Archive for September, 2010

Video Pranks

Man in an electric chair.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s interesting to me how with social media nowadays people have so very many more ways of embarrassing other people, sometimes quite literally to death. The Huffington Post today reported on two different instances of video “pranks.”

The first story involves a gay student from Rutgers University who was pranked by his roommate. The roommate, after hearing that the subject of his video wanted the use of their apartment until midnight, set up a web camera in his roommate’s room and recorded sexual activity between his roommate and a same sex partner. He then used Twitter to spread it all over the internet.

That doesn’t seem so funny to me. I think I missed the joke. The kid is now facing a felony conviction for his “prank.” He should be looking at the electric chair, if I believed in the death penalty, that is. The kid who was recorded in the sex tape killed himself, in embarrassment. And now an eighteen-year-old boy has lost his life over a “prank.” Gee, that’s so funny I forgot to laugh.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/29/dharun-revi-molly-wei-charged_n_743539.html

The second example isn’t as tragic. You might even view it as funny, but the joke is on the wrong person in this instance. A young man named James O’Keefe decided to punk a CNN reporter who was doing a story on him. James O’Keefe is a conservative  most famous for taking undercover video that discredited the activist organization, ACORN, in a stunt that involved him posing as a pimp. The CNN reporter asked for a private interview with O’Keefe, and O’Keefe granted her that interview.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/29/james-okeefe-cnn-abbie-boudreau_n_743313.html

The reporter’s name is Abbie Boudreau, and she has great credentials, but O’Keefe referred to her as a bubble-headed bleach blonde and was planning to video tape her “seduction” on a boat that he had outfitted with dildos and lube, among other things. Click on the link to take a look at O’Keefe. One wonders who he would actually be able to seduce, even if he didn’t come across as one freaky-deaky son of a bitch. His “prank” was blown out of the water by one of his own people, who confessed to Boudreau what she could expect if she boarded the boat where O’Keefe had agreed to set their private interview.

This prank is funny, alright. But the only reason it’s funny is because it shows what an arrogant, lame brained twit O’Keefe really is. Take the sexist, misogynistic nature of the “seduction” out of play and just leave O’Keefe. Really. Look at that picture. Is there any woman who would possibly want to sleep with that man? Sure, he could get laid at a gay club. Some gay men like twinks.

So, to conclude, video “pranks,” not so funny. Or funny, but not perhaps in the way you intended them to be.

September 30, 2010 at 12:34 am Leave a comment

The Mercy Date

Cover of "Knute Rockne All American"

Cover of Knute Rockne All American

Work Boyfriend 1.0 and I were having a phone conversation the other day where he brought up again, as he does every few months or so, the question of whether or not I should date. The answer to this question is always no. Sometimes I think the answer should be yes, but then I am wrong. The answer is no.

The last time someone talked me into accepting a date, the outcome was predictably tragic. I met this guy in a bar called Canary Hut or Canary Roost. I don’t know. Canary Something. I was out with Katina. This is obviously when I was still drinking, but I wasn’t drunk at the time. It was December of 2008, and I hadn’t been on a date in five years, if you count my relationship with The Rat Bastard as dating.

Wisely, after The Rat Bastard, I had made the conscious decision not to ever accept another date again. I am simply not meant to date. It works out for other humans, but it never works out for me. What is the definition of insanity? Repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome.

The outcome of me dating is always disappointment. Sometimes it’s mild disappointment, and at other times it’s profound disappointment but what all these experiences have in common is disappointment. I was an English major, and I began to sense a theme. At some point, I decided that I didn’t want to be insane anymore.

So, this guy at the Canary Something was supposedly instantly attracted to me. Why I couldn’t say. I had not taken any special care with my appearance, and I was at least one hundred pounds overweight at the time. Now the way he approaches me is original, because he doesn’t.

He sends his sister and her husband over to ask for him, like he’s in junior high and wants to ask me to go with him. The sister and her husband launch an all out campaign to convince me that I want to go out with her brother. They point him out at the bar. He waves.

He’s nothing special, but he’s also not repulsive. Supposedly, he is painfully shy. This isn’t surprising to me. Shy guys love me. I swear to God if there is a shy guy within a twenty-mile radius of me, he will eventually gravitate towards me even if he isn’t actually interested in me in that way. I attract them like magnets. The kind of guys who major in obscure and cerebral things that require them to interact with things or numbers and not humans – IT guys and math majors and engineers and architects – they love me for some inexplicable reason.

Now I finally meet this guy after his entire family has talked him up to me. And that’s no exaggeration. This is the family that parties together. Mom, stepdad, brother, sister, brother-in-law. He’s awkward, and, yep, shy. He also strikes me as not particularly bright. As in, he has the IQ of a root vegetable. Actually, that might be an insult to some of the more intelligent root vegetables, like the rutabaga and the jicama, for instance.

