UNDER HIS EYE …

Canada.

That’s the part that always makes me break my suspension of disbelief. It might not have, a couple of years ago. But things are different now. 

I have too many friends from Canada who keep calling me, wishing they could get out of there and down here…to a “free state” (their words – not mine). One sent me a video of Canadian police arresting a Christian pastor for continuing to hold church services during the pandemic. 

It looked a lot like something from the show. Only the players and their ideologies were completely reversed. But it was chilling…and really happening.

The show?

I’m speaking of The Handmaid’s Tale. I know, I know…I’m late to the party. But I have a habit of not wanting to view things that are seen as “ripped from today’s headlines” and “prescient” and “so relevant” in the actual moment everyone is clamoring about it. I like to let those types of things age and then see how well they hold up and if their underlying premise is still plausible.

Also…we just got Hulu. Don’t judge. 

Anyway…

Is Canada a totalitarian state now? Of course not.

But we’re all seeing what we’re all comfortable with.

More on that later.

As far as The Handmaid’s Tale goes …

I’m not sure I’ve ever see a more well done show than this one. The writing, acting, direction and production are all some of the best on any screen, anywhere. The suspense and drama leave you riveted and the stakes could not be higher…Every. Single. Moment. 

It’s so tense that my wife and I can only digest about one episode a day. This one’s hard to binge. Your brain can only handle so much horribleness at a time. Then, you have to remind yourself that you’re watching a fiction series and everybody on the set is okay and safe. 

But the underlying premise is one that sticks with me (and probably everyone else watching): could this ever really happen? 

*** If you haven’t see the show, the following is a spoiler alert ***

Could something like the Republic of Gilead – a place established in America, after a military coup overthrows the government of United States and creates an uber-ordered, dystopian (that’s a writer’s word) society, where women are second or third-class citizens (dependent solely on their relationships to the powerful men in charge of everything), where homosexuals are seen as “gender traitors,” and eliminated from the face of the Earth (unless they can produce children), where these weird tiers of some brand of Biblical theology are the ruling principles, and where stepping out of line from those principles always (and I mean ALWAYS) results in swift, violent and often twisted and sadistic “justice.”

Could it happen?

Apparently (in the show), this uprising was a reaction to plummeting birth rates and an environmental crisis that has caused much of the world to be toxic for human habitation. The “handmaids” are the last fertile women left, who have the best shot at actually carrying a healthy child to term. So, they’re rounded up and forced to use those healthy ovaries to the advantage of a dying human race. And they’re not given a choice as to who the sperm donors will be. 

As you can imagine, the men who took charge of everything are the first in line to be a part of such a “sacred” act. Go figure …

But could that actually happen? Are there people in the world that deranged? Are there people in the world who believe so strongly in their own cause, they would have no qualms instituting that cause by force?

Obviously, the Nazis actually did an awful lot of what we see in The Handmaid’s Tale. Comparisons to Nazis are easy in this type of drama. Nazis were the prototype for Hollywood villains. It’s like they were tryingto be stereotyped for the rest of human history.

But there is religious dogma associated with The Handmaid’s Tale as well. I was raised in religious dogma. And, when I came of age, I opted out of it. That’s the beauty of religious dogma in a free society. You can leave. 

But what about dogma (religious or otherwise) that you can’t opt out of? Could that be put into place if the takes were high enough?

The sad part about it is, if you know anything about history or the state of the world, you know that it has ALL happened in the past and it’s ALL happening somewhere…even as I type this. 

But it’s not necessarily always the suspects we all want it to be …

 Years ago, Boko Haram (“A salafi terrorist organization” – according to Wikipedia) kidnapped 300 girls and forced them into servitude. You might remember the #saveourgirls campaign, started by Michelle Obama. 

The hashtag was all the rage and everybody did it: All the music stars. All the acting stars. Probably even some people who are now a part of producing The Handmaid’s Tale.

But it didn’t work.  

Those 300 girls actually did live out a nightmare like is portrayed in this fictional show, that’s so hard for me to watch. Those girls actually experienced it. 

And guess what? No American military action saved them. No savvy diplomat showed up at the last minute to talk their captors into letting them go. No – everybody just tweeted about it and went on with their business. 

The last report I saw about those girls was that they had all been raped repeatedly, forcibly impregnated and were all  – ALL 300 – pregnant. That report was posted a few years ago. Their kids would all be born now, and living in some strata of dystopia, themselves. 

There are a lot of real villains and real victims out there, right this very minute, who don’t have white faces, blonde hair or blue eyes? Does the world care? 

Maybe we should ask John Cena or LeBron Jam… Oh, never mind. I’ve said too much already. 

Watching The Handmaid’s Tale, post Covid, gives some interesting perspective. And, like all great art does, it forces you to ask questions of yourself. 

Would you fight? Would you question? Would you stand up to tyranny? Where would you draw the line in the sand? How much freedom would you be willing to give up if the survival of the human race was actually in the balance?

The odd thing about the past 18 months, is that we’ve watched some of these questions and answers actually play out…in real time. 

And now we actually know who might be okay with totalitarianism and who might not be. 

And, as it turns out, it’s not always the people we need to believe it is. 

It’s all about the impetus. 

If we are told an unstable virus that kills .01 percent of its victims is on the loose, who will be compliant with the government –any government. Who will question the leaders or the science or the conclusions? Who won’t? How many freedoms will we simply surrender without question, as long as we believe the cause to be worth it?  

What will you tolerate if you honestly think the world or the human race is about to end? 

The answer to the question of who will be okay with an iron fist and who won’t be, is always found in one thing: who is the truest believer. 

If you truly – and I mean truly – believe that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity, will you look the other way when the powers that be start regulating how much air conditioning you can use in the summer?

If you truly – down to your core – believe overpopulation is a plague on the planet, will you be good with allowing babies already born to be kept comfortable while the mom decides whether to kill them or not?

If you believe to your everlasting soul, that morality is the only way to get the human race back on track, will you stand aside and allow the civil rights of people you believe to be “deviants” be trampled?

How about if you’re not about religion – just science – and you are convinced that science demands that we trample some rights for the “greater good?”  

Everyone has to answer these questions for themselves and find their own compass. But I’ll be honest…some of the trends we’ve seen over the past 18 months haven’t been reassuring. 

Sometimes, those we think are going to be the freedom fighters end up being the compliant followers. And sometimes those we think are going to be the villains end up being the rebels.  

And sometimes, Canada turns out to not be as free as it looks on TV.  

Blessed be the fruit,

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PRIDE AND SHAME…

I’m more proud of my legs than I am my eyes. 

My legs represent hours and hours of running and lifting and sweating and pain. They ran relay batons in track, back in high school. They have gotten up before dawn many, many times, to run 5k’s or jump on treadmills, in gyms out of town, or do squats or lunges. 

When I was a teenager, they called me “chicken legs,” because those appendages of mine were so skinny.

But after years of toiling on those things, I am happy to say I now have great legs. In fact, a couple of years ago a young, twenty-something weight lifter told me I had prototypical calves and he wished he could build calves like mine. 

