Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

Governmenting is hard work. Representing hundreds of thousands of people can’t be easy, what with those unwashed masses demanding ‘accountability’ and ‘doing your job’.  Sometimes, what that job is might slip a representative’s mind.  So, this Valentine’s Day, show you appreciate your U.S. Representative (or closest Republican rep) by sending them a gift.  Here’s a suggestion:

Should be required reading yet isn't.

All Representatives are sworn in, affirming that they “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” but maybe they don’t remember what that entails, or maybe they just haven’t read it.  So get them a copy.  It’s not an expensive gift (only $1.00 on Amazon!), but it’s the thought that counts.  And don’t worry, I’m sure that if someone else decides to also get a copy for them, they have a few hundred staffers who could also use a copy, so don’t worry about duplicates.

Send In The Marines

Look, I have an idea.  Let’s let the military handle policing.

What, that’s a bad idea?  Yes, yes, I know about the Posse Comitatus Act.  I know that “military occupation” isn’t exactly a happy thought.  But hear me out here – this is actually a legitimate idea.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the Army or the National Guard taking over for the police.  I’m talking more about something like the Coast Guard.  A new, separate branch of the military.  It would have an organizational command structure just like any other branch, with ranks and chain of command.  As police forces already have this, I’m not not talking about a huge organizational change at the local level.  What I am  talking about is a unified entity on a national scale.

Recruits would be drawn from every part of the country, assigned to a training base in a group, and trained as a whole.  Initial training would be the same as the military, with less of an emphasis on unit tactics and weaponry.  Recruits would be indoctrinated into the rules of military engagement, which are, quite honestly, more civilian-friendly than what’s being taught to the police currently roaming the streets.  Once the physical aspect of the training was over, there would be a more intensive criminal justice training.  Graduates from this 4-month boot camp would then be assigned to a one-year training cycle with a senior patrol training officer.  Assignments would be nationwide, not likely from the recruit’s hometown.  A large emphasis on community-based policing would be employed, with patrol officers building relationships.

Once the one-year assignment was up, recruits would become full-fledged patrol officers, and begin working their way up the various ranks.  They would be eligible for relocation assignments.  Police stations would become micro-bases, and the chain of command would follow up to the Pentagon level.  Internal investigations would be handled by a Judge Advocate General, a body far-removed from the patrol level and with much more transparency and oversight.

Military-style force (SWAT interdictions) would require authorization and coordination above the local level – the local police chief wouldn’t be able to call up a tank without going up the chain of command.

Look, we operate military and peacekeeping forces in active warzones, where anyone can be a combatant, and we still wind up with less civilian casualties from ground units.  We forge relationships on the ground to help the local populations.  When shit gets real and bullets start flying, we have rules for our soldiers, and when they break those rules, they are punished. We don’t have that for our police.  We don’t have police forces that integrate with the community.  I live in a relatively affluent, largely white area, and I don’t know a single police officer.  The ones I’ve interacted with have made me feel uncomfortable and I was just a possible witness. And I’m about as white as there is.

My point is that our individual police forces have failed many communities, particularly communities of color.  For those communities, the police are already an occupying force, one that abuses them with impunity.  Having the discipline, training, chain of command, transparency, and oversight of a military branch would turn policing into the community defense that it should be.

 

Priorities In Order

It’s safe to say there are some problems facing America right now, and here we are in the midst of a presidential election in a year where there is no incumbent running.  There will be a change in leadership.  This should be a time to reflect on the issues of the day, such as:

  • Despite the economy being stable and upwardly trending over the past eight years, the middle class is still dealing with the same lack of mobility and wage stagnation that it’s been beset with over the past 40 or so years.  The ‘American Dream’, as it were, is more and more just that – a dream – to all but the very well off.
  • Global terrorism is edging ever closer, affecting our allies in more and more instances.  Our attempt to contain the very beast our foreign policy has created over the past handful of decades has failed miserably, and it’s only a matter of time before we bleed for these mistakes again, even as we continue to make them.
  • Racial issues are approaching a new flashpoint, with a new Civil Rights movement emerging that will either be peacefully resolved or result in increasingly violent confrontation.
  • Europe is becoming a disorganized mess, and will require strong economic and political guidance from the strongest of its allies, particularly in the face of Russian expansion and sabre-rattling.

One would think that the sober heads in the Republican Party, who have spent the past 8 years dutifully providing loyal opposition, would be using their convention platform to outline their vision for tackling these issues.

