April 30, 2013

Without tolerance, there’s something missing…

So, I’ll just admit it. Five years ago, I was a hater. A big time hater who eschewed most of what he believed in in order to advocate for what he believed in. I think the technical term for this is hypocrite. And like most things, it got worse before it got better (assuming I can justifiably call where I am now better… I have no idea how I will judge myself in five more years).


This little epiphany came to me shortly after I was sorting through and processing news related to Jason Collins, specifically the reactions of other people to his announcement. This may seem unrelated to what follows, but bear with me… they connect (at least in they mystical ether more commonly referred to as my brain). A friend came up to me and showed me a picture on Facebook with President Bush and President Obama standing together with a caption that read something like “like if you think Bush was a better President.”

Laughter ensued, and a few snarky comments as well. But then it struck me, there are a lot of people who would be inclined to hit that like button. A lot of good, intelligent, compassionate people for that matter. And here I was mocking them, and then… suddenly… I was transported back in time to 1984 with the sage words of none other than the great prophet General Public resounding through my mind and into my soul:

I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it
I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful
Words are so cheap, but they can turn out expensive
Words like conviction can turn into a sentence

Hyperbole aside, this is where my mind went. I pointed out to my friend that, in fact, there is a group of people who really sincerely believe that President Bush was the better leader of the free world. I went on to say (in my mind) “who am I to berate them for that?” Our country is deeply divided right now over… well.. pretty much everything. This is not because one side is clearly right and the other side is clearly wrong (if that were true we wouldn’t be so deeply and evenly divided); more-so, it is because we are investing so much time and energy in pretending that the other side is clearly wrong – and deriding them for it – that we aren’t spending any (or at least enough) time actually trying to come up with solutions.

I, for example, in my excitement to support the candidate I had chosen, jumped firmly on the waxing tide of vitriol being heaped on outgoing President Bush as part of the Obama campaign. Completely ignoring the fact that Bush was not running in 2008, so anything dumped on him had nothing to do with the election that year. What I saw in Obama, a chance for progress toward general equality and tolerance I was conveniently evading in my own political rhetoric.

Coming back to Mr Collins announcement yesterday. I am happy, impressed and (more than anything else) thankful with/to him for taking that all important first step and “coming out.” I was also overwhelmed with the initial outpouring of positive emotion and support for him from athletes and others. Then some of the “other” responses started to trickle in. Mark Jackson said:

“As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family and I’m certainly praying for them at this time.”

This was actually filed under the “positive” responses… I didn’t take it that way (I’m not going to go into how I did take it as that would run contrary to what I’m trying to say with this post… you can be your own judge).

Mike Wallace posted an update on twitter wondering why, with so many attractive females around, a guy would want to mess around with another guy. An ESPN reporter went off on a bit of a rant about living in sin and what it was or was not to be Christian.

It was Mr. Wallace’s comments that really struck me. My instant (in my mind, again) response was something along the lines of:

That’s like asking a football player (which he is) – “with so many good basketball games going on, why would you want to waste your time on football” – or, asking a person who is eating Thai food – “with so many good Italian joints out there, why would you take your chances on Thai”…

In short, it’s a matter of taste. My sister (despite being brought up in a good family and being loved as a child) loves (**LOVES**) mayonnaise. I, by contrast, loath the fact that it exists and might accidentally get on a spoon I could possibly use months (and numerous washings) later. Other than the fact that *I think* she is bat-shit crazy for liking the stuff, there is nothing wrong with my sisters view. Further, no amount of intense personal loathing of the creamy white menace on my part will make her wrong (let alone change her taste for it).

There is also nothing wrong with Mr. Collins being more attracted to men than to women. In a more open, equal society he might be just as confused about why Mr. Wallace likes women as Mr. Wallace is currently confused about Collins predilection toward men. And that’s the thing, we should be able to treat someones sexual orientation (or political views) like my sister and I treat her taste (or my lack thereof) for mayonnaise (with respectful levity if anything at all).

But somehow we can’t. Bush has to be a villain and the worst President in history, God has to hate fags, I’m supposed to hate Mike Wallace (or Chris Culliver before him) and on and on it goes. What we fail to grasp, at times, is that while something may be a complete abomination to some of us (I’m looking at you, mayonnaise), what someone else feels about it is none of our business. Even when we view it as a sin or a blight against humanity we also need to remember that people are blessed with free will and can sin, blight, and abominate to their hearts content… so long as they are not harming others in the process. It is not our job to “fix” them, and even if it were… hating on them won’t do it.

