Category Archives: Doc

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:

img_3982

 

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…”

35th and Shitbag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promises, Promises

My dad held very few points of pride when it came to things he did or didn’t do. He never smoked at all, he doesn’t “owe anyone anything” when it comes to financial concerns and he didn’t make a promise he didn’t think he could keep.

“If I said we’re going to do something, we did it,” he always told me. “If I said ‘No,’ I meant ‘No.” If it was ‘Maybe,’ anything could happen. But if I said we’re doing it, we did it unless something really changed the situation.”

He wasn’t kidding. I asked to go to my first baseball game when I was about 8 years old. He promised we’d go that Friday, not knowing it was “Bat Day” in the middle of a pennant race. The traffic was insane, the tickets were hard to get and it was just chaos at old County Stadium. Dad disliked all of those things, but we went and he never complained.

Promises were an important part of my life and I kept that same attitude for my kid. If I said we were going for ice cream, we went. If I said we weren’t doing something, begging only strengthened my resolve. I get the importance of promises, especially when people are relying on you.

That said, the kinds of promises we made as fathers were the kind that led to positive outcomes. They also occasionally were broken when circumstances intervened on us. Occasionally a promised trip had to be postponed due to a funeral or an illness. Sometimes, it became insane to persist in the promise.

When I was 10, Dad promised to take me to opening day. He got the tickets, pulled me out of school and we went to the stadium. In typical early-April fashion, it was about 40 degree, so we were all bundled up. It was also raining, so we did our best to stay dry.

The game was postponed for almost two hours and we were both freezing and soaked. Finally, Dad asked if I wanted to stay and I said, “Let’s go home.” Eventually the game started (we caught the first pitch on the radio in the car on the way home) but it was stupid to stay there and die in the frigid weather to prove a point.

When it comes to promises, Scott Walker and his ilk need to better understand the difference between the inconveniences of Bat Day and the stupidity of not coming in from the rain.

Walker unveiled his latest plan to close a $1 billion gap in the transportation gap by delaying some projects, shuffling money to local municipalities and cutting the department’s budget in other ways. The purpose of making these changes? To keep his promise of not raising taxes:

 

“Governor Walker has kept his word by proposing a reasonable transportation budget that sets the right priorities and doesn’t increase taxes or the registration fee,” said a statement from Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).

Walker campaigned in 2010 for governor by criticizing Democrats like his predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle for failing to execute work on the Zoo Interchange. But Thursday Walker said it wouldn’t be fair to criticize him in turn for proposing delays to the north leg of the Zoo, saying that it was in better shape than the interchange’s aging core that is on track to be replaced.

“I make promises and I keep promises, and my promise to the taxpayers was I’m not going to raise taxes and fees,” Walker said.

 

Like many Republicans, Walker treats “tax” like it is a four-letter word. Then again, given his educational standing, he might think it is one.

The larger point is that this was a stupid promise. When we lack for revenue and need to get things done, we have to get more revenue. Things in the real world do, in fact, cost money. To that end, we can’t just say “delay this” or “delay that” to make it seem financially responsible. That’s like the guy who knows his brakes are going on his car, but to replace the pads will cost $200. Instead, he keeps riding the brakes for months and months until he literally can’t stop. At that point, he’s warped the rotors and irreparably harmed the calipers, so the job now costs $1500. Sure, he stuck to his guns that he wasn’t going to get them fixed, but at what cost?

Walker can’t back out of his pledge to not raise taxes because his lizard brain can only see the attack ads for his next campaign about how he raised taxes. Him worrying about that is like the captain of the Titanic worry about how all this water is going to tarnish the brass railings on the ship. Trust me, pal, you have bigger concerns.

Speaking of promises, what about that whole 250,000 job promise? What about that whole “Open for Business” pledge? Yeah, not so much on either of them and those are the important ones if you want to get revenue hopping in this state. No one with half a brain or a sense of proportion would have expected him to hit the 250K mark or that just posting “open” signs would have businesses pouring into the state. That said, had he made a stronger effort with better logic to make those things happen, it is far more likely that he could have made good on this third pledge to keep tax rates down.

I don’t like taxes any more than any other person out there, but I can tell you that I do vote for them locally. In a small town like the one in which I live, I can see where my tax money goes: The city well gets fixed. The trash pickup is awesome. My street gets plowed quickly. Same thing with schools: New computers, improved facilities, more engaged kids all come from me checking the box that says, “Take another $10 out of what I make each year to improve stuff.”

I hope people who drive the I-94 corridor that will be delayed or the area near the zoo that’s a total shitbox will also be able to see what happens when we make stupid promises and forgo our responsibility to improving society. Sure, it’s hard to see how things like teacher pay or university subsidies pan out for individuals, but when the potholes are knocking the fillings out of their teeth, I hope they feel the tax break was worth it.

“It’s Not About You” AKA- Stop writing shitty columns

Column writing is a lot like comedy: Everyone thinks they can do it and that it’s easy, but only a few people actually have the chops to do it well often.

For every Richard Pryor or Erma Bombeck who breaks ground and creates timeless moments of social awareness, there are thousands of people who think dropping N-bombs or coming up with theories on how socks get lost in the dryer will land them a comedy Grammy or a publishing deal.

