Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Uncle, The True American Hero

My uncle Jim died Sunday. He was in his 80s. He lived a good life.

He was an FBI agent into his 50s, the oldest agent in the country when he retired. He served in the Air Force and Army. He was stationed in Korea and Germany and several other places. He fought in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, some of the worst years of the war.

He was also a husband, father of three, an uncle, a granddad and a great granddad. He was the real life version of the stereotypical perfect American military family man from the movies. He was the True American Hero.

For my childhood years, my uncle Jim and his wife Charlotte (my Dad's older sister) and their family lived right outside of DC. He worked with the FBI at the time. We’d visit semi-frequently and see all the historic DC sites. Once we toured the FBI headquarters. I thought it was so cool to have a family member in the FBI. I remember watching Silence of the Lambs when Clarice is at Quantico and being so excited that I had been there.

I remember his chair at his house. It was in either a den or a furnished basement; there was a tv and sofa, I think there was a bar there, too. But what really stood out was my uncle's massaging recliner. I remember how amazed I was by that chair. It seemed futuristic at the time. I’d sit in it whenever he wasn’t there and giggle as my whole body vibrated. 

I remember watching old movies there with him and my family. There was one movie we watched about the Holocaust. It was very graphic, nude bodies walking to the gas chambers, etc. I felt like I was too young, but I also felt a sense of pride that they were allowing me to watch it, like they thought I was ready. I think my uncle and parents wanted me to start understanding the realities of the world.

My aunt and uncle moved to Florida in my early teen years. We spent one Christmas down there (I’ll still never get over palm trees and 75 degree weather during Christmas but it was a great time). One year he took me out on his boat into the intercoastal behind their house and let me steer. I remember the manatees that came up to his deck one year. I remember how he’d have the water in his pool at 90 degrees. I remember falling into the sea of catfish at a seafood restaurant (inside family joke).

I haven’t seen him in a couple years, and I never really saw him that often, but family (and I include true friends in that category) is family no matter the distance, which was long, or the differences in opinion, which were many. The love is there.

I know he never knew it, but he influenced my views in many ways. He suffered and eventually died from blood cancer caused by Agent Orange in the Vietnam war. He also essentially had PTSD before it was identified as PTSD, which led him to drink heavily for a while. He didn’t talk about the war much, he mentioned losing buddies over there a few times, but he did talk about Agent Orange. There were times when his platoon would be eating and US planes would drop the chemical on a target nearby, coating their food in a mist of the poisonous chemical. The government never admitted how toxic the chemical was and how much damage they were doing to their own soldiers, which rightfully pissed him and a whole lot of people off. His experience helped shape the way I feel about the military. I learned to love and support the soldiers, but never the war and never the military as a whole. It was apparent to me that the military just didn't care about its own. And the government certainly doesn't care about individual soldiers. We talk about honoring veterans in this country, but don't do nearly enough to actually support them. It's a cause I have become greatly invested in, and I attribute that directly to my uncle's experience. I remember the first time I went to the Vietnam memorial in DC. I figured he would come with us. He didn't, and it turns out, he never visited the wall. He couldn't handle seeing the names of his buddies. That stuck with me forever. I never looked at war the same. 

Of course, he also helped shape my understanding of what it meant to be a man. He was one of the three male role models in my family. My father and my two uncles helped me establish the definition of manhood. My uncle Jim did so through his service to the country, but moreso through his dedication to his family. And his wit. I remember I always thought he was funny as hell. People would be having a regular conversation and he’d say something kind of goofy. Sometimes my aunt would get flustered and "upset" with him but she obviously loved his irreverence just as much as I did. She put up with it for 61 years. (61 years!) I remember sometimes thinking that with his past, he would be more serious and intimidating. But he never came off as the uptight military guy. He'd always have a sly, knowing smile, crafted through eight decades of pain, joy, service, and love.

I hope he's enjoying warm weather and cold gin and tonics somewhere. He deserves it more than anyone. 

Rest in Peace, Uncle Jim.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

SNL: Still Not Laughing

Saturday Night Live hasn't been funny in decades...and that statement itself is decades old. Even when the long-running sketch show was funny, every episode had 45 minutes of excruciatingly unfunny material.

Now, according to the Emmy's, and most people on my social media feed, SNL has returned to glory. They have always done political humor, and last year's election from hell gave them an incredible ratings boost. Like everything else these days, the overwhelming focus 12 months later remains on Trump's shenanigans. Sad! Especially since Baldwin's impression is horrible. Beyond that, it's impossible to satirize Trump. His words and actions are more ridiculous than any satire can hope to be. Baldwin essentially repeats what he has actually said, always to roaring laughter, which only serves to normalize Trump. He becomes just another goofball politician that SNL lampoons, no worse than Gerald Ford or George HW Bush.

If SNL was just a comedy that wasn't funny, I wouldn't really care. There's hundreds of unfunny comedies. I'm not gonna rant about Big Bang Theory because it's awful; there's no point in that. It's horrible, but ultimately it's harmless. The thing that bothers me about SNL is that they see themselves as having some value beyond comedy. Their most passionate fans think that these stupid skits mean something. They are part of #TheResistance! If you think I'm being harsh, think back to the episode after Trump won, with Kate McKinnon in character as Hillary Clinton singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, the most serious sad song ever. This was beyond comedy. This was IMPORTANT! People were raving about how powerful it was. Fans shed tears!

Meanwhile, SNL literally had Trump on as a host; this was past normalizing, it was celebrating him. He danced to Drake! Haha he's just like us! A megalomaniac, billionaire, serial sexual harasser just like us!

