Archive for the ‘American Culture’ Category

h1

Gun Control and Mental Illness: Can We Prevent Another Tucson?

01.15.11

Jared Lee Loughner’s horrific decision to whip out a Glock semi-automatic handgun on a group of people in Tucson one week ago has caused the national conversation to examine our political rhetoric, mental illness, and gun control.

And just like I never called for more regulations on free speech in the wake of the shooting, I don’t see how banning semi-automatic weapons will make any difference.

A couple things that should be looked at, however are:

  1. How many bullets a cartridge should hold
  2. Screening gun-owners for mental illness

The former wouldn’t be too difficult to do once the law went into effect. The latter, though, opens up a whole new conversation — one that I’m not nearly educated enough on to provide some sort of recommended game plan. Suffice to say that there are a number of factors that would need to be addressed regarding mental health in America: how we treat those with mental illness, and then how to then create proper screenings to prevent those with out the capacity to handle a firearm from obtaining one.

It seems the the main issue is the lack of knowledge on mental disease in general. There’s a growing population of people who think that psychiatry is an evil practice — Scientology comes to mind, with their alternative being to pay them a fortune to have your alien ghosts cast out of you. Given the two options, I’ll go with psychiatry, thank you very much, but that’s a different conversation.

This is a factor for why many people just don’t understand mental illness — or even brain injuries (just ask how the Marines handle TBIs and you’ll see how much people think of them) — and those afflicted have a high chance of getting cast out of society because it’s such a taboo subject. When people mention someone having bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, its almost always in hushed tones followed by a long, dreadful “Ohhhh.”

People fear what they don’t understand; and, frankly, most of us don’t get mental illness. We mistake disease of the brain – the organ – with an ugly dimension of the mind, the psyche. As if those with mental disorders speaks more about the darkness in their souls rather than being something wrong in their body. The more we can study and educate, the fewer people will go untreated. And hopefully the fewer people will go off on violent rampages, all without having to restrict freedoms granted to Americans by the second amendment.

While I see zero reason for the average American needing to own a semi-automatic handgun, much less an unbalanced 21-year-old, since the only thing that weapon is designed to do is kill another human being, I also don’t see much good coming from banning them — those who want them would still be able to find them on the black market.  And if someone wants to unleash hell on a group of innocent people, they’ll find a way.

Or they’ll just pick up a cartridge extension:

Still, as a society, we should make it as difficult as possible and try to limit the carnage as much as we can.  I see the shrinking of cartridges to hold fewer bullets and the outlawing of clip extensions as a good compromise that would prevent a would-be assassin from being able to spray 30-plus rounds without having to reload without rendering them completely ineffective for those who wish to own them for self- and home defense.

Photo courtesy of jyoseph’s Flickr Photostream.

h1

On Handling Negativity in Politics and the News

01.14.11

The aftermath of the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords sure has lit up the blogosphere, the Twittersphere, the Facebook-o-sphere, and the 24-hour-news cycle with those pointing to violent political rhetoric as being a factor to those vehemently defending the rhetoric with as much vitriol as was blamed.

And then there’s the average person.

Only the truly radical, extreme, unbalanced people in the world could’ve ever wanted a tragedy like this to happen.  That means that all of us, including those who engaged in the harshest debate with other candidates or public officials, find this event heartbreaking, appalling, and absolutely condemnable.  While not something remotely wanted, it is something we can all agree on regardless of our political affiliations.

But, it won’t last long.  If it lasted at all.

After 9/11, there was a palpable unity amongst Americans.  We all felt attacked.  We all felt connected.  We all knew someone who knew someone in New York.  We all felt that some sort of recourse needed to be made, no matter which party we tended to vote for.

I didn’t sense that after Saturday’s atrocities.  Almost instantly, and understandably, there were people pointing out the dangers of such a toxic political climate.  And, as expected, the defense came nearly as quickly.  Never was there that moment where everyone just shook their head in shame and pity and disbelief at the horrors of innocent people being gunned down in the middle of the day, in the parking lot of a supermarket.

