Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Ferguson is such a personal outrage


This is NOT the post you think it is. 

As a man of bi-racial heritage, I find it difficult to swear racial allegiance to one “race” or another. Like I have shared with my four bi-racial children, when two people of two different colors come together and create life, that child is now a unique and distinctly different "color." When you mix red and yellow, you get orange. Orange is now a uniquely separate thing with its own properties and identifying characteristics.

Seeing things through a racial filter has-at best–always been tough for me. There were a lot of different nationalities of kids I played with growing up in my inner-city  Boston neighborhood. As an adolescent, I played with  2 Ethiopian kids (brother & sister), 2 Haitian brothers, a bi-racial boy, two white kids (brother and sister), 2 Black kids and another white boy who lived above me (it was a 24-unit, four-story tenement). We knew nothing about racial segmentation. Nor did we care, we were too preoccupied with having fun together, rain, sleet or snow.

So when a young back man is gunned down by a white cop (the young man was unarmed and the cop shot him six times at point blank range), I'm stunned. Not by the event, not even by the outrage of the multi-nationality of the protesters. I am not even off-put by the scores of police using dictatorial-style military tactics to ‘disperse’ the crowds. I am appalled by the reactions of those of us who are so far removed from these events and yet have so many opinions about it. 

Facebook and Twitter exploded just hours after the news broke and the chose-up-siders went to town. Memes that explained outrage over how a black cop shot a white guy and that got no news coverage, where were the protesters for that? Really? What about the two black guys who beat up a poor white US veteran and the story never got any media play (something I find astonishing since we all somehow know about it). Then there’s the multiple stories of how the young man, Michael Brown, had (allegedly) robbed a convenience store of a cigar a day before being killed. He stole a cigar. When did the crime for THAT warrant an immediate execution-style death?

Here’s what we know; a young man (who was slated to start college course two days after being killed) was gunned down by an officer. I don’t know what the officer’s motives were, I wasn’t there. But 10 shots were fired. Ten. Six found their mark. Two to the head, four to the body–anyone else find this excessive? And a white cop, Darren Wilson, patrolling in an all-Black neighborhood, that has had a history of racial tension with the police, is not a good backdrop. 

The brutality of the police was mind-numbing to me. The dismissal that this was not a racially motivated event. The police chief of Ferguson said, in a press conference, "this was not an excessive use of force the officer, discharged his firearm not many more then two times.' ("Not many more?")

Tear-Gas, rubber bullets, footage of cops antagonizing and goading protesters. Name calling (albeit on both sides) made me ashamed and fearful for our country. Did I really watch a news clip of a police officer calling people who are outraged and fed up with injustice “animals?” What the hell? Its a scenario as volatile as any imaginable. 

The specter of racism hangs over every facet of our society. It has not gone away. It will not go away. Not until every single factor gets addressed. It is NOT okay that anyone loose their life over anything. Period. Even if Mr. Brown was charging the cop, they are trained to put someone down with non-lethal force. But that's not what happened. If this was a white man, he would have been pepper-sprayed or tazed. You know it, I know. The officer Wilson knew it. And now, Michael Brown, son, friend, would-be college attendee knows it. But the cost of acquiring that knowledge cost him his life. 

This all brings me back to when I was playing with children from a spectacular number of nationalities and ethnicity when I was growing up. I knew nothing of race, each kid was as fun as the other and figuring out how to play with so many kids was our challenge, not race. 

My offering for progress. 

In 2013 I traveled to Atlanta and met a life-long friend and his wife (he’s Jewish BTW) and we all went to DragonCon, the big Sci-fi convention held there every year. While there, we attended a panel of stars from the great Sci-Fi series Battlestar Galactica. A panel which included actor Edward James Olmos. In a giant exhibition hall of nearly 5,000, he explained how his belief system informs him that there is but one race… the human race. That nationalities are just political excuses to divide us and drive derision. 

He then challenged the crowd to embrace and spread this vision and to recite the catch phrase of the colonial fleet. We all stood on our feet to utter, in fist-pumping unison the prophetic words; “So say we all!” The entire throng chanted back “So say we all!” Exchanging this phrase back and forth, louder and louder until the thunder of more than 5,000 people shook the very halls of the Atlanta Hyatt’s convention center. Remembering It still sends shivers down my spine. 

