Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A barely broken streak

Merry Christmas eve to all who celebrate the birth of Christ. Merry Christmas eve to all who celebrate the Toys R Us version of the day. Merry day before all the Chinese restaurants are empty for all who treat it like another day. Honestly, whether you actively celebrate the holiday or not, you get the impact. It's a big day. Some use it as an opportunity have 9 too many glasses of eggnog and have fun with family.

This is my 35th Christmas. It's a big one. It's the first one I'll spend truly with my Linda. We get to wake up under our own Christmas tree. Even while I was away and would come home, I'd stay with my folks so my Christmas morning was just like growing up. This one is different. It is a new tradition that my tiny family of 2 (and 3 furbabies) will begin. I feel like I get the best of all worlds to wake up in my very own home with my love AND then see my family too. I get everything.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

Of the previous 34 Christmases in my life, I've woken up with my family for 33 of them. There was one year I wasn't there. I am lucky it was only one. For Christmas of 2006 I was 7,000 miles away (I'm actually guessing) in the Middle East as part of a long deployment. The desert has a knack of being blistering hot for most of the year and then freezing for a small part of it. It's actually never freezing, but for a couple of months it drops from 115 during the day to 85 and down in the 50s at night. The 30 degree contrast that happens suddenly can be a brutal switch.

It was that Christmas that I was limited to a few minutes on the phone per week, 4 week delivery for mail, the same food day in and day out, but, most importantly, none of the warmth of home - metaphorical warmth.

So many have missed more than the one. So many have been in much worse situations while missing it. I know I felt it that year, that's for sure. I'm so very thankful I'll never have to risk that again. But I think about those that don't have that luxury. Those with full families or families on the way. While I'm so excited for my first Christmas REALLY at home, I'd still trade with any one of these deployed dads in an instant.

Please think about them or pray for them or send good thoughts or do whatever it is you do. Remember, that goes for the guy who is from Florida and stationed in Montana, or the girl from California and stationed in Mississippi. Or the family stationed in Europe or Asia. They may not be deployed to a war zone but they aren't home.

No matter how many Christmases I see, I'll never forget the one that created a barely broken streak.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I stand with logic

I've always been conservative, politically speaking. I like my guns, I think taking God so far out of schools that a child can't even privately pray is ridiculous. If a man wants to amass billions on his own work , so be it. We don't tax the rich for doing well to give to the poor for not doing well. We tax to fund the government and spread it evenly to those in need, but to penalize the successful is wrong.

Over the years I'd become closer to fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I give less than a shit who you love. As long as your freedoms aren't interrupting my freedoms, then go for it. Gay marriage? Have fun, but let's not pretend that homosexuals will fix the sanctity of marriage. They'll cheat and divorce too because, above all else, they're human. Abortion? Not in my world, but strangers aren't in my world so that's their business. See where I'm going with this?

We're all hypocrites anyway.
Dems want government out of their lives when it comes to love and marriage, but want the government to step in and grab tax money for social programs.
Republicans want government out of their lives in business and finance, but call them to regulate who people can marry.

In their own way each of our 2 parties is anti-big government and pro-big government in whatever way appeals to party lines.

The hypocrisy doesn't stop at people on the hill either. Average Americans act hypocritical on individual issues and then they complain about the hypocrisy of politicians. It's a weird ironic inception that I can't seem to figure out.

The catalyst here is the guy from Duck Dynasty. Is his name Jack or does he just say that a lot? I'm not sure.

So he made a bunch of anti-gay comments. Likened gay people to those who favor bestiality or something. Told them they're going to hell. People got outraged. He got fired. People on the other side are outraged because they are his personal opinions and he's entitled to them. I agree, but... see my above comment about your freedoms interrupting my freedoms.

I'm not outraged by his comments because... look at him. He's not a diplomat. He got rich making duck calls. He's proud of being a simple, uneducated guy from the middle of nowhere. The whole show is based on the family looking uncultured. What part about what he said is shocking? And why are you taking social cues from this asshole. You know why I'm not up in arms about his comments? Because strangers of opposite ecosystems from me do not guide me.

I understand the entire "if you don't like it, change the channel" idea and I subscribe to that in limited quantity. You get cursing on HBO and complain, tough shit because you pay EXTRA money for an uncensored channel. Are you forced to watch A&E? No. That also doesn't give him the right to use his extra reach to profess offensive views. It's also not like he was given a pulpit from which he is supposed to broadcast his beliefs. That's just not the topic of the show. So since TV is a luxury, are we all supposed to be on our guards for offensiveness?

On the other hand, A&E is all about culture so you'd think they would allow for all cultures and beliefs. So they sack the guy who expresses his beliefs, even when he didn't do it on the show directly. It was in a GQ magazine. That's not very supportive of free speech or free religion.

But just maybe there's another very conservative Republican line of thinking here. Maybe the people at A&E could really give a rat's fart about what this lunatic has to say. I mean let's be realistic, whether you feel a certain way or not is your business. How you run your mouth when you know you're under a microscope is something else entirely? Every single person on the planet has had a thought at one point or another that is not popular with someone else. Sometimes we say it, sometimes we don't. It's all about considering your audience. When you're in the public spotlight, you shut your mouth and do what's right for the real end game. For this guy, it's a successful show. It's a successful business. 

And that's A&E's point. The guy who canned the Duck guy may very well agree with him for all we know. But he's smart. He knows that at least one advertiser will disagree. Maybe the advertisers themselves will agree, but they are smart. They know that at least one consumer won't. Maybe some consumers will agree, but they're smart. They won't admit it.

People want to believe that the world runs on good feelings and getting along and respecting rights to free speech or right to be gay. It runs on dollars and cents. And like I've always said time and again, the business of business is business. What's it worth to A&E to respect his right to his beliefs? Maybe nothing. What's it worth to A&E to shitcan this guy in support of the biggest human, and subsequently socio-economic, movement of today? All the ad dollars. 

You can boycott this show all day long, but A&E took a stand that said they support gay rights over the free speech of one individual man. The needs of many outweigh needs of the few... mostly because the needs of the many keep the lights on at A&E.

Capitalism and big business is a VERY right wing perspective. Supporting gay rights is a very left wing perspective. Looks like A&E's movement straddled the line better than anyone really thought about. And since this guy is not important in the scheme of things, they won't be remembered for canning him. 

I stand with A&E for doing what's right for A&E, which as it turns out is a business, not a lobby group.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Escaping into a different world

Once upon a time a devoted father wrote letters to his son who was deployed to Africa while fighting in one of the two great world wars. The letters were stories of a world of fantasy, hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves, dragons and so much more. Many years later those stories became The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. That evolved into a universe of books, cartoons, toys, video games and blockbuster Hollywood movies. The world became further acquainted with Middle Earth with the three Lord of the Rings books became movies in the early 2000s. Now, we find ourselves two-thirds of the way through The Hobbit, 10 years later in our lives, but 60 years earlier in Bilbo's life.

Many people talk about it from a movie-goers perspective. Others talk about it from the perspective of fans of the books. There are some of us who live in Middle Earth in our minds. There are some of us who can give you directions from Bag-end in Hobbiton, a town in the Shire to The Last Homely House in Rivendell, if you felt so inclined to make the trip to visit Elrond Halfelven. We'd warn you about going beyond those borders, as the Misty Mountains are more dangerous than Led Zeppelin let on when they mentioned it in their song. We see big towers in the world and imagine them as Minas Morgul and want to hear the horn of Gondor bellow in real life.

People like us reach a level of fandom reserved for the nerdiest of nerds. The respect I have for J.R.R. Tolkein is immeasurable for 2 reasons. The first is simple. He defined a genre. He didn't create dwarves or elves or wizards, but he certainly outlined the images we use for them today. And some of the creatures are of his own creation. That's a mind that cannot be compared to. That's the least important reason why I love him.

Once upon another time, decades after Tolkein wrote these for his son, there was another dad. His son fell ill with a simple appendicitis. Unfortunately that 7-10 day stay (as it was at the time) was stretched into a full month of August (or just shy by a few days). The medical complications made that hospital stay full of more pitfalls and double-backs than a Hobbit's adventure. This son was 11 years old and terrified.

His mom was by his side caring for him. Friends and well wishers brought gifts and flowers and toys and cards and jokes and smiles. All of those things raised his spirits while he remained in the hospital.

At one point his dad decided to sit by his bedside every day for a little bit of time; with a book. The dad opened his very own copy of The Hobbit from many years earlier and began to read it to his son. His dad was replete with voices and inflection. More than reading the words to his son, the dad told the story to his son. For that amount of time each day, his son left the hospital and traveled to Middle Earth.

Once again these tales had come alive from a father to a son in crisis. Once again, these stories enhanced a relationship and saved a son while Hobbits saved Middle Earth.

To this day, his dad remembers this son laying on his side, eyes wide to absorb the visual imagery written by Tolkein, delivered by his dad.

