Category: Miscellany

Now It’s Time for Twice as Many of Us to Attend the NYC Marathon, Fourth of July Fireworks and All Public Celebrations

In the 48-or-so hours since the Boston Marathon bombings, I’ve made a point to stay in public places to overhear the inevitable chatter the tragedy has stirred up (this article is being written from the Terminal 2 lobby at San Francisco International Airport). I figured this would be a particularly good place, given the number of direct flights arriving from Boston and the news crews I can see about 50 feet ahead of me, cameras ready to catch people who may have been at the marathon.

While it makes sense that people are talking, I have observed complete polarity in terms of the future effect events like this will have on people’s day-to-day lives. Some are adamant that the event will come back stronger than ever, and if they participated or attended, they wouldn’t miss it for the world again next year. Others, however, seem to be taking a very clear stance that the world is just nuts and they will think twice before attending any event of this magnitude in the future.

If any of you find yourselves leaning towards the second category, I’m writing this article in hopes of bringing you back to the first.

That someone would do something like place a bomb next to a trash can with the intention of killing innocent people at random is reprehensible. I’m pretty sure any of you reading this are fully in accord with that. But by letting such an tragedy deter you from pursuing something you would otherwise enjoy, people who take this approach are simply reaffirming the responsible party’s intention of not only killing people, but creating lasting fear and paranoia, which I would argue is just as toxic in the long-run.

The Marathon bombing was truly tragic, and everyone’s thoughts and prayers should go out for the three fatalities and 176 people injured in the blast. Scary stuff? Absolutely. But let’s shed some perspective on it. Of 23,000-plus runners and an estimated 500,000 attendees, perhaps we were fortunate that there were only those three fatalities and 176 injuries. By comparison, the city of Boston alone has averaged about 10 traffic fatalities for every 100,000 residents each year over the past two decades or so, which projects out to about 52 for the same amount of people who attended the Marathon. That breaks down to one every week. Add in the suburban area, and pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, and we’re probably talking about a total death and injury count that is comparable to what happened at the Boston Marathon on a weekly basis–just by people going about their daily business to-and-from work or activities.

Of course, the often-sensationalized media coverage also doesn’t help deter the spread of this paranoia and fear that the culprits intended. Watching the news last night, I was saddened that the report about a 20-year-old who was identified by police as a “person of interest” because he was seen running from one of the bomb sites with a hand injury (which would make him just one of 176) had to specify that he was a Saudi national. It turns out that after police talked to to him, this “person of interest” was determined to be nothing more than a victim, but I can’t help but think about all of the people who heard that report and what they will think the next time they walk past a Middle Easterner on the street. I simply don’t see why the “journalist” couldn’t have just reported that police were talking to a person of interest, rather than specify his ethnicity or nationality, at least until there was any evidence that he was in fact involved. We only have to look back as far as Newtown to see that it isn’t just foreigners that commit acts of terror in this country.

My point in all of this is not to belittle the magnitude of tragedy that the 2013 Boston Marathon will forever be remembered for. Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old from China fulfilling her dream of pursuing her Master’s in the United States, Krystle Randle, a lively 29-year-old from the Boston area and 8-year-old Martin Richard all had promising lives ahead of them, and will be dearly missed. The 12 others who suffered amputations of some sort will also surely never forget Monday.

My point is also not to suggest that we should be afraid to drive or bike or walk to work. Accidents have and always will be a part of the cycle of life, and the reality is that no matter how careful or cautious we try to be, any of us could have our number called at any time.

My point is to demonstrate that by pursuing the things we love to do, participating in things like Boston’s Patriot Day and storied Marathon that are celebrations of the human spirit, even with the ever-present threat of life’s evils, we are at no greater risk than we are going about our everyday business. And more importantly, to emphasize that if we allow fear and paranoia to dictate the way we live our lives, we are allowing the people responsible to succeed in their mission far more emphatically than they have already. I didn’t have the honor of knowing any of them personally, but I would argue that Lingzi, Krystle and Martin would rather be remembered as heroes who died celebrating one of the more exciting days of their short lives rather than as symbols of the day we let the fear and paranoia stirred up by a few sick individuals triumph over the human spirit.

It is appropriate that we should all be in a state of mourning for the three beautiful people we lost on Monday, and send our thoughts and prayers to their families, friends and the other victims who will have to struggle the rest of their lives without an arm or a leg. But we should also be careful not to let the psychological impact that Monday’s bombing, and the sensationalized media coverage that has surrounded it, sap some of our spirit for celebrations of humanity. I can’t help but thinking back to childhood, growing up watching Mister Rogers, and remembering him talk about seeing scary things on the news:

My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.

Here’s to taking Mister Rogers’ advice and looking back on Monday as a story of heroes like Lingzi, Krystle and Martin, and helpers–the thousands who made sure that the tragedy wasn’t any worse–rather than a story of terrorists and victims. If we do that, then evil simply can’t win.

-KS

Costas’ Nationally-Televised Plea for Gun Control Reform was Well-Timed and Appropriate

When the Bill of Rights was drafted more than 200 years ago, the United States of America was a vastly different place than it is today. Back then, we were a small agricultural country, and the framers of the Constitution themselves were essentially farmers who had lived their lives up to that point amidst civil war. So they drafted the Second Amendment, granting us the right to bear arms within a “well regulated militia.”

