Friday, December 26, 2014

Self-Righteous Jerks

Note: I'm only using this picture since Tuohy has already posted it publicly on Facebook and Instagram
and it's been reposted in a thousand different places. 
If you're going to be kind, be kind. Don't film yourself, post the results everywhere, and pretend that you're only doing it to prove a point.

Scenario #1: Leigh Anne Tuohy is not anyone who has ever been on my radar. I knew she was the subject of a book and of that Sandra Bullock movie, but that's all. I knew there was some talk about how that movie was basically "heroic white woman saves troubled black youth," but I'd never seen it so I couldn't say.

But then she did this.

In case you haven't been following the story, here's the gist. She owns a restaurant. Two black teenagers came into her restaurant and apparently, were acting in a way that some would find suspicious. Here's the way she describes the scene on her own Facebook page:

We see what we want! It’s the gospel truth! These two were literally huddled over in a corner table nose to nose and the person with me said “I bet they are up to no good” well you know me… I walked over, told them to scoot over. After 10 seconds of dead silence I said so whats happening at this table? I get nothing.. I then explained it was my store and they should spill it… They showed me their phones and they were texting friends trying to scrape up $3.00 each for the high school basketball game! Well they left with smiles, money for popcorn and bus fare. We gave to STOP judging people and assuming and pigeon holing people! Don’t judge a book by its cover or however you’d like to express the sentiment! Accept others and stoping seeing what you want to see!!! #LeighAnnesSundaySermon #BelieveInOthers


To sum up: two black kids were sitting together. Her friend says "they're up to no good." She says, oh no, you're wrong. And then she goes over, sits next to them, and demands to see their phones to prove they're not doing anything wrong!!!

Then, after they prove their innocence, she hands them some cash and then takes a picture with them!! The caption might as well be "look at these poor little black children whose lives I just turned around!" Gross exploitation.

Scenario #2: This video has been going around the social networks lately. Another "heroic" person who decided to give $100 to a homeless person.

No strings attached? Ah ha, not quite. He proceeds to record the guy's actions secretly to find out how he spends the money!!

Watch the video. It's clear that they're filming this man without his permission, at the beginning. At one point, he even tells his cameraman "just don't let him see you." At the end, once they prove to themselves that he's using the money in the right way, he admits to the poor man that he's being secretly recorded.

Would he have admitted it otherwise? This guy, Josh Paler Lin, is a guy who makes ugly prank videos on YouTube - the Bad Dad prank, the Vegas Mafia prank, the Chloroform Kidnapping prank. He thrives on exploiting people's reactions and then making money on them (via YouTube ads.) It's easy to imagine he could have filmed this man's behavior and secretly uploaded it, and never told hm at all. That's what he does.

But instead, he posts it as a feel-good story. Who's feeling good? Paler Lin has gotten 22 million hits on this video. He's making money from ads and his name gets spread all over the internet. Oh, but he's launched an IndieGogo account to raise some money for the homeless man, too.

Think about that. He found a homeless man, decided he was one of the "good" homeless people, and now he's raising money to help him out. But his message is "never judge a book by its cover."

He originally expected to film the man doing something bad - buying alcohol or drugs, maybe. In the description of the video itself, he even says "I wasn't expecting to get this kind of footage... to be honest, I thought this video would be more an exposing homeless people video at first."

Exposing homeless people? These are people on the bottom rung of society, and he's out to expose them??? This man is a bottom feeder. Shame on him for exploiting another human being for his profits. Shame on Leigh Anne Tuohy for exploiting two strangers for her own glorification.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Death and 'Serial'

I'm not listening to Serial.

I'm a voracious podcast listener. This American Life, Snap Judgment, Too Beautiful to Live, Nightvale Radio, loads of NPR podcasts. I'm the key demographic for this show.

Except I won't listen to it.

It's about a murder, as I understand it. Someone murdered someone - or maybe he did, maybe he didn't. The show digs through the evidence, interviews witnesses, and considers whether the person actually committed the crime. It's supposed to be riveting. It's supposed to be great radio. It's supposed to be a revolutionary way of using the medium.

I can't listen to it.

I've been there, you see. I've sat in a courtroom while the prosecution presented the autopsy pictures of my brother; described the wounds that were inflicted on his body; described how he died.

I've been there in the courtroom when the defense tried to challenge evidence, cast doubt as to the real killer, declared the fine character of the man accused of killing my brother.

