“Obama’s Deficit”

After Obama was first elected in 2008, I made a vow or sorts to avoid public political commentary. I realized that after several years of doing this, I was about as popular at parties as a leper. And rather than helping people understand the sometimes quizzical nature of American politics, I was only rustling jimmies and upsetting people. Some of them were grotesquely stupid people, but they can’t help that. The point was that I really wasn’t helping much. I was only adding fuel to the fire. I was also at the point where I was ready to take my position in the political middle again. It was my hope that by having a solidly blue track ahead of us for the foreseeable future that the country would pull back from the Right Wing that it had been dancing on for nearly a decade.

So while I was retooling for a less confrontational existence, I let the world go on as it wished. It wasn’t easy, and I have to say that I did manage to become presentable in public gatherings again and even managed to rescue most of my sense of humor from the pits of caustic cynicism. Not that I could ever truly let that go, but I was much funnier before I let it engulf me. But something you cannot shake after delving into the depths of the political cesspool are the facts that you learned on your journey. And unlike many of the commentators out there, I prided myself in allowing all facts take root and letting my conscience guide me.  Continue reading ““Obama’s Deficit””

Modern Fame

In case you somehow miraculously avoided the news yesterday, Justin Bieber was arrested. DUI, drag racing, resisting arrest — in general for being a douchebag. And I think that’s why the majority of the civilized world is getting off on it.

I tend to avoid celebrity gossip and such. It’s pretty simple reasoning in that I genuinely don’t give a flying petunia what these people are like. When you stop to consider how much money is spent on public image, it’s a wonder how anyone can take anything they say as being serious. While I don’t like thinking about the personal lives of celebrities, I do tend to get wrapped up in the phenomena of what it must be like to be a celebrity. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t wish the experience upon anyone.

It’s sort of become the standing joke that once some kid gets famous there’s an invisible countdown that’s set off that ticks down to the moment where that kid finally implodes under the weight of their own success. The public at large seems to get reap great joy in making predictions and celebrating when it finally happens. For the record: Bieber hasn’t hit that moment yet. But it’s because of this recent news that I thought it was finally time to say something. Continue reading “Modern Fame”

New Year

I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t see the value in wanting to make positive changes to one’s life, I just don’t see the necessity to feel automatically compelled because of an arbitrary change in a number representing a trip around a burning ball of gas. Perhaps that a bit clinical, but it doesn’t change the fact that people have all kinds of reasons to make changes and they shouldn’t save them up to make the commitment at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

If I were to be bluntly honest with you all, I’m perfectly aware of my shortcomings that could easily be changed if I just made the proper choices on a day to day basis. But that would mean actually changing my habits; routines that I’m perfectly comfortable with, thank you very much. Probably the most offered resolution around this time every year is to “lose weight”. Well that would be nice, now wouldn’t it? I could stand to lose a few, myself. But is the period just after a holiday period that encourages eating not only too much, but incredibly rich foods really the best time to reach this conclusion? What,  are you people masochists or something?

Another that tops the list is quitting smoking. To anyone who finds solace in burning tobacco, this is something akin to removing molars with no anesthesia — only less traumatic. And what makes it fun is when you combine this resolution with the aforementioned. It makes for the perfect storm of unpredictable emotional outbursts. Pro tip for my non-smoker friends out there: Quitting an oral fixation (don’t get cute with that) tends to make eating an all-too-perfect alternative. Trying to moderate your nutritional intake while quitting smoking has been a dominant astronomical theory in the collapse of certain galaxies. Ask Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Continue reading “New Year”

Open Letter to Teenagers

As I’ve raised my kids, I’ve become more and more aware of an activity that frightens me to my core. And no, I’m not talking about my kids coming of age, realizing they don’t have to listen to me anymore, and moving out. (Although that is somewhat scary.)

There is something of a disorder that I’ve come to see in a lot of teenage kids out there — girls, mostly — and that is what is known in the lexicon as “cutting”. Now, to the brazen, jaded souls of the internet, this is a pitiful cry for attention from spoiled teenagers; I’ve seen the comments on various websites. And while other kids and even some adults can easily dismiss this in such a fashion, as a person who has seen this up close and personal, I’m affected a great deal more when I hear about. Especially when it concerns kids that are friends of my kids. Continue reading “Open Letter to Teenagers”

Learning to Live

Letting go of the anger and pain is an exercise that can give you a lot of false positives. Just when you think you’re beyond it all, something sneaks up and bites you in the subconscious and can leave you reeling for a while. I like to think of myself as a rational-minded person. In fact, sometimes my thinking can becoming to sickeningly logical to leave me checking to see how pointy my ears are.

