Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Power of Silence

Silence, in all its forms, can be one of the most destructive forces in existence. It is a perplexing dichotomy--a perfect marriage of two opposing effects elicited from the same catalytic source. Silence can heal and silence can kill: it can condemn and absolve. It can provide for moments of contemplative introspection or it can feel like the weight of the world.

I have been reflecting upon the power of silence lately because I have encountered it in numerous forms. There are people I was once close with with whom I will likely never speak again. This type of long-term silence is at once enervating and invigorating. I have been the victim of the so-called silent treatment before and know all too well the pain that being shunned brings with it but, unexpectedly, the same circumstance with different people can bring about an entirely different response. By shedding these negative influences from my life I feel free--as if I have been liberated by the shackles of the past. This seemingly simple silence has washed away the poison that festered in my heart allowing me to look forward to the future; it has rendered me cancer-free in a mental and emotional sense.

Silence certainly has its healing properties. I love my kids more than anything but there is certainly a yearning for a few moments of solitude by the end of the day. There is a peacefulness that accompanies the bedtime rituals--calm and quiet to help whisk them away to the land of dreams. Then, in the tranquil time that ensues, the silence that fills the house is restorative and rejuvenating--replenishing my patience and energy for the next day.

Silence is integral to music as well oftentimes offering as much in the way of musical meaning as rhythm and melody; rests can fill sonic space in a way that no number of notes or chords ever could. It provides a sense of anticipation and can be the source of the heaviest moment in a heavy song or the darkest, most ominous one in a dark tune. Two of my favorite examples come from songs from the late '90s/early '00s. If you listen from 2:25 to 2:52 on Incubus' Pardon Me, you'll see that the dip in volume and that brief silence before the final chorus renders the closing section all the more powerful.

The frenetic, upbeat tempo of the Foo Fighters' tune Monkey Wrench has a similar moment of anticipation built in to the end of the intro:

Still, there is a dark side to silence--one that, in many ways, overshadows its positive aspects. Social silence can be demeaning whether it occurs in person or digitally. I know this type of silence doesn't bother some people but it absolutely infuriates me because of the implied denigration. Picture yourself sitting at a table with friends. The group is carrying on a conversation with each member participating in turn though in no particular order. You offer up an observation or a quip...a moment of silence ensues...and the conversation carries on as if you never spoke. How does that make you feel? For me, that act of dismissal is one of the most derogatory things that can happen in a social setting. I'd be less offended by someone telling me off to my face with a string of colorful expletives than I would someone completely ignoring something that I said.

Silence often reminds us of loss and conflict. Parents fighting and yelling undeniably has a negative impact on children but how much worse is it to live amid the tension that comes with icy silence between one's parents? Silence is what often fills the room as one awaits test results in a doctor's office...and what comes from the other end of the phone line when bad news is delivered.

Victims of abuse are often shamed into silence; when many do find the courage to speak up, they are either met with silence or told to keep quiet (at least at many, many institutions of higher education where the cash cow sports teams matter more than victims' rights). Lying by omission is by its very definition the act of remaining silent to suppress the truth--ethical elision at its finest. When people fail to speak up in defense of another or when they fail to correct an egregious error their silence can have a far-reaching impact.
The most poignant destructive distinction of silence though comes with the assumptions that we seem compelled to draw when we encounter it socially. How many quiet girls who abstain from friendly communication get dubbed bitchy or priggish--snobs who think they're too good to talk to others simply by the act of keeping quiet? I met a few including my wife in college who were unjustly and improperly judged and who suffered as a result of these specious suppositions levied upon them; they were wallflowers assumed to be elitist divas.

Young children, too, are forced to bear the burden of their verbal reticence. How many kids respond with silence to well-meaning adults who try to engage them in conversation and are then questioned as to their mental faculties? They can't merely be shy or simply not in the mood to speak with a stranger--no no, instead, there "must be something wrong with them."

This assessment of cognitive capabilities is the one that I find most troubling and the one that has occupied my mind the most of late. For many native-born Americans there is this bizarre connection that is drawn between silence and intellectual function. How many folks see an immigrant who doesn't speak English--regardless of race, mind you--and automatically assume that, because of their silence in responding to questions, that they are intellectually inferior or even mentally retarded? How many of these supposed imbeciles, in turn, were professionals of distinction in their home countries? Doctors, lawyers, engineers? How many mocking epithets were hurled at these people especially as children by their classmates?

I spent almost a half an hour on Tuesday night speaking with the father of one of my son's flag football teammates. He speaks English fluently but has enough of an accent that I suspected that he emigrated from elsewhere; what I couldn't have predicted was the magnitude of his actual life story. Having already served in a war as a native son of Montenegro, he decided to exile himself from his homeland when he was recruited to engage in the Yugoslavian conflict of the early 1990s. He engaged in a harrowing journey that took him first to Germany, then to Mexico, and, ultimately, across the border and into the United States where he had family awaiting him.

He came to New York City without speaking or understanding a word of English. He lived first in Brooklyn and then in Staten Island, working and going to school to provide for himself and his family, spending his spare moments engaged in labor as opposed to the sports and games that his neighbors enjoyed. He taught himself English, worked his way through his adolescence, and ultimately came to be in charge of a significant construction company. He now provides for several children of his own giving them all of the things that he never had and shielding them from the atrocities that he endured all for the sake of their own peaceful existences. He does so in silence, never burdening them with the pain that marred his early life.

I thought of him earlier today when I was at the doctor's office with my son. I watched a white woman explaining to a Hispanic man the paperwork and procedures that he needed to fill out before his son could be seen. It was obvious that he didn't speak English and didn't understand most of what she said--particularly in the way he and his wife proceeded to pore over the paperwork like a test given in a foreign language (which, in a way, is precisely what it was). Meanwhile, she's holding their baby and trying to comfort their older son who is in a cast and still with a hospital bracelet around his wrist, wincing every few seconds as tears of pain sprang to his eyes.

I thought of my own recent ordeal with my son--the time spent at the hospitals and the slew of assorted doctor's visits that we've endured. I thought of how draining it has been for us and then I thought of that man and his family. Can you imagine how much worse it must be to go through those things--emergency room visits, ambulance rides--doctors and nurses trying to explain things to you while your child is suffering in pain...and not understanding most of what they are saying? Responding, more often than not, with silence?

Don't get me wrong--I am a firm believer that anyone who wants to live here should, at some point, learn English. I understand how incredibly difficult it is for older folks who make their way here but at the same time I also believe that it is the single most important thing that an immigrant can do. If I decided to move to France, Spain, or the Middle East then I would be damn sure to work as hard as I could to learn to speak the respective languages. Often the burden is laid upon the children of immigrants to be the translators and go-betweens and I'm sure that in at least some of those instances it's not for a lack of trying on the parts of the parents.

With that said, there's clearly a learning curve involved--one that has nothing to do with intellectual faculties. I think of Gonzalo Le Batard--one of my favorite sports entertainment personalities. He fled Cuba and was able to build a life for his wife and two sons in Florida while so many of his relatives remained trapped in Castro's time capsule. One glance at the Tweets and Facebook comments written about him tells you everything you need to know about the perception towards non-native English speakers in this country. Mr. Le Batard is fluent in English but clearly picked it up as a second language. How many people listen to him speak and think that he is unintelligent or mentally defective? How many people know that he was an engineer in Cuba? That he came here and earned an American engineering degree in his second language?

Think about that for a second. This man, who is routinely derided and called stupid (or worse) did something that many native-born Americans can't his weaker language? If you have a four year or specialized degree then can you imagine going to school in a different country and earning that same degree in a second language that you didn't even learn until you were an adult?

The closest experiences I have come from trips I took to Puerto Rico and Ireland. Puerto Rico was the first country I've ever gone to where English wasn't the dominant language spoken or written in and even then it's still a part of the United States! I remember wanting to take photographs at the capitol building in San Juan and not being sure if I was allowed to. I used my piss-poor gringo Spanish to ask a security guard if it was okay and I barely understood what she said in I nodded and smiled. She nodded and smiled quietly in return, giving me a thumbs up. She might've been giving me the approval for the photos or maybe she thought there was something wrong with the grown man with the childlike Spanish pronunciation; another silent gulf.

As apprehensive as I was in Puerto Rico, it was even worse in Ireland, if you can believe it. I mean, we are talking about a place where the people not only speak the same language as me and enjoy a nearly identical cultural background as me--they even look exactly like me! And yet, it was my first time being in what was, to me, a faraway, foreign country. The language wasn't so much an issue as the customs were. I didn't think of it until my wife and I left the hotel to head into Dublin and had to get on the bus. I realized that I had no idea how the bus worked. I knew that it would be easy enough to ask...but I was afraid of looking stupid.

I was in a place that was as close to being identical to home as it could be and still be different--the closest thing to a foreign comfort zone as possible...and I was still petrified of being judged and ridiculed. It made me think of the few foreign students I encountered as a student growing up in Brooklyn. I remember the abuse they took and I can only imagine the effect it had on them.

