Look! Real American heroes! And no capes!

Looking for heroes this holiday season?

Look no further than Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon, who raised $12,500 to buy up medical debts from creditors on the rate of a half-cent on the dollar. Then, with the help of the non-profit RIP Medical Debt, they forgave that debt, meaning that roughly 1,284 people in debt because of a medical procedure were discharged of the $1.5 million they owed.

This holiday season, those folks will be receiving a letter in their mailbox telling them that they are free and clear of their medical debt.

Jones, 80, a retired chemist, and Kenyon, 70, a psychoanalyst, are members of the Finger Lakes chapter of the Campaign for New York Health, which supports universal health coverage through passage of the New York Health Act. They said that they wanted to do more to help, so this summer they decided to begin fundraising with the hopes of raising enough money to make a difference.

Since its inception, RIP Medical Debt has forgiven $434 million in medical debt, assisting more than 250,000 people. That remains only a fraction, though, of the more than $750 billion in past-due medical debt that it says Americans owe.

R.I.P. Medical Debt specifically seeks to buy the debts of people who earn less than two times the federal poverty level, those in financial hardship and people facing insolvency. The people, who do not know they have been selected, receive the debt relief as a tax-free gift, and it comes off their credit reports.

Amazing. And in a time when the Republicans are hell-bent on stripping millions of Americans of their health insurance, more important than ever.

This week Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is facing 17 different federal investigations into his attempts to enrich himself though his office, refused to resign from office until he could host his department’s Christmas party, specifically to pose in front of a stuffed polar bear with donors, lobbyists, activists, and the like.

These are the kinds of human beings serving our country right now. Corrupt, self-dealing scumbags who see the federal coffers as their piggy bank.

Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon are reminders that regular people, doing good work on behalf of those in need, can really make a difference, especially when the government fails Americans again and again.

Dane Best: Child hero

Dane Best, age 9, ended the ban on snowball fights in his hometown of Severance, Colorado last week. After discovering the 100 year old law during a field trip to town hall, the young activist went to work, lobbying successfully to have a law banning snow balls repealed.

Best told the town board that if he was victorious, his first act would be to lob a snowball at his four year-old brother.

I like this kid.

I also like it when the world gets slightly more dangerous for children.

When I was a kid, we routinely threw snowballs at each other at recess. We brought sleds and saucers to school and raced down hills at dangerous speeds. We played street hockey with wooden sticks and hardened pucks. Played dodgeball against a brick wall with a racquetball. Leapt off enormous snowbanks into piles of snow.

It was wonderful way to grow up.

Not all that long ago, my students and I would carve out chutes in the snowbanks at my school to increase their speed as I flung them down the backside of those hills towards the forest. Grabbing them by the hands, I would catapult them with all my might down those chutes as they screamed in delight.

It was such fun. Joyous, even. Kids slid and tumbled and giggled. Cheeks turned red. Pants got soaked. Snow ended up stuffed in their socks and ears.

Eventually the snowbanks were deemed too dangerous to climb, even though I cannot recall a single serious injury occurring while playing on these snowbanks.

The possibility of injury was more than enough to end the fun.

A few weeks ago, my own children asked me if they could play outside. “Yes!” I shouted. “Go find some trouble!”

The kids ran outside, completely and gloriously unsupervised. A few minutes later, my neighbor knocked on my door. He wanted me to know that he was doing some yard work and would keep an eye on my kids.

“No!” I said. “Don’t watch them. I want them to find some trouble. I want a hungry bear to wander into the yard or truck filled with dangerous chemicals to overturn beside them. I want them to face something hard and scary and fun.”

Thank goodness for kids like Dane Best, who are fighting for the right to be pummeled by snowballs on a crisp, winter day.

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Two statistics that can change the course of a lifetime

Two statistics that surprised me quite a bit.

1. Only one-third of American adults older than 24 years-old have a college degree. 

It's easy for college graduates who are surrounded by college graduates in their workplace and their social life to assume that a majority of Americans have graduated from college with an undergraduate degree.

Not even close.

Traditional, post-high school college graduates are surprisingly still the exception rather than the rule. 

And this statistic included me at one time. Thanks to a number of factors, including poverty, an absence of parental support, a complete lack of interest in my future by guidance counselors, a bout of homelessness, and an arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit, I didn’t make it to college until I was 24 years old and did not graduate until I was 29. 

And I was one of the lucky ones. The vast majority of Americans who don’t attend college after high school never make it to college.

