Sunday, May 16, 2010

If Something Is Only Virtual, Can It Still Be Pried From Cold, Dead Hands?

I don't like guns.

Some of you might read that and immediately jump to the conclusion that I want to ban guns. I don't ... just as I don't want to ban Swiss cheese, junk mail, corduroy pants, or Ke$ha, even though I don't like any of them, either.

It isn't so much the gun part of guns that I don't like, it's the method of convenient destruction that guns offer to those who are looking to conveniently destroy. That's the part I don't like.

I know it takes a person to pull a trigger. I know that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," and I agree with that. Still, guns make it easier. True killers will kill, regardless of the method, but not every killer is a true killer. Instead of being able to point, aim, and fire from 10 feet away in the heat of a given moment, will someone who isn't a true killer still take a life by coming in close and, with a carving knife, gutting their target from thong to throat, if necessary?

I don't think so. The method makes the opportunity more enticing.

In a similar vein, as far as I'm concerned, where have gone guns, so too has gone Facebook. Perhaps not as violently and perhaps not with as much controversy, but certainly with the same kind of damage that is inflicted by irresponsibility, abuse, and a patent disregard for one's fellow man. This is why, as is the case with guns, I don't like Facebook.

Baby recently received an e-mail from another Mommy who was launching a call-to-arms in support of her friend's middle school-aged Daughter, who had recently been the victim of cyber-bullying. The Mommy was rallying troops to attend the next school board meeting in hopes of having the Cyber Bully disciplined via suspension or expulsion. There weren't enough details in the e-mail for me to formulate a solid opinion as to whether cyber-bullying actually had occurred, however, for purposes of this argument, let's take that step and call him a Bully. With that, at the heart of the tale is the Bully's hatred for the Daughter and his expression of that hatred via Facebook. The question I'm left with is, If it weren't for Facebook, would the Bully have bothered the Daughter at all?

We all went to school. While there, we were either bullied or bullies, and if we weren't either, surely we knew one or the other or both. Or, at the very least, we've seen bullies in the movies (Biff Tannen from the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy and Scut Farkas from A CHRISTMAS STORY are two that spring immediately to mind). What makes these traditional bullies different from the cyber bullies of today is the fact that to bully someone old-school, the bully had to be physically present to torment his target. The bully had to actually push a kid on the playground, or take a kid's lunch money, or sting a kid with a rat tail in the locker room, or give a kid an Atomic Wedgie on the bus. An old-school bully actually did something more than type.

Now, this doesn't mean that the bullies of our youth deserve some kind of credit; they don't. What it means is that if a kid is bad, he'll be a bully, period; he doesn't need Facebook to be that bully. But, if a kid doesn't necessarily have it in him to be physically confrontational, does he use the convenient detachment of Facebook to cross a line he wouldn't otherwise cross?

"Eh," you say. "Kids will be kids." Perhaps. But what about the convenient destruction of adults by adults?

Keeping Baby in the story, she recently joined Facebook, not simply because her friends do it, but rather, it seems that once Facebook becomes the primary method of communication among some friends, it is expected to be the sole method of communication among all friends, and if you aren't on, you aren't in. It isn't quite a case of "If you are not with us, you are against us"; it's more like "If you are not with us ... who are you again?"

Part of the Facebook experience involves reconnecting with old high school friends. Baby has done this, with almost unanimously positive results. Almost.

One of those old high school friends - a man who shall remain nameless, but to whom I will refer as "Farmboy" - connected with Baby via Facebook and used, in my estimation, overtly flirtatious and wholly inappropriate language on Day One. Baby's thinking was that Farmboy's language was nothing to be concerned with.

Baby, God bless her, is naive.

I am of the opinion that any man - and, particularly, any married man with children - with whom Baby has had no contact for the last 20+ years, should not use terms of endearment such as "babe" or "darlin'" or "hon" right out of the gate, if ever. And even if you can make the argument that Farmboy's vocabulary is so limited that even his bank teller, his kid's substitute bus driver, and his favorite chain restaurant waitress get the babe-darlin'-hon treatment on a daily basis, you cannot possibly defend him when his immediate response to Baby's lament that a Facebook friend-request of a different male classmate was rejected, was that she should send naked photos of herself to change the rejecter's mind.

That's just me.

Speaking of me, I have no Facebook account. For starters, the last thing I need is to be beholden to one more online thing with a password. Secondly, any social networking site that allows my early morning newscast, my grocer, my employer, and my satellite television service to maintain pages is no longer a social networking site; it's a marketing channel. Why volunteer for one more of those? So, with Baby's permission, I live an occasionally vicarious Facebook existence through her page. I digress.

As weeks and months passed, Farmboy's language remained consistent in its inappropriateness ... until the day when he decided to raise the stakes and invite Baby to engage in online chat that one would consider not flirtatious, but downright dirty. Farmboy seemed to have little regard for the potential impact that this type of behavior might have on his own marriage and family - let alone ours - and Baby quickly shut him down. We've recounted this tale to third parties whose opinions we greatly respect, and all are in agreement with me that Farmboy was, from the outset, on the make, and that he thought Baby was ripe for the picking.

"Eh," you say. "If some guy has such low regard for his own marriage that he's willing to risk it all on a little dirty talk with an old high school acquaintance, maybe his marriage is doomed anyway."

Maybe, but maybe not.