I think now again of the father of the boy on my son's flag football team. Can you picture yourself as a child and him suddenly showing up in your elementary school class? The new kid who stares blankly at the teacher--unresponsive when prompted for an answer? Who blinks and nods instead of speaking up? Can you imagine the fear that he must have felt--not wanting to be made fun of, not wanting to be thought of as stupid for the way he spoke or for his lack of understanding of an utterly foreign language? Can you picture the other kids laughing at him? The names they must have called him? A boy who wanted nothing more than a better shot at life than he had back home.

There is an alarming lack of empathy that is exhibited by people when it comes to immigrants. These people are presumed to be something that they are not and it sickens me; it also stems from one simple experiential factor: those who sit in judgment have never been put in a similar situation. I would be shocked if any of them have found themselves in a foreign country where they didn't speak the language and were forced to engage in daily functions with absolutely no help and then still had the gall to judge the immigrants who come here seeking a better life. Would you be able to muster up the courage to work shitty, low-paying jobs to give your kids a chance that literally millions of people take for granted--one that they have never given a second thought throughout their entire lives? Would you be able to be that kid--the one who gets laughed at and picked on because he or she dresses differently and doesn't speak the language correctly if at all? That teenager whose entire life has been uprooted suddenly in a place that might as well be an alien world? That feeling of awkwardness and wanting desperately to fit in but being utterly incapable of doing so?

Do you know what the answer most often is to these questions when I pose them to folks who barely interact with people of other cultures--particularly those who came here from somewhere else? The single most common response?


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why Personal Relevance Is The Key To Reducing Racism

Racism is a far more complicated word than many people realize. It's something that goes beyond black and white, both figuratively and literally, and it encompasses a broad range of practices and perspectives. At its core, racism is an act of subjugation--a method of developing a sense of superiority for one person or group of people over another that is ascribed with inferiority. At its worst, racism leads to acts of violence and tangible discrimination but it exists in far fairer shades as well. Racist jokes and purportedly innocuous comments about other races are often deemed socially acceptable despite their hurtful potential.

Oftentimes, what renders such behavior as accepted is intent. A joke with a racial theme told among friends of varying ethnicities might be less acerbic than one told among a homogeneous group different than the subject of the jibe. One can make racially insensitive comments but not necessarily be considered a racist, themselves. It's difficult to discern just where that line is but the fact that it exists at all denotes the malleable, subjective nature of racism.

I have a hard time distinguishing where I draw my personal boundary when it comes to racist behavior in others. As a white male I am afforded a certain immunity to the sting of racism while simultaneously laden with a default position of perhaps being racist merely because of the societal privilege my skin color affords me. As such, I hold myself to a far more stringent set of moral codes, particularly when it comes to racial prejudice, than I do others, especially those of varied ethnic backgrounds.

Of late, I have been forced to reconsider just how much wiggle room I am comfortable with when it comes to the people I choose to engage with. I have witnessed an alarming number of white people grow suddenly bolder and more pointed with their biased views, throwing around freely both racist jokes and blatant barbs against people of other ethnicities. I've long wondered why so many white people seem to be so willfully ignorant and unempathic towards cultural minorities.

Now I think I might have an answer--one that might serve as the starting point towards more ethnically enlightened times ahead.

Unexpected, the genesis of this epiphany came not from white racism but rather racist behavior from a person of color towards Asian-Americans. This person chose to promote mean-spirited, racially-infused humor both in terms of written jokes and, sadly, in video form where they acted out a horrific stereotype of Asian Americans. The latter ultimately proved to be the last straw for me with this person--a man I once admired, ironically, for his adherence to championing better race relations--and it was, in part, because of my personal reaction to it.

Anyone who has been discriminated against knows the sting of that moment. It could be a joke someone writes or says, a behavior they act out, or something more subtle; regardless of the impetus, there's a sick feeling in your stomach and a sudden sense of self-worthlessness. It was these things that I felt not for myself but for my children, my wife, and part of her family--all of whom are part Chinese (my mother-in-law emigrated with her family from China to the United States nearly fifty years ago). Watching my one-time-mentor acting out a Chinese accent and stereotypical Chinese behavior--especially after already writing equally disparaging comments about Chinese people at an earlier point--felt like being kicked in the stomach.

At one point, he ranted about Chinese take out restaurants and their employees and all I could think was, "My wife's grandfather worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant." I thought of my mother-in-law and the similar mockery that she undoubtedly endured as not just a child of immigrant parents but an immigrant herself, both as a child and an adult. These people are now a part of my children's personal histories and thus a part of my own as well.

Without hesitation, I knew that I could no longer allow the person making the comments to be in my life. I was furious but reflective. I thought about the reasons why I took those comments personally and admitted a certain arbitrariness to them; had I married a woman of Hispanic heritage then perhaps those comments would not have hit so close to home.

As much as I hate to say it, I have to admit that there is a certain degree of less-than-desirable behavior that I have to allow in order to maintain a social existence. But it's something that we all have to do. Think of the people who seem to get all up in arms about every little injustice--the ones who find racism, sexism, and practically any other -ism in every aspect of life. How do you feel about that person? The odds are that it's not particularly positive.

Therefore, in order to maintain social sanity, we allow a certain degree of tolerance for behavior that might otherwise conflict with our own stances on those things. We don't cut out people from our lives for having differing political or religious views--even when they make disparaging remarks about the things that we believe in. Somehow, we find a way to overlook these behaviors, chalking them up to quirks or citing the benefits of social heterogeneity.

Even still, there comes a point where we DO find ourselves offended and it was in considering that point that I realized something that might prove to be the key to race relations in our country: personal relevance. Now this is hardly a revelation in the discussion of race and racism but its importance is often overshadowed or shouted down as the discussion begins to heat up. At its core though, I feel like certain types of racism simply cannot exist when there is personal relevance at play.

To me, a racist is someone who holds an entire racial group in disdain and who willfully ignores the illogical and unethical nature of their beliefs and behaviors. This is the classic bigot and is the least likely person on the racism spectrum to change his or her ways. Fortunately, I believe that these people make up the minority (ha!) when it comes to racist individuals.

Far greater in number are what I would deem the racially insensitive. These are people who have racist leanings or who employ racially offensive viewpoints, tendencies, or behaviors without malicious intent. Admittedly, this does not excuse those aforementioned aspects but it does allow for a higher likelihood of change to occur with those things. Simply put, these people aren't aware of the fact that they are racist and, were they to attain that awareness, they would take different actions.

I feel like an inordinate number of white people fall under this latter category if for no reason other than the fact that they've never truly had meaningful interactions with people of other racial backgrounds. They are the ones who have grown up in ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods, have mostly white friends, work with mostly white people, and otherwise fail to engage with people of color to any great extent or frequency. In short, they don't have a personal reference point and thus emotional connection to someone of, say, African-American, Hispanic, or Asian heritage.

Here's why that's important: white people often freely engage in communication without considering the emotional impact of the language that they use. Some whites genuinely don't care and would fall into the former category of bigots but there are many who don't realize the pain that their words cause others. When I was in college so many people used the words "gay" and "retarded" in inconsiderate ways to denigrate things other than the folks that those words disparagingly describe. A joke that they didn't find funny was "retarded" and a song that they didn't like was "gay." They flung the words around without ever considering whether or not someone might be hurt by them.

The important detail to consider here is whether or not those people would have stopped using that language if they found out it offended someone. Would they still have used those words if a homosexual was present or someone with a mental handicap? More importantly, if they had someone close in their own lives who would've been offended by that language, would it have given them pause?

This is where that personal relevance comes into play. All too often, racism stems from a place of hypocrisy. It's often, "not my people, not my problem," whether it's whites, blacks, or any other culture. A black man much like my former mentor would have been livid over a white person making a video mimicking black stereotypes but he thought absolutely nothing of doing the same exact thing with Asian ones. The reason is simple: the latter has no relevancy for him while the former does. Because he has no one of Asian descent in his life who matters to him he has no reason to care about whether or not his behavior offended anyone of that culture. I wonder though if he had a family member or close friend who was Chinese then would he have been as quick to make that video or post those jokes.

I feel like that when there's a personal point of reference then it might cause people to consider their words and thus their perspectives more carefully. Self-awareness and general mindfulness help us not merely to understand ourselves better but also to consider ourselves in relation to others and thus the importance of others' feelings and viewpoints. There are plenty of people who think nothing of making racist comments online or even in person among people of their culture but not many of them would have the courage to do so directly to the subjects of those jokes; conveniently, the ones who would be able to do so freely are almost undoubtedly the classic bigot.

And thus we arrive at my overarching point: exposure to and immersion in cultures other than your own are the keys to eliminating racist tendencies, individually, and many forms of racism, societally. I was fortunate to have grown up with and to maintain best friendships with two guys of backgrounds far different than my own. One is half-Chinese and half-Irish and the other is from El Salvador. As a result, I was able to learn about two foreign cultures and thus gain personal points of relevance. When people make offense jokes and comments about Asian and Hispanic people, I don't find them funny or acceptable. I'd like to think that part of it stems from a sense of egalitarian altruism but the truth is that I love and care for people who would be offended by such utterances and so, by proxy, I take offense to them as well.

