Which Part of “Do Not Call” is Not Registering?

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I have a really simple policy when it comes to telemarketers of any sort: if you call my house to sell your junk, then I’m not buying, even if it’s a cure for cancer or a unicorn that shits gold bricks.

I’ve got all our phone numbers on the official “do not call” lists, and that takes care of the bulk of the more pedestrian stuff. If you haven’t done it, then go do it, right now (cell phones, too).

But of course, I still get the hilarious calls from that poor schmuck in Bangalore who claims to work at the Microsoft’s Tech Support Center and has found a virus on my PC (even though my caller ID says it’s Diane Smith from Minnesota – hers being the most recent phone number the crafty scam artists have reversed engineered to cover their tracks), but I put those down to cheap entertainment, so they don’t really count.

No, the ones that really grind my gears are the non-profits that for some reason have been given an exemption from the “do not call” registries. That’s why I still hear from the Association of Chiefs of Police about their raffle a couple of times a year, and various other groups that somehow have managed to beg, borrow, buy or steal a list with my name and number on it. Earlier today I got a call from a woman who introduced herself as a paid fundraiser for the American Breast Cancer Foundation (or Society or Fellowship or some such thing — same difference, really).

No exemptions in my book, so as I said: if you call me at home, then I’m not giving. Ever again. Worthy cause or not, you simply do not get away with this intrusive shit. Infest my mailbox if you must, my email too – those I at least check at my own convenience and it’s no biggie to ditch your sales pitch along with the rest of the crap. But calling me in the middle of dinner to launch into your carefully scripted sob story intended to make me pay up out of sheer annoyance? So. Not. Okay.

I’ve worked for enough non-profit to know how the game looks from that side of the table: it sucks to be you, trying to meet your fundraising goals for the month/quarter/year. While you’re struggling to come up with something that hasn’t been done to death before, you come across the countless crafty con artists (a k a consultants) offering new and exciting ways to reach a target audience with an increased conversion rate and guaranteed results.

I’ve had the tedious debate more than once with directors of development who couldn’t see a problem in adding telemarketing to the mix in the hopes that it might deliver a little extra. I think it’s a terrible idea, because your innocent little exercise in home invasion may backfire, leaving people like myself holding your intrusive behavior against you and your cause for the foreseeable future. Then it’s not just a dud that’ll bring down your overall kill ratio, it’s a distinct liability that’s actively costing you goodwill and jeopardizing donations you might have gotten elsewhere at a future date.

So, please: don’t be that development douchebag and think that just because you’re doing it for “a good cause” it’s suddenly okay to violate common sense rules of decency. Nobody is sitting around waiting for your call, we’ve all got infinitely better things to do – even if it’s watching paint dry.

If you’re so desperate that telemarketing is beginning to sound like an appealing way to raise funds for your organization, then you may need to rethink your vision, your mission and your very reason for being.

Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg

A legend after 35 years of boldly going where no white musician had ever gone before, Johnny Clegg spent  a long weekend at Dartmouth College as a visiting Montgomery Fellow.

More than just an epic performer, Clegg has a true passion for and profound theoretical understanding of South African culture, politics and traditions. He spent a couple of hours in an intimate discussion with a small group of Dartmouth students discussing gender, power, oral tradition and the concept of physical space, while also demonstrating his mastery of Zulu language and dance.

Above all else, he is an incredibly warm and compassionate human being; close to 60 years old, but still has a youthful, mischievous twinkle in his eye as he recounts stories of his years as an activist and groundbreaking musician and dancer in South Africa.

I was fortunate enough to see Clegg live in Cape Town in the late nineties, and again in 2013 at a concert in Hanover. But it was a real privilege to hear him explain some of the cultural factors underpinning his intricate and mesmerizing art.

Madeleine Albright

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Had the distinct pleasure to cover the visit of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College.

She is one incredibly smart woman who does not miss a beat, and appears to be enjoying her autumn years to the fullest with teaching, consulting and countless other opportunities to share her decades of experience in the world of diplomacy.

Invasion of the Soul Snatchers

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They prefer to describe it as “a quiet revival,” but the army of evangelical Christian missionaries descending on New England more resemble a crusade. Self-styled Warriors for Christ, these spiritual carpetbaggers come North to plant churches and convert the “unchurched” and “gospel-parched” to fundamentalist Christianity. Wielding big smiles and inerrant Bibles, they claim to be willing to die while they “harvest souls” and “open the dead hearts of sinners.”