But there are moments in which a memory will set off a chain reaction in my mind. A whirlwind of emotions takes shape and can leave me listless for days. All because of a song, an image, or even the turning of a particular phrase that would be otherwise meaningless to the rest of the world. And for me, to somewhat of a surprise, guilt is not something I experience. It’s more of a frustration or anger at myself. And the sorrowful regrets inextricably entwined to positive outcomes that I wouldn’t change for the world.

Sage Advice

Something I’ve noticed after going through an 18-month divorce is that I am now, apparently, an expert on the subject. I find this sort of funny because I hardly consider myself an expert. I read a great deal of articles during my own divorce. It shouldn’t be any surprise that most of them basically say the same thing:

  • If you have kids, keep them out of any discussions
  • Do as much as you can on your own because if you make the lawyer do it you’re paying a lot of money to do your busy work
  • Do not get petty and vindictive (the best advice I read was “those who seek revenge in divorce should start by digging two graves”)

This is all very good advice. The problem is that it is counting on two rational-minded people to follow the same mature course of action. Now I can’t speak for all people who’ve gone through divorce, but when you’re separating a marriage, rationality tends to be a very rare commodity, indeed. You are, after all, dealing with the separation of a life that you’ve built with another person. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding that decision, it is an emotional time. Hell, even if you’re a greedy, money-grubbing bastard, you’re going to get emotional about your finances.

Most of the people who have approached me (of course I’m not going to name names, here) have done so because they’re putting serious thought into divorce and want to know what they’re facing. The very first thing I always do is ask them if there’s anything that can be done to change the situation that, to them, has become so unbearable. “Have you attempted counseling?” “Have you talked to them about how much you hate hamsters?” etc. To my surprise, a couple of people hadn’t even entertained the idea of addressing the problem directly. And for the sake of their kids, I told them flat-out that they absolutely needed to address the problem before looking at pressing the mutually-assured destruction button.

The second tier are those who have addressed the other party, either directly or through professional counseling. These are the folks I really feel for. And their demeanor towards marriage is very different. The aforementioned people, who haven’t addressed issues with their significant other, tend to view marriage as something of an inconvenience — a buyer’s remorse of sorts. The latter people are genuinely hurt that the marriage they put their bets on as being a life-time deal went south. And I’ve talked to a couple of people like this. Sometimes this emotion is buried underneath a great deal of anger or outward defiance, but the underlying feeling is the same; “What the fuck happened and what can I do to make it better?”

My advice to any who reach this level is to prepare for anything and everything and get a lawyer. Every single relationship is different from the next, so there is no clear road map to follow — But getting a capable attorney is key, and making sure all your business is in order is absolutely necessary. My Ex would complain that I somehow failed the lawyer portion of this, and she may be right. But to me it clearly demonstrated that having a solid, knowledgeable and professional attorney is worth his or her weight in gold. My original attorney ended up being disbarred for embezzling money from his clients, his partners and even his own parents. Thankfully I wasn’t one of his targets. (If anything, I think I got a deal because the guy didn’t know how to bill for his own time properly.) Had I done a proper background check on him, I probably would’ve seen the warning flags from his history and gone with someone else. But having an attorney familiar with family law helps to successfully navigate the Ethereal Realm of Legaleezia, where they have their own customs, codes and language. Those who cross into its borders without a proper guide are looking to get run over by the Judge or opposing counsel.

And to reiterate the point I made earlier: Get your shit in order. If nothing else, you’re going to have to do this for your attorney who will need it for the divorce decree. Know every last asset and debt in your financial history. Get a copy of your record, including driving record, and be ready to have it reviewed. Get your medical history from your doctor — this is especially important for those who have a complicated medical history, physical or mental, and they’re seeking custody of the children. And as you’re doing all of this, recognize that your soon-to-be-ex is probably doing the same. And remember the golden legal rule: It doesn’t matter what you know, it matters what you can prove.

Now for the last-but-certainly-not-least part: Child Custody. I assume the reason most of the guys who’ve approached me asking about divorce stems from the successful result of the three-month child custody evaluation fun-time-party-land I went through. I’d just like to point out a couple of things about this, because I think it’s relevant. One, I was successful because had it been 100% up the kids, that would’ve been the result. Two, it didn’t hurt me any that they were of an age where their voice mattered in a court of law. While it is true that the modern day family court has come a long way from the “Mom always gets the kids” model from as little as a decade ago, the fact is that what matters to the legal system — meaning the court, the lawyers, the custody evaluator and even the court reporter —  is what’s in the “best interest of the children”. If you end up going the route of having a custody evaluation done, it’s going to come out very clearly to an unbiased party whether or not your parenting skills are a weakness or a strength.