If more people (white, black, or otherwise) got out of their ethnic enclaves--their social sameness bubbles--and began forming meaningful connections with people of different races then I believe that many racist behaviors would become passe. By associating a face with the race, it might give folks second thoughts about being insensitive and thus lead them along the path towards understanding and thus social self-actualization. Personal relevance is a powerful aspect of racism that should not be overlooked.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dr. Arthur T. Bradley's Disaster Preparedness For The Family & The Survivalist Book Reviews

Several years ago my wife and I purchased our first home; we were simultaneously enthralled and terrified by the prospect. To that point, I had lived in rented homes for my entire life and thus never had to bear the responsibility of taking care of home repairs let alone preparing for potentially catastrophic scenarios as a homeowner. With a burgeoning family also under my watch, I was compelled to learn more about ways that I could keep my home and the people within it safe.

My brother recommended a book called the Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness For The Family by Dr. Arthur T. Bradley. His suggestion came at a time when Disaster Preparedness was all the rage with television shows like Doomsday Preppers and post-apocalyptic blockbuster programs like The Walking Dead. I was reluctant to pick up the book at the risk of joining the bandwagon but, simply put, it was one of the most important purchases I've ever made.

In short, we moved into our home in July of 2012; less than four months later, Hurricane Sandy hit and our entire world was shaken. Our area is literally only a few blocks away from some of the hardest hit spots and we were very fortunate not to have sustained similar damage and destruction. Luck clearly played a role in that aspect but with regards to our lifestyle during the week-long power outage and subsequent tough times, it was our preparedness that ultimately got us through with far less strife than some of our neighbors; that readiness and knowledge came almost exclusively from Dr. Bradley's books.

While many of the other preparedness tomes on the market key in on the excitement and fear brought on by various far-fetched disaster scenarios, Dr. Bradley's guidebooks take a more pragmatic approach--one that is instantly applicable. Sure you can spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars outfitting your house with all sorts of disaster-ready foods but most people can't afford either the expense or the space of such luxuries. Instead, to give but one example from his book, Dr. Bradley advocates keeping an extended supply of things that you already eat and enjoy.

We have a warehouse store membership and thus buy our breakfast cereal in bulk; adding an extra few boxes of our favorite ones provides us with emergency food that we will ultimately eat anyway at little additional expense and requires little space. Prior to Sandy we had grabbed enough milk to last us the week so, while many others were choking down their rehydrated disaster foods, we were enjoying the same morning meals we would have been eating anyway.

Arguably the best part of Dr. Bradley's Handbook is the fact that he explores numerous negative scenarios that I would never have even thought of that could prove highly detrimental--things as simple as a tree coming down during a storm and puncturing a hole in the roof. He offers a variety of solutions to prepare for and react to that and many other circumstances that have a fairly high chance of occurrence. He explores many of the lower likelihood ones that are glorified on shows like Doomsday Preppers as well but does so without exaggerating or elevating them above other higher probability events.

As someone who isn't particularly adept at mechanical things, I found Dr. Bradley's suggestions for various household fixes easy to understand and to apply. The last thing that you want to do in or after an emergency is to have to try to figure out how to fix something, especially when you have no idea of where to begin or how to go about the repair. Dr. Bradley's books provide you with two things: a resource for how to solve issues in and after the moment but also the knowledge and mindset to be prepared for things before they happen.

So whether you're looking to protect your home, your family, or yourself--or are simply looking to learn more about potentially detrimental scenarios that you might encounter in our modern society and how to handle them, then you should absolutely consider reading Dr. Bradley's non-fiction.

Now, if you are interested also in post-apocalyptic entertainment like The Walking Dead, The Stand, The Last Ship, and other similar examples, then I would also highly recommend exploring his fiction series called The Survivalist. It's a brilliant marriage of vintage Wild West good guy versus bad guy scenarios and post-apocalyptica, with an occasional infusion of interesting, practical survivalist advice. The main character Mason Raines is a United States Deputy Marshal who finds himself in a world that is suddenly decimated by a supercontagion. In his quest for survival he begins to learn more about both the virus and the questionable circumstances surrounding its creation and the subsequent government controlling the country.

The writing is great and features realistic characters that are easy to identify with. Mason Raines encounters a variety of sidekicks along the way but none are as beloved as his Irish Wolfhound Bowie. Other characters like Tanner and Samantha round out the lot of protagonists, each offering his and her own unique personality to the mix. The plot is moved along with great action sequences that focus on Mason's preternatural ability with firearms and Tanner's inimitable hand-to-hand fighting skills. The pace is steady throughout and, if you enjoy the first book, then there's no doubt that you'll be hooked and interested in checking out the remainder of the series.

Here is a selection of reviews as well as the author's description of the first novel:

"The Survivalist may be the best post-apocalyptic series out there," raves Steve Erwood of the Disaster Preparedness Blog. "In addition to a steady stream of gunfights with zombie-like mutants, roadway bandits, and opportunistic warlords, the books teach dozens of useful survival tricks. Learn to hotwire cars, construct homemade booby traps, build garbage-powered generators, and retrieve fuel from abandoned gas pumps."

Bryan Foster, author of The Prepper's Handbook, says "It's rare to find books this entertaining that are so well researched." Nicholas Sansbury Smith, author of Extinction Horizon, adds "The Survivalist books are incredibly addictive. They create a cool western vibe not seen since Louis L'Amour's timeless classics."

Frontier Justice is the first book in a series described as "a cross between Justified and The Walking Dead." The Superpox-99 virus has wiped out nearly the entire human race. Governments have collapsed. Cities have become graveyards filled with unspeakable horror. People have resorted to scavenging from the dead, or taking from the living. The entire industrialized world has become a wasteland of abandoned cars, decaying bodies, and feral animals. 

To stay alive, U.S. Deputy Marshal Mason Raines must forage for food, water, and gasoline while outgunning those who seek to take advantage of the apocalyptic anarchy. Together with his giant Irish wolfhound, Bowie, he aligns with survivors of the town of Boone in a life and death struggle against a gang of violent criminals. With each deadly encounter, Mason is forced to accept his place as one of the nation's few remaining lawmen. In a world now populated by escaped convicts, paranoid mutants, and government hit squads, his only hope to save the townspeople is to enforce his own brand of frontier justice.

Authored by renowned disaster preparedness expert, Dr. Arthur Bradley, Frontier Justice is "the start of a great apocalyptic saga."

For more information about Dr. Bradley's books please check out his official website here. I can personally recommend the entire Survivalist series as well as the aforementioned Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family as well as the Prepper’s Instruction Manual: 50 Steps to Prepare for any Disaster. Both of the latter have proven indispensable as a homeowner and father and the latter has proven to be a continued source of enjoyable entertainment.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Makin' America Great Again

This political season has validated every antipathic, misanthropic inkling that I've ever had and, in my opinion, represents the lowest point our country has faced in a long, long time. Some people scoff at the pervasive platitude that's dominated the scene: Make America Great Again! The sad part is that it's absolutely true--only not for the reasons most people think. In many cases, it's the very people who are perpetuating that phrase who are imbuing it with its truth. Worse, what they're really saying is, "Make America White Again!"

So much of what we deal with in modern American society stems from a centuries' old class struggle. Racism, in many instances, is generated from class conflict--sexism too. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people touting one candidate or another this year screaming about how there are people who are struggling economically in this country. They're right but the problem is how many of them use the word "we" in their cries.

It's time for some truth: the odds are that most of us have no idea what it means to struggle--truly to suffer on a daily basis. So many of the people who are whining about the 1% and the 99% don't realize that they're a part of the latter only because it's a lump sum, catch-all statistic. Really, they're a hell of a lot closer to the 49% or higher. I'm sorry but many of these people need a wake up call--especially the ones using social media platforms as perches for their feel-good rhetoric.

"We" are struggling? Really? And you posted this on Facebook, yes? Did you do so from your smart phone? I'll bet you did. And where were you at the time? Was it a Starbucks? A Panera Bread? Your apartment that costs somewhere between $1,100 and $2,100 a month?

So many of the people spewing the above are white and in their twenties. They might not have a ton of money but, kid, that ain't struggling! It's called being young and starting out. But if you happen to be white, well, it's also called having a leg up.

I had an epiphany recently where I realized that so much racism on the part of white people stems from schisms in economic beliefs and the consequent involvement of government but it really comes down to shared economic situations. I'm thinking of the blue-collar, middle or lower-middle class white men who are working 60, 80, or 100 hours a week to make ends meet. Sure, their families have some nice things but they're also drowning in debt to procure those creature comforts. They're consigned to a life of hard labor, they're tired, and so they're resentful. See--they look at government relief programs--welfare and the like--as opportunities for the lazy to loaf--to leech off of their hard work and at the expense of their time and energy.

