Russia, Fire Balloons, Divide And Conquer: Can You Say Gullible?

Boy are we stupid. Pardon my French…but we are just so fucking stupid.

This month Congress released over 3500 Facebook stories generated by Russian agencies for American consumption directed toward very targeted communities.

All the ads were paid for in rubles.

What was the purpose of Russia attempting to throw out fake and/or redacted stories and ads before and after the election of 2016? Certainly it was to promote one candidate or the other, right?

Wrong.

How do I know this to be wrong? Two reasons: The great bulk of the fake stories concerned very divisive issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, and, yes, racially charged stories such as Black Lives Matter. Sure there was some disconcerting fake stories about Bill and Hillary Clinton, though the vast majority did not concern political candidates whatsoever. Secondly, the Russians continued the practice after the election was over. In fact, they actually stepped up their game once Trump was elected.

Now, why would Russia have a vested interest in promoting American infighting and discord, in which we all so happily followed along like stupid ass lemmings marching in lockstep?

I recently heard one explanation and that is we need look no further than Japan’s use of  in World War II.

The project — named Fugo — “called for sending bomb-carrying balloons from Japan to set fire to the vast forests of America, in particular those of the Pacific Northwest. It was hoped that the fires would create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt the U.S. war effort,” James M. Powles describes in a 2003 issue of the journal World War II. The balloons, or “envelopes,” designed by the Japanese army were made of lightweight paper fashioned from the bark of trees, which would arrive in America via natural wind gulf streams. Thank goodness it never succeeded.

In other words, though the fires would not directly help Japan’s war efforts, the time and energy it would take to deal with these massive fires would provide an indirect benefit in Japan’s war tactics, as the great distraction would direct our American attention away from the war.

Sound familiar? Create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt? In 2016 Russia successfully pulled off what Japan failed to do in the 1940’s; only this time the fires were not of a physical nature but a social and psychological one.

As these stories blazed through Facebook like wildfire, they successfully segmented us, angered us, divided us, while brilliantly following the Phillip II of Macedon’s war edict to divide and conquer. How better to weaken a country than to have it’s own citizens turn on each other? If we do not get our shit together, the conquer part cannot be too far off.

In my last blog concerning “Cultural Appropriation,” I noted that this term did not exist prior to 2012. It was as if we were worried that are not enough things in 2012 to be pissed off about so we created a new category for people to get their panties in a bunch.

I would not be surprised if Russians inspired this new phenomenon as well.

Our enemies want us to look at life through our identity first and foremost -be that black, white, male, female, gay, trans, Hispanic, Hungarian, you name it. As we our so busy protecting our tribe and warding off those who threaten it, we weaken the collective and, in turn, the country and, in yet another turn, the planet.

I am not suggesting that we should never take up social causes, because we most definitely should. Yet can we not take up social causes in an inclusive manner? Must we draw a plethora of demographical qualifications to be part of any given movement?

How about this new movement: The “stop believing everything we read and getting pissed off about things we should really not be getting pissed off about and come together as one people” movement? Can we give this one a shot?

Some might reason that this is Facebook issue and I understand why one may believe this, yet I respectfully disagree. Facebook just happens to be the chosen platform for the spewing of such propaganda; yet if not Facebook, it would simply be another social media. The problem is not Facebook, it is us and our damned gullibility and lack of critical discernment.

I conclude with a real problem and this would concern the lovely people of Hawaii, who have this little problem called an exploding volcano. As I watch the lava explode and flow while consuming roads, cars and houses, I think to myself, “Now there is a real problem.”

Perhaps the volcano goddess of fire, Pele, is sending us messages to remind us what real problems look like.

And when we read that next “news” story that angers and ultimately divides us, perhaps we can think again.

Thank you Pele.

 

 

Cultural Appropriation, Tribalism, and Unity

I really like to find out how, when and where social issues and trends come into being. So, I ask, how, when and where did the idea of “cultural appropriation” spring forth into the social narrative in just the last few years? Were cultures just way cooler in regards to sharing their stuff way back when in 2011?  Or did subjected cultures just keep their resentment to themselves when different cultural trends were adopted? I suspect a gringo or two wore a sombrero to a Halloween party pre 2012.

According to Google Trends, “cultural appropriation” was nearly unheard of until 2012, as the internet was modernizing and Twitter was becoming more popular.

I am fascinated by the invention of the various social issues du jour. Be it the “White Flight” of the 70’s or the more contemporary uproar over Standing Rock, many of these issues seem to disappear as fast as they enter. Or, at the very least, the dissipation of outrage wanes rather quickly.

So a new politically correct law enforcement unit has been formed, as if the word police enforcers were not enough.

So what is this cultural appropriation trend?

Appropriation is, essentially, taking something from someone for your own personal use. I could appropriate your bank account, take $1000 and use it for my own pleasure. Cultural appropriation is taking something from another culture and doing with it whatever we please.

Before diving into my feelings on the subject, I believe expressing what drives my general fundamental values on this subject is in order. I realize my perspective is coming from a very individualistic, low power distance and low context perspective and I certainly recognize my own biases in this regard.

But that’s ok. We are all products of our varying cultural dimension.

Some time ago, Rene’ and I were having dinner with some friends who happened to be Jewish. We recently attended their daughter’s bat mitzvah so discussing issues of a Judaic/ethnic/religious matter was on the table and “appropriate.” I asked our friends if they would be ok if their daughter eventually married outside the Jewish community.

“No,” he said firmly, “that would definitely not be ok.”

Kind of made me want to crawl under a big, fat, gentile rock.

I mean I get it and understand it. I really do. I once thought that way as well in terms of being, “unequally yoked.”

However, we have no control over our unchecked initial guttural reactions to something and, in this case, it was a feeling of sadness. What if their daughter fell deeply in love with a gentile? What would happen to their relationship? Is that fair to put that kind of pressure on one’s child? I believe love should be between two people who share mutual feelings for each other regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, politics, etc. and it is only their business and that of no one else…even parents (that’s the individualism in me, I know).

