A Point? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Point!

I was thinking about doing a post on writing today. A few ideas have been chasing themselves around my mind, and I was looking forward to developing one or two of them. Of course, those damned ideas managed to chase themselves around until they got all tangled up and derailed what passes for my train of thought…

FAC5F2EB-C5EF-4DAC-80F3-F8D89A7AC9BBAhem.

Derailed may, in fact, be putting things (more than) a bit lightly. They derailed me in the same way the Hindenburg was “derailed”…

Why is it that I find it so damned hard to remember that first, most crucial rule of writing? When an idea comes — everyone say it with me, now — YOU WRITE THE DAMNED THING!!!

Yeah, I forgot/ignored that one. Again.

*sigh*

It would’ve been a great post, too.

Ahh, well…maybe it’ll come back in time for Friday’s post.

Of course, another problem cropped up while I sat in the shade today, trying to recover from hiking in the unrelenting, hot sun and flipping through articles and editorials on my phone…

FF48DB56-1970-4187-86FB-6EDF6C47A8F4Now, it’s not all that often that I run across something that makes me nod and go all agreeable. Very, very rarely has the phrase “Amen! Preach it!” ever crossed my lips (other than as a joke), but today I ran across one of those few.

I love it when someone else gets it. I especially love it when they “get it” from a totally different perspective from me. Things like that give me hope for the future…which is something in short supply in my cynical little corner of the world.

Saritha Prabhu has a great editorial in USA Today that you can find here. Read the whole thing, and take it in the spirit in which it is written. For those that want to short-cut the actual reading, this little pull-quote gives a good sense of things:

“Politicians from both parties have gotten away with letting down ordinary Americans for decades because millions of Americans are culturally wedded to their tribal political identities of Republican or Democrat, and can’t think outside the box.”

Amen! Preach it, sister!

Her conclusion does a good job, as well:

“I see myself as a political independent these days, who’ll opine based on what she sees and thinks, not along party lines.

For what it’s worth, renegades like me are like that canary in the coal mine: We’re trying to warn Democrats when they’re tone-deaf or still don’t get it.”

Now, look, I don’t want to go all political — and I especially don’t want to veer off onto some libertarian tangent — but holy crap, could we use some independence from the two-party-rigmarole* nowadays. I’ll let Ms. Prabhu’s piece stand for itself with her criticisms of Team-D, but for Team-R…shit, don’t get me started on Team-R. Can we PLEASE just do away with the whole, damned “social conservative” thing? Pretty please?!

*And if you think I didn’t have to spellcheck THAT particular word, you’re nuts!

I can’t think of anyone more problematic to a functioning, vibrant democracy than aggressive social conservatives. I’ve said it many times on this blog, but it bears repeating: my morality is none of your business, and yours is none of mine.

1365C924-B5E2-4C89-A6D7-1F992C8D6A51Look…I’m a libertarian. I don’t give two shits if you smoke a pound of pot every day, marry your lampshade, and attend full-moon orgies in the middle of a National Park. I don’t care who you love, or what you do, so long as you aren’t hurting anyone other than yourself. Adults are responsible for themselves and their own choices, and that includes the right to make decisions that others might consider “bad.”

And that’s where the Republicans and their “team” lost me — the social conservatives who drive that particular bus want freedom and libertarianism in some (very limited) ways, but in the truly important ways,* they want to control every single aspect of folks’ lives.

*The areas where NO ONE should have control…

No. Just…no.

Financial conservatism? A pragmatic — dare I say, Bismarckian — foreign policy? A strong military? A system that focuses on equality of access rather than equality of results?

Yes, to all of that.

But a system that dictates who you can love/marry? Or what you can do? Or that elevates one religion, or one interpretation of that religion even, to ideological and political supremacy?

No. Not just “no”, but “HELL NO!”

I agree with the Founding Fathers that our rights are inherent in us as human beings. They are rights that cannot be alienated away from us…and especially cannot be alienated away by any government or controlling power that “knows what’s best,” whether we agree or not.

Okay…crap…this is starting to turn into a screed, so I think it’s time to stop.

Ahem.

The next time I start to go all political, I’m gonna skip the problem and just post excerpts from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  All hail Douglas Adams!

