Friday, October 26, 2012

Definition vs. Connotation

In my social media travels this morning, someone asked an important question - "Are we too sensitive? Have we emotionally evolved to where we can't take criticism or worse yet, jokes? Must everything be so P.C.?"

To his question I replied, "I agree we are overboard. It's all kinder and gentler. I break PC rules constant because as adults we should be able to recognize context and intentionality. As such, w can distinguish between what's offensive and what's not. So I do what I do. If people are offended, they can either realist what I truly meant and get over it or stay offended. I'm not going to change my habits because someone else didn't get the joke. Your perception doesn't dictate my meaning."

I truly believe that. George Carlin once said that you can joke about anything; that no topic is off limits. He said you could even joke about rape and if you don't believe him, he challenged you to picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. The idea was that an offensive concept is not offensive in all contexts.

I find humor in just about every topic, if it's posed right. That is because I understand the intentionality. If you make some grease ball Italian joke I don't take offense. The funniest and most offensive racial joke I ever heard was about Puerto Ricans. I heard it from a Puerto Rican guy who was reminded to tell it to me by another Puerto Rican guy. Funny is funny if you allow it to be.

By the same token we need to find a good line on connotations of words. Things change and sometimes we accept and embrace it and sometimes we don't. We are offended because we are finicky.

Once upon a time, gay meant happy. It's been a long time since we used it as such. Over the years the connotation has changed to mean homosexual as everyone knows. Everyone has accepted and adopted that definition of the term. When was the last time you heard someone argue that it's offensive to use the word gay for a sexual preference and went around using it to describe a mood? However, that word has changed again, hadn't it? We throw it around to mean stupid, idiotic, annoying, etc. "Gotta work on Saturday? That's gay!" Nobody likes that one though, do they? Why? I know why they say they don't like it. The story is that to make gay = stupidity when it currently means homosexual employs some transitive property to say being homosexual = stupidity. That's NOT what is meant though. It it simply an evolution. When gay evolved to mean homosexual, what was the standing of homosexuals in society? Do you think those who used it to mean happy, were particularly thrilled with the idea at the time? No, but it stood. So, rather than getting pissy pants about the change, let's first understand what's meant by it.

Another one that gets people really furious is actually in the news right now. Retard and/or retarded. People getting offended by this word in all of its usages is simply ridiculous. Don't worry, I'll explain why. The definition and connotation have not changed over the years. Every time you get pulled over by a cop, you are retarded. To retard something is to hold back its progress. If you were driving and you were stopped, but needed to continue, your progress was slowed and, therefore, retarded.

Over the years we applied that to people and then suddenly everyone hated it. Why? It's true. If a person is not developing as quickly as he or she should or as fast as what's expected for the age, then the progress is, in fact and definition, retarded. It's not offensive. It's just what it. Now, the noun version of being a retard is new, but a retard is just one who is retarded, which is one who is slowed in developmental process or abilities when compared against the norm. Either you are or you aren't. If you are, then so bet it - you're retarded. I'm not faulting you for it or holding it against you or insulting you. But if someone is developmentally challenged then they are retarded. There's no other way about it.

So the next evolution of that word is how we say something is stupid and call it retarded. This is a bit of a stretch from the truest definition, but it's MUCH closer to the definition than saying that the dictionary version of gay can somehow mean homosexual. Follow the logic. "Oh I have to work on a Saturday, how retarded." I can't go out and do my thing, my plans are delayed. That makes my weekend slowed in what the plans I had for it to progress socially. The progress of my weekend has been retarded. My boss' idea to make me work holds no value. It advances nothing. It is retarded.

So there's the flow. It may not be the truest version of the word but it's a hell of a lot closer than the gay/happy/homosexual evolution. Why have we accepted one change in implied meaning, but not the other? What's with the duality and hypocrisy? Oh, that's right. That's just what we do in America. Well... that's retarded.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Long and winding road

That led me to this door.

The road I've taken over the last 15 years feels like it winds more than a plate of spaghetti. So many items of my history are so far from each other that people at different points can't seem to fathom the others. I look on Facebook and see so many people who haven't ventured far outside their comfort zone over the years and I am partially envious of them. In some ways I love that I've held a myriad of jobs. I love that I've been to more countries than most people have in states. On the other hand, when it comes to identifying with people around me, I feel a little like a citizen of nowhere.

