Category Archives: Doc

Trump and the unfortunate addiction to spectacle

If you want to look for a “life imitating art” moment for today’s healthcare vote, it has to be this one from the movie “Black Mass.”

James “Whitey” Bulger tells his associate exactly what Trump told Republicans by calling for this vote: “You wanna take your shot? Take your shot. But make it your fuckin’ best because if I get up, I’ll eat you.”

This whole thing is horrifying: The potential repeal of the healthcare law, the CBO’s estimate of 24 million people losing coverage, the way in which our government can’t seem to run for three hours without falling all over itself… Say what you want to about the eight years of W., but compared to this, well… at least his stupid was just stupid. It wasn’t vindictive, blind-sighted and angry.

The one thing that makes it just so fascinating is the same thing that makes people slow down at a massive freeway wreck, despite pissing and moaning about the gaper’s block: It’s the rarity of spectacle.

This is how Donald Trump has made his money and gained his fame: He kept people guessing and he always delivered a cliffhanger.

He sued the NFL. Who does that?

He bragged to Billy Bush about sexual assault. Who does that?

He kept Omarosa on Season 1, week after week. Who does that?

The answer is Trump, because he knows what few people are willing to admit: Humans don’t like the safe play and we want to see if there’s going to be a car wreck.

Name the last time a president went to congress without knowing if he had the votes to get something done, especially something this big and this early in his term.

Name the last time regular citizens (or people like me who are abnormal but still don’t pay attention to politics) were aware that a big vote was coming and waiting to see it like “must-see TV.”

This is Gary Cooper in “High Noon” or John Wayne in “Rio Bravo” or Brett Favre throwing another fucking rocketball into triple coverage.

The spectacle works on TV because it has no real impact. You knew Cooper and The Duke would be fine. As for Favre, well, at least if you weren’t in Vegas, his errors wouldn’t cost you anything.

The same couldn’t be said for Trump to this point, given his actions cost this world the USFL and Billy Bush his job. The Omarosa thing still remains baffling, but minor issue. And perhaps that’s the best way to look at his jackassery to this point: It hurt people but not a lot of people most of us know or give a shit about. Meanwhile, the spectacle jacked a lot of people up through the roof.

But now, he’s playing with live ammo. He’s the paintballer with some serious weekend warrior skills joining the Marines. Lives are actually at risk here and yet he seems to think we’re still playing paintball.

In that case, he’s taking his best shot.

Let’s see if someone gets up and eats him.

Hierarchy of Needs: Asshole Edition

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is something every high school student or college undergrad runs into at some point in a sociology or psychology class. The concept is simple: You have a set of psychological and physiological needs that work in ascending order from most basic to most enlightened.

In short, you need to make sure you are fed, rested and healthy first and then you can worry about safety and security. After that, you start getting into things like friendships, family, belonging, self-esteem and reaching your potential as a human.

Given both the broad applicability of this theory and the longevity of it within the field, it always amazes me that we give people who are jerking themselves off for those self-esteem needs control over people who can’t make it off of first base.

Even more, I’m always disgusted when those people who probably will never reach self-actualization (but feel they have) are using their power to fuck over people who just want food, water and shelter.

Mick Mulvaney, who has a net worth of more than $2.6 million dollars, took time out of his very busy schedule Thursday to lecture reporters about how Community Development Block Grants are shitty things and that programs attached to them often “don’t work.”

One of those programs? Meals on Wheels, which provides food to thousands of elderly, house-bound and impoverished people each year. To wit:

Meals on wheels sounds great. That’s a state decision to fund that particular portion, to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we to want give you money for programs that don’t work. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt.

First, you CAN defend it. You CHOOSE not to do so. There’s a difference there. (e.g. I can’t strangle myself. It’s physically impossible to do so. I could use a box cutter to lop off my wiener. I just choose not to.) Let’s not conflate the two ideas in the way that Mulvaney does so that he’s able to say, “We’d LOVE to do this but it simply can’t be done.”

Second, hasn’t every Republican since the party made a big Right turn made the case that the federal government should give money to the states for things and let the states decide how to run shit? I seem to recall there being people talking about a block-grant-based program that is supposedly great that needs to happen right now…

Third, and perhaps most importantly, can Mulvaney update the press today after he gets visited by Marley’s ghost?

Look, I get it that defending a lot of shit Trump is saying and doing is a lot like justifying the actions of a meth-addled toddler with a machine gun: No matter what you say or do, this isn’t going to work out for you. This is how we got terms like “alternative facts” and an explanation regarding on how wire tapping is actually about cameras in microwaves. If this keeps up, Trump will basically knock Bill Clinton’s explanation of not having “sexual relations with that woman” out of the top ten most incredible verbal gymnastics in politics.

However, we’re talking about fucking food here. Everyone should be able to easily grasp the concept of what it’s like to be hungry and how shitty it is when you can’t get to eat. Hell, the kids in my classes have stomachs that grumble when they don’t eat breakfast and then have to tolerate me for two hours. Now multiply that by 1,000 desperation points, add in other shitty aspects associated with poverty, weave in being too old or sick to find a way to make/grow/get your own food and then have some dick hole who’s about your kid’s age tell you, “Hey, y’know, fuck you and your hunger.”

Trump pulled his voters heavily from senior citizens (53/45 over Hillary Clinton) and from those without higher education (those without a degree went 52/44 for Trump). These are the people who are most likely to need programs like this because they don’t have cushy pensions, stock options or whatever the hell Mulvaney keeps in his Scrooge McDuck vault at home.

And if you look back at Maslow’s pyramid, you find that it’s hard to think or understand things when you don’t have your hunger sated, so these kinds of folks are likely to remain in a spiral of voting for the rich folks who continue to fuck over the poor folks.

Uncle Tack

His given name was Thedrick Emerson Wright, but nobody ever called him that.

To anyone who worked with him, played softball for him or just spent time with him, he was just “Tack.”

Or if you were a kid like me, he was “Uncle Tack.”

It was never clear to me, or my dad who befriended Uncle Tack through his work at Ladish, where that name came from. Ted, Thed, TE or even “Big Man” would have made more sense that “Tack.” What was clear was that he was an integral part of my life growing up and loving man-child who always made us laugh, even as he fell apart.

Depending on who was around or how much beer had begun to flow, the stories about Uncle Tack were as legendary as they were outlandish. His supposed height was somewhere between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8, depending on the length of his Afro and who was telling the story.

When you are 5 years old, the truth of the matter tends to matter very little, as he was simply a giant to me.

His weight fluctuated from a lean and powerful 270 to what he often called “a biscuit,” as in “I’m just a biscuit off of 300” or “a biscuit off of 320” in his later years. Dad used to tell me that Uncle Tack was short-waisted, so when they sat down together, my 5-foot-9 father and Uncle Tack looked to be about the same size. Only when he rose did he unfurl the towering figure he truly was.

I remembered how he would wear those 1970s outfits, including short shorts and long athletic tube socks in the summer. His legs reminded me of a frog’s: long and muscular with a sense that he could leap over anything. I also never forgot his hands: he would envelop my tiny paw with his giant ebony mitt, wrapping his narrow fingers all the way around it as he would say, “How you doin’ there, Little Man?”

Growing up where I did and when I did, I had little concept of the issue of race or how divisive of a topic it truly was. We moved into my parents’ new home when I was 4 and Uncle Tack came to visit. I remember yelling, “Uncle Tack! Uncle Tack!” and rushing up to hug him. Neighbors looked over at us quizzically and asked my parents in an almost “hope against hope” tone, “Uh… UNCLE Tack?”

My parents explained that it was a term of respect for family friends to be designated as “aunt” or “uncle” as opposed to “mister” or “missus.” That part never trickled down to me at that age. He was just as much of a family member as anyone else with that familiar moniker. It’s probably why when I was 7 or so, I asked my parents quite loudly at a McDonald’s, “What color will I be when I grow up?”

Uncle Tack, however, dealt with a lot of the racism of the day, even though he never seemed to let it impact him when he was near us.

One time, Mom and Dad went to Las Vegas with Uncle Tack and wandered around the strip in those halcyon days of the early 1970s. Dad and Uncle Tack went to the bar to order a drink. The bartender served Dad, but skipped Uncle Tack. Dad called the guy back and ordered a drink for Mom, giving the guy another shot to do the right thing.

He skipped Uncle Tack again.

“Hey,” Dad barked at the guy. “Aren’t you going to get my buddy’s drink?”

“Oh,” the barkeep replied. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t see him standing there.”

It could have been an honest mistake, although I somehow doubt it was easy to miss a 6-foot-5 black man standing at an empty bar sporting a fire-engine red three-piece suit.

Other stories came home of people at the factory tossing around what we would now call “casual racism,” but back then they called it “teasing” or “pranking.” One such case happened after Uncle Tack shaved his head. Some guy put five Milk Duds in a row on his desk with a sign that read, “Tack’s family.” Instead of filing a complaint or blowing up in a rage, Uncle Tack simply ate the Milk Duds. Why let them go to waste?

He always was that “gentle giant” in the most clichéd terms possible, but there were also legendary stories of him dispensing justice, or at least putting people on notice that he would.

In one such case, he was attending a Kool and the Gang concert at some local venue when a guy behind him kept kneeing him in the back. Uncle Tack asked the guy to stop, and the man kind of mumbled something in return. A few minutes later, the guy was back at it. Uncle Tack became slightly more firm in his request as the guy gave him kind of a look like, “Hey buddy, I paid for this seat.” A third time, the kneeing returned, so Uncle Tack rose from his seat, turned to face the man and in an even voice declared:

“If you knee me in the back one more time, I’m kicking the shit out of your whole row.”

The man quickly stopped.

Even when he was older, he had no compunction about evening the odds when he felt his family or friends were in a rough spot. My freshman year of college, I had a roommate who was making my life hell with drug use and other shitty behavior. Repeated requests to the hall association to try to fix this fell on deaf ears. When Dad shared the news with Uncle Tack, my protector replied, “So when are we driving up to Madison to take care of this kid?” Uncle Tack had to be in his 50s at that point, but he still was ready to go.

Above all else, I remember laughter surrounding Uncle Tack. He would sit in our kitchen and tell stories and Mom and Dad would howl with laughter. He would even tell stories about things they had all experience, but he did so in such a way that made you think, “Man, I wish I had been there…”

There was the time he came over to meet with my folks around dinnertime: He had just polished off two Big Macs, fries and a Coke, but my folks were eating supper, so he sat down and joined them. He ended up eating almost two-thirds of a full pot roast that was supposed to be sandwich meat for the week.

Nobody minded. It was Uncle Tack.

Each spring, he’d come to the house and coax my mother into joining his softball team. He was a hell of a recruiter and a great motivator, but my mother was getting on in years and each season he asked, it took a little more to get her to bundle up for those frigid March games and play for him.

She had to be in her 40s near the end of his coaching career and he had tons of younger players from which to choose. Still, he always told Mom he needed her left-handed bat and her speed to make the team complete.

I remember hunkering down on those freezing cold bleachers at Beulah Britton Park and watching my mom play each season. I still remember the other players on the team: Sharon, the giant guard from the factor who could crush a homer on to the tennis courts. Joyce (also known as Ice), a sharp short-stop with a quick first step, a wicked bat and a glare in her eyes that would just cut you in half. Steady Betty was there in left, catching everything hit to her and hugging Uncle Tack each time she came in from the field. Carol, the pitcher who was the only one about my mom’s age, who we still see from time to time around Cudahy.

The hard part for me is understanding now that Uncle Tack wasn’t the saint I always remembered. Laughter often covered pain. The “dapper” outfits often hid financial problems. Other positives painted a thin coat of cover on top of the negatives.

He was divorced from his wife, which rumor had it, was because he had been fooling around with some of the younger softball players on his team. He had trouble at work, as he often missed a day or two with no real reason for doing so. His kids were at odds with him and somewhat wandered aimlessly, based on the chatter I overheard.

The biggest problem, though, was his inability or unwillingness to take care of his diabetes. When he retired from Ladish, he headed back to Tennessee to be near family. By then, he was a massive man who loved sweets more than anything. A few years after he left, his health really began to fail. Recently, he had both legs amputated at the knee. Always the joker, Uncle Tack explained in a phone call to my father how he looked:

“I’m the same but now you’re as tall as me.”

That was the last thing Dad heard from him and that was several years back.

When I called home last night, Dad was talking about the weekend card show and other such things, when Mom shouted something from the living room to him. He then told me that he’d just heard from a friend of his that Uncle Tack died earlier this week. He was about 68, Dad said, although that was as much of a mystery as everything else surrounding the man.

It’s hard to write this, not just because it’s so hard to capture the essence of who Uncle Tack was and what he meant to me, but also because I’ve learned that writing like this is often seen as an affront to “more important discussions” of race and human interaction. That makes me worry people will overlook the man I know for the broader picture I have no intention of painting.

Uncle Tack wasn’t the “magical Negro” in my life, to borrow a term from Spike Lee. He wasn’t the “black friend” that got rolled out to counter claims of racism. Even though I hadn’t seen him in quite some time and I’m in my 40s, he will always my Uncle Tack.

He hugged me as a kid. He stood up for me as a young man. He danced with my wife at my wedding (albeit under the watchful gaze of his new protective girlfriend). He made me laugh all the time.