Edward James Olmos is right. When there is no black race or white race but just a human race, humanity can truly take a step toward bettering itself. If it had happened sooner, young Michael Brown would be alive and in his first semester of College today. And the national tarnish of racism would be a distant memory. 

So say we all. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

There must be something wrong with me


Getting hurt isn’t funny. No matter what the idiots who run MTV will tell you, their million-dollar programs like “Ridiculousness” or VH1’s World’s Dumbest… whatever. Or the Jackass movies and TV series. I can't barely watch them, let alone get any amusement form them.

Maybe its because I’m a Dad and I’ve had to pay for some serious injuries. Broken legs and ankles, broken fingers and arms, sprains, muscle strains and more sinus infections than I dare to count. Also two asthmatic kids who have been hospitalized in the past, don’t make for ‘loads-o-laughs.’  My daughter even had to be rushed to the ER because her brothers put Pine Sol cleaner into her shampoo bottle and it got into her eyes. She could have lost her eyesight. Was that  when the belly laughs were supposed to begin?

To be honest, I have NEVER thought it was funny when people fall and get hurt. Not only is it embarrassing for the person who falls, but physical trauma can lead to permanent debilitation. Is this where the giggling kicks in? I’m sure it’s because of how I'm wired, but seeing somebody hurt–even marginally–is not an all-day laugh session. 

Not to me. 

It may also be because I want to keep the people I love out of harm’s way. Perhaps it’s because I have had a near-death experience myself. Or maybe because I simply don’t find physical pain (or physical humor for that matter) all that funny. 

Sure, sure. I watch NFL football, play violent video games and enjoy violent action films as much as the next guy. But NFL players are paid handsomely for their efforts, video games are make-believe and movies are at worst, co-ordinated, choreographed performances. This does not absolve me of watching similar content, but in no instance do I laugh a hearty laugh at someone else’s expense. 

Go ahead and get yourself a concussion, snag a major surgery or two or even just slip and fall. Then please share, at what a laugh-out-loud funny experience it is. 

Obviously, it’s funny time. But you'll have to pardon my lack of amusement. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

You Mad Bro?

Always angry behind the wheel?
Maybe it’s time we looked at why.

Time for a rant, kiddies. Not a day goes by while driving in Phoenix, Arizona that I don’t get at least one stare-down from angry and distracted driver. This is when the other driver is so angry at me for some nonsense reason, that he—or even sometimes she–will mean-bug me as they drive by or if I should pass them. For the life of me, it seems like the most silliest of reasons to rage over. 

Let me paint the picture for you.

I’m not a ‘pokey’ driver. I’m commonly 10-15 mph over the speed limit. I am courteous, I always use directionals. Always. My movements are NEVER a surprise to my fellow drivers and I am fair when it comes to letting others merge or when I want merge I am sure as try and not piss-off others drivers, In 65 mph Freeway sections, I’m doing 80 so there is discrepancy about my driving. I’’ve been in two accidents. Once, one of those fancy Priuses zipped in front of me, cut me and my much larger car (a Chrysler Pacifica) totaled his. The other time, a VERY distracted driver T-Boned said Pacifica and totaled it. I walked away from both, very pissed. 

Back to the lunatics. 

So I am a decent driver. In truth, I drive as if I believe every person on the road is out to get me. Works out well. So why all the angry mugs on the road? While I am the first one to admit (as I am not pre-disposed to being right) the answer lies with them. Here are the five character types we can all identify with: 

1. The Texter. This words-before-roads communications genius is often seen on highways and at stoplights, furiously sharing important info like industrial spy secrets, hacking the NSA's servers or even solving world hunger problem. It must be one of those things because these ding-dongs can’t even be bothered to drive or pay attention. What’s more, they are furiously startled and may even share an unhappyy emoticon via hand-gesture when you beep at them.

2. The Talker. Who can be bothered driving when theres important topics to discuss like shoes, last night’s game or leaving kissy-face messages for their snuggle bunnies? Not these dopes. Driving at 15 mph in a 40 mph zone is all the rage and perfectly fine when you got stuff to say. 

3. The Startled One. This jittery dip pulls up to every stoplight, Yield and Stop Sign in the county. Is then suddenly distracted by their iPhone /Coffee / Text /radio or whatever they can find to distract them. hen when its time to go, they miss their cue and that’s when it gets weird, you or even someone behind you, honks their horn and and they practically leap out of their skin! Really? 

