Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sorry Mr. Zuckerberg, My Grandmother is not impressed

Over the weekend Riley and I went to Connecticut to visit my 92 year-old grandmother, Riley’s Great Grandmother, Mary.  We had a wonderful visit.  We went to McDonald’s for lunch, Riley got stuck in the top of the play climber thing so mommy had to climb up and get her.  Mommy was not amused. We went for a walk and we almost, but not quite, took a nap.

I had brought my laptop to show Gram some of the 4 billion or so pictures of Riley, the family at Disney, where I work and so on.  Gram watched all of these marveling at the color, clarity and size of the pictures.  She then asked if there was anything else on the computer.  I said that yes, all my work files, letters, some movies, and an internet connection. My grandmother asked if she could see Facebook.  So I poached someone’s wireless and went on line.  I showed her email, and shopping and then my Facebook page.  She read some of the wall posts, looked at my profile and the ads on the right.  She asked some questions about what you could find out about people, things you could see and what the ads were for.  I went to my profile which shows whatever you want people to know about you. I also showed her Farmville and some of the other games you could play .

After looking at all of the posts on my wall, she turned to me and asked, “What’s the big deal?”and  “Do people do this all day long?” I had to say well, some people do. She just shook her head. I have to admit that I also showed her Twitter.  Needless to say she was even less impressed. 
I guess that my Grandmother will not be embracing the new media.  At 92 she thinks that letters and phone calls work just fine and she is not in that much of a hurry for anything. I have to admit that I like writing letters and that I have some of the best conversations on the phone with her during my 2 hour commute.  Sometimes it takes longer than 160 or 140 characters to get your point across.

So I am sorry Mr. Zuckerberg, you’ll have to keep working on Facebook, cause my Grandmother was not impressed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

There, but for the grace of God, Go I.

have recently finished my week as the congregational coordinator for the Cold Weather Shelter.  It was a hard week as we were not able to allow everyone who wanted a place to stay into the shelter.  It was also hard to watch people who were full grown adults doing things to their bodies that really messed them up; drugs, alcohol and even sugar.  I watched all of this with feelings of pity and even guilt.  I guess that I wanted to help these guys, they were mostly men, to show them that life didn’t have to be so hard.  I was also feeling a little self-righteous.  “I would never have that happen to me.” “I am much stronger and better educated and I have family.” Once I began talking to the residents I realized that they all have a few things in common.  They were all one paycheck away from being in trouble. They all have families that they are trying to get back to and they all want a better life than the one they were dealt. Now some of them have additional issues like mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and prison that exacerbate the trouble in their lives; but the ones who don’t are very similar to you and I.  

I was given a taste of my own medicine by a rather inebriated man one night I was circulating among the residents asking how their day went, were they spent the day, if they needed anything.  One man asked me why I was so mean to him. He asked me to sit down and talk to him.  I did and he has the most beautiful eyes, a brilliant blue.  I asked him why he thought I was being mean to him.  He said it was because I never asked him about his day. So I did and he said, ”See, was that so hard?” I was taken aback by the statement but stayed to hear what he had to say.  He said that people didn’t like to talk to him because they thought he was a drunk and was unable to communicate in a meaningful manner.  He then asked me if I had ever been homeless.  I said “No, by the grace of God, I had not ever been.” He said that I had not known the grace of God, that until I had been where he was I would not know what the grace of God is.  He held up the bowl of stew I had just brought him and said, “This is the grace of God.” I said, “No that is the charity of man. The grace of God Is what allows the charity of man to happen.  So I do know the grace of God.”  He smiled, shook his finger at me and we parted friends, or as near to being friends as two people who come to the same place by different roads can be.

My week at the shelter is always eye opening. I learn that I am stronger and more capable than I think that I am. I also learn about the inherent goodness and generosity of the people of my church. I also learn that society is what we make it. I truly believe that “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Southern Rednecks-Negative Stereotype or Authentic American?

