24 June, 2016

You say you want a revolution

 We are a puny and fickle folk. Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Modern folk like acronyms. They're a kind mnemonic, except that instead helping someone to remember more, they make the memory flaccid. Grammar purists rail against texting shorthand, but linguistic tidbits like LOL are the natural outcropping of an language that grows organically by assimilating bits and pieces of other languages. Language is itself a reduction -- an attempt to precisely describe internal observations and experiences to an outside audience -- even if the only audience is the self. 
The problem comes when this natural tendency to reduce the intellect and the imagination to simple utterances expands to attempting to reduce complex sociopolitical concepts into soundbites and slogans. George Orwell illuminated this phenomena quite clearly in 1984. Unfortunately, no modern political season would be quite the cluster fuck it is without jingoism to propel the masses:

This political season, like every political season, is developing with an operatic flair. In 2008 it was marriage equality and war that drove the bases of the two major American political parties to spin narratives and drive people to the polls. This political season, we're worrying about which public restroom people use -- which is being used to fuel a fascist culture war masking itself as a wanna be religious crusade*. 
The other tent poll spin doctors on both sides of the isle are using to muster and manipulate the voting public is still war. Of course, the war has come home -- as war always does, one way or another. 

The Orlando massacre was just the latest in what a long string of horrific acts that have given both gun toters and gun moaners plenty of ammunition. Our own burgeoning Il Duce, Donald "The Don" Trump**, in wake of more facts about the Orlando shooting coming out that contradict his hip-shot twit tweet about being right on terrorism, declared that if everyone at Pulse had been carrying a gun, the shooting wouldn't have happened.*** 

Violence is the symptom of another sickness. Sometimes it erupts and makes the international news cycle. Sometimes it slides in and out of memeworld, like the San Diego cheerleader who helped her boyfriend kill George Lowery.  A lot of it is lost in the local police blotters and crime statistics.

People who have signed on for Trump and who are shuffling in line behind Hillary each have a vision for the country and they're selling their visions to an American public that is soul tired and looking to blame anyone or anything they can reach out and touch. For the Trumpites, Mexicans, Liberals, the LGBTQIA Community, and "terrorists"^ are to blame. For the Hillarians, the jingoism has been honed down to a single hashtag:


An interesting thing is happening, though, as this election year rolls on. Instead of creating new jingoisms and slogans, both the Democratic and the Republican Party are using pretty much the same language to move their armies into action. The rhetoric on both sides is steeped in nostalgia and historical inaccuracy. If there is a difference, it is that Trumpites believe to core. Hillarians have embraced the very cynicism that many on the left have accused the republicans of for years. They want the status quo -- which, in this case, is the very same Neoliberal economic policy that has destroyed South America, is ripping apart the European Union, and will eventually decimate what's left of the Democratic impulse in American culture. Trumpites want their America to be pure, unfettered, and held unaccountable for any of backlash caused by xenophobia, nationalism, warmongering, and greed -- all of which are avenues of violence.

Each sides claims it wants a revolution. But the options they are giving us are not worlds I want my grandchildren to inherit.

If there is a revolution worth having, it is a revolution that rejects violence, rejects, greed, rejects warmongering, and rejects petty hatred based on culture, on sexual orientation, or even on language.

On the whole, however, revolution is almost a complete waste of time. Nearly every battle engaged in ends in loss. You see people's strong words shrink to cowardice actions. If you hold your ideals close, you'll risk losing everything on a long shot gamble that history will vindicate your losses. But losses are never vindicated. They are only counted or ignored.

However, revolution is not a total waste of time for the simple fact that a lot of people have to lose in order for the right people to come along and win it for everyone.
*For those of your unfamiliar with the Aryan Paragraph, you may want to read up on it.Here's a bit pulled from the Wikipedia Page on the Confessing Church -- or the German Lutheran Church that defied Hitler:
On 13 November 1933 a rally of German Christians was held at the Berlin Sportpalast, where — before a packed hall — banners proclaimed the unity of National Socialism and Christianity, interspersed with the omnipresent swastikas. A series of speakers[29] addressed the crowd's pro-Nazi sentiments with ideas such as:
  • the removal of all pastors unsympathetic with National Socialism
  • the expulsion of members of Jewish descent, who might be arrogated to a separate church
  • the implementation of the Aryan Paragraph church-wide
  • the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible
  • the removal of "non-German" elements from religious services
  • the adoption of a more "heroic" and "positive" interpretation of Jesus, who in pro-Aryan fashion should be portrayed to be battling mightily against corrupt Jewish influences.[30]
** For those who might think that I, like Dear Bernie, am declaring my allegiance to Hillary Clinton, nothing is further from the truth. The Don could very well be our first unfettered fascist leader if he's elected. Mrs. Clinton is no salve to solve the problems that have led to the resurgence of far right extremism in America. She is a product of the very same system. That she is simply an uninspired Neoliberal (read: disaster capitalist) rather than someone who can inspire and feed every violent human impulse, wrap it in nostalgia and patriotism, and call it America.
*** Because guns, booze, and sexual energy are really very good together.  Sounds just like a Dick Cheney hunting vacation.
^As defined by whatever segment of the population is more poplar to hate at any given moment.
If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
You can also leave a tip if you'd like. Thanks for reading!

