Sunday, August 28, 2016

Colin Kaepernick Exercises Freedom of Speech; "Patriots" Livid

I've seen many versions of this ignorant crap floating around since the 49ers quarterback sat out the national anthem the other night. Many of them have said something to the effect of, "Our military didn't fight and die so you can disrespect the flag." 
Yes, they did.
Because in this country, we are guaranteed the freedom of our speech, the freedom to dissent, and the freedom to seek redress of grievances. And the freedom of speech, in particular, is a guarantee to speech that is NOT popular, NOT the norm, and NOT what the majority of people think. Because you don't have to protect popular speech, normal speech, or the speech of the majority. That speech is protected by its bulk.
I've read others saying, "there oughta be a law..." It would be unconstitutional. And, before the case was decided by the Supreme Court, it would be a law that demanded to be violated. Just like the Jim Crow laws in the south that led to the Civil Rights movement. The prime defense in the Nuremberg Trials at the end of World War II, when the surviving Nazi bigwigs were put on trial for their war crimes, was, "I was just following orders." It didn't work. It never works. We are each responsible for ourselves. You abide by an immoral law, you are an immoral person. Such a law would never stand.
I admire Colin Kaepernick. He took a stand, or a seat as it were, based on his clearly articulated grievances with our country. I think he is right in his named grievances. Clearly, there are major issues for people of color in the United States of America. I also admire that he, apparently, made the decision to take the heat that will be heaped upon him now. There is no more draconian institution in America than the National Football League. Since Kaepernick has been a marginal player, at best, since the year he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he will likely be fined, may be suspended, and I doubt anyone in the league would criticize the 49ers if they released him. But, remembering the parallels again, John Lewis was beaten half to death, Martin Luther King was murdered, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were murdered, James Meredith was shot, Medgar Evers was murdered, and on and on and on, for standing up for what they believed. America may guaranteed the freedom of speech, but there is no guarantee that you won't be killed for it, either literally of figuratively, by the most un-American of Americans. 
But no matter how loudly the popular speech today may condemn Colin Kaepernick for sitting, this country was built precisely on the principle that he, indeed, could do it. And I'm grateful to him, and every other American, who has taken this country at its words. Those in the Constitution. Not the words of Fox "News" or Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump. But the words, largely written by James Madison, perfected by the Constitutional Convention, ratified by the original states, and accepted by every state that has joined the Union since. They are the only words that matter. And Colin Kaepernick was genuinely American and patriotic in trusting and relying on them.
Whether you like it or not. Especially if you don't like it.