I’m proud of that. Because I built that. 

My eyes, on the other hand, came standard issue with the meat suit. I would’ve preferred ice blue Paul Newman eyes that seem to sparkle all the time. But I got these deep set, brown, serial killer eyes. That’s what I was given. I had no say in it whatsoever. 

I would’ve also opted for darker skin like my dad’s, that never burns in the sun – just gets darker like baked ginger bread. Instead, I inherited the fair, white fragile kind from my mother. It gets splotchy and pasty and red for no reason. 

I try to tan it a little in the summer, just to keep it from blinding people when they stare directly at it. But for the most part, I can’t do a thing about it. 

I also wanted to be 6’2” instead of barely 5’11”.

There are some other physical traits I’d love to have been born with…or without.

The bottom line? I just keep working on my legs…and arms…and abs…and things I have some say over. The rest is just what it is. That’s how I showed up.  

I’ve never understood being proud of something you had no control over. 

People often say, “I’m a proud to be from so and so” or “I’m a proud Black, Asian, Indian, Native American, Hispanic, whatever…insert some heritage of your choice here…man or woman.” Notice I didn’t insert “white” anywhere in there. Because that would be racist. Go figure …

The point is, none of those things are anything you had control over. Why would any of it be a source of pride? It would be like me being proud of my disapproving brown eyes. 

What’s the pride in?

I was born in the south. But I’m not necessarily a “proud” southerner. I’m proud to carry on some of the traditions of the culture into which I was born; kindness, friendliness, hospitality, common sense, resourcefulness, no nonsense action, self-deprecating humor, a sense of something higher than ones self (belief in God), etc. 

Some of the traditions, on the other hand, I do not carry on. 

Either way, I cannot change where I was born. And I am not necessarily “proud” of it. Kind of like my eyes. 

Conversely, I am not ashamed of it either…much like my eyes. It’s just a place on the map. It was here for millions of years before I showed up. It will be here millions of years after I’m gone. 

Where the shame or pride comes in is based in what happens here. And that is based on what other people do and have done. And heaving pride in that gets dicey. 

I am a proud American, not because of amber waves of grain or purple mountain’s majesty. It’s because I’ve studied history and I’ve studied the documents they founded all of this on, and I’m proud to carry on that legacy. Liberty and justice for all, and so forth. That’s something we have a say over. And so, much like my amazing calves, we can be proud of that. 

We can also shun and shift and change the things that have been shameful. And hopefully move on. 

But these days we don’t seem to get to do that anymore …

Ellie Kemper, actress and comedian known for The Office and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, is just the latest in a long line of public people being forced to apologize for things she had no control over. 

The story is actually so boring I’m getting agitated having to type the details. But basically, she was born into a wealthy family and went to some debutante ball, where she won the crown of miss best of whatever, and twenty years before she was born that same organization didn’t allow in anyone in who wasn’t white, blah blah blah. 

Yeah, a lot of places were like that twenty years before a lot of us were born. That’s why – like my thunderous thighs – we work to change stuff like that. Then, we move on. 

But Ellie bowed to the pressure and publicly apologized for how she was born and where she was born and a bunch of things she had no control over. 

Meanwhile, like my sculpted hamstrings, she has a lot to be proud of that she has actually accomplished. But that is seen as some sort of unfairly advanced direct line from her privilege of birth to her current success.

No worries. As long as she takes her beating, confesses her sin of existence (basically, apologizes for her eye color) and votes for Democrats, she will be let off with a warning this time and sent to bed without any supper. 

As long as we continue to derive a sense of pride from things we cannot control, we’re never going to end racism or sexism or any ism. Because having pride simply based on things you were born with and had no say over, is the nucleus of all prejudice.  

By the same token, feeling shame over things you had nothing to do with is the nucleus of a psychotic society. 

We don’t ask people in Germany to constantly do penance, day in and day out, for what their grandparents did – which was horrible, by the way! 

We don’t ask people in Egypt to send people in Israel a check every month for that whole Moses/Pharaoh ordeal. And if you live in Egypt, and are proud of those pyramids, just remember that you had nothing to do with them. Everybody knows space aliens built them. But that’s another blog for another day …

I have often wondered if my “white privilege” has played a role in my career as a songwriter. Would I had achieved the same success if I had been born black? Would the mainstream world have listened to me?

There’s really no way of knowing that. But I have a few clues …

All I can say is that I have mistaken for a black person my whole life. In fact, several black producers have thought I was black, based on my name (Regie) and something about what my music sounds like. My first paid publishing deal was owned and operated by someone who thought he was meeting with a black writer, when I first showed up in his waiting room. 

From my perspective, I’m not sure my color made all that much difference in my career. 

On the other hand, no one would sign me to a record deal until I lost a lot of weight and got in really good shape. That part is (and was) real. 

So, I got my splotchy white ass in the gym (in Nashville) and did what I could control. And it worked. 

I’m proud of that. 

Was that gym a slave owning piece of ground before I got there? Yes. Was it part of the Confederacy at one time? Yep. Did that piece of ground inhabit a world that didn’t allow women to vote? Absolutely. 

Did it represent oppression for women and minorities? You bet it did.

But by the time I got there, there were Black men and Asian women and all sorts of different races and genders in there, free to work on the things they could control. 

None of us were working on changing our eyes. There’s nothing we can do about those.   

   

R

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DOWN ON THE FARM …

The guy didn’t look like a Canadian farmer. 

But then again, how would you be able to tell if someone looked like a Canadian farmer? I didn’t really care. I don’t ask a lot of questions in a public sauna. I just find my corner of it, get in my personal head space, and tune everybody else out. 

This was back before Covid, when we still got in saunas at gyms. The one at Mandalay Bay, in Vegas, is big enough to share with a couple of people and not really know they’re there. Before a show, I used to love getting a workout and a sauna in. Helped clear the head. 

Anyway …

The two other guys sweating it out, when I walked in, struck up a conversation. The older, severely out of shape guy, from New Jersey on one side. The fit, chiseled young farmer from Canada, on the other.  

I listened to their conversation…while trying not to. They gave me no choice. 

Eventually, the sauna talk turned to the weather. That’s good, benign small-talk fodder…you would think. 

But the big guy from Jersey began preaching to us about the issues with the weather and climate change and his sauna space became a bit of a soap box. Again, I just listened. I wanted these guys to leave, so I would have the place to myself. I definitely didn’t want a social justice lesson…in Vegas. 

Finally, the young guy spoke up and informed us of his farmer job in our neighboring land to the north (did I mention he didn’t look like a Canadian farmer?). He talked about how in Canada the environmental laws and regulations are almost impossible to adhere to. And how there are constant inspections and mandates and visits by government officials. 

According to the farmer (who didn’t look like a farmer) the farm in question had been in his family for a hundred years or so and had been a robust producer. But they were now teetering on the edge of not being able to keep it because of all of the regulations. 

But here was the interesting part …

He said NONE of the predictions made by all the “experts” who were constantly descending on their property, had ever come true. 

His words were, “they keep telling us things are going to happen, that never happen. Meanwhile, the farmer’s almanac, actually ends up being the accurate predictor of what actually happens.”