He was family and I’ll miss him something awful.

Seeds of Hope

The young woman sitting next to me scrunched up her face as she looked at a resume I would have killed for at her age. She had three internships, including one at a major media outlet and a second at a center for investigative journalism. She was the editor of her paper and had earned honors and awards along the way. Still, she had that look.

“I just hope I get a job,” she said. “It’s rough out there…”

I half smiled as I shook my head and told her, “You’re going to be fine. You have a ton of great experience. We just need to rearrange a few things to put the emphasis on the best stuff first…”

I suggested moving a few things around, emphasizing professional experience and pushing her college work down. We talked about her social media presence and if it would be something that would showcase her journalism or if it fit the “I ate a hot dog today. It was good.” motif. I told her I knew her boss and that he didn’t hire crappy people, so that should help her feel better about herself and that she should ask if he would be a reference for her.

In the end, she seemed to feel better and thanked me for my time.

“You’ll be fine,” I told her again, emphasizing each word. “You’ll be just fine.”

I’ve spent the last two weekends working with student journalist at a variety of conventions, which is one of the best things I do in life. Last week, it was Minnesota’s best of the Midwest convention while this week, we convened for a pro/college hybrid for the best journalism the state has to offer.

Being around people “like me” is usually a comfort to most humans, in that we enjoy social gatherings that emphasize shared, learned behavior. Even more, we tend to understand each other better when we have chewed some of the same dirt. As Eddie Murphy once remarked about marriage, “Find the perfect person for you. I’m not saying they’re perfect. Find someone just as fucked up as you are in the same way and settle down.”

Still, this convention was one I had dreaded for a number of reasons. First, I’m running the board of the college group, which means I need to show up, dress sharp and schmooze with people, all things that don’t really thrill me. Second, it’s like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for me in many ways.

The people I know there knew the much younger version of me: The one who fucked up a lot. The one who bordered on arrogance and then swung to a complete lack of self-esteem. The one who was probably the annoying kid they wished would learn to calm down a little more and not be so excited over every police scanner call. It’s painful thinking back about that “me” and it’s even more difficult realizing how long ago that was.

The kid I helped work through her resume was someone I probably would have never dealt with back then. She worked at the Badger Herald. I’m from the Daily Cardinal. Capulet and Montague don’t have shit on that turf war. However, as I talked with her a bit, it dawned on me she wasn’t even born when I was a college journalist. The dislike I have for her institution remains, but for some reason, it wasn’t as hard as I would have once thought it to be when I helped her plan out Life 2.0.

Later that day, I walked through the exhibit hall, and I ran across a guy I worked with back when I was a night-desk reporter. Andy now runs that center for investigative journalism at which this kid was interning. When he noticed me, he stopped what he was doing to say hi and prepared to introduce me to the folks gathered around him.

One of the people who turned around was another former newspaper staff who remembered me and gave me a huge hug. It turns out Pat had retired from the paper during one of the rounds of “downsizing” efforts and was now teaching at a small, private college and advising the paper. I told her, “We need to get you onto our board…” before explaining what it is I was doing and what our college group was all about.

She had this look on her face, and I couldn’t really figure it out. It was half amazement and half pride.

“Yeah,” Andy chimed in. “He’s all grown up now…”

I laughed. He just smiled.

He remembered how excited I was the time he offered to buy me a six-pack of beer if I’d take some mundane assignment he’d been given. Andy was happy he could go on his vacation without worry. I was thrilled: You mean I’ll get some extra hours, mileage money, a story in the paper AND BEER? Holy shit!

I didn’t know if Pat remembered the time she and I were working on a Sunday together and two stories had rolled in: Racist literature was found in a news rack at a grocery store and major vandalism had hit the area Walgreens. She was coming in later and I had half of each story and I hoped she’d let me keep one. When she arrived, she told me, “Take them both. I’m working on something else.” It was like a day of free ice cream. I can still remember thinking to myself, “Wow. I’ve got TWO STORIES in the paper today. This is unbelievable.”

Back then, moments like those were the world to me. For them, it was just another day of work.

After I left Andy’s booth, I wandered over to the walls of poster board that contained the award-winning work of journalists throughout the state. Not more than a minute of browsing went by before something grabbed me: A column with a familiar face staring back at me. The hair was more professionally cut, the cheeks a bit fuller but I knew the half-grimace that stared back at me.

One of my former students: First place for local sports column.

I backed up and started from the very first board, carefully examining each byline.

Second Place: Environmental writing

Third Place: Business coverage

First Place: Local education coverage

Third Place: Feature Writing

More and more of the names came back to me. Scared kids, wondering if they’d ever get an internship. Wondering if they’d get a job. Wondering if they’d be any good.

Professional journalists, all. Award-winners to boot.

My eyes settled on the last panel where the college winners were and found one bittersweet moment:

First place, News/news features.

The kid who wrote it was my editor during last year’s run of crushing misery. She stuck with me through thick and thin, knowing her life would be so much easier if she just asked me to quit. Instead, she hunkered down and dealt with the pounding, just like I had. In the end, though, she couldn’t take it anymore.

She dropped out of school, refusing to return for her senior year. She moved on to the tech school last semester, where she hopes to earn a degree that will let her work as a nursing assistant. She never wants to be in journalism again.

She wrote a personal experience feature story on Project Semicolon, a movement that started in 2013 after founder Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. Bleuel also struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, so she looked for a way to communicate that struggle to others in hopes of shedding light on these mental illness issues. The non-profit organization uses the semi-colon as a symbol of how you are the author of your life and authors choose how to end a sentence. The semi-colon says, “I’m pausing here, but I will choose to continue.” Many people who back the movement get a tattoo of a semi-colon as a way of reinforcing this belief.

Katie’s piece wove her own struggles into the broader story of Project Semi-Colon, which was started only about an hour’s drive from here. The narrative thread was her decision to get the tattoo and to share that moment with her mother.

I could feel the tears welling up as I started to read the story, so I just moved on and took a breath.

A great moment. A great kid. The one I couldn’t save.

My career choice often leaves me with mixed emotions. I think back to the most stinging comment people make about educators: “Those who can’t do, teach.” There are days I think maybe they’re right. Could I have stuck with journalism for 22 years and done more and better things than I did? Maybe I’m that tragic tale of wasted youth, the human vessel of lost potential I now try to drag out of other people as some sort of penance for my own transgressions…

Then there are days like yesterday, where I see how the kids who once pondered their own inadequacies are tearing it up at various publications in places they want to be. I see it in every “noun-verb” attribution they use and how I pounded that into them. I see it in their commitment to fairness and accuracy. I see it when they email me to ask, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a student of yours and you really helped me out a ton… I’m looking for an intern and I was hoping you had one of your kids to help me fill the slot…”

Those days, I see myself as a good farmer: I take those little seeds and put them in the best soil I have, tend them the best I can and then watch them grow to fruition. I help make sure the seedlings get what they need to survive. I realize how important this is now more than ever, in a field littered with cutbacks, high stress and public malice toward the profession.

Maybe that’s a good way to look at this.

I sow some of these seeds of hope for journalism.

And sometimes, it’s important to step back and enjoy the garden.

Journalism: A shitty job in a nuclear winter

One of my former students became a science reporter a few years out of school and once found himself on a trip to Chernobyl. A group of researchers were collecting stool samples from people who lived adjacent to the old Russian nuclear reactor, trying to see if they were suffering from any radioactive poisoning nearly three decades after the meltdown.

He sent me a post card from the area with a final line I still love:

“Journalism. It’s a shitty job but somebody has to do it.”

I thought about him and that trip today when I was trying to read anything in my social media feed that wasn’t about Trump’s press conference. When all I was left with was if Steve Kerr was going to play Russell Westbrook alongside his four Warriors in the All-Star Game and Draymond Green clarifying his “slave-owner mentality” statements, I gave up.

Trump’s hour-plus screed was a brick of uncut alternative facts, packaged in a wrapper of vulgar abuse and denigration. The word “rambling” might be overused at this point and I don’t think it goes far enough. It was like he took every topic of interest or a point of pride he has, wrote them on bingo balls and then had the machine spit them out to determine the order of his talking points.

The biggest problem came when he started taking questions from the press, one of his favorite targets of abuse. A reporter from Ami Magazine, a conservative orthodox Jewish publication, offered Trump the olive branch he was desperately seeking, a pass on personal anti-Semitism. However, as Jake Turx tried to ask Trump to explain how he planned to fight this problem, Trump just stepped all over himself, assuming Turx was calling him anti-Semitic and then told him to sit down and shut up.

When a reporter refuted Trump’s claim that his 306 (actually 304) electoral votes was the most since Ronald Reagan, he dodged with “I meant Republican victory.” He then was told Bush 41 had way more, which led Trump to blame his staff for the information.

Perhaps the worst moment is the one most people are noting: Trump’s clash with April Ryan, a long-time member of the White House press corps. Ryan, who is African-American, asked about Trump’s plans to improve urban areas that he often referred to as terrible hell holes and wondered if he’d reach out to the CBC and Hispanic caucus in congress. Trump seemed unaware of what CBC stood for, but upon learning it stood for Congressional Black Caucus, asked Ryan if she’d set up the meeting for him.

“Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked her in what could only be described as a confrontational tone.

At this point, I had two thoughts:

  • Based on his “you all know each other, right?” approach, I was amazed Trump didn’t start off with, “Hey, I loved you in ‘Hidden Figures!’ What’s your question?”
  • If you believe that Sean Spicer isn’t getting fired, buy stock in Orbitz. This guy is going to put a dent in our national supply by Saturday.

This press conference, naturally, scared the living shit out of me as a citizen, but my one saving grace is that I can turn off the TV or ignore the news. The journalists who have to work in this environment are like the people at Chernobyl in 1986, going shirtless and using some Windex to clean up the mess.

Journalism has always been a shitty job and it takes a weird breed of person to do it. If you don’t believe me, you should have been in our student newspaper’s newsroom this week. Conversations regarding a dead squirrel, double entendres about a professor “coming” and whether Meatloaf’s “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)” was about anal were among the most acceptable for public consumption.

The kids do this for almost no money, which will get them ready for a career in a field where cutting positions and salaries is an annual ritual. They talk to people who don’t want to talk to them about things everyone wants to know but no one who knows is willing to disclose. (A student told me an administrator offered him about a three-minute “No Comment” on a topic we had been covering. My first response, “Did you record it so we can use it as a quote?” The answer, of course, was “yes.”)

Abuse in this field is common. I’ve been called scum, an asshole, a weasel, a vulture and worse. One lady told me my mother didn’t raise me right. I’m sure there are worse ones that I’ve just blacked out of my memory. It got so bad that I used to have a recorder attached to my phone so I could record the abuse. That way, when the person on the other end became sweet as pie to my boss and accused me of random shit, I could just play him the tape.

The thing that amazes me about all of this is that we keep having more and more kids entering this field with the idea that each one of them probably has (at the very least) one Cousin Carl who believes everything not on Breitbart is fake news. Many of the kids I teach come from the Rural Red areas of the state where family members at Thanksgiving ask things like why they aren’t earning an “honest living” like “Gene the Retard” down the way who sells dachshunds out of his trailer.

One kid who recently changed majors to journalism sat with me after I mentioned that a long time ago, when I was changing from pre-law to something or other, Dad told me I needed to find a field where I could get a job.

“As long as you aren’t majoring in English or something else stupid like that, I don’t care,” he said. “You just need to be able to get a job.” (Incidentally, English was going to be my major right up to that moment…)

The kid’s dad had said something similar when he made the change to journalism and he wondered what was out there for him. I explained about the various ways the skills he picked up in journalism would make him a fine hire for a ton of great jobs. He relaxed and then asked, “Can you tell my dad that? He runs his own business and he thinks this is a stupid move.”

Of course it’s a stupid move, if you enjoy low-stress jobs with good benefits and career security. It’s also a stupid move if you enjoy being liked and you don’t want your illusion shattered when it comes to thinking the best of people. It’s a really stupid move for 1,001 other reasons that undercut sanity and longevity. Still, the kid felt like he found the right major, so like a moth to a flame, he decided to stick with it.

I was glad for that and I’m looking for more just like him because we need those guys and gals to fill in the ranks of reporters, editors and other journalists who push back every day against the tide of bullshit. Talking to kids who want to be the next reporter to be told, “Sit down! You’re fake news” really energizes me and makes me want to get them ready to go in the corner and fight for the puck. That’s why this weekend finds me at a journalism convention in Minnesota where kids from a lot of small-college Midwestern schools will show up and learn how to write, report, dig, challenge and fight better.

Best of all? The person running the convention told me the number of attendees this year is higher than it has been for the past several mid-winter conferences.

And, like any other decent journalist, I’ll make sure to check it out before I believe it.

Dear CMU Republicans, Hitler was never fucking funny.

Oh for fuck’s sake:

A Central Michigan University registered student organization apologized via social media late Wednesday night after an anti-Semitic Valentine’s Day card apparently handed out by a member of the group sparked anger among students and community members.
The Valentine features a photo of Adolph Hitler on the front and the words, “My love 4 u burns like 6,000 Jews,” and is signed “XOXO, Courtney.”

I’m waiting for Sean Duffy to find the “good things” that came out of this whole Holocaust deal, now that it’s clear we can always find a silver lining in whatever stupid shit people on your team do.

