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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

right, wrong, doesn't matter?

The State of Florida currently offers more than 100 varieties of specialty license plates for drivers willing to pay a few extra bucks. As CNN put it, the state has tags available that celebrate everything from Manatees to the Miami Heat, a really crappy basketball team in the last year or so.

One legislator wants to add a Christian-themed plate to the mix, a plate that bears a cross and the slogan "I Believe."

Another legislator, a Catholic, says that she's opposed, because this plate will lead to future vanity plates displaying the Star of David or other religious symbols. And ACLU has moved to block production of the vanity plate, saying it would send a message that Florida formally promotes Christianity over other religions. The ACLU also argues the plate could open the door to other "specialty" groups to get their own plates, groups like the KKK.

First, I say the ACLU is wrong about the plates suggesting that Florida formally promotes Christianity. The whole point of vanity plates, why they call them "vanity" plates, is to reflect some personal interest of the person whose car carries the plates.

So if I pay extra to buy a license plate that has the image of a pimp stick on it does that mean the government of the State of Florida is officially pro pimp? I don't think so. Tax dollars don't pay for these types of tags. Vain individuals pay for them.

Second, I'd be fine with other groups having specialty license plates, especially the KKK. At least then I'd know who not to turn my back on. It would be like all the klansmen driving around with scarlet letters on their cars. The rest of us would see 'em coming a mile away.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Real Talk about Race: Chapter Three

What's crackin' folks?

I did not post anything at the end of last week, 'cause I was beat. And I just didn't have the energy to do our "regularly scheduled" post on race relations.

Still, we have a game plan and need to try to stick to it. So here's the two-pronged topic we skipped on Friday: being your brother's keeper and political partisanship.

I had wanted to talk about stereotypes and how we shouldn't automatically get up in arms about them, but all the renewed discussion of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, altered my focus, because increasingly TV pundits are asking what Obama is going to do about Wright.

And I would argue that Obama shouldn't have to do anything more about Wright. Don't forget that I'm not voting for any of the three major candidates left in the presidential race. So this isn't a vote-for-Obama post. I'm just saying Obama has publicly denounced Wright's controversial sermons. Maybe he should have done that sooner. Maybe he was sincere. Maybe he only did it 'cause he's running for office. But whatever his motivations, he did it. Beyond that, Wright stepped down as pastor of Obama's church. So how much further, and deeper do those denouncements need to go. Does Obama need to drop kick Wright and punch the former pastor's wife in the nose to get his point across?

So here's how this post took shape: I was having a phone conversation with a buddy who has known my family - me, the folks, my sister, etc. - for more than 20 years. He's white. Clearly, I'm not. In the conversation, we discussed how we were raised and to what extent we're bound to speak up and out about our associates. The conversation then took a turn to politics.

My buddy knows how I was raised: in a military household with religious overtones by no-nonsense parents who set strict curfews, who eschewed criminal behavior and criminals, who were good neighbors, who were pro-military, who weren't necessarily pro-government but were definitely civic-minded. You might say my fam was socially conservative.

And with that thought in mind, my buddy asked this question: "JB, would you say that the average, middle class black person was raised like you?"

Using those strict parameters, I answered yes.

So my buddy's follow-up question was: "Then why don't most black people vote conservatively?"

And that, my friends, is the $64K question.

We all know about the perception that since the 1960s Democrats - as a party, not individuals - have demonstrated more care for civil rights, etc. And while that may be true in those matters that stoke emotion, like establishing a holiday for MLK, and recognizing on a civil level African Americans' contributions to larger society, I don't think it has been true in terms of policy. Get down to the bare bones of all the major legislation to come out of D.C. since the late 1960s, and I defy you to tell me that one party has done significantly better or worse than the other, when it comes to social policy. They're both really lousy. And I wish we had a viable third party option.

But the short, sweet answer to my bud's follow-up question is that there is a perception among some average, middle class black folks that Republicans - as a party, not individuals - think that we're all responsible for one another. And that ticks people off.

We've had a related discussion on this blog before: about being lumped in and what not. But just how responsible are we for our "brothers?" If a young black man in my neighborhood commits a heinous crime, is it my job to hold a press conference and denounce the crime so as to soothe the fears of my other neighbors and assure them that other black people in the neighborhood are appalled by the crime? Or am I responsible for just continuing to try to live a halfway decent life of my own?

If you want to get philosophical, we're all responsible for trying to make things better - whether that means setting a good example for a troubled kid, or helping a willing-to-work neighbor find a job, if we have that ability, and so on and so forth. But in terms of behavior, where do we draw the line? And does where that line is drawn affect political leanings?

Pat Buchanan, MSNBC commentator and former Republican presidential candidate, recently wrote a column that said in so many words that black folks should stop complaining about racial issues in the U.S. He suggested that "we" have no grounds for complaint, because through slavery "we" were introduced to Christianity and given a chance to be a part of a growing society. He wrote that black folks have benefited more than anyone else from welfare and food stamps and so on. He suggested "we" have no grounds for complaint, because in terms of crime and perceptions, many more black criminals assault white victims than the other way around. And he suggested any legitimate conversation about race in this country should be bound by the facts as laid out in that column.

Tell all those things to a black criminal, and you have reached your target audience. Tell them to the average black person who, like his neighbors of all races, is just trying to earn a living and live happily within the law, and you have turned that person off. You have told him that until he does something about bad people who look like him, then he is not to be taken seriously. You have told someone who likely never received a dime from the government that he is the beneficiary of a handout. You don't think average, middle class black folks are aware of glaring problems like 2/3 of black children being born to single moms? You don't think they're aware that the percentages of young black male violent criminals have skyrocketed over the past 20 years. They know. But they've worked hard to earn their own way and don't feel responsible for explaining to the rest of the country that "you don't have to be afraid of us. We're not like that."