What these people fail to understand is that the people who truly need such assistance are in the same financial situation as them or worse! The odds are that they are also people of color thereby putting them in an even more disadvantageous position. How many times have I heard, "Just go get a job." It's not that easy, especially when you're not given the same access to educational opportunities and the framework that we, as white people, take for granted.

These people often balk at welfare and talk about the black families who need food stamps to feed their kids and then use the money they have to buy expensive sneakers for their kids. They scoff at this while having absolutely no understanding of what that circumstance means. Those Jordans aren't just an expensive pair of kicks--they're an existential declaration--a fleeting, evanescent sense of worth in a society that denigrates and oppresses them--that fears them, all while devaluing their very identities. There's a reason that many poor, urban residents place such a heavy emphasis on appearances--the clothes on their backs and the sneakers on their feet--but too many white people refuse to put in the effort necessary to understand that. It's a way of saying: we're here and we're worthy of being here.

For the dominant social, political, and economic race, white people sure are a fearful bunch. Granted, the fear is primarily of losing that power but the inherent xenophobia stems, perhaps ironically, from an utter lack of interaction with other people. So many of the white people that I know live whitewashed existences utterly encapsulated and devoid of meaningful interaction not just with people of color but with communities of color. Making small talk with the black cashier or the Asian coworker doesn't equate with exposure; true understanding and empathy comes only with immersion--something that makes white people inherently uncomfortable.

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt--that the reticence to move beyond the invisible color boundaries comes from a place of fearful ignorance--of the unsettling unknown that such communities represent. The sad part is that, were they to interact with these communities, SO many of those misconceptions would disintegrate and they'd realize that so many of their own struggles are shared if not magnified by people of color. Plus, so many of these cultures are totally welcoming to outsiders, in large part because of the systemic bigotry that they face: in the face of oppression they are forced to rally around themselves, relying on the strength of their communities to create and to maintain their identities.

I'll never forget the time my best friend and I undertook an epic bike ride from south Brooklyn all the way up practically to the Bronx. It was a seventy mile ride in total and it was my first time going through areas that I had only heard of but the seminal moment came with an unexpected encounter with a Dominican festival. We were on the return leg of our journey when we passed through a park with a huge party going on. Some kids were looking over a flat on their bike and so my buddy and I stopped to try to help. The generosity of these people engendered by a simple act of kindness on our part was humbling. They offered us food--invited us to join their party. As a Hispanic himself, my buddy was used to such encounters but for me, coming from a place where diversity meant Irish AND Italian, it was a revelation; it was also merely the first of many eye-opening cultural encounters.

The problem, primarily, is that whites are oblivious to their own privilege. Sometimes it's willful ignorance but in many cases it's really just that it's never been pointed out to them and they've never had the opportunity to consider it. I'm 33 years old and I've been discriminated against exactly twice. Twice! I remember both instances vividly. One was in Chinatown when I was in high school and I went to a store that had the old school Generation One Transformer action figures. I asked what the price was for one and the clerk quoted me something astronomical. I had a feeling that I was getting ripped off so I asked a friend who was Chinese to go in the next day (since he went to the area every day after school anyway) and ask about the same figure; he was quoted a price that was 60% lower.

I was pissed off about getting ripped off but it gave me pause. I considered the circumstance and realized that shit like that happens every day to people of certain cultures. Yeah, it sucked that the guy tried to dick me over and it made me feel really bad but then I thought of how much worse other people feel going into stores and being mistrusted--followed around or side-eyed because of the color of their skin or the type of clothes that they're wearing.


That one word sums up so much of what people of color have to deal with and it's something that's almost totally foreign to white people. They've never imagined what it's like to be categorically questioned because of their aesthetic--to be stopped and frisked, or to have an eye kept on you in a store, or not to be given a fair chance in a job interview. It's sickening when you begin to realize that, for your entire life, you've had this privilege bestowed upon you and you never even knew it.

My wife is half Chinese and half Irish. One of my best friends is too and the other one is from El Salvador. I've seen and heard what they have had to deal with in their lives and it makes me hate not just the people that put them through that but myself too for sharing that ethnic background. I'm nothing like them and yet I have to bear the shame of that similarity.

Then again, that sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? Looking like a group of people who behave in a particular manner and then, though you bear no association to them beyond physical appearance, you're automatically assumed to be just like them? You wear camouflaged pants and a hoodie so you must have been incarcerated, right? Or your eyes have a particularly exotic tilt to them so you must be good at math and computers?

Funny that the ones making these assumptions are almost always white.

It's easy for me to get caught up in that self-loathing but it's become easier to pull the plug on that pity party before it gets started because I understand now that it accomplishes nothing. It won't effect change and it certainly won't help me open any eyes to the root problem. All it does it make me feel better about my whiteness--about the fact that, though I'm one of them, that it reassures others that I'm not "one of them."

That sense of self-disgust was born in that other instance of discrimination in 2006. My wife and I were on a road trip going to the Four Corners Monument out west. We had called ahead and been told that there were vacancies at the one hotel in the one town nearby. When we arrived at around eleven that night, the proprietor just happened to be walking in just as I was approaching the door. She was a very old Native American woman and when I asked her about the vacancies she looked me dead in the face and said there were none. I could see in her eyes that she was lying but that wasn't the only thing that she was emitting. I debated about whether or not to press the issue and it was either give it a shot or sleep in the car so I told her that my wife had called earlier, had spoken to her, and had been told that there were rooms available. She hesitated for a minute, shook her head, and then motioned me inside.

For the first time, I realized what I represented to that woman and I was ashamed. Again, I realized that what I was feeling was just a drop in the bucket when compared with what so many of my friends have had to deal with in their lives. Years later, my wife, my buddies and I were staying at a cabin upstate and me and two of the guys decided to go out for a really, really late walk. It was desolate along the highway until all of a sudden we saw headlights. Partly for the thrill, we flung ourselves over the guardrail and down along the snowy embankment on opposite sides of the highway. A few seconds later, we see the red and blue lights flip on. A few seconds after that we hear the cop saying that he saw "them go that way."

Not long thereafter, I hear my two friends--both Hispanic--talking with the cop as he ran their IDs. I realized also that no one was looking for me. It's late, we're in a predominantly white part of New York State, and two Latino guys just got stopped by the cops. I didn't know what to do so I walked up to the street with my hands up and tried to get the cop's attention. He whipped around and his hand went immediately to his gun but then something terrible happened: he looked at me and relaxed. I can't help but wonder what the response would have been if I had been standing on the road and one of my buddies was the one who came up from his hiding spot.

The point is that so many white people haven't allowed themselves the exposure of moments like that--instances where the sweet facade of society is pulled back to reveal the ugly, sneering skin hiding beneath. They stand there and bitch about things like Black History Month and channels like BET or shows like Blackish, saying asinine things like: "We'd get killed if we asked for a White History Month or an all WHITE television channel without ever realizing the obvious truth: "HISTORY" is white! EVERY OTHER GODDAMN CHANNEL IS THE "WHITE" CHANNEL! Damn near every show that we grew up watching in the '80s and '90s were about white families with predominantly white characters!

Until more people open up their eyes and realize the true nature of things though nothing's going to change. There's more that makes us similar than there is that makes us different--we just need to promote more self-honesty, self-assessment, and critical examinations of the way society is structured, particularly in New York City and other multiethnic, urban environments. When we take ownership over our whiteness, how we are perceived in communities of color, and why we are perceive that way, then we can begin to engage in productive discussion.

The idea of reverse racism is also a common one shared by whites who are offended by the fact that they are viewed negatively by some people of color. The problem though is that there is no such thing as reverse racism--it's a feel-good fallacy that whites have invented to make themselves feel better about the umbrage directed towards them while still managing to ignore the root issue. Racism is inherently about power--it's prejudice based on a sense of superiority by the sociopolitically dominant race thereby diminishing the other, purportedly inferior race. So-called reverse racism is really just the oppressed letting you know that they've had enough of the bullshit and refuse to stand for it any longer.

All of this doesn't even touch the issue of sexism though, which is the one that has me the most heated right now. Part of me can almost understand genuine ignorance when someone holds viewpoints that they've been told are true about people they've never met before...but how the fuck can men discriminate so easily and freely against women!? I don't care who you are, EVERY male has had at least one strong female role model in his life! Everyone has a mother or a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, a teacher--SOMEONE who they can think of as a female figure that they respect.

I'm baffled by the fact that there is still the inequality that exists between male and female salaries--that women are still viewed as sexual objects who have to put the utmost care into their appearances while men can do whatever the fuck they want and wear whatever they want. People have been having conniption fits about Hillary Clinton's $12k ensemble but if Obama, Trump, McCain, hell--even BILL Clinton--had worn a $12k suit, no one would have said a goddamn thing.

And men who have daughters who perpetuate this shit? Ugh. It kills me.

