Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I Vote

I went to vote today and in every single case, I voted for the person whom I thought would be lesser of two evils. I don’t support a single candidate. When the results are announced, I will be completely ambivalent about the results because I fully believe this was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t election. There simply were no good choices. Each and every candidate has major, glaring flaws that make me uncomfortable with the option of them being responsible for running of our government.

I know a lot of people who are choosing not to vote for this very reason. Me? This is the exact reason why I felt I had to vote. It goes beyond my patriotic belief that my vote is sacred. I would vote, and always have voted, for no other reason than the many lives that were sacrificed so that I may have the right to do so. I would vote for no other reason that my great appreciation for all of those who have served, bled and given of themselves for the defense of that right. Those reasons stand the test of time and should be enough to always compel each and every one of us to vote, but the worse things get, the worse my options are for these positions of power in our government, the more I vote so that above all, I can simply be counted.

My vote isn’t going to swing things one way or the other. My vote isn’t going to decide any particular race. My vote, while as educated a vote I could make it, wasn’t as educated as it should or could have been. But when the polls close and they tally the number of people who did come out to vote today, I want to stand up and be counted among them. Today, I voted not for any particular candidate, but rather to stand up and not be pushed away by the inadequacies I found in each of them.

Since I reached voting age, the average number of people who have voted is under 50% of the eligible voters. Often, the number of voters has been around 30%. I want to be counted because I know that things are bad. I know that the choices between these candidates is even worse. The problem with that is that all of these bad candidates, these bad choices, are sadly going to keep people from going out and voting. I want to be counted because I know that until we do turn out in numbers, nothing will change. I’d rather pick between two poor choices than not choose at all because not choosing is a choice for the status quo.

Politicians are like children and we are their parents. Right now, we are like parents who leave their children to do whatever they choose without consequence over half of the time. We are, very literally, absentee parents. We only have bullies, brats, the self-absorbed and the corrupt to choose from because we have ignored them, we have let them get out of control. They do not respect us. They do not listen to us. They have never known any kind of discipline and that is why they act with impunity.

We are a country run by naughty little children because we have allowed them become so and when all the little children are poorly behaved, we have nothing else from which to choose. We must choose the lesser of two evils because we allow them to perpetuate in their jobs.

Think about exactly who is voting when the turnout is poor. It’s the extremists from each side who make up those numbers. It’s the wildly liberal. It’s the staunchly conservative. Despite what all of the 24/7 news channels would have you believe, those people do not make up our majority as a nation. They do make up a large percentage of the people who do actually vote though. Is it any wonder why those elected feel little need to do anything but thwart the agenda of other side? Is it any wonder why our government is so polarized?

We elect petulant children who either get their way or scream, rant, rave and cry. We’ve been poor parents to them. We have allowed them to act this way. Imagine for just a second how things would be the voter turnout was 70%? 80%? 90%? Imagine if each of those people voted for an independent candidate just to send a message? Imagine what change could occur if we put the fear of God into them the way our parents used to with us?

What if we said to them: We see you. We know what you’re doing. We don’t like it. Shape up or you’re going to be grounded. What if we let them know that we were there and we weren’t going anywhere? What if we put them on notice? Shape up or ship out! What if we put an end to this Lord of the Flies government?

It doesn’t matter for whom you vote. It matters that you do vote. It matters that you too stand up and be counted. It matters because even if you choose between the lesser of two evils today, the fact that you chose will not go unnoticed. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have an opinion on every topic. It doesn’t matter if you have to vote for a candidate who believes something different from what you do on some issues. At the end of the day, with your vote or without it, someone is going to be elected. Your vote does not constitute your approval of any candidate, it lets them know that they work for you.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time” I voted today because the more of us do, the closer our politicians will have to heed the warning inherent in that quote. It’s easy to fool the polarized portions of our nation. Each side tries to make its constituents fear everything the other side does. It’s easy to make people with harshly contrasting opinions afraid of each other. If those of us who aren’t afraid just chose to vote then fear alone would no longer win elections. Negative campaigning only appeals to the most base of us. What if enough of us voted that they had to earn their jobs instead of getting them because they made you fear someone else more? I vote because I want them know I’m out there. I want them to know I care. I want them to know I’m watching. If you don’t vote, you’re not just part of the problem, you ARE the problem. No matter how ignorant you may when it comes to politics, no matter how little you know of each candidate, no matter how much you may dislike each and every person running, when you fail to vote, you appease the very process which allows those people to be running in the first place. Your vote does count. It counts toward more than the tally for any particular candidate. It matters because the first rule of being a good parent is showing up. Every parent makes mistakes along the way raising a child, but those who always try, those who are always there, those who are always vigilant seem to always wind up with the best behaved children.

Your vote does count. Stop neglecting these petulant children we’ve raised. It’s time to put them over our knee. The children don’t run this house. We do.

Vote.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bullying the Bullies.

Bullying. Bullying is big news now. Everyone wants to stop bullying. Everyone is very concerned about bullying. Bullies are evil. Bullying is bad. The victims of bullying are brave people. Bullying should be met with zero tolerance by schools and organizations. No bullying allowed! Get it?

I’ve never been very much of a politically correct mind. Maybe I’m alone in this sentiment, but I’m getting a little tired of all the whining and crying about people being bullied. People have been getting bullied since the dawn of man. The problem today isn’t that bullying is more common, it’s not that there are more bullies or that their methods of bullying are more brutal. The problem is that the bullied are bigger wusses than at any point ever before.

We used to think of being bullied as a right of passage. Stand up to the bully and you learn a valuable lesson about life! Stand up for yourself and learn that respect must be demanded, not hoped and wished for. We don’t see it that way anymore though. Today, we see the bullied as victims. And they are victims, but not simply victims of bullying, but victims of their own spinelessness.

Bullying becomes big news every time some poor kid kills him or herself after being bullied. It’s such a tragedy! Well, yes. It is a tragedy when a kid feels like they have no alternative to killing themselves, but the tragedy isn’t in the fact that the kid was bullied, it’s in the fact that they felt they were helpless to do anything about it.

I’m not making excuses for bullies. I just think that targeting bullies is a stupid way to solve the problem. There will always be bullies. Eliminating bullies is like eliminating lying. It can’t happen. You can all join hand and sing Kumbaya til the cows come home, but there will always be bullies. As long as some kids are bigger than others, as long as some kids are jealous of others, as long as some kids are so desperate to conform that they are willing to ridicule and prey upon those who don’t there will be bullying. There have always been bullies and there will always be bullies.

What’s changed isn’t the bully, it’s the victim.

Think about it. Think about how we raise our children. We don’t keep score at their tee-ball and soccer games. Everybody wins! Everybody gets a trophy! Equal playing time for all! No one ever loses. No one ever learns how to lose. And for that matter, no one gets to learn how to win graciously either. If a child is falling behind in the classroom, the class slows down so that the student doesn’t get left behind.

Excuses are made. Parents appease their children. Now, more than ever before, parents shield, guard and protect their children from the slightest hint of harm, unhappiness or the mere idea that they aren’t as good, as smart, as athletic, as talented, as gifted as the kid next door. Everyone is equal. Of course, that’s not the reality of it. We’re not all equal. Some of us are smarter than others. Some of us are more athletic than others. Some of us are big, some of us are small, some of us are cool, some of us are dorks. We are all different. That’s the thing that makes us special. Parents, though, want their kids to be special just like everyone else’s kids. Every parent wants his or her kid to be the starting quarterback or the homecoming queen.