Image result for real donald trump snl card

SNL even made Dave Chappelle unfunny. That's almost impossible. The entire episode with Chappelle was a catastrophe. He was out there during the monologue talking about give Trump a chance (a statement he now regrets, to his credit). That was literally 5 minutes after Hillary McKinnon sang her little heart out and fought back tears while telling us she's not giving up. Mixed messages much?

Image result for trump sewing flag snl

If you want to watch SNL because you think it's funny, that's fine. You're wrong and why would you do that to yourself but thats cool. But if you watch because you think it'll accomplish anything or that it MEANS something or that these people really give a fuck, don't kid yourself.

To be fair to SNL, they are not the only ones who normalized Trump. CNN and NBC as a whole deserve more of the blame. NBC saved Trump's entire career and brand by allowing him to portray a successful businessman. He was on prime time television "firing" people during one of America's worst economic recessions, at the same time he was claiming President Obama was not an American citizen. Then Jimmy Fallon tussled his hair like a good little boy.

Celebrities and the rich are not on your side. They will make endless videos and tweets about the unprecedented dangers that Trump and Co. represent, but  the reality is they are not affected by his horrible policies like the rest of us. It's just a game to so many of these people. Sean Spicer hadn't been out of the administration for more than 3 months, and the "outraged liberals" were fighting over the chance to give him a big wet kiss at the Emmy's.

Image result for james sean spicer kiss
Fuck both of these guys.

I'm surprised Spicy hasn't hosted SNL yet. This is the guy who berated reporters and blatantly lied about things from crowd size to policies to basic history. But it's all good because he can laugh at himself! Awesome.

It hurts to say this because I am a fan, but it was Stephen Colbert who brought Spicer out. Colbert also had Trump on and took it easy on him. Now he has his highest ratings ever because he shits on Trump constantly. The sad reality is, that's what it's all about for the vast majority of these #Resistance celebrities. The head of CNN even admitted that Trump may be bad for the country, but he's great for ratings.  Some in the entertainment business probably care about certain issues, but again, most of them are not really affected like the rest of us.

But man, people really believe Alec Baldwin is out there protecting the Republic by scrunching up his face and wearing orange make-up.

Image result for will satire take down trump magazine cover alec baldwin
Pretty sure I know the answer to this one, The Atlantic.

People have told me in all seriousness that Tina Fey helped Obama win by mocking Sarah Palin. I'd say that theory got shot to shit this past election. If comedy shows had any real impact on politics, Trump would have lost by 20 million votes and all of the major Republican politicians would never have a job. Just because someone hates the same person you hate doesn't mean they are a good person, and just because celebrities make fun of unpopular politicians doesn't mean they are fighting for you. And it definitely doesn't have any type of significant influence. In fact, you could argue that it has the opposite of the intended effect. Trump in particular feeds off the mocking. He uses it to paint himself as the outsider, an average Joe getting harassed by the Hollywood elite. He and his supporters ignore that he is part of the Hollywood elite, but that's beside the point. Every joke, every satire, every video mocking Trump is just another example of the "liberal" media attacking "real" Americans.

It's a shitty situation because everything seems to embolden Trump and his supporters. Make fun of them and they take it as proof of oppression from the liberal media. Break down Trump's lies and provide evidence, they claim it's fake news and take it as proof of a liberal conspiracy.

I don't know the solution, and I'm certainly not against satire or humor. I also think it's important to call powerful people out on their bullshit. I just think all of the Trump satire doesn't work that well and it definitely isn't effect as a political tool. I love John Oliver, and I think he does the best job of making fun of Trump and explaining all of the real horrendous shit the administration is doing. But I find myself not laughing that much at his show anymore. Frankly, the reality is too sad to laugh.

As far as SNL goes, the writing just isn't good enough to provide any unique, humorous insight or perspective that can't be found on Twitter the day before. Plus, Alec Baldwin is a huge piece of shit, so the social commentary they're going for turns into more of a meta comment on the ruling class. Instead of showing how horrendous it is to have a rich white asshole celebrity for a president, it's just reminding us that rich white asshole celebrities will always remain powerful and can reach the pinnacles of their professions despite their horrendous behavior.


I Love You All (No Joke)...Class Dismissed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

America: Empty Dreams and Broken Promises

Sentient sack of warm rotten zoo garbage Paul Ryan recently said that what makes America great is the fact that "the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life." In essence, he was reaffirming the American Dreams. The only problem is, that notion, like everything that weaselly slime sponge says, is bullshit. The reality in present-day America is that where you are born and raised determines your success to a scary degree.

Image result for paul ryan liar
I know, Paul. It's very sad.

The American Dream was never meant for everybody. Our Constitution and legal documents all have language that seems inclusive and representative of the highest ideals of equality, but the reality has always been something different.

Actually, contrary to what I just said, even our legal documents often make exclusivity and bigotry very explicit. It's kind of our thing as a nation.

Race and gender have long played roles in who has access to the American Dream, and they still do. But the problem is not just unequal access: the problem is that the very idea of the American Dream is simply illegitimate. The fact is, we are born into a certain class, and we are more than likely going to remain in that class.

This triumvirate of class, gender, and race discrimination is America's dirty, open secret. In general, race and gender discrimination is frowned upon in respectable company. It still happens, as recent events prove, but most Americans know that open bigotry is unacceptable. (I hope?) Our president and the worst of his supporters are doing their best to change that and bring it back out in the open, but there seems to be enough of a pushback to stem the tide of outright hate. (I really hope?)