And for every Mike Royko or Leonard Pitts who captures the essence of a place or people and shines a bright light on the problems there, there are tons of us (I include myself here) who use too much space to talk only about shit that lacks value to the readership at large.

When I was in college, I figured this out when our paper’s opinion editor asked me to write a weekly column. The first two or three were fine, but then it got into “Here’s what pisses me off this week” and it really went downhill. I stopped writing for a while, that with the promise if something ever really hit home and I thought it mattered, I’d write a column.

When I did, I heard people telling me, “Wow, that was great! You should do this every week!”

No, I shouldn’t. The whole reason it was good was because it had value to me, it had broader applicability to my audience and I wanted to write it. It couldn’t be just about me. It had to include research, depth and value. It had to say, “This is how WE as a collective are seeing X or dealing with Y.

In short, I learned “It’s not about you.”

When I would write without keeping that in mind, I’d devolve into the kind of shit I’ve been seeing this week from a number of professionals.

Start with the column the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had to retract and scrub from its site by columnist “C.J.” that attacked Jana Shortal for her choice of fashion while reporting on the Jacob Wetterling story.

Despite producing a great report on the revelation that a man finally confessed to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing the boy in 1989, “C.J.” focused on Shortal’s choice of fashion:

cj_column

With the exception of a few screen caps floating around, you’d have better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa than a copy of this column, which the Star-Trib apologized for after removing it. Shortal is trying to stay above the fray on this one, refocusing the point of this on the story itself: A dead kid as opposed to her pants.

Another modern marvel of sensitivity, Dave Hon, gave readers a lot to think about in his look at “Why I’ll never date a feminist.”

Hon outlines his thesis that feminists are basically looking for reasons to hate men and that because “political issues have been creeping into the bedroom” he has trouble with people who “are more loyal to their gender and not their significant other.”

After I saw the mug shot and saw the title, I honestly thought it was an Onion satire at first. When I figured out it wasn’t, and I realized that I was going to have to tell “C.J.” to fuck off for “beauty shaming” Shortal, I had this moment:

 

68d9d59a9ad1e3e483e1fd6dd0f18fd2

 

If the comments after the column are any indication, we’re about six minutes away from when the “wow what a sexually desirous partner” memes force the Internet to implode. Skipping past that for a moment, reading Hon’s column led to several questions:

 

  • You do understand that by just linking to stuff, you aren’t actually proving anything, right? The link has to have something of value behind it that supports your claim and not just other assholes rambling on without any sort of support for their stupid position? Or that linking to things that simply have a word you want to feature in your point doesn’t make your point true? Based on your use of links to random bits of information that required a stretch of reality to see how they applied to your point, I don’t think you understand how linking works. Looking at your “disagree” videos and your “consent texts” link, I think you don’t understand that links aren’t like a magic spell: Using them on words doesn’t magically make things true.Case in point, check this out: Dave Hon is likely rumored to keep fucking that chicken when the time has come today to do so.
  • You do know what a “time peg” is, right? As in a reason why you are writing whatever the hell you’re writing about at this point in time? For example, a “never forget” 9/11/2001 column makes sense this weekend, as it’s the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on that day. A “Michael Dukakis is Not Getting My Vote for President This Year” column makes no sense because he’s not running for anything other than the bathroom at this point in his life.Why am I reading this diatribe against feminists at this point in life? Did you just get dumped by someone who didn’t like it when you called her “sugar tits?” Did your downstairs neighbors play their Indigo Girls music too loud while you were trying to watch The O’Reilly Factor reruns? Did a woman with an unshaved armpit lean on you during your bus ride to work? What? What is it that evoked the Hon-icane of anger that was this column? You probably want to put that in there…
  • For whom were you writing this? I can’t imagine that you looked at your audience in St. Joseph, Missouri, studied the demographics, determined your niche and then thought about how best to serve those people. The closest thing I can think of is that you and the rest of the cast from the first season of the Big Bang Theory got together over a few beers before one of you uttered, “Women are bitches, man,” thus leading to your magnum opus. I’m sure there are tons of real stories out there that demand attention and could use a strong voice to promote and advocate resolution. Even worse, this showed up in the women’s section titled “Josephine” (shudder), so it’s clear you didn’t really think about what the audience wanted to hear.

 

There are other questions that came up, including “Why couldn’t you wait until John Oliver was back on the air to publish this? People have already compared you to a rat and an ogre, but Oliver is the master at finding just the right comparative for pea-brained dipshits.” However, I keep going back to the third item: What made you think other people wanted to read this shit?

When I teach opinion writing, the first rule is: This isn’t about you. The other five basic rules all stem from that, most of which people pick up on pretty easily. It’s that first rule, though, that people either forget or ignore too often.

Journalists like column writing for two basic reasons:

  • It conveys an aura of importance. You get to be the voice of authority, deeming a topic worthy of attention and then yourself worthy of explaining to the masses how to think about it. Plus, you get to have your mug shot in the paper, which is really cool. (That said, I have a feeling at least one feminist artist is airbrushing Hon’s mug onto a few maxi-pads as we speak…)
  • It takes less work (when you do it the way these people did) to do a column than it does to do an actual story. Reporters have to go out and get facts and interview people and stuff. Columnists get to be glib and snarky and tell people to suck it. Even better, if people lose their shit over your previous column, this can lead to ANOTHER COLUMN talking about how people hated your last column and why THEY can suck it! It’s like the loaves and fishes of column opportunities!