When I was growing up the term “redneck” was similar to the term hillbilly, cracker, trailer trash and for some, the n-word. A term that dragged the Southern man or woman back into the days of being considered backwards, ignorant, racist, poor and dirty.   Because we lived in the unincorporated part of Mobile County,  Alabama,  I did everything in my power to not be seen as that stereotype and  I would have been devastated if I had been considered one. 
Today, the term redneck is worn like a badge of honor.  They are romanticized by country music as people of the earth, those who have skills that can allow them to survive in the woods when the robots and zombies come to take over the world.  Redneck men are those who hunt, drink and take their women in the back of pick-up trucks, loving Jesus, mother and country. Redneck women are seen as strong women who raise a large family of kids, active in their church, stay home and make their men happy.  To be a redneck is to be a true American.  
The term redneck is an offensive stereotype.  Rednecks are seen as people who live in houses that you would not be allowed to keep an animal in, have children out of wedlock and into violent homes, who have, due to prejudice, poverty or laziness, chosen to opt out of society.  They are in and out of prison.  They are dirty, have no teeth, are morbidly obese, smoke and shop at Walmart They have no job or minimum wage jobs, survive on social welfare, and for the most part are a swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool. They are angry at the government, minorities and God because they feel they are treated worse than those around them. They swear they love the USA , they are ultra right wing  and cling to the 2nd Amendment as if it were the word of God, but are the first to want to destroy the government and politicians when they are denied what they believe to be their right.  Although they claim to be Christians they rarely darken the door of a Church unless it is to ask for charity.  They consider themselves to be better than those who make and live by the laws that govern society.  They also assume that the laws of society don’t apply to them if they do not agree with them. That is one hell of a stereotype.
There are people in the Southern part of the country who live in substandard housing, but it is clean.  There are families who live on low or minimum wage jobs but they are not drinking up their wages and beating their wives, husbands and kids. They send their kids to school and although they may take a little help from the government they are quick to get off as soon as they are able. They shop at Walmart because it provides a good value for the ever shrinking dollar. There are people who live in the country, off the grid, on the land and although their necks maybe sunburned from hard labor but they are not rednecks.  I think their stories are more interesting and truer than those glorified in the country music mythology. Yet, in our media driven culture, it is the people who live out the redneck stereotype are somehow seen as authentic and true to their roots. 
I have a problem with those who desire to validate the authenticity and glorify the history of an ugly misrepresentation of Southerners.  Is it possible to get people to stop validating the most negative Southern stereotype in music and movies?  I hope so, because every time Jeff Foxworthy says “You might be a redneck.” and people laugh, they are not laughing with you , they are laughing at you.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Farah Fawcett's Bathing Suit is in the Smithsonian--A View of Diversity

I was listeneing to the radio while driving in to work the other morning. I heard the local radio station ask their listeners the question, "If there was one thing that signified you to the world, that they would put in the Smithsonian, what would it be?" That's a tough question.  In this world where we live such fragmented and separate lives is there one, single, item that defines us?  When Farah wore that red one piece, flipped her hair, and dazzled my brothers with that smile there was no Internet and we still didn't have cable TV. In the 1970's America still had a relatively cohesive world view. A poster, a song, a television show, a speech could still create a movement.  The fragmentation of contemporary American culture through social media, satellite tv, radio and the internet begs the question, even if there is only one physical person of us can we be defined by one object? We  have so many different avatars, our work persona, our social face, even a private one, that we show only to family and lovers.  We may define ourselves as American but when we do that we classify ourselves with the parts of our identity.  We become Caucasian-Middle-class-vegetarian-Jewish-Lithuanian-Americans.  Even this blog is named with parts of my identity.  By naming ourselves with all of the parts of our identity we leave nothing for people to learn about us.  We even tend to seek out those people with the same parts as us.  Farah, as sick as she was at the end of her life, could not and would not be defined by that one moment in her existence.  So driving in to work at 6 am I try and think of those objects that may define me and I can't find just one. 

I blame the lack of a cohesive American world view on the desire for diversity.  By constantly seeking out what makes us different and unusual we lose sight of what makes us one and what keeps us being able to speak to each other in a civilized manner. By seeking out diversity to the extreme we are always running the risk of offending or being offended, excluding or being excluded.  I do not mean to say that I am against diversity in reasonable amounts.  I welcome conversation from different points of view and different backgrounds but when we break ourselves down into minute groups the conversation becomes chaotic and the purpose for the conversation is lost.  In a movie, whose title is lost to me at the moment, there is a running gag "The children, think of the children!" repeated over and over, whether the issue involves children or not.  Extreme diversity is like that for me, we keep thinking of the children and not about the issues that are important.

Our children in school are taught and celebrated about how they are different from one another.  Kids don't really care about how they are different, they want to know how they are the same and whether there are cookies for snack.  I believe that the constant fragmentation of our culture into smaller and smaller groups leads to personal isolation and depression and all sorts of social ills. Now, how all of this relates to the fact that Farah Fawcett's red bathing suit is now in the Smithsonian, is that at one time we all agreed, no matter how diverse we wanted to be, that Farah looked good in that bathing suit and 12 million of us thought enough of her to buy the poster and put it on our wall.  If we could once again be that cohesive, all agree on one thing, to the tune of 12 million or more of us, that something looked good for our society, then we could really make a difference, one for the better.

