Stuck in a Shocking World Still

In the past three weeks, there has been oodles of juicy headlines and stories to comment on.  From unrest in Ferguson, MO to Russian invading Ukraine and Iraq falling hostage to Islamic extremism, this blog should have been buzzing with my opinions.  I realize it hasn’t been.  

For me, I am stuck.  I have been in shock since the death of Robin Williams.  For anyone who stops by, I hope this isn’t old news because it shouldn’t be.  Or, at least, we shouldn’t allow it to be.  

I had meant to create a follow up post, but could never find the right words and left these web pages silent for a time.  I see what’s going on in the world, but find myself often staring up at the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of a man I never met, never even had the pleasure of seeing him perform live.  Williams lived a life separated by thousands of miles and light years of status from mine and, yet, there was a connection.  I knew who he was and he knew he had a fan.  My name was insignificant.

It’s weird still feeling so much pain over someone you never exchanged a word with.  I can only imagine the intense stupor those who did know him personally must still be lost in.  Williams only existed in my life through a random series of characters and I gave each their own personal time with me, depending on what kind of mood I was in.  I can still do that, but his place on this earth was much like my left leg being a part of my body.  For the most part, I don’t think about it, but still use it often.  Never once have I woken up and thought about how grateful I was to have that left leg.  Never spent an afternoon taking in its glory nor reminisce about the travels it has partaken in.  But, if it was gone, you bet I’d be angry over it and I would dedicate time staring down at where it once had been.  Should I really only think about how lucky I am to have a left leg when there is a risk of losing it?

Maybe this is the problem.

We are a nation divided over race, over money and over religious differences.  We spend far too much time fighting about whose way is better.  We waste time inserting a reason for even the most random of misfortunes and, although nothing should be taken with a grain of salt, as we constantly run this race for what we believe will give us the perfect situation, we don’t stop to think about how we’d be out of the competition without our left legs.  Robin Williams took his own life and, for awhile, we were in dismay, but our fickle minds have quickly moved onto Ferguson and someone else’s funeral monopolized the headlines while William’s ashes being scattered suddenly became barely worth mentioning.  

Not that I’m saying that Williams’ funeral should have received top billing due to his celebrity.  In fact, I prefer that it remained quiet and personal.  But I also bet I’m one of a few to look for the news story just so I knew he was officially off the ground and, hopefully, on his way to finding peace.

So many times I thought of logging on and commenting on the latest in the bubbling political environment, but in the end, I decided to stay with the loss of Robin Williams.  I wanted to slow down and not look for the next story.  I needed to miss him.  I do miss him.

The best I can do is remember the legacy of his life and death.  That a bad day can be cured with a funny movie or a cat brushing against my leg for attention.  That money does not equal immunity to pain.  Try some patience and don’t look for the quick fix.  Some of us roll out of bed onto fortune and some of us watch bitterly from afar.  If our lives are consumed with accusation and fights, we are missing what’s important.  

- the cats’ Mommy

A Completed Verse

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This morning pretended to be like any other. As the night faded into a gloomy, albeit brighter sky, we all dragged ourselves from a peacefulness to the persistence of an alarm clock and wiped away the lingering sleep from our eyes. It’s only Tuesday and the majority of the week still hangs in mystery before us while the pending weekend waves a triumphant flag to be taken.

Our grumpiness for Tuesday was a carbon copy of all others before it and, most likely, to reflect into the many that still await us. Still, the world around us seemed different today. It felt just a bit empty and less peppy, as if an object had oddly switched position from the familiarity of our homes’ layout, and we awoke aware that something was wrong.

Considering the path that his own life had taken before its tragic end, actor-comedian Robin Williams will never become a distant, fuzzy memory to millions of fans. If we seek a dose of the beloved performer, all we need is a DVD player and his characters come to life in all of the glorious and vivid animation that only Williams could bring to us. Sadly, with the sudden news of his passing, we are becoming aware that these hours he contributed to the world of film and television will never be enough to fill the hole that his death has dug within our hearts.