The same friend who brought me the picture this morning also made the point to me yesterday that people shouldn’t be chided for openly and honestly sharing their feelings (ALA Mr. Wallace), even if they run contrary to the feel good mood of the day. And he’s right. He’s right because at the end of the day it’s not how well we articulate our opinions of someone else’s views that will make the world a better place, but rather, how well we tolerate, understand and ultimately respect those views no matter how much we might disagree with them.

April 25, 2013

Go home Ken, you’re drunk.

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 9:18 pm

I am sure, all things considered, being a plantation owner can be tough, with its own set of problems to overcome. However, I do not believe that meas that you get equate your issues with those of your slaves. Is this an unfair comparison, am I being too rough on this guy? Perhaps… lets take a look. I’ll describe what went on during slavery, and then we’ll see if we can swap out the word “men” for “slave owners” and the word “women” for “slaves.” If we can, I might be on to something, if not… I owe “Ken” and all of the men of the world an apology, here we go…

Slave owners oppressed, comodified, and degraded (among other things, like raped) their slaves. They build a culture which institutionalized the oppression of slaves while enabling and empowering the socioeconomic and political dominance of slave owners.


Although, to be fair, no one is advocating seceding from the union or a civil war based on the feminist movement (yet)… so perhaps I went slightly overboard.

Going further down the “fair” track, I do not believe that “Ken” really wants to equate himself with Barbie. I think he just wants to say “don’t forget about me, things can be tough over here as well. Everyone has issues, even Ken.” And, if he had said that, he’d be right (and I’d have nothing to write about today). But he didn’t… he said “…just as hard…”

With all due respect, “Ken,” no, it’s not. It’s not and – in all likelihood – it never will be. As I have pointed out about myself many times in this blog… white males hold all the cards in our society; every advantage is tilted our way. Can we still fail? Sure. Can we still have miserable lives? Sure. But, is it “just as hard to be Ken as it is to be Barbie?” No, no, and hell no.

Metaphorical Ken oppresses, comodifies, and degrades (among other things, like raping) metaphorical Barbie. He has built a culture which has institutionalized the oppression of metaphorical Barbie and enables and empowers the socioeconomic and political dominance of metaphorical Ken.

This individual Ken (picture above) might not be doing it, but more of the Kens throughout the years have been doing it than not and they have, through their collective efforts, created an entirely uneven playing field. If one side, in general, is running up hill and the other side, in general, is running down hill… guess who is going to win the race?

I’m not mad at ken. I don’t dislike Ken. I certainly don’t think Ken is a bad guy. Fact is, he’s obviously struggling a little, and I really wish there was some way I could help him out, to be honest. However, what cannot come from that is a notion of implied equality between Ken and Barbie.

Ken and Barbie are not equal… that is what the struggle for equal rights is all about. While men can and do suffer, it is not the same, and it is certainly not “just as hard.”

April 24, 2013

Inspired by segregation???

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 9:30 pm

In a word, no. However, I was, nonetheless, inspired as a result of this story. Today I received links to the following video by three different people:

The reason the video exists is appalling. In the year 2013, it appears, we still have a (partially) segregated south. This is shocking, offensive, mind-numbing, and (perhaps surprisingly) not at all what I want to talk about.

Instead I want to focus on the 7 conversations I have had about it today; each and every one of which contained some version of the following observation on the part of the person I was talking to:

Can this really be happening


This can’t be real, right?

And, as difficult as this is for me (and if you’ve known me or followed my writing for any length of time, I’m sure you know how hard this really is), I want to focus on that for a moment rather than the offense of the situation itself.

Because that is what gives me hope. The fact that every person I know (that I have discussed this with) has moved beyond offended and entered the world of bewildered and a touch incredulous is very encouraging to me.

Change starts (and stops and starts and stops and starts… you get the idea) when people get angry about things; however, change becomes embraced, owned and institutionalized when actions contrary to it are more befuddling and more of an assault to common sense than they are infuriating. I think we, in general, are starting to get there on this issue, and that excites me.

