Sunday, December 14, 2014

You Are Not Protecting My Freedom

Do I respect the service of military people? Sure. I respect their service in the military just as much as they respect my service in the private sector. I have been working my ass off for two decades to keep hospitals financially healthy, some of the best hospitals in the world. Do they respect my service? I guess some of them do. Do they respect as much as much as I am expected to respect their military service?  I am guessing not. I am guessing most of them don't have an ounce of respect for what I do. So why should I respect their service if they don't respect my service?  Here is the line I usually hear in response to this: "They are protecting our freedom." When I ask how are they protecting our freedom ... I never get an answer.  Here is what I get .... insults.  Just for asking a question.  I get called "ignorant," "stupid," "coward" etc. To this I say "yes, I am ignorant." I am ignorant as to how my freedom is being protected by invading Iraq.  Explain it to me! So then I usually ask again, "How is it that my freedom is being protected by the military?"  It usually gets worse from there.

I can think of only a handful of professions that actually protect my freedom. The big one, obviously, is lawyers, particularly ACLU lawyers. Whenever our freedoms, that are protected in the Bill of Rights, are challenged, the ACLU lawyers comes to their defense. Whether it is Colonel Oliver North's using the 5th Amendment to protect himself or a Jewish prisoner's right, under the first amendments, to have kosher meals. These folks are the heroes of our freedoms. They fight for our freedom.

The only other professions that I can think of that protect my freedom are teachers who help inform our children of their freedoms, social workers who help those in need maintain their freedoms and politicians who actually pass/repeal the laws regarding our rights.  I cannot think of how, someone invading Iraq or Afghanistan is protecting my freedom. They might be influencing a lot of people's opinion of the USA, some of them in not so flattering a way.

We all know these people, the actually heroes protecting our freedom.  When you ask a lawyer what they do for a living do they start spewing off bullshit about "protecting our freedom"?  No, well maybe some lawyers would, but usually not. Yet the military folks all spew off this nonsense about protecting my freedom.  Why does this happen?

I just can't grasp how destabilizing the government of Iraq or dropping napalm in Vietnam has helped my freedom at all.  I can't even see how they are even connected.

I am not naive, I know every country needs a military, but it has been a long time since the US military has actually been used for Defense. It is more like Offense. Back in the 1940's when we had an Axis trying to take over the world, yes, you could say that those military people, the Allies, were protecting our freedom.  But bombing the shit out of Panama City or Libya .... nope, nothing to do with my freedom. It may have a lot to do with Capitalism, politics or power, but nothing to do with protecting my freedom. When I talk to foreigners about the US, they seem to love our freedom ... aka our movies, our bluejeans, our music, our people, but they hate our military. So not only aren't they protecting our freedom, but they may be hurting it. The more people hate the US, the more likely our government will feel justified invading our privacy, torturing people or killing us covertly. I have a feeling that if our military were cut back a tenth of its size now, we'd have a hell of a lot more freedom and less enemies. Oh ya, we'd save a lot tax money too.

So the next time some military yahoo claims they are protecting your freedom ask them them to explain themselves and let me know if you get a good answer.  If they believe it to be true, then they should be able to explain themselves. If they can't, then it is bullshit. Until then, I will continue to thanking my lawyer for her protection of my freedom. Vanessa, a beer is coming your way.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Democrats Are Pussies

I have been blogging for several years now. In these pages I have said any number of awful things about the Republican party. I stand by all of them. They are anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-reason, anti-liberty, anti-peace and anti-democracy. They disgust me. They prey on the stupid and the weak, appealing to the basest of fears, feeding ignorance for their own gain. I am a registered Democrat, but I want to make it clear, I am mainly a Democrat for lack of a better option. I have said it a number of times in the past, "I am not a Democrat, I am anti-Republican." I vote against Republicans - on all levels from local school board to the Presidency.

Democrats are much better than Republicans. I reject the trope that they are all the same. Yes, there are some really stupid and downright disgusting Democrats out there, but overall, there is no comparison. Most Democrats are pro-science, pro-environment and pro-education. I know that you can find an idiot Georgian Democrat on Youtube talking about Guam capsizing but that is not the norm. The problem with the Republicans being so bad is that the Democrats only have to be a little bit better and they will usually get my vote. Republicans will ignore global warming or even claim that it is a myth/conspiracy so when a Democrat merely acknowledges that it is a problem, they have my vote.

Whether you are talking about the economy, the environment, security, health care or education, it is clear that the Democrats are better leaders ... at least in the last few decades. The Republican's current mantra that government doesn't work is only proven when they take office. So why don't Democrats run on their record? Why aren't they better campaigners? Why did everyone of them run from Obama during this year's mid-term election?  Obama's record should be enough for them. He passed landmark health care legislation, ended two wars and has a stellar environmental record. This is a lot to run on. I realize that his poll numbers are down, no thanks to other Democrats, who seem to take their cues from the RNC and Fox News rather than their party's leadership. They don't stand with this president like a good team player would.  Why?  Because they are pussies.

Before I go further, I should explain what I mean by pussy. Someone who doesn't stand up for their convictions when faced with a small amount of resistance is a pussy.  Here is a Democrat not being a pussy:

This is ex-Govenor of New York Mario Cuomo defending his stance on the death penalty. You can agree or disagree with him but he clearly has a position and is not being a pussy.

Now here is a Democrat being a pussy:

This is Allison Lundergan Grimes running away from President Obama. Even though she was a delegate for Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention and clearly voted for him, she doesn't have what it takes even to admit it and tell the voters why she stood with the president. She was running against one of least popular Republicans in the Senate and yet, she could not admit to something that 62 million Americans and 679,000 Kentuckians did in 2012 ... vote for the President. Pathetic! Offense may be a good defense, but defense is never a good offense and running away is no way to win a race.

I am not suggesting that the Democrats would have kept the Senate if they would have stuck by the President, but certainly they would have lost by less or would have kept some seats. The small chance they had to win was drown out by their lack of passion. All they had to do was get enough people excited enough to actually show up. If not for their pussiness and the American voter laziness, we might not be faced with a global warming denying now being in charge of the Senate's Environment committee.  I have a couple of words to the Americans who didn't show up to vote this past November: Fuck You!

I am a little tired of hearing about the midterm elections. The Democrats got a whooping for many reasons but mostly because, like Grimes, they were pussies. She isn't the exception this year, she is just an example of how badly they ran their campaigns. The Republican victory keeps getting spinned as a huge victory, but Midterm elections almost always go against the party that holds the presidency, especially in the second term. The Republican party winning this round and taking over the Senate was expected. Every two years, one third of the US Senate goes up for reelection. The batch this year were mostly seats in states that voted for Romney (aka red) two years ago. So the landslide was expected. Is this a biting mandate against Obama? Of course not. Will the Republicans spin it that way? Of course they will. They deserve some credit. The batch of candidates were much less nutty than two years ago. Hooray for the Republicans for being less nutty!

This is the same group of Senators that were elected in 2008 (six years ago) on Obama's coat tails. The voters turned out in droves to vote for him, they just didn't show up for the midterm. This election had the lowest voter turn out in 72 years with only 36.3% of Americans showing up. Back in 1942, in the early days of WW II, the US voters (33.9% showing up to vote) had better reasons for not showing up to vote.  In 1942, only four states had on the spot voting for soldiers. We have no such excuse to skip voting. Apathy is not an excuse. But why show up to vote when even the Democrats don't recognize their successes? It is hard to blame the voter when the candidates take them for granted.

Many great and/or popular Presidents didn't do well on their second mid-term election. Grant was crushed in 1874 ... he remains on currency. Some of the Congressmen who were elected in that term were ex-Confederates. Wilson in 1918, FDR 1938 and Reagan 1980 all lost seats for their party. Nixon lost nine House seats in 1970. In 1998 Clinton actually gained a few seats in the House and he was drowning in scandals. Since the direct election of Senators, no second term president has ever gained Senate seats in the mid-term election.

So if you know you are probably going to lose, shouldn't at least go out celebrating your successes? Shouldn't you be playing the long game and lose with composure? Have some balls Democrats! Until then, I am an Independent. Go Bernie!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Saying Bye to Timmy

I am not one to acquire many material goods. I often say that one good way to not get robbed is not own anything worth stealing. I have no jewelry and no family heirlooms laying around. I have some computer equipment, most of it is too old to be valuable to anyone. With nothing to steal and a couple of big dogs protecting my land, I have never had a house break in. Or if I have, they haven't taken anything that I noticed. Maybe some some beer was stolen.

