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February 25, 2017

To Be An American Citizen…

(reposted from facebook, the text below this box is exactly the same as the text within it)

I imagine there is a certain, simple, satisfaction in not actually having an argument or an awareness of facts; but rather simply blurting out the first thing that comes to your mind, or the most recent thing you’ve heard.

I cannot fathom putting partisan orthodoxy or talking points above intellect, logic or reason. However, I watch people (intelligent people) from both (all) sides of the political spectrum do it every single day.

It seems “having an answer” (or, in most cases, simply a retort) is all that matters. Validating that it’s a reasonable response often isn’t part of the equation.

As listeners, more and more, we passively ignore (therefore tacitly accepting) this behavior; failing to engage in conflict with conjecture, thereby further weakening the resolve of reality.

what is an american

A government “of the people, by the people, for the people” requires an educated and engaged populous. Democracy does not (cannot) support a race to ignorance. Thomas Jefferson, when addressing the need for a literate electorate, said that – given the choice between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government – “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

If you favor our form of government, our freedoms, our open marketplaces then the time is now to fortify the failing foundations of that framework. Put away your partisan talking points, your canned retorts, and your simplistic meme’s, and actively engage others who don’t do the same.

Living as an American in the United States was, by design, intended to be advanced citizenry; not for the lazy or feint of heart.

No matter how comforting or safe it may feel, you simply cannot be ambivalent and a patriotic citizen of this country at the same time. They are mutually exclusive conditions. The question is, which one are you going to be?

September 23, 2016

Often the most dangerous people don’t carry a gun, they carry a pen (or keyboard)

I’m just going to come right out and say it. While I support the #BlackLivesMatter movement (stridently), I think many of the people who are ranting about police shootings are missing the real point, and, moreover, the real opportunity (assuming there is hope for meaningful change, that is – which, as an eternal optimist, I hold out for).

Here is what statistics (in the only reasonably scholastic study I have been able to find) tell us: police do not appear to have a racial bias toward firing specifically at African-Americans when it comes to discharging their weapons. This is not meant to discount the lives lost or the suffering of the families left behind when an officer does take a life. However, I’ve yet to see any evidence of bias when it come to actually pulling the trigger (while, at the same time, I have seen evidence against the existence of such bias).

But here’s the thing… THAT fact doesn’t matter, THAT fact is not a reason to think things are okay. Because long before the relatively even handed act of a police shooting happens… the acts of systemic racism, and the miscarriages of justice, have already occurred. African-Americans are pulled over twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts, and that disparity grows when you remove moving violations from the mix. More to the point “investigatory stops” – where officers pull a car over for trivial reasons because they suspect something more serious may be going on – are wildly out of balance.

So you have more black people being pulled over, every single day. Once they are pulled over, they are treated more physically in almost every way (the exception, the aforementioned officer shootings), take a look:

Less someone be inclined to suggest that African-Americans are more prone to resist and that is the reason, lets take a look at “compliant” stops (where the person being pulled over obeyed all orders by officers):

The likelihood of police putting their hands on a black person actually increased and the number of times they were pushed into a wall were largely unchanged. These are people who are actively following instructions by police, and yet, they are getting abused at a significantly and consistently greater rate then people of different ethnic groups.

This is where the real underlying problems are, because these things are happening day in and day out. They, unlike police shootings, are regular occurrences… these are our habits. It’s also where – perhaps – some solutions lie as well. The question becomes why do officers treat black people differently than white people when their behaviors are relatively the same? Like many things, the origins of this may be rooted in the generalized action of our society. Culturally, in the United States, we have almost always rendered black people (particularly men) as fearsome creatures. There are many media techniques for doing this:

  • African-Americans criminals are not named in photos roughly half the time (leaving the general classification of their race to be associated with the criminal act), Caucasians are named roughly two thirds of the time.
  • African-American suspects are shown in motion about half the time (showing a suspect in motion humanizes them, and reduces association with general characteristics like race), Caucasians over 2/3′s of the time.
  • African-Americans are depicted being physically held or restrained 38% of the time (images where the accused is being held imply they are more violent), Caucasians are show without restraints over 82% of the time.
  • African-Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be portrayed as criminals than police officers on television news.