 

I get the allure of columns and since we all get to be experts now in whatever way we want, the desire to play the “dig me!” game will always continue to grow. However, the whole reason “mass” media is going down the crapper is because the people in charge of it fail to address the audience principle: If you don’t give people what they want or need, you will cease to have an audience.

And I’d bet a dollar to a dime that no one gives a shit what a columnist charged with tracking the fucking habits of local news personnel thinks about a reporter’s pants or the sexual desires (full-body shudder) of a sentient jar of mayonnaise.

Keep it short.

No

In honor of Daniel Victor’s simple answer in his NYT tech column, here are my five-words-or-less responses to a shit ton of stuff going on in the world:

 

Brock Turner was released from jail after three months from jail. CNN asks: Did race affect the Stanford Rape Case?

Yes.

 

Stanford has decided to ban hard alcohol at campus parties in the wake of the Turner scandal. How effective will this be in stemming the tide of bad behavior and situations involving sexual assault?

Beer.

 

Media outlets have announced the debate moderators for the presidential debates: NBC’s Lester Holt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper/ABC’s Martha Raddatz and Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Given the spectrum of voices, the “one-on-one” style approach and his promise to be “more presidential” will this lead to a fair and civilized debate from Donald Trump?

Ask Hugh Hewitt.

 

A prominent Latino surrogate for Donald Trump announced Thursday he had officially withdrawn his support from the Republican presidential nominee, saying he was “misled” because Trump said this week he was going to deport illegals. 

How?

 

School districts throughout the state are facing massive teacher shortages and can’t find people who can teach specialties or meet special needs of some students. To what can we attribute this gap and how can we fix it?

Act 10. Repeal it.

 

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refused to stand for the National Anthem, something he has done in the past. What does this say about him as a person and our country?

Free speech. Use it.

 

What about the people, including former athletes, who have taken him to task for this?

Consider the source.

 

What about the police officer in Philly with a Nazi-style tattoo across his arm, who was working at a protest march? Does this guy have the right espouse his beliefs in this fashion as a representative of the city and the police force dedicated to protecting it? How do you explain this?

  1. Wear sleeves.
  2. Not on duty.
  3. This

 

 

 

Tripping Triggers on College Campuses

As colleges across the country come back to life after a three-month slumber, the issue of who has the right to do what and when and where has once again trumped almost every other issue.

Perhaps the college gaining the most attention is the University of Chicago, which welcomed its freshmen this week with the typewritten version of Cher’s famous scene in Moonstruck. The letter explained that students should not expect “trigger warnings” in classes or “safe spaces” on the campus, in large part because the university embraces freedom of expression and isn’t into this whole coddling thing.

Seconds after that note became public, many faculty members and members of the general publicly applauded this effort to tell millennials to get their shit together and suck it up. Other faculty and many trauma advocates saw this as an offensive display of tone deafness by people in power.

It’s unclear to what degree this flat-out statement will lead to negative consequences or how it will impact the university throughout the year. However, the university’s attempt to inform its students came across in a John Wayne-like fashion. And much like a John Wayne movie, this statement had little nuance, sought to pound its point into the ground and people either loved it or they hated it.

In reading through the letter and through various other pieces written about this generation and the college environment, I find myself going back to my days researching media convergence: You would have 10 people researching “convergence” only to find that none of them were defining it the same way and everyone told the other people they were wrong in their approach.

Start with the idea of trigger warnings. Conceptually, they are meant to provide people who have suffered traumatic experiences with the ability to be aware of potentially triggering content so they can either avoid it or prepare themselves to deal with the circumstances. A good way to think about this is to think about what happens to some military personnel who come home from active war zones. For some of these folks, loud noises, like violent video games or fireworks, can short circuit their minds and drop them back into the war environment. Thus, they react in a way that is harmful or socially problematic without being able to stop themselves. One of my former students married a man who had PTSD and he could never be around during hunting season. The sounds of the guns would have him acting out violently toward her or anyone nearby. Thus, they kept him away from guns and away from the noises during the season.

In triggering situations, victims of trauma are unable to control their reactions and the triggers can cause them serious harm. A good friend once wrote about a traumatic experience involving her former partner’s death and how that trauma still impacts her to this day. Thus, when a professor in her grad program said something about how students would probably “rather slit your throat than do this assignment,” it literally triggered a horrifying response in her. She was violently ill, riddled with crippling anxiety and unable to function. I doubt the professor knew or thought about that before saying it, nor would he have likely said it if he knew the backstory on one of his students. The point, however, is that when we talk about “triggers” and “trauma” and “trigger warnings,” this is what they are materially about.

What the U of C letter is actually talking isn’t trigger warnings, but instead the idea of self-censorship out of fear of things people don’t like to hear or things that people find offensive. For quite some time, people have been noticing that colleges seem to be less and less about the free marketplace of ideas and more and more about “Oh, shit, we’re gonna get sued!” Comedians have noted they need to censor their work on campus. Speakers have been cancelled because of everything from religious objections to failing to “speak for the entire community” of some group. The specter of appearing insensitive has led to what some people have called the “wussification” of this generation. In an attempt to draw a line in the sand on this issue, that’s where the U of C went off the rails and lumped in everything anyone would ever call “icky” and stuck it under the umbrella of trigger warnings.