The first material good that I have loved was my Schwinn LeTour 10 speed bicycle when I was a teenager. My parents would buy me a bike, but not a good one. If I wanted a good one, I'd have to buy it myself. So I saved up my allowance and made money shoveling snow etc. After saving for about a year, I had a bike that I loved and I went everywhere with it. From my home town of Woonsocket, I'd bike into Providence (about 30 miles) just to go to my favorite comic book shop. I'd bike to school in the Spring and Fall and while living in the southern Rhode Island during the summer, I'd bike to the beach. The bike was my lifeblood. It got me everywhere. In my senior year of high school, when the bike was stolen out of my backyard, I was crushed. I learned quickly not to love any material goods because of how easily they could be taken away.

If it wasn't for my wife, I'd never buy anything new. Perhaps it is my working class background, other than my lap top, I wouldn't buy anything I could used and keep it until it died. It wasn't until 2004 that we bought a new car off the lot. I had always bought used cars and had to have them towed to the junk yard when I was done with them. My wife convinced me to buy new after we lived in Vermont for a few years because here in the north country, you need a good car. You can't do much without one. Here is where Timmy comes in. Timmy was our 2004 Toyota Matrix. I say "was" because we traded him in on Friday and got $2,000.00 as a trade in for our new 2014 Prius V. I did not break down and cry when we left him, but I came close; I felt weepy. Why? It is probably because of the time that I spent in him and not so much as a love for the actual product. Like when I lost my bike, the saying good bye to the car, was an end to an era. It is the loving of the product (like one does with jewelry) but what a product added to your life, the independence and opportunity, not the product.

We needed all-wheel drive and a car big enough to carry two or three dogs. We had a very good experience with an old used red Toyota Corolla (aka Ruby) so we went with the Matrix. Ten years brought us 172,440 miles with relatively no problems. We drove him as far south as Florida with our dog Rex when he was a pup. He learned to get excited when he saw the car or heard its engine. We drove to Chicago, Boston and Montreal many times and further into Canada (westward to Ottawa, Ontario and northward to Quebec City, Quebec). In 2009, Timmy became our old car when we bought our second Matrix, Dot. We referred to them collectively as the Matrices. Timmy was relegated to lugging the dogs or kayaks. Since I telecommute, he spent most of the day in our yard or garage awaiting my lunch time errands.

A lot of life happened in this car.

The fact that we traded the car in and didn't deliver it to a junk yard is pleasing to me because we know someone else will get to use him. We move on.  Let me introduce you to Luther:

The bonding will ensue shortly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fixing Major League Baseball #worldseries

When I was a kid, watching baseball on television was a ritual. My dad in his chair doing a crossword, my mom in her chair knitting while I sat on the rug between them with my baseball cards in front of me. When Jim Rice came up, I'd pull out his card and check the back for stats and interesting facts, I did the same for Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans and even for the opposing team. Watching baseball is a perfect spectator sport for the multi-tasker. Apparently, kids aren't having this experience with baseball anymore. I've heard that the game is too slow and too long. This is sad news.

If length of the game is the problem, then the problem is not going away anytime soon. It has steadily increased over time. In 2010, the average nine inning game was 2 hours and 55 minutes. This year it was 3 hours and 8 minutes. In that same period, run scoring per game has gone down. So it has nothing to do with higher scoring games. A number of ideas have been bouncing around to speed up the game. Some of them sound interesting and others are quite laughable. Implementation of some of them in the minor leagues and independent leagues has had mixed results. One of them is the 27 second pitch clock. If the pitcher takes longer than 27 second, an automatic ball is called. This may affect some of the more slower pitchers like Jonathon Papelbon who takes about 30 second between each pitch, but it won't affect most of them. Famously, Mark Buerhle of the White Sox only takes 16 seconds, really messing with a batter's timing because he is so fast.

Another rule would require the batter to keep one foot in the batter's box throughout an at-bat. If the batter stepped out, they would get a strike. A few other ideas: limiting the time between innings to 2 minutes and 5 seconds, having a designated runner (a DR) for the catcher so that he has time to put his equipment on after he bats and limiting the visits to the mound to three per team per game.  The problem I have with all this is that I find nothing wrong with the game. The longer the game, the more baseball I get. I don't think length of the game or slowness is the problem. People leave the game on in a room and do other things, often tuning in when the announcer gets excited or when your team is batting or when your favorite player comes up. Like a lot of sports fans, some people just tune in late in the game. Nothing compares to a walk-off win.

If Major League Baseball wants kids to be interested (which I agree is important for the longevity of the game), I have some ideas that don't involve messing up the actual game that we love. For one, make the games more accessible to everyone. Currently, play-off games start at 8pm to make them prime time, some of them end at 1am. In 2004, when my Sox were in the post season the entire month of October, I was  exhausted. All of New England was walking around like zombies the whole month. Everyone I know who had kids at the time, wanted to let the kids stay up to see the ends of the games, but they just couldn't. It was too late. If they started the games at 5 or 6pm on the East coast, we'd all be able to watch most of the game. The diehards would rather miss the beginning of the game than the end. This would mean that games would start at 2 or 3pm on the West coast which would be great for the kids. They could stagger these times depending on the target audience.

Make the MLB network free with basic cable. I am serious. When I was a kid, we could see the Red Sox game every night on TV 38 - Boston. This was before cable. Even when we spent the night in the cabin in southern RI, we had a black and white set on our screened porch. Sometimes the screen wasn't very clear and the sound was staticky so we'd turned down the volume on the TV and listened to the radio announcers. I would do like to do this today because I don't like Jerry Remy (the Red Sox television announcer) and I love Joe Castiglione (their radio announcer), but MLB instituted a time delay. The radio is a little bit behind the television so you are forced to listen to TV announcers if you are watching the TV. It almost seems like MLB does't want to you to enjoy the game. They keep putting up barriers for the fans.

One big barrier: the cost of the game. My dad used to take me to the games in the late 70's and early 80's. A working class parent could take their kid to the game for a small amount of money back then. We'd have the full baseball experience. The travel into Boston from Rhode Island, the walk through the Fenway neighborhood with the cornucopia of street vendors, the hot dogs, the peanuts, the crazy fans ... and of course, Fenway Park and the game. A fan was born, how could I help it. I was indoctrinated at an early age. I can't see a working class family getting this experience very often, if ever. We'd go once a year. How about something some ticket lottery or working class New England towns like Lowell, Brockton or Woonsocket? Good tickets for a family of four with coupon at the park. They do a little of this now. It needs to be done more. Minor league games are good for this now, but there is nothing like a Major League ball game.

My basic cable packages doesn't have ESPN, TBS, NESN or Fox Sports 1. That means that not only haven't I been able to see any post season games at home until the World Series started yesterday, but I haven't been able to see most of the Red Sox games all year. The only Red Sox games that I have been able to see in my home are the rare games that have played on the regular FOX network channel. Those have been rare. I'd pay for the MLB package, but that package blacks out Red Sox games if you live in New England. I would buy NESN (New England Sport Network) which plays most of the Red Sox games, but it would cost a small fortune. I'd have to upgrade to digital cable and a package that has several hundred other channels, none of which I would watch. I have no interest in the Golf Channel, the SOAP channel or BETV. The only things I watch on TV (not including Hulu or Netflix) is baseball, the major political events (speeches, debates etc.) and Jeopardy. I refuse to pay a fortune for a bunch of channels I don't watch just to have baseball in my home.  Since I only want baseball, I should be able to pay for only baseball. If they can't accommodate me then they don't get my business. I know I am not alone.