14 June, 2016

America in retrograde: of Ali and the Orlando Massacre

Our currency is flesh and bone. - Pink Floyd, Dogs of War

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even. -- Muhammad Ali

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.”-- Edward Gibbon, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire

Burial of the Dead after Wounded Knee, 1890, in South Dakota
One of the wonders of this, our technological age, is that a person doesn't even have to be six feet under before the armchair historians will offer their pronouncements.* Sitting at the neighborhood watering hole I frequent and talking to another one of the regulars, I could barely contain my frustration. Muhammad Ali was dead, his funeral -- which the city of Louisville treated like his last great title fight -- was planned, and local gas stations took the opportunity to raise the price just in time for the influx of people coming into River City to show The Champ their respects. The political and cultural opportunists on all sides had already dug into their positions to lay claim to the dead boxer's voice, legacy, and life.  

Personally, I can think of no worse a fate for a man who spent his life making sure his voice was
clearly understood in spite of his industry's and the media's attempts to handle him.  But that wasn't my frustration, really. While I recognize Ali as a talented boxer and a cultural icon, I don't have the same sort of personal connection that many who are Louisville natives have.

My frustration? Racism masking itself as Patriotic indignation. For every person calling Ali a hero, for every person who signed that impromptu, well-intended, and, I can only assume, ill-thought out petition to replace the University of Louisville's memorial to the Confederate Dead** and erect a Muhammad Ali statue (that I can only assume would resemble slightly the statue of Rocky Balboa*** that still stands in Philadelphia) in it's place, there are, of course, all the angry old (white) guys who insist on calling him a draft dodger and a bigot.

I tried to point out that when Ali refused to present himself for the draft during the Vietnam War, that was he eventually stripped of his title and served four years in prison. His reasons for refusing were moral and ethical ones, and were based on figures that were accurate. There were a large number of blacks serving as canon fodder in the war effort, just as there were a predominately large number of poor people -- black, white, brown, what-have-you -- who were cannon fodder in a misdirected war against global communism.  The regular I was talking to -- someone I usually talk about all the normal things people talk about in bars^ -- pointed out that Ali's tour probably would have not been in the jungle.

"They'd have taken his picture. He'd box a few matches, get his picture taken, and probably would have been stationed in Germany."

"So he would have been a PR tool,"


 "Which probably would have been used to recruit more young black men to serve in far, more dangerous details in a war he was morally and ethically opposed to."

The conversation eventually moved on to how the Roman empire was toppled by sex (his view) and how Democracy, "like Communism, is a good idea on paper." But I'll come back to this conversation at a later date for another blog post.

I will comment on those who called him a bigot, thought. Ali joined the Nation of Islam -- a Black Nationalist religious organization, not to be confused with actual Islam. I don't know if that made him a bigot. The Nation did not, like the KKK (to which some people try and compare it) string people up for sport and take pictures of their burned, eviscerated, raped, and sodomized corpses the way hunters pose with their kills. The Nation probably DID have Malcolm X killed. But he actually did something -- he spoke what he saw as an evolving truth... much in same way Ali did through the course of his life. I don't know if he was a bigot. I don't believe, like some of the more granola loving pundits do, that he "transcended race." To suggest that entirely co-opts his struggles, his mistakes, and his triumphs into a weak and untenable ideological standard -- and in doing so, erases it. Bigotry is as much a response to a situation as it is a learned habit. I really hate idiots. So there. I guess I might be a bigot, too.

In the realm of death manipulated for by political and cultural pundits, the 50 deaths at Pulse in Orlando over the weekend has once again gotten the NRA crowd and those who want to see fewer guns on the street marshaling their forces and organizing full on meme wars for the hearts, minds, and digital device memories of the American people.