How will we decide to remember this gifted and sweet-souled man that left us far too soon? Typical in that there are angered voices already filling social media and forums, will Williams’ legacy be that of a loser and a weakling that had been unable to find solace and serenity in a healthy paycheck? After all, in a county that is sharply divided between the poor and the rich, how was it that this man could not buy the solutions for his problems nor rejoice in a shower of money seeing how the rest of us are somehow convinced it is the only thing that is missing from our lives?

It’s the Jackson Pollock painting again – a tangled web of random squiggles and coloring with too close a resemblance to the kindergarten finger paintings of our past that we were not fortunate enough to sell for big bucks. Because Pollack had been able to make a career of it whereas ours never made it past our parents’ refrigerators, we lack the patience to consider what it before us and see the world with too much simplicity. We don’t see art in Pollock’s work, therefore it is garbage. We don’t consider the possibility of an immense sadness lingering inside the 100-miles-a-minute comedian worth $50 million, therefore he is a loser.

Guess it’s not true in that money doesn’t make misery a lot easier to deal with. Robin Williams, despite his talent and love of the world around him, was in need of something that didn’t have a price tag on it. From our positions as fans only, who are we to ever question, doubt or sneer at how priceless he believed whatever this was to be? In truth, we are heartbroken that he had not been able to find it in his 63 years with us.

We are angry, but mostly over how unforgiving life can be regardless of who we are to the outside. What stirs inside the privacy of our thoughts remains largely misunderstood and unappreciated. As we may feel selfishness on Williams’ part in that he did not stick around to continue entertaining us, we forget that he did not owe us his life. He did his job and made us laugh, but his debt to us did not extend beyond that. Perhaps it did to his family and these are emotions that they will need to sort out on their own without our opinions. Whereas we can always revisit him in the ways that we were spoiled to know, his family and friends cannot.

As we near the mark of the first 24 hours of a world without Robin Williams, we can hear his voice in our minds and experience flashes of his pale, blue eyes that, unfortunately, will never shine our way again. We are grateful for the ability to turn him on and have him join us for an hour or so in our living rooms. We can still laugh at his jokes and embrace his brilliance in dramatic roles as many times as we want. However, having access to all of the DVDs in the world will never be the answer to our new found loneliness.

We just wish he was still here with us. That, dear friends, is what can never be bought.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” – John Keating (portrayed by Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society

Getting More Bang for Your Buck

Fans of the television show “The Big Bang Theory” can rest easier knowing that the show is back in production following a monumental pay raise for stars Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco. The trio has made the jump from $325,000 to $1 million per episode and, seeing how the popular CBS sitcom has also been renewed for another three seasons, that’s a pretty little penny for their ever-bulging piggy banks.

This puts the main cast members in an exclusive club, once occupied by the stars of Seinfeld and Friends, and takes a bigger bite of the show’s profits than previously. Perhaps this is just another moment of sticking it to the man as we are a society that lacks gratitude for the gifts we are given throughout our lives. Regardless of the fact that it was the brainstorm of show creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady or that a forever-recycled team of writers work tirelessly to give these actors a place to practice and develop their crafts, Galecki, Parsons and Cuoco operate more along the lines of “there wouldn’t be a show without us.”

So which came first – the actors or the show?

Make no mistake – Galecki, Parsons and Cuoco do bring an abundance of talent onto the set with them and we may think that no one else could possibly offer the audience sharper interpretations of who these characters are, but the truth is we’ll never know. There are thousands of budding stars in Hollywood that may be just as original and talented, but currently stuck in side jobs while taking in as much background work as possible to keep their names fresh with booking agencies. Working on a set is very demanding and often quite a long and dull way to spend one’s day. Hours put in can easily exceed 12 and, if involved in an ongoing project like a television series, prepare to have no life during filming and to show up with 103 degree fevers so as not to disappoint the fans.

Are Galecki, Parsons and Cuoco then deserving of this giant increase of security in their lives considering the demands of television work? It’s hard to say. Surely, they may be thinking to the future in that, once the Big Bang Theory airs its final episode, there’s a very good possibility that they may disappear into the abyss of type cast actors unable to shake the remnants of their quirky characters. This may be true especially considering Parson’s portrayal of brilliant, but odd, Sheldon on the show. Still, we have to wonder why $325,000 per episode – which equals $7.15 million a year based on 22 episodes a season – isn’t enough to invest and secure the actors for life even if the ones they have in Hollywood fizzle out following the season finale.