What Slouches Towards Bethlehem

I spent some time reading the news over the last few days…

I think I need to repogram my browser’s ad blocker to be a news blocker, too. Just one day on a news aggregation site — just one day — read like some freaking end-times prophecy. Honestly, we’re gonna have to name this the “Yeats Era”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Remember that civil war that I said was coming? Yeah, apparently I’m not alone in that cynicism. Rasmussen did a poll on the topic (here’s a link to their article on it) and found that almost a third of the US thinks a civil war is pretty damned likely…

11260C46-9429-4BEF-907D-D8D0AFF3A5CCWonderful. I don’t know if a poll like that is enough to turn cynicism into self-fulfilling prophecy, but I don’t particularly like where the odds are going on this one.

I understand the passion of protestors, and the deeply held beliefs on both sides. But both sides have crossed the lines that help us to function as a stable, rational society. Both sides are pushing us into confrontation and vitriol and hate that, honestly, has only one end.

When your opponent becomes an adversary that’s survivable. It ain’t great, not in any nation that was to find some form of cohesion, but it’s not Armageddon. When your adversary becomes an enemy, however…

Enemies are nefarious, they’re evil. Enemies cannot be overcome, they must be utterly defeated. Enemies must be killed and all vestiges stamped out.

The fringes of American politics are already well past the stage where any who disagree are enemies. The main body, so far, has resisted following the whackjobs into that particular madness. From the mainstream left to the mainstream right, we have been stuck at the adversary stage for several decades…and that’s something that has helped to keep us together as a nation.

Unfortunately, the numbers of those who are willing to hold back from insanity are shrinking. Ten years ago, it was maybe 10-15% of the political spectrum that was fixated on enemies and conflict. Nowadays? Now, it’s more like 50-60%.

How long until people are killed for “believing the wrong thing”? How long until people are killed for who they vote for? Or what policies they support? Once we cross that line, that path to civil war is unstoppable. Plain and simple, the descent into rage and blood will come.

Is there a way to step back? A way to stop this before we fall into that “watering the Tree of Liberty” thing?

The writer in me says, well, of course there is. There has to be a choice…it’s the only way to give your protagonist agency, and to have a plot worth following.

But the historian in me?

The historian in me is looking for somewhere to hide.

By the way, do you have any idea at all how much I regret NOT heading up to Yellowstone again this summer? I could have hidden away from all this shit…I could have lived in happy ignorance.57FC8202-0BB6-40F7-89AB-6BE185F1ECC6

Hey, look, make fun of ostriches all you want, but there’s something to be said for the occasional insertion of one’s cranium into a convenient hole.

Antagonism vs. Aspiration

Oh, what the hell…it’s “news” right now, so why not jump on the bandwagon?

The NFL anthem controversy.

Again.

Crap, will this thing never go away? It is, perhaps, the stupidest and most pointless “controversy” on the face of the planet right now. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence someone sits, there are bigger things to worry about than this.

Now, first off, one thing needs to be said — it doesn’t matter on which side of the kneel-or-stand debate you are, Trump’s comment the other day was the most moronic, asinine and stupid thing in the world:

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

No. Just no. Actually, not just no — hell no.

Leaving aside the NFL crap — I’ll get to that in a moment — any act of respect or honor, just like any act of faith or gratitude, must be heartfelt and self-initiated to have any worth whatsoever. That is why, by the way, I don’t like the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance in schools. For such a thing to have any meaning, just like standing for the anthem, a student/kid/person must willingly choose to participate. Anything else is just empty symbolism.

Okay, that being said…what about the NFL?

I wrote once before about this, when it was picking up steam. My point then — as a guy who has played team sports all his life — was that the “kneelers” were being selfishly individual in what is, honestly, a sport where team has to be everything. I thought teams should act, one way or the other, as a team. The decision belongs in the locker room, and especially with the team leaders.

Of course, that was a year ago. I thought then that this whole thing would soon die out. How naive.

The whole issue has, sadly, become conflated with the current cultural and political divide tearing us apart as a nation. And that is just stupid. Must everything be about “beating” the other side?

Sadly, I know the answer to that.

*sigh*

It is important to note that, in spite of all the rhetoric and vituperation — on BOTH sides — this is not an argument about patriotism. This is not an argument about love of country, nor is it about who is a “better” American. There is no such thing as a better American. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are any more or less American or patriotic than the other, and anyone who thinks they are “better” — anyone who wants to use patriotism as a weapon — is helping only to bring us down.

