Hop on the Bus Gus….No Need to Discuss Much

My nephew lives in a school bus. More about that in a moment.

Each semester I ask my critical thinking classes two basic questions: 1) How many of you consider yourselves to be open-minded? Nearly the entire class raises their hand. And, 2) How many of you consider most people to be open-minded? Nearly no one raises their hand.

It seems we have a strong disconnect at some level. As a rule, most of strongly us prefer to consider ourselves open-minded while considering the world around us to be generally close-minded; or at least that is what my very unscientific research would suggest to me over the past 10 years. Interesting…and I do have some theories as to why I so consistently experience this response.

Perhaps by perceiving ourselves to be open and others closed, it justifies our beliefs and choices we make in life.

“They don’t think like I do because they are closed-minded. I, on the other hand, must believe what is right because I am open-minded to other thoughts and ideas yet I think differently.”

This understanding may be the perfect perceptual recipe to justify and feel good about our own beliefs and provides a pat on the back that our worldview is indeed the preferred one, if not the right one. After all, we are open and they are closed.

Yet, ironically, there are very few, if any (I have yet to meet one), individuals who are truly open-minded in the purest sense, myself included; it is a mental and emotional impossibility for most sane people.

To be truly open-minded is to float in the center of the sea on a raft, without sails, taken by any current or gust that happens to come your way. Like children, we need some boundaries and emotional pacifiers to calm our angst about living in a seemingly random universe. Our pacifiers can include the “granddaddy” binkies of science and religion, yet can also include family, friends, any variety of substances, entertainment, the list is nearly endless. These are things that give us direction and guidance (albeit perhaps often the wrong direction), though, above all, they give us hope; hope for a better day and life.

Yet these things also entrap us in a closed-minded cage as to not threaten our present need for purpose and structure, and, perhaps more importantly to the human psyche, fulfilling the need for future hope.

My very liberal left leaning friends are some of the most dangerously closed-minded people I have ever met. Of course I could say the same about my heavily right-leaning friends as well. The common “tell” of a blatantly close-minded person is they do not simply disagree with the other side, they vilify them; they are not just wrong, they are idiots and evil.

People get really weird when their hope is threatened. I know I do.

To question our own anchors of our sanity and hope is dangerous territory and few of us can do it genuinely. Is it even possible?

Interestingly, just this week a student of mine wrote the following:

I come to the “table” of Urbanovich’s class with “dogmatically” held views—views I am willing to die for….And what of my deeply-rooted beliefs? Anything worth believing is worth examining. If my beliefs are true, then I should not fear that they will crumble under the “microscope.”  A person blindly married to his belief system refuses “to cast a glance through the telescope” (15) because of a perceived threat to his “dogmatically” held “opinions.” Often, he operates with a “me vs. them” mindset. This is problematic when you have a world full of people who possess their own opinions of how the world works but who are faced with a world full of problems needing to be addressed cooperatively.

Oh how I would like to take credit for this student’s awakening to the needed world of open-mindedness and critical thinking; yet, hence, as it is only the first week of class -I cannot. For she is just following the old proverb, “Once a student is ready to learn, a teacher will appear.” Right place, right time.

So this gets me full circle back to the bus. Yes, my nephew, his wife and 2 kids live in a mobile renovated school bus.  For most of us, this way of life literally takes us off the foundation of a traditional home and way to properly do family life.

We have discussed this undertaking in our family and some of us, myself included, believe it to be “weird.” Yet, I understand my response is one of terrible closed-mindedness. A big part of my worldview to stay sane and have hope is family; and a family must have a permanent and “non-towable” existence in order to be normal.

No they don’t.

I am just closed-minded.

At least I know it.

Keep your hands to yourself and do not get up while in motion my dear nephew.

Police Integrity and other Oxymorons

I am all for law and order yet I am not a big fan of law enforcement.police

I know they are supposed to be our “heroes” though the system has created an overpowered and greedy monster. The law-abiding taxpayers are becoming a primary source of revenue through chickenshit infractions, while many law breakers, particularly those who offer little financial incentive to catch, are becoming a growing inconvenience for a fat and fucked-up force.

I have friends who are in law enforcement and I have nothing against them personally- thus when I suggest our biggest threat to our freedom is not a foreign invader or a patriot act, rather it is the incredible amount of power, prestige and resources we give to our “heroes” in blue – it is not a personal attack, but an institutional one.