The biggest red flag waving in front of our eyes, of course, is the support that these three have for President Obama. You remember him – Mr. Spread-the-Wealth who spews forth aggressive criticisms of corporate executives driving cars of solid gold, threatening to exceed his own number of golf games per year as the employees beneath them suffer for minimal pay and under the constant threat that some rich CEO will stamp out a woman’s birth control rights. Forget the fact that business owners are the ones that stretched themselves and their own finances thin to provide their workers the opportunity to do just that because it’s now the staff that keeps the company afloat.

It’s a shame that people in this country seem to have forgotten that the purpose of all businesses, whether a store, a mutual fund company or a popular sitcom is to turn a profit. And since none of us will ever put in the efforts of building a product from scratch only to make the bare minimum of a profit or break even, it surprises us why this upsets others. Surely, if any of these people that complain about the profits and luxury cars of a business owner were to suddenly succeed in their own personal ventures, they would also soon develop an iron-like grip on their money, invest it overseas and likely begin voting Republican.

Galecki, Parsons and Kuoco will not be forced to spread their wealth. That is a demand only for those that have built a business rather than an entertainment CV. Instead, we will be whisked away into a land of these and other actors’ generosity as they contribute large sums to charities – their version of “spreading the wealth” with a stamp of approval from the president himself. This should be enough to help us forget about their multiple homes and their inability to grasp the reality of the fans around them. Sorry that $7.15 million isn’t nearly enough to build a nest egg on. Most of us would be jumping for joy over $7000. $700 even.

Not that we are belittling Hollywood’s charitable donations. After all, they are probably one of the backbones that keep many of these organizations and their beneficiaries afloat for another day and we thank those entertainers for their generosity. But, when you sing the praises of a president that wants to force corporations and small business owners to start mindlessly forking over their dollars because the rest of us apparently deserve a piece of the pie even though we did not contribute to the baking of it all the while demanding a $22 million annual salary, it really becomes a slap in the face to the rest of us. After all, the struggling middle class will not see a dime of their charity. They make “too much” for any type of assistance.

If Galecki, Parsons and Cuoco really wanted to impress us and show that they are true believers of the Obama dream, they would have shown their gratitude for the ridiculous salaries they already were receiving and not allowed their greed to manage their contract decisions. Contribute to all of the charities their little hearts desire if they feel that is their own way of spreading their wealth, but remember this. You can’t support Obama’s verbal attack on the rich getting richer (we say verbal as we know the actual might remove his $32K a plate fundraisers and then where would he be) and then demand that you get richer yourself. You look kind of stupid then.

Opening a Can of Whoopi-Ass

When Whoopi Goldberg has an opinion, it is often delivered in a passionate, loud octave accented with stiffened fingers angrily jabbing the air about her as if the person disagreeing with her is there to be poked at until he or she changes his tune to a melody the host of The View enjoys whistling to.  Her defense of ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith’s defense of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s defense against his violent then-fiancé Janay Rice is not exactly being defended by shocked viewers.

Perhaps they were expecting Goldberg to express horrors over Mrs. Rice’s videotaped battery, but you’ve got to hand it to Goldberg here.  Although her views on The View may rank highly unpopular with most, as Smith’s opinion did earlier, she spoke her mind and accepts the consequences.  Goldberg, no doubt, has a very disgruntled Twitter feed to deal with right now.

There is a nugget of truth to what Goldberg said.  Far too often, the subject of domestic violence against the male in the couple is ignored and belittled by those who can’t accept a man that takes repeated blows from a short-tempered woman, wondering why he didn’t just knock her unconscious with a single punch. Domestic violence towards the husband or boyfriend is a very real thing, but hovers in the shadows of violence delivered from the husband towards the wife.  This may be due to embarrassment or it may be due to the fact that the numbers of cases don’t even come close in comparison.

