Thursday, September 22, 2016

Lives That Matter

Thus far, I have refrained from commenting on the violence and distrust between black civilians and police officers. This was mainly due to the fact that I was not a member of either demographic and therefore probably did not have much to add. In the interest of full disclosure, I probably still don’t have much to add but feel moved to write this anyway.

What has fueled this fire more than anything is our desire to adapt unfolding narratives into our existing worldview instead of allowing our worldview to be shaped by the circumstances of each individual event. The “lives matter” movements of both the black and blue persuasion have a tendency to canonize their representatives, in part, by demonizing those on the other side of the issue. 

This is often accomplished utilizing succinct Facebook memes that (depending on your ideological persuasion) decry the shooting victims as “thugs” whose bad choices brought their inevitable demise upon them or the officers as “violent racists” who are allowed to carry out their darkest impulses with impunity simply because they have a badge.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to serve as a police officer. To begin every shift knowing that I will spend the majority of my time interacting with people who – at best – are unhappy to see me and at worst wish me bodily harm. The split second decisions they make under duress will be endlessly scrutinized by a public that seems far more willing to magnify their mistakes than celebrate their triumphs. Their families must learn to co-exist with the nagging thought that one day they may get the call that they most fear. The call that their mommy, daddy, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband or wife has been taken from them. That all of their hopes and plans for the future have been shattered by a traffic stop gone horribly wrong.

Just as foreign to me as being a police officer is the overwhelming fear that I might suffer abuse at the hands of one. I have no idea what it is like to feel targeted by law enforcement because of my skin. To live with the knowledge that I may not be given the benefit of the doubt afforded to those of a different ethnicity. I cannot fathom growing up around relatives whose basic rights were violated by those sworn to protect them. In a wry irony, they too fear the same call. The call that their mommy, daddy, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband or wife has been taken from them. That all of their hopes and plans for the future have been shattered by a traffic stop gone horribly wrong.

I was struck by the poignant statements made by Parkland Hospital surgeon Dr. Brian Williams in the wake of the Dallas police shootings. While being recognized for his heroic efforts to save the murdered officers, he offered this:

“There's this dichotomy where I'm standing with law enforcement, but I also personally feel that angst that comes when you cross the path of an officer in uniform and you're fearing for your safety. I've been there, and I understand that,"

He detailed what it was like to be treated differently when he shed his white coat and was just another black male behind the wheel of a car. I could not dismiss his perception simple because I was unable to duplicate it. Instead I was forced to wrestle with its origins.

Along the same lines, I recently served as a jury foreman for a Federal criminal case. The defendant was a black male and the case centered on a traffic stop ostensibly initiated due to seatbelt violation observed by a stationary officer several hundred feet away at night. Our jury was made up of black and white individuals of both genders and while the “I just happened to spot the absence of a seatbelt” narrative didn’t hold water among any of us, it was apparent that baseless traffic stops and fear of the police was something that the black members of our group were more acutely aware of.

Ultimately, we reached a unanimous guilty verdict but I was reminded by the reaction of my fellow jurors that there is a validity to these fears that I can be too quick to dismiss.

The truth is that both sides must take time to process what happened before reflexively branding their surrogate as a victim. Every black male shot by police is not an innocent bystander publicly executed by a bigoted cop and not every police officer that pulls the trigger on a black male has enough (or any) justification for their actions. Until everyone accepts that reality we cannot begin the process of restoring trust between those who serve and those they are sworn to protect.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Random Thoughts 12

Recently, while suffering from a rather severe cold, I broke down and attempted to procure some 12-hour Sudafed from my local Walgreens. I knew that the process would be difficult, but I had tried everything else and nothing works as well on my nasal congestion. So I picked up the little card and approached the register. I am already prepared to sign the lengthy digital affidavit and present my government-issued photo ID so imagine my surprise when I was told I would have to talk to the pharmacists before that process could begin.

So I wait until the pharmacist comes over and apparently her job is to try and persuade me to purchase something that would not be included in a meth-lab starter-kit. “Have you tried Tylenol Sinus? What about Nyquil Daytime?” I explained to her that I have tried all of those things and I would not subject myself to this process if I was not confident in a favorable outcome. Mercifully, she gave her blessing to the cashier for the transaction to continue.

This got me thinking: What if firearm transactions were conducted in this manner?

I would like to purchase a handgun.
Personal protection.
Have you considered a taser or a machete? How about a modified pool cue instead?
I really don’t feel that they would be as effective.
How about a baseball bat? I know they don’t seem as lethal, but if you’ll recall what happens to Joe Pesci and his brother at the end of Casino I think..
Can you just ring me up for the handgun?

