Category Archives: soap box

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard

 

“No legislative body shall enact any measure that pertains to inhibiting or in any way impeding the ability of the citizenship to protect itself from threat, foreign nor domestic.”  – John Quincy Adams.

He didn’t actually say this, I made it up. I made it up but were I to make it into a meme and share it across social media most wouldn’t care about that. Judging by my Facebook feed over the past week it seems that half of you would give it a “like”, happy in the knowledge that our founding fathers agreed that if the Good Lord didn’t want us to be able to possess any and all types of weaponry that we wanted, well, He wouldn’t have made them. The other half would insult my penis size and accuse me of not caring about children.

This too, is untrue, at least I hope it is. I hope that there is a large group of you, a quieter group, that thinks that there should be a way to make us all safer without impinging on anyone’s rights or starting a second Civil War. A group that doesn’t think that this is a “mental health problem” or a “gun problem” and wonders why it needs a label, why there seems to be such a need to automatically divide into two factions and make this an argument. There are problems that need to be addressed with the way that this country identifies and treats those with psychological issues. There are problems that need to be addressed about the ease in which an individual can massacre large numbers of people in a shockingly short amount of time.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why does this have to be so hard?

Maybe the answer is that it is hard, that there is no one solution that would have prevented all of these tragedies, that the answer isn’t as simple as less guns or more guns. That this is both a mental health issue, a gun access issue, and in many cases a parenting issue.

The Sandy Hook shooter was seen at Yale University’s Child Study Center and was diagnosed with multiple psychological disorders, concerns and treatment options voiced to his parents at numerous schools and by numerous mental health workers. His parents resisted all treatment, insisting that their son was gifted and misunderstood. He walked into that school with ten thirty round magazines, allowing him to fire 159 bullets in approximately four minutes. Do you fault the lack of follow up by those concerned that he was a danger to himself and others, the parents, or the access to an AR-15 and extended ammo clips? All three?

The Parkland shooter also had concerns about him documented by social workers, school administrators, mental health counselors, the local police and even the FBI. After a home visit by the Henderson Behavioral Health Department it was determined that he wasn’t a risk to harm himself or others. The investigation into his weapons purchases are still forthcoming as of this writing, but it appears that he was still able to pass the state of Florida background checks necessary to buy ten rifles in the past year, including the AR-15 used in the shooting. The family that he was living with since the death of his mother said they knew he was depressed, knew that he had rifles that he had brought to their house.  The father stated that “I knew he had assault rifle, but I knew he used it out hunting.” When asked if he thought it was fine for a 19 year old to have an AR-15, he responded “It’s his right to have it.”

When asked if he felt differently now : “No, nope.”

A number I’ve seen passed around quite a bit this week is that there have been 18 school shootings so far this year, as of this writing February 21st. This is somewhat misleading, as this number refers to the amount of times that a firearm was discharged on a school property. Of those two were suicides, three were accidental firings, and several more were the results of arguments or attempted robberies in school parking lots. In one case the school was no longer in use. I hate to use the word “only” to say that only three cases met the criteria of a “mass shooting” because that is still three too many, but statistically it’s still safer for my daughter once she gets to school than it is for her as I’m driving her there.

On that drive there are laws that have been put in place for her protection and the protection of others. No matter how warm it was today or how much she would enjoy it, I can’t let her ride in the back of my pickup. I can’t drink mimosas with breakfast and no matter how long it takes us to pick out her outfit I can’t drive as fast as I want. I need to pass several tests before I’m allowed to drive and if I want to drive certain types of vehicles I need a separate license. If I decided not to follow these rules I run the risk of losing that privilege. I’m not allowed to drive a tank.

Ask one hundred people for their ideas on how to make our schools safer and you’ll get a hundred different answers ranging from the completely asinine to the immediately actionable but somehow nothing ever gets done.

Nothing gets done because the solution isn’t just hard, it’s impossible. No one measure is going to work, nothing will ever stop a motivated individual from slaughter.

