Sunday, May 31, 2020

Riots, 50 Years Ago

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday Video

I'm from the other side of town
Out of bounds
To anybody who don't live around
I never learned to share
Or how to care
I never had no teachings about being fair

Depression is part of my mindThe sun never shine
On the other side of town
The need here is always for more
There's nothing good in store
On the other side of town

It's hard to do right
In this filthy night
Just plain simple comfort
Is completely out of sight

My little sister
She hungry for bread to eat
My brother's hand-me-down shoes
Is now showing his feet

Ghetto blues showed on the news
All is aware
But what the hell do they care?

You across the track
Completely relaxed
You take a warning fact
Don't you never come back
I'm from the other side of town
Out of bounds
To anybody who don't live around
I never learned to share
Or how to care
I never had no teachings about being fair

Depression is part of my mind
The sun never shine
On the other side of town
The need here is always for more
There's nothing good in store
On the other side of town

Oh, baby
It's hard to do right, you know
On the other side of town
This depression really got a hold on me
Oh, baby, on the other side of town
The other side of town
Out of bounds

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Birtherism, The Newest Lost Cause

Now that Birtherism has become the latest cause célèbre in the public consciousness, it has progressed from a half-mad conspiracy theory to a half-baked political platform. Once the sole purview of the reactionary Right, questioning Barack Obama's American citizenship is now the stock in trade of would-be-politicians and public figures. But now, having embraced this fabrication, they will live or die by it. A long, ignoble history of similar conduct exists, particularly when an outright fallacy is believed by enough people that cynical opportunists seize fast to it to increase their own power. I could cite any number of examples from history, but I'll focus my attention on two.

Conquered peoples, or at least defeated peoples have a way of perpetuating and substituting legends and myths when the truth is too painful to admit. The Dolchstoßlegende, or stab-in-the-back legend insisted that the German army lost World War I due to the betrayal of its own citizens, not opposing armies. Fact and scholarship prove that this was a colossal lie, but the proud German people, who believed themselves nearly invincible in the field of battle did not willingly accept the reality. And before someone calls Godwin's Law, I will say no more on this subject.

Most appropriate for the 150th anniversary of the conflict, I note that I myself grew up something of a believer in the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The kind of complete destruction brought on by four years of destructive war could only be softened away by romanticism and a deliberate disregard of the facts. Denial is a powerful force in the minds of men and women, and when it becomes collectively embraced, it is powerful still. Those who are natives of the Southern states refuse to let the conflict go, while those in more Northern localities often cannot understand why such an emphasis is placed upon an epoch they associate more with history books. History is written by the victors, but the defeated never forget. So it doesn't surprise me a bit that the epicenter of Birtherism is the South.

Pro-Confederacy writers James Ronald Kennedy and his twin brother Walter Donald Kennedy wrote a book entitled The South Was Right! In its conclusion, they give voice to a few notions that may sound surprisingly familiar.
The Southern people have all the power we need to put an end to forced busing, affirmative action, extravagant welfare spending, the punitive Southern-only Voting Rights Act, the refusal of the Northern liberals to allow Southern conservatives to sit on the Supreme Court, and the economic exploitation of the South into a secondary economic status. What is needed is not more power but the will to use the power at hand! The choice is now yours — ignore this challenge and remain a second-class citizen, or unite with your fellow Southerners and help start a Southern political revolution.

Birtherism, then, goes well beyond simple dislike of a black Democratic President. Some may have latched onto its most incendiary element, but the underlying philosophy is much more complex and reaches back years into the past.

The historian David Goldfield describes this Neo-Confederate attitude which
"...[explains] that the War of Northern Aggression was not fought to preserve any union of historic creation, formation, and understanding, but to achieve a new union by conquest and plunder. As for the abolitionists, they were a collection of socialists, atheists, and "reprehensible agitators."

It may also not surprise to know that Neo-Confederate attitudes are also often heavily critical of the Republican Party.
Conservative columnist Alan Stang, in a Southern Mercury article, "Republican Party: Red From the Start", sees a communist conspiracy in the Republican party of the mid-19th century. He alleges that the 1848 revolutionaries in Europe were communists and that some of these revolutionaries came to America after the failed 1848 revolution to perpetrate some type of communist agenda in the United States. Stang states:

...Lee and Jackson did not fully comprehend what they were fighting. Had this really been a "Civil" War, rather than a secession, they would and could have easily seized Washington after Manassas and hanged our first Communist President and the other war criminals.

I am somehow reminded here of those offensive signs displayed by Tea Party protestors, the modern day John Birch Society. And as I alluded to earlier, the defensiveness, aggression, and sloganeering seeks to cover up a larger concept. Denial is, after all, a defensive reaction meant to obscure a painful truth.
Historian Alan Nolan refers to the Lost Cause as “a rationalization, a cover-up”. After describing the devastation that was the consequences of the war for the South, Nolan states:

Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization. Clement A. Evans, a Georgia veteran who at one time commanded the United Confederate Veterans organization, said this: "If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union of our Country.

But if we are to attack the true source of this mistrust and paranoia, we must pursue the great tap root. Public mistrust of government leads to conspiracy theories and encourages people to believe that the official line is, in fact, a complete lie. If Wikileaks is any indication, our government and other world governments lie to us everyday. Their secrecy is nonsensical and predicated on its own mistrust, regardless of how the powers that be may argue to the contrary. These prevarications of theirs are not simply white lies designed to protect national security or to aid diplomats at the bargaining table. Rather, they assume that the people as citizens have no ability, nor need to process and understand the state of affairs that currently exists.

But in this assumption, they fail to understand that Pandora's Box has already been opened. That which is needed to regain the faith of the average citizen is increased transparency, within the limit of reason. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and Watergate all eroded public confidence in its own government. These events destroyed confidence in all Americans, regardless of their party identification or ideological persuasion. In a prior time, I don't think rampant, unfounded speculation that questions, in all seriousness, whether or not the President of the United States is truly an American citizen would have even taken hold.