To this day I remember my dad's voice as he read it to me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shopping on Thanksgiving

Everywhere I turn I see Thanksgiving related posts on social media. they all seem to fall into one of only a handful of categories.

  • People being thankful because it's November
  • People complaining about Christmas stuff showing up before Thanksgiving
  • Stores announcing their Black Friday/Thanksgiving hours
  • People screaming about boycotts for the above
For the record, I am absolutely, positively, 150% not against stores opening on Thanksgiving day. And don't worry... I'm about to tell you why.

First of all, stores will be paying either time and a half or double time (likely double time) to employees. If you'd rather eat canned cranberry sauce than make twice as much money in half the time, your priorities are out of whack. I know it's about family and being thankful and you don't get to do that if you're busy working a register. But in reality, sitting at the table is just one way we show our thankfulness. Making TWICE as much money to help provide for your family is something everyone will be thankful for. And it's not like you have to do twice the work. Are you telling me that turkey is more important hundreds of dollars?

In the event being thankful at the table is absolutely paramount in your life... do that. Tell your boss you can't come in. One of 2 things will happen. 1) you'll be told that someone else is happy to take your shift or 2) someone else will be force to take your shift because you're fired. In 2013, the thing you can be most thankful for is a job.

Before we vilify the businesses for opening, let's remember that, as I always say "the business of business is business." What that means today is that corporations didn't choose to open so they could pay the electric bill and employees and every other expense just to stare at each other in an empty store. They are doing it because people will show up. Customers want to shop. So do we blame the business for creating the supply or do we blame the millions of customers who created the demand. We say that Black Friday isn't enough. There's not enough stuff or stores or time. We need more. Bigger, better, faster, more is the mantra of the United States. So... are the corporations truly 100% to blame?

So boycott. Go for it. You think Walmart is going to change its mind now? "You know what? We should stay closed on Thanksgiving. The group on Facebook and trending topic on Twitter has changed our minds." C'mon now. Get real. It's too late. The ball is in motion and stores will be open. So... you might as well go out there and shop. Save money for yourself, stimulate the economy for the rest of us and at least make it worth the while of the employees that have to be there. Have an impact that way.

Most people bitch and moan that there's not enough money out there and there aren't enough jobs and everyone is broke. Then why are the stores so packed on Black Friday (and Thanksgiving day itself this year)? You feed into this frenzy. Do you need another damn TV?

In reality, who are you mad at? Are you standing on principle for the people forced to work on Thanksgiving? Do those people care? If I worked retail, I'd volunteer to work that day. I love my family, we all know this - I have a ton of posts here about them, but we can eat turkey any day. Bring a sandwich to my job for my break. I'm not turning down a 2x pay rate.

Oh wait... almost every store that's opening on Thanksgiving day, will be doing so at 8pm. So you can eat, watch football, spend quality time AND earn double your hourly wage. So what's the beef?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

On being just a veteran

Monday is my first Veteran's Day where I'm solely a veteran and not also an active duty member. There's a certain... emptiness... I feel. It's a level of "used to be" I think. It's not altogether pleasant I can tell you. Go ahead guys, go off to war. I'll just hang out and be a free American. I guess 99.2% of America can technically feel that, but it's different when it's something you used to do.

Not everyone is cut out for it. Not everyone's life takes a path that leads them into uniformed service. That's ok. It's not meant to be for everyone. That is why 0.8% of the population ever dons the uniform. I wish everyone could feel what we feel though (those that do it for the right reasons, anyway). I'm sure cops and firefighters know what I mean. Maybe even a doctor getting his or her first lab coat. There is something about threads as a symbol for a fight for something greater. The fraternal bond puts others in the same boat.

I see the looks I get in my veteran hat. I can tell when it's another vet. I can tell when it's someone who, although not a vet, "gets it." I can see that people recognize that I wear USAF t-shirts 5 out of 7 days and 1 of 3 veteran hats I have every time I leave the house not because I want them to know I did it, but because I need to keep it alive for me. I'm not looking for pats on the back. I want to feel like I'm still connected to the action that often got the pats on the back. The effect may be the same, but the cause is very different - inward vs outward pride.

I love being home. I love seeing my family so often. I love not having to pick Linda up from the airport. I love my industry. I love being an entrepreneur. I hate feeling so helpless when this world takes its fucked up turns trying to destroy itself.

I hate that I sidelined myself. Here's where the real self-destructive part comes in. I wouldn't go back full time, Active Duty even given the chance. I've broken the hearts of the people I love long enough. However, I can't look back as if I did my part. It's incomplete. I am sentenced to a lifetime of limbo and I don't know how to make my peace with it. I try daily. There's no magic word. There's no advice. Time may be the answer. It may not be.

I just know that on Monday I'll be so proud of everything I've done and the part I played, but at the exact same moment I'll feel for all those who still do. It's my own little version of a survivor's guilt I guess. Why should they have to endure those hardships as I sit at home with my feet up? I wish it was a zero sum game, but it's not. For all the positive pride and negative abandonment feelings the added cost is the emotional struggle to try to strike a balance and I come out a little more weary than I went in, each time.

I know I'm not indispensable to the Air Force. It'll keep on flying without me. I tried to always add value while I was there. I tried to leave it better than I found it in whatever way I could. It's why I was a teacher and not an instructor at my last assignment. But there are lots and lots like me and far better as well. I made my choice and stand by it, but that doesn't mean that it's always easy. Sure it's been months and months, but I was there for years and years. A home, routine, job and other checkboxes don't heal your heart, do they? This transition is going to take a while.

So, my uniformed brothers and sisters... I may not be combat ready anymore. I'm not up to speed on the training. I'm certainly not fit to fight (blame NJ pizza). I'm not ready to pick up and deploy anymore. I'm not mentally prepared for days without showers, in body armor, ducking mortars. But I've got your back. I don't know how. I don't know when. But I'm confident that when the time is right I'll know it... and I'll be there.

Until then, I'm just a vet. Just a guy in a hat. Just a fading memory. I just wish I was more prepared for how that was going to feel.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What's mine is yours

Hello my fellow 'Mericans. I used that because just about everyone I know has earned that title over the last few days. In the event you are out of the loop, our federal government is shut down at the moment. Why? We have no money appropriated. Here's the rundown of how we got here:

  1. We couldn't agree on a budget
  2. We needed money
  3. We passed a Continuing Resolution as a stop gap until a real budget could be passed. A CR is basically a temporary budget that mimics the previous year's (with no increase).
  4. Our CR ran out and we passed another one
  5. Our CR ran out and we passed another one.
  6. Wash, rinse, repeat
  7. Midnight September 30, 2013 the most recent CR is set to expire. Congress can't come to a conclusion.
  8. Government shuts down.
  9. Facebook erupts in a torrent of uninformed ignorance, bathed in indignation, and served with a side of belligerence.
The Senate (Democrat controlled) had an idea for a budget. The House (Republican controlled) said no. The House returned fire with their own idea that included a delay for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare (yes, they are the same thing. One is just a nickname). The Senate said they would not approve anything that included ACA verbiage. And they didn't. Return volley.

Apparently, everyone with 2 eyes, 10 fingers, and a keyboard thought they were a political pundit and weighed in on what this government shutdown meant. We had some people think they could speed and rob banks and picket and pretend it was Detroit in 1967 and nothing would happen. I've got news for you, boys and girls - cops aren't paid by a federal budget (ok, some are, but not the ones in your town). Town police are paid by a municipal budget, sheriffs by a county budget and state by a... do I need to say it?

Some others wanted to blame President Obama. I'm pretty sure he didn't create this since it has to go though the House and Senate and they couldn't manage to agree. Of the 316,776,000 Americans, I think 316,775,950 Americans like him more than I do, but place blame accordingly. 

Now, let's get to why we're here and how the title is relevant. The polarization of partisanship in this country is at an all-time high. Republicans and Democrats are further apart than Bloods and Crips, Montagues and Capulets, Yankees and Red Sox fans, or even Apple and PC users. So much so that people are saying things like "your government."

It's OUR government, whether you like it or not. If you live in this country, it's all ours. Republicans screwed this up. Democrats screwed this up. As a Republican I have to say that Republicans are more to blame here. I hate, hate, hate Obamacare. As an entrepreneur, Obamacare is about to RUIN much of my finances. However, I don't think that just hours before a government shutdown was the time for the right wing to fight that fight. I think Obamacare needs to go away, but sticking to their guns on that now has caused a gigantic disruption in just about EVERYTHING. Pass the budget; address healthcare. Time and a place. This was not it. The proof is in the shutdown.

You're doing the right thing for your constituents with healthcare? Thank you; truthfully. But how many of those constituents are out of work right now over stubbornness.

Democrats, quit smiling. You're not innocent either. This fiscal year end didn't sneak up on anyone. Way to be prepared. You're both ridiculous.

The only thing MORE ridiculous than members of Congress is the masses. The uninformed people pointing fingers and having the nerve to exonerate anyone. Do you really think someone with a chair in Congress is innocent here? Nope. None of them are. No high horses allowed.