So, a big sticker to these girls (in the video) for taking a stand and working toward righting the ship in their corner of the world… and another one for all of you who looked on in shock and disbelief as the video played out. Your mind set, and that of those you interact with and effect, will be the instruments that will make this cultural shift a reality.

And to the folks tearing down the signs and trying to maintain the segregated dance… no sticker for you.

Actually, on second thought…

April 23, 2013

Five technologies that every PTA/PTO (parent teacher organization) should consider using…

In addition to annoying half of the internet with my views on various social topics, I spend some of my time serving as the President of the parent (although we call it “community”) organization at my youngest sons school. I have held some sort of position at my children’s school PTA/PTO/parent/community organizations for the past nine years.

Given that my day job is that of IT grunt, I naturally have pushed these organizations to try out the newest, coolest, and (even occasionally) the most effective technologies available to enhance our service offerings and efficiency.

Over the last few years a handful of technologies have distinguished themselves in my eyes, so I thought I’d pass them on in case someone else is just starting down this path.

1. VolunteerSpot: My son’s school is a charter which is K-9 (will be K-12 in 3 years when the current 9th graders get to their senior year). The students are divided into two physical locations half way across town from one another. Every month the Community Network hosts a teacher appreciation lunch at each school. We typically do soups (2 regular, one vegetarian) and salads (2) with some bread (3) and desserts (3). We also have someone provide bowles, spoons, forks, napkins etc. as well as recruiting a set up and cleanup crew. We provide this for roughly 30 teachers per school. Enter VolunteerSpot. Each month I go in and set up the event complete with all of the roles that need to be filled. One week before the event I send out an email to the class that is providing the lunch that month (we rotate through the classes each month to try to distribute the load as evenly as possible) and then I sit back and watch the magic. Usually the majority of the spots are filled within 48 hours and I almost never have to send out a second solicitation. We never have too much food, too much of a particular item, or a shortage of anything (i.e. vegetarian soup). Whats more the VolunteerSpot system automatically sends out reminder emails to each volunteer prior to the event and has the ability to shoot out thank you notes to all of the volunteers as well. And… if that’s not enough, at tax time it sends the volunteers a summary of their activities in case they want to include them on their tax returns. All for the very reasonable price of free. I consider this online service (or something similar to it) to be an absolute must for planning and managing events.

2. MailChimp: If you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers, you can send up to 12,000 emails per month for the (once again) low low price of free. We’ve used MailChimp for monthly newsletters (formatted in HTML for a professional look), soliciting volunteers for events and more. You can group your recipients (say by grade or availability to volunteer during the day, etc.), track your mailings effectiveness, and avoid being blocked by spam filters. MailChimp does pretty much everything that its more well know “big brother” ConstantContact does and for most folks there is no need to use the pay version. This is another service that I couldn’t imagine running a parent organization without.

3. SurveyMonkey: Yes, it is another service named after a banana eater… I don’t make the news (or the names) I just report it! SurveyMonkey is another free web based solution I find invaluable. it is, as you might imagine software set up to survey your members on how you are doing, what they might want to see happen in the future… or pretty much anything you might want to know more information about. The free version is limited to 10 questions, but based on being able to lay them out in a grid (i.e. rank the following 10 things on a scale of 1 to 10) you can really ask far more than 10 questions. This is especially true given that each question also allows for a free form comment box that can be used to solicit more information. You are limited to 100 respondents, so remember keep that in mind as you are sending out your questionnaires.

Note: at this point the list become a little more flavored toward my taste. There are options to these last two if you are not inclined toward using them.

4. Evernote: Evernote is a free web based data collection service. What we have done is convert all of our manuals, forms, instructions, etc. into Evernote. All of the documentation for our organization is in one place. Additionally we use the Evernote web clipper to capture useful articles and sources of information that might be useful to the group in the future. Evernote has sort of become our brain. The end goal is to have a living “document” that can change and expand over the years as the organization does… collecting out institutional knowledge. If every member of the current organization were to leave the school after this year, in theory another group of parents could step in and keep the ball rolling fairly effortlessly based on the collected information in our Evernote account.