I agree with U of C on the idea of keeping things that are unpleasant or that have the ability to challenge a student’s worldview in play. Just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t follow that you can’t actually handle dealing with it. In talking about it, for the people who just don’t like certain things, discussions can breed understanding and potential growth. That’s not the same as triggers or trigger warnings.

Here’s an example of the distinction I’m trying to draw: I do not like talking about rape or thinking about it. That said, I have not been a victim of sexual assault of any stripe and despite my dislike of the topic, I can, in fact, have a discussion about it in hopes of improving how I see things and how I can be a better ally to victims.

There are people for whom the mention of a rape or any reference to sexual assault takes them all the way back to a traumatic experience and that literally breaks them. They can’t help it, there’s no way of stopping it and when it comes at them from left field, it renders them helpless and wounded. Their reactions are involuntary and are often unpredictable.

Furthermore, U of C isn’t banning trigger warnings or opening Pandora’s box of topics for their professors. Professors can choose to issue trigger warnings as they see fit and in most cases, professors who have classes with the potential to trigger students know when things are likely to cause pain. In my editing class, for example, I do an ethics assignment that has students weigh perspectives over a set of photos that showed a deadly car crash. The photos are real and at least one of them is extremely graphic. I post the assignment with a “read me first” note that explains what is going to be in the photos. I tell students if they have a reason they cannot view these or do this assignment to get ahold of me so that we can figure out a different assignment. I have had students contact me, telling me that they lost a family member in a car crash or that they have a friend who committed suicide in this way and that they don’t think they can handle the images. We worked around it and managed to create a decent substitute assignment.

Professors can do this if they see fit at the U of C. They just aren’t expected to or forced to. Kind of an important distinction.

That said, the lack of trigger-warning enforcement doesn’t mean professors can just be assholes. Just because I don’t have to issue a trigger warning about discussing sexual assault, it doesn’t follow that I could start with, “So, which of you ladies have gotten the old ‘I bet she meant yes’ treatment and how did that feel?” Levels of human dignity and decency still apply in the classroom and unless you are so socially inept that you make Rainman look like James Bond, you should be able to figure that out.

I get why the U of C thing is creating this dichotomy of rage: People often take shit way too far and thus the exemplars of those extremes are all we see. For every kid who has survived a traumatic experience and yet finds a way to persist in day-to-day life, amid all sorts of tripwires, there a dozen examples of people getting pissed off for things that make the mainstream folks want to scream.

The microaggressions outlined in this article include the famous “where are you from?” question, which some find offensive. The underlying assumption is that for certain groups, there’s an insinuation that the question presupposes them to be “not real Americans.” Truth be told, I ask every kid in everyone of my classes that question because in many cases, they’re from this state and I probably know someone from their hometown. I have yet to have a kid stand up and yell at me, “Oh, so I’m Asian, I must be from China or something? Why don’t you ask me where my fucking wok is you racist asshole!” The worst it ever gets is when I get kids from North and West high schools in my class and they still carry those rivalry grudges.

The “macroagression” exemplars are also things that make the mainstream scream. I had a colleague tell me once that a student noted, “I can’t call you doctor because you’re a woman.” OK, then… Guess that Ph.D. was a waste…

Professors who tell people that Hitler was an OK dude, people who talk about rape like it’s part of a regular night on the town or faculty who treat their students like sex toys deserve a swift kick in the ass.

However, it’s not being sexist if I don’t refer to that opening in the middle of the road as a “personal sewer ingress” instead of calling it a “manhole.

That’s not a trigger and that doesn’t need a warning and that’s something everyone involved in this discussion needs to learn pretty damned fast.

Otherwise, we will be harming the most vulnerable students and acquiescing to the most idiotic ones.

Eleven

It’s an odd experience being face to face with a person you constantly called a shit-brained asshole and a greedy fuckwad behind closed doors. It’s even weirder when you are enjoying the moment.

When we were trying to buy our current house, we were in the middle of a major mess of balancing the whiny bullshit of our buyer with the stubborn refusals of our seller. This pulled us financially in both directions and it made for some really rough nights around the old homestead.

The guy who had the house we wanted refused to move on any of our demands, even those that were essentially issues of law. For example, we conducted a radon test, which makes sense given the limestone base out here and the depth of the basement. When the test came back at a higher-than-legal limit, we wrote into the final offer that they install a radon removal system.

He refused.

The same was true about the minor gas leak coming from the hot water heater, the mudjacking of unsafe concrete and the exterior venting of the bathroom exhaust fans.

It turned out, this wasn’t the guy or his wife, but rather his really shitty real-estate agent combined with our really weak one. Ours was a young woman with limited experience in the field and theirs was a end-of-the-road older guy who had no interest in selling and came from the time when calling women “sugar tits” was considered common office communication.

Eventually, it got ironed out and I was so grateful I’d never have to deal with these people again.

That is, until I found out they essentially moved two houses away. I kind of lost my mind and even when we got down to the final signing, I refused to sit in the room with them until after the paperwork was done.

What you learn about people during the time you review their home for purchase only tells you a small part of the story. The gun safe in the kitchen pantry, the “Terrorist hunting permit” on the refrigerator, the “bullet maker” in the basement and the locked upstairs office room all gave me pause. Then again, so did the IV unit hanging in the master bedroom.