This is OUR mess... every American. They screwed up. We voted them in. We haven't held their feet to the fire. Facebook fighting solves nothing People have unfriended one another over this. Are you kidding me?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who gets the time?

It's been a while since I've written anything here. The reason why I haven't is exactly the reason why I am now. I have a friend that I've known since somewhere around summer of 2004. He is one of the closest friends I have (and have ever had). We spent almost every day together for the 5+ years we lived local to one another. Then I moved away and physical distance did what it always does and put some virtual distance between us as well. We spoke less. We went from Sept 2009 to February of 2011 between seeing each other. The next time was summer of 2011 by sheer luck and then summer of 2012, and not since. It seems like a good amount for people so far away, but it was like dropping off a cliff after going from every day.

Thankfully, there are other ways of staying in touch. We text often and comment/message/etc on Facebook/Twitter nearly constantly. And therein lies the problem. We, very clearly, rested on our laurels of technology. It's human nature. I would almost argue with myself. "I should call him. Ah, why? He's always there. Spend time nurturing the relationship that needs attention." That is pretty backwards, isn't it? Why would you spend time breathing life into frail relationships instead of giving it to the strong ones. If a relationship would fall so easily, then does it deserve your time?

We get caught up in things. Life gets in the way. I was finishing school, then I was preparing to move, then I was moving, then I was getting settled, then I was catching up with people from here I haven't seen, then I was re-launching my company, then I had my first client since the move, then, then, then... They are all bullshit excuses. I haven't written here. I haven't made time for people like this friend. This particular person is experiencing some of the curveballs that life often has to offer us. We finally made the time and sat on the phone for the better part of 2 hours. We caught up, sure, but who has that kind of time and did that do justice for all the months in between? Of course not.

I took for granted knowing that he was always there and always had my back. And he did the same, but I'm not really concerned with his behavior. I'm accountable only for my own. Here's what both boneheads failed to recognize. We're always there for each other, given the opportunity. Life may not always give that opportunity. Nobody wants to be morbid and consider mortality, but it's unrealistic not to - at least a little.

I think we both got the message after our long chat. It's real simple - pick up the damn phone. If it's important, do it. Remember that whether you do it or not, you're making a choice. You're prioritizing. You're not putting your friend at the bottom, but you're not putting them at the top unless you make it a point to do so. I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few days and suddenly this poem was brought to mind.

Around the Corner
Around the corner I have a friend,
in this great city that has no end.
Yet the days go by and weeks rush on,
and before I know it, a year is gone.

And I never see my old friends face,
for life is swift and a terrible race.
He knows I like him just as well,
as in the days when I rang his bell.

And he rang mine, if we were younger then,
and now we are busy, tired men.
Tired of playing a foolish game,
Tired of trying to make a name.

"Tomorrow" I say,"I will call on Jim
Just to show that I'm thinking of him"
But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes,
and distance between us grows.

Around the corner!- yet miles away,
"here's a telegram sir; Jim died today"
And thats what we get and deserve in the end.
Around the corner, a vanished friend.
The time will never come your way. You have to make it. It's always better than the alternative - having that poem apply to you. And when you make the time, contradict your instinct. Give it to the solid relationships that have earned your time, not the fragile ones that need a phone call just to stay alive.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

An old friend found again

Many years ago, before I was an entrepreneur and before I was a military sergeant, I was part of the rat race in New York City. I commuted from the suburbs via the concrete tubes with cattle cars carrying others just like me. We all scurried through the streets in the early morning sun like bugs under a flashlight, seeking refuge in our artificial corporate environments. All day long we were surrounded by the clicks of keyboards and ringing phones and gurgling water coolers. UV lights and recycled, conditioned air makes you wither like any small desk plant suffering the same, confined fate.

Lunch was like 1 hour parole from all things contrived. Sometimes, I'd have to order in if I had enough work to keep me on the go. Other days I'd trade bright UV lights and taupe walls for dimly lit bars shrouded in mahogany and brass, amidst a sea of other charcoal gray suits.

Every now and again and as often as time would allow, I'd get food from a to-go place or a street vendor and go to one of two places. One was Battery Park, which was a very special place for me, but I'll tell you about that another time. Mostly though I'd go to Zucotti Park, now made famous by the hundreds of protestors during the height of Occupy Wall Street. Before all that nonsense took place, Zucotti Park and I had a routine.

I'd walk down and stop at the pizza or sandwich places nearby and grab something that came in a white or brown paper bag. I would always go to the same spot on the same bench. And there, I'd find my friend waiting for me. He wasn't a real friend. He was a bronze statue. I had known him since I was a kid. He was a guy in a suit with an open briefcase on his lap. He stared into it, intently, because that is, after all, where all his important business resided. If you look in, you will see an old calculator, half smashed soft pack of cigarettes, pens, pencils, folders and even an old tape recorder.

When I arrived, he'd never stop his work to look up or acknowledge me. Nonetheless, I'd place my bag in his briefcase so he didn't have to work through lunch, like I had to on so many other days. I'd quietly eat, often while marveling at the World Trade Center which was less than 100 yards away. I'd look at him, a businessman like myself but frozen and serene yet harried and busy by the position he was in.

After September 11th, he was gone. He was removed, as to not be in the way, but thankfully undamaged and, by the look on his face, undaunted by the terror. This sounds silly to most people, I know, but it wasn't about this guy. He didn't have a name. If he did, it would just be "business" because that's what he represented. He kept on after 9/11, just like business in NYC did. I heard he was put back to carry on, but I didn't see him because, I of course traded charcoal gray for olive drab green when I went into the military. My friend, "business," was always there for me, so it was time that I was there for him.

Then I heard he was moved yet again. I also heard that people had left flowers and tokens and signs and patches all over him, and that the sculptor took the real versions and affixed bronzed versions of them to him. He no longer is business, but, rather, a tribute to it and the strength of it in that city. I heard he crossed the river into NJ, but that was about all I knew.

After breakfast this morning, Linda and I drove around downtown Jersey City to look at the water and the NYC skyline from our new neighborhood. I pulled down a dead-end street with a 9/11 memorial created out of twisted, contorted I-beams from the towers. As I spun around in the cul-de-sac to park I saw someone sitting all alone in the sun. It was my friend.

I recognized him immediately and all but slammed the car into park and ran over to him. He has so much new, cool stuff adorning him. He is a memorial, but if you look close enough you can see his tape recorder and calculator, and even the same half smoked, half crushed pack of cigarettes.

I quietly, and as Linda was looking around elsewhere, said hello and told him it was good to see him. He kept on with his business, just like he did so many years ago during our lunch visits. He looks different and he is in a different place, but some things remain constant even as they evolve. Just to his left is the new, almost finished Freedom Tower. Downtown looks forever changed.

He's just a silly statue to some, but he was my lunch buddy before all mayhem. Before I left everything behind. He was there when I'd look at the Twin Towers in awe (no matter how many times I saw them), and he's there again. Full circle. I was happy to have found him again. No matter what he is to you, he's an old friend, found again to me.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Not everything needs a connotation

Congratulations gay people! DOMA was called unconstitutional - as well it should have been because that's exactly what it was. Whether you're for or against gay marriage, I'm sure you're not for the government weighing in on it and calling it legal or illegal. If they can say that gay marriage is not marriage at all, then they can say that straight marriage is not marriage. I know that's highly unlikely and not a worry, but the point stands that if we leave it up to them, we lose control of our own lives. Nobody wants a nanny state (unless you're Michael Bloomberg, of course).

So, go on and get married my gay friends. You now have the same right to lose half your shit as the rest of us. And with gay marriages on the books, that's more dependents, more combined insurance policies getting paid on each month. Maybe my premiums will go down. All joking aside, I'm glad for you. Truly, truly I am.

To the extreme right that invokes scripture, by the way, I'm not going to argue against scripture because A) it's not my place and B) it would be moot because you don't hear anything anyway (this coming from a born and raised Roman Catholic that can still say the Lamb of God in Latin). So what I will say is this: let's pretend that your scripture is 100% right and it's a sin and all that jazz. At the end of the day, that scripture and The Constitution still have nothing to do with one another. So make a religious beef all you want, that doesn't hold water in the world of legalities. And for the record, divorce is a sin too and I doubt that 50% of Americans now divorced are all non-Christians.

Anyway, I'm working on arriving at the point. In spite of all the gay people being gay about it being legal to be gay and married (let's just use all definitions at once since this is about connotations in the first place), do we have to assign sexual preference to just about everything so we can make a point?

