Through Rose City Colored Glasses

Last week it became apparent that I am out of touch with the rest of the world. The distance between myself has never geographically changed, but the chasm between me and what some call real Americans, the heartland, the life’s blood of this country has never been larger.

With the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, I realized I don’t spend enough time with conservatives; I forgot what their true colors are. Legalizing unions brought out some talk I didn’t think we allowed in this country anymore without politely accepting resignations to spend more time with family in lieu of firings or Jerry Mcguire-esque freak outs. I mean, why should Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee surprise me anymore?

I blame you, Portland. Sure, Oregon is more of a split state, but Portland is the liberal poster child we slap on bumper stickers and paint on postcards to hide the bigotry and tradition that hold sway outside the I-5 corridor between Autzen Stadium and the Rose Quarter.

With Portland as my cocoon, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart as my newsmen, Google preferences, RSS feeds, a steady diet of Farmers Markets and brunch, ironic barbershops and beard competitions, I kind of forgot that under the proud waving of confederate flags, pot, and even love were reviled in whatever is out there in the wastelands once ya get past The Dalles.

Legal weed (hell, free weed until we figure out how to sell it), legalized unions, words like artisanal and organic being as ubiquitous as hand-crafted and locally grown are our foundations. We thank the bus driver as we disembark, celebrate every single summer weekend as a city with blues festivals, musicfests, city fair, rose festival, craft beer festivals, food bazaars, and get probably 1/4 of our dietary need out of trucks. This city bikes through the streets naked and then runs through them to fight cancer. We gather food by the ton and collect toys by the truckload every year for our friends and neighbors we haven’t met yet. Oh, and we love our football club more than you love yours.

With all that, it is easy to both forget that some see equal love as the darkest times in this country’s history (Ted Cruz’s words). Our darkest time? In our history as a nation? Others call it the end of democracy. The end? This was the thing? Legal unions will topple a checks and balances government with free elections which is part of the G7, UN Security Council, and wields the world’s most advanced and well-used militaries? I kind of feel like gay people don’t have the kind of power it takes to unravel nearly 300 years as a free republic.

Others call for the end of SCOTUS. Even though they are written into the constitution, this is not the country our forefathers envisioned…that’s probably correct. I don’t think they’ve had this in mind since we stopped employing children, owning minorities, or let women…I don’t know, think, maybe? I’m pretty sure we turned their minds to jelly with manifest destiny or just inventing our way to jet lag. They were ignorant white men who lived before radio, so let’s cut them some slack, they were no Isaac Asimov so they probably didn’t see this (waves hand around the room at everything) coming.

Look, I’m not saying I don’t read the news. I keep up as much as the average guy, but my time isn’t spent railing against freedom. I don’t waste my breath spouting threats of setting myself on fire if gays get licenses. I don’t claim that this nation is now less free because states now need to recognize gay unions. I don’t spend my time slighting a group that wants nothing more than equal standing. I don’t have time for that, I live in Portland. I’ve got a hackerspace open house to attend. I’ve got to find the city’s best thai food, try all the beers in the WW summer rundown. Need to check off as many to-dos for the summer before the rains set in. There’s the bite and the beer festival coming up. Shoot, when is MFNW? Wait, did I miss WTF? Damn.

Portland keeps me busy, keeps me insulated from the hate, and has for better or worse, made me not a more tolerant person, but an indifferent person; it’s your life, and frankly I am too busy to spend my time trying to keep people marginalized. Gay marriage isn’t a thing here. Ted Cruz and the bigots were just the last to get the hashtag, just like racists were the last to get the message before them. History doesn’t smile kindly on those that were the last to know. Darkest hours don’t come in rainbow colors, folks, so let’s tone down the rhetoric. Now if you’ll excuse us, but Portland will go back to snickering about how ridiculous you all sound and get our tickets to the next awesome thing we do that everyone is equally invited to attend.

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Minimum Wage Hikes Ask One Question: What Does Our Toil Owe Us?

The argument for or against the minimum wage increases is not one easily proven by numbers. A $15 minimum wage in some states would be outrageous given local economies and cost of living adjustments. We all know the obvious difference between the cost of living in Branson, MO; and Los Angeles, CA.

As cities have made the change in part or in full from Seattle to LA, the affects of the change won’t be felt for some time. The models we often rely on prove inconclusive  as to what that cost to businesses and the influx of income for the worker may end up truly costing us.

The factors less mentioned are the strain on the local, small business. Will this lead to fewer jobs? Will it lead to fewer hours for employees? If I’m getting paid as minimum wage employee twice as much, but the business cuts my hours in half, what have i gained? More free time to find another job, one that may be hard to find in a community reeling from wage hikes.

That same future for some is a brighter one. More pay means more discretionary spending, and that money goes back into the community further bumping up the local economy. A worker with more money, spends more money, and they spend in those businesses that were saddled with higher labor expenses. Economies adjust with market changes.

Minimum wage is seen one of two ways. It is either the legally binding least amount of money an employer can pay a person for their time and service, or it is the minimum wage needed to make a living; the living wage.

These have forever been different numbers depending in which study you read. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers, the theories, or the impact before you ask yourself if the minimum wage should ensure a comfortable life or simply protect the least skilled of our workforce from being being paid competitively less than the next guy; a race to the bottom.