The video shows Mrs. Rice falling to the floor like a sack of potatoes as Ray Rice moves about her frame in the hallway outside of the elevator in an uncertain manner.  Maybe he was nervously awaiting help to arrive and, without access to the beginning of the video that would show this spat from its ugly beginning, we won’t know exactly what sparked this fight, just how high-strung Mrs. Rice may have been and if Ray Rice’s actions were merely a situation of one forgetting his own strength in the heat of the moment.

As one person told us, she finds value in the lesson that she teaches her daughter in that, if hit, her daughter should hit back, but if her daughter hits, be prepared to get hit.  There is validity in this statement as violence on either side is never excusable nor should a man be expected to take his punches without retaliation when being delivered by a woman because, by nature, she tends to be the weaker sex.

But isn’t another valuable lesson in life to be the bigger person?  To judge the situation at hand before jumping to action?  When is it okay to shoot someone because they were throwing rocks at you?  Self-defense is an argument with many layers and, although we should never cower in the corner while being attacked, coming at someone full force in a fight that is clearly mismatched between a featherweight and a heavyweight cannot and should not be brushed aside with the simple claim of, “she hit me first, your honor”.  This type of defense can be overused and, even scarier, eventually will have no bounds.

Of course, is there any possible reason to even discuss the situation between Rice and his former fiancé any further?  After all, despite her seeing stars and Rice’s claims of domestic battery, the pair still tied the knot.  Case closed.  See you at the divorce proceedings in a few years.  Our question is, will separation be due to domestic violence that can only be softened with a multi-million dollar settlement that only a wife can get?

This situation between Rice and his wife has lost our interest at this point.  It’s actually insulting considering the frequency and true horrors of domestic violence cases that are, not only ignored by the media as they don’t involve celebrity athletes, but don’t end in a storybook wedding with a healthy prenuptial agreement.  In reality, many victims of domestic violence have to plea law enforcement for years in order to get the offender thrown in jail.  Mostly, the victims just wind up with a piece of paper asking that the offenders their distance.  These men and women stay in their troubled relationships out of fear of what may happen to their children, inability to go too far without being tracked down and, of course, no funds to disappear with and start a new life.  Not in Janay Rice’s case.  At $25,000 a punch, she’s clearly made a vow to stick around for the big payout in the end.

We hope that she at least donates a large portion of this hypothetical settlement to a battered women’s shelter.

Oh, Those Flood Gates…

Kids with the latest Super Soaker on their Christmas lists can breathe easy for awhile. Burlington, Iowa’s city council has voted 4-1 not in favor of a ban on toy guns, citing the potential bill as “too vague”.

We, at Hairball, would have been more blunt. How about “too stupid”?

If the ban had passed, parents would have been subject to a $500 fine and up to one month in prison should their children been caught in public areas with these highly dangerous weapons that may cause laughter, an increase of fresh air, physical playtime involving more than just the thumbs, soaking wet t-shirts and a slight stinging from a propelled jet of water or rocket-launched Nerf pellet.

Not immune from such heinous crimes would have been the children. A serious reprimand would have likely been imposed on any child attempting to conceal such dangerous weaponry underneath their shirts. Should a car be stopped by police and the child in the backseat been seen as packing serious heat loaded with tap water and adorned in neon colors of his posse, known as the Bibs and the Cribs, that would have also resulted in penalty.

This was the brainstorm of Burlington Police Chief Doug Beaird in attempts to eliminate common identification mistakes between the real thing and its plastic relatives from the local Toys R’ Us. He does cite BB guns as a possible hazard and, if you’ve ever watched “A Christmas Story”, even Santa said Ralphie would shoot his eye out so there might be some truth to that claim. If the police chief is worried about BB guns, then why doesn’t he limit his fight to BB guns? If his staff is unable to tell the difference between an actual automatic weapon and this…

Water Gun

… it might be time for a new staff.

We imagine that such a proposed bill stems from that ever-looming gateway that we all get to hear so much about. Gone are the days of innocent sessions of cops and robbers with cap guns. After all, if a child fails to see the potential danger in a water pistol, he may not be able to differentiate myth from reality when considering emptying a Thompson Sub-Machine gun into his family later in life.