His whole family made a big point out of telling me how brilliant he is. Oh, he’s so smart! It doesn’t seem like it at first, but just wait until you get to know him. Hmmph. I am not so convinced. Mr. Brilliant is several years younger than me, in his late twenties, hasn’t started let alone finished college, and is currently working two or three delivery jobs.

But he’s nice enough. He seems to like me. My girlfriend is encouraging me to do this. I should go out. It’s healthy. I should make an effort. What could it hurt? Free dinner, yada, yada. And I recognize the logic in this argument. How am I going to find someone if I don’t go out? Do I want to spend the rest of my life alone? If nothing else, then it will be good practice.

I cave in to peer pressure. So, we exchange phone numbers, and I agree to give it the old college try. Win one for the Gipper, or whatever that saying is from that old Ronald Reagan movie.

Monday morning I describe the entire scenario to Work Boyfriend 1.0.

“So, you’re saying that you’re going out with this guy on a mercy date?”

“Well, if you’re going to put it that way, um, yeah, I guess.”

“Oh, my God. Don’t do us any favors.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? I thought you said that I should date.”

“You should. Someone you really like.”

“But no one I really like has asked me out. They aren’t exactly lining up outside my door. These are my choices: stay home or go out on the mercy date.”

A couple nights go by. Mr. Brilliant calls me. He hasn’t gotten any smarter. It’s late, and I’m already in for the night, and he wants me to meet him somewhere right now. Now I’m not a strict adherent to The Rules, but I’m not running like a puppy dog because this guy has called. I don’t play games. I tell him that I’d like to make plans in advance. I don’t tell him why this is, but the reason has to do with the fact that I’d like to think that a guy actually went to the effort and trouble of planning something in advance. I’d like to think that he cared enough to do that for me.

He says he’d like to meet me somewhere for dinner the next night. Tomorrow night. No place yet. No plans. But I figure this is a compromise because I at least have advance warning. I can make an effort and try to look nice, maybe wear some of that Chanel perfume that I never have a reason to wear. Tomorrow night. He’ll call. Cool.

So, tomorrow night comes. I make an effort and shower and dress nice and get ready to fly out the door to wherever it is that he’s decided that we’re going to meet. But the phone doesn’t ring. Strangely, the phone doesn’t ring all evening.

The phone does ring the next day, after he’s stood me up. It rings several times while I’m at work, and once I actually hang up on him without saying a word. Work Boyfriend 1.0 is appalled.

“You aren’t even going to give this guy a chance?”

“You didn’t even want me to go out with him in the first place, and he stood me up.”

“You should at least listen to what he has to say.”

“Unless he’s in a hospital, I really don’t want to hear anything he has to say. And nope, not even then. They have phones in hospitals. You want to know why I don’t date? This. This right here is why I don’t date. It’s a perfect example.”

First, I’m wrong for having a no dating policy. It’s so isolated and closed off, and I’ll never meet someone that way. Then someone asks me out, and I agree to give him a shot, and I’m a horrible person for agreeing to go on the mercy date. Then he stands me up, and I’m a horrible person for not giving him a second chance. At what point is he the horrible person in this scenario? After he takes me out to an old deserted road and rapes me and leaves me for dead? Or will I still be the horrible person even then?

Mr. Brilliant calls again that night. His excuse is that he had to work. He works three jobs, after all, and one of the jobs asked him to work some overtime.

I tell him that I can appreciate that he has to work three jobs, and that if you have to work you have to work. I still would have appreciated a courtesy call.

His phone was dead or something. He’s sorry. Do I want to go out right now and meet him and his friends for a drink? No, I do not. I tell him he had his chance, and he blew it, and I don’t want to talk to him again. For someone who was supposedly so enamored of me, he doesn’t seem very broken hearted about it.

And THAT is why I don’t date. I suppose my standards are too high. Once, just once I’d like for the guy that I like to ask me out and not have to settle for letting the guy I’m not so crazy about try to convince me otherwise. But I give in on that. Every time. Because if I don’t, then I’ll be alone. Then I compromise on the fact that I’d like to be courted. Then I compromise on the fact that I’d like to be treated with common courtesy and decency. And before I know it, I’m in another relationship with another Rat Bastard all because I’m scared of (Gulp!) being alone.

I won’t do it. I’m tired of doing it. And I’d rather be alone, thank you. If that makes me bitter or “judgemental”, then I guess I’m okay with that.

September 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm 2 comments

Original Sin

Cults and new religious movements in literatur...

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished reading a book called The Faith Club, a book which I fully intend to review on some future post. The book is a collaboration written by a Muslim woman, a Christian woman, and a Jewish woman who met together for years following the September 11th tragedy, for interfaith discussions. The great thing about the book is that it, along with some other things I’ve recently read, has helped me to piece together more of my personal theology.

