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Us vs. Them – What Ferguson Teaches Us About Our Culture Today

Recent events around the country leave no doubt that the concept of “us vs. them” is alive and well in the United States. A young man sadly gets himself shot in the course of what was likely a drug-influenced mini-crime spree and his death, by all logical measures, was a reasonably expected outcome of his attack on a police officer. The knee-jerk reaction of local citizens and uninformed-but-opinionated celebrities is to blame it on the color of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson’s skin without the slightest regard for the completely different story told by the actual evidence. (It didn’t help that the distorted version of the incident originally tweeted by a “witness” who never saw the event and later recanted were retweeted ad naseam without a single thought toward their validity.) A 12-year-old boy waving a toy gun at police is immediately gunned down. It seems reasonable to believe his death was likely a combination of his bad judgment, a dispatcher’s failure to communicate a crucial detail and the color of his skin. But why? An entire community stands up and accuses the police nation-wide of excessive use of lethal force toward their race alone, when the greatest percentage of deaths caused by police arrest activity actually occur among 19 to 40 year-old white males based upon the last comprehensive study on the topic. There actually is currently no statistical evidence to support that any one race gets killed by police at a disproportionate rate, yet the media and hate-mongers have latched onto this theory like a barnacle on the bottom of a metal ship.

So why, in this day and age of enlightenment, equal opportunity laws and powerful diversity programs designed to bridge the gap, do so many still see the culture, the economy, and the enforcement of law a matter of whites vs. “minorities?”

I blame the government. More specifically, politicians and their handlers.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see some headline describing yet another battle between liberals vs. conservatives, Republicans vs. Democrats. Congress can’t seem to make a decision on a simple matter without drawing a dark red line between the two primary parties. A simple oil pipeline decision which should have been made based upon the overall benefit to the country and the expected impact on the environment became the focus of a hot debate pitting liberals against conservatives. Leaders on either side of the fence hurled insults and belittling remarks at the other side, while in the background the very people who were opposing the pipeline found it to have no likely impact on the environment. It was certainly not expected to be as damaging as transporting the oil over ground or sea via leaky gas-powered tankers, yet the vote on this decision became, yet again, a party-line decision. Ridiculous. And guess what? Dig into it and you’ll find that the ACTUAL motivation that drove the loud mouths to proclaim their stance and rally the troops was that, if it was approved, royalty owners would improve their income, rejected, and those with interests in the shipping companies currently transporting the oil continued their revenue stream. The fight was never about what was best for the environment nor the American people. It was purely about money, plain and simple.

The same could be said about almost every policy decision: budgetary, immigration, health care, energy. You name it, there is a party stance that must be strictly adhered to AND well-communicated to the American citizens who align with that party. We can’t watch a single major news network and get a balanced perspective on any issue. If, for whatever moment of brilliance, we Americans fail to fall in line, then some major issue is manufactured and we’re dragged into the fight. At the root of it all, the leaders of those fights are literally banking on our compliance.

In my opinion, this extremist political behavior has driven a mentality of hate-spewing “us vs. them” from the west coast to the east, northern border to the south. You are no longer an American citizen: you are a statistic and our government, or at least the career politicians who serve in it, want you to know that and behave accordingly. If it behooves their position, they drive Americans to align young vs. old, black vs. white, natural-born vs. immigrant, rich vs. poor. Our current administration continues to not-so-quietly foster the worst culture of intolerance to exist in this country since the 1960’s, and it’s a disturbing trend latched onto by every media outlet from sea to shining sea.

This truly saddens me. We HAD come so far and were making progress toward a culture of inclusion. But the divisive behavior of our President and the Democratic members of Congress toward their Republican “opponents” and vice versa has become the hallmark of a childish, power-hungry culture that will stop at nothing to keep that power in their hands. The American people no longer matter to them. We are simply tools to help them achieve their selfish aspirations toward greater power and the inevitable riches that follow.