Every parent wants their kid to be liked, to be popular, to be smart, to get into the best college, to find the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend. Parents have idealized how their kids lives should be. So, is it any wonder that when life doesn’t turn out like the parents expect it to, that the kids feel like they have nowhere to turn?

If little Timmy likes to draw and spends hours drawing the things he imagines in his mind, why don’t we celebrate that? If he grows up to become a well-paid graphic designer it’s certainly okay, but as a child the kid who keeps to himself and draws centaurs is somehow less than what a parent thinks he should be. He should have more friends. He should have a girlfriend. He should play soccer.

If little Susie likes other girls and dreams of a wedding where she is standing next to another woman, we don’t celebrate that. We call it a phase. We know she’ll grow out of it. She’s just rebelling. Even if her parents do “accept” her, very few actually do support her for her for what she is, do they?

No. The problem isn’t the bullies. The problem is the parents. Parents have this idealized vision of what their kids should be. Parents isolate kids from pain and failure and loss because they think a strong ego is what’s necessary to make it in this world. They are wrong. Childhood is difficult. It is the fire in which we are tempered. It is the proving ground where we earn the right to someday be called adults.

The problem isn’t the bullies. The problem is that kids don’t understand how to stand up to them. We live in a world more connected than at any time in our history. If you’re being picked on because you’re a nerd, there are tens of thousands of nerds only a few clicks away. You are not alone. If you are gay and living in small town and feel the full weight of how different you are, you are only a few clicks from being with people just like you who truly understand what you are going through. Strange then, that people feel more alone than they ever have before.

I don’t blame the bullies. I blame the parents of the bullied. I blame the culture in which they raise kids. I blame the parents for not teaching their kids to stand up for themselves. I blame the parents for sheltering their kids from hurt and pain and naively thinking that it’s a good thing. I blame the parents robbing their kids the lessons that are only learned in defeat. I blame the people who try to make everything fair. Life isn’t fair. Why should childhood be? A fair childhood only leads to an unrealistic ability to deal with real life and the completely unfair curves it throws.

We have raised a generation of children who are incapable of coping with unfairness because they never learned to do so as kids because they never had to because mommy and daddy were always there to make sure everything was equal and balanced and fair and right and good. We live in a Capitalist nation where competition is everything and we raise our kids on the concepts of Socialism where everything is balanced and fair and equal and as they leave the nest, is it any wonder why now, more than ever, bullies band together and find strength in their own conformity? Is it any wonder how those don’t conform, whether by their own choice or not, are so lost?

Ironic, isn’t it, that the same parents who so poorly prepared their kids for the realities of the world and how hard life can be, now choose to blame the bullies? Let’s not look inward. Let’s not accept any blame ourselves. It’s the bullies fault. We must band together against them. We are the adults after all! They are just children. We can band together and…bully them into being nice.

Right?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Common Sense Relief

Ah, the Fall! The air is crisp, the weather cool, the leaves are turning and the candidates are attacking. That’s right, it’s election time too and just in time for Halloween it seems there’s even a witch running for office! It’s the same old thing really. The Democrats are begging for time and saying that it takes time to crawl out of the hole the Republicans dug. The Republicans are saying that the Democrats are only making things worse and putting our grandchildren’s grandchildren in debt.

Of course taxes and tax cuts are hot button issues, so I find it just a bit more than ironic when my television switches from Democrat attack ad to Republican attack ad to…something called American Tax Relief. Have you seen this commercial? It features a bevy of smiling, happy couples who say things like: “We owed $3,000,000 in taxes but thanks to American Tax Relief, we only wound up paying less than $1,000,000!” Or, “We owed $60,000 in taxes and we only paid $300! Thanks American Tax Relief!”

My question is this: When did the IRS start bending over like that?

Would you like to know how much I paid in taxes last year? If you guessed every bit that I owed, you’d be right! That’s how taxes work. Isn’t it? You, or your accountant, figure out what you owe and then you pay it. Apparently, if you don’t pay it though and you wait a few years and then go to American Tax Relief they can settle with the IRS so that you pay only a fraction of what you actually owe.

It makes me wonder why any of us actually pay our taxes at all? Why not just hold out, spend that money and then settle for a significantly smaller amount at some point in the future? Does anyone else find it kind of insulting that the politicians keep blaming each other for all of our problems and meanwhile there’s some company out there who’s entire purpose is to help people not pay the taxes that they owe?

We do have a deficit don’t we?

“We owed $400,000 in taxes, but thanks to American Tax Relief, we only paid $60,000!”

Is it any wonder why we have a deficit? I understand its better to collect something than nothing but if the settlement amounts being reported on these commercials are true, we the people are getting screwed!

Then I watch some more of these political attack ad commercials and I listen to the “issues” they talk about. I can’t help but wonder why or how we ever expect things to get better when we keep electing officials based on issues that don’t really matter. Gay marriage isn’t going to get us out of debt. Abortion isn’t going to fix our foreign policy or win any wars. Whether or not someone used to be a witch doesn’t have any bearing on the unemployment figures. Maybe we the people aren’t so different from the IRS after all. We’re owed great things from our government and we accept a parade of clown college rejects. I wonder if American Tax Relief brokers elections too?

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Hunger Games Trilogy: Books on Fire!

Into the void left when J.K. Rowling concluded her Harry Potter series has emerged an amazing new series that sadly, has now too concluded with the third installment, which was released just this month. I’m speaking, of course, about Suzanne Collins young adult themed Hunger Games series which begins with The Hunger Games, continues with Catching Fire and concludes with Mockingjay.

As I did with the Harry Potter novels, I allowed others to test drive the series before I chose to involve myself and as the hype regarding the final installment intensified, I found myself unable to resist the lure and I’m very happy for that particular weakness. The Hunger Games Trilogy was simply amazing.

The books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen who lives in the post-apocalyptic remnants of the United States called Panem. The country is divided up into 12 poverty-stricken districts and controlled under the tight fist of the extravagant Capitol. Each year, as a remind of the Capitol’s absolute control and as punishment for the rebellion of the now-destroyed 13th District many years ago, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen in The Reaping from every district and those reaped are placed into a wilderness arena where they must either kill or be killed until at last, only one remains.

The Hunger Games are televised and mandatory viewing for the people in each district and they must watch as the slaughter goes on. When Katniss’ sister is chosen, knowing that she could never survive the games, Katniss chooses to volunteer herself in her place.

To say more would to be to ruin the fun for those of you who haven’t yet read this series, but rest assured that while the first book deals almost exclusively with the games, the second two take on a much deeper and more political and allegorical theme. The stories are so well written and the suspension of disbelief so aptly achieved that many in the young adult target audience will likely miss many of the political messages in this series, but those who know their history will surely see a clearly defined anti-big government, anti-socialist, anti-big brother stance taken by the author.

At one point, she seemingly takes aim at our lives here in the U.S. today when she has one character relate to another the latin phrase, “panem et circenses” or “bread and circuses” and goes on to teach her that if you keep people’s belly’s full of bread and entertain them, they will take no interest in government and therefore corruption can take hold.

The characters are rich and enigmatic. This is not just a lesson on politics and history, in fact it’s much more an adventure and a love story. It offers the kind of fast paced action that the video game era kids need to keep them occupied and it is tempered with a dramatic love triangle that will have you picking sides like it’s a Burger King commercial.