Poverty, on the other hand, is still something that "respectable" Americans can openly hate, or at least ridicule. Not poverty itself, mind you; people generally don't criticize or address the systems of inequity that create poverty. No, they criticize and often hate the people affected by poverty.

Many consider being poor a personal failing instead of an institutional or social failing. The notion that America is a meritocracy is deeply ingrained in our culture. This myth perpetuates the idea that our circumstances are a direct reflection of our work ethic. Most financially stable people feel that they deserve to be in the position they are, that they earned their status as wealthy or middle class. Therefore, they believe that anyone in the lower class also deserves their status. Our society links poverty with laziness: poor people simply don't work hard enough. We need to believe that our own success is deserved and not simply luck.

Don't get me wrong, many wealthy people work hard for their success, but luck and circumstance always play a part, as does inheritance. Wealthy people ensure that their children are wealthy. If you're born into a poor family, or even just born in a poor neighborhood, you are most likely going to remain poor (and of course, America's history of redlining also ensured that black people were more likely to live in poor neighborhoods despite their financial status). Our environment is a much bigger determining factor in our financial status than intelligence, work ethic, or anything else, which is a scary thought to people who build their identity on this idea that they earned everything on their own.

It is true that some poor people are lazy. Just as some rich people are lazy. I'd wager that overall, most poor people work harder than most rich people. There's a lot less leisure time, that's for sure, and being poor is definitely more expensive.

Despite the popular belief that we can just "pull up our boot straps," work hard, and succeed, that ol' American Dream of upward mobility is mostly dead: “The probability of ending where you start has gone up, and the probability of moving up from where you start has gone down.” That's true even for people with a college degree. Working hard and going to school does't necessarily improve your circumstances in America.

So what's the solution? Well, for many, the solution seems to be shitting on anybody in a worse situation to feel better about themselves.

Look at some of the reactions to the flooding in Texas. "Why didn't they just evacuate?" Well, besides the fact that Houston traffic is an absolute mess on its best days, and the fact that more people died in the evacuation during Hurricane Rita in 2005 than in the hurricane itself, a lot of these people simply can not pack up and go. They might not have a car. Or money for gas. Or money for a hotel. Or family anywhere in driving distance. Etc. But yes, blame them for trying to endure a horrific crisis.

It gets worse. Remember bum fights? Those were the wildly popular videos that featured...bums fighting. Literally, homeless men were given spare change or alcohol to fight other homeless men on film. Millions of these videos were sold. Yeah, they didn't even have Youtube yet, where any deprived video can get upwards of a million views. People actually bought physical copies, brought them home, put them in their dvd player, and watched homeless men fighting over Old English malt liquor.

America views the poor as playthings. They exist for amusement. It's nothing new, though. From 1955 to 1964, a show called Queen for a Day was a big hit on NBC. This was a game show that featured working class mothers competing against each other for worst life story. One mother needed a wheelchair for her son, another needed home repairs after her husband killed himself. The crowd would cheer for the saddest story, and that person got what they needed. Problems solved. How uplifting!

Most people say they want others to do well and they'll even cheer for the woman winning the wheelchair, but they'll be quick to condemn the woman if she still has financial problems afterwards. Why can't she get her life together already? She got a free wheelchair!

Most people don't really understand poverty. It's more than simply not having money for an item here and there. It's a long-term physical condition that has real, measured negative effects on mental health. Poverty is even associated with higher rates of dementia. The struggle is really real.

This misunderstanding or lack of understanding makes people look past the systems of inequity and blame individuals for their inability to escape poverty. That mentality allows the government to cut social welfare programs, remove protections for workers, and keep wages almost criminally low. Republicans are much more open about their contempt for the poor (they have been pushing the "bootstraps" propaganda for decades and attempting to cut any programs that even marginally help the poor) but it goes both ways. Mainstream Democrats have ridiculed the "pie in the sky" ideas of universal healthcare and free college, and they are complicit in cutting welfare programs as well.

There is a great contempt for the poor in this country. Not many recognize their own privilege; they think that if other people simply tried harder or pulled up their pants or SOMETHING they would be more successful. They fail to take into account how many of the people on food stamps and welfare are children and literally have no choice.

The 8 richest men in the world have more money than 3.6 billion people combined, yet a single mother gets more disdain for using her EBT card to buy food. Our economic system has created an ever expanding chasm between the rich and poor. Over a million Americans make $2 a day. The average CEO in America made $11 million last year, almost a 10% raise from the previous year. When was the last time you got a 10% raise in a year?

This contempt for the poor runs deep, and it cuts across race, gender, and political party. I can't count how many times I've heard or seen self-described "liberals" complain about people using food stamps for seafood or some other food item that doesn't meet their own idea of what poor people "should" eat. Poor people can't eat shrimp? Bullshit. Besides, it doesn't matter what they buy, people will find a way to hate on them. They'll get dirty looks for buying steak, but when they buy fast food they get condemned for not eating healthy.

There's a ridiculous, and dangerous, stigma against state aid. The majority of people who are against it have never had to rely on it (although, remarkably, some who have benefited from social welfare programs argue against them once they are back on their feet). Too many people think that if they managed fine without aid, everyone else should be able to as well. Of course, most of these people are born into a safety net that poor people couldn’t even imagine. The privileged  don’t see their own privilege. They may have inherited their family’s business but they'll argue that they had to work to keep the business. If you just worked harder maybe you would have inherited a business, too!