It’s because the villain this time isn’t some faceless foreigner.  It’s one of our own.  It’s an American. And it wasn’t an attack on America in the symbolic sense — it was an attack on America in its most personal sense: that of a Congresswoman and those Americans expressing their civil freedoms that America provides.  While there were people of all races and nationalities and political affiliations in the World Trade Center, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was a Democrat who had just gotten done running a successful re-election campaign that saw her being attacked – both physically and psychologically – from her opponents on the other side of the political divide.

Naturally the reactions were going to be what they were.

You’ve got those on the left blaming the right and their rhetoric.  And then you have the right pointing fingers at the left for blaming the right.  And in the middle – or even on the far sides, even – there are those of us who just want it all end.

It’s exhausting and it’s depressing.  Every now and then, I get to the point where I think about just being done writing this blog.  What good comes of it?  It’s rarely positive in any sense.  Even the positives are spun to be not enough, while the negatives are nation-ending decisions.  Rarely do you hear more smug, know-it-all people than you do when talking politics — everyone’s an expert and everyone loves making it known that you’re wrong more than they love finding out what’s right.  And it’s almost always with things that aren’t easily proven one way or another.

Even writing this, I can’t help but think that there will be someone who reads it with their cynical mind, smirking at what I’m writing and finding naive idealism in it or who knows what else that shows that I just don’t have the think skin for politics or I just don’t know how the real world works.  But, I don’t care about those people.  I don’t have the energy for it.  If you want to take pleasure in the negativity, then it’s all yours.

The tragic events in Tucson didn’t change my way of thinking.  It just reaffirmed it.  I’m interested in positive, ambitious people who care more about the intangible ways that make life worth living rather than those only about personal gain and monetary wealth.  I’m interested in facts.  I’m interested in learning.  I’m interested in ideas and new perspectives.  I’m interested in people with humility and patience and understanding.

I won’t always be positive.  I won’t always be right.  I won’t always be the bigger person.  I’m human.  And I know that’s how we all are.  But I will try to be all those things more than not.  Because no matter how much we may disagree on things, we all want the same thing: to live in a better world than we were given.

So really, we’re all on the same side.

h1

Interpreting the Tucson Shooting: It’s Time Both Parties Denounce Hyperbolic, Aggressive Rhetoric

01.08.11

After the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the parking lot of a Tucson Safeway, many have immediately pointed to the harsh rhetoric coming from the conservative party as incentive for the heinous act, reportedly perpetrated by an 18-year-old kid.

While there has not been a single report as to the reasoning behind his murderous actions (a 9-year-old has been reported to have been killed, along with others), it’s not exactly a leap to jump to that conclusion.  Regardless, until the facts are out, it’s all speculation.

Does that mean that we can’t discuss that aggressive, hyperbolic rhetoric is a plague on our society?  Absolutely not.

I don’t know at what point we can blame someone for what they say when their suggestions or insinuations cause someone else to commit a crime.  One might say that we shouldn’t blame violent media for violence in real life.  But there’s a considerable difference between someone who watches a slasher flick and then goes on a killing spree versus elected public officials calling for revolution, calling for their constituents to be “armed and dangerous.” There is a responsibility once someone holds public office that separates what they do in the media from that of fictional entertainment.

Then again, that assumes that politics and fictional entertainment are different entities.  Given that America’s interest in current events lies more on commentary and variously defined “facts,” the line is blurred now more than ever.

Also, for those who have been instantly pointing their fingers at Sarah Palin for her “Hit List” and Michelle Bachmann for encouraging people to “fight back” against Democrats, it’s not about the media.  It’s about our political climate.  We live in an era where lies and hyperbole rule the day in order to rally the bases out to the polls to ensure more political power. Seriously, it’s not exactly subtle to say “help us prescribe the solution” and then have a map with a bunch of targets aligned with Democratic Representatives; it’s more like a military response than a legislative one.