Fifteen bucks an hours sounds good. It fits in a headline, makes for a decent chant, a great soundbite, and best of all makes for a solid picket sign, but it is a made-up number, an unproven threshold. I can find 100 different wages we should get paid from state to state, city to city, and based on some arbitrary number that presents the minimum life a person should be allowed to live.

Why aren’t we demanding paid vacation for all employees? Aren’t family vacations and trips of a lifetime something inherently promised in a pursuit of happiness? Why should I need to forego two weeks of paid time off because a business “can’t afford it”? Legally mandate that instead of a wage hike.

What about medical insurance provided by the employer even for part-time employees? The understood rule for avoiding medical and vacation for employees (if it is a company benefit at all) is simply hire them and work them slightly less than the threshold for full-time employment. Hire more part-timers, save more money. Close the loophole and keep our workers healthier; a well employee is a better employee.

We want a better life for minimum wage workers? A bright future is one where work is optional. Mandate retirement planning for all employees, matching their contribution to company 401K’s up to 15% of their pay. Maybe offer high school students or person under 25 that same financial matching for college funding instead. Get creative with wages now for a brighter tomorrow.

From there maybe you require promotion from within companies for 30% of all position changes. Make the minimum wage job a temporary one by definition and educate your workforce to create better employees who are qualified for jobs above minimum wage. Maybe we simply require all minimum wage jobs to include work incentives for bonuses, incremental raises after employment periods for the first few years every six months. Maybe we require profit sharing within a company, a small piece of the net profits of a company you worked so hard for based on your hours and performance reviews.

Has anyone looked into the possibility of these choices or a combination of them? You may argue that minimum wage workers need more pay for their toils, but I argue that the minimum wage doesn’t guarantee a livable wage, it was never intended to do that. It protected the worker from exploitation the same as child labor laws kept children from being worked 16 hours a day.

As with most problems, we are looking for the silver bullet. We are looking for the simple solution that will solve all of the issues surrounding a cause; we don’t make enough money in our lowest paying jobs, pay them more money so that there is less struggle. A novel approach may be to not increase wages, but ease burdens and empower the worker. It is no wonder a company will pay unskilled labor a minimum wage, business is about profit. Instead of changing the minimum wage, lets look at the whole picture, the plight of the minimum wage worker and get them out of that job eventually, or make that job better in a lot of small ways, not just one.

No one can tell you exactly what a minimum wage increase of this magnitude would do, it is be definition unprecedented. Are we making less money than we did fifty years ago? Relatively, yes, but what also hasn’t changed is the rights minimum wage workers have to certain benefits. If we can’t agree that minimum wage should guarantee a livable wage, let’s at least agree that steps can be taken to ensure that the worker is provided the chance for a livable life, some liberties, and a pursuit of happiness for those equipped with the work ethic to go and get it.

These are simply a few hair-brained, unfounded, ideas that represent “anything but a minimum wage hike.” This is an entry in our ongoing series, half-cocked concepts. I have no sources I can or will reference. This is a whiteboard brainstorming session, a drunken debate at a dive bar, and an argument amongst the ill-informed, but that’s where ideas get jotted on to napkins or where a conversation begins. If you’ve got a better idea, we’d love to hear it. If you are just going to send a link to someone else’s idea, stats, or some study, you can keep those. Original ideas to solve an issue, or your personal philosophy for this and other issues are much appreciated though. None of us are scholars or experts, so let’s just speak frankly and see if we can’t find one good idea amongst the garbage ones.

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Keep Calm and Let’s Talk Guns

Let’s talk about gun control. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Everyone calm down. Jesus. Lower your weapons. Put the guns down. Put ‘em down. I just wanna talk. Why do you have an erection? C’mon, man that’s weird. Everybody just relax. This is a conversation. Yosemite Sam, put away your magic six-shooters I’ve never seen you reload. OK, are we good now? Roll up that “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. Alright, let’s just talk with our words.

Gun control is the topic of the day, and I think we can safely call it a point of contention in this country. Let’s face it, not only do we love our right to bear arms, we just plain ol’ love guns. We love them in movies, video games, and the idea of scantily clad women firing them. I’m just gonna put it out there that no one is going to come for your guns. You can rest easy that your government isn’t going to march jack-booted down Main Street kicking in doors and collecting your guns to be melted down to make handcuffs. Frankly, for a guy who owns a lot of guns you’re a little paranoid.

It is a constitutional right for you to bear arms as a free citizen in this country. Among other rights like free speech, which I exercise until I tear a first amendment ACL, there is no touching it. We cherish them and will defend them to our death, and we have needed guns to do so. Not arguing with that point here. I would kill for my free speech, the right I value more than any other, so I can see your willingness to defend your favorite amendment.

Unfortunately, my lifetime has seen many a massacre and people are looking for answers. The violence and loss of life in movie theaters and schools recently has highlighted the need for an open discussion and a meeting of mind, cooler heads, to try to stop the violence. Some have tried to point the finger at music in the past, some at video games, and others at our terrible mental health system as causes of the violence. Since guns don’t kill people, what is making people kill? I appreciate the search for answers, but music and video games aren’t the cause. Furthermore, if we are talking about our constitutional rights, the Supreme Court has ruled that music, literature, and now video games are covered and protected by the first amendment. Turn around is fair play, gun owners.

