Category Archives: Do Something

Okay, What’s Next?

In Chicago, here’s what we’re doing: 

“This is the moment to really be organized and really be loving, hold everyone in love and bring people in,” said Luna White of the Chicago-based Black Youth Project 100.

University of Chicago political scientist Cathy Cohen said the country could do well to employ Chicago’s brand of movement-based organizing.

The city has a history of rallying around marginalized groups through the time-honored tradition of community organizing. Some recent successes involving young activists include a reopened trauma center at the University of Chicago, city council’s approvals of reparations for police torture and new policies focused on police accountability.

“Chicago’s a very, very good example for waiting for the right moment and being very, very organized about what kind of actions we do and when we do them and why and with who,” said White, who moved from Los Angeles to Chicago because of the city’s strong community organizing.

I’m personally not going to wait for 2020 to get anything done politically. In 2018 our garbage governor in Illinois is going to be up for election and I’m gonna be knocking on doors for whoever or whatever gets the nomination to run against him. Because in addition to starving social services and demonizing teachers, he stayed away from Trump until it was convenient not to: 

“I talked with the president-elect last Friday afternoon. We talked abut working together. It was a good, good, positive conversation. I had never spoken with him before,” Rauner said. “Two of his most senior folks in his administration are good personal friends of mine, and allies of mine in politics, so we’re going to have a voice and good relations.”

I’m not overly fond of Republicans but I really hate cowards and bullies, and Rauner refused to say Trump’s name when it looked like Trump was going to be liability. You can’t pretend to be principled and then give it right up the minute it’s no longer good for you.

You? What are your planned actions?

A.

Album Cover Art Wednesday: Food Glorious Food

In addition to plugging our Food Pantry Fund, I wanted to lighten things up. What better way than presenting some foodcentric album covers? They’re largely from lesser known artists so if you want some spaghetti axe Axl or Slash.

Soup’s on.

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It’s time for the full-English Brahms Breakfast:

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Are you ready for a Manny Albam album?

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It’s time to move from the savory to the sweet: Sickeningly sweet.

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What dessert doesn’t taste better with Whipped Cream?

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For those of you who don’t believe that’s a real song, here it is:

Now that we’ve gorged ourselves on Dancing Little Tramps, it’s time to give back. Please consider donating to our Food Pantry Fund. It’s what Oliver Twist would want:

 

Ball Of Confusion

temptations-ball-of-confusion1

If you’re like me, you haven’t slept much in the last week. Yesterday was Dr. A’s birthday and I slept until 10:17 to be exact. She didn’t mind. We wound up cocooning after a busy Saturday that included a kid’s birthday party that was full of bright-eyed chirren and groggy adults. We all neded more coffee but drank Mimosas instead to dull the pain. In the evening, we went to a fancy benefit cocktail party: It was free for us but a friend paid for a table. I wound up having a  surprisingly good time (the open bar helped) but still wondered who voted for Trump and who was a potential Maquisard. It was strictly don’t ask, don’t tell. So it goes.

Athenae mentioned leaving her Clinton sign out as the indication of a safe house. We’ve done likewise. Given the anti-Semitic tone of the Trump campaign, it’s akin to painting lamb’s blood on our doors like the captive Jews of Egypt did for the first Passover. We’ve already sat political shiva, why not extend the analogy to a political Passover? We’re in for a hellish period wherein we need to keep our friends close and our enemies closer.

I’m not concerned about retribution in my corner of Uptown New Orleans. Our 13th Ward precinct voted 204-22 for Clinton over Trump. I feel, however, like I did after the 1991 Gret Stet Goober primary: when David Duke shocked everyone by advancing in a field that included the incumbent Governor who finished third. I guess I should don  a safety pin. It’s another reason to keep the “echoes” or “Jewish cowbells” around my Twitter handle. I want my friends to know what am I and I refuse to be cowed by my enemies.

I tried ignoring the news over the weekend. It worked okay until Sunday when I saw that the anti-Semite and white nationalist, Stephen Bannon will be on the White House staff as a senior adviser to the incoming Insult Comedian. I’m not surprised: it was Bannon’s racist strategy that won the electoral college victory. I remain horrified that the 21st Century personification of Gore Vidal’s M3 (Miller-Mailer-Manson Man,)  B3 (Breitbart-Bannon-Bossie Man) will work in the West Wing. A quick reminder of what I mean by B3

I realize that Breitbart, Bannon, and Bossie are much less distinguished than Miller and Mailer as well as less notorious than Manson. It’s a sign of the degeneration of our culture that B3 is standing-in for M3 but what can you do? The depressing thing is that 45 years after Gore Vidal wrote that classic essay the same sexist attitudes remain widespread. They, are, however, on the wane, but just as Barack Obama’s election brought all the racists out from under the woodpile, the probable election of our first female President has all the misogynists shooting their vile mouths off. It’s the downside of progress.

I got the probable President thing wrong but she will win the popular vote and receive more votes than any white male ever. That’s small consolation for the specter of B3 in the White House but it’s consolation nonetheless.

The other alarming news from Sunday was possible Propaganda Minister Kellyanne Conway threatening retiring Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid with litigation. It’s a free country, Frau Conway; for now at least. I guess it’s time for our side to talk about First Amendment people as opposed to the Second Amendment people the Insult Comedian threatened to sic on his opponent. I, for one, plan to remind people of those threats, which remain unacceptable even as many appear ready to  don brownshirts and collaborate will the Trumpers.

The parade of deplorables is too long to recount in this post. I refuse to believe *any* of the reassuring comments the Insult Comedian made on 60 Minutes. Con men tell people what they want to hear. It’s how they work their marks. He lied his way through the entire campaign, why should it be any different now that he’s won the electoral college?

Perhaps the most alarming thing is Trump’s plan to live part-time at the White House. I realize it may not be tacky and gaudy enough for him, but it’s the seat of executive power. That means Mike Pence will be running the show. Repeat after me:

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Things are so bad that I prefer the Flim-Flam Man to the True Believer. Better a Mountebank than an Ideologue.

That brings me back to the post title. It’s taken from the classic song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for the Temptations. The title has been shortened over time from Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today) but truer words were never spoken or sung. It was recorded in 1970 when Nixon was President but rings eerily true for 2016 and the incoming Insult Comedian who I’ve already called worse than Nixon.

I know what you’re thinking: we’re fucked. One way we can deal with the looming clusterfuck is by good-deed doing. That’s why you should consider donating to First Draft’s food pantry fund. Athenae has the details.

300 families helped: Food Pantry Fund

THANK YOU ALL! This is a message from the St. Hyacinth Pantry’s director to everyone who donated:

I want to thank you and all of your generous friends for their overwhelming support. With the money already raised, we can provide emergency food for over 300 families this month, which is especially important during this very busy holiday period, our busiest time of the year. Separately, if anyone is in the Milwaukee area, and would like to visit the Pantry to see our facility or see us in action, please feel free to contact me.

Respectfully submitted – Steve Pollock, Acting Director, St. Hyacinth’s Food Pantry

300 families. That’s something, guys. Great job.

Continue reading

Confessions Of A Keyboard Maquis

First Draft and the original Netroots blogosphere arose in opposition to George W. Bush and the Iraq War. I started blogging in opposition to how the Bush administration mishandled Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. On every level imaginable, Trump is worse than W. So bad, in fact, that the former President refused to vote for him. When President Obama and many others said Trump was unfit to serve as President, it was not just campaign rhetoric. It was a blunt statement of fact.

In the wake of continuing reports of Russian meddling in the election, it’s time to stop mourning and get angry. What form that anger should take is the question on the table. It should and must be non-violent. Undisciplined demonstrators smashing shit is playing into the enemy’s hands. Yes, I did say enemy. I plan to give  a Trump presidency the same respect Republicans gave President Obama. None.