However, what struck me at the deepest level was a more general and overriding value –my disdain for unnecessary societal divisions and further segmentation.

I understand that basic tribalism is a fundamental feature of the human race. We like and need “tribes.” Whether that tribe is a religious community, a family, ethnicity, hell -even as my students would say, a “rave squad”- we like to segment into our preferred groupings. In the above case it would be the tribe of Judah.

As much as I see the necessity of this grouping process for basic human survival, it rubs against my personal grain of social unity and coming together when it is practiced to, what I believe to be, the extreme.

Simply, I like to see society and cultures come together and not further divide based on, well, whatever you want to base it on –race, religion, sexual orientation, customs, traditions, class, etc.

So when I read and hear of people getting upset that another culture is hijacking one of their cultural customs, be it food or fashion, the same unity trigger goes off in my head. Cannot we all be nice and share in the goodness of each other’s culture? Last time I checked there are no cultural trademarks or proprietary laws. I do believe the exception would be in cases where a culture holds something to be sacred and it is appropriated in such a way that does not afford that something the respect it deserves. I totally get that part.

Anna Chen writes, “When cultures meet and mingle, they inform and enrich each other. I can wear tartan, wear pyjamas, knock up a curry, curl my hair, cry along to the blues and dance to funk. I know the difference between a schmuck and a schlemiel. I’ve sat shiva for a friend’s father. I love gefilte fish. Does this make me a cultural appropriator?”

Good question. It’s 2018, who knows?

It is ironic that something with such good intentions as a desire for cultural unity can be perceived as something disrespectful or insensitive.

I love hip hop and rap. Yikes.

When in Croatia I purchased the Croatian national futbol team jersey. Whoops.

Hell, I even own a pair of bright orange FUBU shorts. Why? I ask myself the same question.

I really solicit feedback on this issue. Please help me see what I am missing. Again, I understand those things a culture holds sacred and dear should be afforded a high level of respect. I would hope a Muslim would not use the Bible as toilet paper in the same way I would never use the Koran as such. Conversely, I want to respect a book or custom a culture holds dear whether I subscribe to it or not.

Please. I want to share my Hungarian Kapoosta with you all. I want you to enjoy my Hungarian national treasures: Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor. Goodness, I’ll even throw in Olympic Volleyball player Karch Kiraly.

This whole issue kind of makes me wonder what we will be outraged by 5 years from now. I am sure we will think of something.

Humans seem to never fail or disappoint in this regard.

Age Matters

As people age, I hear many recite the old adage, “Age is just a number.”

Is age just a number? Are you sure?

Our society is FILLED with age restrictions and functions that are centered on age. From the time we start kindergarten at 5, go to certain movies at age 13 (PG 13) or 17 (NC 17), obtain our driver’s license at 16, vote at 18, drink at 21, run for president at 35, retire at 65, and the list could go on and on, I would argue that culture does not treat age as just a number, rather a critically important demarcation of what we should be doing, or have permission to do, in life at any given time.

It is with this understanding that I approach the issue of the youth generated movement, “National School Walkout,” which was inspired by the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, as a protest of contemporary gun laws in the United States. Many high school students took to both the streets and microphones to communicate their support of more gun control laws in the country.

I must confess to being in tension.

On the one hand, it is so awesome to see student engagement and learning from an early age that a democracy has to have active voices and engagement to work optimally –this aspect of the movement is exciting and shows promise. However, on the other hand, since we are an “age-centric” culture, at what age is one mature, educated, and experienced enough to have earned a voice in the public square? There are reasons we have age restrictions and permissions on nearly everything, whether you agree with the precise age or not.

So when I hear gun guy and rocker Ted Nugent say the Florida students calling for gun control have “no soul” and are “mushy brained children,” I am not altogether dismissive of it in the sense, well, they are, by definition, children. And I have never known Mr. Nugent to be a fan of anything remotely politically correct.

Nugent, a longtime member of the NRA’s board of directors, said survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are wrong to blame the NRA and its members for mass shootings.

“These poor children, I’m afraid to say, it hurts me to say, but the evidence is irrefutable: They have no soul,” Nugent said. He added that the gun control measures the students support amount to “spiritual suicide” and “will cause more death and mayhem.”

It is not surprising the Parkland, Florida students demanded an apology from Nugent.

Good luck with that kiddos. You have a better chance of catching cat scratch fever (google it).

Now, please make no mistake: This blog is NOT about gun control or protest or school shootings or even the crazy motor city madman Ted Nugent. I have no opinions on any of these things at present. What I do find intriguing and opinion worthy is the issue of age appropriateness and its role in society.

I have taken notice that on social media that many are very critical of those, like crazy Ted, who are, in turn, critical of these kids. This criticism is often accompanied by a very positive evaluation of these teens speaking out for an important cause.

One of my social media friends and former student, Adam, now having earned his Phd from Michigan State and in whom I have a great deal of respect, wrote: “If you are one of these adults mocking children who are simply speaking their truth and experience you should be ashamed of yourselves. You may not agree with their opinions but you have not walked in their shoes and they deserve to have their voices heard. They don’t deserve petty attacks from adults. These are victims of a horrific crime not your enemies.”

I totally get that…and I do not believe any public discourse should include as part of its strategy, mocking. Yet the key word in this post is “children.” So I agree with Adam’s general sentiment, yet when children take it upon themselves to enter the very adult arena of the NRA, you are now playing in the adult big leagues –and it likely will not be pretty.

As I age, and I just turned 55 last month, I am confounded by the social admonition to “act your age.” What does that mean exactly? If one wants to posit that older folk such as myself should not engage in certain behaviors or activities because it would be inappropriate for a 55 year-old, should not the reverse be true as well? I mean, there is a reason we want our president to be at least 35 years old.

