Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bulletproofing our children

When faced with tragedy, people usually divide into two groups: the doers and the bigmouths. In both groups there are people who are sensible and focused, and others who are, well, idiots. The good news is that both groups are easily identifiable. The first group usually tries to help, to make it better, to offer some sort of solution, even if it isn't the best one. They focus on repairing and healing. You may disagree with their methods, but their heart is in the right place. They usually are the anonymous angels that will give you the blanket or the bottle of water; the ones who will organize to provide food or clear out rubble. May their lives be blessed beyond their imagination.

But this isn't about the good guys and gals. This is about the idiots.

As long as there has been tragedy, there have been idiots who make it worse, either by their actions or by the sheer stupidity that comes out of their mouths. It never ceases to amaze me how some people try to profit from tragic events, or go off the deep end on tangential bullshit that does not add anything positive to the equation. Like the contemptible snake who set up a scam asking for money "in memory of" 6-year-old Noah Pozner, one of the Sandy Hook victims. Or like that other precious gem, James Dobson, who abused his privilege of having a radio program to spew vomitous nonsense such as the assertion that the Sandy Hook shootings were "God's judgement" on the United States and were also somehow related to President Obama's reelection. And then, we have another category: the knee-jerking lemmings.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, concerned parents throughout the United States have resorted to something that would appear to be taken from a South Park episode: bulletproof clothing and backpacks for their children. Let me repeat that. Parents are procuring "child-sized armoured vests, protective undershirts and backpacks with ballistic protection that can be used as shields" for their children, because they are afraid to send them to school. Since the manufacturer is a Colombian company, parents have been ordering through email, although one enterprising soul has requested exclusive distribution rights in the US. This new line of "superclothes" has been designed with the American consumer in mind, and targets the 8-16 year-old market at the bargain basement price of $150-$600 a pop (pardon the pun).

How screwed up is this? Let me count the ways.

Let's begin with the obvious: the effect that this will have on our children. Explaining the Sandy Hook shooting was difficult enough. So now, to help our children heal and move on, the best thing to do is... dress them up in their "special school clothes" to remind them every day that their lives are fragile. Those vests and backpacks will be a daily reminder of the tragedy. Every time they don their vests, we will feed their fear and reopen the wound. And the worst part about this is that, in cases like Sandy Hook, the vests would have been useless because the gunman shot everyone at close range. Not to mention that kids don't have their backpacks on them while in the classroom. All in all, a really bad idea.

Then, there's the inexplicable tendency to "punish" and force the victims into making adjustments, instead of dealing with the perpetrators. This madness of forcing our kids into bulletproof clothing, to me, is akin to blaming women who get raped or physically abused. It is the kind of mindset that has sent us to convert our homes into practical jail cells for fear of those who might break in. It is what gives birth to controlled-access complexes and a multi-billion dollar security industry. We take these steps to lull ourselves into a false sense of security by pretending that, if we treat the symptom, the disease will be cured. Well, guess what. It doesn't work.

This brings me to the truly important part of my brain droppings (as George Carlin would say). Why isn't anyone of serious consequence talking about mental health? As of now, the focus everywhere seems to be on gun control and stricter gun laws. Seriously, people. Have we not learned anything from  other shootings? Even I, who am viscerally anti-gun, can see that more laws will be useless. Prohibitions never work. On the contrary, they just feed an underground, illegal and violent market for the banned goods. I really hate to admit it, but this isn't about gun control. This is about mental health.

Way back when, everyone and their dog had a gun. Yes, circumstances were different. Historical context was different. But I don't know of a single instance where some deranged gunman opened fire in a colonial schoolhouse. The difference, to me, is the nature of the social fabric that bound people together. A fabric that has become tragically unraveled and that we urgently need to mend. We have become disconnected from those around us. We are so caught up in our own little rat race that we rarely stop to look around any more. And it's taking a toll. A tragic one.

