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Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

A Simple Thank You Will Do

Please. Thank you. While we’re adding LOL and OMG to the dictionary, please and thank you are in danger of being taken out. Why? Because nobody uses them anymore.

I’ll be the first to admit that common courtesy was never all that common. Even back in my day young people who said “please” and “thank you” and who were courteous were thought to be remarkable. It is even more remarkable now, when requests are expressed as demands and most of the population runs around acting as if they’re entitled to something. 

Being courteous is merely a matter of respecting the person you’re addressing. Unless you have reason not to, everyone should be treated with respect, particularly people you’re not well-acquainted with. The golden rule, treat others as you’d like yourself to be treated, seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth. These days, the prevailing attitude is treat everyone like crap because that’s all you can expect to be treated as.

I’m not sure what caused this turn of events, but it certainly seems to be the case. I wonder when the lowest common denominator became the social norm – this kind of behavior was associated with the worst elements of society back in the day. We seem to be disposed to make a minimal effort to be courteous.

Part of it is the advent of the web. We can say and do anything with the anonymity of screen names. We can engage in flame wars, spout off any outrageous attention-seeking remark, degrade, humiliate and wound at will all from the privacy of our own laptop. Rather than criticize constructively, we reduce our remarks to “that sucks” or “that’s so gay.” When pressed, often the critic can’t even tell you what sucks – it’s just easier (and more amusing) to tear down than to build up.

I’ve heard kids yell out “Mom….get me a soda!” while they were busy at the important pursuit of playing on the PlayStation. If I’d ever have yelled that at my mom, she would have yelled back “Did your legs fall off during the night?” and she’d have told me in no uncertain terms to get my own soda…or that I couldn’t have one at all. I quickly learned that if I asked her if she could get me a soda, she might actually do so if I used “Please” as part of the sentence and gave her a “thank you” when she brought the soft drink. The lesson was that if I wanted something, courtesy and politeness was a more likely route than demands and petulance.

That lesson seems to be dropped from the syllabus. Either kids aren’t getting the lesson, or their parents aren’t teaching it. Either way, society seems to be adopting the opposite as a whole. The person who shouts the loudest gets what they want, and that seems to be pretty universal.

Part of it comes from pure selfishness. We want what we want and we want it now! We can’t be bothered with niceties – it’s too time-consuming in a society that has become dominated by a short attention span that borders on the psychotic. We have become so self-focused that even common courtesy has become too much to ask for. We’re rapidly losing our empathy, and that’s what makes it scary.

The odd thing is we get plenty of fake courtesy at fast food places and retail stores. “Thank you for choosing McDonalds,” “Welcome to Wal-Mart;” they use please and thank you so often that it becomes meaningless and insincere. Perhaps that’s partly why we don’t use it ourselves – we begin to sound a bit like the drive-through window at Taco Bell.

But that’s just an excuse at best. We as a society are finding it difficult to see beyond our own immediate self-gratification and that’s incredibly dangerous. We have lost the will to sacrifice for the betterment of the society; we’ve lost the will to fight for our rights and we’ve definitely lost the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves unless maybe it’s Facebook or Halo Online.

Maybe things get better with a simple word. Maybe we start saying “please” when we want something and “thank you” when we get it – and meaning it – might start changing attitudes towards other things as well. Maybe we start being kinder to people around us, people start being kinder to us. Perhaps if we’re courteous to others, others will start showing courtesy to us. Maybe the road to a better world is simply not just making demands and lacking gratitude but the realization that we’re all in this together and the nicer we are to one another, the better things will be. It’s not rocket science but it seems beyond us these days.

So here’s the deal: random acts of courtesy. Start saying thank you once a day to someone, even if it’s for something negligible. Thank you for making the coffee. Thank you for letting me sit next to you at lunch. Thanks for the other night at the club when you bought me a drink. Then, after a week of that, up the ante – say it twice a day. A week later, three times, and so on. I guarantee you’ll start seeing more of that back in your direction. And don’t be shy about telling your friends about it. Maybe random acts of kindness are a little much to ask – but random acts of courtesy cost you nothing but two one-syllable words sincerely meant. Thank someone and mean it. Be grateful for the things that are done for you because there may come a time when no-one does anything for anybody. Won’t that be a sad world to live in.

Going Into Labor

The American worker is rapidly becoming an endangered species. For much of the 20th century, America built its economic base on its manufacturing, having raw materials in abundance and a workforce that was second to none.

Manufacturing jobs for the most part have fled to nations where the work can be done more cheaply. Some blame the unions for pricing the American worker out of the market; others blame the greed of corporate executives wishing to cut costs – and often corners – for the sake of improving that bottom line.

There is no doubt that the shape of the American workplace is changing. Most of the blue collar jobs are drying up; service jobs remain, but even they are being off-shored. Soon our workforce will fall into medical/technical jobs, financial jobs, legal/government jobs, hospitality and retail. Oh, there will be construction and home maintenance jobs (i.e. plumbers, electricians, roofers) as well as transportation (trucking, shipping, trains, planes and automobiles) but for the most part manufacturing will be done overseas and goods imported here.

Of course there will also be farmers – food is a necessity that we can’t go without, but the bulk of our food is being provided by the factory farm – large-scale operations run by large-scale companies that run their operations based on corporate needs (i.e. bottom line profit) as opposed to what’s best for the product and the consumer.

That is the ultimate issue we have as a people with large companies – the profit ideal vs. the service ideal. It was once a corporate credo that superior products would be successful. They have learned now that cheap products are what is successful. The adage “you get what you pay for” has never been more apt.