Maybe, if Farmboy was considering some type of extramarital relationship, and he was not faced with the convenient detachment of a social network, but rather the intimate setting of a nightclub or hotel bar, where he might be rejected face-to-face or, worse yet, where he could actually be caught, he might reconsider his situation and look up the number of a marriage counselor.

Maybe, if the pseudo-bully was considering picking on someone not quite his own size, and he was not faced with the convenient detachment of a keyboard, but rather the intimate setting of a playground or gymnasium, where someone might actually fight back, he might reconsider his rage and take it out on a heavy bag.

Maybe, if the not-quite-killer was considering snuffing out the life of another, and he was not faced with the convenient detachment of a gun, but rather the intimate use of hands on a throat, where he would actually have to feel the life drain out of his victim, he might reconsider his path and choose to get help.

Guns don't kill people, just as Facebook doesn't hurt children or end marriages. But guns and Facebook sure do make those jobs easy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Out With the New, In With the Old

Oh, the horror that is the New Year's resolution.

You know it. You make it. You love it.

Well, you love it for, what? A month, tops? Then you hate it. I've been right there with you. But with the winding-down of 2009 - a year I was ready to put behind me for reasons I have ... and have not ... shared here - I felt the urge to make 2010 different.

As I spent the last week of the year enjoying family, friends, and food (including the glory known as Baby's Homemade Christmas Eve Pierogies ... yes, you should be jealous), I pondered my goals for 2010. They seemed trivial (read more), comical (drink less), typical (lose weight), or impossible (be less judgmental of those whose spelling success lives or dies not on genuine spelling acumen, but on the absence of squiggly red lines). These resolutions, while perfectly functional, were duds. I wanted a resolution that MEANT something. I wanted to work towards a goal that, at the end of 2010, I could look back upon and feel a great sense of accomplishment about. I wanted the Cadillac of resolutions.

Well, that smooth-riding luxury sedan of an idea didn't pull into my consciousness and toss its keys to my mental valet until only a few hundred ticks before midnight on New Year's Eve.

To ring in the new year without risking our lives on Amateur Night Highway, Baby and I had decided to whip up a batch of cocktails and partake in Turner Classic Movies' Thin Man movie marathon - an airing of all six William Powell/Myrna Loy screwball-mysteries, in order, uncut and uninterrupted, all night long. Of course, by "all night long," we meant that the TV would be on all night long; we predicted tipsy slumber would carry us away sometime during the third film.

As an aside, I love the Thin Man films. I've seen them all countless times, I've quoted them in social situations, and I own (or have owned) copies of them in various forms, including LaserDisc. (For those of you unfamiliar with the LaserDisc, it was the "cutting-edge" format available between the VHS and DVD periods; imagine a DVD the size of a record album. For those of you unfamiliar with record albums, isn't it a school night for you?)

So there we were, Baby and me, with only a few minutes to go before the big midnight toast. As I had done in so many other must-see situations, I wielded my remote control like a Jedi using lessons learned from Obi-Wan TiVobi. Somewhere in the 58th minute of the 11th hour of the 365th day, I paused the Thin Man movie and switched tuners to catch Father Time (Dick Clark) and Baby New Year (Ryan Seacrest) ring in 2010. And it was at that moment of ultimate convergence - old year and new year, old host and new host, old movies and new technology - that it hit me: life has gotten easier, but in the process, life has lost its simplicity.

It's right about now when you might think that I will turn treacly and begin to yearn for the pleasures of my youth, all the while condemning the ills of technology. I won't, because today's technology enables me to revisit the pleasures of my youth, and for that, I love the technology.

Thanks to DVDs and downloads, and e-places like Amazon and Netflix, I can watch almost any movie at almost any time. And if I'm feeling frugal, or if a certain film is out of print, I can program my TiVo to record it on TCM and use my DVD burner to capture it forever.

As another aside, I love TiVo. I also love Turner Classic Movies. Oh, and I simply adore I-Tunes, because I-Tunes lets me spend $.99 on a song today that I spent $8.00 for in 1986 because I had to buy the whole cassette to get the one song I really wanted.

Yes, technology has made it possible for us to have whatever we want whenever we want it, all with little effort. And therein lies the core of my 2010 resolution. My lament about life's ease versus life's simplicity is about how our ability to have many of the things we want - often literally with the touch of a button - has dulled not those things, but the simple joy those things used to bring.

I don't love the Thin Man movies just because of the movies themselves; I love them because I remember stumbling across them on the Million Dollar Movie at two in the morning when I was a kid. That was special. So was finding obscure Italian horror films on the Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature on a local UHF channel. (For those of you unfamiliar with UHF, Google it.) Now? That joy of discovery is gone. Why? Because I can just ... go get the movies whenever I want them.

So, too, is gone the joy of anticipation. If you were a kid at Christmas in the '70s and '80s, the broadcast schedule for the old Rankin/Bass productions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and others like them, was burned on your brain, and if you missed an airing because you forgot or because your parents took you clothes shopping that night or because you were grounded, well, see ya next year, kid. Now? My daughters watch them on DVD, and they like them well enough, but there's no sparkle there, because watching them is not about being parked in front of a TV at 8:00 on a Thursday night in December; watching them is about pulling the discs off the shelf in the middle of June if they want to.

Also missing is the joy of hope. That kind of joy used to come with opening pack after pack of baseball cards - stale gum and all - hoping to get that Richie Hebner card to complete your Phillies team, or even going to a hobby shop to flip through countless binders to look for that one last card you needed to complete the whole set. Now? Just go to a website and have it shipped. Even I-Tunes sucks the joy out of hunting through bins of records or tapes or CDs in an effort to find that ONE tune that was the choice cut from the soundtrack of your youth.