Useless Platitudes
  • Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest or the trees without corrective lenses
  • Relativism is like a stream; it can be difficult to navigate in a Corolla
  • Never let negativity affect your ability to fall short of expectations
  • It is easier to seek the light when you are willing to search for it
  • There is nothing more ambiguous than the absence of a clear direction
  • Avoid allowing your weeks to be filled with too many days, or the hours may pass you by.
  • Sadness will only dwell with you if don’t pretend you are not home when it comes to the door
  • Tiny gloves are only useful to those with small hands.

  • My favorite new product with an unenforceable guarantee is the Guaranteed 12-Hour Deodorant. What would be the process of getting a refund? More importantly, what poor soul at the company has to verify when Bubba is 11 ½ hours into a July roofing job and it smells like he has a marooned pirate in a headlock?

I got into an interesting conversation when my wife and I were going through the Wendy’s drive-thru a few weeks ago. We had just placed an order for a couple of chocolate Frostys when the disembodied voice came back and asked if we would like to “donate a dollar to diabetes prevention.” Unable to let the irony of the request go unremarked upon, I asked the employee if she felt odd asking that question to someone who has just ordered desserts with a collective 92 grams of sugar.
She gamely replied that she wasn’t certain but assured me that the money “would help the       people with diabetes or something.” Having given her a hard time we went ahead and donated the dollar (perhaps it will be used to produce literature I will later read while eating a Frosty).She had a delightful sense of humor and when my wife and I pulled up to the window she had just taken another order and they had also agreed to make a donation. Indicating that I had started something I told her that I would be willing to circle around a few more times until we got this epidemic taken care of. She smiled and offered my wife a few sympathetic words.

  • I must applaud Facebook for their “celebrate 10 years of friendship” video algorithm. I watched a sample video it put together of me and someone else on Facebook and it was so touching I almost forgot that we don’t have any tangible relationship at all. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Toddlers & Why?

My son has now reached the inquisitive stage of early childhood, more succinctly known as the “Why?” phase. I am still trying to find a balance between encouraging this critical moment of cognitive development and not overloading him with unnecessary information. An example would be in the parking lot of one of his T-Ball games when I pointed out that his teammate was getting out of the car next to us with his father (also the coach):

Me: There is the coach and your friend getting out of that car.

Him: Why?

Me: They rode together to come to the game.

Him: Why?

Me: Because the coach is his dad and the whole family came in one car just like we did.

Him: Why?

Me: Why did they ride in the same car?

Him: No….Why is the coach his dad?

It was at this juncture that I had to make a critical choice. I could redirect the line of question to 
something innocuous or follow him down the rabbit hole. I chose poorly……

Me: Because he and your friend’s mommy are his parents.

Him: Why?

Me: Because before he was born they met, found each other mutually attractive and decided to commit to a relationship that involved having children.

Him: Why?

I was briefly tempted to begin a soliloquy on societal norms and the ethics of procreation and monogamy, but thankfully my son rescued me from my own moronic impulses by asking, “Did they bring snacks?”

We have also recently begun having discussions about employment, capitalism and economic inequality. Just about every morning my son will ask me why I have to go to work. I had previously been able to placate him with something vague about it “being a workday” but this sort of thing no longer suffices. I then told him that I went to work so that I could get money to pay our bills. He countered with the inevitable “Why?” and I did not think that he was ready for the Adam-Smith-reciprocal-economy-versus-capitalism talk, so I just told him that when we go to the grocery we need money to get food.

He then asked if it “costs me anything” to go to work. Feeling that it was unnecessary to shoulder him the with concept of the mental - and occasionally emotional - burdens of providing for the economic security of the ones you love, I just told him that if it costs you money to go to work then “you are doing it wrong.”

This seemed to satisfy him, but I know that it will not be long until I am faced with more “why” questions and I am thankful that I get some practice runs before I have to explain hatred, poverty, famine, war and why the U.S. Postal Service cannot seem to move a package between two contiguous states without going through Texas first.

The day is rapidly approaching where I will no longer be able to give him easy answers. As difficult as it will be, perhaps my job is simply to equip him to wrestle with the mystery of existence. Even more importantly, how to find peace while existing in that mystery. He is going to ask why people hurt each other. Why he will grow up with advantages (and burdens) that were not available to (or placed upon) his peers. Why the society he lives in puts so much emphasis on characteristics we have taught him are superficial and secondary. Why it is entirely possible to do the right thing and be rewarded with the wrong outcome and why heartache and loss can make you feel that your soul is being ripped apart.