I'm a father of three amazing kids who have the blessing and the burden of multicultural backgrounds. My daughter, in particular, is the one whose future I think of most often and most intensely. I've been fortunate to have had strong female presences in my life throughout my life: a phenomenally strong mother, sister, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins--none of whom kowtow to the societal expectations placed upon them. My mother sacrificed her corporate career to stay home and take care of me; my grandmother, too, raised eight children while still doing what she could with her employment. I look at these women and I think of the discrimination that so many of them have faced and continue to face simply because of their gender--the assumptions made because of how they look and dress--and it infuriates me. Then I think of my daughter and what her future could be like and it makes me absolutely fucking sick. I believe that we will make strides when it comes to resolving racial issues by the time she's in her golden years but I have absolutely zero faith that we will even put a dent in the gender inequalities that exist--it's simply too deep-rooted.

I want her not just to believe that she can be whatever she wants and do whatever she wants with her life but rather to have the unshakable confidence that, regardless of what stands in her way, that she will succeed. As her father, I want to tear down whatever obstacles she faces and yet I know that I can't because them I'm just perpetuating the myth that, in order for a woman to succeed, she needs a man's help. Instead, I have to sit back and bite my tongue, supporting her as she faces those struggles and suppress my anger, providing her with the encouragement to figure it out for herself and never to stop pursuing the things that she wants in her life. I want her not to be content to be a cheerleader (both literally and figuratively) but to want to be on the field or the court showing the boys how it's done. If she wants to be a cheerleader, or a dancer, or a gymnast, or whatever the typically female pursuit is then that's fine with me as long as it's what she wants because she wants it--not because "it's what girls do."

I realize now that so much of my mistrust of organized religion stems from its inherent, across-the-board misogyny. I don't understand how so many strong, smart, self-confident women can support these paternalistic practices that serve only to undermine and subvert their very identities. It scares me too that the dominant culture in our country is, at once, male, white, and Christian.

All I know is that we are in a bad, bad place in American history right now--stuck in the past as we look forward towards an uncertain future. The progressiveness of other nations--whether in terms of politics, economics, or race relations--is utterly foreign to us and that saddens me. We were once a shining beacon in the world--a place of refuge for so many--one that called out to and welcomed those who were struggling and gave them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Now, we're fighting amongst ourselves--squabbling on Facebook instead of having the face-to-face conversations necessary to understand each other. People unfriend and unfollow others with differing viewpoints with reckless abandon--homogenizing their newsfeeds and their walls without realizing the cost of what they're doing.

In a way, what's happening on Facebook is a microcosm of what's happening in the United States--the virtual is no longer the surrogate of but has instead supplanted reality thereby becoming the actual. If we can't even see the patterns in our behavior in this ephemeral world then how the hell can we possibly expect to take ownership over the ones in our everyday lives?

We'll never make America great again and make peace among us if people are utterly unwilling to turn a critical eye upon themselves as individuals and own their responsibilities as global citizens.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Why Fear The Walking Dead is Failing in its Mission (Spoilers within)

Please note that this entry contains potentially MAJOR spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, LOST, and Better Call Saul. Please also note that this is entirely subjective in nature and is not intended to offend or inflame anyone who holds these shows near and dear.

I was thrilled when I first heard about a new companion show to The Walking Dead. For me, few programs have ever approached the amalgam of success that The Walking Dead has fostered and improved upon during its run on AMC. The characters are engrossing as they are written but even better are the performances by their respective actors; the dialogue is often meaningful and thought-provoking--the special effects and settings are inimitable; and the action sequences are among the best television has ever produced.

With that said, I had the highest of hopes for Fear the Walking Dead before it began and now, after the past few weeks of painful squirming, I feel like I am on the verge of tapping out. I can count the number of shows that I've bailed on on one hand, which makes this all the more disappointing. I don't watch a lot of television to begin with and so the shows that I watch I usually get behind early and remain an ardent supporter of even through their often untimely demises (Playmakers, Tilt, Invasion, Jericho, Firefly, and the Whispers to name but a few).

Upon further reflection, I feel like the overarching reason that spurs on my bowing out of viewership of a given show is simply this: a drastic departure from the initial driving conflict or style. The shows that hook me do so without any flashy gimmicks or over-the-top premises; instead, I find myself compelled to care about one thing or another--sometimes the characters, the circumstances they find themselves in, or even the time or setting of the show. When one or more of those things change for the worse then I find myself questioning whether or not I am wasting my time; I have reached that point with Fear the Walking Dead.

To provide a final preparatory example--I remember being excited to hear that Under the Dome would be coming to television. Admittedly not one of Stephen King's best stories (or at least not one of his strongest endings), it was still compelling enough to render me intrigued. I hopped on board from the premiere episode and, though concerned by some of the creative liberties taken by the show's writers and producers, I felt like it was worth sticking with. Then, as has happened with so many shows of late, things took a bizarre turn and the show transmogrified into an unrecognizable shell of itself; in short, it lost sight of its original direction.

For me, LOST is still the greatest show I've ever seen (Breaking Bad was a better show but because I watched it after its television run I missed out on the week-to-week cliffhanging aspect along with the communal discussion that followed each episode of the two shows) but it wasn't without its warts. Most of the things that bothered people about the show didn't perturb me in the least. The reason for this is simple: the things that I was interested in learning about I knew wouldn't come until the very end. Again, many people griped about how things concluded but I was satisfied because I understood that a) not every answer would be hand fed to the viewers and b) it didn't feel like a cop out.

Part of what made LOST stumble in the middle of its run is also at the heart of what has been making Fear the Walking Dead almost unwatchable. The characters, at times, have been running in circles--recordings looping ad infinitum. Think about LOST and those two seasons or so where, in every episode, one group of characters went into the jungle looking for another character or group of characters. It seemed like every episode repeated this trope as if signaling that the writers simply didn't know where to take the show; I feel like the same thing is happening on Fear.

How many more times will we have to hear Madison and Strand argue? Or Madison and Travis? Or Travis/Madison/Strand with Daniel? How many self-indulgent emo moments will Chris subject us to? I hated Nick in season one because of the repetition but he's arguably the only one who is interesting in season two! He's changed enough to warrant our buying into.

Here's the problem: Fear the Walking Dead was pitched initially as a prequel of sorts to The Walking Dead. The primary draw was being able to see the devolution that fans of the latter missed out on by way of Rick Grimes' comatose state. We were promised to see the gradual unraveling of society with an emphasis on how these everyday people would first encounter and then ultimately cope with the unthinkable. It would likely be a far more psychological and emotional source of terror that these characters would face as opposed to the corporeal horror that has captivated us for more than half a decade in the world of The Walking Dead.

Now, admittedly, it's incredibly difficult to build the necessary amount of tension in only a six episode season (as season one was) BUT--and this is an important but--it is hardly impossible. One need look only a day and a time slot ahead to Better Call Saul to see a show that did not allow its length to limit its storytelling ability. Some fans of Saul expected to see Jimmy McGill's transformation be complete by the end of season one if not season two but the fact that (*SPOILER ALERT*) that hasn't happened yet is a testament to the storytelling abilities of Gilligan and Gould.

Think for a second about what these two have managed to do: they took a minor character from arguably the biggest show in history--one whose outcome we already know--and have managed to make a compelling narrative not about what happens after Breaking Bad but what happens before and presumably during it.


For Saul's writers the intention was at the beginning and continues to be the transformation of Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman. The assumption is that this will occur at some point but the purpose is the journey not the end result. Fear the Walking Dead could have and should have taken a cue from this.

In only six episodes of Fear they ran through the entirety of what they wanted the show to be about. Again, I understand that they weren't sure of whether or not there would be future seasons but neither did Into the Badlands! They told enough of the story to end it on a compelling note but left MANY doors wide open to keep the narrative going. And what did Fear do?

They took us out to sea.

Seriously? The show was supposed to be this insightful slow burner that brought us into the heart of society's collapse and instead we're stuck in season one with Madison whining about Nick multiple times an episode, Travis trying too hard to be the good guy and to do the right thing, and Chris and Alicia rendering themselves incapable of being rooted for as the angsty, too-old teens. At times the performances were competent and the moments captivating but until Strand and Salazar entered the fray the show was, at best, treading water.

And so we find ourselves in season two on a boat--the characters as lost on turbid water as we are as viewers of a show that is clearly adrift. There is little beyond a superficial level that is worth rooting for in these characters and their often overwrought performances (Madison as moralizer, Strand as the aloof pseudo-villain, Nick as the detached antihero). This of course falls on the writers and producers of the show and not the actors who are clearly doing the best that they can with what they are given.

Again though: this was supposed to be a show that we would get behind emotionally because of our ability to relate to the characters and their predicament. We root for who we do in The Walking Dead because those characters exhibit the aspects of ourselves that we suppress but secretly wish we could employ. We have been given reasons to root for these people over several seasons! Remember Carol early on? Most people couldn't stand her! Then, at least until the last few episodes of season six, she was arguably the best character on a show with Daryl Dixon and Rick Grimes!

The problem with Fear the Walking Dead is that it was rushed through the exact thing that made it interesting in the first place. In only six episodes we're basically where we start off in The Walking Dead. Worse, in only a few more episodes, we find ourselves nearly caught up to speed in terms of the mindsets that Rick and company have taken literally years to develop.

