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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, April 30, 2007

The earth ain't so warm that we have to spare squares

I love the earth. I live here. Why wouldn't I? So it's in my best interest to try and help keep it healthy.

That being said, with no scientific foundation to base this on, I'm pretty confident the earth would kill me before allowing me to kill it. So there are limits to my willingness to live green. Some things just aren't up for negotiation.

For example, I will eat hippie-raised vegetables and meat. Sure, they cost a little more. But they're not soaked in chemicals that end in "cide" and that shrink your naughty bits or sterilize you and cause your innards to glow lite brite orange.

I will use natural fertilizers on my lawn, so the rainwater runoff doesn't leak bad chemicals into the sewers and pollute the ocean, or even more personally pollute the groundwater around my koi pond. Why not? It's no extra work for me. And where I buy my lawn supplies the price is about the same as the heavy duty chemical stuff.

I will kill for an alternative fuel, so I don't have to keep paying $3-plus per gallon of fuel for my car. Fossil fuel? I'd burn actual fossils if I thought they would power my car. I'd burn lawn trimmings and those weird red fruit-like thingies that sprout from the palm trees in my back yard. I'd burn the stray cats who constantly sneak under or over my fence and skulk around my pond trying to swipe at my fish. I'm kidding. I wouldn't use the cats for fuel. That's mean. To help the earth I'd eat those cats. Waste not, want not.

Where I draw the line is a dirty arse.

And it seems Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, who recently went on a save-the-earth bus tour, would like us all to have dirty behinds in the name of saving the earth. A-week-and-a-half ago on their blog, Crow suggested that we limit ourselves to one square of toilet paper during BMs.

Something about saving trees. You should know that later Crow told ABC News she was just kidding. But I don't know if I believe her. JK is what I used to say when I hit on a hot girl and she rejected me. It was how I saved face. "I was just joking (kidding, playing, etc.)" is what celebrities and politicians say after they've tested the waters and learned that the public isn't willing to go along with a particularly lame-brained idea.

Do I really need to go into all the reasons just one square is not good? Just think of all the extra soap you'll (hopefully) use on your hands? Down the drain, and before you know it, some poor fish is blowing a Dove bubble.

It is now clear to me why White House advisor Karl Rove didn't want Crow to touch him recently at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.

I'm sorry. We are the custodians of the earth. We should be nice to it. But if I have to slice up an entire forest to make sure the back door to my nether regions is pristine, those trees are going down.

Cleanliness is not next to godliness. George Carlin pointed out that it is next to claustrophobia and cleavage.

A clean behind, however, is next to whomever its owner wants it to be.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Say Whatever the Hell You Want Club: Meeting Two

I motion we begin this meeting. And I second that motion.

So here's the deal: tonight we're booing the recent announcement by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons that he's seeking the ban of three words in the clean/radio versions of rap albums: the N-word, bitch, and ho.

The words are bad, sure. But a ban will not fix anything. And to the pundits who applaud Simmons for being brave, you guys are gullible, and I'd like to sell you a bridge....and a swamp....I mean a hot tub.

This move, if it happens will not clean up rap lyrics. It will give consumers and radio stations the option to buy/play so-called radio edits that don't contain those three words. Correct me if I'm wrong though, but those three words have been self-censored by radio stations for years now. As far back as the early '90s I recall hearing the N-word and all manner of swears bleeped out during radio play. Nobody wants to be hassled by the FCC. So few stations are stupid enough to let those words slip onto the air. Again, it's been that way for years. This new proposed ban is helpful how?

Asking that three words get banned isn't brave. Sorta brave would be asking the artists to stop using the words in their lyrics. But that's a hollow request. It's like asking Saddam to show us his weapon(s) of mass destruction. Sounds great in a speech, but if he'd had the weapon(s) he would never have shown 'em voluntarily.

Besides, if these guys insist that they're simply telling the story of the streets on which they were raised, then maybe they really did see lots of hos and drug dealing and death and destruction. If that's the fact-based fiction you want to listen to, knock yourself out. Even Ann Coulter suggested that a rapper's use of "ho" probably really is in reference to the woman shopping her wares on the corner opposite the drug dealer, not, say, the college basketball player. But I digress.

Brave would be raising kids to have self respect so they wouldn't want to use certain words to describe themselves and their peers.

Brave would also be asking the parents of the kids buying this music and attending the concerts to grow a set and tell their kids "no!" No, you're not buying that album. No, you can't listen to it in your room. No, you're not going to that concert. No!

I was a teenager. I realize that just saying no can be futile. It damned sure didn't work to curb drug use in the '80s (and neither did those this-fried-egg-is-your-brain-on-drugs commercials). But let's see a little effort, and let's put the burden for these words where it squarely belongs: on the consumers who eat it up.

Yeah, yeah, artists/performers/celebrities all have responsibility, roll models, yadda yadda, to whom much is given, etc., etc.

But the truth is in this country the market takes what the market can bear. For example, we all gripe about the obscene salaries pro athletes make, but then we pack out arenas and stadiums and pay big bucks for tickets and pinkie-sized hotdogs and $6 thimble-sized beers. When we all get tired of it and stop paying, sporting event prices will fall, and athlete salaries will drop....and we'll still be miserable with our daily routines. But that's another story.

