Friday, October 09, 2015

His Sto Ree

The old saw has us believing that "history is written by the victors." The idea that history is subjective needs no further test than the discussion of the word: His Story. I went to college at a time when Womyn's Studies challenged our mndset as well as our spelling skills. So much of what we know is based on an agreement made by a relatively small group of individuals about what would be taught in our school. What is objective reality? Would it be okay to teach two plus two equals five in one state (I'm looking at you, Texas), while others stick with the traditional and safe answer of four, keeping the door open for larger values of three?
We can be pretty sure that Richard Nixon did resign from his second term as President of the United States. There is a lot of evidence to prove this. Exactly how and why this came to pass is subject to some debate. Not unlike the manned moon missions which have only recently become conspiratorial fodder, everything it seems is now up for debate. I don't get Columbus Day off because we now know that Chris was a lousy navigator and an even worse public relations risk. Fourth graders don't tend to take tours of our nearby missions because it turns out that they might not have been the peaceful stops on the Camino Real. Alas, so much of what I was once taught turns out to be whitewashed gobbledygook made up to make us all feel better about genocide.
Which brings me to Roni Dean-Burren. Ms. Dean-Burren is a concerned parent of a Texas high school freshman. She got a text from her son that included an illustration from his class' ninth grade history text book. Below it, he wrote this message: "we was real hard workers, wasn't we" and he closed with a frowny emoticon. Clever enough for her son to make this connection to the absurd suggestion that "the Atlantic Slave Trade brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations." Well how about that for a revisionist view of dispora? Mom took it to social media where it started to get the kind of attention it deserved. McGraw-Hill will be revising the text of their history.
Any bets on exactly how that will turn out? Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ready, Aim, Misfire

It was Stephen Colbert who suggested most recently that we as a nation are perilously close to redefining insanity: We keep doing the same thing and we expect different results. He was referencing the shootings in Oregon last week, but it was a refrain to which we are all beginning to fall prey. Pun intended.
There have been forty-five school shootings so far in 2015. My quick math suggests that works out to be five a month, which is troubling since we just finished summer vacation and it doesn't seem that we got any sort of break from the carnage. Maybe your prefer your body count in an easier to digest form a la USA Today: The friendly folks at The Guardian have made a nice pictograph showing nine hundred ninety-four mass shootings in one thousand four days. You can trust the Brits to make us Yanks feel just a little obvious with out ninety-nine percent shooting per day ratio. That's the United Kingdom, where owning guns is not a right, it's a crime. They find this whole mess rather distasteful and confounding.
Back here on our shores, the politics are pretty simple: Red is pretty gun crazy and blue is apologetic for being gun crazy. Always that fine line. It took Jeb Bush nearly a week to live down his reaction to the shootings at a community college in Oregon. His wisdom on the matter: "Stuff happens." Very zen, Jeb, but maybe you're just a little north of that sincerity mark that would have put you squarely on message. You know, sympathizing with the victims, but insisting that some "good guns" would have made all the difference.
That's what Donald Trump believes. He even went so far as to assert that these kind of things are an "unfortunate inevitability." If you didn't want to be shot, why did you come to this country in the first place? He's got a concealed weapons permit because "it's a right, not a privilege." This should come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to this man for more than thirty seconds. Each sound bite from the Donald is a meal. His supporters wholeheartedly believe that a crazy person will get a gun and there's nothing you can do about it except get a gun and shoot first.
And ask questions later. Better yet: don't ask. We already know the answer.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Gotta Go