There are plenty of disturbed people in the world. And they’re not all religious fundamentalists or terrorists from other countries.  Homegrown Americans can be unbalanced and living outside of reality, too.   The issue is not that there is violence in the media or that insane people commit atrocious acts of violence — that’s always an unfortunate issue of the human condition.  Instead, it’s the fact that we have government officials calling for violence in response to civilized, democratic legislation.  How is that at all a reasonable response from anyone, much less someone holding public office – whose very job it is to solve problems through discourse and lawmaking, not revolution and violence? And whether or not it was an influence on this shooting, that negative, detrimental effect on society cannot be ignored any longer.

It’s time cooler heads prevail so we can all find common ground on a tonal shift away from violence in political rhetoric no matter how vehemently we disagree with each other’s philosophies. What’s the endgame for these types of calls to violence other than actual, physical retaliation?  If it’s just supposed to be all talk, then why not spout out positive, legal ways to make changes to our society rather than breed this atmosphere of fear and anger?

The onus is on us.  We can’t make other people conform to these concepts of civility.  The best we can do is be sure that we act the way we want others to act — ideally, the more people who follow along will render those inflammatory soundbites from exposure-hungry, vapid politicians pointless.  We need to resist the urge to add more safety measures into our already encroaching police state-esque list of laws that sacrifice personal freedoms for the sake of national security.

We’re all Americans.  We shouldn’t be treating members of the other party like the enemy. We already have enough of them in the world; we don’t need to be fighting with each other, too.   And perhaps once we can achieve that, we can actually fix the significant problems we have here at home.

Photo courtesy of SearchNetMedia’s Flickr Photostream.

h1

Four Day Work Weeks: Dutch Provide Optional, Productive Work Schedule

01.04.11

People in the Netherlands have moved toward four-day work weeks, providing flexibility in employees’ schedules to allow for more personal time.  And contrary to what you might expect, it’s not resulting in a lack of talent or productivity.

Could companies still attract and retain the best talent while we, as a population, get healthier and spend more time with our families with more time away from work?

The Dutch experiment seems to show promise:

But in just a few years, part-time work has ceased being the prerogative of woman with little career ambition, and become a powerful tool to attract and retain talent — male and female — in a competitive Dutch labor market.

Indeed, for a growing group of younger professionals, the appetite for a shorter, a more flexible workweek appears to be spreading, with implications for everything from gender identity to rush-hour traffic.

Interesting that a 4-days-a-week work week is considered “part-time.”  We’re so ingrained with this whole 8-6 (because, c’mon, no one actually works only 9-5 anymore), 5-days-a-week schedule that it’s almost like we can’t think of any other way.  But, why is this the case? Why do many Americans not only work 40 hours a week, but end up working well over – usually without even getting paid extra – making it feel like working less than 9 hours per day is slacking or lazy?  How does this affect our families, our health, our society?

I’m all in favor of way more paid vacation time for Americans, since we have some of the lowest average time off in the industrialized world – although, having shorter work weeks I think would go a long way to not even needing much more vacation time being added to schedules.  Imagine your personal energy level if you had three days off every week.  Imagine the time you could spend with your family and friends.  Imagine the time you could spend working on your own little projects and personal endeavors — perhaps some of which might even end up making you a better employee at your day job.  Imagine traffic in LA if people had different days off — we wouldn’t need to be spending billions on expanding the 405.

Then again, I’m sure it’d be one of those things where “Sure, you don’t have to come in on Friday, but there’s still a lot to do…”  That’s how it’d work here in America.  It’s all about the bottom line.  How can we make more money?  More more more — and it’s always money. But is that really want makes us all happy in the end?  That’s always the moral of the story, right?  The age old adage that money can’t buy happiness, yet, you sure start to think otherwise once you join the workforce.

We measure success in annual salary and the car you drive and the clothes you wear — which is why it’s been so easy to project success when, financially, you’re anything but.  All it takes are several lines of credit maxed to the gills and you can look rich, too.  And, in the end, isn’t that all that matters?  It’s not like we’re walking around with our savings account balance printed out on our foreheads — so if you see someone in designer jeans driving a BMW we can tell ourselves that they are leasing their ride and paid for that Diesel denim with their Discover Card, but who knows.  Maybe they are rolling in dough.  Maybe they’re inches away from total financial ruin.