Stay with me on this: at the beginning of Fear the Walking Dead, Madison is a high school guidance counselor with a sordid set of circumstances at home. She exhibits a willingness to defend her family at all costs but hardly the acumen becoming of a postapocalyptic survivor--even when facing the recently-risen familiar faces of a coworker and neighbor.

Fast forward to tonight's episode and, BARELY THREE WEEKS LATER, she is *SPOILER ALERT* leading the charge on a rescue mission with gun in hand to retrieve her husband and daughter.

Think about that: in twenty or twenty-one days these people are supposed to have gone from completely normal (and clueless about the undead I might add) to fucking cold blooded experts!? Connor, the presumed antagonist only an episode ago, seems to have managed to arrange an intricate pirating gig for himself despite being a normal, everyday person less than twenty days earlier. I'm all for suspension of disbelief when it comes to my fiction...but that's pretty fucking ridiculous.

Again, I understand that art imitates life only to an extent and so, in theory, it's plausible that these people could undergo such drastic changes in such a short amount of time...except for one thing: the whole point of the show was supposed to be normalcy not evolution. It was supposed to be about the journey that these characters took to reach the point of Rick and the Atlanta survivors at the beginning of The Walking Dead. Twenty days simply doesn't cut it!

I remember when Hurricane Sandy hit our area. We were without power for six days but a few of the neighboring regions went much, much longer without it. During that time of being off the grid there were lootings and a general sense of unease but the entire fabric of society managed to stay intact. Even in the places that were the hardest hit (like Staten Island and southern Brooklyn) people managed to retain their humanity. No one became a bloodlusting murderer or an Anton Chigurh-inspired pirate. There were no primal orgies in the streets or inversions of societal norms. There were ordinary people coping with extraordinary circumstances with the intention of returning to a previous way of life.

Fear the Walking Dead is based on a far more calamitous premise and yet these characters go from being utterly clueless about their circumstances to exerting their wills in highly unlikely fashions. You've got Nick becoming a secret agent of sorts--Madison the gun-toting superhero. Strand the not-so-bad-guy. Arguably the only character who might have performed such a feat on The Walking Dead was Shane and he was a goddamn sociopath!

And therein lies the rub: these characters have become caricatures of themselves--almost completely unbelievable to varying degrees. Give me a break!

Everything has been rushed and now it's all falling apart. This show's staff are attempting to cash in on the success of The Walking Dead by surreptitiously transforming its own plot and performers into pathetic mimeographs of the already established ones of note. We were promised a show that would focus on the rise and fall of the undead and society and instead find ourselves in nearly the exact environment that The Walking Dead took literally years to establish only in a few weeks instead.

We have had eleven episodes of Fear the Walking Dead so far. How many main characters have we lost? My current total is 0.75 because Eliza was hardly there enough to count as a full character and Mrs. Salazar was ancillary at best. In the first eleven episodes of The Walking Dead we lost Ed Peletier, a slew of Atlanta Camp Survivors, Andrea's sister Amy, Jim, and Otis.

Would a main character death help or save Fear the Walking Dead? I can't say for sure but it would certainly help! I'd hate to see Strand, Madison, Daniel, or Nick go but as for the others? Chris and Ofelia are undeniably expendable, Alicia has at least been engrossed more in the plot, and Travis could go either way. In all that's eight characters that this show is dragging from one episode to the next! EIGHT!

You want eight from The Walking Dead?

Rick, Carl, Carol, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Glenn, and Sasha.

Pick any ONE of those and put them up against even the best that Fear the Walking Dead has to offer. There's just not enough substance in the latter to warrant an attachment like the former has engendered throughout its run.

Without some sort of emotional manipulation I feel like this show will squander what interest it has managed to sustain to this point. If the initial build up was supposed to be towards the very early days of the end then what the hell are we supposed to look forward to now? Some impossible reunion or crossover with characters from the main show? A happily-ever-after story by way of Baja? It's not a rhetorical question--I genuinely have no idea just what it is that we're supposed to care about.

I'm willing to stick it out through the end of this season but I have a bad feeling that this might be AMC's first dud for me--a premium channel version of Under the Dome that had the utmost promise but became ultimately nothing but sweet nothings whispered into our ears.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Hall of Fame Case for Tim Hardaway

Great Tim Hardaway image from:
Tim Hardaway failed to attain election into the Basketball Hall of Fame for the third consecutive year and I can't help but wonder just what it is that has not only kept him out but has allowed players with far less impact and far inferior statistical accomplishments to springboard past him to basketball immortality. I understand that hall of fame voting is a highly subjective venture--one that is often as controversial as it is commonsense. In Tim Hardaway's instance though the man's numbers and cultural impact should speak for themselves.

Here's the list of NBA players who have been or who will be enshrined as the classes of 2014, '15, and '16:

Alonzo Mourning
Mitch Richmond
Dikembe Mutombo
Spencer Haywood
Jo Jo White
Shaquille O'Neal
Allen Iverson
Yao Ming

Of all of those players I have issue with only one being elected--particularly at Hardaway's expense. Jo Jo White and Spencer Haywood are old school players whose merit I cannot attest to so I will give them both passes but having watched all of the others play, I believe that Mutombo's incredible defensive dominance warrants Hall of Fame consideration as does Mitch Richmond's three-point prowess and overall offensive excellence. Shaq is a no-brainer, Alonzo Mourning went toe-to-toe with arguably the best era of big men (or at least the most prolific), routinely trading blows with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaq, Mutombo, and others, finally reaching the promised land in 2006 as an NBA Champion. Allen Iverson's contributions to the game extend far beyond the court as his cultural impact alone almost single-handedly ushered in a new era of ball and certainly a new style favored by up-and-coming guards.

Then there's Yao.

Yao Ming could have and arguably should have been the single most dominant center the game has ever seen. His height rivaled that of string bean centers like Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, and Gheorghe Muresan but his bulk was more comparable to Shaq. He could shoot like Hakeem and move (at times) like a small forward. Simply put, he was the ideal video game create-a-player--the one where you slide the height and weight meters all the way to the right and then start maxing out the offensive and defensive skill points. The only problem was that persnickety injury category; were it not for Yao's feet betraying him (as they do so many men of his size) he might very well have gone on to be the greatest...

...but he didn't. Not even close. Yao's story is about what could have been and that's certainly what the Hall of Fame should have considered when they selected him over Tim Hardaway. Yao played in only eight NBA seasons of which he played in 75 regular season games or more only four times. Here are his games played from his rookie season to his last in the NBA:

82, 82, 80, 57, 48, 55, 77, DNP, 5

Yao managed to be named an All-Star in all eight of the seasons that he played in...even when one of those seasons consisted of FIVE GAMES. He was listed to the All-NBA Second Team twice and the All-NBA Third Team three times. He is in the top 5 of the following statistical categories for the Houston Rockets:

Free Throws (5th)
Offensive Rebounds (4th)
Defensive Rebounds (4th)
Blocks (2nd)
Blocks Per Game (3rd)

That's it. That's Yao's case for the Hall of Fame. He's possibly the second best center of all time on the Rockets but that's essentially all that he amounts to. He clearly has cultural significance as he served as an unofficial ambassador of sorts for the NBA generating an explosion in the popularity of basketball in China...but that sums it up.

Tim Hardaway made the All-NBA Second Team three times, the All-NBA Third Team once, and, in 1997, made the All-NBA First Team. From an impact standpoint, he was Allen Iverson before Iverson, bringing the crossover into the prominence of the public eye with the UTEP-Two Step / Killer Crossover--one of if not the first crossover to engender its own moniker. He was part of one of the most dynamic trios in league history running point in the fabled Run TMC triad of himself, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin in Golden State.

Even more impressive than that though was his role in establishing Miami as one of the powerhouses of the NBA. Yes Pat Riley served essentially as the architect of the Heat contributing to the arrivals of Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning among others upon his blessed departure from New York but it was the play of Hardaway in large part that led to the Heat gaining mainstream notoriety. The late-'90s rivalry with the Knicks enjoyed its mythical status thanks partially to Tim Hardaway's electric offensive style and his clutch play; anyone who watched those games late in the fourth quarter knew that a 35 foot bomb could drop at any point as Timbug brought the ball up past mid-court.

All of that aside, Hardaway's career statistics with the Heat are stunning. Consider this: Tim Hardaway spent only four and a half seasons with Miami. In that brief time he managed to accrue a horde of team records. Now, in fairness, the team itself was only eight years old at the time Hardaway joined but what's impressive is the fact that, fifteen years after his departure--an era in which the team won three titles and had the likes of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh among eras--he is still on the team's all-time lists.

Think about the caliber of players that Miami has seen, particularly when it comes to shooters. Aside from Hardaway, they've had the likes of Eddie Jones, Voshon Lenard, Glen Rice, Dan Majerle, Jason Williams, James Jones, Ray Allen, and several other key players. At present, Tim Hardaway is still number one on the Heat's list of three point field goals made. He's tenth in free throws made and eighth in points--EIGHTH! He spent less than half a decade with the team and is on the top ten in points scored with the likes of Dwyane Wade, Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Udonis Haslem.