But hey, why bother with that shit when you can devote time to addressing the indiscretions of a president who left office 15 years ago?  I’m sure that other stuff will solve itself.

Waiting For Black Jesus

Waiting For Black Jesus

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
If you haven’t seen this image yet, you’re probably not reading this.

So much to unpack in this image.  So terribly, terribly much.  First off, Jonathan Bachman deserves a Pulitzer for this.  I understand right place, right time, perfect timing on the shutter, but this is an iconic photo.  Iesha Evans stands like a perfect statue of peace, eyes closed against the oncoming wave, arms crossed in front of her as if containing her power.  Her dress is caught ever so lightly by the breeze, giving her an ethereal, almost angelic quality, as if she’s just landed.  The riot officers, (thankfully) slowing, appear to be encountering her aura and repulsed by it.

That’s just the composition.

The reality is that Ms. Evans is about to be dragged down and zip-cuffed by two men more heavily armored than combat soldiers, men both nearly twice her size.  She represents zero threat.  No reasonable onlooker would conclude that she is armed. She is not in any way aggressive.  She is peacefully protesting, but committing the ultimate crime of blocking a thoroughfare. For this, the police deemed greater than military force was necessary.

Putting aside that I’m presented with yet another peaceful civilian being brutalized by a police force unconcerned with “serve and protect” and fattened on years of cheap military surplus, I have a different problem with this image and what it represents.  It’s almost too perfect.  It might actually work.  It might start to change public opinion about how policing is handled.  That’s great, but my question is: why this one?  Why this image? Why this woman?

Because we’re looking for Black Jesus.

These protests arose out of the general impression that minorities, particularly African-Americans, are assumed by the legal system to be guilty until proven innocent, unworthy of justice if they are, subject to summary punishment, that the system is unaccountable when it errs concerning their rights.  I could recite a litany of names here, but it would seem incomplete because there will be another one horrifyingly soon.  The largest issue is that even when the dead black (typically) man has done nothing to warrant roadside execution, the narrative always circles back to assume he somehow deserved it, somehow brought it on himself.  Maybe he was a criminal a decade ago.  Maybe he was rude.  Maybe he had a toy gun.  Maybe he was being suspicious.

In 1956, Rosa Parks was hauled off to jail for not giving up her seat on a bus.  Her’s wasn’t the first case, in fact, there was already a case working through the legal system that would successfully end Montgomery’s bus segregation.  But why were the women involved in that suit not raised up as icons of the Civil Rights movement like Parks was?  The first one to be arrested, Claudette Colvin, well, she was 15 and girl had a mouth on her.  She wouldn’t play well in the media.  She wasn’t a good face for the movement.  She wasn’t the Black Jesus they needed to show the injustice.  Similarly, all of these people who’ve wound up dead after interacting non-violently with police have been somehow less-than-holy.  Michael Brown may have robbed a store.  Freddie Gray was packing a knife.  Sandra Bland may have mouthed off to an officer.  Eric Garner was selling cigarettes.  Alton Sterling had a record.  No qualifiers for Black Jesus there.

Now we have Philando Castille, who, by all accounts, was a model citizen.  Gunned down without hesitation in his car after informing the officer that he was going to produce his permit to carry, Castille seems like the perfect person to hold up and say “this man did everything right.”  He yielded to the officer when pulled over.  He informed the officer that he was legally carrying.  He followed all of the motions, and still wound up bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds.

But, like Jesus, he hung out with a woman who may have been less than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, and if there’s one thing this Christian Nation cannot tolerate, it’s someone who is not white and less than perfect.  So maybe he’s not our Black Jesus after all.

It’s possible that Iesha Evans is the Black Jesus of protesters.  Maybe not.  I’m sure we’ll hear in the coming days how she once got a B on a midterm or said a bad word once, or was in some way less than perfect, justifying her treatment in the scene in which she’s been immortalized.  But maybe we need to stop looking for Black Jesus.  Maybe we need to stop looking for that perfection and understand that we’ve already seen enough to know that there is brutal injustice going on in this nation.  Half of the country lives in fear of the law, lives with a sense that they are not equal under the law, lives with examples that they can be refused justice without repercussions.  Even if this is just a perception problem, it’s a problem.  We need to stop looking for a savior to be crucified before our eyes to start working for salvation.

Could happen

July 21st, 2016.  Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio.

