Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sleepless in Chicago


Another sleepless night in Uptown Chicago.

I fell asleep around 8 P.M. after watching back-to-back shows on the History Channel about the sordid history of cocaine in America and the many properties of fungi respectively. I know, interesting stuff. The mini-documentary on cocaine didn't shed any new light. Cocaine is awesome so people continue to use it and drug cartels continue to kill hundreds of people annually in battles over who will control the white gold while the government funnels tens of billions of dollars in tax payer money into a War on Drugs that has been by all accounts a complete and total failure in every way except for its ability to waste tens of billions of dollars in tax payer money.

The trajectory of fungi is a little more promising. Aside from the potential hazards of fungi in the form of mold in homes and in the form of nasty biological inconveniences such as athlete's foot, the overall relationship between fungi and nature has been a mutually rewarding one. They help to decompose old foliage in forests creating nutrient rich soil. They are used as cultures to age great shit like cheese, change hops and barley into beer and wine, and to create soy bean based products like Quorn that people in Indonesia and the U.K. absolutely love and swear tastes just like chicken. Scientists are finding ways to synthesize the millions upon millions of varieties of fungi into life saving medicines and environmentally safe pesticides for crops. Scientist are even using fungi to synthesize diesel fuels in hopes of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil in the coming years. Best of all, if you eat the right type of fungi you could have your fucking mind blown (or you could have a bad trip and jump off a balcony at Soldier Field but I digress).

Ah, the exciting life of an insomniac.

I'm pretty sure that my recent spat of insomnia is due in part to the hiatus that I've been taking from my usual nighttime sleep aids - marijuana and Old Style beer. The rest of it is due to the immense amount of shit that I have on my mind. The relationship that I have with my co-workers is irreparably damaged due in small part to their immaturity and lack of professionalism and in large part to my bi-polar expectations - wanting to be exempted from their mostly inane conversations while simultaneously having the desire to be kept in the loop. At 26, I am at a crossroads in my career. There are opportunities for advancement but I question my preparedness to make a commitment to a profession that I can't honestly see myself doing for the remainder of my adult life. I'm not even sure if I know what I want to do with the rest of my life but I need more money to pay for my fabulous private Catholic university education so that's causing a wee bit of professional cognitive dissonance.

I'm absolutely in love with someone, so much so that I almost suffocated the relationship with my insecurity. It was so hard going through this past weekend without a text message from her (what am I, a 14 year old girl?) but I know that it's for the best. She has way more shit to deal with in her personal life than I could ever intentionally conjure up in mine. Hell, I just got hair on my dick. I think she's had pubic hair for quite a while longer than me. Due in part to her tender yet forceful scolding of my behavior, I've learned that I need to learn patience and trust. It's true that distance makes the heart grow fonder and so does the imminent potential of a great loss. She "likes" everything that I post on Facebook and, in this new age of social media, that means something but I'm not sure what. She likes everyone else's stuff on Facebook too so the texts that I receive from her assure me that her affects towards me are more personal.

I hope that we don't have to have another talk at Starbucks because I wrote this. I don't want to lose her and I HATE Starbucks.

I'm coming to the hard realization that I'm not just living this life for myself anymore. I don't think I ever was living simply for myself but I certainly deluded myself into thinking as much. With a little help from a very special person, I realized that, whether it's convenient for me or not, I have a responsibility to my little sister Candice and her son - my nephew Jaiden. We both grew up without our fathers and that has made an indelible impact on both of our lives. I was fortunate enough to have several influential male role models late in adolescence but I'm still working to synthesize their lessons into the machinations, mannerisms, and mentality of what it means to be a man. I have the opportunity to give Jaiden what neither I nor my sister ever had - a strong, black male influence from start to finish. Who knows how different our lives would've been if my father, Aaron Ruff, and Candice's father Carl Brown had stayed with our mom (not at the same time of course; that would be polygamy). We can only speculate now but we don't have to deal in hypothetical when it comes to Jaiden. We have the here and now. As my dear friend and the woman that I love said to me at that fateful Starbucks meeting, "in the end, no one will say that DeAngelo was so great at making money, they'll say that you DeAngelo was there for his family and that he was a good friend." Receiving a life lesson is impactful but nothing is more impactful than receiving a life lesson in the 3rd person.