The Bible says that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Just what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, is like so much of the Bible, up for debate. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of the authority of God, the failure to deny Him His rightful place in your life as your Lord. Many might say that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of God’s existence, and that would qualify as well. However, that’s a very limited definition, since even the devil worshippers believe in the existence of God, and yet I think that all believers can agree on the fact that Satanists will not qualify for acceptance into heaven.

Speaking of Satan, that brings us to the question of original sin. The story of the fall of Satan and the fall of man have in common one thing: the failure to relinquish control and authority to God, the pride that prevents both man and Satan from allowing the Lord to have dominion over our lives.

Let’s look at the story of Satan. Satan was the highest of all the angels in heaven. He wasn’t satisfied with this position and craved to be God himself, instead. Because of this sin of pride, God cast Satan and the angels who followed him out of heaven. The angels who followed him became demons.

http://www.allaboutgod.com/history-of-satan.htm

Then God created man. And man lived naked and without shame in paradise until he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man’s sin was not only disobedience but pride. For before Eve ever takes a bite and then tempts her husband, she is tempted by the serpent with the promise that eating the fruit will make her like God, will give her the knowledge of God.

She tempts her husband Adam to eat also by repeating the serpent’s false promise. The fruit did indeed impart knowledge, but it did not impart the wisdom of God. No longer was man an innocent. He was now able to distinguish between light and dark; he was given a conscience, but he was not given the intellect of God. So, while people might now know the difference between good and bad, we do not have the knowledge to discern why the bad must happen.

The greatest hindrance to submission to God, beyond the pride that makes us want to control our own lives, is the question of why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. It’s a subject of endless debate that harkens back to the time of the book of Job but has also been wrestled with by the likes of modern theologians like Rabbi Harold Kushner and Reverend Leslie Weatherhead, amongst others. And it’s a debate that often hinders human beings from belief in and submission to God, because they say that the ways of the world defy a belief in an ominiscient and omnipotent God who is also benevolent. And one can see their argument.

At the same time as I’ve been defining my concept of the one unforgivable sin, I’ve been thinking about just what that means for Christians and the Christian concept that belief in Jesus as the Son of God is required for admission into heaven. It’s a pretty big tenet of the faith for a lot of Christians, and Christians often justify this belief based on one Bible verse alone. That Bible verse is John 14:6, and it reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Most Christians interpret this to mean that anyone who isn’t a Christian isn’t getting a ticket to Heaven. Not all Christians do, of course, anymore than all Catholics believe the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church that they are the one and only true church, and only members of the true church are going to Heaven. (To be fair, the Roman Catholics aren’t even close to being the only denomination that believes they are the only ones who are going to Heaven; they’re just the largest group of believers with that official theology.)

There is the Unitarian Universalist tradition of inclusiveness, but they always seemed so wishy washy to me, as if they didn’t really know exactly what they believed. From the outside, it seemed like they were all over the map. The Unitarians I knew seemed to apply just as much significance to New Age philosophy as to belief in Jesus. And yet, there is something appealing to me in the concept of the kind God that I know God to be, allowing admission to Heaven by people of different faiths.

It does seem cruel for a loving God to assign people to Hell for all eternity just because they’re not Christians. What about people who aren’t exposed to the Gospel? Evangelicals, of course, always point to The Great Commission [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%2028:16-28:20&version=NIV] as proof of God’s benevolence. They say that all Christians are charged with the duty of making disciples for Christ because it is literally a matter of life and death.

Failure to proselytize and convert the masses means many untouched souls writhing in Hell for all eternity. They fervently believe this, and this explains the urgency of their attempts to witness to non-believers. As offensive, insulting and poorly rendered as their attempts to convert are, they are sincerely well intentioned. However, their arrogance achieves the opposite of their goals. The lack of respect that they show towards the recipients of their evangelism is evidence of a lack of  love for their fellow man.

http://www.wayofthemaster.com/

Of course, as I’ve previously mentioned, I faithfully read the blog of John Shore. One day I came across a great post about this very issue. You can read it here:

http://johnshore.com/2010/03/29/god-can-love-me-god-can-send-me-to-hell-but-he-cant-do-both/#comments

John overheard a conversation between an atheist and an evangelical Christian who was attempting to witness to the atheist. There was a subsequent blog post in which an atheist questioned the assertion that John 14:6 means that all non-Christians are destined to go to Hell. His interpretation of the scripture was that Jesus gets to decide who gets admission to Heaven. And I thought, well, why not? It doesn’t actually say that you have to be a Christian to get admission to Heaven. It just says that no one gets to go to Heaven who doesn’t go through Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong; I still believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that He died to save us from our sins. But I don’t believe that Christianity is the only path to God. I just can’t believe that God would condemn those who never heard the Gospel to an eternity in Hell. I can’t believe that God would condemn those of us who are too young or too mentally feeble to grasp the concept of salvation to an eternity in Hell. And let’s not forget that Jesus wasn’t a Christian himself; he was a Jew.