The Never Trump Republicans were fond of using French Resistance analogies. It’s beyond ironic that some of the same people who mocked the French as “surrender monkeys” and wanted to rename frites “freedom fries” are invoking the French resistance BUT it’s a useful analogy nonetheless. Frank Rich recently summarized the categories quite well:

Mike Murphy, the GOP strategist who ran a PAC for Jeb Bush’s ill-fated campaign, divided his fellow Republican elites into three categories: “Vichy Republicans,” who went along with Trump and the party base enamored of him; “Survival Republicans,” who tried to remain as neutral as Switzerland; and “Resistance Republicans,” who actively battled his nomination.

Obviously, none of  us wants to link arms with even the Resistance Republicans, many of whom will become collaborators, but the imagery is striking, especially on Veterans Day. That’s why I like the term Maquis. Trekkies may remember it from DS9 and Voyager but they took it from the French Resistance during World War II. The Maquis or Maquisards were small, scattered but still mighty rural guerilla bands. They were slightly more effective than the urban resistance because the Allies could air-drop supplies to them in the dead of night.

I am not advocating using Maquis tactics but adopting their attitude. Non-violent legal and political resistance are called for. Congressional Democrats need to be every bit as obstructionist as the GOP has been during the Obama administration. Remember: we controlled the Senate until the 2010 teabagger wave election and have more votes than the GOP did at that time. Their initial focus should be on salvaging the ACA and saving Medicare from the not-so tender mercies of the Survival Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. He’s collaborating with Trump to further his extreme Randian agenda. Trump has no ideas and Ryan has many bad ones.

The electoral college victory of Trump-Pence has unleashed a tidal wave of hateful shit. We’ve all heard reports of both verbal and physical attacks on minorities. Children are terrified and crying at school. Ponder that for a second. School is supposed to be a safe haven for learning, not a place that’s as scary as the world outside. What kind of country are we? We need to decide.

I feel older than I am right now. My main form of resistance to Trumpism in all its ugly manifestations is to do what I do best, write. Hence the post title: Confessions of a Keyboard Maquis. I think people should think about what forms resistance to the incoming regime should take. The great Al Giordano has shared his thoughts with the world beyond his subscribers, of whom I am one, and I’ll give Al the last word:

Those of us who have lived in countries under authoritarian rule have spent recent months having our own conversation about what is happening in the USA. We do it in whispers because most of you will not believe us no matter how loudly we shout about what a Trump election would bring down the ‘pike. We shake our heads and feel a great wave of pity for most Americans who have no idea what tyranny really looks or feels like. Tyranny – contrary to popular myth – is asymmetric. It hits from all sides, crevices, nooks and crannies, from the dark places, the shadows. The figurehead’s power above merely provides it cover. It has the same paramilitary logic of what was endured in Latin America’s dirty wars and the dictatorships across the sea that gave rise to the Arab Spring. When Donald J. Trump praises strongmen leaders across the globe he is giving his “tell” of how he would govern – with a clenched fist.

Worse, the response from that part of America that defines itself as “the left” (I am speaking of the white and academic “left” since so few organized people of color are foolish enough to claim an already discredited mantle) is totally unequipped to address it yet they will attempt once again to place themselves at the vanguard of resistance without any lived experience leading an actual resistance, much less winning one. Senator Sanders’ “Our Revolution” PAC will seek to fundraise off every injustice as aggressively as it has over the Native American resistance to the pipeline in the Dakotas. The remnants of “Occupy” now under a thousand new names will call for demonstrations without guidelines, training or discipline and that in the name of “diversity of tactics” allow any asshole who wants to call himself “Black Bloc” to don ski masks and toss trash cans through store windows. President Trump is gonna love those demonstrations because it will allow him to sell all kinds of repression to his base. White men will vault to the front of these groups saying, “follow me!” Yet they have not a clue as to how a real movement is built or won. They feel entitled to it anyway. It will be more of the same attempts to re-center whiteness and maleness with the cheerleading of Jacobin magazine, some writers at The Nation, Democracy Now and Reddit dudebro forums.

The election of Trump will mark the exact moment of failure of manhood in America. The only possible new leadership will have to come from women, especially women of color, who already live in Trump’s America and have more experience navigating such a world, far more than we guys can learn in the short time we’ll have to build an authentic resistance. Mexican-American and Muslim-American women will be the first hit and instead of letting the dudebro aspirants set the tone it will be up to all of us to follow those women into battle instead.

The only authentic resistance to the policies of a Trump presidency will make nonviolence its watchword, and unapologetically so. To participate, you’re going to have to get training in nonviolent civil resistance. I’m not speaking of the “express trainings” by dudebro groups like “Democracy Spring” with fawning celebrity dilettantes like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, but, rather, sessions that last a minimum of eight hours or, ideally, an entire weekend or more and are led and organized by women of experience at it and especially women of color.

I obviously have a problem with the whole last word concept. I hope you read Al’s entire piece and that it inspires you to organize and act in whatever way you see fit. I now think of it as the Manifesto of the American Maquis. First get mad, then get even.

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Finally, thanks to Doc for that fascinating post. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Now where did I put my trench coat? And that’s the last, last, last word.

Fight Them Til We Can’t

I’m not sorry.

I’m sure there are a lot of people expecting me to be, because WHOO HOO WE WON YOU LOST BLAHHHH BREXIT POLLS SUCK IT LIBTARDS. I’m sure if I went looking on the Internet I could find people who think I should take down my Hillary sign and pretend I didn’t vote, didn’t fight, didn’t care.

I’m sure there are going to be plenty of stories about how arrogant angry liberals like me need to take a lesson from this and JUST ONE MORE TIME be nicer to the angry racists who hate us. I’m sure there are going to be lots and lots and lots of thinkpieces about how if I would just not be so … me, and mine would not be so mine, and we would all shut up about being ourselves and needing things like fundamental rights, and listen silently while we are insulted, then we would finally be gifted with what has never been freely bestowed in all of human history.

Guess what?

Fuck.

That.

I am not ashamed I voted against a man who thought you could electrocute gay people into being straight.

I am not ashamed I voted against a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, victimizing women, killing women.

I am not ashamed I voted against men who claimed science was a myth and abortion was a joke and war was a really fun video game.

I am not ashamed I voted against a man who wants to deport people I work with, people I know, people I love.

I am not ashamed I voted for a woman who has worked every single day of her entire life for other people, who has fought for what she believes in and raised a family and stood up through decades of abuse and bullshit because of it. I am not ashamed of the Clinton sign in my window.

I am not ashamed to have voted for and cared about and invested in a party, instead of buying into the easy, cynical assumption that everything is broken and I alone see through it. I am not ashamed to have stood up for the values of equality, social justice, shared work and shared sacrifice, leadership, education and generosity.

I’m not going to temper a goddamn thing. I’m not going to apologize for a goddamn thing. I’m not the one who yelled “lock her up” and “Trump that bitch” and “cunt” at a Secretary of State.

Me and mine, we’re not the ones who said, “Grab them by the pussy.”

We’re not the ones who said Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

We’re not the ones who said we need “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

I don’t need to move closer to Trump voters and I don’t need to understand them more and I don’t need to smile at them while they leer at this country and I don’t need to apologize for the education I was PUSHED EVERY DAY BY REPUBLICAN VOTERS TO GET and I don’t need to be sorry for what I believe because what I believe hurts no one.

I’m not going to be nicer to xenophobes and homophobes. I’m not going to be nicer to racists and fascists and religious bigots. That’s a waste of time, for me and for them.

Who needs me now? Who needs us? I mean it. Let’s spend our time not searching our electoral souls and trying to be nicer to our asshole-Americans. Let’s spend our time doing what we can for the people who DIDN’T just vote for fear and loathing.

Let’s spend our time not on worrying about David Brooks’s mythical Target-shopping Crocs-wearing whoever-the-fucks who are scared of imaginary Muslims and completely harmless gay couples, but on the actual Muslims and very scared couples who are now at risk. Let’s write some thinkpieces about mobilizing those people to vote and also mobilizing them to, you know, be okay in the world. Let’s talk about immigration reform and help refugee families who are already here and let’s do stuff that matters for people who aren’t screaming the house down.