So, the next time you feel that twinge of hate and consider flying to your social media account to let “THEM” know how you feel about them, remember this: we’re all equally victims of manipulation by a group of people bent upon controlling us through our hate. Stop, take a breath, get the facts. Use that large, complex organ sitting atop your neck to think it through for yourself. Is the party line REALLY in the best interest of the people? Is that loud-mouthed media monger telling you to blame an entire class of people for the behavior of one person likely to benefit from your indignity? Are they asking you to throw good judgment out the window to join their bandwagon? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then turn your hate toward the manipulator, not those that person or entity is trying to tell you to hate. Remember who the REAL enemy is. I assure you, it is NOT your neighbor who differs from you in some minor, cosmetic fashion, but likely that person trying to get his or her 15 minutes of fame by aligning you against your neighbor.

Oh, and if ANYONE tries to tell you “they’re all out to get us because they’re ________________” (fill in the blank with any group you choose), chances are that nut job is either paranoid or stands to benefit financially from the issue.

In the end, the violence and destruction in Ferguson could easily have been averted if representatives of the community had simply been honest and kept the best interests of the residents in mind before standing up in front of the cameras. I assure you, those people appearing on the nightly news talking about how a “white officer shot an unarmed black teen” ARE lining their pockets with the spoils of a community in pain. If they REALLY cared about the people of Ferguson, they would have focused on fostering tolerance and improved relationships between the police and citizens, yet have done the opposite. They would have held their tongues until all the evidence had been presented and worked quietly with the family to help them through this difficult time. And they would certainly not have spread misinformation to continue their cause, which is EXACTLY what is still going on today. To those reporters who perpetuate the hate in the interest of drawing readers/watchers by repeating the white vs. black theme: shame on you! You are a blight on your profession and should find something more useful to do with your time.

Hey, and I know many of you are going to accuse me of forming an opinion based upon my skin color. Know this: I am of mixed descent. I have long been a public diversity champion because I personally know the pain of belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I am also educated and well-equipped to read the court documents and evidence for myself and come to a logical conclusion, removing my emotions from the equation though my heart goes out to the families (Brown and Wilson) affected by that tragedy. Please do the same before you vilify me online. I welcome intelligent disagreement, but the one thing I won’t tolerate is intolerance, so save your hate speech for a website that is happy to make money from it. This is not that forum.

For now, if you want things to change, stop being a part of the problem. As long as you view ANY situation from an “us vs. them” perspective, you ARE part of the problem. Don’t be a puppet. Honor your culture, honor your country, and honor the fallen by being a member of the HUMAN race, nothing more, nothing less. Treat others equally and most will respond in kind. Those who don’t simply aren’t worth your time. And remember, hate will get you nowhere. Most of the people hurt by the hate-driven violence in Ferguson are members of that community. Black members of that community. They deserve better, and so do you.


Boston, Bombs, Breaking News and Kids

We live in a terrifying world.  Since the days man walked the earth with monster-sized beasts bent on devouring us, something has always lurked in the dark corners and shadows of our minds reminding us of our mortality and the fragility of life.  For children, those monsters usually hide under their beds or in their closets at night.  But in the daylight, public places filled with people and the protection of policemen – those places are safe.

Then, in the middle of a favorite TV show, a sour-faced news anchor breaks in and lets us know that one of the three casualties of the bombs in Boston was an eight-year-old boy.  The monster is out of the closet and staring at us in 65 inches of 1080p high contrast color.  HD images of people scattering, smoke billowing, and bloody limbs on gurneys suddenly supply vivid detail to what the monster is capable of doing.  And, by the way, if it is a terrorist, the monster could be visiting your town next week when the next big athletic event in the U.S. kicks off just around the corner.

Naturally, my eight-year-old was suddenly very concerned, and asking questions no child should ever have to ask.  What’s a terrorist?  Why would someone want to blow up trash cans?  Are we safe?

