Divided We Stand

I was going to link to an Omaha World-Herald article here, but now can’t find the confounded thing. It’s an article by Erin Grace, a great reporter. But she was apparently given the assignment to write about the “common ground” between conservative and progressive neighbors in the Field Club area as they prepare for their non-political July 4th parade. What she found there were a progressive gay couple who try not to talk politics with their clients, and a Republican woman who is a stay-at-home mom (and she recycles). Her husband, a more politically active Republican, wasn’t home. Also, they were interviewed separately, not together. Hm.

 

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The article was an earnest attempt at completing the writing assignment, so why did it just make me more pessimistic about this society’s future? Maybe because the very few (3) subjects in this article really don’t represent the enormous gulf that has opened up between those of us who want a compassionate government and those who want a Trump-style regime of fear and intimidation. The two progressive men seem reasonable enough, to be sure – they are tolerant of their conservative clientele and “listen” more than talk with them. Who wouldn’t? And the “conservative” woman (who recycles?) seems normal enough – but of course her “politically active” conservative husband wasn’t available for comment. What would he have to say?

So – three Omaha neighbors, none of them straight white males, trying to put on a no-politics parade, working hard trying not to hate one another. Good stuff. But what if the journalist went beyond the niceties and started asking the progressive guys how they feel about kids in cages at the border? About the EPA being run by a flagrant criminal who hates the EPA? About Flint or Puerto Rico? Trump-Putin “summit” coming up and zero action on Russian election meddling? The millions of tax dollars being spent each month at Trump golf courses? The $82 million Jared and Ivanka made last year as “administration officials”? Continued insults to our allies and continued praise for dictators like Kim, Putin, Xi, Duterto? The economy-killing Trump trade war? Or how about the administration ignoring Pride Month, weakening LGBTQ legal protection, and trying to rid the military of trans people?

And how would the “conservative” woman defend these policies and this president? Would she defend them? We’ll never know. Perhaps it was incumbent on the World-Herald to go out and find some real Trumpers to provide the (civil?) “counterpoint” to the gay men’s politics of inclusion and tolerance (or even the Republican woman’s recycling)? I’m sure that a true Omaha Trumper (there are thousands out there) would have had a full-throated response consisting of lively arguments supporting the Trump agenda. They would also have let the reporter know exactly how they feel about liberal gay people and their wedding cakes, and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that their defense of the administration and their ideas on liberals would not sound like “civility” to anyone not on board the Trump train. Go find some of those Nebraska boys in the MAGA hats “rollin’ coal” with their modified diesel trucks—the anti-environmentalists this state is famous for–sticking it to the libtards in their rice-burning Priuses. Or you could go to Lincoln and interview that Nazi student. Or if that’s too tough, just go talk to the governor and his cronies in the legislature. They’ll be happy to tell you what’s wrong with liberals and Democrats, and that they really ought to just keep quiet and leave the running of Nebraska to the GOP patriots.

The problem, I guess, is that the reporter was sent to interview “liberals” and “conservatives” about tolerance and partisanship. They left out the group actually running the country — the Trumpers.

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America

It’s like when a loved one dies. Maybe you saw it coming, trying to prepare, but then it just rushes up into reality and becomes real and undeniable much more quickly than you were ready for: they are dead, and they are never coming back. Rest in Peace.

You look outside the window of the hospital waiting room after the team of doctors quietly leaves – the sun is shining, birds are singing, in the streets people come and go, traffic lights blink on and off. Why? Why does everything insist on continuing when your world is crushed like this? Everything should stop, and mourn with you. Because things will never be the same.

But it won’t stop. The world is the world, a machine, it runs even when we are broken down. It will run and run. Maybe it will do some recognizable things – day, night, winter, spring. But we’ll be different, changed, having lost some part of us we can’t really define, though we know it was an important part. The reality we occupied is gone, killed by a disease we are powerless to fight alone. And right now we all feel terribly alone.

It’s gone. It’s not coming back.

Rest in Peace.

