Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From the Andreas Pavel Stereobelt to the Ear Bud Society


"From the Andreas Pavel Stereobelt to the Ear Bud Society" is an excerpt from Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man, by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Free images courtesy of http://www.freeclipartnow.com
The histories of musical entertainment, communication and society have certainly seen evolutionary shifts and interactions. For example, the discovery of proteges during the Renaissance most assuredly had an impact on the development of society at the time. Rock stars in their day, maestros who were available to perform were vital to the social communication fabric of their era (Social Importance of Classical Music). Since there was no way to record their performances, people would have to physically attend the event. As a result, there developed a specific and refined way to communicate amongst the attendees. Music, communication, and society were inseparable.
Music has played an integral role in identifying cultures throughout history, and continues to do so currently. From harvest dances to military anthems, music has been used as a vital communication tool within societies. When technology began to advance at a more rapid rate following the invention of electricity, so did the development of musical technologies, communications technologies and the importance of both on the ever-shrinking global society.
Music itself has been evolving and changing in fits and starts, sometimes independent of the messages contained within it. From the days of Edison’s first phonograph until modern times there have been numerous booms and busts for music trends. It can be pretty confusing to attempt to shackle the social relevance of musical entertainment with a generalization. However, there is no denying the impact that music has had on society as a whole, from its very inception into culture.
Despite the marvelous advances and technological breakthroughs throughout the ages, I can pose the argument that until Andreas Pavel patented his invention, the “Stereobelt,” no other technological evolution has had a bigger impact on the development of musical entertainment, communication and society at the same time.
By 1972, music was clearly an established force within the very bones of society. The way music reached our societies moved quickly through the mediums of vinyl phonograph records, 8-track tapes and then cassettes. A trend which was emerging was the intimacy of music being key to this expression. Music tendencies were morphing toward a more personalized delivery. For instance, electronic engineering methods, such as the transmissions of public AM, and later FM radio stations were becoming more personally adapted, thanks to the modernization of the technologies. As a result, there was a boom of portable transistor radios that lasted from the 1950’s until into the 70s.
In February of 1972, Andreas Pavel completed his device (In Pavel's Words). He had a successful working model of his invention - a mobile, battery operated cassette player with headphones. His mechanism fit in perfectly with the cumulative social desire to personalize music, or so he thought.
For several years, Pavel enjoyed the novelty of his invention, and made attempts to promote it to various corporations and related entities. His efforts were met with smirks and denial. Not to be discouraged, the underdog Andreas Pavel decided to take matters into his own hands. On March 24, 1977, he secured a patent in Italy, where he was living at the time.
In 1978, Andreas Pavel began what became an exhausting lesson about the underdog never giving up. After being denied and scoffed at, Pavel filed for patents in several countries (Initial U.S. Patent Claim (now abandoned), Current U.S. Patent Claim). Unfortunately for Pavel, the patent process proved to be slow and ineffective for him. By 1980, Japan was mass-producing and selling Pavel’s work as the Walkman - and hard-bargaining Pavel for rights and payments. Although Pavel eventually recovered royalties and compensation in a settlement with Sony, it took twenty-three years to do so (Evidence of Pavel's Struggle). In addition, his life became an expensive roller coaster of litigation. In the end, however, Andreas Pavel is generally recognized as having invented the “Stereobelt” that we all know as the Sony Walkman.
In the decade of the 1980s, the entertainment industry was mutating and morphing into an unrecognizable beast. Once again, technology progress belched along, and the transmission of information over coaxial cable networks allowed music and television to mesh. At this point, the niche for the Walkman as a personal entertainment device lie mainly separate from the visual format. In fact, it was not unusual in the 80s to see young people dressed in fashions imitating the new and wild looks of the televised videos while absentmindedly head-bobbing to something on their Walkman. ‘The look’ was the desired expression, preferred over music for awhile. Individuality was still innocent; music still relied on personal social interaction to be an acceptable means of culturizing. Personal contact was still necessary in order for ‘the look’ to register with the social psyche. The music was secondary.
From that time until now, a virtual Renaissance has occurred in the area of digital technology, and in effect, social interaction, communication and music/entertainment. Within the span of 20 to 30 years coaxial cable has come and gone, replaced with fiber optics. Fiber optics have been one-upped by satellite transmissions. Telephones have transmogrified from a simple, specialized, useful device meant to operate within the confines of a minimal location to a Swiss army knife of social and leisurely outlets, allowing the user nearly complete freedom of environment and selection of entertainment. Music no longer stands alone as the desired type of media which can be readily accessible. Indeed, music is more commonly disregarded as secondary in relation to the popularity of videos, pictures, games and social networking as a portable necessity.
We now live in a world of pads and pods, and electronic media is here to stay. Moore’s Law (Moore's Law Explained) has proven reliable, and now a gadget the size of a deck of cards is able to process more information than rooms full of computers could in the 1970s. Almost as reliably, the personalization of music (and now virtually any kind of entertainment) has finally achieved the event horizon. Regarding social interaction, the power of the people is now shifting to the power of the individual.
The 1950s established the firm ability for society to ascertain power to alter their cultural reality. With the civil rights movements and drastic social welfare reforms, this decade demonstrated that the people, as a society, were able to impact their own destiny. In the 1960s, this new-found power resulted in an overcompensation, and too much freedom caused social backlashes and lessons that we still learn from today. In the 1970s, power of the masses introduced again to the forefront women’s rights, a focus on ethnic achievements, and a desire to challenge the status quo. All three of these decades proved powerful enough to derail social growth in its own way, and yet we seem to have recovered as a society, for the most part. We are now in a stage that I refer to as the “Ear Bud Society,” from which I am afraid we may not be able to fully recover.
Try walking through the food court in any mall, a college campus or an airport on a busy day. Count how many people have their ear buds in, cut off from society. Also include those people so engrossed with texting or gaming on their phone or electronic device that they appear to be unapproachable or detached. Their entertainment is theirs alone, not reliant on the social structure that once helped define music and communication. I have been in social environments where many of the people were engaged in conversation, but it wasn’t with anyone else in the room! Is this truly social? To an objective observer with no knowledge of electronic communications, it would seem that no communication was happening at all, and yet many people were happily interacting with virtual connections. This isn’t social communication, this is pseudo-social communication. It is this facet of the Ear Bud Society that will doom cultural structure in the end; a universally shared belief in an illusion.
Language is changing. It is truncated and interchangeable. ‘Lose’ and ‘loose’ are the same in public forums, and may someday merge into a single word for both meanings. Abbreviations now dominate communication as limits are imposed on text lengths, and time is of the essence. The illusion is that this is a more efficient way to communicate. The reality is that there is now less social motivation to improve language skills. There is a generational acceptance of this behavior to the point where even a discussion along these lines would be considered archaic to the Millennials (What are Millennials?).
As a whole, I fear that the exponential growth of technology and industry will prove to be very demon that fell from grace. What was once hailed as the obvious way to advance as a society has worked so well that now the very technology that created the digital revolution has also created the constricted interactions of people. We believe that we no longer need entertainment to help us define the  communication of others. Our faith is in the internet and satellites to deliver our very communication needs to the palm of our hands. Our individual hands. Society defines our entertainment now as blurbs and flashes of information derived from a personal position as opposed to a public position, as was the case in the past. Communication now serves as a type of entertainment as society molds its mentality to LOL, IDK and WTG. The frenzy of revolving entertainment choices has made music a lesser mode of enjoyment. Music has less social impact than before. Many would argue that this has led to a degradation of musical quality in general.
Instead of witnessing the integration of music/entertainment, communication and society, what is happening is worse than the separation of the three. The social acceptance of this separation is the death knell; the blindness that we all share as we ride this modern wave to the very edge of reason. There is little concerted effort by society to acknowledge the necessity for communication to work as a tool to integrate people. Entertainment is a cheap emotional fix and little more. Miniature adrenaline rushes as we get a high score, or engage with some jerk in a social network, or jump at a purposely startling video. All of this excitement is individual, not shared.
Unless we, as a society, reverse our tendency to indulge instead of intellectualize, we will erode and crumble. As the lack of expression and interaction becomes more and more accepted, communication will change in such a way as to be something other than necessary for the development of culture. Instead, culture will be defined by popular bits and bytes of truncated information, designed for the sole purpose of triggering the individual. Entertainment is already not accepted as a viable mode for reliable communication, for the most part. Entertainment is about individual gratification. As this isolation continues, our society will fade, to be replaced with intellectually stunted, automatonic people with no sense of community, entertainment or society as a group. When this happens, we will have crossed the event horizon, with no hope of returning.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fainting Goats - How Society Drove A Man Insane


