Me and My Dysfunctional Twitter Family

It feels like Twitter has been with us forever. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a relatively new toy we’re learning to use.  I see it as my second dysfunctional family.

Mood music:

My Twitter house has 3,262 people crammed into it; many from the information security profession. Some of the smartest people I know sit around the kitchen table every day, bantering without ever getting tired.

As it is with any family, we often get on each other’s nerves.

For one thing, the house is always LOUD. It’s so loud that it’s normal for half the household to go to bed with headaches while the rest keep pontificating, sharing pictures and arguing.

There’s the older uncle who’s perpetually cranky but we can sit at his feet and listen to him for hours because he’s so damn funny. And smart. Let’s face it, every family had a beloved, crazy uncle.

There’s the other uncle who will disagree with you just to start a debate. But he’s such a nice guy you just can’t get angry when he picks your positions apart.

There’s the cousin who never stops talking. Any random thought he has, he says it. You can’t keep up with him, he talks so fast. But he too is smart and talented, so we put up with it.

There’s the cousin who puts everything and everyone down for the sake of starting a conversation. This one usually comes in the house blasted on vodka or wine and talks about tearing someone’s eyeballs out. But this cousin is harmless and, deep down, a good kid.

There’s a brother who is always telling people what they did wrong — that they didn’t work hard enough or made sweeping statements that tarred people who didn’t deserve it. The rest of the family is afraid of this one. Unfortunately for us, though, he’s usually right, so we put up with him and, occasionally, try to stop doing the stupid thing he says we’re doing.

There’s the cousin who will let everyone know the second she stubs a toe, gets charged too much at the auto body shop or finds a hole in her umbrella. She’ll make her grocery list and run down the list aloud for all to hear. That grates on a few nerves, but she’s a sweet lady who is always there when one of us has a problem, so listening to her grocery list recital is the least we can do.

There are the two middle siblings who fight about everything, especially politics. They’ll occasionally call each other names, usually personalized variations of the F-S- and C-words. But they know their politics, so we listen and learn for about a half hour before yelling at them to shut up.

Then there’s me, perhaps the most infuriating family member of all.

I’m constantly shoving the stuff I write in their faces because I want them to talk about how the subject matter plays in their own lives. I don’t say much else when I’m in the house unless I’m excited about a new band I want people to hear or my kids say something too damn funny not to share. But I write all the time, and I have to show them everything, even stuff they may have seen before.

People tell me to shut up and go away; to stop repeating myself and promoting myself. That last one pisses me off and I spit out a few choice words. Then I resume what I’m doing like nothing happened.

People seem to tolerate me because writing is my job and, once in awhile, I write something that resonates with a few of them.

The rest simply ignore me when I get to be too much.

A messy, loud place, this Twitter house is. I’ve thought about moving out a few times, to get away from the so-called echo chamber. But I always decide to stay.

Because love ’em or hate ’em, these people are family.

And because — I’ll admit it — I need a few dysfunctional people in my life.

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This Should Sadden Boston Bruins Fans More Than Losing

Though my home team made the playoffs, I didn’t care. I’m all for the morale boost fans get from winning. Hockey just isn’t my thing. What’s more important to me is how fans conduct themselves, win or lose.

Mood music:

After the Bruins’ overtime loss to the Capitals last night, some Bruins fans failed in the class department. They gave a black eye to the team and the vast majority of fans who handle defeat gracefully.

This CTVNews article explains:

Boston Bruins fans are reeling after a stunning overtime loss in Game 7 Wednesday night, but others are reeling from the racist backlash that erupted over Twitter after the Washington Capitals’ Joel Ward scored the winning goal.

Ward, a Canadian whose parents emigrated from Barbados, scored the game-winner over last year’s Stanley Cup champions at 2:57 into overtime on a rebound from a shot by Mike Knuble, to make the final score 2-1 for Washington.

The TD Garden arena in Boston instantly fell into a shocked silence as fans’ hopes of back-to-back Bruins appearances in the Stanley Cup final evaporated.