No Gold Watch

Today I will be honored for 20 years of service to my company. It’s an odd feeling. I don’t think there will be a gold watch, which is good because I don’t really wear gold. When I add up all the compensation I have received, it seems like a lot. But they got 20 years of my life (so far) in return, or at least a goodly portion of those years’ waking hours (and some sleepless nights).

When I started my career, I thought I wanted to be a university professor. Then I discovered that’s like wanting to be a rock star –  beyond the commonplace thing called “talent”, one must also be in the right place, at the right time, have a lot of luck, and know people who can help (and want to help). Not to mention money. I had none of that. I remember distinctly – every PhD program or M.A. level instructor position I looked at had the standard late 1990s attempt at diversification remedy built in: “Women and minority candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.” And I understood that, because faculties were (and are) heavily weighted with the white men who used to get pretty much all the plum jobs. So that didn’t happen.

I’m not bitter – I enjoyed teaching at UNO as a graduate student, and I’ve been an adjunct and might be again. But when I see what’s happening to higher education in the 2000s, I feel relief that I’m not locked into a paranoid system that now seems to be largely a crucible of political warfare and mutual suspicion. Accommodations, intellectual rigor, and safe spaces do battle with right-wing insurgents who want to “target” liberal “indoctrination” (and individual professors) at the university, while a majority of one political party now believes higher education does more to harm the country than help it. Seriously. They believe this.

So I just do what I know how to do, try not to complain too much, and show up every day (or at least the vast majority of days). It’s been a good policy. I am at peace.

The Crisis of Antifa

Well, here’s a conundrum. What to do about Antifa?

We knit the fabric of our societies around our symbols, those we revere and those we deplore. In America, we revere the flag (the real one), the Constitution, the Statue of Liberty, mom, apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet, etc. So far so good. On the deplorable side, we have Nazis, KKK, dictators, police states, etc. In effect, they are the negative side of our identity – that which we as America could never be. But then, somehow, a small subset of society (any society) will inevitably embrace the symbols they are supposed to deplore, and work against the ideals they were raised to respect and live by. Why do they do that? I’d answer that question with another question: Why are bullies mean when we all agree it’s better to be nice?

Ah, but nice to whom?

Like Frank Burns famously said  – “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.” But what about the not nice? What about those who embrace the symbols of hate this nation was designed to deplore – the swastika, the confederate flag, the flaming torch of the rabble rouser, the KKK’s white hoods and cryptic logos?

What about the misfits?

Because lest anyone forget, these are misfits. They are the human dregs left over after society absorbs the useful people. These are human failures, who know they are failures. But they don’t know why, because another personality trait they share is a lack of curiosity regarding how they came to occupy their place in the world – as society’s rejects. Instead, they have comforting “lore”, which in this case translates to “lies”, since the lore they celebrate is phony. You know the lore I speak of – it has to do with Northern aggression, the “Lost Cause”, state’s rights, the inherent dignity of white men (as opposed to…other men?), the truculence of the “lazy” entitled classes who have been elevated above white people by America-hating leftists (translation: minorities, immigrants, single mothers). According to the tenets of our white supremacist citizens’ “social clubs”, these interloping “others” are part of a globalist cabal (WTO/EMF/UN/Media/Universities) that seeks to destroy America’s identity by marginalizing white people while the fruits of white men’s labor (i.e. the country itself) is handed off to waves of dark-skinned immigrants and the “undeserving” poor.

Of course, one easy way to debunk that theory is to look around you. Look at the white people. See them trodden underfoot by minorities? Losing their privileged place in society? Harassed by the authorities? Demonized by politicians? Me neither.  This is America – white people still run everything, and everything is run largely for the benefit of white people. Don’t believe me? Try this exercise: think of all the white people you know of in positions of power – the president, vice president, the cabinet, the corporate billionaires, everyone save one in the Senate, all leaders in Congress, the Supreme Court (save two), vast majority of governors, mayors, chiefs of police, state legislators. Now, think of all the minority people you know of in positions of power. (Hint: Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor at SCOTUS and Cory Booker in the Senate.)

