Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Surveillance State of America harkens back to Nazi Germany

In Chapter 32 of Erik Larson’s book “In the Garden of Beasts” Larson describes the wide spread fear of Nazi surveillance prevalent in Nazi Germany between 1933-1934 – in the years prior to WWII.  A concern for wide spread government surveillance, almost a century ago, is surprising and hauntingly similar to the surveillance state in America today.

Describing the concerns of Nazi surveillance in the American consulate, Larson writes:

“Prevailing wisdom held that Nazi agents had their microphones in telephones to pick up conversations…[William Dodd] (the American ambassador) filled a cardboard box with cotton…and used it to cover his own telephone whenever a conversation in the library shifted to confidential territory.”

The feeling of mass surveillance was common throughout all of Germany too:

“A common story had begun to circulate: One man telephones another and in the course of their conversation happens to ask “How’s uncle Adolf?” Soon afterward the secret police appear at his door and insist the he prove he really has an uncle Adolf and the question is not in fact a coded reference to Hitler…Here was an entire nation…infested with the contagion of an ever present fear.”

Eventually, the paranoia of surveillance became so common Berliners gave it a name:

“In the most casual of circumstances you spoke carefully and paid attention to those around you and in a way you never had before. Berliners came to practice what became known as ‘the German glance’ – a quick look in all directions when encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street.”

History shows that the surveillance state is an unfortunate institution imposed by only the most tyrannical governments. And like in Nazi Germany the United States has created a world-wide “culture of surveillance”.

The Pope was right: Our Obsession with Gays and Abortion

Last week the Pope said that the Catholic church is too “obsessed” with homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. I think he’s right, but it’s not just the Catholic church who is obsessed with homosexuality and abortion – it’s everyone.

From a media perspective it’s easy to see why these topics have become so popular. There are six reasons I can think of:

1. Topics that require less research or data to form an opinion are more popular with the audience (compare abortion to a complex economic idea),

2. The less history necessary to understand a topic the more popular with the audience (homosexuality doesn’t require a viewer to understand our complex history with the middle-east),

3. Topics that result in an evenly divided opinion are more popular (everyone has someone to argue with),

4. Topics that are safe for media and politicians to discuss are more popular (the politician doesn’t have to answer “scary” questions about topics that may not be popular with their constituents),

5. The easier a politician or media outlet can predict their audience’s stance on an issue the more they will promote that issue (because they know how to please their audience).

6. Involves sex.

It seems like homosexuality and abortion both fit the bill.

Media: We don’t care about black people killed in mass shootings

12 people were killed in Aurora Colorado last year. All of the victims were white. The murders took place in a middle class community in the midst of the opening of a popular movie. The media loved it.

13 people were killed in Chicago earlier this week. All of the victims were African American and police say the shooting was gang related. That’s just a small portion of the total murders in Chicago. There have been 822 murders since January 2012. Almost all of those victims were African American.

Why doesn’t the media spend more time talking about crime prevention in poor neighborhoods and less time promoting mass shootings and making murderers famous. It’s no wonder that, according to Pew Research Center and,  people no longer trust the media.

“This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands. And findings from our new public opinion survey released in this report reveal that the public is taking notice. Nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.”

Why I support your right to carry a gun, but don’t carry one myself

Two men died in a shootout after a “road rage” incident last week.

“Initial investigation shows the Ionia men, ages 43 and 56, pulled into the car wash parking lot after a road rage incident. They exited their vehicles and eventually drew handguns and exchanged fire, police said. It wasn’t clear what the two men were arguing about.

Life EMS transported the men to Sparrow Ionia Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

Police said both men, whose identities have not been released, held permits to carry concealed weapons.” [source]

Why I don’t carry

I support the right to carry a concealed weapon, but this story sums up why I choose not to carry a gun myself. Maybe I am naive, but it seems that a gun would almost always cause more problems than it would solve.

I imagine if just one of these guys would not have been carrying a gun they would both be alive.

N.M. Supreme Court rules Photographers Can’t Refuse Gay Weddings

I support any two consenting adult’s right to engage in a relationship. If those two people fall in love and decide to get married that’s fine too. I’ve discussed in detail all the reasons I believe this before.