I had the opportunity to sit with city of Redlands former chief of police Jim Bueermann a few years ago several times to discuss some communication training for his officers. Why? He conceded that the great majority of problems his department faces are self-imposed and can be avoided with solid communication practices. Jim is a very good man and he acknowledges many of the same problems that I do.

Unfortunately, he is one of the rare ones.

chickenshit3Yes, some, like Jim, are doing the Lord’s work and are actually concerned with catching criminals that are a real threat to society and public safety while keeping the chickenshit stuff to a minimum –thank God, though the bad is beginning to outweigh the good.

Where do I start? My my, there are so many places to choose…the cops who chest-thumped and high-fived after punching a cuffed woman who was stopped for being on her cell phone? Naahhhh…that’s too easy. (I am not even going to provide a link here….just go to youtube and type in “police punches woman” and you will find enough macho cops sucker punching defenseless women to sicken you).

How about the pocketbook?

Aside from the incredible amount of resources we allow law enforcement to spend when it’s their ass on the line (a one million dollar reward to catch someone after cops); such as protecting officers’ personal homes when a single killer is on the loose or the resources we throw at the pomp and circumstance of police funerals (which is fine though I demand government-paid victims’ funerals); probably the biggest rip-off in a dreary contemporary economy is the free money we are giving to both police officers and firefighters through what is called the DROP program.

DROP allows LAPD and L.A. city fire personnel who’ve been on the force for at least 25 years and dropare 50 years old to collect both a salary AND their pension for their last five years on the job. And, of course, they continue to collect their pension for the rest of their lives.

The average size of a DROP check is $306,000 for cops, $328,000 for firefighters. If we multiply that average with the number of employees who have participated in the program — 2,808 — we find that the city of Los Angeles has spent about $900 million on the program.

According to a KCET special, some officers receive a check at their retirement of nearly one million dollars.

Heroes? Hmmmmm…if this is not some of the most corrupt behavior by our city’s anointed enforcement of all things lawful and ethical, what the hell are the bad guys doing?

This is a legal extortion by loophole, engineered by powerful unions whose support is a must if one wants to get into public office.

Not surprisingly, in the current LA mayoral race the final two candidates for a run-off, Jan Gruel and Eric Garcetti support DROP and the unions; the strongest nixed candidate, Kevin James, was against it. Loser go home.

The primary argument for DROP is that it will keep the “best and brightest” on the force. Really? For one, who really looks to leave and change jobs at 50 years old and within a few years of retirement? Secondly, best and brightest? Though I do have one friend who was a high ranking officer and quite intelligent, the vast majority of officers in my experience are those testosterone-ridden dudes who played high school football, could not cut it in community college and found an occupation that would take them in to work out their masculinity issues, male or female.

Best and brightest? When I successfully argued AND WON in court against a traffic cop (read: DICK) by simply throwing out a red herring –playing to his inflated ego needs- and he blindly followed it, I realized at that moment these guys are not Einsteins.

120926103335-jimmy-hoffa-1960-horizontal-galleryI guess we will continue to pay these guys millions of unearned dollars for the opportunity to write us all tickets, costing us hundreds of dollars, for going 75 in a 65 and being a danger to no one, while the underlying driving force to allow such corruption, the almighty and powerful unions, remains in much closer ethical alignment with Jimmy Hoffa than Samuel Gompers.

Even my own teacher’s union (which I am FORCED to belong to by the way) is a leader in the downfall of education in this country; I am not anti-union, I am anti-corrupt union. Though I digress….

Yes, I could rail on this one for days.  Though consider this: We give 21 year-old kids a gun, power and prestige, all before the brain is fully developed. We give the most power in society to the people radargunmany insurance companies will not cover because they lack the maturity – not to mention education. Sad.

I believe I would be remiss if I did not conclude with an ACTION step here….PLEASE everyone, next time you get the chickenshit ticket – you know the ones -rolling a stop at midnight, going 70 in a 65, jaywalking (yes, the City of Burbank is renowned for these little chickenshit gems)…FIGHT IT! Win, lose or draw we need to start clogging the system so it costs more to write the ticket than to not write it.

And maybe these former jocks can get back to what they should be doing.

The Book of Mormon, South Park Style

spoiler_alert_300_w2Spoiler alert!! Please do not read if you are planning on seeing this play!!

On Sunday March 17, we were fortunate enough to obtain standing room only tickets for the popular Broadway hit, “The Book Of Mormon” written by, among others, Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame.

I personally have been waiting two years to see this play but I could not justify the ridiculously high prices (hundreds of dollars per ticket), even for the LA show. However winning these standing The_Book_of_Mormon_posterroom only tickets set me back only $27.50 and I even was able to watch it my preferred posture of standing.

I am not a big fan of musical theater, though I am a big fan of comedy. I am not a big fan of Mormonism, though I am a big fan of society and culture.  I am not a big fan of snobbish critic reviews, though I do like to observe and pontificate; thus I bring to you my review from a non-critic though lover of comedy, culture and pontification.

In short, it seems on the surface the play rips a new asshole into the body of the Mormon Church. The factual data of the origins of the Mormon church as humorous stand alone, needing no convincing; and it’s worth a good chuckle without any Broadway theatrics. Sure, it might be more entertaining to hear of magical spectacles, mysterious golden plates and the Garden of Eden located in Missouri through a sarcastic Broadway song, yet the content alone is ridiculous enough to LMFAO.

As with most of Stone’s and Parker’s seemingly sophomoric material, wait long enough and there is indeed a deeper point to be made (remember these are the same guys who make a 22 minute animated comedy about guys claiming the world’s largest shit into a social commentary on the hypocrisy of Bono…brilliant -bathroom humor with a purpose.).

As two young Mormon missionary “elders” set out to convert an African tribe to the Latter Day religion, one of them, Arnold, happens to be a fantastic liar and, without any of the other Mormon elders knowing, lies to the downtrodden tribe about the religion in order to make it sound more appealing and feasible to them in their context.

Of course the young man is reprimanded and sent off to gentile pastures when his lies are found out by LDS authorities, yet the aids-ravaged villagers have found a new sense of purpose and optimism is this new crazy faith; thus when it comes time to go back and confess his lies, it is realized that this new sense of purpose is worth believing and it has provided inspiration and hope. Indeed they have found the “Book of Arnold.”

Of course, the point is that you can say all the negative things you wish about the Mormon church yet the bottom line is that even amidst the inane claims, people are finding purpose, value and direction – which, according to the didactic claims of the writers, can overshadow the shortcomings of reason and logic.

The play was Broadway quality with everything great you expect in a Broadway production. The Mormon elder dance was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. However, perhaps my ultimate disappointment overall was in my unrealistic high expectations as well as the unoriginality of Stone’s and Parker’s Mormon material –which, perhaps the result of the creative benefit of animation, was better and more aptly communicated in previous South Park episodes.

If you watch enough Tarantino or Tim Burton movies you are going to get some retreads. Rather than the violent witty dialogue coming from contemporary gangsters it comes from cowboys. Or rather than the same eccentric characteristics of a man with Scissorhands, it comes from a creepy chocolate bar maker; kinda the same guys in different times and places.

I have heard and seen Stone’s and Parker’s modus operandi and was hoping for something a bit more original, even if the lack of originality was due to a retread of their own body of very original work; highly stylized artists can be a victim of their own originality and success

And since any religion is ultimately judged by the benefits afforded to its NON adherents, the message is not all that original. If Stone and Parker truly believe the ends (happiness, fulfillment, purpose) justifies the means (a bunch of bullshit), why write a 2 hour play ripping the religion in the first place?

It would seem to me that writing a creative “tell all” about the insanity of a religious system could be just about that, alone, as a humorous and creative expose’. On the other hand, if the point is to convey that no matter what we believe it is all good if it leads to a happy existence, then why write the musical in the first place? The world is full of all kinds of crazy beliefs systems that help people get through another crazy day and stay sane.

Are you poking fun at it or justifying it? Yet, by combining both, it seems Stone and Parker are the ones laughing hardest all the way to the bank. I personally think they should tithe 10% of it back to the Mormon church. Not.

Thus, in tension, I over think. Sometimes a laugh is just a laugh. And it has plenty.





My Love Letter to West Ranch High School

Dear Mr. Vincent…I just had to write this and get it out.  Please share as you can. I feel the need to share my gratitude with the world, particularly my “blogosphere.”

westranchMarch 10, 2013

Dear West Ranch Educators, Coaches and Administrators:

This is just a short letter to send my (our) deepest gratitude, sentiments and earnest appreciation for your overwhelming acceptance and kindness you have displayed continually toward my son Stevie over the past two years—through both stern discipline when needed, and positive motivation when appropriate.