This was designed to protect individuals from a government infringing upon their basic freedoms—mind you, a government that was not equipped with nuclear weapons and surveillance technology robust enough to monitor the personal actions of everyone from its own military chief on down through its illegal immigrants.

That same premise doesn’t exist today. We have an established government, and one that—whether you trust it or not in the era of Guantanamo Bays and “no fly” lists—will infringe upon your rights if it deems such necessary. Having a gun at home isn’t going to protect you from that.

Yet, powerful (and rich) organizations like the National Rifle Association keep brainwashing confused lemmings into believing this is a basic foundation of being an American—the right to bear arms—and fail to see that our lack of gun control is what has people around the world actually afraid to visit a place that we feel is the most “civilized” of societies.

This is a hot topic today especially, given the shocking news from the weekend about a 25-year-old, multimillionaire professional athlete in the midst of living his dream, gunning down the mother of his 3-month-old girl in front of his own mother before taking his own life. During a nationally-televised football game the following day, NBC commentator Bob Costas made a public endorsement for gun control by paraphrasing journalist Jason Whitlock’s column calling for the same. Here’s an excerpt:

“We’ve come to accept our insanity. We’d prefer to avoid seriously reflecting upon the absurdity of the prevailing notion that the second amendment somehow enhances our liberty rather than threatens it.

How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?

Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.

In the coming days, Belcher’s actions will be analyzed through the lens of concussions and head injuries. Who knows? Maybe brain damage triggered his violent overreaction to a fight with his girlfriend. What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

That is the message I wish Chiefs players, professional athletes and all of us would focus on Sunday and moving forward. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.

But we won’t. We’ll watch Sunday’s game and comfort ourselves with the false belief we’re incapable of the wickedness that exploded inside Jovan Belcher Saturday morning.”

While it perhaps wasn’t the ideal venue for such a discussion, I respect Costas for doing so. It’s a message that people simply need to consider in context. Of course, this brought out the critics in full force, with the following being among the tweets that circulated after the Costas segment:

“Does Bob Costas know that people are murdered everyday by means other than gunshots? Removing guns will not stop psychos from killing people.”

“Yes, Bob Costas, guns are the problem. Nicole Brown Simpson would be alive today if OJ hadn’t shot her with that knife.”

For those in favor of simply ignoring any sort of historical context in advocating Second Amendment rights, I believe you may well be able to craft a good argument doing so. I just haven’t heard it yet. Instead, all I hear are the same old variations of the same old, ignorant view that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Such ignorance in an argument never ceases to amaze me. Nobody is saying that stricter gun control laws are going to prevent 100% of murders from happening in our society. It’s simply saying that without a gun sitting on the table next to someone in the midst of an emotional, heated argument, it’s much less likely that people would die as a result of fighting. There’s a difference between people fighting and people shooting one another. The arguments above are akin to saying that having laws and prisons are pointless because some crime still exists, or that traffic signals have no purpose because a few individuals run red lights anyway.

Humans were blessed with free will and a more independent spirit than any other animal, so there will always be people who choose to inflict evil on the world. But if you take away the easy means of inflicting the ultimate evil on another—murder—you make said evil much less likely to happen. If someone is really intent upon killing another, having to physically do it with one’s own hands is much more personal than having to pull a trigger at a distance. There are a lot of people, I’d argue, who are capable of squeezing their eyes shut and doing the ladder, but probably wouldn’t be able to do the former.

It’s easy for us to look at someone who committed murder and judge them as “evil”—we feel better about ourselves knowing that we are incapable of such atrocity, and that the individual we cast judgment upon must simply be a cold-blooded savage. But what about when you consider the possibility that Jovan Belcher was not really a “psycho”? When you talk to people who actually knew someone like Jovan Belcher for years, and learn that he was involved in his community, that he cared for friends and loved ones, that he was just like…us (!!), it makes me wonder how many murderers may have felt instant regret upon realizing the gravity of their actions. How many got caught up in a fit of rage and lost their head, acted strictly on emotional impulse….and happened to have a gun, with all of the instant gratification and suddenness that pulling a trigger provides, handy. Do a psycho lay down and kiss the body of the woman he killed after the fact, apologize to his own mother for his vile actions, and go out of his way to thank the men who helped him achieve his life’s dream while asking them to look after his soon-to-be orphaned daughter, as Belcher reportedly did? Or would a true psycho have just shot all of them?

Of course some murders would still happen in a world without handguns, as it did before guns were even invented. But I’d argue that a whole lot more, in the actual midst of inflicting harm upon someone with their hands, would possibly have come to their senses in those moments and nobody would have died. I’d argue that Jovan Belcher had no intention of killing himself when he woke up Saturday morning, but instead that he lost his head in a moment of rage, killed his girlfriend, and then felt no other choice than to take the easy way out rather than face up to the consequences of his actions. Without the gun, he would have been arrested for domestic violence—itself a vile crime—paid his punishment, sought out some professional help, and continued to live his life as hopefully a better and reformed man. And, oh yeah, his daughter would have a father.