I know people like this. I have relatives like this. They are church-going people. They are reasonably strict with their kids. They donate to the Police Benevolent Assn. fund. They coach little league. They look both ways before they cross the street. They always return their movies to Blockbuster on time...and rewound. They don't fit any of the negative stereotypes that Hollywood and D.C. have brought us. So you could argue in theory that they are "conservative" people. But, on principal, because of the perception that the Pat Buchanans of the world are the face of the Republican Party, they will never vote G.O.P.

What say you?

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The last thing I needed to see

So some of you know I have a thing about germs.

I'm not as bad as Seinfeld. If I had a neighbor who'd prepared me a salad in his shower, I'd spit it out too. Same goes for a toothbrush I'd dropped in the toilet. Fans of the show will get those examples.

And I do have a dog, whom I'm required to clean up after on walks. And I do tons of yard work. So I can handle dirty things.

Germs though? Don't get me started. If you feel the need to laugh at me, take a moment and read this old post.

Anyway, I opened up my work email account and saw this in the subject line of a new message: "Shoes are full of feces..."

I did not need to see that. Sure, it's common sense that we pick up things from the sidewalk, but I don't want to know what. It's better if I don't know. My germ semi-phobia is definitely at least that sensitive.

Your first instinct may be to say the message was spam. But we have the kinds of email filters here that probably rival those in government offices. So almost all my messages, even those with weird subjects, are legitimate. This was no instance like the widow of the late Gen. Motumbo offering me access to his fortune in exchange for my checking account number and a small fee.

The email went on to say that a new study by the University of Arizona and Rockport Company found that 96% of shoes have coliform and E. coli bacteria on them. If you'd like to see a scientist's version of poop humor, check out the study's two minute video, which follows a pair of feet/Rockports around New York City for a day.

I get that this was a clever way for Rockport to market their shoes, but unless Rockports come with built in hovercraft, then they're no safer than any other shoes.

So I'll be heading home early today to gather all my shoes in the backyard and have a bonfire. In fact, I may burn my feet too. And at a minimum, I'm calling a man of the cloth to come over and exorcise the floors.

Shoes are nasty.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Catching up on the Memoir Meme

I am a hypocrite. But I tell you guys that all the time.

In this case, I'm talking about my meme hypocrisy. I like sending them out for other people to do, but I hate being tagged for 'em, 'cause it requires me to think. And there is a limit to the amount of time each day I like to think. Once I past that limit, my brain begins to hurt like I got punched in it. I stop thinking. And I watch Family Guy and Futurama reruns.

But when a friend calls on you, you can't turn them down. And I consider Melissa, from Spoke in the Wheel, a friend.

So Melissa tagged me a while back with a meme. The challenge was to write your memoirs in six words or less. I promised her I'd get to it. So here we are.

You have to understand that my reputation with my editor is that when he gives me a 20 inch limit for a story, I have a bad habit of submitting a 25 inch story. He knows that I'm prone to do this, so while he won't admit it - not with a straight face, anyway, I'm sure he sometimes tells me 20 inches, when he really has 25 inches to spare, 'cause he knows I'm gonna take the extra five inches anyway. Does that make sense? If not, the abbreviated version is I'm often long-winded.

It's hard for me to say hello in six words or less.

Anyway, here's my memoir: I always considered myself even-keeled.

And since I consider memes to be torture, when I'm on the receiving end, I refuse to suffer alone.

Og, M@, Grizzbabe, Stewart, and Pamela, consider yourselves tagged. And the rest of you, all of you, you don't have to post the meme to your own blog if you don't want to. But let's have some fun with it. In the comments section here, let's have your six-words-or-less memoirs.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

What not to say to someone you're just getting to know

It's been a while - or a Hwhile as Meg Griffin might say - since we've discussed a specific element of Burnettiquette.

Sometimes it's hard to talk about, because you want to believe the average person possesses the basic common sense to, as Grandma Rosa says, not "act (like) a fool!"

Occasionally though, I'm reminded that belief is just wishful thinking.

So I was riding the people mover in downtown Miami about 30 minutes ago, on my way back to the newspaper with a court file I'd gone to pick up for an article. I had five stops to go.

At stop number one, a young man steps into the car and looks around. His eyes light up when he spies another young man a few feet away. He approaches. The other guy lifts his eyes. A second of recognition and then they laugh.

I'll call 'em Guy 1 (who was already on the train) and Guy 2. So Guy 2 says "Yo! How you been man? I haven't seen you since (indecipherable) party. I was thinkin' after that 'Yo, that guy was cool. I could probably hang out with him, you know just kick it'."

Now, let's pause for a moment: I know some of you will think this is a tale of failed bromance. But it isn't. This is more along the lines of the guy who is clueless enough to ask a first date if he can touch her.

Moving right along, Guy 1 nods enthusiastically, indicating he felt the same way about Guy 2.

For a couple of minutes they engage in small talk. By the third train stop the conversation shifted. Guy 2 asks Guy 1 if the latter had seen a certain young woman lately.

"Not since the party," Guy 1 says.

Guy 2 nods thoughtfully and then says "You know I heard she was a freak, right?"

Guy 1 grins coyly - as guys who really don't know are wont to do in order to keep up appearances - and nods. Then he volunteers "You know we texted each other for a minute after that party. Yo, she was sayin' all kinds of stuff, like she wanted to get with me. I might have to, you know..."