That's just me. I don't read murder mysteries. I don't watch movies like Pulp Fiction that glorify killing and treat dead bodies like punch lines.

Interestingly, This American Life did an episode about this tendency, about how the families of murder victims end up hyper-sensitive to popular culture with references to murder. I never forgot that episode, because it nails it perfectly. Not all survivors of murder feel this way. But many of us do.

I wish nothing but the best for Serial and I hope it has a long and successful future. But I hope the next story is about robbing a bank. Or kidnapping a pig. Or stealing a piece of art. I don't want to hear about murders presented for entertainment, no matter how seriously the subject is taken. I can't be entertained by it, and I'm not the only one.

Monday, November 24, 2014

No Justice.

Darren Wilson finds himself a free man tonight.

Michael Brown is still dead. Whatever happened tonight, that never would have changed. But justice could have taken a step forward tonight.

 It didn't.

We knew that was going to happen. When they took three months to make a decision, we knew it was going to be a free pass for Wilson.

When the governor called a press conference three hours before the grand jury announcement to plead for calm, we all knew what was coming. He swore he didn't know what the decision was, but come on now, we're not stupid. Why plead for calm unless you think there might be a reason for people not to remain calm?

Ferguson has serious problems with fairness and equity. As does St. Louis. As does this country. Darren Wilson's indictment wouldn't have changed that. But it would have helped, dammit.

Indicting Wilson would have suggested that he didn't get the automatic benefit of the doubt that so many police officers receive. It would have shown America that this community wanted to see justice done.

But no. All of our suspicions were exactly right. Darren Wilson is free for killing Mike Brown. Not even a trial.

I'm tired of being disappointed by this country. But we need to channel this energy into changing the world. I'm pushing against despair. We need to fix this world, not be crushed by resignation.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


My church is rebuilding the sanctuary. The walls are bare. Studs and pipes are showing, and the floor is bare concrete until the new floor tiles are laid.

The last months have felt much like that. I've been rebuilding my own surface, stripping away unnecessary layers, putting down new walls and fortifying them. To build a new home, sometimes you have to tear away walls that you thought would always be standing.

I'll write more, but let me say this. I am at peace. I am sleeping in a new home, and the woman I married is elsewhere.

Nobody was thrown out. It was not a violent ugly separation. It was a mutual decision. We were done.

I am at peace. My son is in good shape, and we're both taking good care of him in our ways.

Half of all marriages fail. You know this. With a child with special needs, the odds are worse. Nobody knows how much worse.

Any marriage is challenging. Marriage is the deepest act of faith. It's reaching out and saying this one. This is the person I will trust. Through thick and thin. Though bankruptcy, cancer, car accidents, unpaid bills, job terminations, sicknesses, anxiety attacks, all of it. All of it.

Human life has so many twists and turns, and the act of marriage is saying to the universe, this is the person who will walk by my side through all of it. For the rest of my life, this is the person who will have my back.

And you need that person to make the same commitment.

When that commitment fails, it's devastating. When you've been running hand-in-hand for years, and suddenly you realize that the hand is no longer there, it's a shock.

I won't go into detail about what happened, when it happened, who did what. It's not necessary. But we stopped being at each other's side, somehow. Our hands slipped away from each other, and once we realized we had fallen out of pace with each other, we were too far gone to connect again.

A friend of mine asked me how it made any sense. We seemed to be a solid healthy couple, while she says that she and her husband don't even belong together.

I don't know if Mrs. B and I belonged together, but we came together. And we were at each other's sides for a long time. That's how marriage works. It's not about whether you read the same books or eat the same foods, whether you stay up late or go to sleep early together. It's about whether you stand by each other when times get difficult. That's the only prerequisite. Everything else is just detail.

More than anything, a spouse is a partner. And for me, what I realized is that if I was running by myself already, it made no sense to pretend I still had a partner by my side.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"You can ask me anything."

I don't ever want to forget the simple joys of fatherhood. Like talking to my kiddo. I love talking to him. Love hearing how his brain works and how his sense of the world has changed.

This morning, my son rolled into bed with me and started talking. He told me about a dream he had where he was fishing, and then there was something about gummy worms.

And then we talked about summer camp. And about the names for the different groups of kids - all named after different animals. Apparently, all of the animal names changed over the last year, and we mused about why that might have happened.

And we just talked about, I don't know, stuff. We just talked.