Monday, July 04, 2016

July 4, 1976

Forty years ago today, I was in Washington, D.C. As a part of the Marshall County High School Band, I marched in the National Bicentennial Parade in our nation's capital. I don't know how the Marching Marshalls were selected as Kentucky's entrant. I don't know who it was that went to George Milam, the band's director, and explained that the minister at First United Methodist Church had been reassigned to Jackson, Tennessee, but he had this kid who had just finished ninth grade and played the tuba, and could the kid possibly go on the trip anyway? I don't have any idea why Mr. Milam agreed to that request, except that he was just a terrific guy. He had decided that for this once in a lifetime opportunity, he would invite his just-graduated seniors to make the trip, and go ahead and bring up the just-finished ninth graders, too, to make the band as big as possible.
The immediate problem was that Dad and Mom and the sibs were moving a couple of weeks before the trip, and there would be no way for me to get to practice in Draffenville, Kentucky, from Jackson, TN. Enter my grandparents. Granddaddy was in his final appointment before retirement at Murray First UMC. They agreed to put me up and put up with me, and tasked my uncle, Bill, a Murray State student at the time, with transporting the 15 year old nephew back and forth for rehearsals. I can only imagine how thrilled he was with that assignment.
Logistics in place, rehearsals completed, we boarded the buses for the longest, farthest away from home trip I'd ever been on. Mr. Milam was an educator, so he wasn't interested in the easy way out of just going up for the parade on July 4, and returning home as quickly as possible. He planned an extravaganza that gave us six days in Washington after the parade.
The parade was incredible. It was eight miles. It was July. It was Washington. It was 100% wool uniforms. I'm not sure to this day how I survived. Hot and itchy is not my best thing. We got it done. And that night, after the parade and showers, we went to the National Mall for the show. Johnny Cash sang, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller spoke, and there followed the greatest fireworks display that to this day I have ever seen. All of this at the base of the Washington Monument.
After that, in the following days, we saw the Lincoln Memorial. We visited the United States Capitol. We went to the White House. We saw the prototype of the Lunar Module that Neil Armstrong had piloted to the surface of the moon at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. We saw the Supreme Court building. One of the last stops we made before setting out for home was the National Archives, the home of our nation's most significant documents.
The United States' Constitution was there, each page of it, the size of a newspaper page in my recollection, in a separate case, and there were several of them. We could walk right up to them and read everything it said. And displayed above, in its own case, one that rose from a vault that reached deep into the ground in case of nuclear attack, built during the Red Scare of the 1950s by the Mosler Safe Company of Ohio, was The Declaration of Independence.
I had already, on that trip, found the Lincoln Memorial to be a sacred space. I cannot begin to put into words the experience of standing before the great sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln in that magnificent, open hall, on that first trip, or on another, just a few years ago. I had that same sense as I stood before The Declaration of Independence. While the Declaration largely fell by the wayside, especially after the 1787 writing of the Constitution, its reputation and prominence began to rebound as the nation approached the 50th anniversary in 1826. The coincidence of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the last three living signers of the Declaration on July 4, 1826, that exact 50th anniversary (Charles Carroll of Maryland lived until 1832, when he died at the age of 95), contributed to its return to prominence. But it was Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address's references to it, that made the Declaration once more a living, breathing document. Lincoln recalled the breathtaking aspirations, the dreams of all humanity, and the determination to pursue them, that mark the writing committee's work as an eternal expression of all that we believe that we can become. (The committee was comprised of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York. Adams proposed that Jefferson write a first draft, and when it was done, Adams and Franklin acted as editors before the committee presented it to the Continental Congress)
That trip was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It fed a love for American history and our American institutions that lives in me to this day, and will continue throughout my life. It made many of those things that I had already read about real. I'll forever be indebted to whomever it was that asked George Milam to include me. I assumed for many years that it was one or both of my parents that asked for that kindness, but they both insisted again, just this afternoon, that it was not them.
I wish every American could make that trip, and especially those who are filled with such contempt for Washington, our government and its institutions, and the dreams and expectations that the Declaration describes. For as far as I am concerned, contempt for those dreams and expectations is simply contempt for Americans, as we are, truly, those who consider Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness to be Unalienable Rights for All.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali

When people think of Muhammad Ali, I hope the boxing comes to mind second. I agree completely that he was The Greatest, the best boxer who ever lived. But I hope his courage is what people will remember first.
He was brave enough to stand up against the Viet Nam war in 1967. He refused to be inducted. He refused to run away to Canada. He was ready to go to jail. He lost his title. He lost his livelihood. He lost three years that would have been, as good as he was before and after, his best years as an athlete. 
He was reviled. He was hated, passionately. White people, and many black people, had no use for him, whatsoever. And he knew that was going to happen. He took it all on. He did it before Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy broke with President Johnson over Viet Nam. He did it three weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his sermon "Beyond Vietnam" at the Riverside Church in New York City. (Dr. King would be murdered one year to the day from the moment of that sermon.)
He had been a friend of Malcolm X, before they had a falling out. He was a friend of Dr. King, as the FBI's wiretaps of Dr. King documented. He was acquainted with Jacqueline Kennedy, and certainly aware of Robert Kennedy's assassination. He knew what the cost could be, of standing up for what he believed. 
He did it anyway. 
He told the truth, with courage. He would not go to kill Vietnamese people, people, he declared, who had never called him that N word. Black people in America in 1967 had seen the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act enacted into law, but they had not seen them enforced throughout the nation. They certainly had not seen the hearts and minds of all Americans changed. The black people of Ali's generation had seen fathers and uncles and friends come back from fighting for America in World War II, and as soon as they got home, be reminded that they were not equal, and they certainly were not genuinely free by any definition. 
He stood up. With courage. Knowing the consequences.  
And he paid the price. He lost. He lost a lot.   
But then he won. 
The Supreme Court reversed his conviction. He fought again. He became the champion again. And he became beloved. And did it all without the loss of his integrity. Because of his courage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