4. The Testosterone Fiend. These troglodytes are often driving a giant white, ozone-crushing Ford F-350, with all the fixin’s. They swerve and accelerate in and out of traffic like its a game of groans. They cut you off and won’t think twice elf it. Then they flip you off, or even better, completely ignore the fact that you’re even on the road. Oh, and as an added bonus, these d-bags are men 100% of the time. (sigh)

5. The Road Owner. You are in the presence of royalty. Yup, this member of the roadway aristocracy needs you to get do one thing and one thing only get out of their way. Often a BMW or Audi, these entitled d-bags drive with a sense of purpose. Their purpose. Which is to say, you don’t exist and they are far more special than you are because you don’t matter. See? Now you know. 

So in the end, I don’t know who’s more hostile–them or me–but in the end, is either prospect a good one? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Superheroes and the quest for the larger-than-life man

(or what my beloved super heroes taught me that my Dad never could.)
The Avengers Age Of Ultron, Marvel, Superheores
Illustration by Arthur Milano
The phenomenon that is superhero culture has grown exponentially and I think I know why. Thus, may I present my arm chair philosophy concerning the appeal of the American super hero fantasy genre. They are urban myths, they are larger than life and they are what we all aspire to be. Men (and a few choice women) who stand tall in the face of adversity and do so even when triumph is not certain. What’s not to love?
In a world where so many men (and again, a few choice women) abandon their families it is nice to see someone step forward and commit to taking the hits for the weak, meek and defenseless. To stand strong for the weak, to be there when… okay you get the idea.
In classic literature we call a protagonist’s plight the hero’s journey. This is earmarked with tragedy, sacrifice, pain, suffering and finally, redemption. Ancient heroes were quite super as well. Perseus, Agamemnon, Achilles, Hercules, Homer. Magic and mysticism has been wrapped around King Arthur. Instead of Gamma rays and and radioactive spider bites, these ancient heroes had special abilities derived from the Gods (Zeus, Hades, Athena, etc).
The rise of the American super hero is largely due to the need for young boys looking to an ideal—for a blueprint of manhood. I speak from experience when I say that when there is no father, or father figure around, the child suffers. Trust me, in light of a bad father, like one who is abusive–in any way—often the child is better off. I mean if the Dad is there, actively engaged, encouraging, a spiritual compass, a family leader and is there to give a hug or an ass-kicking when needed. Believe me, there's nothing better for a child’s formative years.
So who were my heroes?
Growing up, I wasn’t much into sports (that would come later) and so fantasy, science fiction and comic books were where I–an only child to a single Mom–raised in the shadow of a butt-ugly divorce–went to look for inspiration. I found that inspiration in the muscle-bound, testosterone-laden super-dudes of Marvel Comics. Now and then I dug some DC books later, but all of DC’s characters–Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash among others–were largely unrelatable to me. They all seemed like perfect white men leading already perfect, privileged lives. They didn’t seem to struggle with life like Marvel’s characters. Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman) was a nerd who was terrorized at school, who wasn’t popular with the ladies, wasn’t a jock and because his parents were dead was being raised by his aunt and uncle.
Now THAT was a character I could relate to.
It gets better. The X-Men, largely teenagers, had to deal with all the same problems as most American teens but also had to contend with weird powers they didn’t understand, world-conquering maniacs, giant killer-robots built to hunt them, alien attacks and crazy murderers around every corner (hmm, sound  like my old neighborhood growing up). Iron Man was a brilliant industrialist but also a raging alcoholic. The Hulk was a euphemism for rage, like a modern-day Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Powerman (Luke Cage) was an ex-pimp and street enforcer turned 'good', the Fantastic Four were a dysfunctional family of misfits and–well, again, you get the idea.
But I still haven’t answered the question yet, who were my (super) heroes? First was The Vision. A super-android who was built to destroy the Avengers, a team of haphazard do-gooders. He chose differently and eventually fell in love with, married and divorced the Scarlet Witch, a mutant sorceress and long-time Avenger. He was an android, a synthetic man, who was built to do the bidding of his robot master, Ultron–a sentient AI who was obsessed with killing off the human race but who also had a huge Oedipus complex. I was bi-racial (actually I still am) and I could relate to someone who was a part of two different worlds but fit into neither. Now don’t get me wrong, when the s#!t went down, you wanted this guy on your side. And that’s what drew me to him. In spite of his inner turmoil, he knew his allegiances. In short, he would make the correct choice.
Then there was Bishop, a big, powerful mutant super-soldier from the near future. Muscle-bound with a big attitude and even bigger guns. He was a leader and took no s#!t from anyone. And he was Black. Something else as a bi-racial kid (half black, half white) needed to see was balance. I could see someone who is strong and tough who isn’t a blonde-haired blue-eyed ideal I could never live up to. Something else I fancied about Marvel, they were diverse. The X-Men had members from Africa, Latin America, Canada, Germany, Russia. They even had a Native American strongman named Warpath! Marvel created the first black superhero in the Black Panther and frequently had their women equally powerful (or more so) than their male counterparts (single-Moms rejoice!).
These fictional characters had all the shortcomings of a regular person yet, were able to rise above their station and do extraordinary things. My father, who never once showed his face to me, was a man who I never got to know. That was his choice. Mine was to find examples of manhood that were good, solid compasses. I turned out to be a father–and eventually, sadly enough, a single Dad–who is always there with hugs, words of encouragement or the threat of a smack down when needed. 
My kids know I mean business when I say something. While I’m the farthest thing from perfect I share my love of comic books, art, movies, reading and sports with my daughter, 17, and three teenage sons. We even attend local ComiCons together. I believe in supporting my kids as much as any committed parent. I’m there for them and want to coach my kids to be the very best they can be. To accomplish acts of kinds and unselfish citizenship. To make a positive mark on the world and if at all possible, leap tall obstacles in a single bound. Just like the heroes I grew up idolizing. 
After all, would the the Vision or Bishop do any less?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