Many people will never experience poverty, or even meet people who have experienced it, so they have no real concept of it. They hear about the “Welfare Queen” who’s living large off government aid (but doesn’t actually exist) and they imagine swarms of people eating gourmet dinners on marble tables in front of 60 inch 3-D tvs. All bought with your hard earned tax dollars! Or they see a poor person with a smartphone and they post a photo on Facebook with a long-winded rant about how people shouldn’t have a smartphone if they don’t have a job. This of course neglects how many people on food stamps do in fact have jobs. Not to mention the fact that in 2017 you need a smartphone (or another way to access the internet) to get a job.

Yet again, these same people who demonize the poor won’t blink an eye when an insurance CEO gets a $100 million check after resigning in disgrace, or when an entire industry gets a government bailout.

It's hard to see the big picture, but it's important to at least try. Instead of getting mad at individuals for being on public assistance, maybe get mad at the corporations keeping people on public assistance. Or get mad at the military industrial complex, which loses trillions of dollars and simply shrugs its shoulders then asks for trillions more.

But let's just stick to the corporations for now, specifically everybody's favorite corporation to bash publicly and use privately: Walmart. They run a nationwide food stamp scam. They lobby hard for the SNAP program, then pay their employees as little as possible (making it so they need public assistance to survive even though they work 30-40 hours a week) all while taking advantage of loopholes to avoid taxes. To cap it all off, they accept food stamps at their stores (taking in $14 billion in just one year) and encourage their employees to shop there.

Walmart's  majority owners are worth $149 billion. They could single-handedly end hunger in America. Get mad at them.

The system is so fucked up for the poor and working class that it's often more financially responsible to get public assistance than work full time. Of course, Tomi and Glenn will yell "get a job!" at poor people on state aid, yet when they do get a job and demand fair wages, the same assholes shout "you don't deserve that much!"

All workers deserve a livable wage. There's been a somewhat successful push for a national minimum wage of $15 lately, largely led by fast food workers. The service industry employs 30% of American workers (up from 13% in the last 60 years). With the continued trend towards automation, a lot more people are going to be forced into these low paying jobs. Unfortunately, the prevailing consensus around the country seems to be: "fuck those fast food assholes for trying to make a livable wage!"

People in other fields think they should be doing better themselves, so why should fast food workers, the lowest of the low, get more? Well, chances are, if you are an employee anywhere (and not the CEO) you should be getting paid more, too! Income equality in the US is at the highest level since 1928. (Why yes, that is the year before the Great Depression started, thanks for asking.)  Instead of knocking fast food and service workers, the largest growing sector in America, why aren't we looking to increase everybody's wages? Yes, teachers and EMTs should make more than fast food workers. So fight for it! Don't knock others for fighting for their worth. It helps us all when more people do better.
Fast food workers are the factory workers of yesteryear; there are still some 17 year old knuckleheads flipping burgers for beer money, sure, but its mostly adults supporting families. It's still one of the few jobs anyone can get. These workers used to be middle class. They, we, deserve the same livable wages middle class workers once made. Yet wages have not nearly kept up with the cost of living or inflation or CEO pay.

St Louis workers recently voted to raise the minimum wage, but then the state of Missouri capped the minimum wage at $7.70 (and its not the only state to do so). That's almost as low as the federal minimum wage, which hasn't been raised in 10 years. Thanks Obama? Almost a quarter of minimum wage workers in 2014 were over 40 years old, (an increase of 40% from 20 years ago) yet people still imagine all minimum wage workers as pimply teenagers. More than half support themselves; they are not still living with mommy and daddy. They'd deserve better wages even if they did!

Sadly, the wage chasm in this country will probably just get worse. And employers will continue to literally rob workers of their labor. I don't know the answer to these issues by any means, but I know that we have to at least understand how this system negatively affects us all. Trickle down economics does not work. It never has and never will. Workers are the foundation of an economy; when they are treated well, all of society benefits.

And when we take care of the most oppressed, the most marginalized, the most vulnerable among us, we move closer to becoming the society that we have always pretended to be.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Me Say Dolly My Baby

Can you guess who this incredible painting is supposed to represent?

Well, if you were 10 year old me, you'd know right away. In fact, if you were 10 year old me, this is exactly what you drew when this celebrity's name came up during your turn at Win, Lose or Draw.

Sidenote: Win, Lose or Draw is wayyyy better than Pictionary. It's like the Oreo to Pictionary's Hydrox: it may have come later, but it perfected the formula.

Anyways, the image above was what I drew to help my teammates guess the answer on the card.

So who is it?

Be honest. My picture wasn't that far off, right?

That's the greatest musician to ever come out of Tennesee (sorry Elvis and Juicy J). 

The legendary Dolly Parton, of course.


Maybe I was a perverted little boy, I don't necessarily dispute that, but that's not the point of this story. The point is, my teammates got the answer immediately. And my teammates were my brother and mother. So maybe my brother and I can be written off as pervs, but the fact that my mother knew instantly (as did our opponents, my dad and other relatives) shows just how powerful and recognizable those chest pillows are.

Seriously, ask anyone on the planet who Dolly Parton is and they probably know, and they will probably mention her breasts, or make some lewd gesture referring to breasts.

Yeah, something like that Donny.
Damn, it's impossible to escape this fucking guy, huh?

I never heard her music until long after I knew who she was. It's probably the same for most people. And the fact is, she knew that would be the case and played into it. Did she profit off of her sex appeal and abnormally large breasts? Absofreakinglutely. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that.