But we can make things better, make things safer. It will take compromise and sacrifice, an end to finger pointing and name calling. It will take more than meme sharing and thoughts and prayers. It will take admitting that the task is as impossible as ending any other sort of crime but acknowledging that we owe it to our children to try.

That’s all any of us really want in the end. To see our leadership try, to fucking do something other than count their campaign donations and bow to those that pull their strings.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

 

Lost in the Noise

 

I’d like to think that fairness, respect and equality were always issues that I took seriously but will reluctantly admit that as a father to girls, women’s issues have taken on an added significance for me. My desire for them to be able to lead happy, successful lives bringing into clearer focus some of the obstacles that they may face in reaching those goals.

It was with those obstacles in mind that when my news feed became inundated with outrage over the wage discrepancy paid to stars Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for additional filming necessary on the film “All the Money in the World” I was absolutely stunned.

Stunned that there are so many people so desperate to find something to be outraged about that they would choose this story to fire their ire. Think what you may about his acting skills or some of the absolutely horrible movies he’s appeared in over the years, Wahlberg is an internationally recognizable movie star, the highest paid actor of 2017 according to Forbes magazine.  Its reported that he took a pay cut simply to be in the movie to begin with. Michelle Williams is apparently an amazing actress, having been nominated for four Academy Awards, and probably has people that will see a movie based only on her appearance, but I’ll confess to not being able to name anything that she has previously been in without looking it up.

Perhaps this speaks more to poor choices in the movies that I watch or perhaps it’s simply the “mansplaining” that I will undoubtedly be accused of, but I find it hard to use this case as an example of the income bias that is a real and relevant issue in society.

One of the main problems with the 24/7 news cycle and the pay per click advertising business model that so many websites now rely on as their business model is the constant need for content, for stories that elicit a response. I bear no love for our current President and find his attacks on the media boorish and immature but there is truth to the idea that he could try and slip out a silent fart in a closed elevator and CNN would immediately have a panel of experts explaining why this lack of decorum makes him unfit to lead.

The irony here is that the reason for the re-shoots was the unprecedented move by director Ridley Scott to replace actor Kevin Spacey after the movie had completely finished filming. Spacey being one of many in Hollywood recently exposed as taking advantage of a culture of silence and fear to sexually harass and assault.

Before he also became persona non grata amid similar allegations there was a Louis CK quote that I would come across often : “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” As much as I understand the sentiment behind his words and agree with them in principal, it ignores the fact that offense spread too thin becomes dilute, instead lending credibility to those that would rather mock and ignore the voices calling for fairness and decency.

The result is a tuning out, an exhaustion for controversy. I applaud and encourage all who would speak out against wrongdoing and injustice, but how often are these voices being lost amid all the excess noise?

All parents have had days when it seems like your child has done nothing but whine the entire day. It becomes nothing but a distraction, ignored and disregarded. Think of the people that you know that are constantly bitching, a complaint about everything and anything at all times. What happens eventually is that they have a legitimate concern, something important to them that needs to be heard.

It often isn’t.

It isn’t and only after the fact are we left to wonder what else we might have missed.

 

 

 

 

Church and State

 

Some things just shouldn’t be mixed together.  Bleach and vinegar, toasters and tubs, anger and texting, diamond rings and half priced well drinks from five to eight. Religion and politics.

Along with debt avoidance and a search for new resources to exploit, the fleeing of religious persecution was a major motivator for many of those that first traveled across the Atlantic to land here in the New World. Upon arrival some of these settlers then proceeded to persecute anybody that didn’t conform with their puritanical views and the Salem Witch Trails were a pretty dark moment in American history, but the concept of The United States as a place of freedom of worship dates back to the very beginning.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” When the Bill of Rights was adapted in 1791 this concept became a central tenet of the First Amendment. Worship whatever deity you choose, but keep it out of government.