The big man from New Jersey took great issue with this, asserting that the farmer didn’t understand this study or that study and that he wasn’t seeing it from a global view. 

The young, unassuming farmer, very meekly and politely responded by telling the Jersey boy that he knew about the studies being cited. They were part of why this or that regulation was in place at their farm. 

The problem was the studies were WAY off in their hypotheses and caused the growth projections to be skewed to an almost laughable degree. In other words, the government was telling the farmer how to grow crops based on some computer model that actually turned out to be wrong. 

The farmer went on to say something I’ll never forget: “We actually have our hands in the dirt. We have to live with the consequences of these projections. It’s not theory to us. If you work on a farm you know that it either works or it doesn’t.” 

The man from New Jersey got tired of being bested by the Canadian farm boy and left the sauna, mumbling platitudes under his breath. 

With no one left to talk to but a disinterested Nashvillian, Canada farm hand looked to me as if to ask, “What do you think?” 

I just nodded and said, “I get it.” 

I have no idea if that guy was really a farmer or if anything he said was actually true. But I’ll say this: the guy from Canada at least appeared to have had his act together health wise. And the New Jersey know-it-all appeared to have had some health issues. 

Sometimes things are self-evident; they just are. And even though I didn’t know either one of them, I had a feeling one of those guys knew a thing or two about how things (like the body) work. I had a feeling the other one operated on speculation and theory. 

I was on a farm yesterday. Several people in my extended family have small farms. So we went to visit one of them with my daughter and son. 

And what the Canadian said is true – you can’t fake it on a farm. A farm isn’t a place for theory. 

On a farm, nonsense will get you killed or get the crop or the animals hurt or get everything so behind you can’t get caught up in time for the season to yield. 

When you go to the farm, it’s time to get real.  

I believe in the city. I think we do have to get off the farm and chase dreams and flights of fancy. 

We need the people with their heads in the clouds, believing in the impossible. 

But every once in a while, you need to go back to the farm and remember how things actually work. You need to see where that steak actually comes from or where those strawberries start. You need to be around people who deal with it – the real it – everyday. 

We have gotten so far away from common sense and “farm sense,” that we now think of it as offensive. It’s often not what we want to hear. We’ve so “Disneyfied” animals that we think of them as characters rather than what they actually are. 

We aren’t connected to the dirt anymore. We don’t live with the smell of manure in the air. We don’t kill the hogs for our bacon. We just order it on a cheeseburger. We don’t have to pick the peas. We just isolate them for the protein shake. 

And it skews our reality. 

And before long, we just accept the grey-suited bureaucrats who show up, demanding that we do things that run counter to the real. We accept theories that are based in aspirations rather than truths. And it affects our politics. And we vote for policies that are based in how we want human nature to be, rather than what it actually is. 

We want there to be trillions of dollars there, so we just print it. We want people to act lawful without the police, so we just defund them. We want the world to operate without oil, so we just strangle the flow. 

And we end up becoming the guy from New Jersey, telling the farmer that he doesn’t know what he knows he knows. 

And some singer/songwriter, who just wants a moment’s peace before his show, has to listen to it.  

R

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WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE…

Vegas will teach you. 

If you want to know someone’s true nature; how they will really act in any given situation, take them to Vegas. 

I used to have a policy that I wouldn’t get into business with someone unless we’d been to Vegas and played blackjack together. Everyone thought it was just me being wild and crazy or requiring some weird, partying rite of passage. 

But I learned everything I needed to know about them, their business practices and how they would handle complicated situations, by watching them place bets and make moves. 

How risk averse are you? How calm are you when a lot is at stake? How willing are you to press the bet? How far in debt will you go to chase the cards? How far up do you have to be, to walk away? Do you take it personal? Do you play with strategy or just throw money out there and pray for luck? 

Is it just fun and games or do you get obsessed? Do you get upset at other players who aren’t playing correctly? Do you place bets based on which seat you’re occupying; in other words, do you see the table (and the game) from the 30-thousand-foot vantage point or are you simply always only playing your own hand?

All of these little nuances of blackjack show your personality…your true personality. Not the one you try to show everybody, publicly. And guess what? Every person I ever watched play blackjack, actually did turn out to live their lives and conduct their business the way they played. 

I also learned things about myself I needed to know. And what I learned is that I probably don’t need to play blackjack at all. When you’re playing all the hands at the hundred dollar table, and reading about the game and the cards and the history of it and losing time, you realize that you either need to do this for a living or not do it at all. 

But I digress … 

One of the saddest by-products of the past 18 months, is that we have learned who we are…who wereally are. Not just the person we want everyone to think we are. 

If you’ve ever wondered if you would’ve been a Nazi, you now know. Maybe you haven’t quite grasped it yet. But in your heartyou know. 

“Not me. I would’ve fought against racism and tyranny!” is what everyone reading this is saying to themselves. “I would’ve stood up for the Jews! I would’ve probably hidden them in my house!”

I hear ya. Of course you would’ve.

But would you have even known which one was Hitler and which one was Churchill?

We all think we would’ve known. But Time Magazine didn’t know when they named Hitler 1939’s Man of the Year. A lot of Americans didn’t know either. A lot of Brits hated Churchill more than they hated Hitler…until he started raining bombs down on them. Hindsight is 2020 I suppose.

But here’s a wrinkle …

What if the Jews had all refused to get a vaccine that everyone in the world wanted and needed them to get? What if Hitler could’ve convinced the world that they were somehow carrying a deadly virus? 

How would you have reacted then?

However you answer that question is how you would’ve treated the Jews. No need to ponder any further. We know who you are. 

Everyone is the hero of their own movie. We all want to see ourselves as strong and brave and quick to fight against wrong. Unfortunately, for most of us, we don’t have to speculate anymore. We’ve all been exposed. 

Are you violent? Do you condone violence? You may claim you are peaceful and that you are here to promote love. But then, what happens if the wrong person is elected president? What happens if a video surfaces, showing a cop murdering someone of your race?

What happens if a U.S. senator opts out of the Covid vaccine? 

You still non-violent? You still a strong advocate for peace and love? 

You don’t have to answer. We know who you are. 

Are you compliant? Do you ask questions? Are you a critical thinker or a blind follower? Can you maintain your sense of humor in the face of disaster? Can you remain calm? Do you panic? How far do you have to be pushed to give up your core beliefs? 

Guess what? You don’t have to answer. You’ve shown us. We know who you are. 

This morning I was on a zoom call with a friend from Canada. He was telling me about some of his pastor friends who have been shut down by the government, for holding church services…even when they were completely compliant with Covid regulations.

He sent me a video of the police arresting one pastor and carting him off to jail. 

And the public outcry against these ministers is violent, strident and visceral. Even now, when we have a vaccine. Even now, when most of the pandemic has run its course.

If you are an officer about to put a pastor in handcuffs, we know who you are. You don’t have to tell us. 

If you have been paralyzed by fear during this whole ordeal, you don’t have to tell us. We know who you are. 