And that is, perhaps, the The Hunger Games Trilogy’s most amazing asset, it is everything that the other heir apparent to the Harry Potter throne is not. At no point, while reading The Hunger Games, will you feel like you’re in the hands of an amateur writer as you most certainly must when reading Twilight. While people either seem to love or hate Stephanie Meyer’s series, The Hunger Games delivers in such a way that it clearly triumphs over Twilight. It offers substance, it’s amazingly well written, fast paced, thought provoking and poignant. It is everything that Twilight is not. Meyer gives you sparkly vampires, Collins counters with a girl on fire.

This is a series of unassuming heroes who rise to challenges they should never have to face. It is a series of truly evil villains—some who are easily recognizable and some who are hiding in plain sight. It is a lesson about what happens when a people becomes disinterested in their government. It is a testament to man’s inhumanity toward man. It borrows themes from sources as old as ancient Greece and as contemporary as today’s latest headlines.

My only complaint is the context in which many of the young adults, who are the target audience for these books, have with which to understand the themes. The book speaks out against socialism and paints a picture of a socialist state similar to the former Soviet Union, however these kids are bombarded with the term socialism at every turn in today’s media and the opportunity to misunderstand Collins’ thoughts and ideas are rampant. Considering the great lengths at which she went to take shots at the media and the propaganda they spew, I don’t believe she purposefully left out that proper context, but it’s omission is sad in that will allow some to use her books for purposes which I do not believe she meant them.

Simply put, to miss out on this series would be a mistake. You could wait for the movies, which will be coming out over the next few years, but I’m afraid you’d miss the rich tapestry, underlying themes and be left with only the action and romance if you do. Pick them up. Read them. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mosque Near Ground Zero

Everyone has their underwear in a bunch over the proposed plan to build a mosque only 600 feet from ground zero in New York where the World Trade Center once stood. Some are protesting the plan, saying that it would be a disgrace to those who died on 9/11 to have a mosque built so close to where they died. Some are fighting the protesters saying that our country was actually founded on some arcane principle known as the freedom of religion.

For my part, I don’t really care where any mosques are built. Maybe I’m a fool, but I don’t think all Islamic people are terrorists. Oh, and I don’t think that those who are would ever set up shop in a huge building that used to house a Burlington Coat Factory only 600 feet from their last big target. I tend to think the bad guys will probably try to stay on the down low. At very worst, if they do try to hide in plain sight, then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I have to imagine that even our inept intelligence community can keep track of the terrorists if they all congregate in a well-known place.

I’ll leave the arguing to those more passionate than I though. The more I hear about the situation though, the more I’m drawn to our country’s past and I can’t help but be a little proud of how far we’ve come. It may not seem like a natural time for pride, but compared to our history, those of Middle-eastern decent are getting a pretty good shake. Don’t be na├»ve, this isn’t an easy time for people who have immigrated to this country from that region, but ask any Japanese American who was alive during World War II if they’d rather get dirty looks at the airport and have protests over where they worship, or if they’d rather get locked up in internment camps and I’m guessing they’ll say the former.

We have a history of hatred and a track record for treating those we hate pretty poorly. The Japanese and some Germans were imprisoned when we hated them. So were the Africans who arguably got the worst of our hate. Of course the Native Americans might argue that point. When the Irish first came to our shores during the Potato Famine we gave them a case to make and the Chinese who came to build our railroads were little more than slaves themselves.

We’re flat out mean to the people du jour who we hate. We always have been. It’s in our blood. We’re good at it. We look at them as less than human because it helps us rationalize them. We call them savages, niggers, micks, the yellow peril, Japs and slant-eyes. We have believed them to be less than human and then we proceed to treat them as such. We’ve put them in chains, given them blankets infected with small pox, we’ve locked them in prisons and placed them in ghettos.

That could have happened after 9/11. In fact, if 9/11 had happened earlier in our history it certainly would have. We’d have locked the “ay-rabs” up in camps. We’d have torn down all of their mosques. But that’s not who we are anymore, at least not all of us. We can’t expect the world to change at the drop of a hat or in the blink of an eye and we can’t cure centuries of ignorance overnight. I’m certainly not arguing that we’ve acted in a Christ-like manner in the way we’ve treated Middle-Easterners but I do think, we’ve treated them less in the way of the devil than our own ancestors would have.

It’s easy to pick sides in this current debate. It’s easy to be mad at one side or the other. It’s easy to be outraged by obvious insensitivity or appalled by the ignorance to our founding principles but when you take a step back and you look at it all from a distance, I think you can’t help but see how times have changed. Tempers are flaring, sides are standing opposed and the argument rages on, but arguments are better than chains, better than prisons, better than viewing a people as sub-human. Because while some would support those very thoughts in a heartbeat most of us would never stand for it.

It’s an interesting point in history. The unenlightened are still loud and garner a great deal of attention in their ignorance and hate, but somewhere along the way, we’ve moved past the days of old. We’ve chosen a new way. It’s far from perfect. We have a long way to go. Make no mistake though, we have come so very far from who we were at our worst.

I went into a convenience store today and there was a WWII veteran at the lottery counter sporting his Navy hat commemorating the ship he served on during the war. He was chatting with the man behind the counter, a man of Middle-eastern heritage. They spoke like they were old friends and maybe they are just that. They weren’t talking about mosques or wars or rights or freedoms. They were talking about their grandchildren. Perhaps the future for those grandchildren isn’t as dim as it looks. Maybe all it takes is a clearer perspective to see that even if we take one step back for every two steps forward, we’re still getting somewhere. Maybe the idea of America isn’t quite dead yet.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Attn: Tony Fucking Dungy

What I’d like to know is who died and make Tony Dungy into God all of the sudden? Apparently he’s not satisfied with being an analyst on NBC’s Sunday Night Football studio because his name is just about everywhere in the NFL. I didn’t mind so much when he was taking wayward athletes under his wings and trying to instill a bit of class and dignity in them. His work with Michael Vick and others has been admirable. His books have touched many and his mentoring programs have been very successful. By all indications, this is a good man.

There comes that point though when good men cross the line and start to get a little too full of themselves and a little too sanctimonious. Dungy’s latest crusade has me wondering if perhaps he’s at that point? He expressed concern over NY Jets coach Rex Ryan’s use of foul language in practices as shown on HBO’s documentary series Hard Knocks.

Now, in my day, I was called things by coaches that would make sailor’s cringe and that was by coaches who actually liked me, so I have to wonder what sport Tony Dungy was a part of in which curse words offend his delicate sensibilities? Swearing and sports are like peanut butter and chocolate, they just seem to be made for each other and that’s the way it’s been for as long as sports have dominated our culture.

That wasn’t Tony Dungy’s way though. And that’s fine. If he’s a man who chooses not to use curse words then that is his prerogative, but when he starts casting stones at others who do, that’s when I have a problem. Dungy seems to feel that his way is the right way and that other coaches should adopt it. He feels curse words are undignified and uncouth.

Well, I say: Fuck that.

Dungy is a devout Christian, so let me try to explain this to him in a way he can understand. Mr. Dungy, by speaking out against curse words you are sinning. I think you should confess to your preacher before you’re damned to hell for your trespasses, sir. Allow me to explain:

We all get angry. We all get upset. We all emote displeasure, dissatisfaction and anger verbally. We all use certain words for emphasis. We use tone and volume to the same end. It’s a basic human characteristic. No one—except perhaps the British—gets burned by fire and politely observes that it’s quite painful, indeed.

Our speech is what separates us from the animals. Part of that speech; in every language, in ever culture, in every corner of the world, it’s people who stub their toes crying out loudly and angrily and harshly and they express themselves and their great displeasure with having suffered that particular injury. It’s human nature. My point is that while it may be possible to control your emotions in that situation, it’s not likely. Verbalizing your pain and frustration at that point is a very human thing to do. And since we’re all human and none of us perfect, I have to assume that’s okay.