London 2012: Why an American Swimming Coach Needs to Shut Up and Why the Olympics is Ridiculous to Begin With

I try to avoid watching the Olympics, given that it encourages the continued exploitation of young kids in sports that nobody really cares about, but for whatever reason, I caught myself watching the other night. And I was quickly reminded why I am at times embarrassed to be American when I’m overseas. I hadn’t really felt this way since Bush left office four years ago, but American swimming coach John Leonard’s comments brought back some ugly flashbacks.

Leonard, who has a history of idiotic, sexist comments, wanted “to be careful about calling it doping,” though essentially accused Chinese gold medalist Ye Shiwen of exactly that. This pissed me off on two levels: firstly, that it’s surely okay that Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte win EVERY swimming event, shattering world records in the process, and of course would never raise any suspicion of doping. I guess this is because NBC shows us day and night the touching stories of how hard they have worked for this for four years (spare me, please). Apparently, despite building our entire railroad network in helping the US attain its industrial power status in the 19th century, we cannot believe that someone from China could possibly have the same work ethic of some rich, white kids who grew up in suburban swimming pools. Secondly, for Leonard to even say “we want to be very careful about calling it doping” while clearly implying exactly that is just cowardly. If you’re going to say something and try to smear this girl’s hard accomplishment, then at the very least put your neck out there and just say it—don’t dance around your point.

It’s a typical arrogant American attitude in full display, which I go to great lengths to try to downplay when I’m overseas. We’re not all that way, I try to explain, but idiots like Leonard make this very difficult to sustain.

That being said, I’m not really in favor of how the Chinese handle their athletics program either, which is exactly why I’m pretty much anti-Olympics. Let’s be honest—nobody really cares about swimming, from a spectator standpoint. Sure, people watch at the Olympics, but that is solely because of the bigger stage of what the overall competition is. People plan vacations around it, and not to watch a 200m freestyle relay. Soccer, basketball, American football, baseball, hockey, auto racing, and to some extent golf and tennis—these are the sports that have a continued following and can sustain themselves as professional businesses based on fan interest, ticket sales and television demand. Equestrian, swimming, or synchronized diving? I think not.

Yet despite this, I continue to hear stories from the Olympics like the one of China’s gold medal diver Wu Minxia, who had news of her grandparents’ deaths hidden from her for over a year so as not to interfere with her concentration for London. This poor girl was training daily from age 6, and taken from her home and family at 16 to be enrolled in a government aquatic academy. Even her father, who presumably (we hope) had to agree for this to happen, said his family “accepted a long time ago that she doesn’t belong entirely to us,” and that he doesn’t “even dare to think about things like enjoying family happiness.”

For what, may I ask? Is it really worth it for this girl? This is a perfect example of why the Olympics are really for the benefit of everyone but these athletes. In Wu’s case, she has become a gold medalist, which (we hope) will lead to opportunities that she can personally benefit from in the future. But for every Wu, there are hundreds and thousands of other athletes who do not register the same success after going through the same process. Can you imagine what the psychological impact must be on them for being expected to produce the same results and “failing” on the world stage? They are treated like machines that exist solely to bring gold medals back to a country, and if they fail at that, then what good are they, really?

Sure, for some who are clearly participating in the Olympics on their own terms, like the USA men’s basketball stars or Paraguayan track athlete Leryn Franco (who is not even in London to compete, but to boost her modeling career), it is just a fun event with which to further elevate their global celebrity. But the vast majority of these athletes are not rich, visible celebrities. Their hard work and, in cases like Wu Minxia, personal sacrifices, are solely for the benefit of the Olympic television sponsors, the rich IOC, and the corrupt politicians from various countries who can leave their 20-year-old mistresses aside for a  moment to revel in the fact that they are developing a “successful” athletic program.

If the Olympics truly were an amateur event which benefited the athletes who partake, I would be all for it. But unfortunately it’s anything but, and the existence of institutions that take “amateur” athletes from their homes and families and hide news of family tragedies from them in the name of “focused preparation” make this fact painfully evident.

-JG

3 Reasons Why We Need to Put the Penn State-Sandusky Issue to Rest (and Let JoePa Rest in Peace)

I can’t seem to go anywhere these days (not even Borneo, Malaysia apparently) without seeing some news coming out of tiny State College, Pennsylvania. This is, of course, in regards to the child sex case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and more recently whether his boss, the legendary, late head coach Joe Paterno was guilty in covering up for his buddy. There are three reasons why I’m simply sick of hearing about this. Sandusky’s crimes were indeed troubling, but it is time to both give this a rest, and let Paterno rest in peace as well. Here’s why:

  1. Neither man was either as great, or is as evil, as we make them out to be.

What do I mean by this? First of all, I’m not in any way, shape or form condoning Sandusky’s crimes. He obviously did some sick things that severely impacted the lives of some of his victims. However, we are a bandwagon society. If Sandusky, who had a children’s foundation, worked with hundreds of kids throughout his years at Penn State, and abused a handful of them (which again, I am NOT excusing), I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of others who were not victimized that will come forth with dollar signs in their eyes. And wouldn’t you? This is how our society is, and always has, worked. Like the ambulance-chaser legal ads we see on late night television, or the flyers we receive in the mail that tell us we may be eligible for compensation because we rented a car in California in April of 2007, when we see an opportunity to profit, we pounce. And while Sandusky did victimize some children and does not deserve to be let off the hook for even one, I’m sure the extent of his crimes has been overstated as other kids who participated in his programs are being influenced by ‘advisers’ to try to cash in. (If I receive those notices about renting a car 5 years ago, imagine how many lawyers have contacted every kid who was ever in any way linked with Sandusky’s program!).