The gateway is an ominous black hole, robbing us of logic and common sense. We are a nation that can put a man on the moon and turn a phone into a computer, but we are all vulnerable to print ads it seems. Our minds go blank and we stare blankly at Joe Camel, drooling uncontrollably and suddenly craving a pack of unfiltered Camels because his head is strangely phallic in shape.

So, if our kids play with toy guns, they will likely play with real guns later in life. Just like if a young adult sees someone using an e-cigarette, it will encourage him or her to try it which will lead to real cigarettes which will lead to marijuana use which will lead to a heroin habit which will lead to a reality TV series as the one-time innocent child struggles with his or her gateway-spawned addictions. Can we then alternate your “My Child is an Honor Student” bumper sticker to “My Child is an Honor Student with an Inability to Make Decisions on Her Own When in the Grasps of Marketing Campaigns”?

Oddly, the gateway theory did not apply when Pennsylvania recently decided to up certain highway speed limits to 70 miles per hour. Let’s face it – if the sign says 55 miles per hour, the average speed actually being driven lingers at 65. Being trapped in this gateway, we are all now going to see 70 miles per hour and immediately start driving 80. Don’t expect us to be responsible when behind the wheels of our vehicles. Not when in the vice-grip clutches of the gateway.

Likewise, places such as Atlantic City and Las Vegas have made massive efforts in becoming family friendly vacation spots. Surely, children won’t be affected by the ringing of Jackpot winners and the sights of Mom and Dad blowing away college savings in frustration that they, too, should be jackpot winners.  The smiling, chirping dolphins down the strip are the antidote for this looming gateway and, despite the cascade of cash flowing from ATMs everywhere to be thrown towards a dream (and longshot) of getting rich quick… yeah, there’s no real danger here, folks.

Sadly, as the liberal progressive agenda continues to hover over our heads and penetrate our personal lives, protecting us from the dangers of soda, cigarettes, coffee, cow flatulence and now squirt guns, they fail to point out the gateways that would actually have a positive impact on someone’s life. For example, consider the minimum wage job. This is never recognized as the gateway to bigger and better things, is it? This is where the gateway is portrayed as not only locked from the inside, but triple-bolted and under 24-hour guard by rich, white corporate executives. A person may desire to make the tremendous leap from an e-cigarette to heavy crystal meth use, but is apparently not capable of ever thinking “what’s next” while flipping burgers.

Parents, the next time you decide to arm your children with a double-barrelled Nerf gun and several magazines of spongy, suction-cupped ammo, we hope that you’ll stop and think twice. Your child is entering a strange world of gateways whenever they walk out your front door. These gateways do not hide a fabulous vacation or a dream kitchen. Instead they harbor a slew of hidden dangers and addictions for your child. Unfortunately, no job aspirations, though.

Do Yourselves a Favor, Stop Talking and Look

 

jackson-pollock-1943-mural-631

The above is titled “Mural” and it’s by Jackson Pollock, painted in 1949. And, in the length of a car ride to work this morning, I think I may have found meaning to it although what it actually is trying to say remains a mystery. Before this fateful morning, I would have looked at this painting and saw only an accident. As if someone spilled paint in the garage and sold the aftermath for millions of dollars. Mocked those who saw beauty and rage in the incoherence that covers this canvas and wondered aloud just what was the artist thinking in the midst of painting this and how could anyone even consider this art?

Then I had an epiphany where I saw the world today as a Jackson Pollock painting.

Just because I am looking for the obvious when I make my own determination as to what art actually is does not make this painting worth anything less. Others out there can see something in either this or his other works and go on about it for hours. Are they wrong?

The best quote regarding a Pollock painting came from the movie Mona Lisa Smile. “Do yourselves a favor, stop talking and look. You’re not required to write a paper. You’re not even required to like it. You are required to consider it.”