As some of you know, Stevie transferred to West Ranch from Saugus High School in the winter of 2011. At this time he as was very scared and insecure, transferring from a very dark and problematic situation at SHS. I could go on and on about this troubling scenario though it would provide no point. Let it be said that at the time Stevie needed love, acceptance and some respect—West Ranch provided it to him in abundance.  As a result, my heart overflows with appreciation.

You have all contributed to restoring some semblance of respect toward adult authority figures in his life. At a time when he believed all adult authority concerned themselves only with “looking good” and not “being good” you have all exemplified for him what it means to be a good person; a cheersectionconfident person; a leader. I cannot thank you all enough for this…you, as an institution, have earned my deepest respect and highest regards. Thank you.

As most of you know, Stevie is a very good person though he is also a risk-taker who likes to live life a bit on the edge. As his parent, I have earnestly worked with him to learn the values of wisdom and discernment WITHOUT losing this cutting edge of risk-taking behavior… after all, the world needs risk-takers. Striking this balance is not easy and Stevie has Stevieinhospitalfrequently both reaped the benefit AND paid a hefty price for this risk-taking behavior.  I thank all of you for recognizing this quality in Stevie and not thwarting it out of fear, not threatened by his supreme confidence, rather shaping it out of love. Thank you.

I specifically want to thank coaches Shant Bickaki and Sean Mckillop for taking in Stevie not only as a basketball player, though as a person. Even after he decided to no longer play basketball, they continued to take him out to lunch and send encouraging texts…he shares them with me. I feel Sterbsinplayforever indebted to them both. Administrators Ms. Manfredi, Mr. Necessary (come back!!) and, of course you, Principal Vincent for taking such great care of Stevie and leading not just with the rod, but with the heart as well. In addition I would like to personally thank his counselor Ms. Van Amberg who was always there for him and Ms. Overdevest for accepting Sterbs into West Ranch TV -sight unseen- as she understood the situation from which he was coming from, THANK YOU.

Ms. Banks, Ms. Frame, Mr. Von Busch, Mr. Ippolito, and all of his teachers (please forgive me for not knowing all your names!) you are in the front line trenches of Stevie’s life and he shares with me the stories he learns from all of you.  As an educator myself, please know of the profound effect you are having on these lives and you have all changed Stevie for the better.

Stevie even comes home with wonderful stories from the friendly custodians and front gate workers…the entire culture of West Ranch, top to bottom, is exemplary.

meandsterbswrtvStevie is our youngest child and we are now in the process of saying goodbye to the Hart District. Thank you all so much for sending us, and Stevie, out with such a great taste in our mouths after having a rather dismal one. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Jimmy Urbanovich

Post an Ugly Picture of Yourself on Facebook, or Twitter, or Even This Blog

photoRecently the below facebook status update was passed on to me through Rene’. It reminded of my blog entry a couple of months ago (5 Helpful Hints to Give Off the Right Impression Online; or, Post an Ugly Picture of Yourself on Facebook) and decided to revisit this idea after reading these wonderfully articulated thoughts:

On the rare occasion that I actually check my FB, tonight I decided to challenge my boredom and instead of posting something new to update you on in my life virtually, exactly the way that I want you to see and interpret it (you all know its true), I decided to go through every part of my timeline, down to the *CRINGE* untagged/hidden things that make me wish social media never existed, and what I found was far more significant than a #TBT from high school or a cute selfie you hope gets 50 likes. See, what I found are the posts I used to hate the most, (the candid/just rolled out of bed/TRULY didnt put on make up/too fat in that picture/clearly need a hamburger that month/i look like snooki/wait, am i snooki/did i really paint my face half green and gold/if i really looked like that performing my career is over, etc) were the ones I found the most breathtakingly beautiful. I found that if you choose to ‘view your profile’, view your life, in the same perspective that you try to manipulate others to, not only can it be just as glorified and special, but that it already is. And manipulating yourself instead to see the truth of that is the first step to creating it. Time, growing up, and change is so imperfectly beautiful. Not living in the moment means that it will pass with no memory to imprint, or to share, and my ‘timeline’ don’t got room for that Challenge yourself. #TGIF

Amen sister and pass the kudos plate because I’m dropping some love in it. Well said.

C’mon everyone. What are we waiting for? My contribution is above. Let’s get real and show each other some ugly love.