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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Feelin' ways about stuff

I felt my age yesterday when I revisited a Miami high school that could be a real life version of that school from Fame. Just with better weather and nobody running around in leg warmers and leotards and randomly breaking into song.

No worries. I'm not a dirty old man who hovers around teenagers. I was there working on a story about a group of kids who designed such an impressive set of artistic, futuristic, furniture that it is on its way to Basel, Switzerland, soon to be displayed in the summer at Art Basel, one of the largest, most hoity toity art festivals in the world.

I like to think I'm a youngish hip guy still. I mean marriage hasn't completely left me in need of hip replacement.

But as I tried to connect with these kids once more to let them know that I too once frowned a lot and felt things about...other things, they just gave me that look, the same one I used to give my parents. While I am in theory old enough to be their dad, these kids could have cut me some slack, 'cause in generational terms I'm closer to them than their folks.

No dice. I'm thinking if I'd worn black jeans and black t-shirt I might have gotten in. That appeared to be the uniform for the artistic kids, whose company I really, genuinely enjoyed. One of those little brats cool kids even commented that my nicely tailored, cream colored, side-vented, single-breasted, peaked-lapel suit, purple pocket square, and sky blue windowpane shirt - that's right; I can dress myself, dammit! - reminded him of an "old" video he'd seen of Miami Vice.

Still, kids don't know everything. For example, they didn't create the first cussword substitute with "fudge it." When I was sporting my Member's Only jacket, you didn't make your swears obvious then either. Like, you wouldn't say that something was effed up. You'd say "that wangs chung!" Get it, like the band? That way you confused your parents and managed to criticize something you didn't like.

In the words of Michael J. Fox's coach in Teen Wolf, "There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese."

Bet those smart Fame kids didn't know that.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Code Words II

The last time I commented seriously about presidential politics, I weighed in on Delaware Sen. Joe Biden's "compliment" that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was a clean and articulate guy.

As you may recall, Biden caught heat from folks who asked this hypothetical: if Obama had been a well-spoken, clean cut, 40-something white Harvard educated attorney and freshman U.S. Senator, would Biden have still felt the need to compliment Obama's appearance and speech, or would he have taken them for granted?

I don't like thin skins, and if you read this blog regularly you know that already. Nor do I toss bombs like "racist" too often. But that hypothetical struck a raw nerve with me, 'cause I've been on the receiving end of such code-worded compliments - the kind that read between the lines "I'm impressed with you, 'cause I wouldn't expect someone like you to be so (fill in the blank)."

So keeping in mind that I don't do partisan politics, 'cause I think don't think donkeys are funny and elephants are only cool on the Discovery Channel, and I don't have a horse in this presidential race...other than Dave Barry, don't get mad at me if what I'm about to write is a shot at your candidate:

Anyone who is delusional enough to believe that crusty, old school Republicans are the only politicians, or even the predominate politicians, who condescend to ethnic minorities with coded language has not been listening very closely to the words of former Pres. Bill Clinton in reference to Barack Obama's potential abilities to run the country.

I can't fault the former president for vigorously advocating for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential run. But when he does it by dropping between-the-lines hints that many minorities support Obama just because he's half black, then Clinton is essentially suggesting that black people are not smart enough to pick a candidate because they simply like his positions more than his opponent's.

When asked by a TV reporter to comment on Obama's South Carolina primary victory, Clinton replied in part that Jesse Jackson had also won the South Carolina Democratic primary in 1984 and 1988. Hmmm. Why mention Jackson's victory? Why didn't Clinton compare Obama's victory to his own South Carolina primary wins in 1992 and 1996? What about Al Gore's South Carolina primary win in 2000, or John Edwards' in 2004? Clinton singled out Jesse Jackson's victories, in my opinion, to diminish Obama's win as being significant only because he is half black, to suggest Obama's win was a "black thing."

Bill Clinton, the guy who gladly accepted the label of being the "virtual first black president" from some numbnut who didn't get a good look at the former president before making that assessment, would never dare scoff at blocs of white voters and suggest they support a particular candidate just because that candidate is also white. He'd never dismiss a white candidate's victory as being the result of that candidate's skin color.