I don't know what the future holds. I don't know if I'll ever get to hold the woman that I love in my arms again or if we'll ever kiss the way that we did that first time in the middle of a packed parking lot. I don't know if I will ever earn the respect of my co-workers again. I don't know if I'll get the promotion that I need so badly and, if I do, if I'll be satisfied or be any good at the job. Hell, I don't know if I'll ever get a full night of sleep again. What I do know is that I need to be a better person. I need to be better, not just for myself, but for the untold number of people that have a vested interest in me and who I have a vested interest in - little Jaiden and my baby sister Candice being at the head of that list.

It's easy to go through life with the myopic assumption that professional success and making money is the end all and be all to existence. That's not living life. In fact, that's a fate worse than physical death. Life is lived not in the middle lane but on the periphery. Life is being kind to your fellow humans, not because they deserve it, but by virtue of your shared humanity and mortality. Life is sharing quality time with your friends and family if you're fortunate enough to have both in this world.

I may not agree with Albert Einstein who said that a life not lived for others is not a life worth living but life can hardly be characterized as such without others to share it with. I'm so glad that I found this out before it was too late.

Youth isn't always wasted on the young.

Sweet dreams Chicago.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Michael Vick for MVP - Most Valuable Person


On Sunday, Michael Vick led the 7-3 Philadelphia Eagles into Soldier Field to battle a Chicago Bears team that was 7-3 and tied for the NFC North division lead in spite of a porous offensive line and much maligned quarterback in Jay Cutler, who is prone to the inexplicable turnover. Vick is having a MVP caliber season, completing a career high 62.8% of his passes and throwing for 1,608 yards and 11 touchdowns to a remarkable 0 interceptions coming into the game. Renowned for his prowess as a runner, Vick also had 375 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns on the ground. Vick finished Sunday's game on Lake Michigan 29 of 44 passing for 333 yards, 2 touchdowns, and his first interception since Christmas Eve 2006 (he went on an 18-month hiatus shortly after that game) in the 31-26 Bears victory. Despite the Eagles loss, Vick displayed a patience and level-headed decision making in the pocket that he was completely devoid of during his tenure in Atlanta coupled with the freakish athleticism that once made the all -pro quarterback a household name. It is still early but if Vick can continue his renaissance season, sports writers will be hard pressed to deny the 1st overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft his first league MVP award.

With the emergence of Michael Vick as a legitimate MVP candidate, many of the negative emotions surrounding the inexplicable acts that cost numerous dogs their lives, left many others permanently crippled and separated Vick from his family, friends, millions of dollars in NFL salary and endorsements, and halted a Hall of Fame caliber career for nearly 2 years have reemerged. For many Americans, whose pets are an extension of their families, it is hard to reconcile the atrocities committed by Vick and his cohorts with the propensity for Americans to give second chances and fawn over stories of redemption. None of us will ever forget the evil crimes committed by Vick and many will never be able to find it in their hearts to forgive him for his actions but it is one of the cornerstones of our American system of justice to allow those who have made amends for their improprieties the opportunity to continue their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

A perfect example of this is the remarkable comeback story of 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton. The parallels between Vick and Hamilton's stories are startling at first glance. Like Vick, Hamilton was the first overall pick in his draft, taken in the 1999 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Hamilton went on the blow almost all of the $4 million dollar signing bonus that he received as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. After years of therapy and a renewed relationship with God, Hamilton finally made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007 (he was left off of the Reds 40-man roster making him a free agent; the Cubs selected him in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and immediately traded him back to Cincinnati for $100,000). In December 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for two pitching projects. Hamilton went on to put on an astounding display at the 2008 All-Star Game Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, hitting a record 28 homers in the first round and 35 home runs overall (Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins went on to win the competition), endearing him to throngs of baseball fans and fans of redemption alike. Hamilton completed his amazing comeback story in 2010 by leading the majors with a .359 batting average with 32 home runs and 100 runs batted in despite missing 29 games with broken ribs (Vick missed several games with broken rib cartilage early this season). Hamilton also helped the Texas Rangers reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, leading them all the way to the World Series where they lost to the San Francisco Giants in 5games.