As for music with naughty words, when we figure out a way to convince young'ns that it isn't cool they'll stop listening. When they stop listening record labels will stop paying top dollar for it. Advertisers will stop sponsoring concert tours.

But I got news for ya: that'll never happen! Your great great grandparents couldn't stop your great grandparents from listening to whatever was bad in their day. Your great grandparents couldn't stop your grandparents from listening to whatever was bad in their day. Your grandparents couldn't stop your parents from listening to rock'n'roll, and so on and so forth.

Best you can do is teach your kids some good sense, some good manners, some good morals, and some taste. And if a couple of those things stick, they'll probably find profane music distasteful all on their own. I listened to it in spite of my parents' best efforts. I thought stupid songs about the lore of the streets were cool. I mostly bobbed my head to the beats. And then I grew up. Occasionally I still bob my head to those beats. But I'm grown now. That music means nothing.

Banning words in rap is a very, very bad idea.

If you like that idea, don't be smug. Any of you into porn? That's rhetorical. I don't really want to know. But if you are, how would you like to find out that a small group of anti-porn activists will now limit you to viewing "clean" versions of your favorite skin flick?

Do not support word bans!

Now, let's bring this meeting to a close. Please excuse me, while I go pour some gin and juice and ponder why big pimpin' requires spendin' cheese.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

A little reading material for you

An article I had in today's paper: Giving back: More Young People Drawn to Ministry.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Sign of the times

In the days and weeks after a big tragedy - most recently the Virginia Tech massacre - people are on edge. It's only natural.

So you can understand my chagrin about an hour ago, when I heard an unfamiliar voice in the newsroom yell out, "Which way is the publisher's office?" This wasn't a mousy voice. It was loud, confident even, like the person behind it was on a mission. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

I heard in my mind that cartoonish screeching-to-a-halt sound, my fingers lifted themselves off my keyboard, I screwed up my face and made that "ruh?" sound that Scooby Doo used to make when he was confused or facing a conundrum.

Then I made eye contact with a colleague whose desk is across from mine. And the look on his face said that he'd heard it - the question, not the cartoon screeching sound - too.

OK, laugh if you must, but my thoughts went in this order: "Disgruntled postal worker! No wait, this isn't the post office. Disgruntled reporter! Pissed off reporter! Reporter, who, like Milton Waddams, the red stapler dude in Office Space, feels like he's been kicked around! Crap! We're about to get lit up and I'm working on a really good story!"

Seriously, all those thoughts flashed through my mind in about 5.3 seconds. I'm guessing at the point-three. But it was close.

I don't think I would've dove under my desk. But I'm no hero. So I'm not ruling it out.

Fortunately, it didn't come down to that. A few seconds later I saw the source of the voice: a young woman, pushing some sort of delivery cart. She was lost. Her question was what it was. She just wanted to find the publisher's office, where she apparently had a harmless delivery to make.

A minute or so later my colleague across the way and I shared a nervous laugh. He observed that someone - perhaps several someones - had quickly pointed her in the right direction....away from all of us. Hmmm.

Just like the fat guy looking at himself in one of those beautifying distortion mirrors at the carnival, I picture myself pointing my imagined disgruntled-postal-reporter-person into a broom closet, slamming the door shut, and bracing it with a heavy filing cabinet, thus saving the day.

In reality, I probably would have hidden under my desk....along with everyone else.

But how crazy is it that so much nuttiness is going on in the world that a person asking what turned out to be a perfectly innocent question can put us on edge?

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It'll be tough. But I'll try

This weekend I will be doing the moral equivalent to brain surgery. I will try to lose a grudge.

This is difficult. You can laugh, but among my many flaws, I have a hard time letting go of anger at people I feel have slighted me in the past.

It's very easy for me to say or write that we should let bygones be bygones and not to sweat the small stuff. But when the small stuff and the bygones are the fruit of personal interactions they're tougher to forget. What I mean is I can forget the words of a dead horse, AKA a talk radio host, 'cause I don't know that dude. But if you slighted me one on one? I will hold onto that like the worst movie stereotype of a Sicilian gangster.

I say all that 'cause Mrs. B has a friend, or former friend, or something - not sure what to call her, who used to hate me. It's possible she still does. But I won't flatter myself. I'm sure she has better stuff to think about these days. But I swear, in the beginning of our (mine and Mrs. B's) relationship, this woman bashed me mercilessly. She called me things that would have bruised the ego of just about any man with a pulse. To be fair she thought at one time that I had done the same to her. But she was wrong, the unfortunate victim of a gossiper who had led her astray. If she'd come directly to me way back then she would have figured out that the gossiper was a jealous loser and that I wouldn't have talked about her, 'cause I don't do gossip. Gossip is like chronic lying. Difficult, I've heard. A headache. You have to keep your stories up and remember which one you told last. You have to constantly insert red herrings so that the subject of the gossip doesn't trace it back to you. It's like playing telephone. And I hate telephone.

So anyway, a few days ago James-hater reached out to Mrs. B. And over the past few days or so they have been reuniting, smoothing out old bumps in their relationship, reconciling, etc. And you might think I'd be angry or pouty about it, but I'm not. Old friendships should not be destroyed over a fit of temper or two. Not worth it. They were friends for a really long time. And being here in Florida, Mrs. B doesn't see a lot of her old friends from the home state very often. Making peace with one of them is a good thing, I say.