I still have no idea what would signify me other than maybe a road map and a steering wheel for the commute I have made to work for the past 16 years. But that only fits one of my identities, we will have to caucus and get back to you on it. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What does the word "custom" mean in "Custom Replacement Windows"?

Perhaps I am too picky.  I work in an institution that cost a lot to build and has windows with real wood frames that fit exactly in the hole and are "custom" to the house. I just had "custom replacement windows" installed in my 1913 Victorian. My windows are NOT a standard size as it is a 99 year old house that has had some serious "Harry Homeowner" work done on it. I spent the extra money for the 100% virgin vinyl and the lifetime repair guarantee, and the fact that they are measured and built and have larger window glass area and show less of the side stiles than the ones you get from a home improvement store that are a standard size. You know the ones, where you buy the ones that are the closest fit, install, shim and caulk the hell out of them.  They look nice until the caulk begins to weather and dry and then you get leaks and so on.  Well, the windows that were installed over a 10 hour period are nice but they look just like the ones we replaced.  The side stiles are various widths and they are caulked and shimmed to within an inch of their lives.  I think that if you bother to measure the windows there shouldn't be that much play. ESPECIALLY, if you are making them in your local plant and I have to wait 8 - 10 weeks for them and have them installed on the coldest day of the year. If, what custom means is that I have to wait 2 months while you make them to a standard size and install them, rather than go to Home Depot or Lowe's and have them here in 2 weeks, then we may have a problem.  I don't care how wonderful the product is, or how good the lifetime warranty is, if you have to caulk and shim and the windows are smaller than the single pane wood ones you took out, then the extra money you ask for your product is a waste.  All caulk fails.  It is not intended to last a lifetime.  It is not intended to fill the spaces between the window and shim and wall that are over 1/2 inch because you measured to a standard size and not to the size of the window.  No caulk is a miracle goo. They are sending out a customer rep in two weeks to talk to me.  I hope that we can get a little closer on our definitions of custom.

Monday, February 7, 2011


My father is 70 years old and he has gone to war for the first time in his life; he has declared war on the squirrels in his backyard.  I realize that this is a condition that affects most men of retirement age who live places that have yards and birdfeeders.  It is an interesting fact to note that when we lived out in the County squirrels were not considered to be the marauders of the birdfeeder which they are now.  I don’t remember them being such a large topic of conversation. Of course back then they had a dog and there were pecan trees to feed the squirrels, armadillos, possums and whatever else crawled out of the cow pasture.  It started innocently enough with the squirrels jumping on the feeder and dumping out all the seed on the ground and then gorging themselves, they were a cute menace.  When they began chewing holes in the feeders so that the seeds would fall through and began getting drunk and rowdy on the hummingbird sugar it was too much.  He tried all sorts of things, bells, whistles, bribing the neighbor’s cat, and encouraging the 6’black snake to sun itself on the wall near the swing.  (My mother evicted the snake.)  As of late my father has gone high tech in his war.  He started out with just blowing the air horn at the squirrels, then he moved on to a pellet guns fitted with a laser sight, to paintball guns, to the collapsing birdfeeder and I think the next step is the electrification of the feeder and nearby tree with weight and motion detection. A bug zapper for squirrels.
My 3 year-old daughter, on the other hand, adores squirrels.  We actually hang corn blocks from the tree and she will stand on the stool at the backdoor and watch them.  She will call out, “Squirrel!” like the dogs in Pixar’s UP.  It’s cute and sweet to watch but  my father sees me as a traitor to the cause and as one who is indoctrinating my child to accept the enemy.  I try to explain that if I feed them on one side of the yard the bird feeder stays full a little longer.  He sees it as aiding and abetting the enemy. Riley doesn’t care; she just likes to watch the squirrels.
It is this desire to control one’s surroundings, to be sure of what is coming, to be able to prepare for whatever life brings us, is what is at the root of my father’s and many other peoples’ fear.   We are living in uncertain times. Our need for security, to be sure of who and what people are, what they stand for and the role of nature in our own lives is what drives us. It is the uncontrollable and unknowable change that we live with each day that we must come to terms with.   So do I give in to my father’s desire to control the natural world or just enjoy my daughter’s desire to watch the acrobatics of the squirrels on the corn block and, unfortunately, on the bird feeder? It is d├ętente. I will tell my father that we like squirrels and hope that he will understand that nature cannot be controlled you can only get out of the way and enjoy the show.