We put these men on a pedestal because they could coach football, nothing more and nothing less. And because we regarded them so highly before, it’s our nature to kick dirt on them now that they have fallen.

  1. Paterno is dead, and Sandusky will face the wrath of the law.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Paterno is dead—anything that comes out now to further defame him is like kicking a man when he’s down. He cannot defend himself. Anything more negative that comes out about him is only going to make the remaining years of his widow’s life miserable, and what did she do to deserve that? Further, while idiots like former FBI chief Louis Freeh, who surely cashed in hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money for his “investigation” into the case (like Penn State administrators couldn’t have accessed the same email history without the massive fee) continue to defame anyone associated with the case further, has anyone for one minute put themselves in the actual shoes of Joe Paterno? Keep in mind, this man first met Sandusky in 1963—more than 30 years before any allegations of child sex abuse came out. Who is to say that when he first heard any speculation, he didn’t approach Sandusky and confront him about it? If you had a 40-some year relationship with someone, and they told you that something simply wasn’t true, wouldn’t you probably give them the benefit of the doubt as well?  Again, I’m not defending Sandusky, or even Paterno if he did in fact go to any lengths to cover up the issue. What I’m suggesting is that he more than likely did ask Sandusky about the allegations and simply didn’t believe they were true, based on a trust that 40-plus years of knowing someone and working with someone probably brings.

As for Sandusky, he has already been defamed, will forever be known as a child rapist, and will die behind bars. What more does anyone want?

The latest talk is about imposing a full-year ban on Penn State football, but all that serves to do is punish 19-year olds who are currently living their dreams of playing Penn State football, and the thousands of fans who see PSU games as the highlight of their autumn, for the past actions of people who are now dead or in prison.  And with NCAA (which is among the most hypocritical institutions going) rules that make things very difficult on players who wish to transfer to other universities, such a ban would be a very short sighted, bandwagon approach that displaces punishment onto innocent people.

  1. We (the media and fans) are the idiots for continually elevating entertainers into greater cultural and moral idols.

So you want to remove JoePa’s statue from the Penn State campus, do you? Well, may I ask why that statue is really there in the first place? Let’s get it straight: while Paterno was indeed a great football coach, he coached scholarship athletes who would have simply accepted scholarships to play football at Pittsburgh, or Ohio State, or Syracuse if Paterno wasn’t around. If you really want to elevate sports figures or coaches into saints, then I’d suggest starting with youth coaches for troubled kids, or high school coaches in inner cities, who are actually taking young, impressionable children off the streets and instilling within them discipline and responsibility. By the time people like Paterno (and even more so professional coaches) get to these players, they are already nearly grown men. Their most impressionable years have passed. Surely Paterno positively impacted the lives of some of his players, but in far less proportion to other people these young men dealt with prior to attending Penn State.  As I said earlier, Paterno coached football—he didn’t walk on water, heal lepers and turn criminals into saints.

This reminds me of the public shock and scandal after Tiger Woods’ sex addiction came into the public eye. We, the media and public, along with his hundreds of sponsors, were furious. How could Tiger commit infidelity as a husband…for he’s the greatest golfer in the world!??! Does anyone else realize how ridiculous this sounds? We don’t make statues of, and sponsors don’t pay millions of dollars for endorsements with, Joe Average who is the community youth director at church, or the guy who runs the homeless shelter down the street. If we want to idolize people for moral and humane reasons, then these are the folks we should look at. But we idolized Tiger Woods because he was really, really good at hitting a little, white ball into a tiny cup with a metal stick. That’s it. We idolized Michael Jordan for being really, really good at making a bouncy, orange ball go through a net. So how could he possibly cheat on his wife??? We are simply fools for trying to project a larger image onto people for being incredibly talented at a particular craft. Unfortunately, there is absolutely not, and has never existed, any correlation between talent in a particular craft and moral fidelity. And when you think about it, it’s kind of silly that we make it so.

-JG

A “Wish I Could Have That Back” Moment.

Setting:  Yakitori Taisho; 5 St. Mark’s Place; East Village, NYC

Time:  Friday, February 12, 2010; 10:04pm EST

Synopsis:  A “Wish I Could Have That Back” Moment…

So I walk into Yakitori Taisho with my friend Melinda.  It’s a really narrow space, and there’s always a line.  There are a few groups in front of us, and the waitress comes up and asks if any of us would like to be seated immediately two doors down at “O Taisho”, their partnering restaurant with the same menu.  A few groups take up the offer, but I choose to wait, as I have a particular affinity for the ambience of the original Yakitori Taisho.  The group behind us, consisting of two guys and a girl, deliberately chooses to wait too.

