148499_10100741148544263_1419274769_nCLO warning: Confused Luddite Online.

God help me, I’ve created a Twitter account…

Two things:

  1. It is true that I have been quite vocal in the past regarding my doubts as to the real benefits of social media and online communication. That will not stop; I still have those doubts. There were, and are, doubts about every new means of mass communication ever invented: the telegraph, the radio, television, and so on. And they have each been used in ways that have both strengthened and compromised our moral identity as a people.
  2. It is also true that, as with all communications media, it is largely the user who determines the positive or negative impact of any given medium. Since the Internet is here to stay, it is up to individual users concerned about its moral and ethical implications not just to nitpick from the sidelines, but to map out ways in which those limitations may be transcended and overcome.

So, if I can’t beat them, I must join them.

Mind you, I haven’t the foggiest clue what I’m doing, and I’m more than a little convinced that I’m simply entering another arena in which silence will reign, but if I don’t try…well…

If you are interested, you’ll find me at @magnificenttoad. If you’re invested in changing the conversation, join me there. I’ll be the guy tilting at windmills.

Spread the word:

Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts


Are we beginning to forget?

I’ve been following the Syrian Refugee Crisis tag in my Reader, and I’ve noticed a steady downturn in the number of posts dealing with the subject. Whereas in the days immediately following the first gubernatorial declarations new posts were published by the second, now, in the midst of Black Friday madness and the fading general food coma, they have dwindled to one or two per day.

But this is still happening. They still need our help. And the doors are still closed.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a wonderful meal with wonderful people whose wonderful faces I’ve seen far too little of over the past few years. Good food, good conversation, warmth and love and family togetherness. For all this, I am more than thankful.

But this is still happening. They still need our help. And the doors are still closed.

Today, you may make it home with a really cool new possession bought on the cheap, and you may enjoy your new toy for months to come, and there’s nothing wrong with that…so far as it goes. Five thousand channels, high def, a movie theater in your living room. Or the newest iPhone: makes phone calls and cappuccino, while you wait. Another distraction in an over-stimulated life.

But this is still happening. They still need our help. And the doors are still closed.

I don’t mean to judge; I don’t mean to place myself on an undeserved pedestal. I forget, too. Out of sight, out of mind. And there are so many things to watch on Netflix. I get it; it’s my addiction, as well. Boy, howdy, is it ever.

But this is still happening. They still need our help. And the doors are still closed.

This is simply a gentle reminder, to all of us, that in times like these we can’t afford to forget, lest we be forgotten. I leave you with the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Spread the word:
Open the doors!!!

Thanksgiving Thoughts, pt. 1


You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

– Mahatma Gandhi

The other day I saw a Thanksgiving post titled “Alone,” consisting of a blurred photo of what one assumes is a homeless man wandering a parking lot. The caption read: “I often see this man, pacing in parking lots and talking to himself.  I hope he will have something to be thankful for this week.”

Ummm…What about you? What about me?

What about us?

Thanksgiving shouldn’t just be about us. It should be a time not just for being thankful; it should be a time for giving thankfulness. For doing something to make sure that the people around us also have something to be thankful about. For…well…just doing something. For someone.

My wife Tammy is the director of our local Meals on Wheels program. Tomorrow morning, we will be working to deliver Thanksgiving meals to a number of senior citizens across the Greater Waco area. You could, too. Maybe not here in Waco; but there’s bound to be a program like this somewhere in your area (and if there’s not, think about starting one next year). If our experience is at all prescriptive, these folks can always use substitute drivers in case a scheduled volunteer is unable to make it.

Or (and it’s not too late for this one), maybe you have a colleague who lives too far from family to make it home this year. Do you know what their plans are? Or even if they have any? Ask, for Pete’s sake. And if they don’t…INVITE!!! Even if they’re not someone you necessarily get along with at work, a little kindness goes a long, long way. And everyone deserves a welcome at this time of year.

Or it could be as simple as noticing the people around you: when you run into Starbucks (or whichever coffee outlet you frequent), don’t overlook the woman sitting at the bus stop a mere 50 yards away, shivering with cold. Grab a hot chocolate and take it over to her. And never mind that she might think you’re crazy. That’s the point: unexpected actions prompt unexpected thoughts. And unexpected thoughts lead to unexpected actions.

And so it goes…

This year, be the change you want to see in the world. This Thanksgiving, be someone’s reason for giving thanks.

And spread the word:
Open the doors!!!

Do What’s Right, and Risk the Consequences


All those with agency are confronted by a choice. We can use that agency to secure for ourselves a safe and comfortable existence. We can use our life, that one unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbors….We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny us.

– George Monbiot

The above quote is from a book called The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order (2003). It’s posted on my cubicle wall at work; it makes my mind tingle every time I read it. It is, quite simply, magnificent. And at the moment, quite apropos.

Everyone says original thinkers are those who “think outside the box.” That’s not enough for me. I want to take the box outside, smash it to pieces, set it on fire, and forget there was ever a box in the first place. I want to start fresh. Every. Single. Time.

We have reached a point in our evolution as a planet at which this sort of thinking is the only way forward. Postmodernism paved the way, pointing out the moral potency of language and reminding us that individual perception is at least as important as collective interpretation to understanding the world we live in. But I would argue that we’ve moved past even that: it’s time now for the rise of a new metanarrative. We must reassemble what we’ve so assiduously deconstructed. The individual must once again become part of a whole.

That whole is the global community. Not a new world order, necessarily; that’s a loaded term that conjures for many the abandonment of identity. Perhaps instead a “new world understanding.” Not the rejection, but the redefinition, of identity. Now that we have come to appreciate the value of the one, how do we build something bigger, better, and stronger on that foundation? How do we reconstruct?

Here in the United States, the first step toward this new understanding involves a reassessment of who we are as a nation. The “superpower” paradigm is no longer viable. The world doesn’t need watchdogs; the world needs good global citizens. We need to embrace the global community that, in large part, we created, by way of corporations like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s.

This means reining in those very corporate actors, the ones who give us such a bad name around the world. The ones that go into developing nations in the name of solidarity, use up all the local resources, enrich the local despots, and then move on to greener pastures once the well’s been sucked dry.

This means actually being a member of the United Nations: not just drafting resolutions, but adopting them in good faith, and living by them instead of just forcing everyone else to. Addressing climate change and the global economy as more than simply electoral leverage, and recognizing the multitude of ways in which our actions affect strangers on the other side of the planet.

It means thinking past national security and “peace in our time.” Not thinking in terms of our problems and their problems. Their problems are our problems; there is no parsing that away anymore. If that weren’t the case, the attacks in Paris wouldn’t be making us so nervous right now. We know how easily troubles move about the globe these days. The next step is to accept our responsibility for helping to solve them. Which includes taking in the refugee.

It means rethinking the idea of nationality itself. I’m not saying we should do away with our shared identity as American citizens. But we should not allow our definition of the United States to stand in the way of a united planet. We can be American citizens, and global citizens, at the same time. We simply have to find the will to do it.

I would wager that most people are familiar enough with the cultural meme of the Good Samaritan, so I won’t take the time to explain the whole thing. I’ll just leave you with this thought:

Who is my neighbor? Everyone, everywhere.

As my good friend Russell commented on my previous post, we need to have the courage to do what is right, together, and risk the consequences. It’s the only way to survive the future.

Spread the word:
Open the doors!!!

Why Don’t He Just Shut Up?!?

19365_717013806513_9223634_39963040_868241_nI believe
That if you’re bristling
While you hear this song
I could be wrong
Or have I hit a nerve?

– Tears for Fears

I know, I know…

I’ve been making a right nuisance of myself over the past few days. I’ve been harsh; I’ve been critical; I’ve been–dare I say it–a bit judgmental. Perhaps I’ve stepped on toes; perhaps I’ve gotten on a few last nerves.

That’s the idea.

On the other hand, perhaps I’ve come off as a tad superior, mayhap even condescending. That’s not good; also not my intention. Here’s the thing: I’m disappointed, more so than I remember being in anything in a long, long time. And when I’m this far down the rabbit hole, I get angry. And when I get angry, I get a little sharp.

I’m disappointed in my former faith: I see the likes of Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, spewing hatred disguised as theology from the pulpit of a major Southern Baptist church, televised, watched, listened to, thoughtlessly adored by who knows how many so-called Christians.

I’m disappointed in those who can’t understand the fact that Jeffress and his ilk, while louder than most and therefore more visible, do not represent the soul of Christianity, any more than the Paris terrorists represent the whole of Islam.

I’m disappointed in my country. Some of you may know I grew up in Argentina, and I have seen us through the eyes of others. Consequently, the grand rhetoric has always sounded somewhat hollow in my ears. But the events of this last week have fairly yanked whatever patriotic myopia I might have had left right out of my head.

I have seen comments by self-assured ‘Muricans, praising the magnanimity and generosity of spirit “for which we are known around the world.”

