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Exceptional criticism

I love America.

Our republic is unlike any other.  With my mouth, thank goodness for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  In our country, you can be who you are, and dream of being anything you want to be.  We have a say in who our leaders are, and what they do.  And in how many countries can I spend a weekend sitting on my ass watching four straight episodes of Undercover Boss?

But this blog proves I’m also critical of my country.  I think the Iraq war was a huge mistake.  I believe universal health care is a right, not a privilege.  I absolutely abhor the divisiveness, name-calling, and lack of real debate.  And I wish the hyphenated last names fad was just that.  I prayed for years Joseph Gordon-Levitt would marry Jennifer Love-Hewitt just to see if she would take the name Jennifer Love-Hewitt-Gordon-Levitt.

Please don’t tell Rudy Giuliani.

Apparently, the former mayor of New York City believes President Barack Obama doesn’t love America because he criticizes it.  Giuliani said it at a private dinner event last week featuring Wisconsin governor and potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker.  He believes the President does not love you. Or me. Or him.  And what’s not to love about “America’s Mayor,” right? (Thank you for that one, Oprah!)  He seems so cute and cuddly.  Giuliani backed up his claims by saying President Obama never talks about America’s exceptionalism like past Democratic presidents did.

The backlash towards Giuliani’s comments honestly surprised me.  It’s like attacking Kim Kardasian for talking about her butt.  What else does he have to talk about?  Giuliani’s just taking a page out of the GOP playbook–“Paint Democratic candidate (blank) as ‘not one of us” if they are rich, went to an Ivy League school, criticizes Israel, may be non-religious, refuses to accept American exceptionalism, etc.  Interchangeable with the words ‘elitist’ or ‘socialist.'”  It’s red meat for those of you still pushing Obama’s Muslim, Kenyan, not born in the United States myth.  Giuliani didn’t address you directly.  But we all knew what he meant.

And what he did NOT mean is black.  Some of you need to stop using that “dog whistle.”  Yes, some Republican voters are racists.  And by some, I mean those few who still deck out their Ford F-150s with a Confederate flag, camouflage and Truck Nutz.  But you can’t continue to defend Muslims with the “all Muslims aren’t terrorists” card, while playing the “If you pander to racists, you are one” card.  As I said in a previous blog, it’s not him. It’s us.  President Obama represents a changing of the guard, if you will.  He gave marijuana smoking, gay-marrying, tree-hugging, immigrant-loving, non-religious voters a voice.  And the GOP hates him for THAT.

And American exceptionalism is just another weapon to attack him for that. Republicans have a long history of tying the belief of our exceptionalism to “love of country” while using criticism as proof of the lack of love.  Remember the political fight over whether you support our troops if you do not support the war in Iraq?  It works because we naturally respond emotionally to it.  As an “exceptional” child “unfairly” criticized by his parents, I always wondered how you could criticize something or someone you claim to love.  I found a way to get a “B” in my high school Composition class without having to write one of the major papers assigned to me.  Instead of using my library time to research and write, I read the newspaper right in front of the teacher.  Pure genius.  But my parents believed I was better than that.  And gave me a tongue lashing for it.

And guess what?  They were right to do so.  They loved me and believed I was better than that.  They told me I wasn’t living up to my full potential.  They wanted me to use the DNA they bestowed to me to be the best I could be, not to find ways just to slide by.  As Voltaire said, and Uncle Ben reiterated to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I believe that.  And I believe the President does too.  And that’s why I criticize our country.  I receive the benefits of one of the best emergency health care systems in the world.  But the Commonwealth Fund ranks our health care system dead last among developed countries, despite spending more money on it than anyone else.  Eight of the top ten universities in the world reside in the U.S., but overall, our education systems ranks 17th.  Similarly, eight of the top ten richest people call America home, causing one of the most unequal income distributions among developed countries.  At least we rank #1 in incarcerated citizens.

That’s why we need to stop criticizing the criticism.  We need to embrace the fact nothing is perfect, including our beloved America.  We should want people to find ways to improve our systems instead of attacking them for not accepting the status quo.  Let’s have a real conversation about what we do and how we do it by giving everyone a seat at the table and allowing all voices to be heard, critical or otherwise.

