Monday, October 27, 2014

The Homeless Dilemma

A few years ago, long-time friend Clark Brooks wrote an interesting post on his thoughts on homeless people. Clark looked at recent incidents of panhandlers faking the funk and not being who they appear to be and pondered on whether or not to ever give a dollar or two to local panhandlers he sees in the Tampa area.

In the dilemma of whether to keep giving or not, Clark didn't come to a conclusion either way.

Contrary to popular belief, as Clark points out, not all panhandlers are homeless. While some are complete frauds, I've been told by a few that they live in nearby cheap hotels. Which is a small step up from living under a bridge. If they can beg for $30 a day, they can pay for their next night in a hotel. So when they plea the "hotel locked me out" story, it's not 100% made up. Maybe only 50%.

But in other cases, there are certain panhandlers I will absolutely never give anything to.

The biggest group I deny is homeless Vietnam vets.

Before anyone chastises me for being unpatriotic, let me explain.

Yes, I am a veteran. Yes, I have compassion for fellow veterans who might have fallen on hard times. Sometimes adjusting to life in America is difficult after a year or more in a high pressure combat zone. I totally understand that and I sympathize.

But my sympathy is nil with those who use Vietnam as an excuse for being homeless or jobless.

It's been 40 years since American involvement in Vietnam ended. Vietnam veterans have had 40 years to find assistance. While that assistance might not have been easily accessible upon their return, it is easily accessible now. There are veterans' hospitals, veterans' counselors, and veterans' assistance centers everywhere. And there are plenty of public libraries where those without personal computers can look up their local veterans' assistance facilities.

Homeless Vietnam veterans have no excuse. By now, they should have found the help they need. Therefore, they get no money from me.

Which brings me to a recent interaction I had with a panhandler. I have never been so insulted or wanted to physically confront a panhandler so much in my life.

On the way to visit my parents a few weeks ago, I exited I-95 in Melbourne, Florida. At the intersection of Eau Gallie Road and John Rhodes Boulevard, I stopped at a red light. In the median was a disheveled man with a scruffy beard and old clothes. He was carrying a small sign that read "Love / God Bless".

I was the third car in line waiting for the light in the left turning lane. As the disheveled man began walking the line, his eyes locked into mine. I knew he was headed my way. Perhaps he thought the fact that I was looking at him meant I was interested in providing assistance.

As he walked up to my car, I turned down the stereo (Slayer, of course). He was near my car when I broke the ice.

"How are you?" I asked.

"Vietnam vet," he replied.

Not an expected answer, so I asked him to repeat himself.

"Vietnam vet," he said again.

"That's cool," I replied, immediately shifting into my stubborn stance of not assisting veterans from that conflict. Had he said that he need money for beer or that he was a recovering crack addict, I would have helped. But not a dime to panhandling 'Nam veterans.

Of course, I could have questioned his credibility and asked him what unit he was with. That's not a bad option. If he stated a unit and mission, that might have improved his chances of receiving a handout. Then I might be able to confirm he is the real deal. Or we could have exchanged war stories. I could have made a friend.

He then skipped the formalities and went straight for the deal.

"Can I get some money?" he asked.

Ballsy. And not a good approach.

"Sorry, I don't have any cash," I said.

After I politely rebuked his plea, the conversation turned weird. And borderline offensive.

"Yeah," he said, looking at me in disgust. "But we have millions for those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. If you ask me, they are just a bunch of punks."

"Woah, Nellie," I thought to myself.

Did he have any idea he was talking to a Bosnia veteran who spent 14 months in Afghanistan working with the people he just called "punks"? I doubt it. If there was any chance he was getting a handout, it was obliterated, decimated, and cremated then and there.

"If you say so," I said. It was the least I could say without getting out of the car and confronting him. Which would have made for a very awkward scene.

Imagine if someone got out of a car to fight a homeless person. People in cars are supposed to be more civil. What would the other drivers think if a driver exited their car to pummel a panhandler? Drivers have the power to put up the window and drive away, if possible. They are expected to exercise that power if needed. They are not supposed to engage panhandlers in pugilism.

"You disagree?" he continued. I don't think he understood that I was offended by his line of panhandling.

"Yes, I do," I said. "But you keep on thinking that."

Before he could reply, the light turned green, the cars in front moved forward, and I pressed the gas pedal to drive away from the disheveled malcontent.

I can't imagine this particular panhandler being very successful in his game. Insulting veterans is not a good play. I hope no one gave him a dime.

Normally, I am helpful to the unfortunate. I know I would want people to give me a hand if I was ever completely down on my luck. But while Clark Brooks didn't have any hard rules on who to give or not give to, I have one solid one:

I won't give a dime to people who insult me or people I think highly of.

If they stick to that rule, everything else is cream cheese.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Interviewing a 5-year old on creativity and imagination

I've made some creative videos in the past, but this is one of my favorite ones ever.

As part of an MBA class I took last year, I had to create a project that described my thoughts on creativity, especially as it pertains to the workplace. The premise was to inspire thought and out-of-the box thinking - things I have never been short on. While there was really no way to fail, the more creative the project, the better.

I knew from the start I wanted to create a video. This is only a sample of the whole video, which had samples my stand-up, clips from home movies, and bits from other endeavors. The video was a "journey" through a life of creativity. What follows is the "new" part of the journey, an interview with a pure-of-mind and imaginative young person.

I like to think I did his imagination justice.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jamaica to decriminalize Weed, growers to stop shooting sheriffs

Here is something I was shocked to find out:

Weed is illegal in Jamaica. Seriously.

I never would have thought that. Marijuana is as synonymous with Jamaica as Reggae Music. As a matter of fact, so much reggae is about about weed, I would have thought it was the national flower.

Peter Tosh sang about it.

Entire albums are dedicated to it.

I was convinced it was legal in Jamaica. There was no way you could have convinced me otherwise. When I think of Jamaica, I think of the following:
  • jerk chicken
  • dreadlocks
  • Red Stripe
  • reggae
  • marijuana
But I guess this whole time Jamaica never thought to "legalize it". Until now.

Throughout this year, the Jamaican government has been meeting, debating, and considering legalizing marijuana. According to a USA Today article in June,
The motivation behind the legal pot drive is largely economic. Jamaica's economy has suffered from slow growth, high unemployment (now 13.4%) and high debt for the past two decades, according to the World Bank.

Jamaica, where about 37,066 acres grow marijuana, is the largest Caribbean supplier of pot to the USA and other Caribbean islands, according to the State Department's 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

By the end of September, the Jamaican government had drafted legislation to decriminalize the drug, according to the BBC. The Denver Post reported recently that the government of Jamaica had even contacted a Denver-based firm to help with the legality of the issue.

Interestingly, the trend to legalize weed in other countries has "sparked" the change in legal attitudes in Jamaica.

Via CBSNews:
Previous efforts to decriminalize marijuana, or "ganja" as it is largely known in Jamaica, failed to advance because Jamaican officials feared they would violate international treaties and bring sanctions from Washington. But those concerns have eased now that a number of nations and some U.S. states have relaxed marijuana laws.

But my biggest concern is how the Jamaican legal system will compensate those who might have been unjustly prosecuted for defending their herb fields in the days when marijuana was illegal.

I am thinking particularly of a certain grower who was constantly harassed by Sheriff John Brown. After the grower was threatened with violence for an unknown reason, he did what anyone in his position would do: he shot first. While he contritely admitted to killing the sheriff, he claimed to have no part in the death of the deputy.

With weed soon to be legal, will the Jamaican government apologize for its terrorizing behavior towards growers? Will growers be forgiven for shooting sheriffs?