If we can’t do anything about media influencing violent behavior, then we need to be open to the idea that maybe the second amendment needs some new interpreting. Here is my position on the pro-gun, don’t touch my rights crowd: If you’re not even willing to hear ideas about limiting gun ownership, tighter registration regulations, outlawing assault rifle purchases, or limiting how much ammunition one person can possess, then what you are saying is that the current violence and loss of life at the business end of firearms is an acceptable consequence of freedom. I humbly disagree with your opinion.

If you want no additional regulation, no limitations, and maybe even want more guns in more people’s hands, then what you also support is that from time to time someone is going to shoot up a school, a theater, or attempt to assassinate a congresswoman in front of a Safeway. That these events are the acceptable collateral damage of living in a free society.

As I said, I love my freedom of speech. I turn back to Uncle Ben in these intractable situations when he told Peter Parker that with great power comes great responsibility. With the power to express myself freely comes the responsibility of such a power. I also must tolerate that other people do not take this right as seriously as I do. I must suffer bigots, homophobes, racists, and fools who have the same right to express themselves publicly as I do. Would I love to shut them up and stop their hate speech? Sure, and I might even fantasize about doing it by exercising my second amendment all over their faces, but I don’t because I realize that sometimes people will abuse their rights. However, when some abuse the first amendment, it’s sticks and stones. Abusing the second amendment abuse ends in the ER, not the opinions section of the LA Times.

The real bitch about gun control is that there is no right answer. This is not an algebra equation. There is no answer for X. This topic is a matter of opinion and of philosophy. This discussion goes deep in to a place that lights raging infernos inside people. This is a question of what kind of society we want to live in? What kind of message do we send to the world? It’s no different from the question of abortion rights or legalizing pot or gay marriage. There is no right answer. We must decide what we individually believe in and decide what kind of nation we want to make for ourselves.

Those of you armed to the teeth who go out and shoot off guns for kicks, who hide behind the second amendment with a collection of 20 guns as a method of “personal defense,” (who are you defending your home against? Nicaraguan death squads?) aren’t going to be swayed. I also fear that this type of thrill seeking paranoid deviant is in the minority. I am assuming there are more people in this country with just a shotgun and a pistol in a lock box in a closet to truly just defend their home. I am assuming there are more non-gun owners in this country than those that are absurdly strapped. I also like to think that many people see these recent tragedies, are reminded of violence in the past, and want to stop jerking off on the second amendment and realize that we have a right to bear arms, but maybe we have a responsibility to think long and hard about what that means.

The forefathers wrote the Bill of Rights at a time when foreign powers could land on our shores and take over a city. They wrote it at a time when government was in its infancy and the chance for corruption and totalitarian dictatorship was easier then than it is now. That’s why you could have guns. To kill invaders and defend your sheep from wolves. Times have changed and with it we must change our view that we’re not allowed to say that the forefathers didn’t have this world in mind when they wrote the basis of our modern society. Hell, they might have even been flat-out wrong.

Guns aren’t going anywhere. The second amendment is safe. No one is going to try to pry your gun from your cold dead hands, so just relax. I do think it’s time though to consider state level amendments and laws. There must be something we can do to affect change in the culture and the sale of guns. You can try to defer the real problem to other issues like violent video games, but guns are still things designed to kill. Quote me stats on cars killing more people each year than guns. Tell me stories about the time a man saved his family from an intruder because he had a gun. Entertain me with your memes quoting Hitler and your 140 character tweets from Nugent and Heston. Unfurl your flags and post cartoons about assault rifles. Go ahead and treat this serious issue with the same respect you treat Twilight movies and hilarious YouTube videos; yeah, that’s how adult conversations go. That’s your first amendment right and I can tolerate it. We are going to talk about this though, whether you’re in the conversation or not. I hope we have finally decided as a nation, with the slaughtering of children, that it’s time we took a little responsibility over our rights. The collateral damage of this inalienable freedom is getting out of hand.

I would love to hear your opinions and talking points on this subject. This article is not one based in facts and figures. Just as with this issue, I am looking at this philosophically. This is where I believe you start with an issue like this. You need to first decide where you stand, why, and need to think long and hard about whether giving up a little can make a huge difference. I am not a gun owner. I’m not a fan of guns, frankly, but I respect and can understand the right and desire to own them. Please comment and let me know your opinion on this subject and any ideas you might have for further gun control on a federal or state level. Opinions by definition aren’t wrong, so there is nothing you can say that is wrong, now am I wrong in my position. We just need to talk. No, don’t post links to memes, NRA speeches, or something else. I want to hear from you and what you think, not some regurgitated opinion from someone else. This is the type of thing where you really need to think for yourself. Hope to hear from you, and please keep the profanity to a minimum.