I may have taken you on my journey in previous posts, but let's recap some of it now. I graduated high school in 1997. I tried my hand at college and went away to a closed campus with a big grassy quad that looked like any campus in any movie. Three months later I found myself at home because I didn't get my head in line quickly enough. I don't regret it. It was hard, but it was a step in my process (although I didn't know it at the time). I held part-time retail jobs from managing a video store, to a cashier and front end manager in a supermarket to a computer technician in a store the size of my current living room. And then my big break came; from a friend of a friend I found my way to Gemini Systems, Inc as a technology consultant, but that position had me walking in and out of the front doors of the New York Stock Exchange. In September of 2001, New York hit a rough patch and in January of 2002 I found myself out of work. I worked at Best Buy for a while and as an admissions rep to a technology school for a while and in 2003 I enlisted and have been doing that ever since. I've been in school off and on for the duration of this time.

Today I got told by someone who doesn't know me very well at all that I was full of shit and there's no way I ever worked at the New York Stock Exchange. I don't need to lie. I will not have my integrity questioned. I've always gone to great lengths to leave out names of people in my blogs but I want to outline the connection between myself and the NYSE. My father, Vincent Viglione worked at Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder, Inc (now Natixis Securities LLC). When I was 16 years old I worked as a summer intern at A&SB for Anthony J. Maio, fixing computers. That continued for the following two summers as well. When I went off to college and left my intern days behind, Tony DelBusso went to work there and then moved on himself. The Tony's stayed friends as I stayed friends with Maio. When Tony D. was looking for a young person, Maio passed my name along. Tony D. was working for Gemini Systems, Inc, a small boutique technology consulting firm. Through the mutual Maio connection, I interviewed under Tony DelBusso. Gemini focused on development which is my weakest link so I got farmed out to the NYSE as help desk technician and worked my way up from there. Either I worked there and this is true or I made up names, timelines and connections among people and put it all out on the street for the world to see.

I was told that there was no way I left Wall Street to join the military. I didn't leave Wall Street. Wall Street left me. I had no degree (I'll have mine in 29 days). The economy was in a downward spiral. The hiring boom of the late 90's turned into a hiring freeze in a post 9/11 New York. Did I want to join the military and leave my family after our family loss for a tens of thousands of dollars per year pay cut? Of course not. I was left with little choice financially. Beyond that, my adversary today knew nothing of my personal story. He didn't know that I'm a surviving family member of a NYC firefighter from 9/11. He had no idea that I'm a World Trade Center survivor myself. He took what seemed realistic (or unrealistic as the case may be) according to his frame of reference, which is vastly different from my reality.

Keep in mind that the individual I had this interaction with is not someone who holds much credibility with me or my organization. He has recently undergone a character assassination by his own doing and is held in low regard by the entire United States Air Force. His lashing out against me was a desperate attempt to strengthen his position in a technical argument we were having at the time. When my history and experience played to the clout that I may have the correct answer, he behaved as if he was in a schoolyard, but that is not the root cause.

The root cause is my long and winding road. Just like one of my best friends growing up cannot fathom life in the military, some of my military counterparts cannot fathom my life prior. My friend Alan cannot begin to get his head around getting screamed at by a military training instructor or doing the screaming to young Airmen. Many people here don't know what life is like outside of a sleepy, southern town. Salaries, cost of living, home prices and home sizes are examples of the types of issues most military friends cannot seem to comprehend.

I have abandoned my friends and family. I have abandoned much of my culture, heritage and traditions. I have abandoned certain foods. I have abandoned my career path. To continue the 1960's rock quote theme, "what a long strange trip it's been." It's been a necessary one, however. I've grown as a person and a professional. I've finished my education. I've aligned my finances. I've honorably served my country - I'm a veteran of two foreign wars. The military honored its promise to feed me, clothe me, house me, train me, educate me, and pay me.

I was furious during my negative interaction with this person earlier today. As the night wore on, I changed my line of thinking. My history is so varied that is is virtually impossible for people to bridge the gaps at all times. What a long and winding road.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Happy Columbus Day!