But the volume was just starting to build on Twitter, where incensed fans began launching personal attacks on Ward, not over his playing ability but over the colour of his skin.

“The fact that a n***** scored the winner goal makes this loss hurt a lot more,” tweeted someone with the handle @tomtroy12.

Another wrote: “Stupid n***** go play basketball hockey is a white sport.”

Those were just two relatively tame examples in a long list of racist posts that appeared on Twitter following the game, though many were removed by Thursday morning and some of the offending accounts appeared to have been deleted altogether.

Indulge me as I share this quote from one of Chris Rock’s “Nat X” skits on SNL. It’s humor, but the idiots who wrote the tweets above demonstrated how dark comedy and painful reality are often separated by a pathetically thin line:

NAT X: I was watchin’ a hockey game and I noticed there were no black people. So I looked into this example of the white man once again keepin’ the black man down and found out why there were no black people in hockey. First, it’s cold out there! Second, we might get our gold teeth knocked out! Third, we have no desire to dominate another professional sport. And, finally, no brother is going to go anywhere there is a bunch of crazy white people wearin’ masks and carryin’ sticks!

What’s the racist Twitter rant between disappointed Bruins fans have to do with the theme of this blog? Quite a bit. One of the main themes is how we humans handle adversity. What are the examples of adversity making us better or worse? This post is an example of the latter. It stinks all the more because in this case we’re not talking about life-or-death adversity. This is over a fucking game.

As one of my Canadian friends, Dave Lewis, tweeted: “Stay classy. Wow, just wow.”

I’m not going to tell you I’m ashamed to be a Boston sports fan this morning. My lack of sports savvy alone prevents me from doing that.

But I’m also not ashamed because these turds don’t represent the vast majority of Boston sports fans, who usually acknowledge that the other team did better and deserved good wishes.

These tweeters are probably not even genuine racists. But as I said about the folks who were selling and buying anti-Obama “Do not re-nig” bumper stickers: You may not be a racist, but using the N word says something about the kind of person you are.

Like I said, I’m no hockey fan. But it still inspires me when a sports team does well. It takes someone like me — who can’t play sports to save my life — to appreciate the grit and determination it takes to play professionally.

Which makes it all the more disappointing when a fan or five repays the hard effort their team gave by being assholes.

Two Days, Three Shitty Anniversaries And One Bloody Month

Earlier this month I wrote about two sad anniversaries: the deaths of Kurt Cobain in 1994 and Layne Staley in 2002. But today — April 19, and tomorrow, April 20 — we have a trio of tragedies to remember.

Mood music:

Full disclosure: I’m about to steal liberally from Wikipedia.

April 19, 1993: Waco, Texas

The Waco siege began on February 28, 1993, and ended violently 50 days later on April 19. The siege began when the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), accompanied by several members of the media, attempted to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian ranch at Mount Carmel, a property located 9 miles (14 km) east-northeast of Waco, Texas. On February 28, shortly after the attempt to serve the warrant, an intense gun battle erupted, lasting nearly 2 hours. In this armed exchange, four agents and six Branch Davidians were killed. Upon the ATF’s failure to execute the search warrant, a siege was initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The siege ended 50 days later when a fire destroyed the compound when a second assault was launched. 76 people (24 of them British nationals) died in the fire, including more than 20 children, two pregnant women, and the sect leader David Koresh.

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April 19, 1995: Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City bombing was a terrorist bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. It would remain the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Oklahoma blast claimed 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6, and injured more than 680 people. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius, destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings. The bomb was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of damage. Extensive rescue efforts were undertaken by local, state, federal, and worldwide agencies in the wake of the bombing, and substantial donations were received from across the country. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated eleven of its Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, consisting of 665 rescue workers who assisted in rescue and recovery operations.