I don’t want to spend the next four years, as we spent 2004-yesterday figuring out how to be better so that Republicans will love us for not being horrible filthy whore Democrats. I won’t spend a stolen second more on anyone’s goddamn feelings. I’m not sorry and you can’t make me sorry. You also can’t make me stop.

This is a huge step back. I’m not denying that. But I’ve been saying it for 12 years now in the faces of wins and losses.

We get back up.

And we don’t back down.

Not. One. Inch.

A.

Sunday Final Fundraising Day

So, so close. We’re only $300 away from our goal right now! 

Do you want a paid van for the next debate and election night, that doesn’t smell like whatever the cats puked up when I took that hard left at Albuquerque? Do you want MOAR MOAR MOAR videos, pet pics, essays about bad cartoons and worse presidential candidates? Wanna carry us across the finish line and make sure you can stop seeing these posts?

Then CONTRIBUTE TODAY, and thank you! 

A.

Sunday Morning Video: The Temptations Live

Our annual fundraiser is heading into the homestretch. I don’t know about my colleagues but I still ain’t too proud to beg. Please donate to first Draft so we can keep on keeping on. For more details, read what Athenae has to say.

This week’s SMV begins with a Temptations set from 1983. The lineup features Dennis Edwards as the primary vocalist. He had some pretty snazzy dance moves as well.

The second clip is an excerpt from a show featuring former Temptations David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and our old buddy Dennis Edwards. Dennis replaced Ruffin in the Temps and sang lead on some of their grittier numbers such as Ball of Confusion and Papa Was A Rolling Stone.

Finally, here are Kendricks and Ruffin at Live Aid with Hall & Oates:

I hope you’re tempted to donate now.

Fundraising Final Stretch

The First Draft fundraising link is staying up through Sunday because, well, we only do this once a year. We don’t need tens of thousands of dollars ever quarter like the Freepi, because we don’t have as much of our souls to try to get out of hock, but we do want to keep the experience ad-free and pay for a nice van for election night so people stop getting kicked out and left by the side of the road. And right now our total stands short of that, less than half the number of contributors we had last year.

I don’t love admitting that. It’s not about guilting you into giving. It’s about feeling guilty I haven’t given people enough reason to support us. I know back when we started there were like six political blogs and whatever the fuck Andrew Sullivan was doing, and probably by now we should have all gotten real jobs and moved on.

But. Whenever I think about shutting the site down at some point in the future, I think about the people who read us and have for years, and who come around for every van we have, for whom we do what we do. It’s not just about having a place for US to talk (though, holy hell, without it I’m pretty sure we would have all gone crazy this election), it’s about having this place, for us to talk with you. I read every single comment on everything that gets published, even if I don’t respond, and you make us better, smarter, more open and compassionate and aware, every single day.

If you care about that, if you value that, consider contributing. If you think someone else already has and your support isn’t necessary or won’t make a difference, trust me, it is and it will.

If you’ve already contributed, thank you! If not, here’s the link.

A.

35th and Shitbag

Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin found himself in hot water this week for telling the truth at a Madison Rotary event about his team’s city as well as his experiences there. Somewhere between trying to jack up excitement for a team that went 33-49 last year and trying to explain how the state’s $250 million investment in an arena that looks like Elvis’ haircut, Feigin made a comment about race and the city:

“Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life. It just is a place that is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair and has happened for a long, long time. One of our messages and one of our goals is to lead by example.”

The shit hit the fan so hard and so fast that Feigin had to walk his comments back in an interview with the Journal-Sentinel that same day.

“Milwaukee is a terrific community with wonderful people and I am proud to be a part of it,” Feigin said in a statement. “I was addressing a question about the social, economic and geographic divides that exist and how we can help address them. It wasn’t my intention to characterize the general community as overtly racist.”

Notice the “very bluntly” part came at a speech while the fine-tuned horseshit came in a statement? In other words, “I’m sorry I told the truth because I know I could get fired if the team isn’t drawing people and I made the mistake of being honest about my experiences here.” Also notice that Feigin is making a personal statement here: He says that it’s his experience that the city is segregated and that race is a big divider in the city. He wasn’t trying to use charts and diagrams to outline the math behind his experiences. He just noted how he felt about it. Y’know, kind of like how Newt Gingrich feels the country isn’t safer, even though crime is down? Or how some people just “feel” that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim infiltrator who will lead the next wave of a New World Order into Texas to take the guns away and pilfer the freedom of people in Amarillo? Yeah, just like that.

Except Feigin is actually more accurate in his perceptions than the Tin Foil Hat Militia down south.

I lived in and around Milwaukee during my formative years and have family dotted all throughout that area. I still visit on a monthly basis, if not more, and Feigin has a pretty good handle on what’s going on in that area.

Sherman Park.
Laylah Petersen.
Frank Jude.
Ernest Lacy.
The Dahmer situation.

These are just a few of touchstones for anyone who wants to look up and notice that, hey, we seem to be having a lot of problems when it comes to how the black folk and the white folk experience life, safety, justice and so forth in Cream City.

The comments after these articles are the exact kind you would expect to see here: the “presumably white” commenters are looking for “the smoking gun” of racism and the “presumably black” commenters are saying, “The whole fucking building is on fire and you’re asking us to point to the match that started it before we have a right to comment.” In both cases, people can see what they want: No, we don’t call the “bad part of town” something politically incorrect like “the ghetto” or “the inner city,” but that doesn’t absolve the city of sin. Not to generalize, but “The North Side” is just as clear of a code for Milwaukee whites as either of those things.

When I was younger, my friends and I would cruise around on Friday nights in our shitty cars. We knew that if you went toward Whitefish Bay (A.K.A. “White Folks Bay), we could gun our cars hard enough to set off the alarms on the street-parked BMWs and Lexuses. However, if we made a few wrong turns, the streets of brick homes suddenly became boarded up row house and corner markets with bars on their windows.

From Lincoln through Good Hope and from about 6th street up to about 68th, we knew we didn’t belong. It was the place one friend’s father told us that “Somebody oughtta build a fence around that area, throw in a shit ton of guns and let them go at it.” On the personal level, there were more than a few times we ended up in some place in that area to get gas and referred to it as being on the corner of “35th and Shitbag.” I’m not exactly proud of that, but I wasn’t alone in knowing where the lines were drawn in my hometown.

Telling people like Feigin to dial it back only continues to shove the issue under the table, only allowing it emerge when something becomes explosive. At that point, the “good white folk” can point to that flashpoint and either “tut tut” about it or stare on in amazement because “I had no idea things were so bad for those people.” Instead, let’s take that moment of blunt honestly and celebrate the fact that people who get here from elsewhere can see what we really are, even if we can’t. Then, let’s take advantage of this so that maybe we can have discussions on this when something can be done and not just after something was done.

How To Help South Louisiana

South Louisiana is having one of the worst floods in its history.  Our readers are well-known for opening their hearts and wallets to help people in need. Here are a few ways you can help the victims of the Gret Stet flood of 2016.

Second Harvest Food Bank.

United Way of Southeast Louisiana Flood Relief.

Finally, Denham Springs is one of the hardest hit communities. Here’s a link to a gofundme to support the Denham Springs Aminal Shelter.

Thanks in advance for helping. Our readers rock as well as rule.

No Lives Matter

I went to bed with a half-written post on the Philando Castile shooting, opting not to include the Alton Sterling shooting because Adrastos had already covered it. Within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I got update after update from various news sources that multiple police officers had been shot and killed in Dallas during a peaceful protest.

More died during the night. What’s worse, is more and more and more of us will die in the days to come as our country reaches a spasmic crescendo of anger, fear and violence.

We argue these days about who owns the “lives matter” movement. “Black Lives Matter” started after the George Zimmerman acquittal and became a rallying call and social media zeitgeist during 2014, as it seemed we couldn’t go more than a few days without a cop killing and unarmed black man.

Others co-opted the concept with “All Lives Matter,” trying to show equality but actually just perpetuating the tone-deafness that is majority privilege. Police picked it up as “Blue Lives Matter,” in the wake of several murders of police officers.

And on and on it went.

White Lives Matter. Gay Lives Matter. Pet Lives Matter.

Sadly, no. They don’t.