A rally against hate came out after this hit the fan at CMU, and it’s good that people get loud enough to let assholes know that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. That said, who the fuck thought this was a good idea in the first place? Someone actively went about building this stupid valentine and made sure to place multiple copies into the bags of students who were getting them. And of course, I’m sure, they thought it was hysterical because, hey, nobody THEY know ever got shoved in an oven or gassed in a shower. I mean, can’t we all get past this?

When I was in fifth grade, we had a Holocaust speaker and I will never forget some of the stories he told us about death and hopelessness. I can still see his gnarled, age-spotted hands in my mind’s eye as he pointed to the ceiling during a story of how he watched a man hang himself from the rafters with a belt and did nothing to stop him. It was survival, he explained, and we didn’t have the luxury of worrying about people we knew but for whom we had no direct responsibility.

He came back and spoke to us one more time a few years later. During that time, there were many people who still could speak but chose not to. People who hid their tattoos and spoke about such things only in hushed tones or drunken despair. As the years went by, however, there were fewer and fewer people who could speak from a first-person perspective on what had happened.

When I wrote for the local paper, I met a woman who escaped from Germany before the Holocaust. She married a man later who survived Bergen-Belsen and she told me the horrors he experienced. Until the day he died, he slept motionless, with his arms crossed, because that’s how he was forced to sleep in the camps.

At each institution I taught, whenever a speaker on this topic visited, I actively encouraged my students to attend. I explained that it would be horrifying and painful, but that it was something that they MUST experience in life if they are to understand basic human decency and dignity. To understand how those places existed and took so much from so many for such a stupid fucking reason was to understand the dark side of humankind.

I have to admit, I’m sure I said and did a lot of shit stupid things when I was that age. I’m sure I didn’t sidestep every gay joke or correct every negative stereotype associated with race or gender. I’m positive that I am fortunate as hell that social media didn’t exist back then, or else, God alone knows what might have come rolling out today about me. However, stupid though I was, I knew there were very clearly some things that were way the fuck out of bounds.

Hitler is NOT a meme or the ace in the hole you drop when you want to win an argument. He was the central gear in a movement that showed us how deep the rabbit hole really is and how dark night can be. He is not a colloquialism.

Neither is rape, as in “That math test totally raped me.”

Neither is gay,  as in “He’s so gay over his new truck.”

Neither are a dozen other terms that take life-altering events and turns them into euphemisms for casual conversation.

The thing that makes it easier for us to course-correct some of these fuckups is to have actual, live examples of those things that show up in everyone’s faces and say, “Really? The math test slipped something in your drink, took you to an apartment and told you to relax as it ripped off your clothes and forced itself into you repeatedly as you were too incapacitated to move, scream or fight, leaving you with a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional scars? It did all that?”

Unfortunately, we keep losing those people who can explain what life was like living six inches from death for years at a time because of the whims of a madman. And because time erodes direct contact and immediate understanding, we get the Hitler Valentine and someone who thinks it’s fucking funny.

“Keep it”

I was 12 years old when my great-grandfather died and my experiences with him were limited to Christmas events, birthday parties and the occasional times we watched a parade from his porch. Most of what I know comes from family legends and stories others told. Two things sat at the core of each tale:

  • He worked hard all his life.
  • He was an immigrant.

I thought about him this week with the immigrant ban, the Muslim ban or whatever the hell “anti-terrorist” spin the alt-White House is putting on this. His life spanned exactly 100 years and there was a lot of life in those years.

He came from a country that no longer exists: the “Kingdom of Bohemia” which later became squished into Czechoslovakia. Bias was pretty clear in that area of the woods as the Czechs and Slovaks didn’t have a lot of love for one another. The Bohemians were kind of the Stu Sutcliff of that area, but after World War I, they got stuffed into this new set of boundaries and that was that.

Great-grandpa was long gone by then, setting off for America on ship of some kind. How he got the ticket or how much money he had on him never made it into the family story, but he came from a family of farmers in the Old Country, so the answers were probably “No clue” and “Not much.” What did make it into the mix was that he met my great-grandmother when he got here, another Bohemian refugee. They were in the early 20s when they got married, or “spinsters” in the language of the time. Nobody thought it would last or that any future generations would spring forth.

They stayed married 72 years, until great-grandma died at 96, and produced four children (“Joe, Doc, Pa and Aggie,” my father would say.) So much for conventional wisdom.

They landed in a small Wisconsin town abutting Milwaukee, where my grandfather found work at the local factory, like most immigrants. He was a carpenter by trade, however, so each summer he would quit the factory job and build houses in the area to earn a better living. When his own family had reached a critical mass, he built one for them, finishing it up right around the time my grandfather was born. He lived there, raised four kids in that tiny building, outlived all of them and died in his own bed a month after he turned 100.

The backyard was the size of a two-car garage, but it sported a plum tree that produced enough fruit to eat, can and squeeze into a liquor-based form. When he sensed the plum tree was coming to the end of its useful life, he’d plant a half dozen seeded saplings and wait for one to assert dominance. He’d then destroy the others and chop down the old tree. The plum wood served to heat the house and cure meat.

He had a postage-stamp sized garden that was crammed to the hilt. Every time he picked something, he planted a new item to squeeze more food out of his patch of land. He also went to church every morning with a small paper bag, a useful item to collect the mushrooms he found along the way. By noon, great-grandma turned his find into a soup. That would be lunch.

Of all the stories I remember, this one always stuck with me:

Somewhere around between the World Wars, he got an official letter from a government agency in the old country. It explained that his father had died and that as the oldest son, he had inherited the family farm. It was a reasonably decent enterprise and during that era (the Great Depression), the farm would provide him a nice financial boost. The letter said he had to go back to fill out some papers and it was his. He could even sell it right then and there if he wanted.

My great-grandmother, who never really bothered to learn much English, wanted to go back. She missed her homeland and she also wanted to show off how well the family was doing. My great-grandfather, a practical man who knew how tenuous life could be in unstable times, scrawled a word in Bohemian on the letter and sent it back.

The mystery of that letter and the farm and the family remained part of frequent discussions around the family. We never really knew what happened or why until somewhere around his 90th or 95th birthday, where my father and his siblings managed to get great-grandpa to sit down at the kitchen table and tell stories. He eventually got around to the story about the farm and revealed what he had  written:

“Keep it.”

My great-grandfather saw himself as living the American dream. He came here with very little, found love, started a family and set down roots from which future generations could grow. He knew that if he went elsewhere, he might not get back or might not get let out. The whims of others would dictate his situation if he decided to reconfigure his life. So, he stayed put, built a life and never stopped working to improve things around him. (Another legendary family story was when my father stopped by to wish him a happy 97th birthday, only to find him on a rotten wood ladder climbing onto the roof. “Grandpa, what are you doing?” my dad shouted. “I cleaning rain gutters,” he said in his broken English. “But Johnny (a 30something cousin of mine) just cleaned those last week!” Great-grandpa shook his head. “You kids… You never do good enough job.”)

For generations, people who ARE here have always come up with reasons that THEY are OK being here, but THOSE GUYS shouldn’t be. It’s a continual series of, “Go back where you came from!” We can make weak arguments about potential terrorism, but that’s all they are: weak arguments by irrational people hoping to keep others from taking something they believe is essentially theirs. It’s less of a “Give me your tired” crowd and more of a “Go back where you came from!” contingency that makes the noise.

Great-grandpa never mentioned outright bias or hatred. He wore it on his face: A grim, tight-lipped determinism seemed to be his resting pulse. Dad heard stories second and third hand about how if it weren’t for a particular supervisor who liked great-grandpa, he’d have been out on his ass several times, simply because he wasn’t “one of us.”

What Trump and his supporters tend to forget is that every point in time, all of us used to be “one of them.”

“Fuck You Nation” – National Edition

A year or two back, I coined the term “Fuck You Nation” to capture the general sense of how people in this country were tending to treat one another. The argument at the time was that when it came to the rise of Donald Trump, the mistrust of the media and the general sense of political discord, people were less “pro” something and more “fuck you” toward people they saw as “the opposition.” At the core of the argument was a general sense of self-righteousness, absolute certainty and an overwhelming sense of anger and bile.

If President Trump’s first week in office is any indication, I might soon need to patent that term and put it on T-Shirts. That, of course, presupposes we all survive long enough to have shirts printed and that the First Amendment isn’t outlawed.

“ALTERNATIVE FACTS:” We used to call these things “lies” or “bullshit” but now we have a whole new term. For fronting a party that hates politically correct language, Kellyanne Conway is doing a great job of coming up with some of her own. In defending Sean Spicer’s argument that the crowds at Trump’s inauguration were record-breaking and larger than Obama’s, she said it’s clear that Spicer just used “alternative facts.” In other words, “I see that you are saying X by supporting it with all sorts of information, but clearly it isn’t within my narrative, so I’m going to just tell you that you are wrong because the public has the attention span of a meth-addled squirrel.” In short, “Fuck you and your faggy little reliance on facts. REAL AMERICANS KNOW BETTER!”

We are so close to changing the national anthem from the “Star-Spangled Banner” to Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me.”
“OPPOSITION PARTY:” Steve Bannon, who seems to be sporting the “probable cause” look, granted an interview to the NY Times this week in which he told the paper that the media is “the opposition party.” He also said the media needs to keep its mouth shut,” something that is not only grammatically incorrect but runs counter to the whole purpose of the media.

Bannon’s case is a simple one and it rests at the core of Fuck You Nation: We won, you lost, so go fuck off for a while. He relies on the narrative that reeks of populism and group-based conflict studies: Demonstrate superiority, cite things in an authoritative way without providing documentation, rally support within your group through glittering generalities and call into question the motives of people who disagree with you, rather than focusing on the disagreement. Perhaps most reflective of all these elements is a single quote:

“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”

Bannon’s quote ignores key elements of reality (the popular vote, the media weren’t running for anything) and uses a single fact to create an overreaching singular reality (Donald Trump won the presidency, ergo all things he said are clearly 100 percent right and should be supported by this nation.)

In short, “Fuck you and your whiny bullshit. Shut up and get out of our way while we fix things.”

“GASLIGHTING:” During the past nine years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what makes the asshole in my department tick. His ability to manipulate reality to fit his needs, rely on rules one minute while discarding them the next and the absolute certainty in which he took positions I knew were wrong fascinated me. I’d never dealt with someone like this and I had to understand it. About three years ago or so, I came across the book, “The Gaslight Effect” by Robin Stern. I remember reading through it and thinking, “Holy shit, this is a real thing. I’m not going crazy.”

Gaslighting is now the hot term and it has come to represent an “Emperor has no clothes” moment for the Left. However, it’s a lot more complicated than ego, manipulation or trying to create the Fourth or Fifth Reich (whichever we’re on now…). Gaslighting is both psychological manipulation and unyielding abuse that removes an individual’s sense of self and crushes the human spirit for another person’s selfish gains.

In a psychological sense, this is easy to understand, as manipulation, groupthink and other concepts have been studied for decades. Asch’s seminal work on conformity makes it easy enough to see what happens when something that appears so real and obvious to one person is contradicted repeatedly by others. Sane people tend to want to “see it from another point of view” or “avoid upsetting the apple cart” to the point of subjugating their own (accurate) reality to that of others. In other words, when Line B is clearly the longest, you still want to figure out why it is that everyone else in the group (all confederates for the experiment) is picking Line A. Eventually, like Picard, you come really close to saying there are Five Lights.

This leads to the second part (crushing opposition) and it is why the lines about voter fraud and crowd sizes are so scary. If people are willing to go against all present data to agree with an obvious lie, what happens when the stakes are higher? Say, a border fence? Or a war?

The problem with the Gaslighting Effect is that those who use it will never admit they are wrong. They might eventually give up the topic or change strategies on it, but they’ll never say, “Yep, you got me there!” A perfect example of this came yesterday when Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled his meeting with Trump in the wake of Trump’s continued movement toward a border wall. Nieto came out and said, “Look, if you’re going to keep this shit up, I’m not going to come and even bother talking with you.” Rather than let it look like he got stood up for prom, Trump said this:

“We have agreed to cancel our planned meeting,” Mr. Trump said in a new conference Thursday afternoon. “Unless Mexico is going to treat the U.S. fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. We have no choice.”

By recasting this as a mutual thing, it looks less like Trump got stuck holding the bag and more like he was the one saying, “Look, unless you’re going to build this wall, you can stay on your side of the river and suck a burrito.”

This is what makes Trump so dangerous and it’s also what makes him so popular. Again, Fuck You Nation rears its ugly head: “You want me to say I’m wrong? Fuck you.”

 

In the end, the core of Trump will always be tied to “Fuck You Nation.” I read his inaugural and, honestly, it was really appealing and unvarnished from a middle-America perspective. There are a shit ton of empty factories in places where I live (and have lived). There aren’t a lot of good jobs for people of all walks of life can get. It often seems like we’re running around the world looking for something to fix instead of investing in people back home. If you want to be the president of the United States, shouldn’t you put the needs of the U.S. and its people at the front of the line? These things, on the flat face of them, do make a lot of sense to a lot of people who feel they have been forgotten because we now all have to worry about who gets to use which bathroom.