Guy 2 giggles and exchanges a cool hand shake with Guy 1. We've just passed the fourth train stop. One more to go.

They both chat for another minute about their sexual prowess and the humongous number of women they've turned down.

We're at the final train stop. Guy 1 and Guy 2 step off the train. I follow. Not 'cause I'm trying to eavesdrop, but because I happen to be walking the same direction.

At the bottom of the stairs, right before they step onto the sidewalk, Guy 2, wearing a "Hey, I just got a bright idea!" look, turns to Guy 1 and says of the alleged freak "You know, we could probably both get buck naked and (hook up) with her at the same time!"

Verrrrrrry pregnant pause. Like a vacuum. Like when a fighter jet passes overhead and breaks the speed of sound, and you have that moment of weird serenity, before the sonic boom follows.

Guy 1, face screwed up in horror - maybe mock horror, but it didn't look like it, sidesteps the playful punch Guy 2 has just thrown at his shoulder and snaps "Man, somethin's wrong with you. I don't know you like that!"

Guy 2 looks stunned and remains flat-footed as Guy 1, looking furtively over his shoulder to make sure Guy 2 isn't following, stalks off toward a nearby college.

I suspect these two will not be hanging out or kickin' it anytime soon.

Some things are not good conversation for budding friendships. And if you don't get it, please let me advise you to not:
  • ask the slightly paunchy checkout woman at the grocery when she's due, unless you are 100% certain she's pregnant,
  • tell your new would-be girlfriend on a second date that she should perform certain acts with you...and soon, because your last girlfriend did,
  • ask your new gal pal to accompany you to divorce court, so you can lean on her while you do battle with your soon-to-be-ex husband.
  • tell your new pal that you have a rash,
  • or tell your new pal that he shouldn't worry 'cause your foaming at the mouth will stop as soon as your meds kick in.

Keep "too much, too soon" in the back of your mind, and you should be safe from Guy 2-type mistakes.

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Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Morning folks, and thank you for reading and commenting on chapter two of our race relations series. Please continue reading this post, but don't think you have to just "move on." If you're not finished with chapter two or you haven't read it yet, click the link and take a couple of minutes to read that post too.

In the mean time, I wanted to weigh in on something that happened here in the Miami area last week: the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to town to speak about the economic and structural meltdown in Haiti and to exhort Americans to be compassionate, help lower food prices in Haiti, etc.

Inevitably, when he was done at least one local TV reporter cornered Jackson and asked him about violent crime - murders, robberies, drug dealing, gang activity - in urban communities. There seems to be a lot of all of the above lately, at least here in South Florida.

I didn't have a problem with what Jackson said. What disappointed me was what he didn't say. Granted, he only had enough time to give a soundbite on local TV. But his comments were general in nature and safe, too safe. Things to the effect of we have to find solutions and a better way and what not.

All that's fine and good, but there are small-minded people who have been designated community leaders who will latch onto generalized safe comments about crime, and they will, of their own volition, stretch them and interpret them to mean government solutions. They don't get that back in the day "community solutions" literally meant that - neighbors, and churches, and relatives, and friends, not government.

Governments have never fixed anything. At their best, they've taken tax dollars, your dollars, and offered assistance: work assistance, school assistance, food assistance, etc. At their worst, they have spent your money, and not wisely.

Yes, they should use some property tax dollars to build parks and youth centers to give kids stuff to do. You know, the whole idle mind being the devil's workshop and all.

But once and for all governments can't stop violent crime...unless they establish some sort of Martial Law. And nobody with good sense wants that. The violent crime problem is a complicated issue, but not so complicated that we need bureaucrats mucking it up.

Violent crime is about behavior, soul - in this case the ability to place a value on life on an almost spiritual level, and familial leadership.

I don't know everything by a long shot, but I feel like a broken record player on this issue: If folks want the shootings and robberies and all that nonsense to stop, then a standard has to be set in which every parent teaches his kid that no matter how down on their luck they get and no matter how down on their luck all the folks around them seem to be, nothing - not money, not cars, not attractive members of the opposite sex, not power, not fame - is worth as much as another person's life.

If kids start to believe that other folks' lives are sacred and shouldn't be risked or taken for any reason outside the confines of life-or-death self defense or military combat, then when they're adults and feeling desperate for any one of those items they'll find another way to get it, or they'll exercise reason and logic and resolve to do without.

OK, I'm done. I get dizzy when I stand on soap boxes.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Real Talk About Race: Chapter Two

OK, so chapter one went well, I thought. Not everyone agreed on everything. But they weren't supposed to.

This week, let's make it a little less formal and touch on a few different topics that Pamela, one of my favorite bloggers, raised last week in the comments.

First, Pamela said she stresses at times when she observes (like in the news) a white person accused of committing a crime against a black victim.

She said that just like I worry that I'll be lumped in by the casual observer with every other young black man who commits a crime, she worries that people will automatically assume the white offender chose his victim based on their race and that it was a hate crime.

Is this a common fear among white people you know, or a common fear of yours if you're white? I'm just curious, 'cause I have a buddy who used the words "under siege" to describe how he felt when talking about this issue with black and some Latino colleagues and acquaintances. He says he sometimes feels like some black folks think race-based crime works in only one direction.

Pamela also mentioned that she gets bothered when the reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton "go on the defensive" over issues involving racial division.

Again, I'm curious about the average white person's take on this. I'm mainly curious, because I am certain there is a misconception among some white people about the reverends' relationship with working class/middle class/upper class black America. Ask the average black person who has a job and is handling his business if either of the reverends speak for him, and he's likely to tell you no. I think because we see them on TV a lot - at the invitation of these cable news channels, there is an assumption by white America that black folks fall in lock step behind those two. The reality here is the average black person doesn't put any more or less stock in what those two have to say than they do any politician.