Within 90 minutes of the explosion, Timothy McVeigh was stopped by Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger for driving without a license plate and arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon. Forensic evidence quickly linked McVeigh and Terry Nichols to the attack; Nichols was arrested and within days both were charged. Michael and Lori Fortier were later identified as accomplices. McVeigh, an American militia movement sympathizer, had detonated an explosive-filled Ryder truck parked in front of the building. McVeigh’s co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, had assisted in the bomb preparation. Motivated by his hatred of the federal government and angered by what he perceived as its mishandling of the Waco Siege (1993) and the Ruby Ridge incident (1992), McVeigh timed his attack to coincide with the second anniversary of the deadly fire that ended the siege at Waco.

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April 20, 1999: Columbine High School

The Columbine High School massacre (often known simply as Columbine) occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, an unincorporated area of Jefferson County, Colorado, United States, near Denver and Littleton. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, embarked on a massacre, killing 12 students and 1 teacher. They also injured 21 other students directly, and three people were injured while attempting to escape. The pair then committed suicide. It is the fourth-deadliest school massacre in United States history, after the 1927 Bath School disaster, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and the 1966 University of Texas massacre, and the deadliest for an American high school.

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April is also a bloody month for other days, like the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007 and the start of such bloody conflicts as the American Revolution and the Civil War. I could mention dozens of other bloody events that happened in April, but I think this is quite enough for now. If you want a fuller accounting of the bloodshed, check out this article by Chaotic Ramblings

I pray for everyone who died in those tragedies. As I write this, the sun is shining through my window, warming my hands as I pound away on the keyboard. I’m going to make this a good day, despite those bad memories.

I suggest you do the same.

Romney’s Lesson: When You Try To Be Someone Else, People Notice

This post is about what happens to politicians when they try too hard to be someone else. Mitt Romney is in the thick of it. John McCain was four years ago, as was Al Gore eight years before that.

Mood music:

It’s not just a problem with politicians. Musicians have fallen in the trap. So have writers. I’ve been there myself.

In the desperate search for success and fame — and getting elected — it’s easy to try to be someone you’re not. The problem is that you inevitably get caught.

The Romney of today is not the Romney that was elected governor in liberal Massachusetts. His brand of conservatism was far more moderate a decade ago. When he decided he wanted to be president, he immediately shifted right. People see right through him, which is why he’s having so much trouble sewing up the Republican nomination.

It’s the same mistake McCain made in 2008, when he was trying so hard to please the right instead of being the straight-talking “maverick” that gave George W. Bush hell in the 2000 Republican primaries. Meanwhile, Al Gore was trying so hard to distance himself from Bill Clinton that he completely denied his role in shaping the policies of the Clinton Administration.

Voters could smell the rat every time.

It’s really no different from what you see elsewhere in life. When we’re not acting like our natural selves, the people who know us best take notice.

I speak from the experience of trying to replace my brother after he died, of trying to be Jim Morrison in college and of trying to be a hard-nosed newspaper editor in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I also speak as someone with an addictive personality who has often lived in denial and lied to bury pain and shame.

The more I talk to fellow recovering addicts and emotional defects, the more I realize we have one big thing in common: We want to please everyone and be loved for it.

I wrote about my own experience with this in a post called “Why Being a People Pleaser Is Dumb.”

I wanted desperately to make every boss happy, and I did succeed for awhile. But in doing so I damaged myself to the core and came within inches of an emotional breakdown. It caused me to work 80 hours a week, waking up each morning scared to death that I would fall short or fail altogether. I wanted to make every family member happy. It didn’t work, because you can never keep everyone happy when strong personalities clash.

In the face of constant let-downs, I binged on everything I could get my hands on and spent most waking moments resenting the fuck out of people who didn’t embrace me for who I am.

I won’t lie. I still struggle with that. It’s possible I always will. But I’m not running for office, so it’ll never be quite so glaring.

But no matter how small your world is, someone will always see through your phony exterior.

The problem for Romney is that his true colors are bleeding through on the big stage.

Can You Justify Dropping The N-Bomb In Anger?

The question in today’s headline should sound absurd to you because it is. There’s never an acceptable reason to use a word that’s so hurtful and hateful. And yet people justify it all the time.