Trump makes the big picture small: You personally got shafted. I’ll help you get yours. However, this is like playing chess with a myopic obsession of moving a rook repeatedly. It’s never supposed to be about one piece for a president. It’s supposed to be about the board.

But when you are that one piece, everything he does makes sense:

“The world has told you, John Q. Public, ‘Hey, buddy, fuck you.’ Now, let’s turn this around and tell those people, ‘No, FUCK YOU.’”

A bad week for journalism

If I were paranoid (which in this environment, I might soon officially become), I’d think that that world is conspiring against every profession in which I have ever worked. The levels of stupid coming out of various parts of our universe make it almost impossible to touch on everything that is killing us at this point, but I’ll spend this post talking about the drive-by shooting against my original profession: Journalism.

Speaking of things that happen quickly and painfully…
President-elect Donald Trump and his posse spent much of the week in the news, thanks to his quick movement through confirmation hearings, allegations that Russia could blackmail him and a press conference that made the WWE’s Vince McMahon go, “Dude, show some dignity.”

The confirmation hearings were laughable at best, except for the moment where the vast throngs of freedom-loving, justice-warriors took to the internet to confirm that all Asians look alike.

A video and several photos surfaced of a woman who was said to be taking photos of Rex Tillerson’s notes during a break in his confirmation hearing. The video is speculative at best, given that it looks like she’s just screwing around on her phone. (I would give almost anything for this woman to come forward and say she was playing Candy Crush at that point in time.) What made this even worse was when every Twidiot out there decided that the woman was not only a Chinese spy, but that she was Margaret Cho Constance Wu Tricia Takanawa Washington Post homepage editor Doris Truong.

Turns out Truong was off that day and didn’t know what was going on until someone reached out to her for a comment about the incident. By the time she got her shoes tied on this one, the trolls had run this bullshit around the world. People swore they had used “facial recognition software” to demonstrate it was clearly her. They also, naturally and rationally, called for her arrest, prosecution and so forth because after all, if it’s on the Internet, it’s obviously true.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: When people ask why we need journalism or why certain blogs, social media and other shit isn’t just as good as a local newspaper or a national network newscast, this is Patient Zero.

It took almost no time for everyone to climb all over this story and shit all over Truong. Forget for a moment that no one could actually demonstrate that a) this was someone taking a photo of his notes, b) if this was some sort of crime or c) that Tillerson didn’t actually just have this on those pages. The biggest issue is that no one gave a shit if these people were right or wrong and just passed along the information.

In fact, it ended up coming across like a group of third-graders arguing on the playground: “My dad says we’re going to watch the Packers this weekend.” “Oh yeah? My Dad says we’re going to the game!” “Oh yeah, well MY dad says we have front-row seats at the game!” “OH YEAH?!?!? MY dad knows Jerry Jones and we’re going to be in his luxury box drinking Cristal!” “OH YEAH!?!?!?! WELL MY DAD….”

Some asshole said the woman was taking photos (no proof).

The next asshole said they knew it was Truong (wrong).

The third asshole swears that they used facial recognition software to confirm it’s her (lying and wrong).

The asshole after that swears they know it’s Truong and that she’s a spy for China because his friend works in the state department or something (wrong-ass, lying-as-fuck motherfucker).

Of course, by the time the potty-trained media got around to figuring out what the Insane Posse of Clowns was talking about, all the “no, it’s not her, you fucking idiots” reporting in the world couldn’t put out the forest fire of bullshit.

Speaking of the Internet…
Buzzfeed news stirred up a great amount of shit when it released a 35-page dossier of negative shit Russia supposedly had on Trump. Publishing source documents is nothing new in the field of media. The Pentagon Papers case centered on the issue of publishing source documents regarding the United States and the Vietnam War. The Progressive fought to publish the instructions for an H-Bomb. WikiLeaks is nothing but a series of documents that reveal a lot of unsavory things people have done behind closed doors.

And when it comes to leaks, unsavory things and closed doors, it’s the allegation that Trump hired two hookers in Russia to piss all over a bed that Obama supposedly liked. This sent journalists into a firestorm of debate, most of it centering on the AP style rules pertaining to “golden showers.”

The thing that makes this reveal more controversial than others is that Buzzfeed acknowledged what everyone else who was working on these documents knew about them: They were unverified. In short, they could be true or they could be false, but nobody knows for sure. So, yeah, here you go. Enjoy.

CNN reported on the documents as well, without releasing them, but that didn’t stop Trump from shit-ripping the network, calling them out in public and refusing to let them ask a question, noting CNN was “fake news.”

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Most of my friends in the media are going back and forth on whether Buzzfeed should have released this or not as it wasn’t verified information. Some argue that this was nothing but a document dump, not real journalism, as it lacked the veracity of information we have come to expect with these things.

Others argue that instead of bitching about being scooped, the media outlets should go out there and do their jobs in reporting on this kind of shit.

You aren’t really getting scooped if you’ve chosen not to publish something because you don’t think it should be published. That’s more of an editorial choice. That said, pissing and moaning because others made different editorial choices doesn’t make you the stalwart emblem of dignity either.

I’m on the side that says don’t run this until you’re sure, primarily because a) I’m more conservative and b) I can’t tell you how much shit I’ve seen as a reporter that turned out to be total bullshit. We’re not all Dan Rather who can bounce back after shit goes south and it turns out we were wrong.

I’ve always espoused two philosophies when it comes to publishing: 1) If your mother says she loves you, go check it out. 2) I’d rather be late than wrong.

If you think all the shit in that file is real, go get enough verification that you feel comfortable saying, “Here’s what we did and we feel we met the burden of accuracy.” Don’t be like the mechanic who says, “We think we fixed the brakes, but you’ll figure that out soon enough.”

Speaking of the Trump press conference…
It looked more like a slightly toned down version of President Camacho’s address to Congress than what we’re used to from the Oval Office occupant. The president-elect had several people build him up before he arrived, like those shitty local bands that precede the main act at Summerfest. Upon his arrival, he gave a speech with the laser-like focus of a seizure-prone toddler with ADD who had just smoked a pound of meth. The speech included sentences like this one, which would have given Sr. Mary Kenneth a coronary if she had to try to diagram it:

But I do have to say that — and I must say that – I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies — who knows but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be at tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that, a tremendous blot.

(Side note: I couldn’t listen to the speech, as a) I had a class to teach and b) I was afraid of what it might do to my three remaining brain cells. Instead, I read the transcript that NPR put out on this. The level of annotation is incredible in here. We honestly just need to start giving the media red “challenge” flags they can throw.)

When he attacked CNN for running something they didn’t actually run (they reported on the dossier but did not reveal the gross shit and illegal shit inside), CNN asked for an opportunity to ask a question. Here’s what came next:

SPEAKER

Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question? Mr. President-elect —

DONALD TRUMP

Go ahead.

SPEAKER

Mr. President-elect, since you are attacking our news organization…

DONALD TRUMP

Not you.

SPEAKER

Can you give us a chance?

DONALD TRUMP

Your organization is terrible.

SPEAKER

You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir, can you…

DONALD TRUMP

Quiet, quiet.

SPEAKER

Mr. President-elect, can you say…

DONALD TRUMP

She’s asking a question, don’t be rude. Don’t be rude.

SPEAKER

Can you give us a question since you’re attacking us? Can you give us a question?

DONALD TRUMP

Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.

SPEAKER

Can you state…

DONALD TRUMP

You are fake news. Go ahead.

SPEAKER

Sir, can you state categorically that nobody —

DONALD TRUMP

Go ahead.

(APPLAUSE)

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Even people like Nixon, who clearly hated the press and had an “enemies list,” didn’t treat the media like this in public. You who does? Putin.

And that’s not just my opinion. Read this piece from Alexey Kovalev, a journalist who spent more than a decade dealing with this dead-eyed despot, and you’ll see some pretty freakish parallels with this Trump presser.

Next, as Kovalev points out, nobody in the gaggle stepped out to help CNN at this point. I’m all for competition and trying to gain an edge with sources, but this is like watching a bully kick the shit out of a kid at the playground and not doing anything about it.

I’m not saying they should go all “Ray” from Season 2 of “True Detective” at this point, but if you get called on next, what’s wrong with, “Mr. President-elect, why do you see CNN as fake news and why are you afraid to give this reporter a question?” First they came for CNN, but I did not speak up because I was not CNN…

The only media that seem to be standing up to Trump at this point are the newspapers, particularly the old guard ones. For all the talk of newspapers dying in this country, some of them appear to be dying like Walt Kowalski: They’re old, angry and yet willing to fuck you up when you think you’re a bad ass.

It’s been a long week for the media and here’s the worst part: His term hasn’t even started yet.

Career suicide by chicken

A kid in my writing class today made a running list of all of the random references I made to pop culture, history and other weird shit in an attempt to illustrate my points and for examples. The list was two pages long after a four-hour lecture on interviewing and quotes and included references to “Airport ’77,” Rosa Parks, Roberto Clemente, “The Poseidon Adventure,” Jim Jones (not that one) and John Wayne.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I was outlining a story about the time I had to interview the mayor about a report regarding his affirmative action director and how she was acquitted of allegations that she did something illegal/unethical. The mayor announced his findings at an NAACP fundraising dinner, which our paper didn’t attend because we probably didn’t figure anything important was going to happen. Politicians go to these things all the time and do the “proud, happy and thrilled” speeches, so there’s not much news there.

The point of the whole story was that I was having to play catch up on an important story and I thought I had prepared for the interview with a lot of great questions. That said, when I called the guy at 11 p.m., woke him up and had him snarling at me, I ended up blowing the interview because I used too many closed-ended questions and he wasn’t doing much elaboration to help me out.

The problem came in for me because I referred to the event as being part of the “rubber-chicken dinner circuit,” which apparently didn’t translate. After class, I was talking about the idea of a “rubber-chicken dinner” thing and such with a couple kids. At that point, the kid who was writing all of my “Doc-isms” told me I said “fried chicken,” which now has me trying to figure out how to best write a suicide note and a resignation letter at the same time.

I’ve written about race, culture and a dozen other things on this blog over the years and one of the things I’ve often noted was how the discussions always dance on a razor’s edge. I’ve also said that I’ve been known to fuck up a lot when it comes to everything, so that doesn’t make things any easier talking about topics that are often raw nerves and sensitive wounds.

This one, however, hit me from left field and I started to realize there’s no real way to discuss it. Think about all the shit people say when something like this happens:

I have many black friends…”

I’m not a racist…”

Anyone who knows me knows that…”

This obviously wasn’t the intention…”

Or, of course, there’s the Yahoo! Finance explanation: “Spelling error.”

If you spend enough time in my field, you find yourself going through something, in which you wonder if everything you ever worked for is going to go down the shitter. You worry about becoming that tragic tale of how something could have gone so wrong as to cost you everything. It’s like you’re waiting for the second half of the VH1’s “Behind the Music” that comes after “The band was on top of the world…” After the commercial, shit’s going to happen, someone is getting fired, there’s a coke addiction or something…”

In the case of professors, it’s the fear of some kid with rich parents who are pissed about a B- you couldn’t fully document, a living prequel to “Fatal Attraction” or taking a swing and a miss like this.

The minute this kid said “fried chicken” I felt like my soul had been ripped out and I couldn’t breathe or swallow. Some people get fired for less while others retain their jobs despite worse things. It always seems like a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes.

I don’t know what to say or how to say it, but it’s like I want to run through the streets just screaming, “I’M SORRY!” until the cold fucking kills me. That’s the best answer I have for dealing with it, which is obviously no answer at all.

So I wrote this and I left it here because usually writing about something on this blog usually helps me figure something out. Sorry for the dump job.

Doc.

Sometimes, My Kid Just Wrecks Me

Of all the gut-wrenching, out-of-the-blue, kick-in-the-balls moments that happened this year (and I admit there have been a lot of them), it took my kid’s school project to break me into a thousand pieces.

She came home from school with a piece of cardboard, wrapped in festive Christmas wrap, a gift she had been working on for my mother-in-law. In years past, my wife and I have been the gracious recipients of cellophane ornaments, macaroni artwork and various wads of hardened clay that required long and detailed explanations. In each case, the thought was what counted, and the items went into their appropriate spots of deification and occasional dusting.

So, as we were all rushing around the week before Christmas, buying gifts, making travel plans and trying to get the right choir outfit ironed for the right concert, she comes home with this package and asks her grandmother to open it. I thought nothing of it, other than, “Don’t open that! It’s not Christmas yet! I still have three days before I’m late with everything I said I’d do before Christmas!” Thus, I wandered off to some other part of the house to nail down something or other that I had yet to do. When I came back, my mother-in-law had this completely decimated look on her face and the cardboard gift in her hand. She passed it to me and I read it:

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Some of you know that my mother-in-law came to live with us a few years back after a stroke disabled the left side of her body. She had previously lived in the North Woods of Wisconsin, where you were just as likely to see a bear in your yard as you were to see a neighbor. The home was the dream of her mother, who had longed to leave the Racine/Kenosha area and go back to nature.

