Remembering my Father

It’s Father’s Day

Dad influenced us in many ways without sitting us down and giving us lessons. I can’t remember him ever saying “Now, don’t be a racist” or “It’s important for you to be a responsible person” but we learned by example.


My family around 1977, but with my girlfriend (now wife) Heidi standing next me.

Dad quit his job at Channel 12 to start his own business, and painted signs in the basement of our home, so he was always there. Each of us later went on to start our own businesses, and while we’ve each had our ups and downs, we’ve all become pretty successful at it.

He was also fiercely loyal to Mom, and loved her tremendously and treated her with respect, and that taught us something, too.

He hardly ever drank, except maybe wine on holidays, and none of us grew up thinking we had to drink to have fun. And he always made us laugh.

When Heidi and I started dating, one time we went on a picnic with my family and as we walked through the park, she was astounded to see Mom and Dad holding hands, obviously still in love with each other. “I didn’t know parents did that sort of thing,” she said. Later, my friend Mark Waid said something similar: “The reason kids come over to your house every weekend to hang out is because everyone wants to be a Ventrella. You don’t realize how unusual your family is.”

And that was true — on TV, the family sitcoms all had families basically getting along. But in real life, most of the kids I knew were from broken homes or unhappy homes. I never realized that when I was young.

So here’s to Dad: You did a good job.

You don’t like women; you just like sex

“Why can’t I get a date?” some men ask. “I like women and I’m a nice guy.”

Then I see them post jokes where the punchline is some variation of “go make me a sandwich” — or they degrade Hillary Clinton’s looks instead of her politics — or they use words like “feminazi” to describe women who support equality.hugh-hefner-how-do-you-get-so-many-bitches

While I hold that nothing should be free from jokes and satire (and yes, I have found some truly offensive things hilarious before and so have you, admit it), when I see you post these kinds of “jokes” over and over again,  it tells me something. People who say “Hey, it’s just a joke” don’t realize how much the kind of joke you tell says more about you than anything else.

And what it tells me is that you don’t really like women; you just like sex with women. It’s not the same thing.

Maybe if you started to think of them as people deserving of respect, even when you disagree with them, you might get more dates and more long-term relationships. Maybe you’ll be more attractive to them if you build them up instead of tearing them down. I mean, isn’t that how you would like to be treated?

It’s not that hard of a concept, really.


Don’t die with regrets

Today’s my birthday. I’m getting gray and old. That’s a scary thought, especially when I consider where I thought I’d be at this point in my life.

There are paths I chose in my life that, in retrospect, I wish I had not. But I’d like to revisit a post from two years ago to talk about life regrets.groucho

When I was in High School, I thought I’d be a famous songwriter in a band when I was older. Or a politician. Or an actor. I had so many things I wanted to do. I was sure that by the time I was this age, I’d be rich and famous … but then, a lot of kids think that, don’t they?

So let’s start with this: Try not to have big regrets.

Act on your dreams. No one was ever on their death bed saying, “I’m so glad I never tried to accomplish that dream of mine!”

I’ve done a lot of different things in my life. I’ve been successful at some, and not so much at others. (You’ll forgive me if I reminisce a bit here on the anniversary of my trip around the sun.)

When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to be an actor. So my mom took me to community theater, and I passed auditions and was in a number of plays. (I continued on through High School.)

Then I wanted to be a cartoonist. I ended up drawing comics for my school newspapers through law school.

I thought it would be great to be in a band, so I taught myself guitar, bass and piano. I played in many bands and still do from time to time.

In High School, I decided to start an “underground” newspaper. It became quite popular, although it was more like Mad Magazine than a real newspaper. (I continued to write for the college and law school papers and later did a column for the Allston-Brighton Item, a real newspaper.)

Then I said, “I should write a musical comedy.” I did, and the High School drama coach liked it. The school put it on. It was held over an extra week and got good reviews from the local paper.

In college, I decided to run for the student government and received the highest number of votes of any candidate, and was later awarded the college’s Student Service Award in my senior year.