Here’s an example:

I wonder if situations were reversed and it was “the greatest nation on earth” who required help for millions of our people, I would be most curious to see the rush of compassion and outpouring of help, that we are known for. It’s classic though. You can rise to the occasion every time, but the ONE time you may have to withhold or proceed with caution, you are resented and all past acts of kindness are totally forgotten. Typical.

That would be such a good point, if it weren’t complete crap. There is a list of UN treaties and resolutions that we have “signed but not ratified” that is longer than the list of excuses we’ve come up with for ignoring the Syrian refugees. This includes, among others, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which we helped to draft) and the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (which we signed knowing that, due to previously adopted domestic legislation, we lacked the ability to ratify). In other words, we want to police international law without committing to abide by it ourselves. We hold the purse strings to the IMF and World Bank, and have, time and again, forced other countries into near-bankruptcy through coercive, lop-sided loan agreements. Our domestic subsidies throw international markets out of balance, leaving farmers and small manufacturers without affordable sales partners. We force our multinational corporations on other nations, while refusing those nations access to our own markets. These things are not hearsay. They are well-documented facts…if we’re willing to listen. And they are not exceptions; they’re just another day at the office.

This time, though, in my opinion we have sunk to a new low. I’m not sure how much lower we can go, at this point. We have turned tail and run for this hills because of something that didn’t even happen in our country. We have abdicated whatever moral high ground we still occupied, and left thousands of our fellow human beings (human beings; not rabid dogs, or bad apples, or fans of falafel; not even potential terrorists) cold and alone and afraid, with nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.

A word of reminder: an isolationist stance did little to keep us out of World War II, and may have even contributed to the attack on Pearl Harbor. So, isolationism is no protection. Why not go down swinging? That’s the rhetoric, right? John Wayne, the OK Corral, High freakin’ Noon? Are our historical/fictional characters really the only brave souls among us?

At long last, I’m disappointed in myself. For writing this damn post while Rome is burning. For assuming that by taking time out of my day to do this, that I’m actually making a difference. For not getting off my ass and finding ways to actually address this situation with actions rather than words. For being one of the shrinking violets I’ve been criticizing so loudly for the last few days.

We–I–need less social media, and more social action.

But above all, we need to be the people we pretend to be when we’re trying to distract the world (and ourselves) from who we really are.

If we want to be the greatest nation on earth, we need to act like the greatest nation on earth.

Spread the word:
Open the doors!

Happy Thanks-Spending!!!!


Here’s a thing: go to your WordPress Reader page, to the Explore Tags search, and type in Black Friday. Go ahead; I dare you!!

Deals. Deals!!! DEALS!!!! Look, Charlie Brown! It’s such a beautiful sight…

We have a serious problem in this country: our priorities need a swift kick in the ass, another to the head, and then yet another well-placed kick to the buttocks. We want to have our turkey, eat it too…and then take away somebody else’s, based on the notion that our access to discounts is more important than their access to quality family time.

Hear me now: You do not need to shop on Black Friday. Especially the part of Black Friday that’s been moved to Thursday.

Are we really so caught up in the machinations of that “invisible hand” that we cannot stay away from department stores for one damn day? That the only suitable end to a wonderful day with family is to go beat up other people’s families over toys and TVs? Seriously: what is wrong with us?

We have been hypnotized by our own greed. Yes, you heard me: GREED! We have allowed our day of thanksgiving to be co-opted by profit-seeking corporations: where once we were thankful for life and warmth and the love of family, now we’re thankful for low, low prices and discount DVD bins. We have decided that it’s okay to haul other people away from their own celebrations so there’ll be somebody to ring us up when we march up to the cash registers with the blood of other shoppers still fresh on our hands, triumphant warriors in the kingdom of Consumerism.

We have turned into a nation of grubbers, because the political class has convinced us that grubbing is the highest form of patriotism. With one breath, they tell us that the collapse of the nuclear family is America’s most pressing problem, and that the best way to save America is to leave our families at the dinner table and go buy some more stuff.

All hail the United States of Stuff!!!

For once, let’s tell Target and Best Buy and Wal-Mart and whoever the hell else to shove it. To leave us in peace while we give thanks for real stuff: love, life, family. Real things. Things that last. Things that money cannot buy. Let’s tell them by just not showing up: they can’t co-opt our thanks if we don’t let them. For once, let your money do some actual talking by not letting it talk at all.

But…since what I’m asking isn’t really likely…

Happy Thanks-Spending, everyone!!!!!