But never mind, these misfits are not into truth or objective reality – they are into themselves and their fake dogma. They feel they are society’s “castoffs”, and ironically, they’re right. Of course, they are not castoffs because they’re white. They’re castoffs because they’re willfully ignorant racists who don’t respect their fellow citizens’ rights or, for that matter, the rule of law. They proved that last point in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville – where the shit literally hit the fan. Now that shit’s all over the country, feeling emboldened, like it doesn’t stink. But these people are, once again, just the dregs, the misfits, the ones society has no real use for. They don’t have nice things, or a future to look forward to, or the imagination to devise a future they can look forward to. So they sit, and they stew, and then they march, insisting that we all owe them something and that we’re somehow trying to “replace” them.

And why do they march? Do they want to start a “dialogue” as the pamphlets say? Do they want to exercise their First Amendment rights? You know, it doesn’t matter. Because once they get there, and start the violence, it’s all revealed as a scam, an excuse to act out their adopted role as society’s ignorant rejects bent on violence against people who don’t look like them. Second mental exercise:  imagine a group of these people arriving at the town square – unarmed and torch-free – standing together peacefully while listening to a speech, then quietly dispersing afterwards. Hard to do, isn’t it? Because although that’s what they say they want, it almost never happens that way, and that’s by design.

The police – where were they in Charlotte? They were nowhere to be seen for most of the day, which I suppose is understandable since the violent racists who marched into town and started beating everyone up were protected by heavily armed militia men, at least one of whom fired a gun at protesters as police looked on and did nothing (it’s on film). But if that is to be the police formula – violent armed white supremacists are to be left alone to attack peaceful citizens and even fire upon them while peaceful non-white protesters (BLM, Standing Rock, anti-Trumpers, etc.) are to be violently assaulted – then we are going to need another way to handle these violent racists when they descend on our cities.

That’s the very important “if” – the vast majority of us are, of course, regular people who just want to get along with our lives, who have no interest in fringe politics and street drama. We have jobs and kids and mortgages. We prefer the citizen-paid police and other civil law enforcement to work on our behalf to limit the violence that lawless militias seek to inflict on their perceived domestic enemies (i.e. everyone who isn’t white and a Nazi), as well as those violent types on the opposite political spectrum who are so eager to, as the kids say these days, “punch a Nazi.”

But that “if” hangs there, insistently, the “if” of Charlottesville, where innocent bystanders and peaceful protesters were saved from beatings or murder at the hands of Nazi scum NOT by police, but by the black-clad Antifa, or Anti-fascists, who came in great numbers to, they hoped, silence the hate speech and meet the violence on offer by the alt-right.

They weren’t there to ask nicely or play defense. They were there to meet the threat head-on. And they did. And in this case – because law enforcement opted out – it’s a good thing they did.

But then this week in Berkeley a group of  five Antifa attacked a man who was offering no violence or, as far as I can tell, even hate speech. A journalist had to intervene to save him (the journalist was also beaten). So that’s a bad thing they did.

And that’s the rub – outside the governance of law, and acting in anonymity, no group can be trusted to act within the confines of law and in the interests of the greater civil society. They act in their own interest. And we don’t really know what that is. They may not either.

Antifa is not new, they are a loose-knit group of communists and anti-globalists with few visible leaders and no set philosophy apart from a zero-tolerance policy regarding white supremacists and fascists of all stripes. They do not claim to be non-violent, and many are armed.

But who Antifa “is” is less important than why they exist. They are not a proactive grievance group like our domestic Nazis. They don’t really have a message – they are the reaction to the message. They might be likened to the antibodies of the country, seemingly philosophically programmed to attack the Nazi virus before it spreads. And as long as the White House, Jeff Sessions, and law enforcement in general are determined to play footsie with white nationalists and give them some rope (as it were) in the form of  a wink-wink plea to the legitimacy of “both sides” or a stand down approach to armed Nazi/KKK rallies, it appears to me Antifa is necessary for the moment. I won’t say I welcome them – I welcome none of this nonsense. But if Antifa is a reckless endeavor – and it is – it would be much worse to nurture a pollyannaish pacifist ideal as the violence grows. To allow the current vacuum of moral authority to provide an opening for these loosely allied white nationalist groups to metastasize into a unified, out-of-control cancer causing the mutation and eventual destruction of our republic – of its ideals – that would be the real tragedy. To be standing amidst the wanton destruction of our own American Kristallnacht, pretending to wonder what went wrong, would be the unforgivable choice.