Quite frankly, if anyone uses that to get ahead, I personally don't care. Women face enough obstacles, they can use whatever they need to even the playing field. And if guys can use their chest or abs or balls to get ahead, that's fine, too. Sex appeal may help get a foot in the door or even some fame and money, but eventually, there needs to be some kind of talent behind it all. I suppose an entire network of dedicated enablers can help, too.

Obviously, Dolly has the talent behind the tittays. I'm not a country fan but I respect musicians of any kind, especially musicians who can make a connection with so many people for so long. And especially those with a sense of humor about themselves. In any interview, it's clear she never takes herself too seriously; again, she admits to using her knockers to open doors for her. She also starred in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," a ridiculous movie where she's a madam at a brothel. Most female celebrities wouldn't come near that role, but she openly embraced her sex appeal because she knew she was more than that. And she was promoting safe and legal sex work before it was fashionable!

Every story about her is great; she's obviously a genuine and sincere person. Rare for any celebrity, let alone a living legend. There's the incredible story about "I Will Always Love You," featured on Drunk History. Then, just last year she donated $1,000 a month for 6 months to people who lost everything in Tennessee wildfires. You think Hank Williams Jr. would help wildfire victims? Doubt it.

But the best story, the one that shaped much of her life, is the story of her dad. Her dad was a smart, hardworking man, but he was illiterate. As she got older, it bothered her that he didn't have the opportunity to get an education. So she started the Imagination Library, which mails books to children all over the world, every month, from when they are born until they are 5 years old. They've sent over 80 million books so far. All because she thought people like her dad deserved more in life.

How many books has Keith Urban donated to children? Didn't think so.

Oh, there's also Dollywood. That's pretty cool. I went there as a kid with my family. I honestly thought I might get to see her, or that maybe there'd be some revealing pictures of her all over the place. Neither were true. That was a disappointment but I don't think adolescent me could've handled it anyway. It was a cool amusement park, though. Carrie Underwood doesn't have her own amusement park. 

You might be wondering what made me write this. Maybe I just wanted to bash other country singers. Maybe I just wanted to reminisce about a simpler time, when Win, Lose, or Draw was the height of entertainment and a quickly drawn stick figure could create lasting family bonds. Maybe I just wanted to google image search a young Dolly Parton.

In actuality, I happened to see a post about her book donations recently and I was blown away. It made me think of Dollywood and Win, Lose or Draw and childhood heroes but basically, I just wanted to share my appreciation for a great musician, artist, philanthropist, and person while she's still gracing Earth with her presence. I don't think we do that enough as a culture. We only appreciate people when they're dead, and only until the next dead celebrity.

Plus, Dolly was one of the first women I *noticed* and I'm happy that she turned out to be such a caring, giving person in addition to having awe-inspiring, mind-altering, world-renown, breathtaking, humongous hoo-has. 

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hate Doesn't Wear Hoods Anymore

Hate doesn't wear hoods anymore.

Hate wears polo shirts and khakis. 

Image result for charlottesville polo shirts

Hate says it is simply proud of its European ancestry, despite not knowing its ancestry

Hate equates Black Lives Matter with White Supremacy. 

Hate equates the KKK with Black Panthers. 

Hate says the confederate flag is just about southern heritage.

Hate claims reverse racism is a bigger problem than racism.

Hate says, "I just don't know why those people are always so mad."

Hate says, "they say that word all the time why can't I say it?"

After a terrorist attack, Hate says, "there is violence on many sides. Many sides."

Hate portrays itself as a victim.

Hate sits next to you in Algebra.

Hate sits next to you at the office.

Hate is in your family.

Hate wears a red cap.

And sometimes hate still wears the swastika. Fucking Nazis. 

Hate says "it's just a joke" when its views and claims are challenged.

Hate builds walls instead of bridges.

Hate hides right underneath the surface.

Hate isn't always easy to spot, yet

Hate can't be ignored.

Hate doesn't care that you take the high road.

Hate is fueled by the silence of good people.

Hate has never been properly confronted because many prioritize comfort over equality.

Hate is fueled by moderation.

Hate feeds off "negative peace, the absence of tension."

Hate refuses to seek "positive peace, the presence of justice."

Hate is more dangerous with a smile on its face.

Hate must be confronted in all its forms, from the literal Nazi, to the patient who refuses to see a doctor of color, to the boss who skips over Mohammed's resume but has "a lot of black friends."

Love trumps hate but Trump-inspired hate is a powerful force.

Hate necessitates aggressively peaceful, loving actions.

Show love. Speak love. Teach love.

But remember: Hate is not defeated with platitudes.

Support the oppressed, the persecuted, the tired, the poor.

Hate has always existed and will always exist, but

Hate can be made weak and irrelevant.

Hate can be shamed.

Hate should be shamed.

And we should be ashamed if we let Hate prosper.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

In the End, It Does Matter

Celebrity suicides always make the news and it seems like it happens every other day.

What doesn't make the news is that 20 veterans commit suicide per day. 

Or the fact that 94 people commit suicide in America

Per day.

Is it me, or does this ridiculously high number of suicides seem like a major issue we should be addressing with more urgency?

It's a lot to ask, I know. Besides the fact that this country can't even agree on whether global warming and evolution are real, suicide is a tough subject to discuss, which further worsens the problem.

I never thought about suicide for myself thankfully, but I I try to sympathize with suicide victims and think about what it takes for someone to get to the mindset that leads to suicide.