What I found out later was that they were moving because their son, Jacob, had a rare form of cancer. The kid was about 5 or 6 years old and had been dealing with this all his life. Facebook updates on his progress were met by cheers when they went well and prayers when they did not. The sale of the house was in part for finances (they moved to a smaller, less expensive place) and part for physical reasons (they needed a single-story house as the steps were too much for the kid).

After the move, the dad and I would exchange waves as he drove past. Jacob and his folks occasionally showed up on our porch asking if we’d like to buy wreaths from his Boy Scout troop or a donation to a school program.

Eventually, he wound up in our driveway on one occasion when I was out fixing the car. He was wearing a Spider Man shirt and he had this incredible little smirky smile and thick, tinted Coke-Bottle glasses as he wondered if she’d like to come over and play for a while. There was about a three-year gap between them and she was still in the “boys are gross” stage, but she went.

She had a blast.

This led to a few play dates of the old-fashioned kind: She was bored and she went over and knocked on his door and asked if he’d like to play.

His mother later told me that whenever the doorbell rings, “Jacob prays that it’s her asking to play.”

About a month ago, she returned home with an invitation to his birthday party at the city pool.

Thus, I found myself face to face with his dad, talking about kids in a polite and civilized fashion I could never have previously imagined. Especially given the number of times I screamed that he must be a greed-based ass-fuck.

Apparently, being wrong is something I’ve gotten good at.

“So, is Jacob officially 8 yet?” I asked

“Oh yeah,” he said. “His birthday was a few months ago but we waited until now for the party because he wanted it at the pool. He made it.”

I’m not sure if he meant it the way I recalled it or if I’m reading too much into it, but of all the things said to me that day, his last words stuck in my head.

He made it.

As time continues to gather steam, pushing my child toward womanhood, I have found myself utterly resistant to these changes. My wife told me that the “tweens” are the worst, so I should be ready for two or three years of weird.

To this point, we’ve gotten it.

She vacillates between weeping and laughing, something my wife blames on hormonal changes.

Her friends talk about boy bands and lockers and so forth, as opposed to those days they argued about if iCarly was real.

I find it difficult sometimes doing the laundry, as I’m folding tiny bras into virtual pocket squares. Even more difficult is listening to the carpool chatter about which of the girls in their class is “the most flat-chested.” (Keep in mind that all of them are so poorly endowed, you could only measure cup size with a micrometer.)

Even the other day, as I was sleeping in my chair, she came down and woke me to let me know that I needed to go get some takeout for dinner.

“Mommy doesn’t feel well,” she said before putting on her “knowing” face and adding. “You know, Daddy, she’s on her… period.”

I’m sure that tiny pads and tampons will soon arrive in our house as will larger bras and a fixation with her hair. I’m a decent guy about all things like this, buying everything from tampons and Depends to nursing pads and whatever else the women in my life needed. Still, it’ll be harder knowing that she’s not my little girl any more.

And yet, it took that pool party for me to realize I shouldn’t be fighting this march of time but embracing it. The parents of this boy spent his whole life wondering if this would be the day their son’s life would end. I haven’t thought in those terms since the major ultrasound that let us know we hadn’t miscarried again.

He made it.

Three words that I’m sure they had to say over and over again.

Test after test.

Treatment after treatment.

Day after day.

He made it.

It never occurred to me once about when we should or shouldn’t hold my kid’s birthday party because she might not live long enough to get there. My biggest concerns are if the girls at school are bullying her or if one of the boys decides to take too big of an interest in her.

“She made it,” never once exited my lips with the same level of resolve and relief these people must have felt every day.

Every year around this time, I recall my kid’s life story: The miscarriage, the Ice Storm, the chaos surrounding her birth. After those opening lines, life is blur of birthday parties, Halloween costumes and summer vacations.

This year, for her 11th birthday, I’m putting more thought into valuing each and every day.

Maybe ice cream for dinner every so often. Maybe playing a game of cards with her more often when she asks. Maybe just telling her I love her an extra time or two.

As she continues to get older and has more of those life-altering questions that can’t be solved by a hug or a stuffed animal, I’ll also need to be ready to game up.

I don’t want to talk to my kid about sex any more than we already have or what to do when the movie “Mean Girls” basically becomes the living embodiment of her school. It’s hard enough to resist punching out some of the little twerps who pick on her now.

Each day can come with a new crisis, a deeper hurt or situation neither of us saw coming. I’m sure it will feel like we’re getting hit with a whole sack of hammers while falling down the stairs.

I try to think about Jacob as much as I can. I wonder how someone so small can deal with something so big on top of all the other garbage growing up throws at you.

But if he can find a way to make it, I’m sure we will too.

UW to Scott Walker: They call them cuts because they hurt and make you bleed

Last night was a first for me in my time at my current university: I got an email from a parent.