This is just a small sample, there are far more statistical facts available in support of the simple premise that we are systemically creating and fostering a culture of fear when it comes to African-Americans. Let me say that more clearly: we are taught to fear black people.

Terence Crutcher, in the words of police, as he was being shot, was a “big, bad dude.”

Terence Crutcher is probably dead right now because Betty Shelby was trained (her whole life) to be afraid of him. We know she scared, in her own words: “I was never so scared in my life as in that moment right then,” To be honest, I’d be scared too if I thought someone was reaching into a car to pull out a weapon; but that’s not the point I’m making. I believe, and there is ample evidence to support this theory, that officers (and everyone else) are more scared of black men then they are of Caucasian men. I suspect Officer Shelby is no exception, and the reason this is true is because she has been socially conditioned her entire life to react just that way (note: this is not – in any way – offering an excuse for her actions, it’s just a possible path toward minimizing the number of times those actions are repeated by others in the future).

Which brings us to where I think so many of the protests are missing the mark. While there is a problem with police shootings, it is by and large a small number of people doing (very) bad things. For example, in one study covering 1.6 million arrests, guns were fired in only 507 cases (that is three hundredths of a percent – .0003 – for those of you keeping score at home). By contrast, most of our media is consistently reporting stories in the manner discussed above; specifically, with a significant amount of racial bias. It is this generalized fear-mongering that creates a culture of perceived threats, itchy trigger fingers, and – ultimately – dead black men.

The circumstances around police shootings are almost always going to be to grey, and – case by case – far too unique to form any generally prescriptive solutions from them; however, there is action that can be taken with regard to how the media reports the news. You can call your local stations (or, even the national broadcasting companies) and request (demand?) that they start to uniformly report on criminal cases. When they fail to do so, use the power of social media to call them out on it (when they succeed, call that out as well – their competitors will notice).

Step one is making people realize that African-Americans are not raging violent beasts, but rather, simply Americans, just like everyone else. Once we normalize the perceptions and get over the institutionalized fear, it becomes far easier to correct the issues as we see them playing out on the street. But make no mistake, the root cause of all of this violence and death is not people with guns… it’s people with pens (and keyboards).

September 30, 2015

Tom Brady, Donald Trump, and Civic Responsibility (this may be the only place you can see those three things linked together)

Tom Brady – in an “obvious” attempt to personify the issues we are having as a nation – said the following in a recent interview regarding whether or not he would be voting for his friend Donald Trump:

brady trump

“One way or the other, it’s so far away from when the election will be. And whatever I vote is going to be my own personal choice based on how I feel. I don’t even know what the issues are. I haven’t paid attention to politics in a long time. It’s actually not something that I really even enjoy. It’s way off my radar.”

While I (strongly) agree with Tom, that his vote should be his own personal choice, what concerns me is the “it’s actually not something that I really even enjoy” sentence.

Politics, the governing of our country, and the preservation of our way of life are not things that were ever meant for anyone’s personal enjoyment. Paying my taxes is “actually not something that I really even enjoy” but I still do it… because it is my responsibility. Fighting (and in many cases dying) across the Pacific, or in Europe in a world war was “actually not something troops really even enjoyed”… but they still did it… because it was their responsibility. Similarly, casting intelligent, informed votes isn’t “fun” … it is your responsibility as a citizen.

Upon first glance it may seem strange to draw a parallel between people laying down their lives in war and folks acting a bit cavalier about how they vote. However, when you look at why those people gave their lives (or pay their taxes), and you consider that having a democratic form of government was, to many of them, worth dying for… how can you not conclude it is critically important to take that responsibility seriously.