And what about the joy of sharing that used to come when your sister visited you to look at photographs from that crazy party you both went to a few weeks prior? Sure, now you can look at pictures on Facebook as soon as the party is over, but it's hard to reminisce about an event that is only hours old, and it's not as much fun to point and laugh at a screen alone, and in ten years you won't visit your attic and happen across a shoebox full of Facebook and think back to the good old days.

My 2010 resolution is not about unplugging the internet, or hooking up the rabbit-ears (again, if you have to ask ...), or canceling the I-Tunes account. My resolution is about shifting the balance between Simple Joy and Get It Now. It's about doing a little more digging through the bins and a little less clicking of the mouse. It's about sometimes checking the television schedule instead of sometimes checking the shipping schedule. It's about risking the unknown instead of guaranteeing delivery. It's about sharing memories, not sharing URLs.

My 2010 resolution is about making sure that the things in my life are IN demand, not ON demand.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Defense of Tiger Woods

I've always believed that those who pursue Fame should expect to have their private lives exposed and scrutinized, and that they should just shut up and take it. It's a zero-sum proposition. It's the Spotlight Deal.

If you desire Fame, then you summon the Spotlight at your own peril, because the Spotlight has no care for proper time or place. If you want that Spotlight to shine on you while you're strolling down the red carpet, or when you're pushing a new movie or record, or while you're discussing your latest charitable cause on the morning talk show circuit, then you must accept that the Spotlight can also shine on you when you stagger out of a club that you don't remember entering in the first place, or when the previous nanny becomes the current mommy, or when you flash the world your pink parts because your skirt is the size of a cocktail napkin and you don't know how to get out of a car like a normal human being.

It wasn't always like that, but it is like that now. Gone are the days of only needing to manage daily Page Six coverage, weekly scandal sheets, and the (star-friendly) cameras of Entertainment Tonight ... all cave drawings by the standards of today's pervasive technology, demanding audience, and 24-second internet news cycles. Today, if you want the Spotlight, you get all of the Spotlight all of the time.

So, as you can gather by now, in most cases of celebrity coverage, I side with the media - from the pillars of journalism to the bowels of TMZ. There are, however, exceptions to which I think the media should adhere:

Don't break the law. Freedom of the press does not trump breaking and entering.

Don't invade funerals. That's just tacky.

Don't exploit celebrities' children, unless the celebrities exploit their own children, in which case this exception becomes a little fuzzy.

Don't do anything that endangers anyone's safety. Is getting the 17th picture of the starlet worth a high-speed chase? If you are any good at your job, one of the first 16 pictures will turn out just fine.

Don't involve yourself in the life of Tiger Woods.

(This is where I defend him.)

Roll call! Lanny Wadkins. Larry Mize. Tom Kite. Hal Sutton. Sandy Lyle. Do any of these names ring a bell? How about these: Bernhard Langer. Ian Woosnam. Hale Irwin. Still nothing? How about Ben Crenshaw? No?

The first set of names are some of the golfers who missed the cut in the 1995 Masters. The second set of names are some of the golfers who finished ahead of then-amateur Tiger Woods in the 1995 Masters. Crenshaw won the 1995 Masters.

I'm willing to bet that most of you don't recognize most of the names I mentioned because in the pre-Tiger era, televised golf was the Sunday folly of old white men. In the pre-Tiger era, televised golf was an unwatchable sport with unbearable fashions. In the pre-Tiger era, televised golf was a punch line. I know those names because I watched golf as a kid, and I watched golf as a kid because my grandfather watched golf as on old white man. Baby? She admits that before Tiger came along, she had no clue they played professional golf on days other than Sundays.

Sure, in the pre-Tiger era, you probably had heard of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, and maybe one or two others. But these men were answers to trivia questions, not multi-media titans or global spokesman. There were no Michael Jordan-like contracts for golfers in 1995. Any golfers in 1995 who were lucky enough to get endorsement deals beyond having PING emblazoned on a visor - even living legends like Nicklaus and Palmer - were relegated to endorsing golf-specific merchandise, lawn care products, or insurance.

The point of this is to say that Tiger Woods did not pursue Fame, because Fame did not come with golf in 1995. Did he pursue excellence? Of course, as all competitors do (or should). Did he pursue glory? Yes, but glory that was supposed to have come from a small group of people - namely, other golfers and the old white men (and their grandsons) who watched them. Even at the pinnacle of his success - which some might point to as the day before Thanksgiving 2009 - Tiger never said, "Look at me," the way most other celebrities have said, "Look at me." Tiger came out, played well, and around 6:00 PM on Sundays, he disappeared.

And it has always been this way. He's never clamored for the Spotlight and then shunned it once it glared too harshly. He's never made it rain in a strip club. He's never been the subject of an investigation. He's never been linked to weapons. He's never had a posse.

Hello, he's a golfer! To suggest that Tiger Woods pursued Fame through golf - GOLF! - is to suggest that I'm pursuing Fame through this blog.

So what happened? A perfect storm, really. Tiger was a young, good looking, mixed-race player, with talent that seemed to defy all sense of physics, who chose a sport that had been mostly ignored by major advertisers because of its blandness. His look, his sport, and his game were different at a time when spending was high and advertisers would spend highly on anything different. And once the new crowd - the younger, more diverse crowd - took an interest in the old white man's sport, Madison Avenue followed with checkbook in hand.