We are going through “lives” like a third-grader with a cold goes through Kleenex.

We don’t have enough time to fixate on one random shooting before another one occurs. Can anybody name the last black guy shot by a cop prior to Alton Sterling?

A few names stick out over time: Eric Gardner. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown.

Other than that it’s “Wait, why does that name sound familiar?”

How I know life has changed in this regard is because I still remember the name Ernest Lacy. When I was growing up in Milwaukee, his name was everywhere after police arrested him while on the lookout for a rape suspect. He died in a police van shortly after that.

Everyone who was in Milwaukee during that era knew that name. It was the symbol of racial inequality and police brutality. Year after year, his name came up, as protests took place and people filed lawsuits.

It’s been 35 years and I still know his name.

But the last black guy a cop killed before Sterling? Nope.

If “All Lives Mattered,” I’d be able to recall the name and age of every single kid killed in Newtown. I’d have a memory of each of their school pictures burned into my head forever.

When I was a night cops guy, I got sent out to cover a lot of death and mayhem.

Dead kids were always the worst. I still remember the name and age of every dead kid I covered. In some cases, I can see my article in the paper as it was laid out in the print edition.

I can recite them and recall them and when I do, I feel the same gut-wrenching feeling I felt all those years ago as a 22-year-old reporter.

I can’t remember the Newtown names. Or the Jonesboro names. Or even those at Northern Arizona, Northern Illinois or Virginia Tech.

The names I remember are those of the shooters. Maybe. About half the time.

Life is such a wonderfully abstract concept. It’s clinical and yet it’s metaphorical all at the same time. You can clinically live a long time and yet have “no life.” You can “live life to the fullest,” even if you die far too young. Life sits in front of “liberty” and “property” and “the pursuit of happiness” in some of our most basic and treasured documents, even though this recent spate of shootings tells us that those words aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

I hate thinking like this, as fatalism isn’t my bailiwick. I’d like to think that whenever I die, I will have mattered at some point to someone or something. I’d like to think that some people somewhere will hold a memory of me in a way that shows what I did had some value and that whatever ended my life, be it old age or something much more severe, will give rise to thoughts of who I was and what I did.

And yet, what I see every day just reinforces the idea that no lives truly matter, but to a few people who know those who are gone and a spate of people who see the loss as emblematic of a larger concern.

Do me and all the rest of us a favor.

Find a way to prove me wrong, each and every day.

Find a life that matters. Then two. Then three.

Maybe if we can interlink those circles of “important” lives, we can “Six Degrees of Separation” this chaos into a better version of all of us.

And maybe then life will matter.

It’s Only Poetry: #NoBillNoBreak, Gun Control, and What We’re About

The concern troll fu was STRONG with the Internet today, as Democrats led by certified badass and current sex symbol of the Athenae household Rep. John Lewis said oh, you don’t want to vote on gun control legislation? OKAY. Watch this.

Immediately other liberals and professional contrarians pointed out that the watchlist was garbage, itself a violation of all kinds of due process, and not something we should be in favor of making tougher.

The Democratic proposal has been catch-phrased and hashtagged as “no fly, no buy,” because it would prevent people who end up on government terrorism watchlists, including the “no fly list,” from purchasing firearms. This would do little to reduce gun violence, but it would add an additional layer of surveillance and government scrutiny to a particular class of people.

Which is true, and not the point at all. The watch list and the no-fly list are horrific GOP garbage.

The GOP won’t even vote in favor of its own garbage if that garbage is disapproved of by the NRA.

The GOP won’t even ALLOW a vote to expand their own bills if the NRA doesn’t want them to.

There is no principle they hold to that they will not abandon if the NRA asks them to.

There is nothing they won’t block if the NRA asks them to to.

They are run by the NRA, lock stock and about a thousand smoking goddamn barrels. And that is the point of forcing votes on legislation the GOP should be roundly in favor of. That is the point of sitting in.

It’s to say, what chance does actual gun control legislation have if we can’t even get this garbage through?

It’s to say, we are giving them everything they should want, and they are throwing it back in our faces for no real reason, so you tell us what else we’re supposed to do? You tell us how we’re supposed to work with people who won’t even work with us on stuff they used to work on!

For the past 8 years the GOP has lied and abused and obfuscated and postured. They shut down the government for the second time in history (the first time was their fault, too) out of spite at not being able to keep people uninsured. They are blocking a Supreme Court justice from having his nomination even considered.

For 8 years we’ve heard stories about how “Washington” or “Congress” is gridlocked, about how “politicians” don’t get anything done, how “both parties” are responsible for America “becoming polarized” and other nonsense that makes it sound like this is the weather and not the end result of electing Tea Party-sexual hairdos without two brain cells to rub together.

Tonight the story is that Democrats are demanding votes on gun control legislation, and are willing to put their bodies on the floor until those votes happen, and Republicans are blocking those votes and turning off the cameras and walking out of the chamber. That’s the story now.

America has been really hard to love, lately.

Between the ongoing violence in the city and the seemingly neverending stream of nonsense coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth, between the perpetual debate about how mean we should be to poor people and the fact that people genuinely think yelling on the internet is like having your head busted in at a protest, America has been a really prickly, unloveable place.

But tonight, hearing about the sit-in John Lewis and his fellow Dems were staging, people started gathering at the Capitol. People came and held signs and yelled that they were with those inside, that they were watching, that they cared.

Inside, on the floor of the People’s House, a bunch of men and women in suits sang We Shall Overcome.

A lot of people are calling this posturing. Calling it theater. But it’s not. It’s poetry. And there are worse things than poetry. People have sat on hard floors all night for worse things than poetry. People have died, for worse things than poetry. And nobody is poorer or dumber or hungrier because of poetry.

And if tonight  we are one iota less alone, in our fear and our anger, because of that poetry, then sing on.

A.

“Fuck You” Nation: Campus Edition

A number of months ago, I coined the term “Fuck You” Nation in dealing with the idea that we seem to have a constant sense that anyone who isn’t immediately for us in the way we want them to be should be told to fuck off.

Truth be told, I should have figured this term out decades ago, given the cultural climate of my alma mater.

The arrest of a 21-year-old UW-Madison student has sparked protests on campus, due in part to the circumstances of his arrest and the anti-racism message he was attempting to spread.

Denzel McDonald is accused of spray painting graffiti on 11 spots around campus over the past six months. McDonald is also accused of threatening to kill a bystander who tried to stop him.

The crucial issue at the center of the protests comes down to how McDonald was detained. He was taken from a class for questioning by the UW police department after the class had already started, although it is clear from the bodycam footage, as well as police statements, this wasn’t at the “Law and Order” level of chasing someone through a series of alleys. The police also noted they had tried to find the student in other ways for two weeks prior, but they did apologize for disrupting the class.

In response, a group of individuals has posted a list of demands that includes calls for a series of resignations of administrators and police as well as requiring that the charges against McDonald, both criminal and university, be dropped. The most wide-reaching demand is for “community control over UWPD.”

The demands followed a protest in which participants staged a walkout from class and then blocked traffic for several minutes.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s responses have been fairly metered, give that she has no actual say over the criminal charges, nor can she force the specific resignations while simultaneously turning the police department into a branch of the Mifflin Street Co-op.

If this kind of thing looks familiar, it should.

Not the black man versus the Blue Line, but the red-faced rage against… well… everything around the UW flagship campus.

Madison has served as the central junction point in our state for protests throughout the past half-century. From the anger regarding the Vietnam War to the outrage over Act 10, the student base plus the presence of the Capitol has led to large gatherings of individuals demanding social justice.

Conversely, Madison’s reputation as a meeting place for the permanently socially aggrieved, the “chip-on-my-shoulder” crowd and the self-important elites is also well deserved. The line, “Madison: Where two’s company and three’s a protest” is not an understatement, nor is it impolite to suggest that the constant rage-gasm that seems to be ready to erupt over every perceived slight has led to a marginalization of broader and more important issues.

