Cops, the public, and stereotypes

A friend recently drove by a traffic stop conducted by the Raleigh Police Department and was surprised at the number of officers who responded. Four units were there and the driver, a black male, had his hands firmly and safely planted on the side of the car from his place in the driver’s seat. My friend turned around a few minutes later to see what happened and came across the driver still parked there, but now alone and doubled-over sobbing on the steering wheel. She shared her experience on social media.

I respect my friend tremendously and I take comfort that she cares so much for our neighbors. Nobody wants to see an incident in Raleigh like those that have taken place in various places in the country, where innocent black men – doing everything right – get shot to death by hotheaded cops. My black friends are understandably concerned about being pulled over and in an instant possibly losing their life.
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Oh Columbia, you haven’t aged well

2400 Bee Ridge Road, July 2016.


As an IBM Brat I moved around a lot as a kid (the inside joke is that IBM stands for “I’ve Been Moved”). This made it tough for me to think of home those times I was homesick while in the Navy but it also sort of locked in a time with a place in my memories. In my head, the places I’ve lived will always have a strong association with the brief time I’ve lived there.

Such is the case with Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia was my home for my 3rd grade to 7th grade school years, or 1979 to 1983. There was an actual city with Columbia, different than coming from Spanish Fort, Alabama, though our neighborhood of Spring Valley in northeast Columbia was definitely suburban. Spring Valley is a relatively wealthy, gated community with a private security guard and country club. My brothers and I would walk together with no attending parents to elementary school at Lonnie B. Nelson and we would ride our bikes all over the sprawling neighborhood to visit friends. It was a great place to grow up and provided me with important opportunities that helped make me who I am today.

My Uncle Bill’s death last year provided me the opportunity to catch a new glimpse of my old neighborhood as my brothers and I drove through on our way to his funeral. We lingered long enough to take photos of our old home and our school before continuing on, driving out Two Notch Road to continue our journey on I-20.

During my time there Two Notch Road was the big commercial road, leading from Spring Valley to the new (in 1979) Columbia Mall. Even then it was dotted with the ubiquitous flashing-light-arrow advertising signs, fast-food joints, and the like. These business would sprout up like weeds – wherever they could and seemingly with no thought to how they all fit together.
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The Fear Bubble

The Bogeyman

Facebook can easily become an echo chamber, only showing you posts that its algorithms think will reinforce your worldview (and thus keep you engaged). This can result in a very skewed perspective of the world. On the other hand, Facebook does offer a window into the perspectives of people who don’t think like you do … if you actively seek this out.

I maintain friendships across the political spectrum. People are more alike than disalike, no matter how some might try to accentuate the differences. I do have some conservative-leaning friends and think they’re generally reasonable people. If they were unreasonable and not open to my gentle, loving prodding I might have turned away from them. Some of the less reasonable indeed have made it to the Facebook “unfollow” stage, where I remain connected to them but don’t get updates from them. I like to maintain a window into their worldview because I think it’s important to understand how people think, especially people with whom I sometimes disagree.

It was peering through this “window” that I began to notice a startling personality trait that many conservatives share which came to light after last week’s United debacle. While almost all of my left-leaning friends immediately faulted the airline for its brutal treatment of a paying customer, there were more than one conservative friends who defended the airline. In their view, the senior-citizen doctor must have done something to deserve getting the shit kicked out of him. He argued with authority, he was disruptive, so he earned what he got, their thinking seemed to go.

How can this be? How can some people side with authority in spite of ample warning signs that authority is wrong? Is it part of their personality, their religious upbringing, or some combination? I’m not entirely sure, but there seems to be a class of people who are almost completely authority-driven and these people are conservative people. It doesn’t matter what the orders are, you follow them. No gray area. Everything is good or evil, black or white.

When I look at the appalling treatment visitors to this country have been given by some in the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agency, this comes to mind. Orders were given that must be carried out. I think ultra-authority-driven people are drawn to these jobs.

I can also see how, given the right authority figure, people can be convinced to maintain order in ways that are detrimental to others. Germany’s Nazi Party held powerful sway over the German people. At present, Russians adore Vladamir Putin in spite of his looting the country, murdering opponents, and stirring up other lawlessness to bolster himself. Finally, Trump gained the same kind of support from people who were (and are) convinced that there’s a bogeyman behind every tree. Walls must be built, immigrants blocked, and sharia law prevented from taking root here.

A threat is raised and the fearful rally around the strongest authority figure. Oldest trick in the book. I never thought I’d see it here, though. Here we are in 2017 and there are people out there – friends of friends – who are so freaking spooked out of their minds that they have bought into the batshit-craziest fake news stories out there. Honestly, when I see some of these poor folks screaming about ISIS in their neighborhood I can only shake my head.

