July 22, 2008

As it was in the beginning, is now… and forever shall be?

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 4:50 pm

I am in New Orleans this week, this is the first of a series of blogs inspired by my surroundings.

Every time I try to free my mind of the history of this country, reality is thrust back into my face.  Every time someone tells me, while arguing about perpetuating negative stereotypes, that I should lighten up… and I start to think maybe I should… reality is thrust back into my face.  Every time I try to convince myself that the perception of my country being a beacon of truth justice and most of all freedom is a truth and not a reality… you know the rest.

The war of 1812 started (primarily) because of outrage over the conscription of US sailors into the British navy, and British restraints on free trade.  The war lasted over two years and is, in some circles, considered the final step in our total independence from Britain.  It cost the lives of over 2000 Americans (4500 more if you count those killed by disease).

The last major battle of this war was the Battle of New Orleans.  The battle actually took place two weeks after the war was over, but a full month before anyone in these parts knew this to be the case (no internet, I guess).

Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I saw this today while walking through the French Quarter:


The reconciliation took a minute for me, and, honestly, I still do not have any kind of positive resolution.  The final major, and if this is taken at face value, conclusive, battle of the war of 1812. A war that was, at least in part, being waged to secure the freedom of US citizens from their forced servitude on British ships of war… was planned at a slave exchange.

It is both common and convenient to dismiss slavery and excuse those who took part in the practice because it was “normal” back then.  Not going so far as to say it was okay, but to say something along the lines of “they were raised that way, if you lived in that time you would probably share that view” etc.

I must (dis)respectfully back away from (read: express my disgust with) that position.  As a country, we were outraged by our own citizens being forced into servitude to the point that we went to war over it.  I refuse to believe that a group of intelligent, educated men could sit around in a SLAVE EXCHANGE to discuss battle plans for a war designed to free their brethren, and not see the irony of their actions.

I am left wondering how many people who walk past this sign fail to see the hypocracy inherent in it.  How many fail to see, by logical extension, the same irony in place with today’s foreign policies on the environment, oil, nuclear proliferation, etc. At some point the adolescent approach of “taking what we want, because we want it, and to hell with the moral implications of our actions” has got to stop, right?

How long will we invade countries because THEIR natural resources are valuable to US? And… how long can we keep pretending we do not know it is wrong? Perhaps we can get together on one of the fields of battle from the crusades to discuss our next course of action in the middle east… oh wait… we don’t need to do that, we can just get together in Israel again…

This is repeating history folks. This is “how it was in the beginning”, and how it “is now”… however, we still get to determine how it “ever shall be.”  What does the future of your world look like?

July 14, 2008

You are in time out!

Filed under: Observations,obama — sbj @ 4:43 pm

I’m not typically inclined to point people to my blogs when they are posted elsewhere, but the same exact piece you are viewing is posted here and there was an extended conversation in comments, so you might prefer to read it there (just be sure to come back here for more of my writing :)   thx, sbj

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know how passionately I feel about the societal ill of reinforcing negative stereotypes. If you are new, here is a handful of pieces touching on the topic.

A year or so ago my son come home excited to tell me his new and provocative joke. It was racial, and instead of laughter, he received a stern lecture. I discussed with him the effects of his endorsement of the stereotypes included in those jokes. We talked about the history of psychological prejudice and bigotry, and how these stereotypes are used to enable racism, sexism, and any other “ism” you can think of.

We have subsequently had a similar conversation about a video he thought would be funny to put on his MySpace page (yes, I let me teen have a MySpace page, but it’s private and only family can befriend him… I have the password). The video was of US soldiers mocking arab citizens at a checkpoint. We discussed what impression this gave the world at large of the US mission overseas. If it fed appreciation for our efforts, or condemnation of the US as a nation of interfering bigots? Is that really the impression of his country, and the men and women putting their lives at risk for what they believe in, that he wanted to broadcast to the world.