All human beings are created with a natural curiosity to explore our origins and our purpose in the universe, and this natural curiosity is our yearning to be in communion with God. I believe that there are many paths by which this communion might be accomplished. God wishes for us to acknowledge his authority and his presence in our lives. There are many paths through which that goal might be accomplished. The only judge who can ascertain whether or not a human being has the quality of relationship with God that is required is Jesus. I’m okay with that.

So, to summarize:

  1. I believe that there is only one unpardonable sin. That is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
  2. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the failure to respond to the call of a loving God to be in relationship with us and to submit to his will for our lives. It is not just the denial of God but the active rejection of God.
  3. I believe that the Original Sin is pride. The pride that keeps atheists and agnostics from being open to God’s message is the very same pride that keeps some Christians believing that they have the only pipeline to God or that they can determine who will be saved on the day of judgement.
  4. I believe that Jesus is the only person qualified to judge who is being received into the kingdom of God. That is not for me to determine or decide.
  5. I believe that it is important for me to spread the message of the Gospel so that others might be saved, but I do not believe that their salvation is dependent upon me. The most effective witness that I can bear for Christ is to live The Great Commandment. [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A36-40&version=NIV] That means showing respect for all human beings, even the ones whose beliefs conflict with mine. After all, we all have our own personal beliefs regarding God, but none of us knows with absolute intellectual certainty what will greet us at our death. To assert differently is akin to saying that we have the wisdom and knowlege of God Himself, which we most certainly do not.
  6. I believe that there are many paths to God, including some that aren’t organized and have no name. God sees into the human heart and desires to be in relationship with any human heart that is open to His call.

September 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm Leave a comment

Three Cups of Tea

Cover of "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Jo...

Cover via Amazon

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is the story of Mortenson, a young mountain climber and hippie who impulsively decided to build a school for the children of a poor mountain village in Pakistan. In the early 1990s, Mortenson, whose younger sister had just died, came down from a failed attempt to climb K2. The climb was supposed to be his memorial to his sister, Christa. He was lucky to have escaped from the climb with his life. His guide had lost him, and the guide had Mortenson’s pack with all his food, drink and survival gear with him.

The people of a mountain village were kind enough to offer him shelter and help him to recuperate. The name of the town was Korphe, and when Greg saw the children of this town on a hillside, trying to practice writing and arithmetic with sticks in the sand, he asked them why they weren’t at school. He learned that they didn’t have a school. Pakistan has government funded education, but this is available in larger towns and cities only. Greg Mortenson was so impressed with the children of Korphe and his experience there that he promised to build them a school.

The process was slow going at first. Mortenson learned that he could build a good, solid school building in Pakistan for only $12,000. Astounding, huh? The only problem was that he didn’t have $12,000, and the $12,000 didn’t include his round trip fare to Pakistan. Mortenson was an emergency room nurse. He lived as frugally as possible in order to save his money. He was essentially homeless. He slept in his bedroll on the floor of a friend’s apartment or in his car. Still, it seemed to take forever to save the money he needed.

Mortenson’s mother was the principal of an elementary school. The students at her school saved pennies in jars. They called the project Pennies for Peace, and when the project was done for the year, they had saved over $600 in pennies. The mountain climbing community embraced Greg’s vision for a school, and they let him give talks at a lot of their seminars.

At one of these seminars Greg was introduced to Jean Hoerni, an eccentric engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur who had a hand in the creation of Teledyne, Union Carbide, and Intel. Hoerni was a very wealthy mountain climber who had been moved by the poverty of the people in the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan, where Mortenson wanted to build his school. Hoerni gave Greg a check for $12,000.

There were many, many stumbling blocks on the road to that school in Korphe. There was a man Greg trusted with the storage of his building materials only to come back and find that he used or sold a great deal of them. There was graft and religious leaders looking for bribes. There were people from other villages who were intent on diverting Greg from Korphe to build a school in their villages, or to build a school for porters instead. But there were also lots and lots more good people who helped him along the way: trusted advisors, a bodyguard willing to lay down his life for Greg, a religious leader who was willing to put his reputation on the line and to petition the highest Shia authority in Iran to approve of Greg’s schools and the education of Pakistani girls, in particular.

Once the first school was built, Jean Hoerni gave the money to start a non-profit with an endowment of one million dollars. Greg started the Central Asia Institute. The Central Asia Institute now has many, many schools for boys and girls in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Along the way, Mortenson met his wife and started his family. Both the Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace are currently thriving.