Hardaway was just as prolific a defender and passer as he was a scorer and was one of the best blocking guards of all time 6 ft or under. He is sixth all-time for the Heat in steals and second (!!!) in assists behind only Dwyane Wade and nearly a full thousand dimes ahead of Mario Chalmers and LeBron James who are third and fourth respectively. He's sixth in Points Per Game behind LeBron, Wade, Shaq, Glen Rice, and Chris Bosh--arguably all first or second ballot hall of famers in their own rights.

In total, Tim Hardaway is in the Top 10 for nearly two dozen statistical categories for the Miami Heat...but that's (literally) only half of the story. You could make the case that having such statistical significance to a single organization would be worthy of hall of fame consideration...but what about two?


See--before Hardaway came to Miami he had a none-too-insignificant stint in Golden State. In only five seasons with the Warriors, he managed to climb the statistical ladder in a slew of categories. Now, with arguably the greatest team in Warriors' history demolishing records left and right, Hardaway still lays claim to top ten positions in nearly a dozen statistical categories. He's fourth in three point field goals made behind Stphen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jason Richardson and fourth in steals behind Chris Mullin, Rick Barry, and Stephen Curry. Even more astounding though is that he's still second in assists.

That's right: Tim Hardaway is second all-time in assists for TWO DIFFERENT TEAMS--ones that included players like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Mullin, and Stephen Curry--names that barely scratch the surface of the depth of talent each franchise has fostered. 

I'll let that sink in.


Seriously: how the hell is this man not in the hall of fame?

Personally, I can't help but wonder whether or not the negative PR that he created for himself is somehow impeding his progress with this. The shame of it though is that the man brought it upon himself and has worked tirelessly at atoning for what amounted to an asinine, ignorant opinion of something utterly unrelated to basketball. He has since immersed himself in various activities meant to champion the rights of the LGBT community--something that was at once unnecessary but unique. He paid his price and lost his position with the Heat and yet all of the work that he's done and continues to do is performed of his own volition, mostly out of the public eye.

If it's not that snafu then perhaps it's the fact that his legacy and impact on the Miami Heat's basketball history has been somehow diminished in the minds of Hall of Fame voters. After all, he's the only member of Miami's first "Big Three" (Pat Riley, Alonzo Mourning, and himself) not to win a championship with the organization. The lustre of the so-called Big Three Era of this decade might be shining too brightly blinding voters to the value and significance of Hardaway's early contributions.Were it not for him (and the rest of those late-'90s Heat players) then Riley's own legacy would hardly be what it ultimately became and the so-called culture of winning in Miami might have been delayed indefinitely if it ever managed to arrive at all.

Still, the fact that this man's numbers persist almost in spite of the Big Three Era should work in his favor--not against him; his position of prevalence and prominence among the all-time greats of two storied franchises should all but have assured him a place at the table of basketball's elite. Instead, he remains an egregious oversight--yet another phenomenal player who persists at present as a face on the outside looking in.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why Pet Parenting Represents the Nadir of Modern American Civilization

Man and beast have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for thousands of years. Our quadripedal companions have long looked to us for sustenance whilst providing us with companionship and security. It's an arrangement that's been pretty swank for the animals (mostly dogs due to their training efficiency and degree of affection) and certainly useful for us. Somehow, though, a seemingly trivial, minor distinction has been lost in the past ten or fifteen years--one that seeks to undermine the validity of this interaction and, dare I say, to degrade and devalue our own existences. At some indeterminable point in the past two decades, animals went from being pets to family members. This might not seem problematic to you but it scares the living shit out of me because, well...

...but pets aren't people.

We live in a society where everything has to have an additional level of value--unnecessary descriptors that serve the sole purpose of seemingly elevating our own overinflated egos; nothing is simple or sacred anymore. It used to be just an apple but then somehow it had to become an organic apple (or "AW-GAH-NIC" if you're from Staten Island). I get that distinction though, especially in light of the harsh hormones and caustic chemicals that are used in food growth. You want to know what's going into the food that's going into you and that's a good thing. What's not a good thing is the added layers of distinction that accompany damn near everything nowadays.

"Organic" no longer suffices; now it has to be "locally harvested," "hand-raised," "farm-to-table," or derivative of one of the myriad, asinine dietary subcultures like vegans and paleos. The coffee you're drinking is no longer simply light or dark roasted: it's coffee from fair-trade, Ethiopian/Sumatran/Himalayan, medium-bodied, saturnine roast, hand-picked, organic, ethnically sensitive and environmentally sustainable beans. Just the thought of reading a sign with all of that bullshit written on it is making me sick.

We are a society of self-promotion. I say society and not generation because it's not the up-and-coming youth of America who are furthering this egoistic agenda but rather the goddamn adults! Think about it: people between the ages of twenty and sixty are setting the example for the next generation who are already assholes by association. It's not limited to food and coffee but is endemic in damn near everything including two of my most ardent passions: music and craft beer. EVERYONE is a music critic in his or her mind nowadays and no one stops to question whether or not they are qualified to make the bombastic claims that they do or to explore the history of the genre they're lambasting. And don't get me started on the self-aggrandizing snobbery in craft beer; beer geeks are achingly wannabe elitists.

I could write tomes about all of the different groups of people that piss me off with their narcissistic, self-serving behavior but in the interest of keeping my own level of agita to an acceptable level, I'll focus on the folks who belong in the ninth circle of hell: pet parents. I'm amazed by the rush of anger and aggravation that just rippled through me when I typed that. These people are enough to make me want to drive off a cliff or take a chance on a SpaceX trip to points unknown.

I'm sure that what I'm about to say will piss off a lot of people and I'm okay with that because getting angry is the first step towards awakening; actually feeling something real like that is akin to being detached from the Matrix and marks the beginning of a new life in some ways. Raw emotion is shunned in present-day America in favor of the endless self-esteem masturbation that you people engage in on a daily basis; therein lies the bigger issue that I hope to tackle by the end of this acerbic address.

Everything has a surfeit of superfluous nomenclature nowadays and yet there is an alarming dearth of value and meaning in these tag lines. It's painfully obvious to me that most of these descriptors exist for precisely two reasons: to make us feel like we are better than we are and to give the appearance to others that we are better than them. It terrifies me that that's really all it comes down to and yet, to me, it seems like an insurmountable obstacle to getting people to extract their heads from their asses.

We have become a people incapable of actually feeling anything because our capacities for emotion and
criticism have shriveled like an old man's prostate; we're tumbling down Maslow's pyramid at an accelerating rate and no one seems to notice or to care. People are engaged in a never-ending pursuit of praise through self-promotion, chasing the meaningless adulation from the masses that has somehow become the American lifeblood. It's funny and sad how often I hear people complaining about the fact that every kid gets a trophy just for participating (I refuse to employ the word "competing" because there is no competition involved in those attaboy/attagirl eliciting activities; competition belies a winner and a slew of losers in his or her wake, which is patently impossible when everyone walks away with an award) and yet no one seems to realize that they're engaging in the same type of behavior in their everyday lives!

The difference is superficial but achingly telling: people post things on social media to obtain likes. Likes, for crying out loud! Jesus, it's right there in front of you goddamn lemmings and none of you are willing to pull your dead, vacant gazes away from your screens to notice. You live your lives sucking at the teat of empty, insipid praise under the guise of happiness and self-fulfillment without once questioning the purpose of what you're doing or the actual retail price of the emotional satisfaction that you think you're deriving from these endeavors. Every act of self-aggrandizing is a vacuous attempt at feeling special and important in a world where less and less matters simply because you oafs have stopped paying attention to what has any actual worth. You're all oblivious to the vampiric nature of social media and the way each and every post, poke, and like sucks a little bit more of your soul and self-worth away from you, turning it into garmonbozia for the puppeteers who keep feeding you the same meaningless bullshit you all just keep lapping up like warm milk.

Remember, kids--you can't spell "meme" without "Me!"...two of them, actually. And isn't that precisely what a meme is all about? Me! Me! Look at me! Look at how clever I am! Look at how witty I am! Well aren't I ironic! Who's ironic? ME! ME!

Ahem--I digress. Everything has an extreme end to it and, to me, pet parents are the worst of the worst when it comes to the aforementioned praise-seeking bullshit. I cannot tell you how viciously I disdain these people but I can tell you why I loathe them with such vociferous ferocity: they are knowingly perpetuating the farce I outlined above and are intentionally seeking your attention. It's akin to the brightly colored advertisement on the road that says, "You just read this sign." There's no value in that act--no accomplishment to be had because it caters to our basest reflexive actions. It's akin to Kevin Durant swatting this kid's shot. Sure it counts as a block on KD's stat sheet but did he really achieve anything?