If I could propose a solution, it would begin with a drafting of a new contract with the American people, one that doesn't only advance the legislative aims of one particular political party. It would reach beyond well-meaning, but overly simplistic promises by a President who swears he will not lie to us. It would not stop at passing new laws, or even amending the Constitution, if such a thing could even be done. Reducing conspiracy theories to the domain of History Channel programming and those who pass out handwritten manifestos outside bus stations requires courage. It's a courage that states that the average American, regardless of level of education, skin color, class, or socio-economic status can be trusted. Until this is honestly advanced, expect more of these idiotic folk tales.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Just Wars and Cautious Discernment

Each and every time the United States considers military action, those of us who are members of pacifist peace churches feel conflicted and torn. We protest, we march, we register our complaints, but almost everyone ignores us. Once again, we are the keepers of a frustrating, even demanding standard, brushed aside by the majority of Americans with the onset of hostilities. And in the end, even we wonder again if there really is such a thing as a just war.

Multiple ironies abound. Friends were born out of war, birthed out of uncertainty and upheaval. The English Civil War of the Seventeenth Century carried on for years with no end in sight. An intensely religious people, English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh alike believed that God was somehow punishing them for their misdeeds. Any number of religions and nations have been formed in the fiery furnace of conflict and violent squabble. Indeed, should one examine every country's history and the history of many faith groups, the causes are very similar. When the world turns upside down, there is no limit to what might follow.

The concept of just war stretches back across the centuries. According to early Christian church leader Saint Augustine, who codified the concept, it requires that every single nonviolent effort of negotiation should be taken and exhausted before the war is declared. Furthermore, it demanded that no weapons should be used under any circumstances. Today, this would include bombs and explosive devices. Under this precise criteria, even World War II would not be considered a Just War.

If we are to start somewhere with our sober analysis, we should probably begin around two thousands years ago.

"You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.This passage in the Gospel of Matthew has been controversial since the very day it was uttered. In a era less imbued with compassion and mercy than the current day, these ideas were radical and offensive. They still are. Since the advent of Christendom, religions, countries, alliances, and individuals have struggled to understand just what Jesus meant. A literal interpretation leaves no wiggle room, but many people have taken liberties with what the text says because it does not fit with their schemes and plans.

I happen to be part of a group that has taken this passage word for word. No war under any circumstance is the hard line I take. It's not easy and I doubt it ever will be. I do know that we as a race of primates and sentient beings are probably nowhere near ready to adopt this difficult challenge without consistently failing at it. We've been willing to entertain some of these notions in piecemeal fashion, but full implementation is, in my opinion, still centuries away.

Though many of us may not believe in any religion, much less Christianity, our beliefs about war are shaped by centuries of Christian thought. A little less than a thousand years following Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas built upon the concept of his predecessor. Aquinas' approach was three-part.

First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man's true end—God.) 
Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain (for example, "in the nation's interest" is not just) or as an exercise of power. (Just Cause: for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied. i.e., lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even citizen population.) 
Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. (Right Intention: an authority must fight for the just reasons it has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention.)These are worthwhile goals and aspirations, but difficult to put into practice. Are we seeking to win the peace, or is that very statement an oxymoron? This philosophy insists upon restraint and a higher purpose, but war by its very nature can easily become sadistic and bloodthirsty, especially when revenge and retaliation makes savages of us all. It doesn't really matter who started it, but even as children on the playground we use that justification to back up our actions.

Now to the current day. Regarding Syria, we are engaged once again in a great discussion as to whether military action is necessary. I am preparing my metaphorical marching shoes for one more go-round. To use a sports analogy, I sometimes feel like I am part of a football team who, outclassed and out-manned, loses a series of close games to other squads with better players and superior talent. I content myself with moral victories, but I concede would be nice to win every now and again.

Nothing Shocking, Except Childhood Sexual Abuse

On Monday, I shared my own story here. The Herman Cain, and especially the Jerry Sandusky charges both prompted me to write a more detailed account of the sexual abuse I experienced in childhood. The accusers in both cases all have something in common, that beyond some aspect or another of unwanted, non-consensual sexual acts. The accused are alive and able to face the allegation.

The man who molested me is dead. He has been deceased for many years. I don’t think he was ever formally charged with anything, since the family never publicly acknowledged the abuse. In an effort to try to speak to the part of me that cries out for justice, I’ve considered many options. I’ve even wondered whether confronting the other party who was himself abused might provide further answers and needed context. However, no person-to-person interaction could be potentially more awkward and emotionally combustible. He may not want to recall or to remember, and I don’t want to impinge upon his privacy.

In the context of some retroactive legal proceeding, of course, requesting information in this fashion might make some sense. However, he and I have not talked in over a decade. We were never friends. Being that we were both innocent participants in a coerced act, silence and evasiveness typified our behavior towards each other. At the ballpark, at school, or around town, we avoided each other consciously. Should our paths ever cross by coincidence, we never made eye contact. The two of us harbored a terrible secret, one I think he could not help but remember more fully because of his proximity to the source. His own father was the abuser.

My post of Monday did not spell out specifics because I don’t want to be seen as adding any element of needless sensation to what was already horrific enough. Here, for the sake of comprehension, I will be a little more specific. If you want to get technical about it, the exact term is called child-on-child sexual abuse. The two of us were forced, or at least emotionally manipulated into performing a sex act on each other. There was more to it than that, but this is enough for now. Factor in an aspect of inter-sibling incest, itself its own abuse, this between older and younger brother. Knowing this, one can now see the complexities.

The patterns and particulars of abuse involving an older adult perpetrator and a dysfunctional family are never simple. I’ve since read that these things are, depressingly enough, both extremely common and among the least reported. Should a stranger be involved, we have no emotional connection to the assailant. So we’re more comfortable with breaking our complicit silence in that circumstance. With family members, however, this is not quite so easily accomplished.