5. Facebook: It’s unlikely you found this blog if you don’t know what Facebook is, but here is a quick rundown on why we use it. One of our main goals as an organization is to maintain a communications thread across the entire school – to parents, students, and faculty/staff, Facebook is the closest thing to “common ground” we have found. Clearly we don’t get everyone with Facebook, but given the push nature and the cross demographic reach, it is our go to application for communications. Obviously we still email (see #2 above) but for quick communication blasts or to broaden the base (via the viral effect of social media) of who sees what we are trying to communicate Facebook is the answer.

While they may not be every answer to everyone, these five services, coupled with a generic web based email address for the organization (we use gmail, but any service would be fine) that can be used as the common login for all of them, should allow your organization to hit the ground running from a technology standpoint. This should allow you to focus on other things, like how to avoid writing sentences as “run on” as my last one! ;)

April 21, 2013

For better or for worse…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 5:32 pm

There’s probably some danger in titling a post “For better or for worse” and then starting it off with “I was talking to my wife this morning” … but that’s exactly what I’m about to do…

I was talking to my wife this morning about Facebook, specifically why she doesn’t really get all that into it… and doesn’t really get the rush that leads people to get “addicted” (words that came from an ad we heard while driving). She spoke of political propaganda, people spreading things they had heard without verifying the (in many cases lack of) facts, and of how folks manipulated situations toward their own ends (etc. etc. etc.). I can’t say I disagree with anything she said (although this doesn’t stop me from being a moderate Facebook user).

So then we got home, and I pored a bowl of cereal and headed to my computer to browse the internet while eating (kind of like reading the paper over breakfast but woefully less cool). Over time I drifted over to facebook, and the first thing I saw was this picture:

To which I responded:

I’m not really sure what makes me sadder, the fact that someone intentionally co-opted this policeman’s good dead for a malicious and small attack, or the fact that over 60,000 people have liked it, over 18,000 have shared it and lord knows how many people have commented upon it.

I take solace in my belief that many (if not the majority) of the people who have propagated this are doing so based on the picture itself, and perhaps the first few lines. That they have not seen, have chosen to ignore, or have dismissed the last line as trivial.

Nonetheless, it is an embarrassing and candid look at the downside of social media in general… and a strong argument for not over investing in such. If this was my primary exposure to Facebook (et. al.)… I’m certain I’d have the same view as my wife; because, this certainly qualifies as “worse.”

ps – this is a particularly difficult post, and this image struck me harder than it normally would have – I am sure – on the heals of what I wrote on Friday about the bombing in Boston. I was actively looking for the good in this story… thought I had found (some of) it – which, in reality I did, of course – only to have my optimism dashed by some simpletons idea of wit.

April 20, 2013

It’s not what you know…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 4:47 am

As many of you have been around for a while know, I listen – almost exclusively – to NPR while driving my car. Today, while picking up my son and subsequently heading to the store I learned more about Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26) and Dzhokar Tsarnaev (19) than I have learned about Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson combined since I graduated from high school.

I learned about their college party years, and how the degenerated. I learned about their sports careers, boxing and wrestling mostly. I got to hear about their twitter accounts and the types of things they posted in the past, from this I know they were Guns N’ Roses fans. I’ve heard about their homeland, and its attempted rebellions and subsequent struggles. I heard from their mother, their uncle and various friends as well.

In short, I know all about the two men who tried to kill as many innocent bystanders as they could last Monday. I know more about them than I do some of my cousins (which is more an indictment upon me than anyone or anything else).

What I don’t know anything – or at least very little – about; however, are any of the victims, first responders, or hospital staff that worked on the victims. I don’t know anything about the family and friends who sat and waited for hours during surgeries and other procedures (for all I know some are still standing vigil over their loved ones).

I understand why we don’t hear much about the victims, they last thing they need are their lives rocked by media right after being victimized in a senseless act of violence. But why don’t we make a bigger deal about the people that help, why don’t we have hour upon hour of coverage on the positive side of humanity?

I don’t care to glorify, or even learn about two man who’s lives went so horribly wrong that they turned to an act of terror as a means of self expression. What I want to know more about are people that I can look up to… people who act heroically, or at least selflessly.

While listening to the coverage driving home today, my son said to me “why do people want to hear or see this stuff… it’s just depressing.” And they way it is typically portrayed I can’t really argue with him.

What said to him, though, was that while it is true that these situations can be very depressing, they can also show you the beauty in people as well. True, there were two boys that demonstrated the darker side of humanity, but there were hundreds of people who showed compassion, caring and courage as well.

