bentangle

The World

Not My Place

by on Jun.03, 2014, under About Me, parenthood, The World

I’ll admit that I led a fairly sheltered childhood. I grew up in a small, semi-rural town in a small, semi-introverted family. We had small circles of friends and family that was distant. And in turn my own circles of friends have always been small and close-knit. I don’t consider myself a close-minded person by any stretch, but my experiences at least in my youth were limited. As a result, relating to the experiences of others has never been my strong suit. What I did have going for me is that I had no perceptual baggage and luckily very few inherited biases. So while I grew up in a fairly culturally uniform area, I absorbed no prejudices from it. But having had limited exposure, I avoid positing positions on cultural issues not my own. It’s not my place.

Through college and work experiences and just life, I’ve been immersed in a more diverse world. And still I’ve avoided picking up too many prejudices or preconceived notions. If anything, many of such notions I hear about often baffled me. So as I became comfortable, I’d challenge such assumptions with my fellows (at least with those I felt I was close enough to) … but not the world at large. It’s not my place.

Now that social media has changed the way we communicate with each other and the world, the opinions and views that I find myself exposed to are too numerous and contrasting to keep track of. And while I hold to the belief that most things fall into the gray, there are some ideas and practices I see in the world that are clearly in the wrong. And while I’ll stand by my fellow person’s rights and liberties, I don’t actively crusade against the wrong-headed idealists of the world. It isn’t my style, or my place.

But now I have children: young budding human beings who cannot possibly live as sheltered a life as I had or avoid the wrong-headedness that is (and really always has been) rampant. While I can teach them the right ideals and principles, good judgment and good values, it isn’t enough. I have to do more. As a parent, this is my place.

And unfortunately part of that job is to teach my kids hard lessons like: to be strong enough not to use violence and negative words against others, to be confident enough to stand by their ideas regardless of whether they are different, to be brave enough to call out others for hurtful or prejudicial behavior. I have to teach my daughter to strive for no less than she wants and deserves even though there are many forces that seem to be working against her simply for being a girl. I have to teach my son to be better than the baser instincts that are so easy to fall slave to and hold to principals of respect and fairness and equality. It will not be an easy road, but it is my place.

But this job has taught me something more – it IS my place to confront the demons of the world. If I can steer my children to a higher standard, why not others? Why not my friends, my family, my peers, my elders? We are living in a world with too much darkness, too much violence, too much victimization and not enough respect and individual responsibility. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we can make it better. We can stop tolerating the injustice and petulance of the lesser among us and start holding them to a higher standard. To live and let live. To take personal responsibility for one’s own words, actions, and station in life. To treat each any every one of us as equals regardless of gender, race, religion, body type, or capabilities. I think we can bring those values to this place called Earth and this race called humanity … if we can’t, then maybe this is not my place.

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We the People…

by on Oct.18, 2013, under politics

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

To most it should be self-evident, but this is the opening paragraph of this nation’s Constitution – a document forged over 200 years ago by an array of men from various walks of life and differing and often contentious opinions. It was written by these men over a a period of years of deliberation and revision and I have no doubt with a great degree of argument. Back then there were semblances of party lines, but not in the form we are familiar with. The most common delineation was between Federalists (those who were in favor of a strong central government) and the Democratic-Republicans (those who were in favor of leaving the majority of governing in the hands of the states). It would be difficult to paint either of these parties as either strictly conservative or strictly liberal. What could be said about them though, is this – these individuals who came together to form this nation and then later make effort to govern it clearly had a common and clear agenda: to successfully establish and maintain a nation of, for, and by the people that could serve those people fairly and justly and that they could be proud of.

I don’t believe they would be proud today.

While certainly the recent government shutdown was a strong inspiration to my writing today, it was certainly neither the first nor the last catalyst to my discontent. I’ve long held the somewhat cynical belief that to a degree our representative government, however flawed, is in fact representative of us as a nation – that their faults are our own faults and that the only real catalyst for change would be when enough people simply said “enough” with their words, with their votes, maybe even with their wallets. But certain events have led me to believe that perhaps ‘we the people’ may not even have that sway anymore, at least not fairly or as readily as we should.