It’s important to note that I have no prejudices against organized religion. I understand that it is a very important part of many people’s lives, providing them with security, peace and comfort in a time when those things can be hard to come by. I was involved in my church youth group as a child, Amy Grant was the first concert I ever attended, and when the teenager was interested in exploring her faith we spent many Sunday mornings attending together. Her little sister loves to sing and when she is a bit older and I’m confident she can read the hymn lyrics instead of making up her own at full volume we may again try to find a congregation that we are comfortable with.

When we do, it will be a church that looks like this.

 

church and state

 

The problem with religion is that it is often tribal, the congregation of people who all share the same beliefs, both about what is right, but also about what is wrong. For those that live a life outside of these communal morals, there is often little mercy.

It has no place in the government of a nation that is supposed to pride itself in it’s diversity, it’s embracement of all.

I don’t want to hear Ted Cruz say that “any President who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander in chief of this nation”, even if I’m just assuming he’s referring to prayer.

I don’t want to see our actual President tweeting out things like this:

 

 

In my America we worship freedom. The freedom to be who you are, to not have to conform to somebody else’s ideas and beliefs.

I expect those making decisions on my behalf to follow the rational, the analytical, not the ideological of theoretical. Federal, state and municipal governments have different responsibilities to myself and my family that I expect them to meet.

The eventual fate of our souls isn’t one of them.

 

 

There is a Difference Between A Culture and A Character’s Culture

 

It’s been unseasonably warm this week, but all the other signs of autumn have been in full effect here in New England. The foliage is changing color, pumpkins and skeletons are everywhere, people are arguing online about what does and does not constitute cultural appropriation.

This year the controversy is over last year’s big Disney hit Moana, an excellent movie centered on Pacific Island culture that had Disney praised for their continued efforts to promote more ethnic diversity among their Princesses and main characters. It’s next big release will be Coco, a movie about a young boy named Miguel that is based around the Mexican holiday of The Day of The Dead. It looks pretty good.

It looks pretty good but if your son is white you need to think twice about buying that costume next year. If you have a little white girl that is a last minute decider don’t let her be Moana this year.

Apparently it’s OK for Disney to make millions of dollars on movies based on other cultures but for a small child to pretend to be a character of that culture when they are not is racist and culturally insensitive. There have been many white Disney Princesses over the years, we should be sticking to those. If this seems to be suggesting to our children that they are only allowed to like those that share their ethnicity, it’s our job to correct them and use it as a teaching moment about their privilege.

I found this news to be deeply troubling. Not because it would force us to change Halloween plans, but because of the Elena of Avalor backpack that my six year old, white, daughter brings to school every day. Elena is latina. She also has a name very similar to my daughter Alaina’s, making her a favorite. The backpack is probably OK but I may have to make her switch back to last year’s Frozen one until I am 100% sure.

 

Elena backpack

 

Fortunately our Halloween costume was decided upon a month ago, no doubt in her mind, no changing costumes from event to event this year. Its been all Mal, all the time. She has been so obsessed with the character, the daughter of Maleficent in Disney’s The Descendants and Descendants 2 made for television movies that we have to have some article of clothing, even it’s just socks or a hair tie, that is the color purple every day.  She now carries a “spell book” everywhere she goes and our biggest challenge has been not wearing out her costume before Halloween actually gets here.

 

mal for halloween

 

Her second choice would have been Thor, which I also assume would have been appropriate, an assault on the patriarchy as opposed to a statement on gender fluidity.

Or maybe it just would have been a little girl dressing up as a fictional character that she likes?

Cultural appropriation is real, and if it seems as if I’m mocking the problem, I’m not. My understanding, however, is that it’s an act of stereotyping someone’s culture, belittling it.  It can be a fine line, but I think a distinction needs to be made between dressing up as an ethnicity, as a cultural stereotype, and dressing up as a character of a different ethnicity.  A Dora the Explorer costume is much different than a “lost little Mexican girl” costume. Jasmine or Shimmer and Shine are OK, dressing your daughter up in a burqa is not.