There is a Mr Rogers quote that has been making the rounds recently. Not just this week, but in the aftermath of other tragedies as well. It it popular to the point that I am hesitant to use it. However, I think it eloquently articulates what I was trying to say to my son:

As with most things in life, what you get out of something is often very much hinged on how you view it and what perspective you use to interpret it. There is a good positive message in the reporting of these stories. I just wish it was as easy to find as a slideshow of Mr. Tsarnaev’s golden gloves boxing history.

April 17, 2013

If nice guys finish last… it’s because we let them…

So, I was minding my own business this afternoon, lying in bed browsing facebook intending to do nothing productive at all… when this popped up in my timeline:

There goes the neighborhood…

I spent last week attacking some of the stereotypes that plague women… focusing largely on sexpliotation in advertising and in practice. What I didn’t address at all was the sexist humor sub-culture. Because, honestly, I completely forgot all about it… which is part of why it is so insidious.

When someone tells you a joke (or even if you just see it online, to a lesser extent) it tends to be much harder to run contrary to it than some of the more blatant things we have seen recently. I’m sure very few people had trouble being put off by the cologne ad that was in the sexploitation post; but its much harder to respond harshly to a joke.

“It’s just a joke!” … “Lighten up!” … “You are no fun!”

Not only do you seldom get a meaningful conversation, but, often, you wind up being the bad guy (and not the good kind of bad guy… if there is such a thing). Speaking of which… there is this one floating around out there as well:

That rings more true, I think, and is far less a part of the problem… here’s why.

The first image nearly begs you to treat a woman poorly. It very clearly indicates that, in order to succeed with women (not be single) you mustn’t treat them nicely. Far and away, the number one reason for being single (read: failing in the dating game) – according to this epiphany filled experts guide to relationship Shangri-La – is treating women nicely.

Culturally, if I do not want to be shunned, I am allowed two reactions to this 1. I can think it is funny and laugh… giving it my tacit approval, or 2. I can attempt to imply empathy or comradeship (i.e. “true story, bro”)… seemingly giving it my explicit approval.

Either way, even if I don’t personally treat women poorly, I am enabling and advancing a society that encourages me (and everyone else) to do so.* A culture that fails by creating kids like the Steubinville football players we all know so well. A lot of things contributed to their depravity, to be sure. Not insignificant in it’s influence, I’m certain, is the cornucopia of exposure points for this type of subtle abuse-empowering messaging.

The fact of the matter is, however, that it isn’t funny or true. You can enhance your chances with women by being confident, assertive, and perhaps even a little brazen, but you cannot enhance them by being an ass (read: by being mean, neglectful or abusive). You may succeed in shaming or intimidating a women into not leaving you… but don’t be mistaken… you have not accomplished or “won” anything.

(For the record, being nice to her and no one else is only one small step in the right direction, and is not victory either. But I really feel the intent behind that “bad boy” is more the confidant, take charge kind of guy who is not by definition the bad kind of bad.)

The old phrase that goes “nice guys finish last” – thankfully – is typically (or at least universally) not true. However, jokes like the pie chart above advance a society that supports that mind set and, subsequently, a culture of abuse. It’s not easy to stand up to the weight of a social situation, especially against something the vast majority of people consider innocuous, and say “hey, that’s not funny (or true)” but if not you, than who?

Because at the end of the day, the only way nice guys (or gals) actually finish last is if we allow them to do so, and I really don’t want to live in that world, do you?

*The effect of this is, by the way, no different than it would be with any ethnic, racial, gay, or other stereotype supporting joke you may hear (or choose to tell), I just happen to be focused on women for whatever reason right now. Probably leftover angst over Steubinville, Halifax, San Jose etc.

April 15, 2013

The Tipping Point

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 5:22 pm

Time and again, on these pages, I have opined about the ills of our society. As often as not, that has boiled down to money, specifically corporate profit. We seem to have a established habit of opting for the choice that is healthier for the business bottom line than the human race in general.

Today, the Supreme Court will be hearing a case that would appear to put a magnifying glass on this trend. A case that could well be a benchmark on where we go as a species. The question boils down to this, should recouping a businesses efforts and expenses toward a medical breakthrough be more important than making said breakthrough generally available so that the benefits can be taken advantage of to save more lives.

