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Has humanity lost its collective soul?  Did we ever have one to begin with?

I posted the story of this little boy on Facebook last night.  His name is Omran Daqneesh.  He’s five years old.  His home in Aleppo, Syria was bombed – presumably by the Assad regime.  Seeing his reaction completely got to me.  He’s dazed, his life is all but destroyed, but he’s so much in shock it looks as if he could be patiently sitting in a waiting room to for a regular checkup at the doctor’s office.  It was the look on his innocent face, the blood covering a third of it, his drooping eye, two little legs that can’t even bend down to the floor, the matted hair, those beautiful little features that we adults should value and treasure across ANY culture.  It all got to me.

We adults.  Yes.  We adults.  We adults cause this shit.  We adults cause concentration camps, we cause refugees, we cause genocide, death squads, and mass graves.  We cause wars and the famines that often follow wars.  We cause hatred and greed and death.  And we cause little boys – and little girls – to lose whatever internal sense of innocence and wonder that they have and so desperately need.  We often cause this to maintain or expand power.  We don’t protect children.  We fail them.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
  — Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

The news report here pointed out that an estimated 4500 children have died in that city alone.  How many more in the rest of Syria?  In Iraq?  In Libya?  In the Congo?  In the Holocaust?  In our own inner cities?  How many children have to die, to suffer, to be victims because adults are too power hungry or filled with hatred for those who don’t look like them or worship the same God?  When will we learn that maintaining a sense of humanity is not so much for us but more for those who come after us?

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”
  — Mahatma Gandhi, Indian political and spiritual leader

When I think of all of this, I go back to my mom and dad and I then realize how fortunate I was to have two parents than not only loved me but who through their actions and their beliefs showed me how much they valued and loved children as a whole.  Not just me, their only child.  But all children.  I like to think that it got ingrained in me.  And I’m forever grateful to them for that.  I was able to keep an innocence while building an internal strength.  I only hope that I’ve done the same for my son.  But why is it that so many who say they love children show no sense of that outside of their own front door or their own kind or their own cause?  Why can’t we see the harm that we inflict?

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
  — Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and statesman

I caught shit for posting this story.  I caught shit from someone who seemed to think that my posting of this was somehow disrespectful toward our brave servicemen and servicewomen because I didn’t post something about them instead…which I have done plenty of times in the past.  I don’t know.  My only guess is that since it is highly likely this child is Muslim, and we in the US have fought a war in that region (which resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents) and we have long been dealing with radical fanatics of that faith, that somehow my posting of this was some sort of statement of betrayal.  Or a lack of appreciation.  I won’t attack her as she has suffered an unspeakable tragedy in her own life, but it was as if fault was found in basic human compassion that, frankly, I think most of us instinctively have when watching such a story.  It’s tied into a coarseness that now envelopes our society, our political discourse, our lives.  It’s too common.

Matthew 18 2-6
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.
3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

I can’t say I expect anything to change.  Memes will pop up.  A few inspirational videos will come an go.  And bombs will rein down and the innocent will die.   I’ll go back to living my semi-boring life of planning out the next digital campaign for work, checking out Red Sox box scores, and trying to figure out how to best pay for my son’s college tuition.  Omran’s full name will escape my memory at some point.  Each day will be like they have been for the past few years – or is perhaps forever? There will be a several dozen Omrans throughout the world who end up suffering as much or will meet a worse fate.  That trend will continue for no doubt.  We will continue to fail our children.

I just hope that we could use episodes like this to curb our own hatred, to see the value in all, and to realize that our greatest responsibility that we have while we are fortunate enough to grace this earth is not to ourselves but to the innocents around us and to those follow.  We owe them no less.

“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”
  — Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali polymath

Omran

I normally think Ezra Klein can be another left-leaning intellectual elitist, but he pretty much nails Donald Trump with this article.

Trump is an asshole, an egomaniac, a bully.  He’s not interested in policy or solving problems.  And too many American can’t see that.