With an $8.00 a year subscription, I now listen to the game on my phone. Like when I was a kid, I keep busy during the game, looking up stats etc. It is a lot easier and more fun with the internet. It is because kids have such a short attention span that baseball is the perfect for them. They can play a video, catch on social media and watch a baseball game all at the same time. I wrote most of this while watching the game yesterday.  Game two is about to start. Gotta go.  Go Royals!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Americans Loves Violence #BoycottNFL

That's right, sorry to be the one to tell you ... Americans love violence. Oh yes, we feign outrage. We put warnings on movies and video games and maybe even trigger warnings on books. We are clearly offended by simulated violence. I could play Call of Duty (rated M for Mature) all day and then watch all the Die Hard movies (rated R for violence) and by the end, not a single person would have gotten hurt. Yet, a sport where people pound either causing bodily harm and in many cases brain damage, Americans welcome it into their homes every Autumn Sunday, no warning, rating or censorship. Simulate violence: bad. Real violence: a-okay.

How do football fans rationalize this? I can't say I know. They are experiencing cognitive dissonance perhaps. People seem to have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize what they call their beliefs from their actions. I once had a co-worker who used to claim he was a vegetarian then I'd go out to lunch with him at some of greasiest wiener joints in Providence and he'd not see a problem with this. I once went to lunch with friends who complained about tax loopholes throughout the meal and then take a receipt for our non-work related meal for his tax write off. When I pointed out to him that this write-off is a loop hole, he looked at me with complete confusion. We all know people like this, right? Like someone who complains about GMOs in her food or chemicals in her lawn, because they might cause cancer, as she smokes away at a cigarette. Among these cognitively dissonant friends, I put the person who claims that they abhor violence while wearing an NFL jersey. Football is violent. If you like football, you like violence. Admit it and move on.

Football is America's favorite sport. America loves violence. We have a history of violence, founded on violence. We were founded by a bloody revolution, a bloody civil war preserved us and bloody massacres expanded our borders for our Manifest Destiny. We all know this. Just admit America ... you love violence. Stop pretending that you don't. Denial is unhealthy.

I didn't always feel this way. When I was young, I thought I lived in a peaceful nation. I used to say, silly stuff, "there will never be another American war in our lifetime" and "after Viet Nam, we don't have an appetite for war." Then, in 1990, the first George Bush went into Iraq and people loved it. You'd ask them what they were doing for Friday evening, they'd said they were staying home and watching the war on CNN. They'd  stop off on their way from work to get a pizza and a 12 pack and hurry to the comfort of their couch to watch the missiles hammer Baghdad. Peace loving folk. Maybe not.

I had a similar epiphany a few years ago when the reports came out about concussions and Repetitive Head Injury Syndrome in football, I thought, well that's it, no more football. We now have proof that long term brain damage is being caused by playing football for a long-time.  Today, 1-3 NFL players will have some sort of brain injury in their lifetimes. We haven't stopped watching football after this information came out, of course not, if anything viewership has increased. The bloodier the better I guess. I still see people signing up their kid's for youth football.  The trend continues.

As our daily news programs continues to report about brutality that these players commit off the field, the beating of a wife in an elevator or the hospitalization of a child from being hit with a stick, we have to wonder who is to blame? These guys were once very little boys, we told them to go hit someone hard. If you do it well enough, you might make a lot of money. Turn on the television and watch a few more games, drink a few more beers, eat a few more chips and watch those commercials. The violence you are buying is no longer only on the field or on the screen. How many more of these thugs do you need to turn off the television or change the channel. In a capitalistic society, demand is consent. If you stop demanding it, the supply will disappear.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The St. Albans Raid

Since I've lived in the Northwestern Vermont, I've heard references to and seen signs for the St. Albans Raid. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I assumed it was something that happened related to the War of 1812 or something more obscure. I did not realize until recently that it was an American Civil War event. When I think of Civil War battles, I don't think of Vermont; I think of Pennsylvania or Virginia. Vermont is too far north yet, the St. Albans Raid was a American Civil War event, not so much a battle, unlike any other.

Bennet Young was a Confederate soldier who escaped to Canada. He made his way back to the Confederacy by way of Nova Scotia and Bermuda. He met with Confederate Generals with his idea to attack Northern cities. St. Albans, Vermont was a railroad town about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. At the time St. Albans had around 4,000 residents, now it has over 6,000. The railroad in town, the Vermont and Canada Railroad, was owned by the governor at the time, J. Gregory Smith.  The town had three banks. The idea was to attack the city, rob the banks and then burn it to the ground. The intent was to help the Confederacy with their financial problems and divert the North's attention to protect their cities from surprise attacks. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant and given a group of 21 cavalrymen to return to Canada with to organize the raid.

They arrived in St. Albans via train from Montreal in cells of 2 or 3 men on October 10th to the 19th of 1864 with the cover story that they were on a sporting vacation and took rooms in local hotels. On the morning of October  19th, Young sat in the hallway of the American House awaiting, reading his Bible as the soldiers gathered. He was posing as a preacher. At 3pm, they stood on separate street corners which is now Main Street and started yelling something about taking the city for the Confederacy. The townsfolk quickly understood that this wasn't a joke when their three banks started getting rob simultaneously while many of them were held at gun point in Taylor Park for their horses.

Obviously, the town was never burned to the ground. The damp rainy day prevent them from lighting their bottles of Greek fire. One of these buildings is still a bank (TD Bank), another holds an art gallery now and the other building no longer stands, the local Toyota dealer is there now. One town person was killed and another wounded as they got out of town heading north with $208,000.00. The only building that was destroyed was a shed. As they headed out of town, they diverted their trip north to go northeast and then east. They headed toward a town called Sheldon because it also had a bank, but the bank was closed. They set fire to a bridge that was put out immediately by the local preacher. The bridge survived for another 100 years. They stole a horse while in town from the house in the picture below. In the upstairs bedroom lie a Yankee veteran who was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia earlier that year. Ironically, he was the nephew of Reverend Reuel Keith, who married Robert E. Lee and his bride, Mary.
Reverend Keith is buried next door behind the Presbyterian church in downtown Sheldon. 

This was the time of the telegraph. So word got out of their approaching the border so they split up as they reached Enosburg, a larger town than Sheldon. The raiders made it into Canada where they were arrested but eventually freed. Only $88,000.00 were recovered. Local legend is that one of the local farmers found the remainder in a hole in the ground and built a beautiful brick house that still stands. 

At the time, the raid was considered a success. Yankee General Philip Sheridan was ripping through the Shenandoah Valley so any victory helped the spirits of the Confederacy. The raid did scare many of the American towns on the border of Canada thinking they were next. Canadians at the time were still British subjects and were afraid to be pulled into the war. The raid turned popular opinion against the Confederacy.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the Magical Negroes

If you ever get the impression that American society is not white-male-centric, you don't have to go very far to change your mind back. Just watch a movie.  When I look at Wikipedia's list of top grossing films of all time very few of them have a female lead and I can't find one with a non-white lead.  I guess you can't blame Hollywood if they are marketing their films to their audience ... but do white guys watch more movies than other demographics?  I don't know, really.

It is not just who the lead of the film is but the tone of the films. The story arcs of most American films revolve around white people. An all too common trope is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  This term was created by the film critic Nathan Rabin back in 2005 after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, but the term can apply to films much earlier. It refers to a stock female character in a film that influences the main character (a white male) and is usually his romantic interests. She is quirky, attractive and girlish. A majority of the mainstream films made in America have a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Why create something new if an old trope will suffice? Most people won't notice that they are watching the same old thing. We have Barbara Streisand in What's Up Doc?, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, Carrie Fisher and Natalie Portman in the Star Wars flicks, Natalie Portman in Garden State and to a lesser extent Beautiful Girls, Emily Watson in Punch Drunk Love, Kate Hudson and Meg Ryan in pretty much everything they have ever been.  They have no growth, very little depth and merely revolve around the protagonist like a satellite, not doing much but influencing the tides.

Things are changing I hear. Of the 40 movies released this summer by major studios, 17 of them had women leads. This is less than half but higher than most years. But is this really an improvement?  The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media did a study of 122 recent family films, of 5,554 speaking roles only 29.2% were female. This is the same ratio as 1946. Of these 40, there was only one female director. Perhaps that is where the studio needs to start to fix this problem. This is a problem!

A lesser used trope is the Magical Negro or as Spike Lee called it the Super Duper Magical Negro. The Magical Negro doesn't always have magical powers but when they do, they help out white people. Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance appears on golf courses and helps white men with their golf game or Michael Clarke Duncan's character in The Green Mile is a magical prisoner on death row that uses his magic to help the white guards. I am not making this shit up. I don't think there is a single black person in any Stephen King book that doesn't exist to help white people. Mother Abagail in The Stand (the magical old black lady), Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers' character) in The Shining and Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman's character) in The Shawshank Redemption are example of this.