The story of Josh Hamilton's journey from rock bottom to the pinnacle of success has inspired many adults to make life-altering changes and prevented numerous kids and up-and-coming athletes from making the same mistakes that nearly derailed Hamilton's career. When Hamilton was awarded the American League MVP in mid-November, it was widely viewed as the culmination of an 11-year journey from the absolute lowest point that a human can fall. Why is it that Josh Hamilton can be held up as a shining example of the resiliency of the human spirit and the ability to change one's situation for the better and not Michael Vick? Can the story of Vick's rise and percipitous fall from fame not have the same influence on our nation's youth as Hamilton's story has had and why are we so reluctant as a nation to allow this change to happen?

In a 2005 article by E.L. Worthington, Jr. and N.G. Wade on promoting forgiveness in psychotherapy, the authors found that one of the first tasks of working towards forgiveness is understanding exactly what forgiveness means. Many people believe that forgiveness requires reconciling with the offending party but that is not necessarily the case, especially in situations where reconciliation could place the victim(s) back into an unsafe environment. In Vick's case, his reconciliation came partly in the form of an 18-month federal prison sentence and the payment of millions of dollars in fines and penalties. In a 1997 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, M.E. McCullough, E.L. Worthington, and K.C. Rachal described a set of studies that indicate that when people forgive, it is due in part to their developing empathy for (i.e., feeling compassionate about and understanding the perspective of) the person who hurt them or others.

It may be easier for us to develop empathy for people who are perceived to have only inflicted pain and suffering on themselves than it is to develop a level of personal understanding for folks like Vick that persecuted innocent victims. I also think that, due to the relationships that many people have with their pets, the actions taken by Vick were deemed to be more egregious and hit closer to home. For many, Vick's crimes against those dogs were comparable to the murder of a human being. Additionally, it is likely that there is a cultural element to the levels of empathy developed for Hamilton's shortcomings as opposed to Vick's. All of us know someone or know of someone that has been directly or peripherally afflicted by the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse. Conversely, there are very few people in the United States who were familiar with the underground urban and rural counterculture of dog fighting before light was shed on this sport by the Michael Vick case. In a 2009 article by Worthington et al. in the Journal of Counseling and Development, the researchers found that cross-cultural adaptations of forgiveness interventions were highly effective in reducing the motivation of offended parties that are not a part of the offenders cultural group from seeking revenge against and/or avoiding the offending person. In other words, the more understanding we have about the circumstances behind Vick's upbringing, the more likely we are to be forgiving of him for his crimes. In a country still divided by race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, this may explain why many people are still having a difficult time moving on from Vick's actions.

In spite of the prevalence of negative sentiments surrounding Vick's crimes, the quarterback continues to make amends with his actions and his words. On November 23rd, Michael Vick travelled with Wayne Pacelle, President of the Humane Society of the United States, to talk with students at New Haven's Hillhouse High School. Vick talked about the importance of showing kindness to animals and how everyday he has to face his young daughter, who wants a dog, and explain to her that due to the terrible actions that he perpetrated he is no longer allowed to own pets. This is a part of the price that Pacelle contends that Vick continues to pay on top of the legal obligation already paid to society. That price also includes the constant presence of protesters at Eagles games and at speaking engagements featuring Vick. That price includes parents who keep their kids home from school when they catch wind of Vick coming to their kid's school. That price includes the possibility that Vick may never garner another major endorsement no matter how prolific and spectacular his feats on the field are. Vick has embraced all of these occurrences and said that he sees good coming out of his negative experiences. “I think I’m being used by God because all the laws have changed since my incident,” he said.