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Newtown: A Call For a New World

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while. There is no unbiased position to take in the aftermath of a tragedy that redefines the word. This is one of those moments where adjectives fall short of sentiment; where rage mixes with shock and awe for a cocktail of appreciating what you still have and deep down inside you stirs the selfish thoughts that at least it didn’t happen to you. I’m not going to pretend that I feel or understand the scope of the impact of what happened last week. I can’t. I am not a father and I am just far enough away to look at the devastation as an abstract exercise in empathy. I fall short in every way to either understand this or to truly feel it. I am incapable, I suppose, but I think we all are if we’re honest with ourselves.

In the aftermath of such an event we take stock of our lives. I am sure parents are kissing and hugging their children harder than they ever have before. I am sure embraces are warmer, and love dives deeper than we ever thought it could; we never thought we could hold our breath down here.

There is the searching we all do. In events of this magnitude, seismic emotional quakes that have reached the other side of the world like the destructive flapping of the butterfly’s wings. We are all searching for three things as the dust settles and is rearranged. We ask why, how, and what can we do to never feel this way again?

Why? It’s our first question. Why would someone do this? It’s like asking a wall why it stands or why it crumbles. There is no good answer. I hate to be the one to state the obvious, but there is nothing that can be given you that will suffice. Motive may sway a jury in a trial, but there is no motive that can satisfy me. You can’t ask Gacy, Manson, or the Menedez boys and get a logical or reasonable excuse for their actions. There is no advocacy for the devil here. Nothing will fit the crime. We could be told the voices told him to do it, that it was domestic, that it was terrorism, that it was anger management issues, PTSD, or that he just hated life. I could rail off a million reasons for why, and they will never suffice. What’s done is done and there is nothing that can make it understandable.

How is where the lines in the sand come from. Guns. He killed with guns. He just walked in to the school and slaughtered our conditioned reality in a few moments of utter madness. How leads to the shock and we all love our little boxes for things. Just like why, we want to compartmentalize so we can fit this new thing in with the old things. This kind of violence, madness belongs in this box or that one. We want details. What kinds of guns? Where was the school? What time was it? How did he just walk in to the school? How could he do this? How leads to key points that ring out as the new thing to champion. It wakes us up to issues we had forgotten about since the last violence or the last event. We forget about bigotry and homophobia until someone gets tied to a fence and beaten to death. We forget about things we cherish until they are endangered. It’s just the way we are as a species. Until it is threatened, the illusion of safety lulls us in to complacency. Consider us all shocked to alertness.

Now we want to prevent it. We never thought it possible, can’t wrap our minds around the tragedy, but now that it’s happened we never want to feel this way again. Let’s stop it. What can we do? Is it gun control? Is it school security? Is it arming teachers? Is it monitoring students and classrooms more closely? Is it a little of everything? What do we do to stop this from ever happening again?

I’ve seen your memes, your tweets, and your status updates. I’ve seen your personal protests and your open prayers. I know this: There is no answer. Gun control will never eliminate guns and especially violence. We could melt down every gun on the planet and it wouldn’t stop the flow of guns if there’s a market. Let’s say we end gun ownership, then people will just sharpen sticks and take archery classes. Violence occurs with bare hands, guns are just more efficient, and in this country they aren’t going anywhere.

We can’t arm teachers. That’s all we need: a gun in a classroom at all times. That just isn’t going to end well. Do we want to turn schools in to police states patrolled by officers with guns? Metal detectors at every door, CCTV in every classroom, defense training for all staff, lockdown drills weekly, and no bathroom breaks. Campuses lined by electric doors and barbed wire? I don’t know. Seems extreme to me.

This is a tragedy I wish I’ll never be alive to see again. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is. I don’t have one, which is the only thing I am certain of. I know that one of my initial thoughts after hearing the news was, “I don’t want to live in this world anymore.” I’m not saying suicide was the answer. I’m too stubborn to give up on life, but I know that this world–a world where this happens–is not one I want to be a part of. I don’t know how to get there, to a place where this is something of an era we call the time before we did something better for the human race. We can do better than this. I don’t know what will get us there, but I hope this shock to reality, analysis, and self-searching will turn out something that can be viewed as a step forward. I don’t know, but I just can’t keep doing this. I am ashamed of what we have built. It’s broken, and we need to figure out how to fix it. Maybe there is no one answer because this wasn’t a question that happened, I was just a damned tragedy.

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Cyberbullying: Throwing the Tormented Baby Out With the Bathwater

Cyberbullying. The word evokes myriad emotions. Since 2005, according to the NCSL website, 34 states have laws to prevent and prosecute cyberbullies. From Alabama to Wyoming, there are significant efforts to empower schools, review boards, and committees to punish cyberbullies where proof can be delivered for actions taken by one, or multiple, students picking on and teasing another. This was called something else in my day…bullying. You can invent a word, you can admit that technology has provided a new forum, but it is nothing more than what kids have been doing to one another since two or more were put in a small room together. I am not advocating bullying via any means, but one question comes to mind when I think of the scope of these laws: What could be waiting for us at the bottom of this slippery slope?

My mother brought me up reciting the old adage that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Good advice as far as I could tell. Let the water roll off the ducks back, but I never had feathers. Words can hurt, and they did hurt. I was bullied and teased me when I was in school. I was poor, smart, and overtly awkward and nerdy. I was Sophomore class President, I was in Leadership class, and never went out for sports. I was an easy target, but in my day, if it wasn’t at school, school couldn’t do nothing. You ratted to your mom if anyone.