If you have allowed your fear to turn you into someone you don’t recognize, you don’t have to tell us. We know who you are. The bible says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of sound mind.” 

We don’t need to hear about anyone’s professed relationship to God, anymore. We kinda know. 

If you have ever wondered what it would take for you to turn on your friends, it’s all clear. You don’t have to tell us. We know who you are.  

This virus has taken several of my friends’ lives. It infected and almost killed my daughter. It infected and almost killed me.

We’ve all been touched by it – ALL of us – in one way or another. There is anger to be felt and blame to be placed. There are answers we still don’t have. There are lessons to be learned.

But maybe the hardest lesson we’ve had to learn, is who we all became…or maybe who we were all along. 

Either way, we know, now. Oh yes, we know. 

You don’t have to tell us who you are anymore. You don’t have to try and curate your Facebook profile or take down violent tweets or post anymore inspirational memes. We’ve seen you play blackjack, now.  

And we know who you are.  

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1963 …

Time moves on. 

At least that’s what they say. 

I was listening to a campaign sound byte by Hillary Clinton, back in 2016, where she said something about how little girls should be able to grow up to be whatever they wanted to be, instead of being told they couldn’t do this or that just because they were girls. 

I twisted my head to the side, like a confused dog. 

I thought to myself, “Who in the world tells a girl they can’t do something because they’re a girl, anymore?” 

I know, I know. Nobody knows your story. But culture as a whole has rejected the narrative of girls not being allowed to do something because of their plumbing. That attitude is simply not recognized with any sort of validity. And it hasn’t been for a very long time.

In Mrs. Clinton’s case, she has (as a part of her own personal legend) always told the story of NASA rejecting her request to become an astronaut (when she was 13), solely on the basis of her gender (did I mention she was13?). And so, her experience of sexism was burned into her psyche and made a part of her internal political directive.

But here’s the thing…

Sally Ride. 

Mrs. Clinton’s experience (in 1962), while certainly disheartening, was a product of a different time. We don’t think like that anymore. We don’t say those things to our girls anymore. 

And when she made a political statement based on something that happened to her in 1962, we all looked around at each other, like, “what?”

I have a daughter. I know dozens of fathers with daughters. Nobody tells their daughters they can’t or shouldn’t do something because of their vaginas anymore. I’ve never even heard of anybody from my generation on, even entertaining a thought like that. You’d be a punch line or you’d be seen as some weird relic from another time if you did. 

Maybe there are still people who think that way. But I don’t personally know any of them. If a female feels like she’s being held back by society, in 2021, solely on the basis of her gender, then there might possibly be some force at work in her personal case, none of the rest of us are seeing. 

Women are celebrated and empowered and portrayed in the media as strong and capable. And they are strong and capable. Are there still sexists and misogynists in the world? Of course. But society has done a lot to mitigate their power. 

And keep in mind that just because someone is an alpha male or acts in a way that wouldn’t be approved of in Sunday School, doesn’t mean they are actively participating in systemic sexism. Being a jerk is different from actively participating in a system that keeps someone from opportunity based on race or gender or religion or belief. 

As of the writing of this piece, the male-to-female ratio of NASA astronauts is exactly…50/50. 

But Mrs. Clinton needed it to still be 1962, for her political point of view to make sense. Her unfortunate experience was like one of those mosquitoes preserved in amber, in Jurassic Park. It still looked completely in tact. But it was actually a relic. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the world had already moved on.

The progressive left, in this country, seems to require that it constantly remain around 1963. That informs their opinions of the other side. It places their opponents on the side of clear-cut wrong and backward thinking. 

As long as you still believe it’s somewhere around 1963, you can march for “equality” with a straight face. Even though “equality” has already been achieved…a long time ago. 

Buying into the 1963 mindset, can drive you to make public accusations of racism and sexism and whatever-the-hell-else ism…even though those things are not actually happening in whatever crisis you’re assigning them to.

If people are suddenly not the 1963 stereotypes you need them to be, your argument (possibly even your entire world view) might fall apart.

We ALL saw the George Floyd video and were appalled. The polls suggested that over 90% of the nation believed George Floyd’s death was a murder and that the cop in question should’ve been prosecuted (which he was). 

But here’s where it all broke down: to this day, we don’t know if George Floyd’s race was the reason for his murder. A lot of people assume it was the motive. It may well fit into their own personal story or belief system. And I’m certainly not here to tell someone how they should feel. 

But we don’t actually know. 

If race had nothing to do with it; if the cop was just a power hungry moron, who liked lording his authority over people and let it finally get too far out of hand, it sure would mess up a lot of people’s internal story. It wouldn’t fit so neatly into the narrative that allows rioting and looting and tearing it all down.

As long as everything stays somewhere around 1963, we don’t have to think any more about it. We don’t have to do any deep dives into nuance or psychology. We can keep everything simple and straightforward. 

But things might be more complicated than that …

My daughter is Asian and has special needs. She has lived in Nashville, Tennessee, since she was 8 months old. She’s now 19. In almost twenty years of living in the south, she has only been the target of racism 3 times. 

In every case, the perpetrators were Asian women – not from here. 

To our knowledge, she’s never been the victim of ablism by any adult.

Sure, there was absolutely a time in Nashville, Tennessee, when my daughter might’ve been ridiculed or made fun of or even been a victim of violence. But we simply don’t live in that time (or that Nashville) anymore. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of adopted Asian girls in Nashville. It’s not uncommon to see mixed families and hear different accents and languages being spoken at the mall. 

We’ve all gotten off the farm. We’ve seen the pyramids. We have indoor plumbing. We have iPhones. We get the joke.  

I live in what is supposed to be one of the “whitest” counties in Tennessee. And my house is built on top of an old Confederate encampment. It is said that thirty thousand Confederate soldiers camped here, waiting to fight the battle of Franklin. 

But my next door neighbors are Iranian. Three doors down from them, our neighbors are Iraqi. Across the street from them, our neighbors are black. Two houses up from them, a muslim man is married to a white woman and they have an adopted son…who is black. 

We all wave to each other as we drive by. Not a Confederate solider in sight. 

Time moves on.

My father is a counselor and runs a school for counselors. He has certified dozens of black counselors, over the years. But he often talks about a strange phenomenon that happens at the beginning of their course. 

Inevitably, one or two of the new students will come to his office for a “consultation,” and assert that they know they’re going to have to work twice as hard for half the grade. But they are committed to doing it. 

He always answers the same way: “who told you that? And why do you believe it?” 

They usually say something like their mother instilled it in them or it’s just a fact of life for a black person in America, or some form of the two. 

He gives them some form of this sobering speech …

“Why in the name of all that’s holy would anybody require someone to work twice as hard for half a grade? That literally makes no sense. Not only is it illegal, but it also puts a lot of extra work on me as the teacher. Even if I were a racist, which I’m not, I wouldn’t want to have to do all that extra micro managing of grades based on your skin color. I honestly have no extra time to factor in your race, in this class. No…you do the required work and you will get the deserved grade. It’s really that simple.”

That’s usually how the conversation ends.

He has guided several of those students to PhD’s in counseling. And their race never came up again after that initial conversation.