After several years, the home began to deteriorate, as did the finances of the family. The bills and the mortgage weren’t getting paid. Gutters were rusting, plumbing was failing and other things were collapsing. When we went to get her, the house had no running water, the septic tank hadn’t been pumped in quite some time and the propane tank was empty. We knew she couldn’t survive a winter up there with my father-in-law posting a half-dozen electric heaters around her, praying that a power outage wouldn’t end them both. Even more, lawyers and title agents had been sending pounds of mail my father-in-law continually ignored, most of which explained the home had moved into foreclosure. Over the last year, at Mom’s urging, I worked with them to help facilitate the final stages of this to bring her some closure and remove this albatross from around her neck.

For much of the time they owned it, I never really liked that house. It was isolated and you always seemed to be about 20 miles away from anything you needed. Everywhere you went, the deer seemed bound and determined to fuck up your vehicle. I once smashed up my truck while on a Christmas visit, slamming into a giant buck that was chasing a doe across Highway 141. The people up there were friendly in a way, but they had that underlying edge of “You ain’t from around here, are you?” I would often affect a “Yooper” accent while I was up there, partially to blend and partially for mockery.

The time I spent up there was always awkward for me. I never really seemed to have a place or a thing that I was supposed to be doing. Mom’s OCD meant everything had to be in exactly the right spot and I never could seem to find any of them. As time wore on, there were financial issues that made it weird to be there as well. Would there be enough propane to run a shower and the dishwasher? Why was the house heat set so low… Oh… At one point, a sheriff’s deputy came out to deliver a mortgage delinquency notice. I always felt odd when they brought home pizza or stocked the fridge with Diet Coke for me, as I kept feeling like they couldn’t afford it and that I was somehow draining precious family resources. (Of course, offering to buy or bring my own stuff was verboten, because that’s insulting so, there you go with that…)

When we last visited the house, it was to pull out whatever we could salvage of Mom’s stuff before the home was gone for good. Mom, OCD to the Nth degree, sent us with a laundry list of specific items she desperately needed and exactly where they should be. Of course, it had been months since she had lived there and even longer since the stroke robbed her of the ability to make ABSOLUTELY SURE that stuff was where she put it. My father-in-law was supposedly still living there, but there was little evidence to demonstrate that fact. We guessed he was just sleeping in the backroom at the gas station he was running about a half-hour away in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

The house was frigid and mostly dark, with standing water in the basement. Boxes of paper had turned to a slushy mess and mold crept along every surface downstairs. We quickly moved from delicate examination and list checking to triage-and-trash mode. Whatever we found that we thought was important and worth saving, we put on the U-Haul. Whatever was beyond reclamation, we tossed into a corner of the basement. The environment turned our fingers bluish gray; our breath became steamy puffs and coughs. Several hours later, we had worked our way through each room of the structure, crossing off the list what we found and coming up with plausible explanations for the items we couldn’t locate. We drove home, bone tired and achy. I looked back at the place through the side-view mirror of the moving truck and thought, “This is the last time I’ll ever have to see this shithole.”

My child saw none of this. That wasn’t the house she remembered.

She knew of the bench where she kept her “rock collection,” a series of non-descript stones she had freed from the dirt driveway near the stand-alone garage. She remembered the flowers on the graves of Lucky the Dog and Oreo the Cat, pets who guarded her as a baby, played with her as a toddler and slept on her bed from time to time. She recalled the stories of the black bear that kept breaking the bird feeders to grab the suet cakes and who smashed the fence around the backyard. The giant mother, with her two playful cubs in tow, who ate as she saw fit and largely viewed Lucky’s furious barking with passing amusement.

My kid remembered the flowers and the yard. She remembered the dilapidated tree house she was never allowed into but that served as a constant flight of fancy. Maybe, just maybe, THIS summer Grandpa Moose would fix up the structure so she could play in it. She hated the bees that built nests that kept her away from parts of the yard and she wondered how high the snow would be that winter. She remembered the fun that comes with not knowing the adult things that imbrued it. She remembered all the things I never even thought about.

I tell my writing and reporting students that one of the best ways to find story ideas is to “wonder more.” I note that when you’re a little kid, everything is so wonderful and magical and we ask “why” 274 times an hour because we desperately want to understand everything. As we get older, we look past most of those things that were once so important. Instead, we focus on whatever it is that is causing the biggest pain in the ass at that moment and try to fix it. That house was filled with wonder for my kid, for reasons I’ll never really fully know and yet I can completely understand.

I never knew how broke my mom’s mom was for most of her life. All I knew was that she had a dog that was mine whenever I wanted to come over and play with it. There was a “tree house” that was really nothing more than a carpet-covered board wedged into the fork of a big maple in her backyard, where I sat and read for hours. I ate a ground up mixture of bologna, onion, pickle and mayonnaise each time I went there and it was the greatest thing ever made. Every night I spent there, just before bedtime, we would pull out a giant pail of generic ice cream out of the deep freeze and have a bowl as a treat.

It was only much, much later that terms like “alcoholism” and “bankruptcy” and “cancer” crept into my vocabulary and added those blotches of gray to my rose-colored view of life with Grandma. My kid now knows the kinds of the things about her grandmother that I once found out about mine. The conversations around the house gave her words like “foreclosure” and “disability” and “disrepair.”

I often wanted to go back to that time where I knew none of those things and I could just hang on to those good things.

My kid knows everything. All she wants is a picture of their land.

And that just wrecks me.

The Problem of Whiteness meets the Problem with the Witless

It seems that Rep. David Murphy, who chairs the state’s committee on colleges and universities despite never having graduated from one, came out swinging against a course titled “The Problem of Whiteness.” This class is taught at UW-Madison, is an elective and is taught by professor Damon Sajnani, who has a Ph.D. in African-American studies from Northwestern. Murphy found the class – an elective, mind you – to be so disturbing he called for the entire UW System’s funding request to be yanked unless the class was cancelled:

 Murphy, who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, said he and his staff looked at “The Problem of Whiteness” course description for the spring semester, as well as the background of its teacher, Assistant Professor Damon Sajnani. He concluded: “We are adding to the polarization of the races in our state.”

 

SNIP

 

Murphy said he had been “trying to talk up” to fellow lawmakers increased funding for the UW System in the next state budget but was now having doubts.

“If UW-Madison stands with this professor,” Murphy wrote, “I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.”

 

This is the textbook definition of bullying and a shakedown. The university system contains 26 campuses, 180,000 students, 40,000 faculty and contributes nearly $6 billion annually to the state and Murphy wants to hold it hostage over ONE COURSE. He has also demanded that Sajnani be “dismissed.” Keep in mind, he never took the course, never read the texts associated with the course and never received a complaint about the course. He just basically decided to screw with the university because he can. We’re about a millimeter away from Murphy saying, “Nice budget you gots here… Shame if somethin’ were to happen to it…”

 

Murphy didn’t stop with just this one course, however, noting that he was going to have his staff check into ALL classes at UW-Madison to make sure “they’re legit.”

Asked what he and his staff would be looking for in courses, Murphy said they would not need to look at disciplines like chemistry or business, but “we’ll be looking at the humanities. I realize college is a place to discuss ideas that aren’t necessarily everybody’s idea of how things ought to be, but I want to make sure there’s legitimate education going on.”

 

This would be hysterical if it Murphy didn’t have actual power over state resources. Let’s review a few things:

  1. Murphy never graduated from college. He couldn’t even finish a degree at UW-Fox Valley, a two-year school in the system. He spent his life in agri-business and as a real estate guy. How, exactly, would he know if the courses were “legit” or not? What level of expertise does he bring to the table that would indicate his life and educational experience will allow him to sniff out all these potentially illegitimate courses? That would be like me walking around the surgical wing at the Mayo Clinic and checking up on all those brain surgeries to make sure they’re being done right.
  2. The professor he attacked at this point is an international scholar. Sajnani hails from Canada, where he not only received a bachelor’s and master’s degree, but he also is an accomplished member of the hip-hop community. For all the shit legislators give people about not getting “real world” experience in an area of interest, this guy has walked the walk in various aspects of life. His Ph.D. comes from Northwestern and he’s been a fellow at Harvard based on his research. So exactly how would he be unqualified a) teach this course and b) contribute to this university?
  3. Does Murphy realize he just backed the state into a corner with his stupidity? Let’s say for the sake of argument, the state wants to fund some, but not all of this UW System request. Anyone with a good PR person (read: anyone but Murphy) would immediately pounce on this and say, “Look, we got cut because Dave Murphy is trying to undermine academic freedom at our flagship university!” Regardless of how often he denies it, the case can be made that he threatened the budget if the course wasn’t cut, the U has not (and will not) cut the course and now the budget got cut.

 

This isn’t the first time the state has threatened the system’s budget. A few years back it was Steve Nass, who holds two degrees from UW-Whitewater and somehow thinks he made it in life despite that, took on the system over courses. He and several other Republicans killed a budget request when it created an overblown shit fit about an alleged $1 billion systemwide surplus.

Usually what happens is, the regents ask for money for faculty raises or improved facilities and the Republicans find something to get outraged about. It’s not a case of actual outrage, but they do a good job of making people really upset about these greedy, liberal (probably all gay drug using) professors in their ivory towers who don’t understand reality. Thus, they cut the budget, hold it out as a pride point and continue to divide the state between the “haves” and “have nots,” all as they do very little for either group.

Doctor makes “monkey face” comment about Michelle Obama. Outraged? Yes. Shocked? Nope.

In the days after the presidential election, people have tried to parse the reasons for the rise of Trump and how racism will awaken from the dark, like it’s the Force or something.

The current narrative has gone in one of two directions, both of which seem to land on the same group: Rural, uneducated white people. In one version of this, it was an economic/culture issue that led rural whites to see Trump as a savior. This is something Trump has been playing up in Indiana this week, where he courageously threw money at Carrier to only lose some U.S. manufacturing jobs. In short, it’s about the work and the country mouse/city mouse divide.

The second version is racism, although it pretty much lands on the same basic group: Rural, uneducated white people. This narrative pushes out the concept that Trump tapped into that vein of racism that flows through the heartland like melted butter and stoked fears of Muslims, Mexicans and African-Americans. It was these simple-minded rubes who turned out in droves to “Make America Great Again” in hopes of getting back to that simpler time when all you needed to know about minorities is how many fifths of a person they counted for.

The stats bear out a lot of both of those elements, although more of the first than the second. Of course, the main problem is that you don’t get to take your alleged job creator without his side order of racism, something many people overlooked in their race to the bottom.

The second problem is that when it comes to racism, sexism and other “isms,” it’s not as simple as population density or if you’ve ever seen a building taller than three stories before.

Dr. Michelle Herren, an anesthesiologist and University of Colorado professor, came under fire this week for posting racist comments about Michelle Obama. Herren called the First Lady a “monkey face” said she spoke in “poor ebonic English.” Naturally, she followed that up with “There! I feel better and am still not racist!!! Just calling it like it is!”

I don’t know what was supposed to convince readers more that she wasn’t racist, the heavy use of exclamation points or the “calling it like it is” thing. The person who turned her in to Denver Health and the board of regents said she was shocked and outraged by Herren’s comments. Herren is now on a leave of some kind until the hospital can figure out what to do with her/the fervor dies down and she can slink back to work.

The media reporting on this has listed her title, her salary ($363,000 a year) and her education, in what I’m assuming is a way to let people know, “Wow, look at this! This really SMART and RICH lady is even saying shit like this.”

I was outraged as well to see comments like this, but shocked? Not a chance.

I’m uncertain as to what people think makes someone who has a medical degree less of an asshole on any front. I guess we could hope that people with higher levels of finance and education are more likely to become cultured and worldly, thus giving them a better perspective on race and class.

A few recent media pieces have demonstrated that, no matter who you are or where you are, racism lives among us. John Oliver’s look at gentrified schools shows that these dividing lines in the North were given a pass when the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren went at it this week about racism and Trump. Although the media notes that Noah “owns” her or whatever, if you watch the whole interview, he really didn’t. It reminded me of the Hagler-Leonard fight in which you saw Hagler punching hard, but for some reason, Leonard kept holding his own on the scorecards. (She’s got a college degree from UNLV, which obviously isn’t the reason she’s such a YouTube star. She might be the first woman a Republican jerked off to on a computer without turning the sound down.)

Christopher Caldwell’s piece on what I’d like to call the Control-Alt-Delete-Right showcases the spectrum of education and nuance in this scary-as-shit movement:

There are many such groups, varying along a spectrum of couth and intellect. Mr. Spencer, who dropped out of a doctoral program at Duke and worked, briefly, as an editor for The American Conservative, has his own online review, Radix Journal. The eloquent Yale-educated author Jared Taylor, who hosts the American Renaissance website and magazine, was at the conference, too. Kevin MacDonald, a retired psychology professor whose trilogy on Jewish influence is a touchstone for the movement, also came.

None of this excuses the bigger picture of people who spray paint swastikas on kids’ lockers or do the “hail Trump” salute. However, there’s enough shitty behavior to cover the people with Stars N Bars bumper stickers on their rusty truck and those who take a Lexus to the hospital, but won’t take an elevator with a black orderly.

Or as my father, a man with a tech-school degree, was fond of saying: “Educated doesn’t necessarily mean smart.”

Friday Ferretblogging: This one’s for A

She always finds a way to turn lemons into a reason to help other people, as witnessed by the food drive. I figured she deserved something for herself, so I headed to the local pet store and shot this. Pay particular attention to the fat one near the end who gets his head stuck in a plastic toy and decides to try to get out of there by beating his head into the floor.

Love you, Chief.