So I went and picked up this book.  Poking Lions.  Written by Keith Quincy.  It ended up being a suspense thriller that challenged my own sense of empathy while partially enraging me as to how we let certain lives go the way they do.

The book continuously sucks you in, with you not knowing what comes next or with you not knowing how far you have come.  It’s also based on a real person…which is somewhat unimaginable considering the storyline.

The story centers on two main characters.  Two characters that are quite far apart in life experiences, mental makeups, and moral principles.  Or maybe not.

It’s the early 1980’s.  Eddie Dooley is a dying prisoner, a former Vietnam vet whose body is ravaged by effects of Agent Orange.  He’s also a quick learner, a mathematical genius, a loner by nature. He does possess a cold heart, but one that shows flashes of warmth…especially for older men who take him under their wing.  Dooley survived a horribly dysfunctional Brooklyn childhood devoid of parental love but one in which he committed unspeakable acts.  Dr. William Melon is a reasonably idealistic prison psychiatrist, who, while somewhat jaded at life, is looking to re-establish some sense of self after a bad divorce.  It is his responsibility to evaluate and council Dooley in some manner in which the prisoner could perhaps be paroled for the last few months of his life.

Melon was not fully ready for the story of Dooley’s life, just as the reader will not be.

The author makes it hard to cheer for Dooley despite his history of life having abused him in various ways.  I felt a sense of sympathy at times…a feeling as to “what could have been”, but this was limited because his own brilliance made me realize that he had more control over his life than one might initially think.

The book covers his childhood in Flatbush as he was of Irish and Italian stock.  Both of his parents were absolute failures.  The father provided no moral direction or sense of responsibility and the mother was a physically and mentally abusive monster.  His one sense of security and pride revolved around a red scooter, an image that continually brought him comfort and pain throughout his life.  Numerous reform schools fail to reform.

Thus, he turned to a life a crime where he spent his first years – still a teen – as an apprentice of sorts to what ended up being beloved mentor.  But crimes lead to more crimes which leads to what could have been, literally, a death sentence.  His only way out was the army.  Why not?  Vietnam was raging and the crazier the better.

But Melon couldn’t get Eddie to talk about Vietnam.  He wasn’t quite ready to divulge that part of his life – a sign that he has a conscience and sense of how he wants to be perceived.  So Eddie first talks of his post-Vietnam escapades.

Melon, the psychiatrist, was doing his best not to get sucked into Dooley’s life story.  Or at least the drama of it.  Melon, was, after all, a professional.  But it’s hard to be a professional when your patient has stories such as those of Eddie Dooley.  For much of the book, Melon stays on the safe side, walking up to that line but never crossing it.  Each of them look at Dooley’s situation where Dooley describes himself as being “homicidal, but not psychotic”.  Melon starts out doubtful of this assertion but eventually comes around and understands that Dooley knows his own status.

But now we see Eddie in his life of crime throughout the country – New Orleans, California, Washington state…often inexplicably finding a mentor – even for a short time – that simultaneously adds to his growth as a human and as a criminal.

Then, finally, Eddie is ready to talk of Vietnam.  He wasn’t a regular soldier assigned to a regular unit.  At least not at first.  No.  His role there was the type of role we only here that certain chosen people are specially trained for.  The types of roles that are never discussed.  Even by those that are in those roles – that is, if they survive them.  Or are allowed to survive them.

Let’s just say that with the training he then received and with his subsequent carrying out of assigned missions, Eddie’s lot in life was sealed.  No mentor nor red scooter could save him.

Throughout the book, it’s difficult to tell whether Eddie wants to or should be released to spend his final days.  He no longer has a family to speak of.  His mentors are long gone.  But by now, Melon has made a decision.  Eddie should be released so he can spend those last days in peace.