Why, you ask? I don't know. You'd have to ask Clinton. Maybe he gives white voters the benefit of the doubt that they have sense enough to pick candidates for the right reasons. What kind of credit he gives white politicians to whom he's not married, I don't know.

It all sounds very racist and non-Democrat to me, at least according to how the TV talking heads have described the Democratic Party's collective tender heart. And to all the preachers, retired politicians, and former peddlers of self-defeating music video channels aimed at black people, who have publicly suggested Obama isn't black enough or "real" enough because he hasn't made a career out of his race, shame on you for perpetuating that sort of stereotype.

Remember, I'm voting for Dave. And if I were to simplify my beliefs and concerns to a 10 point scale, I'd say that none of the candidates from either major party get more than a few points. So I don't care if you love Obama, hate Obama, love Clinton, hate Clinton, love McCain, hate Romney, sort of like Huckabee, etc.

But the actions of some of Obama's rivals remind me that subtle, deceitful racism is alive and well, and not always from the people the pundits warned you about.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

We are (potentially) famous!

What's crackin' people? Almost time to head back to work.

Before I forget, I haven't forgotten that I said I'd reveal the name to my Web site. But I'm a little indecisive right now and still stuck between two names. I'll try to choose by the end of business on Monday.

Moving right along, I was just lounging and thinking about how loose a definition we've put on fame nowadays.

Sunday evening NBC aired a two hour Guinness World Records special, culminating with a live stunt in which a motorcycle rider, sped his bike through a makeshift tunnel ringed in 1,000-plus degree flames. He made it. He broke a world record for something like longest ride through a flaming tunnel.

I guess I understand people getting titles and fame for unbelievable acts.

One guy was a stunt man who got up on a 300-something foot platform and jumped onto a giant airbag. He didn't miss the bag and splatter on the ground! Or land on his face or his head. He set a record.

Another guy smashed more watermelons with his head in a minute than anyone else, assuming someone else somewhere has tried the same while a stopwatch ticked off the seconds.

A group of guys competed to see who could suck the longest spaghetti noodle into their noses and stretch the noodles intact out of their mouths.

And another guy shoved six swords down his mouth and twisted them around before yanking them out. NBC called him a sword swallower. But the swords didn't come out the other end, so as far as I'm concerned he just tasted 'em and spit 'em back out.

All stupid? Yes. But all qualified as wild and crazy acts, worthy, I guess, of a mention in a book and on an occasional TV special about odd records.

What got me though were the people on the show who "won" titles for things they allowed to happen, things that didn't require any proactive effort or even oddball talent.

There was the woman with the longest beard, who after proving she was born and still is a female, had her unusually long beard measured. She won a world record for not shaving or plucking or waxing or electrifying her chin hair.

There was the guy from India with the world's longest fingernails, and the other guy with the world's longest hair. They hadn't trimmed in 50 and 40 years respectively.

Should there really be trophies handed out for not grooming? In theory, someone, one of you perhaps could go without deodorant for the next year or so and win a title for strongest B.O. by someone in your town. Not me, of course. I treasure my sweet, sweet scent way too much.

Time for me to sign off. I'm going to go work on my world title for most consecutive years - 2.4 and counting - a guy named James Burnett has slept in this house.

See you in the record books.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

No freakin' way!

Remember a couple of weeks ago I asked to what extent you'd expose your flaws for money?

Well, it has come to fruition sort of, in the form of a new game show, Moment of Truth, on Fox. This show takes "what would you do for a Klondike Bar?" to a new level.

Moment of Truth premiered tonight after American Idol. And if you didn't see it, contestants didn't really need to flex any mental muscle. They just had to tell the truth.

First, contestants are hooked up to a lie detector and asked 30-something questions, many of them realllllllllllllllllllly personal and deep. They're not told how the machine interpreted their answers, as true or false. Then they're brought on stage and the host explains that they can win up to $500,000 as long as they answer 20-something of the questions truthfully, to the extent the answers they give on stage match the truth as interpreted back stage by the lie detector. The first six honest answers = $10,000. The next five, $25,000. The next four, $100,000, and so on. The catch is if at any point you give a false answer - at least to the extent it contradicts the polygraph machine - you lose everything, even the money you've "earned" up to that point.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not at all. As you answer questions, three people - loved one and two friends - sit directly across the stage from you, just watching and listening and reacting to your answers.