Mood music:

Last week I pointed out an example: an anti-Obama bumper sticker that said “Don’t Re-nig.” I lamented that racism was alive and well, and the response was interesting.

One friend was (and probably still is) angry with me. He said my word choice suggested that anyone who dislikes Obama is a racist and that it hurt. At best, he said, I had an example of one racist idiot or a hoax.

I did research the matter before opining. The stickers were sold on a site called Stumpy Stickers — an operation that sold a variety of racist stickers. Fortunately, the furor on Facebook over a picture of the “Don’t Re-nig” sticker led to that site shutting down. The fact that there would be enough hatred out there for a company to profit from the rage told me that there’s still an undercurrent of racism out there, so I said something.

Have we come a long way since the days of Jim Crow? Absolutely. And, I honestly know of nobody in my circle of friends and family who would qualify as a racist. But it’s still out there.

It’s not just about blacks. There’s still a lot of Jew bashing out there, for example.

I also don’t see this as being about whether you like or dislike the policies of President Obama. Personally, I find a lot of fault in how Obama has done things. I prefer centrist governing and he’s too far left for my tastes, just as I felt George W. Bush was too far in the other direction. Bill Clinton was more my speed.  But that’s just my view.

Most of the time, people have good, honest disagreements about politics but still manage to be good to each other and not take it personally.

When someone puts something like a “Don’t Re-nig” sticker on their vehicle, they’ve crossed the line. It’s entirely possible — maybe even probable — that people who bought these stickers are not racist. Chances are they’re just angry as hell that their views and needs aren’t being represented. Another friend suggested just that, writing on my Facebook page:

As I don’t know the people with the car, I can’t make a real judgment – this person may indeed be a racist -but are you sure the sticker was chosen because the owner is racist or because the owner is angry and expressing his anger with mean words? Because people often use harsh, angry, hurtful language when they’re mad to express their feelings and to try to hurt the “other” person – because they feel hurt themselves. That isn’t necessarily an indication the person is racist (or a man/woman hater, or – it just indicates they are angry and hurt. Kids who yell “I hate you” at their parents don’t, but they do feel injured and are lashing out. Same thing happens to adults – it just manifests differently.

One bumper sticker, one name called in anger, one vulgarity does not offer any particular insight into the views of another human being -particularly when such words are yelled in anger.

My response was this:

I don’t disagree about that, but when someone puts a sticker on their vehicle with something that’s going to hurt a lot of people, even if only out of anger and not out of raw bigotry, it says something about the person. I see this stuff on the left and right. I thought some of the Bush-bashing bumper stickers were out of control too. But in this case the N-word has been tossed out there, which takes the discussion to a whole new level. How we express our anger is important.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when some of my more liberal friends suggested the horrendous federal response was because Bush didn’t like blacks and other minorities, I was furious. Anyone who had taken the time to study his background should have known better than to suggest that. Hell, both of his secretaries of state were African Americans. The tragically poor response to Katrina was about many things. Racism was not one of them.

I point this stuff out because I see stupidity on the left and right these days, and I’m tired of people suggesting my own positions are born from a particular political ideology.

In the final analysis, I think there’s too much hair-trigger anger in the world today. Blame politics. Blame the economy. Blame religious tensions. I think we should always be thinking about how we talk to each other. In that regard, I can’t ever think of a good reason to use the N-word or any other word that denigrates someone’s culture, faith, skin color or language.

I say this as someone who is not squeaky clean. When I was younger and dumber, I used the N-word. A lot.

I have never been a bigot. All I ever judged someone by was how they treated me and others.

But I’ve always been a button pusher. When I was a teen and early 20-something, I thought it was perfectly fine to use hurtful words to get a reaction. I worked in my father’s warehouse with Spanish-speaking guys from all over South America. They would call me names and I’d respond with something inflammatory against Latinos.