I have had moments of depression, though. I think most people do. I don't think I've ever had "Depression," because I've known people who have and I've studied it a little (it's not just being sad, it's a real condition) but there are times when a lot of us express the symptoms. I don't think I've experienced much more severe depression than most people, yet I think I can understand the mentality that leads to suicidal thoughts. To progress and improve as a society and as a species, it's important to understand extreme mental states. 

Many times suicide is caused by a mental disorder such as Depression and it takes much more than simple willpower to overcome. Suicide or suicidal thoughts are not a sign of weakness. Even without long term or severe mental illness, suicide is not just something that can be willed away. People are in a mental state of absolute helplessness, and if they have the means or the tools, they might take that extreme step.

Suicide victims are not that much different than the rest of us and I think a lot of people are scared to admit that or maybe don't even realize how close they can be to getting to that point as well. 
In many cases, especially those not involving long term Depression, suicide is an impulsive decision. If a person stops before doing it, or if they survive an attempt, they are much less likely to try again. In fact, 9 out of 10 people who survive an attempt will not end up dying from suicide, and 70% who try it once don't ever try it again. That's why it's so important to spread awareness and to provide care to people who may end up on that path. The reality is, it could be anyone. 

A lot of people assume someone at a certain level of success or fame or fortune could never be depressed, and could certainly never commit suicide. Scores of dead celebrities prove that wrong. Robin Williams. Chris Cornell. Kurt Cobain. Plus, many drug overdoses (celebrity's favorite way to die) are calls for help, if not outright suicide attempts.

Whenever there is a high profile suicide, people throw around descriptions like cowardly or weak. Many people say, "I would never do that," as if it's some kind of competition, or as if anyone asked, but nobody really knows. Even if you would never do it, so what? The person who did commit suicide is not you. It's an entirely different person! With different DNA and different life experiences and circumstances and everything! Who are we to judge? We have no idea what they were going through; we may think suicide is never warranted but we are not in their shoes.

When I was young, our neighbor up the street took his own life. He was probably in his late 30s, with a wife and a couple of kids. He seemed happy and successful. At the wake, I heard things like, "how could he leave his kids behind." It does seem very selfish, but oftentimes, people think they are helping their family by leaving. They don't want to be a letdown or a burden. Financially, emotionally, whatever, they think they are hurting the family by continuing to live. That is not true of course, but once that mentality sets in, it can be hard to get out of. 

I also heard, "he had so much going for him." Again, even if that was true, it doesn't mean that he was content or not going through horrible stuff. A person can have a great personal life and a horrible professional life or vice versa, or both can be going well and they still have Depression or another mental disorder. They may be addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling. There's a multitude of reasons people get into a mental state that makes them think death is the only solution. 

Or maybe they're just in a bad mood and there's a gun nearby. Most suicide attempts don't work out, unless the person uses a gunJust having a gun in the house makes a person 3x more likely to commit suicide. Gun defenders will say that people will find a way to commit suicide if they are determined, and in some cases that's true, but it is clear that when people use other means of killing themselves, they are less likely to actually die and they usually don't try again. If they use a gun, they will most likely die. Therefore, guns are a huge factor in the high suicide rate. In fact, 2 out of every 3 gun deaths in America is a suicide, and it happens once every 25 minutes. 

Holy shit. Once every 25 minutes someone kills themselves with a gun. Seriously, we're not gonna address this? 

Our horrible health care system in this country certainly isn't effectively dealing with the issue. Mental health is especially bad. Most people don't understand it and the majority of those affected by it don't receive proper treatment. We end up relying on police officers, who are ill equipped to handle mental health issues and mostly make the situation worse. Then, the ones who can and do help often face Depression themselves. Over 100 police officers killed themselves just last year.

Doctors, those who we task with saving others, can hardly save themselves. Male physicians are 3x more likely to commit suicide than the average person and female physicians are 4-5x more likely

We have this idea that people who help others, whether it's a public servant or a doctor or even just the "strong" friend in the group, can't have moments of weakness themselves. But they are real people with real problems, and Depression is a real thing, even though we can't see it and it can be hard to define. We can see its effects, and anyone can feel its effects. It's important to be honest with ourselves and deal with issues before they devolve to a point of desperation. 

I was and am naturally curious, so being confronted with suicide at an early age made me consider it as a real thing that happens, and that made me yearn to understand it. Parents and teachers often freak out if a kid simply mentions suicide (god forbid they listen to Marilyn Manson or Gravediggaz!) but I think kids need to understand these things at an early age. They shouldn't grow accustomed to avoiding difficult topics. Suicide shouldn't be some unspoken evil, it should be addressed openly. People with suicidal thoughts aren't witches or insane, they are simply people with problems. If someone is curious about suicide or even has suicidal thoughts, it doesn't mean they are crazy or that they will go through with it. If we stigmatize the problem and never address it as a society, people will be less likely to tell anyone or address the problems themselves. They feel ashamed or worthless or weird about how they are feeling and then never seek help. 

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are stigmatized and weaponized. Take the treatment of the transgender community for example. Trans people often struggle with Depression because society says they are wrong just for existing. They are often hesitant to come out, which leads to stress and other issues. If they do come out, they face ridicule and scorn, they are often kicked out of their homes, and they are murdered at an increasingly high rate. But if they don't come out, people might accuse them of "tricking" them. Not to mention, they won't ever truly be happy because they are hiding their true identity.