In all of my previous stops, parental “engagement” ranged from the somewhat common to the fairly frequent. I had received calls from parents who wanted to protest a grade, argue about the amount of work I was assigning their precious snowflake or make sure that I knew the child was REALLY sick and needed to be excused from class. In some cases, the calls were polite and helpful while others smacked of entitlement. (In one case, I was told, “The family lawyer will be in touch” regarding a grade. And people wonder where the kids get the attitude from…)

This time, however, it was a mom who wanted to set up a meeting with me and her son. I knew the kid and I hadn’t had him in class in quite some time, so I knew it wasn’t a grade issue. Even more, I’m not in the kid’s area of study, so it wasn’t about something I could do for the kid.

However, the kid adopted me as a “de facto adviser” and apparently that was the concern:

I would like to schedule an appointment with you to make sure (KID) is on the right path to graduate this May.  I know he is registered for the fall semester; however, (ONE OF OUR COURSES) apparently got cancelled…

The class was one of five that we had listed and had to axe due to a series of last-minute budget cuts. By the time we got notice of the need for cuts, the class was full and had a waiting list. However, since it wasn’t required for any of our majors, it had to go.

This wasn’t the only kid to email me this summer and ask about the possibility of graduating on time. A student athlete was concerned about finishing up this year and was looking to load up on discipline-specific courses. She mentioned a couple classes she wanted, both of which had been cut.

I had to break the news to her about the cuts and also nudge her toward an unpleasant truth:

You’re going to be stuck here a while. And it’s not getting any better any time soon.

This is the dark side of populism, especially when it comes to funding higher education.

Gov. Scott Walker recently announced plans to extend his “historic tuition freeze” for another biennium, making it six years since tuition has increased at schools in the UW system.

Walker also noted in his declaration that the schools should not expect any state money to offset the freeze or to cope with previous cuts that have begun to damage the system in an irreparable fashion. During the previous budget debate, System President Ray Cross sought a $95 million increase in funds and was rewarded with a $250 million cut. That swing of more than one-third of a billion dollars led to faculty leaving for other states, losses in program options, increases in class sizes and diminished course offerings. This was also after a budget that froze tuition and provided nothing but cuts.

The idea of “live with what you have” isn’t going to get any easier at the UW schools either, if Walker goes through with his plan to prevent the System from borrowing money to repair its buildings and infrastructure.

Things like tuition freezes, belt tightening and tax cuts all sound good in theory until you start to feel the pain associated with those decisions.

I hate to be the one to break it to Governor Deadeyes and the “decent, hard-working people of this state,” but a) stuff tends to cost money and b) when you make bad decisions you have to live with the ramifications. This is like those credit cards where you get zero-percent-interest offers, low monthly payments and a host of other things that Montel Williams promises you in a 2 a.m. infomercial. You get stuff that sounds great at the time, but it leads to serious consequences down the road, including compound interest, burgeoning debt and a long, painful process to get out of trouble.

The system could survive one round of cuts or one round of freezes, but once you go beyond that, you start to see real problems emerge. Departments across our campuses are told to “churn” positions instead of hiring replacement faculty. Classes that aren’t mandatory for graduation are cut. More kids get shoved into rooms, giving them access to the class, but not the quality of experience they deserve.

Graduations get delayed, student loans continue to build and the entire process becomes self-defeating.

This whole concept of “standing up for working people” sounds great in campaign ads and stump speeches, but that’s because people don’t think about it in practical terms. Like it or not, there are things we spend money on because they have to be done.

The mechanic doesn’t say he stood up against the demands of the automobile when the oil change light went on. “I pushed the reset button and told the car, ‘You have to learn to live within your means.’”

The farmer doesn’t skip the fertilizer and demand that the soil provide more and increase its yield. “In these hard times, the earth can’t expect that I will keep plowing resources into it and receiving the same output.”

The homeowner doesn’t yell at the leaking roof, “Instead of patching you up with some new shingles, I’ll be removing several sections of shingles and expect that you’ll leak less.”

Education is no less of a resource than those and other items that we knowingly invest in because we understand we can’t live without them. When we fail to invest in support and repair, we create a weaker system that will continue to crumble and cost more in the long run.

The mechanic knows without proper maintenance, that engine is going to seize up and cease to function.

The farmer knows that failing to augment and replenish the fields will lead to lower yields and damaged land.

The homeowner knows that a leaky roof will eventually destroy the remainder of the structure.

And yet, our governor and legislature seems bent on proving the opposite to be true in order to appeal to the basest part of our society.

Willful ignorance presented under the guise of austerity serves no one in this state.

We need to learn that before it’s too late.

You Got Served

We were sitting at the kitchen table on Day Two of the “My-Wife-Can’t-Breathe-Because-Humidity-And-Heat-Kill-Asthmatics” Festival, when she broke into a cussing, coughing fit.

“That asshole! What a fucking dick!”

It takes a lot for her to get to that level, as opposed to me, who you could easily see yelling, “Hurry the fuck up! It’s fucking cold out here!” during a eulogy.

The asshole-dick in question was a coworker of hers at the local nursing/retirement home. The fellow CNA/RA had called in sick four minutes before his shift, sending the rest of the crew into understaffed crisis mode. Making this worse, he wasn’t really entirely sick, as he was in Milwaukee with some friends and didn’t know until four minutes before his shift that he couldn’t really make it back on time.

For some perspective, it’s a 100-mile drive. Unless he had Cliff Secord’s backpack or Montgomery Scott’s ability for trans-warp beaming, there was no way he was coming in and he knew it.

