Accept Mass Shootings As Inevitable, Necessary

Just when we, as a goodly christian nation, should be leaning back, popping a cold Coors Light, and celebrating our hard-fought victory in the battle to control women and their pesky uteri, it has become impossible to relax thanks to the insistent bleating of so may liberal sheeple who’ve got their panties all tied up in a wad (hey! shouldn’t they have to get our permission for anything crotch-related?) over the alleged hypocrisy of our moment.

If we were really pro-life, we’d oppose mass incarceration for petty crimes, and the disproportionate volume of those incarcerations involving non-whites, they say. Not to mention the inevitable and even more disproportionate execution rate of people of color. It’s like these godless commies have never seen “Law & Order,”–ummm, helloooo, people don’t get arrested if they’re not guilty.

And while that could be bad enough by itself, they’re making a big deal out of “mass shootings” in perfectly understandable venues like schools (mean teachers always telling us what to do and making us take tests all the time), churches (mean preachers always telling us what to do and how many times do we have sing “Blessed Assurance,” for chrissakes?), parades (will somebody throw some goddamned candy already, malls (yuck), and even grocery stores (why do they NEVER put Funyuns on sale?).

The point is this: We must accept these deaths and laud them as martyrs to the agrarian values upon which our nation was founded, and the great god from whom all blessings flow, who pulls our marionette strings to and fro, and passes his blessing on the pulled pork sandwiches and egg salad. God himself told us that “full men” all deserve to have guns, and like it says in the Psalms, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” I suppose he meant for some “2/3 men”, like Herschel Walker or that guy who didn’t believe in covid, who got killed by covid.

So, huzzah to the necessary dead! I mean, we don’t really care that much about the grandmothers and teachers and clergy who get in the way of the free expression of our gun rights. Moses didn’t tote the constitution down the mountain and trample through a brush fire–in nothing but a robe and birkinstocks, no less!– to give us the second amendment, if the god didn’t want us to shoot stuff, right?

What gets folks riled up is the children, but we’ve got to ask ourselves: once they’re born and we no longer use them to show how pure and moral and decent and goodly we are, they’re pretty much pointless. It sounds harsh, but that’s the truth. Children are useless after they’re born. They’re loud and messy. And expensive. What higher purpose can we imagine for them than noble deaths, so that we might live free. Plenty of elevated cultures have made human sacrifice a key component of their rituals–Incas, Mayans, those dudes who made Stonehenge and the goodly folk from the City of Ur. We’re in good company. And besides, it’s getting more and more crowded here, and children’s graves are so tiny. Saves a lot of space.


So, Will Smith Is A Dick

Who knew?

I’ve had it in my mind to stop in here and do a post or two for a while now, but with the world being full of Trumpyness and Putin going full-bore psychopathic despot, I could not bring myself to spread more of that brand of sunshine around the interwebs. But then, just when I needed it, something that was sufficiently disappointing enough to merit my attention, yet also stupidly vapid enough to twist my whimsy, popped into the, er, zeitgeist: Will Smith, that stalest of Fresh Princelings, busted up Hollywoodland with the the bitch-slap heard round the world. Or at least all the way from the San Fernando Valley to Bel Air. And I missed it. Shazam.

Not to worry, Smith’s assault of the perpetually wry Chris Rock has been dominating the news, putting Putin and his inhumane, but comparatively petty (by Hollywood standards) war crimes in the back seat for a day, Smith’s preschool-style swat overshadowing thermobaric bombs that melt flesh and bone, and white phosphorus munitions that merely set bone and flesh on fire. When it comes to violence, we humans are a fickle breed indeed.

It seems timely to take stock in just what the Academy Awards is–are?–a collection of performers who, we are informed, are allegedly notorious and very much more important than riff raff like me. Or you, frankly. They gather to pat each other on the back, working to distract from their own vanity, vapidity and seething, mutual contempt.

It seems reasonable to insert a comedian, or several, into this brine of jealousy and disappointment and task them to poke fun to get the masses tittering. Because, you know, schadenfreude. That’s kind of the shtick, right? So who among them knew that the Fresh Prince’s wife had alopecia? Not me. And, it seems, not Chris Rock either.