The prelude to the blown opportunity that was to come happened early.  After we had been waiting about 15 minutes or so, two girls had just finished paying their bill and were headed for the door.  One of the two, who happened to be attractive, reached for her coat and accidentally knocked over a small plastic brochure holder, scattering three or four brochures onto the floor near the entrance.  The holder itself actually landed on the shoe of one of the guys in the group behind us, who we’ll call D.B. (Douchebag).  Rather than reach down and pick the thing up, D.B. proceeds to stop his conversation mid-sentence, glance up and to the left towards the ceiling, almost as though to pretend he didn’t even notice.  The girl, clearly embarrassed, started making a move  to fetch the holder, but she couldn’t get his attention as she was standing behind him, and he would have to physically move to give her an alley.  Keep in mind, she wasn’t one of these pretentious girls who was just waiting for the guy to help her out—she was clearly trying to grab it herself, but couldn’t really get the guy’s attention to say “excuse me.”

After 5 or 10 awkward seconds, I look at the other guy, who was speaking to D.B. and who is also in the way, as if to ask with my glance if he’s going to do something.  With no response, I take a step between then, start to dip my shoulder towards the brochures on the ground, at which blatant cue the other guy who’s still in the way squats down and picks everything up.  D.B. has yet to acknowledge the situation.  This rubbed me the wrong way.

A few minutes later we get seated, in the very back of the restaurant.  Because this place is so small, but so incredibly good, they have a room in the back to accommodate overflow crowd.  To get there, you have to walk through the part of the kitchen where they clean dishes and store supplies.  The room itself is exactly the same as the rest of the seating areas.  Not two minutes after we’re seated, the trio that was behind us in line goes to the table immediately next to us. Because this place is so small, the tables are no more than 12 inches apart, too.

The next 10 minutes are soiled by the fact that D.B., who we would come to find out lives in New York (the other guy had just flown into town that day from Alaska visiting), laments about how “ghetto” the restaurant (which he suggested they go to and which he chose to wait 30 minutes for a seat in) is. “I’ve never seen a place where you have to walk through the kitchen to sit” (in a snobby, arrogant, he-stole-my-purple-skittle tone).  No sooner is he done with that comment does he start talking about how “ghetto” the restaurant he had eaten at the previous night was.  By this point I already wanted to punch him in the nose, and would have been justified in doing so.

As they start perusing the menu, D.B. starts talking with an aficionado’s tongue about the different Japanese dishes on offer. This is a very authentic, traditional Japanese place, run by Japanese people primarily for Japanese people, and as such has some menu offerings not seen at the typical suburban Benihana’s.  Trying to be the big shot host New Yorker (though he’s clearly a transplant), D.B. starts talking about the most exotic dishes on the menu as though he invented them—it was truly a sound to behold.  So one of the entrees they decide upon is the Tofu Karage salad, which is basically jellyfish and tofu mixed with some Japanese vegetables.

The dish comes out, and it smells very strongly of the Japanese vegetables.  If only I could describe the look on D.B.’s face as he took a whiff—imagine the smell of rotten cheese-infused sweaty socks.  The dish didn’t smell like that, mind you…it smelled exactly how it is supposed to smell.  But the look on his face. Clear of the waitress, D.B. starts looking mischievously at his friends, and asks the fateful question (in a tone matching the way Butt-head used to speak to Beavis): “Do you guys, uhhhh, want to pay for this?”

You already know what’s coming.  A minute or two later, after the dish has been played with and touched and twirled, the waitress comes back with another entrée, and D.B. says (in the same tone): “Uhhh…I don’t think we ordered this.”

Wow.

This is when I very blatantly should have stepped in and said something. If not for the sheer imbecility of trying to show off in front of your friends and then trying to rip the poor waitress off, throw in the story from earlier when he wouldn’t pick up the brochure holder that fell on his foot. Making it worse, the waitress, being Japanese, was clearly distraught at getting the order wrong. She was puzzled and slightly frantic, bringing back a menu and pointing at the item and saying “I’m pretty sure this is what you ordered,” only to be met with a scornful shaking of the head by D.B. and his “nope, we definitely didn’t order this” reply. When the waitress walked away and the Alaskan visitor, who in his defense seemed to be an innocent bystander in all of this (the girl companion actually went along with the let’s say we didn’t order this plan), expressed slight remorse, D.B. assuredly said “don’t worry, they will just write it off as a mistake—the restaurant won’t make her pay.” What a thoughtful, generous soul.

I really couldn’t take any more of this, but my avoid-conflict mechanism kicked in, and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything to D.B.  So I walked as if going to the bathroom and made a bee line for the front of the restaurant, where three waitresses, including ours and the person who appeared to be the head waitress, were talking. Our waitress was clearly frustrated at the questioning, so I poked my head in and say “they definitely ordered it—we heard the whole thing.” I’m thankful that I said this in front of the head waitress, as I found out later that our waitress would indeed have had to pay out of her pocket for the ‘mistaken’ entrée—all $6.75 of it.

Melinda and I then debated if they would actually take the charge off the bill, as she, working in service, said they have to live by the “customer is always right” mantra. I argued that they should just keep the charge on there, given that it would take a double douchebag to not only lie once, but then lie even more deeply a second time to dispute a charge on the actual bill.  When I asked the waitress later, she said that they just kept the charge on, and the trio didn’t dispute it.  This made me feel a lot better, as though justice had been served, and the waitress (and even a male worker who was brining an entrée out to another table) thanked me multiple times for speaking up.