Kids are made bulletproof, not by dressing them in quasi-armor, but by strengthening them from within. By teaching them respect for life in every form, love towards their neighbors and solidarity with the less fortunate. By instilling in them principles like justice and fairness. It behooves us urgently to change our perspective and to start addressing the real issues that give way to horrendous tragedies like Sandy Hook. Otherwise, we'll be having this discussion again soon. And way too often.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Politics in the age of stupidity

There's an old saying that goes "stupid is as stupid does". If that is true, then we are in serious trouble, my friends.

Historically, there has always been the equivalent of the village idiot in the context of the global village. There's always one idiot who is either causing a war, committing genocide, destroying natural resources, or just simply being a pain in the rear. You know who they are. We don't need to go into the whole history lesson. But, for the life of me, I can't remember any other time in history when the idiots were simply running amok. Even worse, they're running the world. And that scares the bejeezus out of me.

Let's take a quick tour around the world.

In Russia, the singers from Pussy Riot were sentenced to prison for using their art to protest against Vladimir Putin's repressive regime. Vlad, dear, by sending them to jail you just made their point. It doesn't make a difference that you tried to hide behind the church and made up charges involving the desecration of religious places or something along those lines. You just confirmed to the whole world that you are but one step away from Stalin. And that you have no sense of humor. Or appreciation for art. Please go back to wrestling bears.

The European financial crisis. Kinda self-explanatory. Big mess with lots of idiots.

Then, of course, there's that gem known as the Republican Party in the United States. There's one Senator saying that a woman's body knows not to get pregnant when she gets raped. This bears repeating. Mr. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee from Missouri, stated that in instances of what he called "legitimate rape" a woman's body could somehow block pregnancy. He really said this. Where do I begin on this one? "Legitimate rape"?! As opposed to what? And how exactly does the body know how to block pregnancy? Idiot.

But wait, there's more. We also have the Dynamic Duo of Arizona, comprised of Governor Jan Brewer and the brilliant rising star, State Representative Kimberly Yee. These two eminences of science have drafted and signed into law the draconian "Women's Health and Safety Act". According to this groundbreaking document, in Arizona, women are now legally pregnant two weeks before conception. This, of course, was drafted in this way to limit the amount of time a woman is allowed to have a legal abortion. But I have several questions: I plan to have sex with my husband later today. Does that make me pregnant now? What if I get my period next month? Who was the idiot who lent scientific weight to this ridiculous document? We already knew that Governor Brewer was nuttier than a Jif factory. But now we know she's not alone. Yee-haw!

However, nowhere in the world will you find more political idiots than in my lovely home of Puerto Rico. Let's take a quick look:

Last Sunday, we voted on two proposed amendments to our Constitution. One was to limit our given absolute right to bail, and the other one was to decrease the number of legislators. Sound great right? Not when you read the fine print. In the first case, considering our inefficient and corrupt system (only 30% of crimes are solved), those who would be most affected by eliminating the right to bail would be the poor; those who can't afford fancy, expensive lawyers. In the second case, while I definitely agree that our legislators desperately deserve to get their collective asses fired, the problem was that the amendment was drafted in such a way that approving it would eliminate minority representation in the government. They would keep the same inflated, obscene budget and the same privileges (car, chauffeur, per diem, plus an outrageous salary, etc.), but it would be distributed among less people. We would put a lot more money into their hands. Not a good idea. Thankfully, both initiatives were defeated. My faith in popular wisdom is somewhat restored.

As the results of the referendum came in, the leaders of the party that was promoting the amendments were far from happy. One of them, Edwin Mundo, actually went as far as to say that those of us who voted against them were paid off by druglords. I tried to get hold of Mr. Mundo to ask him which druglord I should approach to get my money. I just started law school and I really could use the money.

And let's not forget the spanking new Penal Code just approved by our Governor, Luis Fortuño. Among the pearls cultivated in this breakthrough document, you find that it is now practically impossible to prosecute companies who commit environmental crimes. You will also be automatically sent to jail for three years for protesting peacefully in our Capitol. Yup. If I silently stand up with a sign protesting something while either chamber is in session, I go to jail. Somewhere along the line, they forgot that the Capitol belongs to the people. Hell, I can chain myself to the gate in front of the White House in peaceful protest and get away with a $100 fine. This should give you an idea of how deluded these idiots really are.