Today, the news accounts of the incident are inescapable. Amid varied arguments before and against the assault on Rock, nobody has mentioned what strikes me most: the gross self-absorption of Will Smith in presuming that Rock, or any of us, knows his wife has a immune disorder. I guess, in Smith’s world, it seems natural that everyone else is fully invested in the health and welfare of his family, and that comedians should not only be saturated by all the details of the lives of the famously self-important entertainers, but deeply responsive to the heightened sensitivities of said entertainers. In fact, they would do well to distribute surveys before the show to gauge those vulnerabilities, lest any light-hearted bits offend a Big Star’s delicate sensibilities.

Worse still is Smith’s prideful hubris, bringing himself to tears while recounting his violent awesomeness in a speech that droned on and on, remembering (whole minutes later) how heroic he was to sucker punch a guy half his size, how loyal, how regal and just. The offense was real, of course, but merited a face to face private exchange, a “Dude, that sucked.” And a “Damn, I’m sorry” response. But this is what we are, and why we live the way we do, and why we get the sort of leaders who giddily dive into cesspools and yank us in after them. Anger and arrogance. Its the American way; but don’t worry. In a few hours Mr. Smith will offer his sincerest apologies for his bad judgement, not to Mr Rock, but to “the Academy” and his “fans.” And all will be forgiven.


Facebook Follies

Geez, Facebook–can’t take a funny little joke? I posted this obviously edited photo of a very famous professional athlete, made to look like he was wearing a t-shirt mocking anti-vax morons, on my personal Facebook page and was sternly chastised by the lackeys toe-licker-of facists Mark Cuckerburg. I mean, Zuckerberg. As if anyone who reads my page is so utterly moronic to not recognize photoshop when they see it.

Then again, perhaps my friends are a little more discerning than the typical Facebook product/customer/body-trapped-in-the-info-matrix-hive-battery. Hilarious, this officious fact check, considering that this corporation has recently been outed as being rooted deeply in empowering the molten, festering core of racist, anti-american, pro-violence, anti-vax, pro-gun, hate-speaking, covid-loving (why else would they encourage its spread?) underbelly of Murica? Surely, bending the knee to Trump and his merry band of flying monkeys, is not worth the reward of delayed investigations and possible oversight?

Or maybe it is? I say “maybe,” but at this point it seems pretty obviously that Zuckerberg and Stormy Daniels have at least one thing in common, and it’s not a bodacious caboose.

It’s precious to see my little, admittedly purloined joke treated like as if it contains information that, if allowed to spread, might undermine our deeply moral and otherwise stable representative democracy. As if I’m teetering on the brink of sedition–while Facebook promotes posts whose writers warn that masks are pinko plot to steal our free-dumbs, and highlights Q-burping babble; it is okay to allow all those freaking data-stealing trap posts, like “Do you like kittens of puppies better?” But my post is dangerous and misleading. Sigh.

Commentary Uncategorized

Tit For Tat in Post-Insurrection America

I spent some time reading about DC Police Officer Michael Fanone, who is currently being feted and fried by the hype machine, most recently with an article in Newsweek Magazine which, I have to admit, I was surprised to find still doddering along, continuing to enrich the lives of those trapped in the waiting rooms of doctors, dentists, and tire stores across America.

More notable, at least to me, than the predictable hero-making redemption story are the reactions I’ve seen to this article on social media–a lot of well-earned sympathy and respect for Fanone’s obvious bravery and sacrifice spiced with resentment for the hook of the story: Fanone voted for Trump, is deeply conservative, and yet, this happened to him! Oh, dear. I’m sorry, of course, but I can’t really navigate my way to the point where we’re surprised that a howling, baying, hopped-up-on-hate mob of violent traitors, gleeful seditionists, and other assorted enemies of the state–many of them literally waving the flag of a defeated, foreign enemy (The Confederacy stopped being American the moment they seceded)–decided to attack the very heart of our (not their) nation, was not scrupulously selective in venting their pent up anger. Of course Fanone was set upon. He was in the way of the mob, and whatever catharsis they sought for their imaginary grievances.