And I'll earn good (this includes compassionate and understanding) husband points by encouraging this reunion...unless, of course, this ends up turning into a Thelma & Louise thing.

It is inevitable as the weekend progresses that I will grab the house phone without looking at the caller ID and it'll be the friend on the other line. Or I'll see Mrs. B's cell phone ringing and I'll yell out to her that her phone is ringing and should I get it. She'll say yes. And it'll be the friend on the other line. I will have to talk to this woman.

And when I do, I'm gonna keep it friendly...I think. I mean, I will. I'm pretty sure. Maybe.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Let's call this meeting to order

Welcome to the first gathering of the "Say Whatever the Hell You Want" club.

It is my intention through this club to stifle what I believe to be irrational panic and fear over saying stupid things under the guise of humor. First there was Imus. Then there were these knuckleheads, who prank-called the Chinese restaurant on the air, and said offensive things. Last week or the week before, a Florida state legislator sent out an email to people urging them to pay their taxes on time because 12 million illegal aliens were counting on it. He said he was joking and not referring to citizens or legal residents anyway.

First order of business: Know that you can say whatever you want as long as you don't yell "nappy-headed ho" in a crowded theater, because there will be consequences.

For example, you are more than welcome to approach me if you see me on the street and call me the N-word - that's not "Nancy," in case my friend Aguedelo is reading this. But if you exercise your freedom in this case I may knock you out like Popeye did Brutus too many times to count or the way Deebo did Red in Friday. So while you're eye may be swollen shut you will be able to comfort yourself in the fact that you spoke freely. Hooray for the Constitution!

Second order of business: We have to let this free market system do its job. When people don't like something they stop partaking of it, naturally. If I taste food that is nasty to me, I guarantee you I'll never take another bite, unless, of course, the chef revamps the dish and demonstrates to me that it will taste differently the second time around. If your home town team sucks over the long term, you stop buying tickets and attending the games. When the team owner gets the hint, he'll spend more money, get better players, and improve the team. And when they start winning again you'll be drawn back to them. If radio hosts, for example, say things we don't like - things that aren't dangerous to society (like yelling "fire"), things that at best qualify as bad, distasteful humor, and at worst qualify as mean or some form of "ist," then don't listen to them. Find new radio shows to listen to, or get books on tape. Advertisers will eventually get the ratings numbers that show a dwindling audience and they will cast their lots with other, more popular shows. I guarantee you that will send a bigger, more moral message than forcing the stupid people to shut up.

Third order of business: Don't be stupid about free speech. We have to support it unequivocally. But don't let stupid, mean people use it as an excuse either. This goes back to the consequences thing. If someone is out of order - even in a lame attempt to be funny - call them out if it's necessary. If you can say it, then you should be willing to defend it, regardless of how you meant it.

Fourth order of business: Pick and choose your battles. The next person who gives you a funny look, don't automatically call the Anti-Eyeball Association and accuse that person of inappropriate use of peepers. The next person who says something stupid to you or around you, don't automatically make a federal case of it. It takes away credibility from those legitimate arguments. If I get on your case every time you say "poop," and beat you down for using a sophomoric description of that, people will get just as desensitized to my gripe as they are of your use of "poop." And when you eventually graduate to that poop word that starts with "S," folks might not listen to my complaint as seriously as they would have otherwise.

Fifth order of business: Let us forever relegate non-dangerous (again, no yelling "fire" or inciting violence or instigating crime with your words) speech to mole hill status. We have enough societal mountains to climb (like poverty, violent crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc.) that when we encounter a mole hill, let's agree to step over it and keep climbing.

As the founder, chairman, and sole board member of the "Say Whatever the Hell You Want" club, I am a dictator.

So I'm bringing this first meeting to a close.

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This guy's next

I had great respect for the late Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. He died doing what he loved. I sometimes thought the things he did were dangerous to the point of stupidity, but I respected his overall goal of giving us couch potatoes a closer look at nature and a better understanding of the other creatures with whom we share this planet.

This guy though? Saw an ad about a documentary on him on TV the other night. He's just asking for it. I'm not sure I'll be as bummed out or surprised if he buys the farm anytime soon.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A little bed time me!

The singing doctor

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Monday, April 23, 2007

I need a new adjective for stuff I like

I have a bad habit. More a stupid habit than bad, I guess.

But in the spirit of Dave Chappelle, for the longest time, since even before he had his short-lived variety show, I have used "crack" to accent things I really, really like.

Drug use is not funny. Illegal drugs, drugs not prescribed by a doctor are not funny. The ravishes of the illegal drug trade are terrible. I know that. I think drug dealers should be strung up by their testicles with unbreakable fishing line.

Crack though? I'm sorry, but the word is funny to me. Seriously, I don't care if you're alone reading this right now or in a group. But just say the word aloud.

I dare you. Say "crack," and tell me that a few seconds later you're not at least smiling if not laughing outright. Sorry, but it just sounds funny.

I know this bugs my wife and has for the five years we've known each other probably. My mother thinks it's stupid too. But if, for example, I like a particular dish I will tell my wife "This is delicious - must have crack in it!"

Of course, I'm suggesting that the dish is so tasty that it is addictive.