When freedom of religion expands to protecting the right to discriminate based on what the bible has taught you, it’s wrong. I can respect your right to not welcome non-traditional ways of life within your private home, but I will not respect a self-imposed right to take it to your place of work. Whereas the Hobby Lobby decision did not discriminate, did not take away the rights of the individual, but merely closed its own bank account to funding these types of decisions, the idea that anyone would use those same religious rights to refuse service to homosexuals is outrageous. It’s cruel and it does not seem, at least to this writer, what God would want you to do.

My favorite baseball player of all time is Billy Martin and I do recognize how unusual that is for someone to choose this path rather than jump aboard the bandwagon and select one from the usual suspects – Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, DiMaggio and so on. Martin’s average does not scream Hall of Fame and his legacy remains haunted by stories of alcoholism, bar fights and constant firings. If I were to look very quickly at this description, I would not see a man worth admiring. Fortunately, I considered him. When I considered him, I found a story about him that quickly became my favorite. One day, Martin came across a child that had become separated from his family while at Yankee Stadium. Martin gave the child $20.00, took him by the hand and walked him round and round the stadium until finally reuniting the boy with his parents. The family remained close friends with Martin for the remainder of his life.

Martin was an emotional man.  He was also not shy about shedding tears following the devastating sweep to the Reds in the 1976 World Series. He loved children and was always generous. Martin said, “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.”

So, was I right to consider him or should I have glanced briefly at the surface and disregarded Billy Martin as trash?

The same applies when discussing politics and attempting to discern rights and freedoms, keeping steady with your moral and religious beliefs in a world that seems as disorganized as a Jackson Pollock painting. With a population becoming more open about whom they are personally whether it be sexual orientation or other circumstances, it may seem like your traditional beliefs are under attack or your marriage is at risk for losing its sanctity. Why I don’t feel the same way is because all of these things are ideas and, as stated in Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “America” – America is an idea. We are all idealists, making a future that is unique to our personalities and, hopefully, our successes will be plentiful and yet strangely original to whom we are as people – white, black, homosexual, religious or atheist. If my success as a single woman with a taste for 90’s punk rock and a group of friends that includes gays and lesbians does not match your success as a married couple with two children and steady jobs over the last ten years, this does not mean that either of us are right or wrong. What it means is that, despite our differences in lifestyle choices, we still share the same idea of America – friendship, family, love and comfort. Harmony.

Sadly, I am not readily finding harmony on either side of the political spectrum it seems. I have no doubt that it exists, but it seems that I must wage war to get there. Citing discrimination over a government bill that removes your right to discriminate based on religious beliefs is contradictory. And, as one so callously did in his comment, using a derogatory word that begins with the letter N to refer to our president (you know the one) is uncalled for and disgusting behavior. I don’t like President Obama. I think this blog has made that abundantly clear. I don’t care for his policies. I don’t like being told there’s a war against me and that we are victims is a rich, white man’s world. But, if he were to visit my place of employment today and walked down the aisle I work in, I would stand in his presence. I respect the office despite my feelings towards the man.

In the end, I am considering purchasing a print of the above Jackson Pollock painting or another if I can’t locate this one. I want to hang it in an area where I’m forced to look and consider it every day. Perhaps I am not meant to get it or maybe I’ll never see the garden bed of roses he may have been intending to create with this chaotic painting style. However, I do feel that, along with everything else in life that I don’t understand, I am required to consider it.

- the cat’s Mommy

The Masks of Comedy & Tragedy

The downed Malaysian jet “looks like it may be a terrible tragedy” says President Obama while making a visit to a bridge instead of a border.  But, would have been a bigger tragedy is if he missed an opportunity to slam Republicans and not arrive to his fundraisers on time.

I wonder if people would finally turn once and for all on our community organizer-in-chief if he had applied the same lackluster address towards the following:

“The kidnapping of 300 girls by Boko Haram is a Charles Lindbergh-like tragedy.”

“800,000 people had been slaughtered in Rwanda during 100 days of tragedy.”

“Ted Bundy committed 30 individual acts of tragedy.”

“John Wayne Gacy’s Pogo the Clown was not a clown of comedy, but one of immense tragedy.”

By the way, let’s spitball this one around for awhile when discussing our president’s level of compassion and where his focus is.  The President of the United States talked about the “tragedy” for a whole 40 seconds.  Want to know how long he talked about Trayvon Martin for his follow-up to his original remarks regarding the death of this young man?