I had one person ask me about the idea of working out a way where one parent gets one set of kids and the other parent gets the other set. The advice offered here is simple: Don’t separate the kids. They’re not furniture or decorative flatware. I know it seems like a logical course of action, but the fact is that the kids in a divorce are already going through an emotionally traumatic event wherein Parent A no longer lives with Parent B and “is it my fault?” When you throw separating their siblings into the different households, you’re literally destroying the only world they’ve ever known — and now their sibling has “chosen a side”. And, by the way, if you re-read my previous statement, how will it look to a custody evaluator that you want to do this? How does it rate on the “Best Interest Of The Children” meter? (Answer to both questions: Terrible.)

Now this is for all of you out there who are in the midst of divorce: Look in the mirror. Okay, wait until you’ve read this and then look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Is <InsertExName> really someone who has an active and loving role in the life of my child/children?”

The answer should come quickly. Don’t over-qualify it. Normally that snap answer that comes to mind is the right one.

Now ask yourself this: “Am I a good parent who will go to the ends of the earth for my children?”

Again, this answer should be quick. Even if you’re an asshole.

Here’s the fun part of this little exercise — if you answered “Yes” to both questions, you’re going to share custody with your Ex. Get used to this idea. It doesn’t matter what ill feelings you may have with them, fundamentally, the kids have absolutely nothing to do with that. And all your kids care about, if you answered “Yes” to both questions, is that they’ll be able to see both of you as much as possible. That’s ALL that matters.

Now for the nitty gritty…Child Support. *Insert Scary Music Here* Here in Minnesota, child support is determined not by the old “full/shared physical custody” anymore so much as parenting time and disparity of income between the two parents. Why did I just smack you with that? Because your kids need your support. Even if you’re of the opinion that the other party is simply going to spend the money of themselves and not the kids, pay it anyway. Pay it happily and on time and don’t try to weasel out on technicalities. Why? Because even if the other person is using the money that they get on child support to buy collectable spoons of the 50 State of the Union, they’re still the ones who have to buy groceries, pay the heat bill and get money in the school lunch accounts. Unless you find that your children are being seriously neglected (in which case you immediately sue for a new custody hearing), how your ex spends their money is their business. Their personal finances are not your concern and, as an added bonus, your finances are none of their business either. You’ve been divorced and one of the better spiffs is independence from one another.

That’s all the advice I have for now. Just remember that if you decide the pull the trigger, it’s a long, tedious-to-the-point-of-madness process for those who are in contention. So do your own personal best to avoid turning the process into a way to punish your ex, and get through it.

Tragedy in Aurora

Twitter is afire with comments about the fact that nutjob was armed with an AR-15. Yes, America, this weapon is perfectly legal to get. No, it’s not a fully-automatic rifle like you’ve seen in war movies. But I don’t care if he was armed with a minigun or a derringer — put a gun in the hands of the deranged and things get cuckoo.

Brace yourself for another few weeks of endless debate over gun control, which in this particular case would’ve made absolutely no difference. There are FAR more powerful weapons available legally for hunting. That said, the gun industry needs to find a better way of controlling who buys and uses their products. I like trained people, personally. Preferably without mental health issues, but I can see how that would be difficult to spot.

After dealing with my fair share of gun-toters, I can honestly say that while I don’t agree with the necessity of owning a firearm, I’m willing to concede the fact that some people find them as necessary as having an alarm system. And all of the gun-toters I personally know have had extensive training in the use and care of their weapons. So while I find them unnecessary, it’s good to know that those who do are getting (and in some cases teaching) proper use.

But to step back for a moment, I want to address my fellow liberals out there in the expected backlash of “Oh sweet heavens, we need more gun control”! I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but I think this overreaction to what is a fairly unique, albeit tragic, event is mislabeling the problem. Like I said before, you can ban anything short of rubberband guns and some yahoo out there will figure out a way to make such a weapon lethal and demonstrate it to the horrors of unsuspecting people. That’s human nature. People find ways of hurting one another. Individuals, which for the sake of this point I shall label as “total fucking whackjobs”, will use these weapons in horrific ways.

Or, to use a line most Batman fans will understand: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

On the flip side, conservative windbag Louis Gohmert, in the running for being the most personally reprehensible person in congress, heard of the shooting and publicly wondered aloud, “[Y]ou know with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying that could’ve stopped this guy more quickly?”