What surprises me more is the vitriolic counter-hate directed at Fanone and other victims, simply because they voted “the wrong way.” A substantial minority embrace the “he voted for Trump, he deserved everything he got. I contend that he did not deserve any of it. It is both churlish and petty to break what happened down to a matter of good versus evil.

Nobody has more contempt for Trump and all things Trump related than I do, but a lot of the soft-minded yahoos who supported him did so after decades of targeted Republican conditioning–they’re dupes, rubes, and ignorant vessels saturated with programmed hate and lies. In a way, (and here’s where I get myself in trouble) they are just as much victims as anyone else–their obtuse fears and resentments twisted into a tapestry of, well, fear and resentment by the cynical right.

Of course, I respect them like I respect the average German citizens of the Nazi era, which is to say not at all. Ignorance is not an excuse. In a democracy, it is incumbent upon us all to remain informed and to question authority. As much as it irks me, we need to draw a line of distinction between the slow-witted and deeply misguided souls who, for whatever reasons–fear, mostly; fear of loss, fear of insignificance, fear of the other and the unknown– chose to vote for a vile candidate, and those who used Trumps sociopathic, self-serving, and utterly reprehensible rhetoric as an excuse to indulge in their own bitter, destructive, and base impulses.

I’ll be the first to admit that I like to see idiots pay the price for their bad behavior, but it happens far too infrequently. Watching the pillow guy fall apart, strand by strand, is satisfying theater. So, too Rudolph Giuliani diddling his little stubby in a hotel room with an actress he thought was jail-bait. It is natural for those of us who commit to following the mores of a functional society to see those who do not pay for it. I’ll admit this shameful thing: it disappoints me that more Covid deniers haven’t become deathly ill, but that’s my own petty failing, and not something a healthy person should live in, if that person wishes to remain sane. I’m not saying that we need to treat MAGA Terrorists like prodigal children, but we’ll keep getting them if we don’t recognize that it is something more ominous than their feeble-minded gullibility at work here

Ultimately, less time needs to be spent condemning the foolish voters and more dedicated to pushing the Justice Department and Courts for the most severe penalties, the very highest fines, possible. This Fanone fellow voted poorly, but he didn’t wage war against America. Let’s focus of those who did, and those who put them up to it.

(As always, this is a one-off draft. Typos and other confusions reflect a hurried soul and a harried mind. Figure it out.)

Commentary humor Uncategorized

I Want To Fight Ted Cruz

One of the great sacrifices that comes from living way up here in the USA, miles away from Texas and the heart of the confederacy, is that we don’t enjoy timely access to the broad range of news pertaining to Ted “Tough as Texas” Cruz. Indeed, we barely hear tales of fabled adventures at all, unless he’s smiling sheepishly, like a proper milksop, while a certain fat old man calls Mrs. Cruz a “dog.” Or scampering away to “Old Mexico” because his tootsies got chilly when the nation’s only proudly unregulated power grid collapsed, leaving millions of his constituents literally out in the cold, literally powerless, and (again, literally) thirsty and hungry for leadership–not to mention clean water and warm food. Most of his moon-eyed shenanigans pass unnoticed up here in abolitionist country–not unlike his past campaigns for President. From a purely entertainment perspective, this is a shame–but I aim to remedy that.

Following the Mexico fiasco, which Cruz nobly blamed on his young children, Cruz has taken time from blocking economic relief during the Covid-19 Pandemic to work himself up over the custodians of the estate of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel to halt production and sales of a half dozen books they’ve found to be “problematic” in one way or another. I’ve only read one of them, and that was about 20 years ago, so I’m not qualified to judge. For the record I’ll admit to leaning towards not removing elements of culture retroactively. Scorn them, excoriate them, leverage what we don’t like about them into a learning experience that might prevent us–humans in general, not just you and me–from backsliding. On the other hand, my intellectual preference is very far removed from the moral culpability one might feel from generating profit from material that many find offensive.