There are many factors preventing Americans from earning a college degree, but one of the primary barriers is this:

Only 54.8 percent of college students graduate in six years. The dropout rate in college is exceptionally high, and while some of this can be attributed to failing grades and a lack of interest in education, the majority of student drop out for financial reasons:

  • They can no longer pay for tuition

  • A family emergency or illness has required them to return home

  • Working full-time while also attending college proved to be impossible for them

Graduating college is a great accomplishment, but if a student is reasonably intelligent and their parents are paying the tuition and the student doesn’t need to work in order to survive and can focus solely on their studies, it becomes a slightly less impressive accomplishment.

More of an expectation, really.

2. Americans in their prime working years with an undergraduate degree make 68 percent more on average than people who only have high school diplomas. 

This is an astounding number.

The average high school graduate in their prime working years makes about $34,000 per year.

The average college graduate during that same time makes about $60,000 per year.

Over the course of just 20 years, that differential equates to more than half a millions dollars, and that doesn’t account for how that that additional money might have been used. The purchase of real estate, the investment in a 401K or similar retirement account, and other potential investments could quickly grow that additional income considerably.

Getting a college education can be the difference between financial stability and financial anxiety for a lifetime.

Sadly, only about a third of Americans understand this.

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A job is a job. Only a douchebag would think otherwise.

Did you hear about Fox News reporting on former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens being spotted bagging groceries at a New Jersey Trader Joes?

The shopper who spotted the actor said that she was grocery shopping with her wife on Saturday evening when she recognized Owens and took some photos.

Then the news outlet decided to purchase those photos and make it a story.

This is awful, of course. Job shaming at its finest. Though Geoffrey Owens has continued to act and appeared in guest spots on TV shows such as "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "That's So Raven" and most recently starred in an episode of "Lucifer" in 2017, it''s certainly not news if he's choosing to bag groceries when the acting jobs aren't paying the bills.

Job shaming is nothing new, and I hate it. I’ve experienced a bit of it in my time.

When I was 16 years old, I started working at McDonald's, and by the age of 17, I was a manager in the restaurant. I continued to manage McDonald's restaurants throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut from 1987 when I finally graduated from college in 1999. 

It's how I put myself through college. 

Though I've worked many jobs before and since then, including as a elementary school teacher, a novelist, a magazine columnist, a public speaker, a wedding DJ, and the founder and creative director of Speak Up, no job has come close in terms of difficulty as managing a McDonald's restaurant. 

Motivating 60-80 people - high school students, stay-at-home moms, immigrants, retirees, parolees, non-English speakers, high school dropouts, and side hustlers - to work together for little more than minimum wage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Add to that managing labor and food costs, scheduling, customer relations, calculating P&L statements, equipment calibration and repair, vendor negotiations, training, advertising, board of health inspections, and being the best at every position in the restaurant - made this job incredibly demanding.

Both mentally and physically.

Yet when I left McDonald’s for teaching, people would say things to me like, “I don’t know how you did that mindless work for so long,” and “Thank God you escaped that hellhole.”

Hellhole?

McDonald’s taught me to manage my time effectively. Delegate responsibility. Prioritize. Communicate and collaborate with people from background entirely different than my own. I learned about responsibility. Integrity. Motivation. Hard work.

I learned to crack four eggs in two hands simultaneously. Clean and repair HVAC units. Swear in Spanish.

I believe that every Fortune 500 company - regardless of the nature of their business - would do well by identifying the most successful McDonald’s managers in the country and stealing them for their own companies. These are motivated, intelligent, and gritty people who would serve your organization well.

Once you can manage a fast food restaurant successfully and profitably, you can do anything.

Some of the finest people who I have ever known have been the McDonald’s managers who worked alongside me.

Yet I also know what people thought of me when I managed those restaurants. Some of the customers would say these terrible things right to my face.

Happily for Geoffrey Owens, his story has a slightly happy ending. In an interview, he explained that much of his financial struggle is the result of The Cosby Show being pulled from syndication because of the Bill Cosby’s sordid past coming to light.

But upon hearing about this incident, Tyler Perry spoke up, offering Owens a 10-episode deal on his own show, “The Haves and the Have Nots.”

Despite the opportunity, Owens also understands that he still may need to go back to Trader Joe’s at some point.

He explained that acting is calling. “I’m going to keep pursuing it,” he said. “I’m going to persevere. And even if that means, that eventually when all this hoopla dies down, I might need to take another job outside of the business. I’m still willing to do that.”

And no one should think there is anything wrong with that.

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The best and the worst come together in Times Square

Did you hear about the massive swarm of bees that descended upon Times Square earlier this week?