This is very specifically in reference to The New Yorker cover with Bert and Ernie watching the SCOTUS repeal DOMA; Ernie with his head on Bert's shoulder. In the event you haven't seen it, here you go; I'll pick up after the jump:

There you have it. So here's my opinion. Why do Bert and Ernie have to be gay? Why do they need to be straight? They aren't either. They are just Bert and Ernie. In a world where our children are exposed to so much more at such a younger age, does this even need to be part of the equation? And I'm not saying this to make them anti-gay. I just don't see sexuality in either of them. Besides, Ernie is too goofy to be sexual and Bert is too grumpy to be loved (usually because Ernie is acting like a moron). 

The target age for Sesame Street is 3-6 years old. That isn't published; that's my take on it because the characters have ages. Elmo is/was 3 and a half years old. Zoe is 3 years old. Big Bird is 6 years old. Let's split the difference and call it 4 and a half. The only time a 4 and a half year old is talking about sexuality is then we put it in his/her face. That is not something they are inherently curious about at that age, plain and simple. So let Bert and Ernie spend their time worrying about sharing, Rubbery Ducky and whether or not Ernie has bananas in his ears (you can tell I was a watcher) instead of creating a non-existent relationship around them.

Just in case you think I'm going off the deep end by even considering this, I'd like you to read the following statement, issued by The Children's Television Workshop, just two years ago:
Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
So, do we need to draw context around their relationship? Does it need a connotation? I don't think it does, and in my business I can't stop talking about the importance of context. And there's the rub, the context determines what needs context. I care about context in my business, but 4 year olds aren't watching Sesame Street for business.  So, in my book, Bert and Ernie are just Bert and Ernie. As The Children's Television Workshop said in another statement in 2007, they "do not exist beneath the waist," let alone use the area below the waist between nap-time and lessons on sharing.

And Cookie Monster still eats cookies. And kids can be kids.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Respect the rules

So many people on the Internet are proud of Roy Costner IV for throwing out his approved valedictorian speech and reciting The Lord's Prayer after he was told not to. He is becoming a hero who stands up for what he believes in. He is quoted as saying, 

I decided God is such an important part of my life. I feel like if we take Him out of school, it's going to hurt the school more than help. But I've noticed this past year more types of arguments, more types of fights going on that I think could be prevented with bringing God back into school.

Just so the world knows, I happen to share his Christian faith. I think it's an important part of life, just as he does. I think a little more faith (regardless of style, name, or particular ways of practice) couldn't hurt anyone and would probably make people a little better overall. After all, major religions have one common thread - "Don't be an asshole."

However, I recognize that not everyone agrees with me. The freedom I have to believe a certain way is extended to others who may choose to specifically NOT believe the same way. I can't run around saying "God is good" without expecting at least some people to say "No he's not." And I can't get mad if some people think that way. To avoid these kinds of situations, arguments or other religion-fueled difficulties, we just remove religion from public arenas. This is not oppressive like the religious fanatics want you to believe. We are not censoring your thoughts or beliefs. We're censoring your mouths. It's the old cliche - "if you've got nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all" rethought. You think being a Christian is being nice. An atheist disagrees. What makes you or them right? Nothing. It's personal. It's intimate. 

So this valedictorian is told he can't use religion, agrees, has a pre-approved speech, takes the stage, rips up his speech and turns the rostrum into his own pulpet. If a Muslim did it for Allah, people would freak out. If an atheist did it just to say that God does not exist, there would have been a riot. So why is it ok that he did it in the name of Jesus? It's not. You want your religion respected? So did everyone in the audience that happened to have a faith that was different. You just happened to be sitting in the buckle of the Bible belt where you were the majority. Try that shit in a melting pot like New York City where there's one of every kind of person in most buildings. You can't spout your own very personal beliefs and think that EVERYONE will likely agree.

I have spent about 3-4 hours between yesterday and today looking at articles and reading about 2,200 user comments. I have found some very clear cut reactions. Those against this kid talk about the separation of church and state, respecting everyone's own beliefs even if they differ from his, and the rules in place by the school and school district. Those supporting him have (almost, but not quite exclusively) made comments about Godless people being filled with hate, saying that because of God he will be successful in life, and they have made snarky, sarcastic comments saying that maybe if he wasn't white and went on welfare he'd be better accepted by the left. Of those two overarching themes, which seems more hateful? Remember, that I am an advocate for the right, conservatives and Republicans overall; yet here I am arguing against my own for going WAY overboard.

I honestly don't care what his topic was. My issue is that his topic was something the principal told him was off limits. I don't care if the principal said "You can't mention chewing gum" and he did a speech about chewing gum. He's a valedictorian, so presumably intelligent. He knows right from wrong. He knows the rules. He was given one and willfully and purposefully broke it. The act of ripping up the approved speech on stage shows that the intentionality was to take a stand more than it was to pray. And that is what pisses me off.

You are 18, man. At what point were you given the right to spit in the face of the administration that was appointed to those positions? When did you become above the rules? You need to get out in the world and make your bones and earn the right to change the system. You can't just stand up and do it your way because you feel like it, you arrogant son of a bitch. You're a kid. So you want to talk about respect for religion? How about your elders? The rules? Your peers? Differences in people? Personal beliefs? Wait a minute, this isn't about any of that, is it? This is all about you. It was graduation, there was no tomorrow for you in high school so you thought you'd make a splash. I'd hold your diploma if I ran that show until you made amends, not for being overtly religious, but for being blatantly and purposely defiant of the rules. I'd put you back on the news to apologize for your petulance. 

I don't care what your GPA was. I don't care how intelligent you are. It takes more than IQ to make the world go round. You need to work on your EQ. You need to know how to deal with people and know your place. I'm not proud of you for taking a stand, although I do respect your ability to get yourself heard. Now, stop being self serving about it and do some good in this world - real good, not your version of it.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Equal is bi-directional

So, today I am officially sorry I advocated for equal rights for gay marriage. To be fair, I didn't really advocate exactly for that as much as I told all the haters to mind their own damn business and let the gay community do whatever they want. I have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder toward all minority groups when it comes to one specific thing - solidarity within the group. As a middle class, white male I'm constantly told in a Voltaire like fashion that I live in the best of all possible worlds and everyone else has it rough. Yet as I poke around for jobs I find that my choices for ethnicity are often preceded by a question that simply answers "hispanic/latino or not hispanic/latino."And by answering the latter, I'm automatically not in some preferred group. The only preferred group I get is veteran status, but I had to give 10 years of my life to that cause by choice and hardship, and it doesn't really count for much with employers. Hispanics were born into their preferential treatment. And I get that that everyone is thinking that it's this way because of the hardship they endured. Well as I always say, it's really hard to say both, "Look at me; pay attention to me; give me what I want" and "leave me alone so I can be equal to everyone else" at the exact same time.

Today, however, there is the other part of the solidarity clause that really lights my fire. There is Black Entertainment Television, Telemundo and channels in native languages that I can't pronounce, but Heaven help me if I made a "middle class, white male channel." People would scream about segregation and discrimination, right? Don't even pretend it is any other way.

Before I even tell you what has me rowdy, I want to talk about the equals sign. We've seen a lot of that lately, haven't we? Red equals signs on even redder backgrounds adorned the profiles of people all over Facebook, Twitter and every other social network imaginable. Here is some history. Equals comes from the Latin word "aequalis"which means "uniform or even" and that comes from the word "aequus," which means "level, even, just." By all rights we are talking about two things on seemingly opposing sides that bear no difference to one another.

Now, in 1557 a Welsh mathematician named Robert Recorde used the symbol for the first time (although the lines were much wider). He called them "Gemowe lines" which meant "Twin lines" from the Latin word "gemellus," for twin). The point of those lines is to indicate not a difference, but rather specifically no difference.

When the red equals signs began appearing all over the digital landscape, it was not about gay marriage, was it? No, it was about marriage equality. For the first time, progress had been made in the mission and it was not "me, me, me" or "I want" anymore. It was "we all deserve because we are all people, not to be labeled or identified." Equals. Twins. Level. Uniform. Just.

Today, the gay community has launched its first ever gay-only social networking app. It started in China and is preparing to make its way around the globe, if the creator has his way. That sounds fairly discriminatory to me. I am on Facebook where you can be gay or straight. I am on Twitter where you can be gay or straight. Now, "Zank" is a place for gays only. It is not dating. I support dating sites that cater to these demographics as gay, straight, fetish, etc and that's purely from a mathematical algorithm reason. It makes sense to keep it separate for simplicity's and function's sakes. This network, however, is just about social networking, no different than the people you meet on Facebook or how you sync up with folks on any other network.

Can I make a straight-only network or will I be labeled as the 2nd coming of Hitler? Why can't that just be my target demographic? Because to exclude someone is discriminatory? Is that what Zank does to straight people?

Most importantly, it's not about whether we open the gates to other groups or not. It is about them (any group) saying "existing social networks aren't targeted toward us." Why? Do you go to movies differently from straight people? Do you cook differently? Is there some special way that gay people throw a bowling ball or read a book? Do you feel different about the cliffhangers of your favorite shows simply because you are gay? If it is just about meeting people then sexuality matters not, my friends.