So I need to do more than just speak with my vote. Small ripples aren’t enough anymore. I’m saying “Enough!” as firmly and loudly as I can, and I hope that doing so inspires others to do so as well.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

While our nation’s history may only be measured in centuries, humanity’s is in millennia. And over that time there have been numerous nations, kingdoms, and empires that have risen and fallen. And while few may have launched under the idyllic pretense that ours was, there were certainly common goals. Given the history of nation’s whose wealth disparity has been great, I am left with great fear for our own nation’s fate. While I’m not about to advocate Communism, there is something to be said for wage equity. And if the following video is as true as it claims to be, then gender-based pay equality seems like the least of our concerns:

What this video doesn’t speak to is how we as a nation arrived at this point. I am certainly not an economist, but there have been trends and shifts in recent decades that I believe had played a part in this shift to make the “middle class” far from solidly in the middle. What I DO know about economist is this – for every winner, there is a loser. Every dollar gained in the market is a dollar spent by someone else. In recent history the stock market has felt more like a casino than an engine for business promotion and investment. And we all know with casinos the house always wins. In the case of the financial sector, they won with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, they won with the bailouts, and they continue to win our hard-earned dollars day by day without culpability for any economic instability they may cause in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of 1%-ers who do take the high road – people such as Bill & Melinda Gates who are literally putting billions of dollars into charitable good. But there are plenty of faceless members of this upper class that would more readily use their wealth to reward their puppet Congressmen for creating such a press field-day as the recent government shutdown. They won’t be the ones to feel the ripples of such actions, and they seem perfectly content letting those of us who will be awash in them. John Stewart recently compared the actions of the House Tea Party to the movie The Jerk, but I feel there is another 80’s movie analogy that feels more apropos – Trading Places: where the likes of the Koch brothers are the Duke brothers, and the Tea Party is Billy Ray Valentine.

The point is this: between campaign finance insanity, repeal of key voting equality legislation, and bizarre redistricting, our nation is barely within our hands – a fact that is brutally apparent when we have a government with a 10% approval rating and a 90% incumbency rate. It is clear that our approval is moot, and if our voice is moot, then our government is no longer representative. While it is still technically of the people, it is no longer by the people or for the people. And it’s time we take it back before we no longer have the power to do so.

We the people have had enough, and we want our nation back!

There are many steps in this road. One is to speak up to the government we have. I’ve already started by submitting one petition to our President (see here) and signed on to a number of others. Feel free to sign or right some as you see fit. If you do, let me know and perhaps I’ll add my name to other worthy causes.

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Macklemore

by on Mar.27, 2013, under money, music, philosophy, politics

It started with silence, empty air. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the radio in the car even though I still appreciate new music. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, so my morning and afternoon commutes became a vehicle to slake that thirst. I can certainly bore you with the details of my podcast consumption habits that formed from there, but that isn’t really the point of this story. The point is that with the recurring set of shows I had come to listen to, I had gotten ahead of my supply with plenty of road ahead of me. So, recalling hearing good things about The Nerdist from somewhere, I queued up the latest episode and was instantly hooked.

Two weeks later (late last week), I’m listening to Chris Hardwick chatting with this YouTube Rap/HipHop artist named Macklemore. It was a compellingly interesting episode, but without clips of his songs my curiosity was only mildly piqued. But over the weekend, on an evening after the kids were in bed, I sought out his supposed breakout hit, and here is what I found:

Say what you like, but this thing is hilarious, catchy, clearly not kid friendly (glad I listened after bedtime), fun and light, and also has a message nested in there.

Jump to today – there has been a bit of a Facebook movement where people are changing their profile pics to red squares with pink equal signs on them (or some variant thereof). This is in support of marriage equality and coincides with the Supreme Court’s initiation of hearing arguments about California’s Proposition 8. I’ve read the arguments that this is a weak move and that a stronger action would be to donate money to causes, etc. I don’t care – I partook and I stand by the sentiment that it stands for – we all deserve to live and love equally.

So this evening as I’ve relaxing (once again having gotten the kids settled for the night) and perusing the musings on Facebook when an inkling tickles the back of my brain from that Nerdist episode – Macklemore also spoke of another song he did that got some mixed reaction called Same Love:

I watched this and got goosebumps and nearly cried, emotions swelled – a mix of pride and hope as well as shame and sorrow. Watch it, and you will get it (or you won’t, you are entitled I guess). This is more than just a music video – it is a short film as well as an anthem for the marriage equality and gay rights movement. I immediately posted it to Facebook.

The point that I’m getting to here is this: I could sit here right now and write entire blog posts about each of these videos. And if I did, the Venn diagram of their traits would be a small sliver of awesome. The one – a serious and moving story and diatribe about the plight of a yet oppressed minority within our nation and world, the other – a light, pompous romp about making fashion gold out of Goodwill fare (with an unveiled jab at the fashion/consumerist establishment). Together, these songs (and many others) paint the picture of a complex, intelligent individual who has a decided talent for expression through verse – one whom I now have a great appreciation and respect for and had otherwise no knowledge of two weeks ago.