And why, might you ask, is this important for you to know about? Well, what Greg is doing is important because education is important, period, and because we should be concerned about those people who are less fortunate than us, whether they live next door or in the tiniest town in Afghanistan. And also: educating boys and girls in Pakistan does more to combat terrorism and the extremists of Islam than bombs and guns ever will. Bombs and guns make terrorists. Those children who are given a well-rounded basic education by Mortenson’s schools are the benefits of knowledge. That knowledge will help them to make better decisions about what to do with their lives and how to view their fellow citizens of the world.

The alternative for many of these children is either no education at all or an education of hatred provided by the Saudi funded madrassas. Wealthy Saudi Arabians fund madrassas in poverty-ridden countries. These madrassas do not provide education to girls, and they often do not provide the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. There is a lot of range in the quality of madrassas. Instead, what they never fail to teach is the rhetoric of fundamentalist Muslims. They teach the Koran to boys who cannot read it for themselves. Sometimes the teachers can’t, either.

The purpose of these schools is to recruit future soldiers for the Al Quaeda and the Taliban and other such organizations that propagate violence. And, much like in America, the wealthy fund the military while the poor become its foot soldiers. The Saudis don’t send their sons to “war.” Instead, they recruit the young men in Pakistan and Afghanistan who don’t have the opportunities that Saudi oil wealth provides.

Three Cups of Tea is an important book, and anyone seeking to further understand the politics of the Middle East and the people of Islam would be well served in taking the time to read it. There is no religious message in the book. The book is about people and cultures and working to find our commonalities rather than our differences. Mortenson grew up in Africa, the son of Lutheran missionaries, but he himself is not a particularly religious man. He learns to pray like both a Sunni and a Shia Muslim in order to fit in, and he adopts the culture and learns the languages of his second home. When in Rome…

September 24, 2010 at 2:41 pm 1 comment

From the Annals of Gooseberry Bush

When I was in my mid to late twenties I was quite the raconteur. I used to have two or three stock funny stories that I would tell at parties or get-togethers. People would actually request these stories, like, “Gooseberry Bush, please tell us about the time you fell down three flights of stairs at the Collonade office building in Dallas,” or, “Gooseberry Bush, please tell my friend about the time those two boys tried to ‘carjack’ you outside the Half Price Books. Go ahead! This is good.”

The best one was definitely the story of how I drove myself to the emergency room after an allergic reaction to hair dye caused my whole body to swell and go into hives at 5:00 in the morning on a Sunday. That one’s a doozy. I’ll get around to telling it sometime. This story, though, is the story of how my car got pulled out of the mud by a bad ass drug dealer with chains.

When I was in college my mom had finally graduated from nursing school the year before. Because we were so poor before then, I actually qualified for a Pell grant for my first year of school. So, I think it’s pretty self explanatory that I did not have a car when I was in high school. We had one family car. That was it. I was lucky I was allowed to touch it, let alone drive it on my own. I didn’t get my drivers license until I was seventeen, and this happened after months of torture.

My dad had to teach me how to drive a stick shift, and he expected that I would drive it perfectly, as in Jesus himself could not parallel park on a hill any better than I could. He also did things like getting out of the car after I parked and inspecting to make sure that not only had I parked with enough room on both sides of the vehicle but that also the amount of room on both sides was equal. I’m not kidding you. He did everything short of pulling out a ruler and a chalk line.

My dad was something of a harsh task master anyway, and the fact that he had actually been a high school drivers education instructor and had a commercial drivers license that he had used to drive school busses and eighteen wheelers, well, that certainly didn’t help any. Consequently, when I finally got some freedom with a car I was giddy with joy. My parents bought a second car, a Honda civic hatchback that we later called the Munchcar, but that’s a different story.

The Munchcar was my ticket to something more closely resembling a life. Sure, I had friends who would cart me around everywhere, but now they didn’t need to anymore! The second car was purchased for me to share with my dad, who was by then a retired part time school bus driver. The deal was that when I graduated they would sign the title over to me, fair and square. I thought that was a deal! I’ll take it.

One day, with my newfound freedom, I was driving around Oklahoma City in the Munchcar when I decided to do something very stupid. Let me preface this by saying that it was dark, and it was raining. That’s just so the exact level of stupidity will sink in. I was on my way to help a friend move, and the way to her apartment required me to exit off the Broadway Extension at, oh, I think it was 122nd Street, if I remember right, and turn right.

This friend was one that I spent a great deal of time with, and so I had used this road to get to her many, many times. I was, hmm, shall we say, intellectually challenged with directions, and I was unaware of an alternative route to take to get there. However, for a few weeks now, that road had been partially closed for construction. I can see that you can see already just where this is going. I usually ignored the construction signs and drove through anyway, and I certainly wasn’t the only one that did so. But perhaps especially in the dark in the rain, driving around the cones and barriers wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had.