Today is the day that my paisano Christopher Columbus found America. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He was trying to find India by going left instead of right and ran into "The New World." And that's how we got America. At least that's what a 2nd grade text book would want you to believe. It is, of course, more complex than that. He never made it to mainland America, but he did realize there was new land in this direction.

What the bleeding hearts want you to believe is that he was a genocidal maniac who came here to introduce disease and kill Native Americans and take over. That sounds a lot like a 15th century Hitler to me. Many of these people feel so strongly about it, that they actually want to change the name of today to National Explorer Day. I'm not willing to explore that option, how about that?

I'm not naive enough to think that Christopher Columbus did nothing wrong (by today's standards). But that's the way it goes in history. He also did a lot of good.

I love how everyone that wants to do away with the day and calls him a murderer and downplays what he did and is overall against the man, are all Americans. He didn't land on what is now the mainland United States, but he wasn't trying to. He was looking for India and took a left turn instead of a right trying to go around the world and he slammed into the new world. As it turns out, it was not the east coast of this country and he wasn't the first to find it and people already lived there.

That's why people think he did nothing but kill those he found and introduced disease, but that's not true. If he didn't do what he did and popularize that path would we have seen people like Vasco de Gama, Amerigo Vespucci or even Henry Hudson? People would have found it eventually, but the timing change would have changed the course of American and, consequently, world history. He triggered a chain reaction of explorations that resulting in people complaining about him from their computers in this country. It was Columbus' four treks across the Atlantic that gave Magellan the idea to circumnavigate the globe.

We are not made up of Native Americans. We are a conglomerate of just about everything there is to be. If it wasn't for this country, there would not be the blending of cultures and ideas that there is now. No other country is as diverse as us because we are the only ones that don't truly have an indigenous culture. Even the Native Americans are believed to have roamed over here from elsewhere (one Pangean theory).

As far as the killing and butchering and mutilation that all of the perfect people who throw stones form their glass houses want to mention, let's remember that this was almost 600 years ago. People make mistakes in history. We learn from it. We evolve as a society, a culture, and a human race. There were witch hunts once, a holocaust among other genocides and we used to shock the crazy out of schizophrenics or kill them accidentally while trying. We get better at existing by learning from our mistakes not condemning those who made them.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Anti-anti-bully

I've stayed quiet on this topic for about a week because I was so frustrated that I couldn't even gather my thoughts. And then the topic died on the vine like every other Internet cause that has people spitting mad for about 8 hours - or so I thought. The Internet is ablaze with more people standing up for something without truly thinking it through. And yet I get called a sheep for buying Apple products, while the rest of the world blindly cosigns to anyone that uses the word cause.

So, recently some local newscaster from the Wisconsin area received an email from an occasional viewer that addressed her weight. She responds back, on air, calling him a bully. Of course the rest of the bleeding heart, liberal media came to her rescue and headlined every article to make it sound like she ripped him apart on air, which wasn't even remotely true. Before this gets any further, let's look at his email. Stick with me on this.

Hi Jennifer,
It's unusual that I see your morning show but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn't improved for many years. Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

That's the entire thing. This is the email that has caused a shit-storm of anti-bullying rhetoric. I will say that I don't see the big deal. Where is the insult? Is obesity healthy? Put 2 people side-by-side and make one healthy and lean and one obese. Who will have heart trouble as life goes on? Who will have joint trouble as they get older? High blood pressure? Cholesterol? Breathing issues? Now, I'm not trying to pick on overweight people either, but let's face facts here. The human body is designed to be a certain ratio of height and weight. Over or under that by too much and you're causing issues for yourself. Look at anorexics, they are undernourished and the body cannot function.

Let me give you an analogy. You buy a performance vehicle that calls for premium fuel and you put regular in it, what will happen? It'll run, but it'll shorten the lifespan. I won't get into octane and compression ratios, so we'll just say that your car is malnourished. Likewise, take your run of the mill sedan and let it guzzle high octane fuel. You'll have the same issue. It's too rich for the car and won't run right over time either. Balance is the key to life.

Now, maybe it wasn't his place to tell her that and I certainly think there are parts of that that he could have worded better. For instance, when he added "girls in particular" to the end of that line, he made it about image and not about health. By saying "choices" he alluded to the fact that she wants to be this way. Those were stupid word choices, but they shouldn't dilute the intent of his message.