Like the knights in the Holy Land their mission is doomed to fail, but not without a valiant struggle.

Lyandon Warren came from North Carolina to pastor in rural Vermont. “To be a foot-soldier on that battleground is a joy and privilege,” he told the Baptist Press a few years ago. Bible-believing Christians like him are implored by scripture to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” but Warren and his colleagues picked New England, a region they otherwise decry as liberal, pagan, dead, and dry, because of all the “nones” who present a tempting target for hostile spiritual takeover.

“Where gospel fires once burned now looks burnt over,” declares the Gospel Coalition’s Jared Wilson in his sales pitch to potential church planters. Gallup and Pew surveys concur: religion is in decline nationwide, and New Englanders have the lowest religious adherence of all. The Pilgrims may have landed here seeking religious freedom, and this may be where 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards sparked the First Great Awakening, but in spite of the ubiquitous white church steeples religious apathy now afflicts us. The Catholic Church alone – still the largest denomination – has lost somewhere between a quarter and a third of its members since the turn of the millennium.

Sensing opportunity, The North American Mission Board, the church planting arm of the Southern Baptists, has spent over $5 million in the past decade to plant more than 130 churches in New England, using the model for overseas missionary outreach. Other evangelical umbrella organizations have followed suit, “equipping” idealistic young men (always men) with training and strategy manuals on outreach and fundraising.

Church planting is a well-oiled and well-funded franchise operation, seeking rapid expansion and establishment of ever more churches. It comes complete with branding and the proselytizer’s equivalent of sales quotas. Churches of God speak of “multiplication” while other denominations pray for “exponential” growth. And although they all like to talk about “grassroots,” “organic,” and “local” it’s nothing of the sort. In fact, church planting is the antithesis of the traditional New England congregational churches that grew from a community’s desire for fellowship.

Growth is so imperative that community outreach becomes duplicitous. “While it’s always good to love our neighbors and build relationships with them for a number of reasons, we love them best by sharing the good news with them,” says Jeff Cavanaugh of the 9Marks movement. But while setting up a soup kitchen because your faith compels you demonstrates empathy, doing it to help bring new customers to your faith smacks more of calculated compassion and ulterior motives intended to meet your own needs.

Once a pastor obtains seed funding and a calling, he can show up in town – uninvited – and establish his Bible shop. Some have taken over abandoned village churches, others meet in private homes.

Riverbank Church meets in Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction, Vermont, and makes excellent use of the venue’s professional stage lighting and large flat screen TVs to create what is called an “experience” rather than a mere service. Ushers in matching t-shirts hand out hugs and fliers, surveys are taken, and newcomers are welcomed profusely.

Riverbank is a typical non-affiliated church, led since its founding in 2010 by Chris Goeppner, an energetic young Floridian. His bald head and casual denim outfit gives Goeppner a charismatic and engaging stage presence. On a Sunday in March his sermon is, not surprisingly, about the mandate to evangelize – share the good news of Jesus with everybody all the time.

“It’s All about Jesus”

Goeppner makes it quite clear: “We are all about Jesus. He is the reason we do everything that we do. You will hear us talk about Jesus, teach about Jesus, and sing songs about Jesus because it really is all about Jesus.” The theme is reinforced to the congregation of roughly eighty through song and preaching all morning. It’s simple and uncomplicated. Black and white, dos and don’ts. Fundamental, if you like. Or fundamentalist, perhaps, if you rather don’t.

Because once you peel away the compelling veneer of hip pop culture references, colloquialisms, cool graphics and the intimate, welcoming atmosphere, Goeppner’s is at heart an old-school Christian message of fear and faith, sin and salvation, obedience and redemption. His sermon relies entirely on reading scripture “as is,” and comes complete with a “fill-in-the-blanks” handout to remind the faithful of their explicit obligations to the church and to Jesus. It leaves little on which to genuinely reflect, and renders the experience quite unlike, say, a Congregational or Unitarian service.

Evangelical fundamentalists hold four cardinal beliefs that set them apart from mainline churches, says John Green, author of Religion and the Culture Wars. First, the Bible is inerrant, without error in all of its claims about the nature of the world and the nature of God. Secondly, they believe that the only way to salvation is through belief in Jesus Christ. Third is the idea that individuals must accept salvation for themselves. They must become converted. The fourth and cardinal belief of evangelicals is the need to proselytize, or in their case, to spread the evangel, to evangelize.