The NRA has gotten pretty good at shifting the conversation away from the fact that guns that shoot more bullets faster do, in fact, tend to result in higher casualties. This is the truth of war, and any kid who grew up playing Risk^^ knows that.  There is a faction of the Democratic Party, and liberals^^^ in general, that have gotten pretty good at shifting the conversation away from the fact that the 2nd Amendment can be interpreted a couple different ways depending whether you're a strict constructionist or not, while avoiding the central problem of having the government monitor or limit access to what are arguably unnecessary weapons^^^ -- that such a system would leave all the really dangerous guns in the hands of the people who have racked up more dead bodies than a Death Race 2000 reboot*:

the United States Government.

People are understandably outraged. We should always be outraged when violence rips apart people's lives.  What we need to be careful of, however, is falling back on simple solutions for what are complex issues. Everyone having a gun all the time is not a solution. No one having any is not one either.

Violence is a part of human nature. The earliest examples of law was meant to restrict and penalize this impulse. Law -- new laws, old laws -- will only do so much, and I am unconvinced that a change in law will bring forth the necessary change in our cultural consciousness.  Denying that we have the capacity for violence by claiming we have evolved because we have cell phones and electric cars and don't have to eat meat if we don't want to is delusional. Denying that we will never cease being violent creatures driven by our most basic needs and therefore need a tighter yoke to keep us in line is where totalitarianism finds root and grows, using whatever ism happens to be in vogue at the time.

How we respond to this violence will determine how future violence plays out -- because we are far from that utopian dream of a peaceful world. Besides the fact that humans are violent by nature -- or we still wouldn't be here -- the other fact at play is that as long as violence pays out in money and in power, we will never come to terms with our violent nature.

As it's an election year, of course all politicians of note are laying claim to the narrative being spun around the death of 50 people who only wanted to have a good time in a place they felt safe enough to be themselves. Ever the astute showman and salesman, Generalissimo Trump had to step his fat foot in it early:

Of course, the other megalomaniac got hers in, too, now that she conveniently supports marriage equity.

As I write, they are still identifying the dead. Their families are being notified. The carnage is far from cleaned up, although the larger narrative, with all of it's plot twists and Choose-Your-Own* Moral of the story is being polished to a shit shine that might even inspire Gov. Matt Bevin like plain old chihuahua shit apparently does.

And even as public officials and families work to identify the victims of this massacre, their deaths are being used by both sides to scare their armies into one battle or another.  Flags are at half mast again. We are mourning our fallen brothers and sisters in live CNN time... until the next tragedy.

At some point we will realize our entire lives are being filled with death, with violence, with fear. At some point we will decide to move beyond all of this and advance. At some point we will let our dead be dead.

Or, the tyrants will take over. And then it won't matter because we'll be too tired, too exhausted, too demoralized to notice that there aren't any flags anymore, and that the number of dead is too high to be accurately counted.
*Armchair Historians: those who, based solely on their life experience, act as if they understand all of human history. I suppose Google (or Bing) helps, too.
** See here, on UofL's own page about it. As a student of history, I think it's important to remember all of it. All I seem to hear from the apologists for leaving this statue where is, however, are cries and denouncements that liberals are trying to erase history -- usually spoken within the same two or three breaths that compare indentured servitude to chattel slavery, followed by the statement that African tribes often raided and sold neighboring and enemy tribes to sell them into slavery -- while conveniently letting the white slaver traders and the American economic system that depended on slave labor off the hook. After all, they were just trying to earn a living... and it wasn't ILLEGAL... right? Were American History taught as it actually happened, these apologists would not be so fired up about not revising it. The truth is they want the sanitized version we were taught to be the story -- not the blood, the bones, and the crimes against humanity, upon which all civilizations are built.
*** Proof that movie studios need to pay more for garbage pick up, and Philadelphia needs a better relationship with the Teamsters.
^ Sports, Politics, and the Downfall of Western Civilization. Not always in that order. 
^^For those who were born after the technological age: Risk was a kick ass board game in which you learned world domination.
^^^ Clintonian "New Democrats", or Republican Lite. Neoliberal (Friedman economics) sensibilities spiced up with JFK, MLK, and Gandhi quotes. Think of it as grand larceny, but they say please and thank you. And SMILE, BITCH, SMILE.
*With any luck, this won't happen. But then again... Amazon Prime needs a new show.
** There used to be a series of what would now be called YA books called "Choose Your Own Adventure." You read up to a plot point, and then were given a series of options with corresponding page numbers to turn to.  Sort of like Mad Libs*** for fiction.
*** Ah, forget about it. Google it if you want to know. 

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
You can also leave a tip if you'd like. Thanks for reading!