Michael Vick also talked to the high schoolers about the importance of listening as opposed to hearing. Vick was reminded of this important lesson on June 25th when Vick co-defendent Quanis Phillips was shot outside Vick's birthday party after the two men had a verbal altercation in which Phillips pushed birthday cake in Vick's face. After a brief investigation by the NFL, Vick was cleared of any wrongdoing and cleared to play the upcoming season. At the time, Vick stated that he should've listened to his mother more intently about his plans to have the birthday party. "If I could re-track and do it all over again, I would have listened to my mom and had [the party] private," Vick said. "Let [my mom] and my fiancée orchestrate the party. ... It goes to show that mommas know best. We all think that certain things we want to do, we can do. But you have to start listening to your mom at some point. They are not going to tell you anything wrong. That was a lesson I learned." This is a lesson that we can all learn from Michael Vick and his mom without having absolutely everything in the world taken from us in the blink of an eye and without being imprisoned in a 4'X10' cell at a maximum security federal prison in Kansas, penniless and alone.

As unforgivable as Michael Vick's crimes were and still are, he has been judged, convicted, and punished in a court of law. I'm not suggesting that you should withhold judgement on Vick. In my opinion, the failure to judge is one of the most egregious crimes that one can commit. I'm imploring you to do the exact opposite - judge the man based on what he has done off the field using the star power that he has reincarnated with his stellar play on the field.

By all accounts Michael Vick is saying all the right things but it is the embarrassment, humility, and pain that tempers these words that we should all keenly listen to. We may never know if the 18-months that Vick spent in purgatory have truly changed him but, so far, his actions have matched his words to the letter. As much as he'd like to change the past 4 years, Michael Vick can't change the things that he's done and the pain that he caused by his actions. None of us can. That's why we should allow him to make amends for his past by the steps that he takes now and in the future. If his present feats on and off the field are any indication of the future, we may be witnessing the maturation of an all-star football player and, most importantly, a true MVP - Most Valuable Person.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Justitia


Meditate upon the goddess Justitia, the representation of objectivity, fairness, equality, and truth. Although the maiden is blindfolded, her vision is expansive. No good deed goes unrewarded and no evil act goes unpunished. The sword in her right hand, the seat of fidelity, is double-edged and sharp as a constant reminder that our actions cut both ways.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Are My Testicles Black?


I mean, are my test results back?

Now that I have your attention...

I haven't written anything on this blog in quite sometime so I feel like I need to reintroduce myself. Hi blog, I'm DeAngelo. Nice to see you again. It looks like you've lost weight.

Now that the formalities are out of the way, it's time to get some things that are on my mind out and into the disinfecting literary breeze.

So, the Republicans made significant gains in the House of Representatives and picked up a few key seats in the Senate in addition to modest gains in gubernatorial races and state legislatures. Roughly 1/5th of Americans cited GOP policy as the reason they voted for Republican candidates on their ballots (about 85% of these folks also reported being able to see dead people, aliens, Taylor Swift's virginity and other phenomenons rumored to exist). Roughly 3/4ths of Americans cited their displeasure with the policies of the Obama administration over the past 2 years as the reason they turned against the POTUS during this election cycle. Lest there be any confusion over my attempt at sarcasm above, the Republicans have no ACTUAL solutions to speak of to cure what ails the American people - rampant unemployment, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ballooning debt, etc.

The Republican victory during the 2010 midterm elections had as much to do with yet another spineless Democratic president in a long line of yellow Democratic presidents being unable to clearly articulate the fact that it was Republicans who got us into this mess in the first place after 8 years of peace and economic prosperity. If I'm not mistaken, wasn't that one of the many coded remarks made about President Obama during his Yes We Can World Tour - that he was articulate in addition to being clean and reassuringly not black enough? The president looks uncomfortable and sounds particularly inarticulate when it comes to touting the accomplishments of his administrations or chastising the red coats at British Petroleum for destroying miles American beaches and fishing waters off our already devastated Gulf Coast.