Are we going to change a corporate environment on a national level that promotes greed to the extreme and encourages corners to be cut, safety to be compromised and long-term thinking subverted by short-term profits? Probably not. Getting companies to act responsibly means demonstrating that doing so is in their own self-interest. Corporate entities – in fact, just about any kind of human group or individual – operate solely in their own best interest. The sorry state of affairs that we’re in is that most companies believe that profit is the sole item of self-interest. Most companies aren’t all that interested in sustaining a market share; they want to be the market. That’s led to a very unhealthy atmosphere.

Small business has been the backbone of this country. It has become very difficult in this climate to sustain one; however, they are starting to make a comeback. People are beginning to warm to the idea of buying locally, even if it is a little more expensive, and choosing quality over cheap and mass-produced. Think of it as a kind of anti-Wal-Mart mentality.

I am not a big fan of the retail giant. I think part of the American consumer’s mentality is based on cheap is better, and who promotes that mentality more than Wal-Mart? It’s been documented that Wal-Mart has bullied suppliers of their product to lower their own prices in order to be stocked in Wal-Mart stores; the downside to that is that these suppliers have to find ways to lower costs and often that means having their product manufactured overseas, often in third world countries where working conditions are deplorable, or in China – where working conditions are often deplorable.

That said, I don’t think Wal-Mart is inherently evil. They simply are giving their customers what they want, which is low prices. If Americans demanded that the things they purchased be manufactured in America, even if it meant paying more, Wal-Mart would provide that instead. They didn’t get to their position by being dumb; they got there because they had a finger on the pulse of the American consumer mentality. That mentality, sadly, has gone global.

All of this means jobs going bye-bye. I’ve mentioned that several times, and it really glosses over the human toll of it. It’s easy to talk about jobs being lost, but every single one of those jobs was filled by a person. Many of those people had families who depended on that income to survive. Every one of those people would feel marginalized when they were told their services were no longer required. Every one of them faced self-doubt and self-recrimination – its part of the process of losing a job, and nowhere else do a people identify themselves more by what their job is than here.

I mentioned unions earlier. I am a believer in unions. I was a shop steward in one for years. Unions, in their purest form, represent the interests of the working person in negotiations with company bosses. They negotiate pay and benefits and help define the process of disciplinary actions as well as the terms of employment for the worker.

That’s not to say that unions are perfect. Certainly there have been abuses and some unions have become worse than the companies they negotiated against. Did they price the American worker out of the job market? No, certainly not – that was done by companies who would pay pennies an hour to someone living in Mexico or China rather than a wage reflecting the cost of living here. With the cost of living being what it is, no worker could survive on what is paid to workers living in countries where necessities cost significantly less than they do here. There are places where an annual income of $7,000 is considered middle class; in the United States that’s less than half of what is considered the income of someone living in poverty. No union can hope to negotiate against that.

Unions are also prone to working in their own self-interest. Keeping as many dues-paying union members often becomes a priority ahead of doing what’s right for the worker and yes, that means protecting the health of the comany that employs them. There are no dues, after all, when there are no jobs. Ask the American Steelworkers Union about that.

One of the big issues I have with a union is that they tend to discourage pay based on merit and rather base rewards on seniority. That promotes a line of thinking that the ultimate goal is to do just enough to remain on the job; stay long enough and it’s almost impossible to get rid of you, even though you are patently not doing your job. The issue of tenure comes to mind here; public school teachers attain it after as little as two years and once they have it, it takes egregious behavior to be removed from your job. In those situations, educating the student becomes secondary to protecting your own job. Jobs are treated as sinecures – as a workers right. Nobody has a right to be employed; jobs are earned, not given. A climate of entitlement often pervades union shops but is also present amongst non-union workers as well.

It also must be said that there seems to be much less of a desire on the part of the average American worker to take pride in one’s work. I’m only speaking anecdotally but there seems to be a feeling that since they perceive (and not without just cause) that their employers are not only not looking out for them, they are being badly used by their bosses and their companies. As jobs disappear, those who remain on the workforce are forced to do more, often for less pay (or pay that is worth less as inflation eats away at our paychecks). It’s a sentiment I can understand; honestly, I’ve shared it.

As in anything, there must be give and take for the American worker. He/she must be willing to do more than just the minimum; they need to take pride in their product and work reasonably hard to make the product the best it can possibly be, whether they are selling toothpaste or a financial service. Everyone benefits when the company is successful and is willing to share their success with those who are responsible for it.

By the same token, companies must understand that the more they send jobs overseas, the more they erode their own market. A bad economy benefits no-one except perhaps for the super-wealthy. Companies need to be urged to think long-term once again, and by long-term I’m talking twenty, thirty, or fifty years down the line. A five-year plan is great, but it doesn’t take into account the necessity of protecting your own market. Why build cars at all if nobody in this country can afford them? It’s a fact of life that Ford, GM and other manufacturers have had to come to grips with.

Everything is interrelated. Global economics have become so complicated and tangled up that if one business sector gets into trouble, all of them suffer. When oil prices started to go through the roof, the price of nearly everything skyrocketed. Some of the more unscrupulous businesses not only added the higher cost of transportation but multiplied it by many times, adding to their profit.

Most people are not really interested in a free ride. Most of us simply want to work; work provides a sense of purpose and a sense of accomplishment that we all need and obviously it also provides a means of income that we have to have to provide the necessities as well as the luxuries for ourselves and our families. The American worker has gotten a bad rap recently and it isn’t entirely undeserved. We can’t control what big businesses do in their own self-interest but we can control the quality of our own work. Hopefully both big business and the American worker can find some common ground – it is, after all, in everyone’s best self-interest.