But you don’t like curse words. You’d prefer we cry out “dang it!” instead of “dammit!” You’d prefer “fudge” to “fuck.” And here’s where you become a sinner Mr. Dungy. In every Bible I’ve ever seen it was the first Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods besides Me.”

Wait. Follow me here!

So, if we accept that expressing ourselves vocally, our pleasure, our pain, our joy our sorrow is a human thing to do, and God made us human then there must be a reason for that, which means that the base emotion itself is an okay thing. However, by giving certain words more power than others, don’t you, in a way, deify them? If you and I each stub our toe, and you yell “fudge” and I yell “fuck” but we both feel the same pain, the same frustration and are each trying to express the exact same thing, does it really matter what word we choose?

You use fudge, I use fuck. If the emotion in each of our hearts is the same, then it should be wrong, no matter how we choose to express it. I’ve watched you coach football games Mr. Dungy. You remained calm quite a bit, but not always. You got upset. You got angry. You became frustrated. Are those emotions wrong? Are they too undignified and uncouth? Moreover, should someone have called you out every time you spoke tersely to a player? Should someone have told you that your angry stare was not in the best interests of the NFL?

See what I mean about those without sins casting the first stone there, big guy? It boils down to one thing or the other. Either the emotion itself is wrong—that the emoting of any negative feeling is bad and we should never, in any way, express anything but positive sounds, noises and looks; or, you’re picking and choosing certain words that you personally don’t like and giving those words power over others.

Yes. You give words power. Every time you stub your toe and specifically choose to substitute “fudge” while meaning—like I say it—“fuck” you are giving the word “fuck” power. Every time you call someone out for using words that you don’t like, you give them power. And giving a word power is blasphemy. It’s a sin. Christianity is based on Judaism where the only unsayable word was the name of God. Think about that next time before you speak up about other people not using certain words.

As for the idea that the expression of anger or sadness or any other negative emotion is bad, I think any good psychologist will tell you that’s just not true. In fact, it’s much healthier for us to express them and get them out of our systems than it is to hold them inside.

So my question is simple: If the emotion is natural and expressing it cathartic and if no word has more power than any other word, then what’s the big deal? Why is Rex Ryan disgracing the NFL because he swears? Who put you in charge of deciding what people can and can’t—should and shouldn’t say? Who chose you to be spokesman for the language police? And by whose authority does the language police operate?

I respect your right to not use curse words. That’s the American and Christian thing to do. Don’t stand there and be so sanctimonious as to suggest that only your way is the right way. Your choices are yours and they do not make you better than me, Rex Ryan or Don Rickles. Remember, sir: Judge fucking not, lest you be fucking judged.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doomed to Repeat

The last U.S. Combat Brigade has left Iraq and…well, it’s been a little anti-climatic. I think of the thousands of people who stopped traffic on Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue here in Chicago to protest the war in Iraq and I wonder where all those people are now? You’d think they’d be…I dunno? Excited? Happy? Triumphant?

But no. Those people have mostly moved on to other causes I suppose. Or, maybe they wised up a bit when their hero the Super O told them what the previous administration did: That you just can’t pick up and leave—that the consequences to that would be worse than the consequences to our staying there.

Americans are a bit spoiled in that we’ve never had war brought to our shores aside from 9/11 and a few isolated incidents during WWII. War is a video game to us, or a movie. That’s our reference point. So, ending a war seems like a simple enough thing to do. Choose a few face saving words of bravery, save that last little child, board the waiting chopper and take off looking back at the war torn land you’re leaving as the credits roll. Done. Right?

Not so.

Back when people were lining the major streets of our cities and the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq was camping out just outside the Bush ranch in Texas all people could talk about was how this was a war for oil. And make no mistake, there were people in our president’s ear who had personal financial gain on their minds when they applauded his choice to take war to Iraq, but it was never a war for oil. It was a war for revenge.

The question is who had the revenge right of way? From the point of view of most Americans, we did. They flew planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon! Of course, they saw it differently. They felt like revenge was their right because 20 years earlier we used them to fight a war against the Russians—a war they won for us and then once it was over, we left them to rot in the war torn wasteland where they won. Sons grew up without fathers. Life was hard. Sure, they could have blamed the enemy—the Russians, but that’s the enemy! The bad guys! They are supposed to be evil!

So, it was their “friends” who they chose to blame. That would be us. And our evil is fact. We used them and left them to suffer the consequences. That didn’t give them the right to do what they did. Attacking civilians is wrong and cowardly, but even that distinction is open to interpretation. During the war in Afghanistan against the Russians, bombs were left that resembled toys so that children would pick them up and be killed. During that war, there was no such thing as a civilian.

In fact, Afghanistan was so thoroughly destroyed that 20 years later when the fatherless sons of that war struck out for vengeance, their country wasn’t recovered enough to fight back against. We needed a figurehead. We needed someone we could fight. Iraq was in up to their necks—but behind the scenes, like the CIA in the war between Afghanistan and Russia. We chose them as our target. They were a public relations target more than anything. Sadaam was someone we could bring down. Oedipus could be satisfied when Georgie Jr. proved to his mommy that he was a bigger man that daddy. There was an actual country there that we could liberate—and they did need liberating.

It was a win-win proposition. The American people, too ignorant of their own history, just wanted some blood. We wanted to believe in WMD’s and all the rest. Of course, the problem was that after Shocked and Awed the hell out of them, beat their army, took their evil leader prisoner and later executed him that our original enemy entered the vacuum to fill the space that the Iraqi government had previously occupied.

We found ourselves fighting the very people we trained to defeat the Russians, on their turf, the very same turf that the USSR couldn’t defeat them on—only it was worse. At least the USSR could leave bombs for kids to set off and target people—military or civilian—indiscriminately. We had to fight our war on television. We had to win hearts and minds. It was a no-win situation.

The political pressure that ensued led to our electing a president who promised to get our troops out of Iraq. It’s taken him a year and a half to do it. And here’s the rub: We’ve left a power vacuum once again. The fledgling Iraqi government is too corrupt and too weak and too divided to stand. It will fail. Power will fall into the hands of the most ruthless and evil. Fear will be their weapon. No American President will do anything about it, because the American people want no part of Iraq and to do so would be political suicide.

And so the fatherless sons of this war will rise up and strike out at our own children. Here’s hoping that before they act, before they take to the streets to protest, that they understand their history and they know the truth of what has transpired.

Friday, July 9, 2010

YES. We ARE All Witnesses.

I stopped watching NBA games over a decade ago. A league without rules, or more specifically, certain rules for certain players and teams is really no better or interesting for me to watch than the “wrestling” in the WWE. At least the WWE now acknowledges that it is “entertainment” not sport. To me, the NBA is no different. I feel that the league and the officials conspire to market first, stay true the sport—well, that’s got to be 7th or 8th on the list.

With that frame of mind, I didn’t think I’d really care either way about LeBron James’ “Decision” about where he’d be playing the next few years of his career. I honestly hoped that he wasn’t going to come to my home town of Chicago. I get that he’s a superstar, but he’s always rubbed me the wrong way. My rooting interest was for him to remain in Cleveland. I’ve felt bad for them ever since Michael Jordan hit “the shot” over Craig Ehlo. As a fellow Midwesterner, I understand the draw of the home town kid whose made good.