On the other side of this coin, you see outspoken pundits like Pat Buchanan and the Rev. Pat Robertson on TV too. But I honestly don't know whether the average black person believes white people as a whole pledge allegiance to the likes of Robertson and other similar outspoken white religious bosses/businessmen who allegedly rouse rabble. I've never really heard it come up in conversation with other black folks.

Moving right along, Pamela also said she believed all crime - I believe she meant all violent crime - is hate crime.

I know what she means about that. And I tend to teeter on the fence. I know that for the purposes of law enforcement and prosecution, if you commit a crime against another person for a characteristic over which they have no control, like race, then there is a rider for additional charges that can be attached to you.

Generally speaking though, if you have so little regard for human life that you would kill, or assault, or rob someone else with a weapon, you're full of some form of hate, regardless what your victim looks like.

Maybe that's one of those first steps we take to finding a common ground: agreeing that all violent crime is hateful in nature, and barring some really, really, really convincing extenuating circumstances, should be treated the same across the board. And the "same" means identical punishments, and so on.

Or should there remain in place special, extra punishment for going after a person of a different race...because of their race?

Tough call.

So next topic is the documentary called Meeting David Wilson that MSNBC aired last week. Don't know if you saw it, but I thought it was eye-opening. It was about a young black man from Newark, NJ, who looks into his family tree and traces his ancestors to North Carolina. In the process he meets an older white man named David Wilson whose ancestors owned the younger man's ancestors. The documentary covers the research and how these men connected and slowly began to evolve into friends.

Take away all the social science and psychobabble, and I was moved by how the two men - the black David Wilson and the white David Wilson - built a cautious friendship. And speaking of psychobabble, NBC missed the boat on the town hall-type conversation about race that Brian Williams hosted after the documentary. The conversation was too lofty and too academic, and too - as my grandma would say - saditty.

On the stage they had a famous white newsie, a white author who's written apologetic books about slavery, a black poet-turned-reality show cast member-turned author-turned politician, a black professor, and a black woman who is the wife of a wealthy black man.

What they needed on that stage was a mixed panel of factory workers, office drones, etc. - middle Americans, everyday people. No eggheads. No famous people. No famous people's spouses. No people who like hearing themselves talk. Just regular people who, without reservation could have asked "why do white people...," and "why do black people...," and "why do Asian people..."

BTW, the moment I was dreading in the David Wilson documentary, the moment that was equivalent for me to the climactic point in a horror movie? It came when young, black David Wilson hypothetically asked older, white David Wilson how he'd react if the younger man requested reparations. The documentary is airing again on Saturday, April 19th, from 1 - 4 p.m. If you have time watch it to see how that part of the conversation went.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Cowboy Code: Chapter Eleven, Art of the Bromance

One of my guys called me earlier. He's feeling lonely.

His two closest male friends have recently moved away - second time that's happened to one of my guys in recent months. So he's craving a new bromance.

On the scale of platonic relationships between straight men, there are acquaintances, buddies and friends, good friends and guys and homies, and bromantics.

You say hello to your acquaintances in the hallway of your apartment building, in the laundry room, or on the smoking deck at work. You grab a beer after work with your buddies and friends. You help your buddies and friends move furniture on weekends. You go on double dates with your good friends, guys, and homies. You will stand back to back with your good friends, guys, and homies in a hostile bar and fight off the onslaught of angry drunks whose girlfriends your good friend/guy/homie hit on. You know your good friends', guys', and homies' parents and siblings. You take road trips with your good friends, guys, and homies.

Your bromantics, though? These are guys you'll make plans to go to dinner with, without a woman along for the ride. You'll do a vacation with a bromantic. You'll meet for Happy Hour for drinks and you'll consume something more frilly than beer. You'll have serious conversations with these guys, about life and religion, and women, and politics. And you'll share your innermost thoughts on each of these topics.

Women have been this tight with one another for eons. But they don't require stupid names for this level of closeness. Well, actually they do. They call it being "girlfriends." But you'll understand why most straight men, even those who consider themselves to be secure and open-minded, would have a problem referring to their closest of male friends as "boyfriends."
But my guy has a problem. As with his romances, he doesn't know how to pick a new best dude friend.

With his romances, he tends to select women who are off the scale, like in another galaxy in terms of beauty, because they satisfy his visual fantasies. But he finds 'em without personality. Or he'll pick the woman whose knowledge of video games and action movies is as deep as his own, but she tends to be the woman who wears lots of flannel and could bodyslam him if she wanted to...whether he objected or not. There's no middle ground for him.

Conversely, when trying to locate another bromantic, my guy tends to pick guys who are only acquaintance material, or basic friend material.

So fellas, if you, like my guy, have a problem maintaining healthy bromances, take note of the rules:
  • If a dude doesn't get your jokes, he's not bromance material. He's an acquaintance. It's simple. You wouldn't go on a second date with a woman who thought you were dull....unless she was a super model. So you wouldn't hang out with a guy who doesn't think you're funny.
  • If a dude lacks self confidence, he's not bromance material. When you guys are in the high end cocktail lounge getting your professional-fresh-from-the-office look on, you don't want a guy who is going to be almost clingy with his conversation. You don't want that guy who is going to pine for you when you walk away to the can or to go make a cell phone call. Women in the joint will notice this and will think you two are a couple, or just pathetic. And your chances of planting the seed(s) of romance that evening are shot. Again, would you go on a second date with a clingy woman...who isn't a super model?
  • If a dude is the smash-an-empty-beer-can-on-his-forehead kind of guy, then he is not bromance material. He is not the guy you have dinner with. He is the guy you have a beer with on that occasional after work-honey-I-have-to-work-late outing to the gentleman's club. As for that second date analogy, think of this guy as you would the woman who belched a lot on your first date.
  • If, for example, you would not date a stripper, then you should not engage in a bromance with a bouncer. It's not about elitism. It's about connecting with people you have lots in common with.