So, if you want equality, then be equal. Do not lock yourself behind digital walls for "gays only" and then complain when you're not part of the rest of the party. Do not scream you just want to be same as everyone else by letting us know how different you are. And do not play play the hypocrisy game so far to the hilt that you do the same thing you railed against. I think even Napoleon the pig would say that's just a little too Orwellian of you.

It is bi-directional. It goes both ways. (Please pardon the word choice. I am using them as they are defined, not colloquially as they apply to sexual preference). And to think that just a month or so ago I began to think that we were making real progress on our approach to healthy integration and loving one another as humans and voiced out against the conservatives in favor of harmonic resolution and just a 4 weeks later the offenders of the treaties are the ones lobbying for them the hardest.

Just act equal and you'll be equal. Distinguish yourself and we'll know you're different.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Put up or shut up

After my last tirade supporting Abercrombie and Fitch, things seemed to quiet down. It's not that I had anything to do with it, it's just that I wrote about it roughly 2 days after it happened and our attention span is only about 72 hours so within a day or so we moved onto the next slightly irritating cause du jour to scream about. Then last night, like a bad case of hemorrhoids, this A&F thing flared up again. The people posting about it are also a pain in my ass so the hemorrhoid reference holds true.

This time it's not about him or his cause. It's about retaliation toward owner of A&F. This hits an all-time high in ridicularity (my made up and funnier version of ridiculousness, add it to the lexicon). I'd like to smack every person participating in this. Here's the deal.

Owners of A&F clothing are now organizing a movement (I use the word movement to liken it to bowel movement because it has the same value) in which they donate their A&F clothes to homeless people. This is counter to the CEO's intentions for his clothes. So by repurposing the clothes they can rebrand A&F. This is asinine for a multitude of reasons.

  1. You PAID for those clothes and they were NOT cheap. Giving them away is flushing money down the toilet. If you have money to burn, I accept cash, checks AND credit cards.
  2. Because your used clothes show up on homeless people, nobody is confusing the vision of the company. We will not suddenly think that homeless people are buying this stuff directly.
  3. The trendy nature of these brands also mean that you can give everything you own to homeless people and A&F will just make the new line, which is just as exclusive as the one you gave away.
I shouldn't be surprised at this though. This is the nature of America. We never rise to someone else's level; we bring them down to us. So he makes a brand and turns it into what it is today. Some people out there don't like it. What do they do? Try to ruin him and his company.

You want a clothing brand to be ubiquitous and available to people of all shapes, sizes and financial means? Make one. I make it sound easier than it is, I know, but do you think it was easy for Jeffries? Nope. He started a company like any other designer/entrepreneur had to. And you should too. Or you should shut your trap.

This is where I get pissed off. Just because you don't like how he does business you really go out of your way to devalue and ruin his products and company? What ever happened to if you've got nothing nice to say then don't say anything at all? Who charged you to take up the torch for fat and poor people everywhere? You feel bad that they are left out? Awwww... isn't that sweet. How come your bleeding heart isn't storming the gates of Mercedes Benz and Harvard University looking for free cars and admission to broke, stupid and lazy people everywhere? What is the demarcation point between social causes and "not my business?" I don't get it.

So put up or shut up. Make a difference on your own or leave this guy the hell alone. He made a perfectly legal choice for his business. It's not even immoral or unethical when you really consider it. It's just strategic targeting. There are brands that appeal to all types, this just doesn't happen to be one of them.

So save your money, save your time and do something constructive with both. Trying to ruin his brand is destructive and helps nobody in the long run.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Shopping spree at A&F

When this picture popped up in my newsfeed once, I chose to ignore it. Now it has proliferated over the course of 2 days and I could no longer sit silent. Buckle up, this is going to make a lot of very unhappy.

For those of you who don't know what this is about or can't put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4 based on the title, here's the lowdown. The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch doesn't like fat chicks and subsequently, does not have clothing to accomodate plus sizes in his A&F stores. Naturally, thin skinned America has risen up with their opinions to shoot this man down.

Before we get into the meat of the content, let's just take a moment to realize that Americans are using their constitutionally protected right of voicing their opinions to say that he shouldn't be able to have or voice his own. The hypocrisy of so many people just knows no boundaries. Ok, we got that out of the way.

First of all, he is free to do whatever he wants. It's his business. This isn't the first time he's been in trouble in the news. There was a lawsuit when he made flight attendants on his Gulfstream wear very specific clothes and discriminated against those who couldn't or wouldn't. What you're telling me is that it's inappropriate to make employees wear company clothing to represent your brand while working on the company jet. I think his rules are genius branding moves, but what do I know about branding. I didn't co-found a company based around it or anything.

But that's not what's got people hot at the moment. It's all about his no fat chicks policy. I have a ton of respect for this guy, not because of the content of his opinion, but because he's got the rocks to express it. He started a company based on certain things and stuck to them and it seems to be working out pretty well for him. Everyone is also not focusing on part of the quote, because it's devastating to their case for outrage. He said, "Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don't alienate anybody, but you don't excite anybody, either."

So everyone is outraged because he caters to a certain demographic. At one point did it become ok to demand every business offer every product for every person? I'm going to a Mercedes-Benz dealer today and demanding they make me a pickup truck because I've always wanted a pickup truck and I want to own a Mercedes. Maybe I'll stop at McDonald's for a bowl of soup on the way back. As I'm typing this a commercial for Soma comes on TV. Apparently, they make bras (not my specialty), but they start at 34D and get bigger from there. I would actually LOVE to take someone with small breasts into that store and watch them demand Soma make a smaller line of bras to fit.

This man has carved out a niche and it seems to be working for him. Does his execution suck? Nobody will debate that. Does he choose the nicest words or delivery of his message? Of course not, but that's the magic of America. If you want the opportunity to call him asshole, he has to have the right to say asshole-ish things.

By the way, I heard that everybody who applies to Ivy League colleges will be getting accepted regardless of GPA and it's been proven that the lack of exclusivity will, in no way, diminish the value of the diploma.

Not everyone comes in first place. Not everyone gets everything they want. Life is full of disappointments. When you don't fit within the confines of a system, we don't change the system. You either fit or you don't. You'll fit where you truly belong or you'll choose to alter yourself to do so. Your level of self acceptance, does not determine my target market for products.

So, in the face of all of this nonsense, I want nothing more than to walk into Abercrombie & Fitch and buy tons of clothing and I would love for the CEO to watch me buy it and congratulate him on building a globally recognizable brand, isolating a particular demographic that is lucrative and capitalizing on it, all while standing by his convictions as people say nasty things about him. Just remember, while you're bitching about him from home, he is wildly successful. He's gotta be doing something right. Feel free to make your own brand for everyone. Big box stores will be happy to carry them at discount prices.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What's up, Doc?

This morning I had the pleasure of witnessing something truly incredible and awe-inspiring. I was at Montclair State University for a Ph.D. dissertation defense. At the end of the doctoral process, you write a dissertation. It is a 200+ page book of your research and findings that provides some sort of conclusion. The candidate spends about 30 minutes presenting the paper and an overview about all of it, then a panel of people that make up the approving body, or committee, for that candidate asks questions and make sure the findings are watertight. At the conclusion, they kick everyone out of the room, including the candidate, and confer. Then the candidate gets welcomed back in to be given the decision, followed by the audience. The candidate today was awarded a Ph.D. in Counselor Education.

When you look at the American population and consider how many people go to college (and finish) and then take a percentage of people that go on to graduate school for a Masters degree and then take an even smaller percentage of that small number to think about the Ph.D.'s out there, you realize that this is a momentous occasion. Then think about anyone you know who has achieved this feat and has the capability to write 200+ pages and spend a year researching a topic and consider the average age. What you don't expect is this person to be someone who has already retired from one profession (entirely unrelated) and redefined himself when most people are winding down from work and career and, most certainly, education.

One of the newest doctors in this country is my amazing father. There's more. He is part of the first cohort (class) of Ph.D.'s in this program at Montclair State University. He is the second person in his cohort to complete it. Additionally, this college (within the university) never had a Ph.D. program of any sort. That means that my dad and his colleague are the first two doctors from the College of Education and Human Services in Montclair State University... EVER!

For those that are wondering, his dissertation was quantitative about grief and loss in adults who lost siblings on September 11th, 2001. What he, and everyone around him, learned throughout his process was that there is LOTS of research about kids losing siblings and even more about bereaved adults in general and more than you could ever hope for about grief and loss overall. What there is nothing about is bereaved adult siblings specifically. That means that Dr. Viglione may have just created a new genre in the process.

Of the 4 member approval committee, one said his document was "beautifully written." A second shared the sentiment exactly, but added that it may be the most beautiful and well written dissertation she has ever read - and that was the committee chair. A 3rd wants this work to become a published book (beyond a published article in academic databases that it will become anyway). She also intimated that this could be a foundational document that spurs on further research and he becomes somewhat patriarchic in this particular topic. Finally, she'd like to see something else, but let me digress for just a moment (there's a reason for this). Most of you have heard of the 5 stages of death which became the 5 stages of grief. That model was created by Dr. Kubler-Ross. She came up with this theory and it became widely accepted so that it became a model from which people work. Back on topic, the core tenets of my father's research on the topic of adult sibling loss may have paved the way for him to have his own model. Imagine that - the Viglione model.