It matters to me that he's comfortable talking to me. I want to remind myself that I need to pay attention to him. Too often, I'll be talking to him while browsing on my phone. Everyone does it these days, it's what we do. It's part of our overwired, overstimulated world. But I'm trying to force myself to put the phone down more so I can listen to him.

He's nine now. He won't be nine forever. He's already two months past his ninth birthday. Ten months to go, and then he's ten. Then eleven. Then he's older and older and he's a different person completely.

I want to cherish this time I have with him right now, with this kid as he is right now. I love seeing his brain develop and his words become more refined and enriched.

When he goes to bed at night, he asks me questions. It happens every night. Right as I'm about to turn his light out, he starts with the questions. Simple silly ones. "Which fishie in that picture is your favorite? Do you like meerkats or ferrets more?"

Or he'll walk that fine line between profound and ridiculous. "Dad? What if there were monkeys all over the roof and they were just waiting for us to go to sleep, and then they ran all around our backyard?"

"Dad? What if there was a giant robot from space, and he picked up this whole entire house in his hand and took us away to space?"

Or sometimes he talks about things that happen during his day. Sometimes, he just needs to process the events of the day, and he uses me as a sounding board. I love playing that part. I always want to be his sounding board. I know that's going to change, but I always want him to know he can ask me the questions that he can't get out of his head. I'm always there for him.

"Dad? Can I ask you something?" That's how he starts the conversation.

I always answer the same way. "You can ask me anything, son."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nonprofit - Dream vs. Reality

I forget sometimes. I forget that I don't work for angels and wood spirits. I work for people. And people behave as people.

Sometimes, I get caught up in the dream. I believe that we're all working for a common good, for the sake of making the world a better place.

I believe them when they say they want us all to be players on the same team. That the most important thing is that we all support each other and work towards the same common goal.

I mean, I work for a nonprofit. We're supposed to be about the mission, right?

And then it happens. Something comes down from on high, and I remember that I work for a boss. For a CEO. Someone whose driving purpose is making sure we all remember who's in charge.

So we'll all get lectured at the all-staff meeting about something that seems small, but apparently was earth-shaking in its importance. We'll all get scolded for forgetting about the mission - but in fact, it's because we forgot to honor the boss' whims. We didn't genuflect with appropriate humility.

Or we'll all be looking forward to a staff event - a party, a celebration, an outing - only to find out it's been cancelled because the CEO said so. Because we didn't appear to be taking our work seriously enough.

It's very much in the pattern of an abusive relationship, I would imagine. (I'm fortunate that I've never truly been in one.) We're constantly being kept off-balance. So the end result is that we're never actually working for the mission. We're working for the CEO. Our job is honoring the boss' wishes, no matter how unusual or offbase they seem. The boss likes meetings a certain way. The boss wants to be addressed in this way. The boss wants visitors to talk about this, not talk about that.Don't upset the boss. Don't rattle the cage.

And never, ever question the boss. Don't ever challenge our decisions, our campaigns, our mission (e.g. the boss' way of carrying out the mission.) That would be disloyal.

Look. Our job in the nonprofit world is rattling cages. We are supposed to be changing the status quo. If we're constantly worried about not upsetting the boss, how are we ever supposed to focus on upsetting the power brokers and decision makers?

And that's when the disappointment hits.

I want to work for a mission, not a petty tyrant. I want my work to be fighting for the afflicted and the poor, not fighting for my job. I'm tired of working for a boss more interested in their reputation and glorification than in actually making change.

Friday, May 09, 2014

"I know."

Sometimes, my son gets stuck in repeating himself. Usually, it's the same phrase or variations on a phrase. This might be an Asperger's trait, or it could just because he's an eight-year-old kid and that's what they do. I don't know.

Sometimes, he'll spin the same phrase multiple ways. Variations on one phrase. "Happy birthday to you. Happy flurth-day to you. Happy earth day to you. Happy death day. Happy smurth day." Just goofin around.

So anyway, yesterday, he didn't realize he was repeating himself. "Dad? I love you."

"I love you too, son."

Two minutes later. "Dad, I love you."

"Love you too."

A few minutes later. "Dad, I love you."

"Son?" He stopped to look at me.

"I love you too."

He looked back at me. "I know you do."