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.  And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.  So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this?  How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?  I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent.  If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.  But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do. 

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here.  Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code.  And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive.  So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists. 

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things.  One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped.  But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing. 

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law.  And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive.  And I think a lot of them would be.  And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations. 

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.  On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see? 

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?  And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?  And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.  And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about.  There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.  And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program.  I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front.  And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation.  And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that. 

And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching.  There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?  Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?  That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Thank you, guys.

Congratulations – you didn’t get bored and made it to the end.  We will admit that we didn’t watch the speech.  We actually copied and pasted it from whitehouse.gov.  Still, we think it’s safe to guess that it took longer than 40 seconds to deliver and this is the SECOND time President Obama brought up Trayvon Martin.  An airplane gets shot down?  It’s a tragedy.  Here are some prayers and now it’s back to talking about the prickly GOPers and how they won’t do what I want!

Still think he’s there for the little man?

 

 

 

Fumigation of Social Media

Recently, we have signed up to put our money where our mouths are, stepping out from behind the security of a somewhat anonymous blog and lending our voice to a politician’s cause through volunteering.  We’ve been itching to do this for sometime, not just to develop connections and gain a more dense audience to listen to what we have to say, but because President Obama has truly brought out the best and worst in all of us.  We have a choice to sit here and write about it or we can go out and do what we write about.  Needless to say, we are excited for a chance at the latter.

Our participation was welcomed warmly with an introduction on a coinciding Facebook page.  Sure, it may be seen as a chance to brainwash the newcomer with the naive approach.  Perhaps they are force feeding us candy bar after candy bar with the promise that one will hold that golden ticket for a tour of the chocolate factory, but we don’t think so.  We think they’re just happy to see that they are not alone in their thoughts and beliefs and that we come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Speaking of colors, after returning our gratitude for the welcome to our new friends, we scrolled down to see what the more familiar ones were up to.  Normally we wouldn’t react so strongly to a post from a friend on the other side as we’ve always respected other opinions.  Hell, if you’ve read other posts on this blog, you know that we welcome if not beg for opposition only because it would make things interesting and we’re always looking to learn something new.

We’ve held onto her friendship (Facebook and otherwise) until tonight because we wanted to reference what was on the most offending of posts for this blog, but then we’ve decided that we’re not going to glorify or justify anything that she wanted us to read.  But we’re at the point we’re tired of hatred from those who claim to be its biggest enemy.  If you disagree with us, let’s talk.  We may wind up agreeing to disagree, but if the debate is strong, respectful and intelligent we are confident that no matter how heated words may have become, we’re still interested in having a drink with you afterwards.

But we can’t do that with her latest post.  It’s just too much hatred to stomach and the path is going in circles.  Whereas our new friends don’t know a thing about me and managed a warm welcome, an old one passed an extreme level of judgment on us based on skin color and this is to prove a point about racism.  Can we only remain friends if we promise to shackle ourselves with guilt over being white?  That our own struggles don’t matter, such as losing almost everything following a layoff, the fact that we were recently turned down for a mortgage or that apartment complexes in New Jersey want nothing to do with us because we counter-filed against a ratbag, mold-infested garbage can of a rental unit almost two years ago, making us undesirable tenants?  Apparently, all we needed to do was flash our White Superfriends Membership Card and all would be okay.  Exceptions would be made for us and the sun will shine brightly upon our yellow brick road as we trot along with our equally as perfect dog.

Each and every time white privilege is mentioned, we think back to this post written earlier.  In fact, we’re going to do better than that.  In the Philadelphia area?  Please join us one night.  First, you’ll be treated to the dinner of your choice and then we’re going to go visit M and her husband.  Hopefully, M will be in good spirits and not vomiting violently into a nearby bucket from her treatments.  Hopefully, the fatigue and explosions of pain throughout her body will be at a minimum because we’d like her to be fully awake for your visit.  After introductions, we’re going to sit back and watch you discuss white privilege with M and her devoted husband.  You’re going to remind them how lucky they are to be white.  Then we’re going to count the seconds it takes for M’s husband’s fist to connect with your face.