Bullying today seems to be on another level, or it is made out to be awful. I get the sense, having not experienced schoolyard bullying in more than a decade, that kids today are more articulate, vulgar, and unrelenting in their torment. I don’t know what this says about kids today, but cyberbullying certainly says a lot about the modern conveniences technology provides. Cowards today take to the Twitterverse and Facebook to lambaste and abuse a classmate. Gone are the days requiring face to face torment, technology has allowed for an efficient means to torment from the convenience of home.

Today, there are laws and regulations on the books empowering schools to enforce penalties for bullying outside the school’s direct purview. See this as an example:

Colorado 2005; HB 1036

Requires each school district, to adopt an internet safety plan consisting of a comprehensive, age-appropriate curriculum teaching the safe and legal use of the internet; encourages each school district to use existing internet safety resources available from nonprofit organizations and to work with local law enforcement agencies in adopting and developing the curriculum; directs each school district to identify a person who is responsible for overseeing implementation of the internet safety plan. Includes online bullying as a topic that the curriculum may address.

This is a terrifying precedent to set. The school is empowered to punish a child for what is done off school grounds, off school hours, on the internet? We have put this kind of power in the hands of a state/federal institution? What might be the next step we take after this to curb a misbehaving prepubescent? Perhaps the next step is to make laws allowing the school to hand out detention to a 10-year old for not doing his chores? Schools are here to educate your kids, not raise them. Pandora’s box, ladies and gentlemen…let’s see what inside.

What happened to freedom of speech? You can say what you will for this argument, but don’t minors have freedom of speech, too? When in school, as I understand it, students forfeit most Constitutional rights. How many times have we seen stories of student papers being silenced, shut down, or forbidden from running a story by the administration? I understand the need to avoid offending anyone or potentially undermining administrative authority inside a school, but what’s the deal with infringing on Constitutional rights of Americans for some vulgarity written on a message board?

OK, they are kids. By definition they are mentally handicapped–given the slow development of the frontal cortex–but they still have rights. Freedom of speech should be taken from anyone able to operate a computer up to the age of 18 if they torment someone? I don’t know about all of this. OK, on school grounds you best watch your tongue and look over your shoulder if a teacher is in earshot before you lay in to some poor sap, but to punish for exercising free speech on the internet outside of school? This is a dangerous sword to be swinging around.

As an American citizen I can write or say almost anything I want; almost. I cannot threaten the life of the President of any government official, and without proof I can’t accuse anyone of illegal activity. I cannot say that Rush Limbaugh is embezzling money to fund an illegal kiddie porn ring, but I can say he’s a creepy, pervy pill-popper. One is libel, the other is my opinion. My opinion is covered by freedom of the press and speech; libel is illegal. To call someone an idiot, bitch, whore, slut, asshole, or ugly is simply opinion, and violates no law that I know of. Well, no law until 2005 legislation was passed in Colorado.

Alright, it’s a stretch, but I look at this decision the same as people seemed to eye the Patriot Act. In response to fear of terrorist attacks, sleeper cells, and domestic terrorists, we gave up just about every right we have. Under the Patriot Act the government can run roughshod over your life, legally break in to your house without a warrant, and legally detain you without council or charges or trial for as long as they see fit. You might say that if you’re doing nothing wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide. I agree, but the issue is that the power wielded can be brought to bear for any reason, on incomplete information, and can be an invasion of privacy and an egregious attack on the Constitutional law some many of the people in this country seem to enjoy and are willing to defend to the death. The Patriot Act still exists nonetheless.

Just as in the knee-jerk aftermath of 9/11, the heartbreaking losses and emotions have run us aground on “Anything is better than nothing” rock. Just as in September some 10 years ago, we are scrambling to find meaning, and to prevent it from ever happening again. Next thing you know, schools will be monitoring activities online. Scares the shit out of me, quite frankly, that this kind of thing is acceptable, this kind of punitive reach of a school, in the lives of young people. An inch can lead to a mile a lot faster than anticipated.

What scares me most about laws like this is what can be next. When you empower an institution to punish an offense, the next step is prevention. To prevent something, you need to know about it before it is happening. What is a school to do? Start monitoring the internet activities of “problem students?” The school does the punishing–expulsion, detention, transfers, etc.–so why not put the onus for prevention on them, too?

There’s the rub. It’s not this step, but the next one. The responsibility may not be on the school now for prevention, but it might one day be on them. Schools are nothing more than federally mandated education institution administering a certified curriculum to students ages 6 to 18 for a 12 year period to get a legally binding certificate of achievement. Now, I understand that we entrust the safety of children to them, but is this really in their purview? In the last two years we have dissolved the collective bargaining rights of some teachers unions, skewered them for their “lavish” salaries, and now after shitting on these people we expect them to not just care for the education and well-being of children, but to be responsible for protecting them, too? You ask too much, sir.

Responsibility implies liability. The public outcry at the next teen suicide attributed to cyberbullying will be for heads to roll…and we’re not talking parents. People love to point fingers. When a death note of a child says they couldn’t take the bullying anymore, all eyes will turn to schools not doing anything, and if they did something well within the law, it will not have been enough. We’ve seen this before in school shootings, and in any case where there is an intractable outcome, the instinct that comes to mind first is who can we blame. We like a scapegoat in this country, and damned if a “lavishly” paid fourth year teacher isn’t a fine thing to hang in public square.