Regardless of whether *he* knew the behavior was wrong, putting it on his profile says he approves of it on some level. Other people, without the same moral compass and ability to see that this is wrong, will look at it, see the approval and continue to *be* those soldiers at that checkpoint. Confident, because of the actions of people like my son, that they are receiving support and approval for their efforts. This is the same as the class bully getting the attention he wants from other kids (everyone laughing as he picks on the geeky kid), and thus continuing to bully.

Over the weekend I discussed the importance of paying attention to the message you send out with your actions. It appears that I should have sent a copy of that blog to the New Yorker. While it is no secret amongst my friends that the New Yorker is one of my favorite magazines; with this weeks cover shot, I am now forced to reevaluate this relationship.

obama - new yorker

The New Yorker has stated it is simply a parody of what right-wingers are saying about Obama, a satire.

In fact, it is a validation.

It is a giant stamp of approval to continue with the misguided stereotypical attack that has been the anti-Obama campaign. In a larger, far more important context, it is empowerment for a legion of bigots to continue their ways unabated, with the New Yorker as their bed-fellow. This magazine, that I once considered my friend, is stealing Obama’s milk money… and they want validation in the form of our laughter.

I expected these conversations to be necessary with my children as they became exposed to society, however I did not expect to have to have this discussion with a publication of this stature and reputation. What makes matters worse is the “it’s just a joke” mantra I am hearing from the New Yorker, and some of my other friends. It is time for the New Yorker to belly up to the bar and admit this was a huge mistake. To apologize and do whatever it can to remedy what it has done. Until then… I am putting the New Yorker in time out.

P.S. A piece on negative stereotypes and how they effect our culture would be a nice start. I know a guy with some opinions on this matter if you need any help…

Just say’n…

July 13, 2008

I am jacks inner garbage-man…

Years ago I was sitting in the office of my company’s CEO one night (we were both there late, and when I noticed her in the office, I stopped by to say hello) just sort of shooting the breeze. While we were chatting, she said something that, on the surface, should have been obvious. However, for whatever reason, it really resonated with me, and has stuck with me until this day.

We were talking about her habit of picking up trash in the parking lot (not your typical CEO’s afternoon activity). The way she explained it to me was this:

It is not reasonable to expect my employees or customers to care if I don’t care myself. If I walk past a piece of trash in the parking lot and do not pick it up, I might as well have thrown it there myself.

I think part of the reason this conversation has stuck with me for so long is that I tend to apply that way of thinking to the world in general. The old saying “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem” is true. It is convenient to think that just because you are not actively contributing to the problem, you are not responsible for its existence. However, this is simply not true. By simply taking the path of least resistance (or greater enjoyment) rather than making the “right” or “best” choice, we are contributing, or at least enabling.

We complain about violence in movies and video games, and yet support a whole culture based on glorifying this violence. We listen to (and let our children listen to) songs like this (which fosters violence, revenge and mindless retaliation):

Instead of songs like this (one of my favorite songs ever) which promotes forgiveness, understanding and a constructive approach to ones future:

We listen to raps like this which extols the “virtues” of womanizing and violence:

Instead of instructive, awareness generating raps like this;

As you can see, you can still tell the story of the ghetto life, without glorifying the violence.

But we continue to make these choices. I was told the other day, in defense of “Before he cheats”, that it is “just a song.” I’m sorry but, catchy and hard to turn off though it may be, it is not just a song; it is an anthem for a big part of what is wrong with our society. When you listen to, speak positively of or sing this song in public, you are giving your implied consent and blessing to the actions taken in the song. Would you really raise your daughter to take a baseball bat and set of keys to the truck of an ex? Would you, by the same token, encourage her to pull the hair out of an offending classmates head for hitting her at school? Any eye for an eye make’s the whole world blind, my friends.

This piece is not about music. It is about everything in our day to day lives. How often do you really look at the actions you are taking, and the statements you are making by in doing so?

We are all stewards of our planet, our countries, our communities and our own personal lives. As I walk through the parking lot of my life, I try to pick up the trash and throw it away (or even better… recycle it), rather than simply walking by and pretending I don’t see it. How about you?