They make clothes out of hemp? OK, that's cool if you're green. But my new pants, they're really cool. Must be made with crack.

My Starbucks coffee? Strong and tasty! Must have crack in it.

Family Guy? Hilarious show. Must be drawn with crack-tipped pens and taped with a crack-tinted camera lens.

I know. I know. Mrs. B will tell you it stopped being funny a long time ago.

And don't any of you uptight folks post messages and lecture me about the ravishes of drug use. I know drugs are bad. But we're starting to take this can't-say-this-or-that thing too far. Sometimes we just have to make light of the things that plague us just 'cause, just 'cause they're such monumental pains in the behind. Some stuff just sounds funny. Get over it. No one ever thought Jello pudding could be funny...until Bill Cosby started pitching it and using gibberish to describe how much he enjoyed it. Suddenly gelatin desserts were knee slappers.

What can I tell you? I have a twisted sense of humor. But the 1/10 of 1% of me that is sort of PC figures it's time I grew up and found a new adjective to describe my favorite things.

I'm open to suggestions.

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Gluttons for punishment

I have an old friend, an old female friend, who over the years has been like a big sister to me, not taking anything away from my biological big sister, of course.

This friend is smart. She's got that book learnin'. But when it comes to men she's dumb as a rock.

And I don't get it. This isn't a new discussion. We've all had it before, possibly on this blog, definitely among friends and colleagues: seemingly smart person falls repeatedly for abusive, generally bad person, and refuses to change course.

Anyway, I got a call from her this morning about the latest guy. He's mean. He's condescending. He's inconsiderate, etc.

Here's the kicker - when she began dating this guy she did so only after brushing aside the advances of a guy who wasn't as cool as her eventual man. The other guy didn't drive the coolest car. His social and conversational skills were woeful. But he worked hard, earned well, had good sense, wasn't running from the law, didn't have a gaggle of babies running around out there, and just had a good heart. And I say social skills can be taught. Being nice, once you're past a certain age can't be taught. You either are or you aren't.

Her description of the other guy way back then? "He's just not my type!"

So the new guy isn't working out. He's good looking and has a nice car and dresses better than the other guy. But the new guy is a jerk. He doesn't have a pot to piss in and has no concept of responsibility.

Not her type? Guys do it too. We go for the one with super model looks, or even more baffling, no looks at all but super model 'tude. And we will hang onto her even after she sets our clothes on fire, kicks our dog, runs up our credit card bill, and cheats on us.

BTW, that last graph isn't personal experience. I've been lucky that way. I'm drawing on tales from buddies and scenes from bad dating movies. Still, I assume you get the picture.

I can't front. I told my friend this morning that she was dumb as hell. "You are dumb as hell." Those were my exact words. I had nothing wiser to offer. What was there to say? I've done it before. Dated someone, or bought something, or generally taken a course of action that I knew in advance would be bad for me. I did it anyway. I don't know why I did it then or a "few" other times over the years.

I certainly don't know why some people do it over and over again. After a while being punished bites, especially when you're the one punishing yourself...unless you're into that sort of thing. And if you are, I don't want to know about it.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Ask James Anything Friday

We haven't done this for a few weeks. So ask away. Ask me anything about anything - the news, the news biz, me, you, life, war, death, destruction, love, hate, Miami, etiquette, civility, raising kids (kidding - I'm clueless about that), whatever. No holds barred.

But Matt, don't try to get me in trouble with overly out-there questions. I'm PG-13 on this blog, 'cause it is affiliated with my employer. And I have bills to pay.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

I'm still skeptical

OK, I have a confession to make. I'm suspicious of panhandlers.

That's not a huge revelation, 'cause I know that by nature we tend to be suspicious of strangers. Add to their stranger status bad clothes, a funky smell, a sullen and/or bizarre attitude, and persistent begging, and you have a deal breaker.

I try to be compassionate, but you may recall past experience has chipped away at that emotion where the homeless are concerned. And I just can't help but think I'm getting punked each time I fork up $.50 cents or a dollar.

This post by my friend Tiggerlane, and last night's episode of South Park made me think of it, as the town was overrun by homeless on a mission for change - no paper money, just change.

It's South Park. So sure, it was goofy and just a little mean. But there was sort of a moral to the story. When I exit the highway each morning in downtown Miami, on the way to the Miami Herald building there is a gauntlet of panhandlers waiting with paper cups, ball caps, tin cans, you name it. And I swear these guys are working in shifts now. I always see the same two guys on Monday mornings. And then there's a different couple of guys the next day. And a different pair in the afternoons. They share the same spot.

I don't know what to tell ya. I'm on the phone trying to set up interviews for an article or explaining to my wife why I'll be getting home two hours later than I originally said. I just don't have a lot of patience for a grown man getting next to my window and grinning and waving his cup at me. It nearly makes me salty.

I understand mental illness plays a huge role in all of this. Drug use too. And a couple of the guys are physically disabled. Otherwise what reasons would a grown apparently healthy man voluntarily stand on the side of the road begging for change?

There's one guy who is only out there on the exit ramp sporadically - sometimes a few days in a row, and sometimes I don't see him for a week or two. I suspect he's getting fed and sheltered in the interim, 'cause his sign looks funny. And like Chris Rock said, if you have enough jollies that you can make a jokey sign asking for money and/or food, you can't be that hungry. Hunger ain't funny. If I was hungry like that I wouldn't be telling jokes - spoken or written. My sign might say "Will die if I don't eat."