But we have been so conditioned to believe we’re all living in some Mississippi Burning movie, that we actually look for the drama based on outdated points of view.

Meanwhile, it’s not 1963 anymore.

That cop might have pulled you over because your tags were expired. Not because of your skin. That white woman eying you in the department store, might actually be admiring your sweater or glasses…not thinking you are about to shoplift something. 

That dude saying horrible things about you might be responding to something horrible you said about him, and not caring one bit whether you’re a girl or a boy. 

In other words, he might be treating you as an equal

Are there still rapists in the world? Of course. But we stopped being a society of Vikings, where it’s standard operating procedure, a long time ago. 

Is there still racism? Of course. But it might not be happening when and where we think it is…nor, by whom

The world isn’t perfect by a long shot. And people still give in to the worst parts of themselves. 

But time moves on. 

And people grow. And attitudes evolve. 

And girls can become astronauts.

And it’s not 1963.           

 

R  

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SAVING THE WHALES (AND OTHER REASONS WHY I LOVE FOSSIL FUELS) …

Whale oil. 

That’s what we (humans) used to use to light our world and clean our bodies. Whale oil was pretty much the only fuel source for lamps as well as making soap. 

But we sorta knew that it wasn’t sustainable. I mean, it’s basic math. If you kill all the whales, then you don’t have anymore whales. And whales fueled society. It was a conundrum. 

But what do you do? Do you freeze in the winter? Do you not wash or bathe? Do you live darkness?

But then something really interesting happened…The Industrial Revolution. 

Instead of society going backwards and back to simply burning wood for light and heat and making soap out of cow and pig fat, it propelled into something nobody could’ve predicted. And it found a new fuel source: petroleum. 

Soon (and I mean really soon) humans found a million new things they could make with this new fuel source. Okay, maybe not a million. But a whole heck of a lot. 

People often think gasoline is the main (or only) thing made from oil. And we love to berate ourselves for being “addicted to oil” (a phrase I’ve always hated, even when it was uttered by George W. Bush). 

Well guess what? You’re damn right we’re addicted to oil. Because we’re living in a modern world, with modern conveniences we are simply NOT going to go back from. Nor should we. 

Petroleum is used to make everything from plastic to pillows; dice to drinking cups. If you like that new dress you just tired on, it may surprise you to find that there’s probably a petroleum product in it somewhere. 

And that medication you literally can’t live without? There’s almost certainly a petroleum solvent or compound in it. 

The screen you’re reading this on, at this very moment, has a petroleum agent in it somewhere. 

Simply put, we cannot fully live in the 21st century without petroleum. 

And yet, there are entire political campaigns dedicated to “weening us off fossil fuels.” Well, if you want to try and ween yourself off petroleum, be my guest. But you’re going to have to take off the sunglasses, throw away the football, pour the aspirin down the toilet (wait – you can’t use the toilet. PVC pipes are made from petroleum) get rid of your phone, stop using toothpaste, soap and shaving cream. Stop coloring your hair and riding your bike. 

Haul the fridge away, along with the skateboard, scented candles and hand lotion. Ditch your shoes and dishes and have your next surgery without anesthesia. 

And that’s just the start. 

We haven’t even talked about the fact that you won’t be able to take any of those things to the landfill without a car…full of gasoline. 

Speaking of cars…yesterday, I sat in mine, idling in a gas line. 

Apparently, someone hacked a pipeline and it threw the entire eastern part of the United States out of balance. The Biden administration has said it’s a private company problem. I guess I thought the United States government was there to investigate criminal behavior perpetrated against private companies and bring the perpetrator’s to justice. 

Silly me. The United States government is clearly there to educate us on race and pronouns. What was I thinking?

Anyway …

If you think we can live without fossil fuels, try doing it for a few days. Just a few days. See how long it takes before you start to starve or go insane. Look at the run on gas stations just yesterday, and the panic that set in. 

People are not addicted to oil. They’re addicted to getting their kids to school and going to the grocery store and getting to the hospital and driving or flying to another town to chase a business opportunity. 

People are addicted to living their lives. 

And when you see someone opposing something like “The Green New Deal” it’s not because they don’t believe in a clean environment or in exploring all energy options. It’s not because they hate the planet or don’t care about the planet. It’s most likely because they actually understand the complex nature of modern society’s relationship to petroleum and what an immense disruption it would be for a government to simply “decide” not to use it anymore, without something else to replace it.    

Fossil fuels may indeed pollute. The companies that produce them may indeed be run by greedy robber barons. They may be all of the things environmentalists say they are. 

But I only know all of those things because I used some product or device that has petroleum in it. 

No strident artist, holding a picket sign, making us all aware of the problem, saved the whales. Oh, I’m sure a few actors and musicians got some legislation passed here and there or got some conservancies put in place. And they may have helped prop up a few species here or there. 

But the number one saver of the whales, was crude oil. 

And before you start quoting chapter and verse all the legislation that has been passed, through the years, that supposedly ended whaling, just remember that almost none of it was effective. The main thing that stopped whaling was the fact that the demand for what it produced completely disappeared.

If and when we stop using oil, it won’t be at the behest of some bartender-turned- congresswoman, who actually believes building a land bridge to Hawaii is a bone fine, legislatable idea. I mean, we can build a land bridge to Hawaii. We can do anything we set our minds to. 

But we don’t need to do that…

BECAUSE. WE. CAN. FLY. THERE.

And we should keep flying there. It’s the better way. 

Our shift from fossil fuels won’t come because some president wills it to be so and forces the population to cutting back heat in the winter and cool in the summer or having to ration hot water and electricity. All that does is frustrate people and add unnecessary stress to their lives.  

It will come as a result of new technologies and innovations. And governments cannot dictate how the science will play out. You can’t simply say “we want it to be solar – so it will be solar.” 

It might not be solar. It might be nuclear. It might be something we haven’t even thought about yet. That’s why the innovators have to be unleashed to follow every path. Business must run free. Industry must be nurtured. Thinkers and doers should be held in high esteem, cheered on and not punished. 

Why?

They are the ones who are going to find the next fuel source. Because if they are moving forward, it will be an imperative. And humans eventually do pretty well when faced with imperatives. 

We start out killing a lot of sea creatures, who are just minding their own business. But then we find other ways. 

And one day, we will find another way. But until then, keep the gasoline moving. 

The whales thank you.  

R

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MOM IN THE SHADOWS …

I’m not a big fan of those TV specials where the adopted son or daughter (statistically, it’s usually the daughter) goes on that epic quest to find their birth mother. 

Inevitably, there’s a journey, filled with unexpected twists and turns, followed by a tear-filled reunion at an airport somewhere. The two long lost souls embrace and sob, then laugh and hold each other’s faces, staring at the uncanny physical resemblence. 

Those specials always have us rooting for the birth mother. They do the back story on her and tell us why she had to give up the child in the first place. She is usually the hero of the story, and her daughter (or son) is finally going to be back in the arms of the one who gave birth to them. It’s a 3-hanky happy ending. 