And one rule for you: if you like women and you don't have one in your life, even for casual dates, then forget the bromance. Grow up and focus your time on getting a girl...or two or three. After you have that worked out, then you can get back to the bromance.

Follow these rules and you too can have a balance in your life of romance and bromance. Don't laugh. Every well-rounded guy needs 'em both.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Random Stuff

What's crackin' friends? I'm not speaking to my frienemies today.

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and thank you for weighing in on the first chapter of our race relations series. If you haven't checked out that post, feel free to take a minute, go back, read it and comment. Chapter Two will post Thursday or Friday.

So my weekend was pretty uneventful.

Saturday morning we stopped at a Miami-area mall for some crap I can't even remember right now. We had the pleasure of seeing auditions for the Miami Dolphins cheer leading squad. Of course, I didn't realize the whole set-up was for auditions, at first. Thankfully Mrs. B stopped me before I could wave dollar bills at the stage. And for some reason no one near me thought it was funny when I called out "skeet, skeet, skeet, skeet, skeet!" Seriously, if you get that joke then you listen to some really bad bad as I occasionally listen to, apparently.

I'm kidding, by the way. I didn't yell "skeet, skeet, skeet..." at the would-be cheerleaders. They've gotta eat too. So more power to 'em. I hope they all made the team, and I hope they inspire better than 1-and-15 next season.

Anywho, we had dinner Saturday night with old friends from Milwaukee, plus one of their friends from here in South Florida. A local TV reporter, who used to work in Milwaukee also, and with whom I'm acquainted (but not friends), was supposed to join our group. But he was a no show. He didn't even call to say he was bailing on us. He is friends with the woman who organized the dinner. Tsk, tsk, TV reporters. This is why you should read your local newspaper and/or your newspaper's Web site. We're always on time. I admit I'm biased, 'cause we're a better, more thorough news source. Plus, pre-Mrs. B, I dated a couple of TV reporters back in the Midwest. They never knew how to turn off the "personality." Every conversation was like the 5 o'clock news had just started. And that makeup - the kind that's powerful enough to resist the hot lights on the set? - is toxic. I swear it ate a hole in one of my shirt collars once. Or maybe I'm just exaggerating that part 'cause I'm pro newspaper and local TV news bites.

We ate Thai. And I fell for the crispy duck...again. I order it repeatedly, because I hope one day it will actually be crispy. Once again though, I had the soggy duck...which sort of got crispy as it got colder.

Sunday I spent the afternoon scooping a fresh batch of tadpoles out of my koi pond. I got about 1,000 of 'em out before I tired of that exercise. It's not very nice to look at, but if I'm gonna prevent this from happening all summer, I may have to resort to putting a net over the pond to keep the mating toads out. Last time I broke out the net it inadvertently became a toad trampoline. I don't know if they couldn't see it, or if they just thought it would go away if they jumped on it enough, but it was a pretty funny sight - these giant toads hitting the top of that taut net and bouncing a foot higher than normal.

And Sunday evening I did homework, looking around for story ideas, hints of trends, and taking the race quiz at artist Faith Ringgold's Web site.

Quick takes on the news:

  • Barack Obama messed up with his assessment that blue collar and rural folk are so bitter over the bad economy that they've turned for solace to their guns and religion. I'm no fan of Sen. Clinton. Actually, I'm no fan of any of the candidates, at least in terms of political positions. But even if she wasn't being sincere in her criticism of Obama, she was right about his comments sounding elitist. People don't go hunting, because they're bitter...unless they're Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Average hunters go, because they enjoy the sport. And while some bitter people may embrace religion in search for some kind of redemption, the average practicing religious person embraces their faith simply 'cause they believe it, it helps sustain them through good and bad times, and they like it. It makes 'em feel good.
  • The current issue of Details magazine has a story about this year being the 20th anniversary of The Real World on MTV. Hard to believe that show is almost of legal drinking age. Even harder to believe they still call it "Real." I admit I was hooked on that first New York season, the one with Julie, the country girl, Eric Neis, the model dude, and Kevin Powell, the poet/writer dude, and those other people. I was a fan till I met Powell. He came to speak at my college in my junior year, and the Student Activities director asked me to shuttle him around and what not. So I did. I drove him to/from the airport, etc. And Powell, a couple of other folks, and I ended up out for dinner and drinks after his speech. The abbreviated version is he treated us like no 'count punks who should have been grateful to be in his presence. Not cool. First impressions, ya know?
  • Dr. Phil is half a step away from becoming Jerry Springer.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Real Talk About Race: Chapter One

Greetings friends and frienemies.

As promised yesterday, I'm kicking off the first of what I hope will be a long string of weekly conversations about race relations, things we know about one another, things we should know about one another, things we think we know about one another and things about one another that just shouldn't matter.

I thought I'd make this first installment personal. Others will be personal. But as we talk and as folks open up, I'm hoping you guys will share stories with me and we'll talk about your questions and speculations too.

So I was having a conversation with a good buddy yesterday and he asked me one of those "why do black people..." questions. I didn't take offense. This is my buddy, and I knew that if he was starting a question out that way, then he really, genuinely wanted to know. And his most comfortable reference point to black people was me, his friend.