As for that checkbook, you ask, what about the one billion career endorsements dollars Tiger has taken from the likes of Nike and Buick and Gatorade and others?

Tiger has earned it, and without the sense of entitlement displayed by many young celebrities. Most Fame-chasers approach the Spotlight with a "show me the money" mentality. Tiger, who succeeded not under the bright lights of Hollywood, but rather the oversized umbrella of golf - GOLF! - was approached by companies who shared a different mentality: "Show HIM the money." And why did they approach him that way? Not because Tiger said "Look at me," but because we, the consumers who buy the shoes and the cars and the drinks, said, "Look at him."

Oh, and he spreads the wealth. His presence in the sport of golf has attracted so much advertising revenue, sponsorship commitments, and prize money, the last-place finisher at any Tiger-era tournament makes gobs more money for being the worst on Sunday than he did in the pre-Tiger era. It is the textbook example of how a rising tide lifts all ships. No other single person in any other entertainment outlet does for his or her business what Tiger Woods does for his. Not Derek Jeter, not Tom Cruise, not Eminem, not even Oprah. And yet all Tiger wants today is what he wanted in 1995: Greatness, not Fame.

And for those of you who believe that Tiger thinks his own celebrity status affords him the right to say nothing to the police, that his financial success puts him above the law, you either don't know the law very well or you are easily swayed by the media's near-unanimous demand that he speak. Between his Miranda and Fifth Amendment rights, Tiger owes no one - not even law enforcement - an explanation.

It's easy to understand our mistake in demanding that the media shine the Spotlight just inches away from Tiger's life, and do so twenty-four hours a day. We are a society madly obsessed with Fame, and we have become so accustomed to watching people mistake shamelessness for talent, mistake willingness for skill, or mistake exploitation for love, all for the chance of grabbing that Spotlight and making it shine a little longer than it takes the public stop pointing and laughing, we automatically presume that anyone who has achieved Fame actually pursued Fame in the first place.

Tiger Woods should be left alone to sort out his personal issues. Just because Fame was thrust into his life doesn't mean that we get to be thrust into his life, too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Four Shorts and Seven Sins Ago

The following are the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh (and final) installments of the occasional 2009 series looking at how the traditional "Seven Deadly Sins" play in today's world.

Often times, there are items that grab my attention that are interesting to me, but they just don't contain enough substance for me to blather endlessly about. So I thought I'd try blathering in short bursts. With that, I present to you, instead of one long-winded piece, a collection of several short-winded pieces.

From Lemons to Lemonade to Shameless Marketing

In February 2009, R&B star Chris Brown assaulted his then-girlfriend, R&B star Rihanna. Eight months later, Rihanna had the courage to appear on TV with Diane Sawyer and share her pain with millions of viewers. Like it or not, many people listen when celebrities speak, so for Rihanna to bare her soul was a gesture that hopefully inspired victims of abuse to have the courage to make positive changes in their lives. I only wish she hadn't done so 18 days before her latest record dropped, offering her maximum exposure just in time to boost first-week sales and to sustain unit-movement over those critical and finite pre-Christmas shopping days. It kind of dulled the shine of her sincerity. The presence of Envy here is clear. If the first things a singer looks at are her own sales figures, the second things she looks at are the sales figures of her competition - and God forbid the competition does better. You may say that this is a key to success, and it might well be ... but not after a case of domestic abuse. If the choice in timing of the interview was hers, she isn't brave, she's manipulative. If the choice in timing wasn't hers but rather her record label's, she's still a victim, but of a different kind of abuse. Domestic violence is abhorrent. Period. But not only should domestic violence not be committed, it should not be exploited for profit, either.

Casting Pearls (of Anger) Before Swine (Flu)

It seems that since the last presidential election, the yelling - from both sides - has gotten substantially worse, and I've all but tuned it out. Oh, I follow the issues, but now almost exclusively in print; gone are my nights of watching wall-to-wall political coverage on the cable news channels. The stars (if you will) of these shows, these so-called pundits (or commentators, anchors, experts, correspondents, or chief correspondents) are really nothing more than well-dressed, well-paid gasbags who simply don't know how to turn it off or, at the least, turn it down. Truthfully, if I want that kind of deafening and incessant droning of voices over voices over voices, I'll volunteer to be a grade school lunchroom dad. And just as those lunchroom kids are somehow prone to mimic that which they see on TV, so, too, are adults. For every screamer on cable news, there seems to be an army of screamer wannabes taking their issues from talk radio to town halls, and from the World Wide Web to the corner coffee klatch. Yes, all of this speech is free, but does it have to be so vitriolic? When did ire and volume replace simple debate? Recently, the loudest voices have come from those who are vehemently opposed to government-run healthcare. To those people, I ask: If you are so passionate in your opposition to the government's involvement in healthcare, if you have been moved to the point of Wrath by this issue, to the point that you have disrupted organized public forums (up to, and including, joint sessions of Congress) by shouting down those "against" you as opposed to debating - or even arguing - the issue's points on merit ... did you, in your fit of Wrath, boisterously and passionately yank your children out of line for the Swine Flu vaccinations they were to receive at school?

If Sandra Bullock Made This Movie, Would It Be Called MISS HYPOCRISY?