That leads me to the incident that happened in New Mexico last year where a gay couple sued a photography company for refusing to photograph their marriage ceremony – and won.  And while I support a same sex couples right to get married I do not support the Government’s assertion that it is legally justifiable to force a business to participate in such a ceremony. According the New Mexico supreme court summary the ruling was as follows:

“The district court upheld the NMHRC’s [New Mexico Human Rights Act] determinations that Elane Photography was a “public accommodation” under the NMHRA and that Elane Photography violated the NMHRA by discriminating against Willock based upon her sexual orientation…the district court also rejected Elane Photography’s constitutional and statutory arguments based upon freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the NMRFRA.” [source]


Can a company  “discriminate” against a certain group of people based on something they perceive violates their religious beliefs? To answer that question I think it is helpful to think about the past.

There was a time not so long ago that people could legally discriminate against African Americans. And for various reasons (religion, culture, history) the law upheld those traditions. Eventually, with a lot of fighting and a lot of controversy, enough people decided that discriminating against black people was immoral and various state and federal civil rights laws were created.

At the time some people claimed that it was their constitutional right to refuse service to whoever they so chose (and maybe it was), but looking back it is pretty clear what they were doing was wrong. Is this another case of civil rights abuse?

Not so cut and dry:

Though I do not support any form of discrimination I do wonder if the nature of a wedding ceremony adds complexity to the situation. And since the same sex couple contacted Elane Photography to photograph a ceremony that they (Elane Photography) found specifically religious in nature it seems her decision not to photograph the ceremony should have been protected by the constitution.

Imagine Elane Photography was owned by a Hindu that refuse to photograph a beef barbecue cookout or Rodeo. Since Hind’s consider the cow “sacred” in a religious context they should not be forced to participate in an event they find spiritually offensive.

In either case – Hindu or Christian – the individual performing the photography service was justified by their religious beliefs to refuse service and should be protected by the constitution.  Right?

Why Elane Photography lost in court:

The big question is why the court ruled in favor of the same-sex couple when it seems so obvious (at least to me) that Elane Photography should have been protected under the constitution.  Let’s examine:

 “Free Expression”

The court ruled:

“The fact that some photography qualifies as expressive conduct entitled to First Amendment protection does not mean that any commercial activity that involves photography falls under the umbrella of the First Amendment…the threshold question is whether Elane Photography’s conduct is predominantly expressive…we [the court] are unpersuaded by Elane Photography’s argument that a photographer serves as more than a mere conduit for another’s expression…Elane Photography serves as a conduit for its clients to memorialize their personal ceremony. Willock merely asked Elane Photography to take photographs, not to disseminate any message of acceptance or tolerance on behalf of the gay community.”  (pages 9 – 12)

I asked my wife (an artist who supports same-sex marriage) about this and she disagrees with the courts ruling. She had this to say:

“Anything an artist does says something about what they believe or what they represent. A lot of professional painters refuse or avoid certain jobs because it’s not something they want in their portfolio and they don’t want to put out a certain image to future clients about their work. So, it’s crazy to think a photographer isn’t attached to her images.”

I agree with my wife.

Freedom of Religious Exercise

Elane Photography also argued for the  non-constitutionality of the NMHRA due to “religious rights”, but lost on that front too. The court ruled the following:

“The right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes)…the case at bar is generally applicable and neutral; it does not selectively burden any religion or religious belief. The NMHRA applies generally to all citizens transacting commerce and business through public accommodations that deal with the public at large, and any burden on religion or some religious beliefs is incidental and uniformly applied to all citizens…The NMHRA is not directed at religion or particular religious practices, but it is directed at persons engaged in commerce in New Mexico.” (p. 12-15)

Wedding Photography is not expressive and not religious. I humbly disagree. I think the court was wrong on this one.

Puerto Ricans and Ass Kickings

When I was 7 years old my family and I moved to a neighborhood on the South side of Atlanta. The first two kids I was introduced to were a big black boy who lived across the street named Courtney and a chubby Puerto Rican named Hector. We respected Courtney because he was a foot taller and 50 lbs heavier than the rest of us. We made fun of Hector because he had a big head and always smelled like barbecue sauce.  

My first fight was with Hector. He kicked my ass in front of the entire neighborhood. I remember refusing to fight while the “big kids” urged him to slam me down a nearby hill. He obliged and I tumbled down my neighbors lawn.  After a brief tumble down the rocky ledge the fight was over. My shirt was stretched and stained. My knees and elbows were battered. When the show was over I went home.