Their final sessions together involve intense debates about the concept of being evil.  Evil enough to kill for the sake of killing or perhaps convenience…even if one possesses a conscience.  These sessions lead to what we end up seeing as deliberate chosen pathways.  Pathways to protect, pathways to foil, pathways that define how each will spend the rest of their days.  And as we will learn with an ironic twist, only one was correct in their description of how evil is within us.

Quincy creates a great character in Dooley.  Dooley’s description of his Vietnam experiences are harrowing, but very believable.  You can clearly see how he ended up living the life he led.

Quincy also develops what looks like a strong, workable relationship between Dooley and Melon.  They keep correct boundaries while Melon interprets Dooley effectively for the readers.  There’s not much to go on with Melon outside of his psychiatric office.  That’s fine…the story isn’t really about him.  But Quincy seemed to struggle in developing some of that.

At times I wanted more from the peripheral characters and for others, I felt that they weren’t necessary. Regardless, the mentoring factor does play a role in keeping what was likely a sense of sanity for Dooley.

l highly recommend the book if you want to read something that will challenge you on what the horrors are that one person can take.  And give out.

 

54

So today I turn 54.  That can’t be.  54 has always been decades away.  Now, 53 is in the rearview mirror.

A day like this makes me think of my father and mother.  And my own childhood.  Where I’ve come from and where I’m going.  While I’m no where near where I want to be in life, there is great news:  I start a new job on Monday.  I’ll be (there’s no actual title yet) Director of Marketing/Communications/Multi-Media/etc. at a medical trade association.  It seems as if I can run with the position as it’s newly created and I’ll have full reigns of it.  That’s very cool.  Major life change.  I’m pumped.

But more importantly, I’m 54.  I’m thinking that there’s a decreasing amount of time that I have to be what I want to be overall.  I’m thinking that there’s a certain finiteness in life that we don’t always recognize because we live in our present…a present which is often based upon a naive look on the future.

Then I think of the values that I grew up with…the people who were part of my younger years. I remember how they felt about me and how they shaped my worldview.

Many of them have passed on now.  They seemed like giants.  But in reality, they were middle aged adults.  And I’m forever thankful to them.

Today, I am a giant.

I didn’t start Thoughts From Vinton Ave to write about my social life.  This is more of a space where I can relate personal insights.  But when those two things intersect, a blog post happens.

Perhaps it’s best that I point out two things about myself for people who don’t know me.

One is that I’m a single father.  My son is 19 and I’ve had primary physical custody for most of his life.  Yes, his mom (my ex-wife) is involved and lives nearby.  She’s a great mom, she’s close to him, and I have a solid relationship with her.  But I was the one that did the bulk of raising him…a point that I’m fairly proud of.

The second is that being a single parent means sacrifice.  I put some aspects of career on hold.  Career for me meaning working in marketing, advertising, and public relations.  At times, I had to put opportunities aside.  That’s life.  That’s sacrifice.  It was worth it.  But it came at a cost, some of it financial.  So to help supplement, I waited tables from time to time.

Anyway, when the Great Recession hit, and as companies cut back on marketing, my sources of income inverted.  Instead of being a digital marketing guy who waited tables on the side for extra income, I became a waiter who once and a while picks up marketing gigs for extra income.  Believe me, it’s not how I want to live.  Not at all.  But that’s life.  And there’s a saying in advertising (actually it’s my saying).  Just like many say 50 is the new 40, when it comes to advertising, 35 is the new 60.  In other words, it pays to be young.  Real young.  Being young is now part of my past.

Oh, while I don’t really want to wait tables…I have to say this.  I work at what arguably has been the finest restaurant in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area for the past 50 years…and is ranked by Open Table as being one of the Top 100 restaurants in America.

Now that I got all that out of the way, here’s the story…

This past Saturday night, I got home from work and popped open Facebook.  Soon there was a new friend request…from someone who will stay unnamed.  I accepted.  She was obviously perusing my profile and was leaving a couple of comments.  I checked out her profile then emailed her and thanked her for the friend request.  Soon we were having one of those light but flirtatious conversations that seemingly happens only late at night.  Or, more accurately now, early in the morning.