I don't know that I'm smart enough to solve the homeless problem. But I know that it bugs me. I won't lie. I hate being confronted by people asking for stuff. But I also hate seeing so many apparently destitute people who need either treatment or a loving kick in the behind to jump start their lives, or a combination of both. I am smart of enough, however, to think of John Bradford when I see these guys.

What to do, what to do?

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech

There is not much to say about this other than it's sad and bananas all at the same time.

Outside of the 9/11 terror attacks, the occasional domestic plane crash, and combat fatalities, you never hear of this many people being killed at once in/from this country.

There's no explaining it either. That's where the bananas part comes in. It's almost pointless to ask why. They say the shooter wrote dark things. OK. I think dark thoughts sometimes. So do some of you. What separates us from the poop-flinging primates is our ability and instinct to never, ever, ever, ever, ever act out in accordance with that occasional dark thought.

So why can't some people control that? Sure, there's legitimate mental illness. That explains some folks becoming killers. But for once, I wish a spree/serial/mass killer would not commit suicide in the end, 'cause I'd like to know what he was thinking.

A buddy and I were discussing this yesterday, and he speculated that this is an example - an extreme example, but an example nonetheless - of some younger folk not being properly groomed these days to deal with failure or loss.

I'm not sure I agree with my guy 100%, but I see where he's going with it.

When I was a kid I had the misfortune of my little league baseball teams being coached by my dad. I say "misfortune," 'cause when you're the son of the coach and the coach is a strict military man you catch more grief than your teammates for errors and what not. On the other hand, the discipline he put on us whipped us into shape. And year after year we won our championships. But there was the occasional loss. And while we were kids and it hurt like hell to lose, we pretty much took it in stride 'cause my dad and the other boys parents pretty much made it clear to us early on that there was no shame in coming in second if you had fun, tried your best, etc. I see kids today sometimes go nuts when they lose 'cause they're not familiar with the concept. I've seen little leagues where they won't even keep score for fear of giving the kids a complex by declaring one side winner and one side loser.

Same goes with dating. I got taught pretty early you don't always get the girl you want. So what? Find another one.

A loved one dies. You grieve. You miss them. You embrace their memory and keep living your life.

The list goes on. Weren't you taught to deal with the bad/sad/mad?

The Virginia Tech shooter is said to have had some serious mental issues. But I think my guy might be onto something.

In the mean time, R.I.P. to the innocent.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Quick Hits

  • Rusty Pipe Up Yours Award - I haven't given out one of these for a while, but this one goes out to Comcast Cable. Thanks to these rocket scientists I am just now getting back my Internet service, which has basically been out since Thursday afternoon. Dueling technicians came out to my house in the interim, each giving different assessments and each blaming the other for not fixing the problem. They should have been playing dueling banjos. It would have been more entertaining.
  • I just took the subconscious racial preferences test as part of Harvard's Project Implicit. The test said that subconsciously I believe white people are better than black people. I say the test is on crack. I love myself, but as part of my personal equal opportunity policy I hate everyone else. Just kidding...or am I? Ha ha ha ha ha! Still wondering, aren't you?
  • An indication that you might not be able to afford your luxury car? The pizza delivery sign on its roof. I wish that was a Jeff Foxworthy-esque joke, but the missus and I were walking our dog here in the land of fronters and headlights approached, moving slowly. As they got closer we saw that the interior dome light was also on. As the vehicle got a little closer we saw a Pizza Hut sign strapped onto the roof. And a little closer we realized the vehicle was a new(er) Lexus SUV. And no, it wasn't a teenager driving his dad's car. This dude looked to be 40ish himself. If you have to deliver fastfood to pay for your luxury car, trade that thing down for a Honda. It'll last just as long and cost 75% less.
  • I am sooooo fashionable - During a little shopping excursion earlier Mrs. B wanted to stop in J. Crew (I've always hated that name. It tries too hard) for a couple of things. While she grabbed 'em, I browsed the guy stuff and to my surprise on their necktie table was a new selection of square bottomed knit ties, like those really popular in the late '80s. I never got rid of mine from middle and high school. Seriously, from critical mom, to critical buddies, to girlfriend to critical girlfriend, and finally my wife, I have refused over the years to get rid of my knits. Now they're back. I knew it. I'm cooler than the other side of the pillow.
  • In case you were wondering, ever since I called out my cornhole neighbor from down the block who let his rat terrier poop on the swale in front of my house and didn't pick it up, there has not been one dropping on my grass. Coincidence? I think not.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Food for thought

It took more than a year for the Duke University lacrosse kids who were apparently falsely accused of rape to win that battle and have the charges dropped.

Think about this. Three dudes from well off families who were able to spring $1 million apiece for their legal defense(s).

And it still took them over a year to set this right.

If you have any doubt that there is something off kilter about how our legal system works, imagine how much longer this might have dragged out if these guys had been poor and relying on public defenders.

We might have still been talking about this case several years from now.

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Bad signs

This is my last word on Don Imus.

I'm bummed out that MSNBC was gutless and fair weather and ditched him. And I'm not saying this because I'm a fan.