In my time in Madison 20 years ago, I saw protests over the Cleveland Indians mascot, a misinterpreted cartoon in the student newspaper, grade interpretations, things sold in stores on State Street, the use of the wrong abbreviation during a speech about the LGBTQ community and more. Perhaps my favorite was a protest that had three students pouring Pepsi on the steps of Taco Bell in a “Free Burma” stand. Turns out, they were friends of a kid who needed to cover an event for a reporting class, so they went out there to help create an event for the kid.

And those are just the ones I could recall off the top of my head.

Protests do have value when they are guided toward a coherent goal and based in specific needs. For example, protests on the campus of the University of Missouri brought about resignations, but that situation held with it both a broader base of support as well as a campus not given to such actions. In addition, those who resigned were the sources of long-term concerns. The system president in general had shown himself to be particularly tone deaf in reacting to constant and persistent issues of racism.

A quick check of media coverage on Blank hasn’t revealed a similar sense regarding her handling of these kinds of issues. In addition, the protesters have yet to clearly explain HOW a Civil Rights violation occurred via the arrest. If it’s about freedom of speech, there are limits in terms of time, place and manner, one of which prohibits criminal acts such as vandalism. If it’s about the arrest in the classroom, the argument is somewhat strengthened, although no legal mind with whom I have spoken or who has been quoted in the media can outline exactly what the violation is. In addition, the university copped to this as being a misstep and has taken proper action to apologize and create better policies.

I agree with the narrative outlined by groups that have noted situations like the one involving Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri are not about one cop and one victim, but rather a flashpoint for systemic racism and emblematic of a larger issue.

To that same extent, I am not speaking here about one arrest, one set of demands and one group of damned kids who need to get off of my lawn. The attitude, approach and lack of self-awareness expressed by the students who pasted their list of demands to the statue of Abe Lincoln on Bascom Hill is just a microcosm of the larger Madison experience for me.

For my money, Madison was the most oppressive place in which I have ever lived because people on both sides of the fence of every issue wait with hair-trigger anticipation for any potential slight. We never discussed anything when it came to the important issues. We either loudly voiced our stand, daring others to “express ignorance” or we sat quietly, hoping no one noticed we burned the roast. The minefield of rage was always full of tripwires and walking it guaranteed we would fail.

Even after I left, I got flashbacks to these tales of fury, being told by idiots, signifying nothing. I saw a microcosm of that when Melissa Click stepped into the national spotlight, and it’s one of the many reasons I never liked how her actions overshadowed the purposeful actions of a collective with a cause. I saw it again in this Yale student, who berated a faculty member whose wife had the poor sense to write something the student disliked about Halloween costumes.

If this protest is about racism for these students, it is about speech for me. The protesters want this to be about a broader discussion of the “anti-black movement” that is imbued in every fiber of the campus. I agree with the need for that discussion.

However, there also needs to be a broader discussion about the general protest-based dickbaggery that emerges far too often in Madison and that displays the grace of a feces fight in the monkey cages at Vilas Zoo.

Grow some thicker skin.

Listen instead of waiting to speak.

Assume that people who don’t understand you want to try and are willing to learn.

Give people who fuck up in word choice or approach a chance to make amends.

And move your idle speed back from “constant rage” to something a little less taxing.

Those things will create the kinds of change you seek.

 

 

 

Survival is beautiful

In my experience, the most difficult thing about surviving a trauma has been the dark, grim sense of how I felt I was supposed to react. When it comes to other successful endeavors in life, people are always looking for positive things they can tell you:

“Hey, congratulations on the big promotion!”

“Way to go! Your home run won the game!”

“Nice job on this paper! 100 percent! A+”

Positivity oozes out of everything we like to tell people for whom we are happy or grateful.

However, in surviving horrible colleagues, baseless inquisitions, heavy bouts of depression and other issues, I have never found people lauding my efforts as if they were joyous or beautiful experiences:

“Great job not punching out that asshole you work with!”

“Nice job of not getting fired after someone filed that grievance against you!”

“Hey! Way to go! You didn’t kill yourself!”

The saddest line I think I ever read in a book captured this perfectly. When the Minnesota Golden Gophers won their first NCAA hockey championship under Herb Brooks, an aide found his team celebrating like crazy in the locker room. A few dozen feet away, Brooks sat drained, silently resting in a hallway. John Powers noted the following about that moment:

“They had succeeded. He had avoided failure.”

I hate that my survival has often been seen as avoiding failure. For me, there is a sense of having been lessened permanently by the act and that survival means continuing as a damaged shell of my former self.

I hate that survival is seen as a dark happenstance that allowed a scarred and damaged person to luckily continue on a now-ruined path. Stories of survival should inspire greatness, not fear and shame. They should show the indelible nature of strength and the beauty of the indefatigable individuals who survived.

Enter “Art is Survival.”

I ran into this website recently after a few friends recommended it. The idea is that two brave storytellers were opening up their wounds to the public and inviting others to do the same in that scary, often rude and somewhat horrifying medium known as The Internet. People can tell their stories in whichever way they want: Text, audio, video and what-have-you, but the stories will be accompanied with inspired art.

The visual representations of survival will look to provide readers with a sense of beauty that can unlock the grace and value of survival. They will also serve as a reminder that survival is just the start of a truly incredible transformation of self. They provide a grace, a dignity and a beauty that is often lost when black text meets white screens. They also show how the horrifying act that forced survival may be ugly, but the survival itself is what matters now.

And it’s truly a beautiful thing.

One pill makes you larger…

Of all the things I’ve gone through this year, the one thing that always freaked me out most was medicine.

I went through a bilateral carpal tunnel surgery in October, leaving me with limited mobility and a great deal of pain. The surgeon prescribed me these pain pills that were enough to turn me into a drooling idiot. Regardless of how much pain I was in, I really tried my best to just gut it out and not take the pills.

“The doctor gave them to you for a reason,” my lovely wife would say in her best exasperated nurse voice. “Take the damned pills.”

I did when I felt I had no other choice, but for the most part, I tried like hell to avoid them.

Near Christmas, the overwhelming pressure of the life chaos I described in “Heroes Often Fail” was persisting to the point of physical and mental maladies. I waited as long as I could before I went to see the doc. She asked a bunch of questions about my mental state, pretty much coming to the conclusion I needed some level of sedation.

I protested vehemently. “I don’t want to be a zombie,” I pleaded.

She assured me that despite what I had heard about these kinds of pills, I’d be OK and I could take them whenever I felt I wanted them to smooth out the stress.

That was my problem. I was worried that I would want to and that I couldn’t stop.

Addiction is a fear of mine for reasons both simple and complex. When you grow up Catholic, the nuns basically train you that everything is a slippery slope that leads directly to hell.

That time you shook your dick twice after peeing? It’s leading to masturbation, illicit sex, prostitution, AIDS and death, in case you were wondering… That time you lied? It’s leading to you violating family trust, hocking the family silver and having to scar your fingerprints with battery acid before you go on the lam, just so’s you know…

The other reason was that addition runs in my family. My great uncle was a pharmacist, on a path to a great life, only to find out he liked prescribing himself stuff more than selling it to other people. He died basically broke and alone. My grandmother fought alcoholism her whole life, holding off the beast at the bridge for her final 25 years, even as she battled cancer to the end. Still, her life was rough until she finally became a friend of Bill W. Others in my family also have similar issues. It’s not an unreasonable thought that something might get a grip on me when I’m not paying attention.

And then there was Saturday…

I’m heading to the store to pick up a prescription for my mother-in-law when I get a text from a former student. The kid is going on 30 now and it’s been years since I had him in a classroom. He dropped out to run a bar, a nice joint I stop in at from time to time, only to leave him hints and tips that, hey, you can always come back and I’ll help you. He worked at the student paper when I was there as well, making him a great colleague as well as a nice kid.

He tells me he’s sorry he’s been out of touch and that he didn’t respond to some help I asked for and that he’s sorry if it’s shitty that he asks for a favor after that, but he’s going to ask anyway… See, his brother just died of a heroin overdose and this kid wants to know how to write an obituary for him because he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it and he is afraid he’s going to screw it up…

I felt like I got throat punched. All I could do was text back stuff like “Are you OK?” and “I’ll send you my notes when I get home.” My mind is reeling about how this guy is dealing with his sibling just dropping dead. The guy apparently was clean for three years, got mixed up in the wrong situation and took a hit.