When flavor-of-the-month (about six months ago) Carrie Prejean was Miss California USA, and she was asked during the Miss USA 2009 pageant about her opinion on same-sex marriage, and she responded that she thought marriage should be between a man and a woman, I didn't blink. Did I agree with her? Of course not; I never have and I never will. But despite my opposition, I still respected her opinion, and besides, at least she answered the question honestly, as opposed to trying to spin her way out of it in hopes of gaining favor with the judges. So when the drama erupted over her answer - and by "drama," I mean when Prejean was knee-capped by internet whatever Perez Hilton, who, through D-List chicanery, managed to light the public's torches and sharpen the masses' pitchforks - I was surprised. I mean, there's a guy who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who essentially shares the same belief, and 70% of the gay community helped vote him into office, so why the fervor over the blonde beauty queen? Wow. Could it be true? Could I defend a same-sex marriage detractor? It turns out I could, right up until the point where she just wouldn't shut up. Fast forward through too many press conferences and lawsuits to a few weeks ago, during her recent book tour and what is, perhaps, her most intriguing quote. On NBC's TODAY, Prejean said, "Our bodies are temples of the Lord. We should earn respect and admiration for our hearts, not for showing skin to look sexy." Listen sweetheart, I don't mind that you are a body-baring beauty queen, stirring Lust in those who really don't care about your position on the importance of education or the fight against world hunger; nor do I mind that you had breast augmentation, further stoking that Lust; nor do I mind that you made a sex tape, showing that you've got a saucy Lustful streak in you. What I do mind is a woman who is in her 18th minute of fame and hawking a book from one side of her mouth, all the while invoking the Word of God from the other side of her mouth, preaching about the temple that is the woman's body, when if it weren't for your desecration of that temple, your name wouldn't be Carrie Prejean, it would be Carrie Who?

This Time It's Personal

Sitting in my church is not unlike sitting in the food court at the mall. Oh sure, there's an altar instead of a Cinnabon and they serve the Body and Blood of Christ as opposed to pretzel gems and dippin' cheese, but the congregants are dressed the same as the shoppers. On any given Sunday, you see the occasional suit or dress, but usually the fashion choices range from trendy casuals to football jerseys and jeans to shorts and sandals. This, to me, is blasphemous. I was raised that when you go to church, you wear what they used to call "your Sunday best" (which I still do), with anything less being undignified. That pretty much makes me guilty of the sin of Pride, for judging people on their attire as it pales in comparison to mine, when instead I should be thankful that they attend church at all. I am working on this. However, this issue intersects with an experience I had this past Sunday, when Baby and I pulled a pair of tags off our church's Giving Tree. (For those of you unfamiliar, a Giving Tree is a Christmas tree that has hanging from it tags instead of ornaments, and written on those tags are donation requests for basic items needed by local residents who are experiencing hard times.) The first tag asked for a gift card to the local supermarket, with no specific denomination requested. I like this request, and I have faith that the requestor will use the gift not for cigarettes or margarita mix, but rather for food or diapers. Done. The second request, complete with useful size information, asked for a pair of jeans ... from Aeropostale. Boutique jeans? On a Giving Tree? "Please help me. I need jeans ... but only really nice jeans." It seems I'm not alone in my Pride.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's About More Than the Benjamins

The following is the third of an occasional 2009 series looking at how the traditional "Seven Deadly Sins" play in today's world.

For those of you who know me, and by "who know me," I mean "who read my stuff," and by "who read my stuff," I mean "who used to read my stuff when I actually wrote stuff on a regular basis," I hope you will be happy to know that I am OFF the public dole! Yes, I have once again joined the land of the gainfully employed (oddly enough, at the same place that cut me loose last year - go figure). There was much rejoicing done by Baby and The Girls when I delivered the good news, and the weeks and months that have followed have brought more happiness, both monetarily and self-worthily. But it hasn't been all "sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows," as Lesley Gore once sang. Sadly, during this time, I've also gotten a taste of sorrow ... in the form of death.

I've been very fortunate in my life that my experience with death has been limited.

My first real exposure to death was when I lost my grandfather. Pop-Pop was a man who influenced me greatly, and who still influences me today, some 11 years since his passing. Many people say their grandfathers were the best grandfathers in all the land, but mine actually was.

My second exposure to death was when I lost my brother-in-law six years ago. When I married his wife's sister, he and I quickly became brothers-in-arms-in-law, and eventually we became very close friends. His passing came too soon, something I also think about daily.

As for my third experience just a few months ago, it was something quite different. You see, while it was sad to watch my grandfather die at the hands of old age, and while it was sad to watch my brother-in-law die at the hands of disease, neither were as sad as bearing witness to the death of Honor ... at the hands Greed.

(It's been a while. Forgive the length.)

When did we start doing what's best for ourselves instead of doing the honorable thing?

An old friend with whom I had lost touch after my unemployment (who shall remain nameless because I would like her to remain my old friend with whom I am back in touch since my re-employment) recently confided in me that she had cheated on her husband. The affair hadn't been going on long when her husband made the discovery, and after a period of slow progress in rebuilding their relationship and (sadly) a crippling relapse, the storm of uncertainty that surrounded their marriage, while still churning, is beginning to calm, and my friend and her husband seem to be ... finally ... moving in the right direction. Not only have they recommitted themselves to each other, they have returned to the spiritual faith they both abandoned in their youth. Plus, they are engaged in professional marriage counseling as a couple, and they are both addressing their individual psychological issues. It turns out that she is being treated for Depression - a key factor in her missteps - and he is being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - something they didn't realize (nor did I) applied to anything outside of the military - caused by the affair.