In the end, who started it is important, but is only one part of achieving some resolution. The direction that child sexual abuse takes afterward is also crucial. Children often mimic and act out on other kids what has been done to them. Should they be under the age of twelve or so, as I was, they are not old enough in their own sexual maturation to make sense of what happened. For me, personally, my brain decided to use disassociation to forcibly block out much of what happened. I think the other boy involved, who was also my age, may have had so many other experiences that he remembers more than I do. After all, I lived three or four houses down. He had to live with it on a daily basis.

In my last post on this topic, I was critical of how we submerge and leave criminal acts like these unreported. Yet, it was once much worse. Second-wave feminists of the 1960’s and 1970’s are to be commended for providing a safe space for women to talk about rape and sexual assault. Their work has made it possible for both men and women to feel comfortable telling their stories. What we may see now is the beginning of a generational shift for the better. It may be further possible to confront these details, which still retain their ability to shock, disgust, anger, and sicken. Nothing may be sacred anymore, but perhaps fewer things are too taboo to even be discussed.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Pain nourishes courage. You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you-Mary Tyler Moore

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Iranian Quandry

Current events have been an enigma to me since forever. Keeping track of them is like trying to grab handfuls of flies. It’s a waste of time. The devils fly through the gaps of your fingers, rendering your action moot. But that’s until current events become current for you, too. One of my doctors is Iranian, Persian really, but has been called back for a month for home. These are not Pro-American times in Iran, and the unrest I read about makes me wonder if she is on some imperative family errand. I wonder if her papers will be denied to her somehow, preventing her return. My worries go beyond finding another doctor.

Until now, as I have gathered, the crackdown has been mostly on the media. The regime doesn’t want publication of what it is doing by any means. My doctor is part of the group who left because of the Revolution in 1979, making this trip seem mysterious, to say the least. She is also my age, which at 35 is possible, but makes me know I am growing into an older adult. Most Persians loyal to the Shah went to California, but some of them migrated to this greater Washington, DC, area. And yet she is working on her English.

I could speculate about this topic and be no further along. She said she had no choice in the matter, which is a curious reason to cite. It speaks of intrigue but may not really say much in the long term. I’ve never had a doctor need to flee the coop with such urgency and at the last minute. Last minute decisions are rarely made with positive consequences, or even expecting them.

Maybe one of her relatives has gotten wrapped up in this mess. I’m not sure I’d feel safe as an American in Tehran right now. Death to America is once again the chat of the hour. Has it ever stopped, really? I find it hard to not want death and destruction for them, if they hate us so much. As I’ve written before, it tries my pacifism. I don’t want to surrender to what I see often as bullies.

They’ve taken away someone who provides an essential service to me. I’m not sure she will be allowed to return. I don’t think she is the source of the problem, but it is someone or something dear to her. I can pick up that much from the way she apologized for this arrangement, completely off-balance, wobbling, teetering slightly. It’s somewhat unprofessional, but forgivable.

We’re trying to keep nuclear material out of the hands of a dictatorial power. How we do it is a matter of debate. But in the meantime the people suffer as the dictators profit from the hatred they fan. And how do we break that resolve? It makes the Soviets seem meek and mild by contrast, and as someone who values my own religious freedom, it’s a temptation to say that this religion is neither free, nor religious. It’s an ideology of terror justified by blood sacrifice.

These are our current events, should we choose to accept them. This is what makes people run home out of haste. And how we deal with it is everyone’s choice.

COVD-19 Saturday Video

I've waited many years
Every print I left upon the track
Has led me here

And next year it'll be clear
This was only leading me to that
And by that time
I hope that
Love me
Love me
I move with the trees
In the breeze

I know that time is elastic
And I know when I go
All my particles disband and disperse
And I'll be back in the pulse
And I know none of this'll matter

In the long run
But I know a sound is still a sound
Around no-one

And while I'm in this body
I want somebody to want
And I want what I want
And I want
To love me

And I know that you do
In the dark

I know that you do
And I know that you know
That you got the protector to pick me up

And I want you to use it
Blast the music
Bang it, bite it, bruise it

Whenever you want to begin, begin
We don't have to go back to where we been
I am the woman who wants you to win

And I've been waiting
Waiting for
To love me

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Slimy Underbelly of the Anonymous Collective

The Anonymous Collective, for those unaware, are a loose grouping of activist hackers. Their vigilante-style justice, while superficially appealing, leads to heavy-handed, self-righteous attacks against sworn enemies. Once, I held I kind of grudging admiration for the work that they did, as it agreed with my sensibilities. In particular, the protracted attacks against the supposed Church of Scientology won my respect and stoked my curiosity. If I had to describe the basic composition of the group, I'd ask my audience to imagine the creators and the sardonic humor of the abrasive animated comedy television show South Park.

More recently, Anonymous hacked into Donald Trump's files, a move that might be satisfying until we contemplate the legality of its stated aims and tactics.
The collective “Anonymous” claimed on Thursday that it had hacked GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, releasing what it alleged was his Social Security number, cell phone number and other personal information. The decentralized group of international activist hackers has been linked to numerous high-profile incidents over the years, including Internet attacks on governments, major corporations, financial institutions and religious groups.

I bring this subject up because, seven months ago, I too was a target.

In August of last year, I began investigating the fascinating legal case of an anti-Scientology protester and Anonymous hacktivist. I know his pseudonym and real name, but to spare myself from further headaches, neither will be mentioned here. As the story went, the man's vociferous, noisy protests outside of a Washington, DC, Scientology church ended up getting him eventually sent to jail. He had been a Scientologist earlier in life, dropped out altogether, and then became a constant, energetic protester outside the Dupont Circle-area center.

His accused crime was that of stalking, a District statue that was only on the books as a way to more effectively protect women from potential assailants and harassing behavior. The Church of Scientology, out of fear and likely to even the score, twisted the legal language in its favor, sending Anonymous to prison for a time.