I want to say that this trend can't continue, but since woman are a majority perhaps this is just naive. According to the Hollywood reporter, 54% of film goers this years were Caucasian while making up 60% of the population. White movie-goers decreased while Hispanic and black movie-goers increased. Will we get more Forrest Whitaker and Steve McQueen (the director) in the years to come? I hope so because I love those guys. This year's Best Movie Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave was a great film. But please note, it is not on the list of the top grossing films. Most Americans want an escape at the movie theater, not introspection. We'll save that for our Netflix queue. I watched it on the plane. No one wants a downer when you drop $8.00 at the box office.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The First of the World Wars

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of the start of World War I, but we could easily call the war between France and Britain in the 18th century (1754 to 1763) a World War. Here in America and in English speaking Canada, we refer to it as the French and Indian War.  It spanned most of the continents of the world: Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa. The belligerents were mainly France and England but their empires spanned much of the globe at the time. In French Canada they call it La Guerre de la ConquĂȘte (the War of Conquest). The French name has a lot of meaning for them in that it marks when France was removed from the North American mainland and French Canada (New France) was taken over by the British. We now know this land as Quebec just a few miles north of me. They still grapple with maintaining their French identity in an English nation.

Europeans call this war, The Seven Year War, which is odd because it lasted nine years. The name Nine Year War was already taken, The seven years refers to the most active years of the war, '56 through '63. The Swedes and Prussians referred to it as the Pomeranian War which describes the region that they were fighting over. This theatre ended in a stalemate. In India it is referred to as The Third Carnatic War which was basically French and British troops battling over the India. Britain's victory left them as the dominant colonial power on the Indian sub-continent.

This all started on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio when a 22 year old Colonel in the British Army, named George Washington, left Fort Pitt (aka Pittsburgh) to inform some French settlers that they were encroaching on British land.  The French refused and continued to build Fort Duquesne. Washington returned with an army to remove them and war began. The British were allied with the Iroquois Confederacy (which was huge) while the French were allied with the Abenaki, the Algonquin and the Shawnee among many other native people that I never heard of.

France cared more about gains in Europe and maintaining possessions in the Caribbean. Canada was a money loser for France and didn't care if they lost it that much. The sugar crop from the Caribbean Islands were too important to their economy. While Britain decided to concentrate on North America. By 1759, Britain controlled Quebec and by 1760 Montreal surrendered.  Britain attacked many of the places that were vital to French economy (the slave, sugar and gum trade) in Senegal, Martinique and the Caribbean. In the Treaty of Paris, Louisiana goes to Spain and Canada goes to Britain while France ends up keeping their major Caribbean Islands.

It was this war that put Britain in debt.  If not for the huge war debt accumulated during this war, American independence may not have ever happened just a few years later. Britain raised taxes on the colonies to pay off the debt sand rebellion ensued in responses to over-taxation. The American Revolution may have lasted longer if Britain could afford it and the US would never exist.  George Washington started the war that indirectly lead to our country being created. He really is the father of our country.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Strangers I Have Come To Hate

I walk along the road in front of my house and I see the same trash on every walk: Budweiser beer cans, cigarette butts and disbursed lottery tickets. I hate these people who can't keep their trash in their cars. Okay, maybe hate is too strong of a word.  Not sure why people don't think they have to keep their own trash in their own cars. I have a social worker / minister friend who is very analytical. She would say that they are not invested in their society. Of course, I take the other route. I just think they are dickheads. A few weeks ago, I went kayaking in St. Albans VT in a lovely alcove of Lake Champlain. This is one of the few places in New England that you will see a Northern map turtle. They are all over the place.  You wouldn't know that there was a patch of pristine wilderness hidden away from the huge pile of trash that lie at the entrance of the boat launch. I almost didn't put the boat in because of how disgusting the launch was. People were fishing there and other boaters were going about their business ... no one was picking up the trash. Maybe hate isn't too strong of a word. I picked up what I could. I don't think I will ever understand how someone can go fishing somewhere but not be interested in the long term health of where they fish. Are they not invested or do they just not connect the dots? Do they think that someone else will pick it up?  I am not sure, but I think it has more do with people not seeing how their actions affect the rest of the world. Dots not connecting or synapses not firing.

Several years ago, my wife and I had to make the decision on whether to have children or not. It was a complicated decision with many factors. I mentioned in an earlier post about the environment being a factor, but that was a minor factor. The biggest factor was my wallet. Both my wife and I spent a good part of our lives being poor. For me, it was my 20's, when I lived in Boston, that I was flat broke. I didn't want to revisit that era in my life. It wasn't until I was in my 30's that I became financially stable. Having kids would have brought me right back there. One of the other minor factors is that we really didn't like the world we would be bringing a child into. People's priorities seem so wrong. If I had a child, I think I would be unbearable, especially about the environment. I don't know why everyone that has a child isn't an environmentalist. What kind of world are we leaving them? How can I think that we are going to resolve this when I can't even expect a fisherman to clean up the shoreline where they fish? The fishermen that day are lucky I didn't have any progeny, I think I would have yelled at them. The world should be grateful ... I have dogs instead.

Three of the four dogs that I have had could be considered rescues. I don't know who owned my dog Rex before we did. I am glad I don't know them. It has been two years since he has passed and I still get very sad when I think of him. The act of missing him is a grab bag of emotions. I laugh a little, I cry a little and occasionally I get angry. When we got him from the Humane Society, he was damage goods. He was six months old and had a lot of fear aggression. When he got afraid, he got aggressive. He bit two people that I know of, one of my neighbors and an incompetent dog sitter. We noticed early with him that if you raised your hand too fast, he'd duck thinking we were going to hit him. We don't know the details to how he got that way. I know nothing about the strangers that had him before us. They are strangers to me, but I hate them. I have no problem using that word. They are the scum of the earth, the wrong kind of people, the bane of humanity, the dregs of mankind, the unclean masses, the riffraff, rubbish and vermin. At this point I have thank for actually have an entry for Scum of the Earth.

I still have my German Shepherd, Cokie. We got her at six weeks old back in 2002. She is getting quite old now and has difficulty walking. I have to carry her down the stairs a few times a day for her bathroom breaks. When we got her she was only a few pounds, half of her body weight was worms. The dog that we got free from an ad in the paper cost us a fortune at her first vet appointment. We found her at a trailer park in Crowne Point, NY. The people who had her said no one wanted her because she was a runt. She was living outside about to be put down. She might be the best dog I ever had. She is the only dog we've had since she was a puppy and our best behaved dog, so I think we've done well by her.

Stray and neglected dogs are the unfortunate residue of irresponsible humans. After my lab Max passed away a few months ago, we realized our house was very quiet. Too quiet. We went from having three dogs to having one, in about a year. The two dogs that passed were the loud ones. The one remaining was the quiet well behaved dog that is now so lame and old that she doesn't leave her bed all day long.  We need more dogs, but we could not handle a puppy just yet because Cokie is just not up for that amount of energy just yet.  We joined a fostering group for dogs in transition. These dogs are rescued from bad situations and need a place to stay while a permanent owner can be found.  So far we have fostered one dog, named Tammy, a black lab from the Carolinas. Apparently, she was bred by a irresponsible breeder for hunting. After they determine which pups will be good hunting dogs, they dispose of the rest of the litter. She was left somewhere out in the woods to fend for herself. She was found and brought to the rescue facility. This was the most screwed up dog I've ever met. She was afraid of doorways, wouldn't walk on a leash and would pee when I picked her up. When I brought her outside in my fenced-in yard, she would hide under the porch all day. Luckily, a wonderful family in southern Vermont adopted her and I only had her in my home for a few weeks. The family that adopted her had three old labs and had just lost two of them due to cancer. Their one remaining dog would not eat because he was lonely. When Tammy came to live with them, he started eating and I hear they are best of friends now and she is walking on a leash.