At the time I was also in a band and listening to a lot of metal-infused Hip-Hop. The main example was Ice-T’s band Body Count. These rappers dropped N-bombs like it was nothing. If blacks were doing that, I reasoned, it must be perfectly OK. I lived by that stupid belief with relish.

I eventually grew up. Looking back, using those words is one of the things I regret the most. And I have plenty of regrets.

So when I see it today — whether it’s used out of political anger or humor — I’m going to say something about it.

Get over it.

Shame, Denial After Fatal Haverhill House Fire

A fatal house fire isn’t usually a topic for this blog. But the way people are behaving after such a tragedy in Haverhill, Mass., is a shameful case study in denial and lack of personal responsibility — human conditions that can damage us and those we love.

Mood music:

The son of the victim is lashing out at firefighters, saying their training should have been enough for them to get his mom out in time. Firefighters are blaming the mayor for the tragedy because of staff cuts to the fire department.

It’s the latter part that makes me want to hurl.

Here’s some detail from my former employer, The Eagle-Tribune:

HAVERHILL — The death of an elderly woman in an early morning inferno yesterday torched a political maelstrom, with firefighters saying she may have survived had Mayor James Fiorentini not cut two men from their rescue truck.

One firefighter went so far as to say the mayor should be “charged with murder.” Fiorentini and public safety officials maintain the $200,000 cut and the resulting loss of two firefighters to man the rescue truck played no role in the death of 84-year-old Phyllis Lamot.

“No amount of manning would have changed this tragedy,” said Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro.

Firefighter Todd Guertin, a leader in the firefighters union, said Fiorentini “should be charged with murder for taking the rescue truck out of service over a dispute with the union.”

Death is always hard to deal with, especially when it comes like this. Loved ones left behind will obsess about who’s to blame and what could have been done differently until it hurts too much to think anymore.

If you’re in the business of saving lives, it has to be terrible to see someone die on your watch.

The sickening part of this case is that firefighters used a tragedy to score political points. It’s something that happens all too often in this city. I wholeheartedly agree with The Eagle-Tribune editorial on the matter:

The Haverhill firefighters union’s use of the tragic death of an elderly woman in a house fire to score a political point against the mayor is yet another black mark on the scandal-ridden organization.

At the same time, there needs to be an independent investigation into the death of Phyllis Lamot in the Wednesday morning fire at 477 Washington St.

At issue is the staffing level on a rescue truck after Mayor James Fiorentini cut $200,000 from the department to cover a shortfall in the overtime budget. The crew of the truck was reduced from three to one.

The firefighters said at a press conference yesterday afternoon that, had the rescue truck been fully staffed, firefighters could have entered the burning three-decker and saved Lamot, 84.

One firefighter in particular, Todd Guertin, a member of the union leadership, said yesterday morning that the family of the woman should sue the city for wrongful death and that Mayor Fiorentini is guilty of murder.

“This was a political move when the city has over $10 million in reserves,” Guertin said. “The mayor should be charged with murder for taking the rescue truck out of service over a dispute with the union.”

That is an appalling statement for which both the city and the union should demand an apology.

Exactly.

Grief does things to the mind. It causes reasonable, sane people to make outrageous statements. It puts people on the defensive. And we deny realities that are right in front of us.

When all is said and done, it’s pointless to place blame.

Firefighters went to the scene and did their job. Unfortunately, a woman didn’t make it out alive. It sucks, but it happens.

The city cut resources from the fire department because of a budget crunch. It sucks, but it happens.

We can never know if a couple more people would have made the difference.

The investigation The Eagle-Tribune calls for should happen. We may well learn something from it.

In the meantime, the firefighters union should stop trying to lay blame at someone else’s feet.

Death is a risk that comes with the job, whether the victim is a firefighter or someone he’s trying to save. You knew that when you signed up.

Own it.

Photo credit: PAUL BILODEAU/The Eagle-Tribune -- A firefighter continues to clean-up after a two-alarm fire at 477 Washington St. in Haverhill early Wednesday morning. One woman died and two others were taken to the hospital.