Like I said in the last post, I think Imus is a doddering old fool who has said a lot of mean stuff for a lot of years. But that's the point of my disgust. No one's had a problem with him before now, before this became the popular issue of the day - or should I say the popular issue of the first and second weeks of April, 2007.

Suddenly, he's an awful man because of a mean, racist comment about some young women and their appearance? Where were the NBC execs last year, and the year before, and so on and so forth? They were counting up the $20-plus million a year he was earning them in advertising revenue.

You can't give someone a pass on their bad habit for decades and then tell them suddenly you can't deal with them anymore, because of that behavior. Folks in the South and some religious types refer to a "come to Jesus moment." It's the moral equivalent of a golf mulligan.

If you have not been seriously warned before about your behavior, then that first time you do get a serious, significant warning, you should get a "come to Jesus moment" so you can try to make things right. Even Jesus himself would have granted as much when he walked the earth.

Even more important though is the fact that this won't stop with Imus. Jon Stewart, Carlos Mencia, Nick Cannon, and any other squirrels who cash in over the airwaves on a mix of comedy, brutal commentary and real news events had better hoard their nuts, 'cause it's gonna be a cold winter.

Be careful what and who you joke about, even if you think you spread your humor (or venom, depending on who's judging it) evenly. I for one am considering no longer teasing my buddies with any slang or nicknames that suggest they're weak when they express fear of their girlfriends or wives, 'cause I don't want to be accused of being anti-softy.

And if Imus' words were the the be all and end all of atrociousness, why is it that the TV commentators repeated those words over and over and over and over as they critiqued him? Notice when they're discussing something like the N-word, for example, they refer to it just like that - as "the N-word." They don't dare repeat that word, 'cause they really believe it is bad. This stuff Imus said? They repeat it verbatim 'cause this whole thing was a game for most of them.

Once again, Don Imus was wrong. His statement, like many he's aimed in the past at all sorts of ethnic and cultural groups, was bad on multiple levels. But the hypocrites at NBC and at CBS radio who let him be that way for years and then dumped him (so far only NBC, not CBS radio, has dumped him) once the advertisers ran away were also bad. And so were the hypocritical advertisers who didn't mind his stupid comments until the witch hunt started. And so are the pseudo-clergy who make money off of declaring themselves the moral compass for an entire race and yet refuse to take to task the record executives who produce albums about that race for clueless artists with much worse content on them than anything Imus ever said.

Shame, shame on the whole lot of 'em.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Sorry, can't fire Don Imus

Sheesh la frickin' weeze, man. Enough already with Imus.

For the record, let me say that as the son, brother, cousin, nephew, etc., etc. of a host of black women, calling a group of black women "nappy-headed hos" is not good PR. It is not nice. It is not healthy. It is dumb, and mean, and racist on so many levels.

I can tell you that if I had used that phrase in reference to a group of black women, those to whom I'm related would have beaten me like I stole something.

But, as offensive as Imus' comment was, you can't fire him.

Why? Because we're all hypocrites. There is no consistency in this country when it comes to what we "allow" to outrage us.

Don Imus is a shock jock. For 30-plus years on the radio he has taken shots at everyone - white, black, Asian, and Latino, skinny, fat, apparently smart, apparently dumb, and so on and so forth.

And throughout most of his career, Imus, like other shock jocks, has occasionally said something that pushed or crossed the lines of comfort, even in the realm of dark humor.

But he's never been asked to resign. No one ever seriously considered firing him. And that's because his employers were making butt-loads of money on his show and his fans laughed with him, albeit nervously in some cases.

Look, I'm a firm believer in accepting apologies. But even I know that "oops, my bad" has a limited shelf life.

Still, only now, when it's popular to say "oops," and enter rehab or something, do we want to start firing people for saying stupid, mean, offensive things.

Should anybody be fired for stepping over this sort of line? Yes. Elected officials? Fire 'em. Military commanders? Fire 'em. Clergy? Fire 'em. Ambassadors? Fire 'em.

Those are all people entrusted with caring for people. Shock jocks are not entrusted with anything but our attention during morning rush hour. Neither are comedians, who also routinely say mean-spirited things about all sorts of people.

Don Imus is like the cad who meets the nice girl and talks his way in. But instead of telling him up front that he has to change his ways before the relationship can proceed, she nurtures his bad behavior and even encourages it, just so she can keep him. And then suddenly, after years like this, she tells him he's bad and has to go. Naturally the boyfriend is shocked. He wants to know what he did wrong and what he did that she didn't like. The answer is nothing, according to the standards she set for him.

In this case though, the collective girlfriend is the radio network owners, MSNBC, the pundits calling for his dismissal, and some of the general public. No one is shocked. Imus has been talking like this for years. Every now and then he's received a scolding. He's said oops. And the show has gone on.

Now, folks want to get serious with him and say, "OK, now we want you gone?"

Every time a public figure with a massive audience says something racist/sexist/whatever-ist hold them to an even standard. Otherwise, leave 'em alone and let 'em all say whatever they want.

Anyway, I can't take serious the Rev. Jesse Jackson's call for Imus to be fired. Jackson once referred to New York City as "Hymie Town," a racist reference to the city's large Jewish population. Jackson was given a second chance. He was allowed to explain himself. And after his apologies he was allowed to keep on keepin' on. So what can't Imus apologize, feel stupid, and move past it?