It is not the responsibility of a school to look out for the well-being of a child outside their walls. It is not the fault of the administration if someone is teased or beaten up during summer break. It is not the responsibility of a school or district administration to have to devote so much time and effort to curbing something that passes with graduation. The next step after empowering them for punishment is prevention. Prevention leads to monitoring, and now we’re in a Aldous Huxley novel we’ll never get out of–Brave New World, kids? Hell, you’ll get to it. It was required reading when I was your age. This is not the first step down this slope of administration and educator intervention in the private lives of students and parents and won’t be the last. This is however the first shot over the bow of monitoring internet activity, one PIPA and SOPA couldn’t pull off. It may have taken the suicides of children, but schools have expanded their reach, for better or worse, and it represents a dangerous precedent, and one I am sure many other state and federal institutions are taking notes on. I am just looking forward to the first metaphorical public hanging of a sixth grade teacher as a result.

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Share the Good News: It’s All Greek to Me, Though

Unabashed faith stands as the most fascinating occurrence I have ever seen in another person. Blind belief in the greater power pulling the marionette strings of destiny in this world inspires awe and wonder in me. Religion has inspired more good deeds balanced against great bloodshed than any form of government or other human idiosyncrasy than any other character flaw in humanity. Not to say belief in a character flaw, but that all those flaws outlined by religion are not the greatest debts humanity must pay for in the next life. It is to say that belief in this way of living prescribed by a greater power through the mouths of men is as dangerous a weapon as any designed to date, and I cannot count myself among the believers; but my hands are not clean either.

Religion has existed since man looked to the sky with enough intelligence to ask “why”? We have looked for some reason, some form of explanation for our existence, then questioned how best to exist. Animals have never concerned themselves with such mind-boggling questions, and they aren’t offing each other in record numbers, so there is that.

I have always wondered why religion ever came in to existence. Religion and faith are mutually exclusive in my eyes. “Religious” and “faithful” are not to be confused as the same thing. It has also perplexed me how complicated being in a religion can be. Christianity alone has so many off-shoots and schisms through the years, yet it is all the same book, the Holy Bible, that they subscribe to. Further confusing is the fact, bald-faced fact, that all Muslims, Jews, and Christians believe in the same God. There is no Jewish God, no Christian God, and no Muslim God. There is only God. Yet there is such hatred and misunderstanding between all of His followers. Where is one to turn to for guidance? Which flavor of faith can I get in the Baskin-Robbins of religion?

There are no easy answers in picking a religion. I marvel at the dedication exhibited by those that choose, though. People make a fixed, lifelong decision to stick with their maker on their chosen path. We get bogged down in how to worship, how to pay penance, what to think, what to resist, and what to say; but these are the details that define the differences in the major, monotheistic religions on Earth while we lose sight of the similarities found in the different paths to salvation.

My own struggles with belief in God comes from a general character flaw of disbelief. I am plagued by a general distrust for agendas, and religions have them in spades. Christianity and Catholicism have their hands in too many pies for me to feel that at the center of it all is the teachings of Christ. I think Jesus would balk at Washington lobbyists and the agenda of His people today. I like to think that Jesus would be appalled at how his message has been contorted over the last 2,000 years.

Jesus would be horrified to see how His message has created a polarized, world-changing role in our history. Forget the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, just look at the business His word has inspired, and I think you can see where my disconnect comes from.

Big ups for God in the house! This spun gold don't pay for itself! Pass the plate, bitches!
(AP/Andrew Medichini)

There are approx. 2 billion Christians of one stripe or another in the world. Using the Church of England as a loose model, it costs an estimated $1 billion pounds to fund the church. Extrapolating this number out for all Christians, there is an operating cost of about $1.9 trillion dollar annually for Christianity. This is big business. Everything from maintaining churches and cathedrals, to salaries, humanitarian efforts, and yes, even lobbyists and PR campaign costs are rolled in to this. That is my opinion, though. Oddly enough, it is pretty hard to find any kind of disclosure on the overall income of a religion through any internet search. Imagine that? A religion hiding the books. This causes me alarm regarding the selfless, humility of service to God in a large religion.

I also back pedal from the idea that any one religion got it right. To think that any one deviation leading to an organized portion of a church is the right one is not just wrong, I think that it is prideful. If God’s plan is beyond comprehension by man, then who are we to think we cracked the code defining how to live within the construct of that plan? I’m not saying Christians, Muslims, or Jews are wrong, but I will readily admit that I have no clue what an omniscient creator has in store, or that I understand the magnitude of the grand plan.

I am also weary of the actual text any religion uses as its guiding light. The Bible? Flawed as all get out. In the court of law in this land, empirical evidence such as DNA weighs greater than an eye-witness account; yet we believe so strongly, and without question, in a book canonized some 1,500 years ago making for the ultimate chain letter passed down through the longest standing game of “telephone” ever played. It has been translated, reprinted, and handled by the corruptible hands of men who bore the curse of free will. These were men in great positions, some swayed by the romantic desire to control a kingdom, indoctrinate a population, and legitimize their claim to a throne or station. I can’t believe for a moment that not one man in 2,000 years lost some pages, chose one text over another, or took some poetic license with something as powerful as the word of God. Man has never shown itself to be so altruistic as to pass up a chance to advance their cause.