Regardless, even if we love our jobs — which while attainable for some, it’s still a job — isn’t life too short to be working 50 hours a week, every week, with maybe a measly 10 days off a year, no matter how much money we’re making?

Photo courtesy of TheGoogly’s Flickr Photostream.

h1

On Maturity and Patience: Americans Need to Grow Up

11.22.10

Republicans aren’t the only ones who aren’t happy with President Obama and the policies that he and the Democrats have enacted during his tenure over the past two years.  A share of Democrats are unhappy, as well.

Comedian Jon Stewart joined the ranks of those who voted for Obama and has found himself disappointed with the ensuing administration:

“I think people feel a disappointment in that there was a sense that Jesus will walk on water and now you are looking at it like, ‘Oh look at that, he’s just treading water’ … I thought he’d do a better job,” said Stewart.

Of course there’s going to be inherent disappointment when you imagine the man you helped elect to the secular office of president as having some spiritual likeness to the Messiah.  Obama’s just a man, just a politician.  Nothing more or less.  It’s not Obama’s fault that Stewart had his expectations grossly out of proportion with reality; that’s Stewart’s.

But, I think the general idea of Stewart’s is one that exemplifies a major issue with all Americans right now.

We’ve become a society full of people without any patience.  We can’t wait for anything to develop – or to recover.  We refuse to see the big picture anymore, instead focusing only on the here-and-now and why things don’t change with the miraculous snap of the fingers or the election of someone new.  Since virtually everything we could ever want is available to us in the blink of an eye online, our collective brains have devolved back into little children demanding whatever it is we want at that moment from our parents without any concept of understanding just what it is we’re asking of them or how difficult or impossible it may be for them to get it for us in that instant.

Andrew Sullivan has likened Obama to the one adult in the room surrounded by a bunch of children: the Republicans in Congress.  But, I think we’re all the children.  We all have this to blame.  At whom else can we point the blame?

We say we want change every two to four years — basically every election it seems — because the ones we elected didn’t do what they said they were going to do.  So we elect the people from the other party because they say they’ll right the ship.  Of course, after two years, since no miracle has happened and we’re still the impatient children who doesn’t understand the concepts of time and patience, we switch the lineup again – expecting yet another miracle, that changing the guard itself will change reality in the blink of an eye.  And then we blame the politicians and blame the other party and blame the system again and again.  Rinse and repeat.

But, we’re the ones to blame.

I am guilty of being a child in this game, too.  I’m impatient.  I’m stubborn.  I’m argumentative.  I think I have answers like everyone else.  I don’t always act my age.  We can’t just stomp our feet and throw a temper tantrum because things aren’t going the way we want them to anymore.  We can’t indulge our own ignorance of the complexities of life and how sometimes it takes much longer to get what we want than we’d like.  Or that sometimes we just don’t always get what we want – ever.

It’s time for us to grow up.

Image courtesy of BabyDinosaur’s Flickr Photostream.

h1

From Ventura to Malibu: Movie Director Picks Trailer Park over Hollywood Glitz and Glamour

11.17.10

I have to admit that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is one of my favorite movies of all time — I can’t remember laughing harder (granted I was, what, 12 years old at the time) before in my entire life, nor having quoted one movie more, either.  (I guess that tells you a lot about my sense of humor but, hey, I’m being honest and I’m not apologetic.)

So naturally I clicked the link on Yahoo!’s main page when it flashed a story about Tom Shadyac — director of Ace Ventura, Liar, Liar, The Nutty Professor, and other hits — selling off his Pasadena mansion and moving into a trailer in Malibu to work on his own documentary and be more like Gandhi.

At first blush, you think, okay the guy had a nervous breakdown, right?  How else to explain the drastic change in career and lifestyle?  And the blog definitely takes this angle throughout the whole piece, not really giving Shadyac much respect for his decision.

