Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vent Column: Viral Sadness

I'm going to let out something that will probably make me very unpopular, but I just can't stand it any longer. A few days ago on the Paragon Facebook feed I saw this video get posted and reposted by what seemed like every person we knew. So many of them added comments like, "If I had seen this when I was his age, my life would have been different" or "We're with you buddy, it'll be okay" or the oh-so-generic "This is why bullying is terrible."

This is the video; it's of a kid who says his name is Jonah Mowry. He claims he has been bullied since the first grade and was so depressed that he began cutting himself in the second grade. In the video, he attempts to show the scars on his arms and shoulder, but the video isn't high quality enough to really make anything out, so you can't really be sure. He doesn't speak a word and instead just keeps showing cue cards for you to read while some sad-sack music plays in the background.

I've got a few problems with this, but I'll be honest, there were a few things I hadn't thought of. After showing a good friend of mine the video, they pointed out some things and I'm going to pass them along.

The kid claims he had been cutting himself since the second grade. In the second grade, most kids aren't bathing themselves, at least not completely. I know parents of kids in this same age range and they still, at the very least, monitor their children while they bathe or shower, for safety's sake. If your kid was cutting himself, wouldn't you fucking notice that?! What's a second-grader got to cut himself with anyway? Did he use one of those little knives that the G.I. Joe toys come with? If this is indeed true, then there's some seriously bad parenting going on. I have a hunch that it's made-up bullshit.

Odds are this is just some media stunt, or something created from higher up the media chain in order to keep people distracted while something else much bigger goes down. While everyone's sitting there getting teary-eyed over some depressed 13-year-old, the government is passing laws that allow them to arrest civilians as criminals indefinitely with no right to trial or bail, without any kind of warrant or probable cause.

Now, again, if this is, in fact, legit: Grow up, kid. I was bullied since kindergarten, pretty fucking badly, too. I had kids that would make fun of me, push and shove me, poke me like I was the Pillsbury Dough Boy, call me all kinds of names that weren't true just because they knew they'd hurt. I grew up in a world of self-hatred, even from that young, but I didn't go whining about it to people on the internet. Shit, I didn't even have the internet back then. (Now I sound like someone's grandfather, haha). I powered through it all alone because I didn't want people to know how I felt inside. I felt suicidal at times, and probably came damn near close to snapping and doing something really stupid, but I didn't. I would have never thought to be so vain as to assume an entire community would give a shit. This kid isn't looking for help, he's fishing for compliments. He wants to be popular because we now live in a world where it's perfectly normal to have more friends on the internet than in real life.

To all those out there that were touched by this video, I'm not slamming you, I just think that you have your priorities out of whack. How do you know this is for real? One kid made one video with cue cards and some depressing music, and the whole online world rallies behind him. Meanwhile, real shit is going down every day all around the world and you turn a blind eye. The Earth is being destroyed, animals are being anally electrocuted for their fur, chickens and turkeys are being molested in slaughterhouses by sociopaths who can't get employment elsewhere, pigs that have been scientifically proven to be as smart or smarter than dogs, cats, and even 3-year-old children are having their heads bashed in with monkey wrenches and their throats slit as they run in circles until all the blood drains out. There are wars that are only going on to feed corporate and political greed. The governments of the world are poisoning you from the sky with chemicals. Banks are purposely taking away every red cent you have ever worked for and claiming they have no idea how to fix the financial mess THEY created. And one single depressed kid gets all your attention? You want to be humanitarians? How about adopt a child from some ghetto homeless shelter. You want to see hopelessness and depression? Go visit a nursing home on a holiday and see the terminally ill suffer through turkey pudding all alone while their families sit around a table in another town thanking "god" for all their "blessings". Go to an animal shelter like the Manhattan ACC and see the 3-week-old kittens that just came in with their mother, who will be killed the NEXT DAY if you don't adopt them because humans are selfish and dump animals on the streets when they can't take care of them or get tired of them. Wake up and see the real problems.

As far as I'm concerned, Jonah Mowry is small beans compared to the world of shit we live in and the things we both have to face on a daily basis or turn a blind eye to in order to save ourselves that large heaping of personal discomfort when we realize the system is breaking down all around us and taking us with it. But we don't care, we have our iThings and our Smart Phones, our pens that write inverted or under water or a pot that grows tomatoes upside down. We've got our Snuggies and our OxyClean, our video screens on grocery checkout lines, and SUVS with DVD players and Playstations built into the headrests. We've got Black Friday and Cyber Monday and a 4-month Christmas shopping season. We have robotic vacuum cleaners and knives that can cut through pennies. We have Slap Chops and Shake Weight Dumbbells. We have Xbox 360 with Kinect so you can pretend to take a fucking walk and exercise instead of actually going outside and taking a short jog around the block! We have every gadget and doodad we can think of and we buy them like they actually mean something or actually make our lives better/easier/more fun/whatever.

My point is that, A) I don't believe that video is real, and B) if it is real, there are much more important things to worry about.

Oh, and for anyone who thinks the kid is legit, take into consideration that his video went viral faster than most pop culture phenomena, and there is already a Facebook fan page that lists him as a "public figure".  Real or fake, your attention and caring is being exploited. How soon before he's doing "The View" or some other talk show? How soon until, assuming he's legit, his parents are sitting next to him on some talk show or news interview, all smiles while they should instead be hanging their heads in shame for the fact that they had a second grade son who was self mutilating and they never noticed.

PS - I do think bullying is terrible, but it's what kids do. Hell, it's what adults do. You grow a thick skin to it as a child, when it means nothing in the greater scheme of things, so that when you grow up and get a job the bullying you get from the larger portion of the world---your boss, your co-workers---won't hurt you as bad. If we really try to make laws against bullying and spare every child from hurt feelings, then they're never going to have the backbone to make it in the real world. It's like when germophobes wash and scrub every 15 seconds only to be decimated by the common cold because they have a weak immune system that was never properly trained to defend the body. Anti-bullying laws are unrealistic and only put in place to make overly-worried parents feel better that their son or daughter won't have to deal with anything traumatizing that may actually help build their resolve and character as an adult.

This is me, signing off.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vent Column: Sea Monsters

I'm not ashamed to say that I'm an Animal Rights Advocate (ARA. The last A also stands for "activist" for some people), and a vegan. They kind of go hand-in-hand, since you wouldn't try to save one kind of animal and then eat another. Being an ARA means you acknowledge the sentience and character, as well as the right to life, of all animals, human or non-human.

There are lots of organizations out there that operate as animal rights organizations, not to be confused with animal welfare organizations. The difference between the two is at once striking and vague, and would better be suited for a separate article. Do feel free to do your own research into the defining characteristics of both after reading this. Most, if not all, animal rights organizations follow a vegan philosophy, because again, why would you pet a dog, and then eat a pig? What makes one different from the other, outside of conditioning from your parents or society, which varies based on where you grew up and what culture you were raised in? It's an age old argument now that if you happened to be born in parts of Asia, you'd be brought up eating cats and dogs, or possibly revering cows as sacred beings. The tables would be completely turned and you'd still be left with your brainwashing upbringing as your moral guideline as far as what's food and what's a pet.

I've attended the major Animal Rights Conference created by FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement) twice, and heard many great speakers, one of which is the world-infamous Captain Paul Watson, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. If you don't know who they are, you don't have Animal Planet, because the reality TV show they created from their anti-whaling campaigns in the Southern Ocean is one of the biggest shows on the network as far as ratings. Paul speaks with such passion about the seas and about the whales, sharks, tuna, seals, and other marine wildlife that he and his crew of volunteers risk their lives to defend, year-round. Watching just a short segment of Whale Wars will give you the impression that these guys are hard-rolling animal warriors, looking to rid the seas of illegal poachers. I had known about SSCS for a few years, and the first time I heard Watson speak, it was at the AR Conference in Washington, D.C.. He was the surprise speaking guest that particular year, and part of his presentation was a short clip of Whale Wars, which had not yet been announced. It felt really great to be in the presence of such a pioneer. The man co-founded Greenpeace, and when they couldn't keep up with him, they kicked him out. That's actually kinda cool! Imagine that! You're so passionate about your cause that the group you helped to form can't even think and act as far ahead of themselves as you do. You're paving the way for a new breed of eco-warriors, willing to risk it all for a cause!

Since then, I'd been following members of the SSCS on Twitter and Facebook. This morning as I was getting ready for work, I did my usual website checking ritual, and when I logged into Twitter, I noticed a member of the SSCS checking in on Twitter, and his status said he was at McDonalds... Surely that had to be a mistake! Maybe in Australia (where he is from) it's a different company, or a typo, or something... Nope. I tweeted to him and said "Why would an Animal Rights Activist be at McDonalds?!?!"

Here is the rest of the conversation that sprang up after that first tweet:

“@DGPhotographer: @OmarSeaShepherd Why would an animal rights activist be at McDonalds!?!?”that ok with you

“@DGPhotographer: Why would an animal rights activist be at McDonalds?” as if maccers actually has any meat in their food.Anyway i got chips

@OmarSeaShepherd Shouldn't matter what you got, you're still supporting a place that makes huge profits from murdering animals.

@OmarSeaShepherd So much for "no compromise"

“@DGPhotographer: @OmarSeaShepherd So much for "no compromise"”Wake up m8, in the REAL world it small steps, to avoid all animal products is

@DGPhotographer impossible, who says all SSCS are vegans? Some want more balance, or some want to save whales, think big picture, if able

@OmarSeaShepherd So it's only a priority to save SOME animals? One would think to call yourself an ARA, you'd be vegan, then again

@OmarSeaShepherd hypocrisy is a widespread phenomenon both in and out of the AR movement.

@DGPhotographer Everyone measures their views and support differently, not everyone adheres your YOUR views. Its all a point of view.

@OmarSeaShepherd Being an ARA and a Vegan, to me, is not simply a point of view. It's a moral obligation and a step in evolution.

@DGPhotographer As u say, "to you". point of view from your perspective. its a grey world. we have layers in the org as well...

At that point I wasn't going to play this back and forth game all day, but it really got me pissed off. Why would an organization that claims they're willing to risk their lives for animals, consciously eat animals? Sure, it's hard to completely boycott any and all organizations or companies that profit from animals, but you do the best you can. Stopping in at a McDonald's, surely, wasn't a matter of survival, it was a matter of convenience. It's not impossible to avoid all animal products, and for people who have been dedicated to saving animals for longer than I've been vegetarian or vegan, one would think they'd be further along than me in their "small steps." What exactly is meant by, "Some want more balance, or some want to save whales"? I'm really very confused and angered by this. On the series premiere of Whale Wars, Paul Watson made it a point to mention that all meals served on any Sea Shepherd vessels would be vegan. You've got people on those boats who are indeed vegans and are signing up to save animals because they want to save all animals, not just particular animals.

So after some digging, I found this link and I find this excerpt to be particularly interesting:

"As the transcript verifies, Pete Bethune confirmed the Sea Shepherd crews must be vegan during voyages and this may encourage them to become vegan – or vegetarian – at other times. He makes it clear that veganism is regarded as a diet and not as a philosophy in the manner in which an animal rights advocate would regard it. When asked about animal rights, Bethune said:
Paul [Watson] makes it very clear; we are about conservation, not animal rights… I consider myself a conservationist more than anything. It is not just about whales. It is about our carbon footprint, our clothes, cars, transport, consumption, food, energy, houses – these all play a role.
He suggests Sea Shepherd’s not standing for animal rights is a matter of acceptance; Sea Shepherd wants “to have the average bloke or lady on the street support them;” that, since “animal rights people” are often regarded as extremists, SSCS is wary of being associated with the idea.
On ARZone I asked if the “eye fillet” story was genuine. Was it really the case that the first thing he did on release was to eat animal flesh, and I added, “if it is, what’s the point of eating one and saving another?” Bethune answered
Yes, I did eat eye fillet. I am not perfect. And, I ate three meals on the flight home. I couldn't help myself. Since then, I have gone back to vegetarian. But, it is not an absolute for me.
He also said he was in transition and believed he would turn vegan sometime in the future. He explained the difficulty being vegan as related to growing up in a situation in which family members were not vegan. While these points seemed perfectly acceptable to the SSCS supporters present at the ARZone chat, what Bethune said was understandably disconcerting for the animal rights advocates who take veganism to be their moral baseline position and something we owe nonhuman animals: something we do first and not last.
- Paul Watson states openly that it is not an animal rights operation."

So now it's out there from more than one member. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is strictly about conservation, not animal rights. There is also a passage in a book by Charles Bowden called Some of The Dead Are Still Breathing, in which he recalls working on a boat that Watson was the captain of. He doesn't flat out say it was Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd, but you could make your own assumptions by the large amount of details he includes instead. He talks about how, while out trying to save marine wildlife, Watson and his crew regularly dined on chicken. Bowden also mentions a time that Watson ordered his crew to ram a boat that belonged to a fleet of squid poachers. Moments before impact, a giant shark shows up in the net. He ended up killing that shark when it was caught between both ships and was crushed to death and ground into gore. Some conservationist... It's important for me to note that in this book, Bowden never mentions any of the crew, not even Paul Watson, by name, but anyone familiar enough with the way he looks, or the organizations he founded and has been a part of, would be able to put the finger right on him.

I do give SSCS much credit for their recent successes, but I do look at the crew and their leader in a brand new, terribly dark light.

Friday, April 1, 2011

HAPPY Column: No More Venting!

Hey all,

I have some great news, there will no longer be a need for a Vent Column. It's true! Some things have recently turned around in my life and I'm so honestly happy, I can't even fathom the idea of continuing to write such bitter nonsense and focusing on so much negativity. I realize now that the more I feed into my problems by addressing them and steeping my mind in them in order to write them all down, was just creating such a toxic environment in my life.

I've been speaking with some great people who have never let me down or led me astray and everything seems to be coming together for the better. I know that some of you waited on this column at times because my anger and temper could be funny, and I'm glad I could provide some good entertainment over the years, but it's time to move on. I no longer wish to dwell on what's wrong. It's so much more empowering to focus on the better side of things. Sure, it's harder, but it's hard work that pays off. Ever since writing my last entry I've been re-evaluating my situation in life and it's just so clear now that I can very easily move my life to a more productive path, one that will still allow me to entertain and help others, but without putting myself through mental and emotion (and sometimes, even physical) turmoil. It's just not worth it to do that to myself.

Starting now, this column will serve as a way to empower people and cheer everyone on as a global whole. We're all a part of this collective consciousness  and if we don't work together and reflect the goodness of each other, we'll always lead ourselves to failure. We are all single blades of grass in a giant field, and if one of us turns from the light and goes brown, then others quickly follow and we end up a large, dead meadow.

So until next time, I bow to the light in you, and reflect your positivity to the world in my work and my words...


...I can't believe you fell for that shit.
seriously... get real...

-Rob Acocella

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vent Column: Texting. K.

With the exception of just a few, if you walk upright on two legs and have a pulse, you're texting these days. Some of us do it more than others, but we can pretty much agree that the majority of the First-World population is texting each other. Some of us do it at work, some of us do it in school, some of us do it on the freeway going 90MPH and cutting off old ladies (it wasn't me!). Regardless if you're a stickler for good grammar and spelling or you like to abbreviate every word so that your sentences look like this: IDTYWKWIASH (I don't think you will know what I am saying here), there's the one text we're all both guilty of, and hate receiving. K.

That's it, just "K" or sometimes elaborated to "Ok" - Hey, if you really wanna be fancy, you can even add punctuation.

Some people still pay for each text they get; usually the crowd that doesn't do much texting and can't justify spending the extra money on an unlimited plan (again, not me). Even if you don't pay for each text, the odds that you really want to go and read a message as useless as this are pretty slim. Let's think about it: Texting is great because it eliminates the need to call someone (especially if you really just don't want to deal with that person) and go through all the expected niceties "Hi. How are you? How are things? I'm good. How's your mom? Your dad? Sister? Gerbil? Grandmother? Play any good lottery numbers lately?" before getting down to the actual topic you are calling about. It's about making things simpler and quicker. So when someone asks me a basic question -- one to which I will answer and not expect a reply to unless it's to argue, clarify, elaborate on, or otherwise carry on a meaningful dialogue about -- I don't need nor want you to write back to my reply with "K."

What's the fucking point? Unless there's some ridiculous hold up in the microwave signals, I'm confident that you got my message; there's no reason to make my phone ring or vibrate, distract me from whatever else I'm doing, and have me open up my message to read a single fucking letter. I don't need you to acknowledge my message, I probably don't care that much about if you even got it anyway, and if I wanted to be sure to continue the conversation, I would have reciprocated some form of a question or new topic at the end of my message to you.

Person A: "Hey, are you going straight home from work?"
Me: "No, I'm stopping to pick up a nipple waxing kit from the drug store. Want me to pick one up for you as well?
Person A: "K" <-- Acceptable, because I asked a question, to which they gave a positive response.

Person A: "Hey, are you going straight home from work?"
Me: "No, I'm stopping to get my nipples waxed and my balls polished"
Person A: "K"  <-- NOT NECESSARY!

What if I really was driving and texted you at a light that was about to turn green? Now you've got me swerving and bee-bopping all over the place so I can check your message, thinking it's probably something important. Or what if I was at work and my boss walks in and then I have to explain the whole nipple waxing situation to him? Thanks a lot!

Stop! Wasting! My! Time!


-Rob Acocella

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vent Column: The Sheen of Tiger Blood

Whew, it feels good to be back. The silence from this column was not a case of not having material; in fact, it's been quite the contrary. I've been so angry about so many things, and so focused on sorting them out, that I haven't had the time to write. It's been months since I've written anything on a regular schedule and if things keep up it may be the same kind of wait yet again before my next installment. However, there have been a few things recently that just had to be written about. Being busy is sometimes no excuse and I feel the need to get some things off my chest and blow up a little... or a lot.

I'd like to talk about an asshole we're all very familiar with at this point, Charlie Sheen. I have to preface this by saying I stayed purposely ignorant to what's been going on for some time now. I'd seen the headlines, I'd overheard people talking about him, and I'd seen the Twitter and Facebook trends regarding Mr. Sheen explode over the last few weeks. I couldn't understand what could be so important about this guy that it would prompt such a media onslaught. I finally started to look into things... well, actually, what I should say is, I finally couldn't avoid it any longer. The only way to keep this mess completely off my radar would probably be cryogenic sleep. I'm not a fan of the cold, so that option was out for me.

I was watching TV one night and right after the show I was watching ended they aired some kind of "Charlie Sheen's Greatest Moments" kind of thing, which was featured exaggerated computer animations of his ridiculous behavior from over the years. The only thing I could think of is how if he were just a regular citizen and not some B-rate celebrity, he'd have been committed years ago. Then I caught bits of his most infamous TV interview, the one that prompted the whole "Winning, duh" and tiger blood bullshit.

This guy became a sensation because he was an asshole and attention whore. At this point he's got a huge following on Twitter and keeps up the antics on a regular basis. I'm convinced that none of it is for real anymore. I think he got more fame from that stupid interview than he did from any of his recent TV or movie work and decided to milk it for everything it's worth.

The worst part of it is that people keep putting heaps of praise on the guy because he's so "entertaining." I know the human animal has a sick sense of what is entertaining, and I'm sure I've got my own guilty pleasures that people would think I'm a little "off" for, so I can't really fault too many people for thinking that it at least provides a few good laughs. My biggest gripe is how many people are now looking up to the guy as if he's some kind of role model. Drug addicts are obviously going to be the biggest of his supporters, because hey, why not, right? But even average kids and young adults are looking up to this guy as if he's actually worth paying attention to. I know a few people that are practically worshipping the guy and it's pretty sad to see people's standards drop so drastically.

Here's where my barbs are aimed: The Media. The same media, that every time some school gets shot up, or some kid commits suicide, or you hear of some young kid waste his life and overdosed, are out in full force talking about "How could this happen" and "What a shame, nobody knows why they do this." You people are the fucking problem! The mainstream media does absolutely nothing to make examples out of people like this before the situation gets bad. They do nothing to protect people, young or old, from the pitfalls of such a life. They glamorize the concept of being a bumbling moron and push that idea onto anyone who will listen. They push these people, these events, into your face. They stick it on every channel, every radio station, every website, and people run with it. It becomes a pop culture phenomenon and before you know it any sense of common decency is wiped out because people think that behaving like a total asshole is perfectly acceptable.

It's gotten to the point where Charlie Sheen isn't even a human being anymore, he's an idea, a concept, a character, or caricature of himself. He's not a person, he's a brand. even more of a product than he originally was (come on, all celebs are simply products of whoever is paying them at the moment). The man himself doesn't have a care in the world about self-respect or decency. Hell, he is going to make more money being fired from his ridiculous TV show than he would have made if he kept his mouth shut and kept acting for the duration of his contract. So now the product Charlie Sheen is everywhere. Friends of mine created "Tiger Blood" cupcakes because of all the media hype around the guy. They didn't think it would take off beyond the first day and now it's a regular item at their bakery. I harbor no ill feelings towards them; they're just doing their thing, running a business, and following trends to market their products. I do have a problem, again, with the media. Since debuting the "Tiger Blood" cupcakes, they've gotten national and international press attention, they have been talked about on the web, on the radio, and even on TV. Yet, I feel it's for the wrong reasons. They run one of the only local vegan bake shops in NJ. Their business is built around compassion to animals and the environment, but nobody talks about that, they're just obsessed with the fact that Charlie Sheen is on a cupcake. They have been in business for years now, selling incredible vegan cupcakes, with amazing flavors, and they have had their share of press for it, but they've blown up recently. I only wish that the news media would focus as much on the fact that these cupcakes are simultaneously delicious and humane. Once the Sheen thing dies down, which it will, as any trend does, will they still get as many visitors? Will their business still be booming? Or, will their business go back to the handful of regular customers and friends, as well as the regular established rate of walk-ins and new regular customers? I genuinely hope that they continue to do well, as they've been relatively unsung heroes of the vegan lifestyle in my little suburban area for 4 years now.

When I was a kid I often listened to the older generation talk about how we're all going to be screwed because of the media and what it feeds to us on a daily basis. I feel lucky to have been raised with a decent head on my shoulders. My temper, well, that's another story, but generally I don't subscribe to this kind of mass-mainstream-media culture.

In closing, I'd like to send a BIG FUCK YOU to the mainstream media, be it in this country or abroad, that continues to perpetuate ridiculous behavior, and then wonder why the youth of today become so screwed up. It's mostly your fault. If you didn't cram it down their throats constantly, they might not grow up to be fuck ups, just like the people on the evening news.

One up-side to the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan? Sheen's screen time on most news outlets has dropped drastically, although I'm sure he's still a part of the news tickers that run along the bottom of the screen. Charlie Sheen, a massive earthquake, and a devastating tsunami... now that's what I call a perfect storm. It's a trifecta of "Run for your life!"