When my Mom saw my stained clothes and beaten body she was furious. Her “baby” had been beaten up by a “bully”.  She embarrassed me further by confronting Hector while I stood by her side staring at the ground. Hector held his chin high while my mother cursed him. “Never lay another hand on my child!”  The verbal abuse from the neighborhood boys stood as a constant reminder of the incident. 

The whole experience was terrible, but I vowed to never lose another fight again. My response was to publicly beat the hell out of Hector whenever the opportunity presented itself.  There were many, many opportunities.

That beating and the subsequent retaliatory ass-kickings I handed out taught me a lot about life and how to be tough. But mostly those childhood poundings remind me of how hard it can be to be a kid. 

The funny thing is Hector was my best friend. I cried when we moved. 

Chapter 1: Abortion

Note: This is the first chapter of my “e-book in progress”. Since I don’t know any editors feel free to be critical. I know this post is long, sorry.  

Since 1973, roughly 50 million legally induced abortions have been performed in the United States. [1] Fifty-million is a big number. Fifty-million is a small country. Fifty-million is 1/6th of the population of the United States.

Fifty-million is the sole reason I decided to include this chapter in this book. There have been 50 million lives ended by abortion, 50 million mothers, and another 50 million fathers. That is 150 million lives touched by abortion in America alone. When you put that number into perspective it’s easy to see why abortion is an important topic. So here we are.

What this chapter is and what this chapter is not:

I despise talking heads on either side of the political spectrum that spout off talking points. The same arguments are used again and again to appeal to the emotions of the typical American. The goal of these talking heads are always the same: to induce guilt or to justify abortion.

And so while I disagree with abortion – this is not another neo-conservative attempt to spout talking points about the the “evils” of abortion. I am not going to pull on your heart-strings and force guilt down your throat until you feel sick to your stomach. I am especially not going to use religion. I don’t agree with most of those methods and even if I did I think those tactics are counter productive to changing opinions.

Ultimately – the reason to do or not to do something must be based on a well thought out mechanism of reason. Property rights is an alternative way of thinking about abortion and to present new perspective as related to morality and natural law. A way of thinking that doesn’t appeal to the emotion or try to make anyone feel guilty, but rather changes minds about the nature of making decisions for someone else.

What are Property Rights?

Before we begin it may be helpful if I define what “property rights” are and what they are not. The most obvious answer to “What are Property Rights” is in the term “Property Rights” itself. The rights an individual has to their property. But what is property?

In the traditional sense it is easy to determine some things are property. Your home, for example, is your property. As is your clothing, your car, and so on. But property is not limited to material possessions that you can purchase. Some items are granted naturally by nature “by God”. This property includes one’s ownership of one’s self and all liberties related to living your own life.

As a society we have property rights built in that you may not have noticed. This is especially apparent in the fact that we object to the idea of a ruling class. We support a democratically elected leader, rather than a king, and enjoy the mantras of Liberty and Freedom.

We have a sophisticated legal system that helps determine ownership of possessions, that prosecutes individuals who infringe on the property of others through violent crimes or theft, and that sets boundaries in effort to protect each person’s rights from interference.

Therefore, based on these ideas we can conclude that each individual is granted, naturally and otherwise, a certain right to their individual property: property rights. We will use this concept moving forward.

Why are Property Rights important to abortion?

Property rights, as defined above, are important because they guarantee an individual’s ability to think and act for themselves and without the rule of another human being. Almost no one would want their entire life micromanaged by someone else and chances are another person probably wouldn’t do a very good job making those decisions anyway.

We have to ask ourselves the following questions: Is it acceptable to make the decision to kill an unborn child? What human has the right to decide for another human that their life is meaningless? What is the mother and father’s life more important than the child’s life?

I understand that much of this idea relies on the idea that an unborn child has rights. That an unborn child has as much right to their life as any other human being thus, that life should be protected. I also understand that many people disagree with that idea. In the following sections I hope to convince doubters that an unborn child should have rights and that it is illogical to presume otherwise.

Roe v. Wade

In the (in)famous case of Roe v. Wade the supreme court ruled and upheld the woman’s right to have an abortion upon the grounds of the 14th amendment [2]. The court ruled that a woman has a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that right extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

Does a woman’s right to privacy supercede a fetus’s right to life?