I look forward to the man he will become, but there will always be a part of me that wishes I could protect and preserve the innocence of his childhood. That some part of his spirit could forever reside within the confines of an existence that knows only unconditional love from those appreciate his sensitivity, his heart, and his curiosity for what they are: a glimpse of the God whose grace allows contentment and mystery to coexist.       

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pokemon Go!

They are everywhere. Public parks, well-traversed thoroughfares, and even in your place of business. Armed with only a smartphone and a disturbing lack of peripheral awareness, they stalk their digital prey using augmented reality. They are Pokemon Go users and they can be visually differentiated from their equally-distracted texting peers by the angle at which they are holding their phone. If their head is down and their phone is parallel to the ground they are probably texting, if their head is up and their phone is in front of them and perpendicular to the ground they are playing Pokemon Go. Both could lead to vehicular homicide.

I first became aware of the phenomenon while working in my front yard several days ago. A family that lives on a connecting street was walking up the sidewalk but constantly stopping to hold their phone in front of their face. At first it appeared that they had become disoriented and were unable to find their way home, but after a brief conversation they explained to me that they were playing a game.

In fact, they informed me that they were heading to a nearby cemetery as it appeared to be a hotbed of Pokemon activity. At the conclusion of our conversation, I waved and uttered one of those sentences I never thought that I would say (“Have fun in the cemetery!”) While they are courteous people and would not have interrupted a graveside service in the pursuit of a fictional cartoon monster; I fear not all of their peers would exhibit the same decorum.

Since then, I have seen stories of teenagers stumbling across dead-bodies and criminals utilizing gathering points in the game (known as “gyms”) as opportunities to relieve players of their cash and valuables. Privacy concerns abound – what other app would you so willingly give control of your camera and GPS to? – and others are worried about traffic accidents that could be caused by players.

On the flip side, it could also bring neighbors and families together while prompting participants to stay active and explore their community. Nintendo – who owns a large stake in the Pokemon franchise – has increased its market value by $9 Billion in just a few days based upon the game's phenomenal success. With financial rewards like that at stake, I expect this will not be Nintendo’s last foray into augmented-reality gaming. I cannot wait for Resident Evil Go.

While I have not personally played it (as I fear doing so could become so engrossing that I might forget that I have a wife, children, and a need to bathe) I suppose it could be a positive trend with a few important ground rules. I have compiled a preliminary list of places that you should not be playing Pokemon Go:

Public Restrooms – Can you imagine being in a Flying J men’s room when someone comes in with their smartphone camera aimed at your urinal muttering something about “trying to capture a Jigglypuff”? This is fertile ground for a rather serious misunderstanding.

Funeral Homes – As you gently shed tears over the casket of your beloved Nana, an employee asks if you could scooch over so that he could finally get that Pikachu that has been evading him all day. Oh, and he’s sorry for your loss.

Presidential Rope Lines – I am sure that you will have plenty of time to explain to the secret service why you were pushing people out of the way while brandishing your smartphone. How can you be held responsible that Onix was hiding behind the Commander in Chief?

Operating Theaters – While we would all like to pretend that neurosurgeons and cardiologists are far too professional to become obsessed with capturing cartoon characters, there is a very real danger that someone’s appendectomy could take a nasty turn if a Charizard wanders into the operating room.

Airplanes – “Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. If everyone would be kind enough to return to your seats, a member of the flight crew will be by to collect any trash or Golems in your seating area. Please report any suspicious Voltorbs to the air marshal.”

Narcotics Stings – Given that just about any of the Pokemon monsters could easily double as a slang term for a street drug, it might not be wise to wander around rough neighborhoods inquiring as to where one might find some “Electrabuzz” “Weedle” or  “Alakazam.”

The game appears to be so captivating that people forget where they are and mindlessly gather at pre-determined “gyms” with no though to their own personal safety. Perhaps we could weaponize the game to further weaken ISIS by placing the “gym” in a strike zone. I can imagine the president addressing the nation:

            “My fellow Americans, 
                                                  Just hours ago, at my command, Squirtle and Poliwag were strategically deployed to a remote area outside Mosul. Within minutes, several members of ISIS leadership began to gathering and we had reason to believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was present. I ordered an airstrike and I am pleased to announce that we have dealt a decisive blow to the leadership of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Diglett and Snorlax were unable to be evacuated and gave the ultimate sacrifice. I have spoken to their families and expressed my deepest condolences and the condolences of a grateful nation. All gave some, some gave Charmander."