I know it’s dry, I know it’s frustrating, I know it does not stand up to the entertainment test like Game of Thrones (or Downton Abby, or Desperate Housewives, or whatever floats your boat), but I don’t care (and neither should you)… it’s your job. Watch a newscast, read the paper, watch the debates, know what you are talking about and vote accordingly.

If you don’t want to… if advanced citizenry isn’t your thing… there are plenty of dictatorships, monarchy’s, and other non-representative forms of government that would love to have you obliviously marching to the beat of their drum.

May 21, 2015

With all Due Respect to Maya Angelou (and Mark Twain)

I love Maya Angelou, I don’t know if I’ve ever had an office that didn’t contain at least one book or collection of hers… this one is on my office bookshelf right now:

However, multiple times a week (sometimes a day, depending on how much free time I am wasting) I’ll see the following on Facebook or Pinterest or somewhere else:

Now, I get where she (and he, before her) is/was going with this. And, on an individual basis – complete with a healthy dose of proper context – I guess I wouldn’t even put up much of a fight about it. However, taken against a more general canvas I think I struggle with the potential message.

Here’s the thing, my entire bio on Twitter (and other places as well) consists of this “what you think of me is none of my business.” Now while that may seem a bit egotistical or something, I assure that is not where it is coming from. The point, simply is that my character, my self-confidence, and (most importantly for this discussion) my actions are not guided by someone else and their opinions… especially of me.

If I’m going to give (whether it is money, time, advice or something else) to someone in need what I’m not going to to is pre-screen that gift against what that person thinks of me… that is completely irrelevant to their need, which is what I’m (at least theoretically) addressing by my actions.

This thought process goes beyond giving. In my everyday life I don’t make decisions about what I think about people based on my perceived notion of how they view me. For starters, how fleeting would my opinions of people be in that instance; reevaluating them each time they had an emotional reaction to something I did?

There are people in my life that I view as priorities who I know for a fact do not view me as such. Some view me as options… some probably view me far worse than that. I don’t care, it has nothing to do with my feelings, respect, or prioritization of them. And frankly, if it did – and I was honest with myself – I’m pretty sure I’d find that petty and small of me. I’m pretty sure most parents have experienced the priority/option paradox with their children, and I doubt any of them are willing to throw out the (mostly grown) baby with the metaphorical bathwater.

So, as much as I revere and respect Maya (and perhaps even Mark.. although I certainly don’t have as “close” a relationship with him as I do her), I have to part ways on this notion. I get the “don’t be trampled upon” idea, but when taken generally I think the bad outweighs the good on this one. You can avoid being trampled on because of a slogan, or you can avoid it because of an inner strength and confidence garnered by setting your own compass, cutting your own jib, and being true to yourself and your feelings. If I were in the business of giving advice, I’d point people toward the latter option…

March 6, 2015

Why I love “The Dress”

Yeah, I said it. I’m not sick, annoyed, confused, or tired of “The Dress” and it’s blue, orange, white, black, gold… purple, pink, green… whatever… hues. It’s not a waste of time, nor an extravagant distraction of the first world order, and here’s why. Because, to put it simply, it has made people think.

Today I saw this:

Sorry “time wasting” apologists… that is not a frivolous message; and it resonates with just about everyone with an internet connection and a pulse.

Not enough for you, how about science:

“These receptors, called melanopsin, independently gauge the amount of blue or yellow incoming light, and route this information to parts of the brain involved in emotions and the regulation of the circadian rhythm.”

Still not your bag… okay how about some deeper (there-is-no-spoon’ish) introspective thinking:

All is conditioning. All is social construction, thought forms, carefully built identities, established “facts” that aren’t really facts but merely mutually agreed-upon illusions we greedily suck down like wine.

Consciousness swallows all labels, spits them back out as origami ducks nowhere near in a row.

Which leads to this very interesting, contemporary and in some ways ironic discussion on the absence of moral facts (vs opinions) in our children’s perceptions of today’s society.