It would be so easy to tell her that Boston is a long, long way away and nothing like that could ever happen here.  But she’s a smart kid and would figure out soon enough that the “breaking news” about how security was being beefed up around the country and was likely to be tight for the kick off of the MS 150 coming up meant this was possible close to home.  Instead, we talked truthfully, though carefully, about how some people in this world seek attention by hurting others.  And that’s wrong.

She asked if anything like that ever happened here in Texas.  “No, honey, I don’t remember anything like that ever happening here.”

“Maybe that’s because Texans would never let someone do something like that,” she offered.

“Maybe.  The good thing about Texans is that our culture is to be kind and to help each other.”  It is true that Texans are notorious for being in everyone’s business and are significantly more likely to get involved if they see someone doing something wrong.  That is one thing I adore about the culture of the good ol’ South.  (You’d be an idiot to try anything too stupid in Texas.  Just ask Santa Anna.)  And the good people of Boston proved once again yesterday that the capacity to help each other in a crisis isn’t limited to the states bordering the Gulf Coast.

In the midst of the attention-mongering talking heads who repeatedly interrupted our regularly scheduled programming over the past 24 hours to tell us no one knows anything yet, the real story our kids need to hear went largely untold.  When your kids ask about the bombing, the best thing to talk about is not just how frightening this tragic event is, but how blessed we are to live in a country that repeatedly rises above.  My Texas princess was quick to explain how, if she saw someone putting something weird in a trash can or even trying to steal a purse from an old lady on the street, that she’d go ninja on them and then take them to the police.  While I nixed her first plan, I was happy to gush over what a brilliant idea it was to tell the authorities when she saw someone doing anything suspicious.

Although it may not prevent all crime, I guarantee if we all pay a little more attention to what’s going on around us and show just enough bravery to take appropriate action when we see something we know is wrong, we’ll breathe a little bit easier than most of us were on the morning of April 15th.

Global Politics and the Third Grade

My daughter has always been one of the tallest girls in her class, despite being one of the youngest.  Well, not just her class, but her grade.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and, of course, beautiful.  By mid-summer she looks more like Malibu Barbie than someone you’d believe I’d given birth to.  She’s always been confident, funny, and, being my child, naturally a bit over the top.  Through second grade, she was at the top of the invitation list for it seemed like every birthday party in her grade.  She knew everyone and everyone knew her.

So I was pretty incredulous when she came home complaining about being bullied by another member of her third grade class.  I’d met this child, and she was half my daughter’s height and seemed nice enough.  They shared a lot of the same interests and I thought would be fast friends.  Instead, what started out as a few insults slung in my daughter’s direction eventually grew to what seemed more like a full-scale, well-orchestrated campaign against her.  She came home crying of being relegated to lunch-time Syberia (I.e. sitting alone at the end of the cafeteria table) and heated sessions of tag that were more like a Jean Claude vanDamme movie than a typical recess game. The queen bee had declared her an enemy of the state and she was banned from all birthday parties and play dates.

We talked to a therapist.  We practiced all the recommended anti-bullying tactics at home.  She tried being nice to the bully, avoiding the bully, standing up to the bully and telling her teacher when the bully was cruel.  Nothing seemed to work and the battles seemed to escalate to an all out but very one-sided war.

Then one of the bully’s minions got caught in the act.  And it turned out the child didn’t like being part of the bullying process but didn’t know how to navigate the complex socio-politics of the third grade.  Her mother explained to her that any kind of bullying, even if it meant just excluding another child because a bully told her to, was not acceptable.  Then she talked to another of the minion’s moms.  I talked to my daughter and got a handle on the depth of the problem, then let her teacher know.

Today, my daughter made friends with the bully, who also received a lecture on the right way to treat her friends.  The two girls buried the axe and executed the equivalent of a peacetime treaty (they sat together at lunch and played together without incident).  And all it took was some of the troops standing up to the bully and saying, “no more.”