So, with only that casual rooting interest, I was surprised at how deep and visceral my reaction was when the announcement came that Mr. James was taking his game to Long Beach. I had a feeling for him that literally bordered on hatred. Watching such blatant narcissism at the expense of and in the face of a home-town city, which had treated him like the “king” he claimed to be was literally painful.

I’ve heard people talk about how uncomfortable he looked up on that stage, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for him when it was his choice to be there. It’s ridiculous to believe that his decision was made just that morning. James has been a member of the Heat for two years now in all but uniform. How does “King” James choose to tell his loyal “witnesses?” He hides behind some kids from the Boys & Girls Club in a town in Connecticut.

But that wasn’t all. He spoke in third person. And perhaps most cruelly of all, he chose Miami without saying much positive at all about Cleveland. Oh, he pointed out that he played hard for them, he acknowledged all he brought to that team and the city, but all he said about Cleveland or the Cavaliers was that he had much respect for them.

Much respect. So. That’s nice. Huh?

That word has become a joke. Respect. When you respect a city, it’s people and it’s team, you don’t go on television, on an hour-long program glorifying yourself when you know your decision will hurt all those you leave behind. When you respect the fans and the team and the city, even if you do decide to leave, you cancel the show, you release a heartfelt press-release explaining your decision and begging the forgiveness of the people you supposedly respected.

You don’t make a spectacle. You don’t rub in an entire city—an entire state’s face just to appease your own narcissistic needs. Is anyone else tired of celebrities and superstars feeding and fueling their own narcissism in these kinds of spectacles and expecting us to be okay with it simply because they donate the proceeds to some charity? Congratulations Boys & Girls Clubs, you’re whores. And if I was dying of thirst, I’d crawl into the afterlife parched before drinking a Vitamin Water.

Your Nike commercials say it best LeBron. We are all witnesses. We witness not only your play on the court, but the way in which you comport yourself off it. We are not fooled by a pittance given to a charity, we know what this was about. It was all about you. It was one of the most gross and painful to watch displays I’ve ever seen.

And I can’t help but draw parallels. I remember back to when I did watch the NBA and I remember my childhood hero, Michael Jordan. Mr. James will never live up to that mantle. He’ll never reach the standards of excellence set either on or off the court by MJ. As witnessed by his induction speech into the Hall of Fame, Jordan obviously had that same narcissism, but throughout his career, he managed it, he kept it inside. He took challengers as affronts to his supremacy and he dispatched them like a cold-blooded assassin.

By all accounts, James has done nothing but choke in the playoffs. Instead of taking challengers as slights to your supremacy and vanquishing them, James chose to partner with at least one player who is arguably his equal or even his better. I learned all I’ll ever need to know about LeBron James last night. The Air is rare in the echelon where the masters reside and the King will never breath it.

And we’re all witnesses.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST: More than ever

I’m not sure how to feel about last night’s series finale of LOST. Judging by the early scuttlebutt on the interwebs, there are a lot of people out there who are pretty confused about just exactly how they should feel too. The problem is that last night’s episode was amazing. It was a great episode. It gave you all the happy, sad and triumphant moments you wanted and needed as a fan. It was perfect—except for that one pesky little problem.

Don’t confuse that empty feeling in your gut with a sense of LOST being over. That empty feeling is a six year investment with no clear cut payoff. The season that promised to answer all, instead chose to answer little. It’s supposed to be artistic. We’re supposed to be thrilled that we get to choose our own interpretation of it all. I call bullshit. Writing is about making choices and the failure to choose is the sign of a cowardly writer. The writers of LOST failed to choose.

Oh, they made some choices and they even ended things with an important choice. The famed “flash sideways” portions of this season were shown to be a purgatory-like existence where the castaways were not enlightened to the fact that they were dead until they came into contact with a fellow castaway and in a flash got their enlightenment.

The last one on board was Doc Jack, of course. He of little faith refused to give in until he touched the empty coffin of his dearly departed dad Christian Shepherd (yes, Kate…Christian Shepherd, really). Now don’t get me wrong. This was brilliant. It was a great way to end...a season. That’s why it was so satisfying to so many. The problem isn’t with what we got, the problem is with what we didn’t get.

What IS the island? What IS the light? Who put Jacob’s momma in charge of guarding it? Why? WHY???? What difference would it make if the island had sunk into the ocean years ago, before Jacob and Smokey were even born? What was the point of the Dharma Initiative? Why were they brought to the island? What happened to Walt? Why were women unable to have babies on the island for so long—couldn’t Jake and Smoke’s REAL mom have uttered a curse before she croaked to wrap that one up at least?

What irritates me most is the audacity of the writers to come on in the pre-show special and almost foreshadow the fact that they were cowards by suddenly saying that it’s not about the island, it’s about the characters. Oh! Well thank you! The island was just coincidental to the six years of buildup huh? All along, it’s all been about the characters? I call bullshit again.

I don’t disagree that the show was about the characters. I do. However, they made the island a living, breathing thing, they gave it life. They made the island a character in this show and not just a minor character. I’m not sated by a little Anna Lucia cameo to end the show with, I want to know about this character! I want to know why it can jump through time? I want to know about the light that sustained it and needed protecting. It’s all fine and well that the time spent on the island was the ultimate test for Jack and all the others that allowed them to reunite in their own little heaven after they died, but what about the island itself? Islands don’t jump through time! Islands don’t evade detection by the uninvited.

If a LOST fan tries to explain it all away to you today as this having always been a character driven show and tell you that what the island might be is only peripheral and beside the point, slap them in their pretentious faces. They are sheep and were herded into that opinion by the cowardly producers who pulled off an amazing bait and switch last night. And somehow, they got us to take what we didn’t want and think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread—or Dharma peanut butter.

No. Look at last night for what it was my friends, a brilliant and amazing season finale, and a disappointing and cowardly series finale. From one point of view, it was an amazing accomplishment; on the other, it was an unparalleled disaster. For all of the great buzz about last night’s finale that’s out there today, eventually, it’ll come around and people will realize that they were cheated, bamboozled once again, and this time it’s permanent…well, until/unless the movie comes out in a few years.

For six years, LOST has left me and fans around the world, hanging. We were left to hang after each episode and after each season and we loved it because it propelled us to what came next. It’s what gave the series constant new life and energy and made it so unpredictable. They could have chosen to tie it all up and make it all pay off, but they didn’t. They left us hanging again.

They say that its not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Well, the journey way amazing, right up to the very last scene, but the problem is that after over 120 hours of viewing, our journey, it turns out, had no destination. It was just a bunch of aimless wandering. Jack said, “it all matters.” I hate to disagree Doc, but that’s not true. I could have missed an episode or two and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference. It wouldn’t have mattered at all.

In the end, none of it mattered.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Labels

I always get a kick out of people who are willing to allow themselves to be labeled. As an Aquarian male, I’ve been told that stars predetermined my own anathema to labels but to me it’s just a sign of intelligence to not want to be classified. I can’t think of a single group or label that I identify with completely. I don’t want to be one of you and agree with everything you have to say. I want to pick and choose. I’m a buffet kind of guy.

Politics is a great example of the label phenomenon. Here in the U.S. everyone seems gung-ho to label themselves as a Democrat or a Republican. To me, taking on one of those tags is equivalent to choosing between being labeled as a child molester and a serial killer. Neither choice is a good one and willingly associating yourself with being either one is outright foolish.