The first contestant was Ty Keck, a personal trainer and former pro football player. Across the stage sat his very attractive wife of two-and-a-half years, and two good friends of his. And I'm guessing right about now that Keck wishes he'd stayed home.

The first couple of questions were easy, things like whether Keck thought he was the best looking person in his circle of friends, and whether he'd ever feigned sickness to cancel a training session with a client. He truthfully answered yes to both things.

But then Keck was asked if he'd ever looked at another ball player's twig-n-berries in the locker room, whether he'd ever had sex on the first day he met a woman, whether he's ever done anything that would cause his wife to lose trust in him, and whether he had put off having kids because he wasn't sure he'd be with his wife for the long haul. Again, Keck truthfully answered yes to each of these.

To say wifey was shocked is an understatement.

A twist to the game is that if she'd heard a question that she didn't want the answer to she could hit a buzzer and the host would ask a replacement question...with no guarantees that it would be easier than the first question. Or if Keck reached a question he didn't want to answer in front of an audience, he could quit, take his earnings and leave the stage.

I was shocked that Keck's wife, though obviously shaken, kept telling him to continue, because she was curious. He made it past the $25K round, and was two questions away from $100K, when he met his match with a question about his job: had he ever touched a (presumably female) client more than was necessary during a training session?

Keck answered no. The polygraph said that was a lie. He lost.

So let me get this straight. This guy exposed his lack of truthiness and admitted to shortcomings his wife didn't know in front of a television audience for a chance at money?

And he went home empty-handed? I'm gonna guess that it's probably better he didn't make it all the way to the $500K, 'cause by the time he got home he'd have been splitting that check down the middle with Mrs. Keck and her divorce attorney.

Oh, and there was irony. After each uncomfortably honest answer, the host asked husband and wife if they'd like to continue, and "at what cost?"

Good question.

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Better late than never

Happy Birthday to Mrs. B. And by "late (in the title)," I don't mean I forgot the day. I didn't. I just mean I forgot to post it here.

Anyway, she doesn't look a day over 25.

There, that should earn me a few points. Kidding. Or am I?


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

James needs your advice...for real

I'm putting together the elements of a Web page that will be home to my doodling, a place where you'll be able to connect to my news reporting which is published originally in the Miami Herald and on, this blog, and other projects I'm working on.

But I'm having trouble settling on a name for the site. Mrs. B says I should keep it simple, like my name dot come. But is taken. I've seen a few variations of it with dot net and dot this and dot that, etc., but nothing I like so far. So at this point I'll take clever over simple.


If I end up using your clever recommendation, there'll be a reward in it. Not sure what, but I'll think of something.

Oh, and speaking of news reporting, here's a piece I wrote with a colleague in Sunday's paper on DVD & CD piracy.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend wrap-up

Greetings, sports fans. I am a sad one tonight.

I've never been a hardcore sports junkie. I mean I played a few in high school. I've spent plenty of time on many couches watching games on TV. For a couple of college basketball seasons back in Milwaukee three co-workers and I shared some three-rows-up-from-the-court season tickets to Marquette University men's basketball games.

But I've never been one to get emotional about sports. Until tonight. The Green Bay Packers lost to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. It was very likely Brett Favre's last playoff game, and thus his last shot at another Super Bowl. I was fortunate when I lived in Wisconsin to have gone to Lambeau Field and seen Favre play "in person." Our seats were on the 50-yard line, about 10 rows up from the field. Very cool experience to match the freezing cold outside. Anyway, I'm hardly the expert, but with all due respect to Tom Brady and the Manning brothers, Favre strikes me as the last incarnation of that old school warrior type of quarterback. I hope he gives it one more year. I hope the Packers find a consistent running back. I also hope the Packers develop a better defensive scheme than they had tonight against really fast, really tall wide receivers.

Moving right along, I saw Super Bad last night, and I think it's the funniest high school/teen/angst movie since The Breakfast Club. Super Bad cracked me up on a number of levels. First, instead of trying too hard with a complex plot it focused on the heart of the matter for teenage boys: The film's heroes desperately wanted sex before they graduated. And that was pretty much the gist of the film, that and finding alcohol to bring to a graduation party at which they hoped their sex dreams would be realized. Second, these kids cussed a lot. My first reaction to that was to frown. But then I remembered, once we got out of earshot of our parents, my guys and I used to say all sorts of foul things in high school. We weren't very good at swearing though. There's something weak about a cussing virgin. The words lack a certain punch and sincerity and skill.