Maybe I’m wrong. This post was inspired by somebody that felt I was, that felt I was “whitesplaining” and that I should use this opportunity to teach my white daughter that “not everybody, particularly those of color,  get to be whoever they want to be.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are other ways to teach that lesson. Instead I’ll choose to teach her that heroes and princesses come in many different colors and backgrounds. I’ll celebrate the fact that movies and television are recognizing that.  If we want to continue to promote that diversity, doesn’t segregation of costumes, telling our children who they can and cannot emulate based on their skin color counterproductive?

 

Reluctant Lessons for Darkened Sidewalks

 

I had no idea what to expect on my first visit to Las Vegas, a trip my pool team had earned as State Champions. I’d spent plenty of time in Atlantic City, the smaller, East Coast den of iniquity that I knew to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Surely it’s big sister, nicknamed Sin City, would be much worse, bags of cocaine replacing bowls of mints in hotel lobbies, prostitutes lined up outside of every bar and casino.

It’s nothing like that of course, modern day Las Vegas desperately trying to court families and escape the more notorious aspects of it’s past. There are still Elvis impersonators on every corner, but if any of them were secretly pimps I was unaware.

Like any big city, however, it’s not a place where one should wander drunkenly by yourself in the early hours of the morning, a lesson I learned when my credit card, seemingly safely tucked into the front pocket of my jeans was lifted by what I can only assume was an evil little fairy. A fairy that bought $500.00 worth of CVS makeup in the twenty minutes that it took me to notice it’s absence.

The reason for my solo hike down the Strip wasn’t stupidity (this time) but chivalry. On our last stop of the night my group and a group of Polish women were the only patrons left dancing, a lobby bar somewhere small where a cover band was playing passable renditions of ’80s hair bands. When it was time for us to leave, probably past time for us to leave, we discovered that somehow one of the women had been left behind by her friends. We spent some time searching the area but it became apparent that she had been abandoned.

She was distraught, spoke little English, didn’t have a room key, and wasn’t even sure which hotel they were staying in. Her first night in Vegas was going very badly.

So I walked with her, a relatively short distance to where she was staying, a longer conversation to convince security to let her into her room and produce something inside with a name matching her ID, and I was on my way. Good karma that was rewarded with a few hours on the phone with my credit card company.

I tell this story, now over a decade old, because I was presented with a similar situation this past weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

My wife safely tucked into bed I wandered the half mile to the nearest late night liquor store to stock up on tailgating supplies for the Miami Dolphins football game we were attending the next day. A short walk but a dark one, all streetlights turned off for the month of October while turtles nested or some such business. A significant stretch of road without tacky beachfront souvenir shops or Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley songs played on acoustic guitars for raised decks full of intoxicated party goers.

 

a darkened road

 

About halfway down I encountered another damsel, seemingly in distress. Arms raised I approached slowly, willing myself to look nonthreatening as I asked her if she was OK.

She blew a whistle and started running.

I wasn’t mad, wasn’t upset or defensive, offended that my maleness immediately labeled me as a potential predator.

It made me sad, more so because if it had been one of my girls walking that darkened pavement I’d want them to do the same. I want to teach them that there are good guys out there, guys that will walk a stranger home without expectation. Guys that they don’t have to run away from just because they are guys and nobody else is around.

I want to teach them that, but not as much as I want to teach them to be safe. I’ll teach them to avoid circumstances where they are drunk and alone in a strange place, a dark road. I’ll teach them never to abandon their friends, never to leave a drink unattended, not to let a seemingly nice guy into your Vegas hotel room to use the bathroom before he begins the long walk back to his friends.

I’ll teach them that and I’ll fucking hate it. I’ll fucking hate it because shouldn’t we instead be teaching our boys to keep their goddamn hands to themselves.