Anyway, the question was in reference to two news events that happened in Florida this week. One of them, right here in the Miami area, involved the guy(s) who allegedly murdered a roadside fruit vendor. And the other event was a brutal beatdown applied by a group of teenage girls against a solitary girl in Lakeland, Fla., in the central part of the state.

After these two incidents occurred, I heard about them on the radio before I actually saw photos of the people involved in either case. So as I was chatting with my buddy my first reaction was to shake my head and grimace.

His reaction to mine was to chuckle and say "go ahead, say it." So I said it: "Please God, don't let them be black!"

I was joking, but then again I wasn't.

"Why," my buddy asked. It's a question he's asked me before, and usually I brush the question aside. This time though, he persisted and asked further, "why do black people do that?"

By the way, the girls in the Lakeland beatdown were white. The fruit vendor murder suspect is black.

So let's answer this question and wrap this up. Many black people fear that we still live in a time in which we can't be sized up - for better or worse - stricly on our individual actions. Many black people fear that when one of us screws up we're all going to be scrutinized. It may not be so, but its what some of us fear.

Let's be honest. When you think of an accomplished black man, you do think - even if just for a fleeting second - about him being black. It's not a knock on anyone. It's what we do in this country...still. Conversely, many black people today have personal experiences, memories from times past, and stories shared with them from times even further past about their color being held against them, without consideration for the content of their character. I know people who look like me who compare notes about being lumped into this category or that.

Think about the last time you saw a white man paraded on TV for having committed a horrendous crime. Did his skin color cross your mind, or did you just think "Crazy S.O.B?"

What about the last time you saw a black man in the same setting? C'mon, did his look even cross your mind? I'm a black man. I can admit it. Yes, I thought for a second about him being black. For several seconds. Maybe you didn't.

What can I tell you? I swear to you every time I hear about a horrible crime I silently say that little prayer, 'cause I don't want the offender's behavior to be used as an excuse by some closed-minded person to treat all black people like we all committed a violent crime.

I joked with my buddy that I need to learn to think more like white people in these situations. Why? I've never seen him or any other white person I know cringe when a white person is splashed across the TV in handcuffs and accused of some horrible crime.

I asked my buddy why. He said "I don't know that person. Why should I feel guilty about what they did? Why should I worry that I'll be connected to him. I don't know him. No one is gonna look at me differently 'cause some white guy in Bismark went nuts!"

Refreshing. He's right and logical and appropriately confident. Usually after I say my silent prayer, I chant a silent mantra to the effect of what my buddy said. Sometimes it works to soothe my mind. Sometimes it doesn't.

I'm not ashamed of who I am. You can say I'm proud. But I fear being lumped in with bad people who look like me but don't act like me.

That's my word. What are your thoughts?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stuff from all over

I have this problem when there's tons happening in the news and around me. I want to cram it all into one blog post. I'm trying to break myself of that habit, but no luck yet. So right now I'll compromise and instead of five or six items that'll take you 20 minutes to read, I'll limit this post to four short items.

Bad Karma: Two numbnuts in Miami killed the fruit lady, not a drug dealer or a jewel thief, or a sexual predator who had been harassing children in the neighborhood, not a criminal of any sort. They killed a 47-year-old married mother who sold fresh fruit and vegetables from the back of her pickup truck for a living. Who's so hard up for cash that they beat and shoot a fruit vendor, an unarmed mom? Whether these guys are caught or not, they have a lot of negative energy headed their way. And I hope it finds 'em in spades.

To legislate, or not: City of Miami officials are considering a ban on panhandling in parts of downtown, so as to cut back on harassment of downtown workers and tourists. Miami already lost an ACLU-filed lawsuit to a homeless man about 12 years ago, after a court found that police and other city workers were systematically hassling the homeless in unlawful ways. I'm not calloused to homelessness. But I'm all for the panhandling ban. I've written before it's like walking a gauntlet of outstretched arms, open palms, and sometimes harsh or loony words, in some parts of downtown Miami just to get from one end of a block to the other.

Shameless self promotion: I keep forgetting to post my articles. I've been writing a lot of profiles lately. No rhyme or reason. Just coincidence. Here and here are my two most recent.

Real talk: That's what the kids call it, when you're speaking bluntly and honestly and not pulling punches for the wrong reasons. So lately more and more politicians have made public calls for "real" conversations about race relations in the U.S. Apparently it's the latest chic thing for them to say publicly. Clearly they've been reading from the playbook of some major media pundits - TV and print, who like to wax poetic about how "we," whoever "we" are should be having deep conversations about the things that make us different...and similar. I personally don't think it's possible for politicians to have such conversations though, 'cause they would be required to sometimes speak in politically incorrect terms. And they would be forced to admit that they don't know everything about every race/ethnic group. Then again that hasn't stopped some of the pundits. So for the foreseeable future, every Thursday or Friday we're going to have a "real" conversation about race right here on Burnettiquette. No worries. It won't be a black and white conversation. It'll be black, white, Asian, Latino, and so on. You can post questions in advance by emailing me, and we'll discuss them. Or I'll pull something from the headlines and break it down and you can give your take. Maybe sometimes we'll do both. Let's hope we all learn a little something.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Monday Kickoff