But the granddaddy of them all, at least for the moment, is Rogelio Figueroa, leader of Puertorriqueños por Puerto Rico (Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico), one of several emerging political parties. In a recent event where he addressed local college students, he identified our decrease in population (according to the latest census) as a major factor in determining our economic woes, and urged the audience to "procreate". Yeah. Like college kids need an excuse to go have sex. Puerto Rico is a small island. By a conservative count, we have around 3.5 million inhabitants. We don't need more people. We need the 60% of the population who lives off of government programs to become productive. Here's an idea: instead of encouraging kids to become parents way before they're prepared, how about encouraging them to not join the thousands who emigrate looking for better living conditions? How about presenting a serious economic plan? You can imagine the fallout from this.

Here's the Puertorriqueños por Puerto Rico logo before his remarks:

Here's what the people think the new logo should be, after his remarks.

There's a wonderful saying by writer Facundo Cabral.  Loosely translated, he said that even the bravest person should be afraid of one thing: pendejos (Pendejo is a much stronger version of "idiot". It's closer to asshole, but there's an important element of idiocy involved.) He used to say that we should fear them because there are too many of them, and they end up even electing the President.

The elections are quickly approaching. It's time to face our fears. Time to fight the pendejos. Time to lock up the village idiots and reclaim our public spaces. 

Otherwise, there is no difference between them and us.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What keeps me up at night

I've been up since 2:30 in the morning, discovering the brave new world of insomnia. Maybe it's the decongestant I'm taking for my allergies. But more likely than not, I'm losing sleep over prom.

I hate to admit it, but yeah. Prom. Tonight.

Not even my daughters' prom.

You see, they were both invited to their school's prom by current seniors. One is a boyfriend, the other one is a friend. Normally, I'm a very sensible girl. I haven't gone overboard with designer dresses, unlike other mothers I know who have spent $800, $1,500 and other ridiculous amounts of money for their girls' dresses. They are wearing shoes they already own. I took them to get their hair cut and blow-dried for a good starting point, because I'm doing their hair instead of asking a stylist to come to the hotel and do it for us. I also took them for mani-pedis, because ballet feet are, well, hideous and need all the help they can get. My one splurge is that I am asking a pro to come and do their makeup. But the guy is my sister's neighbor and good friend, and he's doing it for a pittance. So everything is under control. I have nothing to worry about. Right?


I am mother, see me worry.

I worry because proms are full of drama, and alcohol, and hormones. Have I prepared them enough? Am I missing anything? Do they have the right accessories? The fashion bag? I want their dates to pee in their pants a little bit when they see them for the first time. I want my girls to feel fabulous and self-confident. The bitch in me wants to see jaws drop when they enter the room. But above everything else, I want them to feel like princesses. Yes, behind the Yoda veneer I can be a vapid, competitive Barbie-head. And if you have a daughter, so are you.

And then, there's the whole prom sex cliché. I have had "the sex talk" with them plenty of times. The latest version was the "Prom Edition", which took place yesterday afternoon. They were mortified beyond description, with rolling eyes and "¡mami, por favor!!!" (mom, please!!!) repeated many times. But it's my job to do it. Because even though at 17 they're sure they know it and heard it all, I would lose even more sleep if I didn't remind them of the whole catalogue of potential danger situations. From location to diseases, I think I covered it all. Again.

And still, I can't sleep.

Maybe it's prom. But then again, maybe it's just last night's Chinese takeout.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Going back to school and other items on my bucket list

At my tender age of 45, I'm going back to school. Not just any school, but Law School. I have received all sorts of reactions to my announcement, from "you're completely insane" to "you go, girl".

Why am I doing this? After all, I've already been to graduate school. I have a successful career in communications. My twins are almost out the door and off to college (one year left), which would mean I would be the absolute owner of my time. So, while I appreciate the encouraging remarks from some friends and family, I also completely understand the puzzled looks and questions about my sanity. So I gave it some more thought.