You should love advertising more

Tune in, turn it up and settle down, advertising is here to stay. Admit it, you hate advertising. Ads interrupt TV shows, your jams on the radio, they pop up on your favorite movie, game or news-based web sites. They come up on my smartphone APPs. They’re everywhere! We even have TV shows that are 'brought to us' with ‘limited interruption’ by [insert advertiser’s name here]. I was always intrigued about how ice cream, butter, diapers or a movie could ‘bring me’ anything. They’re not alive. Recently, one of my teen sons had asked me, “why do we have to sit though these dumb ads, Dad?” I told him "we just have to, son." 

Like movies? You better like product placements, then. Every time you see a Mac, a Starbucks or a BMW, you better know those companies paid a hefty price to appear in those cameos. And if they mention the product by name? Cha-ching! Makes you want to say ‘no more ads ever!’ right?

Slow your flow. Advertising is the sole reason any of these entertaining mediums even exist. 

Radio by advertising to sell products. Music and weekly serials (episodes to you youngins’) kept audiences captivated with entertaining stories, and soap operas (the term derives from soap companies sponsoring weekly radio and tv shows). Then delivering their buy-my-product message. 

Like watching TV? Same thing. Networks created TV shows that would attract viewership and then go tell advertisers how many people would see the show and sell ad space between rehearsals (or ‘acts’) of the show. 

Websites aren’t free. You can visit, pay for them and stay on them as ing as you like but the cost of server and domain name maintenance, paying people to create images, programing and written content is an expense. Thats where ad dollars swoop in, once again and save the day. 

Magazines, newspapers, comic books even your mailbox is full of advertising. You don’t need me to tell you, Its sad when the thing that created our entertainment is so completely hated by us. But know this, if advertising disappeared tomorrow, so would magazines, newspapers, the internet, television, radio, even the technology that runs your cars, phones and cameras. Everything would grind to a halt or cease to exist.

So watching that damn CGI lizard try and sell me insurance or watching hip kids dance to promote a soft drink, bubble gum or a smartphone is annoying. But let’s face facts; we’re all consumers on one level or another.

Sure, advertising can be intrusive, but considering the alternative, I guess I better those whacky Mentos kids sell me on a fruity new flavor. 

After all, Mad Men is about to start and we all must make sacrifices. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Embrace the creative you


I've long been fascinated by the beautiful and completely perplexing world of modern art and culture. Our world seems like such a better place to me with art in all it’s many forms; painting, sculpture, architecture, writing, film making and design, to name only a high-level few. 

