24 September 2016

Into the chasm

@stuff.co.nz
It is no secret that the American electorate is a tad divided in the run up to the presidential election. The division is everywhere but its starkest, darkest, and ugliest side is most evident on the Interwebs. Earlier this week, I got an up close and personal tour of the dark side.

Earlier this week, on the morning of my birthday, a Tweet comparing refugees to a bowl of Skittles by the eldest son of the Republican presidential candidate was trending. It caught my attention and I Tweeted my own response. Here's what I said:

Thank you @DonaldTrumpJr for reminding us how little regard you 
have for humanity. Like father, like son.

Snarky, yes, but it was my honest reaction, a reaction by the way that I was under the impression I was allowed to have. I really thought nothing more of it until my notifications started to blow up. Apparently, I'd struck a nerve with the more extreme residents of Trumplandia in my tiniest corner of the Twittersphere. Nearly 25,000 impressions and engagements, plus hundreds of likes and retweets of that Tweet later, I'd been drop kicked into a hate-filled chasm. Here are a few highlights from the responses that came my way:

A**hole
F*!$ off
I should be subject to violent anal rape (I toned that one down but apparently this is a favorite line of attack, or variant of the same theme, by Trumplandians. See this from Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank)
I am an ISIS supporter
I am a feminist and an abortionist, or at least an abortion supporter (I'm not quite sure how that leap was made)
I am illiterate
I need to study English more because I do not know what an analogy is (I guess I should sue my alma mater then for failing me when I was awarded an English degree)
I am an SJW (Social Justice Warrior - I didn't know what that was so I had to look that one up)
Muslims and Syrians are not human
I should pray that my church isn't bombed by refugees this Sunday
I was asked where I lived so that refugees could be sent to my home to poison me and my family
I have no right to speak 

Fun, right? 

There were some telling things as I fell into the chasm. In almost poetic move to prove that I was an SJW, one of the Tweeters went into my blog and linked to a post I wrote in April of this year about women being assaulted by anonymous Twitter trolls as proof. Irony alert - that was posted by an anonymous Twitterer. While my blog is mostly personal, I've written about issues that are important to me including gun violence, rape, and a few other hot button issues. But the issue that makes me an SJW? Speaking out against the abuse of women on Twitter. That speaks volumes. Irony alert - being told I have no right to speak. That one killed me. Being told by those who shout from the rooftops about protecting their rights that I have no right to speak was rich. Thanks to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, I have as much right to speak as any one else in this country.

What is most telling is the fear, or the bigotry masquerading as fear. I don't go to church on a weekly basis convinced that my place of worship is going to be bombed. Nor do I fear that a family of refugees is going to poison me, in spite of the wishes that it would happen that came my way.  I can't live with that kind of fear. Not everyone who is not a WASP is hell-bent on destruction. Really, they're not.

My trip into the chasm of hate on the Interwebs was short-lived. It was instructive, disturbing, and revealing. It speaks volumes about the divide and the fear in this country. To live with that kind of fear / bigotry is in the word of the Republican presidential candidate, "Sad!"

20 September 2016

50

So I've hit that number today
There's another birthday here in the Den today and that birthday is mine. It just happens to be one of those significant milestone birthdays, too. Today, I celebrate fifty years of darkening the door of this wonderful thing we call life.

I like what Victor Hugo said about being 50. He said "Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age." Turning 50 does not mean that I am suddenly middle-aged. That ship sailed when I turned 41. Per the good people at the U. S. Social Security Administration and their super fun Life Expectancy Calendar (have fun playing with that one!), I am expected to live to 82.2 years old. So I am nearly a decade into my middle-agedness, which for my children means at least three more long decades of dealing with me. Buckle up, you three! It's only going to get worse. You have been warned.

Here's some fun facts, courtesy of the Interweb's truth sayer Wikipedia, about 50:

  • 50 is the atomic number of tin (as a sciencephobe, this means nothing to me)
  • 50 is the number of Gates of Wisdom and Gates of Impurity in Kaballah. I wonder about the connection between wisdom and impurity now.
  • 50 is the number of U. S. states. No, really, there are only 50 states. It is not 51 (sorry Washington DC or Puerto Rico).
  • 50 is the number of the retired jersey of San Antonio Spurs Hall of Famer, David "The Admiral" Robinson.
  • 50 is the number of rings required to transform Sonic to his super form in the "Sonic the Hedgehog" game. Given my extensive (and by extensive I mean non-existent) history as a gamer, this another one that means nothing to me.
Thanks to the great Paul Simon, we know that there are "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

Thanks to Keanu Reeves in his tour-de-force role from the 1990's cinematic masterpiece "Speed," which in itself is a gift that just keeps on giving, and Dennis Hopper's creative bomb-making skills, we know that 50 was the danger zone. Remember if that bus went slower than 50 MPH, it was goodbye Sandra Bullock and Cameron from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

I'm excited to hit this milestone. I'd like to think it's going to give me an air of added maturity. In reality, it's brought me an invitation to join AARP and starting the countdown to this:


Yep, that delightful procedure is coming. It's one of the harsher realities of turning 50, as is this point made by the life of any party he must have attended, English author George Orwell. He said, "At age fifty, everyone has the face he deserves." Let that one sink in. If I now have the face I deserve, I shudder to think what else is coming my way in terms of what I deserve...