So, why didn’t these people fall in line behind Obama? After all, being President of the United States should come with some heft, right (well, until recently)? How were today’s fear-mongers able to keep Obama from being their savior? First of all, Obama was too pragmatic to get himself tangled in intractable wars. His job was to get us out of them, which he did fairly well. That meant no jumping with both feat into the ages-old quagmires of Middle Eastern relations, ISIS or no ISIS. The right, therefore, latched onto the Benghazi attack as proof to the fearful that Obama wasn’t going to protect them, no matter that far more diplomats were attacked during Bush’s term.

The other thing the Right did, and this was crucial to their strategy, was to de-legitimize Obama’s presidency, casting doubt on his citizenship and (of course) his race. As long as doubt was sown among the conservative fearful, the Right could drain his authority and keep these poor, petrified folks that they were all alone. As one gun shop owner put it, there was no better gun salesman than Barack Obama.

Somehow we have to get to these people. They are stuck in a “fear bubble,” fed sensational lies by the right-wing media to falsely believe they are under attack. Perhaps if they came out of their bunkers for a bit they would see that the sky is not falling and ISIS is not, after all, roaming their neighborhoods at night.

Can they be reached? It will take a lot of time and effort. One thing’s for sure: American discourse will suffer until they can be freed from their fear bubbles.

Overbooking should be fraud

Admit one (well, if we feel like it) [courtesy torbakhopper@flickr]


Yesterday’s shitstorm caused by United Airlines’s beating up a passenger has brought the practice of overbooking into sharp focus. Why do we let airlines get away with overbooking? How is this even legal? A ticket is essentially a contract: In exchange for my money, you will take me from point A to point B. Seems pretty simple, right? So why are airlines allowed to renege on that contract?

Let’s say you planned to take your sweetie out for a big date at a concert. You bought your tickets months in advance and made arrangements for transportation, hotel, etc. You and your sweetie get all dressed up, show up at the arena, and get settled in your seats only to be tossed from the arena because they are “oversold.” You’d feel like burning something down, wouldn’t you? And yet airlines do this every day.

Now, let’s imagine that you made reservations for dinner on your date night but the restaurant canceled them. Sure, you’d probably be pissed but a reservation is free. You haven’t put up any money and so you are getting what you paid for. You expect the restaurant to honor the reservation but you know that since you don’t have any skin in the game you have to go along. See the difference?
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Men and women in leadership roles

Ladies, men making decisions about you (like VP Mike Pence and the “Freedom Caucus” here) should be incentive enough to start taking charge.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of strong, amazing women, many of whom have stories of times when they have been (or felt they’ve been) shut out of important discussions in their professional lives simply because of their gender. I’m always sad to hear that they face this treatment and strive myself to treat everyone with whom I work (and, frankly, everyone I meet) with respect.

I got a small taste of how this feels as PTA president when I’d be the only man in a meeting and the women would never address me. Education, it seems, is so overwhelmingly associated with women that as a man I felt like an interloper. Other PTA volunteers would so often applaud the efforts of “our PTA ladies” that rather that fight the point it was easier just to quietly consider myself an “honorary lady.” There are ongoing efforts to get more dads involved in PTA but I came to realize that the deck is stacked against them.

Another thing I have noticed after years of serving on various boards and groups is that some women love to call the shots but only if they’re not the actual leader. They have strong views of how things should be done but when given the opportunity to take charge of the changes they demur. This drives me nuts because I know what they’re capable of doing – these are women who are great leaders – but for whatever reason are reluctant to be in charge. I don’t know if this is a culture thing or what but many women seem to hold themselves back – a self-imposed glass ceiling. They have so much going for them! If they’d only step up and add the authority to their ideas they would have it all.

It might come down to men and women leading differently. Or it might come down to me being full of shit, too. As an off-again-on-again leader myself, though, I do enjoy studying the topic.

What a colonoscopy is like

I briefly mentioned last year about getting a colonoscopy in December 2015. I was scheduled for a follow-up colonoscopy a year following and so I’m going back on Wednesday morning.

I didn’t go into much detail about the whole process though I find medical procedures somewhat fascinating. I chose not to do much blogging about my experience because it seemed a bit embarrassing. This time around, I will share details because I’ve since learned how important this procedure is.

I recall last time gradually coming out of a sedation-induced fog as I lay on the post-op gurney, the doctor coming in to say that they had collected two polyps that were being biopsied. They turned out to be precancerous, fortunately, but gave me a start. I was 46 at the time and on the young side for anything like this to be discovered. It was not an enjoyable experience (or prepping wasn’t, anyway – more on that later), but I’m glad I got it done since who knows what might have happened if I had put it off.
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Internet everywhere

Two recent events converged in my mind. Yesterday, I attended Google’s grand opening of its Fiber Space in Raleigh, where gigabit Internet connections are the norm. And on Saturday afternoon, I was in Garner’s Southeast Regional Library to pick up Hallie and observed that all but two of the library’s Internet terminals were occupied. It made me sad that in the years since I watched a mom and her son turned away from the library when no computers were available that a shortage of Internet access is still seems to be a problem.

I hope the big-gun Internet providers like Google Fiber, AT&T, and the rest continue working to provide Internet access to the people who need it most.