So, no matter the appealing bells and whistles, it really comes down to this: read the Bible as literal truth, find Jesus, be born again, then go tell the rest of the world. With the Bible as an infallible, timeless go-to document with answers to every question and doubt, scripture need never be reinterpreted or reconsidered, even as society evolves and values change. With faith the be-all and end-all, secular life is relegated to a supporting role; whatever you do, you do to further God’s Kingdom.

Some fundamentalist preachers go even further, praying for the day when society will again be ruled by Bible-based morals. The Christian equivalent of Sharia law would necessarily repeal civil rights and put an end to tolerance and compassion that we now take for granted. The same reactionary conservatism can be seen in right wing social policies, which helps explain the incestuous relationship between evangelical churches and congressional Republicans, and was perhaps also why evangelical Christians spearheaded the “Take Back Vermont” campaign to prevent legalized civil unions a decade ago. For fundamentalist Christians the end justifies the means. There is no separation of church and state, and it is perfectly reasonable to engage in politics “for Jesus.”

Bertrand Russell once noted, “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Such unwavering and uncompromising notions of moral superiority lead to delusions of grandeur and arrogance.

That becomes apparent when fundamentalist Christians refuse to take part in ecumenical work with other congregations. They they see those who don’t share their exact beliefs as false believers, as flawed Christians. As far as they’re concerned, the Congregationalists, Episcopalians and the rest of the mainline denominations have all gone astray and to hell with their inclusiveness and focus on good works over pure faith. As one Unitarian Universalist pastor said, “The Evangelicals bemoan our embrace of all people.”

They see not only other faiths but modern secular society itself as morally corrupt, sinful and fallen. Frank Schaeffer, former evangelical Christian and author of “Crazy for God,” says that in the fundamentalist movement we have, “within our culture a sub-culture, which is literally a fifth column of insanity, a group of people who are resentful because they know they’ve been left behind by modernity, by science, by education, by art, by literature.”

His is hardly a ringing endorsement, as could be expected from someone who has left behind the fundamentalist movement. But in a marketplace of ideas people should be free to consider alternatives to mainline churches and a life without religion.

So, What’s There to Like?

One former evangelical pastor points out that firm moral guidelines and a promise of salvation may appeal to people whose lives are in turmoil and who are surrounded by rapid change in society and uneasy with significant shifts in core values and morals.

For example, the current heroin epidemic across Vermont is symptomatic of some serious social dysfunction, and recognition of gay marriage still doesn’t sit well with many in the otherwise liberal Northeast. The weak, the vulnerable, and the disenfranchised have historically been susceptible to the easy fixes and simple solutions offered by silver tongued spiritual con artists and snake oil salesmen.

But while the assurance and certainty of traditional values and rigid rules may be what appeals to the at most three percent of New Englanders who regularly attend evangelical churches, it’s highly doubtful if it can attract more. And so, by its own measure of success – perpetual growth – the evangelical crusade appears doomed to fail.

Riverbank Church has reached an impressive 200 members after four years, and Pastor Goeppner audaciously talks about reaching all of Vermont for Jesus in less than 13 years. Yet, even the state’s most well-established Evangelical church plant, Christ Memorial Church in Burlington, remains a 200 member congregation after more than 20 years of trying, and that’s with significant outside funding.

Many new church plants fail and fold when the initial seed funding dries up, and even in the once fertile bible belt evangelists are seeing a drop in attendance. Presumably they’ve run out of people to pester with their preposterous platitudes, hence the feeding frenzy in a new, untapped market.

But fundamentalist Christians have drunk so deeply of their own Kool-Aid that they seem genuinely surprised to find precious few takers. Faced with disappointing results from his missionary work in Massachusetts, Joe Souza of the Southern Baptists declared, “It’s like, you found a cure for cancer and you want to give it away and nobody wants it.”

Except, of course, theirs is no cure, and we don’t have cancer. In an open letter addressed to “Christians Who Want to Convert Us,” Emily Heath, a Congregational pastor from Vermont, put it simply: “We’re good, thanks.”

But while they may be good, and certainly more inclusive, the mainline churches do have cause for concern: fundamentalist church plants primarily grow a congregation by “stealing sheep” from others, not by converting the “nones.” Liberal Christian pastors acknowledge the need to attract and keep members, but none think fundamentalism is the answer. And they strongly object to being dismissed and belittled by outsiders claiming to know what’s best for the communities they have been serving for generations.

Rather than lecturing their parishioners about their obligations as undeserving sinners, mainline pastors try to remain relevant by engaging their congregation in an ongoing quest for spiritual growth. One pastor said that he actively encourages members of his flock to question their faith, respects their doubts, and welcomes their critical questions, even if he doesn’t have an immediate answer from scripture.

Barnaby Feder, a Unitarian Universalist Reverend from Middlebury, Vermont, puts it this way: “The questions with which religion has always wrestled persist. And religion that doesn’t ask you to check your brain at the door will remain vital.”

The fundamentalist Christians will doubtlessly continue to evangelize, even as their efforts fail to deliver the results for which they pray. It’s an integral part of their creed, after all. But the chance of a religious revival in New England is about as likely as the second coming of Jesus.

© Lars Blackmore

Remembering the Genocide 20 Years Later

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The good folks at Conscience Display licensed an image I took in Rwanda in 2012 for an upcoming exhibition for the UN commemorating 20 years since the Rwandan Genocide.

It came out great, and the banner is a full six meters wide, so the impact should be pretty spectacular.

Can’t wait to see it in real life and follow the events at www.kwibuka20.rw.

Upper Valley Life: Edgewater Farm

Upper Valley Life Magazine just launched their beautiful March-April 2014 issue, running a story that I worked on almost a year ago about the great folks at Edgewater Farm in Plainfield, NH. I’m sorry I never did get to meet up with the writer on the story, Tim Traver. Next time…

Edgewater Farm / Upper Valley Life Edgewater Farm / Upper Valley LifeEdgewater Farm / Upper Valley Life

Upper Valley Life cover

The March-April issue of Upper Valley Life is online here.

Have Kids, Will Travel

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The shots might have pushed her over the edge. Our family of four was preparing for a six month stay in Rwanda last year, and my 10-year old daughter was growing increasingly ambivalent about the prospect. Now there were rabies shots to contend with? She toughed it out, we went, and a year later we continue to marvel at how confident and self-assured the experience has left her.

Many Upper Valley families have spent time overseas with their kids, either for work or adventure. Ashley Milliken recently spent six months, mostly in Taiwan, with her husband and daughters Perrin and Carly. “We did it to share the rest of the world with our kids and have them study another language in the place where it was spoken,” she explains, “and to give the girls a chance to try what it’s like living in a city. ” But she emphasizes that the trip was not so much about exposure to foreign culture and seeing new things as it was about discovering what it would be like to travel as four people, taking on risk. Doing so teaches kids as much about themselves as it does about the world around them.

Pam Miles spent a year in Cape Town, South Africa, with her family. She says, “Of course we all loved the experience of being on safari out on the African plains. But what most deeply impacted our children (ages 4, 7, and 10), was the concentrated and very regular time we spent tutoring and playing soccer with kids in the sprawling township of Khayelitsha every available weekend.”

Whether you’re in a village in Central America or a bustling European capital, your destination sets the stage for your experience, but what matters more than anything is that you have taken yourself and your kids out of the comfort zone that is the Upper Valley. (Bonus benefit: they’ll come to appreciate just how amazing our neck of the woods is when they return). And even if you spend most of your time on the move, it’s about more than the travel; it’s about living differently for a while.

A year overseas requires significant preparation. The logistics are the same as for any trip, albeit more involved. How long is long enough? Four months is probably the minimum — anything shorter than that, and there will be little time to really settle in before it’s time to leave again. What to bring for an entire year away? When to go? Many don’t, but if you have that luxury, consider when would work best for your kids. “We spent a significant amount of time trying to figure out the ideal year to travel around the world with Brook,” explains Eydie Pines, who completed an epic 15 month trip around the world with her husband and son last year. “We decided that sixth grade was best for striking the balance between him being old enough to get a lot out of the trip but young enough to enjoy spending 24/7 with us.”

You also need to consider how your kids will deal with with the idea and get them on board. How will your rambunctious teenager function in a big city? Or survive without his Xbox? Your anxious child may have a hard time with a transition of this magnitude, and a clingy kid may cling like never before. “You’re going to be away from your friends and your room and your pets for a long time in a big city where people eat strange things with chopsticks. You’ll be in a school where they speak a language you don’t understand. Oh, and weird bugs, too.” That’s definitely not the way to broach the topic, but it may well be how your kids perceive it at first. Be prepared.