"Fainting Goats - How Society Drove A Man Insane" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Maybe you have seen them. They are these little goats that when frightened, tense up and fall over. Apparently they were bred over time to run with herds of sheep. Since sheep are worth more than pygmy goats, when the goats froze up and fell down, predators would eat the goats instead of the sheep. To medieval sheep farmers, this was a crude but effective way to minimize costs. Because of this, I feel that fainting goats have been given an unfair shake in history, and I would like to help them by creating a new historical niche for which they may identify. I feel that fainting goats need some redemption, and I plan on making this happen when I retire.
I have spent enough time in customer service related jobs to come to believe that the famous humorist, Dave Barry, was correct when he said, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” In general, and as a rule, when given any number of alternatives, people again and again choose to be aggressive in their attack on those they deem as socially insignificant. There must be some sort of mechanism in some people that makes them feel important when they rudely attack others in customer service positions. It appears that two circumstances must exist in order to create this ‘perfect storm’ of customer rudeness: a customer willing to displace their pent-up aggression and a company policy of “kiss all asses”.
I realize that most people aren’t actually this horrible. However, the trauma of this segment of society overrides the general good found in most people. As a result, there is usually a high turnover in the customer service industry. Those who spend too much time being society’s whipping boy eventually either find a different career, or have a mental breakdown. Rare is the individual who is designed to withstand a lifetime of belittlement, ridicule and the worst of what society has to offer.
It is because of this “retail PTSD” that I have decided that when I retire, I am going to buy a hill. I am going to buy a hill far away from society, and a herd of about thirty fainting goats. At the top of this hill will be enough room for a single folding chair, and a supply of yummy goat food. I plan on spending my remaining years on this planet sitting on top of my hill, feeding fainting goats, and then scaring them.
I am not sure how I will do it. Maybe I will just shout, “Boo!” at the top of my lungs. Maybe I will toss those little popping packets you get at the fireworks tent at them. Maybe I could rig up air horn somehow. Any way I do it, I can only imagine the fuzzy little fainters freezing up, and then tumbling down the hill.
“Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa!”
Down the hill they will tumble. I will spend my remaining days inventing new ways to scare my goats. And I will laugh so hard when I see them tumble down to the bottom of that hill!
In this way I will help to bring the fainting pygmy goat to a more esteemed station in culture. Instead of being food, the goat is now fun. Kind of like court jesters back in the days of kingdoms and serfs, or rodeo clowns today.
Thanks, rude people. Thanks a lot.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blueberry Shortcake - The Legend of Bill


"Blueberry Shortcake - The Legend of Bill" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

When I was twelve, I had a neighbor, whom I will call “Bill”. We were in seventh grade when we met. Now, mind you, this kid had qualities about him to be proud of, to be sure. Unfortunately, his qualities plagued him to a fault.
An example would be his honesty. One time his brother kicked him in his ear. Apparently, the brother’s toenails were so long that Bill had a noticeable gash in his ear. When I saw it, I knew the kids at school would tease him, so I told him to make up a story.
When we boarded the school bus, one of my more obnoxious friends asked Bill what had happened. Poor honest Bill actually told the truth! Being twelve years old and wanting to make an impression on our upperclassmen in Jr. High, this sort of embarrassing revelation was a socially fatal mistake.
All I could do was shake my head. That’s how it was with Bill. Sometimes he would say or do things so socially damning and sometimes even repulsive, that it was embarrassing to know him.
Now, don’t get me wrong. He had enough qualities to be an interesting fellow. As an example, he was a smart kid; always on the honor roll. He had a wealth of knowledge in several areas. Again, however, his quality overwhelmed his social skills. He had such a matter –of-fact, know-it-all way of putting things that he easily irritated people.
All of this was going on during a time when this poor kid was in first-stage adolescence. His athleticism was dormant, marred by un-coordination. He developed gradually from seventh through ninth grade, but the transition was, as mentioned, gradual.
I was a bit more athletic. Having played seventh grade ‘B’ squad and eighth grade being a starter, when ninth grade came along and I was finally an upperclassman, I somehow persuaded ol’ Bill to join the football team.
 Mind you, this was not unwarranted. When we played at home, Bill could easily outrun me, though his style was all his own, to be nice. He could also kick the laces off of the ball. Since he was full of knees and elbows, he was tough to tackle. In all, I figured this would be a social progression for him and it was a way I could show my camaraderie by introducing him to a positive way to rub elbows with ninth grades’ upper echelon.
 Looking back, Bill probably thought the same. I mean, now that we were in ninth grade, he would have a chance to show off his varsity uniform on game day: A true social gold star.
I should have known better. During the first day of practice, he was involved in a time-honored ritual, probably practiced among young adolescents still. What happens is one teammate gets down on his hands and knees behind someone while perpetrator two engages the suspect in conversation. When perp one is ready, perp two pushes the suspect. What results is comical humiliation at the expense of the subject.
 Bill must have been pushed four times or more that day.
Though I didn’t laugh, I knew better than to disrupt the fate of the issuing of this time-honored tradition. It was pure bad luck. I’ll give him credit. He endured weeks of various versions of time-honored traditions, many of which I suspect were only spur-of-the-moment honored traditions.
At any rate, he was anxious for game day to arrive. He had earned a starting spot on our special-teams squad! I was impressed by his determination. I said as much to him the night before game day. As for Bill, he was confident, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit of pride under the circumstances. After all, most of the people on the team felt the way I did and pretty much accepted him, despite and because of his ridicule.
 At the bus stop the next day, Bill seemed troubled. I asked him what was wrong. He said that something had happened to his uniform. At first, I thought he meant he’d lost it. I couldn’t believe it. Our colors were blue and gold. The jerseys were bright yellow with royal blue numbers. The pants were snowy white; definitely and obviously snappier than our practice pants. How could he possibly have lost it?
He told me that it was worse than that. He still had his uniform, but his mom messed up his pants in the laundry. Upon request, he opened his duffel bag and I peered in. Instead of a dazzling display of bleached white pants, what stared back was a pair of pants stained the most brilliant indigo I have ever seen! I had never felt so bad for the man as I did at that moment. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this qualified him for entry to the next level of ridicule. In fact, this would probably signify him a ridicule legend. What I most likely said was, "Oh, man!"
All day long, as we strutted our stuff in our varsity, game-day jerseys, we both obviously knew about his pants. I didn’t mention it to anyone, but it weighed heavy on my mind all day.
Bill, as it turned out, appeared in no way bothered; in fact, he was on cloud nine. For one whole school day, his jersey entitled him to hang out with anyone else who was wearing one. He could nod towards a fellow player, and they dutifully nodded back. In public. Even in front of girls. He was one of the gang.
In the locker room after school, I noticed him begin to worry. Our first game was at home. People who knew us would be watching. I knew he was headed for trouble the instant he put on his pants. Everyone else had new, unstained, bright pants. Bill stood out embarrassingly.
I had an inkling that whatever came next would probably be funny, and I was trying to steel myself against it in support of Bill.
Right then, someone shouted out, "Hey! Check out Blueberry Shortcake!"
I couldn’t help it. I had a headache for ten minutes from trying to hold back an onslaught of uncontrollable snorts. From that point on, the situation was hopeless. They respected him enough not to verbally embarrass him in front of the home crowd, but the locker room retorts were plentiful. They couldn’t resist. Even the coach bellowed, "Boy! What the hell didjya do to your britches?"
As for Bill, he never finished the season. I can’t say as I blame him. I haven’t seen him in years, but every time I think of him, I just shake my head.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fair Game - A Creeper's Gonna Creep