Pretty soon, my car was stuck in the mud, the tires were turning but nothing was moving, except the tires. I was frustrated. It was dark and raining, and I was in a bad area of town, and most of all I was disgusted with myself about having done something unbelievably stupid. It was like the time that I was a frat party and accepted a drink from a strange boy who walked me up to one of the empty bedrooms and then later shut the door. It was that feeling, like, Holy shit, I have really fucked up. And I am so stupid that I will almost deserve what’s about to happen to me.

Then the next thing that happened was that I looked up and saw a family of African American kids. There must have been eight or ten of them, from the tallest who might have been a boy of seventeen to a little one who probably hadn’t started school yet. They were all walking single file in a line back to their home from a convenience store, I presume. They were carrying candy and snacks and sodas in their hands. They were like moving stair steps, with the tallest in front. It made me want to sing, “Hello, world. There’s a song that we’re singing. C’mon get happy.”

The tallest kid, a boy, noticed my difficulty, and he walked over and stuck his head in my car and smiled, “Are you stuck?”

I sighed, “Yes.”

“Let us try to push you out.”

I wasn’t about to argue with him. I had help. There was manpower, and all of them from the oldest boy to the tiniest girl, gathered around the Munchcar and tried to push me out as I followed the instructions of the oldest boy on how to drive a stick shift to rock it out of the mud rut that I’d carved for myself. Apparently, my thorough father’s instructions had left out the chapter about four wheeling in your Honda Civic hatchback.

When it became apparent that the car was still not going to budge, despite the best efforts of a clan of nice people, the oldest boy said, “Do you have someone you can call?”

I said, “My father will kill me.”

The boy nodded, like that was a distinct and literal possibility. “Come with us,” he said, “We can get you help. Deion will know what to do.”

Now I don’t know Deion. I don’t even know this kid. For all I know, Deion will murder me, then cut my body up into little parts and eat it like Jeffrey Dahmer, and this kid gets a finders fee for finding flies who land in the web of the construction zone. But what am I more afraid of? Strange and menacing possible serial killers in a bad neighborhood? Or the wrath of my father? Take me to your leader.

This whole incident in my life happened in the early ‘90s. So early that no one yet knew who George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston was. The kids all walked me, together, to Deion’s home, a small old duplex in a run down area of town. The outside looked like it had definitely seen better days. The oldest boy, taking charge again, knocked on the door.

An African American man who was somewhere between my age and maybe a decade older, answered the door, cell phone in hand, in the middle of a conversation. This was Deion. He wore a lot of gold jewelry and had a pager clipped to his waste. Now, in the early ‘90s, not many people had cell phones. And they kind of looked more like satellite phones look nowadays. I think we called them car phones back then. And the only people who carried pagers were doctors, emergency medical personnel, plumbers, and, dum-dum-dum…your friendly neighborhood drug dealer.

Deion and the kid had an exchange during which he explained my situation, and I stayed wide-eyed and completely silent. There was another man in the room, an African American guy who looked more middle class and, well, non-threatening to a little ol’ suburban white girl like me. He smiled at me as if sensing that I was scared to death, and he worked to put me at ease. The man told Deion and the kid that he had a truck and chains and that with Deion’s help, they could get my car out.

I was taking in my surroundings. Deion had a barking, snarling rottweiller in the backyard. And a man who lived in a poor neighborhood had every toy and gadget known to man. His clothes were designer. The furniture was brand new and expensive. The TV was bigger than me. There was a baby somewhere in the house. A playpen and toys were scattered all over the floor. I was wondering if I had stumbled into an episode of Miami Vice.

The kid left me alone with Deion and his friend, Deion’s baby mama, and an adorable boy baby that I assume was Deion’s son. The friend kept me company and was really pretty charming. Near as I could tell, Deion was the friendly neighborhood drug dealer, which also made him the equivalent of the “Godfatha” of the community. Presumably, by virtue of his money he could buy people out of jams and probably frequently did in order to ensure the silence and complicity of other people, given his livelihood. Or maybe Deion really was a nice man, although from the way he cussed on the phone, I wasn’t so sure.

Really, Deion’s phone conversations were the most vulgar filth you’ll ever hear this side of the hardest core gangsta rap. He made Eminem seem like Emily Post by comparison. But the funny thing is that both Deion and his friend went out of their way to be polite and kind to me. They never cussed at me. They offered me a seat. I was asked if I wanted something to drink. I was never referred to as anything other than a lady or by, “Miss.” They were almost deferential. I felt like Miss Scarlett. Forget Miami Vice. I’ve wandered onto the set of Gone with the Wind.

Once Deion got done with his business, he and his friend escorted me out, and true to his word, the friend used some chains to get my car out of the mud. Deion’s friend had undoubtedly figured out that I had figured out just exactly what Deion was. When I was ready to go, I was standing at the curb with the friend, and I said to him, “How can I ever thank you?” And he said, “Just tell people.” And so I do.