My friend's revelation was a stunner. She and her husband have known each other for nearly 20 years. They met as coworkers, became close friends, and then nurtured their relationship through romance and into marriage - a marriage, by the way, that many others admired and respected; a marriage everyone thought was indestructible. It wasn't, and to learn that their marriage could fall victim to this fate is still no greater a shock to this adult than learning the truth about Santa Claus must be to any child. Everything I thought I knew disappeared, and in the months-long wake of the sad news, I still yearn to be intoxicated by the fantasy of a perfect couple, instead of enduring the maddening sobriety that we are all human. When you watch your heroes fall, you become painfully self-aware of your own mortality.

Before I continue, a pair of items. First, I don't condone what my friend did to her husband. While I'm glad their problems seem to be rooted in something psychologically deeper (as opposed to something shallow and thoughtless), that doesn't change the fact that she betrayed her husband - twice. She knows where I stand on this, which is right at the edge of opinion and teetering towards judgment. Second, my friend is lucky that her husband is the man that he is to look past the affairs and see that his wife is suffering from an affliction and needs help, not unlike the way someone with the flu or a broken leg needs help. I've reminded her more than once of this fact, and she has humbly agreed with counted blessings. With that, my housekeeping here is complete.

What does all of this have to do with Greed?

It seems that whenever we bear witness to infidelity, either through the hypnotic moving-picture box in our living rooms or on the pages of the latest scandal sheets in our grocer's checkout lanes, we tend to do one of two things: we either judge the guilty with great condemnation (see: politicians and/or clergymen of all stripes and levels), or we get lost in the salaciousness of it all (see: celebrities ... actual, reality, or otherwise). We might even take pity on some of the parties involved, especially if children become collateral damage.

But there is something we never consider with marital impropriety, something we never discuss when we roll like pigs in the muddy details. It's something that hit me when infidelity touched people I actually know. I came to the sad realization that despite her level of responsibility, despite her husband's level of responsibility for missing the signs of her problems or perhaps contributing to those problems, there were several other people who not only failed this poor woman (and, to a great extent, her husband), but did so intentionally and for their own personal gain.

The first person here is the miscreant she had the affair with. He was fully aware of her marital status when their relationship began, but that didn't stop him from being Greedy - sexually so, but Greedy nonetheless - and taking advantage of this woman in her time of need. I know, I know - lizards like this have been crawling the planet since the dawn of man and lizards; I get that. But what I think we've forgotten, perhaps as a result of being desensitized by the media's frenzied fascination with the pandemic that is infidelity, is that this guy, like the millions before him and the millions to come, made a decision, conscious or not, that went something like this: "This woman is married to someone else but she wants to sleep with me. That defies the core tenet of marriage, so she must be having problems at home. I can either seize this opportunity for a cheap and meaningless thrill, and in doing so set forth into motion a series of events that will ruin the life of her husband and children ... you know, my fellow humans ... or I can tell her that what she is doing to her husband is wrong, and that she should either stay with him completely or leave him completely; nothing in between. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions."


If your grandmother is about to be hit by an oncoming bus, don't expect this guy to help her. Surely he will say, "Hey, she chose to stand there." Unless, of course, Grandma is a cougar, and then he might consider what his reward would be for saving her life.


The second guilty person here is my friend's girlfriend. This so-called friend, who goes back so far as to have been in attendance at the wedding of the fractured couple, was fully aware of the affair, yet she did nothing to inquire about the state of the marriage, she did nothing to advise on the potential harm my friend would cause her family by cheating, she kept the secret from the husband (whom she knew), and she was fully prepared to act as an alibi for my friend, so that my friend could have a full sleepover with The Miscreant, as opposed to some lunchtime quicky. Why do this to/for a friend? Well, perhaps the girlfriend's Greed was in the form of looking at a future where the husband was out of the picture so more "girl-time" could be spent together. Or maybe her Greed was Greed by attrition - her marriage was in the toilet at the time, so rather than try to improve her own situation, why not drag company down to her level.
Or maybe it was a Greedy combination of both. Regardless, she did not have my friend's best interest at heart.

Sure, you might think that if someone is your best friend, they will do anything they can to support you. You would be wrong. A friend, a true friend, has the guts - check that - the responsibility to step in and say, "Something is not right here. I'm your friend. How can I help you fix this?" If you don't believe me, go to the person you think is your best friend and tell them how cool it would be if you put a gun to your own head so you could blow your brains out. If the response is, "Anything for you, amigo," they aren't your friend, they are an accomplice at best, an accessory at worst. I am happy to say that my friend recognized what a cancer her so-called friend was on her marriage and has since written off The Accomplice.

Finally, the third guilty person here is actually more than one person. It's the other friends my friend THOUGHT she had - those people she considered to be in her "support network" who, upon learning of the affair, never bothered to say, "What can I do to help?" or "How are you two managing?" They simply stopped calling. They simply stopped e-mailing. They simply stopped texting. They simply stopped responding to calls and e-mails and texts, or if they responded, they did so with the written or verbal equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, stiff-arming my friend with retorts that would barely appease the homeless squeegee guy at the busy city intersection. They simply allowed their body language, in coincidental social settings, to scream, "My God, get me as far away from here as possible." The Greed here is the most perplexing - and perhaps the worst - of all.