In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson famously says that all human beings are granted unalienable rights which include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. [3] So why are these rights ignored when it comes to an unborn child and its mother? Why is the child completely left out of the equation?

One may argue that the child’s rights are insignificant or that the woman’s rights supersede the rights of a fetus. Many justify this by arguing that the fetus cannot survive outside of the mother’s womb, thus the mother’s right to privacy and thus abortion must be upheld; however, if you believe that: What the difference between any child and a fetus?

A child can no more survive without a parent than a fetus can. I’ve always believed that once a heart beats in a fetus it becomes a living person – just as we would measure the life in any other living thing. And although the needs of a fetus may be different than a child or adult, it is none-the-less a person with property rights.

To quote a story from Dr. Ron Paul’s book “Liberty Defined” regarding abortion Dr. Paul says:

“On one occasion in the 1960s…I witnessed, while visiting a surgical suite as an OB/GYN resident, the abortion of a fetus that weighed approximately two pounds. It was placed in a bucket, crying and struggling to breathe, and the medical personnel pretended not to notice. Soon the crying stopped. This harrowing even forced me to think more seriously about this important issue.

That same day in the OB suite, an early delivery occurred and the infant born was only slightly larger than the one that was just aborted. But in this room everybody did everything conceivable to save this child’s life. My conclusion that day was that we were overstepping the bounds of morality by picking and choosing who should live and who should die.” [4]

The difference between a fetus and a child:

I always question how some people distinguish between a child and an unborn fetus. I think the real difference isn’t with the fetus or child, but in how we justify things to ourselves.

The real difference between a fetus and a child is the amount of guilt the parent or doctor feels. Because, at a technical level, murdering a one year old and disposing of an unwanted fetus is no different. Ask yourself: Is there a recognizable and logically arguable difference?

I think a few developmental factors drive this point home. Twenty-two days after conception “[the baby’s] heart begins to beat with the child’s own blood, often a different type than the mothers’” and by only 6 weeks “brain waves are detectable; mouth and lips are present; fingernails are forming.” [5] What more is needed to define life? I imagine if we found such a creature on another planet surely every media outlet would claim we found life on another planet, right? So where’s the disconnect?

Should laws protect a fetus?

Should the law uphold the property rights of such a person and why is it some people feel justified in assigning an arbitrary value on one life that is different than another? Shouldn’t all lives be equally valued and equally protected? I find it ironic that it is these same people who argue so fervently for civil rights.

Some people argue that it is unfair or unjust that a woman who becomes pregnant “accidentally” due to consensual sex should be forced to undergo pregnancy. I’ve never understood this argument. Doesn’t everyone old enough to have sex understand the potential consequence is pregnancy? Even contraception and birth control pills are only 99% effective.

So recognizing these facts, is it fair that two individuals engaging in mutually agreed upon sex have the right to violate the property rights of another human life? What justice is served if a law protects its citizens equally?

If we conclude that a fetus qualifies as human and that all humans should be protected equally under the law abortion in its current form should be banished.

Forced Labor: A Thirteenth Amendment Defense of Abortion

Andre Koppleman argued in his paper “Forced Labor: A Thirteenth Amendment Defense of Abortion” that “when women are compelled to carry and bear children, they are subjected to ‘involuntary servitude’ in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment….[E]ven if the woman has stipulated to have consented to the risk of pregnancy, that does not permit the state to force her to remain pregnant.” [6]

This argument gets to the root of many women’s rights activist I have encountered. There is a strong belief that a woman should not be forced to remain pregnant if she does not want to. For a group concerned with equal rights – this logic has never made sense to me.

This logical leap does not consider the property rights of the very life in question – the child. Does the woman’s supposed constitutional right of “involuntary servitude”, a.k.a. pregnancy, supersede the right to life of the child? Especially if the women voluntarily engaged in an act that is known to cause pregnancy (sex).

If this is the case, one could logically argue that parenthood itself “even if the woman has stipulated to have consented to the risk of pregnancy” [6] is involuntary servitude and the parents should have the right to dispose of their children at any point it becomes convenient. No one makes that arguing though – the moral and lawful implications are somehow more obvious after a child has been born then while it remains in the womb. The lack of logic in this type of argument is astounding.