Now maybe it’s because I spent most of my formative years drawing and painting (I had some wonderfully imaginative dinosaur drawings from age 7), spending my Jr high-school years trying to perfect drawing ‘Naked chicks’ (hey it was the early 80’s, don’t judge) an spending most of my high school non-class time, participating in plays, creating animated films, painting building-sized murals and airbrushing.

Boy do I miss those days. 

Next was five+ years of art school. I loved it! Every grueling, demanding, painful minute of it. Why? Because it wasn’t about what was right or wrong, about performance quotas (at least not in the traditional sense), it wasn’t about paying to learn crap you’d never use in the real world. No, instead, it was theory, subjection, analytics, design principles and historical events that helped shape art and societal trends. From Ancient Greece, The Roman Empire, Feudal Japan, from the depths of Africa to the heights of Egypt. It was an overwhelming and vastly exhilarating part of my life. 

These early formative experiences inform why I could only work as a professional creative. Its why I always will. Oh I have tried, believe me, to do other jobs, it is NOT possible. I have held the following positions:
  • Cook
  • Ice Cream Parlor Server
  • Maintenance Tech
  • Corporate Furniture Mover
  • Roof Painter
  • Mail Room Clerk
  • Employment Manager
  • Cashier
None of those jobs were bad. Not one one of them. They all simply showed me that I was not cut out for any of them. Sure you can ‘do’ a job. But I was NOT fulfilled by any of them–and would never be. My mind would not accept doing those jobs, its the wiring of 25 years of professional knowledge, 18 years of schooling and a lifetime of knowledge and that this is what I am meant to do. 

It’s not for everyone. 

While my daughter fully embraces a life that includes a place for creativity and art and another son who loves to write, my other two sons have no interest whatsoever. And that's just fine. 

And lastly, while I'm on the topic, I've learned creativity is a facet of how we go about our job, whatever it may be. I know what it means for me but I recognize it means different things for different people. I encourage my children to learn and do and see as much of the world and consider as many diverse cultures and careers as they can. 

It’s how they will begin to embrace their own creative personalities. There could be no more important life lesson than one that helps you know who you are. I'd explain further, but I have some more creativity to explore... don't you?

Monday, June 30, 2014

The truth about stupid

Forrest Gump nailed it when he said, "Stupid is as stupid does." I'm always at amazed at how little people seem to know.

I am going to warn you now, this post is for people who already know stuff. Because those that are surprised about things that should be common knowledge, seem to have little-to-no interest in gaining more knowledge. No one knows everything but there are something people should just… you know, KNOW.

Seriously. 

Now I can often come off as a snooty intellectual or history buff or trivia nerd. There is more to the world that I don’t know than what I do. But I revel in learning new things. So you can imagine my dismay when I learned of some of the following facts about common knowledge:

  • 23 % of Americans today thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth
  • 12% of adults in the US think Hamburgers are made from Ham
  • Almost 30% think Ben Franklin was once a US President (including some Congressmen and women!)
  • 18% of movie-goers in 2001 had no idea Pearl Harbor had even happened and over 20% of movie watchers didn’t know there was an actual Titanic that sunk (that’s MILLIONS of people!), and thus shocked by the movie’s ending
  • As of 2008, almost 14% of 10th graders couldn’t identify where the United States was on a map of the world. 
What the hell is going on? Who are these people and how are they able to even graduate the 4th grade let alone high School? My God these are facts that the poorest children in the poorest parts of the world know. 

Look I get it. “History is boring,” or “I’m just not good at math” or my favorite “i just don’t test well.” How many excuses for stupid are we going to tolerate in this society? For crying out loud people, WE HAVE THE INTERNET!
Now commonly, I am prone to rant in this blog but in light of offering something new, I offer some incredible tidbit meant to enlighten my fellow citizens. Now I am well aware that most of them don’t read and are likely not going to see this, but indulge me, dear reader.
  • The Mona Lisa painting doesn’t have eyebrows or eyelashes.
  • Honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil. 
  • Buttermilk does not contain any butter. It’s usually a simple recipe containing lemon juice, white vinegar and milk
  • Japan is commonly thought of as a tiny island nation, but it's actually about the size of California. In fact, it's larger than many European countries.
Sure, these are all arbitrary but look at what the internet can do for us. And now, I am just that many facts smarter and I can go to bed forever more knowing my honey won’t spoil.

Wish I could say the same for the intelligence of some of my countrymen.