The legal wrangling resulted in a trial some months later. The judge hearing the case dismissed all charges in utter dismay, stating that the law as intended simply did not apply in this context. Anonymous was freed and then left Washington. He may have believed that his cover was airtight, but I will say that it was relatively easy to trace him. In hindsight, I learned a hard lesson from the nastiness, namely that I should never play into the paranoid fears of a potentially unstable person. If I had it to go over again, I would never have sought to pursue the story.

Working with a lawyer who had observed the legal proceedings in DC with rapt interest, we tracked the hacker to his current location, several hundred miles north. My intention, I cannot emphasize enough, had only been to interview him, to give him a chance to plead his case in a public forum. The attorney who directed me to this assignment wanted to know more to satisfy his own curiosity, and felt also that he was giving me work. I should have known better; my naivete was showing. It was like interviewing a kleptomaniac and being surprised, by the conclusion, that a few possessions of mine had mysteriously disappeared.

The hacker's story was unique, but everyone I consulted who was attached to the case, even his lawyer, declined politely to provide any additional information. My partner had a knack for locating missing persons, which is how I stumbled across the hacker’s tracks. If I had it to go over again, I'd ask why it was so easy for him to locate a person who clearly did not want to attract any attention from anyone, for any reason. This is a truism for anyone in the Anonymous Collective and if I’d done my research properly, I’d never have sought to engage.

I made two or three direct requests to interview Anonymous, responding by way of a form e-mail on his webpage. My mistake was being persistent. All I did was stoke the fears of someone who was already justly paranoid. Three or four days later, I logged into my computer one morning, only to find that I was no longer in control of it. Instead, he was, and to punish me for my efforts in trying to find him, he decided to terrorize my life for most of a week.

Anonymous gained access to my e-mail account and my cell phone. The latter has never been the same, as he deliberately damaged a few features here and there. Friends of mine in my address book and e-mail account were sent threatening, nonsensical text messages and e-mails. I still have never determined what precisely was written and sent along, as I have no record of it myself. My Sent Mail folder is no help. I was told latter that the messages were rambling screeds, full of unconjugated verbs. It was a curious move by someone surely articulate enough to speak the Queen's English, but much that transpired in that stressful week will never be known to me.

I filed two charges against him. One was for identity theft, as he had gained access to my bank account and opened a second account under my name, just to prove he could do it. I swiftly reported the crime and a fraud investigation commenced. About two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail confirming that, as I knew beforehand, I had not opened the account myself and was not at fault. It was fortunate that he'd chosen to steal a few dollars from me, because identity theft cannot easily be prosecuted unless theft has taken place. Those of us who have been victims of crimes like these can attest to how impotent laws on the books can be.

Anonymous was clever. I'll give him that much. I had to replace a cable modem, close an account in one bank, open a new account with a new bank, change about twenty passwords, and gain access to my own information in a sneaky sort of way. I deliberately stayed offline for three days solid, then made my changes swiftly before he recognized what was happening and tried to keep me from regaining control. It's terrifying and traumatic to know that your personal data is in the hands of someone with nefarious, uncertain intentions. His hacking skills were refined enough that he even tracked my internet activity to a local library and prevented me from accessing the Internet. This kept me from logging into my e-mail account for almost a week, which is practically everyone's lifeline these days.

After much research, I determined a way to get around the cyber-blockade. Anonymous had discovered my IP address from the e-mails I'd sent and had proceeded from there. That is how he gained access to my files and my information. I don't want to spell out directly what I did to regain access, for fear that Anonymous members might take note of it in the future. What I will say is that, after installing a program, I was at least able to read and respond to my electronic correspondence and the inevitable backlog. The next morning, I observed with pleasure that Anonymous had tried for hours to take apart the program I'd installed, unsuccessfully. After that, he either gave up or determined that he was through punishing me.

Local law enforcement worked with me and I'm thankful for their efforts. Along with identity theft, I had him charged for making harassing statements. He made threats against my personal safety, which I retained on my laptop and then presented in front of a sympathetic police offer. The law has not always kept pace with the new reality of internet-based crimes, which hampers prosecution. Though mostly successful in covering his tracks and clinging to a grey area in the law, Anonymous went too far. This proves to be the undoing of most criminals, and here was no exception.

When I tried to appeal to a higher authority up the food chain I had no success. A brief talk with the FBI got me nowhere. I spoke with a very condescending officer who, in our one and only phone conversation, impatiently asked me a series of patronizing questions. Eventually I gave up. In her eyes, I merely needed to take my laptop into the shop or consult with an IT specialist. Helplessly, I tried to explain my situation again, but, for the most part, Anonymous had been careful to not directly incriminate himself.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that Anonymous wanted to scare me, to show me how easily he could gain access to my data. He wanted to teach me a lesson, which I received loud and clear. I'm grateful that he hasn't resumed his attacks, though I am now much better prepared for the next one, if it arrives. In this post, I could have revealed his real name, his location, and the tactics he used, but I fear further reprisal and don't want to be sued for libel. I don't want to stoop to his level. Let this post be a warning to everyone.

Anyone who has been a victim of online crime recognizes how imprecise and inexact a process prosecution can be. The Internet has given rise to a new Wild West, which we embrace at our own risk. Crimes of passion seem appealing. Something must be done, we assert. I once felt the same way, but no longer. I am no anarchist. My new goal is to improve enforcement and strengthen the rules that govern our society. That happens through direct participation in the process, not standing outside of it and resorting to criminal means. I hope my case will serve as an example to ensure that my story will never be repeated to anyone, at any time.

Saturday Video

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A Moral Imperative: Rescuing the Stuck

It may be instructive at this late stage of the Presidential Election to look at the long view, to spy where we are now from where we started out. All four of my grandparents were proud New Deal FDR Democrats from their early life until when they passed away. Collectively, they formed a great coalition that lasted for a generation. 