Sometimes people adopt dogs and don't realize how much work they are going to be. But instead of finding a good home for them or bring them to a shelter, they just let them go. Most Vermont shelters are non-kill so you can drop a dog off without it being a death sentence.  Our latest dog, Hazel (she's a keeper) was caught after six weeks of wandering around a town here in Northern VT. Obviously, someone didn't want her and didn't do a good job of finding her a new home. The people in this town tried hard to catch her and a few people tried to kill her, I hear, with poison traps. She is an awesome dog with one obvious problem. She has major separation anxiety. She just loses it when we leave her alone. We are working on the problem with her. In the three weeks that we've had her she has destroyed two screens, a metal crate and has ruined part of our fence. I got home one day and she was waiting for me outside the fence. We've been able to leave the home once, so far, without incident. Perhaps she is figuring out that we are coming back.

In his novel, Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins writes that "There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.” I guess I am one of those people who aren't smart enough to know better because I think there are two types of people in the world: those that cause most of the problems and those who are, at least, working on the solutions. I like to think I am in the latter.  Do I seem self righteous, here? Sure, I am self-righteous and if you are one of those douche bags who is being so casual about the lives of these beautiful animals, you really need to know, I am better than you. You are the strangers that I hate and I don't think that is too strong of a word. I think it the perfect word to describe how I feel about you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Cop Show Formula

I can't imagine a television show based on my workday. It would be very boring, no drama, just typing and an occasional shot of me yelling at my screen. Every episode would be the same. No Emmy's expected here. I am often envious of people whose jobs are out and about in the world driving around and interacting with the world. It seems stimulating. Yet when I say this to people who have these type of jobs, they are envious of my boring existence. Grass is always greener? Perhaps.

Being a cop must be filled with drama. Even a traffic cop must see more drama than me in any given day. I have no idea really. The best I can do is watch a cop show. Cop shows are so ridden with cliche is it hard to imagine that they are at all realistic. Cliches are usually a clue to poor writing. When a writer uses cliches, they are relying on preconceived notions of archetypes established already by society, literary or otherwise, through over usage or stereotypes. Yet sometimes they work. Perhaps it is because I grew up when television was quite bad, especially the cop show: McCloud, McMillan and Wife, Baretta and Kojak. I have low expectations. Some of the better shows rely heavily on cliches. Perhaps this is an example of form dictating content. The writers are under a lot of pressure, have a short amount of time to produce and have many obstacles. On commercial television they only have 42 minutes in an hour to produce content. They not only have to satisfy the public, in an increasingly competitive saturated market, but they have to satisfy network execs who are often clueless. It is impressive that anything good gets produced at all.

Like all genre drama, cop shows have a built in structure. A crime is committed, a cop or two are assigned, the crime solved either by the end of the show or with the newer shows, using a longer story arc, by the end of the season. Perhaps it is the formula that begs for formulaic characters. Regardless of why, the American cop show is better than it has ever been.

The most common cliche is the cop on the edge, lets call him/her Dirty Harry. Dirty Harries operate by their own rules. They can't follow the constraints their commander puts on them. On "True Detective" this is Detective Rusty Cohl,  this is Detective Tim Bayliss on "Homicide: Life On the Street",  Jimmy McNulty on "The Wire," Detective Catherine Jensen on "Those Who Kill," Vic Mackey on "The Shield" or US Marshall Raylan Givens on "Justified."   These are good centerpiece characters. They are often protagonists stirring up trouble. This trouble gets McNulty demoted, Givens and Cohl investigated, Bayliss arrested and Mackey eventually, presumably, killed. The Vic Mackey character was particular compelling because the show would have been nothing without him. He is a dirty cop that feels justified in his corruption. Every character is either trying to catch him, trying to be like him, trying to sleep with him and eventually, trying to get away from him. He is a fulcrum for all the action in the show.

At least one cop per show has difficulty with their relationships, usually caused by the job. They put their jobs over their children, wife and/or girl friends. This is Joey Quinn on "Dexter,"  Detective Marty Hart on "True Detective," Detective Kima Greggs on "The Wire," Detective Sarah Linden on "The Killing," Detective Lydia Adams or Officer Sammy Bryant on "Southland" along with Mackey and McNulty again. Cops have a very high divorce rate so I would imagine that this is more than a cliche. They work long odd hours and are exposed to much darkness. We often see these characters lose control over their personal lives sublimating their professional lives, the squad room replaces the family, the partner becomes the surrogate lover. Chaos at home is unmanageable while the chaos at work is understandable ... it has a rule book called the law. This is a typical plot device that works.   

The young naive and idealistic cops that start a series usually end up corrupted by the end of the series. This is Officer Ben Sherman on "Southland" and Julien Lowe on "The Shield." It is difficult to watch them fall. Women cops, more often than not, end up pregnant. Adams on "Southland" and Danny Sofer on "The Shield." Both of these are usually sub-plots.

The cliche that always sucks me in, the one that make me think, maybe I should have been a cop, is the smart cop. Let's call them Sherlocks. Our Sherlocks are Det. Frank Pembleton on "Homicide: Life on the Street," Det. Lester Freamon on "The Wire," Det. Sonya Cross on "The Bridge," Dutch Wagenbach on "The Shield" and again the existential Rusty Cohl from "True Detective." They are what are called "natural police" for they seemed to have been born to solve mysteries. The Dutch character on "The Shield" is a little different than these others because he is a buffoon studying the psychological makeup of killers and he is almost always wrong and goes by the book. This works well in contrasting him against the corrupt protagonist Mackey who is street-wise and much more effective. The American version of "The Bridge" uses this contrast as well. The two main detectives the American Sonya Cross and the Mexican Detective Marco Ruiz are foil characters. She is passionless and by-the-book completely lacking in social skills. While Marco is street-wise and cunning. He works his network of friends while Sonya hits the computer. He buys flowers for the receptionist while Sonya doesn't even know her name. "The Bridge" that separates El Paso, Texas and Chihuahua works as a good metaphor for the relationship between these two characters that are forced to work together.  I have a lot of pent up paranoia about cops.As a working class kid from Southern New England, I have been pulled over more than once as a young man for driving a car that looked like it couldn't afford the neighborhood I was in. Not DWB (driving while black) but DWP (driving while poor).  The exposure to the smart cop has done me some good.

Are these characters anything like real cops? Perhaps. Do I watch too much television? Definitely. I used to laugh at television as a medium, but since it has become good, it has become a new obsession. It is one of my new excuses for why I don't read as much as I used to. It is too easy to turn on the tube and see something good.  Not a bad problem to have.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What I Learned in Spain

The most important thing I learned from my recent trip to Spain is that I am probably too old for short trips to Europe. I left my home in Vermont in the late afternoon on a Friday for a 10:30pm flight in Montreal. I flew overnight to Paris. With a two hour layover we were in Malaga, Spain by 3pm on Saturday. Most of that part of our trip went smoothly. Landing in a foreign country, tired as hell, doesn't make for a good start of a vacation. Our car rental agreement charged us way too much money and we didn't notice it. Our luggage was put on the wrong belt so we thought it was lost. Then our 20 minute drive to our condo rental took 2.5 hours to find thanks to some very bad directions and negligent street signage. Driving in a foreign country is difficult enough but try it on no sleep. By the time I recovered from the jet lag and caught up on my sleep, I had two days left to my vacation. I need more than a week for this kind of trip. A younger man would have bounced back a lot easier. It is that quandary of not affording the trip when I was young; now that I can afford it, I don't have the energy.

To make things worse, Spain is in the wrong time zone. While I was there I was wondering why the sun was setting so late. We were in southern Spain, close to the equator, the days should be shorter. But they were shorter, they just didn't seem like it. The sun just rises later as well. If you look at the map, Spain is aligned geographically with England, Portugal and Morocco, but its time zone is the same as Germany. During World War II, Hitler visited Spain attempting to woo Franco into joining the Axis. Because they were still recovering from the Spanish Civil War, they didn't have much to offer and stayed neutral, but they turned their clocks ahead an hour to be aligned with Nazi Germany. They never changed back. So if you drive to Portugal or take a ferry to Morocco, you have to change your clock. Blaming Hitler is a good standby for any problem in Europe.