"Fair Game - A Creeper's Gonna Creep" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Why hadn’t I thought of it before? It made the whole process just that much less complex. If only I hadn’t been so unaware of her cunningness.
Although I hadn’t a clue as to what her name was, I knew her habitat. I knew her routine. I knew her life. The realization of how matters could be simplified bit me on the nose.
 I first attempted to capture her with a glance and maybe a slight gesture. Unmoved by her lack of interest, I then attempted a more direct approach. The letter I wrote contained only a sliver of my feelings.
Meanwhile, all of my spare time has been directed towards her in ways she will never know - the endless hours of tracking; hunting in the manner of a wily woodsman following a wounded fox. Because I know her exact routine, it perturbs me that I didn’t reason my moves a bit more carefully. Now is the time in which I must act upon my latest ploy.
After huddling alone near her doorstep in a juniper hedge for the last hour, I knew the moment was drawing near. It was all I could do to conceal the spontaneous giggle that was fighting to reveal itself. Then, the door graciously arced towards me and her ravishing beauty spilled forth. For a brief moment, I was a petrified gargoyle; eyes bulging, mouth gaping, awed by the magnificence of this Helena-like goddess of my dreams.
Following my planned course of action, I leapt from my vantage point and landed directly in front of her. Completely shocked, she wailed, spun and ran back into her house. I had no choice but to sprint after her. I had never been this close before and I had no reason to allow another chance like this to slip by.
I darted past the toppled chairs and disarrayed floor rugs as I followed this fleeting shadow, drawing closer with every step. Close enough to hear her rattling, gasping breaths, I knew that the pursuit was ending.
Just as her hand closed upon the knob to the back door, my hand fell upon her shoulder. She whirled, wailing. Crying out desperately, she demanded to know of my intentions. The two words I hollered out summed up the entire purpose of this chase:




"You’re It!"
And away I ran...


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Normally Abnormal - What IS Normal?


"Normally Abnormal - What IS Normal?" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Believe it or not, this brainstorm actually makes sense. Just read it carefully, staying focused on the meaning of ’Normal’ and 'Abnormal'. 

If being abnormal were normal, then being normal would be abnormal. Therefore, you couldn’t be normal, which would be abnormal. Then again, how could you be abnormal if it was really being normal?
If you were normal, would you like being normal, although technically it would be being abnormal? If you were normal, would you switch to being abnormal just so you would be normal (which is abnormal, which is normal)?
I wonder if being normal when abnormal is normal is anything like being abnormal when normal is normal. I don’t think so. When normal is normal, and you’re abnormal, you’re different. When normal is abnormal and you’re normal, you’re abnormal, which is normal, which is abnormal and so on.
Which would you rather be: abnormal when normal is normal, or normal when abnormal is normal?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Pluck Yew - The Tale of the Digitus Impudicus


"Pluck Yew - The Tale of the Digitus Impudicus" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