The applause is thunderous.  20,000 Republican delegates, party officials, and other assorted personnel jam the arena, and the moment they’ve been awaiting is finally here.  Party chairman Reince Priebus introduces the nominee, Donald J. Trump.  Tricorn hats with tea bags at the corners flail madly on thousands of heads.  People mime shooting into the air with guns they were not allowed to bring inside. There is a palpable air of hysteria.  The crowd is, to be generous, purely monochromatic.

Trump, “The Donald,” steps to the podium, fighting against a nearly solid wave of sound.  This isn’t an acceptance speech, this is a coronation.  The people here are either fanatics, or are willing to pretend as long as it is politically expedient.  Anything less than full-throated support would be career suicide.  He approaches the podium with the predator lurch of a bear.  He waves, he preens.  He makes gestures and looks to cameras that would revolt most humans.  Most who are not in attendance here tonight, at least.  It takes a full five minutes for the applause and shouts to die to an acceptable level as Trump drinks it in like fine wine.  It is obvious that he savors every minute of it.

Finally, he motions for silence.  The crowd dutifully quiets.  It is time for their leader to speak.

“Thank you, thank you all so much.  I want to thank the great city of Cleveland, a place that understands what a return to greatness is!” (Thunderous applause). “I want to thank my friends at the RNC for this evening, and I want to thank all of you.”

As the applause dies again, something sails through the air and lands at the edge of the stage.  It is a thong.  Trump nods and points at it. “I admire your enthusiasm!” he quips.  Another minute of raucous screaming before he motions for silence.

“This has been a tough campaign, I’m not going to lie.  We fought hard, we duked it out, punched until it hurt our fists.  But we did it.  We’re here, and we’re ready for the title fight!” Applause.

“Every step of the way, people have rallied behind me.  Every step there have been more and more.  My message has spread across this great land, and millions have answered the call.  When I started, I didn’t think anyone was ready to listen, ready to get on board with what I was selling, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s a deal, right?” Wild applause. “But you did, you heard what I was saying and you took that banner.  You took it, and raised it high into the air, and together we marched.  From New Hampshire to South Carolina, Nevada, on to Super Tuesday, and beyond, you continued to gather to my vision for making America great again!  Every time I thought maybe you wouldn’t, you did.  You rallied.  You joined the cause!”

Trump waits for the applause to die again.  It is feverish.  It is the wild-eyed applause of a group of fourth-grade students who have just eaten an entire cake.

“For that, I would like to say…” He pauses.  The words scroll up the teleprompter.  His face is the same smug mask it’s been since day one, but there is a sudden, almost imperceptible shift.  He eyes the next line on the teleprompter, then looks away.

“I would like to say, WHAT IS YOUR GODDAMN PROBLEM?”  He bellows into the microphone.  An immediate pall falls over the arena.  Offstage, Priebus’ hands go clammy and a sheen of sweat instantly forms on his brow.  “Cut the microphone.  NOW,” he barks at his aide, who scrambles off.

“I’ve been spouting the most insane things for MONTHS!” Trump continues.  “Racist, xenophobic nightmares from…” the mic cuts out.  He turns deliberately to the side, and locks eyes with Priebus, who is barely contained rage.  Trump flicks his eyes to the rafters, nods, then looks back.  He speaks, and his microphone is back on.  “I’m a media mogul, did you really think you could silence me?  Who do you think did the sound work here?  Who do you think is running this?”  Priebus turns and runs.  Trump turns back to the stunned crowd.

“Pure fascism.  I thought, ‘no, they’ll definitely balk at building a wall, at deporting everyone, at my overt misogyny,’ but you didn’t!  You ate it up like starving dogs!  And you didn’t even care what package it came in.  A twice-divorced New York elitist with a foreign wife, who was a Clinton-donating registered Democrat a few years ago!  There were even rape allegations against me, but you thought barely believable rumors of affairs by one of my opponents was worse!  You people are horrifying!  I was really hoping you’d say ‘no more, this guy is wrong about everything’, but you didn’t.  You fed it.  You showed yourselves as the thugs you are.  Well now, America gets to see it, too.  So enjoy the next few months, you mouth-breathing Neanderthals.  Enjoy watching your party tear itself apart trying to find a soul that it clearly sold a long time ago.  Good luck finding a nominee, because I want to have nothing to do with you.  Good night.”