Both of these groups are fringe groups, and both represent a very small portion of society. But as we’ve seen, the smallest amount of encouragement from the White House/alt-right press sends ugly white nationalists into a state of dreamy delirium, and they act as if they are on the cusp of sparking the “race war” their hero attempted to jump-start by murdering those nine Black people in South Carolina as they prayed to a Christian god.  Each time they get a subtle nod or wink  from the president, or Stephen Miller, or Breitbart, it feels as if the nation’s leadership is secretly in league with the nation’s most vile enemies. It’s a terrible feeling. Whether or not it’s true, the important thing is that the misfits believe it to be true. They talk of the day being “closer” every time they are able to rally openly, to spread hatred and intimidation without resistance.

Antifa provides the resistance that law enforcement seems unwilling – at the moment – to provide. They, at least, seem to understand that you shut down these movements early. You don’t let them get a foothold or get normalized into the mainstream by the continued, unchallenged presence of their vile symbols of fascist nostalgia. You insist they are unacceptable. You do not back down from that.

As we’ve seen in the Charlottesville aftermath, many would-be Nazis are actually punk kids bored with their privilege. The tears flow pretty easily once they are separated from the group, brought into the light and relieved of their tiki torches. If law enforcement can break out the water cannons, rubber bullets, shock devices, mace grenades, etc., and bring all of that to the peaceful Native Americans protesting the rape of their land by big oil – and even bring in law enforcement from other states to get that job done – they should be able to handle a few misfit Nazis and their mentally unbalanced militia friends.

Until they do, we have Antifa. And until they do, we deserve Antifa.

Secular Trinity

You live, and you grow, and you change. At some point you realize you’re an adult (for me, around age 25). You feel at that point you are not going to change anymore, although it still remains difficult to imagine yourself as middle-aged (and forget about “old”).

You feel “done” maturing, as if at 25 (or whenever) you will simply lock into place and be the “you” that you are now for the rest of your life.

There’s some anecdotal truths around this. For example, artistic tastes. I believe they tend to form as part of childhood and adolescence, and of course one’s taste matures and is refined by experience. But at some point, usually late adolescence, you have kind of “decided” what kind of art, music, film, philosophy, etc., that you “like” or identify with, and this gets rather chiseled in stone for many people. This is why, for example, Journey and Foreigner are still touring.

(Artists are an exception. They are always looking for the new. But given enough time, even they may lose their taste for the now.)

We’re amazed at how richly detailed our childhood memories are, our adolescent and post-adolescent memories. The time between age 6 and 21 seems a lifetime in itself, a kaleidoscope of change, when recollected at age 50. But the time after that, and all the way up to the present, seems a fleeting moment, punctuated by memories of only the most obvious junctures of change (career start, marriage, children, deaths of relatives, new job, big vacation, etc.). Personally, I can barely remember anything that happened between age 25 and 35, but I have a huge catalog of incredibly distinct memories from childhood and adolescence.

Science now has good evidence that there is a reason we have such vivid memories of childhood and adolescence—our brains are wired to create more permanent memories during these years. It would seem to go hand in hand with our greater ability to learn at a younger age.

And, as science has also proven, as you get older time does literally move faster. At least from the individual’s perspective. Gyp!

I’ve also noticed that physical aging is not a steady degrading of one’s appearance from “youthful” to “codger.” It’s a process with fits and starts. Nature, in her wisdom, seems to be most “interested” in us between the ages of 12 and 40. This makes perfect evolutionary sense if you think about it. And so, I don’t know if it’s by design or just a function of human aging, but it seems I did not age at all, physically, between age 20 and 40. I remember, when I was about 31, I walked into my first college class as an instructor. Some of the students laughed, and as I took my spot at the podium and smiled at them, some of them told me to quit fooling around and get a seat before the instructor arrived. I looked about the same as I did at 18. They ended up being a good class. (And that’s another thing – youth relates to youth. It’s not fair. A lot of things aren’t.)