Then I decided to go to law school, mostly because I was interested in politics. I became involved with the Massachusetts chapter of Americans for Democratic Action and ended up as their President for a year. I also worked as a lobbyist, and was campaign manager for a state representative for a summer.

After law school, I said, “There should be a magazine for animated films,” and started Animato!, which later grew into a real magazine carried in book stores everywhere.

Then I joined up with some friends and began one of the first live-action fantasy medieval role-playing games in America. I later broke away and started the Alliance LARP, which now has been running for more than 20 years. I have chapters all over the United States and Canada, and the Discovery channel recently did a documentary about us. (Yes, you watch it on Netfix and yes, that’s me and Heidi being interviewed.)

About ten years ago, I decided I wanted to write fiction, and I have published three novels and a bunch of short stories (no, they’re not self-published) as well as edited four anthologies, the most recent featuring three New York Times Bestselling Authors (coming out in early 2017). I even have an agent now.

Now, were all of these things successful? Absolutely not. I tried to make a living at the LARP but instead ended up living in poverty for a few years. My books are not best-sellers. My bands may have played all the big clubs but we never got a record deal. I gave up on the cartooning and never pursued the acting.

I’ve had regrets about life, just like everyone. But they are rarely of the “I wish I had tried that” variety.

And that’s today’s lesson: Take control and make things happen in your life. There is no “Life Fairy” who will come along, point a magic wand, and make all your dreams come true. Sitting around and watching TV won’t get you anywhere. Get off your butt and do something. Make something of your life.

Make sure that when you’re on your death bed, you have no big regrets.

What “Make America Great Again” really means

Whenever I hear conservative politicians say things like “Make America great again” I have to wonder. The economy is booming. Unemployment is at its lowest rate in ten years. The deficit has been reduced by 2/3rds. The stock market is at its highest ever and gas prices are at their lowest in years.  Foreign policy-wise, ISIS leaders have been killed, Qadaffi was removed, bin Laden is dead, and we have less troops overseas than we did eight years ago.trump

These are all things that, if a Republican were in office, conservatives would be citing to say how wonderful their President is.

So what do they mean when they say “Make America great again”?

It’s clear that they’re not talking about the standard of living, foreign policy, or the economy. What they want is to go back to the old ways. You know — an America where

  • Minorities know their place and aren’t all uppity and saying “Black lives matter”
  • Gays hide in the closet and don’t demand rights
  • Transgender people are treated like they have mental problems and are shunned from society
  • Women let men decide their personal health issues, especially concerning abortion
  • Non-Christians let Christians force their religious views into the laws
  • Immigrants are kept out so that we can keep a white majority
  • No one questions the rich and powerful or demands that they pay their fair share
  • Health care and other needed necessities are only available to those who can afford it

That’s the America they want back — where rich, white, Christian men run things and everyone else sucks it up.

It’s a definition of “great” that only applies to a small minority of Americans who have managed to convince the simple-minded and gullible that America is not about equality, opportunity, and freedom but instead about allowing those in power to force their views onto the rest of us.




“Political correctness” and freedom of speech

The phrase “political correctness” was coined by conservatives who were mad that they could no longer insult minorities, gays, or women without facing criticism in return. When I was a kid, political correctness was called “being polite.”

The problem with most people who whine about “political correctness” is that they have this idea that freedom of speech means freedom from consequences of that speech.

You have every right to say insulting and demeaning things. And we have every right to call you an asshole for saying those things. gervais

Often the people who defend their insulting comments don’t think they are being rude.

“Gee, you sure are fat.”

“Hey! Don’t be so mean.”

“I wasn’t being mean, I was just stating a fact. How dare you be so rude to me simply for stating my opinion! How dare you enforce your political correctness on me!”

That’s how you guys look to us. You look like big whiners who can dish it out but can’t take criticism in return.

If your idea of free speech is that you can degrade others and be insulting without consequence, then maybe you need to better understand the 1st amendment, which guarantees your right to be as insulting as you want but doesn’t protect you from other people calling you out for it.

This is not to say that people can’t go too far. Preventing someone with a different viewpoint from speaking doesn’t support the concept of “freedom of speech” much. This happens too often on college campuses where well-meaning but misguided students won’t let people with different opinions have a forum.