In the span of seven hours these two little girls accomplished what so many global leaders have failed to do in centuries – they worked out their problems and declared peace.  All it really took was one being brave enough to ask her enemy to be her friend, then both taking the time to get to know each other. Today, two young mortal enemies realized they’re more alike than different, and that they really do like each other after all.

Ah, what we grown-ups could learn from our grade-school aged kids!  Maybe world peace could be possible after all.  My daughter didn’t have to wield her superior strength and power to solve her problems.  She allied herself with the friends of her enemies, and together they were brave enough to initiate change by extending the olive branch and offering friendship and compromise.  No shots fired.  No casualties. Just peace.

DigiGirlz with Microsoft

Tuesday I had the privilege of participating in the annual DigiGirlz Day at the Microsoft Store in the Houston Galleria.  Every year, about 50 high school girls, educators, volunteers and Microsoft employees get together to promote the advantages of young women pursuing STEM college degrees and future careers.  The girls are from a variety of backgrounds and schools around Houston, some privileged, others from low income areas.   This year, we were blessed to have Texas DARS send a talented, visually-impaired young lady who injected so much energy and excitement into the event one would never have guessed she was anything but an average high school girl.

I was lucky enough to join a panel with six other successful women who were primarily IT leaders and one educator/author.  They each shared insights into their early lives, their educational and career journeys, and their secrets to happiness and success.  The girls were an outstanding audience, peppering the panel with creative and relevant questions that really inspired not only their peers, but the women who had come to do the inspiring.

Lately, I’ve suffered some moments of self-pity, lamenting the setbacks in my life that make things…complicated.  As I sat on that stool in front of those young, eager faces, (okay, some were yawning), and shared my life’s journey from poor minority kid to full scholarship college student, NASA nerd and finally computer geek, it dawned on me that I’ve already lived such a full and privileged life.  Sure, I had to work hard to get there and took some pretty tough knocks along the way, but nothing I’ve ever had to face holds a candle to what some of these young girls have already gone through.  And yet, there they were: bright-eyed and full of hope for the future, eager to hear what those of us who had made our way before them had to say.

My self-pity dissipated as I later talked one-on-one with the girl who was born blind in one and eye and with tunnel vision in the other.  Instead of letting her circumstances get the better of her, she had thrown herself full force into music, learning on her own to create her own mixes and ready to move on to writing her own music, and she was so excited to hear how I’d blended my geek life with my passion for music.  We spent some time talking about how far Windows Phone technology has come in terms of accessibility for the visually impaired, and explored some of the music apps in the Windows Store, excitedly exchanging ideas about how she can prepare herself for a future audition with my alma mater, U.T. – Austin.

I know the big software vendors are sweating the transformation of the digital world from one of proprietary, expensive software suites to a proliferation of low-cost, simplified applications – “apps” – that do everything from entertaining you with highly popular games to teaching you how to read music or play piano and still manage your budget with a few pokes of the touch screen.  The big vendors may still own the enterprise, but the average consumer can now do much of what they need (short of the top productivity applications) for less than $10.  If your income is dependent on those high profit, proprietary software sales, this is a scary, scary time.  But for people like the girls I met this week, the new digital landscape opens the door to whole new worlds for the underprivileged who once had no chance to compete with their upper-middle class peers when it came to breaking into top colleges and careers.  Why?  Because for $6.99 kids in the ‘hood can take piano lessons from a pro, or for less than $3 sharpen their math and engineering skills.

Sure, many of the girls I met this week had never seen nor touched an iPad, let alone a high-end machine like the Surface Pro or Sony’s Vaio Duo before walking into the Microsoft store that day.  But as more and more schools dedicate budget to issuing tablets to students, and as the price of these devices begins to drop, there is great hope for the future for these bright young women.  With technology becoming so accessible to all, I can’t wait to see what this next generation of young women can accomplish!

Recommended: Check out Developer Junior to learn how to program your own web sites, video games and apps.