What they will be debating in front of the court will be whether extracting part of a human DNA strand constitutes “invention” and therefore is protected by patent law, or if it is closer to “effort” which is great, but not subject to patent protection. Those arguing in defense of the patent will tell the judges that what they are doing with the strand segments is new and discernibly different than what occurs in nature (you can’t patent an act or state of nature). Those arguing against will say that, while the company’s work was good and certainly pain-staking and expensive… it does not fundamentally change the nature of the DNA components being tested and therefore is ineligible for patent protection.

At first I thought this was a horrible case of greed vs. saving lives. However upon reflection I realize it is beyond silly to assume that the other companies wanting to use these markers are doing so for humanitarian reasons… their bottom line stands to benefit significantly from this as well, which is likely their primary motivation for being in court.

However, at the end of the day, the Supreme Court is either going make a ruling that says one company gets to make as much money off of this advancement (toward paying off all of the research they did to get to this point), or multiple companies are going to be able to use this technology/science to save lives. And if they take the former path rather than the latter, this may be a bit of a tipping point for me (and not the good kind). I feel myself starting to give up, to lose hope… and if the Supreme Court agrees that the profit margins of a company are more important than the lives of those who might benefit from advances in gene sequencing… I’m not sure that my decent will be easily put in check down the road.

We have (d?)evolved from an age when Dr Salk, when asked about patenting his Polio vaccine said “There is no patent … could you patent the sun?” to an era where Myriad Genetics wants to own (in the form of a patent) part of the human genome. Sometimes the old ways are better… and certainly more honorable.

April 14, 2013

Sexpliotation, is it really that big a deal… you tell me. (somewhat unsafe for work)

Filed under: Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — sbj @ 5:07 am

“What’s wrong with caring what you look like/wanting to look your best all the time/being pretty.” I have been asked some variation of this question literally dozens of times since I posted “Putting your worst foot forward” on Thursday.

As I stated in my responses to these comments, I don’t have a problem with any of those things. In fact, I think doing your best is an admirable (and, if you want to be successful, mandatory) thing to do. However, as I pointed out to my good friend who has a sister who is (according to her) widely considered the “pretty, smart one” vs. her description of herself as the “helpful, quiet one”…

And there, in the final paragraph, is the rub. Women today are ranked first and foremost by their looks, and if you don’t “get it done” from an attraction standpoint in that area, you are instantly a second class citizen (you aren’t hopeless… but the deck is definitely stacked against you). Further, lets say you do make the grade. Lets say you are attractive… even “hot”… what happens then?

Well, you might be suitable for uncomfortable sex in the front seat of a car (although what you are really doing is selling Axe… for men):

You might be equated to (confused with?) an airbag (for the purpose of selling luxury cars… for men):

Your sexual past might not be considered important enough to eschew you (but **only** if you were hot enough, and you were willing to be used to sell used luxury cars… for men… of course):

If you are super hot and a philanthropist, you could even be a positive force for change in the world (if you were willing to imply indirect sexual conquest/consent… for men):

Orm best yet, you could be afforded the fantastic privilege of spreading ‘em for whoever happens to spray on a touch of Tom Ford cologne (you guessed it… for men):

All of this, mind you, is for the “winners,” for women who are at the top of the ladder in the category most commonly related to their success and closely tied to their value in society… attractiveness and sexuality.

Are there other ways to be successful as a woman? Sure, you could be a tennis player for example:

But two out of the top four Google search results would be about how sexy you were or were not.

You could be a soccer player:

Three out of the top six.

You could even be one of the most powerful people in the world. However, if you decided to not wear makeup and maintain your appearance you would be talked about for having been forgetful, having given up your ambition, or both.

And there you have it. You can, as a woman, reach the the pinnacle of success – Clinton could very easily have been our last president and she was a Senator and our Secretary of State – however, if you elect to go without make-up or contacts, you are news.

The simple fact is that women today are evaluated by how good looking they are… their waist, bust and hip measurements… how they dress and present themselves… and how they interact with men. If we are being honest – and speaking in general terms – that’s pretty much it. Certainly there are exceptions, but again, taken on the whole this is the state of our society.