The GOP gains are also due in large part to the great number of young voters between the ages of 18 and 27 who were responsible for catapulting Barry into the Oval Office sitting on their hands November 2nd while the older white voters, many of whom voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary and who strongly dislike the idea of having a black president, were at the polls at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning. As award winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore screamed as much as said on the season finale of Real Time with Bill Maher, Obama should've set up a command center in the White House sending out tweets, Facebook status updates, LOLs, and OMGs imploring his base to drop their X-Box controllers and Cosmo magazines for 15 minutes to come out and support his party and their candidates instead of the half-hearted day of text message that he sent saying, "Hey, it's Barry. Been a while." As Maher astutely opined, people are like dogs. They see in black and white and only understand inflection and fear. Republicans know this and have devised tactics to gain public support for the reforms that they subsequently rammed through the Congress that they controlled but when it comes time for Democrats to explain why their policies are the right ones, they get the shakes like the nerdy guy trying to find words for the girl that he'll never fuck anyway.

I'm not a huge fan of the healthcare reform that was pushed by the Obama administration and passed during reconciliation by Congress. In my view, the government has 3 main functions: To protect the homeland from foreign attacks, to protect citizens from attacks by other citizens, and to act as an arbiter in contractual disputes between citizens. Much to my chagrin, our government and the impact that it has on the daily lives of Americans has moved far beyond the scope of my Libertarian idealism. For better or worse, our government is one that practices wholesale interventionism in every facet of our lives, from the regulation of our money markets to the safety of the dozen of eggs that we buy from the local grocer. Aside from the two perpetual wars that no politician on both sides of the spectrum dared speak of in the days leading up to the elections, the greatest burden on our economy is the continuously burgeoning cost of healthcare.

As former Congressman and retired 3-star admiral Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania' s 7th district iterated, when we talk about the members of our armed services having free healthcare, we don't call that socialism, we call it good business because we realize that the healthiest warriors will also be the best warriors. We also don't want our soldiers thinking about how their loved ones will pay for healthcare in their absence when they're in the line of fire. The same line of thinking should apply to our workforce at large. In the same vein, former Republican presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Hukabee, who is an ordained minister and doesn't believe in evolution, made the point that it is completely illogical to lump the sickest people in our nation into the same insurance pool as the healthiest amongst up. That skews the cost curve towards higher premiums for all of us. Whether folks like me like it or not, we need to get folks away from emergency rooms and to general care practitioners for their basic needs and we need to have a special insurance grouping for the sickest amongst us or else healthcare costs will bankrupt our nation (if Wall Street doesn't turn the trick first).

I know that it's always easier being on the outside looking in on issues of great import but isn't that why we sent Barry and his cavalcade of Dems to Washington in the first place - because he was an outsider that had yet to be polluted by the insular smug of beltway business as usual? The way President Obama puts out for the Wall Street special interests you'd think he was born in New England with a pair of wingtips and a yacht mast up his ass and not in Hawaii, Kansas, and Indonesia to humble, simple parents and grandparents. Don't get me wrong, I'm not just ragging on Obama. I drank the lemonade that Republican, reform Democrat, Libertarian, and Independent candidates were selling on election day. They said that Obama had become too close to the special interests in Washington and failed to deliver on his campaign promises to the middle class. It was time to send in the reserves. The problem is that the reserves don't have any plans to turn the tide other than obstinate obstructionism and tying their collective testicles to the perceived prosperity created by Bush era tax cuts. Republicans have no answers to Obama's policies because the same people that write Obama's legislation write theirs when they're the majority. The greatest expansion of government happened during the George W. Bush administration. The displeasure that conservatives claim to have for Obama's liberalism bordering on socialism is token at best.

The real losers in this game of hot potato being played by our elected officials are the American people. Everything costs more, everyone makes less if they're making anything at all, and the government wants us to foot more and more of the bill for their bad investments and misdeeds. China and India are enjoying trade surpluses while America sends more of our depreciated currency into eastern markets for cheaply made knick knacks, only to see those dollars return in the form of treasury bonds that are being gobbled up by our Asian competitors like General Sao's chicken. Our children can't read, write, or do math and those children grow up to write economic and social policies that prominently display our deficiencies in these areas of educational proficiency. Is there any hope for the future of our great nation?

If the $5 million people who actually sat down and watched the series premiere of Sarah Palin's Alaska is any indicator, my vote would be no.

Who am I fooling? I'm 26, I don't vote.