Don’t Care Who’s Watching When We Tearing It Up

The only thing I know of Kesha’s music is this amazing piece, but I’ve heard a considerable amount about her case, and it’s appalling.  The judge said that her “instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing,” because Sony would suffer “irreparable harm” if Kesha didn’t give them 6 more albums.  Mind you, this is a label that has sided wholeheartedly with a man who has been accused of raping her.  I can’t imagine she’d be comfortable dealing with any part of that entity, regardless of whether or not they were going to ease up on forcing her to work with the man.

The response from various circles has been loud, with female artists (just now!) lining up to voice their support for Kesha, (not prior to the ruling, but nothing motivates like outrage).  The infighting and gatekeeping has already started, as well.  Taylor Swift tossed Kesha a quarter million to do what she needs to do. Considering Kesha has only two albums to her credit, and her second, from over three years ago, being a commercial flop partially due to some bad timing, it’s safe to assume that her legal fees alone have her looking at some financial hardship.  $250k was probably the best news that she’s had in a long time.  But that wasn’t enough for some people, apparently, because Swift didn’t voice her full-throated support for Kesha.

Putting aside that in America, money is speech, so in effect, this was the largest statement possible, there’s a few other considerations here.  First, Taylor Swift is also signed to Sony, so coming out in direct support of Kesha has, at the very least, financial concerns above and beyond $250k, and quite possibly has legal ramifications.  Second, the statement is pretty clear: that money is a huge show of support, regardless of statement.  It says “I am putting my money where my mouth is.  I support you in a very real, very tangible sense. I have your back in a non-theoretical way.” Third, and probably most importantly, how Taylor Swift deals with what is a horrible subject is her call.  Maybe she’s not comfortable with a statement because of something she’s experienced or someone close to her experienced.  No one should be gatekeeping how women deal with sexual assault.  No one gets to say that her response is any less appropriate.  Her support is there, it shouldn’t be diminished because it wasn’t the exact kind of support that someone else gave.

Resolutions

I made only one official New Year’s resolution last year, which was to lose 30 pounds.  Considering the time-worn tradition of making such laughable resolutions and not following through, I figured I’d aim high.

It took me until June to actually attempt to start, so I was off to a good start.  However, by October, I was pretty much done.  I’ve gained about 3 pounds back from my low, but as of this time last year, I weighed about 210lbs, and I’m at 178 today.

2015 was, by many measures, a year I can only describe with a great deal of profanity, and I will be pleased to see it consigned to to the toilet bowl of history.  In that spirit, I have compiled a new list of resolutions for the coming year. We’ll check back in a year to see how I did.

  1. Only wildly overspend and fret over the perfect gift for people who will appreciate it. Do all the rest of my shopping at the dollar store.
    I am notorious for overspending on my significant other, even when they do not reciprocate. Now that my significant other is significantly less significant, I need to stop doing that, because they are significantly underspending now.
  2. Keep my friends close, and keep my enemies out of my business.  Social media interactions with people I know in real life are being culled to a segment of people who a) want to continue to be linked to me and b) haven’t tried to stick a knife in my back over the last few months.
  3. Lose the last 10 or so pounds I need to lose.  Getting to 168 would put me into ‘average weight’ on the BMI chart, which I know is complete nonsense, but it will make me feel better about myself.
  4. Work this ball of flab into some semblance of shape.  Despite losing 30 pounds, I am still not what one would consider all that attractive in the midsection.  Flatter, to be sure, but still quite slug-like.
  5. Write at least one blog post a month here.  Because I need to get back to writing.

That’s it.  I’m working on becoming a better human being, but that’s always going to be a work in progress with little in the way of quantifiable success.  These are solid goals.

So, as it says at the top of the page, Slàinte Mhath, and a happy New Year.

Je suis un Occidental blanc privilégiée

It’s taken me a few days to coalesce my thoughts about the attacks in Paris, but in writing this I was really waiting for the inevitable reaction. Unfortunately, I could have written this days, or even months ago, and it would have been the same.

I can’t imagine what the people of Paris are going through. In many ways, this is a more horrifying attack than September 11th, or even the Charlie Hebdo attack.  This was not an attack on a specific target – even the Bataclan was not really a ‘target’ per se, other than having a high concentration of victims available.  9/11 was a strike against a symbol made by ultimately faceless killers, as everyone they directly terrorized died with them, and the overwhelming body count actually veers into Stalin’s ‘statistics’ category.  Charlie Hebdo was a directed strike against a singular group that the average person likely had a strong opinion on but didn’t think about often. The attack probably reinforced their opinion, and left them with the comforting notion that as long as they didn’t do what Charlie did, they’d be safe.