The next step is to reference the be all, end all bible of word usage - the least used book in 2012 - the dictionary. I do this a lot because it's important to know what the fuck you are saying, especially when you rant and rave and call people names like bully. So, how does the dictionary define it? "a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker." Here is where I have an issue with her calling him a bully. For starters, by calling him a bully, she admits to being weaker than him but her intent was to show her strength. Did he harm her? No. She said she wanted to laugh it off, but her colleagues and husband made her address it. Did he intimidate her? Did he "frighten or overawe (someone), esp. in order to make them do what one wants?" No. Nothing he did fits the definition of bully. At worst, he was just being a rude asshole. As a news anchor she should really have a better command of the English language.

She goes onto say that she's overweight. She even calls herself obese. So what the fuck is the issue here? She's obese. She knows it. He said it. And he's a bully for pointing out the obvious? Again, maybe he's rude. But he didn't even do it in a rude way. Not only did he avoid insults and flat out rude language, but here's the part that nobody in the media seems to have picked up on. He sent it in an email, which by nature is private. She is the one that brought it to the world. How can you be pissed off at the example he's setting when nobody knew anything about it until you told EVERYONE? I see her as the bully here. She used her power by being on air to intimidate him and get him to change his behavior and apologize (which he did after media pressure). Didn't she force him to do what she wanted by using power? Sounds like that fits the definition of bullying.

In her rant against him she fires back by saying, "attacks like this are not ok." It's not an attack. He's stating a fact that being overweight isn't healthy. She says, "do you think I don't know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don't see?" He wasn't illustrating that she's fat. He said he was surprised that she hasn't done something to reign it in. At no point did he say, "hey by the way, in case you didn't notice - you're fat." She's attributing words to him that he never said. Then she says, "You don't know me, you're not a friend of mine, you are not a part of my family, and and you have admitted that you don't watch this show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside." This is what really enraged me. He never once attacked her character or even made a mention about her as a person. Everything he said was exactly about what was on the outside and its unhealthy implications. To defend the type of person she is, is taking every word he said entirely out of context. She misappropriated his intent to bolster her defense (and, truthfully, attack him). Somewhat off topic, I have to mention the moronic comment she made that said "Luckily for me, I have a very thick skin, literally as that email pointed out, and otherwise." Being overweight doesn't thicken your skin. It's an excess of fat, but your skin is your skin. That comment there just proved that she missed the point of his message and went on a rant in return without making any sense.

"We need to teach our kids to be kind, not critical" is another thing she says that is completely inane. Have you ever heard of constructive criticism? How about critical thinking skills? Critical has multiple definitions, but not all are bad.

  1. Expressing adverse of disapproving comments or judgements - This is the one we have to be wary of.
  2. Expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work or literature, music, or art - BOTH merits and faults. Not all bad.
  3. Involving the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment - thinking it through instead of responding blindly.
So what's wrong with being critical? Knowing our faults is how we get better. If I showed you a painting I did and it was just terrible and you told me it was awesome, who does that help? Is lying to me to save my feelings the way to help me hone my skill and get better? It is this mentality that creates kids sports that have no score, giving them no ability to know if they're doing well or poorly. Everyone gets a trophy. Kinder, gentler approach to life doesn't pay the bills. Competition is a part of life. Putting your head in the sand thinking you'll wake up as a successful adult just isn't reality.

Look, I'm not defending this guy. He's basically an idiot. Did he think this was going to stay quiet? While I don't disagree with the content of his message, I see why even sending it was a stupid idea. It's a David and Goliath fight with one guy at his computer and her with the wattage of a news organization at her back. The unfortunate coincidence of it being anti-bullying month didn't help.

At the end of the day, he had a viewpoint about an individual person and communicated it to that person - quietly, discreetly, and privately. She didn't like it so she addressed with the public and then vilified him for having this viewpoint. You want to talk about respectful communication? She should have politely responded and disagreed. I have NO support for this woman or her action. And neither should you.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Spirit and intent

Those are words that are thrown around a lot in the military, although rarely do we stop long enough to answer the question. What is the spirit and intent of a rule? For example, Air Force students aren't supposed to speak in the hallway. They are to keep right and walk in a single file silently. Is the rule to make them quiet specifically? What is the spirit and intent of the rule? It is there to make sure they don't disturb classes in session. That's its purpose. So, on my shift, if they're walking quietly and chatting in a way that is not disruptive I think the spirit and intent is upheld. That's important in my book. It keeps us from doing things because something, somewhere says so. It forces us to examine the deeper meaning and importance of it all.