September 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm Leave a comment

Famous Alcoholics And Addicts

Actor Robert Downey Jr. photographed by the Ca...

Image via Wikipedia

I thought it might be fun, with the recent “news” event of Lindsay Lohan’s Tweet about her drug test failure, to make a list of famous people who suffer from alcoholism and addiction issues. Just because someone has substance abuse problems doesn’t mean that society should kick them to the wayside or that they are destined to be bums on a street corner. Some of these names you’ll already know about, and some you might actually be surprised to discover on the list. Some have gotten sober, some have attempted, and some have died not trying. At any rate, it’s interesting to see such a long list of accomplished people.

John Ford

Ulysses S. Grant

Ernest Hemingway

Janice Dickinson

Jack Kerouac

Stephen King

David Hasselhoff

Michael J. Fox

Meredith Baxter

Eric Clapton

Hunter S. Thompson

Anne Lamott

Robert Downey, Jr.

David Crosby

McKenzie Philips

Alexander the Great

Edgar Allen Poe

Larry Hagman

John Daly

George W. Bush

Diana Ross

Mary Tyler Moore

Dick Van Dyke

Tracy Morgan

Amy Winehouse

Anna Nicole Smith

Melanie Griffith

William Shatner

Eddie Van Halen

Keith Urban

Johnny Cash

Ben Affleck

Buzz Aldrin

Truman Capote

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Dorothy Parker

Carrie Fisher

Kris Kristoferson

Franklin Pierce

Richard Burton

Elizabeth Taylor

Eddie Fisher

John Barrymore

Judy Garland

Spencer Tracy

Ava Gardner

Betty Ford

Robert Young

John Denver

Mel Gibson

William S. Burroughs

Raymond Carver

Robbie Williams

Ozzie Osborne

Brett Butler

Tim Allen

Errol Flynn

Tom Arnold

William Holden

Steve McQueen

O. Henry

Jim Morrison

Hank Williams

Billie Holliday

Veronica Lake

W.C. Fields

James Thurber

Lorenz Hart

Dylan Thomas

Janis Joplin

Jimmy Hendrix

Robin Williams

Melissa Gilbert

Beverly DeAngelo

Linda Carter

Samuel L. Jackson

Kelsey Grammer

Billy Joel

Mickey Mantle

Babe Ruth

Michael Landon

Demi Moore

Joe Namath

Jackie Gleason

Ted Kennedy

Joan Kennedy

Boris Yeltsin

Joseph Stalin

Alexander Gudonov

Ed McMahon

Dave Mustaine

Ray Charles

Doc Holiday

Winston Churchill

Frank Sinatra

John Bonham

George Carlin

Anthony Hopkins

Slash

Eugene O’Neill

Ringo Starr

Trent Reznor

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Joe Dimaggio

Lester Young

Herve Villachez

Glenn Beck

Lee Marvin

Colin Farrell

Steve Clark

Courtney Love

Kurt Cobain

Charlie Sheen

Rob Lowe

Chad Lowe

Chris Mullin

Steven Tyler

Gene Simmons

Anthony Kedis

Elton John

Natalie Wood

Nick Nolte

Tommy Lee Jones

September 20, 2010 at 4:00 pm 14 comments

Poverty in America

 

U.S. map with counties labeled by FIPS code ac...

Image via Wikipedia

 

“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”  – Charles Darwin

“The poor you will always have with you.” – Jesus

In America right now we are in the midst of what some are referring to as The Great Recession. We are paying the price for those years of excess lived between the last recession at the dawn of the new millennium and the first rumblings of troubles in the mortgage industry in 2007.

We tricked ourselves into thinking everything was great with profits manufactured by creative accountants in the home lending business, and later by creative accountants employed by Wall Street to hide losses from speculation made, largely, in the sub-prime mortgage industry. Now we have to pay the piper.

http://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/too-big-to-fail/

But guess who’s paying the piper. It’s not the same men who made the decisions that caused this mess. Those guys all got bonuses based on false profits and golden parachutes. Why? Well, because we have to pay our best talent. We don’t want to run them off, of course. So, the piper gets paid mostly by the middle class. Or, rather, by the people who used to be the middle class. The middle class in America is dwindling in numbers.

The unemployment rate is at a national average of 10%. Some areas of the United States have an unemployment rate of 15%. It’s still better than the 20% national average during The Great Depression, but we can no longer fool ourselves with the fable that we are a prosperous nation.