Why am I going to Law School at this stage of my life? Why do I study thee? Let me count the ways.

I'm going to Law School for my daughters. I want to teach them that it's never too late to pursue your dreams. I want them to see that hard work pays off. I want them to know that knowledge is power. And probably most importantly, I want them to understand that life is a process of constant evolution. That you don't have to settle for "being" one thing. That your interests can grow, change, and expand, and that it's ok to explore them at any age. I want to show them that it's ok to follow your passion and pursue your bliss, even if it means getting called a few names in the process.

I'm going to Law School for my husband. The economy is tough and advertising is one of those industries that has been hit particularly hard. I'm still amazed at how clients don't understand that what I do for them is an investment that will help their businesses grow. I have talked myself hoarse trying to explain time and time again that the best time to advertise is when things are financially tough. So, even though we're having a good year in our practice (he's my favorite graphic designer), it seems like a good time to diversify our sources of income. And, whether we like it or not, there's always a need for a good lawyer.

I'm going to Law School for my father, who has been a kick-ass litigator for almost 60 years and is still in love with his profession. I know that he's always wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I've just been too chickenshit to do it. Let's just say that those are mighty big shoes to fill. But I want to give him the satisfaction of being able to work side by side with him before he decides to retire. Yeah, I'm a daddy's girl. Sue me.

But above everything else, I'm going to Law School for myself. This is something I've had in my bucket list since pretty much forever and I've always found the right excuse not to do it, simply because it's daunting in every possible way. I'm intimidated by the age difference with the other students, by the expectations of being anywhere close to being as good as my father, by the possibility of friction with one of my sisters who already is a lawyer (and a damn good one, too). I'm terrified at the prospect of failure. What if I don't have it? What if it's too much? What if I've forgotten how to be a student? So many "what ifs" have been keeping me from doing this for far too long. Enough. Time to put on my big-girl panties and, as Larry the Cable Guy would say, git'er done.

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that the only things you regret in life are those you never tried.

So here I am, middle aged and going back to school. I can just see myself taking notes with pen and notebook instead of with some nifty electronic device, just to make a point. I'm excited, and scared, and worried, and really, really pumped about this. Billy Joel said it best: "you may be right, I may be crazy". But the thing is, I have been able to accomplish most things in my life because it never occurred to me that I couldn't do them. I flung myself at each new challenge with ignorant abandon. And the crazy thing is, it actually worked out.

So here's my wish for you: divest yourself of your fears and do those things that make your heart beat a little faster. Whether it's a small gesture like a cooking class, or a bigger one like finally starting your exercise program, or a ridiculously life-changing one like starting a new career, just go for it. Face it. Embrace it. Find the difference between reasons and excuses and start moving towards the things that make your life fulfilling. You deserve it. Follow your bliss and it will be multiplied simply by the joy it brings you.

There are many other things in my bucket list that have been put off for way too long and I look forward to crossing them off - one at a time. In the meantime, I'd like to share with you a song that I've adopted as the theme for this new adventure. I hope it inspires you to fly, too.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Puppy Love

I had to put my two dogs down this week. To say that I'm heartbroken is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Because Mare an Luna - my perfect black Labs - were, much like their Mama, awesome bitches.

I'm amazed at how hard this has hit me. I have wept for these dogs more than I have mourned some relatives. Really, I'm not exaggerating. But, as with everything else in my life, I'm trying not to dwell on the sad. Instead, I'm taking stock of the lessons learned from these beautiful, loving creatures who brought so much into my life.

Everything really is about love, isn't it? And that is, essentially, the great gift that dogs bring into our lives: love.

If you have ever wondered if absolute, unconditional love exists, the answer is yes. In every dog that has experienced some degree of kindness you will find that kind of selfless "entrega" (giving of yourself) that is the result of perfect love. Your dogs will love you no matter if you are tall or short, skinny or fat, pretty or ugly, in a good or bad mood. They don't care a whit about the color of your skin or your sexual orientation. They will be your loyal and steadfast companions regardless of your mood. They will forgive you time and time again for transgressions big and small.

