing it All

In 2010, I posted a set of rules to fix our beloved U.S.A.. I have updated and amended some of them. Think before you reply, please. All thoughtful comments will be appreciated. Knee-jerk reactionism will cause a bat-winged demon to fly into your dreams and devour your soul.

Rule #1
Teaching Why instead of How
We are educating our kids in the worst way. We allow our children to be taught as if they are all developmentally the same. And, we allow them to be taught that the very worst thing they could ever be is wrong.
In any given lesson scenario, 20% of the kids in the class get it immediately. 20 % won’t get it without extended additional help. The remaining 60% get it by varying degrees. So why is it still permissible to teach them all in the same way? (Note: I have nothing other than my own observations to corroborate these numbers)
Sure, there are cognitive and developmental milestones that the state education system has identified as reasonable for a child to reach by certain ages, but that, too is part of the problem.
We teach our kids as if they are all just numbers. Student #1, student #2, etc. Any teacher worth their salt will tell you otherwise. Evaluating teachers based on test scores ignores this fundamental, developmental gap between children in any given class.
Here’s the model: A teacher stands before the board and teaches a subject. Examples are given and explored. “Everybody got it? Good. Here’s your homework. Do 20 of these problems. Bring it in tomorrow and we’ll see how many you got wrong.”
In order to prepare our kids for the world they will inherit, this model of churning out obedient workers needs to be destroyed. Utterly. In its place, we need to flip this model.
Here’s a new model: The teacher assigns for homework a video lesson. Kids watch it at home. Either on their computers, mobile devices, phones, or whatever. It can be checked out of the library. The parent groups can offer after school viewings. Whatever it takes in a particular environment. The next day, the worksheet that would have been homework in the old model is done in class, with better and more comprehensive instruction and interaction by the teacher.

The focus turns from right vs. wrong to understanding vs. working harder toward understanding. This puts the value of any lesson on why, instead of how. Valuing why over how is the basis for critical thinking, an absolute necessity for our kids’ education. Nothing else is acceptable.

Rule #2
Get over the industrial revolution. America's industrial revolution is over, and its the developing world's turn. This isn't a fairness thing, it's a natural occurrence. We have to continue to be the dream makers, the brilliant ones, who come up with not only the next big idea, but the next ten or twenty big ideas. And we can't do that by being halfway down the list when counting a nations' college graduates. We need to put more importance on math, science, language proficiency and how the creative arts enhance those skills. We need to put less emphasis on shit that doesn't matter. Football is fine, but it ain't gonna make us stronger as a country. Sure, it helps sell beer and tires, but that's about it as far as relevance goes.

Rule #3
Gasoline is five bucks a gallon for the next fifteen years. The oil companies get three, the government gets two. No flucuations in prices. There will be nothing but windmills and solar panels as far as the eye can see. Renewable energy tech takes huge amounts of capital to develop. Every time gas creeps up past, say, $3.25 or so, people get all uppity about it and start complaining. Then, they start talking about renewable energy. By the time our politicians get around to giving lip service to "how the American People feel", gas prices drop down. People get complacent again, and renewable energy discussions stay just that, discussions. No venture capitalist is going to sink a dime into a technology that people only care about during the summer and the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Now, before anyone starts screaming about Socialism vs. the free market, take a look. When it comes to oil prices, the free market doesn’t work. Speculators drive up the price of per-barrel oil, based on their hopes and fears. It isn’t a free market. It’s a market controlled by a handful of people. A handful of people determine the energy efficiency and viability of all of us. Call me crazy, but I'm just not ok with that.

Rule #4
Term Limits:
From dog catcher to Senator... two terms, that's it. Demand it.
Now, a very learned colleague has expressed that we already have term limits. Its called voting. If a particular elected official isn’t doing right by the electorate, we can vote them out. Excellent on paper, woefully failing in the real world. Voter apathy, political machinery and all the other insidious corruptions that surround elections have made this virtually meaningless. But, the biggest problem we face in elections is money. Big money. On both sides of the aisle, corporations control the purse strings, the ad buys and the messages from their media companies.
Public service shouldn’t be a career. Yes, one needs to work their way up the ladder from alderman to County Executive to State Senator to Congress. But term limits will go a long way to help ensure that votes are cast based on personal beliefs and less on party line politics.

Rule #5
Publicly Financed Elections.
A three month election cycle, and a mandatory spending limit for national elections would solve a myriad of problems. One, this model would do away with big money control of the candidates we elect. A three month election cycle would ensure that the candidates are clear and concise in their messages, and would do away with most of the farcical demagoguery that we endure in our current two-year campaign onslaught.
Enforcement and stopping people from gaming the system would be difficult, but there are some really smart people out there who could devise a way to make this happen. Let’s get on that, shall we?

Rule #6
$100,000.00 per day and five years in jail for anyone who hires an illegal, undocumented worker. Then, find a few high-profile offenders and make a media example of them. Ruin them completely. Sure, we'll have to pay three bucks for an orange, five bucks for a tomato, but hey, you want this problem fixed, right?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Art of Learning

Never in our history has it been more important to look forward. Children that started school this year will graduate from high school in 2025. While no one can accurately predict all of the changes that will take place between then and now, there seems to be a trend that one can easily extrapolate from a growing problem to a full-blown crises of culture.