July 8, 2008

With all due respect, Senator Edwards, I’m not buying your cookie…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 9:13 pm

Each of my son’s school’s have bake sales to help fund their programs.  I like the cookies, particularly the oatmeal raisin ones!  The local cub and girl scouts also sell cookies… the Mystic Mints are, quite simply, to die for, and don’t even get me started on cake walks!  It seems like everywhere I go, I can purchase a snack for a cause.  Which I think is fantastic, however, I cannot afford to buy snacks all day long, even if it is to support a good cause.  So I have to choose my cookies (and cause’s) carefully.

I listened to an interview with John Edwards today while zipping around town at lunch.  Part of the discussion was about his plan to eliminate poverty in America within the next 10 years.  While I am certainly for elimination of poverty, and the betterment of anyone and everyone, I was left wanting more.

This is probably not going to make many popularity points for me, and is one of the many reasons I will never hold a public office.  However it is how I feel.  We live in the most affluent nation in the world.  Our “poverty” level is what most countries call middle class, and in some countries, would equate to an upper class income.  Since the US economy is thriving on the backs of outsourced international labor and the proceeds of selling our goods and services overseas, I do, in fact, see this as being our problem.

I applaud Senator Edwards for his objectives and focus.  Perhaps global poverty is not his cause, and he, and the nation, are best served with him keeping his focus where he is.  However, my convictions force me to speak for those in Rwanda, and those in India and those around the globe who know the meaning of real poverty.  People who could live for a month, or more (sometimes much more), on the income generated from the least productive day spent panhandling here in the states.

People dying at a staggering rate, infant mortality rates that boggle the mind and inflation that is too high to actually understand unless you are experiencing them first hand, are commonplace around the globe.  We do not have poverty, on this scale, in our country.  Further, where it does exist, we could, as a nation, eradicate it with a mere modicum of effort and conviction.  We, as a nation, simply lack that conviction.  The fact that our priorities are elsewhere is a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless.

So, for me, I would rather see investments of time and money put into the global theater.  I would sleep a lot better in my 1600 sq/ft house knowing that people were not starving while being crammed 10 deep in to straw huts in Africa.

I have given to homeless and poor people in my community (and those that I visit on business) for years, and will continue to do so.  I think individuals, and local communities should do the same wherever and however they can.  However, when it comes to a national campaign I think we need a more global perspective.

When it comes time to support someone’s bake sale against poverty, those are the cookies I will be buying.

July 7, 2008

I think you are the coolest person alive…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 5:09 pm

I remember when we did that thing we did.  Okay… I’m hazy on the details, but you smiled, a lot, I remember that like it was yesterday!

I remember when we went to that place we went.  Well… I remember that we went somewhere, can’t remember exactly where… but I know we laughed for hours, I remember that like it was yesterday!

I remember that place where we ate, when we had that amazing meal.  Some of the details are a bit sketchy… but I know you guided my hand ever so gently to your mouth when I shared my food with you, I remember that like it was yesterday!

I remember that time we went dancing, it was at that one club.  Specific memories are not my strong suit… but I know how cool it felt when you emerged from the crowd, looking simultaneously overjoyed and urgent, grabbed my hand and dragged me off to the dance floor because “our song” was on, I remember that like it was yesterday!

I remember that time we walked all around that place we were walking.  I’ve no idea what we talked about, or how long we walked… but I know we kicked a great many leaves between us, walking arm in arm striding in intertwining arches, I can still hear the leaves, I remember that like it was yesterday!

I remember that one sunrise we watched.  I’m not sure where it was, or if it was particularly beautiful… but I do know that we were surprised to see the light, we were having so much fun that we had no idea what time it was, I remember that like it was yesterday!

I remember watching you sleep that time you fell asleep unexpectedly. Not sure when it was, or why you were so tired… but I do know that I watched you and thought “this is the coolest person I will even know… ever”, I remember that like it was yesterday!

In fact, I remember that everyday…

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