So, am I using my blog and readership to shamelessly plug and boast about the accomplishment of my dad? You bet your ass I am, but there's a takeaway. You just have to keep reading if you want to get it. For now, you have to hear a son ramble on and on because I was so amazed today. As a boy, my dad has always been someone I've looked up to. From teaching me to ride a bike to camping to other dad/son things, he's always been there to the Nth degree. When I skinned my knee from that bike riding, mom saved the day by patching me up, of course, but there are certain dad/son things and mom/son things. Boys don't often aspire to be moms. Over the course of dad's doctoral quest, our relationship has evolved. I edited the first 3 chapters of his dissertation for example. When I was younger and hating college he told me to stick with it for my future. When he was hating being his current age and in school with "young kids" I told him to stick with it because who gets to redefine themselves and have a 2nd career at this stage? Being away, I didn't get to watch him toil away, but I got to know it when he never answered the phone and mom would tell me he was locked away. I heard it in his voice. I heard it in her voice. He had the hard work of doing it, but she had the hard work of putting up with it.

And just when you think you're an adult and your dad is done being Superman, he goes and becomes a doctor. And he kicks ass at it. He stuns the people that have been doing it for decades already and reinvents a small corner of his particular industry. And in a 90 minute timeframe you go from being the closest you'll ever get to being a peer with your dad to looking up at him like the 5-year old that just watched him do something heroic again.

So here's the takeaway. Do it. Whatever "it" is to you. Do it. I don't mean school. I don't mean a doctorate. I mean whatever moves you. If he could work for 35 years as an investment banker (after getting a Bachelors in sociology), go back for a masters and a Ph.D. at his age (notice I haven't mentioned a number? you're welcome, dad); all to finally do what he's always wanted to do - then you can always do whatever it is that lights your fire. This isn't some wish upon a star and hope for the best stuff here. It takes hard work. It takes years of plugging away and hours locked in a room working, but it's always achievable.

Congratulations, Dad. You've achieved an amazing goal. I said congratulations today. I said it was awesome. It wasn't until I sat down and digested the events of today that I was able to really quantify the enormity of it and find the words. And when I did, I couldn't keep it in. I got told today, by someone you respect that you and I are cut from the same cloth and I couldn't think of a better compliment to receive. Watching today's events was a remarkable experience, Dr. Vincent S. Viglione!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Not EVERYTHING about race is racist

Maybe you have seen this picture floating around the Internet... maybe you haven't.

Here is why this is all over the place. The customer name says "5 black guys" and someone felt it was racist and sent it to Fox 5 News screaming for some sort of compensation or racism awareness. Before we go any further, let's discuss what the word racism actually means.
The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.
Now that we got that out of the way, tell me what part of "5 black guys" is racist. Does it say they are better or worse because they are black? Does it use an ethnic slur? Does it, in some way, assign a property to these people because they are black? In my opinion, it just says that they are, in fact, black. If they titled them as "5 guys" then what about another group of 5 men sitting somewhere? How do we know who is who? Is the issue here the term "black?" Should they have said "5 African-American men?" All we needed was one of them to be from Barbados (for example) in the group to say, "I'm neither African nor African-American. I'm Caribbean."

What if they did not group them together and they all got separate bills? Would they have complained about poor service and being ignored because they are black? That is anybody's guess. Let's take one second to think about why people put descriptions on tabs like that. It's so the moment someone orders a drink/food, the server can assign it to the proper group and ensure they are getting proper service.

Let's face facts, we have all different races and differentiating people by race is not racist. It's being observant. If they said, "don't serve them because they are black," that would be racist. This was just a fact.

While I'm on the topic of over sensitive America and its -isms, let's talk about the president's comment about the Attorney General of California from last week. It's a woman. She's pretty. He told her she was pretty. He actually said that she was the most attractive Attorney General, and she probably is. He got told it was sexist and had to apologize.

If you know me for more than about 38 seconds, you know I'm not President Obama's biggest cheerleader, but let's just be realistic. You don't have to be a leftist or partisan at all to know the definition of words. That's not sexist. Just like the example above there was not connotation or result of the observation. What I mean is that he didn't say "you got the job because you're attractive" or "I bet you win all the cases, pretty lady." You get where I'm going with this. Was it inappropriate to say? Perhaps. Was it sexist? Not by any variation of any definition in any dictionary. I think he's a moron for saying it, not because of the content, but because after 4+ years in the White House he still hasn't learned that people will take it out of context (sometimes on purpose) to destroy his credibility. He can't be wrong because we want him to be. He is often wrong all on his own, but that's a separate story. 

So calling a pretty woman pretty or black person black or if you call a midget/dwarf/etc short, it's not an  -ism. It's just what they are. It's just being observant. It's stating a fact. This is just American focusing on the wrong part of the story, as usual. And by the way, racism will never die as long as "minorities" keep drawing attention to the fact that they are minorities. Gay folks will never have equal rights until they they stop saying both "We're gay and here to stay" AND "Just treat us like everyone else."You cannot (no matter what group you're in) point a spotlight on yourself and ask to be left alone. It just doesn't work that way. If you're a group of 5 black guys, then that's what you are. If someone calls you that, then that's STILL what you are. Get over yourselves.

So before you jump on the bandwagon for stuff like this, do yourselves (and me and the world at large) a favor and think about whether stuff like this actually fits the description or it's some thin-skinned alarmist trying to rock the boat.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Real reason at the core

Yesterday I was in a couple of threads about the SCOTUS decision. I explained why this has nothing to do with marriage equality or gay rights. It's a case of federalism, plain and simple. This pissing contest between the federal government and states' rights is wearing a marriage equality mask, but could be anything really. That's just the topic du jour being used as a facade.

Almost EVERYONE missed what this is really about. If you think it's about marriage equality, you're crazy. If marriage equality was solved 50 years ago, this would still be happening in the Supreme Court about any other topic.

Everybody is treading lightly because of the implications of federalism on a larger scale. What is federal territory and what is state territory. The issue of marriage isn't anyone's business and most people agree, but after so many years of someone laying claim to the right to approve/disapprove, whose right is it to say it not longer requires approval in the first place? Once the federal government overrides state legislation, then it can happen on any topic.

So on the surface it looks like it's about marriage, but really it's a balance of power between states and federal at this point.

And once the federal government negates the states' rights, people have a Supreme Court worthy case if they want to marry 5 people and their dog because the state has no say anymore. Forget what it's ostensibly about; it stopped being about marriage long ago.

Of course the DOMA of 1996 (ahem, Bill Clinton) was a way to give up some ground to the states while retaining power. States were given the right to decide for themselves, but the Defense of Marriage Act said that the union of marriage is between a man and a woman. So if you start in a state where it's legal and move to a state where it's not, the new state has no legal obligation to honor the marriage license. It's why the Department of Defense does not recognize gay marriage. So, if I was gay and married a man and I was still in the military, I do not get the extra pay for my household allowance, he is not entitled to my medical benefits, and he would not even get notified if I was killed in combat. That's the federal government saying "it's ok, but it's not that ok" and that came from the same guy that enacted "don't ask, don't tell." Before that you could not be gay in the military. After it, "you can be gay and serve, but you can't tell anyone about it, act on it, or live your life openly. It's ok, but it's not that ok." That's a federal act, DOMA, so leaving the power in the hands of the states means if ALL States approve it, they have to get the fed to strike down DOMA and do you think the federal government is prepared to take orders from the states? Political posturing is all this is. Most people don't realist just how poorly the states (as a collective) get along with the federal side of the house.

Those were my 2 cents yesterday. Now there has been some release of information about what went on inside SCOTUS yesterday. The quotes from several justices make it clear that all of the above is 100% true.
I just wonder if the case was properly granted,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who probably holds the decisive vote, in a comment that showed a court torn over whether this was the right time and right case for a decision on a fast-moving social issue. 
So far, we see the focus on the timing of the issue and not the issue itself.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed to share that concern. “If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting the society have more time to figure out its direction,” she said, “why is taking a case now the answer?” 
Once again, it's about whether or not even making a decision is the right move versus letting states "experiment." Keep in mind, this experimentation uses the life decisions and love lives of human beings and Americans specifically, but the focus is on whose role is this rather than solving this issue for the people who have something at stake.
Those justices and others seemed driven to that conclusion by an argument in which no attractive middle ground emerged on the substance of the question before them: whether voters in California were entitled to enact Proposition 8, which overturned a State Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage. 
This is the first of the two most important points. So California approved gay marriage and then issued a referendum called Proposition 8. California voters weighed in and had gay marriage banned. If the SCOTUS says that gay marriage is allowed across the board, that will again overturn Prop8 and neuter the voting process at the state level. Is the importance of overturning Prop8 big enough to chip away at foundational blocks of our voting process? Some say yes, the justices are not so sure.
That appeared to leave the court with an all-or-nothing choice on the merits: either a ruling that would require same-sex marriage in all 50 states or one that would say that all states may do as they wish. Neither choice seemed attractive to a majority of the justices.        
And finally we have the coup de grace. To vote yay means that gay marriage is unequivocally allowed anywhere in the United States and each state has nothing to say about it which, many people say, violates the spirit and intent of parts of the constitution. The federal government keeps things running smoothly but doesn't legislate us into prosperity or define how our lives should go. With a diverse nation in terms of demographic, landscape and just about everything else (and the reason why we should never be compared to European nations), the federal government cannot possibly have enough insight into the lives of the average American and make a blanket policy that effectively covers people from New York to Nebraska. On the other hand, voting nay puts the power in the hands of the states, something that stems the tide of federal power, and not what the power hungry federal government wants either.