That’s what’s so ironic about Giuliani’s criticism.  American exceptionalism begins with the right to criticize our leaders without retribution.  Yet, he believes our leaders shouldn’t openly criticize the country giving him that right.  No one doubts this country has done, and continues to do, exceptional deeds.  But those deeds, from the Constitution to the creation of the Internet, from the end of slavery to the election of our first black president, sprung from a want for change or improvement.  Our greatest leaders, inventors, capitalists, and athletes prove it to us time and again.

You can only be exceptional by believing you are not.

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‘Tis the Season

“Christmas time is here.  Happiness and cheer.  Fun for all. That children call. They’re favorite time of year.”

It’s my favorite time of year, too.  I love the music and the displays.  I own nearly 30 Christmas movies.  Two years ago, my wife and I hosted a “Jammy Jam” where we invited two other couples to spend the night at our house in our Christmas pajamas.  We ate, we gave gifts, we played a drinking game with the movie “A Year Without a Santa Claus.”  Yes, I was 38 at the time.  And I wasn’t the oldest person there.  So shut up.

But it also puts us smack-dab in the middle of another war.  Yep, the “War on Christmas”  {Cue scary music}.  Take a look:

Merry Christas bumper sticker waronchristmasbookfoxwari_support_war_on_christmas_sticker-re842a47bca9942ec9f293d0d619ff3c0_v9waf_8byvr_324

Like the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” you’ll hear “War on Christmas” so much you’ll want to go out on Black Friday and club Kirk Cameron to death to get a TV three inches bigger than yours at half the price.  After all, Jesus is the “reason for the season.”  We need to keep “Christ in Christmas.”

Let’s just put the credit cards down, and step away from the $50 Xbox.  Think about this rationally before we go stampeding into a Best Buy at 5am.  No, Virginia, there is no “War on Christmas.”  Like the “war on women,” “war on religion.” and “war on the middle class,”  it’s just another way to wage war on a far more serious issue.  And just like jolly, old St. Nick avoids states with the “Castle Doctrine,” we avoid the real political conversation:  what religious freedom really means.

I’m an atheist.  Yet, I don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays!”  I’m too busy staring at the bright lights and shiny objects.  I celebrate Christmas, albeit by remembering the lives of Rankin and Bass instead of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  And if you’re one of those atheists who gets offended by “Merry Christmas,” a nativity scene, or a Christmas tree, you are just as bad as the people you claim take away your religious freedoms.

The same thing goes for those of you who believe there’s a “War on Christmas.”  If your boss tells you not to say “Merry Christmas,” it’s not infringing on your religious rights or freedom of speech.  Those are rights the government can’t take away.  Your employer can tell you what to say, and fire you if you don’t follow the rules.  Do your Jewish co-workers complain they don’t get time off for their holidays while our entire country celebrates the two biggest Christian ones, Christmas and Easter?  How would you feel if a Muslim co-worker received five breaks a day to pray?

No, you’re angry because people like me no longer make Christmas about religion.  For businesses, it’s about money and materialism.  For “Chreasters,” it’s a chance to let your church know you’re still a member.  For families like mine, it’s just a holiday, a time to get together, overeat, talk about all the wonderful and stupid memories we have, and discuss how it’s really a secret welfare program in which some old, fat, white guy uses hard-working stiffs to give free shit to the undeserving.

That’s what makes our country great.  Freedom of religion allows us to choose how we want to celebrate.  You can teach your children about the birth of Jesus Christ.  You can go to church. honor it as a season of giving, and spend time with those you love.  But I don’t have to.