The phone rang, and for a change of pace, it wasn't a number I recognized immediately as calling for my wife. It was my son. This set off a different set of alarms than the ones that I had spent so many years preparing myself to deal with. The last couple of years have given me a new awareness of my son's whereabouts. When he was younger, we used to get phone calls from his friends' houses, letting us know that he was staying for dinner. Or spending the night. It was the second of those two calls that would raise the defcon status at our house. His mother and I would then spend the next several hours hoping that this would be the magic night that would give us all the relief of a night away. This was not a skill I was able to pass along to my son effectively. Instead, I seem to have passed along the homesickness virus that plagued me as a kid. The phone calls we got from our son in the middle of the night were painful for all of us. We struggled with "the right thing to do." Should we let him tough it out, or should we go up in the middle of the night and rescue him?
For a while, we didn't get those calls. Not because he conquered the fear, but because he just stopped trying to sleep over at his friends' houses. And then one day, he was ready. He found the combination and the way to deal with his fears and the only call we got was the one letting us know that he wouldn't be home that night. This was the beginning of a trend that would eventually leave us with any number of possible locations for him to land on any number of evenings. Many of these were just late nights in the backstage shop at his high school theater. He was building. He was creating. He was making a path for himself to college.
When the phone rang last week, he was calling from college. This was a treat for me, but I still had that gut reaction: Trouble?
"Hey dad." No terror there.
"What's up?"
"Could you help me out?" Here it comes: Money? Lonely? Worried?
"What do you need?" I was ready.
"I'm at Trader Joe's. Do you know where they keep the Cold Brew Coffee?"
The flood of relief. "Well, I -"
"Oh, here it is. Never mind."
"Good talking to you, son."
"Good talking to you. I gotta go."
Gotta go.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Love Means...

Love means never having to say you're sorry. That was the tag line from "Love Story," a little book and film from the 1970's. It's the kind of thing that used to go on posters and T-shirts back then. It was a simpler time. It was a time for silliness like Andy Warhol and bell-bottom blue jeans. Bad things happened. Wars were being fought across the globe. Disco was still dance music, and Coke was still a smile and not for grinding your teeth.
Some decades later, bad things are still happening, but the legs of our jeans have become thinner to the point of absurdity. Disco has died and come back to life as many times as Jason Voorhees. Andy Warhol is a venerated master. And love still means never having to say you're sorry.
If the opposite of love is war, as we learned back in those days after the endless slog of Vietnam, what do we say about the accidental air strike in Afghanistan that killed nineteen? Not nineteen bad guys, by the way. These were nineteen non-combatants. Twelve staff members for Doctors Without Borders, and seven of their patients, three of whom were children. Thirty-seven others were injured in the melee, brought to you by the United States Air Force. Just doing our job. Keeping the peace. What do we do now? Now that the doctors who had been attending to the wounded in the region have been killed as part of "collateral damage?" Would now be a good time to say "sorry?"
I will tell you how it works on our playground: We say, "I'm sorry," followed immediately by, "Are you okay?" This is used at each point of contact, intentional or unintentional. Accidents happen on playgrounds. "I didn't mean to hurt anyone," is not an excuse. We want the person who got hit on the nose with an errant four-square ball to know that even if we didn't mean to hit them on the nose, we are still concerned for their welfare. In Afghanistan? "The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility. This incident is under investigation."
One thing is clear: Afghanistan is no playground. Nor is it a Love Story. My suggestion is that we don't sit around waiting for an apology from the ones who dropped the bombs. By then we could all be doing the Hustle in our elephant bells once again. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Another In A Continuing Series

If I had been President of the United States for the past eight years, I don't know how I would have responded. Showing up at the podium for yet another acknowledgement of a mass shooting, I don't know if I could have held it together as well as our President has. Considering the number of these heinous acts has done nothing but grow since 2008, even the published timelines of these events go out of date on a ridiculously rapid rate. Who shot whom and why has ceased to be any sort of discussion. The fact that this has become a generally accepted part of our American culture is tragic beyond words.
And yet, that's what we are left with: Words. Names. And the faces. Casualties in a war that was never declared, but nonetheless we feel compelled to win. Arguing about guns and the Constitution is the way we make ourselves feel better about doing nothing to stem this bloody tide. Discussion of security measures like metal detectors and more police in the hallways of schools deflect the insanity of having the discussion of arming teachers. Wringing our collective hands about the state of mental health in our country feels like a proactive way to get to the source, but it's still a package deal. One lunatic with one gun can do so much damage.
There are too many cracks. The refrain, "He seemed like such a normal guy. We never would have imagined that he could do such a thing," has become such a cliche that it shows up in pop songs. TV shows. Movies. Video games. The lone gunman is an institution. As long as the targets happen to be bad guys, we make them heroes. When they are moms and dads and kids and fellow students, we recoil in fear.
How did it get this bad? I wish I had a mathematical formula that would reduce this to some kind of relate-able experience. There is no such algorithm. We are stuck with being shattered and shocked by the announcement of each new killing spree. We become numb to the effect it is having on all of us. The nation no longer mourns. We go about our business. Until it happens in our town. Then we stop and wonder how it got this bad. Local politicians promise to take a stand. Memorials and tributes pop up, only to be swept away months later when that town's name joins the list of those who have added to the roll. And once again, the President steps up to the microphone and announces another in a series. I know that I couldn't do it.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Scorched Earth