Am I about to start clothes shopping at thrift stores now? Not likely. Am I gearing up to march on Washington over political issues? Not this week, but I wouldn’t rule it out. What I’ve really learned from this is two things: First, never underestimate a medium – I was never a big fan of HipHop and mostly dismissed it as the messages were all gold, guns, and girls, but here I was proven wrong. Second, labels don’t always fit – Macklemore doesn’t get much radio airplay as he is unsigned and pretty much a YouTube artist. But Billboard is starting to get where the audience is, and as such, he made it on the charts AS an unsigned YouTube artist and has since been on SNL and various other gigs (again, I could likely do a whole blog post on this topic as well).

The bottom line is that if I can still have my mind opened further at the age of 37, we all can if we let it happen. If it’s from this, you’re welcome. If it is from something else, that’s great too. But the moment you close out new experiences you stop living in the world, and the world is a variegated and interesting place.

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Okay … Go!

by on Mar.11, 2012, under Entertainment, Internet, music

After nearly a decade without a significant lead or shred of evidence, I think it is safe to say the cold case of the missing good music video is ready to be closed and declared de — what’s that?
You found something?  Don’t tell me this is another VH1 scam.
No?
Online?
YouTube??  Come on – they’ve got nothing but wannabes and cover artists…
Okay to go where?
Oh, the band is named Ok Go?  They sound familiar.
Ok, I’ll look into it.
Sorry folks – it turns out there is new evidence to review after all.  We’ll report back when we know more.
Ok, I’ve endulged my internal monologue long enough.  My point of writing today is, well (a) to get back in the habit of writing, and (b) to decry the merits of Ok Go as not only a band that I cannot help but enjoy and admire, but also as the last notable life-line to the vanishing art of music videos.  And don’t take my word for it – check out this playlist of some of their best works.  The list seems to actually be in reverse chronological order, which is cool because they only continue to get better and more inventive, but is also a shame because I think one is more likely to drop off after 3 or 4 videos when there are really gems scattered throughout.

What I find so amazing about their works is the (pardon my use of an oft overused idiom) out-of-the-box thinking.  They put their heart and soul into creating more than a just a video to accompany their music, but a video that is a peace of art in itself.  And as a result, there are several songs in their catalog that I enjoy more even when only listening in the car because of the depth that the video has breathedain into it.  Additionally, many of their videos are not just feats of artistic expression, but at times feats of physical discipline and/or engineering.

Some key examples of this would be This Too Shall Pass where the band (with some help) constructed a rather elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to accompany the song, or their older, classic hit Here It Goes Again where the band performs the whole video on a series of adjacent treadmills (which seems merely clever and semi-acrobatic until you notice that the whole thing was shot in a single take).  And then there is their most recent video for the song Needing/Getting which had a brief introduction via a Chevy Sonic commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.  Having gotten their most recent album a while ago, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, I’d heard the song before, but didn’t necessarily pay it any special attention.  In the video, they play the song while driving the aforementioned car … much of which is played by the car.

I will freely admit, there are some in the collection that are less awe-inspiring (in other words, just good music videos).  But there is undeniable artistic genius being achieved by this band, and it seems to be more than just a flash in the pan.  I for one plan to keep watching and also hoping that other artists see this as a gauntlet thrown and attempt to rise to the challenge.

Moreover, though, I have to give YouTube some of the credit here as well.  After all performance art is only as strong as its audience.  And with MTV and their ilk dropping the ball, YouTube has picked it up and ran with it.  And unlike its predecessors, YouTube’s viewing choice is as democratized as it can be.  And its audience certainly seems to reward such creativity, so if more of it arises I’m sure it will not go unnoticed for long.

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Happy Holidays!

by on Dec.27, 2010, under family, health, home & stuff, money, technology

Clearly I need to improve upon my time management – the fact that I’m writing a Christmas-related post 2 days after the holiday notwithstanding, it has been over 6 weeks since my last post.  I know this without checking because my last post was about my kidney stone removal and I had my 6-week follow-up appointment last week.  I’m fully aware of the negative impact this inconsistency may have on what little audience this site has, and I’ll have to live with it.  This blog is more of a personal journal or online diary than any pertinent subject-matter forum.  And I’m happy with it being so, readers or not.  But for those readers still interested, here is how my holiday season has been panning out.