That was the best answer. It's important that he loves me. But its so so so much more important that he knows that I love him. And that his mother loves him. I can't think of a better way to start the day than with that reassurance. He knows. I've done my job, then.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Fuck Cancer

There's a guy I know. I've known him for over a decade because we were part of an amazing community forum, Table Talk, which used to be part of Salon before the Powers that Be shut it down. (It's not profitable! OMG, how are we going to afford to pay Camille Paglia?!)

He made me howl with laughter with his witty parodies of songs, rewritten to match the politics of the day. He challenged me, frustrated me, and informed me with his brilliant political insights. He is warm, genuine, thoughtful, and a truly genuinely nice guy.

I saw him get married to another online friend. I watched the joy that lived within both of them multiply and radiate out like joyous solar flares. They were so happy together.

Are. They are happy together.

My friend MacDaffy is dying.

My friend, who I never met. My friend who has been part of my life for a decade and has made it better for his presence. I knew he was struggling with cancer, but it seemed like he had it under control. As much as you can control that wild rabid beast.

Last week, he was posting speculation about the Malaysia Airlines plane crash, and chatting about basketball and pop culture, the stuff we all talk about. Watercooler stuff.

And then suddenly I started seeing posts on Facebook. Posts saying goodbye.  And then I saw what was happening. The cancer was rampaging, and it was winning, and his time was short.

I wish I had met you in person, my friend. But I loved sharing online space with you. I am grateful for all of the time I got to spend with you, and I'm so glad you found such epic happiness. Love and light to you both.

And, as another online friend says with terrifyingly heartfelt conviction, Fuck Cancer. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck cancer. Goddamn you for taking so many great people from us too soon.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Down by the Riverside

I was fourteen years old when I heard this song and sang it for the first time.

I was a freshman in high school in northern Colorado. There was a protest in Cheyenne, Wyoming, against the MX missiles that Ronald Reagan wanted to deploy as "protection" against the Soviet Union.

I saw a sign somewhere about the protest, and something in me clicked. I had to go. Religious people talk about being called, and for the first time, I felt like I was being called to do something. I had to go to this protest. I needed to.

I didn't own a car, so I hitchhiked up north to Wyoming. (My dad knew, and he was good with it. My brother was hitchhiking around the country - how bad could it be hitchhiking fifty miles north?) And I found my people. We drove together to one of the missile silos that dotted the prairie in Wyoming. We were a small group, and there were a lot of people in their forties and fifties. At fourteen, I was the youngest person there, but I was welcomed.

And we sang. And we talked about the insanity of waging war for the sake of peace. And we sang some more. Because that's what people do when they're together. They sing. We raise our voices together and find our harmony and find our common bond.

I have never forgotten that day. Standing, hand in hand, surrounding a nuclear missile silo with love and song and our wishes for peace. It made me who I am, that moment. And Pete Seeger's songs were there.

Jim Hightower, who knew Pete Seeger for over forty years, said it best. "It never occurred to me that Pete Seeger could die, for I thought of him as a permanent piece of America--like the Bill of Rights."

This was a man who met with Occupy Wall Street protestors, and who stood up to Joe McCarthy's red baiting. He sang songs of protest for over seventy years. He wasn't especially rich, didn't have an entourage, didn't cause earthquakes of damage and destruction behind him. He was a man with a banjo, who brought people together with song. And he did it again, and again, and again.

He wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

He wrote "Turn, Turn, Turn." (Well, he adapted it from Ecclesiastes, but he did that. And what a profound thing to do, to turn a chapter of the Bible into one of the finest peace songs on the planet.)

He wrote "If I Had a Hammer." Doesn't that seem like a song that has always existed? But someone had to bring that metaphor into life, and Pete Seeger did it.

He wrote "Little Boxes." If you've ever seen an episode of "Weeds," you know that song. It's one of my dad's favorite songs.

He helped to adapt old spirituals into the song "We Shall Overcome." He's given songwriting credit for it, but he refused to accept royalties for the song. Instead, all of the royalties go to a center in Tennessee that trains the leaders of tomorrow.

He lived his life and his ideals out loud, for the world to see. He was not a perfect man, as none of us are. But goddamn if he wasn't a man worth admiring. I loved Pete Seeger and admired him and cried for him when he died. For my loss, and the world's loss.

The best thing we can all do to honor Pete Seeger is to lift our voices together. He spent his life fighting for a world of peace, a world of harmony and love and care for each other. Let us all recommit ourselves to bringing Pete Seeger's vision into reality.