From the New York Times:

"Thousands of bees swarmed part of Times Square on Tuesday afternoon, sending tourists and passers-by scrambling before the bees settled on the cart of a very unhappy hot-dog vendor at 43rd Street and Broadway.

The mass of insects was so dense it weighed down sections of the stand’s umbrella. 

The incident lasted all of an hour before the New York Police Department’s own beekeeping team vacuumed up the horde of honeybees and took them safely to a new location." 

This story struck a particular chord with me.

I'm allergic to bees. They kill me dead if they sting me.

But hot dogs are my second favorite food item in the world, and one of my favorite things overall.

Bees and hot dogs. Friend and foe collide. A bizarre, incomprehensible combination of my favorite and least favorite things. 

It almost feels as if the universe is winking at me. Or threatening me. 

The exact opposite of a bridezilla

As a wedding DJ for more than 20 years, I've encountered my fair share of bridezillas.

Some of them have been absolute monsters.  

It's always such a shame. On a day that should be celebratory, joyous, and full of romance and love, brides (and the occasionally groom) spend so much of their time and energy obsessing over details that no one will ever remember and most people never cared about in the first place. 

I once watched a bride ask if a small tree could be chopped down so it didn't appear in her photos.  

I once listened to a bride complain about a bridesmaid who got engaged two weeks before her wedding, thus stealing some of the magic of her wedding day. "Guests will be congratulating her at my wedding!" 

I once saw a bride demote her best friend from maid of honor down to bridesmaid status because her best friend was "too thin" to be standing beside her in photos.

She stuck her best friend at the end of the line of bridesmaids, as far away from her as possible.    

The desire for some perverse form of perfection overtakes the desire to have fun at these weddings, and everyone suffers as a result.

This is why I loved this story and video so much. 

Unexpectedly fierce monsoons left many places in the Philippines flooded recently, but that didn't stop one bride from marrying the love of her life.  

Jobel de los Angeles left her family home in Sagrada Familia, lifted up her white dress and waded through ankle-deep water to reach the Santo Rosario Parish Church to marry Jefferson, the father of her two children and her partner of seven years. 

She waded down the aisle at the church, bouquet in hand, making the best of a terrible situation.

I often wonder what that groom was thinking when the bride demanded that the tree be removed at her wedding. Or the groom whose bride demoted her best friend to bridesmaid status because she was too thin. Or the groom who watched his bride cry over her friend's recent engagement.

Were those grooms having second thoughts? Foreseeing a future filled with unnecessary drama and expectation? Realizing that they might have made a terrible decision?

I bet the groom in the Philippines was feeling something entirely different as he watched his bride wade down the aisle. 

There is no reason to delay the use of signage like this.

I understand that not everyone is ready for universal restrooms.

While I may use a restroom at a place like Oberon in Cambridge, MA, which has a large restroom of stalls and urinals used by all genders simultaneously, it's simply too much for some people.

When genitals are privately exposed for the purpose of elimination, they must only be privately exposed amongst their own kind. Strict segregation of penis and vulva at all times in public spaces is a nonnegotiable for many people.  

Note: Vulva is the correct term for the external female sex organ. The vagina is actually the internal genital tract extending from the vulva to the cervix, but for some reason, it is often used  incorrectly in place of the anatomically-correct vulva.

Someday, universal restrooms will be commonplace. People of all genders will enter a single space for the purpose of elimination, and no one will give a damn. Future generations will undoubtedly scoff at our bizarre need for genital segregation in the same way most of us scoff at the idea of segregating the races on a bus, a lunch counter, or a school. 

But some of us aren't ready for genital desegregation yet. I understand. Change is hard. Fear is a powerful force, even when it's unwarranted and misguided. Altering a longstanding norm can take time.  

But in the cases when a public restroom is a single serve space with a lock on the door, why can't we at least dispose of the male and female distinctions and use something more appropriate like this outstanding sign located at RJ Julia Booksellers in Middletown, CT?

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Not only is this sign more respectful and inclusive to all genders, but it makes no sense for three women to be waiting for their single use restroom while the restroom designated for men is empty.

From a perspective of efficiency, this is a change that must be made.

More importantly, signage like this demonstrates the necessary level of respect, inclusivity, and civility that should be afforded to people of all genders, as well as a much needed acknowledgement that gender is not always a binary proposition, and that all people deserve to live their most authentic lives absent of stigma, bias, or fear. 

Gender binary signage should already be a thing of the past, at least in the case of single use restrooms. This is a small but meaningful step that even the most ardent traditionalists and most staunch genital segregation advocates would be hard pressed to oppose.