What if the public and Jackson's civic "sponsors" and spiritual "donors" had decided he should be cut off back then - no more big money speeches on college campuses, no book deals, no consulting fees or whatever you want to call them? He'd be up the creek without a paddle today.

Going after a radio shock jock doesn't impress me.

You want to impress me? Then gather Jackson, and all the other people who want to Imus fired and hold a protest outside the offices of every major record distributor and protest the albums on which every third or fourth word is bitch or ho and often in reference to black women. Protest those albums and threaten the record labels and distributors with boycotts if they don't stop making/selling that music.

That won't happen though, because we would all gasp and say "But that's hampering free speech! That's interfering with the creation of art, and hindering the creative process!"

So if people can get a pass under the mantle of art, - as in "Hey, I don't really feel that way. I was just being artistic!" - then radio shock jocks should get a pass too.

Don Imus is a doddering old fool. But he's demonstrated that for a long time, with lots of applause. Firing him now only proves one thing: that his employers and former fans are fair weather and willing to turn on him when it's the popular thing to do.

If the folks who want Imus fired are serious, then I call for a two year grace period in which every idiot who gets paid to talk for a living is given a chance to adjust to the public's delicate sensibilities.

If they act up after that, fire 'em all and kick 'em where the good Lord split 'em as they walk out the door.

In the mean time, don't act shocked by the actions of shock jocks. They call 'em that for a reason.

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Another tide over

It's spring time. We're all trying to either clean or overhaul something on our homes. Here's an interview I had for today's paper with an interior designer on the subject: Robert Weinstein.

Meatier stuff to come later. Hope everyone had a good weekend. Been trying to read your stuff. Will try to get comments to you this evening.

Have a good day.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

It was a good day...again

I just had a train day (day when I do mass transit and don't drive to work), and I saw two of the coolest things I've seen over the past few weeks.

First, on the way to the train I saw a driver jibber-jabberin' on her cell phone (and yes, the driver really was a woman) at a freeway exit adjacent to the train station. She was waiting to turn right and either didn't see or didn't care that about the large sign above her traffic signal that read "No Turn on Red."

In typically Miami fashion she turned against the red anyway, causing an oncoming car to slow down dramatically to make way for her. Seconds later a motorcycle cop who sometimes stakes out that exit from under a nearby overpass turned on his sirens and lights and chased that numbnut down.

Yeah! The mouth breathers do get busted sometimes.

Second, while on the train I was doing my favorite commuting thing - reading a book. I'm on page 400 of Lawrence Sanders' The Second Deadly Sin. If you like old-school cop/murder mysteries this is a great one. And Sanders is one of the best. I'm a huge fan.

Anyway, I was reading, and I heard a young guy - maybe in his early 20s - about four rows up and across the aisle answer his cell phone and start talking. It's ironic. His subject matter wasn't bad. He was telling the person on the other line about how he was maturing and realizing that hot cars and hot clothes and hot tunes and hotter women weren't anything compared to stability in your life. He even cracked a joke about a friend of his with bad priorities who recently spent several hundred dollars on a new high definition radio, but that friend didn't even own a car to put it in.

The problem was this guy was really loud and every other word was a swear. Well, sitting right next to me was a woman with her grandson. He was probably six or seven. I know he was her grandson, because his mother had taken his other siblings to the upper deck so they could look out the windows.

After a few minutes of the phone call grandma calls out "Excuse me young man, I'm sitting here with a little boy. And he does not need to hear what you're saying or how you're saying it."

It took phone guy a second, but he realized what she meant. And would you believe it, he was embarrassed! He actually expressed shame, covered his mouth, stammered an apology, and carried on his conversation at a lower tone, minus the swears. And when he got up to exit the train at the next station, he stopped at grandma's seat and apologized profusely again.

Very cool. There's hope.

Also, my last post was one I started writing on Monday but didn't get around to finishing till today. So you may have missed it. It actually posted as two items ago. Give it a read. It's on a stupid political move in Florida.

Good even, and peace and hair grease. I'll post more tomorrow.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

My good friend

How good a friend are you?

I mean, we probably agree that if you do nice things for people you like you are a good friend to them. If you say nice things to people you like you're probably a good friend to them. If you think nice things about people you like you're probably a good friend to them.

And we base all this on the assumption that you do all the nice things for people you care about - friends.

But when your friend needs to hear some bad news, can you deliver it?

I have a friend who is a drunk. He gets lit frequently. And it occurred to me in a conversation with him earlier today that I don't think I've ever called him out over his excess boozing. We've talked about the after-effects a million times. I have laughed with him over his descriptions of feeling and looked wretched the next morning. I've poked fun at him for it and teased him about not being able to "hold" his. I've coyly asked him if he remembered who he hooked up with the night before.

The only reason it struck me today that I may be doing this friend a disservice was that he called and told me about his recent wild nights...and then he went on to talk about how bummed out he was about his life.

For all the times this buddy has called me to tell me about his escapades I've never once told him "Go to AA, go straight to AA, do not pass go, do not collect $200."

Nothing. Not even a hint like "You think maybe you should cut back a little?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm not on a soap box. I'm not even on a bar of soap right now. I have had my share of "the day after."