Stop. Think. How can one side ALWAYS be right? Does that happen anywhere else in your life? Of course not. In terms of politics though, everyone has to choose a team and in most urban areas the youth tends to start their careers off as Democrats because they see the world in terms of good and bad. They see the world in terms of social issues. From their perspective, it’s hard not to see the Republicans as the evil empire and the Democrats as the peace-loving Rebellion.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the internet. After the Bush years, Republican hating became sport. Truthfully, some of that anger should have been directed at the Democrats too. If they’d had anyone better than Gore or Kerry, Bush never would have happened. Regardless of that fact though, the term “young Republican” has become something of a joke outside of the rural parts of the country. With a hip, tuned-in, new black President, it’s safe to say that the youth is firmly on the side of the Democrats.

The youth of our country have much less of a problem with gay rights, abortion, bigotry and other social issues. To their credit, they are a tolerant, accepting, loving group of people. To the youth, politics is all about social issues and so, place them firmly in the pockets of those who wear the label of Democrat.

For my part, I’m pretty liberal-minded on social issues too. I don’t understand the religious right. My Jesus was accepting and loving; he sought out those who society mocked, ridiculed and persecuted and made certain they knew there was a place for them in His kingdom. He was pretty specific about us not judging one and other too. That works for me.

So if I’m lined up with them on social issues, why am I not a Democrat? Well, there’s the little problem of fiscal politics. That’s money for those of you who took the short bus hyperlink to this blog post. And after this long-winded, meandering rant that brings me to the point and purpose of this post. I saw in today’s Chicago Sun Times that our governor, a Democrat, wants to start an iTax here in Illinois. An iTax would mean that every download of every song, every album, every podcast, every video and every movie would be subject to a tax. It’s hard to be a member of today’s youth and not notice if all the sudden your iTunes charges start going up.

Now, I’ll skip how colossally stupid it is for a governor to alienate an entire generation that he currently has in his pocket because what I’m interested in is the labels. This seems like a nice little lesson for all of those noobie Democrats, swept up in the fervor of Obamamania about the way Democrats operate from a fiscal perspective. Now without a label of my own when it comes to political parties, I can happily claim to be fiscally conservative even though I’m socially liberal. I don’t want my iTunes taxed. I just discovered the joy of downloading music. Don’t jack my prices up! You’re already getting my on my cigars and my beer!

Still, from a sociological experimentation point of view, a part of me really hopes that this goes through and the iTax is imposed. All of the sudden, the line between good and evil will become awfully blurry for the Bush-hating, gay-loving, healthcare for all bunch. Nothing makes you forget how much you hate the former President like someone taking money from you on a daily basis. It makes hating that person taking your money much easier is what it does.

I wonder, if when this happens, the labels our youth have taken on will change? Will taking candy from the babies turn them against the Democrats? Will their passion for social change outweigh the irritation they experience over money coming from their own pockets?

Sadly, it probably won’t occur to them. In fact, this iTax has already happened in more than a dozen states and the uproar has been—nonexistent. But let this be a lesson to anyone who still believes in a two-party system and to anyone who accepts the label of either Democrat or Republican. By taking on the label, you walk into a restaurant and get whatever they are serving—no more, no less. By choosing a side, you rob yourselves of options. You may be allergic to peas, but if that’s what’s on the menu, that’s what you get.

Is it just me or does that sound awfully un-American? It makes the buffet a much better choice doesn’t it? It makes you wonder how much gray area there really is in EVERY issue? It makes you wonder how much could actually be accomplished if it wasn’t one thing or the other all the time? As I understand it, that’s what America was supposed to be. What happened? Is your label really worth the forfeiture of your choices?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Person Narrative Crisis

For almost a year now, I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing books for both The Sacramento Book Review and the San Francisco Book Review and as is the case with a book reviews, the subject has been newly released books. While I’ve always tried to pay attention to newly released literature, prior to doing these reviews, I often skipped around, reading classics and recommendations from others mixed in with anything new I might find.

Reading almost all new releases now I’ve begun to notice quite a few of the trends in the publishing industry, some good and some bad. The most obvious ones, however, are the bad trends and perhaps the absolute worst trend of them all seems to be one of the most prevalent.

I’m speaking of the rash of first person narratives where the main character is a very thinly veiled view of what the author wishes he or she could be. These writers create characters that are practically superhero in nature. Oh, they have flaws of course but they are the kind of flaws you might tell a prospective interviewer in a job interview. I work too hard! I’m too conscientious. Dammit, I just care too much!

Aside from those “weaknesses” the character is virtually without blemish. They are almost never the supermodel type or the movie hunk because the writer cannot make that connection to themselves honestly. Instead, they are the kind of average that seemingly no person of the opposite sex can resist. Sure, he’s got a beer belly, but the most beautiful woman in every room is somehow drawn to him like a moth to a flame. No, you won’t find her in the pages of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition but every man wants her and every woman wants to be like her.

Novel after novel comes out reading like bad fan fiction and instead of slowing down, it seems to be gaining steam. This can only mean one thing: You people are buying it! There’s always been a place in the world for trashy literature. There’s nothing wrong with it. We all have our guilty pleasure reads but at least there used to be some standards involved in even trash lit. No more!

I recently reviewed a book where it seemed like not a single page went by where the author didn’t remind us that her main character (who is not her, she’ll swear to it I’m sure) was beautiful, smart, funny, tougher than the guys, wanted by everyone, admired by all and the perfect woman. This writer was so busy trying to convince her audience of the character’s divinity that she completely forgot to include a plot, or a single other character in the book who was more than one-dimensional. It was like the book itself was background on a stage somewhere, meant only to add color to solitary performer giving a soliloquy.

It was the worst of all of these self-indulgent personal fantasies I’ve read to date and the sad part is that the writer has already written two follow up books. Its going to be a series! But that shouldn’t surprise me. The very first book I reviewed for the papers was about a chubby guy who worked as an accountant and became the greatest monster hunter of all time—and of course got the girl as well. The next book in that series is due out any time. At least this particular author thought to include a little plot along with the self-glorification of his alter-ego.

Just like the Twilight saga made frumpy girls cool, these books, one after another, relentlessly expose us to characters whose flaws are actually good qualities that most people aren’t bright enough to see. Those picked last for dodge ball in gym class and those who didn’t get asked to prom are armed with keyboards, no talent and something to prove and the result are these stories where the characters have no arc and the plot exists only to serve the glorification of the main character.

And it’s only getting worse. More talented writers are being skipped over to fuel this trend where hacks with issues get published. I say enough! If you want to work your issues out then find a shrink and pay by the hour like the rest of the world, don’t subject me to your delusions of grandeur. Shame on the publishers for putting this crap out there and shame on you, most of all, for continuing to read it. As long as copies keep flying off the shelves they’ll keep printing more and more of this compost. It’s time to stand up to these sad people. Demand multiple characters with depth and arc throughout the story. Demand a plot that serves more than as scenery for the writer’s self-glorification. Demand some quality in your books, even the trashy ones.

If you don’t, soon enough, self-indulgent, self-serving books like these that exist to build the writer’s self-esteem will be all that’s left to read. I’m not exaggerating. With each month, more and more of these books hit the shelves and they will continue to do so until you say no.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care: Facts Are Fiction

It’s days like today when we really get to see the full power of the marketing arm of both the Democrat and Republican parties in action. The blogosphere is ablaze with commentary about the passing of Health Care reform and every has the “facts.” No one seems to notice that the facts often contradict each other—or they don’t care. One thing is for sure though, we’ve all been educated to argue our side of the issue.

We are a nation inundated with “talking points.” Go ahead, try to have a reasonable debate with someone about health care today. You won’t get past the opening statements without the person you’re debating rattling off some impressive sounding poll numbers, facts, figures and canned statements that the pundits repeat ad nausea on their respectively biased news stations.