We need a fundamental shift in thinking about how we teach our children. For many politicians, educators and pundits embroiled in the education debate, the whole of the issue begins and ends with testing. School districts want to lower costs? Cut teacher salaries. But how do we define where and upon whom those cuts are levied? We are told that standardized tests will evaluate a teacher's abilities to instill the curriculum into the students' heads. So, the logic goes, failing test scores mean failing teachers. Cut them. Simple, right? Not even close.

Any teacher will tell you that educating a child is to "teaching the test" like shooting a bullet is to throwing it. Yes, both bullets move forward, but with very different results.

The availabilty of raw data has created a clamor to put it to use, but, as often happens with a clamor of any kind, the noise it makes soon outdistances the logic that spawned it. The underlying danger of teaching to the test is one that the afore-mentioned experts seem often to avoid. By relying on test scores to determine the value of our children's education we, as parents, allow our kids to be literally saturated for twelve or thirteen years with the notion that the very worst thing they could ever be is wrong. This mindset virtually guarantees that we, as a culture, will produce citizens unable to create anything, adapt to anything or innovate in any meaningful way, ever.

It will be left to those few, those creative few, who have refused to let the innate creativity that all children possess be drummed out of them. Of course, they will be ostracized, ridiculed and marginalized throughout their school years. Only when they deliver some new innovation will they be lionized as free thinkers and rebels. Until then, they are the incorrigibles, sitting in the back, bored out of their minds.

The fix is nothing short of a cataclysmic overhaul of what we believe to be important. The recent shift in importance of science and mathematics in public education is a welcome relief, but it's only half of the story. A clear-headed view of the natural world as depicted by science and a grasp of the concepts of higher mathematics provide the building blocks for a strong, rational mind,but it is the creative arts that provide the mortar. Not only do school districts need to support the arts programs in their schools, but they must promote their importance to be on level with the hard realities of math and science, for only then can those abstract concepts and real world examples be fully understood through the prism of personal experience. That is, after all, how we as humans grasp any concept... through its reflection on our own experiences.

The freedom to explore color, to sound a sour note, to be simply wrong and to be encouraged to try again are essential parts of the learning process. In this case, our leaders must be forced to follow us, as parents must demand that the creative arts be seen as equally important in a child's education. Not simply programs to weather the austerity axe when it falls every other decade, but absolutely necessary to our nation's ability to move forward. They must be seen as no less important than biology, calculus and physics and in many ways essential for proper learning of those subjects. Math, science, history, (real history, not the whitewashed version... but that's another essay),literature, visual art, music. Every day. Equally important. Anything less is simply that... less. Less than our children need and deserve.

The end result is not to churn out a nation full of Andy Warhol wannabees or Diddy clones. The end result has to be a generation of innovative thinkers, who aren't afraid to be wrong a few times in order to get it right. In order to lead, in any capacity, as a nation in the 21st century, we need to change our perceptions of the importance of the arts in education.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All That Money

Now that the election season is beginning, (as if it ever really ends), you'll hear more and more about "money in politics", who's got the biggest donors and how endorsements of candidates transfers into big money donations pouring in.

But why does it matter?

Who cares how much money a candidate can raise? Why should that translate into that candidate being able to buy his way into the presidency?

Sure, they have to pay staff members, managers and rent on campaign headquarters in battleground states. They have to pay for plane tickets and hotels so that they can stay in those states while they campaign, and that all takes money.
But, the bulk of their finances, the lion's share of their donations pool goes to...

TV ads.

Why are TV ads so important? Because Americans are so influenced by television that they will forget who a candidate actually is, and replace them in their minds with the guy the TV says he is. If we didn't allow the ads or the shills on the "news" to cloud our minds with current fluff, we might be able to remember the real histories of the people running.

All of that money in politics is a problem because it works. We are a weak-minded electorate when it comes to memory. We forget how our country got to where it is now globally and economically because the previous president is never mentioned by the guys running for office. We forget that the fiscal crisis we're still battling came about after decades of mismanagement at the hands of both parties, because we're constantly told that it is the current president's fault. We forget that the current president has been in office for three years, and he told us at the beginning of his term that it would take a lot longer than three years to dig our way out of the mess he encountered when he took office.
How can we remember that, when we are constantly told that the economy is not recovering fast enough?

All that money and influence wouldn't matter if we were not so easily led.
To believe in the hope of a better tomorrow is what keeps us, as Americans, at the top of our game. Except that we're not at the top of our game these days. As we fall farther and farther down the comparison scale in everything but military might, our leaders tell us not to worry about that. We don't need to be smart, we just need to have faith. Faith in them to deliver to us an America that never really existed for anyone other than the rich, white upper class. They wrap themselves in the flag and beat their Bibles and extol our American values from the rooftops, while clamoring to punish those around the world for daring to see things any other way.

And it all sound true, because we see it on TV.