The sub text is that this is where they all belong. And that their separation was somehow unjust or unfair or would’ve never happened in a perfect world. 

And all the while this child is looking for their “real family,” I always see a beleaguered, exhausted woman, standing in the shadows, cheering them on, wiping tears from her eyes, secretly wishing they longed for her as much as they long for someone they’ve never seen.  

She’s never the hero of the story. She doesn’t get the screen time. We’re never rooting for her. She’s a supporting player in the movie. 

But she was the one who stepped up and took the child in, in the middle of whatever drama was playing out. She also had odds against her. She also had issues in her life. She also had reasons not to raise a child. But she shunned all of that and brought the child home anyway. 

She warmed bottles and lost sleep and healed boo boos. She read stories and researched pediatricians and child-proofed the living room. She rocked to sleep and changed diapers and worried over rashes and fought the school boards and advocated for a tutor and listed herself as the “next of kin” and raised her hand in a courtroom, to take an an oath…a lifetime oath. 

She’s the adoptive mom. 

And while the world may not hold her in as high esteem as the birth mom, I sure do. I’m married to one. And let me tell you, her love for her children is every bit as fierce as the one who shares their blood. 

Don’t get me wrong. The act of giving your child to someone else, who you know will take care of them in a way that you cannot, is one of the most incredible steps of courage anyone will ever take. I, too, revere any woman who can do that. I revere the two women who did that in my own family’s case. They hold places of honor in our home. They were both incredibly courageous and selfless. And we hope we’ve done right by them. 

They will always have a place in their hearts for that child they gave away, and it will never leave them. 

But then, mommy steps in and does all the actual mommy stuff. And it’s beautiful. And it’s serious. And it’s no less “real” than it is for someone who shares a hairline or a nose or any type of genetic trait. 

I’ve talked to many adoptees. Since adopting my children, I’ve been very interested in the points of view of someone who is adopted. And they might talk about the trauma or maybe no trauma at all. Or maybe they’ve always wondered about their birth parents. Ot some of them don’t. 

My own son doesn’t seem to think about it too much…until he does. And then we have as honest a conversation as we can about it. It can be heartbreaking.  

Studies show that ALL (yes, I’m using the word “ALL”)  adopted people have higher heart rates and attachment issues of some kind. Like, one hundred percent of them. 

It’s a real thing and not to be brushed aside. There’s real, life-long trauma associated with being ripped from your mother’s arms and placed somewhere else. 

But here’s the thing …

Studies also show that adopted people often register higher IQ’s and are more accomplished in certain areas than non-adopted people. They are often even world changers. Some studies show that they do better in school and are highly prone to above average life success. You might be shocked at some of the names on that list: Steve Jobs, Faith Hill, Nelson Mandela, Ray Liotta and Dave Thomas (just to name a few).

Why would that be?

Maybe (and this is just my opinion) it’s because their adoptive parents want to be there, one hundred and ten percent. They may have been seen as some sort of “accident” to the birth parents. But they are seen as a divine gift to the adoptive parents. 

Adoptive parents (especially mothers) have no little, “good natured” jokes in the house about how “I had these big dreams until you kids came along …” 

Nope. That was not the case in those houses. 

The adoptive mom WANTED those kids. She fought for them. She filled out paper work for them. She went in protecting them from the jump. 

If you are adopted, just know that you were chosen. You are the most special life on earth to someone and they went far above and beyond what they probably should’ve had to, to bring you home. 

And if you have a bad relationship with your adoptive parents, it’s only because they were there to have a relationship with in the first place.    

Plenty of non-adopted people have bad relationships with their parents, too. 

Plenty non-adopted people also don’t feel like they belong. 

I couldn’t look any more like a combination of my two parents if you drew us up in a computer. And yet, I have felt estranged from them and a million miles away from them, plenty of times in my life. That feeling isn’t reserved for adopted people. Much of it is the natural push and pull of parent and child. 

It may not have one thing to do with blood or genetics or any of the things we attribute it to. It might just have to do with the circle of life.  

Regardless, at the end of that TV special, I’m always rooting for the woman in the shadows, who helped raise such a curious, intelligent, capable person, who has the self-awareness to want to know more about their genetics. 

And while they may be finding their “birth mother” …that woman in the shadows, is mom. And as an adoptive father, sometimes I would just like to see everyone acknowledge her in that process. 

My wife never gave birth. But she is the fighter who is turning my children into lovely people. She’s the one picking out the clothes and buying the new shoes. She’s the one laughing and crying with them. She bears the scars of all their heartbreaks and cheers with joy in all their successes. 

Today, we celebrate those who gave birth to us. As we should. It’s a miracle and the person who brought you into the world should be respected and honored.

I celebrate the woman who gave birth to me…who also happened to raise me. I love you, mom.

But I hold a special place in my heart for those mothers who ran into the chaos and calmed it by deciding to be mom. They are true heroes, only bound to all of the toils of raising a child…by choice.  

I know. Because I’m married to one. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers. And a special wink and a smile to the mothers in that airport scene, with their hearts soaring and breaking all at the same time.  

I see you. 

R  

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WHY I UNFRIENDED YOU …

“If you believe (insert belief here) unfriend me right now!” was the post that caught me in just the wrong mood, at just at the wrong time. 

Never, since the “let’s see who actually reads my posts and will re-post this” post, has there been a more passive/aggressive way to communicate with people on social media.  

So…I unfriended them.

I don’t usually throw away relationships so casually. I cherish all the friendships I’ve cultivated in my life. At least, I used to. But something about that statement that was so terse and intractable and downright narrow-minded, made me realize that maybe I didn’t really know that person at all. Maybe I never knew them. 

What followed that initial “unfriending” was a flurry of unfriending. Suddenly I felt freer than I ever have. I was tired of dancing around beliefs and the wrong words and the wrong jokes and the possibility of offending someone for thinking the wrong thing or even just considering the wrong thing. 

By the end of the month, I had unfriended several hundred people. And even blocked a few. And it was one of the most liberating moments my online avatar has ever experienced. 

Most of my real, honest-to-goodness friends, have been my friends for more than 10 or 20 or even 30 (and some, over 40) years. 

I don’t have to explain myself to them. They know me. They know what I believe. They know my heart. They know what I stand for and what I don’t stand for. I don’t have to recite my bio to them or prove a negative. 

They all know I’m not a racist or a homophobe or a transphobe or whatever the “phobe” of the moment is. They know I will always be honest with them. They know where I am on politics and faith. They know where I am on family and friendship. 

I don’t have to post links to prove anything to them. 

And so they don’t judge me by my political choices or non-choices. And I don’t judge them by those things either. 

You can’t lose real friends. 

But, for so long, we have all been divided up based on our political views and how we might process certain beliefs. 

Unfortunately, in the heat of last year’s election, I found (as we all found) that some people I thought I knew, I didn’t actually know. And that is a difficult realization. 

So, now here we are – almost a half year later. 

Those who wanted to see Donald Trump out of office at any cost, got exactly what they wanted. Those who wanted me to unfriend them if I still thought the election was questionable or mask effectiveness was questionable or if Covid numbers were questionable or if this or that was questionable…also got what they wanted. 