Finally, it's Monday morning now. Federal employees everywhere, and even a few private industry worker bees have a day off of work in observance of the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Most will not do anything to mark the day, not even engage in a minute of quiet reflection. Most won't think twice about whether or not the movement he inspired has helped make the U.S. a better, fairer place. Hell, I didn't do anything to mark this day but be one of the black reporters once again called on to write a story about King's impact on modern society. Maybe that would mean something if I'd volunteered to write the article. But I didn't. Never do, come this time of year. So I won't be hypocritical with my snarkiness. As my pops used to say, I have one accusatory finger pointed out and three more plus a thumb pointing back at me. Some folks will even try to politicize King today and question whether he'd align with Republicans or Democrats if he was alive today. King wasn't even close to being a deity. He had problems. He was human. But he had a brass set and proved time and again that he was willing to put his life on the line for a concept so simple as us all just getting along. So when I think about how seriously we don't take his legacy, I think about all those folks who darken the doorway of their neighborhood church once a year - at Christmas, and then go back to the same ole, same ole.

Till next year this time, if you don't already do this. strike up a conversation from time to time with the stranger sitting next to you on the train to work or across from you at the coffee shop, or whose dog is romping with yours in the park. And make it challenging. Pick a stranger who bears no outward resemblance to you. You might be surprised to learn what you have in common. A parting shot: While walking our dog Sunday afternoon, Mrs. B and I stoppped for food-to-go and coffee-while-we-waited at a little cafe in our neighborhood. While she was inside getting the coffee, Cheko the Australian Shepherd/herder and I waited on the sidewalk. A scruffy looking middle-aged white guy sporting an intense look and a ponytail approached from across the street. What can I tell you? I tensed up. Strangers spook me sometimes. But then we made eye contact. In a split second I had to decide whether to look away or hold his gaze. I held. He smiled tentatively. I reciprocated. He stopped and asked to pet my dog. I allowed it. He correctly guessed my dog's breeds and said he had a similar mix back home that he missed terribly. Five minutes later I was shaking hands with Larry from Seattle, who is on vacation in South Florida till Tuesday, making suggestions on where he should dine and drink, introducing him to Mrs. B as she returned with our coffee, and wishing him luck on the decision he'll have to make soon on whether to stay in Seattle or move to South Florida now that his youngest kid is grown and moving out of the house.

Is it a realization of King's dream(s)? No. It's not that dramatic. But considering the state of the Union, it's a good start.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What is James thinking?

What's crackin', folks? Been doing a little reporting the past week or so, exercising the day job, 'cause I have bills to pay. But I've been thinking about you guys. Seriously. And if, like John Malkovich, I could somehow let you inside my bean you'd have heard me pondering the following 20 questions in my absence:

  1. I don't want to think about Britney. But I can't help thinking about Britney. I know the pundits keep comparing her downward spiral to that of Anna Nicole Smith, but I wonder if I'm the only one who sees a little bit of Lupe Velez in her?
  2. Why is it than when Mrs. B had a procedure done on Friday that involved X-ray, the doctor, who invited me to stay close, only made me wear a lead-filled protective vest that covered my upper torso and my boys down below? If that X-ray was so potentially dangerous, shouldn't I have been wearing a lead hat and face mask too? I like liked my pre-microwaved brain.
  3. I'm not supporting anyone for president this year - except maybe Dave Barry, but I'm tired of candidates suffering in polls and ratings over superficial qualities. Take John McCain. You may not like him or his positions. But he has experience. I wonder though if in his own party his experience will eventually be overlooked because of his advanced age. I mean is he gonna get "Bob Doled," just 'cause he's a senior citizen?
  4. And speaking of superficial qualities, on the other side of the political spectrum, I know that Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are playing the games too. It's what politicians do. But why is it OK for Clinton to pepper her speeches sometimes with the reminder that voters could make history by making her the first female president, but it's not OK for Barack Obama to remind voters that he could make history by being the first ethnic minority president? If that would constitute him playing the "race card," isn't she playing the gender card?
  5. And why are the Democratic candidates arguing over who's more or less like MLK and JFK, anyway? NONE of them could hold MLK's or JFK's jock straps.
  6. Moving right along, but still on the old Political Road, can someone explain to me why Bob Johnson, billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, while introducing Clinton at a campaign rally the other day managed to question Barack Obama's morals and not get called a hypocrite for doing so? Am I nuts, or is this the same Bob Johnson who made his billion-plus dollars by peddling to a largely black audience brainless music videos featuring rappers bragging about cash, cars and homes they didn't really have, disrespecting women, and graphically describing criminal activity? And yet Obama is immoral? Hmmm.
  7. Why does this orange stray cat on my block keep bringing dead birds up to my front door? I don't think I've ever said anything nice to this cat. Why bring gifts? I'll bet Mrs. B feeds him.
  8. How cool was it a couple of weeks ago that temperatures got so low here in South Florida - wind chills in the 30s overnight in some spots - that we had an excuse to use our fireplace for a couple of nights? I'm always looking for an excuse to do torch a log or two in that thing during "winter" down here.
  9. How is it that doctors can X-ray, scan, or ultrasound virtually everything inside your body, but when it comes to prostate exams they still have to shove a tube or a pipe in your bum to look around? I had a doctor's appointment earlier this week, and even though it'll be a good long while before I see 40, the doc was kind enough to offer a prostate exam. I declined. I've gotta get counseling and get my head right, before I allow that to happen to me.
  10. Has caffeine just been a placebo for me all these years? I wonder. Ever since I cut back on coffee - roughly five cups in the past four weeks - I've noticed my energy level hasn't really fallen off at all.
  11. How come the dude I startled on the train platform one morning, just as he was singing "don't you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me" in accompaniment to his iPod, just kept singing? Was he incredibly confident in himself, or what? I wish I had that kind of confidence that I could get caught singing girly lyrics and not care who heard me. Not that I'd sing girly lyrics. I'm all manly tunes.
  12. Why is it that when a young black man was arrested and charged earlier this week for the recent fatal shooting of an off-duty black cop, the same black Fort Lauderdale city commissioner who regularly criticizes police in fatal officer-involved shootings did not issue a public statement condemning the murder of the cop? And while I'm thinking about it, I wonder how many South Florida preachers next Sunday will tell their parishioners that enough's enough, and there is no longer any excuse for not turning on and turning in perps who shoot innocent people?
  13. How come, the day I rode the train to work this week, an angry woman bypassed several rows of empty seats and plopped down next to me, and spent the next 20 minutes grumbling aloud about how much she hates people?
  14. Why do I think that will be the death of some cable television? And why am I so happy about that?
  15. Why are there so many posers in Miami? Let me rephrase that. If I had the money to afford a $65,000 luxury car, when I stopped at a gas station I'd fill up. At least that's what I was thinking when the guy in the Jaguar XJ pulled up next to me, pumped $9 worth of gas, counted out the cash and then went inside to pay. A Jag and no credit or debit card to use at the pump? Signs of posing. I knew a guy like that in college - great car, nice clothes, but barely a crumb in his pantry and little more than a card table in his apartment. He was so broke just keeping up appearances with that car that he'd stop for gas and put $3 here and $2 there in the tank, 'cause he never had enough to fill it up all the way.
  16. How is it that domestic animals, especially cats, don't seem to mind the taste of their own grimy crotches and behinds? I don't get how an animal with a palate for fine seafood could reconcile those other tastes so willingly, all in the name of "cleaning" oneself.
  17. What is the threshold age for finally being sick of MTV? I think I'm just about there. The latest season of the Real World just ended, and I can honestly say I didn't see one complete episode. In fact, at most, I saw 10 minutes or so of two episodes. Didn't care to see the rest.
  18. Why are tiny elastic T-shirts, those Baby Gap-like nightclub tees, making a comeback among muscled dudes? I've seen at least a half dozen steroidal dudes proudly walking around in those things lately. I thought they were filming A Night at the Roxbury II, or something.
  19. Why do rappers I used to like keep coming out of retirement? Why don't they do like retired non-steroidal baseball players and become talent scouts and travel the globe looking for artists who have more to say than booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty?
  20. Why am I cooler than the other side of the pillow? It should be a crime.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008


How much are you willing to admit about your "flaws," in order to make money?