It is my contention that sticking a middle finger in the air is not worthy of any sort of retaliation or punishment, and the gesture should not even be considered ‘fighting words’. In fact, gestures should be allowed unflinchingly as a First Amendment right to free speech. I will illustrate this by using examples of law, history and social observation. I will show that gestures, even combined with vulgar speech, should not be considered obscene, pornographic or illegal.
 How is it that a mere gesture is offensive, anyway? The perpetrator is not physically contacting the gesture recipient. The gesture itself can be open to vast, if not countless interpretations. Even if the meaning of the gesture is mutually understood, and it is intended to be interpreted as a bodily manifestation of an insult, should the aggressor be subject to penalty on behalf of the recipient, or society in general?
The answer to the strength of the gesture lies in history. Dating back to the Greeks or even before, the middle finger, for example, is represented historically as meaning to be an insult. Aristophanes, the ancient Greek comic dramatist, mentions Diogenes using it as an insult to Demosthenes. The Romans had a name for it – “Digitus Impudicus” – the “Impudent Finger”.
Later legend and storytelling myth has it that a variation of the gesture was used during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. English bowmen used the index and middle finger to draw their deadly bows against the French. Myth has it that the English called the action of firing arrows “Plucking Yew”, since their longbows were made of that wood. The French, humiliated by these arrogant English bowmen, boldly announced that they were going to cut off the two fingers of any English bowman they captured. When the French failed to capture a single English bowman, the English taunted them by holding up their respective fingers and shouting, “We can still pluck yew!” Even in Europe today the two fingers in a “V” shape has the same meaning as the middle finger has in the States. Story has it that people have modified the gesture to what it is today in the United States; a solitary middle finger. The words “Pluck Yew” have apparently been modified a bit, as well.
Globally, there are many non-verbal gestures that, while not offensive in the United States, are considered very offensive in other countries. For example, the American “A-OK” sign, with a circle comprised of the index finger and thumb, with the other fingers up, is considered insulting in Italy and Denmark. It is also considered to be an obscenity in Guatemala, Paraguay and Brazil. Another example is the “thumbs-up” gesture, considered to be positive body language in the States, but is considered to be an obscenity in the Middle East and Nigeria.
Several important and famous people have used such meaningful body language to emphasize a point. The middle finger was used by President George W. Bush in response to environmentalists during the G8 summit. He called it his “one-finger salute”. Any simple web search will reveal that Britney Spears, Courteney Cox, Johnny Depp, and even Justin Timberlake’s mom all gave the bird to the paparazzi. Many have seen the globally famous picture of Johnny Cash, big right finger straight up at the camera. There are surely a multitude of others.
Other important and famous figures who have used strong body gestures other than the Roman-monikered digitus impudicus include former Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, who was caught giving the highly offensive British “wanker” gesture in an old photograph of him during his college days at Oxford.
Although not usually headline news, there have been past examples of unwarranted punishment towards this use of a common gesture. On October 25th, 2001, a man named Robert Lee Coggin was driving down a street in San Antonio, Texas, and came behind a person who was driving under the speed limit. Coggin flashed his lights, in an attempt to speed the motorist along. When Coggin finally was able to maneuver around the slow vehicle, he flipped off the driver. The driver, a jailer for the county, called 911 and reported the incident as reckless driving. Coggins was pulled over, and, after some discussion with the responding officers, was cited with “disorderly conduct – gesture”. Coggins plead ‘not guilty’, and was subsequently determined to be guilty, and was fined $250. He then fought the verdict by taking the case to the Texas State Court of Appeals. The court overturned the verdict on grounds that he wasn’t charged with reckless driving, indicating no road rage, and that the gesture was not considered obscene, as there was no accompanying threatened or actual violence that would identify the act as a breach of peace. The court also referred to Cohen v. California as a legal precedent.
Another legal example can be found in the case of Hackbart v. The City of Pittsburgh, et al. On 4/10/06, the plaintiff, David Hackbart, was attempting to parallel park, and another driver cut him off. Hackbart flipped off the second driver. At that moment, he heard someone behind him say, “Don’t flip him off”, at which point Hackbart hung a bird towards the voice behind him. It turns out that the voice belonged to police sergeant Brian Elledge, of the Pittsburgh police department. Hackbart was cited with disorderly conduct. The judge found Hackbart guilty, and fined him $119.75. Hackbart appealed, and not only had the case overturned, but won court costs, compensatory damages, and punitive damages against Officer Elledge, for, among other reasons, breach of his First Amendment rights.
In the case of the middle finger, this “digitus impudicus”, we have a rich history of use as an insulting gesture, a common understanding of its place among international rude gestures, a social acceptance of its perceived meaning, and examples of its use leading to the citation of people who use it. It would seem that society has made its statement – the offensive finger should never again be used, and all who may use it must also suffer the fates of the law. Why would any decent and moral citizen have any reason to use this offensive gesture, anyway?
The First Amendment allows us the freedom to express ourselves, as Americans, in almost any manner we choose. We hear and see graphic lyrics and images. We know about various ways in which speech can be the only possible way there is for a person to feel validated and to be heard. We know about people who bravely express themselves, even though the penalty of doing so was evident and understood to be forthcoming. We have learned about how the law is continually attempting to pin down elusive aspects with regard to what constitutes free speech as opposed to obscene behavior.
As far as I am concerned, a simple gesture should not be considered inciteful or threatening in and of itself. Sure, the middle finger gesture is rooted in history as a graphic display of displeasure towards another person. So are the protected words, “You are pissing me off” or “I think you are an asshole”. In situations where a person is at a loss for words, or while driving, or other times when the spoken word cannot be heard, they should still be allowed to communicate thoughts and feelings to another person. Sure, the recipient of the speech may not like the speech, but in the case of a gesture, that is just too bad. We are allowed, as Americans, to express ourselves in any civil and legally defined way, even if it is crass, rude, ignorant or juvenile. Why should a police officer, who is in a definite position of power, punish someone who is maybe being rude, but not illegal? This, to me, is an abuse of power designed to persecute someone with different beliefs than the offended officer, and must not be allowed in any case. In fact, if the case is overturned, I believe that the officer should be liable for as much as possible, since his or her actions led to the wasted time and resources of an otherwise busy and burdened legal system.
People may argue that we are a civilized society, and as such must continue in our efforts to progress above such uses of gestures. I argue that as far back at least as the days of Shakespeare and the divided classes of ‘groundlings’ and noblemen, privileged society has made attempts to stifle the language and speech of those social tiers less fortunate. It seems to me that this stifling is in an attempt to encourage an understanding among the lower classes that there is a ‘proper’ manner of conduct, and any other conduct unbecoming will be considered ‘low-class’. Sometimes this may be in an attempt to raise the lower classes above their meager status, but I suspect that on the whole it has more to do with affirming and justifying the rank of the privileged socialite. After all, the person in position to make such judgment calls as to what is to be considered socially rude has the power in the society.
 As a result, I believe that the privileged socialite must be exposed to the reality of the life of the lower class, however vulgar. This is an attempt to raise the elite tiers to an even more profound state of social awareness, and to maintain the culture of the history of the lower class.
As recently as the frontier days of the U.S., when Native Americans were being assimilated to the European invaders and their culture, many customs and practices of the Native Americans were scorned by the more powerful white people. Many practices and customs were considered ‘savage’, ‘vulgar’ and ‘low-class’. Although this mentality has gradually changed over time, it is too late for many of the Native American cultures, as entire tribes have vanished completely. We will never have the opportunity to hear their history, even if our culture and society progresses to the point where the elites treasure the lower class culture as much as the lower class does.
Until then, by God, the “lower-class” should be able to display their perceived vulgarity and ignorance in any way that is not harmful or threatening to another human, no matter how unrefined, or how esteemed the position of the offended elite.
Besides, any moral prudence placed on today’s society is a mockery, and quite laughable. Our society is in an unprecedented state of moral degradation, as exemplified by the continually shocking lyrics of modern music, and the extreme subjects in some of today’s highly offensive artwork (‘Piss Jesus’ and ‘Holy Virgin Mary’ come to mind as recent examples). Much of this type of art is upheld by elite socialites as relevant art, which means that, once again, the privileged minority within society pick and choose which moral equivalents the rest of society should follow, and which ones are to be relegated to the lower class as vulgar and beneath them. If I ever have the opportunity to meet any of the meatheads who think that some of this garbage is relevant art, I should lawfully be allowed to express my disgust with a digitus impudicus or two, and no social attempt at retribution. After all, isn’t free speech free speech? Any artist with the grapes to call dung “art” should have the fortitude to endure a couple of “Pluck Yews” for the sake of his or her art.
The fact that many celebrities and famous people feel the need to use the middle finger to punctuate their feelings should be evidence that this gesture has become an accepted standard by which modern humans may communicate. It is clear to me that the intent of the gesture has its place within society as a meaningful expression of disgust, contempt or frustration, and should be used as such so that others may know the feelings of the user of the gesture. The fact that otherwise intelligent people should stoop to such a ‘low class’ version of communication tells me that, in some situations, there is no other speech available that can convey such an exact message in such a brief moment. There should be no offense taken. The gesture, while directed at a person, does no actual harm to the person. In fact, an intelligent person should not feel harmed or threatened by such a gesture or mode of speech, and instead should be aware that the person giving the gesture is experiencing a moment of stress and possibly anger. This being the case, an intelligent person receiving the gesture should be more compassionate and understanding of the feelings behind the gesture, instead of selfishly feeling victimized by the speech.
The idea of a gesture being punishable by law is ludicrous. Aren’t laws put into place to protect citizens within a society? What safety is being compromised by the simple use of a bodily gesture? If a person is driven to the point of violence simply because another person showed them a perfectly acceptable and otherwise decent body part, I say that the true offender is the hothead who can’t control their anger, and instead makes the conscious choice to be a social vigilante, and physically punish the gesture-giver. Who is the more juvenile or possibly mentally unstable of the two – The one who expresses their frustration, anger, or stress efficiently and effectively, with no harm or threat to another person, or the one who sees the gesture, and decides to become violent? Anyone who determines the gesture to be ‘fighting words’ is missing the point of free speech entirely. Our freedom to express ourselves trumps our freedom to become violent, if there is such a freedom. Clearly, our Constitution does not address a freedom to be violent; therefore, it stands to reason that free speech should rarely be considered ‘fighting words’, if ever.
As court case after court case has demonstrated, if a person is fined, cited or otherwise convicted simply for the act of disorderly conduct by way of flipping off someone else, the appeal is always a success. Without fail, higher appeals courts say that simply raising a finger is not against the law. This being the case, it frustrates me that these types of cases are tying up otherwise valid cases within the legal system. In all of the instances I researched, it appeared that a police officer was offended by the gesture, and therefore commenced in punishing the offender. This is not the job of a police officer. Which part of ‘serve and protect’ does this type of behavior lend itself to? None. The ego and uncontrolled response of the officer in question does not fall in line with the call of duty, and in fact should never be a part of a job by a person sworn to protect society. The instant a person does not have the capacity to ignore ignorance is the instant a person should put down their badge.
And our courts are already full of frivolous lawsuits. A police officer, and especially lower courts and legislative bodies, should know full well by now that if a person wants to appeal in these cases, the likelihood is that they will win. Not only is this not efficient government, but there is a possibility of liability in the form of damages awarded to the appellate. Is all of this necessary, when all it would have taken to circumvent this headache is a cool-headed police officer on duty on the day in question or local legislative ordinances acknowledging innocuous gestures as being lawful? Wouldn’t all of this frivolity be recognized as unnecessary if only we, as a society, decided to dismiss gestures as expressions of frustration by fellow humans, instead of acting victimized by a speech gesture?
I have a solution. In fact, there are several suggestions I have, that, if accepted, will change the way in which the middle finger is communicated, expressed, and accepted by society. It should be a law that if a person decides to utilize the gesture, that they be smiling when they administer it. It is extremely hard for people to become violent if another person is not threatening them with harm and they are smiling, no matter what gesture they are displaying.
Another answer would be to change the meaning and perception of the message of the bird. Instead of “Pluck Yew”, or any other vulgar variation, we should announce, “You are number one” or use the finger to greet people, instead of the common wave. Of course, it would take influential and famous people to spread this change of message around. For example, how profound would it be for the Pope to stand up at his next speech and flip off the crowd, both fingers up, while he announces that from now on, his followers would recognize this gesture as a symbol of peace and hope, and that anyone who views this gesture should accept it as not an offensive vulgarity, but rather a symbol of unity and strength? Or if President Obama, in a relevant epiphany, addressed the people of America, expressing his serious interest in making the finger a national symbol of triumph over ignorance; a symbol of the strength of the masses?
I will continue to use the finger as an educational tool, as well as an expressive social tool. I regularly flip off public cameras as I smile. I often hang a bird to a friend, while I exclaim, “You’re number one”. I prefer to flip people off instead of fight. In light of the evidence presented in this writing, I would find it hard to believe that anyone would consider a hand gesture threatening, obscene, or vulgar.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Angels Were Sent