Why this variability in physical aging, memory creation, and perception of time? I believe it’s because Nature has great use for us between the ages of 12 and 40 – to create and raise the next generation. I’m not saying that’s anyone’s “duty” by a long shot. Every life is valid. I mean that that is our usefulness to Nature, which is insistent that life will succeed, and indifferent to what happens after we help in that task. It is our “golden” time, the time when we are most vital, most animated, and most attractive. It’s all useful to be thus, in terms of evolutionary success. And when we get past that period, we are, I’m afraid, no longer so useful to Nature. We are free to stick around, perhaps to advise, but we’re largely relegated to being observers in the continuous cycle, the generational game that is center stage.

And then, when we aren’t looking, the fun begins.

There used to be an old joke about how when Dick Clark reached age 75 he was going to age all at once. Yeah, he was youthful for a long time. But then he wasn’t. And many are, as I was, slow to age. But to quote my old bud Robert Frost: Nothing gold can stay. Time is, as they say, the great destroyer. Or, if you’re a Jim Morrison fan: No one here gets out alive.

So now I do age. My face is fatter, my hair is thinner and coarser and grayer. My middle is more of me. My skin was perfect, now I’ve got more “character” in my face. I have a crown on what used to be a molar. I’m allergic to everything. My eyes are less bright and can’t see menus in dim restaurants. My body is, in general, less cooperative than it used to be. And I’ll be honest, it gets to me sometimes. All things being equal, it’s better to be young, healthy and beautiful. Right? Sure.

But all things are not equal.

Lately, I have felt a very odd transformation occurring. I can only describe it as being less “me” and more “us”. For my entire life, and largely based on my lifestyle, I’ve been a loner, even an outcast. It was always “me” and “everyone else.” It felt right, it felt safe and contained, and my personal philosophy had a lot to do with the idea of the “sovereign individual,” beholden to no one, bowing to no creed and no nation. I was (and am) a devotee of that famous iconoclast William Blake’s iconic statement: “I must create my own system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.”

That’s changed, at least in part. I would like to say it changed the day I married, but that would be dishonest. I was 28, still in Nature’s grip. I was not done figuring out who and why I am. I had a long way to go, and perhaps that was mutual. I suspect it was, and that’s fine. Nothing important is easy, nothing valuable happens in a moment (well, a couple of things). Building a life – an identity – I find it’s a lifelong process. And once I had decided upon my identity, way back then, it felt sound, but now it has shifted again.

Marriage is complicated, as the divorce and single-parent statistics attest. It’s not always worth it. And, most of all, the future – and our future selves – cannot be predicted, they will come to pass as they do, not as we will them to. So some fail. Marriage is a planned sacrifice of sorts, a giving up (eventually, if the union is successful) of a part of oneself, in order to accept being part of another self. I didn’t really understand this when our drunk minister, Reverend Fred, said the words in October 1990, that we were now “one.” I thought I did, but I didn’t.

Now I do. And not only do I feel I am truly not one person anymore, I’m not even limited to being two people. I can look at my daughter now, hear her words, witness her mature identity growing, and it grows like the acorn into a replica of the old oak. Really. She is a true part of the “us” that we are now, and there’s no competition regarding whom she is “more” like, because in a rather profound way we all seem to be the same person. Of course we are physically independent beings, with as much free will as anyone may have (or think they have). We have our own likes and dislikes, etc. But we do not go it alone, not at all. We are “in it” together, the “it” being life. We share it, as I have never before understood sharing.

No, it’s not readily explained.

But I know this: I’m no longer me, and it’s no longer me against the world. I’m us, and we’re us. And we are a world, within a world. And it feels better than anything I’ve ever felt before.

The Freedom to be Massacred?