Working class people like they themselves believed that the Democratic Party had been the only one to look out for the needs of poor Americans. Though some would claim that what they thought was merely clever spin and persuasive rhetoric, they were not alone in that sentiment. For decades, most Southerners voted a straight-ticket Democrat ballot. Alabama was a one-party state for thirty to forty years, a place where Republican opposition was nominal, limited to a few outlier counties in the north of the state, and the result of the Republican Primary was inconsequential.

The Solid South has remained generally one color or the other since 1932, though it is has flipped party affiliation over the past few decades. From deepest blue to darkest red, most of what we collectively call the Deep South might be audaciously termed “The Stuck South.” But before I go too far, there are stuck voters everywhere, be they in Appalachia West Virginia coal country or the rust belt of Ohio. President Obama got in trouble a few years ago, labeling voters like these as bitter, clinging to their guns and religion. The remark did not offend me, as I knew precisely what he meant, but the anger is real and this bloc comprises Donald Trump’s base.

Being stuck takes many forms. It’s not only the powerlessness of feeling disenfranchised and abandoned. It can just as easily refer to outrageously corrupt politicians and the lobbyists that nip at their heels. And it can especially refer to the venerated documents by which governments are instituted among men, as Thomas Jefferson famously wrote. Alabama’s state constitution currently contains more amendments than that of the Soviet Union. Due to an obscene oversight that has never been properly corrected, every ballot amendment must be voted on by the entire state on Election Day. Alabama contains sixty-seven separate counties, and many proposed additions pertain only to one specific part of the state.

Proving that cognitive dissonance is alive and well, Alabama’s whole system of government is evidence of needless waste, corruption, and complication. The same state politicians who have criticized Washington, DC, for a career need to remove the beam from their own eye before they remove the speck from their brother’s and sister’s. The era of big government is very much alive in well in the state of Alabama. Though many would challenge me on the facts and particulars, I’m sure it exists much the same way in Mississippi or Arkansas.

This past week I was in Atlanta. If Georgia is truly to be a swing state this election, its largest metropolitan area will color it blue. The city too busy making money to hate has introduced true diversity to a region of the country that resisted it for as long as it could. But if one peers closely enough, one can find easy evidence of those who are indeed stuck. Being stuck is a question of degree and where we focus our attention. A former textile mill or steel mill town might find its local economy decimated, its citizens demoralized. A city like Atlanta draws in enough tourists to provide additional income options like driving Uber or Lyft. Limited as this option is, it nevertheless exists and is simply not found in smaller towns and rural areas.

I am fond of quoting Gertrude Stein on subjects such as these. Regular readers should please pardon the repetition. “Money is always there”, she said, “but the pockets change; it is not in the same pockets after a change, and that is all there is to say about money.” Should we be truly stuck, we know that there are no available funds in our own pockets and bank accounts. To deny that millions of Americans out there are suffering should never be a talking point for either campaign. Rather, it is a sad commentary no economic system yet devised keeps people from slipping between the cracks. Conservatives and liberals disagree vociferously on issues like these, but boom and bust, famine and feast are polar extremes that cannot be avoided.

We vote in a matter of days. Every ballot we cast is based squarely on self-interest, and as much as we like to paint the past in a rosy, nostalgic way, it has always been this way. I am set to push buttons on a screen in a week or so for the candidate who, in my opinion, can get as many Americans unstuck from situations beyond their control. That way, they won’t have cling to anything to compensate for very real fears and insecurities.

Quoting the below passage of the New Testament has become hackneyed and cliched in religious circles, but I enclose it once more to make a point. It is included late in the Jesus story, towards the end of the Gospel of Matthew in a passage often collectively referred to “The Sheep and the Goats.” Explaining its larger theological point is unnecessary here, as the words themselves speak volumes

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
A verse or two later, Scripture continues.

"And he will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'

I am casting my ballot based on what candidate might best bring this imperative to the most who need help. But I’m not naive, either. We never know what any politician will do until he or she takes office. Over time, I have grown as cynical and skeptical as many of you have. If we place party allegiance first, it might be possible to create a brand new coalition. But my ultimate loyalty lies elsewhere. If we are Christians, we might dare to call that coalition the Kingdom of God. Still, those of us who are believers know that any system devised by humankind is imperfect and, even if successfully created, is bound to chip away with time. We have some grand old company in that regard.

One of my personal heroes, the historian C. Vann Woodward, concludes his masterful essay “The Burden of Southern History” like this.

America has had cynical disparagement of her ideals from foreign, unfriendly, or hostile critics. But she desperately needs criticism from historians of her own who can penetrate the legend without destroying the ideal, who can dispel the illusion of pretended virtue without denying the genuine virtues. Such historians must have learned that virtue has never been defined by national or regional boundaries, and that morality and rectitude are not the monopolies of factions or parties.

They must reveal the fallacy of a diplomacy based on moral bigotry, as well as the fallacy of one that relies on economic coercion through the fancied indispensability of favored products. Their studies would show the futility of erecting intellectual barricades against unpopular ideas, of employing censorship and repression against social criticism, and of imposing the ideas of the conqueror upon defeated peoples by force of arms.

Such historians would teach that economic systems, whatever their age, their respectability, or their apparent stability, are transitory and that any nation which elects to stand or fall upon one ephemeral institution has already determined its fate. The history they write would also constitute a warning that an overwhelming conviction in the righteousness of a cause is no guarantee of its ultimate triumph, and that the policy which takes into account the possibility of defeat is more realistic than one that assumes the inevitability of victory.
I could not agree more.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Fallacy of White Paranoia

I recently spent eight years in Washington, DC, and while I lived in a very safe part of town, there were routine stabbings at the Metro station a mile and a half up the road and occasional incidents of petty theft. Those of my friends financially advantaged enough to buy houses in recently gentrified areas learned quickly to invest in outside security cameras, often to prevent packages being stolen from front porches. To wit, the lesson I learned is that no area was ever truly safe, and rather than that fact scaring me senseless, it wasn’t difficult to look past it. I genuinely enjoyed living in the District of Columbia and nothing would have frightened me away from the cultural and social advantages I experienced there.