Amy Neuman, who is currently spending a couple of years in Prague with her husband and three children, faced some apprehension from her kids, and says, “We validated their concerns. We knew they’d be nervous and uncertain. I was nervous, and they knew that, too. But we could point out other things in their lives that had been challenging and scary and talk about their ability to deal. Tell them that we knew that they would be fine. We also really emphasized that we were a team and that as long as we were together, we could meet any challenge.”

Our daughter was convinced her friends would forget her, but kids at school had traveled for a year and she’d barely noticed them missing. It helps to be honest and acknowledge the known unknowns, and to put the timeline into perspective (you’re not leaving home forever). Remind them that their home and their community will still be there and waiting for them when they return.

The Comforting Routines of Daily Life

You’re not looking for every day to be dawn-to-dusk adventure packed with amazing sights as you would on, say, a whirlwind tour of Europe. You’re settling into a new routine and making the unfamiliar familiar enough that it may serve as the environment for a new daily life, recreating a “home” while “away.”

Those new routines may be very different, and creature comforts may be missing, which will affect how you interact as a family. The Milliken’s life in Taiwan was contained in a small apartment with precious little privacy. “So, everyone becomes more flexible — you need to get used to talking to each other more,” says Ashley. “Bonding was really intense. The four of us were together all the time, and although the girls would get on each others nerves every so often, ninety percent of the time it was amazing.”

You can’t help but empathize strongly with your kids as the deal with the challenges, and their moods will impact your own state of mind: if they’re not happy, chances are you’re not happy; when they soar with accomplishment, you come along for the ride. They may grapple with conflicting feelings of missing home while still appreciating the new setting. One parent remembers her daughter working through her emotions: “‘I like it here, I do,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to go home, but I miss my friends and I am allowed to be sad sometimes.’” Indeed, the social life is often the kids’ biggest challenge: close friends are hard to replace while away and doing so may feel like “cheating.” Attending an international school will connect them with kids sharing their experience and who keen to make new friends, but it’s also worth reach out ahead of time: sports, culture, hobbies — anything that might forge a connection.

Home sickness and travel fatigue may be preempted if not prevented entirely. Eydie Pines and her family planned a route that took them from less to more developed for increased creature comfort, and arranged to reconnect with family and friends from home along the way. A trip home halfway through can give everyone something to look forward to, and will allow the kids to confirm that life back home is there and waiting. And of course, Facebook and Skype enable everyone to stay in touch.

School

School is likely to be a key part of your kids’ daily routine. International schools cater to temporary visitors with a familiar curriculum, but they can suck you into a bubble of foreigners isolated from the local community. Local schools may be inadequate academically, especially for older kids, and learning in a foreign language can be a real challenge.

Sometimes school doesn’t work well, and you need to find alternatives. As an 8th grader Max Munafo was having a hard time with the school his parents had found for their year in Padova in Northern Italy. “He wasn’t getting what they had promised, and was getting frustrated,” explains his mother, Giavanna, “but we turned the bump in the road into a great opportunity. Instead of structured homeschooling his learning consisted of travel, writing about our adventures, creating photo essays, and soaking up the history and culture all around us.”

Even if you set out to homeschool, the reality on the ground may change your plan. Ashley Milliken came to Taiwan with plenty of curriculum ideas for her daughters.”But in the end,” she explains, “we only did a fraction of what I’d planned — it was just about being and living the experience, we really didn’t need the rest.”

A Life Changer — Yours and Theirs Alike

Parents beware: your kids will become independent as they negotiate their new life and master skills on a par with the adults around them. In Prague, the Neuman kids now confidently commute to school across town using public transportation. Kids will see their parents in a different light as you make mistakes, struggle with languages and daily challenges. They’ll see you ask questions and take risks, start doing the same. They may even rise to the occasion and help you cope.

Amy Neuman reflects on the first tough times in Prague: “I feel like the kids and I became a real team. They really helped me, and they know it.” Ashley Milliken tells of her daughters growing appreciation of having choices to make and how they took ownership and began to call the shots and plan what they did as a family in Taipei. “These are lasting changes that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Our kids are excited to face new and unknown experiences and even if unsettling at first, they have the confidence to move forward,” adds Pam Miles.

Back home, little will have changed when you return. But your kids will not be the same: a second language, big city street smarts, the social skills to meet new people and make new friends. As well an appreciation that their cozy Upper Valley world is not the center of the universe, and that our “way of life” is not the only one. Pam Miles notes, “We have seen quite clearly that our children left their experience in South Africa with an appreciation of what it means to give back to the world and the joy it brings not only to the recipients, but also to the givers.”

Most importantly, perhaps, your kids will have learned how to cope with change, adversity, uncertainty, new things, scary things, the unknown, the untried. As one parent said reflecting on a challenging time with her family in Eastern Europe a few years back: “even the bad experiences are still valuable experiences and worth having.” It all builds character. As parents, we discover our own strengths and weaknesses along the way, and we may end up seeing our children in a different light, too. As Ashley Milliken notes, “This is a chance to have a different type of time with your kids, a different kind of relationship with them. That’s unique, it’s never going to happen again.” And it is definitely worth it.

This story was first published in the February-March 2014 issue of Kids Stuff Magazine, published by 9Dot Magazine. 

Dear Teenage Son, I Just Want to Make Sure You Really Get This

Underage_DrinkingHere are two printouts: one’s about alcohol, one about marijuana. They explain how the law and law enforcement look at this stuff (spoiler alert: they don’t like it).

Let’s be really clear: what you’re looking at are the actual, non-negotiable consequences if you get caught drinking or smoking. 1) You will get a $300 fine (which you will have to pay out of your own pocket). 2) You will lose your driver’s license for somewhere between three months and a year (even if you’re not driving when you get caught). 3) You will get a permanent mark on your criminal record (which looks kinda awkward when you go to apply to college or for a job. For one thing, you wouldn’t be able to work as camp counselor any more, so no summer job, so no money). It is possible to get your record cleaned up by getting a lawyer to ask on your behalf, doing a lengthy alcohol awareness education class and some significant community service – but I don’t get the impression that those are ways you’d want to spend your time.

Oh, and getting caught also counts as strike one against you; the next time you get caught, you’ll be a repeat offender – and then things starts getting ugly, because then they know you don’t really give a shit.

So, there’s that. But also the added sting: if you get caught by the cops, we’ll find out about it. Because we’ll get that really embarrassing call from the Hanover Police at 2AM to come pick you up at the station. And then the game is going to be over. You’re going to be so grounded it won’t even be funny. No driver’s license, no nothing. It will suck so very, very badly – probably way, way more than it could ever possibly have been worth.

But. This doesn’t mean the challenge is to keep trying to hide your booze hunting and joint sharing from us in order to get away with it – which, unfortunately, seems to be the game you guys are currently playing. That’s a bad tactic, because a) all y’all suck at being stealthy, which is why I happen to know that you are still trying to line up booze and marijuana to make things “more interesting” (as if), and b) once you’re drunk or high, the whole world can tell – especially the cops. Believe me, the smell of you and your buddies when I picked you up after the last dance? Enough to make me see double. The cops do this shit for a living – they’ll pick a drunk 15-year-old out of a crowd in a heartbeat. And remember: that’s all it takes. They don’t have to see you drink or smoke; just being high or drunk when you’re under 21 is illegal.

This is not about what does or does not happen at home when I nab you dipping into my booze (that’s incredibly annoying, but I refuse to play hide-and-seek with you as if you were suddenly a toddler in diapers again); this is about what happens out there in the real world when you and the posse prance around drunk and high, thinking you’re the shizzle, and the cops get a whiff of you. At the rate you guys are pushing it, it’s not a question of “if” it’s a question of “when.” Sure, “fuck the police” and “stick it to the man” sounds all cool and gangsta, but is there any part of illegal (il-le-gal /i(l)ˈlēgəl/: contrary to or forbidden by law) that’s not registering with you? They enforce the law; the law says you can’t drink or do drugs. Not my law, the law. If you break the law they’ll bust your ass. Not sure how that scenario sits with your homies — maybe they genuinely don’t care, although I hope someone is trying to talk some sense into them right about now. But I’d definitely like to think that you’re smart enough to want to avoid taking your game of Chicken that far.

So I’m going to ask you again (but probably for the last time, because I’m old, tired, and have much better things to do with my time) to make smart choices. There’s no undo button here. I had hoped that getting caught at home once could have set you straight; twice, perhaps, because, well, maybe you’re just slow to “get it.” But twice didn’t cut it either. Now you’re hunting way off the reservation, and while a strike or two there will perhaps be what it takes to get the message across, it will also leave a mark. You’ll be out of commission before the going even got good.