"Angels Were Sent" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

This poetic homage is in tribute to the horrific tragedy that occurred in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. It is an attempt, as someone who was not present during the actual event, to understand the occurrence at the most basic of levels: The spiritual power of the battle of Good vs. Evil. 

 I. Satan's wrath contains no mercy. His soul is without hope. His acts are desperate, for he is running out of time. His control is fleeting, falling well short of glory. He thrives upon his horrific deeds; he is certain he holds his future in his own hands. The outcome of his fate he ignores, living for today by idolizing himself and his self-serving deeds. He maims, destroys and kills, each time believing more in his imagined invincibility. His avoidance of God is vehement. It is not within his means to acknowledge God, for to do so would be to believe, and to believe is to instill hope within his rotting soul. Therefore his avoidance is necessary to thrive upon his lustful, selfish greed. And so he carries on.  
II. There was a day, and a bomb exploded. The Devil was there, performing for his own glory. His act was swift. He knowingly defiled God, and he knew he must be swift. His act was atrocious and he wallowed in the filth of his destruction. He heard the torment of every tortured moment of every tortured soul and his lust for himself knew no bounds.
All were innocent and unsuspecting, and the Devil howled with glee. Masses writhed in murderous pain, and Satan was thriving. His act was horrific, and so it pleased him. His evil soul swelled. He heard the shouts. He heard the cries. He heard the agony and saw the bewilderment, and he was proud. He knew God would act, and he must hide, and so he hid. 
 III. It was then that the first Angel of Mercy came to collect the souls of the unfortunate victims of the Devils' destruction. He kept their souls safe and delivered them to God's kingdom.
God then sent forth an abundance of angels. There were Angels sent and shocked survivors were wise and saved lives. There were Angels sent and people gathered to help the victims.
There were Angels sent and rescuers organized and safely aided the victims. There were Angels sent and the rescue workers were provided with food, shelter and clothing. There were Angels sent and workers had the strength and courage to provide for those in need.
There were Angels sent and witnesses had the strength and courage to share their account. There were Angels sent and word spread quickly and accurately.
Through it all, Satan watched and hid, and hated God's love.
There were Angels sent, and family members found comfort through God and kin. There were Angels sent, and money was gathered. There were Angels sent, and strangers embraced and wept, and were comforted. There were Angels sent and victims felt God's love. Survivors found hope and courage and were blessed.
There were Angels sent and people from across the land were aware of the suffering and offered comfort. There were Angels sent and people were gracious and gave to the needy. There were Angels sent and people became as one and their hearts were lifted. There were Angels sent and people began again to love. There were Angels sent and people no longer took life for granted. There were Angels sent and people began to grow and nurture. There were Angels sent and the Devil was gone.
Thank God there were Angels sent.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Internet - A Global Panopticon


"Internet - A Global Panopticon" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

(Originally written in 1998)
Reflect, for a moment, about your personal knowledge of the history of the world. Recall how early civilizations communicated and, more importantly, the extent and scope of those communications. Imagine the capabilities of any known civilization or technology attempting to unify the planet in a singular communication effort.
Compare any that you may have imagined (telephones, ham radios, pony express) with the communication potential of the Internet. It is safe to say that the Internet provides the means for the most comprehensive global communications network in the history of the world.
With such a statement having been made, it would then be safe to proceed and assume such an entity could and would command the attention of powers and powerful people in an attempt to either manipulate the process or take steps to ensure their own protection from manipulation.
This of course leads us to government control (or lack thereof) of the Internet.
Reflect, for a moment, about your personal knowledge of the history of militaries, especially the United States military. Specifically, note any expertise at secrecy or contingency planning. Since the Internet was initially made a reality by a joint effort involving the U.S. Department of Defense and a few universities in 1969, these collaborators can be assumed as being the most experienced in the field of the practical application of internet technologies. Wouldn’t a self-preserving, world-leading government take extra strides to know more about this technology than any other institution or any other powerful, potentially interested party? Without a doubt.
We are now compelled to consider a dynamic probability similar to the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Is it truly possible to govern cyberspace? Some have compared the internet to the invention of the printing press, in that they both make available vast quantities of knowledge in a way the world has never before seen. This basically allows people to make their own choices in lieu of authorities making those decisions for them. In this way it is fairly certain that individuals will be able to use the internet to gather information around traditional government structures. Not only that, but people can theoretically do this anonymously or invisibly.
Some internet experts contend that this desire to be anonymous is an urge so strong some people will not be able to resist hiding their true identity while participating. This may make way for a type of internet evolution. Strategically, it would be rather advantageous to remain ‘invisible’ if the knowledge or information being sought were of particular sensitivity or revealing nature to a powerful party. Perhaps it will be this stealthy group that eventually disbands any current ‘controlling’ entities. This anonymity at the hands of very experienced computer experts can be eternal. Imagine the impact of a global network of invisible experts leading a charge with an invisible army against any visible governing entities. At some point a revolution such as this would create a new governing body for the internet. Is there enough of an uprising to support such a revolution?
There are places online where people are able to network and share any information they are interested in. There are multitudes of topic related chat rooms, forums, and bulletin boards, as well as e-mail. The voice of the community at some of these ‘cyber-locales’ is much more direct in cyberspace than in person, for the most part. I would compare it to ‘Letters to the Editor’ in a publication, except for never having to reveal your identity. This aspect allows for an even more pointed attitude on the internet, stemming from certain ambivalence to consequences based on the assurance of one’s anonymity.
 This noticeable communication generation is a child of the internet, in my opinion. Even if an argument can be made as to the heredity of this pattern of communication, it is my belief that the environment of the internet has adopted it in a way of its own. In fact, it could even be said that this mentality is in fact popular (or at least trendy) within the social sector of the internet community.
In some regions of cyber society, anonymity has generated notoriety, much like gang ‘tags’ are an anonymous way to be recognized within gang culture. I am talking about ‘hackers’. This brazen group of computer experts with invisible identities has already proven their capabilities to the United States government.
In 1997, the National Security Administration (NSA) hired a group of thirty-five hackers to simulate an infiltration upon the computer-connected and highly sensitive areas of our powerful government. They proved they could effectively manipulate the transportation, communication, economy, utilities and easily infiltrate military electronic systems. As confirmed by Fred B. Schneider, CS professor at Cornell University-"If somebody wanted to launch an attack [on the U.S.], it would not be at all difficult.”
It would appear to me that our global communications experiment we call the internet is entitled to the same unique individuality bestowed upon bodies of law and corporations: a state of having a certain momentum not unlike ‘a life of its own’. As with dynamic models such as these, the necessity of having to adapt continually mandates a perpetual changing within the entity. Unlike the others, the anonymity of the Internet will instigate certain vigilance within hackers to dole out justice at their convenience and leisure. This is exactly the methodology necessary to undermine any unwanted authority.
Traditional authority relies upon structure. I believe that if a group of like-minded, anti-authority, computer-powerful people decided to negotiate digital warfare, any traditional authority remaining on the Internet would be picked apart by hackers, to be replaced with vigilante, cyber-mob rule.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How was YOUR day?