After dealing with all that, then they have to hear the President saying they aren't worthy or stable enough to serve in the military. People who don't believe in evolution or global warming are now citing "science" that claims transgender people are all mentally ill. And what is one thing they use to justify that claim? The high suicide rate. It's a sick cycle of abuse. Of course suicide rates are high in the transgender community. Look at all the bullshit they have to deal with on a daily basis.

If we are going to use a high suicide rate as a criteria for mental illness in a community, than the military community needs to address their own suicide problem. Military service people kill themselves twice as much as the civilian population, and once again 20 veterans kill themselves every day. That should dispel any notion that suicide is a sign of weakness. And it should be motivation for better health care for all. But instead of understanding that and providing the support everyone needs, certain people (the ones in control unfortunately) pit the military versus the transgender community. Divide, conquer, and avoid solving any issues.

We need a whole new perspective on suicide. It's not a weakness. It's not The Act Who's Name Should Never Be Spoken. It's something that is happening every 25 minutes.   

There is hope. I consider myself a cautious, optimistic realist. I don't think that simply believing in the power of Good or God will help us prevail, but I have seen enough good in the world to keep me going and to keep me believing that maybe we will turn out all right as a species. 

The situations above are obviously outliers, but they show how the kindness of strangers can literally save a person's life. (We should have learned that from Marge Simpson long ago.) Sometimes a gesture as small as saying hello or sending a text can positively affect someone's mood in such a way that they reconsider any thoughts of suicide. Suicide prevention hotlines, staffed by volunteers with no connection to the people on the other line, are emblematic of the best in humanity. The fact that people dedicate their time to helping complete strangers in times of crisis is a great source of hope. 

Sometimes it takes a stranger. Friends often think they know what's going on in each other's lives or that if something was going on, their friend would tell them. That's not always the case. It's often easier to unload your problems on a complete stranger. They can be less judgmental; there's no baggage or history, bad or good. I can be very sarcastic with my friends (surprising, I know) to the point that our conversations may even seem mean to outsiders. That type of relationship isn't always conducive to discussing Depression or suicidal thoughts. 

But I'm trying Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd. I hope my friends know I'm always there for them. I think they do. I know they are for me. 

I just quoted Jules Winfield, and I love his attitude and perspective at the end of Pulp Fiction, but I always wanted to be Holden Caulfield. Not the character himself, but the vision he had for himself, catching and saving kids as they fell off the cliff into the rye field.

There are some people who are basically Catchers in the Rye. It's amazing how many cases there are like this. People who simply decided that they would help others in the most desperate time of their lives with a friendly smile and conversation. 

It doesn't take a superhero to save someone on the ledge. Sometimes all it takes is a little empathy and a big hug. Even as I write that it seems excessively jejune, but there are too many instances where that exact thing happens to not believe it. Besides, a friendly smile never hurt anyone, so what do you have to lose?

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

To Respond, or Not to Respond

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A Discussion Between 
Prof Thug and Stoned Willy Poonhound on 
Responding to Facebook Comments

Prof Thug: Hey Willy!

Stoned Willy Poonhound: Professor.

PT: Thanks for joining me today.

SWP: Eh. What else I gotta do.

PT: True. You're a homeless dog.

SWP: "Wanderin tha planet searchin fer truth" n "homelessness" are not tha same.

PT: Right. Well I thought I'd get together with you to talk about something that's been on my mind a lot lately. With this disaster of an administration running this country, there's no shortage of things to get outraged about. And where else to express that outrage but Facebook.

SWP: Obvi.

PT: And express outrage I do. But I've been thinking about why exactly I respond to hateful, ignorant Facebook comments...

SWP: Ya could jus say Facebook comments.

PT: ...especially from people I don't know. Posting on my own page is one thing; it's a way to vent, to express myself, to share interesting things, all that good stuff. But I've been considering for some time now whether replying to hateful comments on other friend's pages or on the news pages is at all helpful. Or healthy.

SWP: Ok. So why ya do it?

PT: Well, I consider myself a teacher, and writer, and not just as a profession; I try to teach and write wherever possible. Deep down, I feel like I can teach a few people about a few things, you know?

SWP: Sure. So what's tha problem?

PT: The problem is, the asshole making the ignorant comments is not going to change his or her mind, so who am I really teaching?

SWP: Ya think anyone ever changed their mind cuz a sum comment they saw online?

PT: I think I may have changed one mind on one single topic in the years I've been on Facebook.

SWP: If ya know that, why do it?

PT: Well, Facebook is social. Comments can be read by other people. Maybe there is someone out there whose mind is not made up and they will be swayed by my argument. Or maybe someone out there is offended by the ignorant comment but too timid to say anything, and maybe they will feel empowered by seeing someone else sticking up for them.

SWP: That's fair. But if yer 118 comments deep in a sub-thread, is anyone really reading it besides the few people gettin tha notifications?

PT: Maybe, maybe not. The thing is, I also consider myself a student of life, and conversation is a great way to learn. Even if the conversation is with a big dumb dumb, you can learn a lot from what dumb dumbs say. They reflect society's problems. Plus, I believe it's important to engage with people who have differing opinions and worldviews.

SWP: Avoidin tha bubble n all that.

PT: Exactly. Discussing your beliefs helps shape and strengthen those beliefs. Facebook commenting provides great practice in discourse.

SWP: Yeah, but sometimes yer comments seem kinda...assholeish. That improves discourse?

PT: I'm not perfect. I can't deny that my inner asshole can sometimes take over, especially when confronted by bigotry or hate.

SWP: I can relate. No mercy fer bigots.

PT: Absolutely. But...