He died. Game over. That fast.

What messed me up more was that this is the second one of my former students to lose a family member to heroin in the past year or so. A kid I absolutely adored from Mizzou had her brother die after battling the beast for a few years. It was another situation of something getting its hooks into a kid and never really letting go.

Grandma used to tell me that she never could look more than one day ahead when it came to addiction. It wasn’t something you ever “cured” or “reformed” yourself from, to use the parlance of a long-ago, ill-conceived term for addicts on the comeback. As a “make a list, cross shit off” kind of guy, that’s scary as hell. As a control freak, it’s paralyzing.

There is such a pull and tug between how we see medical issues and how we are supposedly supposed to see them. For the longest time, addiction and mental illness were viewed as simply being weak. The reason you couldn’t get off the bottle? You were a pussy who needed man up and dry out and learn how to hold your liquor. The reason you were depressed? You just needed to snap out of it and get your shit together. Look for the positives, man!

These answers are wrong and will always be wrong, as both are linked to actual scientific, chemical concerns. To help the illness, we need to use medicine.

However, it also seems like EVERYTHING has a pill for it. Watching the Super Bowl, we found out that there’s apparently a pill for people who can’t shit because they are on opioids and there’s also a pill for people who shit too much. Apparently, the market for people who can’t form proper turds is blossoming.

Low T, restless leg, toenail fungus, limp dicks, lack of female desire… You got something or don’t got something? We got a pill for that.

And that’s where they tell us that some of these addictions to shit like heroin start. Watch the Real Sports piece on heroin use among athletes and it all comes back to painkillers. It hurt, so we gave them a pill to fix it. Then, the pills didn’t work well enough or were too expensive or ran out so they needed something and then, bam, heroin.

And then they die and we wonder why.

The hard part here is trying to figure out where that normal resting pulse actually sits for me. Is it normal to be depressed? Sometimes, maybe, but if it gets too bad, and I’m creating a problem for other people and can’t snap out of it, shouldn’t I try to get that fixed? OK, so what happens when I can’t function without that pill? Or it stops working and I need more of it? How much is too much? How will I know? At least with booze, the vomiting for me is a pretty good red flag that shit went wrong. Same thing with pain. How much is acceptable and how much can I take of whatever it is until I’m actually doing more harm than good?

The state of Wisconsin started an anti-heroin campaign called “The Fly Effect” that talked about how you take the one shot and you’re pretty much screwed. (I’d link to the site, but for reasons past my understanding, it doesn’t exist anymore as it once did. Maybe another budget cut…) So, understanding that a) taking something might be a one-way ticket to addiction, b) things that doctors gave us we once thought were safe can lead you on the nature trail to hell and c) I generally have constant anxiety about losing everything, it’s a pretty bad idea for me to trust that a chemical can solve a problem for me without creating another problem.

How the hell do you deal with the anxiety you’re facing over your anti-anxiety medication?

Maybe there’s a pill for that. Hopefully, it’s non-habit-forming.

Murder-Suicides: Stop giving these tools such good tools

A friend of mine messaged me in a somewhat panicked state a few months back. She is a professor at a university in Texas and her state was about to pass a “right to carry” bill that would allow concealed firearms on her campus. Wisconsin had recently passed a right to carry law that allowed for similar things and she wondered how it worked by us.

I understood why she was worried, as I also had concerns about students packing heat in my class. However, the classes I taught were pretty benign. I didn’t imagine a kid pulling out a pistol in class and saying, “Say “whom” again! I dare you! I double dare you, motherfucker!” when I corrected his or her grammar.

Tracy, however, taught race, gender and ethnicity in the media. She had larger courses filled with people who often felt white male privilege wasn’t a privilege at all, something she fully disabused them of.

She is one of my best friends, but even still, I remember a few times in doc school where the discussion got so heated, I really thought one of us was going to hit the other with a chair.

Her class can stoke a similar ire, she told me. She’s had people face off in class and she even had to break up a fight or two along the way.

“I don’t want to think about what happens when one of them pulls a gun,” she said.

Neither did I.

That said, if a gun came out in her class, I’m pretty sure the situation would end with a suicide.

This week, a professor at Delta State University was shot to death in his office. The shooter was another educator within the department, who had apparently just killed his own live-in girlfriend. The reason that Shannon Lamb shot Ethan Schmidt is still being investigated. It’s unclear what happened, and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know because Lamb eluded police for a while before stopping his car near a wooded area and shooting himself.

The on-air murders of WDBJ journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward followed a similar pattern when Bryce Williams filmed the murders, posted them to the Web and then led police on a high-speed chase.

Once cornered, Williams punched his own ticket out with a gun.

Suicide has been a long debated portion of society. Some people argue it’s the endgame for depression while others called it the coward’s way out. What it takes to end one’s own life is slightly beyond my comprehension, but I can’t say I know what it takes to call it a day in that way.

What I can say is that the proliferation of guns and easier access to them leads to the kinds of outcomes we’ve recently seen regarding these high-profile shootings.

Gun advocates will say things like, “If we took away all the guns, people would find other ways to kill people.” True and fine, but those ways wouldn’t be so clean and easy.

Martell Lovelace of the NRA was once quoted as saying that a gun was a recreational tool, like a tennis racket or a golf club. “You can kill someone with a golf club or a tennis racket, you know.”

So true, but at least the person on the other end has a fighting chance for self defense. Even more, have you ever heard of someone beating themselves to death with a golf club AFTER committing murder with one?

Guns offer a quick and, compared to a golf club, relatively painless way to finish the game once you realize you’ve gone too far.

You don’t have to go to jail.

You don’t have to explain yourself to authorities.

You don’t have to face your loved ones and the people you murdered.

You just escape.

Take guns out of the equation and see if Bryce Williams is going to try to butcher two people on live TV with a bayonet.

Take guns out of the equation and see if Shannon Lamb would be willing and able to beat a guy to death in his own office with a golf club.

Take guns out of the equation and see if people like this might seek help or engage in better problem-solving actions before committing the crimes and then slashing their wrists or drinking antifreeze to get out of the situation.

Guns are tools, the NRA is correct, but the easier the tools are to obtain and the easier the tools make the job, the more likely people will be to tackle the job.

If people had to think more about how they will be “going out,” maybe they wouldn’t be so eager to “get in.”

“Fuck You” Nation

(Note: I had this in the hopper last week, but out of respect for the Katrina posts, I decided to sit it out. This was what I had, with a recent rewrite of the back end. — Doc)

As I drove through the Fox Valley last night, I passed a local car dealership with three giant U.S. flags that flew at half-staff. Truth be told, I can’t remember the last time they were at their full height, due to the wide array of mass shootings and homicides we have experienced lately as a country.

I moved past the dealership, onto the freeway’s on ramp when some guy in a fast red car flew up behind me and practically attached himself to my bumper. As soon as ramp emptied onto the freeway, he cut past me and sped off, glaring at me through his passenger window.

The expression on his face said one thing.

Fuck you.

If there’s one thing that synthesizes our culture of guns, our fixation with Donald Trump and our general attitude toward intellectual achievement, it’s this Joe-Pesci-like attitude that continues to grow like a destructive weed.

The shooting of two journalists on live television cut to my very core this week. These people could have been my students (and, in fact, I do know a few of their former instructors) who were doing a lite-brite story when chaos claimed their lives. Some local reporters asked, “What could have been done to prevent this?” as stations across the country considered banning live shots and sending security with their journalists.

The NRA’s answer is: Fix the mental health system. The guy was nuts.

Almost everyone else’s answer is: It’s the guns. Do more to crack down on weapons.

Truth be told, the answers are the same:

Fuck you.

If you take a single gun away from a single person, you have violated MY right to own and bear arms, which is carved in stone and written in blood in the Bill of Rights. If you criminalize guns, only criminals will have guns. You think you can do that to all of us patriotic Americans? Fuck you.