Thus, if you conclude that any person has the natural property right to their own life – then an unborn child should not be excluded. The idea that an unborn child has less rights than the mother because it requires her for survival is a fallacy. The notion that consensual sex resulting in pregnancy is involuntary servitude is absurd and selfish.

The laws that allow for abortion only support those individuals who are too selfish, afraid, or ignorant to accept the consequences of their actions. This includes both mothers and fathers.

Children are not private property of the parents.

Defenders of abortion seem to believe an unborn child is the private property of the parents. But the truth is that no human being belongs to any other human being.

history has taught us that when one human being treats another human being as property the results can only be evil. For example, in the ridiculous supreme court ruling, Dred Scott v. Sanford the court ruled that black Americans, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” [7]

Almost 200 years later we can clearly see that ideas like this are a gross violation of property rights, the constitution, and morality. Surely even the most devout proponent of abortion would agree. However, we somehow justify treating an unborn child as property; not depriving them of only their liberties, but also their life.

Abortion is wrong, ancient, and barbaric.

Accepting Responsibility

If the proponents of abortion are right then at what point do we as individuals of free thought and action have to accept responsibility for our own deeds? When do we stop punishing those who are merely the innocent bi-products of a consensual deed?

Our law was created to protect the innocent and uphold the rights of every individual who falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Constitution. It’s time to stop living a lie and admit that despite our desires to pass the buck or avoid the inconveniences of our actions we are responsible for our deeds and cannot morally or lawfully punish the innocent to exalt ourselves.

Continue reading

This for That: Enslaved by ancient ideas about middle-class-ism

Today I read an article by Ian Kath called “We sold our life for trinkets.” In the article Ian describes the idea that many people are enslaved by a vicious cycle of consumerism that ultimately leads to an empty existence. One feels the need to consume, to have more and more “stuff”, and in turn this need for “stuff” drives one to perform basically meaningless tasks sometimes called “work” to obtain more and more “trinkets”. Even if the “work” performed involves browsing the internet for 40 hours a week.

Ian summarizes:

Our life force is consumed in the workforce on worthless activity in exchange for money for the latest gadget or fancier house. We have been indentured to the ruling elite. The 1%.

This for That

The world economy is made up of a “this for that” system. We do this, we pay this, we trade this – for that. All transactions are based on specific set of numbers (currency) in exchange for a physical item we desire. Those numbers are later traded to someone else for other physical items they desire. And all this begs the question: If technology is getting more and more efficient, the demand for efficient people is becoming less and less – then how do people earn currency to exchange for the widgets they so badly desire?

David Graeber from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote an entire on the subject called “The modern phenomenon of nonsense jobs“. David says:

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen…this is the sort of very problem that market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking business is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

And if you have a job where you are really busy maybe you think this sounds crazy, but I can assure you that there are professionals all around the country browsing the internet. In fact, it’s common knowledge among internet bloggers to publish your articles on week days just after 9am. Droves of professionals are sitting in front of their computers at work, just made their first cup of coffee, and are now surfing the internet… So has capitalism failed us? Are the ideas of “a person must be productive” archaic? Are we ironically enslaved by middle-class-ism? Maybe so.

A New Way Forward

So is there a new way we aren’t aware of?  Why aren’t there more jobs available where people just think shit up. Where people just focus on making the world awesome. Jobs where people just go out and make things pretty. Clean shit all day. Come up with creative ways to ease traffic, etc.

Then again, who would pay for such a venture. Tax payers? Hell no! I don’t trust the Government to do a good job on this. Or is our entire system of currency, paying for things, “this for that”, archaic? Will we look back on our current value system – the “this for that” system and think it was pretty stupid.

Are we in the beginning stages of a new system of living – one where 100% of the population doesn’t have to be productive? Maybe we are witnessing the early stages of a value change. A change to a new system more accurately aligned with our technological capabilities rather than our current system which is largely driven by ancient instincts that require aimlessly productive human resource units.

It’s an interesting path to think about, but I’m not quite sure how it would work. Who decides who has to stock the shelves at a grocery store versus who gets to be a thinker? Society? The invisible hand of the market? Maybe the future currency will be the true value you prove you can provide to society. Still not sure how that would work, but it is an interesting thing to think about.