But — and here’s a key that many opponents of “political correctness” don’t get — this is not the same thing as the government doing it. I’m getting pretty sick of comparisons like “Political correctness is exactly what the Soviet Union used to do!” Since the United States government is not forcing political correctness on everyone, no it isn’t. The 1st amendment limits the government from curtailing your freedom of speech. It doesn’t guarantee you a forum nor does it protect you against criticism.

And if the government suddenly came down with laws requiring “political correctness,” I would be the first to be fighting against them. (It’s why I am also against “hate crimes.”)

So, in conclusion, please stop whining about “political correctness” every time someone criticizes you for insulting things you have said. . Grow a thicker skin already, you big babies.


Compromise is not a dirty word

Compromising and negotiating is how mature adults handle problems.  They work together to solve their problems.

It’s so sad that our society has so many people who cannot understand this, especially when it comes to politics.

I’m not talking about compromising your ethics. But politics? Law? My marriage? Life in general? angry-baby

I’ve learned, as I’ve aged and become wiser, that I’d rather work with the other side and get 50% of what I want than be stubborn and get 0%.

There are gray areas in the world. Not everything is black and white. Compromise is needed to get things done.

A lot of the arguments I get into with people over politics seem to do with this refusal to compromise; with people who see things only in black and white. (And this includes many on the left as well.)

In some ways, it is like those who strongly believe their religion to the point where there can be no compromise because that means you’re helping evil prevail. Abortion is the best example I can think of there. I am more than willing to compromise on this issue — I agree that there should be restrictions based on medical science. I am willing to change my position as medical science changes.  However, those who think that a collection of cells is a life from the moment of conception will accept no compromise. They will not budge, so how can we work together to solve this problem?

The gun extremists also think that it is impossible to have any compromise because it’s a violation of their civil liberties as guaranteed by the Constitution. They feel that any attempt to prevent felons, terrorists or the insane from having guns is as much of a violation of their rights as throwing someone in jail without giving them a hearing. There is no middle ground with these people.

Libertarians are some of the worst in this regard. They hate all government (except of course the government they like; they are hypocrites, but uncompromising ones). If you say “You know, people shouldn’t discriminate” they argue that it is their right to discriminate and if you don’t let them kick gays out of their business then you are violating their freedom! (They of course, could care less about the freedom of anyone else.)

Seriously, how do you deal with these people? Well, you can’t. You can lead someone to compromise, but you can’t make them think.

And you know what I’ve found? So many of these people are unhappy with life. They lack empathy for anyone else’s view. They’re angry all the time because they are constantly fighting battles they can’t win because of their inability to compromise.

I don’t always get my way. The people I can deal with also don’t always get their way.

And that’s just fine.

Facebook Etiquette

Welcome to my living room.  Everyone is invited! Come on in, make yourself at home.

We’re having some interesting discussions and debates here, about politics, religion, music, society, television, movies — just about everything. You are welcome to join in.

MAV 6.10.15

Hey, come on in. Have some hors d’oeuvres. Vegetarian, of course. Watch out for the cats.

And I don’t mind debates. Heck, I love debates. I debate for a living. People pay me to debate.

However, I expect you to debate reasonably, using facts and logic, while citing reliable sources to support your position. I can be tough on you if you debate sloppily or make traditional debating errors, and will call you out on them.

That doesn’t mean I am insulting you, nor does it mean I don’t want you to be a friend any more.

Sometimes my friends (and I) can lose our tempers and say things we shouldn’t. I would hope it doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, a reminder usually helps. I am more willing to forgive friends who slip every once in a while than I am of someone I don’t know coming into the living room and immediately being impolite.

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  I invite you in to participate in discussions, but if you walk in and the first thing you say is insulting and demeaning, it doesn’t say much about you, does it? Why should I welcome impolite people into my living room? I think I am fully within my right to ask these people to leave and eject them by force if necessary.