What this whole thing is about is money, and the currency of power.

From the NFL’s point of view, it’s quite simple: this is purely a question of marketing. Roughly forty percent of their fan base was upset, for one reason or another, with the anthem protests. No business can afford to offend that large a portion of their customers. The league had to do something…unfortunately, they screwed the pooch from day one by trying to play to both sides. They didn’t “solve the problem” in the first place, which irked the first 40%, and now they have backtracked on their “promise” to allow the players to choose, which alienates another 40%.

Congratulations, NFL, for once again kicking yourself in the balls.

The league does, by the way, have every legal right to dictate the players stand during the anthem. That is a fact, whether you “like” the protests or not. It is a workplace environment, and the employer can dictate workplace rules. And, no, those rules do not apply to the league’s customers (the fans). Anyone arguing that the new rule applies to fans as well is just putting up a pointless strawman.

The NBA, by the way, requires their players to stand, on pain of suspension, yet there is no brouhaha surrounding that league…

Now, for the player’s point of view. I can understand the impulse and reasoning…understand, at least, those players who actually have considered and heartfelt positions.  Players like Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. He knelt, but that was just the beginning for him. He went on to sit down with Denver police officers. He participated in ride-alongs. He took part in some of their training scenarios on shooting and violence. He articulated what he saw as problems, and worked with others to come up with solutions. That is legitimate, respectable and honorable. That is the kind of thing we need more of if we are to solve, well, anything.

Unfortunately, Marshall’s attitude and actions are not the rule. Many of the “protestors” had/have no clear message, and instead offer only the vaguest generalities and broad-brush attacks on others. These folks are just as guilty of politicization and divisiveness and useless antagonism — and are as worthy of scorn — as those who want to turn overt, ostentatious “patriotism” into a political weapon.

Others have no plan or goal, other than one of protest for the sake of protest. For that group, kneeling WAS the message, rather than a tactic to bring attention to any particular problem. This is the group — players, reporters and fans — who are most virulently up in arms right now about the new rule. They are not talking not about the ostensible reasons for the protests in the first place — racism and policing — but are talking only about…protesting.

Folks, if the tactic becomes the message, you are doing something wrong.

On a personal level, I should probably say a couple of things. First off, as much as the league screwed up in their initial handling of this issue (and in all subsequent efforts to “handle” it), the players screwed up just as badly. There was no plan, there was nowhere to go, there was just…protest. When this thing first came to a head, then was the time for a real message. Then they had the real spotlight and soapbox, then was the inflection point for action. Now? Now, positions are so bitterly entrenched that neither side can even hear the other. Decisions and judgments have been made, and the bitter reality of political “teams” has taken over.

Secondly — leaving aside the team-versus-individual dynamic of football — I was not a fan of the kneeling. To me, on a personal level, the flag is a symbol. Not a symbol of the US as it is, and not a symbol exclusively of the military and those who have sacrificed, but a symbol of aspiration. It is a symbol of what the nation could be. It is something to rally around as a higher ideal, something to unify us and give the common identity and purpose we need to make things better.

The US is far from perfect, in any sense. Culturally, socially, politically, economically, and yes racially, we still have a lot of ground to cover. But we cannot even begin to cover that ground if we cannot agree on a common identity…and the flag is, to me, the symbol of that identity, and of the aspiration to be better.

That being said, I may not have liked the protests, but I do not question the hearts of those who protested, nor their motives. I am a white man, I only know the realities and problems of racism through conversations with minority friends. I have no personal experience. Now, I’m not going to even try to tackle racism in this post, but I have heard and learned enough from those friends to understand…a bit.

In the end, it is that message that matters. It is neither the protests, nor the politics and bile currently taking hold, that matter. The answer is not to kneel, nor to attack the kneelers. The answer is for every player to be a Brandon Marshall…and for every fan to be a Brandon Marshall. The answer is to understand, and to aspire for more.

It’s Not A Generation Gap, It’s The Grand Damned Canyon

2D95D309-98DE-4487-AEF9-A3E97964D9ABErr, this’ll be an awkward post…and also something of a long one, I think.  Remember my long-time words of warning: I don’t plan or outline these posts, they are purely organic, from brain-to-keyboard with only one read-through for editing & revision.