If you think that the Founding Fathers thought equipping the mentally unstable (read: most of you gun nuts) with as many automatic weapons as possible to help you blow your load every day, you’ve got to be as nuts as we say you are. Your right to buy guns, own guns, pet guns, love guns and shoot guns needs to weigh against my right to not be afraid that every asshole out there will shoot me for not noticing the light just turned green. You think your rights are more important than mine? Fuck you.

And this is where Donald Trump comes in.

He’s not really anti-women, anti-immigration, anti-Korea, anti-China or whatever else he seems to be about.

He’s actually pro-“Fuck You.” And he’s giving a voice and a face to that “Fuck You” movement.

His “Go back to Univision” line to Jorge Ramos was a thinly veiled version of “Go back to where you came from, you illegal immigrant fuck.”

His “blood coming out of wherever” line about Megyn Kelly is bro-code for “What a cunt. She must be on the rag.”

His “He’s not a hero… I like people who didn’t get captured” line about John McCain is the epitome of the current American ethos: You think you’re special? You think you’re better than me?

Fuck you.

Too many of us no longer appreciate the differences and the skills that other people can bring to the table. Whenever someone can do something we can’t, it gets belittled, discarded and treated as less than.

Teaching? Anyone can teach. Just put them in front of a room.

Photography? I got an iPhone. I’m just as good as that Ansel Adams prick.

Writing? I bang out a hundred texts a day, bitch.

It’s that old song of “Anything you can do I can do better.” If I can’t, it doesn’t matter and you’re probably a fag…

This pathological desire to demonstrate power and dominion over everyone else in every important way leads us back to the WDBJ shooting.

By all accounts, Vester Lee Flanagan II (also known as Bryce Williams) was an angry and disturbed man. His 23-page manifesto referenced terrorism, racism and betrayal. He tweeted about perceived slights at his former station (WDBJ) and referenced his previous problems with coworkers at his previous stops.

According to articles published in the wake of his rampage, he sued for racial discrimination, accused coworkers of placing a watermelon within his sight line and fought relentlessly with colleagues who he felt were beneath him. He was aggrieved and arrogant all at the same time as his life continued to spiral out of control.

In some ways, he reminded me of Oscar Isaac’s character in “Show Me a Hero.” The HBO miniseries showcased Isaac as Nick Wasicsko, a 1980s-1990s politician in Yonkers during a period of racial upheaval. Wasicsko found himself on the city council as a protracted legal battle over low-income housing raged. He became mayor on the promise he would appeal the court’s decision to place this housing in the white part of town, only to find he had no legal ground to stand on. After he lost his mayoral post, he made a series of odd decisions in his flailing attempts to stay in city politics. During each of these attempts, he would range from all-mighty to wounded puppy, as each move betrayed more people and undercut his overall purpose of being.

After his last attempt to stay in office, a failed attempt to “primary” one of his best friends out of her job, he was paranoid and rage-filled during an investigation into a misappropriation of funds by one of his former underlings. He so hated the people he thought were intent on his ruination, he angrily confronted several of them at City Hall. He then went to the grave of his father where he killed himself.

The parallels run equal throughout in my mind, although only in that simple character arc fashion. However, the thing that stuck out in my mind was that Wasicsko’s despondence led him to a quiet end while Flanagan’s led to a furious public outburst.

I remember seeing all those old movies about suicidal characters and people who felt they had fallen too far or lost too much or were hurt too badly to recover. The common statement used to be, “They’ll be sorry when I’m gone.” It was as if the suicide itself was both a release for the person and a bit of justice against those who remained. However, it now seems as though the potential reflective punishment isn’t enough. A blaze of glory, with a destructive-filled wake must happen.

You think you’re getting away with this? You think I’m going to quietly leave this Earth? You think people are going to let me trickle away, another unknown story?

Fuck you.

Taking away the guns would make it harder for these explosions to occur.

Less sensational coverage of every whack job who decides to shoot up a church, race bait or run for president would tamp down their enthusiasm for the “Dig Me” show.

More cops, stricter laws, more public awareness …

None of that will ever matter, however, if we can’t get past this sense of angry self-determination that places each of us at the center of the universe and demands others get pushed down harder and farther. We have to stop thinking that not only should “I” succeed but also I must make “you” fail in the process. This zero-sum game of socialized punishment will only seek to further our spiraling decline as a people.

We can’t continue to be a Fuck You Nation and live to tell about it.

“Pals” to the end

Two years ago this week, I wrote “Pals,” a piece that explained how it was that a buddy of mine named Scott basically turned around my views on what my life had become. Monday, I found out he has a fatal heart ailment and that only a transplant will save his life.

In the past five days, I’ve thought of little else, regardless of what I’m doing, which makes it hard to see the forest for the trees. I have also discovered that the ways in which I am used to seeking help, solace and strength don’t apply here.

I have always told my writing students that when they write for an audience, it’s not about you. It’s about the audience. However, in this one rare sliver of space, I’m hoping for special dispensation on that matter because writing this might be my only way to come to grips with it.

—-

Monday morning, I settled into the recliner in the basement to “get stuff done,” as I like to say. I had three sets of grading to do, an accreditation report to file and a few odds-and-ends emails to send. An email from Scott was among those in the inbox with a subject line of “RE: Update.” Our annual journalism convention had just finished and I had bailed on it this year, due to book deadlines and a sense that budget cuts were going to kill travel reimbursements. I figured Scott had a project he wanted to work on, a student he wanted to chat about or even a “saw your new book at AEJ” kind of thing. Instead, it told me he might never leave the hospital.

About three weeks ago, he said, he was diagnosed with a virus that attacked his heart. It was a rare condition, one that only afflicted about six people in the U.S. in the past 10 years. His heart was becoming a useless organ, a slab of meat that would soon cease to function. He was moved to the top of the donor list and had high hopes, but was told he’d never leave the cardiac ICU without a transplant. He asked that if we cared about him, we would become organ donors, something I had decided to do back when we returned to Wisconsin. That little orange dot on my license now took on even more meaning.

He finished his email with “Don’t worry about me. I got this.”

The things that happen to a person in a movie to show the character is completely stunned happened to me. My jaw went slack, my eyes became teary and I doubled over like I had been kicked in the stomach. I had to hold it together while I wrote back an email. I had to suppress my reporter instinct to ask a million questions. I managed to limit the questions to only two: “Are you in pain?” And “Do you need anything from me?”

I then Googled the illness, finding a story about a guy who survived it about five years ago. One of the things the guy said in the story was that he told his family members not to Google the illness, as it would scare the shit out of them.

Too late, buddy.

It was chilling beyond anything I had ever heard of.

It attacks without warning. How one picks up the virus has never been determined.

It is fatal. There is a 70 percent mortality rate within three months.

Nothing is certain. Transplant patients have a 50/50 shot of being re-infected or having the heart rejected.

—-

I told my wife I was driving out there or flying out there. She and I plotted ways for me to get there. Finally, we talked it out and tried to figure out if this was a good idea. I emailed Scott’s wife and found out that visitors, even those with the best of intentions, were not a good idea right now. He needed solitude to fight off potential infections and be ready if a heart became available.

I went outside and drove around in Betsy for a while. I hit an estate sale. I tried to clear the mechanism in my brain.

Nothing worked.

I met with my boss sometime this week and told him that I would likely be a screwed up mess for a while, so please give me some absolution on that front. He asked the questions I was asking myself: How did this happen? How bad is this? What can be done? The answers sounded as weak and hopeless coming out of my head as they did rattling around inside of it.

“Honestly, man,” I told him. “This thing is like the Finger of God. It just selects and smites.”

That was my first problem and the one I couldn’t get past: Why him?

Scott was in great shape, played sports and took care of himself.

Also, it wasn’t an environmental thing. When my grandmother died of cancer, I was sad, but the woman smoked like a factory chimney. It was coming down the road and we all knew it.

Our family has a history of all sorts of stuff like high blood pressure and more. When those things hit subsequent generations, it at least makes sense. You hand it down, like family heirlooms no one wants.

