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

Image result for facebook comments suck

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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Parents

The year was 1968...

North Vietnam launches the Tet offensive, the beginning of the end for the US in Vietnam. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy are assassinated. Apollo 8 becomes the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.

And possibly the most important event of all: the union of Ken Elterich and Marie Farr. 

Although this event went largely unnoticed by the general public, it set off a chain of events that would change world history, most notably, 12 years later when their youngest son was born.


I grew up extremely privileged. I don’t necessarily mean economically, although my family was firmly in the middle class and I never really wanted for anything. The biggest privilege in my life, beyond a financial safety net that I can still rely on if necessary, is that I never had to look far for role models. I didn’t have to figure out how to treat others or respect myself, I didn’t have to be told by frustrated employers how to work hard, and I didn’t have to learn how to take pleasure in the joys of life; I was shown all of that from day one. Even before I knew what a role model was, I was provided with two incredible models of virtue.

Growing up I always considered my mom and dad as one unit: “The Parents.” That was the entirety of their identity to me. That is probably typical for kids, but it also reflected their relationship. They had their own interests and participated in separate activities (golf for my dad, ceramics for my mom, etc.) yet they acted as one when it came to everything else. They were a unified force, which didn’t exactly help me whenever I messed up. I knew I was dealing with the tag team. There was no playing one against the other. My only hope was to try to put some of the blame on my brother.

As I got older, I appreciated them more as individuals. My mom the teacher, my dad the…well, whatever he did for work (Joking. Kinda.) Beyond being a good employee/boss, he was also a coach and a good friend. Both of my parents were good friends, not just to each other, but to many people. That is one of the things I’m most grateful for: learning how to treat people.

When I was a senior in high school, I agreed to go to my friend’s prom with his girlfriend’s best friend. A week later, I started dating someone. I wanted out of my friend’s prom. My mom, without forcing a decision on me, told me that it would not be right to back out of a promise I made just because “something better came along.” She didn’t lecture me, she just said how it would make the other girl feel (I knew she was onto something when my girlfriend actually understood as I explained why I was going to prom with someone else). My mom was good at instilling guilt. In fact, both of my parents were. When I got in trouble, they always said they weren't mad, just disappointed. Ugh. How could I express righteous indignation at their treatment of me if they didn’t get mad? If they yelled and screamed, I could’ve just raged against them and felt better about myself because obviously I didn’t deserve their anger. But disappointment? There’s no response to that, except to do better.

Obviously, as a teen, there were times when I wasn’t too fond of my parent’s decisions, like moving to West Hartford, but ultimately I recognized that every decision was made in the best interest of me, my brother, and/or the whole family. I clearly got a better education in West Hartford than I would have in Hartford.

Besides the typical teen angst, though, I always saw my parents as infallible. I may have acted as if I didn't want to hear what they had to say, but that's because I knew they were right about whatever they were telling me and I would have to change my behavior.

They always did the right thing. They always seemed to be on the right side of any social issues. They traveled and worked and spent quality time with family and friends. They lived life, and continue to live it, how it is supposed to be lived.

When my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I couldn’t accept that my mom was going to be affected by this horrible disease. Not her. Not the woman who spent her life teaching special education in the inner city in the 90s. She didn't deserve this, and she was too strong for this. My grandmother had a friend who had Parkinson’s and I just couldn’t imagine her as frail as he was. I was scared, and I think I’ve been scared ever since.

But not her. At least, not on the surface. It's like nothing changed. She’s been on more vacations this year than I’ve been on this decade. She is too strong for this.

And my dad has been right there with her. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t think I could do it. I can barely handle it as is. I am overwhelmed by their strength.

49 years later, they are stronger than ever, as a couple and as individuals.

It's inspiring. And a little upsetting, too, because seriously? How can I live up to that? Come on.

My mom just got surgery on her spine. For the first time possibly ever, she admitted to being in a lot of pain. And for the first time definitely ever, she seemed scared. Maybe I’m projecting. Probably.

Despite any reservations, she went ahead with the surgery. A friend told her she was courageous, and she just replied, “It’s not courage, I just want the pain to go away.” She’d never acknowledge that she is extraordinary, because to her, her actions are ordinary. There’s a problem, it needs to be solved. That’s how she, and my father, have always been. There’s nothing else to do but deal with it.