The percentage of people who are living at or below the poverty level in the United States now is 14.6%. There are now more poor people living in America than there have been since 1959, when the government first started keeping track of these numbers. To make that real for you, one in seven Americans today lives in poverty. What is the definition of poverty in America today? If you are a single person who made less than $11,000 last year, then the government says you are living in poverty. If you are a family of four, and you are living on less than $22,000, then the government considers you poor.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how I would survive on $11,000 a year. After my rent got paid, I would have just a little over $4,000 a year to live on. Would that even pay for food, let alone utilities? Even if I forego such luxuries as a telephone or internet access or cable or a vehicle, would $4,000 be enough to buy food after the electricity and water bill was paid each month? And without “luxuries” like a phone and internet, then how would I look for work?

There’s a misconception in America that if you don’t work in the United States or if you are poor in our country, then it must be because you are lazy. You choose to be poor. After all, this is the land of opportunity where anyone can be anything he wants to be. If you’re not working, then it must be because you don’t want to do so.

I’m not too good to work at something “beneath me,” in order to bring home the bacon, and I think most Americans feel the same way. We will take whatever work we are offered, no matter how overqualified we are, no matter the fact that it doesn’t pay a living wage or provide benefits. It’s preferable to welfare or unemployment. If the only job left in America was flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, then I wouldn’t turn up my nose at it just because I have a college education.

There are people who take advantage of “the system” in any country, bad apples, if you will. The vast majority of people, though, would prefer to be given an honest wage for honest work. As human beings we have an intrinsic psychological motivation to be useful and to feel needed. Work helps us to fulfill that need.

I am concerned that our great nation is on a fast track to no longer being great. What do I think the problem is? How do I think it can be fixed? The problem is that in America there is a growing disparity between the haves and the have nots, and the gap is widening at an alarming rate. The biggest sign of a healthy society is two things: a healthy, growing or at least sustaining middle class, and the treatment of a society’s “weakest links,” if you will. What do I mean by the weakest links? I mean the youngest and the oldest, the widowed, orphaned and the poor.

We have a big problem with a deficit in America, and the bigger the deficit the harder it will be for us to recover, and yet everyone says that we have to spend money to make money. So, we spend money we don’t have in order to provide a stimulus to the economy. Instead of eventually paying for that debt by taking it out of the pockets of the middle class, how about taxing the rich at a rate that’s consistent with the percentage that’s paid by the middle class? We are taxing the middle class into the poor house.

Now some of you may say, but the rich are already taxed at higher rates. That’s why we have something in America called a graduated income tax. The tax rates ARE higher for the rich. In theory. The truth of how it’s actually applied is that those very wealthy people who made the decisions that got us into this mess and then were never penalized for it get to take advantage of special tax laws and loopholes that lower their tax liability. So, while they are technically “paying” a higher percentage rate, their actual taxes compared to their actual income are nowhere near this designated percentage once their creative accountants get done with their tax returns. And it’s all perfectly legal.

We need to quit paying our executives at the exorbitant rates we’ve been paying them and pay the people who do the day-to-day work a decent living salary. We need to quit giving tax cuts to the people who can most afford to pay their taxes. We need to hold CEOs accountable for their actions. They should get paid based on their ability to produce real profits, not fictional annual reports. And we should quit rewarding these people with big bonus packages for putting thousands of people out of work.

The argument for golden parachutes and such is that executives of companies have to have a safety net so that they will not be afraid to take risks in order to make their companies profitable. I say that risk is risk. Why shield the executives from the personal repercussions of risk? It’s rewarding them for bad behavior. If they personally felt a hit to their pocketbooks as the result of their own decisions, then maybe they’d be more motivated to make wise decisions. The best way to keep executives honest is to make them accountable for their own actions, just the same as the assembly line worker at the plant is accountable for being on time and meeting his quotas for daily production. It’s the same concept, folks.

We live in a democracy. Why does all this corruption exist in a country founded on principles of freedom? I think it’s a combination of several reasons. For one thing, the poor don’t vote in large numbers. Our society, unfortunately, teaches them the cultural lesson that their opinions don’t matter. They become the victims of learned helplessness, and consequently they fail to exercise their right to vote. This self-fulfilling negative prophecy is probably proven true when they turn out to the polls and their interests are not protected because they are in the minority of the voters.

The middle class people who do vote, along with the wealthy, in good numbers, can get their agendas passed. You might wonder why more of the middle class don’t side with the poor, realizing how close they are to becoming one of them. Well, there are two reasons why they don’t. The first is fear. They are afraid that voting to penalize the very people who sign their paychecks will adversely affect them, and then they will become one of the poor. There is good reason to feel that way. As it stands right now, the Board of Directors of an unprofitable company is much more likely to lay off the rank and file employees than to approve a pay cut for its executives.

The other reason is hope. Those middle class voters hope that somehow, someday, with hard work, ambition, and initiative they can become one of those wealthy people. And when they do become one of those enormously rich folk, then they don’t want to have to share the fruits of their blood, sweat, and tears with the government or to be forced to share it with those who are less fortunate than they are. And so the cycle goes on.

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52867

September 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

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