There is a new outrage floating around on Facebook and those that are pissed off about it haven't taken a minute to examine the spirit and intent of the whole thing. I saw it yesterday and it got heated, but cooled down quickly. Apparently the negativity was deferred because it's back. Let's take a look at the picture.

"I pooped in the shower and daddy had to clean it up. I hereby sign this as permission to use in my yearbook senior year."
I have seen all kinds of reactions from people. Many of them laugh at it, but there is a large contingent of people that think this guy should be ashamed of himself for taking the picture, more so for putting it on Facebook and some think that if he's the kind of dad to do this, he should lose his child because that mentality obviously makes him unfit.

First of all, the girl is laughing. This is all in good fun. Look at it, what kind if idiot would think that writing a contract for a young kid like that would mean it's official? The whole think reeks of silliness. I don't think he's even trying to teach a lesson here. And maybe he will put it in the yearbook, but I doubt it. If the kid is 18, graduating from high school, what kind of negative effect would this picture have in a yearbook? A little embarrassment. Everyone is embarrassed by every baby picture that goes in a yearbook anyway.

When I was an adolescent, about 12 years old, I had an embarrassing moment in front of some family that I was meeting for the very first time. My father teased about it and still brings it up whenever we see them or whenever he's reminded of it, or whenever he simply wants to break my chops about something. Is he bullying me? Of course not. He's the best father a boy could have had. We are close, knit and loving. We joke, we tease, we talk, we share. We don't take life too seriously. So, over 20 years after I farted at the dinner table, he still mentions it and cracks up, I still shake my head and my mother says, "Oh poor Jason. He was so embarrassed." Then we all laugh and go on about our business. Life is serious enough. Laugh at the silly parts of it.

All of the negative comments I've seen about this just vilify the father for being a bad parent, a bully and everything else. Everyone needs to get off their perfect parent soapbox for a minute. Ever curse in front of your young, impressionably child? Ever yell a little too loud at them in public when they're acting up? Have to been there for them immediately at every turn? Never told them to wait when they needed something? Hit them when they're bad?

Look, everyone can be better at everything. Friendships, relationships, parenting, etc. You've made mistakes so quit throwing rocks at this guy, especially when you have NO idea what he meant by this. However, there are some context clues here.

  1. A young girl smiling is one. 
  2. A signature too young to be discernible, let alone contractual. 
  3. An age so far off from when the "sentence is to be served" that he can't possibly hold this over her head all those years.
  4. And he took the time to write it, photo it, and post it. How angry do you think he was to do all of that? Facebook is not my first choice when I'm pissed off about something.
So... spirit and intent. A joke. Let's focus on that instead of vilifying a man, nay a complete stranger, to make us feel better about our own shortcomings. You don't even know this man and some of you are calling for his kid to be taken away. At the least he should be ashamed. You should be ashamed for passing judgment on a single out of context photo that is likely just a joke.

Edit: As I wrote this I got off track and forgot about another item that I wanted to mention along the way. We are motivated by many things, not the least of which is motivation by fear of failure. Nobody wants to be last. Nobody wants to go unchosen. Nobody wants to be the only person without something. It's why we are constantly trying to keep up with one another. On the night before an exam, I ask my students if they are nervous. They more scared they are, the happier I am. That means they are going to study harder. I know the test, I know the material they were given, I watched them the whole time. As a result, I know who is nervous, but well prepared and who will benefit from studying. Do you know that, statistically speaking, the students who are the most scared the night before, do the best on the test? The confident ones, often falter. The ones who are scared, take that to heart and buckle down and study. Motivation by fear of failure. It is unhealthy to be our ONLY motivator, but not A motivator. Signs like these teach lessons. It's no different than time out or getting put in the corner like when I was a kid. Reinforce good things positively and bad things negatively. People will put a lot of work into not getting singled out. So will this shame sign keep on shaming her? No way. She's too young to understand it fully and it's a joke, but even if she did, after a couple of days the fanfare dies down, the Facebook community moves onto its next cause du jour and she takes away a lesson. Case closed.