It's a rhetorical question, yes. But there's a point to it.

I remember watching an episode of Friends once, and I do mean once. It was the one with the black guy. I kid, I kid.

But seriously, I was watching Friends once, and one of the characters who played an actor on the show (Joey?) - how ironic that his character seemed to be struggling for work - landed an advertising gig that paid well. But the trade off was that he had pose as a guy who was happily living with herpes or some such goody bag ailment. So while he got a nice check out of the job, he suffered the awkward stares of hot women all over New York who happened to see his face on posters about coin purse warts.

I'm just not sure putting our flaws in the public eye is worth money. If I had micropenis - yes, it's a real disease - you couldn't pay me enough to talk about it. Same goes for those long-term issues that inspire Cialis and "blue diamond" TV commercials. And if I had goat-like BO? Forget about it.

What if you have yuck mouth, 'cause you don't brush? Would you really accept a check from a mouthwash company in exchange for admitting in a commercial that Cavity Creeps are traipsin' around your chompers? Sure you'd be paid, but saying "how about a kiss" afterwards would be futile.

Anyway, I'm rambling on about all of this 'cause a Miami Beach guy recently began promoting a new cream his company developed that eliminates bad smell on the old twig-n-berries.

Kidding? Heck no. This is for real. But it gets better. The company owner, one Dominic Adams, according to the company's Web site, uses himself as a marketing pun intended. He says he too has suffered from smelly junk, an ailment the site says can be a deal breaker with the ladies. Can't argue with that last part.

So I ask you, now that Adams has acknowledged that he has potentially stinky jewels, with whom will he share all the money he makes off this stuff? How will he get a date?

Who am I kidding? Adams is gonna make a mint on this stuff. And if I'm right about that, there will be women lined up around the block to meet him. And some of them won't even bother with nose clips.

But spoiled grapes? I admire Adams' self confidence. But this qualifes as Too Much Information, my friends, TMI.

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Another man down

Once again - fourth time in the past six months, sixth time, I believe, in the past 18 months to two years - a Miami area police officer has been gunned down.

And once again, another dumbarse is in jail on account of the shooting. This time, police believe the alleged shooter thought off-duty Miami PD Det. James Walker was an enemy who had participated in a gun theft from a friend of the shooter. Apparently the "enemy" drives a car nearly identical to the unmarked car Det. Walker was in. And so the alleged shooter opened fire on Walker's car. Wrong guy.

Even though Walker may not have been the intended target, for the world of me, I still don't get it.

You shouldn't shoot anyone, outside the realm of self defense, saving another person's life, or war, unless by "anyone" you mean a tasty, tasty animal. But you definitely don't shoot cops.

When I was a kid - which all kidding aside, wasn't that long ago in the grand scheme - you were taught to respect cops the way you respected the elderly and the clergy. If you wouldn't swear at or within earshot of a grandmotherly woman, you wouldn't shoot a cop. If you wouldn't shout "screw God" to a preacher, you wouldn't shoot a cop.

It was understood that disrespecting folks in those categories was taboo, just because, they're service people of the highest rank, people with thankless jobs, more thankless than that of your waiter or your letter carrier or your garbageman.

Somehow, I know we'll get at least one comment alluding to the notion that some cops are crooked or violent, or whatever, so somehow violence toward cops is to be expected.

But don't kid yourselves. Someone who shoots a cop isn't doing it 'cause they're pissed off about being frisked one time too many for no apparent reason or pulled over one time too many for no apparent reason. If those were good reasons, I'd have shot a half dozen or so cops over the past 19 years, since I've been driving.

No excuses. People who shoot cops intentionally do so because they lack respect for what good police do.

And people who shoot anyone "accidentally," do so because they simply lack respect for life. Sad upbringing and bummed out neighborhoods and being pulled over by that occasional jerky cop have nothing at all to do with it.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

There outta be a law...

How many times have you heard that in reference to some stupid behavior?