Then there is the terrifying prospect put forward by those that think we are living in the end times. Whether it be the Book of Revelations, the end of the Mayan calendar, or the predictions of Nostradamus, there are so many people who think we are nearing the end of days…and they seem happy about it. The idea that there are those in faith that almost pray for the end to come, so that they may ascend to heaven, is terrifying. That kind of radical thinking has proven dangerous in the wrong hands in the past and today. Not all end of days preppers wear sandwich signs and tin foil hats; some are registered voters.

This also speaks to a part of religion that bothers me: Shame. The idea that we should live in fear of retribution in the next life for the transgressions in this life. The idea that the smallest sin can be our undoing and that forgiveness is the only way to cleansing our souls. I don’t like the idea that God is as petty as to punish us for impure thoughts or something as menial as tithing. I don’t think God gives a crap about my thoughts or His pocketbook. I think my actions would speak louder than my wandering mind.

Despite what I see as healthy distrust in humanity and the simple statistically long odds of being right in following any prescribed path to the promised land, people by the billions still believe down to the fiber of their being that they are doing the right thing, in the right church, or are on the true path in their struggle to live a just and principled life. Where myself and millions of others see a fool’s endeavor of ego, billions of people on this planet see in their path the only way to prosper in this life and the next. Whether it’s reincarnation, Heaven in any form they interpret, or those just hedging their bets against the Reckoning, people live their life by very specific tenants handed down from generations that only archaeologists have put their hands on.

I believe in Jesus’ philosophy. By any other measure, if He did not profess himself the Son of God, He would have stood as one of the great philosophers and life coaches in history (eat your heart out Tony Robbins). “Love thy neighbor,” “Do unto to others,” “Forgive,” “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and so many other compassionate teachings would have stood the test of time as not a religious tenant, but just good manners. What started as one man professing a better way to live in a time of great injustice under a crushing, totalitarian government of the Roman empire, became a worldwide marching anthem. He was a rebel then. A man who spoke out, and with those words professed a better way to live. He was a Jew in a time where Jews were barely tolerated, and seeing this, He would not be silent. These weren’t radical ideas, but once He said, “I am the Son of God,” that’s when things got hairy for Him, and for us as time has proven out.

If the idea that we all have a direct connection to God holds true, then why must I believe in and live in any one path to God? Why is there a single man who is interpreting the vague parables of Jesus for me? Shouldn’t I be the one deciding what it means to me? Why is this guy qualified to interpret God’s relationship with me on my behalf? Why does my church need to have more audio equipment than a Motley Crue concert? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on humanitarian endeavors, or simply in the pockets of the congregation in these tough times to better provide for the children of God’s children? Why must my religion have its way, and only its way? Is that not hypocrisy to preach tolerance, but not to follow it? There should not be pots and kettles in the world, only men. Love all God’s children, but pray for those that are all going to hell because they believe differently than I. This is where the bile begins to rise in my throat.

Despite all of this, and myriad other reasons I can cite for my distrust of God’s children, I still believe that there is a God. I trust, apprehensively so, that there is something out there in the ethos of suspended disbelief that has its eyes peeled on my behalf. I don’t think God is my co-pilot, my pilot, or carrying me in the tough times. He’s a friend, if only in our minds. God is Harvey the Rabbit to humanity’s Elwood P. Dowd. Our Harvey comes in many forms. Not everyone can see him, but much like we humor a child who pulls up a chair for their imaginary friend, or wants a place set at the table for this formless pal, we have to deal with the fact that someone thinks he’s real. As long as they’re not hurting anyone (easier said than done), what’s the harm in letting the fantasy go on? I for one may not set a place at the table, pull up his chair, or make people talk to my version of Harvey, but I’ll humor the children who do, because ‘love thy neighbor’ is just good advice, no matter where it came from.

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KONY 2012: As Effective a Grassroots Campaign As Any

The internet has struck again and “slacktavists” everywhere are lapping it up. Here I am, a suburban white boy in southern California writing about horrifying acts in Uganda. Damned if this social media doesn’t work.

The KONY 2012 movement has hit critical mass, social media saturation. The interwebs–a series of tubes–was brought to bear on yet another injustice in the world firing everything it has at one guy whose name looks good on a bumper sticker during an election year.

Joseph Kony of Uganda and LRA infamy has finally gotten his 15 minutes. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and even the defunct and malfunctioning LinkedIn are abuzz with the activities of Kony and his Kony(hort)–it’ll catch on. After years of hard work and perseverance, he is finally getting some recognition. Blood diamonds, starvation, suffering, and more glitzy and glamorous revolutionaries and dictators have stood in his way of infamy, but no more. Joseph Kony has arrived, and damn if he doesn’t have the best advertising in the biz. Any press is good press, right?