Where “Goddammit you fuckin’ guys” got us…

“You’re listening to me but you’re not understanding me.”
“No I’m disagreeing with you. That doesn’t mean that I’m listening to you or understanding what you’re saying. I’m doing all three at the same time.
– West Wing, In This White House

 

If we are going to get anywhere in this post, we need to start with a few basic understandings:

  • I do not like Donald Trump as a person, a candidate, a businessman, a leader or a human.
  • I voted for Hillary Clinton and it would be a cold day in Hell before I ever vote for Trump.
  • Anything said from this point forward should not be in any way construed as support, excuses, justification or approval for Trump or any action he has ever taken, including, but not limited to his sexist rants, his racist comments, his proclivities for sexual assault, his borderline-incest fascination with his daughter, his financial horrors or his moral compass.
  • Anything said from this point forward should not be construed as support, excuses, justification or approval for anyone who voted for him.

 

I spent the past few days trying to wrap my head around this election outcome and I figured out that I can’t. That bothers me because a) I’m an intellectual so I like knowing things and b) I’m a tinkerer, so I like solving problems.

Everyone who has written every concern about Donald J. Trump and the potential he has to fuck up every single institution in this country and turn us into Wolfenstein: The New Order is right. As far as journalism goes, these people have done everything perfectly in terms of explaining the Who, What, When, Where and How. What I’m trying to dig into is the “Why” aspect of this.

The problem with looking at “Why” is that it can be interpreted as agreement with or justification for choices.

I will be doing neither.

That said, if you don’t understand why something broke, you can’t figure out how to fix it. If you don’t take a look at the underlying aspects of something, you won’t understand its nature. Since most of the analysis has tried to look at the rural vote, I’m going to spend a lot of time picking at that.

And just like we would tell people who spent the last 19 months chanting “Lock Her Up,” we can’t get by with slogans or bumper-sticker answers.

This is going to hurt.

 

“I’m sure that’s important but I don’t want to tell some 8-year-old kid he has to sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their car. Do you want to tell him that?”
– Dave

 

John Scalzi did a fantastic post titled, “The Cinemax Theory of Racism.” In it, he explains the fact that even people who say, “I’m not racist, but I voted for Trump” were essentially aiding and abetting racism anyway. The analogy is outlined here, but here’s the short-course version of it:

 

You want HBO, but the cable company says you can’t get it without buying Cinemax as well. You decide to purchase HBO and then you’re upset when people say you are also a Cinemax subscriber.

You can make all the arguments you want that you don’t plan to watch Cinemax, that you didn’t want Cinemax and that you have no love for Cinemax, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a Cinemax subscriber.

Same deal with Trump: You may have bought him for the supposed economic policies and Making Greatness for Beloved State of America, but you also are a racism subscriber.

 

He’s right in both the analogy and the outcome: People who bought Trump have to live with being called out for it, no matter how unpleasant the word “racist” is to them. I wouldn’t like being called a lot of “ists” out there either. However, in looking at the rural vote that came out for Trump, it might be more instructive to try a second analogy along those same lines:

 

You are trapped on an island for 10 days with no outside help or system of support. On this island is a single bird that is the only source of sustenance that will allow you to survive.

Unfortunately for you, this is a rare bird, a one-of-a-kind, and by killing and eating it, you will be causing the extinction of this species and will be helping to destroy an ecosystem.

So, you eat the bird and live.

For the rest of time after your rescue, people tell you that you destroyed the environment.

But I was just trying to survive, you say.

The others say back, Uh huh… but you killed off a species. You destroyed an ecosystem.

But I didn’t have a choice, you say.

The others say back, I understand you feel that way, but you still eliminated the animal from our world and we’ll never see it again. Our world will never be the same again.

But it was do this or die, you say.

The others say back, well, you still made that choice. You better own it.

 

This is rural America. They feel isolated from the broader whole. They feel desperate to survive. They are trying to weigh out an immediate, real need against what they perceive to be an ethereal broader consequence. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that starvation is going to trump higher-order thinking every day of the week.
I see three basic reasons for this:

  • Loss of local media: You can make the argument that the people in rural America get their information from Fox News and that assholes like Bill O’Reilly and Rudy Giuliani have fed them lies, distortions and false narratives. However the problem isn’t in what the national media is feeding them, but rather what local media isn’t anymore.
    Local newspapers are dying as paper costs more, journalism people don’t want to go out there and education is being shredded. You see buyouts, consolidation and other things that are eliminating newspapers throughout the rural areas. Those that remain are understaffed and overworked, leading to “easy” coverage on things like school plays and local parades.
    When local media in these towns meant something, people there learned from “people like them” what was going on with the local government, the school district and other similar things. They found out where their money was going and they could read about how things were in their area. That was all stuff they could get behind and at least understand: “My money will build a new school or buy a new fire truck. My kids can get a better education and my home won’t burn to the ground.”
    Now, these places get grouped into a larger “metro market” and get whatever Gannett paper is out there. None of the local news matters to them and the national news sucks, what little there is of it. So they turn to Fox or whatever Facebook feed their friends find interesting and, bam, you get a sense that nothing good is happening out there.
  • Realistic Conflict Theory and intergroup relations: Both analogies above (as well as thousands of others) create a dichotomy: You get X or Y. You buy the whole meal, no substitutions. In a broader view of this, it basically becomes a function of Realistic Conflict Theory: If you and I want the same cookie and either I get it or you get it, one of us is going to get something and the other isn’t. Trump did a brilliant job (and I hope to God that’s the last time I ever use the words “Trump” and “brilliant” in the same sentence…) of putting this out there for the voters who live in the rural areas. Kathy Cramer’s work on the rural people of Wisconsin makes this clear: People in the smaller towns and villages all over this state feel like all the good stuff goes to the Madisons and Milwaukees of the state while they get shit on. Can you make that argument? Absolutely. Is it perfect? Not at all. However, when you paint an “us versus them” picture, people will always close ranks with the “us folks” and research for generations has demonstrated that perfectly.
  • The lack of broader privilege: When we discuss privilege at the broader level, we talk about things like “white privilege” or “male privilege” and I’m not discounting or dismissing either of those. However, here’s an example of what I’m talking about:On a ballot a few elections ago, there was a referendum to raise property taxes locally for repairs and additions to the local high school. My child doesn’t attend the local school. None of her friends attend the local school. Nobody I know teaches or works at the local school.
    I voted for it anyway.
    My way of thinking was not about the $10 a year per thousand dollars of assessed value or whatever meant to my pocketbook. I saw value in the project, knew it would help people and just said yes. That’s a privilege I possess that a lot of people don’t.

    I would never cast my grandmothers into the “basket of deplorables,” but I know for sure they voted against helping schools, improving the library, paving some streets and a dozen other things that would have benefitted their small cities. They were fucking destitute, living on a tiny fraction of what I spend on car parts and furniture for the year.
    Every time I vote, I look at my vote in two ways: “How does it help me personally/my close family network?” And “How does this impact the bigger picture?” If I’m lucky, there’s a lot of overlap between the two and the vote is easy. In some cases, the Venn Diagram doesn’t really provide a lot of AB crossover, so I have to think about what I should do. I have that privilege. I can say, “Sure, Hillary might fuck me over a little here and there, but I can’t put a racist, sexist, homophobic asshole in charge of a hot dog cart, let alone the goddamned country.”
    Not everyone can look past immediate self-interest and buy the bigger picture.
    And Trump found a lot of those people.

 

 

“Don’t press your luck, funny man. And stop thinking everyone between Fifth Avenue and the Hollywood Bowl just stepped barefoot out of the cast of ‘Hee Haw.’ Tell your friends about it.”
– Studio 60, Nevada Day, Part II

 

Kathy Cramer has done some incredible work in Wisconsin as a political scientist, digging into the rural communities throughout the state and doing something that most of the pollsters and data crunchers don’t: She talked to people.

Researchers will argue that they talk to people all the time. So will journalists. Here’s the problem: They tend to parachute in, ask a bunch of questions, get some answers that support their ideas and evac out.

Cramer kept going back and going back and going back. She was like the Jane Goodall of the farming community in places that have fewer people than my high school.

This interview with her is spellbinding in so many ways, but the part that sticks with me right away is this quote:

“People felt that they weren’t getting respect. They would say: The real kicker is that people in the city don’t understand us. They don’t understand what rural life is like, what’s important to us and what challenges that we’re facing. They think we’re a bunch of redneck racists.”

Most of the talking heads spent the 48 hours after the election trying to parse one issue: Was this racism or classism? If you were on the Left, it was usually racism. If you were on the Right, it was usually classism.

Cramer’s research says it’s probably neither, but more of tribalism.

City Mouse versus Country Mouse.

Cramer talked at length about how her naiveté allowed her to start her work because had she known of the chasm of this divide, she probably would have been too scared to go to these places. Even as a white, Midwestern woman, she said there was a sense of “other” that emerged when she explained what she was doing and why:

They’re asking questions like, how often do I teach, what am I doing driving around the state Wisconsin when I’m supposed to be working full time in Madison, like, what kind of a job is that, right?

It’s not just resentment toward people of color. It’s resentment toward elites, city people. …

Part of where that comes from is just the overarching story that we tell ourselves in the U.S. One of the key stories in our political culture has been the American Dream — the sense that if you work hard, you will get ahead.

Well, holy cow, the people I encountered seem to me to be working extremely hard. I’m with them when they’re getting their coffee before they start their workday at 5:30 a.m. I can see the fatigue in their eyes. And I think the notion that they are not getting what they deserve, it comes from them feeling like they’re struggling. They feel like they’re doing what they were told they needed to do to get ahead. And somehow it’s not enough.

Oftentimes in some of these smaller communities, people are in the occupations their parents were in, they’re farmers and loggers. They say, it used to be the case that my dad could do this job and retire at a relatively decent age, and make a decent wage. We had a pretty good quality of life, the community was thriving. Now I’m doing what he did, but my life is really much more difficult.

I’m doing what I was told I should do in order to be a good American and get ahead, but I’m not getting what I was told I would get.

 

At one point, I was forced to calculate how many hours a day I “worked” as part of my job here at the U. Counting the newspaper, night-time grading, emails to kids off hours and other things like that, it came to something like 60-65 hours per week. Maybe it was a little more or less, but that was what I was coming up with for a month worth of counting.

Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t trade that for anything the people I live near do, no matter what.

I get to wear what I want to work. I can’t remember the last time I had to wear a uniform.

I can eat or pee whenever I feel like it. I don’t need to ask permission or have someone approve it.

I don’t have to punch in or punch out. As long as the work gets done, nobody gives a shit.

The biggest thing, though, is that I don’t come home dirty. Some days I feel mentally shot or brain dead, but I can sit on the couch right away without hearing, “Change your pants before you sit on the good sofa!”

When I worked in the garage, Mom used to make me strip in the yard and march my clothes down to the basement every day. They had to run my clothes through the wash without anyone else’s and we had to run an extra rinse cycle before we did the next load, for fear of damaging the rest of the laundry. I can’t tell you how many days I scarfed down my night meal in the kitchen in my skivvies and socks with clean hands, dirty arms and a naked torso.

When I go into the Kwik Trip in town for gas or a snack on the way to work, I see a lot of people I know do the same thing. The guys with dirt-caked boots, grease-stained Dickies and a worn-out baseball cap. The difference is, this is their life, not a summer job.

The other difference? I probably make three or four times what those guys make and the only surgery I’ve had to endure because of it was bilateral carpal tunnel.

I have friends with fused necks, fake knees and mangled fingers, courtesy of a life on a farm or in a garage.

This election, they came out for the promise of a better personal experience, even as those of us who make our livings on keyboards and televisions told them that Trump wasn’t their guy.

The Country Mouse roared.

 

 

“Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”
– Gene Krantz, Apollo 13

 

I had a chance to sit down Thursday with one of the most insightful and emotionally worldly students I ever taught. She ticks almost all the boxes of things Trump has pissed on this election: She’s black, she’s gay, she’s from a large city, she’s been poor, she has relied on government assistance and she “doesn’t know her place.”

She is my fucking hero. She’s also on the verge of a mental breakdown.

We talked about all sorts of things today in hopes of getting her untracked as she comes ever closer to a December graduation.

Things got better for her at the end of the talk and so I said this:

“I want to ask you a question because you have a better sense of the world than I could ever hope to. If you don’t want to answer it, don’t. And don’t worry about it ever coming up again, but I need to know something if you can tell it to me.”

“Go ahead,” she said, not even flinching for a second.

“OK.” Deep breath. “In your lifetime, have you ever dealt with a straight-up moment or attack from an “ist?”

“Yes. Many times.”

“So here’s the question: How does that compare to how you felt Tuesday watching the election results?”

“A thousand times worse.”

That was exactly how I felt, a sense of betrayal. A sense that I thought I knew all these people who ended up perpetrating the one unforgivable sin.

The truth is, we didn’t.

The reason she felt worse, she told me, was because that old-fashioned, straight-up racism was at least honest. When you saw the guy with the Confederate Flag belt buckle, the “Go back to Africa” shirt and the words “White Power” tattooed down the backs of his arms, you knew that guy was an asshole. You could pick him out, and you stayed away from him. You had no expectations.

This election, we looked at people who we thought were “good people” and found out they cast a vote for someone who embodies everything that guy with the belt buckle displays.