“This Means War” = LOL Funny

This Means War Poster
This Means War

The sight of Tom Hardy taking a shot to the groin with a giant yellow paint ball in the televised trailer was enough to elicit a belly laugh from the blond mini-me who often accompanies me to the local Cinemark.  I even momentarily considered letting her come along to check this one out, having decided based on that same trailer that the premise of Fox’s This Means War  was a unique enough twist on the usual love triangle comedy to get my attention.  I’m glad I didn’t.  Not that I didn’t find the film enjoyable – I laughed often and hard from beginning to end, and I loved every semi-predictable minute of it.  No, it’s because it definitely more than earned it’s PG-13 rating with humor that certainly would’ve made my dead grandmother blush and left me with a lot of explaining to do over topics not exactly appropriate for second graders.  And quite frankly, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed myself as much if I were worried about having to squirm out of all that explaining.  (FYI – This film was originally rated R and only changed to PG-13 at the last minute thanks to the taming of Chelsea Handler’s character.)

So why use “semi-predictable” earlier?  Let’s face it, we all know the boys are going to fight over the girl.  We all know the spies are going to fight the bad guy and at some point the girl will be in peril and require rescue.  We all know the girl is going to struggle with choosing which guy she wants, and we all know there’ll be a happy ending.  It’s what Dowling and Kinberg fill in between the predictable parts that makes this movie so much fun.  No, I’m not going to tell you because it will ruin the movie for you by removing the shock value that makes most of the funnier moments worthwhile.  Suffice to say, watch for some uncomfortably hilarious moments involving Chelsea Handler as, Trish, (Lauren’s BFF) Cheetos, wine and a chubby hubby.  Any of us who have ever spent much time as a single female can likely claim to have a friend like Trish, and our lives are certainly much more interesting as result.

I have no doubts about why the critics hate this movie.  It’s a little too obvious that nice guy Tuck (Tom Hardy) will, well, play nice and eventually find love, and that FDR (Chris Pine) will do what self-absorbed, cocky womanizing jerks do just to prove they can.  And, of course, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), will wrestle with the guilt of dating two men like any self-respecting professional, single-quirky-good-girl looking for “the one” would.  We can all agree that, though the cast carries their characters off perfectly and hits every comedic mark, no one will be winning any Oscars for this one.  And, as usual, the critics scoff at the low-brow humor because it offends their refined sensibility of what the art of film should be.  But for the rest of us, that low brow humor is just what the doctor ordered on a rainy afternoon and certainly enough to repeatedly crack up the entire theater, which was amazingly full for such a widely proclaimed terrible film.  (Sorry, just quoting the professional movie watchers on that one.)  I for one am not ashamed to admit that I found this movie entertaining partly because I certainly wouldn’t be heartbroken to find myself the reason two super-hot men were locked in an epic battle, even if the whole scenario is so completely unrealistic as to be ridiculous.  I also dream about owning a burnt orange Lamborghini Aventador.  I think both have an equal chance of happening.  But I digress.

I think what I loved most about this movie was that the characters weren’t perfect.  I loved that Lauren and Trish conjure memories of conversations with similar friends as they discuss the flaws of both suitors. I love that, like any other man I’ve ever met, the two eavesdropping guys make no bones about using those declared flaws to throw each other off balance in pursuit of the girl.  Of course it’s a stretch of the imagination that these two highly trained, very eligible spies would put their careers and their lives at risk for a woman who does marketing analysis on everything from home appliances to military parachutes for a living but can’t figure out which of these two distinctly different men is more appealing to her.  (It’s an even bigger stretch to think any woman outside of Hollywood would be lucky enough to meet two interesting men who look like that in the same day and find her worth fighting over.) But this film is all about fantasy and taps into some of the hidden daydreams most single women have harbored at least once in their lives while suffering through yet another boring date with your average [insert dull profession here].  Sure, in reality if two guys were acting the way these two bozos do, we’d declare them psychotic and change our phone numbers.  In the movie world, though, it’s almost flattering for a man to use our country’s multi-million dollar satellite system to gather intel that will help them figure out how to win the girl. And I’m good with that as long as it makes me laugh.