Now, three months into a divorce and forced relocation, I’ve been forced to move home to suburban Hoover, Alabama. But before one forms inaccurate conclusions from the outset, attitudes down here might not be much different than the average DC-area resident who heads for suburban Maryland or Virginia out of fear of violence. The issue for me is that I’m back living in the groupthink of white picket fences and manicured lawns. The newfound paranoia of my parents astonishes me. It was never more in display than it was this past weekend. I was slated to attend a multi-day religious conference and carpool some hours up to the site. My intention was to leave my car at Quaker meeting and drive it home a few days later when we’d driven home from the gathering and I had arrived back in town.

My folks insisted on driving me out there themselves, which made me feel like I was about eight years old. The reason they cited is that the area of town the meeting is located is in the process of gentrifying and they feared that someone would vandalize my car or steal my tires. Let me add that many people parked their cars on site and no one experienced anything of the sort, nor have they ever experienced any incidents like that in twenty years, even when the area was nominally more dangerous.

Two incidences of violent crime, which would have been a yawn for me, plus Fox News scare tactics led my parents to embrace personal security overload. They added new locks to every door, installed a security system, blocked out every garage window from view, and my father now proudly sports a highly loaded revolver for his own protection. I have tried, with absolutely no success, to inform them that crime is in fact lower now that it has been in decades. They had, apparently, been led to believe that their Shangri-la would forever be devoid of any criminal activity, which is simply not feasible or realistic.

The suburban city where they live has accumulated significant African-American migration over the past decade, and if what I’m told is correct, it is nearby gangs and criminal elements who are responsible for this spike in crime, no matter how modest. As I suppose it is true everywhere, people responsible for white flight partially left out of their own paranoid fantasies of rampant criminality. It’s their life and their decisions to make as adults, but I am genuinely concerned today that my father might find himself in the middle of some pointless gun battle should he feel threatened or provoked for some ungodly reason. He used to be so self-assured and level-headed. I wonder where this new side of him stems from, but I think his constant diet of Fox News following his retirement is not a good influence.

I think about the old Phil Ochs protest song from the late ‘60s, true now as it was then.

And I love Puerto Ricans and Negroes
As long as they don't move next door

I have a confession to make. I was raised to be afraid of young black man. One of my earliest memories is attending an Alabama college football game at Legion Field in Birmingham. Legion Field is in Ensley, an area that transitioned from working class white to predominantly black decades ago. A black face in the crowd freaked me out enough to cower behind my father’s legs. I must have been no more than three or four at the time, and, having lived in almost exclusively white areas before, I’d seen relatively few African-Americans before. My father got down on one knee to talk to me on my level.

Remember, they’re just as scared of you as you are of them.

And never were truer words spoken. It is mutual fear that ends up with young black men getting shot and killed by police officers. Real progress could be made, if only we managed to come to the table without constant phobia around each other. But the moment someone, white or black, attempts that sort of negotiation and the beginnings of something substantial, someone comes out with an account about the rampant and out-of-control violence in the black community, justifying heavy-handed police action, and any attempt at conciliation falls apart. I’m not smart enough to offer solutions to problems this complicated. Lord, I wish I was.

But I can guarantee that moving farther and farther apart from each other is not a solution. It’s just a defensive retreat. We need to find a way to assimilate, even though I’m aware that there are political forces who would prefer us to be separate and unequal to preserve their own power. They’ve been remarkably successful and all we have to show for our efforts are half-measures and unsatisfying gains that never really solve the problems at hand. But hope exists if we are willing to keep our paranoia and resentments in check.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Quote of the Week

You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.- James Thurber

Saturday, May 09, 2020


What I am planning on doing, today's previous post being only one, is to put together a series of my Daily Kos Community Spotlight pieces. These span almost a decade.

Some of them are dated, but they are well-written and thought-provoking. Last week's post on Liz Phair was another Community Spotlight winner.

The Continuing Experiment to Regulate Teen Drinking

A repost from 2016. One of my most popular ones.

I’ve been watching, as some of you may have been, CNN’s recent documentary series about the decade of the 1980’s. Many, if not most of the historical events and themes covered are familiar. I was a child at the time, but nevertheless a precocious little boy, and my memories of those times are strong. Two of my strongest recollections show the fingerprints and direct involvement of my parents. My mother and father quite intentionally sat me down in front of the television to watch two crucial world events unfold. Children of the Cold War, they had never been allowed to forget the spectre of communism and inherent threat of the Soviet Union. Could the end finally be near?

Patriotic Americans to their core, these family viewings were partially a pep rally for capitalism. Democracy had won. Communism had lost. They were enthused by the optimism and myriad of possibilities in Tiananmen Square. And then it all came crashing down, predictably. My parents held their breath as the students were dispersed, the depressing, but inevitable conclusion in place, a repressive government back in control. The fall of the Berlin Wall, that same year, was a different story. The Reunification of East and West Germany to follow provided what it promised. It was trendy, almost de rigueur, to buy a tiny concrete cube of the Wall and install it like an art exhibit on a person’s work desk. Many an interesting conversation piece was, for at least the next two years, provided for the slightly gloating Western world.

But if any event summarizes the decade for me, it’s a much more localized incident. The reason it left an indelible impression on me is due to my relative proximity to the source. For in it, I came to understand for myself what real, not canned grief looked like. Instead of a world away, through the lens of a camera and a video feed, I only needed to direct the handlebars of my bicycle a mile from my backyard. In the beginning, the story was considered only somewhat newsworthy. It was treated as not much more than an afterthought in the local newspaper, a one-day story at best. When the details finally came out, to most it was just another senseless tragedy. It became little more than a two minute story on a local news broadcast, provided by appropriately serious and grave-toned news anchors.

