Thursday, December 4, 2014

I'm mad as hell and I'm going to continue to take it.

Some of my friends have been on a campaign to unfriend the many closet racists who have popped up in the last few months. I've had the urge myself and was just about to start when I had a kind of revelation: It's exactly the wrong thing to do.

It is by now obvious to all of us that many Americans live entirely in environments of like-minded people, so compartmentalized and isolated from other people's problems that it can seem as though they don't exist. It is devastatingly easy to surround yourself in a cocoon of talk radio and Fox news and never be exposed to any experience outside that.

But this is a two-way street. It is equally easy to spend your time reading The Atlantic and reading Bernie Sanders quotes and dismissing what Ted Cruz is saying. The Liberal way isn't any less blind and rigid than the Conservative.

Unfriending people contributes to that. You, the unfriender, are closing your eyes to something that angers and hurts you. But that doesn't make it go away; it's the opposite. You're making your environment conform more closely to your worldview, not to the actual world.

What's worse, you're contributing to exactly the same thing in your ex-friend's world. Your voice is now missing from their conversation and it's an important conversation to be having.

Surround yourself with opinions you don't like. Listen to the people you hate and try to understand what they are saying and why. That doesn't mean you're agreeing with them, but understanding diffuses hate and hate accomplishes nothing. You can hate the opinion but it's far too easy for that to turn into ad hominem hate of the person, and it's easier still when you can't even be bothered to listen.

My conservative friends know I'm a liberal, and when they disagree with things I post, I cherish the opportunity to hear a dissenting voice that pulls me out of my comfort zones and challenges my assumptions.

And when I see a politically offensive, or even racist or homophobic post, I read that, too. I may hate it but it helps me broaden my understanding of just what exactly is going on in this fucked-up country of ours.

We're all here together. It's hard and it's painful to hear things that are contrary to your worldview. But you have to. The other way doesn't accomplish anything, either here or anywhere else, including Congress. Other people's opinions and experience is what America IS. That's the whole goddamn point.

Surrounding yourself with ideologues, no matter how just your fight, makes it not a fight but a war. It doesn't even leave you the option to have anything other than a war, because you only hear one kind of words. You can be angry as hell in your struggle, but if only one side listens then nothing can be accomplished, because it's all or nothing, which is what a war is.

I am not saying accommodate. I am not saying capitulate. I am not saying back down, back off, be humble, settle for less or be quiet. What we CANNOT do is make people understand us and our causes if we do not at least try to understand them, no matter how hard it is to hear what they are saying.

I believe there is hope for everyone. I have seen with my own eyes, I have seen people turned around to face the truth and I have seen the light of understanding come into them. It can be done and it must be done. If someone is lying down and grovelling in mud and filth and degradation then sometimes we have to get down into that pit with them if we want to try to lift them out. Anyone full of anger and fear is hurting and it is our job as human beings to care and to try to help, however small the hand we offer, when we see someone hurting.

Words of intolerance come from fear and if we turn our backs on the people uttering them then that fear can only turn to hate. We have to have the courage to look at the things that repel us and not be afraid ourselves. If there is any hope for this country ever to heal then it must begin with an outstretched hand and an open mind and a clear heart.

I am not saying that dialogue is the only answer; activism, sometimes in extreme forms, is often not only the right course but the only course. But we are in danger as a society, with broken institutions and harmful traditions that alienate and oppress people and if we declare war on them, then war is a means of breaking things, not fixing them. I am not saying we have to be peaceful but if we are hateful, then our path can only lead to destruction.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Miss America Scholarships

There's a lot of discussion on and praise for the John Oliver piece on Miss America Scholarships, and with good reason.

But what I haven't seen is the actual scholarship amount awarded. It turns out that's an easy number to calculate, because Miss America lists the names and amounts of all their scholarship winners. It was $323,000 in 2013 (for 2012 contestants).

$323,000 is not the amount actually distributed, however. For instance, MIss Vermont Chelsea Ingram was awarded $3,000, but she was (and still is) a college graduate with a full time job and according to the scholarship rules, unless she's enrolled in at least 9 credit hours a semester, she won't receive anything. Lop off Miss Illinois Megan Ervin's $8,000, too, and keep working your way down the list.

By my unscientific sampling, then, at least 15% of the scholarships weren't used, so generously, they awarded $275,000 in scholarships.

Even John Oliver got it wrong. At $275,000 Miss America is not the largest provider of scholarships for women in America. The Society of Women Engineers, which was called out in the Oliver piece, disbursed over $700,000 in scholarships so far this year. And unlike Miss America, I don't think they're lying.

If you're doing the math, by the way, Miss America's $45 million claim is exaggerated by 6,363.7%

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Road Home is in trouble.

Two years ago, I had the rare privilege of seeing a dream come to life, when The Road Home was launched. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit is dedicated to finding social, vocational and employment opportunities for post-9/11 veterans in automotive restoration shops through short-term internships. With the help of a generous sponsorship, we've been able to help veterans, as well as do our little bit to create a new generation of collector car enthusiasts.

But with the sale of American Collectors Insurance to NSM last month, The Road Home USA is losing its charter sponsor. This means huge challenges ahead if I want to keep the lights on--more than just paying the bills, American Collectors covered all the back end legal and accounting work.

While I am willing to take (back) on the overall outreach and management work, I do not have the time, money or expertise to handle everything on my own. The only way to keep this running is to find a new sponsor.

The good news is that TRH is no longer limited by existing commitments and requirements in sponsorship; and it won't take a huge dollar amount to keep the project alive. Probably only enough to pay for accounting; legal help in relocating the organization (we're incorporated in New Jersey; I'min Vermont and would probably want to operate as a Foreign Entity here); and expenses like the website ( and phone.

SO IF YOU KNOW any one or any company who would like to have their name associated with The Road Home, please send my contact information along--I can be emailed at; or call 786-273-7468 (786 APE RIOT). The need for The Road Home hasn't gone away--let's not let the program die.