Neuroscientists now tell us our brains prefrontal cortex is not fully functioning until around the age of 25, and I prefer we enact social policy that reflects science. So is it too much to ask that our doctors, lawyers, educators, law enforcement and others, have, at the very least, a fully developed brain?

So, ironically and perhaps paradoxically, I want to develop the voice and passion of our young people while teaching the power of civic engagement, YET, I would prefer our children not have a say in creating social policy.

There will be a day when the children graduate from the kids table and earn a spot at the adult one.

Until then, let’s teach our children well.

Age is not just a number. Age matters.

 

 

RIP Michelle. On And On The Village Goes.

“On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on
On and on”

Life is in constant forward motion that has no room, nor patience, for stragglers. We keep moving. And sometimes I just want to stop and turn back. Singer John Mayer reflected this sentiment when he wrote, “Stop this train. I want to get off and go home again. I can’t take the speed it’s moving in.”

I wish.

I just spent nearly my entire Sunday at a memorial service in honor of my daughter Rosie’s best friend growing up, Michelle, or, as she refers to her, Michu.

She passed away of breast cancer on March 29 at the age of 27.

Wow. Life is just not supposed to happen that way. I guess.

Yet “on and on” we go.

So when I looked across our table at another friend of Rosie’s growing up, Kelsey, I was reminded of life’s seemingly careless twists and ferocious unpredictability.

Kelsey was a beautiful and gregarious child. When she was in the seventh grade, she caught a virus that was diagnosed to be healed in just a few short weeks. In the meantime, this nasty virus caused the bottom half of her body to go paralyzed and she became wheelchair bound.

The virus never healed and now, 15 years later, this beautiful young woman experiences life from a chair.

“On and on. Toss up my heart to see where it lands.”

I watched Michelle’s dad, Dan, shriek guttural screams and primal cries as the slow drip of the reality of death became ever more present with each passing story, photograph and memory. I connected with his fatherly energy, feeling and empathizing with this deepest of internal agony. I. Cannot. Possibly. Imagine.

I think a brutal ripping out of our guts would not be nearly as painful as burying a child.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

My daughter posted on Facebook, “[The Rabbi said], ’Don’t try and search for meaning in any of this, there isn’t any.’ I think those were some of the most comforting words I’ve heard the last few days. This is all so unfair and unjust, and I know it’s only going to get harder, but I will continue to celebrate you every day.”

Rosie, who has now lost a grandma and best friend within a six month period, is forced to reckon and deal with seemingly endless pain. Forced to learn at age 28 how do deal with the sting of loss, whether she wants to or not. Life can be that way. Learn or go home.

“On and on
She just keeps on trying
And she smiles when she feels like crying”

I watched all the moms and dads, our faces having aged and wrinkled since when we were youthful, hopeful and eager parents of elementary schoolers; hopeful for the exciting promise of what the future may hold for our precious little ones, now our faces bearing the toll of the years and the knowledge of what that future really held.

Our collective countenance suggested a sharing in the pain of Dan and his wife Ellen. In a sense we all lost a child that day. Our village was in mourning. Our faces etched with another wrinkle of experience, wrinkles lined with unwanted loss and grief.

“So he takes a ladder, steals the stars from the sky, puts on Sinatra and starts to cry”

I heard the outspoken basketball analyst Charles Barkley once say that when it comes to doing battle with Father Time, we humans will always be on the losing end as that is a battle that can never be won.

Yet “on and on” it is, in an inevitable forced march with no turning back. No stopping allowed. Not for a second. Do not pass go. This train stops for no one or no thing.

So what do we have? I do know we have each other. We have this moment and we have a life full of memories.

I do know that I will continue to live the hell out of life.

Yes. That I do know. I may not beat Father Time though he is gonna be so sick of me by the time it is all said and done he may wish he had lost.

So my precious village, I love you…this I know. Goodbye Michelle.

“And I smile when I feel like dying.”

Hey Boomers and Gen Xers…STFU

As a fifty-something mid-lifer and a very late Baby Boomer and very early Generation Xer, I frequently find myself in the company of those within ten or so years of my age. It amazes me how many in this age bracket believe I am predominantly like-minded and share many of the same philosophies and ideas they do. They feel free to share their thoughts as if our matching ages will somehow automatically synchronize our opinions.

Wrong.

Perhaps the most prominent area of my opinion departure from many of my contemporaries concerns the judgment of the younger generation, namely the “dreaded” Millennials.

There are so many negative judgments freely and casually dispersed upon the Millennials I cannot keep track. According to many of us old farts, the Millennials are -entitled, lazy, selfish, assholes, narcissistic, rude, obtuse, fill-in-the-blank, etc… so much so it is to the extent they are oblivious to the necessary cultural skill set to be effective in contemporary society.

Please. To borrow texting shorthand from my beloved Millennials, STFU old people.

Many of my contemporaries fail to realize it is THEY who have changed, not the 20-something generation.

Standpoint theory suggests that we are constantly viewing life from where we stand and that stance is in constant flux as we age, travel, learn, and well, just live and love. It would seem from listening to the old farts that the first thing to go as we age is memory.

Hey boomers and gen Xers, remember what it was like to be 20? Remember having no direction or idea where you were headed? Remember thinking the world revolved around you? Remember all the dumbass stuff you did that you would love to take back? Remember what it was like to occasionally feel alone and isolated? Remember what it was like to search for identity?

If you want to look at our Millennials and have any critique whatsoever, that critique must be about US and the world WE created for this young generation. Perhaps they are entitled because we handed out participation trophies and heaped praise where none was earned. In our quest to build self-esteem in our children we built false delusions of hope where there was none.

So, old farts, every time you open your mouth and criticize the kids today, you are criticizing yourself. We are the ones that raised this generation so, I suppose you can say, we, as a village, were bad parents.

Yet, alas, I do not believe the Millennials are entitled, lazy, selfish, assholes, narcissistic, rude, obtuse, fill-in-the-blank, etc… at least not any more than we were at that age.