No one could have foreseen a ghoulish plot twist the likes of which O.Henry would have loved. Let’s first consider a familiar culprit, drunk driving. As likely happens in every city and town in the United States, five high-spirited teenagers crammed into a car late at night. Many of us probably resembled them once, if we think back on it hard enough. None of them had any clue of what was to follow. Teenagers usually don’t. When I was that age, I tended to live quite happily in the present tense.

Tuesday, August 11, 1987, was the waning moments of summer vacation for many. In the news, the attention of Americans continued to be directed at the always-troublesome area of the Middle East. Iran-Contra raged on, as did the Iran/Iraq Civil War. In film, the sleeper hit Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray, was a week away from being released. The number one song in the nation, according to Billboard, was Irish group U2’s single “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” In sports, another college football season was about to kick off. Only a few months before, Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, received the Death Penalty for frequent violations of NCAA rules.

August 11, 1987, is notable for other reasons. It marks the date that five teenagers from Hoover, Alabama, a southern suburb of Birmingham, made a particularly fateful decision. Four were female. A fifth, the driver, was male. As it was learned after the fact, he had apparently been drinking, despite being several years underage. The family of one of the girls, Ashleigh Nutter, has since stated that none of the passengers were aware of his level of intoxication before entering the car. Nutter and the driver, Todd Patterson, were dating at the time, which might explain why he offered everyone a ride.

A fascinating wrinkle to this story came two or three days later. One of the girls, first identified as Susan Ponds, somehow managed to survive the crash. Her body was rushed to a local hospital, where she was placed upon a ventilator to save her life. As fate would have it, she’d been the only passenger not to wear a seat belt. Though currently alive, there was no guarantee that she would survive. If she did make it, extensive time would be required to heal from her injuries. The story now takes a swift, unforeseen turn for the macabre.

At some point during that fateful night, Ponds and a friend, Christie Reeder, decided to swap class rings. The girls had been attending a slumber party, one of those chatty affairs which inevitably concludes well into the early morning. The accident that followed had been a brutal one. Patterson took a hairpin turn, driving much faster than the posted speed limit of 30 mph. This bad decision on his part effectively flipped the Ford Mustang in which all had been traveling face down in a ditch. Due to the severe injuries inflicted by the trauma of the crash, identifying the bodies was a difficult task. It became evident to many that the funerals to follow would likely be closed-casket affairs.

Three days later, the UPI caught up to the story. Nothing captures the attention of the media more than news of the bizarre.

HOOVER, Ala. -- A 17-year-old girl severely injured in a car accident while wearing a friend's class ring was mistakenly reported dead, and her relatives prepared for her funeral before learning she was alive in a hospital. 
The mistake in identities was announced Wednesday night at the closed-casket visitation of Christie Lee Reeder, a Hoover girl whose funeral had been set for Thursday although she was very much alive.
 '        When the young man told me, I said, 'I'm her grandmother, what are you trying to tell me?'' Margaret Welch recalled. 'He said there was some sort of mix-up and Christie wasn't dead and it was another girl.
'When they announced it at the funeral home it was just bedlam.'
Imagine how it must have felt, as a parent, to absorb the shock. Grief that intense rarely produces many retellings, which is why I’ve rarely heard this story told much. To learn first that your child has been involved in a terrible accident is beyond awful. Informed of your child’s demise, you dazedly and dutifully follow all the needed steps, manage the hoops to jump through as best you can, all the while processing the loss and anguish. You even make funeral plans, only to learn that your child is, in fact, very much alive. Imagine the tragedy in reverse, the agony of the Ponds family, their hopes cruelly dashed.

I was young then, almost seven, but I remember how the news reverberated across the community. The local swimming pool and racquet club, itself less than a mile from the site of the accident, installed a brass placard by a flagpole that listed the names of the deceased. I walked past it on many a fond, chlorinated day. For a time, using this example, adults warned me of the consequences of drinking and running with a wild crowd.

The age today that my parents were thirty years ago, I understand the approach they took, even as I acknowledge its flaws. They meant well, but I was a little too young to understand. It would be many years before I was old enough to drive a car. Only then would I have any kind of conception for how deadly automobiles can be. It would take a long time before I understood innately how easy it is to get into an accident and how much care one must take while driving.

As warnings go, not much was going to dissuade me from adolescent foolishness when it became my time. The years of mandatory D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) taught me from the age of nine or ten what hard drugs were, but I grew up in a suburban bubble where no one snorted lines of cocaine or tried to sell me PCP on street corners. Later, as so many do, I drank too much in college, even breaking the law a handful of times by taking the wheel when I shouldn’t have. I’m lucky that I didn’t get caught.

Twenty-nine years later, I wonder how many of us from back then remember that car full of teenagers and how they ended up. I pass by the site of the accident multiple times on my way home to visit my parents. Car wrecks are the real American epidemic. I have only known one confirmed heroin user in my life, but have had at least five relatives and friends die or be seriously injured in an automobile. The statistics on auto vehicular homicide are probably close to their levels in the 1980’s. I would be shocked if they were not.

When we talk about the decade of the 80’s, we shouldn’t leave out a crucial detail. It was in 1984 when the United States raised its drinking age in all states from 18 to 21, an experiment in paternalism and in placating grief-stricken Mothers Against Drunk Driving that, to many, has been about as effective as Prohibition. If we examine a very formative and significant time in American society, we need to also examine its share of enacted reforms, legislation, and the ways they continue to affect every American. How times haven’t changed.

Saturday Video

Drivel Head wears her glad rags,
She's got her keys, money and fags,
I know that her mind is made up,
To get rocked.

Drivel Head needs a new man,
As only a drivel head can,
He's a hormonal nightmare,
So beware.

Another victim of line up in line,
Line up in line is all I remember.
Oh, how their favours change,
You could have been kinder.