I've heard my mother utter that phrase more times than I can count over things like motorcyclists riding without helmets (there are laws in some states mandating helmets, you know), little kids being let out of the house unkempt and with crusted food all over their faces and paws, and so on, and so forth.

Yet, every one of those behavioral issues that prompt us to say "there outta be a law" is about common sense. It's stuff that people with IQs above 12 should know.

Anyway, if you don't believe me, drop your jaw, read this story, and tell me if you really think we need a law to prove the behavior in question is down right crazy, just plain wrong and bad, and outright nasty, unless you're a farm animal...literally.

CLARIFICATION: Jay's comment made me realize that some folks might think I believe we don't need laws to manage bad behavior. We do. I'm just saying that some bad behavior shouldn't require a law against it, before people realize they shouldn't engage in it.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Preach On

I like honest preachers.

It's not that I agree with everything that all of 'em have to say. On the contrary, as a bona fide heathen and having grown up the son of a career old-school military veteran-turned seminarian-turned pastor, I have healthy skepticism of just about everyone who claims "helping others" as an occupation. My pops taught me that doubt doesn't have to be manifest as cynicism. It can also be a tool.

But lately, I've been having a bit of a problem with some preachers in the Miami area.

Now, before anyone cringes, I have no beef with these folk of the cloth over their various brands of religion. My problem is that they seem to be sidestepping the hard parts of their jobs.

Here's the deal: The easy part of a preacher's job is telling people that some higher power, or, according to Homer Simpson, Jebus, loves folks and wants 'em to be happy, and we should all treat our neighbors as ourselves, and so on. Outside their churches, the easy part of social advocacy for preachers is holding press conferences and calling for food for the starving, and medical care for the elderly. The difficult part is, as my grandmother would say, telling people about themselves.

All that peaceful stuff is easy to agree with. Even if you don't believe in any sort of religion, you can "feel" the intended good will with those concepts - be nice and help the needy.

But then there's the hard part of the job. Whether it's behind the pulpit or a microphone on the steps of City Hall, I've never met a preacher who embraces those Sundays when the sermon involves scolding parishioners, or those Mondays when the press conference called for a secular tongue-lashing. It's in their natures to want to uplift. I get it. But when you accept that sort of calling or job, you gotta fire from both barrels, not just the one with a daisy sticking out the end.

So over the past few months - most recently at a vigil last week - I've watched preacher after preacher step in front of the microphones and cameras to address violent crime among young people, particularly young black men in the Miami area. And the toughest thing any of them have been able to eek out is a call for people to pray for a stop to the violence. They've "requested" that young people stop assaulting one another over drugs and gangs and harsh looks and silly grudges. They've called on gainfully-employed men to present themselves as examples, something I'd argue such men already do by virtue of leading stable lives. And they've called on the public to do something about it.

That's all very nice. But it's not enough. And don't anyone leave me messages about not telling other people how to do their jobs. I get emails everyday from readers and sometimes random strangers telling me that if they were journalists they'd do my job this way and not that. So all's fair...

One of my many wishes for '08 is that these religious leaders who insist on being relevant in their communities' secular social fabric, quit dancing around this stuff and start telling young people who've given up hope or never had any that they have to stop the assaults and killings themselves. Not the federal government, not the city, not the Boys & Girls Club, not the YMCA, not the Village People.

These preachers need to call news conferences and tell troubled young folk to not hold their breath waiting for an "official" solution. They need to to grab the microphones and tell the young'ns that the cops can't put an end to the violent streak. Cops can only occasionally prevent violent crimes and most often seek and sometimes catch offenders after the fact. But an end to it requires a change in attitude and objective among the young folk most affected by the violence - perpetrators and victims. They need to stop calling for investigations and studies as to why young folk - particularly - young black men are dying, and grab the microphone and tell young people the issue doesn't need to be studied. The answer, if not all the influences, is obvious. They need to call on young people affected by this violence to proudly and bravely root out the perpetrators and turn them in. And if the young people are afraid to report friends and neighbors and acquaintances to the police, then the preachers need to offer to tell the cops for 'em.

And most important, these preachers need to be consistent with that message. Otherwise, they need to retreat to their churches and leave the social science to people who will "preach" the tough love.

PS., M@? Hey, hey, hey!

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