What's the other option? Be crippled by pain? Curl up and die? No. Handle it. Get the surgery to fix the back. Take the experimental Parkinson's medicine that may not even help you but might make a breakthrough that could help thousands of others. Fear is just another emotion like happiness. It’s okay to be afraid, just don't let it stop you from moving forward.

I write this knowing full well that I’m afraid and not dealing with it very well. But sometimes faking it till you make it is the best thing you can do. Worrying doesn't accomplish anything. Things will happen or they won't. Move forward.

49 years together. More than a decade longer than I've been alive. The Parents. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, except their only superpower is love. 

UPDATE 6/27/17, 5:55pm: My mom is in Recovery and doing well.

I Love You All, Especially "The Parents"...Class Dismissed.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sands of Hope

My former boss just passed away, and although we hadn't been close for the past few years, I'm very grateful to her for hiring me and for all that she taught me.

At her bereavement services, her daughter said that her last 4 years were spent with family and she was very happy. That was good to hear. She deserved that. After building the program from the ground up and running it for 20 years, and decades of service before that, she deserved to do whatever she wanted in her golden years. I wish her time at the program ended a little differently, but it worked out for her and for us, so it's all good. She did so much for the program and for me personally; her death, although very sad considering her relatively young age, allowed me to fully appreciate her impact.

RoseAnne taught me a lot about working in the field of social work and non-profits. She also taught me a lot about working with and advocating for poverty-stricken kids. She didn't lecture, and she certainly didn't preach, she just gave many great lessons through conversation and actions.

The most amazing, and brilliant, thing she ever taught me was the audacity of hope. The phrasing is Obama's, but she exemplified the notion through her actions and philosophy. She used hope as a tool for individual and societal improvement. One of her quotes that defines the philosophy behind the program is, "hope is a powerful motivating force."

Our program teaches comprehensive sex education, and we put a heavy focus on academics and career readiness, but without giving our kids hope, none of that would matter. If a child believes they will be stuck in the same low-paying job in the same poverty-ridden area as most of their family and friends, sex education and academic assistance probably won't change their circumstances. But combine that with hope for a better future, plus a vision to achieve that future, and any child can accomplish incredible things.

RoseAnne helped manifest hope in many ways, but one way in particular will always stay with me for its strength through subtlety.

Just telling kids "you can do anything!" is fine and all, but its too vague and their vision of "anything" is very limited. They have to be shown real yet hopeful alternatives to the lives they see around them.

On her desk in her office, she kept little containers of sand from beaches around the world. Some of the sand was from places she had visited, others were from her friends and family. She had sand from Hawaii, Bequia, South Africa and an assortment of other places. She kept them at the front of her desk, and they sparked a lot of conversation.

Students would often visit her in her office. She always offered a place to vent or just sit in peace. The students who were having the most difficult time at school or at home were the ones who visited her office most. Inside, there was no judgment or punishment or demands. There was just the opportunity to talk to a grandmotherly presence.

One of the first things most kids saw when they talked to her was the sand. Inevitably, they would reach for a container or ask what it was. She would tell them where she got each one and reminisce about her trips. After a while, some kids would come in just to look at or play with the sand.

Eventually, they would talk about wanting to go to the places RoseAnne described, places they had never even heard of. She'd assure them they could get there some day. That they would get there. Why shouldn't a young boy from New Britain visit Egypt when he got older? Why shouldn't a young girl who had never been outside of her neighborhood visit Spain? Or Hawaii?

A mustard seed can move mountains, a grain of sand can instill hope. Knowing this was her genius. So many kids don't reach their full potential because they have no idea what their potential is. They literally can not conceive of a life outside of their own immediate circumstances. They don't know anything outside of the city (oftentimes just the neighborhood) in which they were born.

But that sand, and those conversations, illuminated a whole new world for them. That simple gesture was life-changing.

Students come into our program in middle school and are soon thinking about which college they'll attend. In the neighborhoods we serve, that was not the mentality that existed when RoseAnne started the program 25 years ago. Today, 80% of our students go to college.

Recently, one of our program graduates received her Master's Degree. From the University of Hawaii.

It started with hope and a grain of sand.