I love Millennials. I love nearly everything about them. Sure they look at their phones a lot, though frankly, not much more on any given day than I, and probably you, do. A good friend of mine, Paul, a high school teacher in Reno, recently stated they had a faculty meeting specifically to address the concern of students and their cellphone use in class. He told me the meeting was a miserable failure as most of the faculty was continually staring down at their phone and not paying attention.

Hypocrites.

I love to bask in the energy of youth and entertain their curiousness and lust for life. I love speaking with my students who may share a “brand new” revelatory idea with zeal and enthusiasm, yet I do not have the heart to tell them this idea was around when I was in school. And why should I tell them? I want them to discover life on their terms, not to mention how many times I have fallen victim to the same thing….remember temporalcentrism?

But wait Millennials, you don’t get off so easy. This next paragraph is for you.

tbh u all can be just as guilty af of old fart disease, or in your case aka yung fart disease, smh. some of u like to complain about todays children being rude or sittin on their tablets during family dinnr. well, tablets r nuthin new as we had em in the 70s. we also would stare at r private screens at the kitchen table during dinnr. they were called etch-a-sketches. so dont be a old fart at a yung age, rofl

(Please notice I never defended the texting-caused bastardization of the English language of Millennials…but I digress).

Imagine if it was socially acceptable to marginalize entire groups of people based solely on a demographic. Oh, wait, we have. Over the years the powerful have marginalized blacks, Jews, gays, and the list goes on -we call them racists, homophobes and anti-semites. Why is it now ok to marginalize one group based entirely on age? In a weird way, it somewhat like reverse age-ism.

So, please, old farts, just in the same way my white friends will not secretly whisper to me the problem with “the blacks” simply because we share our whiteness, please do not bore me and reveal your ignorance with your stereotyped opinions of the youth today….just cause I am around your age.  This criticism says far more about you and your ignorance than the youth and their “entitlements.”

Ily Millennials. And I suppose it would be good advice for ALL OF US, to take a break from our phones every now and then.

And STFU old farts. And be the AITR.

Domestic Abuse And Violence: You Just Never Know

There are a handful of principles by which I try very hard to live my life. A couple of these principles include always stopping for a child’s lemonade stand -no matter how busy- and not being allowed to ever get angry while driving. I have found these principles to serve me well and to always provide me a better perspective on life.

Another principle I try to live by is that you just never know what one is going through…so to always offer those around you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the person who just cut you off on the freeway was just diagnosed with cancer and is having a difficult time concentrating or the rude grocery store employee just found out their child has a severe learning disability.

You just never know.

When it comes to my students I try each and every class to extend the same attitude while concurrently holding up the fairly rigorous standards I have set for the course. As a human being, sometimes I fail in this regard and other times I succeed. I suppose that makes another life principle -to forgive myself when failing- to come in rather handy.

Several years ago I was teaching a summer course and had a student, Ginger, in my class who was quite charming and very talented. If one did not know better, you would assume this charming student lived a charmed life…and you would be wrong. I have recently reconnected with Ginger through Facebook and she just revealed to me her story. It is so powerful I feel the strong need to share it (with her permission) and allow it to inspire all those who may endure similar abusive situations in order to know that there is hope.

I wanted you to know the impact you had on my life. So many times people are quick to complain but so many times people do not take those same moments to thank others that have had a positive impact. I want you to know why you had such a great impact and so if you will permit me I would like to share a bit of my story.

I was married to a man for 16 years that had me convinced I was nothing and could be nothing and eventually I believed him and was emotionally broken. After my divorce, still broken, I was in a relationship with a man that physically broke me and went to prison charged with three felonies for what he did to me. I made an agreement to testify and in exchange the kids and I were relocated by the police and moved into our apartment with one bed for all three of us and a small suitcase of clothes. That was all. I was working 5 jobs and existing and surviving but not happy and not thriving.

I knew I wanted a better life and I thought going back to school was the answer but it had been 20 years since I was in school and I was scared and intimidated and didn’t think I could do it. (Mostly in part to the negative voices in my head that were still ever present).

But I took the leap and decided to enroll in a speech class. It was the last class I needed to transfer to CSUSB.

After trying unsuccessfully for a year to register for the class due to my enrollment status I took a chance and showed up to your class hoping against hope I could add the class. The first miracle happened when you drew my name and I was actually enrolled in the first step of my dream. The second came the day the class voted my speech as one of the best. I literally cried. You see that was validation from my peers. Not just the ones younger than me or my age group or older but over all they all thought I had done well. I was blown away and the seed of confidence and realization I could do this was planted.

The day I received the second trophy I was on top of the world. The seed had taken root and started to grow and I knew at that moment I could do anything.

I knew at that moment I was no longer a victim but I was a survivor.

Changing one word in your personal narrative may seem small and insignificant but to me it was life changing. You see victims are stuck and live a life of fear and dependency on others good will and support. Survivors on the other hand are strong and independent and create their own narrative however they see fit. And so that is what I did. I went full time to Cal State and full time to Crafton and Valley simultaneously taking 28 units. I also worked part time and still graduated magna cum laude. People would tell me what I did was impossible and I would tell them impossible is not a barrier but a challenge to achieve and surpass.

Since then I have not had the easiest of paths but I do not let anything deter me from my dreams or my goals. When an obstacle is placed in my way I just find other paths to get there. My motto in life now is to always be moving forward; to try new things, to constantly challenge myself. If it scares me than I know I need to do it.

So when you ask how I am doing I can honestly say I am doing Fantastic. And I can honestly say this life I now lead and this narrative I now live by is very much credited to you and your amazing ability to help others to believe we can do anything.