If you are still living in a world you refuse to question, then yeah…we can’t really be friends. Not, like, real friends. 

I heard a leading epidemiologist from Yale (yes, I said a YALE) on the radio, yesterday, say that studies are proving that having had Covid 19 is just as effective against not getting it again as getting the vaccine. 

I’ve had Covid 19. And yet there are still those out there who will still shame me for not getting the vaccine. Prepare the comments thread to be pasted with links in 3…2…

I went on YouTube to find a stretch that would help my lower back. I found hundreds. One told me to use a tennis ball under my sciatic area. Literally the next one told me to not do that under any circumstances and gave a different stretch to use. 

THAT stretch, as it turns out, was the one that got me up off the floor – immediately. 

How can both of those videos live on a platform so dedicated to medical truth? How can I watch one video telling me that pork rinds are healthier than corn chips, then instantly flip to a video telling me that those pork rinds are probably killing me and I should just eat corn chips, on the same platform? 

But then I can’t access the governor of Florida’s Covid protocol because that platform took it down, citing “misinformation?” Who’s kidding who, here? 

If you can’t see the agenda behind this, or at least raise an eyebrow, how can we ever have a real conversation? 

Our sitting president may have not gotten that job without Facebook and Twitter squelching a story about his son’s recovered laptop, that had some pretty incriminating information on it (at least the appearance of impropriety) regarding how the Biden family turned elected influence to money. 

Turning power into money isn’t a crime. It’s when you trade elected power for it, that it becomes at least investigate-able.

The son in question still hasn’t denied it’s his laptop. The best he could do on national TV was say, “It might be. We’ll see.” 

WE’LL SEE?! Really? We’ll see if I committed international crimes for my (now) president father? 

If you can just watch that and not feel at least a little weird, not that it happened – powerful people get themselves in predicaments like this all the time, it’s not a surprise that it happened – but that the most powerful news outlets on the planet didn’t want you to know about it – then no…we’re not speaking the same language I’m afraid. 

I just saw a news report that cited 20% percent of the signatures in the California recall petition don’t match. And yet we’re told time and again that ALL the signatures matched during the 2020 election. 

Stop asking questions. You will get taken down off this site if you ask those questions. 

Okay, boss. You win. 

I’m at a point where I’m just tired of the arguments. I have no more energy for the debates. When things are self-evident, but not recognized as such, where do you go from there? How do you walk forward with someone who doesn’t even see the forest…much less the trees?

The powers that be are now just that – POWERS. 

Those who got what they wanted politically should now sit back and bask in whatever happens next. You own it.

From the YouTube videos I watch to getting a shot to wearing a mask to whatever avatar I post on social media after any given event, have all been politicized. And it’s hard for us to find common ground when all the ground keeps getting seized and appropriated toward one way of thinking. 

I used to have friends on all sides of the spectrum. I would still love that to be the case. I’m generally prone toward liking people. I think when we sit and talk one-on-one, we usually recognize common struggles and common hopes and dreams; common humanity. 

But somehow humanity is now being squeezed into a set of acceptable-only beliefs. And that’s not usually good in the long run. 

At the very least, it will get you unfriended on Facebook.   

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MAKE ME …

Columbo is my favorite cop show of all time. 

He really proves the need for smart, tenacious law enforcement. Without a guy like that on the force, an awful lot of ingenious criminals would’ve gotten away with some incredibly complicated murders, in L.A., in the early-to-mid 70’s. 

I would imagine there aren’t a lot of minds like his on the force in real life. 

But one of the things that made Columbo so endearing to viewers was the fact that he constantly had traffic tickets on his car and he was constantly letting his license expire and petty things like that. He would occasionally have to face law enforcement himself, and it always gave us (me, anyway) a sense of contrast as to which laws were absolutely necessary (murder) and which laws were just kind of annoying (parking tickets). 

Still, the law is the law and someone has to enforce it. 

So, this genius crime solver; modern day Sherlock Holmes, had his own experiences with the long arm of the law. This guy washout there keeping Dick Van Dyke from killing again. But even he couldn’t evade the grasp of bureaucracy and legal precedents. 

And even when Columbo would finally nab his man (or woman), some extra in a uniform (with no lines and no SAG card) carrying a side arm (Columbo didn’t carry a gun – he had people take his firing range tests for him), would have to put them in the police car…by force.  

Without that person, with the threat of ending their life if they ran, there’s a real chance some of them would’ve made a break for it. I’m certain Johnny Cash or William Shatner would’ve. And Columbo could never have caught them. He couldn’t pass his yearly physical fitness tests. I mean, the man pretty much lived on cigars and diner chili. 

Anyway …

The nation (and the world, really) just breathed a sigh of relief after the Derek Chauvin verdict was handed down. 

We’ve all been through a lot over the last 18 months. None of us were looking forward to more riots and more unrest and more calls for this or that, from bull horns on the streets of every American city. 

I believe justice was served in this case. I’m sorry for George Floyd and his family. And I couldn’t care less if Derek Chauvin lives another day. But let’s all be honest – we selfishly needed this episode to fade into history and we needed it to end as well as possible. 

But this case kicked open the door to beliefs and mantras we couldn’t always quite get our heads around. “De-fund the police” being the main one. 

We’ve seen and heard actual government officials get on this bandwagon of de-funding law enforcement. Even our own current, sitting president said he was open to this idea during his campaign (the single greatest campaign ever run, by the way. Never left his house and got the most votes of anyone in American history. Pretty amazing. But I digress). 

In that same Q&A session, he said he’d also be open to a mask mandate. And that’s when I yelled at the TV – “who’s going to enforce it?!?!” 

See, when you come to the “de-fund the police” conclusion, you’re almost there. Where, you ask? You’re almost a Libertarian, you just don’t know it. You just haven’t thought your way far enough up the food chain yet. 

See, the police are just the extras in uniforms, carrying the sidearms. They don’t make the laws. They just enforce them. 

This whole national conversation about police and minorities and shootings and this and that, is definitely one that should be had. But it is also a distraction from a bigger conversation we should be having: it starts with law makers – not law enforcers.  

Rashida Talib and Maxine Waters and A.O.C and yes, even our own Madam Vice President, can all call, for de-funding police departments (and they all have). They can actually make strong cases and cite all sorts of incidents. 

But right after they get finished doing that, they then go back to work and create…wait for it…more laws. 

It is often said that between all the Federal and state laws on the books, you can find a law being every moment of every day, by any average American. All you have to do is look hard enough. 

We pay politicians salaries that are well above the national average. We turn them into celebrities. We hang on their decisions and put hope in their judgements. And what are their full time jobs? To make more laws. 

Well, guess what? Someone has to go out there and make sure everyone is in compliance with those laws. If you don’t like run-ins with the police, remember that that is an interaction with government. 

The cops are just there to carry out what somebody else told them to. And they’re doing it for half the pay of those who told them what to enforce.

Maybe we should reverse those pay structures for a few years and see what the results might be.

On one side, you have people who favor smaller government; less red tape, fewer regulations. And those people are often vilified by the same people who favor fewer police and less law enforcement. 