This is the same douchewad who called in sick last year, forcing overtime on all the rest of the people who were left to play catch up. In between answering call lights, handing out medication and rushing through laundry, someone got an alert on their phone that he had posted a photo.

There he was, right in the middle of Country USA, bragging about the concert he was seeing.

I don’t think that I’m reaching too far in noting that this guy is not an anomaly. In fact, people acting like assholes has become such a common part of American culture, the Choose Life campaign put out this fantastic ad for organ donation, hitting exactly the proper nerve.

Service itself can be both a noble thing and a degrading thing. We talk about people who give themselves to a “life of service” as being noble and benevolent. Conversely, we talk about “servers” sometimes like something befell them that ranks between crabs and whatever the hell came flying out of the Holy Grail in this Indiana Jones flick. Even more, nobody seems to be hiding their disdain anymore for working in an industry of service.

I had to take The Midget to the mall to buy a birthday gift for one of her friends. We are now at that imperceivable pivot in life where gifts have gone from Target or Toys ‘R’ Us to Justice and Wet Seal and any other store that plays boyband music and looks like an army of bedazzlers threw up on its content.

And yes, in case you were wondering, it is killing me…

We picked out a few items and headed to the front of the store, which had all of about six people in it. No one was there to check anyone out.

After five minutes, a young lady (figure 18-20 years old) walks out of the back, sees us and then turns around and goes back into the back. I figure she’s going to get the check out person.

Five more minutes, no one. Five more minutes and my kid loudly notes:

“Maybe they’d do better if they had a bell up here we could ring.”

Just about the time I’m ready to walk out of the store, another young lady sees us from the other side of the store, exhales a big sigh and walks over to ring us up. She doesn’t look at us and then mutters something that I think was the total.

“Slide or chip for the card?” I ask.

She looks up at me with that look that teens give adults in hopes of inspiring homicidal tendencies, complete with the eyeroll and the incongruous shoulder shrug.

“Whatever, I guess.”

Come on, kid. Give giving a shit a shot. Even in the horrifically shitty movie “Waiting,” we got at least the false face of happiness before a secreted backroom allowed for full-on Chuckie Mode.

We paid and left at which point my daughter takes my hand and says, “You were very patient.” I love my child.

A bit later I swung by a video-game store and picked out a used game for her and one for me. At the counter is the guy checking people out talking with a couple of older guys (read: 45 or just looking like that due to spending way too much time in mom’s basement eating Hot Pockets) about how “totally mod-able” a game is. Neither of the guys is buying anything.

We’re waiting at the check out register and he sees us and goes back to talking. The Midget, sensing danger, puts her game back and says, “We can go.”

Uh. No. We’re getting these games.

I did the math and figure out how much they were including tax and I put the money on the counter in hopes of drawing him in, much in the way Wile E. Coyote would pour roadrunner seed under a rope-hung anvil. He sees the money, could stop for six second shooting the shit with these guys and literally move three feet to his left to complete the transaction.

Nope.

Finally after about seven minutes (we started a timer after the first blow-off), we just picked up our money and took off, leaving the game cases on the counter where he could see them. What’s more, he didn’t even break stride in his conversation as we walked out right in front of him.

Not every experience I had with food or folks or fun has been a case of shitty attitudes and generally poor work outcomes, but when I mentioned it to a few friends, I found that I’m not alone in noticing this.

My brother-in-law used to tell me stories of how the people he would hire to work at the shoe store he managed would hide in the warehouse part to avoid dealing with customers. Others would always say, “I’m not doing that! That’s not my job!” to almost anything, ranging from stocking shoes to running a register.

My wife regaled me with stories about her coworkers at various call centers who would put themselves “on a call” so they couldn’t be bothered and then play games on their phones. They would also loudly announce, “It’s MY TURN for lunch!” ignoring the fact that a) it wasn’t and b) they just got back from a bathroom break and a smoke break.

A friend told me that while ordering at a “casual eating” restaurant, a counter worker asked, “Do you really need that?” about an order item because the person didn’t know how to ring it up and didn’t want to ask for help.

To quote everyone who now seems determined to quote Vince Lombardi: What the hell is going on?

The United States has seen a serious shift in its economic base from manufacturing and agriculture to service-based jobs. In most cases, we aren’t making things any more. We’re serving those things to other people.

According to federal statistics, somewhere around 40 percent of those service-based jobs are in retail, leisure/hospitality and healthcare/social assistance. In short, those are things where you actually have to SERVE other people’s needs, as opposed to things like financial activities or federal government jobs where your contact with other bipeds is variable at best.

I get that not every job is a dream job and that not every 20-year-old has a passion for politely explaining rampaging anger-moms why it is that all the Elsa dresses are sold out, even though her kid really, really wants one. We have always had people who were shitty to others, didn’t like work or just thought the world was soooo harrrrddddd… However, this crop seems to be a bumper one and it’s not exactly clear as to why.

The easy explanation: Damned Millennials and their iPhones.
Generation Gaps emerge when you least expect them, as it’s not the old “Depression Era” grandparents against the “Gen X” slackers any more. It’s actually more like siblings separated by a couple years: “When I was your age, Mom never let me do that!” The younger managers are now saddled with being responsible and all of those “silly rules” that kept customers happy and upset them as rank-and-file employees now make total sense. As they now serve as “enforcers,” they see even less-interested people in this “me, me, me” generation that has been given everything and allowed to do whatever as being a collection of shitheads for not playing by the rules.