No, you ignorant piece of shit. I’m pretty sure people were more concerned about quickly getting out of the movie theater that was being attacked by a gas-canister-throwing, gas-mask-and-riot-gear-wearing, AR-15-weilding psychopath, along with a few hundred other terrified patrons. How about you take your fantasies of being the Lone Fucking Ranger back to that tiny little head of yours?

That said, I’d really like politics to stay out of this discussion. It’s gonna be a blamefest on the cable news networks. All of them will carefully glaze over the fact that this guy was nuts and it was an isolated incident that sucks hard. My heart goes out to the good people of Aurora, all of whom shared my love of the Dark Knight only to have such a wonderful thing turn so horrifying.

A Couple of Quick Thoughts

I happened upon a meeting that was discussing LGBT issues in the workplace. As a guest speaker, a transgender person was answering some of the questions offered by those in attendance. Truth be told, I really wasn’t paying that much attention. Not that I’m apathetic, I just find it hard to identify with such a person. I’ve always been a solid believer in having a frame of reference to understand a person. Regardless, something she said was that if she could change anything, it was the flippancy that the younger generation nowadays uses the term “gay”. My daughter professes herself bi-sexual, and I’ve heard and read that word being used by her peers, some of them her friends. She’s told me that the word being used like get bothers her, but she’s never really spoken up to her friends even though they know she’s bi-sexual.

It got me to thinking; we have a number of words within out culture that are no-nos. Hell, I grew up listening to Eddie Murphy using the term faggot and getting laughter from his audiences about it. Now the only jokes told here with that word are used in the context of that word is used to describe cigarettes in the UK, and how funny is it that we can get away with saying it so long as that’s what you’re talking about. But the biggest taboo is the dreaded “N-word”. Gallons of ink has been spilled to explain how African Americans have stolen that word from white people so as to somehow disempower it. African Americans use the word freely in speech and music. But to hold it specifically to my generation, the word itself has no real meaning — at least not in so much as it’s original connotation. Personally speaking, I don’t see why it’s used any longer, regardless of context. It’s a word that was originally meant to assign a person to a sub-human status, and for those people to use it in describing one another, many decades after it was anything socially acceptable, to me only throws salt on their own wounds. And really, what’s the point of that?

But after hearing what this transgender person said, I had to stop and wonder if “gay” really has the negative connotations to my children’s generation that they had in mine. Unlike the “N-word”, gay has several meanings. My children live in a fairly open-minded generation where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk would’ve been proud to live. It’s because of their efforts and sacrifices that we do. And it’s only going to get better. I don’t think these words should be taboo, nor should they be edited from anyone’s speech. After all, it’s not the words that give them power, it’s who’s saying them and the message they’re trying to send.

* * *

I watched one of my favorite movies with my son tonight — Sneakers. If you’ve never watched it before, I’d recommend it because it’s a sort of light-hearted spy movie. But it does deal with some serious questions. And it wasn’t until this viewing that I realized just how much the world has changed since 9/11.

Not to spoil it for you, but the movie has to do with the development of a “black box” which is a brute-force encryption algorithm that can be used on any information database. In the movie, this device was created at the behest of the National Security Association. The implications were, as outlined at the end of the movie, that the US Government would have no other use for such a device than to spy on its own citizens. How horrifying, right?

Well, now it’s law. The NSA can spy on you whenever it wants and there’s nothing you can say or do about it. All they need to do is say you’re a threat.

Now it would be too easy for me to say “It’s Bush’s Fault”. All of these laws were signed by Dubya. But since Obama took office, he hasn’t exactly stormed the NSA Bastille demanding privacy for US citizens. In point of fact, all we’ve gotten is a wink from the government saying they’ll only use that power when it’s necessary and to protect the interests of national security. Meanwhile the most paranoid people in the world, second only to the lunatics you find in homeless shelters with tinfoil hats, have the means to listen in to anyone’s personal life they choose with almost no justification.

Since 9/11, the attitude of Americans has changed significantly. They can justify this lunacy so that they can sleep better at night without having to worry that some foreign zealots can’t fly airplanes into our buildings. Never mind that the lessons of 9/11 was not that we didn’t have intelligence, but that our agencies didn’t share it with one another very well. (And there’s the bit about how the White House wouldn’t listen to them at all, but that’s beside the point.) What ended up happening was that truly scared Americans gave away their rights to privacy in return for promises of safety.

I really have to wonder if Sneakers could be remade into anything relevant to today’s world. The odd thing is that I feel no safer now than I did then.