Peloton and the rise of misogynistic commercials.

major misogynist

Has all the furor over the “Grace from Boston” Peloton commercial distracted the misogyny police from noticing other toxic patriarchy ads? Dr. Pepper features a (presumptive) husband, a young gorgeous mom (presumably), both with faces painted red and white, representing some college known only as State, and their young son, who is holding a ball and a foam finger. The kid says, “go State”, while the woman smiles indulgently and the man exults, “he’s a State fan, he’s definitely my son!” No doubt resenting his dad’s (we presume) equating paternity with football loyalty, the kid reverses field and declares “State stinks…overrated.”, throwing a ball at dad’s face. The man sputters helplessly while the woman rolls her eyes as she sips Dr. Pepper, her expression one of feigned innocence. What’s happening here? Her expression says it all. Her husband is about to berate her for secretly teaching their son to hate State, just as he blames her for everything that’s wrong in their marriage, as well as State being behind in the game. She imbibes the drink with a desperate haste, fearing it might be her last for awhile; she will soon be cringing at his upraised fist, while trying to protect her son from hubby’s fury. You can bet her State sweater hides massive bruises and her face paint will soon be running from tears. So far, people still drink Dr. Pepper…….but don’t buy the stock.

Then there’s the GMC commercial, where a man and woman (the husband-wife presumption continues) stand in deep snow. He whistles, and a cuter than cute St. Bernard puppy suddenly appears, frolicking towards them. She cradles the puppy lovingly, then with a sly smile, she whistles even louder, and what should appear heading their way but a GMC truck. At first, it appears that he will sweep her off her feet with love, but to her (presumed) disappointment, the commercial ends with him hugging the truck. Once again, women show up more generous but less appreciated than men. I worry that his ego will not be able to withstand the pathetic contrast between her getting him a $34,000 truck, and he getting her a $500 purebred puppy (and what if she finds out it was a pound puppy?), and he will later lash out at her for some minor infraction of his arbitrary and oppressive rules.

However, the ultimate in misogynistic subtexts is Mayhem–actor (yes) Dean Winters–licking Tina Fey’s face while she’s driving. Mayhem is the ultra-popular mascot of….Allstate Insurance Co. Everyone knows that, as one of the GEICO opines. Mayhem humorously just wrecks things, misdirects people parking their cars to cause dents, tailgates when he’s driving to cause accidents, floods the house by leaving the water running in the bathroom and rides the Roomba self propelled vacuum, while pretending to be a cat. But pretending to be a dog, and madly slurping at a woman’s face as she tries to concentrate on driving, while his hands no doubt probe her where they shouldn’t, is not even subtle. Misogyny is not a subtext here, it’s a full throttle, out of control vehicle.

Sometimes misogyny is disguised by making an assertive woman the star of the commercial, but you really can’t fool this misogyny detective. Apple is advertising their iPhone 11 with a cameo from notably irascible celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. It takes place in a Costco or Sam’s Club type warehouse, where Ramsey is preparing little appetizers for the customers. A young white woman who is together with a young black man approach Ramsey, the woman adjusting her cellphone camera to take his picture, while she breathlessly exclaims, “Gordon Ramsey!” While Ramsey is forcefully pontificating, no doubt to impress her while entertaining thoughts of seduction, she is seen in side view, her facial expressions changing as he bangs on the table to make a point. Sexist pig that I am, I notice how cute she looks every time she jumps a little with each bang. Her boyfriend (I presume) has eyes only for the appetizers, but as he reaches out his hand to grab one, Ramsey slaps it away, with the abrupt admonition, “use a cocktail stick.” Her formerly cute visage immediately twists into a grimace, not at Ramsey’s rudeness or his assault on her friend’s hand, but at her friend’s lack of etiquette. She angrily stamps her foot, while chiding him quite superfluously, “use a cocktail stick.” Is she angry at being embarrassed by the guy she came with in front of a celebrity? Is she racist? Is she unpleasantly surprised by his lack of manners? The misogyny here is her mercurial shift from good- natured photographer to angry overseer, adopting an expression and peremptory tone worthy of Django Unchained. Misogyny and racism in a single commercial! Apple, I thought you were woke!

The BIG picture: The bar for stupid keeps getting lower!

“Grace in Boston” suffering

Meet actress Monica Ruiz and actor Sean Hunter, the actual human beings who portray the “Peloton couple” in that company’s much maligned commercial. This post is NOT about the commercial. If you haven’t figured out what I am really addressing by the end of the post, I invite you to sign yourself up for a low rung on the stupid ladder.

Ryan Reynolds is a really good looking actor, married to Blake Lively, a truly classy looking actress. More importantly, they are both really smart and funny, so smart that Reynolds recruited Ms. Ruiz of Peloton’s controversial commercial to star in an ad for his Gin Company, Avalon. The clip begins with her looking into the camera in silence for nearly twenty seconds as “Grace in Boston”-Ruiz-sits with her friends at a bar. She then says, “This gin is really smooth.” Her friends then reply that they can get her another one and that the bar that they are in is a safe space. (Safe from what, or probably from whom…..perhaps her “Peloton husband”). Then they toast to new beginnings. Reynold’s ad is a riff on the social media “firestorm” the otherwise straightforward commercial caused on social media last week. For those living in Greenland or Madagascar who have not seen the commercial, it goes like this: A young woman (who is addressed by her virtual Peloton instructor as “Grace in Boston”) with eyes closed, on Christmas morning is led into the living room by her daughter. When she opens her very doleful eyes, there in front of her is a ($2,245) Peloton bike, the gateway drug to a $39/month subscription to interactive exercise videos. “Grace” gradually begins to use the bike, while vlogging the whole process in short Instagram-esque videos, and gradually becomes more accustomed to the Peloton “lifestyle” (everything’s a lifestyle, even where you put your sexual organs). The commercial ends with “Grace” showing a compilation of the videos to her husband, as a sort of thank you (?) for motivating her by buying the bike. ‘A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me,’ Grace eventually proclaims in the video. Critics of the ad were incensed that she was thin to begin with, and they couldn’t see the changes (maybe she meant the consistency of her exercise habit). Wouldn’t they would have been more incensed if “Grace” started out wearing a “fat suit” (or heaven forbid, if she were really obese)?

Viewers trashed the ad on Twitter, calling it sexist, misogynistic, humiliating and cringeworthy. Others have knocked the privileged consumers they portray and market to (gee, the pitchforks and torches would really be out if the ad had been for their $4,295 treadmill!). Inc. Magazine weighed in with, “It’s the ad that launched a thousand diatribes and a million page views of horror. Surely no one has remained unaware of the Peloton ad in which a woman who stares stricken at the camera, apparently trapped in her marriage, attempts to show delight that her husband has bought her a Peloton. Something that’ll help her lose perhaps two pounds from her slight frame. Oddly, Peloton has stood by the ad, claiming its intent has been misunderstood. But when millions misunderstand the problem may, in fact, be yours.” Inc. Magazine used to be a reputable business tome, but apparently couldn’t resist the lure of clickbait hyperbole. No Inc., when “millions” see a facial expression of an actress in a commercial and, forgetting that they are watching actors, make up a whole story about what the expression means, and feed the stories with archetypes of oppression, it’s not the commercial nor the actors who have the problem—it’s the supposition that your own fantasies and mind reading of motivations are real.

The poor guy in that commercial is now saying that his part could actively damage his career, which is not what you want from a small part in an ad for a stationary bike. Sean Hunter, a Canadian actor and gym teacher, says he’s glad he filmed the commercial and that his friends and students know his true character. I have seen the ad countless times during televised football games, and I would not even recognize him. If he is truly worried about a career hit, it would probably be due to the blood sport of the Internet age—being turned into a meme, which then outlives him. For their part, Peloton is sticking by their ad and saying that they found nothing troubling about the entire endeavor. The Female Quotient CEO and #SeeHer co-founder Shelley Zalis opined that many users were likely taking the message of the commercial the wrong way. “It’s just about being healthy,” she said. “I think that we need to not go overboard with micro sensitivity in just assuming because a man gives a woman an exercise bike, that insinuates it’s to lose weight.” Shelley, it ain’t about micro sensitivity, it’s about having something else to get outraged about, for those whose lives lack meaning otherwise. Of course, old line media, desperate for eyeballs, cannot let an opportunity for hyperbole go to waste.

From the Washington Post. An Internet that rarely agrees on anything was seemingly united on this one thing: The Peloton ad was downright dystopian. It was spousal abuse, viewers cried. It was sexism, a descent into wellness hell, society’s “nightmare before Christmas.” Many ascribed misery to “Grace,” imagining she had been forced into spinning her days away on her husband’s behalf like some kind of millennial Rumpelstiltskin story. Cosmopolitan magazine piled on with 17 Things To Give Your Husband When He Buys You An Unsolicited Exercise Bike, which include boxers too small, a toupee, a gym membership, a one way ticket to Hawaii for one, two concert tickets for an artist you like but he hates, sex toys, a book called How To Be An A-hole Husband and Lose Your Wife, spanx for men and deodorant! The unsubtle subtext is, “how dare you imply that I would enjoy a very expensive, trendy exercise bike (you miserable troglodyte).” If “Grace in Boston” (Ruiz, let’s not forget) was so unhappy, why did she immediately whip out her cellphone to take exercise selfies? I assume that Cosmo knows it’s readers, and that they would much rather have a list of snarky, husband-shaming doodads than any hint of appreciation for him, that stinking misogynist!

CBS News is reporting that the ad has cost the company and its shareholders $1.6 billion, but that contention is just part of the sensationalist reporting. The stock hit a high of $36.84/share on December 2 and on December 5, was $31.31/share, $1.6 billion less in market cap. Since the company’s IPO at $22.40/share just happened at the end of September, and the stock “lockup period” (during which insiders cannot sell IPO shares) expires February 24, 2020, and significant fluctuations of any stock soon after an IPO are normal, it is silly to ascribe drops or gains to an ad. Critics are saying that the ad was sexist, “classist” and promoted unhealthy body image. As for the “$1.6 billion loss”, at the end of the day, Peloton is a gym membership pretending to be a tech company. Peloton faces the same problem that keeps every gym owner up at night. People just don’t stick to a workout schedule. Peloton is built on a business model that breaks even on the bikes with the hopes that big money is made on recurring monthly fees for digitally distributed classes. However, with the average gym losing 50% of members within the first year, even the best technology hasn’t proven it can keep people engaged long term. Peloton’s IPO was a smashing success, but at an IPO valuation of $10 billion, the company will have to literally take over the market for investors to avoid a loss. To justify a valuation of $10 billion, 40% of U.S. households with a gym membership would have to own a Peloton, up from 3% today. Is it any wonder that the ad makes a big deal of “Grace” vlogging her workouts? That’s what they hope customers will do!

Let me disabuse some notions that make folks stupid: 1. Your thoughts about what someone’s facial expression means, your impressions of their motives, and the story you make up about their lives might all be bunk, and unless you establish a dialogue with them, you will never know. Whatever you invent says way more about your life than theirs. 2. If it’s on TV, especially if it’s a commercial, it isn’t really happening, even if it seems to bear a resemblance to real life events. 3. If you find yourself getting upset over your fantasy of someone’s motivations or the story you’ve told yourself about their lives, you need to take a serious look at your life. 4. Hold yourself to higher standards in everything than you expect of others, or prepare to be very disappointed.

Social media conformity, a global threat?

TikTok…..is the door to freedom closing?

Your first reaction to my headline was….what? Sensationalist? Exaggeration? Clickbait (sorry, nothing to click on here)? Read on and decide the implications for yourself. In my post yesterday, Creeping Conformity, Batman! I mentioned TikTok among the new social media lexicon. I have gathered information on the TikTok-type phenomenon, from the American Enterprise Institute, LawfareBlog.com and the Washington Post. Did you, like me, simply assume that these new “smartphone” apps were mostly U.S. created, and rather innocuous, even though a silly waste of time? Silly, yes, innocuous, maybe not!

TikTok is a subsidiary of a Chinese parent company ByteDance. How is it that an app for sharing comedic (sometimes juvenile) videos, skits, and (bad) karaoke has attracted the attention of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the guardian of national security regarding acquisitions of US companies? TikTok, which was launched in 2017, is wildly popular with teenagers around the world as a zany escape — it has been downloaded 1.5 billion times globally and 122 million times in the US. The app is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, founded in 2012. In 2018 CFIUS vetoed the bid of China’s Ant Financial to acquire MoneyGram out of fear that the Chinese government would gain access to US citizens’ financial records. Similarly, CFIUS forced Beijing Kunlun Tech to sell Grindr out of fear that data from the gay dating app could be used to blackmail or extort information from US citizens and government officials.

TikTok, which is assembling a high-powered lobbying team in Washington, strongly denies that its “moderation” policy ferrets out negative contributions concerning China. BUT…..China is building massive databases of Americans’ personal information by hacking government agencies and U.S. health-care companies, using a high-tech tactic to achieve an age-old goal of espionage: recruiting spies or gaining more information on an adversary, U.S. officials and analysts say. Groups of hackers working for the Chinese government have compromised the networks of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which holds data on millions of current and former federal employees, as well as the health insurance giant Anthem, among other targets, the officials and researchers said. “They’re definitely going after quite a bit of personnel information,” said Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer of ThreatConnect, a Northern Virginia cybersecurity firm. “We suspect they’re using it to understand more about who to target [for espionage], whether electronically or via human ­recruitment.”

China on Friday dismissed the allegation of hacking as “irresponsible and unscientific.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing wanted to cooperate with other nations to build a peaceful and secure cyberspace. “We wish the United States would not be full of suspicions, catching wind and shadows, but rather have a larger measure of trust and cooperation,” he told a regular news briefing. Notice, they didn’t deny hacking, rather played on our innate sense of fairness to play the victim of our suspicions. Hey, it works for our politicians, why not for a (possibly) hostile foreign power? OPM disclosed that the latest hack of one of its systems exposed personal data of up to 4 million current and former employees — the largest hack of federal employee data in recent years.

Robert Williams of Yale Law School, who has written extensively on these matters, has best summed up the CFIUS TikTok challenge: “As the CFIUS inquiry into TikTok illustrates, US officials are confronting their own distinct set of tensions between economic openness and data control. In navigating this terrain, CFIUS should be one element of a broader strategy that seeks to ensure national security considerations relating to data protection are as targeted and narrowly construed as possible.” “Targeted and narrowly construed” is indeed the right goal for CFIUS in the TikTok investigation, though it is not clear that US regulators will thread the needle with regard to the competing imperatives of data privacy, data location, and national security.

Globally, ByteDance and TikTok are targeting their growth in East and South Asia, particularly large countries such as India and Indonesia. India is a rapidly developing success story, as TikTok downloads over the past two years have exceeded 400 million users in the country (four times as many as in the US). Unemployed teenagers form a major cohort of users, as they have few outlets for entertainment and tend to avoid English language outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Since they enjoy little privacy in their lives, they do not worry about security. Read that sentence again. What are the implications for us? ByteDance has pledged to invest $1 billion in India over the next few years “through expansion and the construction of a data center.” As a number of outside observers have recently noted, TikTok’s success in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia will determine its future even if it encounters major obstacles in the US. Of even greater potential competitive significance in the future, ByteDance, in alliance with TikTok, is about to launch a music streaming app, going head-to-head with services like Spotify and Apple Music.

It is getting more difficult to trace the origins of all these apps. Who would have guessed that TikTok, Grindr and who knows how many others are born of foreign ambitions? Since I’m not a stockholder of any social media companies, I don’t have a personal stake in the commercial applications. What worries me is, what kinds of personal information on our kids are foreign governments collecting through their app sign up processes? Is social media conformity really innocuous?

Creeping Conformity, Batman! Or why grow a spine?

From TotallyTheBomb.com

This might be the most memorable quote I’ve seen all year, or longer. Kevin Williamson, in National Review: “There is no marriage as stable and enduring as that of ignorance and certitude.

He cited a case in point of this woman, living in the prototype WASP enclave of the Main Line (near Philadelphia) who “sniffed that she could hardly endure trips to visit her husband’s family in the South because she was physically nauseated just by being present in a place that had once seen slavery. She said this with practically orgasmic moral self-satisfaction while standing on what had been the grounds of Richard Harrison’s tobacco plantation, the largest slave operation of its kind in pre-Revolutionary Pennsylvania. She had a keen sense of morality but a somewhat less keen sense of history.” Perfect! Pride, oozing out of her pores; self righteousness is the glue binds ignorance and certitude.

Arguably, the most common pronouncement of certitude that betrays ignorance of history is the endlessly repeated lament, “kids today are worse than ever”. What inevitably follows is a list of examples of our progeny’s lack of respect, gratitude, appreciation for traditions, blessings, virtues. Such is cited as evidence that society is falling apart. Nope, it’s just the mantra of the short-sighted, leavened with parental disappointment, that forgets how they were as kids. Every generation rebels against the values–or is it the hypocrisy of not upholding the values they preach–of the previous generation. Why? CONFORMITY! Yes, I wrote “rebels” in the previous sentence, but rebellion against parental or elders’ values is itself conformity. Just yesterday, I watched the movie, School of Rock (circa 2003), again. Jack Black plays the “rebellious” ne’er do well, who tries to convince prep school kids that rock and roll is the best way to “stick it to the Man.” These kids, from wealthy families, don’t understand who “the Man” is (too bad for them that “toxic masculinity” hadn’t caught on yet), but they dutifully follow anyway. Conformity masquerading as “personal style” or “power” is beautifully captured by two very “mainstream” media organs (the boldprint comments below are mine).

From the Washington Post: It was the morning of the first day of senior year, and Sky Bloomer had her back-to-school outfit ready to go: red-and-black Air Jordan Retro sneakers, black leggings and a tight, spaghetti-strap crop top with a koi fish print from Urban Outfitters. The tall teenager with long brown hair walked out of her bedroom and swung on her backpack, feeling “powerful,” she recalled. Then, her parents saw her.

We can imagine what came next, can’t we? I’m not letting you leave the house looking like that,” said her mother, Tara Bloomer, telling her daughter that she looked like an “easy girl” or “prostitute.” Minutes after she left for school in a friend’s car, Sky’s father called her cellphone, telling her, “truly powerful and intelligent women don’t have to show off everything they have.” “Okay, misogynist,” she replied. The pressure of conformity inclines teenagers to look a certain way on Instagram and other social media platforms, subtly equating validation with “likes” and comments. Sky Bloomer says her outfits are about expression, not the likes she gets from her peers, the friends who post flame emojis and comments like “queen” and “so prettyy.”

The WaPo article continues: Sydney Acuff, a 17-year-old senior at Blair High School, started wearing more revealing clothes last school year after a breakup with a boyfriend who was “very controlling and very manipulative,” she said. “I wanted to rebel against him. That was one way I did it.” She stopped wearing bras and started wearing “a lot of semi-see-through tops, a lot of camisoles,” Sydney said. “My midriff is almost always showing to some extent.” When she was coping with the breakup, she noticed that she was posting more selfies on social media. “Am I doing this because I want to, or am I doing this because I know these people are going to make me feel good for a certain amount of time and then I’ll go back to feeling sad?” she reflected. “That’s something I have to be careful with and have to be mindful of.” But as the teenager has grown more confident in her body, her clothes have been a way for her to experiment, to be creative, she said.

As the father of three daughters, I am grateful that they grew out of the teenage years before the new lexicon of conformity included Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, VSCO and even more obscure applications.

From NBCNews.com: Anne Milou has always had an affinity for oversized T-shirts, scrunchies and Puka shell necklaces. But recently Milou, who lives in the Netherlands, learned there’s a name for the beachy, laid-back way she and scores of other teenage girls dress. “I’ve never really labeled myself as a ‘VSCO girl’ until it really became a trend, and I thought, ‘Oh, I guess I’m a ‘VSCO girl’ now!'” Milou, 16, told NBC News via Instagram messenger. “VSCO girls,” named for the aesthetic derived from the photo editing app VSCO — formerly known as VSCO Cam — which lets users share photos and make preset filters to help keep their images looking uniform, is the latest teen iteration of “preppy” style with a casual beach-inspired flair. It’s an aesthetic that has taken over Gen Z-dominated corners of the internet such as short-form video app TikTok and photo-sharing app Instagram.

“It’s probably the most popular trend I’ve seen come off the internet. I see it constantly,” said Caprese Wippich, 18, of California, who calls herself a “retired ‘VSCO girl'” and makes TikTok videos about the aesthetic. Hailee Dent, 16, of Oklahoma, who said she noticed the “VSCO girl” trend pop up about three months ago, added that she doesn’t consider herself to be a “VSCO girl,” but said her personal interests align with parts of the trend. There are several specific hallmarks of a “VSCO girl,” which includes scrunchies, oversized T-shirts, clothing from the store Brandy Melville, Vans, Pura Vida bracelets, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks and Puka shell necklaces. Another integral part of the “VSCO girl” lifestyle is being environmentally conscious, as a key component to the style is the use of products such as metal straws and Hydro Flasks to “save the turtles.” “That’s a really interesting aspect of the ‘VSCO girl’ aesthetic. Here’s this little environmental part and that’s fun. The girls who weren’t interested in protecting the environment before are now all upset about it because it’s part of their aesthetic now,” Wippich said.

“VSCO girls” tend to be middle and high school age and the trend starts to peter out among college age students and older, according to Wippich. This aligns with the VSCO app’s overall user base, 75 percent of which are under age 25, according to Julie Inouye, VSCO’s vice president of communications. “We love seeing teens come together to express who they are and how they see the world(Does anyone notice how the “come together” and “express who they are” phrases are incompatible? It’s like saying “conformity leads to individuality.”). “Whether you own a scrunchie or not, all are welcome to VSCO and we will continue to provide a safe space where you can share your diverse experiences and points of view,” Inouye said in a statement emailed to NBC News.

Wippich, who works at Brandy Melville, said that she believes part of why the trend is so popular among high school-age girls is because of its accessibility and because there are very few financial and social constraints to the look. “The e-boy and e-girl style is not as implementable because no one wants to walk around like an e-girl and e-boy. It’s fun to do on internet, but I don’t think that’s how people want to go out,” Wippich said. “This is an easy way to have an aesthetic in your life.” The dressed-down, causal aesthetic was popularized, in part, by internet personalities like YouTube star Emma Chamberlain, whose low-effort style helped her rocket to 8 million YouTube subscribers and 7.7 million Instagram followers in less than two years, according to The Atlantic. Followers=conformity.

My whole Instagram and Twitter (and TikTok) timelines are covered in ‘VSCO girls,'” Milou said. Wippich and Milou have both used TikTok to share their “VSCO girl” style and trendy tips. Milou even posted her own “‘VSCO girl’ check” on TikTok, a trend in which the user shows off all the things that make them a “VSCO girl.” In her video, Milou included all the classic indicators of a “VSCO girl,” such as a mountain of colorful scrunchies, tubes of Burt’s Bees lip balm and a carefully curated, color-coded rack of shirts in black, white, yellow, red and blue.

Wippich said she notices “VSCO girls” being teased heavily on TikTok, which she said she finds upsetting, adding that most videos she sees don’t accurately portray the trend. “Why mock someone for something they’re doing that doesn’t hurt you?” Wippich said. “Most people do it because they want followers and clout.Followers=conformity=clout? Although she considers herself a former “VSCO girl,” Wippich said she still has a lot of appreciation for the trend and the girls she meets who subscribe to it, who have helped her grow her TikTok account. When she’s at work, she said she’s sometimes recognized by the 15 to 20 “VSCO girls” who visit her store every day and have seen her VSCO-tagged TikTok videos. “Brandy Melville is bigger brand for ‘VSCO girls,’ and I go to the store and I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s a ‘VSCO girl!”” she said. “I don’t think there’s any other aesthetic that’s that identifiable.”

All things considered, apart from the internal stress generated by the pressure to conform to rapidly changing trends, most of the conformity described above is relatively benign. It’s better than “brownshirts”, “goose-stepping” and “Seig Heil.”

I resent not being added to the SPLC’s “Hate-Watch”.

Where’s the Curmudgeon?

Don’t they read my blog? Obviously not. Or maybe I am just too low profile and insignificant to garner any notice. Okay, so adding Curmudgeon550.blog to SPLC’s “Hate-Watch” won’t up their already bounteous contributions, better known as extortions; I’m not sure where to draw that line. I read today that even Chick Fil-A “donated” to the SPLC, $2500 in 2017 through their foundation. Yes, it’s true, because every charity must list extortion contributions on their federal 990, but it was sort of a mistake. That donation was made by a volunteer advisory board member. That same year, the foundation also donated to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Salvation Army, Paul Anderson Youth Home, Meals on Wheels, Atlanta Mission, Holocaust Survivor Support Fund, Georgia Historical Society, Brain Health at Emory University and more than 300 others. The first two, being explicitly Christian and evangelical, were the source of the self righteous “anti-lgbtq” protests. Well I’ve also given money to explicitly Christian and evangelical groups, why can’t I get protested? Why is no one marching around my building with arrow-shaped signs saying “hater” pointing to my door? Why is no one slandering me to my building manager?

If you ask me, this is a clear case of prejudice against little people—albeit in the sense of being low profile and insignificant rather than stature (is it my fault that I am 5’10”?). Well, due to the ravages of old age and constantly looking down at my feet when I pass strangers, I’m closer to 5’9”. But who cares about an inch when reputation is at stake? I call this profile-ism, prejudice against the low profile, not to be confused with profiling, which is a mortal sin that practically guarantees a hallowed place on Hate-Watch. I see that President Trump has just misgendered Conan, the “hero” Belgian Malinois dog who was injured on the al-Bahgdadi raid. That dog is apparently female, and Mr. Trump kept referring to “him”, which is perfectly fine with me. Stick that in your accessible orifices, SPLC! Why the heck was she named Conan anyway? Wasn’t Conan the Destroyer a comic book hero, and wasn’t he played in the movies by Arnold Schwarzenegger, of bulging muscles only possible in a testosteroned body? Didn’t that same Arnold win Mr. Universe, didn’t he play the original Terminator? Yes, I distinctly remember “I’ll be back”, in a deep voiced Austrian accent. So, who can blame our President for misgendering? And if it was on purpose, so much the better. Are you listening, or reading, SPLC? Toxic male heroes are just more credible.

My dear readers, help me out….or expose me. Give me up to the SPLC. How can they be credible, if they ignore haters like me? At the very least, suggest that they add profile-ism to their list of hate crimes. In my case, they don’t even have to read my mind, nor mystically divine my intentions, like they do with Stephen Miller, Franklin Graham, Chick Fil-A, and most groups using the words “Christian”, “family”, “constitutional” or “patriot”. I don’t see my blog on their list of hate ideologies. If they include Phineas Priesthood (“The Phineas Priesthood is not an actual organization; it has no leaders, meetings, or any other institutional apparatus.”) and Neo Folkish (“Born out of an atavistic defiance of modernity and rationalism, present-day neo-Völkisch, or Folkish, adherents and groups are organized around ethnocentricity and archaic notions of gender.”), why not Curmudgeon 550.blog? I guess I would have to furnish an appropriately worded blurb, like the two above. Okay, here goes: “Curmudgeon550.blog appears to be the work of a single demented individual, who enjoys provoking the marginalized, excluded, disenfranchised masses and those who bravely speak for them.” No, I don’t enjoy my work any more than SPLC enjoys listing groups on Hate-Watch, but hey, someone has to get their hands dirty. What mud pies are they playing with these days? According to their website…..

“Currently, our litigation is focused on five major areas: children’s rights, economic justice, immigrant justice, LGBT rights, and mass incarceration. Before reporting to the SPLC, please report hate incidents or crimes to your local law enforcement.” Ah yes, don’t waste our time with “crimes” you can actually witness, they are too insignificant to garner extortion donations. Let the fuzz investigate first, then we’ll see if it makes the WaPo or NYT. If it does, you won’t have to report to us, we’ll already be composing a letter to donors!

The power of BELIEF!

The Miami Dolphins played their first game on September 2, 1966. In 1970, they gave up a first-round draft pick to the Baltimore Colts for the rights to future Hall of Fame head coach, Don Shula. This was not the first time a team traded draft picks for a coach, though it was one of the most successful of those trades. In 2002, the Oakland Raiders parted with Jon Gruden for a first round draft pick and $8 million from Tampa Bay. Gruden’s TB Buccaneers promptly won the Super Bowl that year, beating…..the Raiders in the championship game. Ah well. Other coaches whose contracts were bought out (for a variety of considerations) were Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards, Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick. Those deals all worked out well for their new teams. The year before Shula, under coach George Wilson— not exactly a “household name”, he probably never owned a chain of upscale steakhouses like his successor—the Dolphins went 3-10-1. 1969 was a notable year for the team. They were one of the worst teams in a now defunct football league, the AFL, American Football League, (which merged with the NFL, and became the American Football Conference of the NFL). They were demoralized—new league, new coach, many new players, no identity.

Two years after coach Shula entered the picture, the Dolphins were undefeated Super Bowl champions; 47 years later that unique imprimatur—undefeated champions—still applies. The backstory is belief. In 1986, I went to a seminar featuring Tim Foley, who starred at cornerback for the Dolphins from 1970-1980. He used coach Shula’s introduction to the team to illustrate the power of belief, coupled with the willingness to translate that belief into action and results. Here, with my typical rhetorical flourishes, is the story: The team gathered in the conference room, nervously awaiting the entrance of the famously intense coach. Suddenly, there was Shula, standing at the lectern. He moved his gaze from player to player, taking their measure. Then he said, “we will win the Super Bowl this year.” Some heads nodded in assent, some smiled broadly, but others shook their heads side to side, or looked away. All reactions were noted by the notoriously uncompromising coach. Then he said, “everyone who believes we will, raise your hand.” A few veterans, along with rookies and some younger players who didn’t know any better, raised their hands. Foley paused his tale, for effect.

Shula wrote down the names of those who did not raise their hands, and those whose expressions, when he declared their future, were skeptical rather than enthusiastic. Foley said, “all those guys who didn’t believe were gone by the end of the week.” Belief has a galvanizing effect on people, and teams. Unbelief has the opposite effect, and is also infectious. Some of the players that coach Shula traded or released were big time stars, but unbelief can undermine talent, just as belief can elevate the team.

The Bible has much to say about the positive power of belief, and the negative power of unbelief. Jesus Christ raised the dead, walked on water, healed blindness, leprosy and all manner of diseases instantly, and defeated death itself, yet in the town where he was raised, where people thought they knew he was “just” the “son of the carpenter Joseph”: And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Matthew 13:57-58. Not because He couldn’t, but because His mighty works would have would have been dismissed by the blindness of unbelief.

THE TRANSFIGURATION: Jesus  took disciples Peter, John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray, and the likenesses of Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with Jesus. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.  And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him.  And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God. Luke 9:29-43.

The power of belief harnesses the majesty of God!

Getting the stubborn cow into the barn, or be careful where you stand.

Milton H. Erickson was a famous psychologist, hypnotherapist, and story teller, though I think he would have referred to himself as a “change artist.” He used stories, especially those rich in metaphors, to reach and then teach his clients’ subconscious mind. My favorite of the quotes attributed to him is, “Until you are willing to be confused about what you already know, what you know will never grow bigger, better, or more useful.” My favorite story, by far, is one I seem to remember, though my own memory and my improvisational quirkiness might have embellished it somewhat. No matter, the lesson remains, so here it is:

Farmer Orville owned a dairy farm, and he loved his cows. He made up names for each of them, and unlike a lot of farmers who keep their cows penned up in the milking barn, Orville would allow his to run free in the pasture. Every afternoon, he would call his “bell cow”, or Belle, as he lovingly referred to her, into the barn, and the herd would dutifully follow her, which is the function of the bell cow after all. Belle was so well trained that she would circle back after the herd was in the barn, to make sure there were no stragglers. None at all, other than Sadie, that is. Sadie was the anti-bell cow, stubborn as all get out. If cows have thoughts, and those thoughts are translatable to English, Sadie would be thinking, as soon as she heard Orville call, and Belle’s bell tinkling, “ain’t nobody gonna tell me nothin’.”

Orville had fashioned a noose for Sadie’s head, and used it every afternoon as he struggled to pull Sadie into the barn, while she would placidly sit back on her 600 pound haunches, looking at him with the cow’s equivalent of a smirk, though considering the true state of bovine intelligence, the imagined smirk was probably just a response to the taste of regurgitated cud. This farmer-bovine wrestling match went on daily for years. Then one day, the aforementioned Mr. Erickson happened to stop at the dairy barn, where he observed the Orville-Sadie pas de deux. While Erickson was remarkably successful with human behavior, he had never challenged himself with a cow. He bet Orville that within five minutes, he could get Sadie to dash into the barn. While Orville was as stubborn as Sadie, years of struggling with an animal 400 pounds heavier had worn him down. That, and the selfish desire to see this city slicker embarrassed, led him to take the bet. What the heck, if he lost, at least Sadie would be in the barn.

So Milton began to slowly walk around Sadie’s perimeter, like Joshua’s forces around Jericho. Sadie’s liquid black bovine eyes followed his movements, as she became more and more unsettled by this strange behavior. Suddenly, Milton stopped behind her, and grabbing her tail, yanked hard. Orville had made the mistake of standing in front of Sadie, which was logically the place to stand when trying to drag her into the barn. But it was definitely not the place to stand when Sadie, responding to the tug on her tail, bovine synapses telling her that someone was trying to pull her away from the barn, bellowed and rushed pell mell in the opposite direction. That direction happened to be into the barn. Orville found himself in between Sadie and the barn. Sadie made no attempt to swerve. You can guess what happened to Orville.

As he lay in his hospital bed, Orville reflected on the lesson so painfully delivered. Did he lament that his daily efforts with Sadie, while building Popeye-like forearms, resulted in no change of her behavior? Did he regret his own stubbornness in fighting with the 600 pound bovine instead of trying Erickson’s reverse psychology? Was he reflecting on how people were much like cows, and rebellion against authority was a universal human trait? No, none of that. The lesson he learned, which he couldn’t wait to apply, once he was back on his feet, was “I’m making a list of all the dairy farmer buddies who ridiculed me about Sadie, and betting each of them that they can’t pull Sadie into the barn, while I casually line up behind her.”