Thanks to one minidoc passed around the internet like a prepubescent sex slave–too soon?–everyone from Berkley trust fund babies and armchair activists and Monday morning Christians are spreading the atrocities of the LRA and this Kony fellow in Uganda. Why, you can’t walk into a Starbucks without noticing the titillating buzz about the video.

I have not seen the video. I refuse to watch the video on the grounds that it will not change my stance on crimes against humanity; they are crimes after all, and I went to public school and possess a library card and have this here internet connection. I know what atrocity looks like. I’m an American and I like to think we’ve got more than one entry in the Sportscenter Atrocity NOT Top 10 Plays of All-time.

Gathered from the facts that have been regurgitated to me by those who have fallen victim to the grassroots onslaught of horrifying facts I have gathered three things: Joseph Kony has recruited soldier boys–not Soulja Boy, sold teenage girls as sex slaves, and killed a shit ton of people. Number two, the US did nothing about this in the past and the current campaign on the net is to raise his status to a point that the government can’t ignore it anymore due to civilian pressure. Three, that people are always on the lookout for yet another ideological flavor of the week.

I don’t have the facts to back it up, but I would bet that if I polled the first 100 people I could find on the street, they could not tell me where Uganda is on a map. I would go one further that they could not tell me anything about what the LRA is up to besides what has been given to them by this short video campaign on the internet. You can’t find the country on this here globe, yet you are about to shower me in lathery facts about the horrifying things happening there.

This is yet another cause in a long line of causes that become to trendy to ignore. Free Nelson Mandela. Peace in Israel. End Apartheid. Legalize Pot. Pepper spraying college kids. We are the 99 Percent. Dispatch Idi Amin. Stop the civil war in Somalia. Women’s Right to Choose. Real Men Don’t Buy Women. No H8. Find Nicole Brown’s Real Killer. This is just a smattering of movements and causes that come and go. It’s like everyone has a rail car and they just wanna be on the train.

Now we’ve got the guile up of the people. Soccer moms, aunts, uncles, and all your pseudo-ideological friends have posted this link on your wall. They are horrified, disgusted, revolted, and outraged…then they check Yahoo for the latest picture of a drunk starlet. This story will appear on the cover of TIME, if it hasn’t already, and it will sit next to the tabloids and play the straight man in the newsstand version of an Abbott and Costello routine.

“Who’s in Uganda?”

“No. Who’s in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What is in Uganda.”

“Well, then What is in South Sudan?”

“No. What is in Uganda. Who is in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“I don’t give a damn!”

“Ah, you mean our shortstop in Central African Republic.” You see where this is going?

Haven’t gotten your personal fill of anti-atrocity, pseudo-activism? Wait just one more week and you’ll be invited to the Facebook event, “KONY Cover The Night” in your town. Get all your closest friends together at your local independent coffee shop and once the sun sets you can vandalize your town with deliberately orchestrated advertisements disguised as a movement like a thrift store Banksy along with the rest of the neo-aware country. Then post the photos on Facebook to show you care more than the next schlub ignoring the issue and letting these heinous crimes go on unfettered.

In the next couple of weeks you’ll be able to get your KONY 2012 T-shirts and your Death to Kony “LiveStrong” knock-off bracelets. Go for the quadfecta and get the whole package: T-shirt, bracelet, hat, and tote bag. Don’t spend even one moment without showing your support for hunting down and raping this bastard while you text your girlfriends about what Sheila said to you Saturday night at the club. Order your Chai latte, but do it shoving this fad down someone else’s throat like a billboard for effective internet campaigning.

What Kony and the LRA have committed is no more heinous than what has gone on in the Motherland, the forgotten continent of Africa, for decades and even hundreds of years. You can’t throw a rock in Africa without hitting someone with an AK-47 and an agenda. Every asshole with a Napoleon complex is a part of a liberation front, a revolutionary coalition, or is championing the overthrow of one corrupt government for another. Kony is just the guy that, this week, has garnered the most attention because of a great campaign thought up by a dozen Mad Men in a smoke choked room with a whiteboard and enough Scotch to put down Charlie Sheen. Nothing more.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat against justice everywhere.” I suppose this should have been enough for the government to take action some eight years ago when the request for action was made. I guess we only quote MLK in February during Black History Month, but it’s March and the campaign is just now taking hold.

(left in a check presenter at work with the tip for a coworker) I was ready to vote for him in the GOP primaries as an EXTREME independent until I saw the minidoc.

I suppose the argument I have heard most often over this comes from two schools of thought: “It is not our problem,” and “It is our responsibility.” Both are flawed schools testing below state averages. Sure, this doesn’t affect us, but this is an international planet and we are morally obligated to help. Why this? Why now? Because the campaign is clever and will look good on a T-shirt; hell, it’s even got a logo. I am just wondering where the support comes from. Is it genuine? Hardly. You’ll know you’ve jumped the shark when Nancy Grace gets her claws in this one; she sticks to missing white girls, so if she latches on to this there’s no telling how fast it’ll will take over the Today Show and Fox & Friends by month’s end. Hell, you’ve got me writing this, so kudos to you. It is all fabricated and designed, though. Tug at someone’s heart strings and they will play you a lullaby, but in two months we will be on to the new thing once the movement runs out of steam. Don’t believe me? When’s the last time you checked in on the 99%?

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