I’ve read blogs that report only 30% of Americans approved of this bill passing. I’ve read some that report that 70% were in favor of it. How can two polls, honestly run, come up with such varied results? The simple answer, of course, is that they can’t. Not if they are run honestly and with integrity.

Throw the poll numbers out. And if you want to win your argument about health care today, simply make people explain the many canned statements they offer you. Even the most passionate people on each side of this issue rarely know the true facts—they know the facts they want to know from the people they want to know them from and that is their idea of truth.

It would be amusing if it weren’t so sad that the people on each side of this issue weren’t such hypocrites. The way this bill was passed is under scrutiny. Those who supported the bill support the method. Those who didn’t—don’t. And when the shoe is on the other feet years from now it’s the conservatives who want to pass something and the liberals who don’t want it done the position on parliamentary procedure will be reversed. Both sides will be hypocrites.

My favorite line ever muttered in a movie was spoken by Sir Alec Guinness in the movie Return of the Jedi in which his character says the most profound thing many of us will ever hear: “…you’ll find that a great many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view.”

Our own point of view? What shapes us? How do we look at the issue? Who do we listen to talk about it? Have we always had health insurance? Have we gone without? Do we have a pre-existing condition? Do we know someone who lost their home and savings trying to pay for care for their child who suffered from a disease that couldn’t have been helped? Are we wealthy? Are we poor? Do we listen to the marketing team from Fox or the marketing team from MSNBC?

What do our parents think? What do our kids think? What do our friends think? What does our spouse think? What does our favorite celebrity say? What was our favorite athlete’s opinion? Who’s book did we read? Who scared us the most?

The fact is that we form our opinions first and then we go out and search for facts to make us right. And the facts are out there. You can twist any number, any statement, any fact you want to prove what you want to believe. This isn’t a debate of the facts. Every blog/article/”news” program you see today is going to list all of their facts and they will paint a picture that makes it seem like your side, your opinion, your perspective, your point of view is right or wrong. You’ll judge those words based, not on the validity of the facts but the way they fit with your own perspective.

The facts that prove you right are right. The facts that prove you wrong were twisted, gathered by biased organizations, improperly collected, given out of context. The problem isn’t that a health care bill passed or didn’t pass, people. It’s that we all know what’s right without having any real information. The problem is that we made up our minds before we even heard the facts. The problem is that we pick and choose sides and argue the talking points of that side like robots.

The problem is that we’re programmed to do so. Where do we turn to get real information from these days? Who is telling the clear unbiased truth? Who is uncorrupted? Who doesn’t have sponsors to answer to; advertising money to obtain? Who doesn’t have a motive? Who isn’t greedy? Argue all you want to today, light up the blogosphere with your facts and opinions. Flame on indignantly at those too foolish to see the facts you were fed and digested so willingly.

You’re silly people to think you understand the issue. You only understand the parts of it they want you to understand. Your opinions aren’t your own. You picked a side and borrowed their proof. You spout it out like you know what it means. You’re a fool. We’re all fools. Liberty died the day news became a way to make a profit. That’s a fact.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Greatest Con Game of All Time!

Credit Card reform is finally starting to take effect. Whew! Right? Not really. The credit card is the greatest con in this history of the world. They truly are evil. I, myself, do not have a credit card by my own choice. I have a debit card for convenience and I have a high limit on that card so I can make major purchases if needed, but I will not be one of the fools who falls prey to this legal con game—of course, I still pay for it. We all do.

Think about it: You pay them a fee so you can have the privilege of having their “service.” The stores pay them so that they can have the privilege of having their “service” too. They charge on both ends. If you pay your bills as soon as you get them, you don’t have to pay the ridiculous penalties and interest fees, but you do still get to pay more because the stores, who pay a percentage of your purchase to the credit card companies raise their prices on everything across the board to cover those costs. Meaning? That’s right kids, the privilege to use the card is put upon you again. And worse, because a retailer can’t charge one amount to someone using a card and another to someone paying cash, even those of us who don’t have or use cards have to pay for your privilege.

To encourage you to use your card more, the credit card companies offer incentives, in the form of points which can be redeemed for airline fares, gifts, prizes, bless their hearts they’ll even put money aside for your kid’s college education if you want! Of course, with more credit card usage, they earn more from the retailers and the retailers who see a larger chunk of their bottom line flying out the door raise prices again which means? You are the one paying for your airline fare, your gifts, your prizes, your child’s college education, only you’re paying infinite times more than you would be in a credit care free world where you simply put that money aside.

Want to buy a house? A car? Anything? Well, first we’ll have to take a look at your credit score. Want to take a guess who has the greatest influence over your credit score? If you guessed the credit card companies and the banks that finance them, you are 100% right! So, if you’re late making a payment and they want to add a ridiculous late fee on top of the interest you already pay, they can. Ever try arguing with a credit card company? Don’t. You lose. The outcome is determined before the argument starts. Why? Because they own you. They have the power to financially cripple you.

These are all powers and influences the credit card companies still have. This new “reform” is only ridding the companies of some of their more underhanded ways of messing with the people who pay for their “service,” such as:

* Requires a credit card issuer that raises a cardholder's rate to periodically review and cut the rate if warranted.
* Prohibits card issuers from raising rates on a cardholder in the first year after an account is opened, and requires that promotional rates must last at least six months.
* Bars issuers from charging a fee to pay a credit card debt, whether by mail, telephone or electronic transfer, except for live services to make expedited payments. (didn’t you love this one? For the low, low price of $25 you can pay your bill by phone!)
* Bars issuers from charging over-limit fees unless the cardholder elects to allow the issuer to complete over-limit transactions, and restricts any over-limit fees.
* Requires penalty fees to be reasonable and proportional to the cardholder's omission or violation.
* Requires payments in excess of the minimum to be applied first to the balance with the highest rate of interest.
* Prohibits interest charges on debt paid on time, known as the "double-cycle billing" ban. (ha! Gotta love a “service” that charges interest on ON TIME payments!)
* Requires credit card companies to consider a consumer's ability to pay when issuing cards or increasing credit limits. (Oh no! No more preying on 12 year olds and people on welfare!)
* Requires that cardholders must get 45 days notice of interest rate, fee and finance charge increases. (did I mention that they used to be able to change your interest rate at any time they wanted? For any reason?)
* Requires issuers to provide disclosures to consumers upon card renewal when card terms have changed. (Yeah. They used to just change your terms without you knowing. Isn’t that a nice “service?”)
* Requires that cardholders get information about how much time it would take and the interest cost involved in paying off a card balance if they make only the minimum monthly payments. (If you were ever dumb enough to be a minimum payment person, you deserve your credit hell)
* Requires full disclosure in billing statements of payment due dates and applicable late payment penalties.
* Requires issuers extending credit to consumers under the age of 21 to obtain the signature of a parent, guardian, or other person 21 years or older who will take responsibility for the debt, or proof that the applicant can repay the credit.
* Increases protections for students against aggressive credit card marketing, and increases transparency of affinity arrangements between credit card companies and universities. (Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that the Credit Card company LOVES to collude with establishments who you THINK are your friend, like the local university!)
* Requires that gift cards are valid for five years.
* Requires the Government Accountability Office study the impact of interchange fees on consumers and merchants.

The changes are all great. They are all long, LONG overdue. Your friendly politicians, both Republican and Democrat have let it go this far. Maybe the politicians were in the pockets of the credit card companies, or maybe…just maybe, they were afraid of how powerful the credit card companies had gotten and were so afraid, in fact, that they refused to call them out.
It’s not coincidence that this reform bill passed or that it did now while the banks are at their weakest. Our government had to wait for this weakening before they could act on this matter. Think about that for a second.