It’s true, you know – freedom isn’t free. This little axiom has been used in the past to bolster support for armed conflict, as in “we have to be prepared to fight wars to ensure our freedom is not taken from us.” That has been true, though only once in the last century to my reckoning, in 1941.

But now, today, it’s different. We have to fight domestic lovers of conflict and haters of peace like the bizarre orange man-baby, the demagogues and indiscriminate saber-rattlers, the gun fetishists, the amoral greed of the military-industrial-technological complex, the soulless NRA and its meek toadies in Congress – we have to fight all of them. We have to oppose them in order to guarantee our freedom to NOT be party to the indiscriminate murder of innocents by way of legislative inaction or by allowing an insane megolomaniac to gain the awesome power of the presidency. It’s OUR government that’s doing nothing to protect the innocents, it’s VOTERS who put these people in office. Unless we act with courage against them, WE are culpable.

Thoughts and prayers? Faith without works is hollow boasting, vanity and evasion. Far too easy to cross oneself and then look away. Look back – the danger is still here, it’s not over because this week’s dead are buried. Your loved ones are at risk every day, all year long, as we know too well.

To hell with Congress’s moment of silence and Republican lawmakers’ fear of the demagogue. To hell with the transparent lies of the NRA. We need loud, angry voices decrying the inaction of cowards and the dangerous nonsense spouted by ignorant fools every moment, until we are heard.

Just Checking In

OK, so I know it’s been a while. But again, no one is reading this, so no big deal.

As for today, I am feeling restless, so thought I would submit an entry, blog-like, rather than the usual planned essay.

Today is September 12, one day after September 11. Last week, we had a great excitement as one Terry Jones (not the Monty Python Terry Jones), leader of a Christian church of sorts down in Gainesville, FL, finally hit a hot button that got him the media attention he so desperately craves.

Apparently this guy, whose church’s basic Christian tenet is that Islam is evil, has been trying to get the attention of the media for several years, announcing this or that plan for his church designed to foment ire and street violence among the worlds Muslims. Problem was, nobody was paying any attention to him and his crackpot pronouncements.

But this time, he got it right. He announced “International Burn a Koran Day” and sent out a release saying his church was going to burn Korans on September 11 as a way of “getting their message out” about Islam.

Cue media frenzy. Admittedly, it was a slow news week. So slow, apparently, that all anyone talked about – apart from someone named Snookie – was this guy and his whacko church.

In the end, and under pressure from Barack Obama and General Petraeus and the whole gang, Jones announced that, on second thought, they would not burn Korans on September 11.

Whew! Close one.

Now, you may or may not consider it ironic that at least two people were killed in street protests in Afghanistan which anticipated the non-event. But I for one would hate to be the guy who died while demonstrating my opposition to an outrage that never actually occurred.

But anyway, speaking of religious nuts, we had our own little weird celebration here on the plains a couple of weeks ago, right down the street from my house.

We were heading out on Saturday morning to the farmer’s market to get some good tomatoes. That time of year, you know. But we got over on the main street, and were surprised to encounter a huge throng of folks lining the sidewalks near the Lutheran church, holding signs, chanting and all the rest. Turns out the main group – hundreds of them – were actually counter-protestors who were there to face down the crazies from the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. These folks like to protest at the funerals of soldiers who’ve died in our of our imperial wars. Their reasoning is that the soldiers are dying because God is visiting retribution on our country for – are you ready? – its tolerance of homosexuality, apparently the vilest of sins. So they show up at the funerals with big signs that say “God Hates Fags” or “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” .

That’s their thing.

On this day, in fact just after we passed through on our way to the farmer’s market (my wife gave them a thumbs down, and I gave the Westboro folks a version of a “thumbs up”, which involved a different finger) another event occurred. A veteran drove down the same street and unleashed a barrage of bear repellant – basically mace – from the window of his pickup truck, aimed at the Westboro protestors.

The gay-hating protestors, though, are not rookies at being broadly despised. They had their signs at the ready. They maneuvered them in front of their faces and avoided getting maced. The counter-protestors, probably less experienced at this sort of thing, got the brunt of it. Several ended up in the hospital.

It is surely so that God works in mysterious ways.