To be honest, the sprint to Christmas has been mostly a blur with a few incidents of note spattered among a long grind of work and preparations (with any gaps remaining filled with sigh-filled collapsing on the couch/bed/floor).  Since I mentioned my kidney stone, I guess I should touch on it.  After readjusting to not having any foreign objects within or protruding from my body, things have been pretty smooth.  I haven’t had pain in my back since the week after all was removed.  I did my follow-up tests of getting another x-ray and collecting my pee in a jug for a day, and the result seems to be that while there is no longer a big bad stag-horn lurking in my gut, there are numerous tiny candidates waiting in the wings if I don’t make some adjustments.  Luckily for me those adjustments are small and non-dietary in nature – I just need to drink more fluids and take a few supplements (my citrate and magnesium levels are apparently low).  So I have another 6 weeks to follow those instructions before redoing the pee test, getting another x-ray, and taking another hour-long drive to see where things stand (if this becomes an on-going thing, I may need to move).  Unfortunately even these small accommodations have proven to be difficult as my pharmacy has been unable to fill one of my prescriptions for over a week.  Supposedly they should be able to work things out today with my doctor – we’ll see.

Speaking of health matters, my wife has since been on her own medical roller coaster – specifically of the dental variety.  After having numerous visits with a dentist who arguably seemed to be doing a variety of unnecessary procedures in her mouth, she ended up needing extensive work done in her mouth – specifically a few root canals, some new crowns, and at least one possible extraction.  And it seems that despite going back to this guy 4 or 5 times in 2 weeks due to increasing amounts of pain, he seemed to miss the fact that she had multiple abscesses around some of the teeth he had been treating (diagnosed by an endodontist not 2 hours after leaving his office with a diagnosis of ‘I don’t see anything that would be causing such pain’).  After a couple weeks of antibiotics, more methodical work on her problem teeth by the endodontist and a more trustworthy dentist, she is gradually getting to a better state (no thanks to our crappy dental coverage – any work from here to May will be out-of-pocket).

As for the holidays, we seem to have been spoiled both by ourselves and others.  For one, my mother has been especially generous this year (I’m guessing only having one house to pay for has left my parents in a more financially solvent position) – she bought us an early Christmas present (and by early I mean when she visited in October) of a 88-key, fully-weighted electronic keyboard.  With that I expected little else from my parents, but then when my mom came to visit again this month, not only did she have a suitcase full of gifts for all, but on an outing intended for me to finish our shopping agenda she buys us an area rug for our living room.  All I can say is thank you and hope that at some point we’ll have the opportunity to return the favor somehow.

While she is visiting, we get side-swiped by a visit by a long-time family friend (hence the last-minute shopping trip previously noted) who also seems to have found his pockets deep and his funds semi-combustible.  While I know we got him and his sister and niece some decent gifts that they will enjoy, I know that dollar for dollar we ended up and the favorable end of things.  But it isn’t really a contest, and if it were I’d settle for losing because I’ve got bigger bills to pay – literally.

Speaking of which, we somewhat spoiled the kids this year (though surprisingly frugally).  Each of them got 6 big presents and stockings stuffed to the brim – all toys and games that were hot on their wishlists – and all for easily less than $100 a piece.  My wife and I had considerably less spoils under the tree (by design), each with only 2 gifts and modestly filled stockings.  And while the $700 new laptop she got trumps the $50 worth of stuff I ended up with, I ended up with just what I wanted and cannot complain in the least.  Besides, I also now get the gift of not hearing any more complaining about computer problems (at least for a while) – and that is a gift that keeps on giving.

My only complaint that I can offer regarding this holiday season (which I feel is a legitimate complaint, albeit to whom I cannot say) is spending most of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day bowing to the porcelain gods.  I don’t know if it was something I ate or a bug that had been going around, but for about 24 hours – with exception to about an hour where I was able to keep it together enough to watch the kids open gifts – I was in no position to be jolly.  After making it through the kids unwrapping things (which was I believe all complete before 9AM), I spent most of the rest of the day in bed occasionally interrupted by kids fighting over their new toys and games.

But now the holiday is behind us, our living room has mostly recovered from the carnage, and our children are gradually coming down from their candy cane-induced sugar high to resume semi-normal behavior (though now it seems being pent up due to snow is re-contributing to their vigor – luckily they have plenty to entertain them).  And tomorrow I’ll return to the slightly less sophomoric environment of the office and back into the swing of all the things that keep me from finding the time to do things like write on my blog.  I’ve considered using my commuting time to dictate posts, but I fear they would end up even more tangential than usual and much more heavily riddled with expletives.

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