01 June, 2016

Roar of the leisure class warrior - something towards a draft manifesto (Or a more thought out explanation for my daughter)

What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make. - Ray Kurzweil

In our production-oriented society, being busy, having an occupation, has become one of the main ways, if not the main way, of identifying ourselves. Without an occupation, not just our economic security but our very identity is endangered.  - Henri Nouwen

My kids are in hock to a god they call work
spending their lives out for some other jerk. - Utah Phillips

Lately I've been thinking about the indicators people use to define success.

This topic is not a new one for me, and those of you (if indeed, there are any among you Dear Friends and Readers) who have been reading me for more than a few posts and more than a few blogs have probably picked up on that.  If you're one of those who used to read my American Re:visionary blog* and have followed me down here by the river side, you know good and well that I rejected the specter of traditional success, along with all of it's pomps, circumstances, and traps and dropped it somewhere between Butte, Montana and Boston Massachusetts.

Some men** define their success on their income. Some on the kind of house they live in. Some on their golf swing, or what percentage of -- or how many -- cases of beer it takes before they get shit-faced. I've known men who define their success within the parameters of their level of education, their lack of formal education, the length of their beard, and the size of their gut. I have seen men who I suspect define success based upon how big their truck tires are ***. I've known men who defined their success based on how little they slept.  Fathers sometimes mark their success by their children's general happiness and appearance of "success."+

The problem I find with these measuring sticks of what is and what is not success is that they don't really change, and I have found that success -- like every other aspect of life -- changes.

I have at various times, defined my success by my education; by the number of political figures I have annoyed and offended; by the number of bosses, department chairs, and people in socially constructed positions of authority over me I have pissed off; and by the ability to play the trumpet well.++ I thought I reached a measure of success when I was writing for the local-dining-and-concert-guide-that-shall-not-be-named-here.+++

Time is the only yard stick that matters, and the only currency that has any real value. While it's true that I'm not employed^ at the moment, my time is occupied with those things that matter most to me: my art, my family, my garden. I've never particularly felt the need to maintain regular employment as a condition of deserving dignity.  I agree with the idea that a man needs to DO something. But I question the assertion, often made by people who are terribly concerned that they are doing all the heavy-lifting for humanity^^ that everyone needs to go out and "get a job." I see that sort of noise a lot, generally in regards to anyone panhandling. The long history of vagrancy, anti-vagrancy laws, and people general  ooky-ness about people living in some other reality other than that of a worker bee for the capitalist state aside, I have chosen to reject the yard stick for success that measures me against the number of zeros in my pay check -- or, indeed, if I make a paycheck at all.

Yes, I have to find a way to make a living and meet my obligations to the home I'm making with Amanda (love you!) and to my art. Yes, I do like to have a little cash on hand to buy a cup of coffee, to rent movies, buy books, or go argue politics^^^ at the neighborhood watering hole. But I don't need to make piles of it prove anything. And I don't need the trappings of success as defined by the larger cultural imprint that would have judged me as a failure years ago if I had bothered to listen.

I do have my methods of measuring my success, though.

The first is whether I can sleep soundly at night. Most of the time, I sleep pretty well.

My other measure, at least lately, is whether or not my nosy, rude, and overall obnoxious asshole of a neighbor, Chalkline Larry, spies on me. He spies on us a lot. Just this morning, I caught him watching me as I watered our front yard garden. The expression on his face was one of disgust.

From this, I can only conclude that I am living right.

*Sorry, no link... it's indefinitely archived until such a time when art, science, and religion can somehow figure out a way to reanimate the corpse of the American Dream without it turning into another zombie.
**While many things are true of all people, I am, probably to my detriment, sticking to a group I feel I have some understanding of. It's true that I have met men who claim to understand women; but as far as I can tell, they are either deluded or liars, or both.
***More often than not, I feel sorry for their love partners. Not because size matters -- but the inability to understand proper proportions leads to someone going to sleep unsatisfied.
+It's the rabbit hole. Success is, in the way, often described with the same terminology as pornography,  i.e.,  "I know it when I see it." And generally, in both, someone ends up getting screwed.
++I was a pretty good trumpet player once upon a time, back in high school. I had trouble picking it up after high school, though. 
+++Yes. I hold grudges. It's a failing, but I'm working on it. You can google it. I wrote some pretty good stuff that they didn't, in the long run, deserve.
^ According to the powers-that-be, I am one of the great unwashed masses. But don't worry. I'm sure that Bevin's inhumane policies will somehow lead me to a better billet. These things just take time, I guess.
^^Martyrs All. Without their self-crucifiction, the homeless could use the wood for heat. 
^^^ Or sports. Around here, that pretty much boils down to the same thing.

If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:
Donations are also appreciated, and help keep the critters in kibble and the lights on. Thanks for reading!