She was local (Alexandria) and divorced with two kids – one who had just graduated from high school.  She wasn’t  from the US originally but came here in 1989.  Her Lithuanian good looks mixed with her Venezuelan upbringing made her all the more interesting.  I think she was the one who “made the first move” by asking :

So why are you still chatting with me?  Destiny or boredom or loneliness?

Which was soon followed by:

How “single” are you (THINK before you answer. You’re dealing with an extremely smart woman here)

I answered truthfully.  Very single, but not stressed about it.  I explained my past as she did hers…she was divorced five years and had a hurtful breakup a year earlier.  She hated “serial daters”.  She mentioned that she felt that men aren’t attracted to women with kids.  She acknowledged her age may be held against her…until she found out my age.  It was a great little get-to-know-you conversation.  She finished it off with:

I’m going nite nite. It was kinda a good nice surprise chatting with you.

You know what?  It was kinda a good nice surprise chatting with her as well.  I guess I’ve been “single” for so long that I forgot that there’s this whole ‘nuther world out there.  Went to bed happy.  Woke up the happy as well.  And I thought about her the next day while I was working a damn double (meaning a twelve hour shift, both lunch and dinner) at the restaurant.  I was looking forward to (and hoping that) we’d be chatting again that very night.   To be sure, when I got home, she had playfully written:

So Mr. Trenn, I really thought I was going to hear back from you? What happened? Did I scare you? Or are you playing the stupid hard to get game?

I responded with:

No. I was playing that “I had to work all %÷&#$€× day game.  But I did manage to think of you about 37 times today. So there.

Now, it was Sunday and she was confused.  Why was I working?  Uh-oh.  Well, here goes…

I’m a waiter. The recession did that to me a few years ago. My heart is in digital advertising. Trying to get back into that…Don’t want to be a waiter. You asked why I hadn’t dated in a while. That’s part of the reason.

That went over like a lead balloon.  Not only did the topic of conversation change…her attitude changed as well.  She mentioned that while she was excited for her son as he was to soon leave for college this fall, she was also nervous.  I merely pointed out that this was likely the first time he would be away from home for an extended time and got this in response:

Well yeah, duh! He just graduated from high school. So yeah, he’s going AWAY to live in Boston to attend college. Hello??

Hmm…her attitude that once started out as being playfully snarky was now less playful and more snark.  And it continued in this manner.  Not overtly harsh.  But quite cool and distant.  And slow to respond.  I tried to say something nice…that soon her worry about her son will turn to beaming pride.  The response?  Silence.  And more silence.  After about 10 minutes, I asked if she was still there.  Nothing.  But then:

Was saying good night to my daughter.  I’m also going to bed.  Good night.

OK…just like that.  Conversation over. Confused, I went back to check out her profile.  Got the telltale “OOPS  This profile either no longer exists or you don’t have access to it”.  And looking back to our conversation, I was no longer allowed to reply to it.

I had been blocked.

WTF?  She had blocked me.  Just like that.  I had done nothing wrong.  I had been honest. I was flirtatious, but not suggestive.  I had praised her as a mother and had complimented her on her son.  No matter.  I was blocked.  Gone.  Done.  Adios.  And her attitude changed right after I told her that I was a waiter.

What makes this insulting – beyond the obvious lack of respect – is how one finds out all of this.  While she’s off to bed or perhaps chatting with someone else, you’re left to discover all of this on your very own. You try hopping onto her profile, only to find out that…hey wait a minute…what’s this?  At first, you’re befuddled.  Where did it go?  It was right here a minute ago…  It then dawns on you that you were unceremoniously digitally deleted.  No recourse.  No finding out why.  Like getting tossed out like scrap paper.  Gone.  Done.  Adios.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but the lack of respect she seemed to display right after I told her I was a waiter was also displayed in the ease of her decision to do what she did.  I have no shame in being a waiter, but I will admit that that attitude does bother me.