General Stupidity

There seems to be a lot of fretting about the united methodist general conference today. I haven't followed it, and hadn't intended to comment, as life is far too pleasant since having escaped that organization several years ago. I have one friend inside the dragon, and a few acquaintances of one distant level or another. And after some significant amount of puzzlement/despair/frustration/anger on their parts, well, here are my thoughts.
It is mystifying to me that people of good will are still shocked when conservatives act like conservatives. That club that claims to be a church was long ago taken over by operatives of an extreme right-wing crew that had already succeeded in comandeering most of the rest of America's religious clubs. I have become very grateful to Bishop Dick and his lackies for teaching this to me. After all, why should I have wasted any more of my life? There is no such thing as church. There is simply a club that rewards those who play along with the conservatives, and massacres those who don't.  Never having been much of an ass-kisser, I'm better off out.
The leaders of the club pretend to be things they are not. For instance, many of them continue to insist that a "church" is not obliged to worry about what is wrong and what is right. They simply need to plot a course that will allow them to keep their members, and, more importantly, their members' money. Which is interesting, because the ones who keep threatening to leave if they don't get their way are the conservatives. Think Texas republicans' constantly stated desire to secede. They aren't going anywhere. They are just playing games. Now, if there were any such thing as a church, you would think that distinguishing right and wrong and standing with right might be fairly important to it. The methodist church just wants to talk about "making disciples," and address the continual loss of members and money over the last 40 years. 
When you pretend to be a church, and you won't stand for what is right and against what is wrong, you won't draw in new people. You'll just sit around watching the angry old conservative assholes slowly die off.
While your club dies, too.
I've been to enough funerals. 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Remembering Mr. Justice Scalia

So somebody that matters at George Mason University decided it would be a good idea to name their law school for the late, unlamented Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia. Now, without delving at this point into whether or not that's a good idea (seems to me to be kind of like naming a day care after a child molester; like naming a bank after John Dillinger; like naming a zoo after the dick dentist who shot Cecil the Lion; like naming a synagogue after...well, let's not go there, even with get the point), it seems that no one considered the inevitable acronym of said school. 
That acronym business is serious. My sister-in-law attended the Southern Baptist Educational Center, and lived to tell about it. Jim Dickinson once told of how he'd been held hostage by a religious cult. He spent a semester at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, a Southern Baptist school, but I digress. SBEC has been a part of the Memphis community for generations. When, however, First Assembly of God started their school, they weren't about to acronym Jesus' little sports warriors FAGs. So First Assembly of God named their school First Assembly Christian School. FACS as a name wouldn't lead all the precious little Johnnys and Susies into sin. Or something.
When they realized that the shortening of the Antonin Scalia School of Law would be ASSOL, they sought another approach. It seems they then settled on ASSLaw, until somebody sobered up and it dawned on them that they didn't like that any better. 

  Now, responsible members of the George Mason community (the faculty, rather than the boneheads with the money that sit as trustees who brought up this nonsense in the first place) have concluded that "the values that Scalia affirmed from the bench do not reflect the values of our campus community," and want the whole idea to swim with the fishes (Mafia reference in honor of Justice Scalia's Italian heritage). While I fully understand their concern, I hope they let the naming stand. As long as they leave the original acronym in place. For what could be a better summation of Mr. Justice Scalia than ASSOL being associated with his name for eternity!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Changing Demographics