Yes, yes, line up in line,
Line up in line is all I remember.
Oh, how their favours change,
You could have been kinder.

Drivel Head knows all the stars,
Loves to suck their shining guitars,
They've all been right up her stairs,
Do you care?

Drivel Head knows all the bands,
Knows them like the back of her hands.
You can't see…

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Mourning in America

Some of you may remember the original 1984 Ronald Reagan campaign ad that inspired this video. It's a sobering reminder of what we face on a daily basis.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Aging Gracefully in Rock: From Lennon to Phair

Ed. note: This post was originally written in September of 2019.

As I write this, I am reminded of John Lennon’s final album, Double Fantasy. While I largely dislike the album’s contents, I am struck with the overarching theme of the effort, which is the tale of a person growing into middle age gracefully. I will soon be 40 myself, and yet I’m somehow not panicking about it. I seriously doubt I’ll have a massive middle-aged crisis, as I always have been something of an old soul. To follow are some of the lyrics of Lennon’s song “Borrowed Time.”

When I was younger
Living confusion and deep despair
When I was younger
Living illusion of freedom and power
When I was younger
Full of ideas and broken dreams (my friend)
When I was younger
Everything simple but not so clear


On Friday night, I saw the indie rocker Liz Phair live. Her seminal album, Exile in Guyville, celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, thrilling the hearts of those who remember a time where my generation’s music seemed incapable of making a misstep, each newly released album building upon the one that came before it. The death of the party probably ended when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain committed suicide one tragic April day. I remember the weather being appropriately gloomy and overcast. What was to follow was the end of a scene that began so promisingly. What came next was a slow, but nonetheless inevitable slide from great music to mediocre one-hit-wonder copycats.

I paid the extra money for a VIP ticket, allowing me backstage access to Phair and her band, an talented outfit who are conspicuously a full generation younger than their frontwoman and all male. Phair still radiates youth and beauty, even at 51. Exile was one of the first albums I ever bought. It was purchased with money I stole from my parents, something I say half-smiling, half-grimacing. When everyone was listening to the Spin Doctors and Eric Clapton Unplugged, my interests strayed from the mainstream.

When I met her, I mentioned this bon mot. Responding to what I said, she asked whether I had ever told my parents about my misdeed, and when I indicated that I had, Phair asked me if they were cool with it.

“Not at all”, I said. Phair next shared a brief anecdote about how, before she’d made it, she sold self-recorded cassette tapes of her music at gigs. She noted that people often paid with spare change. This was a means of saying I probably wasn’t the only one who resorted to petty thievery to obtain her merchandise for sale.

The audience was a strange blend of humanity. It included aging hipsters with prominent crow’s feet, gay male couples, lesbian couples, and people who behaved and acted like they hadn’t been to a show in quite a while. I will admit that I was one of them. When I was younger, I stood at attention for hours at a time and reaped no negative consequences. Now my back still hurts, but I say resolutely that it was worth it.

Liz Phair’s tour is scaled down, playing some small clubs this time around, yet she is playing larger venues in big cities. Speaking of the smaller clubs, a lesser artist with a bigger ego might see this as being knocked down a peg. However, last we saw her, she was opening for fellow 90’s throwbacks Smashing Pumpkins. The opening act, like the bass player, never gets much love. Now she plays on her own terms, and seems satisfied with the results. Phair knows that she will never scale the heights she once did, but so what? Her riotous early days are long gone. As rock Mom, she noted in a recent interview that her foremost concern now is learning how to grab the attention of a distant son.

Returning to the greater topic at hand, Phair’s first album features her strongest material, and so during the show she only deviated a few times to later efforts on subsequent albums. This was to the delight of the audience, and especially so to the (mostly) women who sang the lyrics to every song. Phair, too, was in good spirits and spoke to the crowd multiple times throughout the night. She made the bold gesture of opening with the still-shockingly sexual “Flower”, which has yet to lose its ability to raise eyebrows, all these years later.

A more critical eye might say that Phair was on a nostalgia tour, and little else, but with material that strong coming out of the gate, she could hardly be faulted for the decision. She played for a little over an hour and a half, with one encore for good measure. And then everyone scattered for the turnstiles, some of them young enough to hit the bar scene, some of us headed home, out way past our bedtimes.

Blog Restart

After taking a little over three years off, I decided it was time to restart this blog. Astute watchers have realized this already. The pandemic has provided me some extra time to be creative.

My divorce went final in 2017. Writing wasn't exactly a high priority at the time. Now I've reached that blessed state that is called resolution. In addition, I've been writing short stories and one non-fiction piece that can't seem to find a home. My goal is to write at least eight short stories, compile them into an anthology, and see what happens from there. In my fantasies, Netflix or some other streaming service, buys the rights and I'm momentarily flush with cash.

Will that happen? Who knows.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sandrine Bonnaire

One of my favorites of all time, the French actress Sandrine Bonnaire. She is pictured here early in her career. The film is called Police and was released in 1985. Here she stars opposite Gérard Depardieu.

It is a reminder that there was a time, as the recently-concluded HBO series, The Deuce, remind us, when women retained their pubic hair.

Quote of the Week

Edward R. Murrow: Who owns the patent on this vaccine?

Jonas Salk: Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Saturday Video

I've been thinking about when
I was trying to be your friend
I thought it was then
But it wasn't
It wasn't genuine
I was just so furious
But I couldn't show you
'Cause I know you
And I know what you can do
And I don't wanna war with you
I won't afford it
You get sore even when you win
And you maim when you're on offense
But you kill when you're on defense
And you've got them all convinced
That you're the means and the end
All the VIPs and PYTs and wannabes
Afraid of not being your friend
And I've always been too smart for that
But you know what?
My heart was not
I took it like a kid, you see
The cool kids voted to get rid of me
I'm ashamed of what it did to me
What I let get done
They stole my fun
They stole my fun
Fetch the bolt cutters
I've been in here too long…