It confirmed two things I already knew, although one was partially forgotten.  I realize that here in status conscience DC, the fact that I’m a waiter makes me less marketable.  That’s not me whining nor does that mean that I have a lack of confidence.  It’s just the truth.

The other is that here in DC there can be a certain shallowness and self-centeredness in people when it comes to dating.  More so than most places I do think.  People not only create such high and narrow standards that they cut many great prospects out…all the while complaining how picky others are.  And they can carry on in such a shallow manner that it breeds an overall cynicism in many.  This episode reminded me of that.  I’ve been out of the loop so long, it probably stung a little.

The reality is that this, truthfully, is not a big deal.  It involved two quick conversations within 24 hours.  We never met and we’ll likely never meet.  And that’s fine.  In fact, if this is her attitude, she would have been a waste of time.  Time I could spend doing better things.  And again, I don’t apologize for being a waiter just as I didn’t feel conscientious for being a single father.

Nevertheless, I take three things with me…

First, ironically, a conversation that started out with her playfully giving me grief for not contacting her ended up with her ending it by completely eliminating me from her life…apparently because I currently wait tables for a living.  Her attitude clearly showed that.

Second, she was someone who had pointed out her own dislikes of the dating scene (“serial daters”) and her own experience of having of being “discriminated” against (having kids, age discrimination)…yet she showed no willingness to have the type of open minded tolerance that she likely hoped men would give her.  Receiving tolerance is great.  Giving tolerance is inconvenient.

Third, and very telling, is that not only did my honesty of my own situation and my acceptance of her situation not, in the end, win me any points…but the fact that I tried to be genuinely nice to her HAD ABSOLUTELY NO POSITIVE EFFECT AS TO HOW SHE ULTIMATELY VIEWED ME OR TREATED THE SITUATION.  I was likely viewed to be a loser and therefore I was gone.  Digitally deleted.  Gone.  Done.  Adios.  The quality of my character – albeit displayed in a very short time period – didn’t mean shit.

Again, that’s DC for you.  And while this whole episode reminded me that, yes, there’s another whole world out there…something that I probably needed to be reminded of, it also reminded me of one of the reasons I haven’t been actively looking to date.

OK. So I saw American Sniper. Not that anyone cares, but here’s my take.

Given it’s context and for what it is supposed to be, it was an excellent film.

And here’s the context: it was a biopic of top notch American sniper who did his job bravely and efficiently. It shows the challenges he went through, the horrors of urban warfare, the toll the war took on him and his family, the brutal effects of how our and the insurgents’ actions took on the innocent local population, and a cultural mentality that I may not fully share but accept.

That’s it. That’s what it’s about. It glorifies the warrior – perhaps a bit too much at times – but nevertheless ends up being antiwar. It’s not a political movie, although because it is based upon an actual individual, it allows for his political thoughts to be presented. It’s not anti-Muslim, nor is it anti-Arab. It’s not about WMDs, votes in Congress, “Mission Accomplished”, Abu Graib, or neoconservatives. It is about what Bradley Cooper says it’s about: “For me, and for Clint, this movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier.”

Again…that’s it. That’s what it’s about.

The film effectively portrays Kyle’s devotion to his fellow soldiers. It shows the struggles they endure in a hostile environment. Yeah, I know. We helped create the environment and tore that country up.  We can’t fully blame the resistance. I know. I get that. But again, that’s not what the film is about. It shows the struggles his wife had seeing him go off to war again and again. It shows Kyle’s political mentality. Whether one agrees with him or not is less important than the fact that he, as an individual, is going to have a political mentality…and the movie is about him.

If you start understanding this, and understand that the movie is not about what you may want it to be, then maybe you will appreciate the film a bit more.