Your dogs are always happy to see you. They love to be with you. They will come to you when you call them and won't leave your side until you are ready to move on. They will indulge your whims and moods. You want to play? Great! You want to sit still? Great, too. They'll sit next to you because they're just so glad to be near you.

Your dogs are so unconditional that they will be anything from sweet to protective, depending on the cues they get from you. Here's a true story: One day I was walking on the beach with one of my daughters, each one of us with a dog on a leash. A shady-looking guy started approaching my teenage daughter, and both dogs bared their teeth and started growling. The guy backed off and didn't even look our way for the rest of our walk. Ten feet later, a young couple asked if his autistic son could pet them. As if on cue, both dogs sat down patiently and lovingly as the young boy approached them cautiously, and later, after feeling how soft their fur was, began to pet them. The smile on that boy's face was priceless.

I was astounded at how wise my dogs were. I had not said a word about the first guy, but they knew that  they didn't want him anywhere near my daughter. In the same way, they allowed kids of every age to pet them as they strolled happily on the beach. They stopped and sat every time a small child approached them. They knew. Somehow, dogs always know.

You may have heard the phrase "Dogs have owners. Cats have staff."But what I have found is that we don't really own our dogs. They own us. They own us because they take hold of our hearts. Because they really believe that we're wonderful. Because they love us. If I were half the woman my dogs thought I was, I'd be a much better person than I really am.

So I guess that, the next time someone calls me a bitch, I will say "thank you". Because if it means that I'm anywhere near the caliber of being that Mare and Luna were, then I'm in the best possible company. I am grateful for the privilege of having them in my life, and for the lessons in love they so patiently and unwittingly taught me.

And, by the way, "God" is "Dog" spelled backwards. Chew on that.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cuba Libre

This past February 7 marked the 50th anniversary of the United States' embargo on Cuba. Having written both my undergraduate and graduate theses about Cuba, this subject is near and dear to my heart. As the date came and went, many thoughts came into my mind and have lingered there. So here it is, my random, disconnected musings.

I use the word "embargo" and not "blockade" for a very good reason: while the United States may have ceased commercial operations with Cuba, this island nation is in no way isolated from the world. While US citizens may no longer travel to this beautiful, vibrant nation as they once could, tourism is alive and well with visitors from Canada, Latin America and Europe. They reap the benefits of a nation eager to show and share what little they have.

True, there is great poverty in Cuba, mostly as a result of this economic assault. But look around in your own back yard and you will find that there is rampant poverty where you live, too. One of the great differences, in my opinion, is that poverty is uniform in Cuba, while in the rest of the world the chasm between the rich and the poor grows every day. The "occupy" movement did not happen in a vacuum. So maybe, just maybe, the fact that there is a semblance of uniformity and equality in Cuba - in the sense that everyone is on the same boat - adds to their pride and their cohesion as a society. In Cuba, the enemy lies beyond the shore. In the United States, the enemy lives within. Think about it. Which one of these situations do you think is far more volatile?

What is freedom, really?

As Super Tuesday approaches and the Republican primaries near, the issue of freedom has been front and center in my mind. In the context of being a Latina woman, I find that my freedoms are dangerously threatened by those who would like to govern under the guise of religious principle. With the criminal budget cuts against Planned Parenthood, Santorum spewing incoherences against gays, and their media bullhorn Rush Limbaugh calling a woman a whore because of her audacity to defend a woman's right to have access to contraceptives, well, it looks like you won't have much freedom if you're anything other than a white, protestant, heterosexual male.

The Cuban exile community and many of their sycophants of the right will yell until their faces turn purple about the lack of freedom in Cuba. They will point to a totalitarian regime and its firm control over the population to make their case that Cuba isn't "libre", free. True, the political structure is extremely limited. But by no means does a "democratic" form of government guarantee freedom. Think about it. The United States should be a beacon of freedom, yet it is rife with all sorts of second-class citizens. As long as women don't earn equal pay for equal work, gays can't freely marry and enjoy the benefits of that civil status, and blacks and muslims are stereotyped because of their appearance, then freedom and equality will really be just nice ideas found in some documents. 