When it comes to television viewers, the group that advertisers want is males, 18-34 years old. Advertisers seem to feel that this group has some money, is not yet locked into their patterns of living, and can be influenced by the right celebrity or sales pitch. There are exceptions to this rule. Some report that reality show advertisers are after the 18-34 year old females. I was part of the main desired group, but I left it a long, long time ago.
The next sought after group is males, 18-54 years old. I'm not really sure what the extra 20 years is for here. Maybe they extended the demographic when Viagra and Cialis became available and there was money to be made, but not typically among the 18-34 year olds. Any way, later this week, I shall depart the land of desired demographic, extended version.
My first thought was to say that I'm becoming a speed limit, but, like TV's new response to me, my speed limit analogy is out of date. We've gone back to 70 on the interstates, and I'm not quite there yet. So let's stick with the television consideration. I understand why the advertisers consider me a lost cause. I let go of my last vehicle only when it was pronounced dead after 270,000 plus miles. I buy tennis shoes that feel good for $15 at Pay Less. I've never been in a Joseph A. Bank, even when they are offering buy 1, get 3 free. I wear old blue jeans and t shirts, preferably with no logo. I won't eat at Sonic, as it is pretty clear to me from their ads that eating at Sonic makes a person really, really stupid. I have never seen even one episode of American Idol or Survivor. I am aware that they exist; I just have no interest whatsoever. I haven't seen Star Wars, the new James Bond movie or Matt Damon's adventure on Mars, and this isn't because I've been unemployed since early October. I have no interest in paying more than $10 for a movie ticket, and I don't like the way people act, usually with their phones, at the movies. I have used the same personal care products for longer than I can remember.
I read books. History books. Big, heavy, involved history books. Because there is just nothing more fascinating than where we come from, and what that past suggests about where we are going. And Sherlock Holmes. The formality of Victorian England seems more attractive with each year that goes by. I don't want to live there. It's just nice to visit periodically. My grandparents all died between 1978 and 1991. I find myself thinking of them more often and missing them more. But I have a seven year old granddaughter who keeps me busy and delighted. My grandfather would have utterly adored her.
In short, if that's possible at this point, I have pieced together a happy and fairly set approach to life. And, for the most part, it is very enjoyable to me. So I don't really care which shoe the new number one draft pick is endorsing, or which car the last newly-retired future Hall of Famer is driving. I guess the tv advertisers know what they are doing when they set their desired demographic boundaries.
And I don't mind, even a little bit, riding right out of that crowd.
Happy Trails, from an Old Cowhand!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mr. Williams

He was a little guy with a news stand outside a comedy club in San Francisco. One of those people you immediately recognize as not terrifically educated, but extremely wise. He confronted the rockstar popular young comedian, Robin Williams, as he went in to do a show that would be taped for broadcast on HBO. As he tried to sell Mr. Williams a paper, he began commenting on his appearance. There were solicitous comments about his health and spirit. He advised, "Joke them if they can't take a fuck," before sending him in for his performance with the caution, "You take care of yourself, Mr. Williams."
Robin Williams was analyzed, diagnosed and prescribed, powerfully, by the little news stand guy. Who was played by Robin Williams.
That HBO special was the first time I ever saw Robin Williams in his free and natural habitat. I couldn't look away. I also couldn't stop hurting, both sides aching from the constant, deep laughter that rolled on, unabated, for the 90 minute special.
I reacted to Robin Williams that way every time I witnessed the spectacle of his performance of standup comedy.
I often found myself reacting to him that way on screen. Except when he tore my heart out.  Sometimes the humor and the pathos fell so hard on one anothers' heels that it was hard to recognize when and where one had stopped and the other began.  Just like life.
I knew he struggled with life.  He had several stops in rehab to deal with multiple issues.  Hell, he partied with Belushi and all of his contemporaries in the 70's California comedy explosion.  Just like I thought I wanted to.  He talked with David Letterman after the fact several times, each one, proclaiming that he was clean and doing better.  The truth may have been that he was attempting to self-medicate for the hurt and darkness he carried.
Does comedy attract people trying to deal with themselves by baring all and making light of it, or does comedy take people into those places? I don't have any idea, but it seems to happen over and over and over again.  I haven't done any research, but I bet that as many comedians have died at their own hand, of overdose or otherwise, as rock musicians. Ah, the glamor!
But let's be honest here for a moment.  Haven't we all thought at one moment or another about not being here?  I'm not talking about sitting down at the table with a gun or anything like that. But haven't we imagined what it would be like not to be in the circumstances of the moment?  Fortunately, most of us can still recognize a reason somewhere to go on.
Either that, or we're too afraid of how we might wind up if the attempt went awry.
So Monday, he died. The funniest man I ever saw. They said he had a belt around his neck. They said he had money trouble.  They said he had fallen off the wagon again, although his wife said no.  She said he had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson's, leaving him with the prospect of losing control of his body and his speech, both so instrumental to his art. We have to know all that stuff.  All that stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy of a supremely gifted man finding himself with no hope left whatsoever.
He knew, all those years ago on the HBO special, that he needed someone to tell him, "You take care of yourself, Mr. Williams." For whatever reason, he couldn't hear that voice anymore on Sunday night.
It is hard for me to imagine that that face and voice, so prominent in my life for the last almost 40 years, won't be back in the next movie or tv appearance or comedy special, but I'm just a fan. There are three people for whom he was Dad, and another for whom he was husband, and I can't begin to imagine their loss and hurt.
It is all just so heartbreaking. And there's nothing funny about it.