So I say again, while I have no issues with the attributes of “pretty,” “beautiful,” or even “hot” in and of themselves, and I certainly appreciate attractive people and things… I do have an issue with those being the primary tools for evaluating another human being. Collectively, we need to get over judging our women by their covers. If that starts by letting our guard down a little regarding how we present ourselves on a regular basis, so be it.

April 11, 2013

Putting your worst foot forward

Filed under: Make the world better,Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 3:27 pm

Yesterday I posted a kind of ranty, kind or preachy, pseudo call to action piece. The theme (at least at the end during the “call to action” part) had to do with the exploitation of women, particularly their sexuality, in today’s society. In response to this (one of a few interesting responses I received) I got an email with the simple subject “practice what you preach!” and this link:

Bad Picture Monday

For those not inclined to follow the link, it suggests – in short – that people post a bad picture of themselves each Monday in order to reject the idea that ones value is based on your appearance. Don’t hide the real you behind a wall of flattering posed pictures taken at just the right angle in just the right light… show the real you.

My instant, admittedly thoughtless, response was (and I quote) “Love it… I’m in… you?” And the fact is, I do (love it) and I am (in). It feeds fantastically into what I have said (or want to say) over and over again. To borrow and build upon (which is not meant to imply improving upon… simply acknowledging that I am adding additional words to his quote) a little from Dr King… people should be judged by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin, the shape of their bodies, the clarity of their skin, or the bone structure of their faces.

It also reminded me of my crusade against(ish) make-up. I’ve never been a fan and I’ve yet to encounter a time when I think it has been an improvement to a persons appearance. I acknowledge that it can *change* a persons appearance, which is something someone might want to do (like changing the color or design of a shirt, jacket or whatever they are wearing); but that is not the same as improving. In my mind makeup is a facade placed over how someone really looks. Which, is fine, if they are doing it because they want to look different (much like one might get a tattoo if you want your arm, back, leg, whatever, to look a certain way). However, all too often make-up is worn because the person feels they “need it” to look better (or even acceptable), and that is where this here rubber meets that thar road and I take umbrage. No one should feel forced to change their appearance to fit a norm or a standard.

But I digress (I do that a lot)…

In short, it’s what’s inside that counts. Anything that lends credence or support to that idea is “top of the list” stuff to me. To me, this “bad picture Monday” idea is right in the wheelhouse.

But then I gave it a bit more thought on the way into work today, and, frankly, I’m not as enthused as I was. I still like the idea just as much… the problem is this: I already post bad pictures of myself… a couple of random examples (with varying -increasing, I think – degrees of “bad”):

It turns out that it is no big deal to me to post unflattering pictures. This is probably mostly due to the fact that I am tall, employed, relatively fit and healthy, white, and male… with a good family… in America. What, really, do I have to be insecure about? In fact, when I post those pictures it is typically to get a laugh at my own expense.

Which got me to thinking… have I, in the past, been positive/secure/confident and mentally healthy in posting these… or have I been an oblivious participant in an oppressive culture? Am I, without my own knowledge, poking fun at people who are insecure with their appearance, mocking those who do not have the time or resources to make themselves “presentable?” Am I, in fact, part of the problem rather than my objective of being part of the solution? I’m not sure what the answers to these questions are (I’m game to hear from anyone with ideas).

More to the point, a woman rejecting the idea she needs conform to a certain image in order to have value makes sense because that addresses what is broken in society. For a man it is different, typically we are judged by something like our earning potential… so perhaps I should start there. This train of thought reminds me of this image I saw a while back (which I’ve been saving for a blog of it’s own… which may still happen). It paints about as clear a picture as I’ve seen of how society values the respective genders:


It is something I’ll have to ponder and explore a bit more. For now I’m going forward with the plan to post bad pictures on Monday’s; however, I am reserving the right to pull back after re-evaluation. Perhaps, given who I am and the position of privilege fate has given me… there is something more appropriate for me to be doing that assaults some other stereotype.

However, until I figure that all out… viva la mala imagen!!!

April 10, 2013

The Decisive Element…

Some of the “Facebook history threads” or whatever they are called are hilarious, some are patently offensive… the one I read today, while having doses of both, I found to be more instructive or insightful (even if – perhaps – accidentally so).