One of my personal pet peeves has to do with a traditional Cuban drink called the Cuba Libre. In Spanish this means "free Cuba". You probably have had many of these. It's simply a rum and Coke. I like mine with some lime in it. But getting back to the point, I am irritated beyond the point of sanity when I hear someone - usually a Cuban exile - refer to this drink as a "mentirita" or "a little lie". This usually comes from someone that is so far to the right that he/she would make Hitler look like a hippie.

How can someone sneer at Cuba because of its "lack of freedoms" while supporting an agenda that limits individual freedoms at home? Please explain this to me like I'm a 6-year-old, because I really don't get it.

Oh, and the whole "we're not doing business with Cuba" thing? It's a myth. Many US corporations continue to do business in Cuba with the full knowledge and blessing of both the US and Cuban governments. It's just limited to those with the deep pockets and the privileged connections who were able to finagle their way around the bureaucracy. Again, the 1% exploiting the 99% for fun and profit. Or maybe just for profit. 

Maybe I should just pour myself a Cuba Libre. Salud!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Curse Cupid

Valentine's Day gives me acid indigestion. So much so, that it has taken me two full days to write this.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for love and kindness. I think we don't express it enough. I believe from the bottom of my heart that we should practice random acts of kindness towards both strangers and people we know. But the whole production that is Valentine's Day irritates me almost to the point of wanting to punch a puppy. Or a kitten. Or both. I'll explain.

For starters, Valentine's Day is a completely commercially fabricated holiday. I can just picture a group of businessmen around a table saying: "Ok, guys. We need another holiday to keep sales up between Christmas and Mother's Day. Any ideas? That's it!!! Let's commercialize the feast of Saint Valentine!!" And, under the pretense of celebrating love, they laughed all the way to the bank.

The formula was really genius. Pressure people into expressing their feelings toward their significant other with verses, cards, and other tokens of love. Enter jewelry, flowers and chocolate into the picture. Create great expectations through advertising. Make people feel inadequate if their expression of love is not large, extravagant or significant enough. Encourage the recipients of gifts to compare notes, so that the gift givers feel even more pressure to really break the bank. The gift became a symbol of how much you really love your partner. So it better be good.

And so the snowball effect began.

I see the whole Valentine buying frenzy in the same light as those people who go to church every Sunday but who behave like assholes the rest of the week. Just because you talk the talk during that one day does not mean you walk the walk during the other days. Here's a case in point.

My friend Mirella has a fabulous baking business. (Check her out on Facebook under "Sparkles the cupcake boutique". I'm the designated sampler and I vouch for everything on the menu. And she ships anywhere!) For Valentine's, she got an order from this guy's secretary. He wanted to order three cake pop arrangements: one for his wife, and one for each of his mistresses. Yeah, you read it correctly. Now, I'm not sure if I want to congratulate the guy for being so thoughtful, or if I want to bitchslap him into next Tuesday for being such a cad. Is this what Valentine's Day is about?

Here's a crazy idea: take two seconds every day to let the people close to your heart know just how much you love them. You don't have to tell everyone every day. Just remind a few each day. Spread the love. If something reminds you of a loved one, call that person and say "I was just thinking of you". Smile. Be kind. Hug. Scratch your dog behind the ears. It really is that simple. Because love shouldn't be about the big gestures. It should be about small tokens given frequently and earnestly.

My husband was at a gas station a few weeks ago. As he was entering, a guy was exiting. My husband held the door, smiled at the guy and said "good morning". The guy didn't acknowledge the greeting, and kept walking towards his gas. But a few minutes later, as my husband was about to leave the gas station, the guy approached him and said "I was having a really crappy morning, but your smile and 'good morning' changed that. Thank you."

It really is that simple. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, "We can't do great things. Only small things with great love."

And in that spirit, I leave you with my most favorite James Taylor song. I invite you to take his advice to heart: "Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel."