Wednesday, August 27, 2014

the REAL ALS Challenge

Now that ice buckets are turning over in dwindling numbers, the real challenge is for the ALS Foundation to prove that this financial windfall will amount to more than just a drop in the bucket. It is their chance to prove to the world that they can leverage this cash to make a real difference in the lives of those suffering with the debilitating disease once known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. They have seen donations go up several hundred percent this year. Will they prove that they are worth their weight in gold, or cold, hard cash, in this case?

I used to work for a non-profit and I know how wasteful they can be. It doesn’t take long before expensive trade shows, fundraising galas, overhead and administrative costs eat a big chunk of the annual budget. Before you know it, there is very little to show for all the fundraising efforts.

If ALS Foundation is smart, they’ll be strategic and fiscally responsible to ensure that all the money raised through the once-in-a-lifetime, grassroots marketing campaign makes the biggest impact. And equally as important, they’ll tell their success story in such a compelling way as to generate an even bigger buzz over what was accomplished thanks to all the ice buckets being drained.

Otherwise, this will go down just as cynics and skeptics predict, as just another cute publicity stunt with no real or sustainable value. Once all the viral video stunts fade into obscurity, who will remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the millions of dollars it raised?

On a counterpoint, I wonder why Climb For Water, Clean WaterAction and other similar charities haven’t jumped on the anti-ice bucket bandwagon to raise awareness of their fight for sustainable water systems in underprivileged parts of the world. That seemed like a no-brainer, but the opportunity is passing them by quickly.

Time will tell. Count me among the skeptics.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Human being, first and foremost

Andrew W.K. writes an advice column, akin to Dear Abby, that runs regularly in the New York Village Voice. See his latest column here about love and humanity trumping stereotypes and opinions. In speaking about politics and labels, Andrew W.K. says, "Anything as infinitely complex as life, reality, and the human experience can never be summed up or organized in a definitive system, especially one based on "left or right," "A or B," "us or them." He also asserts, "The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love," and then concludes, "if you do pick a side, pick the side of love." In his opinion column, I heard him speak about how humanity often gets lost in the fray of arguments over things like political ideologies. This sparked a flame in me because of the Netflix original series, "House of Cards," I have been watching. It features award-winning actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright (who has been a favorite of mine since portraying Princess Buttercup as a teen actress in "The Princess Bride"). But the husband and wife tandem--The Honorable and Mrs. Underwood--are anything but honorable in that show. In fact, they are downright deplorable.

I am 11 episodes into Season 1 and I just lamented to the friend that highly recommended the show, a former DC insider, that I cannot stomach another episode of the nausea-inducing, faux political drama. **SPOILER ALERT** In Episode 10, Congressman Underwood, kills off one of the other lead characters, a fellow politician from his own party, and makes it look like an alcohol and drug-induced suicide. Part of his devious plot to undercut his patsy, Congressman Russo, was to tempt him to fall off the wagon, which he did by hiring a former prostitute, now temptress in a slinky black dress. Once the temptress gets him drunk and high, the senior Congressman offers to drive a near comatose Russo home, where he does the dastardly deed. I was shocked, but not taken totally by surprise. After all, Spacey's character, a minority Whip in the U.S. Senate, is inhuman...a political robot...a Dark Sith, if you will, perched upon Capitol Hill.

In that same episode, his wife who has grown tired of being his pawn, his ally, and mutual admirer, comes back to him from her true if pledging her support for his ruthless political ambitions, regardless of his means of getting there. Robin Wright plays the heartless and death-grip cold Congressman's wife with skill and credibility. It's a far cry from her role as the beautiful, idealistic princess. She's still outwardly beautiful, there's no doubt, but her insides are dark and hollow like a vacuous, bat-filled cavern.

I was no longer amused by the DC couple's sadistic and narcissistic games. In the show I watched last night, they crossed the line. Their characters became sub-human. Non-human, in fact. The writers, who had gone to great lengths to create depth in these two characters, ruined it all in one fell swoop! They made them paper cut-out caricatures reminiscent of old comic book villains, no longer real and tangible. Likewise, the show has now become for me indigestible. I'm choosing to skip the rest of the episodes and find something more real to watch. Big Cat Diaries comes to mind. Hell, Bar Rescue would even be better entertainment.

My point being, and I hope those characters are just evil caricatures of the real vultures on Capitol Hill, is that I'm already turned off enough by politics and politicians. I don't need to be reminded how heartless and ruthless the people in that line of work can be. I'd like to still hold out hope that those running our precious country are not evil-bots, but real human beings with beating hearts. The now dead character, Congressman Russo, was just that. And for that reason, the show's producers and writers had to off him. He was too human, too real, apparently, for their tastes. They should have been DC Comics writers, not writers of a real-life DC-based television series. Sorry Netflix, this one was a bomb. Nice try, though. It started out well enough, like a darker, edgier version of "The West Wing," an old NBC political drama.

When we lose our sense of humanity, especially our sense of our adversaries' humanity, in the name of "being right," whether that belief is based on religion, upbringing, politics or whatever, then we have lost a piece of our own being human. That became more apparent than ever upon my visit with family in Indiana over the summer. My mom, who is cancer-ridden and preparing for the end of her life, had some very deep and impact-full conversations with me. In the end, we decided to put aside our differences, focusing instead on our love for each other. Our human connection and our family connection comes first no matter what differences in belief come between us at times. We can always agree to disagree and then focus on the positive. Just like the advice columnist pointed out to the guy who had written in, "Love your dad because he's your father, because he made you, because he thinks for himself, and most of all because he is a person."

Those conversations with mom are what will carry me through the difficulty of losing her one day. I know mom's heart and she's heard mine for the first time in years. We are at peace and that is a great feeling. She'll always be mom and I'll always be her firstborn.

Don't let someone else's opinion overshadow the bigger picture. They share a place in humanity alongside you, family or foe. You may not like them. You may even despise their position on things. As a human being, you should appreciate that they have every right to their opinion. Unless their actions prove otherwise, they are deserving of honor and respect. Just keep that in mind the next time you get into a heated discussion with your brother or sister. That is all. Thanks for listening. Please comment if this meant something to you.