Rest In Peace RoseAnne.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

An apology from the CIA regarding fidget spinners

Dear American citizen,

You or your child recently purchased a "fidget spinner."

Yes you did. 

You must dispose of this item in a hazardous waste facility immediately. CIA agents will contact you to escort you and/or your family to the designated containment unit.

You may have heard about recent reports of small children choking on these spinners, and although that is certainly a concern, that is not the focus of this Public Service Announcement. It was never our intention to harm or kill anyone, not Americans anyways, as that would damper our abilities to carry out our mission.

So, it is with great remorse and regret, along with great pressure from the US Department of Justice and the International Court of Justice, that we acknowledge some errors with a recently terminated intelligence gathering operation named Project: Spin the Globe. As a public service, we will be offering a comprehensive containment and removal session free of charge.

Do not be alarmed. But also, do not touch anyone or leave your house until the agents arrive. Definitely do not scratch your groin area or your eyes.

What began as a simple data collection mission turned into a viral craze. Viral in every sense of the word, unfortunately.

Quite honestly, our project was too successful. We did not expect the populace to be so easily preoccupied with these items and our data collection centers were overwhelmed with all of the raw data being mined. The sensors we installed in the center of each spinning mechanism captured so much information from our subject's retinal scans that we reached our goals months earlier than anticipated. It's as if people were begging to be brainwashed! It's really partly your fault. Maybe even mostly your fault. But our lawyers and the 9th District Court, the DOJ, and the UN insist that we apologize and explain the entire situation, so here we are.

We are sorry that the spinners collected your personal data and thoughts, monitored your movements, melted your fingertips, caused lesions to develop on your liver, or maybe just got you fired from your job because you couldn't stop playing with them. Those things are fun right?!

It seems that we hacked into some evolutionary gene that predisposes humans to be fixated on things spinning in a circular motion. We know that humans are easily distracted, and we realize that circles are the foundation of the universe, and we love Sir Elton John's the Circle of Life as much as the next warm blooded American, but we didn't expect so many people to be hooked spontaneously. 
The spinners reached peak consumer velocity much quicker than we anticipated and then continued to surge past our wildest predictions.

The truth is, we learned about the human mind's natural preoccupation with spinning things a long time ago when we unleashed hula hoops on to the American public. Yes, that was us. We were able to do so much while everyone was distracted with hula hoops in the 1950s. Ahh good times. But now we seem to have perfected the targeting of the zone in your prefrontal cortex that is naturally stimulated by the spinning motion. 75% of our subjects continued to use and purchase spinners after we told them they were being monitored and their thoughts were being collected. 40% continued to use them after being warned of the high levels of toxicity. Who could have predicted that?

The Chinese knew about the brain's disposition towards circular movement back in 400 BC when they invented the yo-yo and the whirligig, but we were the first to use it for mind control!

And for that we are deeply sorry. Mind you, we still have all the data gathered and will never delete it, and we will continue to collect the data from those still using the spinners, as allowed by the ruling in Central Intelligence Agency vs. The United States. But we realize now that we should have sought legal precedent before embarking on our mission. Sorry about that.

We also have to apologize (legally) for exposing you and your loved ones to a highly toxic chemical. We tested our product before releasing them to the public, but apparently the symptoms don't show for weeks after initial exposure. The fact is, many of the test subjects were harmed, too. They were technically our employees so it is important to keep in mind that we were harmed by this as well.

We can never replace your liver or the skin that melted off your fingertips and other parts of your body. We will never replace your clothes, furniture, pets and other items that were negatively affected by the substance. Seriously, we legally do not have to replace any of it since it can not be proven that we were aware of the dangerous nature of the substance before we released the items. But we are very sympathetic to your loss. Losses.

That's why we are offering you an exclusive deal on the brand new fidget spinners! They come in all new colors! 
And the new skin sensors mine your personal data and thoughts much more effectively than the retinal scans. You can purchase them at any gas station, bodega or store around the country. The new line of spinners have been tested diligently and show none to very low levels of toxicity. They are totally cool. 

Buy some for your family today!


Agent G. Spookerson


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Sham of Political Correctness

Image result for pc principal

This past semester, a student of mine wanted to write a research paper about the negative influence of political correctness on discourse. When he announced his intention, I was excited because I think it is an interesting topic.