So what's the solution? Play the ostrich and put our heads in the sand. Dismiss the case. "We'll talk about it later." And that folks, is why it's not about gay marriage at all. That's the face of the battle between states and federal today. Tomorrow it may be something different.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dollars, not sense

I've been seeing this JC Penney story heating up for the last few days. For those that don't know, JCP used a lesbian couple in an ad for children's cloths or household items or something. It was last year on the heels of making Ellen Degeneres, who is openly gay, their spokesperson. The ad contained the couple and children as a family. So 1 million JC Penney shoppers threatened boycott and organized some anti-shopping movement, called 1 Million Moms, over it. JC Penney then released another ad of 2 gay men and their children. Once again the Internet ire, sparked by 1 Million Moms, is reaching critical mass.

So it's nice to see a company support some logic and have moral fiber along the way. Starbucks is in the same boat at the moment. One shareholder had some things to say about Starbucks support for marriage equality and the CEO Howard Schultz told the guy to sell his shares if he didn't like it. It went one longer than that, but that's the gist. So, these are 2 companies who stand up for what they believe in and the things they believe in are altogether wholesome. I know people feel how they feel about gay marriage and lifestyles, but suffice it to say that JCP and Starbucks are not advocating violence and death and segregation and bias. They are trying to give everyone a fair shake.

Here is why they are both potential wrong for their actions. If 1 Million Moms actually got a full one-million people to stop shopping there, what would that do to JC Penney? Are they gaining the favor of 1.1 million gay individuals there they end up net +100,000 shoppers? What if 1,000,000 people walk out and 100,000 walk in? Then they lose 900,000 shoppers worth of revenue. JC Penney is not a 501(c) charity. They are not non-profit. They are a for profit company that is publicly traded. They are answerable to shareholders, not values. Morality doesn't keep the lights on. JCP also hit an all-time high on their share price in 2007 at $80 per share. In April of last year they were at just shy of $40 per share. As of this very moment they are at $15.01 (down from $15.23 when I began this post). JC Penney is losing relevance and market share to online shopping (as are many large and big box retailers around the country). Is now the time to further dilute the clout they have? What if gay individuals have invested in that company because of their internal philosophies of supporting gay rights, yet their public actions and spiteful nature of ad placement have actually removed value and in some round about way, they've hurt the people they support? It's a stretch, I know and who the hell is investing in JCP these days anyway? The point is that the business of business is business. Set up a foundations, charity, NPO or any other group to champion your cause, if that's what your into, but gambling with shareholders money to promote something? That's bad business.

And not all shareholders will agree with your cause, as we saw in the case of Starbucks' Schultz vs. Strobhar. Strobhar is anti-marriage equality and an investor in Starbucks. He let his opinion be known at a shareholder meeting and Schultz, the CEO, told him to sell his share and went on some diatribe about how the company is being held down by close-mindedness or some such nonsense. I hate to break it to you Schultzy, but Strobhar's money is just as green as anyone else's. Maybe his ideas and his votes as a shareholder are weighing down your innovation and out of the box planning, but that's why there are so many shareholders - so one person doesn't take control. Another company putting their own personal values against the one thing with real, measurable value - money. Are you willing to leverage your financial success and fiscal footing against a cause? Would you donate next month's rent to a charity of choice? The economy is still in recession (don't believe the hype, things are better but not good). Starbucks is going up in price at the same rate of mortgage default and job loss in this country. Mayor Bloomberg is gaining support from other lawmakers and like minded politicians to engage in Gestapo tactics for banning anything deemed unhealthy. Will all newly married gay couples pull Starbucks up by the bootstraps if need be? I know Starbucks isn't folding and I don't mean to insinuate they are or be over the top, but I'm just aligning strategic vision with the response they'd receive.

At the end of the day, as I always say, the business of business is business. You've read it here a million times. So again, I love that Starbucks and JC Penney actually have a moral compass (I'm not debating whether I think it points true North or not, that's not the point here). Not many companies do. But betting their future and the money of investors (and employees) on a belief, is irresponsible. Make money, you're a corporation. That's your job. Support your causes as individuals, on your own time, on the side, with your own cash.

I'll still drink gigantic, frozen, chocolatey, coffee drinks from Starbucks while shopping in JC Penney. Their products still appeal to me. But I wouldn't invest in either way. When I give them cash, I get a product. When I invest cash, I'm not part of a cause that may win or lose me money. Investing is always  gamble, but I can track cash flow and market capitalization. I can't track feelings, spite and goodwill.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Driving in the north vs south

I've been driving in the north again for almost 2 weeks already (have I actually been home that long?) and I wasn't sure what to expect along the way. I thought that perhaps I had slowed down after being in the south for so long. But it's like riding a bicycle and it all came back very naturally. I have noticed that the traffic isn't much worse. There is more traffic, sure, but there are more people overall. So the congestion isn't worse in and of itself, it's all to scale.

What I have noticed is that the patience level of drivers up here is much lower, or rather, on par with the every place else. People in the south, while some of the craziest drivers I've seen (and I've driven in multiple countries on multiple continents), are much politer than up here. Naturally, I have a theory as to why that is. It's got nothing to do with the southern hospitality and it's got nothing to do with the asshole-ish (word?) behavior of us "damn yankees." It's something much bigger.

You don't cut someone off, blow your horn, give the finger or scream obscenities in the south for one reason and one reason only - EVERYONE has a gun. You never know who has it handy, who is a good shot or how many rounds are in it. More importantly, you're never sure if their gun is bigger than yours. So, much like US vs USSR in the 80's, the best offense is a good defense.

Up here, nobody is armed so people are freer with their verbal nonsense and everyone has extra muscles behind the wheel of a car. Well, when I say nobody I think you understand the distinction I mean. Some people are armed, but in the south everyone is and it's all legal. Before the gun control nuts use this in their favor, let me be clear. I'm not advocating for arming people to force politeness out of fear and I don't think most people in the south live in gun-based fear. Southerners have weapons, love weapons and are most assuredly NOT afraid of weapons. So, if I'm not afraid, neither is the other guy. So rather than terrifying people into politeness, it ends up being more of a mutual respect for the power we carry and the slight fright of the unknown. All in all, it makes for people to mesh better on the roads.

I've heard more horns, yells, screeching brakes and overall rudeness on the roads in the 2 weeks I've been back than in the 10 years I was gone. I've also felt my blood pressure climb and have had to stifle responses in this short time. Maybe some of it is shock factor after being gone and I'm readjusting, but a lot of it is just me and my reactions. If I thought for a minute that the guy I was blowing my horn at may have a gun, I'd think twice before laying on it.

Say what you want about the north, the south, guns, gun control, road rage, etc. All I know is that people were less jumpy when everyone around them had a firearm and traffic moved more smoothly.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I would not wish the last 2 weeks of my life on anyone. I have literally felt like I don't really exist in either world. I'm not really here because my house is upside down, I'm not doing real work, I'm not stocking the fridge and I'm not investing more in this life as I prepare to depart. However, I'm not home, have no job, haven't gotten settled, don't know my new immediate area at all and can't figure it out yet.

I'm leaving all I've known for a decade and going to back to all I knew before that, but haven't lived in many years. I feel like a resident of nowhere. Everything is on pause. All the good that's about to come is theoretical and not for sure until I get there. Limbo is a brutal assault on your nerves and emotions.

You know, logically, that in the end it'll all be ok. Your long term is fine. But you can't get to long term without first going through the short term. And you can't get to the short term to make sense of it just yet. Why? No reason. Do I have things to finish here? Nope. I'm not a productive functioning member at my current job because they have already transitioned me out so make room for replacements or, simply, to get used to life without me. I've been in this particular position for almost 4 years. When anybody leaves, they have to readjust. So, I've basically already been out for a while. So why am I here? It's for no reason other than the fact that the countdown hasn't reached zero. With so much waiting to be done at home, burning daylight here is frustrating. There are big things like finding a job to small things like getting NJ license plates on my car. All of it is waiting to happen based on a somewhat arbitrary date.