What I'm getting at is the people who shove their pet ownership in your face usually by way of bumper stickers, car magnets, and t-shirts, saying nothing of the bullshit that occurs online. Nothing infuriates me more than seeing a "Who Rescued Who?" magnet on the back of the car in front of me; it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to slam a dull, heavy object repeatedly against both vehicle and operator in those moments. This bothers me on multiple levels (the least of which is grammatically--it should be "Who Rescued Whom" but no one gives a shit about grammer or speling nemore so y should i,) and it really embodies the sentiments that represent the culture we live in.

First, here's an actual quotation I found online about that magnet:

"I really admire the bumper stickers with a paw print that states: “Who Rescued Who?” It’s so cute and powerful and to the point."

This single couplet sums up everything that is twisted and wrong about you fuckers mostly because of the sheer number of you who probably agree with him or her. I'm going to use that quotation as a jumping point for the dressing down to come.

First of all, what the fuck is admirable about that self-serving slurp-fest? I admire hard-working folks who toil away at thankless jobs to provide for their families without ever complaining. I admire people who give freely of their time to help others without ever asking for anything in return. I admire those who struggle and fail but who pick themselves back up and remain determined to achieve their goals.

You people admire others who are so emotionally empty that they seek to sate themselves with vapid, inane self-indulgence.

Trust me: there's nothing powerful about that crap. And just what in the holy hell is the point? The common answer would likely be some insipid shit like, "I was lost but Bowser (or whatever other yuppy puppy, hippy dippy, bilbo baggins bullshit name people give their pets) saved me."

Seriously--stop for a second and think about that. Let that marinate in your cranial juices for a moment. The implication is that the pet owner was emotionally lacking in his or her life and that the presence of this animal somehow saved them from that aching loneliness. Sounds innocuous enough on paper until you look back at the original statement:

"Who Rescued Who."

This is where my vitriolic fury really begins to heat up. Why can't it just be a pet like it's been for literally thousands of years? Why does it need the distinction that it's a "rescue"? And why do you have to point out your role in the transaction? (I'll answer that question in a moment--I'm on a roll so I can't stop now!)

As a literal person, I'm offended on a deeply cognitive level by the whole notion of "rescuers." Notice that I didn't say rescues and that there are quotation marks around the word I did elect to use. I can get behind the idea of rescue animals and I genuinely admire (!) the folks who elect to adopt those animals over a degree. I'll type this next sentence v e r y  s l o w l y  s o   y  o  u    c  a  n    u  n  d  e  r  s  t  a  n  d    i  t:

YOU did not rescue that animal.

Phew! I can't believe how much relief that just gave me. It was so much fun I think I'll try it again!

YOU did NOT rescue that animal.

One more time for posterity!


There! I said it. (And I seriously derived a sick amount of pleasure from that.) My biggest gripe with the whole rescue thing is the fact that it is devoid of logic (or, more importantly, why it is purposely devoid of logic). That animal was actually rescued by someone other than you therefore it is physically impossible for you to be the rescuer! You're making false claims and operating under an assumed identity, which is probably illegal but most certainly should be. Shame on you for the farce!

Let's cut the bullshit out for a minute and have some real talk, shall we? Let's call it exactly what it is and then explain why this distinction is crucial and egregiously, intentionally overlooked. Unless you personally rescued an animal from a dire, life-threatening circumstance, you, yourself are not a rescuer. The fact that that animal might be put down if it wasn't adopted before a given termination date does not make you a rescuer--it makes you a pet owner. The person who emancipated the animal prior to adoption is the sole rescuer; you simply moved it from its present safe-haven into your own home. And what does that make that act?

A transaction.

Back in the day, you went to a pet store and you bought a pet. How we managed to fuck up something as simple as an exchange of cash for a product is beyond me but it has undeniably become drenched in the pathetic deluge of profligate self-gratification. Again, I respect the choice to purchase an animal that might be overlooked by most folks because, let's face it, everyone loves puppies and kittens. There also are people who genuinely elect to adopt these animals solely because they recognize that a) there's a good chance no one else will and b) that animal will subsequently be put to death.

Funny, though, that the same people who have no problem snagging the unwanted, one-eyed mongrel with a gimpy leg won't touch that bruised peach or dour-looking lettuce in the produce aisle. There's a specific reason why that's true though: there's no social currency to be gained by the latter but rather a perceived amount through the former. Think about it: no one ever boasts about buying food that's near or past "expiration" (another fallacy for another rant) and yet EVERYONE who has obtained a rescue animal vocalizes that act in one way or another; the reason for that is the crux of this entire diatribe and sits at the core of what is slowly sucking out all of our souls.

Residents of the year 2015 have an innate, insatiable need for recognition by their peers. It makes me think of Lisa Simpson during the school strike when she freaks out and screams, "Grade me...look at me...evaluate and rank me!" People are so pathetically unfulfilled that they seek the most minute modicums of approval from others and interpret that as being somehow valuable. Their lives are so empty that they have to bolster every single act that they perform by adding purported layers of meaning just to feel like they're actually doing something worthwhile and good. The problem though is that what is gained in esteem from these things is so minuscule it's almost non-existent (thus the Kevin Durant video--sure he blocked a shot but there was no challenge--no chance of failure in what he did thus stripping the act of any true meaning).

Many if not most pet owners are not content simply with having an animal companion to take care of. Instead, they flaunt the animal's past as if it were their own thereby elevating themselves, enhancing their perceived self-worth in their warped, twisted minds while simultaneously degrading and devaluing the rest of us. They believe, genuinely, that they have done something noble--courageous even!--by adopting these animals. They go so far as to refer to the animals as their children and themselves as the pets' parents...

...and that's where I draw the line.

There is a very real, necessary caveat that I have to throw out there before I press onward. I recognize and respect the fact that some couples experience difficulty in conceiving a child. For some, it's a physiological issue while for others it's simply shitty luck. Regardless, not being able to achieve something that you desperately want to while many others who are far less worthy seem awash in good fortune is a gutting thing to go through. My children represent the source of the richest happiness I enjoy in my life and it makes me ache to think of others who go through life wanting to produce offspring but for whatever reason are not able to. THESE people have a very real void that they often fill with something else--travel, hobbies, or, occasionally, pets. I can understand them treating their pets like children because, psychologically, they are balancing out their emotional needs--plugging the hole in their hearts and providing themselves with an avenue for the affection they've always had but were otherwise incapable of bestowing upon progeny.

The same could be said for couples who actually had children but who lost one or more. That must be even more emotionally excoriating and I can't even begin to fathom that pain. Nothing can ever replace that child or fill the emotional void left in its place and, if it was an only child, it might simply be too painful to have another one. That's when the empty nursery gets turned into a home office or a craft area and the perfect opportunity to adopt a pet.

The notion of pet parents--these pitiful perpetrators of vainglorious acts of mass asininity--is beyond reproach in any other case. The scariest, saddest part though is that many of these people actually have children. That's the most addling aspect to me--the fact that that filial void doesn't exist for these people and yet they still feel the need to self-aggrandize. Then again, that just speaks to the zeitgeist of social media--the emotional sweet that is slowly rotting our souls leaving behind an aching cavity and some crumbs in our facial hair.

It's become anathema simply to be a pet owner; what once was the norm is now an atavistic endeavor shunned by the masses in favor of something a little glossier. People nowadays say shit like, "my pets are my children" without ever considering the lunacy of their ludicrous proclamations. No, actually, they are not your children. Biologically speaking, do they share your D.N.A.? Did they spend time in your womb?

"Well, adopted children are still children and they don't fit those criteria," you might say and you would be right. But the difference is that those adopted human children count as dependents on your taxes, must engage in some sort of compulsory education, and, most importantly, they will someday (potentially) join society by gaining employment, moving out, and beginning their own families.

You're so hellbent on proving that your pets are your children? Fine. Let them tend to your needs when you're an invalid.

The one overarching reason why pets can never be your children is this: you can walk into any pet store and buy a replacement if yours gets flattened by a moving van or dies of old age at fifteen. All it takes is cash or credit to have your very own Snowball II or Santa's Little Helper the Second.

The saddest part of all of this is that there are many, many children who would benefit from adoption. These kids would enjoy a very real rescuing from the foster-care system and would provide far more emotional fulfillment than a pet; the problem is that they require more out of you in every way possible. And isn't that the central issue in all of this? People don't want to be challenged anymore: they want the most amount of reward for the least amount of effort and commitment. No one wants to earn anything and in-so-doing they are losing everything there is to be gained through the process; they want the physique without the aching muscles.

People will take whatever ego stroking they can get whether it's Facebook likes or nods of approval and adulation for their saccharine car magnets. They would rather portray themselves as valiant heroes and heroines worthy of your praise for essentially buying an animal. It makes me sick and it leaves me wondering what the hell is next in this cesspool of absurdity--our throwaway culture that overvalues the most evanescent moments of panegyrical praise while turning a blind eye to the ugly emptiness in their own hearts and the fact that they simply aren't as important as they've been made to feel.

It's only a matter of time before adopted children start being referred to as rescues; by then, will we all be beyond saving?