Remember: You don’t have a right to come into my house and argue with me and my guests. Quite often, when I make people leave, they complain that I am violating their freedom of speech — which only goes to show that I was probably right to eject them. If you don’t understand how freedom of speech works, it’s unlikely you were going to present any sort of reasonable debate anyway.

Bottom line: Everyone is welcome. But if you come in my room for the sole purpose of arguing, yelling, and insulting people, that welcome is rescinded and you will be removed.

The Most Important Question to Ask When Dealing with Human Sexuality

Human sexuality is more complicated than many people wish to acknowledge. The kind of person we are attracted to can change over the years. Men can be interested in women and then men and then back to women again. Some people are only interested in tall companions, some want fat ones, some only want one race … there is an infinite variety of possibilities that people find attractive.Sexuality

Then to complicate things even more, people do not always identify with the sex to which they were born, and even that can change over the years. Sexuality is a fluid thing with many gray areas and it cannot easily be placed into set categories and boxes. And you cannot always tell by looking at someone what those categories might be.

So when you are thinking about someone’s sexuality, there is one overriding question you should always ask:

Who cares?

As long as everything is between consenting adult humans, who cares? How does it hurt you or anyone else in the slightest? In fact, if those consenting adults are happy, why aren’t you happy for them?

So someone is still female but identifies a male and wants to use the male restroom. Who cares? Are you hurt in some way? So two people of the same sex want to express their love and get married. Who cares? Isn’t marriage a great thing that we should be encouraging? So someone is into all sorts of sexual behavior that disgusts you and makes you cringe at the thought. Who cares? No one if forcing you to get involved.

So much stress, hatred, and anxiety could be relieved if we all just remembered to ask ourselves that question.

Stop using anecdotes to prove your argument!

Stop it, seriously. It doesn’t work, and you’re making yourself look foolish.

Using anecdotal evidence to support your argument is a popular but wrong way to win a debate. Examples would include: calvin_arguing1

I know a guy who wasn’t wearing a seat belt in an accident and he came out better than if he had been wearing one, so therefore seat belts are bad.

I personally have experienced and met people on welfare who are lazy bums abusing the system, so therefore most people on welfare are like that.

My insurance rates went up, so therefore Obamacare is terrible because it requires insurance rates to go up.

It’s been the coldest month ever, so therefore there is no global warming.

I had a flu shot but still got the cold, so therefore vaccinations don’t work.

I know some (insert ethnicity/sex/sexual orientation/religion here) who are (insert insulting description here) so therefore they are all (insert insulting description here).

See where this leads? Is this the kind of argument you want to be making? Aren’t you smarter than that?

Nothing is 100%. Seat belts are good only 99% of the time. Vaccinations don’t stop diseases in every single instance. The vast majority of people on food stamps are not cheats and they really need them.

The next time you do this, I am going to point to you and say, “This person is an idiot based on the anecdotal evidence I am seeing in their most recent post.”

And hopefully, you’ll get the irony.

*  Note:  I mostly made this post so that I can link people to it whenever they try to make that sort of argument.  Feel free to do the same.

Preaching to the choir

Not too many conservatives read this blog.  That doesn’t surprise me — I don’t read too many conservative blogs, either.



And that might be the problem.

An old friend commented to me the other day that a recent post wasn’t the best way to gain converts to my cause, given my sarcastic treatment of those on the right.  I replied that I never expected it to, as I didn’t see them as my target audience anyway.  (Seriously — if I were invited to do a guest blog on a conservative site, the tone and argument presented would be completely different.  I do know how to convince people who are not on my side.  I am a trial lawyer, after all.)

But he’s right about one thing:  While these posts may give me a chance to vent (“Hi, I’m Mike Vent Fella”), they’re not designed to be appreciated by those who disagree with me.

And that’s true all over the internet.  Liberals watch MSNBC which confirms the biases they already have, and conservatives watch Fox which confirms the prejudices and idiotic nonsense they believe.  (See?  I did it again.  I can’t help it.)

Is there a solution?  Probably not.  I don’t mind reading conservative commentary when it is reasonable, but too often, these conservative blogs are insulting and demeaning and I give up before I get too far.

Which is probably what conservatives think when they read mine.