However, while the problem seemed solved in the micro level, as soon as I walked out of the restaurant, I realized that I had blown a golden opportunity to save so many poor waitresses and service people in the future. After all, while I got this particular waitress off the hook, D.B. walked out of that restaurant never knowing what an asshole he is. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he probably lives his live like this every day, and apparently nobody points it out to him.  Had I called him out then and there, to his face, not only would he have been embarrassed beyond belief and looked like a total ass in front of his friends…he may have actually taken the experience to heart and thought twice before pulling such a cowardly dick move the next time. If I would have known for certain at the time that the waitress would have been charged I would probably have been more inclined to confront him, but I still chickened out. As the scenario kept playing around in my head, I realized that the perfect solution would have been to just take $7 bucks out of my wallet when I first heard them debating about whether they’d say they didn’t order the dish, hand it to him, and say “really guys? It’s seven bucks divided by three of you. Two-thirty three each. It’s just not that serious. Here’s the seven bucks, just give the poor girl a break.”

Had I done that, not only  would he have not taken the money, since that would be the ultimate slap in his own face…he might have actually learned something. Thought about what a dipshit he is for one second.  Maybe not.  But even if he did take the money, just having that potential would have been well worth it to me. More than anything, I would have been saving him from himself.  Think about people who are exceedingly cheap, and I’m not talking about being frugal with money.  It’s one thing to not spend a lot because you want to save, which means that you may limit your spend on luxury items, eating out, drinking, whatever.  But it’s a completely different thing when you choose to do those ‘luxury’ things, such as eating out, and then screw the people who are serving you. If you can’t afford to tip, or to pay for a meal properly, nobody will blame you for that—but just don’t go to the restaurant.  People who do that, just imagine what it actually saves them over the course of a month—a few bucks, maybe $20 or $30 max—in assorted tips?  Are the dirty looks and the total ass you make of yourself on a daily basis really worth enduring to save a measly $20 bucks?

Ahhh…how I wish I would have handed D.B. seven bucks and called it a day. I am no hero.  But I could have been.

-KS

“Guns Don’t Kill People”…

This is going to be a short one, because quite frankly I’m too drained to write a lot. I just finished reading about a 17-year old Los Angeles kid who was shot two Sundays ago, 100 feet from his front door. For no reason. Football star, good grades, stayed away from gangs, and was being recruited by Stanford. Two bangers rolled up behind him, asked him where he was from, and since he didn’t reply…bang bang. Twice in the head. The following Tuesday, a 6-year old was shot while riding in the back of his family’s car, also in LA. Two days later, a 13-year old was killed while picking lemons off the tree in his front yard.

Coincidence that these are all shooting deaths?

I have heard the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” And it makes me effing sick. Sure, it might be technically true. But if people didn’t have guns, maybe they wouldn’t kill people with them. Of course there’s always going to be those who get their hands on one. But the number of innocent people killed by legally-acquired guns is astounding, and disgusting. Gun possession should be illegal. Period.

Why Erin is Voting for Obama.

I know everyone hates political talk, but I got this e-mail from my friend Erin from high school, and had to post it somewhere…good writing is good writing and she put too much into it, so I figured if a few more people can see it thanks to me, that’s not a bad thing…

(05 Feb 08)

I regret having been as quiet and complacent as I was in 2004, and as clueless in 2000. I have had an internal debate over whether or not to write something political…I know some people will disagree, I know people don’t care. I try not to engage in political discussions because of the toxic nature of politics today.

Well, oh well. Here’s why I am voting for Barack over Hillary. If you are short on time, scroll down to the prose part.

Specific Policy Positions:
1) Obviously Iraq. He stood up against it during his Senate race.
2) I hope for a single-payer health-care plan, but I think the individual mandate is a stupid idea.
3) I think we should re-think our Cuba policy.
4) I think we should re-think or approach to diplomacy.
5) I think undocumented immigrants should have access to drivers’ licenses, and anything else than can help them live and work with dignity and safety here.
6) I think Obama will handle women’s issues as well or better than Hillary (in other words, I don’t think Hillary will be any better on this simply because she is a woman).

Other practical matters:
1) I think Obama will be far better received abroad, as a multi-cultural symbol, as a symbol of change, as a leader open to diplomacy. As a bonus to his character and demeanor, he has lived and has family abroad.
2) I think he will be better received by Republicans and will work better across the aisle.
3) I think he has a far better chance of beating McCain – because of his consistent position against the war – some Republicans are already crossing over.
4) I think he will be amazing for the Democratic party.

Hillary:
1) I don’t think all “35 years” count as experience
2) She has been triangulating for too long
3) I think she would make a far more competent president than Bush, but I think she would sell us out too often.
4) She makes a competent, but not a gifted leader. We need to do better than that.

This brings me to the most important thing. I was 19 years old when Bush was elected. I am now 27. My adult life has been defined by this madness – a long process of disillusionment and growing resentment toward this country, our process, toward America, really, sadly, because this is what I have known. My little brother was 12, he is now 19. He has grown up during a time of war. The under 30-crowd is turning out in record numbers because we don’t want this to be our legacy. Our future is uncertain. We are fed up.