That’s why the “War on Christmas” remains such a contentious debate.  Because, as an atheist, I feel the right to religious freedom in this country doesn’t mean believing in any religion you want.  It really means believing in any religion you want as long as you believe.  You hear it all the time.  People constantly say America is in decline because we have gone away from “good Christian values.”  I hear politicians talk about and defend their personal religious beliefs, as if going to church makes them more or less electable.  Over 16% of the country says they are unaffiliated with a specific religion, making it the fastest growing group.  4% say they are agnostic or atheist.  And yet, we will probably never elect a president with those beliefs in my lifetime.  I see states pass laws banning gay marriage and marijuana based on personal religious beliefs and not personal freedom.  As a former member of the news media, I never understood why we care so much about the Pope when only 24% of the country is Catholic, or about Israel with a Jewish population under 2%.  I hear people call our President the “antichrist” or “devil” just because his views differ from theirs.  And I can’t help but think, “Is that what you think of me?”

Please remember that before you complain about your child’s “holiday” program at school while camping out in the Wal-Mart parking lot Thanksgiving night.  Otherwise, we may need to start talking about keeping the “Han in Hanukkah.”

han-in-hanukkah

 

 

 

Hate me

I want you to hate me.  That’s one of the reasons I started this blog.

Hate me like Boston Red Sox fans hate Derek Jeter.

Hate me like Ray Rice hates elevator music.

Hate me like some people hate President Barack Obama.

Now that’s a latte hate….

The “Salutte” incident reaffirms what we already know, right?  President Obama hates the military, an elitist who drinks Starbucks lattes instead of a real American coffee like Folgers or Sanka.  Of course, that contradicts this story about the President’s plan to use the military against U.S. citizens.  Then there’s a GOP donor in Alabama telling voters they need to elect a Republican sheriff to protect them when the President suspends the 2016 elections and seizes power.  Why will this happen?  Well, he’s a Kenyan Muslim who hates America and Israel.  He’s a half-white man who hates whites.  He’s Robin Hood without Kevin Costner’s bad accent, stealing from the “makers” to give to the “takers.”  I’ve heard people call him the “devil” or “antichrist.”  He’s not the President, he’s Sasquatch, with the believers constantly trying to catch him on video to prove their myths are true.

As Martin Lawrence said in Boomerang, it’s all “racial,” right?  Must be, because no one would make up so many lies and myths about a black man without being racist.  Rosie O’Donnell said it on the View, so it must be true.

But I don’t believe it.  There’s no way Speaker of the House John Boehner, or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, or anyone on Capitol Hill could keep that from getting out.  Hell, last year a Secret Service agent revealed the President is gay AND a radical Muslim who trades his suit for a tunic when no one is looking.  No secret is safe in Washington, DC.

Actually, I think this quote from conservative commentator Ann Coulter in a New York Observer 2007 blog post gives away the real reason:  “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about a Democrat president.”  Haters, you don’t hate President Obama for who he is, or what he’s done, but who he REPRESENTS.  Yep, you’re mad at me.  At your friends and neighbors.  The people who voted for him.  We went rogue.

Think about it.  The Republican Party has always believed in tradition, experience, and succession.  And from 1968 to 1992, they won with it.  The GOP won five out of six elections with only four candidates–Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.  All except Ford either ran in the parties’ presidential primaries, or became the actual presidential or vice presidential candidate.  All four of them became president.

Then 1992 brought a double whammy.  Grunge music.  And a good-looking, smooth-talking young Arkansas governor with a sordid private life of inserting but not inhaling.  And we liked him.  He beat a Republican incumbent.  We reelected him.  And even after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the “close but no cigar” impeachment, he’s more popular today than he ever was.

Including that election, Democrats have won five of the last six presidential popular votes.  And just think about how much changed since we elected President Obama in 2008:

  • 17 states and the District of Columbia passed gay marriage laws, and the courts struck down bans in several others.  Before 2008, only Massachusetts and Connecticut allowed it.
  • Two states legalized marijuana, with at least six others moving towards it.  And many more considering legalizing medical marijuana.
  • The passage of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” puts us on a road to universal health care.
  • Women push for abortion rights, equality in pay and contraception, among other things.
  • Immigration reform and amnesty for illegals will probably happen, possibly in the next two years.
  • Support for climate change/global warming grows.
  • Cities and states passed laws to raise the minimum wage.
  • Pew Research Center, in a 2011 poll, found 18-29 year olds view socialism more positively than capitalism.  It also found atheism is the fastest growing religious group in the country.  And a June 2014 poll broke down voters into seven different areas.  Three of the groups lean Republican, four lean Democrat.
  • More Snookis and JWowws have gotten pregnant under President Obama than under all other presidents COMBINED.