Still. We pay them to have a card. We pay more because we all use cards. We pay interest if we can’t pay off our entire balance on the card. We pay late fees if we don’t pay on time. We overpay for incentives given to us to entice us to use our card more often which means we pay more again. We pay at every turn.

Think about that the next time you pull out your wallet or purse. Think about that when you “earn” miles or rewards. Think about that when gas prices rise. Think about that when you want to buy a home or a car. Think about that every time you complain about the price of any item in the store, any service you receive, think about that as you swipe your card at McDonalds. They’re everywhere—and make no mistake, we belong to them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Losing My Religion

You’ll have to excuse me for seeing myself as one of the last reasonable people on Earth but I’m afraid that’s exactly what I am. I’ve come to hate discussing politics because it’s rare I can find someone with an opinion of their own, and not some piece of idiocy they repeat from a diatribe by Olberman on MSN or Beck on FOX.

It’s simply stunning to me how the marketing arms of the two parties have invaded the consciousness of the masses. When you talk politics, the buzzwords, catchphrases and talking points are spouted out like a prayer of the Almighty Church of My Side. Not only have Church and State mingled, mixed, spawned, the opposing sides have become religions unto themselves.

Pundits are preachers and prophets, they get the message to the masses and their word is gospel. Hallelujah! Go in peace to love and serve the party with which you affiliate! Each side is the benevolent, just and righteous deity to its people and the other side every bit a devil from the pits of hell.

Where is the middle ground? How can so few not be polarized by the us or them mentality of these competing congregations? I made a comment today that was a negative comment about our President, Mr. Obama and it draws the ire of the flock from Our Lady of the Left even though the comment itself wasn’t inflammatory. And immediately, I felt the dirty hands of the parishioners from the Fellowship of the Right pulling and patting and petting me, trying to draw me in, to make me one of theirs.

My comment though, was fair and balanced. It was a criticism of Obama that did not undermine him, or demean him. It was simply an opinion. It was followed up by another that was in support of him. The Fellowship of the Right recoiled from me. The people from Our Lady of the Left kept their distance too. They didn’t know what to make of me. I was of both and of neither. Warily, they backed away from me. I must be crazy.

It may seem a silly little thing, but more and more, we are organizing ourselves into two separate groups. We are blue and red, left and right, one or the other. Each side has a strict with us or against us philosophy. Those of us who are in the middle are enemies to both. Does no one recognize the danger of our behavior? In a world where we readily admit there is more gray than black or white—our opinions on governing ourselves are all black, or all white with nothing in between.

The prophets speak nightly of fire and brimstone, of the end times, of how the other side is evil and is trying to manipulate and destroy. They speak of Revelations. They tell you what to think and to fear anything the other side says—they only seek to tempt you with the apple they offer.

They are preparing for a holy war. Each wants to destroy the other. Each is secure in the knowledge that they alone know best, that their way alone will save us. Let us pray: Obama is the devil and he seeks to infect us with the plague of socialism. Let us pray: I am the hope and the truth and the change.

I feel so alone. My only company is common sense, compromise and those who don’t care one way or the other. I look to each side and see the holy warriors firmly entrenched and when they finally do battle, I’ll be the first to go.

The end is neigh. Armageddon is upon us. Pray to your pundit that your side will prevail. I was of the Church of America, but my god died a long time ago. Blessed be the righteous, for they shall inherit the earth.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I don't hate "e." I'm not fond of "u" though.

Sometimes, it seems like there’s so much going on in the world it’s hard to know where to even begin. I suppose the proper place to begin is with Haiti since there are 200,000 dead, 250,000 wounded and over a million without homes, but Rush Limbaugh assures us this plays right into the Obamaization of American and Pat Robertson chimes in that the death and destruction there is well earned because of alleged devil worship there in the 1200’s all of the sudden it just seems better to dwell on Jay and Conan, or a Republican nude model who’s about to take “the Kennedy Seat” in Massachusetts.



Just when you think the Late Night Wars were over, they start up again in earnest. This time Dave Letterman gets to sit back and watch from the cheap seats while Conan and Jay have at each other—especially since Letterman stands to come out of it all on top. I say, good for Dave. He got screwed out of the Tonight Show when Johnny retired and a little love coming his way is long overdue.

Myself? I’m a Carson loyalist and he wanted Dave to have The Tonight Show so I’ve spent over a decade now boycotting Leno. I don’t watch O’Brien but I approve of him and wanted him to do well. He certainly did Late Night proud after Letterman left. That said, I have a hard time feeling too bad for a guy who just got paid $32 million dollars to take a vacation until September. He’ll come back stronger than ever on FOX or ABC or the pasty white guy channel (PWGC).

It’s funny to watch it all play out though. There may be nothing more entertaining in the world than when comedians get mad at each other. Especially when those comedians have entire staffs of other comedians who help them in their verbal spar sessions with each other. Insult wars are something a guy can truly wrap their heads around. We like to call it Friday night at the bar, we don’t get staffs to assist us and we won’t be YouTubed by millions the next day, but there’s something very real about two guys who aren’t going to fight, trading barbs and insults until one gets shut up.




I have to admit, I didn’t know much about the race for the “Kennedy Seat” in Massachusetts until just recently, but what a joke it’s turned out to be that Teddy Ballgame’s legacy will be to see his seat go to a Republican who has vowed to vote against Obama’s health care plan, spent his formative years taking his clothes off for ladies magazines and apparently drives a truck.

Why? Well because his opponent seems to be from another planet. You do not woo the people of Massachusetts by mistakenly referring to Kurt Schilling—a Red Sawks hero, as a Yankee. You also don’t woo them by claiming that you don’t win elections by shaking hands outside Fenway Park.

Aggravating Sawks Nation in order to win a Senate seat is akin to running for President on the al-Qaeda ticket. Some people are just too stupid to be wasting our oxygen on and how the Democrats settled on her as their candidate is befuddling to say the least.



And that brings us back to Haiti, which has ruled the front pages of newspapers and been the lead story on the newscasts, but there’s a feeling of reluctance to allowing them to do so that accompanies those placements. When 200,000 people die, as a newsperson your hands are pretty much tied. Even if the dead are just Haitians who were living in poverty long before this earthquake hit, they take precedent.

It’s with a wink-wink that we put them first. It’s understood that you can skip to the Entertainment section of the paper and read about the Late Night Feud, or get a drink and some Cheetos while the lead story is on the news and get back in time to find out if anything comical has happened in the Kennedy Seat runoff that day.

Haiti? We text our $10 donation and feel good about ourselves, like we did in 2004 for tsunami relief. Then, as soon as possible we move on to more interesting and scandalous news, forgetting about the aftermath. It makes me think of the quote shown on the screen at the end of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which perhaps was meant to educate us as to why people in Afghanistan might hate us so much after helping the Afghans expel the Soviet Army and then leaving them fend for themselves. “These things happened. They were glorious, and they changed the world. Then we fucked up the end game.”

I wonder, in years to come, when young Taiwanese survivors of the tsunami or Haitian survivors of the earthquake grow up, how simple it will be for them to see us as people of zero substance, who help to feel good about ourselves and our giving natures instead of our having a true desire to do continued and sustained good? I wonder if they will feel abandoned after the initial wave of assistance? I wonder if they’ll choose to handle that abandonment like a pair of pissed off comedians, or perhaps with a bit more verve?