The fact of the matter is, I can't STAND political correctness. The PC police have gotten OUT of CONTROL. Nobody wants to deal with harsh TRUTHS these days. A guy can't even say what he wants anymore. Equality is important, but so is FREE speech! Everyone has a RIGHT to voice their opinions and be heard. If people can't say what they want, NOBODY is free, and that's not a country I want to live in.

Freedom of speech is the foundation this country is BUILT on. We can't afford to lose that.

So when neo-nazis are given speaking engagements and security detail to spout off their beliefs, it's important that rational Americans can protest and speak out against those engagements. That is vital to the essence of being American. Yet when I call people nazis for supporting neo-nazi views, they cry like little babies! Politicians and pundits (even some who fancy themselves "politically incorrect") tell me how I need to stop calling them names and protesting their events and just listen to them. No need to get upset; nazis and white supremacists and bigots just have ideas that need to be heard, then we all can have a civil, polite discussion.

Sorry, but the first amendment doesn't require speech to be nice, or for me to listen to everybody's opinion. I'm gonna tell neo-nazis to shut up and call them assholes. What happened to MY freedom of speech? They don't care about that. These politically correct jerkoffs want nazis and white supremacists to simply flaunt their horrible views unchecked.

It's hypocritical and obnoxious. The people who complain most about "political correctness ruining free speech!" really just want the freedom to be assholes in public. When I call racists racist, they whine and say things like, "you can't call me that, my best friend's girlfriend is black!" Really? Ok, Officer Censorship. I thought freedom of speech was important to you, but I guess you just want to say hateful things without getting called out for them. I can't count how many times I've called someone a racist and been told "Not everything is about race, shut your mouth!" Political correctness is so bad you can't even call an obvious racist a racist anymore!

Bigots used to own their bigotry. Now they want to have bigoted views without getting labeled a bigot. They want to discriminate against gay people but god forbid you call them a homophobe, the exact word for their actions. They mask their bigotry in euphemisms; they'll claim they are not white supremacists, they are just, "Eurocentric." They don't hate immigrants, especially brown immigrants; they're just "putting America first." They don't hate gays, its just that they "don't approve of that lifestyle." And if you question that faulty logic, somehow you are discriminating against them! Apparently, to a lot of these people, religious freedom means freedom to discriminate against people you don't like.

These people want to shut down and shut up all opposition to their hateful views, labeling anyone who voices their regressive opinions a snowflake. They whine about safe spaces, yet they cancel events when students protest, scared to face the opposition. Or they go in the opposite direction; some PC Crybaby Warriors will attack reporters for doing their job! Instead of respecting freedom of the press, they want to shut down the press. Well, the press that they disagree with at least. They can't stand being questioned. They claim to like people and politicians who "speak their mind," but they don't like the ones who speak their mind and disagree with them. Usually, saying that someone "speaks their mind" just means that person says racist shit. People have every right to say racist shit, but it's not really a reason to vote for them.

In Iowa and North Carolina, legislators  proposed bills to require universities to hire an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. These are the same people against Affirmative Action. Yet they literally want to dictate whose voice is heard in higher education. What happened to "pulling yourself up by the bootstraps?" What happened to "the best person for the job should get it"? I'm all for quotas for certain ethnicities and genders at higher universities and jobs because of historic and systemic racism and sexism, but now we're basing hiring practices on how someone thinks politically? These PC Mercenaries are so scared of the proliferation of opposing voices that they want to dictate who is hired to teach at Universities!

This political correctness has ruined our ability to think critically. Someone wants to be called Caitlyn instead of Bruce and people lose their minds! They cry, "I've been calling him Bruce for years, why should I have to change now!" You don't have to! That's the beauty of free speech, you get to say what you want! And then I get to say what I want, namely that you are a bigot! That's not being politically correct, that's being factually accurate!