"How was YOUR day?" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

We needed a car. Desperately.
While riding to work with a friend, I happened to notice a mid ‘70’s station wagon for four hundred dollars. I bought it.
The car certainly had flaws. The rear hatch was a dinosaur of a load, and didn’t latch properly. The weight kept it shut, for the most part. I noticed the idiot lights on the dashboard didn’t work. I found out the hard way when I ran the oil dry. I guess that doesn’t necessarily make me the genius, right? Little did I know, the worst was yet to come.
Here it was, the first week of December. Bitter cold wind blowing in from the Rockies, lashing out over the plains of Oklahoma. Ice was the main weather issued by Mother Nature.
 I had left for work early to make sure I had plenty of time to make it to the studio, where I worked as a photographer. When I arrived and shut off the ‘wagon, I noticed a burning smell. After getting out and sniffing around, I opened the hood. I immediately noticed smoke emerging from an area deep in the engine. As the studio was still locked, it took me a few seconds to get inside and grab the fire extinguisher. I blasted the smoke spot with white powder, and it immediately disappeared.
 I was careful to avoid essential areas of the engine compartment, such as the carburetor, radiator and battery. In fact, the shot was pretty clean and I figured I lucked out and could take a chance on driving the beast back home after work. I threw the fire extinguisher in the clunker before I jumped on the highway for the half-hour trip back home.
There I was, bookin’ down the highway. I looked to my left, and a guy in a blue sedan was frantically jabbing his finger towards the front of my car, and hollering something. Instantly I knew what was going on, and I pulled over. I popped the hood, and leaped out, fire extinguisher at hand. I lifted the hood, aimed and squeezed. Nothing. The engine fire was now responding to the enhanced oxygen exposure, and it intensified increasingly.
 I about crapped! Apparently, I used up all of the juice in the fire extinguisher, or something. Later I found out that they need to be recharged. Ignorance was not bliss, in this case.
I looked around at the concrete shoulder. There was some dirt and gravel built up along the edge. I scooped a fine handful, ran back to the car, and threw it straight into the engine gap from where the smoke was by now belching. By the grace of God, or some other miracle, it was enough. My dilapidated car was once again flameless.
I still had a ways to go, and knew I needed a different plan. I took the next exit, and stopped at a gas station. I called my buddy and explained my predicament. He said he would drive over to where I was, and follow me home.
When he arrived, he brought along a six-pack of beer. After all, it was Friday, and I had already had a helluva day. We’d head home and figure out what was up with the dinosaur. Maybe after a few beers in, we may just have the mystery solved. Little did we know…
So I’m almost home, my buddy behind me. We were in a residential neighborhood a mile or so from the hacienda. The next thing you know, my buddy is flashing his lights and honking his horn at me. On fire again.
I started to pull into the first driveway, which was cement, but then I noticed a gravel alley close by. I pulled in there, leaped out and popped the hood again. I was pretty proud of myself. This maneuver was becoming more natural. I felt like a cat. A cat with a burning vehicle.
I opened the hood. I re-realized the whole oxygen/fire thing. You would think I would have learned from the previous incident. Apparently the whole ‘idiot light’ thing didn’t sink in, either.
 So here we are, smoke continually and progressively pouring out of the valley in my engine. I reach down and grab the first thing I get my hands on, which is icy pea gravel. I pitched a healthy handful towards the menacing crevasse. Unfortunately, my aim was poor, and pea gravel scattered across the entire engine compartment. By now I see the flames licking the bottom of the engine block. I back out from under the hood and bump into my buddy, who has the beer out, and is opening one. He proceeds to dump it into the engine. The flame hissed and went silent. My buddy took no chances. He poured another onto the smoldering metal. This did the trick, and I was able to get the car home. Bad thing was, when we made it home, I only got one beer. I guess the two we sacrificed turned out to be mine.
The car was home, and I finally arrived at our lovely domicile shared by my wife and two kids. My youngest was six weeks old, my oldest three years old. Our ‘lovely domicile’ was actually a drug-, gang- and crime- riddled apartment complex in Oklahoma City. It was all we could afford at the time, and we knew going in that it was only temporary.
In fact, we had been in contact with the owner of the house right next to my buddy. There was work to be done before it was move-in ready, and I was in communication with him about helping to fix it up. In the meantime, here we are, living in Cracktown, U.S.A.
I climbed up the stairs to the apartment, went in and relaxed a bit. My wife told me that the complex owner had called, and wanted to know if and how we paid rent that month. It seems that the manager of the complex had absconded with all of the cash and check rent payments. My wife was able to produce a receipt, but it was still quite a shocker to live in a place where this was happening. In addition to this latest turn of events, there had been several arrests within the apartments during our course of residence there. Helicopters had flown over with search lights blazing on several occasions.
One time I was on our balcony stoop. Suddenly, a siren started up, and a cop started following a white import car on the main street, heading my direction. The car pulled into the apartment complex driveway, directly below my vantage point. The driver opened the door and got out of the car. The officer announced on the intercom for the driver to get back in the vehicle. The driver turned and ran right below where I was standing, and dashed into the main complex area! The cop jumped out and chased the perpetrator while calling in for backup on his shoulder mike. This turned into a whole helicopter event. I never did find out if they caught the guy.
After all of this, and hearing what my wife had to say, I knew we had to get out of this place. We were in the living room talking this over, when suddenly there were several popping sounds, followed by loud thumps against our bedroom walls. My young daughter jumped up and ran towards a window. I immediately hollered ‘Get Down’ and put myself on top of her. The pops and thumping continued at a rapid rate and ended suddenly. A car squealed and rumbled off outside. I knew that the sounds were gunshots and bullets hitting our apartment walls.
My wife went to get my infant son, and then she joined my daughter and me. We remained on the floor for several minutes, discussing what had just happened. Very quickly after, we heard sirens.
At this point, I went to the bedroom to see if there were any bullet holes. Sure enough, there were two holes. I followed the path of one, and it came through the wall, through the mattress, and into another wall. It so happens that it went right underneath the very pillow where my wife lays her head every night. The other bullet came up at a sharper angle, and went out the ceiling.
It dawned on us that our neighbor below must have taken the brunt of the bullets. I scrambled down the stairs to see if she needed help.
The door to her filthy, roach-ridden cube was already open. I called her name, and she appeared from the back cradling her two-year old child. He was one of three belonging to this single mother.
She was sobbing and clutching her middle child. I asked her if they needed any help. She said she didn’t think so, but I should take a look. I went back into her bedroom and the sight was surreal. Her window was shattered and her mini-blinds were punctured and battered. Many bullets had penetrated the space, creating chunky holes. The ricochet streaks around the room created a cacophony of visual insult.
There, in the middle of the bed, was her youngest child, peacefully sleeping, stuffed toy in hand. The discordance of the scene was striking, and definitely made me aware that fate had intervened for the sake of this young one.
An officer arrived and gathered my info. He sent his partner up to talk to my wife and see the damage in our apartment. I left as the officer started talking to my neighbor. After talking to the cop in our apartment, my wife and I placed our now sleeping daughter in bed, and wandered outside to see how things were progressing.
Many of our neighbors were outside, gathered near the scene. When we joined the group, they were discussing the whole manager-stealing-our-rent-money incident. A few in the crowd quickly caught us up on the gunfire situation. It turns out, a gang member emptied a clip on a rival gang member. The meat wagon had already hauled him off, and the cops were securing the crime scene.
 At some point, a local news channel arrived, and interviewed a few people, my wife included. Before he left, my wife asked if her interview would be aired. He said he wasn’t sure, but the story definitely would be.
The very next day I called the owner of the house next to my buddy and told him we ABSOLUTELY needed to leave these apartments. I told him what had been happening, and to watch the news. The news ended up playing the clip with my wife, and we wound up moving. I had to lay some carpet and a few other things, but that house worked really well for us.
As for the car, it turned out that a fuel line had gone bad, and I ended up replacing all of the hoses and rubber lines on the beast. Well, all except that little one at the bottom. You know, the short one with the clamps at impossible angles, way underneath the engine where a sane person cannot reach? As it turns out, I should have replaced it, too. But that is for another story.
So. How was your week?