Unlike the Greed of The Miscreant and The Accomplice, which was predatory and opportunistic, the Greed of The Deserters was not just of the "gimme" variety, it was of the "gimme back" variety. Their actions and inactions have screamed, "Yes, I have broken bread with you. Yes, I have welcomed you into my home. Yes, I have held the hands of your children and you have held the hands of mine. Yes, you have been there for me through good times and bad, but ... not this bad. I mean, really, when I became not just your friend but a part of your life, a part of your extended family, I thought we'd go shopping and gab on the phone and have cocktails and cookouts and other fun stuff. I really wasn't counting on your life spiraling out of control. What if it's contagious? I don't want whatever it is you got, which includes our friendship, so gimme back."

Shakespeare would have called this too tragic.

Perhaps the Greed of The Miscreant and The Accomplice and The Deserters is nothing more than a sign of our times. It seems that the Greed of today goes beyond the usual desire for stacks of cash. The Greed of today represents a shocking combination of conceit and covetousness that doesn't just desire THINGS, it desires everyone around them to exist in their little universe on their unquestionable terms, with complete disregard for anyone who cannot help further whatever agenda they have. While I won't blame social networking sites for this mindset, they certainly contribute to the mentality.

"If you don't interest ME, or if you don't want to look at MY pictures and listen to MY playlists and read MY Tweets and watch MY videos, or if you don't want to GIMME your body or GIMME your time or GIMME your upsides only ... well, then GIMME the keyboard so I can delete you."

I'd rather have the cash than people like that in my life. At least the cash has value.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Americans Idle

The following is the second of an occasional 2009 series looking at how the traditional "Seven Deadly Sins" play in today's world.

Hello there. It's been a while since I've come 'round. I'm sorry about that. It hasn't been for lack of want; I've been pining to opine. It's just that I've been busy taking care of some very important things in my personal life, including my ongoing search for gainful employment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2009, marked the 222nd day since my...what's that euphemism employers like to use when they don't want to sully their souls?...ah yes, my DISPLACEMENT. Being euphemized for over seven months is not exactly cause for celebration. However, 222 days is as good a time as any for reflection, and I have learned much during my time in this predicament.

I've learned on whom I can count in tough times. I've also learned that I'm not surprised by how short that list is.

I've learned that my threshold for rejection is mighty, thanks to the tolerance I developed from the rejection I faced in high school; finally, something from my teen years has come in handy. (If only I could say the same for trigonometry.)

I've learned that COBRA is more than just a bad '80s Sylvester Stallone movie. I've also learned that I happen to like bad '80s Sylvester Stallone movies, so if anyone is up for a Cobra / Rocky IV / Over the Top triple feature, let me know; I'll pop the corn.

The list goes on about the things I've learned, but if there is one thing that I HAVEN'T learned, it's how to prove to others that just because I don't have another job yet doesn't mean I'm not working hard at getting one. When you work hard at something, you usually have something else to show for it, like a good report card for hard work at school or a nice lawn for hard work in your yard. But this is not the case for a job search. If you work hard at looking for a job, but don't actually get a job, there is nothing you can present that shows your hard work.

I typically don't fret over what others might think of me. Still, I have a base desire to at least paint an accurate portrait of myself. I don't have a job yet because (so far) I've been unsuccessful - not lazy. I'd much rather be labeled the former than the latter. Failure is not a sin, but Sloth is.

And while the Deadly Sin of Sloth might conjure images of parental-basement-dwelling slackers with no desire to do anything but play video games, blog about playing video games, or Twitter about blogging about playing video games, there's another breed of lazy person out there - the politician.

Not the running politician, mind you. THAT guy works hard. From Dog Catcher to President, the running politician can't shake enough hands or work enough phones to convince the people that he is the best man for the job. But when he gets that job, something happens: he tends to commit Sloth.

Consider federal earmarks, those wasteful spending addenda that ride the coattails of important Congressional bills. These are also known as pork, which surely is offensive to Babe, Hamm, Miss Piggy, Porky and Petunia, Arnold, Wilbur, Piglet, and most other dignified swine. All earmarks are telltale signs of Sloth, including the $500,000 for a "virtual space community for students" added by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), and the $200,000 for a "Tattoo Removal Violence Prevention Outreach Program" added by California Rep. Howard Berman (D). The list is almost endless (and an impressively exhaustive reference of all pork, including those above, can be found here.

Or, consider the Sloth exhibited in the local school district referendum that paired, on one ballot item, the expansion of a teacher training center with the addition of two new artificial turf fields for local high addition to the one already installed.

Or, consider Andrew Harris, the Sloth-committing Maryland state senator (R) who threatened to withhold $424 million in funding from the University of Maryland if it proceeded with plans to screen a pornographic film - Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge - in the student union. The screening itself was to have been funded completely by fees assessed to the students...not by any state or school funds.

So how do these three examples - and the countless others they represent - constitute Sloth? Well, the mark of a good politician is that he can convince you that his idea is worthy of implementation. To do so takes effort.

Earmarks do not take effort. Earmarks are lazy. Earmarks say, "There's no way I can sell this idea on its own merit, but I want it, so I will attach it to the other guy's thing, because that thing is SO good, people will approve my thing just so his thing is approved too." Where's the effort in that?

