Monday, August 29, 2016

Yes, this exists. (Did my white privilege just get revoked?)

For illustration purposes only. Not actual motorist.
This morning I'm leaving McDonald's on foot, through its parking lot, when I hear a car rolling up behind me. I do not turn around to look at the driver, but I merely make the familiar waving motion to my side and slightly aft, indicating for the driver to proceed and exit before me. Momentarily the car pulls up alongside me and stops. The driver, a middle-aged black woman, rolls down the window and gives me what-for.
"I don't need your damn permission to drive where I'm going, white motherfucker. You people don't tell me what I can and can't do! No more you don't!" 
She uttered a few more choice profanities in the same vein, then rolled up the window and eased out of the lot, still muttering into her rear-view mirror. For the record, I'd said nothing the whole time. I stood there open-mouthed. Speechless. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen either the car or the woman before today.

We can debate this woman's sanity. We can talk about her being an outlier, which she probably is, at least in terms of the openness of her feelings. But this is out there, folks, even in sane people. And I submit it's out there even more since the advent of Black Lives Matter. (I'm not saying that makes BLM a sinister force per se. I'm saying it means BLM has some sinister aspects/corollaries.) Some of us may have invited this kind of wrath through our own scurrilous behavior over the years...but I'm not one of those someones, and in any case it is Racism, every bit as vile and virulent as anything spoken by the types of people who carve swastikas into their foreheads. It's every bit as unacceptable, too...even, I submit, when covered in a thin veneer of sophistication and/or politesse, a la the like of Charles Blow and Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

We must address both kinds of racismthe original kind and the reactive/resentful kind I encountered this morningbefore we can bridge our yawning racial divide. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A new classified-ad category: jobs for writers who aren't.

Folks, we are witnessing the ongoing redefinition and devaluation of writing: No longer is it a discrete competency of unique pedigree and self-justifying utility. 

This morning I found two more jobs seeking writers who aren't really writers. One ad for a "promotional writer" stipulates that preference will be given to candidates with engineering degrees. (I do not suppose that too many graduates of writing or journalism programs just happen to possess such degrees.) The other job, in "corporate communications," gives preference to those with degrees in pharmacology or medicine. Clearly the built-in assumption is that you can teach just about any idiot to write, so you look for a candidate with knowledge in the subject area most closely aligned with your native business interests. In the case of the latter position, the company is mega-drug maker Pfizer. 

In effect, then, all writing is inching closer and closer to technical writingwhich isn't really writing as my colleagues and I taught it.

This again begs far-reaching questions about the way academia teaches writing and the manner in which curricula should be set up to prepare students for real-world opportunities. It bodes for a lot fewer essay classes and a lot more of what academics call "teaching across the curriculum." I.e., a student who wants to be a writer would also co-major in a specialized area like, say, engineering or pharmacology. Assuming, that is, the student actually wants to be able to make money with their* words. I guess I'm a dinosaur, but I resist the idea that anyone can be taught to write even adequately, let alone well. But who am I to say? What's writing "well," anyway? And maybe writing well doesn't matter. Maybe it's an anachronism, a casualty of our ADHD times. Maybe all that matters now is the conveying of information, period. Maybe all else is window dressing?
 * we are informed that in these highly gender-conscious days, "their" is now an acceptable singular pronoun. So as not to offend. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Of snowballs and dead black men. The wider meaning of Alton Sterling.

Already millions of words of punditry have been expended on the past week's unappetizing smorgasbord of dead cops and black men, so I'm not going to pile on with the usual fare. I'll just add a few words that you probably haven't heard amid today's uber-PC media coverage of "America's racial divide." What I want to talk about is Alton Sterling and the fatal snowball effect of living a life of varying degrees of lawlessness.

To begin with, I'm going to guess that Sterling was not a private contractor employed by Sony Music, thus the CDs he was selling outside a convenience store were bootleg and illegal (an enterprise that reminds me of Eric Garner and his "loosies"). Sterling also, as a former felon, was barred from carrying a gun, yet on the night of his death he had recently obtained one "for protection." That in itself is a crime that easily could've put him behind bars for a time. What's more, he apparently brandished his new accouterment to an annoying passerby that night; the brandishing incident, another infraction that might've drawn an especially severe sentence given Sterling's record, led to a 911 call to cops. The two cops who responded had faced prior allegations of "excessive use of force." Whether they were trigger-happy on this night we'll never know.

We do know that when the cops confronted Sterling, a struggle ensued. Here again I'm going to hazard a guess, that the struggle ensued because Sterling's greeting for them was not, "Hey fellas, feel free to just reach behind and cuff me." So Sterling is tackled and there's a flailing melee, in the course of which one of the cops noticesor Sterling reaches for?—the gun. There's no ambiguity about what happens next: One of the cops pulls his gun and shoots the 37-year-old father of five dead in the street. 

I'm not sayingAT ALLthat the man deserved to die, or that his singular black life didn't matter. I'm saying that he set in motion a chain of events, a snowball effect, that had a tragic outcome. That snowball effect, more than America's racial strife, explains why Alton Sterling is dead. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Firewalks, sweat lodges, cancer ads and Donald Trump.

Out today, one of my better short pieces on the trouble with our national fixation on a positive mental attitude.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Unleash the smart editing within.

As many of you who follow the SHAMsphere will know, Tony Robbins suffered a bit of a setback during Thursday's "Unleash the Power Within" event in Dallas. Although it was nothing on the order of a James Ray catastrophe, dozens of the 7000 participants got major hot-foots during Tony's signature Firewalk Experience; some had to be hospitalized. Which is how I happened to end up on last evening's World News Tonight with David Muir. 

Not actually me, present-day, you understand. Rather, ABC in its infinite wisdom dredged up a clip of an old interview I did with Dan Harris for GMA. During the course of that chat I gave an extended explanation of the physics behind the firewalk: why it's a carnival sham, if you will, and why it usually works if set up and run as it should be. At the end of my explanation I tell Harris that given what I'd just outlined, if appropriate precautions have been taken, "Your feet aren't on the coals long enough to get burned." 

Those 11 words were the only ones ABC ran last night. And without any set-up, coming immediately after images of people who did indeed get burned, it kinda made me look like an idiot or, worse, a Robbins defender instead of the studious debunker I was trying to be on that long-ago day with Dan Harris. 

Sometimes it's not enough to "just spell my name right," as the old adage about publicity goes.