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Vote - A Man Unhinged


"My Vote - A Man Unhinged" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

NOTE: My political views, interests, behaviors and ideologies have changed since the original writing of this narrative musing.

When I cast my vote for president in the latest elections (2004), I voted for Ralph Nader. In the end, Al Gore won the state anyway, so my vote didn’t carry much weight this time. At any rate, my vote for Nader wasn’t cast because he was a ‘green’ candidate. Nor did I vote for him because I necessarily thought he would win. In addition, I didn’t vote for him because I agreed with his platform. I voted for him because he had a woman running mate.
Allow me to explain. For years I have been iterating to my oldest daughter that she can be anything she wants, from rocket scientist to zookeeper to astronaut to president. I considered this a great opportunity to back my words by voting for the only female on the ticket. But is it justification for my vote? The rest of my message is for the fifty percent of Americans who were registered to vote, but didn’t, in the last elections.
This example is perhaps the most rational of many reasons why my vote was cast to specific candidates. The other reasons included voting for a candidate who liked to ice fish. Another one I voted for, I did so because he stood with a nice posture. Yet another of the candidates I voted for had a unibrow. Nothing more; no charisma, no political background, no popularity. Just a unibrow.
I am telling you this in case you have any wonder as to why sometimes clowns are elected. It is because people like you allow people like me to cast my vote in this manner. If only two of you who didn’t vote last year decide to vote this year, then my vote is already outnumbered. If this happens, I consider this message a success. To the fifty percent who did vote: Please excuse my behavior concerning my vote. I realize it is a privilege to vote, and that some people may take offense to my actions. I can only say that if my vote can be utilized to inspire others to vote, then I will gladly use it in that fashion. Thank you, and God Bless America.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Neither Injured Nor Innocent


"Neither Injured Nor Innocent" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

Inspired by the essay ‘Injured Innocents’ by Patricia Limerick Please don’t get me wrong- although this essay may be a bit harsh or blunt, it is not meant to offend. Rather, it is meant to be the subjective opinion of another, as seen through the life of me. – Author 