The Spanish get up later than most of us. If you want to buy a coffee early in the morning, you will have to wait until 9am or so for a coffee shop to open. Due to the mid-day siesta, you may have to wait for a supermarket to open in the late-afternoon. This is a tradition that dates back to before air conditioning. So that workers didn't have to work during the peak heat of the day, they could nap in the shade. Now it makes for a long workday. Modern professionals complain that they get home too late. This makes for a later rush hour and less time at home. For me, the late coffee was fine because I was sleeping late most of the days (it was  vacation).  The coffee is great in Spain, made stronger than ours in the US so the portions are much smaller.  The weather was so hot, I wasn't always into a hot coffee. Iced coffee doesn't seem to be a thing. I was grateful to find a Dunkin' Donuts (aka Dunkin' Coffee) in Malaga for an American iced coffee.

With all its quirks, Spain is a fantastic place for a vacation. The Spanish tiled barrios polka dotting the mountain desert fauna on the Mediterranean, you can't beat it. The food alone is worth the trip. We spent two days on the beach drinking sangria, reading and taking dips. The temperature hovered around 85F with some wind and no mosquitoes. When we took day trips inland to Seville and Granada, it was about 10 degrees warmer with little wind or humidity. The language barrier wasn't too bad. Spanish/English translation is fairly close and almost everyone we talked to had at least a little English and my wife knows some conversational Spanish. We got by fine. Everyone was very friendly. One guy offered me his dessert when I asked him what it was. Eating fresh fish from the Mediterranean is my kind of vacation. Grills with fresh sardines were setup right on the beach. Not sure if restaurants could get away with this in the US.

Often when I travel I ponder, "hmm, I could live here."  I had that feeling about Ireland and Prague. That feeling overwhelmed me in Hawaii. This did not occur in Spain. I liked it and I would visit again (if I were independently wealthy) but no, I couldn't see myself living there.  I had two problems with the place that would make living there unbearable. It is a feeling that when you ask yourself, "Why is this okay?" that makes me think that I'd find a lot other problems with the place if I lived there.

The first thing was the driving. I have driven in Europe before, it was culture shock, but I acclimated. My only time driving in Europe was Ireland. Some don't even consider Ireland to be European. I remember telling an Irish lady, "we didn't even come close to the speed limit," and her reply was classic, "oh gee, I hope not." Like their speed limit is actually a limit, not like here in the States where it is the speed at which we start and only slow down below the limit after we see a cop. They just drive slowly in Ireland because the roads are tiny, winding and surrounded by walls. Spain was the opposite problem. Unlike Ireland, they drive on the same side of the road as the US, yet I felt less comfortable driving in Spain. Not only are Spanish drivers speeders but they are incredibly impatient. If you are backing out of a parking space, cars on the road will not stop and wait for you. They driving around you. The only time anyone will wait for you to pull out is if someone wanted your space. If you accidentally drive down a dead end (which aren't labeled) and have to back out, which I did in Granada, if there is another car that wants to get around you, they will not wait for you back out. They will drive around you regardless of how little room there is. I don't think this is something that I could get used to. I had heard that Spanish drivers are the worst in Europe. I have seen nothing to disprove this. Motorcycles were everywhere and seem to do what they want. I saw a lot of cops when I was there, but no one was being pulled over. I am not sure what they are doing but they are not monitoring traffic.

The other thing that I didn't like was being bothered by street vendors. If you are laying on a towel on the beach, they will come over and try to sell you sunglasses. If you are eating outside in a restaurant, they will approach you to sell you a pocket book. If you are enjoying the World Cup along the boardwalk in Marbella, they will approach you trying to sell you a Spanish flag. They don't let up. I can't tell you how annoying this is. Most of the vendors seem be from Africa. They probably come over on the Ferries from Morocco. Here in the US, we are all about business, but I don't think this is something that we would tolerate. You have to wonder why any business would tolerate vendors coming up to their customers at restaurants. I don't know if this is something that happens further inland. I don't remember seeing them in Granada or Seville so perhaps, this is just a coastal issue.

As an American, whose definition of old are the sites I see in Boston which aren't even three centuries old, I am overwhelmed when I visit Europe. Some of the sites we visited in Spain were held by the Romans and then the Moors and then then Spanish spanning a couple of millennium. I felt quite small.  That is a good thing. We should always be humbled by our travel destinations. Dare I quote Twain (from Innocents Abroad) without seeming too pretentious:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
One cannot enter the halls of Alhambra without marveling at the wonders of humanity ... regardless of how badly you had to risk your life in traffic to find the place.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Trigger Warning: This Blog Post May Cause Some Pansies to Whine

In grad school I took a class in "The Teaching of Literature."  It was a fine course, the only problem with it was that the professor was obsessed with racism. It should have been called "Teaching Racism in Literature" because that was her only concern, it seemed. One of our assignments was designing a lecture and teaching a class on a work of literature. My work was Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness which I chose because I was interested in narrative structure, particularly in works of literature that had an unreliable narrator. I was planning on writing my graduate thesis on the subject so every class I took, I tried to work that into my projects. I did my lecture, about a half hour, and got some great feedback from my fellow students. The only feedback I got from the professor was that I "didn't mention racism." This was maddening of course because, I do agree that racism is an important subject in colonial literature like The Heart of Darkness, but it is not the only aspect of the book. If you talk about the narrative structure for a half hour, you could easily not bring up racism. This story has become my anecdotal reason for the problem with American liberal arts education ... the American left are really fucking it up.

It is becoming more and more difficult to be left wing in America. I am left wing, aka a liberal, meaning that I do believe in the ideals of being liberal, but I am not so sure anymore about the movement. People who call themselves liberal are getting more and more annoying ... and some of them ... seem outright insane. The eyes are not only not on the prize but have turned inward. The self-righteous a-hole has replaced the selfless hippie as the poster child of the left. Protests are cliques. Discourse has become therapy. Education is becoming a politically correct circle jerk. I used to be proud to say that I was on the Left.  I am still proud, I cling to the ideas, but not so much to the movement. The latest madness: trigger warnings.

Triggers warnings are statements that some professors are being asked to put on syllabi on certain works of literature and/or film warning students of their content. An example would be a warning that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains racism or that The Great Gatsby contains domestic violence. Apparently, this started to accommodate students with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Stressful events in books and films can trigger trauma in the victims of PTSD. But I would think that if you had PTSD and you were attending a college course, shouldn't you go in prepared that perhaps everything you read or view could contain a trigger? If the trigger warnings stopped with PTSD, it wouldn't be so absurd, but being extended much further. 

The first problem I have with this is that knowledge comes from being challenged. You go into college believing the world to be a certain way and you are challenged to think something else. You shouldn't be prepared or warned for this challenge. You should be knocked over the head with it. College is the place where the world should be in your face challenging your every fiber of belief.  If it makes you cry or scream so be it, you are young, you will get over it. Students at Oberlin College, University of California (Santa Barbara), University of Michigan, Rutgers University and George Washington University among others have asked for trigger warnings to be put on syllabi. When I was in college we asked our colleges for really stupid things too. It was a great learning experience to be told NO. College is a great place to mature. 

This brings me to my second point, what kind of pansies are we bringing up in this country? Huckleberry Finn was read by slaves. That's right some of them could read! Their victimhood (violence, rape, racism etc.) is far greater than any of us had to face. Mark Twain toured the country with other abolitionists reading his work. Former slaves attended these readings. If they didn't need a warning, you shouldn't either.  Regardless of how traumatic your experiences have been, it pales in comparison to these people. The first step to higher learning ... get over yourself.

My third point is where I really lose patience with the left. Labeling anything, however well intentioned and innocuous is censorship, even if you are doing so only on a syllabus. You are changing the perception of the reader. If you label The Merchant of Venice with a warning of anti-Semitism, the reader is going to read it differently than if you didn't see that label. In doing so, you are altering the experience of the reading, tainting the discourse and worst of all, destroying the text. You are putting your perceptions of the text over the readers. If I am warned that Mrs. Dalloway contains a suicide, I am going to reading it expecting suicide on every page. You might as well rename trigger warnings, spoiler alerts. A trigger warning ruins this book for all the readers, just in case, there is someone in the class that was traumatized by suicide. The left is usually against censorship, unless it is the left that is censoring, then they are fine with it. Actually, they are gleeful in their righteousness.  Stamp an R on that movie, stamp an M on that video game ... the left know better than you do on what you and your kids can be exposed to. This is what the left spends their time on. You really have to wonder how the left will respond when a right winger comes along and demands a warning on a Leaves of Grass because of their homo-phobia or on Things Fall Apart because of their xenophobia. No, that isn't allowed. Censorship is only allowed when the left does it!