I have never in my life experienced the deep sense of utter fatigue that I have felt from Americans this year. It is emotional. It is psychological. We have been told that our votes, our opinions, our constitution don’t matter. We have been convinced that lies and fear rule. Many of us strongly consider moving abroad. We pretend we are Canadian when we travel. Our government promotes speculation on our health, our homes, our educations, our retirements. It is not empty rhetoric to say that we are broken as a people. We are deeply tired and deeply sad. We want our dignity back, we want to heal.

That is why this election matters so much. It is not high-flying overly idealistic rhetoric to say that we need to truly re-engage each other, and understand that our government is US. Our democracy, our future depends on it. Barack Obama believes this, and Hillary doesn’t come close. Words and ideas DO matter. The ability to move a crowd, the courage to say things that no politicians think can be said – that is not just charisma – that is not just “yeah he does speak well” – that is gifted leadership. That is what we need.

Look at what the rhetoric of fear has done. The power of an idea that becomes an emotion, and then a reality. Why not the rhetoric of hope? of unity? The other side has had control of words and ideas for too long.

It matters that we collectively remember that we are supposed to be, that we HAVE to be looking out for each other, for a social good, because that is where good policy comes from. Inspiration matters and character matters. We need a truly transformative leader and we are fortunate beyond all belief to have one running for president.

That is why I am voting for Barack Obama.

***

You have to see this is you haven’t. Michelle Obama’s speech at UCLA rally is badass. She is speaking without a script. Here is the best link I could find for it:

http://barackfuture.com/2008/02/04/michelle-obamas-amazing-speech-at-ucla/

the whole event can be found on CSPAN:

rtsp://video.c-span.org/archive/c08/c08_020308_obama.rm?start=0:35:37

Highlights of Michelle’s speech if you don’t have time to watch it:
1) Barack’s state legislature and community organizing experience translate into a clear understanding of how federal policy affects local and state realities. Having worked as an advocate at a local coalition, that is HUGE.
2) Michelle and Barack are only 3 years out of paying off their education debt, and they are only out because of his book sales. No trust funds. No sense of entitlement.
3) If you didn’t know, he was first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He is utterly capable.

AND if you haven’t seen the Yes We Can Video:

the artist Will.I.am was inspired by the speech, called his friends, made the video 2 days and posted it independently on the internet.

“Nothing can stand in the way of million of voices calling for change.”

Vote tomorrow or when it’s your turn. If you dig it, get online, get on the phone, SPREAD THE WORD. Put yourself out there, that is what this will take.

“In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”

Peace,
Erin

Bad Decisions.

I don’t know what was with me today.

I’m usually a pretty decisive guy, in control of things. A risk-taker in some aspects, which occasionally backfires for sure, but still a good decision maker overall.

Not today.

I think I made about 20 decisions today. And about 20 of the wrong ones. And the day’s not over yet, so at this rate who knows where and in what kind of condition I’ll end up this night.

Setting: Vancouver, BC, Canada…8:50am

Destination: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, 1:57pm flight

I’m doing good at this point, and as the weather is absolutely glorious in Vancouver, I decide to cruise up towards downtown for one last glimpse. Knowing my fascination with airplanes, I get diverted driving by the airport to watch a few planes come in. What I think is 5 or 10 minutes turns into 30. Stayed too long. Bad decision.

So then I decide I’m already halfway to Queen Elizabeth Park, a pretty cool vantage point of Vancouver, the downtown skyline and the snow-capped mountains beyond. As I’m getting closer and closer to the park, I even turned off at one point thinking “this is a bad idea.” But I can’t leave well enough alone. The guy in me takes over, and I figure “hey, I’ve already come this far.” So off towards Queen E I continue. Bad decision.

I get to the park, wander around for 10 minutes, and then start to get a sense of urgency. But I really have to pee at this point. And this is vulgar, so divert your eyes now if you’re squeamish, but peeing outside is just SO much more satisfying. So I decide to run back by the airport, rather than getting straight on the freeway, to get one more glimpse of the city, the airplanes and the beautiful day. And if I go to the park I have in mind, I can get a nice good pee in off in the bushes. Bad decision. The pee was great. But that’s 15 more minutes down the drain.

Finally I’m (trying) to make a bee line for Seattle, and it’s after 10am. I need gas though, which is more expensive in Canada by far. I pull off at the first gas station I see, which happens to be right in front of some train tracks. I haven’t seen a train EVER in Vancouver. So I’m getting some gas, and RIGHT when I pull out, the red lights flash, the bells chime, and the gates come down. Two locomotives drone by, followed by about 100 cars….ten more minutes down the drain. And then I see another gas station, cheaper too, about 10 feet beyond the tracks. If I went there initially, I saved ten minutes. And a few bucks. Bad decision.

By this point I’m on the freeway, speeding towards the border. I am approaching the last break-off point where you can either stay on the highway and cross at the Peace Arch, or exit and go to the truck crossing (Pacific Crossing). My gut is telling me that the truck crossing is quicker, but I hesitate just a SECOND too long, and the exit is gone. So I’m stuck at the Peace Arch, which ends up taking about 30 minutes longer than the “10 minute wait” advertised at Pacific Crossing. Bad decision. Even in line at the border, I choose the ONE lane where the customs officer is opening every trunk…so cars are whizzing by me on both sides. Bad decision.