The answer is probably half right and half wrong. Researchers and journalists have made some good hay turning this idea of millennial slacker vs. millennial brilliance over and over again. In many ways, it reminds me of the oat-bran studies of the 1990s, where every five minutes, you learned that oat bran was either going to make you healthy as a horse or dead as horsemeat.

Sure, people do better in many cases when they have skin in the game (to quote one article) and people who LIKE what they are doing tend to do better at it. This isn’t a revelation of this new generation but rather common sense. However, it’s also worth noting that not every millennial has “critical thinking skills” as noted in this article, but rather just that sense of being right, no matter what.

The more complicated explanation: Consolidation and corporate ownership.
I worked a few “Joe Jobs” in my earlier years and two of them were for what I would call “small-business owners.” One guy had a hotdog-selling business at a number of local fairs around the area and another guy owned a gas station with a garage attached to it. Truth be told, neither of them was my favorite manager of people, but they both got a lot of stuff done and it was pretty clear why.

Every dollar that came in was furthering their own needs. Every lost sale was an actual cost to them.

That’s why we had rules on how many hotdogs we had to have on hand at any given time and how we couldn’t waste certain amounts of stuff. If lines got too long, people walked away and that was money out of his pocket.

That’s also why we had a full-service pump, where the elderly ladies of the area (and the local big-wig bar owner who drove a 1979 Lincoln Towncar the size of the USS Wisconsin) would frequent. Whatever we were doing in the garage, we had to drop and run out to the pump and fill their tank, wash their windows, top off their oil and check their tires. When we were all too backed up to do any of this, my boss would actually go out there and do it himself. The reason? The gas at that pump came at a $.50-per-gallon premium. Same fuel, more money.

Sure, it’s also why one year we had to use brake cleaner to remove a yellow tint off of Christmas lights so they were white. The boss bought the yellow ones because they were a dime a string cheaper and he could expense the brake cleaner more easily than Christmas lights. It’s also why we always had a list of jobs that we had to complete when we weren’t engulfed in hotdog-seeking masses of humanity. He was actually paying us so he wanted work from us.

Still, there was that sense of “I’m paying you to work, not slack” and that ran through the whole organization. We weren’t always thrilled, but when the guy said “I’m paying you” it was true. His wife (or in one case his girlfriend) did the books and cut the checks. It wasn’t some nebulous corporate office and I wasn’t being managed by some random schmoe who showed up six months before I did.

The possibly awkward answer: Fear and Desperation.
When I graduated from college, my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t have a job and I’d have to move back in with my parents. Now, this is so common, it has become its own thing: The Boomerang Generation.

(SIDE NOTE: Of all the things in this article, the one that got me was this line:

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) of these 25- to 34-year-olds say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want…”

Yeah? No shit?)

Maybe it was working for those “owner-operator bosses” that made me fearful of getting fired. Maybe I was one of the few who bought into the line about being a bad employee or bad student ending up “on your permanent record.” (Mine, of course, now is about 1.2 million pounds, I’m sure) Maybe it was what my mother-in-law told me when I was fussing over some minor thing I was trying to fix on the car:

“You don’t know how to not care about doing a good job.”

Part of that, I’m sure, is pride in my work, but the other part was fear and desperation. I was hardwired into a world of afterschool specials and VH1’s Behind the Music: You have a chance to succeed, you’re doing well, you fuck up just thiiiiiiss much and BAM, you’re fucked forever. A tragic tale of wasted youth.

You think I’m kidding? Check out these things I was forced to watch as a kid:

And those are just the ones I can remember…

Fear and desperation means saying “Yes sir” a lot more than “Fuck you.”

Today, I think we have a dichotomous split between the Boomerangs and Martin Seligman’s Dogs which pretty much minimizes that sense of fear and desperation

For the Boomerangers, there is no fear and desperation. They can go home, eat out of mom’s fridge and join dad’s cell-phone plan. You think you can scare them into fear over losing an $8.50-an-hour job at Wiener Hut? I have a relative who is 35 and lives in his mom’s basement because he can. He has a truck, a Camaro and a Harley. Plus, he gets all the best seats for all the best concerts. I think he’d be more afraid of leaving that situation than getting into it.

On the other hand, fear and desperation can make you totally numb to it. In “Hand to Mouth,” Linda Tirado explains in grimacing detail how it is that people in “Bootstrap America” can just flat-line and not give a fuck about anything, even when they are the most desperate people out there. Her explanations are a perfect parallel to Seligman’s experiments on dogs that helped found the theory of Learned Helplessness. In the experiments, the dogs were given random shocks from the floor of a cage. In one case, the dog could push a button and escape the shocks, while in the other case, the dog just had to sit there and take it. Then, both dogs were put into cages with escape options. The dog who had learned to push the button immediately did so and escaped. The all-shocks dog just laid down and took it until the shocking was over. It didn’t even try to escape.

I have no idea if any of these answers are even remotely close and I think all this writing has done is make things as clear as mud for me in psycho-analyzing the Counter Help Generation.

However, a few things ARE clear: We’re not making stuff any more, we are serving stuff a lot and we need to be really good at it if we want to survive as individuals and as a culture.