The truth is, both people want less government. One just knows where the message starts. The other is just angry at the messenger.  

Madonna recently tweeted that police who shoot suspects shouldn’t even have trials. They should just be sent right to prison. Okay – well despite the abject ignorance of basic human rights and jurisprudence that have been in place since the Magna Carta, the big question still remains: who’s going to take them?    

If you are in favor of de-funding the police, but want this or that new law put on the books, think it all the way through – who’s gonna make people do it? 

And that is when you stop thinking so much about the people in uniforms, and more about the people in hallowed halls, sitting around coming up with new things we all have to comply with. 

And when you realize the person who’s going to make you comply will be someone who earns half of what the law maker earns, but who has a Glock on their hip and has to possibly wade into danger to carry it out, you start changing how you look at all parties involved.

Whenever a new law is proposed we should always ask this simple question: “who’s gonna make us?” 

Then, we should re-think the law itself – not the one out there trying to enforce it. 

De-fund the police? 

How ‘bout we start by de-funding congress?    

It doesn’t take a Columbo to figure it out. 

R

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F.R.O.’S, P.R.O.’S AND B.R.O.’S (The Three Stages of Race Relations)

It was an old clip on Youtube. But when I heard Larry King say to Tom Jones, “You sound like you might have some in you,” I knew he was still in the P.R.O. phase.

They were having a discussion about Tom Jones (the famous singer) possibly getting a DNA test to determine if he has African blood. It has been speculated about for decades, with him. Surely, a garden-variety white dude from Wales couldn’t have cords like that. Clearly he must have “some in him” – meaning, black DNA. 

But Tom Jones has a sister. Does she have that same kind of voice? I mean, if he has black DNA (which, apparently is the recipe for a great vocal instrument), then she would have to have as well. It gets complicated when you start lumping people into groups. 

The point is, until you shake off the ridiculous notion that Tom Jones can only sing like he can because of his ancestry or blood, you are still kind of in a phase of racism. I call it the P.R.O. phase. 

There are essentially three phases of race relations. 

The first phase is something I call the F.R.O. phase: Fearing Relative Others (“Relative others,” being other humans relative to you, but who are opposite in color or culture). 

Different parts of the world are still in varying aspects of this type of racial view. But the best examples of it are the most stark examples. 

You can’t do any sort of piece on race without dragging out Hitler. But he’s a good example of being locked in the F.R.O. stage. See, hatred is sparked by anger and anger is sparked by fear. Hitler hated Jews because he was essentially afraid of them. He admired and coveted the abilities they had cultivated through the centuries. 

But he was tribal. So, he wanted what the Jews had for his own race, instead of realizing that integrating another successful cultures into your society makes everybody stronger – not one side weaker. 

Any sort of anger toward (or hatred of) another race, because of the race itself, is basically a fear of it. And it can run in all directions. 

The F.R.O. phase is what white supremacy is based on but it’s not exclusive to white supremacists. Black people and brown people and Asian people Indian people and Polynesian people and pretty much all people can languish in that phase of race relations for their entire lives; remaining afraid of others relative to them, but who don’t look like them. 

Sometimes those fears are well founded. Sometimes those fears are based on half truths. Sometimes those fears are simply fairly tales handed down from generation to generation. 

And sometimes those fears are still only a thing because there are entire industries out there where millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars change hands because of them. 

Beware of the person getting rich off your fear. They’re keeping you in the F.R.O. phase. 

But for those who fancy themselves more evolved than the F.R.O. phase, there is what I call the P.R.O. phase of race relations: “Praising Relative Others.”  

This phase is the most subtle form of racism. But it is still racism, nonetheless. 

In this form of racism, you graduate from fear of your relative other to believing they are superior in some way. You constantly give them the benefit of the doubt for everything. You revere their culture and contribution. And you are convinced that you and people like you are the problem. 

You gaze on your relative others with the same envy as those who fear them, only you turn your fear and anger inward, toward yourself, instead of lashing out. 

In this phase, you believe that soulful singers must have black blood – because, you know…black people can sing. You believe that all the Native American tribes were peaceful and harmonious and the only reason they became violent was because of white men (even though that’s not even close to what the fossil record shows). 

In black culture, they used to say, “the white man’s ice is colder.” That’s a reference to back in the day, when people purchased big blocks of ice, they would prefer to get ice from a white vendor because they believed that because the person was white, his ice was better…or colder. 

That’s a real reference. 

And it illustrates a culture that has learned to hate itself and revere another race. 

It was a warped sense of the world – oh, and it wasn’t true. ALL water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice is ice. But only when you are in a cycle of praising your relative other, can you believe in something so non-scientific. 

Many people these days, are locked into the P.R.O. phase of their race journey. If you still “admire this race for” blah, blah, blah, you’re still there. Or if you assign certain attributes to a race (rather than a culture), you’re still there. 

There were some Asian doctors at Princeton (yes, I said Princeton) who didn’t believe my daughter had Angelman Syndrome, because they didn’t believe Asians could get it. 

Guess what? She does. And they can. 

P.R.O. phase. 

The final leg of any racial odyssey is what I call the B.R.O. phase: “Beyond Relative Other.” 

And until you can get to this phase, you’re still languishing in some form of racism. This phase is seeing people as individuals. 

Once we realized that any male from any race could make a baby with any female of any other race, we knew that we were indeed the same species – the EXACT same species. 

See, unless you’re the same species, you can’t reproduce. Spider monkeys don’t breed with Gorillas. Even though they appear to be at least close to the same species.

Humans are all humans. We migrated from Africa to all parts of the world, creating different cultures and ways of life and diets and customs and we developed different physical characteristics. 

To continually focus on those differences is a myopic view of the story. 

The real story is what the individuals have done and still do. This is where we get to the real frontier of human nature and the real fragility of the human condition. Because as long as someone can hide behind their “racial experience” we still don’t know them. Not really. 

It’s only when we can step beyond our perception of tribes – our own and others – can we get to the good stuff; the real stuff. 

It’s there that we find real community. It’s there that we actually learn. It’s there that where we can get to the truth. 

Until we get to the B.R.O. phase of race relations, we’re still going to be in some form of bondage to our differences. Until we start taking people one at a time, we’re still going to see our relative others as either a threat we must protect ourselves from, or a god we cannot live up to. 

We are all, at one time or another, in and out of all three of those phases of race relations. Life is complicated. And it seems to be getting more complicated by the day. 

But if you spend any amount of time with enough of your relative others, you will find fewer differences than you might believe. You will find (inside that shell that you’re either worried about or admiring), a person.  

Then, you can either celebrate them or condemn them; admire them or dismiss them, based on their character. 

And you don’t have to virtue signal or bend over backwards to show your support (the P.R.O. phase) OR constantly make your case and prove your point (the F.R.O. phase). 

You just be you and let everyone else be them, and allow history to write the self-evident story of what that looked like in the world. 

The B.R.O. phase. 

And you can know that Tom Jones just has a uniquely great voice, no matter where his ancestors are from. 

R

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