Unfortunately, this means the end of a ‘somewhat’ friendship, but we’re not going to lose any sleep over it.  Instead, we’re going to dream of our future with new friends that, so far, seem to be thrilled at having us around.

Obama’s Own Outbreak

1995’s Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman and Renee Russo was a cheesy attempt at creating hero army doctors and the insubordination they flaunted towards their superior officers (and get away with it). Of course, it’s all for the good of the people and, when a filovirus skips across the ocean to invade a small, California town, Hoffman’s character becomes the loose cannon hero amidst an assembly of bumbling COs. He takes it upon himself to save the day, save his wife and, eventually save himself from the virus by receiving a rapidly developed serum into his bloodstream. Credits roll and we cheer for the little guy escaping what should have been a guaranteed court martial.

Still, one can find all sorts of lessons for life within the worst script’s body and from Outbreak, we’d like to borrow one of Donald Sutherland’s lines as he begs the White House to allow him to annihilate the town of Cedar Creek: “Be compassionate, but be compassionate globally.”

Following this blog post, we’ll be drafting a letter to President Obama, suggesting that he turn to the movies to help him make the big decisions, but in the meantime here’s what made us think of this quote.

If you’ve ever stuck a twig into an ant hill as a child, watching video coverage of the swarms of people come into this country illegally over our southern border must have a hauntingly familiarity to you. A few quick jabs with a stick and oodles of ants will come pouring out, many of them carrying eggs, and they scatter away from their now destroyed home in search of a safer environment away from the curious child.

No, we are not comparing the immigrants to ants.

However, watching the footage that the government allows us to see is nonetheless equally as chaotic as the imploding anthill. As we hear more and more about the horrid conditions these people have not only escaped from their homelands, but continued to endure during their journeys to our country, we begin the feel the compassion alarm sounding from within us. Although many of us have woken up from the American dream, we are still eager to share it with those who have only known violence and poverty. The problem is that, if the decision is made to keep these kids here, they will be subjected to a different form of poverty and violence and that compassion that once guided your feelings towards the fate of these people will surely disappear.

President Obama, at least to us, has always displayed all of the characteristics of an animal hoarder. Maybe his heart is in the right place, but for a man that doesn’t want the United States to be the world’s police force, he certainly has no problem turning us into the world’s foster care unit. Although animal lovers want to embrace every homeless animal struggling to find warmth on a winter’s night and give them food and shelter, they must accept that they can’t. After a certain amount of time, every animal cannot be put into a home. Life on the streets brings diseases that are lifelong, it costs money and requires space and, above all, an animal that is feral will most likely not be able to adapt to being in a home with humans. Logic dictates this and, far too often, logic is replaced with compassion.

No, we are not comparing these children to feral cats.

Compassion is Glenn Beck, sending soccer balls and stuffed animals to the children currently being held at these detention centers. Logic is accepting that they have to go back. Keep them comfortable, as healthy as possible and occupied while they’re here, but they can’t stay here. There are far too many children of our own that need the opportunities that some are so ready to shower upon these immigrant children. In our cities, kids are blown away, caught in the crossfire of the gang warfare that, unfortunately, has become part of their daily lives. Their only mistake was to be playing in the wrong playground at the wrong time. Those who survive may become so incredibly numb to violence and death that their own compassion dries up and becomes a distant emotion rarely exhibited when it needs to be.

The one silver lining if you can call it that? People are waking up. The communities of hard working families that supported Obama are finally beginning to realize that he’s not there for the little man. He never has been. Obama has always been there for your votes and, now that those were secured, he’s turning his full attention towards the latest herd of potential voters.

If Obama has compassion, it is severely disorganized and complicated with undiagnosed ADHD. Unable to make good on his promises to his own people, he’s moved onto the next project. Once these immigrants are dispersed, they’ll be forgotten, too.

Except, of course, for when it comes time to vote. Be compassionate globally? Obama isn’t even compassionate nationally. We’d say he’s compassionate for himself, but that actual term for that is selfish.