Injured innocents is one way Patricia Limerick describes those who, for the most part, brought their victimization upon themselves, and then turned elsewhere to seek blame. This topic is part of my essay, but along these lines- imagine an attitude of a different sort where there are not thought of as any specific injuries or innocence- only life situations that we all must face and deal with in some form or fashion, at one point in time or another.
 I have lived in a certain stigmatized area of the United States three times at length, once by choice. All three times, I was offended by acts of, in my opinion, extremely hateful racism. The first two times were not by choice, and occurred when I was eleven and fifteen years old.
Now, not all of the people I meet are cut of this cloth. Since I don’t regard skin color and heritage as a qualifying factor for friendship, I meet many people of all walks of life and interact with those who were open-minded enough to share and relate customs. I have also directly witnessed both sides of the racism coin.
 My first memories were of living in Stockton, California, where we had moved when I was three and my parents had divorced. We must have lived there until I was almost five, because I remember my brother being in a body cast due to a rare illness, and me facing him towards the wall when cartoons came on when he pissed me off. He was about three years old then.
We moved to Phoenix and lived there for a short time. Besides Kindergarten, my first fight, learning to spit like a snake, there is nothing much else to report.
 First through fourth grade I lived in Vancouver, Washington. Mt. Saint Helens erupted while I was there. Pretty much an all-white environment. I do remember a black kid who played t-ball when I was about six or seven. He was on the best team that year, one that was sponsored by a bank.
At any rate, this kid could hit the ball farther than any other kid, and more consistently. While my position on the opposing team was just standing in right field hoping for a ball to come my way, this guy was their center-fielder, and could gun out guys at second base and home better than anyone else in t-ball. He only had one arm. Needless to say, twenty-two years later, I am still impressed.
When I was eleven years old and living just outside of Houston, there was the one time my brother probably saved us both. This was during the period of time when I was just learning about smarting off to the wrong people.
I must have been talking smack when the next thing I know, my brother and I are trapped up against someone’s wooden privacy fence, surrounded by a sea of hostile black faces. At one point, a girl younger than me slapped me in the face from the side. I was becoming angry, but because I was also scared, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was hollering primarily with two or three of the older kids when one of the other kids yelled out, "Hey! He’s beating him up!"
Sure enough, my brother, who was in the first grade, had the known toughest second grader on the ground and was straight kicking his ass. It was quite an achievement that had an immediate effect on my confidence. I began to cheer on my brother.
 In the meantime, an older, freckle-faced, red-haired, perpetually mean-looking kid had noticed this and taken off his belt and wrapped the end around his hand a couple of times. At the lethal end was a belt buckle roughly the size of a dinner plate. He shouted something at the group as he neared, buckle spinning around his head fatally and with frenzied importance. I remember, for what was probably the first time, another classmate using the word ‘nigger’ with me being in earshot. This same kid who had descended upon my brother and my doomed state to break up the group with seemingly no regard for his personal risk, was using this word over and over again.
I was old enough to recognize his prejudice, as I had recently witnessed my sister, who was two and learning to talk at the time, teach a temporary family acquaintance a lesson.
 She was on his shoulders, at a trendy sit-down style restaurant. He was fond of teaching my sister words that she wasn’t supposed to say. This man was of large stature, about six foot three and three hundred pounds. He talked very big when certain people were around, I had noticed. Mostly his friends, I suppose. The conversations would occasionally contain racism and racist comments.
 A smiling, pleasant black man walked past us in the restaurant. As he did, my sister asked this temporary family acquaintance if the man who was walking by was a nigger. When my sister did this, the acquaintance lost all color in his face and appeared to have been suddenly plagued by agonizing cramps. I did not like this acquaintance anyway, as he was a bully to my brother and me. Inside, I was cheering his pain and discomfort.
To his credit, the man walking by either chose to ignore the comment as ignorance, or did not hear. I suppose then that I knew that the acquaintance was inherently wrong. I’m glad he was temporary, and I am thankful of the lessons I learned even at the expense of his mean ways.
I was allowed to choose where to live when I was twelve. I chose to live with my dad, in the town of my birth on the dry side of Washington State. I was fortunate to attend a brand-new junior high school. It cost over ten million to build, and included solar air and heat, as well as the most advanced computer lab in the district.
Agriculture plays an important role concerning the racial make-up of the town. The area is a central hub for Hispanic migrant workers, and the percent of Hispanics in the area fluctuates. Overall, the Hispanic population is extremely well represented. It has always been common to see low-riders in the neighborhood with the red, white and green flag as a front license plate.
 The free school bus went through the East Side before it came to my stop. By the time I boarded, there was usually just enough room to stand in the middle of the bus where the back door is. Only a thirty minute trip to the school from there.
 Even though my neighborhood was becoming increasingly a majority Hispanic, the East Side was considered Latino central. I could have taken the city transit bus that cost thirty-five cents for school kids, but didn’t travel through the East Side, and I did when I occasionally missed the ‘A-street bus.’ For the most part, though, I rode the free one.
 Realize that I crudely resembled ‘Spanky’, from the Little Rascals. I was short and stubby, with straight, bowl-cut blonde hair and nerdy glasses. My step-mom had a stubbornness concerning my school clothes. She figured discount jeans a size too big were appropriate for junior high, and I did not realize the how wrong she was until I had been in school awhile. At any rate, I hadn’t realized it at this point, and there I would ride- a pale, nerdy speck in a brown, festive ocean.
 Most of the rowdier, older kids sat in the back. There were mostly girls who sat around the back exit, with the exception of two older boys- Tony and his sidekick. They were to only torment me temporarily.
The first couple of days of school, someone had stolen my lunch by the time the bus arrived at the junior high. The first day, I didn’t notice my lunch missing until the bus completed its trip. The second day, I remember noticing the bag missing well before arriving at school. I glanced around. Nothing but girls. A cacophony of Spanish language was loud and never idle. Tony and his sidekick were sarcastically sitting, waiting for me to challenge. I asked if they knew who stole my lunch. They asked if I was “calling them a thief”. I said, "Well, tell me who you think took it!" He said he didn’t know, at which point I turned my back to them and faced the front. Either Tony or his sidekick punched me squarely between the shoulder blades. I winced and gritted my teeth. I then spun around and savagely and instinctively clocked Tony’s gourd with my backpack. I probably doled out some meaningless, emotional hollering, and then waited for a response. None came, but my lunch was never stolen again.
I lived there for a few years, until my father shipped me off to live with my mother again, this time in a different part of the Houston suburbs. Actually, it was a small town about thirty miles outside of Houston, founded on old oil money. By this time I was in high school.
From the very beginning, I was out of sorts with the place. First, I was there against my will. Second, there were conformist sanctions placed against me by the high school. These were namely to keep my hair trimmed neatly above my collar, no facial hair and no earrings. Since I had just recently pierced my ear, kept my hair in a ponytail and never shaved, this chapped my hide. What individualism could be encouraged in such a limited domain? The conformist attitude was only beginning to dawn on me.
 After hiding my earring with a Band-Aid and biting the bullet on the hair length and facial hair, I attended class with the frame of mind that surely there would be sympathizers within the student body.
Although after some time I found out they were in fact present, they weren’t the ones to re-introduce me to the proud state of Texas. It was a cliquish if not clannish group of imitation cowboys that aggressively sought out every clue that I was not a native. I asked for a pop and was enthusiastically taunted for being a ‘Yankee’. I guess they say soda.
When I quickly grew tired of being a foreigner in a restrictive society, I began saying things like, "If you split Alaska in two, Texas would be the third largest state". I was beat up a lot.
I was sneered at and watched guys literally named Bubba talk with buddies they were raised with in this perpetuating cesspool of pride. I was supposed to feel like an outsider, and Bubba and his clique were there to enforce this twisted slice of southern hospitality. I never did understand what they were so proud of. How can people be so comfortable in being so obviously ignorant? Why so vehement when actively practicing xenophobia?
 When I was eighteen, I moved to where I wanted to be; my birth town.
 I eventually lived in the house directly behind the alley from the one I where I had previously lived with my dad. Within a couple of years, I was married and the father of a two-year-old. We were the only white family within three blocks, and even further in some directions. We also had the only swing set between our house and the nearest park. At any given time, we had a yard full of children, and only one of them white. It was pretty funny when my daughter’s friends taught her to call the dog ‘loco cabeza.’
The gangs began to get worse in the neighborhood, and gun battles became more frequent. My buddies and I developed defensive attitudes and appointed ourselves protectors of our families.
While this was a fun and exciting time for my posse and me, gang busting was sure to be a short-lived lifestyle. Besides, my wife had no intentions of raising a kid in a hostile environment, or our daughter losing her dad due to stupidity. We decided to visit relatives we had never met.
My second child is an Okie. This was the one time I went there on purpose, and didn’t venture so far south. We made some dear friends that we consider family to this day. One group of our dearest friends shared much in common with us. Same aged parents, same aged kids. Vices and habits very similar. There were two points where we parted ways- religion and racism.
Apparently, there is some past link to the klan through one of their bloodlines. When my dear neighbor shared this with me, I was speechless, and for me, that’s saying something. Here were these slow-talking, very lovable people telling me they were not only accepting of racism, they encouraged it to some degree. To me, any sort of encouragement or acceptance along these lines is a step backwards.
There was one time the debate became increasingly heated. My neighbor asked me what I would do if my daughter "brung a nigger home" as a date. I assured him that it wouldn’t bother me a bit. I would not allow myself to be so ignorant. We agreed to disagree.
One question he never answered to my satisfaction- how can someone be held accountable for something they have no control over, such as pigment? That having been said, it stands to reason that skin tone and heritage should not be a victimizing situation. If it is understood that we are at the mercy of randomness to determine our genes, why then do people tend to focus on this and call it important?
 I have been labeled many things based solely on ignorant deductions, and have come to abhor labels. After all, if you believe a label, then you believe a tag that is supposed to sum up a person in one or a few words. You or someone else has invented this tag, either way subjective and open to interpretation.
Some have said that I have every right to label some of the more hateful people I have met, since they aren’t deserving enough to require a more in-depth investigation. I agree, since I believe it is human nature to categorize people we meet, despite how I abhor it. I just refuse to do so based on factors out of our control such as race. In fact, I’m usually the last person in any given room of people to even mention race unless someone else brings it up. Even then, there are more important issues to discuss. I have learned to not waste too much time on people who force this issue.
 It is funny to think that just because I am a white man with a family, I should represent a certain image that society has for me, and that I should allow some abuse because of it. I can’t help my heritage any more than anyone else can. Those who take the time to know what I stand for and meet my collage of a family can rest assured that I have no tolerance or time for racism, and the rest of society can kiss my ass. Add that to your labels of what a person like me should represent.
"Injured innocents" may have applied in order to relate a perspective, but I believe it is not an efficient way to displace the emotions people have about other people. Holding a grudge and creating enemies is the end result of someone who is an injured innocent.
I am not a victim because these things occur to me, I am a victim if I cannot deal with them.