If you own a business with single-use restrooms equipped with gender binary signage, change it today. Make the world a little more efficient for all human beings and a little more accepting to people of all genders and forms of gender expression.

Jesus was a brown, undocumented immigrant who crossed national borders illegally ill

For those awful human beings who believe that child separation on our southern border is an appropriate policy but also profess a deep and meaningful belief in a Christian God (or in the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to use that Christian doctrine to defend this unrighteous action), this church sign is an excellent reminder that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all refugees who illegally crossed national borders, too.

In fact, Jesus and his parents were more akin to the asylum seekers crossing our border today - impoverished brown families fleeing persecution and death - than any racist, white American who supported a President who called these people racists, thugs, criminals, and "bad, bad people." 

Also, since so much of Trump's immigration policy is based in racism (note that we only separate families with brown skin when the majority of undocumented immigrants arrive in this country via airplane and overstay their visas), it's also an excellent moment to remind everyone that Jesus's skin was probably just as brown as the immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers crossing our southern border.

I've been in many, many churches in my life, and I am always amused by the number of white Jesuses hanging on crosses at the front of the church.  

Jesus was a lot of things, but white was definitely not one of them.

In fact, if Jesus returned to Earth today (as so many Christians believe he one day will) and attempted to cross Mexican-American border, he would look very much like the Mexican and Central American parents who are currently being separated from their babies and toddlers by indecent, evil human beings who have forgotten the long lens of history and ignored the lessons found within their Bibles.

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Have some shame. Move out.

Perhaps you've heard about Michael Rotondo? 

He's the 30 year-old man who was recently sued by his parents in an effort to get him to move out of their home. His parents claimed that their son does not pay rent or help with chores, and has ignored his parents' offers of money to get him settled.

Despite doling out five eviction letters, Christina and Mark Rotondo say their son still refused to move out.

Michael argued that legally, he was not given enough notice to leave.  

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Two weeks ago Christina and Mark Rotondo won in court, and last week their son moved out. I'm not going to pretend to fully understand the dynamics of this situation well, nor should anyone else. It's probably a lot more complicated than it seems.

But what I know is this:

When my friends and I were 18 years-old and graduating high school, we could not wait to leave the home. Many of my friends went off to college or joined the military, and kids like me who weren't able to go straight to college moved into cruddy apartments with multiple roommates and multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. We slept on couches, converted closets into bedrooms, ate a lot of macaroni, shared the telephone with an upstairs neighbor, turned off the heat on all except the coldest nights, and struggled to make ends meet.

It was glorious.  

I didn't know a single person who wanted to or remained at home after high school.

Admittedly, I didn't have a choice. I was strongly encouraged to leave after graduating, and "college" was a word never spoken aloud to me by parent, teacher, or guidance counselor, so I never saw higher education as something for me.

But even if my parents had invited me to stay well beyond high school, I don't think I would've stayed long.

I was also sleeping in a damp, unheated, poorly-lit basement bedroom at the time, so my childhood accommodations weren't exactly first rate.

Still, I can't see me staying in that house for more than another year, no matter my circumstances. There comes a point in a person's life when the desire for independence and a willingness to take on the world become irresistible. 

Beyond that, there also comes point where shame should really take hold. At some point between the ages of 22 and 30 (and preferably a lot closer to 22), a person should start to feel the sting of embarrassment for not setting out on their own. Not testing their mettle. Not launching their future. And yes, this might mean finding roommates, taking on multiple jobs, and eating poorly, but these are things that every generation of young people endure.

These are the things that build character. Provide perspective. Strengthen grit and resolve.  

Get your ass out of the house and find a way to make it work. 

This is not to say that a person can't return home at some point. A messy divorce. An unexpected illness. A financial upheaval. If you have a home to return to, count your blessings and by all means get back on your feet. As someone who was briefly homeless, I know all too well how easily a person can fall from grace, and I understand all too well the fear of living on the street and wondering if you'll ever have a roof over your head again.

If you have parents who are able and willing to take you into their home, you're very lucky.  

But if you're a 30 year-old man and you're living in your parents home after they have told you to leave multiple times, and you still refuse, you've lost any sense of shame. You've lost the all-important ability to feel embarrassed by the choices you've made and the desire to extricate yourself from those choices as quickly as possible. 

Like a President who lies with impunity and feels absolutely no shame about being proven to be a liar again and again and again, the inability to feel shame over one's own behavior can lead to catastrophe.