So much to say, so little time. So let's get right to it:
  1. Car-dinger update - After nearly a week of telling me every day that the incident report was almost done, the security folks at my job passed the ball to the human resources department on Friday afternoon, saying in the 11th hour it was too sensitive for them to handle since it involved a potential dispute between employees. HR wasn't sure what to do initially and seemed to be under the impression that I nudged the security folks to pass the ball to them. I didn't. One HR person did give me good advice though: don't park next to the door dinger. Hmmm. Must bite tongue. Must bite tongue. Moving right along, by the time I left work Friday I was so frustrated with the whole thing that I told HR to drop it. So there you have it. I meant well. And all that got me was a headache. This isn't a huge deal. My good intentions haven't paved any road to Hell. But I'll certainly think twice before ever asking an employer to step in and help, if I ever find myself involved again in a non-work-related incident at work.
  2. Politics - With the plans the White House is pitching to bail out people who suddenly can't afford their ARM mortgage loans, I don't want to hear any gripes from anyone of either party about individual welfare recipients mooching off the hard-working taxpayer. This is welfare by a different name. And just like the "brand" of welfare that got lambasted in Ronald Reagan's political ads back in the '80s, this brand involves using tax dollars to bail out people who wanted their American dream to start now, even though they couldn't afford it in the long run. And yes the banks are at fault for issuing so many shaky loans in the interest of quick profit. But ultimately, before you sign on the dotted line, if you don't have sense enough to do a little homework and find out what ARM means then you don't deserve to be bailed out. And BTW, if you run an investment bank (hint: BEAR STEARNS) and you put all your eggs in the quick, easy money basket of high risk mortgage loans, then you're stupid too. Where's my govt. money for making my mortgage payments on time?
  3. Sex Study - I might have been reluctant to post about this one, since this is a rated PG-13 blog and all, but since the Miami Herald ran an article on this last week, I consider it fair game. Apparently a recent survey of sex therapists says that the ideal duration for intercourse is three to 13 minutes, 'cause on average it doesn't take longer than that for most women to feel "satisfied." Ladies, don't kill the messenger. I'm just reporting what these fine experts shared with us. So here's what I want to know: If this duration - three to 13 minutes - is acceptable to women, where did guys ever get the notion that they have to be able to perform non-stop for hours on end? Seriously, EVERY guy I know - I mean my buddies, not casual acquaintances - has always had the same fear in this department, that they won't be able to hang in there long enough to get the job done or to at least adequately display their stamina. It's the reason pornos, from what I've heard, loop the same scenes over and over to give the impression that sex between the stars always lasts for 30, 40, 60 minutes or more, before a conclusion is reached. Well, thank you very much Penn State University - Erie researchers. I am A OK....I think.
  4. Crime - This and this are what I meant when I posted a couple of weeks ago about parents being responsible for their juvenile children's criminal behavior. If you don't wanna click the links, one is to a story about a 7-year-old in Baltimore who went to school earlier this week with a loaded handgun in his pocket and a loaded handgun in his backpack. Authorities say he didn't mean any harm and probably snagged the guns while spending the night at his uncle's house. I'm pro-gun for honest, law-abiding folks, I mean if honest, law-abiding folks want guns, that is. But the adult(s) who left those guns where this kid could get them should be locked up for at least six months each. And they should have to do a year's worth of community service in a hospital ward, working with kids who get shot in avoidable circumstances. The other link is to a story about a group of third graders who brought handcuffs, duct tape and other crap to school so they could do harm to a teacher who'd pissed them off. Little bastards. Where in the world did they get handcuffs? Somebody's parents are either cops or freaks...or both.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The evolution of fear

I still have no update for you on the car-door-dinger. He's been hard to catch up with the past few days. When I have an update, I'll post it right away.

In the mean time, check out this story about a young man in Homestead, Fla., south and west of Miami, who was arrested on March 27th after making threats over the Internet to carry out a Virginia Tech-type massacre.

So police went to his home and they found a stash of more than a dozen guns, including several AK-47s, and more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition. Authorities are looking into whether the guns were purchased legally. Either way, 20-year-old Calin Chi Wong, who threatened to light things up like Va. Tech was released on $7,500 bond the very next day. He's free. On the street. After making that kind of threat.

There was a time people would have reacted in pure fear to that sort of threat. But what I found interesting about Wong's case is people around here - especially news consumers - sounded pissed off, not scared.

One Friday or Saturday night when I was like 17, I had the evening off from my part-time job at Belk, selling women's shoes. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I made a mint on Nine West. Anyway, I had no date this night, so I was at a gym on a local naval base playing pick-up basketball with my buddies. We were all enjoying a good game - a little rough, but typical for playground style hoops. Anyway, after one sorta hard foul, the recipient of the blow complained that it was uncalled for. It was an accident. He was hit during a mad scramble for the ball. But instead of accepting the offender's apologies, the guy who was fouled yells out that he's pissed off and that he's going out to the parking lot to his car to retrieve a gun. Well, at first we all reacted the way you might expect. We started yelling and running in circles like chickens with our heads cut off. But then one of the guys stops us and says wait a minute. If he supposedly has a gun in his car, why are we allowing him to go to his car? Good question. So our fear instantly turned to anger, and we banded together like Minutemen, sprinted out the door, and caught him before he made it to his car. Then we proceeded to beat him like a cartoon character. I'm not a violent guy by nature. I'm more peaceful than Gandhi. But this guy threatened our lives. Surely no one will disagree with me, when I say this guy deserved it? The base police came. We explained what happened. Surprisingly he didn't deny it. And the police basically told him he got what he deserved. They searched his car and found no gun, made him leave the gym, and he was banned from coming back onto the base.

My point is these types of reactions are good signs, as far as I'm concerned. People who mass murder and people who threaten to do so may be forced to think twice about their actions if they believe us sheeple, the general public will stand up to them and stop them in their tracks.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cheek turning

So you all know that I am a man of faith. Not very strong or deep faith, 'cause I'm not very consistent with it. I'm what is technically known as a hypocrite...sometimes. What can I tell you? The closest I'll ever come to walking on water is ice skating at Rockefeller Center in the winter.