The real problem is not the process, but conflict between what it requires and how I process tasks. Some people are planners, others go with the flow. I build a construct and framework for myself. It's an overarching view of all things to get down with lots of little subtasks. It's very binary and logical. IF-THEN-ELSE for the programmers reading. If this happens, do this, otherwise do the third. There are lots of contingencies and alternate routes, but I can't just throw the chips in the air and let them fall however they may.

So until I get home nothing begins. While I'm here everything has basically ended. I can take good or bad, but limbo makes me bananas. For the next 11 days, limbo is all I have. Well... limbo and alcohol.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

If you don't have anything nice to say...

obviously you should smear your negativity all over Facebook.

It's Super Bowl Sunday and I'm super excited. I love football. My team isn't in the game. I have no personal affinity for either team. It's the championship and as someone who loves football, I love the final contest between the top two contenders. Even before I was a big football nut, I'd still watch the Super Bowl.

Not everyone agrees with me. That's fine. Some people like baseball, basketball, hockey, and for whatever reason, soccer. So don't watch the Super Bowl. It'll be just like any other day on TV except for one channel.

What I have little to no tolerance for are the comments like:
"Am I the only one that doesn't care about the Super Bowl? It's so stupid."
"Is the Super Bowl over already? I'm tired of hearing about it."
"I'll be doing anything that is not Super Bowl related just to stay away from it."
"Is there some kind of game on today? Really Facebook? I couldn't tell."
and the crown jewel
"I'm doing to unfriend the next person who talks about the Super Bowl."

This game is the single most watched event anywhere, at any time. There is obviously some popularity to it. You don't have to like it, but the intolerance toward the people who do is pretty much disgusting. 111 million people watched last year, but obviously, the folks quoted above are the ones we should listen to.

I said, "Anyone who watches American Idol can't be my friend," what would your reaction be? You'd tell me to shut up and mind my business. And you'd probably unfriend me over my intolerance and negative disposition and the fact that you don't want to be judged for your TV viewing choices.

Consider the economic impact of the Super Bowl. In the middle of a down turned economy, people buy TVs and inordinate amounts of food. It brings in revenue to the city where it's hosted. Some companies give people the day off to support the fellowship found in football on Super Bowl Sunday. In a country full of arguments and polarization, this game unites people, if just for a few hours. Maybe I'm sensationalizing it a little bit, but I don't think so. All of those things seem to happen, in my experience.

So watch it or don't watch it. I couldn't really give less of a shit about what you do in your living room. But your Facebook posts come into my living room and I'm tired of being torn down for doing what most of the world is doing, just because a handful of people don't like it.

Super Bowl haters: YOU are the minority. The rest of the country shouldn't shut up and conform to your standards. Drop the entitlement. Maybe try watching and have a little fun. I bet you're all a real joy to have a parties - "Ugh. THIS kind of music?" "Are we still talking about that?" 

Oh and as for the Ray Lewis comments out there, he was on trial for murder and was acquitted. There was an argument that got out of hand and 2 people were killed. After questioning, an indictment and a trial he was found not guilty. So to call him a murderer is to say that the rule of law failed and you, as one opinionated individual, know better than the entire set of lawyers, jurors, investigators, and a judge. You were there that night and know what happened.  He was accused of something and it was found out to be false. Plain and simple. I'm not a Ray Lewis fan, per se. I am, however, a fan of accepting a truth because as someone who wasn't present, I can't possibly make a determination.

Just because you have the ability to say something or the right to say it, doesn't mean you should. That goes for Ray Lewis, the Super Bowl or any other thing that people want to hate on. The only thing I'm hating on here is intolerance.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The intangible expense

You've heard me ramble on ad nauseum about all the things you leave behind when you join the military and the emotional toll it takes on you to be away from all you know and love. You find comfort and solace in your new life and great sense of purpose as you become part of something bigger than yourself; something bigger than a paycheck. It's easier for some than others because we all come from different backgrounds. Some people's roots go deeper than others, some are trying to get away from home and others just enjoy the adventure of unplanned meandering around the planet. Almost all of us, stake our claim in one area that we call home and it becomes the aggregation point for everyone to see and touch us once or twice a year (sometimes even less), and get the satisfaction not provided by an email or even a phone call.

The military gives us a lot of things - structure, steady pay, education, medical coverage, a career more than a job, training, belonging, the ability to really make a difference and the list goes on all dependent on your needs in life and what moves you. But those things don't come free. We pay a hefty emotional price and sometimes a physical toll and sometimes an actual financial price (my military pay is only about 50% of what my experience is worth in a major metropolitan area). For many people, we perform some life choice accounting functions and look at the ins and outs, cost-benefit analysis, pros and cons or whatever you want to call it. There is always something missing from the list of specs on the window sticker.

When you choose to relocate for work in the civilian world, typically your compensation goes up. Why would anyone move to make less money in that scenario? With that you have more cash to visit if you want to (generally speaking). Also, you get your days off whatever they may be and you are free to go anywhere you want. As long as you are at work the next time you're due to be, nobody cares where you are in your downtime. And getting time off usually isn't that tricks. A little notice, no pending projects, the time in your vacation day coffer and you're all set.

In the military that's not only the case. There have been times when I simply couldn't get back due to mission requirements. Sometimes it was just scheduling conflicts, other times I was traveling for the military, and other times the last minute nature of the event calling me home did little more than get a chuckle from my bosses. And life happens, sometimes in small, but meaningful ways that you just don't think about ahead of time. When is the last time you bought a car and made it a point to see if the cup-holders were conveniently located? I NEVER do and at a rate of just about every other car, they have been someplace so stupid that it's a pain in the ass to use them. Small enough to slip through the cracks on the front side, but big enough to impact your life on the back side.

I've missed births of the children of some of my closest friends in the world. Friends' lives go on and babies are born every day. The clock doesn't stop when you leave the state. My cousin has 2 children, neither of whom have any idea of who I am. I've missed weddings of people I've known since the opposite sex still had cooties. One understood and the other hasn't spoken to me in almost 6 years. Those are both joyous occasions that are persistent (hopefully). I was able to meet Jim's son later when he was about 9 months old. I met Brian's daughter Sophia when she was about 6 months old. I met Alan's son Zach when he was just a month old, but it was only for about 2 hours. Because I'm headed home, I'll get to catch up. If I wasn't, I'd be the random friend that showed up in these kid's lives once a year. These are the children of people I couldn't live without in one way or another. I feel like I'm supposed to be there and I want to so badly. But we make do while we're gone.

Then there's the other thing you never think about ahead of time. People die. And they certainly don't wait until it's convenient for you to get home to say goodbye or even be there immediately after the fact. And when you're gone they don't really die to you. you get the news that they're gone, but you've already been gone and they've been out of the daily operations of your life. So, it sucks to say, but you don't feel the loss. They die on paper. The permanence of them being gone is hard to reconcile. You leave one day thinking "I'll see you on my next visit" and then it just doesn't happen. You can miss a few birthdays of a friend or child, but there will be more. Funerals are a single-serving event. There's no time to go back and make better use of your time together. There's no opportunity to get in those last words. Those parts are not different based on your zip code, but, chances are, if you have been collocated with that person, you've made good use of your time (or a willful choice to not to).

I guess the difference is that it's much easier to get the rug pulled out from under you when you're in the military or just gone in general. When you're in the military, you often can't adjust when it happens though. I went through it 7 years ago today. My favorite "old man" left us - that was just a nickname I called him while playing ball once and then everyone else picked up on it, but it was a term of endearment. This guy went from being a parental figure to a mentor to a friend over all the years I knew him. I've known his entire family for over 20 years. His son, who is in my generation, introduced me to my great love, Linda. He dies, suddenly in 2006, just 2 days before I was supposed to bug out form my base in SC on a military trip that couldn't be canceled.

That was the first time I had that "oh shit moment" and I've, unfortunately had it twice since then. The 2nd was my grandmother. I was in Arizona on military travel. Got back half a day early and left the next morning (at some great expense) and she passed away while I was laid over in Charlotte. And then again in 2012 when one of my greatest friends, Jim, lost his dad who was another close, personal friend and military confidant (he was a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force). I basically snuck home for about 40 hours and got 14 minutes with him just to remind him how I felt and say goodbye and to render his final salute.

And almost every day in between, I've crossed my fingers hoped that everyone else stayed safe. The closer I get to returning home, the more frantic I feel about it. Almost there. Less than 6 weeks. Everyone needs to stay home, in a bubble, with the doors locked. I am NOT going to be gone a decade just to have something horrible happen with just 40-something days to go.

That's just never on the bill of sale as something you just purchased with your signature on an enlistment form. It's not measurable. But it'll happen. There's never a good time for it, but it always seems to happen at the worst times. I'm glad that's one expense I'll never get another bill for.