I could fill countless lines of blog space with links to fascinating and educational conversations about, or uses of, “the dress” (none of which, by the way, spend any time arguing about which color it is; those arguments seem to be being made by the same people who think facebook and twitter are all about pictures of burnt peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other wayward “this is my lunch” postings).

So, with apologies to those (very specifically some members of my family) who find “The Dress” to be some sort of productivity succubus bent on destroying the last vestiges of “time well spent;” I’m glad this little debate went viral, I’m glad we are able to recognize – if only briefly – that we all see things through a different lens, and that one view is not necessarily the right or only perspective on things.

We can all learn a something from that little rainbow of a dress.. as long as we don’t waste too much time arguing about it.

April 10, 2013

Much ado about something…

I have heard a steady and incessant stream of criticism for Brad Paisley’s new song (featuring LL Cool J) today. Let me start by saying most of it is bush-league and unenlightened and if you don’t have the ability to discern the difference between ignoring history and trying to create a better future, you do not belong in the “critiquing game.” Small minded people with limited depth of thought really need not apply.

bra and ll

Here is what I see in the song, first and foremost, an attempt by two artists to do what the rest of the country (world?) should be doing; specifically, moving toward a better place. The lessons of the past should not be forgotten, and I’m certain that no one, Paisley or Cool J included, wants to pretend slavery didn’t happen. However, in the real world of today, established social conditions of fear and bigotry are a real and tangible problems and attempts to get beyond those are worth far more than clinging or giving deference to atrocities of the past.

There is not a single black person alive in the United States today who has felt the sting of a foreman’s whip on a plantation, who has been denigrated and treated as less than human by their “master” or who has had all of their liberties systematically striped from them (assuming they ever had them to begin with). There is not one who cannot vote because they are property rather than people and they can drink from the same water fountains (et. al.) as everyone else. However, each and every black person in the United States today, does continue to suffer from the residual effects of slavery. They do not enjoy parity as citizens, equality in the workplace, or uniformity of perception by their peers. They live their lives cast in an inescapable societal role defined by outdated and in most cases never accurate assumptions, perceptions and stereotypes. Or, in simpler terms, they exist in the context of institutionalized ignorance and (hopefully an ever reducing amount of) bigotry.

Therefore, while I agree it is important to remember our history so that we do not repeat it, I do not agree that we need to let it take priority over anything attempting to promote communications and understanding. There is no greater potential power against inequality than knowledge. Comprehending someone else’s reality allows one to understand that they are not the enemy, simply another person (or group of people) moving through life, just like you and me. This is the crux of this song, Paisley trying to clear up what his flag shirt means to him, as opposed to what it might mean to someone who has seen it without any context with which to interpret it. LL hits the nail on the head with this (much maligned) line “I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air but I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here.”

I am flabbergasted that critics have elected to point out that “conversate” is not in the dictionary while ignoring the significance of this outreach (the same critic who used the oh-so-compelling argument of “oh LL” – full stop – to make a point and said “…you can’t be no…” ’nuff said). The intent (read: the substance) here is a stated interest in understanding and a candid admission of what scares him about going down that road. There is more actionable content in that sentence than in the entirety of all of the articles/blogs/videos I have seen bashing the song combined.

If people can begin to understand each other and stop crossing the street in fear because a bunch of black kids are approaching from the opposite direction (or because of a bunch of tattoo’d white kids, or whatever) then that is real progress, something that can make a difference in the world. Understanding that a guy can wear a do-rag without being in a gang, or whistle Dixie without being a racist is a worthy goal… something for which we should be saluting these two artists, not disparaging them.

There are some historical issues in the song, for sure. It is even debatable if the song (musically) is good. However, what is undeniable is that two people from opposite sides of the spectrum got together to produce a piece of art that attempts to unify rather then divide. And if you can’t get behind that, then frankly (and bluntly), I can’t get behind you.

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