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know one of my pet peeves is when someone willingly relinquishes their position of righteousness and joins the madding crowd. This usually take the form of some form of revenge or vigilante justice. I should be up front about this… I’m a prime example of a person who – despite awareness, loathing and best efforts – has done, and most likely will continue to do, this very thing. It drives me no less crazy (in fact considerably more-so) when I am the one doing it.

Getting back to the little comedic history (this one was about WWII) there was this clip:

Note the (very short) journey of common sense in this clip. From a rather… dare I say… common sense response to one charged with anger and retribution. For now I’m going to ignore all of the pro/con arguments about the use of atomic power at the end of WWII, that is not the point of this piece. Rather I want to talk about how our emotions effect our thinking, judgement, and finally actions.

Literally years ago (it will be 5 years in May… unbelievable that I have been at this that long) I wrote about the somewhat famous Stanford prison experiment, the effects of the war in Iraq on our soldiers and other manifestations of stress et. al. Like the clip above, these are all cases of seemingly normal, healthy, and good people going bad.

At the very least, without context, their actions would be taken as bad, and in some cases even with full disclosure there is seemingly no excuse for what transpired. In the case of the clip above, in an attempt at humor, the creator has captured the essence of how so many bad decisions are made and bad actions taken. Given the right stimulus the human brain can rationalize any action. Note, for example, that the motivation for the sudden change of heart was actions taken by the Germans… while Japan received the atomic treatment.

Atomic (and nuclear) weapons will never do the bulk of their damage against the perpetrators of atrocities, but instead the majority of the victims will be the (at least relatively) innocent people having the misfortune of being born within the borders of the “evil doers” country. At best, tens of thousands of civilians (again, arguably completely innocent) will die for every truly “bad” person killed in such an attack. Morally, practically, and certainly with an eye toward justice, it makes absolutely no sense as a solution… and yet…

I had an online conversation yesterday and today regarding a rape/suicide and the perpetrators who walked away pretty much scotfree. The conversation was ripe anger (perhaps more accurately: rage) frustration, and helplessness. What was disturbing to me though were the calls for retribution rather than justice. There was talk of meat grinders, forced suicide etc. etc. etc. I understand the anger and hopelessness, and feel it myself, but I do not think sinking to an equally destructive position does the world any good. It might (or might not) make an individual feel better, but what has it done to reshape the rape/sexploitation/comodification of women culture we live in? what had it done to prevent the next Stuebenville, or Halifax, or wherever?

Slap on the wrist sentences are ridiculous and no more equal to justice than meat grinders. However, trivial punishments are something that we can reasonably attempt to address, without becoming part of a spiral of anger and destruction. Moreover, when it comes to changing the culture we live in, punishing the perpetrators of these crimes to the extreem is a bit like putting a mattress on the spot a jumper landed when they threw themselves to their death. It won’t bring them back, it won’t save the next person (even in the highly unlikely situation that they land in the same spot), and it won’t change the circumstances that led that person and anyone having already jumped or considering taking their own lives from following that path.

What we need is a fundamental societal shift.

When determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime their actions, and only their actions, need to be considered. It doesn’t matter what their victim was wearing, singing or doing with their cherry stem… what matters is what the accused did with their hands (or other implements). This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


When the US patent office receives a copyright application for “breastaurant” they need to reject it on the spot and initiate the biggest sexual workplace harassment investigation in history. Cause, seriously, I can’t say “you look great in those jeans” to a co-worker (not that I want to… just making a point) but that joker can call his bikini clad employees (all of them, nationwide!!!) “breastaurant workers” and that’s totally cool???? This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


And, when a car company tries to sell used cars by saying “you know you’re not the first, but do you really care” we all need to say enough! If the workplace is the only place a woman can feel protected from being reduced to a commodity (not that she really can, but at least there are some laws that *should* protect her there) we are doing something drastically wrong. This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


I could go on, but you get the point (and I’ve drifted a bit from mine).

The things that we see, hear, experience in the world effect us… at times they infuriate us. What we do about that is up to us. It is – often – not easy to find a productive reasoned response to what we are exposed to (as I said at the beginning, I often fail at this); however, in the long run, doing so is exactly what will help us manifest the change we want to see in the world. At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure that restraint and constructive reactions are and will be what separate us from being the worst that we can be… and provide the potential for attaining some much more than we can imagine ourselves accomplishing.

Or, put better, by someone far smarter than I:

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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