Odd referendum pairings are lazy. The example says, "The community won't want another tax increase to finance more artificial fields when so many other things are needed for all of the students in the district (not just the athletes), but who would want to deny teachers the help they deserve? Let's tie the teachers to the fields so the fields are approved too." Where's the effort in that?

But the adult film example is the laziest of the three. Whereas the earmark and the referendum exhibit the use of Sloth as a means to gain something, the adult film example sites Sloth as a means of suppressing something. It's the political equivalent of "I don't like this game, so I'm taking my ball and going home." Where's the effort in that? (And heaven forbid this senator ever catch wind of some of the works of that Shakespeare guy.)

All of these paths are easy, and I'm not suggesting that the path of least resistance should always be avoided. It shouldn't. If a politician can find a shortcut that saves time/resources/money, that's great. Go for it. Just don't pitch me a bottle of efficient but sell me a bottle of deceptive instead.

If a virtual space community or tattoo removal or new athletic fields or stopping pornography are the passions of politicians, those politicians need to do drop their pens, roll up their sleeves, and do the work to convince me - convince all of us - that those passions are best for the community/state/country. To manipulate purse strings in an effort to forward an otherwise-failed agenda item is just plain lazy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Regardless of Whether That's a Gun In Your Pocket or You're Happy to See Me...Is the Safety On?

I have learned many things from Sir Francis Bacon. Okay, I have learned ONE thing from Sir Francis Bacon: his quote, "Knowledge is power." And this quote was never better embodied than on one of my all-time fave TV shows: MacGyver.

The show, while kitschy now, was wonderfully original when it debuted in 1985, and it became such a part of our pop culture fabric, we pulled a Google before Google even existed and verbified the proper noun. "The home improvement store was closed, so I had to MacGyver the heater until morning."

Oh sure, I doubt I'll ever have a practical need to know that a chocolate bar can stop an acid leak, or that cactus juice can power a transistor radio, or that the mullet seemed like such a good idea at the time. (NOTE: For those you still rockin' the mullet, know that when you sleep, the business in the front points and laughs at the party in the back.) No, what MacGyver gave me, more than clever household chemistry lessons or an appreciation for Swiss Army knives, was not just the notion that knowledge is power, but, at a higher level, that smarter is better.

When you think about it, it's a lesson that is subtly taught to us throughout our lives. Smarter kids go to better schools. Smarter candidates get better jobs. Smarter workers earn better pay. Smarter athletes play better games. Smarter game show contestants win better prizes. Smarter writers get better...well, better alcohol, I suppose.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, by the way, MacGyver was about an adventurer (of sorts) who found himself in tough situations and used intellect, not violence, to save the day. But while the title character was staunchly opposed to the use of guns, surely even Mac would agree...yes, I can call him Mac...that smarter gun owners make better gun owners. This is another lesson that should be taught to our children, and not so subtly.

In fact, the National Rifle Association agrees. At their website, the NRA has a page that offers an overview of their printed literature, entitled "Parents' Guide to Gun Safety." The page highlights numerous areas of gun safety for parents and children, but the line that really popped when I read the material was the following:

"Talking openly and honestly about gun safety with your child is usually more effective than just ordering him or her to 'Stay out of the gun closet,' and leaving it at that. Such statements may just stimulate a child's natural curiosity to investigate further."


May I rewrite that?

"Talking openly and honestly with your child about safe sex is usually more effective than just ordering him or her to 'not have sex,' and leaving it at that. Such statements may just stimulate a child's natural curiosity to investigate further."

Suddenly, I'm reminded of Sarah Palin. (Oh please. Who else would give you MacGyver AND Sarah Palin in the same piece?)

I'm reminded of Sarah Palin not for who she is specifically, but for her celebrity and for the two groups she simultaneously represents: gun enthusiasts and abstinence-only supporters.

(While I recognize the irony that the daughter of Alaska's conservative governor wound up as a teen-pregnancy statistic, it is no cause for the parade of shame that some want to throw. The world is full of kids who directly disobey their parents. Bristol Palin brought life into this world. Let us simply hope that she takes proper care of it.)

I find it troubling that any portion of our society would send its children into the world with guns and hormones, and provide a safety manual for the former but issue only a "Don't do it!" edict for the latter. What people fail to realize is how similar guns and sex are, all double entendres, puns, and innuendos aside.

Both carry great responsibility, both can come with dire consequences if handled recklessly, and both can bring much enjoyment. They even serve basic functional purposes - guns are used to hunt for food and sex is used to procreate. So why is it that the Sarah Palins of the world don't educate both issues with the same thoroughness? Better yet, why don't they even take similar stands on both issues? (Can you imagine the uproar if there was a campaign pushing to teach children to ignore gun safety and simply avoid guns completely?)

But it isn't just guns vs. sex. It's cars vs. sex, because we send our kids to Driver's Ed class instead of telling them not to drive. It's sports vs. sex, because we equip our kids with helmets and pads instead of telling them not to play. It's technology vs. sex, because we teach our kids about faux Nigerian princes instead of telling them not to surf the Internet.

And what's most puzzling about these and other aspects of life is that we teach all of this preventive posturing to protect our kids from things we can ultimately physically separate them from. In a worst-case scenario, we can lock up the guns, we can take the keys, we can trash the cleats, and we can block the Internet. But the one thing we can't take away from our kids are their bodies. Why would anyone not want to teach their children about protecting the one thing that is inseparable from them, the one thing that will be with them forever?

Smarter is better. Parents need to make their kids better by making them smarter...before the kids do something stupid.