From Russia, With Love: Vladamir Putin’s Op-Ed Piece to Americans

Yesterday, on 9/11 no less, an article was ran in the New York Times by the President of Russia Vladamir Putin regarding the events unfolding in Syria.

In the article President Putin was almost flawless. He came off even keeled, thoughtful, moral, and was able to simultaneously give President Obama a nice poke in the side.  The article was part truth, part propaganda, and part “fuck you” to Obama. Frankly, I can’t believe that the administration allowed it to slip through their filters and find its way in the New York times at all.

The closing paragraph stood out most:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

In a single paragraph Putin manages to make Obama look like a fool – like an elitist out of touch with the rest of the world at a time when the whole world is watching.

War in Syria and US Intervention

To anyone watching it is clear that the was in Syria isn’t about Syria and certainly is not about the citizens living there. It’s a carefully crafted game of Geopolitics involving the United States, Russia, and their respective allies. Both sides want control of the region and the transportation of natural resources. Almost no one really cares about chemical weapons or people dying – that is a facade. Chemical weapons are only a mask to hide the true motives driven by geopolitics.

The truth is that the civil war in Syria has been going on for years and there is proof that chemical weapons have been used in the region before (like here). Thousands of Syrians have already died – and it would be hypocritical for the United States to suddenly care about that now. Why? Because we have helped overthrow democratically elected governments before in the name of US interested.

For example, in 1973 in Chile the United States helped fund the assassination of President Allende. Subsequently began 17 years of harsh dictatorship, marked by arbitrary imprisonment, torture and imprisonment, repression of labor unions and denial of basic human rights [1].

So what has intervention really ever done for the people we are “helping”? Not much. Putin calls out this point too:

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

My Point?

My point is that maybe the United States should stop policing the world by force. Maybe we should focus on peace and diplomacy. That’s all.

Read about the concept of blow-back.

Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 3

When I was a kid we struggled to pay the bills, but my Dad was a crafty guy. He refused “real” work, but was king when it came to unorthodox ways to come by a buck. One of those unorthodox ways involved 1000 cassette tapes.

Derek gave my Dad two boxes of cassette tapes – Hip-hop albums. I have no idea why my Dad accepted such a gift, but he has never been one to refuse free stuff. No matter how strange or possibly stolen that “free” stuff might be. So in our damp garage set 1000 cassette tapes for what must have been years.

Then came the day. Sitting in the kitchen one evening our lights went to dark. My Dad peaked out of the window and waited for the technician to leave. Our power bill hadn’t been paid for months, but my Dad was just smart enough to know how to turn our meter back on. This time was different – the power company placed a tamper-proof lock over our power meter. With a note: “Please pay your overdue balance.”

After a day or two without power we had enough. The food in our refrigerator had become sour – and made the house smell like death, the Georgia heat was becoming too much to bear, and showers without hot water was the last straw. My Dad decided to pay. He devised a scheme.

The Scheme

My Mother and I sat in front of local retailers and asked for donations, any donation, in exchange for a cassette tape. Myself, an 8 year old kid and my Mother, a cripple in a wheel chair. We even had t-shirts from an old church youth group we had attended years before. The fact that the cassette tapes were riddled with vulgarities like “The Bitch is Back” written in bold letters on the front – didn’t seem to bother anyone. The donations flowed and our pockets filled.

Sometime people would give $1, sometimes $10. Sometimes the store manager would get suspicious and kick us out of their parking lot for soliciting. No one ever called the cops on a kid and a lady in a wheel chair though. The plan was perfect.

I even got my cut of the cash. Even though I was embarrassed – the thought of helping my parents pay the bills and earning $20 seemed too good to pass up. In reality what my Father had us doing was immoral, sad, and fucked up – but in a lot of ways that was my childhood. Lessons learned in the strangest ways – lessons that will stick with me forever.

My Daughter

Now that I’m having a little girl of my own I wonder how she will learn these same lessons? I wonder how she will learn what it feels like to truly contribute to the family and feel proud of that? I wonder how she will learn to appreciate electricity, paid bills, and hot showers? I wonder if she will ever really appreciate what it feels like to humble yourself, to give up your pride, to help your family. I wish I could grant her that knowledge without that experience – but I don’t think I can.

Read Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 2.