In the case of Michael Rotondo, it means being evicted from your childhood home by your own parents.

In the case of our country, it means a devaluation and degradation of norms, an erosion in the faith of our free press, and a President who disgraces us on the world stage every damn day.  

These people exist, and I can't stand them.

There are few things I despise more than a person who attempts to use their authority, wealth, or privilege in order to procure unearned or undeserved favors or benefits, which is why this video so appalling to me. 

Though I believe that we should never judge someone by their worst moment, this particular moment (captured on video) is especially egregious. It's the kind of behavior that could only be perpetrated by someone who possesses a great deal of entitlement, elitism, and privilege.  

The number of times Port Authority Commissioner Caren Turner attempts to bully these police officers with her position, her residency, her ties to politicians, her children's Ivy League education, her law degree, and threats of retribution are unconscionable.   

Conversely, the police officers performed brilliantly. They were calm, professional, frank, and followed the rule of law. In case you're curious, the car was pulled over for overly-tinted windows and an obscured license plate and was then found to also be unregistered. 

It will come as no surprise after watching this video that Turner has already resigned her position at the Port Authority (a political appointment of former Governor Chris Christie) in the wake of an ethics probe.  

It may surprise you to learn that Turner chaired the Port Authority’s ethics committee.

It will also come as no surprise to learn that while Turner has issued an apology, she also asserts (in that same apology) that she did nothing wrong, and that the police need to do a better job in the future. She writes:

"As a long-time Tenafly resident, I have always taken an active role in the community, including working with law enforcement officials, and I encourage the Tenafly Police Department to review best practices with respect to tone and de-escalation, so that incidents like this do not recur."

I thought the police officers made heroic attempts to deescalate the situation while operating within the rule of law. The driver of the car was an adult and unrelated to Turner. The police offerers had no right to reveal the driver's legal standing to a third party.     

They did their job. Turner no longer has a job. As it should be. 

Before you worry about Turner making ends meet, fear not. This former commissioner of the Port Authority is also is chief executive of Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group Turner Government and Public Affairs. She's going to be fine.

Despicable and entitled and possibly facing ethics charges, but fine. 

Stop with the woke. You'll look just as clueless and horrible as everyone else someday.

I can't stand the notion of being woke. I can't stand the assertions of those who claim to be woke. 

For those of you fortunate enough to be unaware of this term, "woke" was originally used to describe a continuing awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice that came to widespread use as a result of Black Lives Matter.

This was good. It made sense. It's a fantastic call to action.

The term has since been co-opted by mainstream culture to refer to any situation where a person believes they are more aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues than others (especially but not specifically issues of racial and social justice).

While the idea of being more active and attentive to racial and social issues is also a very good one, the use of the word "woke" in many circles has come to imply new state of being. An enhanced level of social consciousness. A more evolved understanding of the injustices of the world.

I find this silly and annoying. The world has been evolving in this way since the dawn of time. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said:

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The people who take so much pride in being woke today will appear just as problematic and incomprehensible as we did 25 years ago when restaurants featured no smoking sections, public buildings were not accessible to the disabled, we still used words like "midget" and "retarded," and I was riding in the way-back of my parent's station wagon, seatbelt-less and fancy free. 

Like ever previous generation, the woke of today will be the shame and ridiculousness of tomorrow. 

Bill Maher makes this point better than I can, so please watch, particularly if you are a person who takes pride in being woke. 

Good news/bad news on the exoneration front

Good news: 

Lawrence McKinney, 61, jailed for 31 years for a crime he did not commit - rape and burglary - has been awarded one million dollars in compensation from the state of Tennessee.

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A decidedly different outcome from Lamont McIntyre's fate, who I wrote about a couple weeks ago. 

Bad news:

It wasn't easy. And it almost didn't happen. 

Upon his release from prison, McKinney received just $75 after three decades behind bars.

"Because I had no ID it took me three months before I was able to cash it," McKinney told CNN.

After he was freed, Mr McKinney sought a full exoneration. This was the only way he could petition the state for a more appropriate settlement. But in 2016, a parole board unanimously voted against a full exoneration, even though all DNA evidence indicated he was not guilty of his crime. 

One board member defended their decision not to exonerate him with this gem:

"The victim's descriptions to police matched McKinney's description, to a tee."

However, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam reversed the parole board's verdict and unilaterally exonerated him in December 2017. Only then were McKinney's attorneys able to get him his one million dollar settlement. 

Had the governor not intervened, McKinney's $75 settlement would have stood. That amounts to .006 cents per day of incarceration. 