Trump wasn’t a con in that regard. He didn’t hide it. It wasn’t like a JFK-like rumor about Marilyn Monroe or Angie Dickenson.

He told you he was going to grab your pussy before those Mexican rapists got to it.

No ambiguity there.

As Cramer noted, these people weren’t “hoodwinked” into a vote they didn’t understand.

So that’s the problem. How do we solve it?

No fucking clue.

That said, here are a few thoughts to consider before 2020:

 

  • The thing that hurt my student and me (and probably a lot of you) is that these people who voted for Trump were always here. They lived among us. It wasn’t like Trump took a container ship some place and imported 50 million voters from Asshole-istan and took over the country. These people shop with you, eat with you and work with you. Your kids go to the same schools (I found that out when the mother of one of my kid’s friends turned up on a Ron Johnson commercial, bitching about Feingold and Obama.) and you probably wave to each other when you pass on the road.
    They’re not going anywhere. We just figured there weren’t as many of them out there as there turned out to be.
    Let’s assume for a minute that Hillary Clinton was right when she made her “basket of deplorables” comment: Half of Trump voters are racists, sexists, homophobes and other horrible, vile things. That leaves us with slightly more than 30 million Trump voters outside that basket.
    What do we want to do with them?
    If the answer is, “Get out the vote next time” that’s akin to seeing a leak in the ceiling and fixing it by using a bigger bucket to catch the drips. Trying to get more of “us” to vote to counteract the surge in “them” doesn’t solve the “they’re here” problem.
  • For all the talk about pulling rural knuckle-draggers out of East Shithole-ville, we need to consider the converse. No, I’m not talking about learning the words to “Deutschland erwache” or getting fitted for a white sheet. It’s that kind of thought process that put us in this mess in the first place.
    Barbara Ehrenreich touched on this concept in her book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” when she went to work for $7 an hour to see what poverty was like. Linda Tirado took this a step further in “Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America,” as she actually lived the life Ehrenreich visited. However, in both cases, you were looking at survival in larger metro areas.
    What’s it like hauling lumber, milking cows, running the town’s only diner or teaching in its only school? How many people out there have never met a person of color, a gay person or any of the other things Trump is shit-talking? I have a hard time believing anyone on the New York Times editorial board goes home smelling like pig shit at the end of the day or waking up unable to move their right arm. It’s easy to say, “You should come to my way of life” if you have never experienced someone else’s.
  • Vilifying and castigating people have never, ever led to improvements. When someone tells me I’m bad or stupid, the next thought in my head isn’t usually, “Hey, this guy might be on to something! Let’s listen more closely!” Instead it’s “Fuck you and everyone who looks like you.” I have no idea how best to reach people before the next time we have to play, “Let’s Save the Republic,” but I do know what is happening now sure isn’t it. Telling people “We know better” or “Your way is the wrong way” got us here. It’s that self-assured smugness we all hate in Trump and fans of the New York Yankees. We might be right that we know better or that one way is better than the other. That said, that’s not the answer. We have gotten into a pattern that isn’t helping us connect: We wait for our turn to speak. We don’t listen.

Now, we have to at least consider lending our ears.

 

We’re Not Like You

I live in what would be considered a rural area, even if you don’t consider the kinds of people who consider everything that’s not in L.A., D.C., New York, Atlanta and Chicago to be rural. We have 3,300 souls in this city and the biggest issue on the ballot here was whether we should be forced to vote in “districts” for city council or if we should be voting as a city.

I’m pretty sure my alderperson is my friend’s cousin.

And he’s related to half the town, so that’s a pretty safe bet.

My state is going the way of Trump, even as CNN keeps doing the “too close to call” thing at 12:30 a.m. The sad part is I know so many of these people who decided to vote that way.

They check out my groceries. They sell me my gas. They deliver my mail and pick up my garbage. They have kids who play with my kid. They wave to me as I work on my truck and I do the same to them as they mow their lawns.

I, like A, won’t apologize for my vote. I wasn’t excited to vote for Hillary, as I was with Obama or Ross Perot (my first presidential vote). I wasn’t ambivalent either, as I was for Clinton in 1996. I was fucking petrified like I was in 2004 when I cast a vote for John Kerry and spent half the goddamned day and night checking my computer and nearby TV terminals for updates as I flew to Tennessee for a media convention. Maybe even more so this time because while stupid scares me, arrogant ignorance sends my heart into arrhythmic palpitations.

This was an election of anger.

This was an election of hatred.

This was an election of difference: Us vs. Them.

Donald Trump knew something a lot of we “smart people” didn’t: Hate and Anger is so much easier to mobilize than anything else we have inside us. The longer this circus went on, the more we kept thinking, “Sure, these assholes will turn out in force to watch him scream about making this country great again, but when it comes down to it, they’ll either figure out he’s a con man or they’ll be too busy watching a ‘Duck Dynasty’ marathon to show up and vote.”

Of all the people who didn’t see this coming, one did: Bill Maher.

Like him or hate him, Maher basically knew this country backwards and forwards when it came to the little enclaves of Americana that tend to host comedians. He knew that people were pissed and were ready to kick someone, anyone in the balls over their perceived sense of what was wrong with this country. He kept telling us, “Look, you are the dumbshits who kept saying, ‘He won’t run’ and then he did. ‘He won’t win a primary’ and then he did. ‘He won’t get the nomination’ and then he did. WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FUCKING WAKE UP?”

I woke up today.

I looked at the people in my polling place. Old people in flag sweaters. Fat guys with “With us or against us” T-shirts. Farmers with “Make America Great Again” hats. Women who love making jam and talked about the wonderful way things “used to be.”

It was like the back end of every one of these Sorkin Scenes:

I feel right now like I felt in 2004: A heap of useless, exhausted beyond belief, stunned by the stupidity of my fellow citizens as I try to talk with a mouth full of ashes.

A is right. We have to get up again. The question I have is, “Who is standing next to us when we do?”

When you don’t see this coming or you can’t see this within the people you think you know, the ability to rise again becomes more difficult. The ability to think, “Maybe things will be better after some time passes,” crumbles away. The sense that, “All we have to do is let people see that we’re all in this together,” dissipates in your hands as you realize hope is an illusion.

And yet it is one we must cling to. Even as reality proved to us this very night that faith, hope and trust are no longer common traits we share with those around us.

An open letter to Cubs fans from an Indians fan

Dear Chicago Cub Fans,

It took all seven games, and extra innings to boot, but you did it. You broke the Curse of the Billy Goat and won your first World Series since the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s administration. The long wait of “next year” is over. It’s done.

World Champion Chicago Cubs.

I bet it sounds great.

As a Cleveland fan, I have to admit it hurts more than I thought it would. In the end, I was just exhausted. Down 1, down 4, comeback, comeback, extra innings, rain delay, down two, rally for a run, lose with an out from the last guy left on the bench batting… Like my team, I had nothing left to give.

I remember saying at the beginning of the year that it would be amazing if the Cubs and Indians made the series because it would be great either way. Tonight, watching the Tribe’s chances slip away, I realize I was wrong about that.

I came to my first conclusion based on the last time we lost in a Game 7. We lost to the Carpetbagging Marlins, a team built Enron: Gobs of money spent to guarantee a prize for the owners, only to have everything come crashing down shortly thereafter. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at the 1997 and 1998 Marlins rosters. It’s like two completely different teams.

They were an expansion team with five years experience.

They were a collection of overpaid free agent talent.

They caught some of the luckiest breaks in postseason history.

The Cubs are none of those things: They grew their own talent, they suffered (Jesus, have they suffered) and basically each game was what it was.

Unlike every other historical moment in Cleveland sports, you don’t have a “THE” moment, like “The Drive” or “The Fumble” or “The Shot.” You also don’t have a “blame” factor. If you asked me why we lost this series, I can’t point to a single person. It’s not “Jose Mesa” or “David Justice” or “John Elway” or “Michael Jordan.” The closest, I guess, would be Tyler Naquin, who misplayed that ball in center during Game 6, but hell, that wasn’t even close to being in the same league as these others.

I go back to what I think Bert Sugar said about watching the Holmes-Cooney fight in 1982: One was a complete fighter. One was an incomplete fighter. As the fight wore on, the difference became obvious.

The Cubs had all the pieces and everything clicked at the right time.

The Indians didn’t and eventually, it caught up with them.

That said, the realization that this wasn’t going to be as great as I thought it was settled in when it seemed like every friend I had came out of the closet as a Cubs fan.

I meant what I said back in June: All I wanted was one championship for one of my teams in my lifetime.

I got it.

I’m good.

Still, it doesn’t feel any better watching the outcome of that Faustian bargain come to bear so soon. Yes, I am happy that you’re happy, but having to hear about it 24/7 is like having a best friend telling you how good your ex is in bed. I get that you’re happy, but damn…

So this year is your next year and congratulations for that. I’m sure it’ll take a while to get adjusted to the “Can we still be loveable without being losers?” thing and trying to figure out how to kind of sweep away that whole “Man were we dicks to Steve Bartman…” episode. Take the chance to soak it all in and enjoy it.

All I ask of you is that you savor your win without being unnecessarily cruel to me and mine. We weren’t the bad guys in this. We just happened to be the team that got in your way when the wheel came around for you. Like you, we play the game the right way, we have a great manager who inspires his guys and we hate Joe Buck, too.

Above all else, though, do your best not to turn into Red Sox fans, who got three championships in ten years and bitched about not winning more. Don’t bitch about your payroll if it swells to only the second-largest in baseball or that your team only pilfers a 20-game winner from a lesser team EVERY OTHER year. Don’t let the media around you create some bullshit “-gate” that has everyone on DriveTime Sports Call-in bitching that everyone should get fired and the team should start over.

People without a horse in the race this year were pulling for you because you represented what they wanted to see in life: The miracle moment when the impossible becomes possible for all the right reasons. It’s the same reason they cheered for Boston in ’04 (Well, that and everyone hates the fucking Yankees if they have an ounce of humanity in a crust of a soul within them.) and reveled in the death of the Bambino’s Curse.

Don’t become another big-city fan base of entitled assholes, complete with an entourage of bandwagoners.

It’s harder than it looks, but I have faith in you all.

Best,

Doc

A Morality Play Between the Foul Lines

When the Cubs punched their first World Series ticket since 1945, I got a text from my wife:

“Your cousin is at the game. I saw a picture on Facebook.”

My cousin is a familial strain that reached into Illinois somewhere after my grandparents divorced. When her father couldn’t get a job in education in Wisconsin, my grandfather made “a few calls” back in the day when that was a standard practice and helped him land a teaching/coaching gig south of the border.

It was my aunt and uncle, three cousins, my grandfather and his wife who all took up residence in the Greater Chicagoland Area.

They always lived “around” Chicago, but never IN Chicago. No L stops or delis where you needed to speak Polish to get served. They were basically the exemplar of what drove my wife nuts in discussing Illinois geography with people:

Her: “So where are you from?”
Burb Kid: “I’m from Chicago!”
Her: “I grew up on Hermitage Avenue. What street are you?”
Burb Kid: (blank stare) Uh… I’m from Wilmette…
Her: YOU’RE NOT FROM FUCKING CHICAGO!!!!!

As a child, I looked forward to trips down there. I always left disappointed, as she seemed to exude what became known around these parts as “Just THEIR Way.”

Aloof. Self-absorbed. Dismissive.

Maybe it was that I was the little cousin (she being three years older than I) who was always forced on her. Maybe it was that we just sat on opposite sides of the gender pivot at all the wrong times. Maybe it was just irreconcilable differences in regard to upbringing (My uncle, the coach, was like the dad in “Pitch.” My parents encouraged me to do things I liked, as opposed to whatever obsession fueled them.)

Mom always assured me that eventually we’d grow out of those awkward phases and become closer. Mom was wrong and almost diametrically so.

When she got married the first time, I was required to serve as a reader. I protested against going, as the student newspaper was starting back up after a seven-month shutdown. This was going to be our crowning moment.

Mom basically slammed the door on that one and although I was an adult who could do whatever I saw fit, I needed to do things for the betterment of the family.

So I went. She never even noticed. Neither did any of the other “Illinois Family.”

The only perverse pleasure I took out of the whole thing was that about three years later, my cousin divorced. I would commonly snipe that at least the paper survived longer than the marriage.

She was in and out of college and blew through money like water, leaving behind her a party trail and a ton of debt. Her father throwing around his sizable weight to get her gigs here and there. Eventually she became a teacher, although I have no idea how the hell this is even possible. Of all the people I thought of as being kind and decent toward childhood betterment, she was the last one I’d imagine that would fit that bill.

I often felt like this scene in “The Ref” in dealing with her:

Eventually, she remarried to a man who had been adopted by a wealthy family as a child. He’d been divorced once as well and really never found anything that was his calling. Thus, he schlubbed along until my uncle helped make him a coach as well. When his parents died, he inherited extremely well and thus my fuck-up cousin and her doughy husband were suddenly able to live the life she always thought she deserved.

Concert? All of them and the best tickets.
Casinos? Black Jack for hours on end.
Travel? Florida, Vegas, whatever feels good.
Sports? Season ticket to the Badgers (my uncle emphasizes his ties to the UW to the point of absurdity; his kids never even sniffed Madison’s admission standards, but they are constantly adorned in Bucky-wear and participating in the “traditions” of sport).