Republicans, I’m sure you look at this list and see the death of America.  You’re scared.  You’re stressed.  You don’t know what do to.  I understand that.  But President Obama didn’t do this.  Those of us who reelected him did.  You’re killing the messenger.  White, older males and religious voters don’t control elections anymore.  Independents, women, minorities, gays, environmentalists, and young people do.  And you’re not going to change it with name-calling, bashing the President, or winning the Senate in November.

You change it with acceptance.  Stop yelling “socialists” and “racists.” It’s not “homophobes” vs. “gay-lovers.”  There’s no “war on religion” or “war on women.”  Let’s put an end to it.  I want this blog to become a conversation starter.  A place to talk about differences yet find common ground.  Promote real debate by getting to the root of the problems.  Finding solutions acceptable to all.  Or at the very least, make you think.  I know that’s hard.  As American humorist Don Marquis mused, “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

Please hate me.

Men need a movement

Every Thursday, I have a “Guy’s night” with craft beer, wings, and NFL football.  But if I’m out with my wife, you might see me guzzling white zinfandel.

I am a pretty damn good basketball player, and once dreamed of playing in the NBA.  But I also dreamed about playing the lead role in West Side Story or The Music Man.

My favorite movies are Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.  But I saw Pretty Woman and Titanic in the theatre.  With another guy.

Some of you probably wonder why I’m telling you this because you think nothing of it.  You don’t care.  But others may get a chuckle out of it.  Or call me names.  Or think I’m less of a man.

I spent a lot of time talking with my wife this week about the latest incidents of violence in the NFL. We watched the public service announcement for the It’s On Us campaign to stop sexual assault on college campuses.  And we capped it off by watching this video of Emma Watson kicking off the United Nation’s HeForShe campaign promoting gender equality.  Notice anything?  Who’s at the center of all of this?  Sing it with me–“Men, men, men, men.  Men, men, men, men.”

Men, we need a good ol’ fashion steaming movement.

Not THAT kind of movement.  Men take those every day.  I’m talking about a movement for change.  Women, you have yours.  Call it Women’s Suffrage, the women’s movement, the feminist movement, or women’s lib, the name doesn’t matter.  It’s been going on for about 130 years.  It started as the right to vote and evolved into the right to work.  Now, it can mean the right to equal pay or reproductive rights.  You think the war in Afghanistan was long?  It ain’t got nothing on the war women fight every day.

But the movement forgot something.  Hello!?  {Waving hands violently while jumping up and down}  We’re right over here!  Yep, it forgot about men.  It became too much about “me”  and “you,” and not enough about “we.”  It forced society to change its view of women, without any thought to how it SHOULD change its view of men.

Think of it this way–all your life, you, as a woman, have eaten nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  And finally, after years of fighting, you get the chance to hit a Golden Corral.  Now, it’s a buffet of whatever you want.  “I’ll take a little right to vote and run for office.  But I may not eat it.  Do I want to try some of that right to work, or just go with the housewife?  I’d like to see what the right to join the military is like, even though I haven’t heard many good things about it.”  Then, when you’re done, you head to the dessert bar to dip some fruit in the “I can sleep with whomever I want” fountain or grab some “I’m going to have an orgasm, too.”  You get a smorgasbord of choices, one society as a whole finally accepts.

Men, we’re stuck over here eating the same “real man” sandwich.  Two slices of bread winner,  slathered with some “Husband and father” on one side, and “Strong, emotionless, problem solver” on the other.  Same meal, day in and day out, for the last 130 years.  What if we want some “Stay at home father?”  Society gives us the stink eye.  Women, you SAY you want us to eat some “Sensitive, emotional man.”  But when you get a taste of it, you spit it out.  Just once men would like to try a little “Women ask me out and pay for the date.”  Oh my God!  Chivalry is dead!  If we eat our sandwich in front of the television, we get a choice of “ruthless asshole” or “bumbling oaf.”   Because, you know, those are the only two roles men play in society.  And if we don’t want to eat our sandwich?  We get “You’re a bitch/pussy/girl/’Insert creative word for a female body part here'” for dessert.

Then there’s the bloating, indigestion and stomach pains.  Men commit the vast majority of violent crimes like armed robbery, domestic violence, child abuse, and rape.  Men commit suicide at an alarmingly high rate.  Divorce rates continue to climb.  Look at male-dominated arenas like the NFL and the military, corporate and political America.  They are all microcosms of a society perpetuating beliefs of what a “man” should be.

So what happens after the meal and stomach issues?  A race to the bathroom for a movement.  And now’s the time for that movement.  Maybe we should stop measuring a man’s value by his job and paycheck.  Instead of rewarding men for how hard they work, can we reward them for how hard they work as a husband and/or father?  I’m all for a longer maternity leave.  But what about paternity leave?  Shouldn’t we teach young boys “nice guys” don’t finish last, that it’s okay to cry and express your feelings?  Can we embrace mental health and therapy for men instead of demonizing it?  Battle violence and aggression by talking about and finding solutions for the “why,” instead of just punishing the “who” for the “what?”  Realize that as the role of women evolves, the role of men does too?

I’ll leave you with two recent incidents that really stuck with me.  I was in Target and a woman was standing in the toy section with her two boys.  One was two or three, the other about five.  The older boy was crying, while the mother attempted to quiet him down.  As I got to their aisle and we made eye contact, she yelled, “Do you want everyone to think you’re a girl!?”  The other was a conversation my wife had with an employer.  He served in the Navy, and told her he didn’t believe in post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  He says it’s just an excuse for people who are too weak, or can’t handle the military.

You may have seen incidents like this.  You may perpetuate some of the male stereotypes.  I’m know guilty of it.  It happens every, single day.  So does the fight for gender equality. By definition, it means “the measurable equal representation of women and men. It does not imply women and men are the same, but that they have equal value and should be accorded equal treatment.”  But as a man, how can I see women as my equal if society still refuses to treat me like one?

Race and Rice Part II

Looks like we got the lynch mob back together!  That’s right, after a job well done ending Donald Sterling’s basketball ownership, and destroying half of Ferguson, Missouri, we once again broke out the hoods and torches, marched to the jail, pulled Ray Rice out of his cell, and gave him a proper hanging.  After all, It’s the only way he could get what he deserved, right?

So who’s next?  I’m looking at you, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald.  Adrian Peterson deserves a good “whooping” for the beating he gave his son with a “switch.”  Or should we just go straight to the top and throw NFL commissioner Roger Goodell out the window of his posh office?  It takes a little time to get a proper lynch mob together.  Why waste it?

Look, I get it.  I am outraged by what Rice, Hardy, McDonald, and Peterson did.  While a jury found Hardy guilty, I was shocked when Atlantic City prosecutors recommended Rice enroll in an intervention program with no jail time.  I thought Goodell did a horrible job explaining the punishment.  And when the second video came out showing Rice slugging his now-wife, it was so abhorrent I knew he was in serious trouble.

And, of course, he was.  Or is.  And probably always will be.  Because, you know, when we don’t like someone’s punishment, it’s only fair to enact mob justice to make it right.

Let me be clear–I believe all these people should be punished.  I just believe they deserve to be punished fairly, not severely.  ESPN’s Cris Carter, in his passionate speech about Peterson’s suspension, said, “You can’t beat a kid to make them do what you want them to do.”  So why do we try to do it with adults?  Does it help or change anything?  Or is it simply a way to make us feel better?  We’re acting like a pit bull on a two year old.  We won’t let it go.  And speaking of pit bulls, that leads me to the way I believe we should have handled Rice’s incident.

When I watched NFL games this weekend, I was reminded of a player who experienced a similar situation.  He only played a handful of snaps Sunday, and his only significance in the game was getting sacked.  But he plays a significant role in the debate we’re having right now.

When police arrested quarterback Michael Vick in 2007 for running a dog fighting ring, we expressed the same anger and shock as with Rice.  The NFL immediately handed down an indefinite suspension.  When Vick pleaded guilty, we applauded his prison term.  In 2009, after 21 months in prison and halfway houses, Goodell ended the suspension.  Vick returned to work, presumably a changed man.  Now, he not only plays in the NFL, he works with the Humane Society of America educating others about dog fighting and animal abuse.

That is how our judicial system is supposed to work.  We elect lawmakers to pass laws.  We elect state and county attorneys to prosecute the violators of those laws.  And we elect judges to hand down a fair punishment based on those laws.  And when the sentence is fulfilled, in most cases, the person returns to society, hopefully a better person.

Except when we don’t like it, right?  Ray Rice is paying a much bigger price than Greg Hardy or Michael Vick  And I believe it’s because they were convicted and Rice was not.  Some of you are doing to Rice what Peterson did to his son–we’re trying to beat him into submission.  He took a deal we all would take in that situation, one allowed by law and explained in further detail on www.nj.com.   Some of you were appalled at the two-game suspension Goodell handed down, especially after seeing what happened inside the elevator, without taking into account Rice was a first-time offender and was not found guilty.  The outrage basically took away Rice’s livelihood, probably forever, while giving Michael Vick’s back.  Discounting Michael Vick’s prison term, do you know how many games he missed he was eligible to play in?  Exactly two.  Again, sound familiar?

Look, I don’t blame you for not liking the punishment.  But don’t blame celebrity privilege or demand the prosecutors resign.  Work to change the law.  Don’t demand Goodell quit or be fired.  Why do we care if he lied about not seeing the video?  His first punishment was the right one based on the union contract and the past history of Rice and similar disciplinary action.  If you don’t like it, use the almighty dollar to make the NFL change the culture.  Stop watching.  Demand companies stop sponsoring and advertising.  I never understood why CoverGirl was the “Official beauty sponsor of the NFL” anyway.  And don’t force Sterling, Rice, Peterson, Hardy, McDonald, or Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to the fringes of society.  Punish them, yes.  But allow them to learn from their mistakes and return to their jobs.  Are we better off if they were at the head of a fight for change, or with their heads on a pike?  Think about it, and in the meantime, keep those hoods and pitchforks at the ready.  Because you’re going to need them again, real soon.

Race and Rice

First of all, I’d like to thank those of you who showed support for this blog.  I had a good, long talk with myself before writing it.  And I appreciate your kind words and low expectations.

I think the hard part of writing something like that isn’t airing the dirty laundry.  That’s easy.  It’s knowing some of you won’t like it.  Accepting others judgement about you is the tough part.

And that’s where I’m beginning, by doing what I do best.  As so eloquently stated by Donald Sutherland in “JFK”:  stirring the shitstorm.  And what better way to do it then with race and Rice.

Three big stories emerged recently:  The Ferguson, Missouri shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.  Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson selling his majority ownership of the team after a past e-mail surfaced about why he thought “blacks” and “hip-hop music” kept “affluent whites” from coming to games.  And the NFL basically kicking Ray Rice out of the league for punching his then fiancee/now wife in the face.  To me, all three follow the same theme as my first post:  acceptance.

As a society, our emotional reaction to these acts tends to overwhelm us.  We’re angered, sickened, upset.  We want retribution, punishment, jail time.  We want to form a posse, or angry mob, or start a witch hunt.  Like the commercials for Old El Paso salsa used to say, “Get a rope!”

Here’s the problem:  You need to believe it.  Watch it.  Take it all in.  Because It happens.  Always will.  That’s part of acceptance.  Don’t accept the act.  Accept the act OCCURS. I constantly try to get my wife to watch animal abuse videos.  She hates it.  But I always say to her, “You can’t fix it if you don’t know what people do and why they do it.”  You cannot fight racism without first accepting it will always exist.  Domestic violence will always exist.  Gays, obese people, immigrants, women, Jews, atheists–let me say it again.  Some people will always hate you. ALWAYS.  Accept it.

That’s why I am not surprised, shocked, or angered by what happened.  I AM surprised, shocked, and angered by the reaction.  In Ferguson,  people raced to judgement on both sides.  Protests, riots, destroying businesses who had nothing to do with it.  Our emotions wanted to ruin the life of a police officer without getting his side of the story.  Instead of letting the legal process play out, our anger demanded an immediate sacrifice to feel better.  People on both sides of the argument entrenched.  It’s the same thing with Levenson.  After the Donald Sterling incident, the NBA began looking into his racially charged e-mail.  And Levenson was forced to fall on his sword or be sent away to Sterling Island.

Rice is by far the worst example of it.  If I let my emotions get the better of me, I would say good riddance.  We’ve all seen the video.  It’s appalling.  Ask my wife and she’ll tell you I do not understand how people commit animal abuse, child abuse, rape and domestic violence.  But if you think about it logically, you would first think about this:  Dallas Cowboy Josh Brent will eventually play in the NFL, possibly this year, after killing his friend and teammate in a DUI crash in December of 2012.  Michael Vick suits up despite spending time in prison after abusing and killing pit bulls in a dog-fighting ring.  Earlier this year, a jury found Carolina Panther defensive end Greg Hardy guilty of assaulting a girlfriend and threatening to kill her.  Yep, he’s still playing pending his appeal.  I don’t think Rice’s crime is any worse than these three.  His real crime: it was all caught on video.

When the first clip came out, it was shocking.  A man dragging his then-fiancee’s unconscious body out of an elevator like a Mafia hit man disposing of someone he just whacked.  We learned what happened and our emotions changed from shock to anger.  The NFL’s two game suspension led to outrage at what many perceived as a light sentence.  But as time passed, our emotions faded.  We may not have liked the punishment, but we moved on.  Then came the second video.  We saw what actually happened, not just read about it.  We were in the elevator with them.  We saw the argument and the punch, watched her head slam into the elevator rail, and what seemed to be Rice’s nonchalant reaction by simply kicking her to see if she was still alive.  Roger Goodell said it changed things.  Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it changed things.  We as a society said it changed things.  Why?

Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock touched on this here after the Donald Sterling incident.  “In a society filled with impurities, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers committed the crime of speaking impure thoughts in the privacy of a duplex he apparently provided for his mistress. And now an angry, agenda-fueled mob provoked NBA commissioner Adam Silver into handing Sterling a basketball death sentence.”  Sound familiar?  I don’t care about the video.  I don’t need to see it to know what happened or to believe what a reasonable punishment should be.  But obviously, many of you do.  Are you burning Greg Hardy’s jersey?  Where’s the call for his head?  There is none because the media doesn’t have video to ram down our throats.  Sports Illustrated talks about it here.  Reading about it doesn’t make us feel anything.  Seeing it does.  Outrage replaces logic.  And what was a fruitful discussion turns into a drunken bar brawl.

Look around, because that’s all we do nowadays.  We fight about everything.  Men vs. women.  Black vs. white.  Democrats vs. Republicans.  We don’t talk, or debate, or discuss. When someone doesn’t agree with us, we fight.  We don’t try to understand their logic.  As Whitlock says, Sterling grew up in a white supremacy culture.  Do we care?  No.  We just want him gone.  But sending Sterling away doesn’t mean the culture goes with him.  Levenson followed.  Many more will come.  Replace Ferguson, Missouri with the name of another town or city, because another police shooting of an unarmed black man will happen.  Rice’s video is just visual proof of one domestic violence incident in a string of thousands.  Once you accept that, we can have a real conversation about it.  Until then, praise the new punishment of Rice.  Demand the heads of coach John Harbaugh and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  Watch NFL games.  Your emotion and anger will soon go away.  But the problem never will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring Robin Williams

I liked the movie “Hook.”  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I once owned it on VHS.  It’s one of the first things I thought about when I learned of Robin Williams’ death.  But I didn’t post it on Facebook.  I didn’t talk about my sadness at his passing.  I didn’t say anything.   Just like Williams, I didn’t say anything.  It took this thought-provoking article from Cracked.com to make me realize why–I’m different.  Like Williams and millions of you, I know I’m different.  I’ve always known it, always felt that pang in my stomach, that accepting who I am means society may not be as accepting.  I don’t open up to people because I don’t trust anyone anymore.  Not my family, not my friends, sometimes not even my wife.  But she said something to me this week I couldn’t ignore.  “You are 40 years old.  You have to accept some things about yourself instead of always trying to change to be someone you clearly aren’t.”  And it hit me–why not honor Williams death by facing my fears and talking about myself?  I love politics and always wanted to write about it.  But I could never muster the courage.  I didn’t think anyone would care.  I couldn’t figure out a way to get started.  Until now.  I want to kick it off by letting you know about me.   I’m not talking about those Facebook threads where people post six simple, minor details of their lives that “no one knows.”  I’m talking about 20 things defining who I am today, bad or good (Hey, it’s not bragging if it’s true.)  So here goes:

1. I started kindergarten when I was four.  I knew then I was different.  I guess I was smart for my age.

2.  I had no friends in grade school.  No close friends anyway.  I’ve always thought it was because when I was younger I picked my nose and ate it.  But I’m not sure.

3.  My childhood friends, for the most part, are all younger than me.  That may not seem like a big deal until you realize I spent 14 years of my life with classmates I thought didn’t like me.

4.  I never dated until college.  I lost my virginity when I was 21.

5.  I regret not playing basketball in high school.  I’m damn good.  Even today, I play with people half my age and hold my own.  But a classmate told me in 8th grade not to make a fool of myself.  And, unfortunately, I listened.

6.  My first college roommate threatened to kill me.

7.  I love my family, and feel a constant pressure to move closer, even though I don’t really want to live in the Midwest ever again.

8.  I wish my brothers and I were closer.

9.  I’m a horrible sleeper.  I spend my nights in constant self-flagellation.  I think about anything and everything I’ve done wrong that day, that week, or in my entire life.  Because of this, I never sleep soundly.  I wake up when a cricket farts three houses down.  Most days, I’m so physically and mentally fatigued it impacts my job, my wife, and the people around me.

10.  If I accidentally drop something, there’s a good chance I can catch it before it hits the ground.  We do not own a fly swatter because I can catch flies with my hands.  I then release them back into the wild.

11. If someone tells me I did something wrong, I obsess about it.  All the time.  I am still haunted by things I did when I was 10.

12.  I became a vegetarian recently.  If you’ve ever cleaned out a chicken coup or meat department like I have, you would understand why.

13.  I don’t have any morals or beliefs.  Seriously.  I don’t judge people.  I think this makes it easier for me to understand others who believe differently.  But I also thinks it makes it harder for people to understand me.

14.  I’m an atheist.  I think I became one because so many people told me I should believe.  And because Sunday service conflicted with WWF Wrestling.

15.  I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.  I hand it to you, then stress out preparing myself for that time when you crush it.

16.  I hide my emotions so much I purposely watch sad videos.  Crying is my only emotional release, and something I can do alone.

17.  It’s been three years and I constantly think about my father’s death.

18.  I think I’m pretty damn funny.  I also think I use biting wit and sarcasm to make sure people don’t get too close.

19.  I wish I could open up to more people.  I have a wonderful wife, and some really great friends.  And it’s still hard for me to talk openly and honestly with them.

20.  I almost didn’t write this because I was afraid I would be made fun of or you wouldn’t care.

Now, some of you may be wondering why I’m starting a “Real Political Conversations” blog this way.  But as you know, Williams’ death once again brings mental health discussion to the forefront.  And, like politics, I believe we start the discussion the wrong way.  We need to talk about facts, not opinions.  We need to talk about HOW to accept everyone’s differences before we debate WHAT to accept.  We need to stop blaming mental health issues solely on the individual, and start looking at the role society plays in forming those issues.  And most of all, we need to connect.

And maybe that connection starts with this.  Maybe opening up shows us we are not alone, that our differences make us unique, but are also shared with thousands or millions of others.  Some of you can’t sleep.  Others have trouble making friends.  I’d love to learn more about you.  I’d love for this to go viral and everyone posts their own list somewhere.  Anywhere.

But I completely understand if you don’t.