Six-thousands of a cent per day behind bars. 

Even now, the settlement of one million dollars amounts to just $88 per day, and once attorney's fees have been deducted, that amount is closer to $61 per day.

There is no way to return 31 years of a man's life, but the state can at least ensure that his remaining years are spent is relative leisure and comfort.  

Is that really too much to ask?

Recently, Nevest Coleman made news after being released from prison after 23 years thanks to DNA evidence and immediately returned to his job as Chicago White Sox groundskeeper. 

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Coleman endured a 12-hour interrogation, during which he was punched by a detective when he denied any involvement in the killing.

Told he could go home if he confessed, Coleman was coached to say that two other men had carried out the murder while he acted as a lookout. Coleman gave a statement, then recanted as soon as his lawyer arrived, according to court records.

Coleman and co-defendant Darryl Fulton both gave confessions and were convicted of rape and murder, while a third suspect who did not confess, was never charged.

As a person who came precariously close to confessing to a crime he did not commit after hours of interrogation and false promises, I can't tell you how much I feel for those men. I know what it's like to be in that small room, desperate to escape, feeling like you never will. 

The same detectives who coerced Coleman and Fulton's confessions were involved in other questionable cases. Just last month, defendants arrested by the same detectives but later exonerated by DNA evidence reached a $31 million settlement with the city.

Colemman and Fulton have yet to learn how much they will receive. 

Hopefully more than a groundskeeper makes. 

23 years lost and nothing offered in return

When Lamonte McIntyre was exonerated for a double murder in October, he walked out of a Kansas prison with a clean record – but not a dime to his name. After losing 23 years of his life behind bars, the state is offering him nothing upon his release. 

Kansas is one of 18 states that offer wrongfully convicted prisoners no compensation at all upon their release.

This is a nightmare. 

Lamonte McIntyre and I were both arrested in 1993 for crimes we did not commit. I was refused an attorney despite the fact that I would soon be jobless and homeless. The arrest and trial cost me $25,000 in legal fees and more than a year of my life. 

No compensation despite my not guilty verdict. 

Lamonte McIntyre lost 23 years of his life. 

As angry as I still am today - 25 years after my arrest -  it pales in comparison to the outrage that I feel on behalf of Lamonte McIntyre. Eighteen states in our country can lock an innocent person behind bars for decades and offer nothing in terms of compensation. 

These states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

I oppose the death penalty for many reasons, but one is that mistakes are made. Our criminal justice system is not infallible. Since 1973, 156 individuals have been exonerated while on death row. Without advances in genetic testing and the guilty consciences of dishonest eye witnesses, these 156 innocent individuals would have been killed by the state.

Horrific. 

Imagine what it must be like to be wrongfully imprisoned for more than two decades and then receive nothing by way of recompense. 

When Lamonte McIntyre went to prison, the internet was in its infancy. Nothing was purchased online. Newsweek published an article scoffing the future of the internet, laughing at the idea that people would gets news, learn, or buy airline tickets online.

Cellular telephones were the size of shoe boxes and restricted to cars.

Words like "app" and concepts like "social media" did not exist. 

GPS was limited to military use only. 

Kale was still just a weed. 

Now McIntyre must enter a world for which he will not be equipped. He was imprisoned in an analog world at the age of 17 and is now expected to make a living in a digital world. 

He did nothing wrong. He lost almost 9,000 days of his life. The state offers him no assistance whatsoever.

What the hell are these lawmakers thinking?

Thankfully, McIntyre did not waste his time in prison. He earned a GED and took college classes. He got a start. Upon his release, he was offered a full scholarship to Metropolitan Community College–Penn Valley. The president of the college heard his story and was moved to act. 

McIntyre plans to finish his degree. Perhaps go onto barbering school. He hopes to one day own his own shop.

I'm still waiting to hear about the four year university that will step up and offer him the tuition free bachelor's and master's degrees that he also deserves. The one the state should already be paying for amongst so many other things. 

Back in 1993, I got lucky. I was arrested for a crime I did not commit. It cost me $25,000 and a year of my life. Rather than starting college, I became homeless. Eventually I was taken in by a family of Jehovah's Witnesses. I worked two full time jobs for more than a year to pay my legal fees. 

It was a terrible time in my life, but I was lucky. I didn't go to prison.

Lamonte McIntyre was not so lucky. He was arrested in 1993 and has been behind bars ever since. While he was locked up, I graduated college. Began a 20 year teaching career. Launched a DJ company. Met Elysha and began our family. Wrote novels and magazine columns. Musicals. This blog. I started performing onstage. Traveled the country. Watched fireworks with my kids and swam in the ocean and drove down the highway with the windows down and the radio blaring. 