This? It came from left field.

Sure, any one of us can get killed if a car hits us or a house collapses or whatever. Finger of God? Maybe, but life itself is a risk. You walk around long enough and everything can become something that can get you. But an illness like this? So rare, so unexpected, so “hey I’m coming to fuck with you and you didn’t even know I existed until now” was just inconceivable.

Why?

—-

Like most weaker Catholics, I find myself resorting to prayer at the times of crisis. Good Catholics pray all the time. The weaker of us still attend mass and do the basic rituals of faith, but we really “pray pray” the same way most of us go to the dentist: Only when it hurts and we’re hoping for easy resolution.

This was when things started really falling apart on me.

I’m a “work the problem” guy. If something is broke, you fix it. If it’s in the way, you move it. You don’t piss and moan. You don’t wait around. You hustle.

If Scott needed bone marrow, I’d get tested and start a testing drive.

If he needed a kidney or a liver or any of those other things along those lines, I’d pray I was a match and get my ass over there ASAFP.

But a heart? How?

Truth be told, I wanted to reach into my chest and tear mine out. It would hurt less and it would help him and I’d feel like I did something.

In a case like this, prayer was my last vestige of hope and it only served to make it worse because I imagined the dialogue with God:

“God, Scott is sick please help him. He’s a good man, Lord. I want him to be OK, please…”

“Do you know what you are asking for, my child? Your friend needs a heart.”

“Yes, Lord. Please help him. Please save him. Please… He’s a good man. He is hurting, his family is hurting, we all are… We can’t stand it. Please…”

“So you are asking that another should die so that your friend can live? That another family, other friends, other people should hurt so that your pain can stop? That other people should face the end of a life because you are too scared or too fragile to face this situation? Is that really what you are asking of me?”

“No… I don’t…”

And then the praying stops. I don’t know what to ask for, what to pray or how to pray in a way that this conversation doesn’t repeat itself.

I can’t pray. And that makes it harder.

—-

Scott wrote back a few days ago, saying he’s not in pain and that this came out of the blue. I asked that I not come out, saying he had family all around and all he was doing was waiting. Typical Scott. He’s in a goddamned hospital bed on a transplant list and he’s talking about it like he’s just standing on a corner, waiting for a bus.

I did what I could do and that wasn’t much. In the times of crisis, I revert to my college days and call on my two patron saints: St. Jude and Roger Staubach.

St. Jude is the Catholic saint of lost causes and impossible situations. When something is so far gone, it might never be solved, we call on St. Jude and beseech his intercession with God for a solution that is beyond our capability to understand.

Roger Staubach became my hero when I learned of his “Captain Comeback” status. He would be down 20 points with two minutes to go and he’d be on the sidelines thinking, “How can we win this thing?” I remember seeing a video about him in which the legendary Bob Lilly remarked, “The biggest thing about Roger was the fact he never quit.” In his perfect drawl, Lilly emphasized the “nehhhver” in that sentence. It stays in my head, for some reason.

So I went to the local sports card store and bought a Staubach card and I found the local religious store and bought a St. Jude medal. I packaged them up, wrote a letter of explanation and sent them off to his home, in hopes that it could help keep him going in some tiny way.

I also included a printout of “Pals.”

Just like St. Jude and Roger Staubach, this blog has always been a lifesaver.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week.

Doc

Raging at Emptiness.

Floyd Matson and Ashley Montagu wrote the book “The Dehumanization of Man” back in the early 1980s, attempting to explain the way in which narcissism and lack of social awareness were deadly in ways that we could never see coming. Anyone who has spent a minute in a debate tournament over the past three decades has been subjected to the “Dehum Card” that calls dehumanization the “Fifth Horseman of the apocalypse.”

However, a deeper read of the book reveals many other subtle explanations that have long gone ignored, including the analysis of the “common man” they refer to as “Edmund.” He’s a regular guy who feels lost and out of control due to the lack of attention he feels he is due. He can’t get a grip on what he feels or why he feels it, so he feels the need to lash out through a variety of wild, careening acts of fitful vengeance. Taint a Tylenol, kill a pop star or look at your wife and feel the blind, dark rage building, they write. He then sinks into the dark hole of nothingness, having felt as though nothing else remains.

After I finished my doctorate, with the outside area in psych, I went back and reread that passage and it started to make more sense. It came back to me today because it was the only way to make sense of both Dylann Roof’s attacks and why so many of us feel the way we do in its wake.

Not to do an “I am Dylann Roof” thing, like the chucklehead who did so in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, but most people feel an inner-sense of helpless anger at some point in time. Maybe it’s being stuck in traffic. Maybe it’s not being able to get a job. Maybe it’s the “hand to mouth” approach they have to take to survive. The loss of self-determination makes people lose hope and then lose equilibrium. It’s why we see road rage, office attacks and other forms of explosive behavior that defy logic. It’s why we see two women beating the shit out of each other in an aisle of Walmart, with one of them telling her kid to punch the other woman in the fucking face.

The loss of control. The loss of everything. It suddenly frees people from the strictures of reality and yields unreal consequences.

Friends of Roof’s said he had become increasingly agitated about African-Americans and how they were “taking over.” In the coming days and weeks, it’s likely we will see some building blocks that led him down this path. It could be anything, and speculation is stupid at this point. However, he had that “click” in his head that Brick used to describe during “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” where the switch flipped and everything just went cold.

He went to the church. He sat there. He waited. Then, with cool deliberation, he executed nine people.

He was quickly captured and returned to South Carolina, where he will almost certainly be tried, convicted and executed.

The problem with what happens next is that so many of us enter our own “Edmund” stage and we’re in an even worse situation.

Roof remains with us in body only, an empty shell that that we can’t touch. We want him to be hurt or remorseful or suffering or something.

He won’t.

We want him to feel what his victims felt in some microscopic way: Fear, panic, anxiety, something.

He can’t. And that only infuriates us further.

Perhaps the perfect example of this came in the mid-1990s, when serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was being sentenced. Rita Isabel, the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, was testifying at his sentencing when she just lost it and went after him. She was flailing and cursing and trying to get away from the bailiffs.

Dahmer remained stone cold and silent. It was as if this wasn’t even happening.

Because to him, it wasn’t. And that only served to infuriate Isabel more.

Since we can’t get a reaction out of people like this, we seek to lash out elsewhere. Do I think the Stars and Bars should be flying over anything, other than the roof of the General Lee in reruns? No, but it’s not like if it weren’t there, this never would have happened. Give this symbolic bullshit a rest for now.

Do I think the gun laws in this country suck? Absolutely. We got rid of 48-hour waiting periods recently in Wisconsin because, I mean, Jesus, when you really need a gun, why should you have to wait? Think about this: The fucking BANKS will limit how much cash you can take out of an ATM in a day for “safety” reasons, but you can get a gun without any similar barriers. Still, if the murder of grade school kids by a whack job toting an arsenal didn’t get the NRA to stop sucking, this sure won’t. In fact, at least one of these assholes is doubling down on the “they had it coming” argument.

Do I hate the way in which media organizations covered this? Duh. They went back and forth between the “nothing could be done” handwringing to the “lone wolf” idea about this kid. Anyone ever notice that when a white kid goes on a shooting spree, we hear about one kid and one incident and how it’s so random but when a black kid gets killed by a cop or shoots someone, it’s indicative of a “culture of (FILL IN THE BLANK)” that really is the problem? I’m half surprised that CNN didn’t have “representatives of the white community” on for interviews or that Fox News didn’t spend half the day digging into the past of the nine victims, looking for petty theft arrests and parking tickets that might explain how “the victims are no angels themselves.”

We want S O M E T H I N G here. We struggle for whatever it is. We comb through every strand and every speck of this looking for something. We don’t even know what it is or why it matters, but something has to happen.

Cry, Dylann! You owe us that!

Give up, NRA! Your shitty lack of awareness MUST collapse this time!

GET THAT FUCKING FLAG DOWN NOW!

No. Nothing is going to happen that will give anything to us.

All that will come is the next time.