Clearly, 50 is going to be awesome. I'm a few hours into it and I'm already a fan. The first fifty years have been good, darn good. I think the 32.2 years that I have left are going to be darn good, too. Among other things, I want to see if there's any truth to this statement from T S Eliot:

The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always 
being asked to do things, and yet you are not decrepit enough to turn them down.

I'm 50. I'm not dead yet, so no need to toss me in the Wagon O' The Dead:

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17 September 2016

Bullying

Buckle up, people, it's a long read.

Earlier this week, my Twitter feed filled up with links to stories about a nine (nine!) year old in West Virginia who committed suicide as a result of alleged bullying by his classmates. It stuns me that I'm even writing that sentence.

How bad must the bullying have been to drive a nine year old boy to take his own life? What nine year old even thinks suicide is an option? What kind of world have we created where a suicide by a nine year old barely makes a headline? Those questions have plagued me since reading about this boy's story.

According to Stand for the Silent, 60% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying. Bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than those who are not bullied. DoSomething.org cites that over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. 160,000 teen-agers skip school every day because of bullying. Then there's this super fun statistic: 1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will intervene only 4% of the time. I'm troubled by that one because the teachers I know would bust skulls before they would let bullying go in their presence. In spite of that, bullying does go on, particularly in our schools.

In 1980, at the height of my awful delayed puberty early teen-age awkwardness (I've shared the pictures so you know I'm not exaggerating), I entered the maelstrom known as high school. I wasn't an A-Lister by any stretch of the imagination but I didn't think I was on the bottom rung of my very class-conscious high school. I had friends and didn't do anything to stand out, for better or worse, my freshman year, or so I thought. One day mimeographed copies (remember it was 1980 - there were no Mac's, no boss design publishing software) of our high school's crudely produced "underground" newspaper, "Off the Deep End,"  (I still remember the name thirty six years later) were slipped under classroom doors and strewn about the hallways of the school. It mostly consisted of school yard gossip, including one surprising item outing me by name as gay because I'd been seen having lunch with a few girls on more than one occasion. What made me gay apparently was the fact that there were no other guys at those lunches (high school logic is awesome!). I was gutted as I read those few sentences. This was 1980 and the worst, the very worst thing you could be called in our high school, besides poor, was gay. As far as I knew, my fourteen year old life was over and I left campus and walked home. It was a very emotional walk. When I got home, my mother, surprised to find me there and not in school, listened as I wept (like I said I was convinced my world had collapsed). She helped me pull myself together and then did something I'll never forget and for which I am forever grateful. She told me in no uncertain terms I was not going to worry about what had been said about me. She told me I was going back to school. She told me I was to go up to the first seniors I saw and make a way to have a conversation with them. She told me she loved me and then she told me to get in the car and that I was going back to school.

I was terrified on that ride back but I was determined to follow her advice. As I got back to campus, I realize now that I should have been praying for the principal who was going to be getting an earful of righteous rage from my mother. Instead, I saw a group of seniors I knew and steeling myself, I went right up to them and asked what was up. After some awkward small chat, one of them said, "Dude, don't even sweat what was in the paper. No one reads it anyway." I took great comfort in that and within a few days, it seemed to have been forgotten. I'd like to say that my brief experience made me an anti-bullying advocate. It didn't, at least not then. I'm ashamed to say that when the opportunity presented itself during those ridiculous high school years, I tried to assume the role of bully because that's how my high school mind worked. My own experience being bullied never justified my own weak attempts at bullying. I knew better. Those opportunities were rare and I feel shame for them to this day and I am truly sorry for those moments.

That was thirty six years ago and as far as bullying was concerned, my experience was tame. But as I just wrote about it, it was with trepidation and shaking hands. I was being bullied for something I wasn't. I wasn't gay. I was able to shrug it off. I was lucky. But what about those that can't shrug it off? What about those who are bullied every day because of their sexuality? Or how they look? Or act? Or because they've made the cardinal sin of not fitting in? I can't imagine the torment of being subject to bullying every day as a teen-ager and its lasting effects. That torment is a significant reason behind the torrent of teen-age suicide in our country.