SWP: What?

PT: I often end up regretting commenting.

SWP: Why?

PT: Well it usually breaks down into insults when facts and reason don't seem to work. And I don't really mind that, it just seems counter-productive.

SWP: Not really teachin anybody at that point...

PT: Right. Another thing: sometimes seeing how much ignorance and hate is really out there gets to me.

SWP: Disillusioned wit tha world n shit?

PT: Exactly. Like, how have these people gotten this far in life being so stupid?

SWP: I ask myself that same question bout tha human race as a whole. All tha damn time.

PT: Funny.

SWP: No, seriously.

PT: You're probably right. We are the literal worst. As evidenced by Facebook comments.

SWP: Yup.

PT: I just try to bring a little light or sanity or reason into the conversation.

SWP: But ya cant help breaking down inta insults...

PT: Yeah. Look, I'm trying. That's why I'm talking it out here.

SWP: Lemme ask ya this: Hav ya considered...not replyin ta ignorant comments?

PT: I...well...

SWP: Yeah?

PT: It's just...

SWP: Spit it out.

PT: I CAN"T STOP, WILLY! I tried, I swear. It just feels so good to shout my knowledge at everybody! It feels soo good to shut down an ignorant piece of shit! I know it's not helpful but making someone look foolish online is one of my favorite things to do ohmygod I love it so much! But it's killing me, Willy. It's tearing my soul apart. I want to be a teacher and I want to spread love... but it feels SOOOOO good to own these clowns!

SWP: I get it.

PT: It's childish. It's pointless. It just adds to the divisiveness and the tension in this country and I hate it. But I can't stop.

SWP: I understand. You want to feel powerful.

PT: It fills me with so much power, man! Just calling these assholes out and debating with logic and facts and love and then insults feels like a shot of HGH straight to my ass cheek, man. I need it. I need it so bad. I go to sleep thinking about what kind of hateful jerk I'm going to decimate in the morning and I wake up with my finger already on the send button. I dont even know how it got there.

SWP: Thats kinda weir--

PT: I'll be halfway through typing something and I don't even know what I'm saying but I know it's brilliant and I know its gonna change the world.

SWP: Ohhkay...

PT: But then I hit send and I immediately realize the futility of it all and I feel like a moron for stooping down to their level and I want to take it all back and just delete everything.

SWP: So why don't ya?

PT: Because then I see the notification. The asshole has replied back.

SWP: So now...

PT: Now I have to engage further.

SWP: Ya gotta get tha last word in.

PT: Damn right! I'll get the last word and it'll be the best damn word they've ever seen.

SWP: What if they don't reply back?

PT: They always reply back.

SWP: Ok, but what if they don't? Or what if ya get in there n delete it before they respond?

PT: Because then I won't get any likes.

SWP: .....u serious rite now?

PT: Absolutely! Why else post on Facebook if not for likes?

SWP: So that's it.

PT: That's what?

SWP: That's tha real issue here. Yer addicted ta "likes."

PT: What? No. Huh?

SWP: Thats fuckin it dawg. Ya got a "like" addiction, homey.

PT: No no no. I have a thirst for spreading knowledge and verbally tearing morons apart.

SWP: Yea that's part of it probly. But I think it's really tha likes.

PT: That's ridiculous. Besides, they have the new emoji responses and I'd much rather get a heart emoji than a like.

SWP: That proves my point!

PT: That's...I don't...shut up. Idiot.

SWP: I see we're at tha insult portion a tha convo....

PT: What the hell's the point of arguing with you here anyways? Nobody can even like my responses so how do I know if I'm winning?

SWP: See?

PT: See what?

SWP: Yer doin it all fer tha likes man!

PT: But I...

SWP: Tryin ta "win" tha convo?

PT: ...but that...

SWP: Yer sick!

SWP: man. I didn't even realize how bad I had it until just now.

SWP: Yea its pretty bad.

PT: Wow. I need help. Help me, Willy. Please. I can't stop. The insults always get the most likes and I love that damn thumbs up sign! I need it! Each one gives me power! I eat them up like Flinstones chewables!

SWP: Those are bangin.

PT: Now Facebook does the floating likes thing on your phone when you go to your comment and that's so cool! It's like little thumbs up bubbles!

SWP: They are pretty cool.

PT: See?!

SWP: But come on man. Yer fallin apart here.

PT: I know I know. Help me. Tell me what to do, Willy. What would Stoned Willy Poonhound do?

SWP: Ya really want sum advice?

PT: Yes. Yes, please. Anything.

SWP: Create a fake online persona.

PT: Huh?

SWP: Create a fake persona. That way ya don't gotta pretend like yer doin it ta "teach" anybody. Ya won't have to feel bad fer "stoopin to their level" cuz nobody knows who ya really are. Ya won't offend any family or friends. It's easy n ya can insult people all ya want without feelin guilty.

PT: Are you serious man? I'd never do that. I'm no troll.

SWP: Scuse me?

PT: I can't even believe you would suggest something like that. That's beneath you.

SWP: But you created m--

PT: I'd never pretend to be something I'm not. Besides, I don't really think I have a problem.

SWP: Are ya kidd--

PT: You were leading me to the conclusion that I have a problem. But I think you were misunderstanding me. I don't have a problem. Maybe you have a problem?

SWP: Ya really are an asshole.

PT: Oh great, here come the insults!

SWP: I don't "like" you. At all.

PT: That's all we have for today folks! Thanks for joining us. Good talk, Willy!

SWP: Fuck you.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.