The objections I see are largely political…people on the left objecting to what they feel should have been in the film…some sort of political statement that shows what we were doing was somehow wrong. To me, I think the film DOES do that to an extent. But the point is, once again, THAT’S NOT THE FOCUS OF THE FILM. It shows at least three scenes in which – if one keeps an open mind – how the whole war affected families. And, yes, it can partially reduce our “enemies” to being “savages”. But take note: many were. And two points to that. One is that the use of that word isn’t really a big deal to me. That’s because I’m smart enough to know that people on any side in any war characterize their opponents that way. It doesn’t make it right. But it lessens the importance of warriors labeling their opponents in certain ways. The second point is that, yes, our warriors are savages as well. They are trained to kill. They end up doing horrible things. Intentionally and unintentionally. That’s war.

I look at the political criticism of the film as I did with the political criticism of the 1987 film “Hanoi Hilton”. Bitter commentary spewing out from some leftist self-appointed and self-important critics who hated the film because, as one said, “it’s on the wrong side of history”.

I understand that the film went “easy” on it’s portrayal of Chris Kyle’s harsher side. Fair enough. He’s probably someone who I’d often disagree with politically. Often strongly so.

But I came away from the film believing that Chris Kyle, while being a flawed individual (who isn’t?), performed heroically in what he was supposed to do…in a fucked up environment that was not of his doing for a cause and a war that I disagreed with.

I’d see it again.

Like many, I’ve gotten caught up in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  Regardless of whom is at fault, it’s a tragedy.

One of the things that disappoints me the most is the absolute close mindedness of many who have been following it. It is insane.  I challenged a bunch of people on an online forum on Facebook as to what they would do if they were proven wrong in their beliefs.  Barely anyone could answer.  They HAD to counter the concept that they may be wrong.

That’s weak.  That’s pathetic.  Especially since none of the people commenting were actually there in Ferguson that day.

As far as I’m concerned, I have no idea what actually happened. My “hunch” had always been that the shooting was unjustified. Why do I feel this way? Because all of the initial witnesses came out saying that Brown had run away from the cop car and then turned around and put his hands up but didn’t rush at the cop. I have no reason to think they’re lying.

I realize the the cops said that they had witnesses – black witnesses who lived there who testified otherwise. And that these witnesses didn’t want to come out public for fear of retaliation. But that info came out later, after the several witnesses came out saying that Brown had effectively surrendered. I understand these witnesses fears.

By then, I figured that regardless of whether or not Brown had actually reached for the gun in the policeman’s cruiser, that particular event changed the whole scenario. Scary shit indeed. My thoughts are perhaps both Brown and Wilson freaked out, with Brown starting to run away. Wilson gets out of his cruiser and points the gun as Brown turns around, maybe slightly moving toward Wilson. But not rushing at Wilson – because there were a bunch of witnesses who said he did not rush at Wilson. The cop, both furious and scared, shoots Brown, not knowing what Brown is going to do next.

Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I have an open mind. Either way, I think it’s tragic.

After the incident, I soon saw all of these (somewhat racist?) insinuations about Brown regarding his rap lyrics and or pictures of him giving the middle finger…all of which had nothing to do with his death. The only legitimate part may be to counter those who were trying to position him as a wonderful sweet young man.

It’s possible he was neither a sweet young man or an actual thug.

Now I see ridiculous stuff like articles posted by shrill leftists saying that Wilson was in the KKK.

What I will say is this:

You’ve got people on the left and you’ve got people on the right who have already made up their mind as to what has happened. They will only believe stories that back up their views. They will read obviously biased publications that have obviously biased articles. They will disregard well researched info that contradicts what they believe.

I see conservative types who say they fear the government automatically siding with the cops…and saying nothing about the initial show of force when the police used military vehicles and equipment. Or they have no problem with the police enforced “no fly zones” that the police themselves said that was imposed to prevent media coverage. Hypocrites.

I see liberal types who have already convicted of Officer Wilson of first degree murder and are almost willing to give him the fate so many black men have met through our nation’s history – a lynching.

In the meantime, I mourn for the loss of an eighteen year old.

That’s where I stand.

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