Well my kids are now 21 and 19. Idk how that happened cause I’m not old enough to have adult children. lol I graduated CSUSB and took a job as the Project Manager for Pulse Marketing who was named best Advertising Agency in the Inland Empire (totally true). When I was at CSUSB I was very, very poor and thought I might have to drop out or go part-time to pay for school. So I applied for scholarships. I received three and that was enough to keep me in school. One of them was the Jack Brown Scholarship (CEO of Stater Brothers) while I was working for Coyote advertising (a student run advertising agency on campus) and the radio director told me she needed a student to interview Jack Brown for Coyote radio. I asked if I could and she said of course. He was so ill we had to do the interview over the phone but during a recording break I was able to thank him and tell him how his scholarship helped to change my life. He was so happy to hear it and said the reason he gave so much to the college and the community was because his mother was a single mom and he loved to help single moms make their lives better. He said people that become wealthy usually leave the Inland Empire but not him. He believed in this community and felt we were all just as smart and all just as able as any Ivy League college but just needed people to believe in them. He was that man. A few weeks later he passed away and I was the last person to interview him.

I also took on the Disability sports festival and am now the marketing director and co-chair for the event. Currently I am in the process of creating VR that is adaptive. If we can do this we will be one of the first campuses to have created adaptive and assistive VR. I’m also on the board for Rolling start, American Advertising Federation.

I have taken up Cello this year and taking a graphic design class to improve my skills. Last Friday I won a gold, and a silver for the websites I created with Pulse and two bronze awards for my Disability sports festival and a solicitation piece. Felt pretty good to be recognized among the top agencies in the business. Made me feel like I’m legit. Lol. Here is the link to my video. It received over 15k views https://youtu.be/1LH8bsbS3qQ

Well I think I wrote a book lol. How are things with you? What inspired you to write your new textbook?

What inspired me? Are you serious? Ginger, you and any other students I have helped or can help in the future, consistently inspire me.

Blown. Away.

Thank you.

You just never know.

Merican AF: The Five Reminders I Received Driving Behind A Chevy Truck

While driving down the street in my quaint little suburban neighborhood, I noticed a raised 4×4 Chevy truck in front of me displaying a license plate that read, “Merican AF.”

For those of you who may not be in on the lingo, it was shorthand for, “American As Fuck.”

Ahhhh, good ole Chevy and apple pies.

As one who is intrigued with language, I cannot help but deconstruct not only the intent of this license plate moniker, but also the more general implications it reflects in an increasingly divided political landscape.

I understand the “Merican” title over the traditional “American” as originating from George W. Bush and his quirky Texan, “rednecky” pronunciation of the word. It has since come to reflect a very deep, patriotic, non-nonsense association with middle America and its love of Budweiser, bullets, and border walls. Just as AF is replacing the adverb “very,” the Merica replacement is the dropping of the A in America; and, voila, we now have America on steroids. Let’s face it, to state that you are “Very American,” just doesn’t pack the patriotic punch that, “Merican AF,” lands.

So much for my deconstruction. So what are the implications in the larger sense and why did this license plate create such a negative reaction within me?

My first reaction was to stereotype the shit out of this person- of which I caught myself and now try to practice a more critical and reasonable reaction.

Why did I react this way? What was the trigger? I am confused AF.

Since when does expressing love and commitment to country must mean you are a psycho right wing nut with a very limited education…albeit when communicated in a vernacular that would arguably warrant just a wee bit of patriotic overindulgence?

Is it not ok to “love” your country and not be thrown in with dangerous nationalists?

Or to be “progressive” demands that we “hate” America? Since when? Why?

(BTW…I really despise the word “love” to describe a relationship with anything other than a person. So I do not “love” this country, nor my house, cell phone, my precious Nilla wafers or even the computer I am writing on at this moment. Nothing personal, though I believe “love” should be between people, not things or ideas).

The following are the five reminders and lessons that Chevy truck caused within me that day.

  1. It reminded me that to hold an impartial or moderate view in terms of “loving” country is becoming increasingly rare. There is an ever growing divide between those who might think America is a corrupt, unfair, capitalist piece of greedy shit country, say the Occupy Wall Street crowd, versus those who think it can do no wrong and is the greatest country on God’s green earth. You know, the Merica AF crowd. Is there room in the middle? Cannot I believe something more nuanced along the lines that America has some absolutely wonderful virtues as well as some insidious history and practices? Do I have to fully buy into one or the other?
  2. It reminded me that human beings are just creatures searching for meaning…some kind of meaning. Many find this meaning through religion, relationships, volunteer work, and, yes, some find meaning in national identity. I am not one to find meaning in national identity and do believe it can have some damaging effects (check this out) yet is it not better for some to find meaning in national identity over something much more dangerous and sinister…like gangs or drugs for example?
  3. It was a stark reminder of the growing gap between liberals and conservatives. In my nearly 55 years of life, it would seem the conservative side is not moving all that much further right as the liberal leaners are moving at light speed toward the further left. I do remember a day when “normal” citizens (both left and right) could display an American flag and not be considered the radical right. That said, I still believe the Pledge of Allegiance is just weird…but that is a different topic for a different day.
  4. It served to remind me that I do live smack in the middle of a very blue, left coast, Southern California bubble. Perhaps nothing reminded me of this more than the last election from which I am still in shock. It reminded me that all of us live in a self-created bubble in which the contents are conveniently aligned with our preferred worldview. My guess is the Merican AF dude has so bought into the American Patriotic ethos that even if–by any political standards–the United States does something horrendous, his filters and bubble would prevent him from acknowledging it at any critical level. Every single one of us lives in a bubble. Some just prefer not to admit it.
  5. It reminded me that one could be patriotic for either all the right or wrong reasons. Patriotism run amok can turn very quickly into ugly nationalism in which we believe all those who are not American are somehow inferior or in some sense not worthy human beings. It can have us believing that some countries are “shitholes” and America is the gold standard. On the other hand, a certain amount of positive adherence and loyalty to a country is really necessary for it to survive. If we all hated this country there would be no one or reason to defend it…and, for some, they might consider that a good thing –I do not.

I really like to think I have no dog in the political fight. I would rather affirm or negate individual ideas over general political ideologies. Which might explain why some very close to me believe I am a raging right winger while still others believe my left liberalism is off the charts.

And I think this schism is good thing as it reflects a non-partisan take on ideology.

It is amazing the thoughts that can be conjured up simply by driving behind a Chevy.

That damn license plate has me reflective…AF.

 

Communication And Death: What To Say, What Not To Say And How To Say It

Death. Such an uncomfortable subject. I have previously made the observation that if the issue of pornography is the leader in the, “There is nothing else we engage in more that we talk about less,” category; in that same vein I would observe that the issue of death is the absolute leader in the, “There is nothing else that every single one of us without exception is  going to do that we prefer to deny and not talk about,” category.

Most of my life I have been most definitely part of this denial crowd.

I have always had a very remote relationship with death as I’ve never lost anyone terribly close to me. When my mother passed away last October, I experienced first-hand just how deeply uncomfortable and awkward most people are with the subject. When friends, colleagues and acquaintances would come in contact with me -or deliberately not come in contact with me- after her passing, I noticed an array of reactions in how to approach this morbid subject.

As a speech geek in both life and death, it was interesting to examine words and communication patterns in the context of bereavement. And less you think my observations are the invent of some rogue Comms guy and his personal opinions, not really. There is a lot of existing literature on the subject.

I noticed the reactions basically fit into three categories.

  1. The “Just Say Nothing About It Ever” group.
  2. The “Say Way Too Much” group.
  3. The appropriate, “Just Say Enough” group.

I realize everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating condolences to a grieving person.  That said, I do believe in some overarching principles that will certainly assist me in dealing with the subject for the grieving others who cross my path in the future. I thank you for allowing me to share these with you as I hope you may find them useful at some point as well.

The first group is just weird, but I totally get it. When you know someone has lost a loved one and choose NEVER to broach the subject demonstrates deep communication incompetence. The several friends and colleagues I have who, to this day, have never uttered a word about it is, well, highly inappropriate…but, again, I get it. I believe it speaks far more about the person’s level of discomfort and awkwardness than it does any lack of sympathy, empathy or concern. Perhaps it is not surprising that all of these people, in my experience, were male. Yet let’s not bag on the men and champion the women just yet, as, in fact, women were almost exclusively at fault in the second category, the “Say Way Too Much” crowd.

This second group felt the need to go beyond the necessary, “Sorry for your loss,” and offer some form of philosophy, certainly with good and loving intentions, to counsel you as you grieve. Some of these philosophies included:

  • Everything happens for a reason.” I wrote an entire blog about this one!
  • She is in a better place.” Unless all parties share identical eschatological positions, like above, this can be highly offensive.
  • It is now time to really embrace life and love ones.” I could not have figured that one out on my own?
  • I know how you are feeling.” Such hubris. None of us can ever get inside someone’s else’s head to know feelings. Presumptuous.
  • At least the death was quick.” Let the bereaved person discover any potential silver-linings for them self.

The point? One’s grieving is not about you or your philosophies -keep those little gems to yourself. It is all about them…don’t let yourself get in the way of a good condolencing (my word….you’re welcome).

The final category of “Just Say Enough,” certainly constituted the great majority of people. The key: Nothing fancy, flowery or eloquent is necessary. Perhaps saying, “I am sorry for your loss,” is trite, it is trite for a reason. It works. If one were to follow up the sentence with anything else at all, it should focus solely on the other person, as in, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” If there is going to be an extended conversation it needs to be motivated and instigated by the grieving person, not you. Pending my relationship with the individual, the time, place and even, to a large degree, my mood, I may or may not have conversed further.

As I conclude this short blog concerning appropriate ways to converse with grieving persons, I am reminded about a conversation I had with one of our Crafton math professors, Sherri Wilson, shortly after my mom’s passing.

Sherri and I have shared the same office hallway for the better part of my 12 years at Crafton. We are cordial and friendly with each other though not at all close -I mean she does teach math after all, yeech. The first time Sherri saw me after my mother’s death she came, knocked on my door and, quite appropriately and confidently, shared her condolences. What struck me about the conversation with Sherri was two-fold: First her personal self-confidence and security to boldly share her condolences was, as I have come to find out, rare and unusual; and, second, the look of genuine concern in her eye. This look could not be fake or construed…it was the real deal.

Sherri did not say anything magical or fancy, just the basics. Yet after I had my very brief conversation with her, I felt a little better. Why? Another human being, whom I do not know all that well, cared. I expect my family and closed loved ones to care, yet to feel this loving kindness from one outside of my “tribe” was so encouraging.

Death is undoubtedly awkward. Yet since we live in a world in which EVERYONE dies, perhaps it is high time we learn how to become effectively conversant within this context.

Thanks Sherri.

Scared Of Groupthink? #Metoo. I Need A Day Of Absence

Not a lot truly scares me. By nature I am not an alarmist nor a dystopian critic of modern culture. I love change, in particular technological innovation.

However, there is an oft occurring social phenomenon that scares the living hell out of me. A phenomenon that transcends any particular political, religious, socio-economic, gender, or ideological lines.

It is called Groupthink.

Groupthink is defined a number of different ways, each with particular nuances. Psychology Today defines it as occurring when, “a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.

ANY group is susceptible to Groupthink no matter how worthy the cause or how much integrity a group and its objectives possess. Of course depending on the cause, size and nature of the group, Groupthink can cause varying amounts of social damage and leave innocent people permanently scarred or worse.

In certain rare contexts, Groupthink is a necessary component to achieving successful outcomes. The military, for example, is an authoritarian dictatorship, of sorts, in which free and independent thought would do nothing to move forward its militaristic objectives. However, outside of organizations that need unquestioning loyalty and adherence to function effectively, Groupthink is rarely a positive aspect of any social movement.

Yes, I could play the Hitler and his Third Reich card to exemplify the worst of all Groupthinks in history, albeit acknowledging so much of Groupthink does not have such disastrous and widespread results. Whenever I experience any group or movement that frowns upon those who might question the merits -or even minor aspects of the movement- to the extent that those who do so are considered part of the problem, my Groupthink antenna goes off the charts.

Enter #metoo. I could go on and on about the wonderful merits of this movement. Any movement that is going to right a centuries long wrong of sexual harassment and wrong doing while contributing to end the institutional oppressive power of the powerful, is a movement I support. However, I would encourage any supporter of any movement not to lose sight of the potential pitfalls and cautions that must accompany such a movement without fear of repercussions or accusations of being part of the problem.

I have been warned not to speak out against the movement period -after all, I am admittedly a white, “privileged” male.

And, believe it or not, I completely understand this objection. There is a time to speak up and a time to shut up and listen. There is a time to act and a time to be passive and wait. I understand that any group needs their day in court, as it were. However, if we encourage the voice of caution and negation to be repressed, we are creating a firestorm of potentially far greater unintended social injustice consequences.

If we encourage any movement that discourages the staunchly undemocratic notion of “guilty until proven innocent,” and if we jump to believe accusers regardless of any potential contrary evidence, our culture is in a world of hurt as ANY person is potentially the victim of a media-induced witch hunt that has never, and will never, serve humanity well.

I am not interested in HER truth or HIS truth -I am interested in THE truth.

Be it the actual witch hunts in the 1600’s, the aforementioned Third Reich, the horrific Communist hunt called McCarthyism, ie. the Red Scare in the 1950’s, drinking the cool-aid in the Jonestown jungle of Guyana, the MacMartin Preschool fiasco (google it) or a Duke LaCrosse team accused of gang rape in the early 2000’s, it absolutely AMAZES me that normally rational and reasonable human beings can turn on a dime and be part of a mob whose core doctrine is guilty until proven innocent. And, in some cases, when proven innocent, still remain guilty in the eyes of the Groupthink faithful.

We must not only WANT dissenting voices contributing to any movement, we must realize they are absolutely ESSENTIAL in creating an environment that is interested in what is right, moral and rational.

And so I conclude with another unfortunate Groupthink fiasco that has resulted in a misguided vilification of a professor at the “progressive” Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. However, whether you believe the accusations against the professor as misguided or not, based on the horrific Groupthink behavior of the mob of students at Evergreen, we shall never know with certainty since Groupthink discourages a rational dialectical approach to truth.

Nutshell: Biology Professor Brett Weinstein refused to join a movement that required and/or strongly encouraged all the white faculty professors leave the college for a day in support of the traditional school observance of a “Day of Absence,” in which traditionally minority black students optionally left the campus. A new school president switched the skin color of those who left the college to observe this day -whose goal is keeping the issue of institutional racism in the campus cultural narrative alive and well.

Professor Weinstein apparently had no problem with any group that engaged in a voluntary activity, one in which folks would remove themselves from the campus in the name of social justice; however he did have a problem with forcing someone to remove themselves from campus based soley on race, thus he stayed and refused to leave.

As a man of Jewish descent, one cannot blame him for being reminded of the atrocious precedent of selecting a group for a deportation, of sorts, based on race.

Agree with him? Disagree with him? Either way, that is not the point.

Just Youtube, “Weinstein Evergreen College Students” (or better yet hit this link) or something of the like, and you will find Groupthink in full engagement. You will find Professor Wienstein pleading with the mobbing students to engage in a rationale and reasonable dialectic to address the core issues for discussion. The response of the Groupthinking students was to shout down the professor with a series of profanities and insults, screaming at him while refusing the professor’s invitation of healthy dialogue.

Really? This is higher education? This is critical thinking? Since when does refusing to listen to an opposing argument constitute education? It is the antithesis. In fact, it is the epitome of ignorance.

Professor Weinstein was eventually forced to resign his position.

History teaches us that the human being has a hard-wiring to embrace a Groupthinking mob mentality with little to no prompting when the confluence of the correct contextual factors come into play. Perhaps it gives us a renewed sense of personal meaning or fulfills our basic human desire to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves…in a very quick and convenient way.

It may even appeal to our baser and darker instincts to delight in watching the pain and suffering of others (google “Stanley Milgram” kids).

No matter the reason, I do believe Groupthink could eventually be the root cause of the end of humanity as we know it; not today, tomorrow or even this century, yet, in any case, when we fail to question and go against the prevailing notions of what appears to be right and just, we all eventually end up the victims.

Not a lot truly scares me. Groupthink does. As it should all of us.

Christmas 2017: Not Much Has Changed

The following is a blog entry I wrote in December of 2014. Each December I like to revisit and repost this Christmas blog that explains my thoughts on the holiday.

How have my thoughts and opinions changed since this writing? Not much. I still pretty much agree with everything I wrote in 2014, when then a young and spry 51 year-old. I suppose the only difference is that today I am far more apathetic toward the whole holiday. Today I would not waste the time writing the blog as there are a host of other issues that concern me (up next: #metoo). All the Christmas bullshit used to really bother me…not so much anymore. I choose not to give the holiday any salience in my life.

Enjoy and…MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Now that Christmas is over I feel free to write the blog I have felt compelled to write the entire month of December –though did not do so because I did not want to rain on anyone’s Christmas parade and harp on the negative– and then subsequently be called what I have been labeled for many years, “Scrooge,” followed with an insulting, “bah humbug.”

Our family does not celebrate Christmas–nor Chanukah, Kwanza nor any other kind of December holiday. No lights, no tree, no manger scene, no Santa, no presents, and, above all, no stress –and I love it. So what is the point in writing this blog? I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could. Yet, since I get the question all the time by perplexed and surprised people as to why we do not acknowledge this holiday, I will now put my sentiments in written form and when asked the question in the future, I can simply point to my blog.

In my last entry, I explained how we are like seeds in the fields of culture and it becomes very difficult to objectively be critical of that which is literally a part of us. For many, there is no cultural practice more ingrained into our personal and collective psyche than Christmas –to question it is ludicrous and so iconoclastic as to be completely off the critical thinking table. Christmas is the untouchable sacred cow of the masses, I realize this. So, that said, I encourage you to hear my 5 reasons for not celebrating Christmas with an open mind. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, rather, at the very least, promote understanding that there are legitimate and beneficial reasons for not observing the holiday –and perhaps take it easy on those of us who choose the Christmas avoidance route and understand we are not awful people, ie. Scrooge.

1. Christmas is great for the economy though very dangerous for the soul.

I believe we all would agree that for the great majority Christmas is about gift giving. At its face, gift giving is a wonderful and edifying practice that nourishes the soul. Yet when we culturally mandate compulsory gift giving, it sucks the spirit and heart right out of the practice; frenzied, tit-for-tat gift exchanges zap any genuine life right out of the otherwise healthy custom.  Our shopping malls turn into crowded, soulless bastions of bargain shoppers robotically hunting for the best deals after they have fought tirelessly for a parking spot –only to typically purchase crap that no one really needs. But, hey, this comes from a guy who believes a part of his soul dies every time he waits in line at a Wal-Mart. I love meaningful and relevant gift giving, yet it means so much more when it comes at unexpected times, motivated by none other than love. I realize not every activity in life will feed the soul, though it is important to avoid activities that will drain it.

2. It goes against the goal of living an emotionally balanced and healthy life.

Things are never as good, or bad, as we think they are.  Perhaps I am only speaking from personal experience, though I have found that whenever we get too emotionally high we can expect a crash landing into the emotional lows of life shortly thereafter.  If we were to compare holidays to drugs, Christmas would be the crystal meth…on steroids. “The most wonderful time of the year” is frequently the emotional peak time of the year for many.  I do not blame Christmas and the holidays for depression (contrary to popular belief, depression and suicide rates are not higher during the holiday season; they are highest in Spring time) rather I am suggesting it certainly does not help those of us in the quest of living a life void of major high/low swings. Observing the Christmas holiday contributes to a ‘bipolaresque’ type of up-and-down existence as it embodies the manic stage -at least it did for me.

3. It sends the wrong message to children.

I believe we all know this and acknowledge it -we even make movies about this phenomenon, I am thinking “Jingle All They Way” among others. Like the insane person who never learns from her mistake, we continue to engage in creating spoiled, entitled and materialistic children, instructing them to write letters explaining everything they want to a fictional figure. Can I be blunt? That is just plain fucked up. Why are we messing with our children’s minds in such a way? Is this not a mild form of abuse? I realize culture is so ingrained in us that it is often difficult to be critical of it, yet if one can stand back and objectively observe this practice, just for a moment, it is just wrong; I, for one, do not want to perpetuate this practice. The practice of Christmas teaches children that, above all, we are soulless consumers first and foremost.  When will the consumerist madness stop? We buy things we do not need for the things we do not need. Christmas teaches children we should strive for what we want –not what we need. Christmas has become much more a venture capitalist holiday than a spiritual one.

4. The entire Christmas narrative of Santa, elves, the North Pole, etc…is a lie.

no-christmas-yetMost theological scholars would even agree that December 25 is not the birth date of Jesus. Please understand that I am all for cultural myth and ritual. Totally. Myth plays an important part in the process of understanding ourselves and the human condition…but call it for what it is, MYTH. Can anyone explain why we take a perfectly healthy tree, cut it down and bring it into our house?  I didn’t think so. What is the lesson from myth we can learn from this practice? In the case of Christmas, we blatantly lie about the whole thing. I told our children from the moment they could understand my words that Santa is a lie…that simple. People can go to jail for lying yet we encourage it toward our most vulnerable and gullible of society…and for what reason? I am all down for lies that might protect someone from hurt, yet we perpetually, albeit innocently and with good intentions, lie with the outcome of creating false expectations as we set children up for disappointment at some level.

5. It trivializes and demeans Christian-based religious faiths.

When I used to be a pastor many moons ago, I despised Christmas (which may explain, in part, why I was such a shitty pastor) much more than I do now –presently, I essentially just forget about it altogether.  I could never speak for, or on behalf of God, Jesus, Tom Cruise, Mohammed, or any other deity-like figure, yet, something inside me believes even Jesus himself would condemn the practice of Christmas –for all the ethical reasons I have mentioned.

I collect Jesus junk. Thus far I have Jesus duct tape, a Jesus action figure, Jesus T-shirts, socks, etc… I do this as a reminder how our culture has taken that which is to be sacred, revered and honored and morphed these entities into unholy and profane trivial commodities. Christmas, as we practice it today, trivializes the holiness and reverence of a religion’s most sacred event.  I used to find this disturbing yet today I find this more amusing -as these things act as a constant reminder of the culture I am dealing with on a daily basis.

So these are the five reasons why I choose not to celebrate Christmas. Agree with me or not, I have arrived at these conclusions through analysis and reasoned observation. In fact, I am quite certain many of you agree with me –at least in part on some things. Then, why is it when someone asks me about Christmas and I explain these things, I am then insulted for my calculated decision? Scrooge was not calculated, he was just an asshole. Contrary to some people’s opinion, I am not an asshole. I choose not to partake in the, what I respectfully believe to be, irrational, materialistic, unspiritual endeavor and I get questioned? Our culture has done a really good job of creating this illusion –to the point that the free thinking ones, not taken in by the smoke and mirrors of the holiday, get criticized for their sane and logical conclusions. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could, but please do not disparage those of us who do not see this holiday as you might see it.

I am very proud to proclaim we have raised four very strong, independent, passionate and free thinking children who all have a very different take on Christmas today. They not only survived an, essentially, Christmas-less upbringing, they have thrived. We all live life to the very fullest.

I guess I just rained on the Christmas parade. Not to worry. You have nearly an entire year to recover.