What made Shadyac make such a drastic turn? It might have been a concussion he suffered a few years ago — Shadyac says it isn’t, but you know, of course he’d say that, concussion and all — or it might have just been the emptiness that seeps in when you realize that making massively popular Jim Carrey comedies just doesn’t do it for you like it used to.

Maybe I’m being defensive for no good reason.  I mean, the guy did make Patch Adams so even if he weren’t avoiding Hollywood by choice, others have been put in director jail for far less.  But still, are we seriously so absorbed with possessions and money as the basis for personal growth and success that the notion that a guy who plain got sick and tired of the whole corporate dance makes us point and laugh and pity him as if a brain injury could be the only cause for his insane life decisions?

Plus, it’s not like living in a trailer in Malibu is all that destitute.  The guy still has a stash of money in the bank and lives by the beach in one of the most elite neighborhoods in the country.  Honestly: I’d say he’s probably living better than most of the rest of us.  And if that’s what makes him happy, good for him. (Although if he and Jim want to get back for Ventura 3, I’d be so down.)

h1

Romance is Dead: Price of Love Set at Two-Months Salary

10.27.10

I’ve been to a number of weddings.  All have been wonderful celebrations of love and friendship — good times had by all, absolutely.

That said, and no disrespect to any one, but I’ve never been quite sure that it was for me.  Not the commitment part — the whole ceremony part.  The whole blind tradition of it.

It all starts with the engagement.  You get on one knee.  Why? Because you just do! And you pull out a little box and pull it open to reveal a – gasp! – diamond ring.  Why? Because you just do! (Forget about the Africans and the DeBeers cartel: we want something shiny because that means we’re in love!) And then you have a wedding and you have a Best Man and Groomsmen and she has a Maid of Honor and Bridesmaids — why?

You get the idea.

Now, I know: this is the Judeo-Christian ideal and it’s what I’ve grown up as being the norm.  I’m not even talking about the religious aspect since it’s become way more universal than that; it’s just a cultural standard.  You see this exact script in countless romantic comedies, many times without a hint of religion thrown in.  By the time we’re five years old, I’m sure we already know the formula:

DIAMOND RING = ENDLESS LOVE

To make sure you all don’t hate me: If all of those previous steps toward marriage made you ridiculously, honestly happy, I’m stoked for you, zero snark in my voice fingers.  Honest.  No judgment at all. They just never struck me as being the symbols of love and happiness or the ways to get to the ultimate showing of commitment.  And I hate the society pressure that comes with what’s expected of you as the way to show that you truly love someone.

The kind of pressure that isn’t always overt.  It’s just always right in front of us through those fairy tale rom-coms, sure, but also just in our daily life.  Like, going to Yahoo.com for instance.

Chris Chase:

A quarter-million dollars is a whole lot of money to spend on a ring, but considering how much money [Los Angeles Lakers star Sasha] Vujacic makes a year, he may have gotten off easy. As my mom constantly reminds me, a man is supposed to spend two months salary on a ring.

Thanks for the solid advice, Mom!  Wow.  Seriously, how fucking grotesque that this symbol of love – that’s all it’s supposed to be, a symbol – is expected to be directly proportional to the amount of money you have in your wallet rather than love in your heart. Two months worth of your annual salary.  That’s what it boils down to.  I guess since you can’t quantify love scientifically, the next best way is monetarily.

Since Vujacic is scheduled to make $5.5 million this year with the Lakers, that would equate to buying a ring worth $912,000. Of course, that two-month rule probably doesn’t apply to celebrities, or else Bill Gates would have had to have given his wife a diamond the size of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Instead of taking this example to point out the absurdity in his mom’s advice that shows maybe there should be a different way to gauge just how serious a man is about his proposal than the number of carets in the rock, Chase makes a joke about how the rich can’t afford it, which then assumes that the rest of us can and should abide by this bullshit parameter.

I know that love and marriage are simply what you want them to be and what you bring to the table together.  It’s personal.  It’s between you and your soon-to-be spouse.  At least, that’s how it should be.  What pisses me off is that our society still has way too much interest in focusing on the most worthless, soulless, vapid part of it all: money.