All that Lamonte McIntyre lost, and Kansas can't try to make the next 23 years a little easier for him by compensating him for lost time? Stolen time?

Horrific. Disgusting. Outrageous. Immoral.   

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Greatest badass of all time

This is real. 

A photo of a man in Alberta, Canada mowing a lawn with a tornado swirling behind him.

Cecilia Wessels snapped the picture of her husband, Theunis, as the twister passed near their home in Three Hills. She said cutting the grass was on her husband's to-do list, and as he started the task, she went for a nap.

Wessels says she was woken by her nine-year-old daughter who was upset that there was something like a tornado in the sky, but her father wouldn't come inside.

"It looks much closer if you look in the photo," he said. "But it was really far away. Well, not really far, far away, but it was far away from us. I was keeping an eye on it."

Who can't respect the desire to complete a chore once you've started it?

Heroes have a way of making you realize how small-minded and ungrateful you have been.

Meet former US Special Forces soldier turned humanitarian aid worker David Eubank, running through ISIS gunfire in the embattled Iraqi city of Mosul in order to rescue a toddler who was sitting amidst a pile of dead bodies.

Eubank formed the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) as a Christian humanitarian group in 1997, providing emergency relief in war zones. Since January 2016, FBR has traveled to Iraq for relief trips.

After watching the video, a few things became clear to me:

  1. I can never be grateful enough to be born in a land of perpetual peace and stability. 
  2. My problems are trivial.
  3. I'm a coward compared to these heroes.

Bill O'Reilly reminds us that the slaves who built the White House were "well fed and had decent lodgings," because why?

You have to wonder the thinking behind Bill O'Reilly's decision to fact-check Michelle Obama's assertion in her Democratic National Convention speech that she has been living in a home built by slaves. 

Michelle Obama said:

"I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn."

O'Reilly acknowledged that Obama was correct, but in doing so, said the following:

"Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz."

As you might expect, his assertion that slaves were "well-fed and had decent lodgings" didn't go over very well with a lot of people, including me.

Slavery - regardless of your slave master's meal plan and accommodations - is still slavery, and it should never be made to sound like anything but the stripping away of a person's freedom, dignity, and basic human rights. 

Also, how the hell does Bill O'Reilly know what was happening to those slaves at the time? 

  • Well-fed, perhaps, but also likely beaten at the hands of their slave masters.
  • Decent lodgings, maybe, but probably watched as their children were sold to plantations hundreds of miles away, never to be seen again.
  • Even if the slaves that built the White House had three square meals a day and roofs over their heads, they also lacked the freedom to speak or travel or do what they wanted and love who they wanted for their entire lives. 

Honestly, what was O'Reilly thinking?

Did this Fox News talking head find Michelle Obama's assertion so rhetorically effective that he just had to find a way to undermine it?

Is it simply instinct for him to attempt to mitigate anything that comes out of the mouth of a Democrat?

Was he so frustrated that Michelle Obama's speech (and almost every other speech delivered at the DNC) was almost infinitely better than the 75 minutes of vitriol spittled from the gaping maw of Donald Trump?

Even if all this were true, you don't defend slavery, even in a tiny way under the guise of fact checking. Find something else to attack. Find another way to undermine your opponent.  

Here's a party game you can play sometime:

Try to make a list of things you could say that are as stupid and awful as saying that slavery wasn't as bad as you might think. 

It's hard to do. It's a very short list.

The UK has a new Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it still has a stupid Queen.

The United Kingdom has a lot of problems right now. I don't mean to pile on.

 But can't we all agree that the need to meet and curtsey before some nonsense Queen who only earned her position through a series of ancestral sexual encounters in order to officially be declared Prime Minister is a ludicrous way to transfer power? 

I'm not anti-British in any way, but I'm anti-royalty in every way. 

Not only is genetics a stupid way to confer power, but the British monarchy costs the UK approximately £35.7 million per year, even though they own more property than anyone else in the United Kingdom. 

This whole situation is ridiculous. 

I have this dream that when Prince William assumes the throne someday, his first and only act would be to declare the British monarchy null and void. 

"I am the King of England because of a sexual encounter between my mother and my father, and because I was lucky enough to be born first. This is just stupid. This idiocy of the monarchy ends now."

He'd turn Buckingham Palace into a museum, stick a photo booth over the throne for future visitors, hand over almost all of the royal estates to worthy charities, and retire to one of the no less than eight other royal residences (including at least three castles) that his family owns. 