But then I got, and tired of feeling like re-heated crap from late Friday/early Saturday morning till Sunday evening every weekend. And booze got expensive. And I had things to do that required me to be clear-headed, etc., etc. The list could go on. And no doubt some of you could add a few items to it.

My point is you grow up at some point and stop the goofy behavior, just because. If you're 30 or older and nowhere near the goals you've set for yourself but yet you still find time to get hammered every night? You have issues. And if you can't or aren't willing to stop you might have a problem that goes beyond your overwhelming desire to have fun. And if this description fits you, you're not likely to get "it" on your own, which leaves the job of making you get "it" to your friends.

But friends aren't always willing to tell you're goofy and/or you need help. And yet, you may need to hear that more than a joke. I know all the arguments: we don't want to hurt our friends' feelings. We don't want to come off as the bad guy. I've heard 'em all. I've used 'em to rationalize my own unwillingness to put a friend in check.

Still, it's strange to me. It should be easy. The truth shall set you free, and all that jazz, right?

I think I am a good friend to this guy. But I've never told him to get help.

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Gotta get political again

It's been that kind of week, folks. Sorry for the lack of posting.

But on to business. So we had an interesting article in Sunday's Miami Herald - no I did not write it - about fighting violent crime.

One of my colleagues reported on the creation of the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys. It's a sort of new panel signed into law by recent-former Gov. Jeb Bush. The council, whose mission is to study the issues negatively impacting the lives of young black men and boys is located in the Florida Attorney General's office, and has an operating budget of $200,000 annually.

Among the issues the council is studying? Rising homicide rates, poverty, low income, breakdown of family structure and rising incarceration rates.

OK, so here's the deal. You know the theory of six degrees of separation? That everyone on Earth is connected to everyone else on Earth via a mere six people. In other words, someone I know knows someone who knows someone who knows someone, etc., who knows someone who knows you.

This issue of negative impact is six degrees of separation. All of these influences are interconnected.

And you can call me insensitive but they all come back to old-fashioned home training and intestinal fortitude.

It's like this. If I have a weak mind, or I am mentally ill, or depressed, or just downtrodden and lacking hope, I am going to be most susceptible to negative influences in my life.

If I have no job and no hopes of finding one soon with which I can reasonably support myself, I am going to be susceptible to negative influences in my life.

If I'm young and I lack adult guidance and leadership IN MY HOME, I am going to be susceptible to negative influences in my life.

If I'm young and the value system shown me by the adults in my life does not put a premium on education, work, and good sense, I am going to be susceptible to negative influences in my life.

Folks, the state does not need to spend $200,000 a year studying this. I would've taken $20,000 and a six pack to tell them what they needed to know to address this problem.

Even if you accept that over the years there has been some institutional racism in place that made it difficult for poor families to break the cycle, certain issues and influences don't have a government component.

If your kid isn't going to school every day or he's not bringing text books home and you don't ask him about it, that's not the government's fault. And it ain't a matter of racism. Forget what you look like. Check your kid, as in get in his face. Ask him why he doesn't have school books at home. Ask him to see his homework. And if he says he has none, call his teachers.

If your kid is, as my Grandma Rosa would say, "actin' a fool," check him. Make him act right. And if he won't act right, try again, and again. Give him alternatives for how to spend his time, anything but lounging with underachieving peers who don't aspire to anything.

If your kid appears to admire his or her friend who just had or helped make a baby, check your kid - especially if you conceived your child at a young age - and break it down for him. Explain that it costs too much in $$$ and emotional stability to try to raise a child when you're still one yourself.

If your kid thinks his favorite musician is the savviest businessman on the planet, explain to him that his top artist does NOT own the cars he drives in music videos. He does not own the houses he sings or rhymes in front of in the videos. That stuff was leased. That video probably cost him almost all of any advance money he received. And when his agents, the record labels, and all the hangers-on are paid, most of the artists are broke as a joke.

If your kid doesn't think jail is a big deal, take him on a field trip to a state prison and have him sit on the other side of the Plexiglas in the visiting room, across from an inmate who has become a designated girlfriend on the inside. If it's death that's not a big deal, don't just take him to visit the morgue. Find someone who looks like him, but is a few years older and headed for a stable life. Make him see that "living" can be quite comfortable if you work hard, don't get screwed, and find a measure of good luck along the way.

If your kid has bought the hype about "the man" reining death and destruction down on the 'hood, firmly but gently point out to him that the vast majority of young black men murdered in the U.S. are killed by other young black men. Exhort him and his friends to stand up and not become a part of those statistics.

If your kid blames "lack of respect" on violence in his neighborhood, explain to him that shooting the person who accidentally stepped on your Nikes won't get you respect. It will get you feared, and scorned, and either locked up or killed in revenge.

I can go on. I won't. Seriously, the state of Florida does not need to spend $200,000 a year studying this. And if they do they can just forward that check to me. This isn't about race. It's about hope, hopelessness, prospects, and expectations. The cycle of depression just has to be broken. I know that's easier said than done. But we're talking about identifying the problem not declaring a solution. The latter is another conversation altogether.

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To tide you over

Super busy day. Will do a full post later. But I made it through the weekend keeping my griping to a minimum.

If you're a fan of instrumental jazz, then here's a quick thing I did for today's paper with Boney James.

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