The Cubs games are the latest extension of the way in which her family (all but my aunt, who seems to almost take pride in being a Milwaukee-rooted South-Side Polack who grew up over a tavern and just happened to move south) approach life. Truth be told, I can’t remember ever seeing anything Cubbie-related in their house or hear of a passion for the Northsiders. Still, now that this is a thing, she’s into it as are the others in her family.

It’s “the place to be” so they are there. It’s “the thing to do” so they do it.

When it comes to the nouveau riche and the inheriters, the baseball metaphor often applied is that they think they hit a triple but they were actually born standing on third base. I think a more apt description here would be that she thinks she hit a triple, but she landed on third thanks to a three-base error.

Over the years I’ve been accused of playing the “city mouse/country mouse” card on this blog: I perpetuate idea that Chicago is a vast urban hellhole with nothing that doesn’t reek of bus exhaust or homeless people’s pee.

OK, I’ll cop to that, but that’s not what this is.

When I see the Cubs fans they tend to put on TV in this World Series, I tend to see two groups of people featured:

  • 103-year-old fans who get wheeled into the stadium valiantly fending off death for at least one more game in hopes of seeing the Cubs win it all before they die
  • Fuckheads like my cousin: Loud, belligerent, assholes who view things as their birthright and will never condescend to consider others.

The first group, I have no problem with at all and if my team can’t win this year, I’m glad they’ll at least get that moment for themselves. When the Red Sox got it in 2004, I was happy for all the people who lived long enough to see it and even those who took Red Sox caps to the cemetery for their departed loved ones.

(As for my stake in this, I said it even before the playoffs started: I asked God for one championship in my life for one of my teams. I got it. I’m happy either way this pans out.)

As for the second group, I know many Cub fans and I know they’re not all like this. I’ve been there with them when we had to produce the 2003 coverage of the Cubs coverage for our paper. I’ve been with them when we both said, “Maybe next year for one of us” in hopes that we could either end with an “Indian Summer” or a “Goat-buster” in October.

But it’s like Jeff Foxworthy once said about Southerners: “We just can’t keep the most ignorant among us off of TV. When there’s a natural disaster, they never find a doctor or a lawyer. It’s always the woman in the sponge rollers and the muumuu.”

Still, if you want to see what happens when they don’t get what they want, just watch “Catching Hell.” They eat their own.

The Cleveland slogan this post season has been #RallyTogether. LeBron James has shown up repeatedly at the playoff games and called for support for the Tribe during his own crowning moment. Even in the worst of times, Clevelanders have always exuded that “We’re in this together” vibe.

For Cub fans, #FlyTheW has been the calling card. For those like my cousin, though, I think a better one might be #FuckYouImGettingMine

A fart in church

One of the best parts about writing for this blog is the diversity of thought and experience of the readership. That’s not me blowing smoke. It’s true. I have found that I learned a lot about my own position on this big blue rock from hearing of the positions of others here than I learned anywhere else. Agreement, disagreement, whatever. It comes down to people coming at an idea I have from a variety of angles.

Never more is this true than in the field of religion, where not only do people come from various faiths, but various positions on faith, spirituality, organized religion and other “not for me, but do what you dig” ideologies. So this piece isn’t as much about me offering thought as me asking for the sounding board to bounce thoughts to me.

I spent a dozen years in Catholic school and remain a semi-regular participant in the ritual that is Saturday/Sunday mass. My kid is in Year Six of the schooling and gets more of that at home from my mother-in-law, who spent her whole life as an educator of the faith and a pretty “hardline Catholic” (if such a thing exists). My parents are active in the church back home: Dad’s an usher, Mom does the readings. They still attend the same church they got married in almost 50 years ago.

So that’s the set up for what happened two weeks ago as I took Mom to church on a Saturday afternoon when I was in town for our other religious ritual: The monthly baseball card show.

The new priest we got (we seem to be going through them at a fairly brisk pace) isn’t the world’s most likeable man. He met me for the first time about a month ago and noticed that I had lost a lot of hair as he had at some point in his life. “I like your haircut,” he said as he laughed.

Thanks, Father.

The bigger “problem” is that the man is hearing impaired, which makes him difficult to understand. To that end, he has his own personal deacon who does a lot of the talking for him, including the homily.

For those uninitiated in the faith, a deacon is a layman (all men still. My faith needs to grow up.) who serves as kind of a “caddy” for the priest. I’m sure some of them are decent people, but I’ve yet to meet one. My experience with deacons is that they are power-hungry, self-important assholes who believe that God has chosen them to fill the role. This man is like an Alpha Deacon in that regard. He has created rules that prohibit church members from approaching the altar during certain parts of the mass. He forbids readers to sit up front, which means they have to walk up to do the reading, walk back after the reading and then walk back to do the second reading. All of this makes no sense, as most readers are in their 70s and are lucky to be walking at all.

Above all else, however, this guy has that “presence” about him: Holier-than-thou. Smug. A Chosen One. He also looks like Ben from the Dilbert cartoons.

silverhair

So all of this conspired to let the priest give Deacon Dickhead the mic for the homily at mass two weeks ago.

My mother kind of captured my thoughts on what the homily should be for me: “I go there to feel better,” she said. “I want something that makes me feel inspired or at least like I shouldn’t feel bad about something that is happening in my life.”

I agree. Even if it’s a little more toward the fire-and-brimstone side, it can be helpful and inspiration.

The readings were good ones: Moses holding up his arms with the staff of God helps his people win a battle, but as he grew tired, his arms fell. When his arms fell, the opposition had the better of the battle. Thus, two guys gave him a place to sit and held up his arms for him. The Gospel was similarly about getting by with a little help from your friends. (I don’t complicate my faith, I guess…) Thus, I’m looking forward to a good bit of preaching, even given this guy’s limited capabilities.

Instead, I got a political lesson.

The guy got up there and started talking about the election and how neither candidate was good, but one of them was going to make it easier for people to get abortions and we can’t have that. He told some story about Hillary Clinton not clapping for Mother Theresa. He then told this “real story” about a guy who died:

A guy feels sick and goes to the doctor. He finds out he has a virulent strain of cancer that despite every effort, he can’t overcome.

He dies and meets God. “God,” he says. “Why do we have something horrible like cancer? Why can’t you send us a cure for cancer?”

“My child,” God replies. “I did send you a cure for cancer. But she was aborted because her mother wanted a boy.”

At the end of this horseshit, people broke out in applause.

In church.

During mass.

Did I mention we’re Catholic, where we don’t pretty much get jacked up about anything during church?

I could feel my field of vision narrowing and my head pounding as I saw a woman two pews up clapping like it was a Trump rally. I looked over at my mother who was just silent, so I had a hard time getting a feel from her about this.

When communion came (or as my kid once noted, “That time where you go up and get a cookie from the priest), Deacon Dickhead was running my line. I was torn between three actions:

  1. Stay put, take the thing, don’t embarrass mom
  2. Cut across the aisle to the other line, likely create a small scene, but feel better
  3. Stay put and when he says, “Body of Christ” respond with “Fuck you you fucking fuck” and then take a swing at the guy. Larger scene, but probably worth it once in a lifetime.

I went with the first one because it was my parents’ church and I didn’t want to bring shame on the family. I did the perfectly Catholic thing: I sucked it up and took it. At the end of mass, the priest made a point of complimenting the deacon and people applauded again. I wanted to tell them both to fuck off and die. I remained politely Catholic.

On the way to the car, I began with the “So…” line, only to have my mother start railing against this like she was Regan in “The Exorcist.” Certain words don’t sound natural coming out of the mouth of a 70-year-old woman on her way out of church.

Mom found them all.

It got so bad, she forced my father to avoid that topic of discussion at dinner, a meal that was accompanied by a big jolt of wine.

I spent the rest of that week bitching up a storm in my head. Separation of Church and State. Self-righteous prick. Use open records and FOIA the shit out of everything he ever did and hope he had a sexual rap battle with Ken Bone.

I still don’t know why this is eating at me so much. It’s not like the church ever would be in the “Do what you do, just don’t get any on me” kind of thing when it came to anything sex-based. I never imagined my faith to be OK with life not beginning when a man unhooked the woman’s bra. What is it about this one speech that really pissed me off?

Part of it was the messenger, I’m sure. I dislike people who enjoy talking the talk but have never been forced to walk the walk. I also dislike people who cling to false stereotypes of people that serve as strawmen for their bullshit. I REALLY don’t like bullies and this guy is one of those as well. He’s basically an asshole fondue of everything I hate, so I get that.

Part of it was the venue. When I’m watching a baseball game and I get a commercial for Trump or Ron Johnson or Viagra (all equally helpful in getting old angry white guys hard), I’m not thrilled, but it comes with the territory. I also know that my faith tells me God is supposed to be everywhere, and if you watched the ALCS, you know he’s with me when the Indians are playing. Still, when I’m in His house, I’m not watching commercials on my phone, so I’m thinking I’m safe from this shit.

Maybe there’s another part of me that has allowed me to kind of compartmentalize my faith into areas of agreement and areas I ignore. When I’m forced to confront those things I like to keep in the trunk of the car, it really irritates me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that for all the trouble this faith is having in keeping people engaged, pissing off one of the few people in that joint under the age of 70 isn’t a great idea.

Thus, I leave you with the questions that have bothered me: Is this a big deal? Am I overreacting? What should I do?

Uterine Socialism

Gov. Mike Pence had a moment at the VP debate, where he pretty much seemed to suggest that a woman’s uterus is like those “take a penny, leave a penny” bowls at the gas station:

 

PENCE: The state of Indiana has also sought to make sure that we expand alternatives in health care counseling for women, non-abortion alternatives. I’m also very pleased at the fact we’re well on our way in Indiana to becoming the most pro-adoption state in America. I think if you’re going to be pro-life, you should — you should be pro- adoption.

<SNIP>

PENCE: … bring the — let’s welcome the children into our world. There are so many families around the country who can’t have children. We could improve adoption…

KAINE: But, Governor…

PENCE: … so that families that can’t have children can adopt more readily those children from crisis pregnancies.

 

In short, Pence wants to take away the options for women who wish to terminate pregnancies for whatever reason so they can increase the pool of adoptable kids so the shelves are better stocked for those “deserving folk” who can’t have kids.

Skip past the mind-boggling logic associated with the idea that comes with turning women into brood sows and think about how anti-Republican this idea really should be.

When you suggest that people who have nothing should get something from people who have everything, the Republicans are completely against that. Giving to the poor might be what Jesus would have done, but he didn’t have to deal with the oppressive tax structure of the day. The rich pay enough, thank you, so if some guy with multi-billions of dollars wants to gold-plate his shitter instead of paying into a system that will feed kids, hey, he earned that right.

When you suggest that allowing taxes on inherited wealth above $5 million estates would prevent a permanent gilded upper-class, Republicans will fight you tooth and nail. You paid taxes on that farm once, Mitt Romney once famously said. You shouldn’t have to pay taxes on it again. (John Oliver explains how that’s bullshit, in case you need a moment of humor.) They call it the Death Tax and they argue that it’s not the fault of heirs that they were born into a quality family with a wealth of opportunity and position.

When you suggest any general “sharing,” it’s socialism and it robs people of their freedom. You take away personal choice and you eliminate that person’s manifest destiny. After all, these people who have the money and the power know better how to manage the situation than the government does. Besides, how do we really know that if we give them this money, they’ll do good things with it instead of spending it on drugs and booze?

So it takes a lot of mind-bending moves to see how basically creating a system of uterine socialism fits the mold of the GOP.

There are people out there for whom conception actually occurs when their spouse unhooks their bra while others try everything possible and remain unable to conceive. Still, human intercourse and reproduction isn’t a “share the wealth” system. If it were, I’d have gotten laid a lot more in college and we’d be parting out the Duggar family like it was a Cadillac Escalade that just rolled into a chop shop.

 

Here’s the conversation we should see if Republicans lived their financial philosophy in this realm:

CITIZEN: “Look at those people who have all those kids! We’ve been trying so hard and we can’t have one! And these people got abortions in between their kids! Shouldn’t they be forced to share?”

PENCE: The kids are theirs and they “earned” those kids, so if they want to have a dozen of them and let them terrorize Wal-Mart on the weekends, who are we “free-marketers” to argue otherwise?”

CITIZEN: “But it’s unfair! Some of these people can have kids they don’t even want! Why shouldn’t they go to a good home (read: rich white people) instead of to an abortion clinic? Shouldn’t we cap the number of kids they can have before they have to start paying into the kid bank?”

PENCE: “Now, now. It’s not these people’s fault they were born with superior egg-producing facilities and high-quality sperm. They just took advantage of their opportunity and position and they have the right to do as they wish. Besides, if they have a whole bunch, maybe one of Clevon’s offspring will marry someone you know and have a ‘trickle down’ moment that will benefit you all!”

CITIZEN: “But I would be good at this parenting thing! Look at all the things we can offer! Look at how much love we can bring to the table! MAKE THEM SHARE, DAMMIT!”

PENCE: “People who can conceive children know better what to do with them than anyone else. Besides, how do we KNOW you’ll be good parents? I mean, you don’t have a kid now, so you might just screw that kid up for life! Trade him for booze and drugs or something…”