This attack, however, is the kind of attack I’d have been making against the west since 2001 were I a terrorist mastermind.  This is visceral, up front, random violence that leaves a lot of blood and even more witnesses.  This is the kind of attack that truly terrorizes a population.  It doesn’t give them the option of staying away from symbols or comforting themselves with notions that if they don’t poke the bear, it won’t eat them.  This is what terror looks like.

With all the outpourings of sympathy, for the changed user icons with French flag overlays, one would think that this is a rare occurrence.  I suppose it is, if you’re a privileged white Westerner.  But these kinds of attacks happen almost daily around the world. 147 people were murdered in an attack on Garissa University College in Kenya in April. 233 civilians were massacred over two days in Kobani, Syria in June. 145 people were murdered in a series of bombings in Borno State, Nigeria in September.  Those are just a few of the ‘larger’ attacks, but we almost never hear about them on the news, or they’re part of the background noise that’s quickly forgotten. I say this as an NPR listener – I remember all of those events being reported, but they were tucked into the regularity of other reporting and had a shelf life of maybe two days. In contrast, the Paris attacks became the only news on for hours, and is still being discussed.

We care now because the bodies are white, because they were enjoying music that we like when they died, because we saw first-hand accounts on social media. To put a fine point on it, the people who died were us. There’s a perception that everywhere that’s not speaking English is a dirt-poor third-world country where this sort of thing is an accepted part of life, but that is not the case.  People die in these attacks doing the same things the people in Paris died doing, and it gets broadcast on social media just the same.  We don’t see it, because we don’t speak Swahili or Arabic or Yoruba.

The death toll in Paris is tragic, but the real tragedy will truly unfold in the days and weeks to come. The mindset of France today should be familiar to anyone who remembers September 14th, 2001 in America.  We were numb, we were angry, we were ready to bomb anyone who didn’t give full-throated support to our desire to bomb everyone.  We were looking for enemies under every rock, and when we found people who looked like them, we didn’t stop to ask questions first. France is ready to lash out at Syrian refugees, even though those refugees are fleeing the very same violence.  They’ve come to Europe to escape incidents like this happening on a daily basis. What they’re finding is a a disturbingly familiar othering from voices on the right that has led, in the past, to some rather dark times.

Of course, France isn’t just focused on internal threats. Long the cultural symbol of hesitance in the face of danger, unwillingness to fight, or outright cowardice (a relatively undeserved stereotype), France is gnashing its teeth and vowing, in the words of President Hollande, a “war which will be pitiless” which sounds like the perfect response to point to when I have to write this again in 10 years. Hollande is George W. Bush standing at Ground Zero, vowing that Al-Qaeda would “will hear all of us soon.” 14 years later, we have a line of futility drawn straight from that pile of rubble to the attack in Paris, and it’s labelled “the Islamic State.”  This is a beast of our own making.  Hollande’s pitiless war is just going to be more of the same.  Wars of vengeance do not solve problems, they create them.  The U.S. war in Iraq created IS. IS has no borders, so attacking it means attacking Syria and Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan, and even breaking the military capacity of IS is effectively meaningless considering they weren’t rolling tanks into Paris.  Adding more death and destruction to the Middle East is the exact opposite of a solution to the problem, and it is fundamentally what IS wants.

The Islamic State is no stranger to massacring Muslims, as their targets are, by a wide margin, mostly people in their own neighborhood. The goal of this attack in Paris and others perpetrated in the West is to get the West to strike back.  Our own cultural insensitivity works both ways – they kill 140 people in Paris, and the average Kurd or Syrian doesn’t care in the same way we don’t care if 140 of them are killed.  Similarly, if the response is French war planes bombing targets up the street, or French soldiers going door-to-door, the people directly affected aren’t going to sit there calmly and accept that this is because of an attack 2,500 miles away.  All they’re going to see is France wrecking their town.  And eventually, an IS ideologue is going to sing sweetly to their children that they can get revenge, all they have to do is wear this vest and go to heaven.

So yes, I mourn for Paris.  But we need to stop acting like this is the only real terrorism, or that the responses we’re seeing are acceptable or even useful.  Because if we do, I’ll just be able to change a few names and post this again.  And again. And again.