Cruising now, trying to ignore the obvious bucking of displeasure by my rented Dodge Charger for doing 90, and it’s getting time for gas again. And I REALLY gotta pee. I’m trying to hold it until JUST a close enough distance to where I won’t have to fill up again before I return it in Seattle…since by this point I’ll be lucky to have time for ONE gas stop, with no shot at two. I finally see an exit that looks good with the gas sign, just hoping the station is right off the exit. Bad decision. I get off, wait at a red light behind a log truck for about TEN minutes, and then find that the gas station has NO GAS! So I wait another 5 minutes at the light, SPEED back onto the freeway to the next exit, where I fill up (relatively quickly).

So I’m approaching Seattle, and I’m coming up to the I-5/405 split. Both go the same place, with 5 cutting through downtown and maybe a mile or two shorter. Intuitively I’m thinking that 405 would be best though, because it’s less urban…but I stick with 5. Bad decision. About 10 minutes later I come to a dead stop. Traffic.

Now I’m pretty much resigned to missing my flight, and my gut is telling me to just relax, take the car downtown (I already paid for the whole day, anyway), and just check out Seattle and relax. But I’m still stubborn, holding out hope of making the flight, so I continue speeding to the rental car place, and return the car. Bad decision. I actually got in the VAN from the rental car place to the airport at 1:30pm—for a 1:57pm flight. By the time I arrive at the airport, it’s 1:40. I’m thinking MAYBE if I carry on my bags, I can run to catch the flight. I call Alaska Airlines, and the agent says there’s no cut-off with the e-check in kiosks as long as I’m not checking bags. That sounds strange to me, but I believe her anyway. Bad decision. When I go to check in at 1:40pm, it tells me I’m too late.

So now I’m stuck with 11 hours to kill until the next flight, with no more car, and not a damn thing to do. I work out my flight arrangements so I can get a flight that night (which will cost me an unnecessary $120 plus a night’s sleep), and then decide to go back to the hotel I stayed at last time I was here to chill in the lobby and get some work done (where I’m writing this blog). Finally a decent decision.

But the day’s not over. Around 6pm I’m starting to get hungry. I could eat at the bar in the hotel, or go across the street, where there’s a Jack-in-the-Box, a Denny’s, and some random diner. I decide to go to Denny’s. Bad decision. Not only is it the most expensive Denny’s I’ve ever seen…the salad that comes with my meal is absolutely DOUSED in thousand island dressing, to the point where I couldn’t even eat it. Turns out, the food at the hotel was just as cheap, and much better.

So not only is the food decision poor, but the time management is too. I find out that the hotel has a shuttle to the SouthCenter Mall, which is close by. If I was thinking of this earlier, I could have gone over there around 3 or 5, chilled until 5 or 7, gotten some food, and seen more of the place (the shuttle is every two hours). But since I waste my time and money at Denny’s, I end up with only enough time to catch the 7pm shuttle…with a pick-up at 9. Not only would I not want to spend that much time there…but also that return is going to be cutting it too close to my alternate flight. And I’m sure as hell not missing another flight today. So because of this (hopefully last) bad decision for today, I’m sitting here writing this blog instead. Which probably is a bad decision, as I’m probably missing some million-dollar giveaway shopping spree/wet t-shirt contest at the mall or something.

This sucks.

Oh, and I decided to pass up the Jack-in-the-Box Oreo shake after dinner, too. Which could be a bad decision or a good decision. Guess the jury’s still out on that one. But I know which one I’d bet on…

Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

I must be getting old. So I have this box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the cabinet, becuase I sometimes just can’t pass it up in the grocery store. The box looks too appealing and lures me in. But I usually stick with Cheerios.

So it just so happens that there’s no Cherrios in the cupboard this morning, so I finally open up that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that’s been sitting there for a rainy day. I pour the cereal, I pour milk on the cereal, and I start to savor the cinnamony goodness…except I find it kind of nasty. Whoa. Where did that come from? Anyway, I guess I just can’t do it any more…

The question is, is my relationship with Cookie Crisp over too? Do they still even make Cookie Crisp?

Facing Up.

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to face up to certain decisions he has made and views of the world he has crafted for himself. I faced one such experience last night. See, I have been known to be a little…well, harsh…at times for things I don’t like, whether we’re talking popped collars, radio playlists, SUV’s, or places where you can’t left turn yield on green. Well I would say you could add corny ass actor duos like the Wayans brothers to that list, until I was conned into watching “White Chicks”…and laughed, out loud, at LEAST 10 times. I’ll admit it. Triple T-K-A, B-F and all those other acronyms had me rollin’.

It was like watching a game where you can just see the hopes of your squad slip, slipping away with each first down given up. With each additional laugh, I could feel it getting further and further out of my grasp, until that tenth one, when I realized that my set-in-stone world view was forever lost…and I have to give all silly comedies, and all corny actor duos, a fair shake. I’m telling you, it was intense. =)