If it still seems way cool to put booze and drugs on the agenda, and if the risk of getting caught by the cops just adds to the whole drama and adventure, then you’re on your own – I can’t stop you from willfully screwing up your life with this sort of shit, but I can make sure you’re very, very aware of the kind of fire you’re playing with. Consider this a friendly warning — but definitely a warning. You keep playing with this kind of fire, you will get burned. Not because I’m going to get grumpy (although I will) but because the cops don’t accept apologies and white lies. They play hardball. Welcome to the real world; enjoy your stay…

So think about it – then make a smart choice.

Jodi Jill Should Probably Stick to Writing About Celebrities and Disney Cookies

Yeah, and back in 2010 we all thought Hannah Kearney was full of herself, too. That's why her hometown never came out to celebrate her.

Yeah, and back in 2010 we all thought Hannah Kearney was full of herself, too. That’s why her hometown never came out to celebrate her.

Sadly, Norwich, VT native and all-around nice girl Hannah Kearney is no longer defending Olympic freestyle moguls champion. Billed as the favorite and hoping to repeat her gold medal performance from Vancouver, she instead had a tough final run at the Sochi Olympics and ended up “only” winning bronze. It was disappointing to herself and her fans, and certainly wasn’t what she’d hoped and trained for. Perhaps overcome by the emotions of it all she expressed as much in front of the cameras and online immediately after her final run.

Kearney’s genuine reaction as a highly competitive world class athlete who failed to deliver when it mattered the most was about what you’d expect. But it had Jodi Jill, a columnist for the LA Times and Examiner.com, “shocked.”  Her panties all in a bunch, Ms. Jill would have preferred if Kearney had followed the example of slighted Oscar nominees and simply gushed effusively over how much fun it had been to be on the big stage, by gosh!

In her Examiner.com column Ms. Jill then proceeds to go unhinged, droning on about how Kearney somehow embarrassed the collective America, insisting that Kearney “does need a lesson in gracefulness and perhaps a discussion about her entitlement issues.”

Whatever, Jodi. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

But it’s not clear why anyone should care what celebrity gossip columnist Jodi Jill (“Direct from Hollywood” as her website banner ad proclaims) has to say about the world of sports — a world she evidently doesn’t understand, even on the most basic level.

A rather pathetic and pedestrian writer, Ms. Jill has written a book on “How to Make Funny, Crazy Cat Videos Go Viral” and lists “Disney Desserts” as one of her passions in life. Her main claim to fame is, apparently, her deeply dysfunctional family background, but she’s deftly managed to ride socio-economic awkwardness to professional success. Ms. Jill’s day-to-day professional focus as a writer is the plastic fantastic people who wouldn’t know true emotion if it bit them on their surgically enhanced ass.

Striving to meet their unending need for attention, she fawns and speculates over the stars’ every move, on stage and off. In August of last year she regaled her readers with the minutiae of a virtual cat-fight between two pseudo-humans, a pointless spat between Kim Kardashian and Katie Kouric over something-or-other involving  a baby gift and some harsh twitter posts.

It’s interesting to note how Ms. Jill reserves her patronizing finger wagging and moralizing for professional athletes like Hannah Kearney. Her beloved stars, on the other hand, are treated with reverence, and Ms. Jill’s only remark about Kardashian’s emotional reaction to Kouric’s criticism was that, “It’s understandable why Kim Kardashian is so irate as the comments appear unprovoked.”

So, to sum up Ms. Jill’s perspective: Hannah Kearney, professional athlete, expressing her genuine disappointment over her performance at the most important event of her career? Bad. Embarrassing. Shocking, even. Kim Kardashian, reality TV star, throwing a scripted tantrum over something someone said or did or didn’t do? Understandable. Justified.

Ms. Jill is about as far removed from the world of competitive athletics as you can get, which is why it genuinely baffles me that an assignment editor would think it a good idea for her to cover the Winter Olympics. Hers is a vapid and emotionally stunted universe, with recent top stories on her vanity website including “A list of stars that joined Twitter in 2013″ and “Towel Art.”

She really should leave the coverage of professional athletes, their performance and their emotional reactions to those who know better — pretty much anybody other than herself. She can’t even keep their names straight (Jason Brown? Jeremy Brown? Some cute young guy in tights out there on the ice). It would be a win-win, because she could then go back to doing what she does adequately enough to earn a living: gush about “Dancing With Stars” while sporting ladywood over the hot boys in One Direction.