One concept of faith that I've never been able to fully embrace though is the turning of the other cheek. I've heard minister after minister exhort their congregations to turn the other cheek, because allegedly that's what Jesus would do if offended.

But I'm not buying it. I've written before that we only have two cheeks...above the waist, and once I've turned that pair I'll no longer be conciliatory over a particular issue. I can't. Beyond my two above waist cheeks, I have the other pair, the pair that helps hold up my pants. And if I turn that pair, I'm likely to get kicked in 'em.

I'm rambling on about all this, because I am engaging in a real-time experiment of the appropriate way to react to that second cheek being slapped.

When I walked out to my car yesterday after work, I noticed a red Firebird/Trans Am parked next to my passenger side. It hadn't been there when I got to work Tuesday morning. As I got closer to open the front passenger door and insert my bag, I noticed an inch-long scratch on the door and red paint.

I stepped back and took a wider look. The Firebird was parked over the yellow line, partially in my space. I didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what had happened.

If this had been the first time I'd gotten a scratch, or the first time I'd gotten a scratch at work, or the first time I'd gotten a scratch from this particular car I might have had a different reaction.

But, believe it or not, two months ago when I was driving a rental car while mine was in the shop, I arrived at work, and parked next to this exact same car. When I left the office at the end of the day, I noticed the Firebird's driver about 30 yards ahead of me. By the time I reached my car, he was in his and approaching the exit to the parking lot. When I made it to my rental there was a huge ding in the driver's door. And there was red paint in that huge ding. I tried to wave down Firebird guy, but he was out of the lot and on his way and either didn't see me or didn't care to stop.

What are the odds? So I sort of know who the guy is. I don't know his name yet. But I see him all the time driving up to the office with the T-tops off, bumping Night at the Roxbury music and bobbing his head in kind.

I've never spoken to him - not so much as eye contact and a head nod, or a simple "hello."

But now I'm going to talk to him.

I alerted the security boss, 'cause I want there to be a record in case I'm unlucky enough to find the only parking space left some day in the future is next to Firebird guy. But I told the security boss I don't want any formal reports that I can take to an insurance agent. I'm not looking for money. I don't want anything tangible from this guy. I good bit of Carnauba wax and some elbow grease, and I'll be able to buff out this latest scratch. I just want to talk to the guy.

So I've been mulling this morning over what I want to say when I meet the door dinger.

There are two incarnations of old James. There is the incarnation that would have turned the other cheek and dismissed it as no big deal. There is the incarnation that would have raged over the incident and walked around with a vein bulging out the side of his neck. That second incarnation may have also planted a penalty shot-worthy kick on Firebird guy's car.

Relatively new James is going to compromise though. I'm not turning anymore cheeks. 'Nuff of that. And I'm not boiling over. I'm getting old. I have to watch my blood pressure.

So I think when I get the guy's ID and find out what department he works in later this afternoon, I'll just introduce myself, explain to him that he's hit my car twice with his car door in recent months, that there is overwhelming evidence against him, so he shouldn't even try to deny it, and that he needs to be a little more careful when he opens his car doors.

And I'll even say it without swearing...I think. I may ask him what the "hell" is wrong with him, but I'll only take that tone if he cops attitude with me.

So that's my social/psych/faith/cheek-turning experiment - shaming the perpetrator. I'll report back later on how it went.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Yes, that stands for waaaaaaaay too much information.

As I write this, I've just finished reading up a fascinating academic/psych paper on what has been driving the new governor of New York, David Paterson, to confess to pretty much everything.

Since the day he took office to replace Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace because he couldn't explain what exactly he was getting from prostitutes for $4,300 a pop, Paterson has been singing like a canary. From what Matt has told us a good prostitute shouldn't cost more than $200. Definitely an abuse of funds on Spitzer's part.

You realize I'm kidding, right? I mean about why Spitzer resigned.

But I'm not kidding about Paterson. In the past two weeks we've learned that he has had multiple affairs on his a Day's Inn in Manhattan. And she confessed she's had multiple affairs on him - though at what hotel is unclear. We've learned that Paterson has smoked weed. Eh. So have most of my friends and most of our parents...except mine. We've learned that Paterson has done coke. Hmmm.

A news conference is scheduled for noon today, in which Paterson will admit he once bit the head off a kitten, pulled the skin off a bucket of KFC thighs and wings and then put 'em all back in the bucket for other unsuspecting picnickers, and that he once joined Kenny McCormick in smoking dried cat pee.

Seriously, I believe the old adage that the truth shall set you free. It makes sense. Telling lies and keeping secrets is stressful. Admitting you, all of you, is like unsnapping a girdle, not that I've ever worn one.

Kudos to Paterson for admitting that he too is a flawed person and for clarifying that he hasn't engaged in reckless behavior in recent years, so his past moral lapses shouldn't affect his ability to govern.

But I'm not sure we needed to know all of that.

I have another adage for you: It's the thought the counts. Unless this guy has committed murder or some other violent felony in his past and has "forgotten" to tell people, frankly, I don't want to know anymore about what he's done outside of his office.

There is a caveat: Apparently there is some question as to whether Paterson used campaign funds for his personal romps back in the day. If he did, punish him and send him to Spitzer Island, which soon could have bars and barbed-wire around it.

Otherwise, I'm satisfied that this guy is willing to share his flaws. It's the thought that counts. Now, it's time for him to learn to keep it to more ways than one.

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