When these bigoted PC Police hear new terms for old gender identities, they complain, loudly, to anyone who has the misfortune of being in their vicinity. "Why do I have to learn these new words!" they cry out from under their mama's tit through curdled breastmilk covered lips. These PC freaks don't want to broaden their horizons, they want to limit knowledge and acceptance. They want everyone to stick to old terms created by oppressors. "What the hell is genderqueer?" they scream, unable to comprehend any type of sexuality outside of vigorously jerking off into a sock. They want to sustain the same old power structures. "There's no real men anymore!" they shout, not realizing how right they are if applying their words to themselves and their own circle of acquaintances. Real men aren't threatened by someone else's sexual preferences or gender identity. These cowards, scared of any change or progress whatsoever, want to suppress creativity and the evolution of language and sexuality. Everything has to reflect Hetero-Christian values or they cry about persecution. Oh, someone from one of the largest, oldest religions on the planet wants to wear a customary head wrap? Let's lose our minds and chastise them and try to ban head scarves! Or is it burqas, because these idiots literally don't know the difference.

So anyways, all of this was on my mind after my student told me about the idea for his paper. The following week, we had a class discussion on students' progress with their papers. When we got to the student writing about political correctness, I was eager to hear how he was doing. I was going to offer up some of the examples I shared here.

Then he started out talking about how nobody can take a joke anymore. He recited an anecdote: recently he was out with a group of friends. He was wearing a t-shirt with a logo of some company that is typically worn by posh white people. This young man was half white, half Puerto Rican, but he didn't speak Spanish and he was very light skinned. When a friend asked him about his shirt, he said something to the effect of, "Yeah, I'm wearing my white privilege." Apparently, a stranger overheard the comment, took offense, and voiced their disagreement. This student of mine was outraged that he had to listen to this stranger's complaints. He was making a joke! Why was everyone so sensitive!

Then, another student, a white woman in her 30s, said, "I hate that! You can't say anything anymore. And you're a white male, you get it the worst!"

At this point, I realized that I had misjudged the intent of my student's paper. The fact of the matter is, he wasn't standing up against political correctness, he was standing up for his right to tell shitty jokes! I should have known, since that is the commonly held perception of "political correctness." It centers white comfort. I wanted to start calling him Bill Maher, instead I commented on the irony in what he said.

In defending his right to freely speak, he dismissed this stranger's right to call him out. He was in fact forcing political correctness on her: don't say anything negative to me about my shitty jokes or views. We didn't have much time left in class, or else I would have also pointed out how the real sensitive person in his story was, in fact, him. He was writing an entire paper because he was so incensed at this woman's comment from months earlier. Talk about a sensitive snowflake!

Strangely, this beleaguered white man was still allowed to express his thoughts freely in my class without getting arrested or harassed. Weird, since apparently white guys can't do that anymore. (The paper he eventually handed in was 2 pages short of the minimum, poorly sourced and full of typical "political correctness is harmful, nobody can joke around anymore" platitudes.)

The scary part is how common this mindset is. Straight white Christian men are under persecution! They can't say what they want! Extra weird, because we have a straight white "Christian" president that literally says whatever the fuck he wants and never faces any repercussions. The reality is that freedom of speech is just as strong as ever. It's just that all types of people have a voice now, and a lot of white people (and people in power) aren't too happy about that. Even though giving everyone a voice lifts us all up, many white people (and the punditry who make a living reinforcing the status quo) take it as an attack on their standing. The real attack on free speech is coming from the people quick to disparage "political correctness," and that's the scary part. When those in power shut down speech, we should all be worried, not when the gay woman at work asks you to stop making dyke jokes.

The typical rant against political correctness generally follows the same route as my student's. The talking heads at Fox and Jeffrey Shitlord at CNN want everyone to believe that calling out racists is political correctness run amok, but the truth is, they are forcing their own form of political correctness on everyone else. "Don't complain when I say racist vile shit! All opinions are equal!"

Well, no. But it's your right to have an opinion and voice it, and it's my Founding Father-given right to tell you that it sucks.

These sensitive bigots pass themselves off as Defenders of Free Speech yet they obscure their real thoughts with coded language because they're too scared to defend their own views. Then they chastise student protesters; they ridicule people who want to create their own labels for themselves or avoid labels all together; they shut down any substantial discourse on race or poverty with banal quips about black on black crime and bootstraps.

They think freedom of speech means freedom from criticism of their speech, but criticism of their speech is in fact free speech itself. Duh.

Let's drop the political correctness already. Call bigots bigots, and if you are a bigot, accept it. Then do better. And wipe the breastmilk off your chin. It's the CORRECT thing to do.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed