Jumbo

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

I had a nightmare last night I ate a giant marshmallow. When I woke up, my pillow was gone.

Ok, settle down.

Your nightmare joke is now a reality. Meijers had pallets of these JUMBO marshmallows staged alongside the graham crackers and Hershey chocolate bars. Really, these things were grotesquely huge. I think it might be national S’mores week to coincide with Independence day. Nothing says freedom like… marshmallows?

Happy Fourth of July. How much more American can we get? Oh, about another 100 pounds per person, I would reckon.

Be a patriot and eat up.

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#TwitterMakesYouStupid – a New York Times challenge

Last night, Bill Keller, Executive Editor, The New York Times tweeted out: “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss”

And of course, this started up a firestorm among the twits, many of whom were not particularly skilled with using the grammar of the English language or the proper placement of an apostrophe, but that probably proves Mr. Keller’s bias a bit too much.

I digress.

I don’t care about how stupid twitter makes you or if stupid people use twitter or any of that. Not one bit. My motives for writing this blog post are just way more selfish than that.

I hopped on over to The New York Times library of blogs and noticed a gaping hole in your catalog: NO DOG BLOG!

That can not stand!

Everybody knows that Americans only want to read stories of cute puppies, dogs being rescued from flooded drainage ditches, loyal dogs saving their owners during earthquakes or rescue dogs doing extraordinary things during times of tragedy like 9/11 (shameless, I know, but watch where I’m going with this before you judge.)

So, Mr. Keller, I propose you hire me to write a blog specifically dedicated to dog residents of New York City. In a city of 8-9 million people, many who own dogs, there has to be at least a hundred stories a year worth reporting, right?

I will be in New York City for the annual 140Conf June 15-16. Please call my people to set up an appointment in your offices.. or Gregory’s Coffee on 7th is fine. I’ll buy.

Unless you think I’m just too stupid to write for your little newspaper.

All you, Mr. Keller.

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The killing of Osama bin Laden

As the media launches it’s way into the play-by-play analysis of the Osama bin Laden raid, I’m left here struggling to figure out how I feel about the whole thing. I have come to the conclusion that I feel the same about bin Laden’s death as I do about the towers coming down on 9/11.

Brace yourself; it’s not anything an American living in a Red State will ever admit in public.

I do not feel fear. I do not feel joy. I do not feel any great swell of Americanism that compels me to rush out into the street shouting “U-S-A, U-S-A!” at the top of my voice or run to WalMart to buy the largest flag I can find and fly it from the highest flagpole.

I do not feel like anything life-altering has happened.

I do feel a bit ashamed that we are celebrating the death of someone, even if that someone chose to live his life committing evil and fostering evil and hatred. I do not feel happy or sad that Osama bin Laden is dead but I do feel sad that we are celebrating it with the same sort of cheering one reserves for the Super Bowl.

I feel dismayed that we have created an entire generation that has grown up in fear of terrorism and suspicious of each other instead of steeped in optimism and hope. Osama bin Laden did not do that to us; we did that to ourselves to win elections and to grab the reins of power.

I feel a massive tug of manipulation as the media work desperately to shape the “national mood” to fit a narrative instead of reporting it. I feel this event — like the 9/11 event — is being treated by the media like a book tour, a movie premiere or a CD drop complete with PR spin. They raise questions and then answer them, then treat the answers as if that was the news. Then, they report on what they heard based on what they said.

I feel like we’re being told how to feel by the warm-up guy in preparation for an upcoming election show. If we play our part, we’ll be rewarded with attention. If not, we’ll be ignored as fringe. Problem is, there is a lot of “fringe” out here.

I wish media would have stuck to a headline “Osama bin Laden Dead” instead of “Killed.” “Dead” states a face whereas “killed” injects opinion, conjecture and value judgments.

On Sept 11, 2011, the rest of the world was besieged by earthquakes, landslides and massive flooding. I know this because I had access to the AP Newswire all day at the Dayton Daily News. I had to ignore those stories and search instead for some angle, some news on the 9/11 story. These other stories went almost unreported for nearly a week as media crafted new narratives each day around the 9/11 story. And when that failed, CNN ran taped loops of the towers coming down and reconstructed timelines, much as they are doing now with the raid plans.

On May 1, 2011, tens of thousands of citizens in the South are still homeless as a result of horrific tornados. Fires rage in Texas. Oil still washes up from the Gulf. Gas prices are out of control at $4.19/gallon locally. Health care cost continue to rise at twice the rate of inflation. Housing prices continue to fall. Wages are stagnant. Unemployment is still high.

I think we need to start not only thinking for ourselves, but feeling for ourselves as well. I think we need to start embracing real feelings about things that matter more deeply rather that co-opting boogie-man feelings media report we should have.

Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Osama_bin_Laden_portrait.jpg

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Is that a blizzard up ahead? How we can easily get lured into a false truth

Many years ago, I was working as an area manager in Minnesota for a company that serviced retail stores. My area was all of Saint Paul, southern Minnesota including Rochester and Mankato and western Wisconsin. I was promoted to a corporate job in Dayton, Ohio and accepted in early December. Part of my transition duties was to take the new area manager to the stores and introduce him around. We decided to visit Rochester and scoot over to Mankato, then back up to St. Paul. Not a big deal, but there is no major freeway between the two cities so it was two-lane highway.

There was a forecast of a blizzard later in the the afternoon, so we set out early to beat the snow. We wouldn’t have another chance before I left and being stuck on a two-lane road in southern Minnesota in the middle of a blizzard was not our idea of fun.

….

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Saving face – What the DREAM Act was really about

The first rule any new parent should learn is: Never back yourself or your child into a corner.

Never issue ultimatums. Never be non-specific about the punishment. Never be over the top on punishment. All you are doing is setting up an environment of zero-sum discipline. Someone loses ultimately; someone wins ultimately. When your child is three years old, winning all the time is easy. When they are fifteen, success is not so guaranteed.

Always leave room to resolve the conflict so that each party is able to save face.

And that is the one lesson the Republicans have not quite figured out about the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented young people a path to citizenship provided they go to college or join the military. It is a face-saving path for both sides. The undocumented children must work for citizenship and the United States solves the problem of what to do with millions of human beings they really don’t have the resources — or the will — to box up and ship to the border.

Stopping the DREAM Act from coming up for a vote shows how immature and short-sighted the Republicans really are. Perhaps they should have spent more time parenting and less time clawing their way into the Senate. They would have learned some skills along the way.

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Why we are engineered for another 9/11; the TSA is working backwards

The media and blogosphere is going nuts with this recent hulla-balloo over the TSA pat-downs and full-body scanners. In news segment after segment, after the guest tirades about lack of privacy, dignity, pornography scan and whatever else is the convenient bumper sticker claim of the hour, the anchor eventually asks the guest, “What would you do differently?”

The question generally sends the guest into a sputtering mutter and the anchor then makes his/her point, “See? You have nothing. This is the best system we have even though it is imperfect, so sit down and shut up. We all want to be safe.”

Only that’s not really true.

All the TSA did after 9/11 is replace a patch-work of private security guards of questionable authority with standardized, uniformed TSA agents with unchallengeable authority and a McDonald-ized set of procedures. All airports must be set up a standard way. All interactions with passengers must be conducted in this manner with this script. All escalations are handled by a supervisor, here’s how passengers proceed through, here is how to wand, etc, etc.

When there is a procedure and a script, employees to fill the jobs are easy to find, easy to process, easy to train, cheap to pay and cheap to replace. It is like changing out a bolt in a piece of machinery. That is how we approached the job at hand; fill 65,000 jobs in less than a year. Instead of asking ourselves why we needed 65,000 TSA agents, we just marched forward to replace the patchwork system we had into a uniform one.

It’s how we handle anything that needs mass-processing in this country. And it is prone to malicious injection because it is standardized and predictable. A smart man who happens to be a retired Dayton police officer told me something right after 9/11 I’ll never forget. He said the minute we go to a national police system is when we become vulnerable. We may find it easier to communicate and coordinate, but it is easy to inject a virus and mole into a system. It is almost impossible to do the same with patchwork.

What I would do differently
Inject unpredictability into the airport environment. That helpless lost young man you helped who couldn’t remember where he parked? TSA agent. That pretty chatty girl who was in the elevator who wanted to know where you were flying off to? TSA agent. That grandmother whose cell phone battery just died and she asked to borrow your cell phone to call her niece? TSA agent. That frazzled businessman who was running late for his flight and wanted to know what time it was? TSA agent. That college student who thought your iPad was really cool, where did you get it and can I see it? TSA agent. That blind man with the dog at the duty-free store who asked you if he was holding a bottle of Absolut? TSA agent. The dog too. That hipster who liked your shoes and where did you get them? TSA agent.

All watching you, all asking you questions to determine how you react in situations that are unpredictable. And all either clearing you or escalating you before you reach security and even after you pass through.

And we all pass through metal detectors set up really high and we put our loose stuff in bins like we did before. We are waved through by cheerful uniformed guards but it is all just a show. Only the passengers who have been escalated past a certain comfort point are channeled through a special “high risk” area where their tickets, documentation, luggage and person is more thoroughly searched. Most of us blithely proclaim the United States is the most free country to walk around in. No planes are highjacked, because we all trust each other. That is how we live with freedom in America.

Or at least that is what the TSA wants us to believe. Just like Walt Disney makes everyone believe the streets on the Happiest Place on Earth are never littered with trash.

We would need less than half of the thousands we employ already with the TSA. We would have to commit to hiring and training people to be really good actors and profilers (not racial profilers) and we would have to be willing to inject new scenarios and outcomes every day into the airports. We would have to pay these people well. We may even be able to save a few from a life as a greeter at WalMart (who can spot a lie better than someone who has raised a teen-ager? AARP, you listening?)

We’d have to be committed to the real security of human beings by applying a human solution, not a blind faith in technology with a promise of automated safety. A system is predictable and predictability can be injected and highjacked.

What about putting people in charge again scares us most?

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Cultural sensitivity in the redneck woods

I was shopping at Kroger this afternoon. I bought two ribeye steaks, baking potatoes, sour cream, a few things of yogurt, onions and mushrooms. And a few other items of no consequence.

As I was checking out, the bagger girl asked me if it was ok if she put the steaks in the same bag as the sour cream and yogurt. “Of course,” I said and then immediately realized I had just experienced the first genuine cultural sensitivity in the nineteen years I had lived in Ohio.

She was actually asking me if I wanted to keep my groceries kosher.

And with that one small act, I’m beginning to change my mind about tolerance and understanding in the redneck woods I call home.

Today, Judaism. Tomorrow, Islam.

Maybe?

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Hello? Can anyone hear me? Koran burning over here

No, I’m not really burning a Koran nor would I burn a Bible, Torah or rip up a picture of the Pope. I wouldn’t even fling elephant poo on it, hang it in a museum and call it art. Why? It’s not that I don’t reserve the right to express myself in these ways — because in America, I do — but because they are deliberately intended to show disrespect to other people’s beliefs about themselves. Doing these things is only intended to send a message of disrespect to others, not as an expression of my free speech.

But that is not really my point. I just said all that because I believe it to be true, but also to stave off any nutjob who wanted to come over here and pee all over my carpet just to show he can. Whoopdeedoo, you found the comment box.

My point is just one small contention with one assertion President Obama made in his press conference today. He stated (40:22):

This is a way of endangering our troops… I hardly think we’re the ones who elevated it. In the age of the Internet, something that could cause us profound damage around the world.

With all due respect, Mr. President, I disagree.
Continue reading “Hello? Can anyone hear me? Koran burning over here”

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Quit scaring us and quit calling us ignorant. The great Park51 mosque debate

I’ve been mulling over this issue of the Park51 community center containing a mosque for the past week now, trying to reconcile in my own head the disconnect I have with an unconditional freedom of and from religion and the general unease and empathy I feel with those who oppose the placement of a community center containing a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. After being scared to death by the Republicans and called ignorant and intolerant by the Liberals, I struck me what was at the core of this issue.

Most Americans don’t see Islam as a religion but rather as an imperial political and cultural machine. When a “religion” becomes politicized, it then becomes fair game to oppose, much like Fascism, Communism or Socialism. The intolerance becomes perfectly rational because this “thing” you oppose is no longer a religion. Ok, just hold on a minute and I’ll explain how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

In the West, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the natural state of religion is separate from the secular state. When we look “over there” at governments like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, The Philippines and such, we see a religion that trumps the secular state. To us, it is the equivalent of the Supreme Court being overruled by clergymen and The Bible.

I object strongly to the Republicans painting a picture of fear and mistrust, comparing Islam to Naziism and the like. I get why they are doing it. Nobody pays attention to the rational anymore. Everything has to be hyperbolic. But what irritates me even more than the calculated contrived craziness of the Right is the haughty indignation of the Left, calling us all ignorant for not recognizing Islam as a religion for which we need to be tolerant. They scold and berate us for having a bit of trepidation about the intent of the Muslim community when clearly we can see established government states being unnecessarily cruel and inhuman, run by the same religion that tells us it is peace-loving. We are conflicted. What is Islam then? Islam ultimately must be a religion that is peaceful until it gains power. Then it is not.

For eight years, the peace-loving Evangelical Christians had the US Government at its beck and call, wielding power over who was and was not worthy to serve as an elected in a secular government. Only toward the end of the George Bush Administration did their stranglehold loosen.

A Catholic as late as the 1960s was seen as unelectable because it was believed that allegiance to the Pope in Rome would trump the Oath to defend the Constitution. John Kennedy proved that wrong; Bart Stupek made us wonder all over again.

In 1620, the Puritans landed in Massachusetts after getting kicked out of England and The Netherlands and promptly set up a theocracy which eventually led to some witch trials some seventy years later. Eventually, secular sense took hold, but not before a lot of people were scared into confessing sins which they did not commit as a matter of civil law. It is a convenient myth to believe that the Puritans were kicked out of England for practicing their religion, when in fact, they wanted their version of religion to rule the State. King James kinda had it right.

We mistrust the Muslim intentions because we mistrust our own. We’ve seen how a religion that purports itself to be tolerant, patient, peace-loving and kind will turn cruel, ugly and destructive when it gains power. While many of us can’t articulate exactly why we feel like we do about the Mosque at Park51, these feelings of uneasiness are no less valid. It is not empty fear stoked up by loud voices nor is it intentional ignorance and faulty logic the arrogant intellectuals would have us believe. Perhaps it is our own sense of history with regard to religion that gives us pause.

But we are not ignorant, fear-mongering intolerant trolls. We mistrust because there is a reason.

And a small pup is easier to kill than a full-sized bear.

..

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What is really going on behind the NYC mosque? It’s personal

As plans for an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero move forward, the arguments for and against is getting more and more contentious. On the one end of the debate, Sarah Palin, Rev. Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich and others are outraged that radical Islam can be allowed to exist so close to “sacred ground.” On the other end, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others claim that the United States is a country of laws that tolerate all or no religion and that the Islamic community center has a right to exist where it wants.

But both sides are wrong and are wagging the dog.

I happened to be listening to the soundtrack of Les Misérables this morning with Morning Joe debating the issue. As it was, “Who am I?” was playing and the lyrics below burned into my brain:

If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!

At the end of the song, Jean Valjean decides that the punishment of eternal damnation was far worse than any punishment the state and Javert could inflict on him and declared loudly that he was 24601!* Without going too deeply into a character analysis, Jean Valjean’s faith eventually overwhelmed his need for corporal survival. One could argue all day long that it wasn’t really his faith in God and his fear of eternal damnation, but his place in the community, etc, etc. But they would be wrong. It was his faith or his “bargain” with God.

It is not about religion, the rule of law, public sensibilities or tolerance. It is all about the individual’s relationship with their God. In the end, each player in this act believes he or she will be standing naked before their God and defend his or her actions. Muslims will defend they did all they could to expand Islam and Christians will defend they did all they could to be tolerant of others.

Eventually, the rule of law in the United States will say that there is no legal basis for denying the group from building a mosque, regardless of how close it is to Ground Zero. For Muslims, expansion into a Judeo-Christian stronghold like the United States is a victory. For Christians who believe in forgiveness, accepting Muslims into the fold is a victory. Both sides will win the tussle because they define victory differently. In the end, however, the “State” known as the United States of America will cease. It may take a hundred years, it may take a thousand, but the path of tolerance will eventually doom us. Time is an irrelevant metric for God.

And for many, that will be ok because by then, the concept of a state existing without a religion will be as foreign a concept as a body without a soul, like a bulldozer without a driver, like a dog without a master.

*If you really, really want to go deeper into this, start thinking about the cry to Allah that each of the 9/11 hijackers shrieked as they crashed into the buildings. The parallels here are frightening.

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