Our country, though, seems disconcertingly comfortable with bullying, especially on a national scale. So comfortable that we may be on the precipice of electing our first ever Bully-In-Chief. The Republican presidential nominee has built an entire campaign (let's be honest - it's his whole life) on bullying. The target of his mockery including, among others women, the disabled, our armed forces, Muslims, Mexicans and pretty much anyone else who is not white has been well documented. Twice now he has used the age-old bully buffoonery excuse of "just kidding" after encouraging the assassination of his Democratic opponent. His admiration for the "Global Bullies," one Vlad Putin of Russia and Kim Jung Un of North Korea, should be enough to disqualify him from the race for the U.S. presidency but it only seems to be fueling the madness. Like any good bully, the Republican presidential nominee has been terrifyingly efficient in silencing his cronies. Not a single leader of the GOP has had the testicular fortitude to stand up to him and say "Enough!" Their fear of the other side winning and let's face it, their misogyny (latent or otherwise), precludes them from standing up to their bully. It really is like something out of a bad teen high school dramedy except it's really happening.

In those bad high school movies and in the media in general, the bully usually gets what is coming to him or her as bullying is no respecter of gender. Nelson Muntz has been bullying the children of Springfield Elementary for nigh on twenty seven years now, but on more than one occasion, he's felt badly about his shenanigans and even shed a tear or two. He's even tried to change his ways. There's a lesson there.

One is a work of fiction.
One is unbelievable.
One occasionally feels badly about what he does.
One has zero remorse.
One is a school yard bully created by writers.
One chooses to be a school yard bully every day.
One, given the opportunity, would destroy the Kwik-E-Mart.
One, given the opportunity, may destroy the world as we know it.
To learn more about bullying and stopping it, see the following:
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11 September 2016

In Memoriam: 9/11 Fifteen Years Later

@911memorial
Today, September 11th, marks the fifthteenth anniversary of a day that changed the world as we know it. This is a somber, reverent day for countless people around the world for the horror of 9/11 was truly global. It is a poignant day for me and my industry colleagues who saw our profession change forever that morning. As I have done in years past, I choose to honor those that died on that fateful day with the text of the remarks I gave in Church on the 10th anniversary of the attacks:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was an unusually bright, clear late summer day in New York City. The images of those brilliant blue skies are seared into our collective memories; however, now we remember the smoke that choked that blue sky. We remember the image of a plane slamming into the now-fallen World Trade Center. We remember images of people jumping from the burning towers in order to escape the roaring flames.  We also remember the pictures of firefighters and police personnel who ran into the towers in an epic, valiant struggle to save their fellowmen. We are haunted by the heroic words uttered by a passenger on board United 93, "Let's roll!" as those few passengers decided to stop the terrorists from hitting yet another target.

The terror of that day, ten years ago, is still fresh for so many of us. It is an event that touched us all and it is a defining moment in not only American history, but world history. In the days following these horrific events, our nation came together in a way that many said had not been since World War II. I remember standing in our front yard in our home in California with our neighbors as we joined our fellow countrymen in a national moment of prayer. It was as if our nation was seeking spiritual comfort as a whole in those dark days after the attacks.

That sense of unity and desire to seek spiritual comfort as a nation has abated in the ten years since that unforgettable day (and on the 15th anniversary, we are more divided as nation than ever). Our nation has found its way back to its divisive ways.  In his first official blog post printed earlier this week in the Washington Post's "On Faith" column, President Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said, "Sadly, it seems that much of that renewal of faith has waned in the years that have followed.  Healing has come with time, but so has indifference.  We forget how vulnerable and sorrowful we felt.  Our sorrow has moved us to remember the deep purposes of our lives.  The darkness of our despair brought us a moment of enlightenment.  But we are forgetful.  When the depth of grief has passed, its lessons often pass from our minds and hearts as well."

The Scriptures are rife with examples of how we, the children of a loving, caring Heavenly Father, have forgotten our Father and the lessons of lives time and time again.  The Book of Mormon is especially illustrative of this cycle of forgetfulness but it also shows our Father's consistent, loving commitment to us. In his blog post, President Monson continued, saying, "Our Father's commitment to us, His children, is unwavering.  Indeed He softens the winter of our lives, but He also brightens our summers.  Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us.  He has promised us that this will never change."

For some, the memories of that fateful day are fading and some have no memory of it. Children born after that fateful day have no concept of what the world was like before that day. To them, the bad security theater that is the TSA is just what you do to get on an airplane. For others, like a certain Russian dictator loving US presidential candidate, the events of 9/11 have been an opportunity for him to bolster his campaign of hate and bigotry by continuing to promote a lie about the events of that day. We continue to be fascinated by the scourge that is the Kardashians and we allow them to milk their infernal worthlessness for even more millions, rather than finding ways to heal our nation. We would be so much better off if we would forget all of them. Instead, the names of the thousands that died that day are what we are forgetting. That is simply wrong.

Two years ago on this day, as I walked to Penn Station, I happened upon an older couple who clearly hadn't forgotten. On the lapel of the woman's jacket was a large picture button emblazoned with a black ribbon. It was clear that the young man in the picture was their son and he'd lost his life day. His name, although unknown to me, was read today as were the names of all the other victims. They cannot be forgotten.

Watch United 93 or any of the other myriad programs that will play tonight. Remember one of those who died on that flight, or in the Towers, or in the Pentagon.

May we never forget.