Where does this lead? Warnings on syllabi surely will lead to warnings on books. The pansies will graduate and wander into a bookstore with their new expendable income. They might buy a book that has sexism in it and they weren't warned about it (insert dramatic music here). Bookstores, Amazon and libraries will have warnings on books. Once there is a rating system on books, then publishers will publish for the rating. Presently Hollywood test screens films and will often send them back to the director saying they need more sex to get the R rating or remove a word or two to get the PG13 rating. Is this where publishing is going? 

I am grateful that most professors are fighting this.This is where the strength of tenured positions come in. Young untenured professors are afraid to fight this because they fear retaliation. Freedom to pick and chose what is in your course and how to approach the subject, should be in the teachers hands ... not the students. If you fear being challenged as a college student, perhaps college is not the right place for you. If you can't handle Huck's racism, you are probably not ready for the workforce and world outside your campus.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let There Be God But Not In My Foxhole

In the beginning, man created god. Man said, "Let there be God" and God was a formless void. Then man said "Let there be religion," then there was a God created in his image. Now we had us and we had them, those who believed and those who didn't. We could now have someone to thank, someone to blame, someone to give credit and someone to point the finger at in shame. Now man was off the hook for God got all the credit. Man now had convenience and ritual.

Man then created many gods for many purposes. The gods would bring the sun across the sky, they would make the waves crash on the beaches, make the thunder and lightning and change the seasons. A perception of order was created throughout the world. This order was the garden where the seeds of civilizations were planted.

This made sense for a while. Then some interlopers started explaining things using experimentation and proof. So the gods, most of them, got smaller and disappeared. The many gods dwindled to be few, for some down one and for some down to none at all.  Few are left, but linger ... for now. Man loves ritual and this carries on even now that the Bronze Age is over.

The religious bear many gifts for us non-believers. They created temples, churches and cathedrals with spectacular architecture, music and art. They created the Book of Leviticus as a gift to comedians.  For genre writers, they gave the Book of Revelation. For poets, they gave the Book of Psalms. And for us atheists, they gave the Book of Job.

If you believe in God after reading the Book of Job you have to wonder why you would worship this God at all. This is a god that takes one of his children and completely fucks with him to prove a point to Satan. Satan claims that Job is only pious because life is good. To prove Satan wrong, God gives Satan permission to destroy all of Job's relatives and possessions. Satan kills Job's family while they are at a feast and destroys all his possessions. After this is done, Job praises the lord and the smug God gives Job an even better family and possessions. Well that's awesome!  Be pious and God will kill your family and give you a better one. So glad everyone is worshiping this God!  (This is sarcasm in case you haven't noticed.)

Often I find myself having to defend atheism which seems odd since atheists are not the ones with a belief system. One shouldn't have to defend a lack of something. No tomes of atheism or scrolls of atheism exist that I am aware of.  The closest one could find is perhaps a copy of a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens book, but these are not ancient.  Humanism is close to atheism in that it looks to humanity to resolve problems with the world, but a humanist can still believe in a god. I write this today on Easter Sunday, the most holy of Christian holidays (which they celebrate with chocolate bunnies and egg hunts), because I am a little tired of people bashing atheists. I am usually quiet about my atheism because really it is not something I think much about until someone bothers me about it. I am not sure why I should have to. My memory is imperfect and the sense of history is limited, but I don't remember ever hearing about any groups of atheists flying any planes into skyscrapers. I don't remember ever hearing about any groups of them lynching people from trees or burning people at stakes. Yet I am somehow told occasionally how immoral it is being a non-believer or that all morality comes from God. I have no doubt the mythical Job felt that way. This may just go on my long list of things that I don't understand, but if you need to cling to a Bronze Age superstition to make yourself moral, please do so, but leave me alone if I don't. Don't come to my door with pamphlets and don't fill my Facebook feed with self righteous indignation.

Atheism is not a religion (it is the antithesis of religion), but if it was, it would be the fastest growing religion in America. There is something else growing in America, civility. Violence is down and has been steadily dropping for years. All violent crime has been dropping for decades. Fear of crime is higher (thank you 24 hours news cycles), but violence is the lowest it has ever been. Yes, even gun violence is down. We have big news stories when a shooting happens but overall gun violence is down. I am not so bold that I am drawing a direct line here, but if atheists were so immoral, wouldn't crime be getting higher?

There seems to be two aphorisms being proved wrong here. One is that when the economy gets bad, then crime gets bad. This is somewhat true in that property crime, like theft, has been higher since the economy got bad, but this hasn't affected violent crime. The bigger aphorism of course, that adverse conditions make people turn to religion, that there are no atheists in foxholes, is obviously wrong as well. If people turn to religion when times are hard, shouldn't Atheism be decreasing?

The aphorism that "there are no atheists in foxholes" is particularly egregious to me. Apparently, when conditions get really bad for me, I am going to abandon everything I believe in and start believing in God. There is no basis for this. Many religious people who experience war, like Job become more religious, but many don't. It goes both ways, but conversion doesn't happen, not on any scale whatsoever. It occurred to me one day as a young Catholic that the idea of God just seemed silly and illogical. It wasn't an epiphany, it was too anticlimactic for that. It just happened. It was a great weight lifted off of my back. In the more than 30 years since then, I haven't once considered I was wrong. No crisis, no foxhole, no pamphlet or Facebook video is going to change my mind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are People Actually Listening to the Lyrics of Springsteen Songs?

Being a Red Sox fan was a lot easier before they won three World Series in ten years. For one, getting tickets to Fenway was easier and cheaper. Before 2004, once you got to Fenway, you were lot more likely to be surrounded by real Sox fans like someone who listens to the game in the car on a crackly AM radio even when they were in last place or someone who remembers Oil Can Boyd and knows who Yaz is. Now when you go to a game, a good many of the "fans" are front runners with little loyalty to the team or the brand and no sense of the team's history. This is one of the drawbacks of success. Everyone wants in.

This is what it is like to be a Bruce Springsteen fan these days. Before he put out the Born In the USA album back in the 1980's, which had a pile of top 40 hits, Bruce already had a lot of dedicated fans, but he wasn't a household name. Perhaps it is conceit, but I have a feeling that those of us who were fans, before he was "Dancing in the Dark" on MTV, are the real fans. When we listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town or Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, the entire albums, we listened to the lyrics. We memorized them and thought about their meaning. He wasn't a brand, an icon or even an image back then. He was just a guy from Jersey who could write a song. He was originally signed to Columbia Records back in 1972 because they were looking for a new Bob Dylan. Singer/song writers were in. I still purport that Dylan is a better song writer, but Springsteen is definitely more accessible. Where Dylan is profound, Springsteen hits you in the gut.

Springsteen has become so big now that the icon overshadows the music. Something beautiful is getting lost. Few seem to be listening to what he is actually saying.

The song "Born to Run" is not about running. So if you are watching a promo for a marathon and this song comes on ... if you are watching a political rally where a candidate announces that they are "Born to Run" with the "last chance power drive" wailing in the background .... clearly ... they don't understand the song. The running in this song is running away from something, a bad situation, a trap ... not for office or exercise. I grew up in a Northeast mill town and the only thing that I ever wanted was to get out, to get away, to run away. The image I get when I hear this song is someone driving to work at one of those dehumanizing mills and just getting on the highway instead. When I tune into the Boston Marathon on Monday, if I hear "Born to Run" even once, I am turning it off.

"Glory Days" is not a baseball song. One verse of this song mentions a baseball player. The second verse is about an old girlfriend and the third is about drinking through your sorrows. This is not a happy song. It is about living in the past, about sitting around drinking and talking about old times instead of living for now. Yet, when NPR has a special to talk about baseball, what song do they play?  Not "Centerfield" by John Fogerty. No, that would make sense, that song is about baseball. Not a slew of other great songs by guys that actually make an effort to write baseball songs like Dan Bern ("This Side of the White Line," "Come Back Andy Pettitte,"  "Ballpark" or "When My Buckner Moment Comes") or Chuck Brodsky ("Bonehead Merkle," "Moe Berg: The Song," "Ballad of Eddie Klepp" or "Lefty"). They play the icon whether it is relevant or not.