That might be one of the most selfless and impressive things a person could ever do. 

The reverse nap. The Trump nomination. Female eligibility in the military draft. People thought I was crazy all three times. Now I get to say those four glorious words.

In October of 2012, I wrote about the reverse nap, a self-described practice in which I get up in the middle of the night, work for an hour or two, and then go back to bed. 

Later that month, I wrote about how my reverse nap had already been adopted by a handful of readers.

In February of 2014, I wrote about scientific evidence supporting the reverse nap.

In March of this year, in the New York Times Magazine, Jesse Barron writes about the benefits of segmented sleep.

And what is segmented sleep?

Yes, you guessed it. It's Barron's name for the reverse nap. 

Four years after I write about the benefits of the reverse nap for the first time (and readers think I am crazy), the world is finally catching up to me. 

It's the story of my life:

I have an idea that is new and seemingly bizarre. People make fun of me. They call me crazy.

Years later, the idea is adopted by the mainstream.

I predicted in June of 2015 that Donald Trump would be the GOP candidate for President. Though it hasn't happened yet, the prediction isn't looking so crazy anymore.

In this instance, I added four entries to my "I Told You So" calendar for each of the four people who said I was "stupid" and crazy" and "ridiculous" for ever thinking such a thing. I cannot wait to make those phone calls later this summer (though a Trump candidacy is admittedly a terrifying prospect).

I first argued in a speech class in 1994 that women should be eligible for the military draft and that not making them eligible for military conscription was a sexist and demeaning act. My classmates thought I was ridiculous and stupid and pie-in-the-sky.

I still have that speech.

Earlier this year, I reiterated this belief and discussed it on my podcast.  

Last week the Armed Services Committee voted to make women eligible for the military draft, just 22 years after I first spoke about this idea in a college classroom. Though the vote is only a recommendation that must now be passed by Congress, the country's top military brass now agree with the position I first adopted when I was 24 years old. 

My only saving grace in all of these cases and many, many others is that I am a writer and often record these "crazy" ideas as evidence of my prescience in the face of naysayers.

It's no fun to be told that you're stupid or crazy or ridiculous, but it's always nice to say "I told you so," even if it takes years to utter those four glorious words.

From the mouths of babes...

Clara tells me that she doesn't like Donald Trump. She says that she heard him say mean things to "a lady named Megyn Kelly" on CBS Sunday Morning.

"Megyn asked a question, and Donald Trump started making mean compliments about her."

Then she told me that she doesn't like Ted Cruz because he's not nice to mommy-mommy and daddy-daddy families.

Not to get too political, but if Clara can figure this stuff out...

If you're using The Bible to support your opposition to same sex marriage and transgender restroom choice, you're simply obsessed with penises and vaginas.

It's not often that you can cheer on corporations for all the good they do, but on Monday, under increasing pressure from major corporations like Unilever, Disney, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and the NFL, Gov. Nathan Deal announced he will veto a bill that critics say would have curtailed the rights of Georgia's LGBT community.

House Bill 757 would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. 

Also on Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed against the North Carolina governor and other state officials over a new law there that blocks transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that match their gender identity and stops cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect gay and transgender people.

I can't help but think that if these conservatives would just stop obsessing over penises and vaginas, the world would be a lot better place.

And it really is an obsession. Same sex marriage. Transgender restroom choice. All of this amounts to where and how a person chooses to make use of their genitalia - even though said usage is almost never being done in public and does not impact the lives of these genitally-obsessed bigots in any way. 

It's an obvious and bizarre attempt to legislate the use of genitals, often based upon a religious text that also forbids the tattoos and the trimming of beards and calls for the stoning to death of anyone who works on Sunday. It's buffet-style Bible reading, and these people are choosing penises and vaginas over the pork tenderloin every time.

Let's put it this way:

If opponents of same sex marriage and transgender bathroom choice are basing their positions on religion - and in these cases, they have said as much - but these same opponents are also shaving on a regular basis, doing business with people with tattoos, and working (or even doing business with people who are working on Sunday), then this isn't really about religion or God or The Bible.

It comes down to a simple and bizarre obsession over penises and vaginas.

These people can't stop thinking about, obsessing over, and desiring command of our nation's genitalia. They are penis and vagina enthusiasts. They are seeking dictatorial control over the parts of the body typically concealed by underwear. 

All of this trouble because the conservative movement can't get their minds and hearts and heads out of other people's pants. 

Truly. It makes no sense.