So you tell me, are the critics right to pan McG‘s latest Valentine’s Day effort, or did you laugh enough to buy the Blu-Ray later on?  I look forward to seeing your comments.

Taz’s Thoughts On “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”

Let’s face it, the only thing “mysterious” about this cutesy sequel to 2008’s $100M+ adventure to the center of the Earth is the near total failure to explain the absence of “Uncle Trevor” (Brendan Fraser) – short of a one-liner about too many people bailing out on young Sean Anderson, reprised by Josh Hutcherson (RV, Bridge to Terabithia).  Okay, and how did Liz Anderson, young Sean’s mom, suddenly transform from blue-eyed blond-haired Jane Wheeler into brown-eyed brunette Kristin Davis of Sex and the City fame?  And what happened to all that money young Sean and Uncle Trevor returned with from their first Journey?  (Did Uncle Trev split with the dough?) Liz and her new honey, Hank (Dwayne Johnson, more Toothfairy than Walking Tall here), are living in a terribly small Ohio home for a couple with access to the giant diamonds Sean stuffed into his backpack a few years before.

Of course, none of that really mattered to the 7-year-old perched on an unnecessary booster seat next to me as she stuffed her face with popcorn and Welches’ Fruit Snacks.  This PG fantasy about giant butterflies, bee rides and miniature sharks was right up her alley.  And I must admit that I laughed right along with her at the ludicrous sight of Luis Guzman, (who plays the hapless helicopter-pilot/doting father, Gabato), trying to pick up a multi-ton hunk of gold he’d somehow managed to dig out of volcanic soil with his bare hands in less than an hour.  Michael Caine in the role of Sean’s long-lost grandfather, Alexander, was good for the occasional laugh as well.

All in all, this sequel, though completely banal and predictable, is exactly what the elementary school set is looking for in a 3D adventure: some not-too-scary thrills and a whole lot of goo and poop jokes.  Seven is about as young as I’d recommend, but if you need to get the kids out of the house and it’s too cold or wet outside for the park, this film is an acceptable alternative…IF you catch the matinee.  Honestly, I’d rather have gone with the 3D re-release of Star Wars Episode I,  Jar Jar and all, but the kid’s still talking about it so I guess my $17 wasn’t completely wasted.

Welcome to the twisted world of Taz

Yeah, I finally decided to set up a real blog.  You know, something more than the diminished drivel one is able to post on Facebook.  Hopefully you will find what I write interesting, though I can’t guarantee what might spew from this slightly warped, never silent brain of mine on any given day.  Nor can I guarantee when I might lose interest or simply forget that I have a blog, though I hope I don’t given the amount of patience it requires to actually set this thing up.  However, life happens and sometimes your true priorities preclude piddling time away at the keyboard.

Your fair warning: first the professionals who tested me back in my school days swore I had a high IQ, put me in “TAG” (talented & gifted), then called me “different” and finally slapped me with the “ADHD” label before all was said and done.  Although I’m guessing they just didn’t know what to do with someone like me, I’m good with being called all of those things.  Just thought you should know that the sum of their assessment means I’ll probably never be on the same subject for very long since pretty much everything piques my interest, even if it’s just for a short time.  My sense of humor tends to range from immature and twisted to dry and mordant, and everything in between.  I am an equal opportunity offender when it comes to leveraging that oddball sense of humor to express my opinion, though I promise I will never intentionally be cruel or hurtful toward another human being.

Oh, one more fair warning: I will likely shamelessly use this space to brag about my child (the prerogative of any single mom), gush about my company’s products (I wouldn’t work there if I didn’t like them), or share my artistic endeavors.  If that offends you, well, sorry; read something else and you’ll likely feel better later.

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