"Born in the USA" is not a patriotic song and yet, at Independence Day celebrations, they play it and it just makes me shake my head. Clearly they haven't listened to it. It is full of bitterness and anger about a guy that was screwed over by his government. He is disaffected, alienated and shell-shocked.
Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there he's all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go
Not patriotism. The irony that they are playing a protest song mistaking it as patriotism isn't lost on me. Patriotic events are all about blind nationalism so why would they actually listen to the lyrics of the song? It says "USA" in it.  That's enough, right?  Are they only listening to the driving anthemic chorus and not the verses? This song was supposed to be on his earlier album, Nebraska, but was supposed to be slower and acoustic. You wonder if it would have been as well received and misinterpreted as much.

Considering how little people listen to lyrics, it is no wonder what passes as songs. Perhaps I should just be grateful that they are playing Bruce at all.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Max's Eulogy

A few years ago, my brother-in-law Kevin rushed into his burning home to save his dog Echo. Both of them survived the incident with the only damage being some burnt paws and/or sneakers and some smoke inhalation. In a similar story of canine related human heroics, my friend Patrick walked onto, then into, a half frozen pond to save his dog Moose who had fallen through the ice. My personal heroic story doesn't involve fire nor ice. Back in 2010, I rushed into the Burlington Emergency Veterinarian armed with only a credit card and saved my dog Max. It was one of those awful experiences that you dread as a pet owner. How much money do you spend to save your pet?  If I were a millionaire, I'd spend millionaires to save one of my dogs. Since I am not a millionaire, I have a limit. Like Kevin and Patrick, I'd like to think I'd risk my life, but risking my financial life is different, is it not? We spent an obscene amount of money to save him that day. My crazy yellow lab ate a piece of wire that was stuck in his intestines. They had to cut the wire out the piece of intestine out and reattach them. The first time they did the surgery, it failed. The cost of the surgeries, the cost of his rehab at the vet and then the meds and prescription food we had to feed him the rest of his life, it came out to an amount that I would not like to share. I know too many people that are struggling financially. I'd feel uncomfortable sharing the amount of money I spent on this dog. We had to cancel our trip to Korea and we rolled the balance into a home equity loan when we built an addition on our house.

Max lived another three years so I have no regrets. Everyday he lived he became more cost effective. He made me laugh everyday and I don't think I am exaggerating. The stress relief alone made him a worthwhile companion and investment. Joy is priceless. Every time I lose a pet, I am amazed at how it affects me. The loss is substantial. I look for him by habit. I reach for him in bed, he was like a living pillow. When I get up from my desk, I instinctively step over him. He used to follow me from room to room so he was always under my feet.

When my wife was a preschool teacher, she had to do home visits for kids that were aged birth to three. She would go into people's home and spend quality time with the kids while they were too young for school. Max was a pet in one of these homes. She bonded with him. So when the family needed to give him up, they asked her if she could take him. We had two dogs already so it wasn't that easy to take him in but he bonded with Rex and Cokie just fine. Two people having three dogs is not a very good plan. Dogs should never outnumber the humans in a household. Adding Max to any mix of dogs seemed to have a multiplicative affect because he was always so excitable. He was six at the time.

Like most labs, he was very needy. If there is someone home all day or if you have children, the lab is the perfect dog. Max was all this and then some. He had a thing for carrying things. If you left your shoes around, one of them would disappear on you.  He didn't destroy them, he'd just carried them around. When the snow melted, you would always find one of your slippers under the snow. He also had a thing for puddles. No matter how small the puddle or muddy, a centimeter deep, he'd lay in it. If you let him off leash, expect to hose him down when you got home. He greeted me every time I came home, usually carrying something, sometimes something he just pulled from my recycle bin.

He was my pillow, my doorbell, my greeter, my protector, my anti-depressant, my entertainer, my shadow, my travel companion and friend. It will be a while before anything is the same. There is a huge hole to fill.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fear of Talking

I am not the most social person. I have a tendency to sneak out of parties when no one is looking. I struggle with what to say particularly if I am sober and surrounded by people I don't know. Nowadays, it is worse than ever.  There are so many words I can't say anymore. I have to scan the room to figure out which ones are off limits. My vocabulary depends largely on the race, age and gender of the crowd. The C word is out, N word is out, F word is out. Not that I want to use these words, but hey, I'd like the option of choosing my own words. I've been doing so since I was a child and I am good at it. And if I wanted to talk about these words, perhaps about their histories or if I quoted someone that actually used these words ... no, not even that is allowed. I used to enjoy my freedom of speech.

I can't use the R word, especially if there are any mentally challenge people around. Context doesn't matter. If I were to say to someone that "the growth of the economy has been retarded by foreign imports" ... I am fairly certain I would get dirty looks. I said the R word and that's all that matters. I must be the scum of the Earth.

I have a friend that hates the word "sucks" which really sucks for me because I love this word. Before I talk, I have to make sure she is not around, because I don't want to deal with that. Believe me, I am so afraid to say the wrong word, I feel like I need to bring a checklist with me when I leave the house. I'd call "sucks" the S word, but I hear that there already is an S word and that it is really stupid.

Now I just learned that I cannot say the word "bossy."  It is banned. Specifically, you can't call little girls the B word. Not that B word! Okay, I guess we can't say either of them to little girls. What if I want to read Bossy Pants to a little girl? Okay, not a good idea either. I don't think I have ever called a little girl bossy, but I hear it is common in school. Girls get called "bossy" when they are being assertive. Boys get called "aggressive" or "bullies," apparently that is okay. No need to ban those.

The fear is that we are squashing assertiveness in girls, while boys have a lot of other venues to promote assertiveness. Our double standards hold girls down. Promoting assertiveness in girls is a good goal. I have no issues with that. I am not sure banning the word "bossy" will do much for this. The attitude needs to change, not our vocabularies. People will just use another word. If banning the word changes the attitude that girls shouldn't be assertive, I'm all for it but I seriously doubt if it will do that. All banning words does is shut down discourse. It is better to say nothing at all for fear of social isolation. A person can't be shunned for saying nothing, right?

For one, the behavior that produces the "bossy" comments is not assertiveness. The best bosses I have had (both male and female) were not bossy but were assertive. They were diplomatic. Bossiness is not good behavior. Assertiveness yes, bossiness no. So if people are using the word "bossy" when a girl is being assertive that is bad. So don't ban the word, just use a more positive word to promote assertiveness. But if a little girl is being bossy, (aka a jerk, aggressive or a bully) but all means use it.  Use these other words as well. If you ban "bossy" what are you going to say to her instead? Just let her be bossy. If a boy does this behavior, we have a ton of words to stop him. Apparently, we have one for girls. Shouldn't we be more concerned that people aren't treating them the same. Instead of banning a word, shouldn't we be promoting equal treatment. Shouldn't we be calling boys "bossy" when they are being bossy and call girls "aggressive" when they are being aggressive?

Another approach would be to turn it around to something positive. When I was a kid being called a "nerd" or "geek" wasn't a compliment. You were considered a weirdo that couldn't get dates and probably read a lot of science fiction. You were on A.V. Club, the Chess club and played Dungeons and Dragons. After years of seeing "nerds" and "geeks" taking over the world ... suddenly, it is not so bad to be called these words. It has become a badge of honor. Instead of preventing people from using a word ... take it back.  "You are bossy, girl!"

The one good thing that Ban Bossy movement has done is that it has gotten people to talk about the double standards on how we treat boys and girls. Their web site has a lot of good suggestions on promoting assertiveness for girls that have nothing to do with this word. Also, the Girl Scouts have been doing this sort of stuff for years. A lot of them are really awesome. Not sure why banning another word has become a thing. But hey, if it is easier for you take away another word from my vocabulary, I guess I will have to deal with it. Pile it on. I will walk around in a state of complete anxiety fearing the use of the wrong word.  It will be another reason not to reach out to people for random conversations. The more you attempt to homogenize a diverse world, the less we will mix.

I am slowly becoming less upset with other people choosing my words for me. I am starting to feel liberated. With other people choosing my words, I have no responsibility for what I say anymore. That means eventually I will be able to say anything and I am not to blame, the crowd is.