Oh, crap…if I have to explain myself before I so much as get to the theme and intro, I have to wonder just how badly I’ve taken leave of my senses…

Okay, so…well…I took leave of my sense a long time ago. I took leave of my senses when I walked away from a good six-figure job in search of a life that was actually fulfilling and worthwhile to me, rather than one that was about collecting a (good) paycheck and making other people happy.

Ahem, never mind. Let’s keep that particular closet door closed, shall we?

First off, a reminder that I sit pretty much outside the generally accepted “teams” in American politics. I think both sides idiotic, and that both exist and work only to benefit the few at the top by exploiting and abusing those at the bottom.

But…

But, in addition to being a writer, I’m also a historian and something of a political junkie. The first part of my day is reading…reading a shit-ton about politics and news, both here in the US and elsewhere in the world. The important thing, for me, is that I read a bit of everything. I will spend time with a piece from The National Review, then immediately follow that with something from The Nation.

I make it a point to take in material and ideas from all points of view. I don’t have to agree with what I’m reading, but how in the hell could I ever expect someone else to read and weigh any new & different ideas I may express if I’m not willing to do the same? Ideas and opinions are not communicable diseases, no one’s character or beliefs will be “infected” by reading things with which they don’t agree…

Whew…okay…that’s done. Shit, 330+ words of set-up, and only now am I ready to get started on what I actually sat down to write — is 8:00am too early for scotch?

I read an opinion piece this morning that got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about the differences in today’s politics. Not the differences between the teams, but the differences within them. Now, look…my politics and beliefs are pretty damned different from what I grew up with, and from anyone else in my immediate family. But I’ll be damned if I’ve ever had the energy to sit down and write about the hows and whys of those differences.

1A73C0FF-925F-48B3-A883-38E7C4E2EE49Now, maybe it’s because I’ve been completely immersed in the “world” and outlook of younger folks for the last couple of years (given the trilogy of stories I’m writing), but I’m incredibly conscious of the differences between generations at the moment. And, no, I’m not talking about the bullshit judgmentalism of those who attack and blame other generations: “Millennials are all lazy and entitled brats” or “Baby Boomers are evil fucks clinging too long to money and life” or “Gen Xers are hypocritical asswagons making everything worse”. No, I’m talking about the very real differences in outlook and beliefs, the very real differences that create not just different dynamics, but entirely different ways of looking at the universe, that are all-but mutually incomprehensible between generations. And it’s not just politics, it’s social and cultural and economic, as well.

The simple fact of the matter is that those differences are just getting worse; my parents live in a totally different world from their children. And my generation? We’re not quite that disassociated, but we’re close — far too many of my generation are following our parents into a world of blinders and knee-jerk beliefs/responses that are already old and “out of date”.

And the worst part? Far too few people even bother to notice the disconnects, let alone worry about what they presage for the future. That socio-political conflict I see coming in the next couple of decades? Yeah, it’s gonna be generational, too.

Okay, so what got me thinking about all of this? This particular opinion piece: “How Conservatives Can Win Back Young Americans.” Now, look, I know it’s the Weekly Standard…I know that, if you’re not of a very specific political group (a small group, at that), that magazine might as well be Serial Killers Weekly, but remember what I said above: ideas and opinions won’t kill you.

Hell, personally, I think Noam Chomsky is (politically & economically) a raving lunatic.  But he is also one of the smartest men on the planet…and, yes, I read the hell out of him as part of my Linguistics degree.

I posted the link above because I think the piece is a worthwhile read. For folks of the conservative political stripe — yes, Mom & Dad, I’m talking to you! — it’s worth it for the political advice. For folks like me, who are not on either team, and even for folks on the liberal/progressive side of the field, it is worth reading for what are, in fact, pretty good insights into some of the generational differences at play in the US today.

We cannot bridge gaps, let alone solve problems, if we aren’t able to understand the them…and the perhaps the biggest gap today, and the fastest growing problem, is the vast, yawning chasm between the younger generations and the older.

P.S.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to write a coherent post about politics while blasting a Stevie Ray Vaughn live album? I really want to be outside at a concert somewhere, right about now…

 

P.P.S.

Okay, so it has nothing really to do with this post, other than illustrating one aspect of the Democrat-Republican divide, but I still think the chart below is hilarious (given just where I do all my writing):

E5EBFD57-6B36-400E-ACE2-15881CEB04B6