Donald Trump, to paraphrase an old bit, promises to return America to what it once was: A vast arctic wasteland covered with volcanic ash and snow. I do believe he is just the man to do this. He has done nothing so far to inspire anything but fear and contempt in me. I tend, like many people who have liberal bleeding hearts, to mask that fear with attempts at humor: See the funny man with the questionable hair and orange face make statements that hurt and defame. Isn't his hair funny? Isn't it ridiculous that he can get away with saying such awful things and doing such despicable acts? 
Well, I have been getting along just fine for the past few months poking fun. All the while I have been reminding anyone who will listen to me that four years ago Herman Cain was the front-runner in the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination. Herman Cain of the "Nine-Nine-Nine" tax reform plan. Herman Cain of Godfather's Pizza. Herman Cain of the Stephen Colbert punchline. Herman Cain of the "Herman Cain Show," and fan of Von Trumpenstein. 
It's all so amusing. Wouldn't it be hysterical if he won?
It's not funny anymore.

What would Donald Trump do if he was elected President? He would send the Syrian refugees taken in by the United States back to their homeland. "I'm putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration. If I win, they're going back." Direct. To the point. Full of that bluster and straight talk that put him where he is: In the national spotlight. The same mind that gave us this:  "Putin is a nicer person than I am. I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he's getting an 'A' and our president is not doing so well." 
And the hits just keep on coming.
It's not funny anymore. It's tragic. A year from now we will be asked to pick the leader of what we like to call "the free world." I confess that I still haven't made up my mind about the next election, but I am pretty sure that this is no longer a laughing matter

Saturday, October 03, 2015

One Hundred Percent

There are not a lot of things that you can say for certain are one hundred percent. The members of the United States Congress who believe in climate change, for example. There are plenty of other measures that are very close, but not quite the whole enchilada. Like the number of Republicans who don't believe in evolution, a number which has been declining in the past few years. Way to go, Elephant Guys! Since science may not be the best approach, maybe we should try something a little more absolute: math.
One hundred percent of the women on death row in Georgia have been executed. For the purposes of this experiment, it helps to have a very small sample: one. Kelly Renee Gissendaner was put down with a lethal dose of intravenous drugs just after midnight on Tuesday morning. There were witnesses. It helps to have all that certainty of having doctors and law enforcement types around to preside over the proceedings, just in case Ms. Gissendaner had tried to slip off the table and sneak out the side door while everyone else was busy trying to find the cotton swab to wipe the spot where the deadly chemicals would be introduced to avoid a nasty infection. You get the idea. There are no more women on Georgia's death row. The mission of that particular tentacle of the justice system has fulfilled its prime directive, and now they can rest easy.
Please understand that I have no interest in defending Ms. Gissendaner. She was convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for conspiring to murder her her husband. The guy who actually did the stabbing, Kelly's lover Gregory Owen, also set the Gissendaner family car on fire and relieved the murdered husband of his wallet and watch to make it appear as a robbery. Mister Owen is serving a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in 2022. The number of people on death row for the murder of Douglas Gissendaner is now zero. One hundred percent. Nice job, justice guys!
So I will put this into the file that suggests that we are finally making inroads to gender equality. Equal pay for equal work. We can have women running for President of the United States. We can execute men, women and children if necessary. Justice is blind. One hundred percent.