Ted Cruz has no such compunctions. So strongly does the man–the Senator!–who believes that the existence of married gay couples is an act of tyranny–feel that he’s retail marketing copies of one of Seuss’s other, less controversial, works at a significant mark-up, because Mr. Cruz is autographing these books as a fundraiser for his next crusade, er, pogrom, um, campaign. In the words of “Amish Elmer,” my former pot dealer: fucking genius, man. And for the record, Amish Elmer was shunned long before we ever met him, but stuck with the chin beard and blue on black ensemble to move stealthily below the radar of law enforcement. That’s another story for another day, but suffice it to say Elmer knows a slick entrepreneurial hack when he sees one.

It is thinking like this–creatively soulless, blindly exploitative, and objectively tone-death–that raises Cruz to the level of “potential adversary.” He does everything but twirl the edges of his mustache and kick kittens, although he’s been known to freeze a dog or two. He’s unapologetically evil, distinguishing himself in this regard at a time when his political allies are literally (there’s that word again–I use it again and again to emphasis that this isn’t a joke I’m making up, its real!) crawling all over themselves in a particularly venal game of King of The Hill to not just rhetorically, but physically, tear down the guiding institutions of our representative democracy–not to mention the very essence of democracy itself. He, like his cuck-buddy Mitch McConnell, has no qualms with embracing villainy for personal gain. Hell, he cherishes the opportunity, and at some level we are compelled to acknowledge his commitment to the role. Yes, he’ll stomp on immigrants! Yes, he’ll assert his masculine entitlement to regulate the reproductive organs of every woman out there–even it it means rolling up his shirtsleeves and getting his hands dirty in the process! Will he lead the struggle to suppress and disenfranchise poor and minority voters, even if it means making voting more difficult for everyone? You KNOW he will! His children, his wife–whomever he has to hurt, whatever it takes, he’s up to the task.

And that’s why I want to fight him. I think it would be a pretty good match. I’m bigger than him, but older too, and he’s butting on a pretty good push of late to catch up in the size department. My hair and beard are better–a nice woman trims me up monthly, so I’m not rocking that indigent, truck-stop predator look that Cruz has made so popular.

The question, of course, is why would he take time out of his busy day, putting aside his quest of personal power at the expense of every non-white, non-straight, non-male, non-christian just to sock it to a fading old smart-ass centrist “living constitutionalist?” But do villains need a reason to lash out at their adversaries? Do the powerful blanch at the opportunity to crush those who dare to speak against them? It is his duty. His calling. His noblesse oblige to knock my ass up between my eye balls while humming “Old Folks at Home” through a mouthful deep friend King Ranch chicken washed down with a tankard of warm Dr. Pepper.

And why am I so animated? Besides wanting to know whether he’s really as “tough as texas?” Me? I’m just pissed that Cruz’s immigrant father killed JFK.

Commentary Journal

I Almost Moved, But Didn’t

I don’t have the engagement here that I used to have and that was getting me down a little bit–enough that I went so far as to execute a new start on a new platform, one in which I might be able to stir up new interest in exchange for new a new commitment to more mature and less whimsical writing–a writer’s blog, if you will, rather than how I once described Old Road Apples, as the site of a literary hobbyist. I was encouraged by my best friend and most ardent supporter to “take it seriously.” So, right. It was inspiring. I wrote up a new essay to start my new site, and then I dove deeper into the new platform and realized a lot of what it is good for is not really good for me and what I do.

As a result, I’m staying here. Some of the most whimsical content from the archive will be disappearing–for the practical purpose of clearing out storage space, but also because it embarrasses me. Other stuff might get rewritten and pushed on you again; but mostly, I’m recommitting to this blog, to awakening those of you who remain “from the days of yore” way back in 2015, 2016 etc. while maybe grabbing up one or two new readers and, with any luck, a few caustic trolls with whom we might toy.

Finally, since I won’t be starting that new site, here’s the essay I wrote for it, a reflection of my direction as well as a glimpse into my state of mind.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I think someplace in the back of my head, for a long time, I’ve harbored a compelling desire to say that; or something equally grizzled and assertive—a dramatic line. Indiana Jones, for example, snarling an understated “Nazis—I hate these guys.” Or Will Riker grabbing the yoke on the Enterprise and sneering, “We’re through running from these bastards,” while an alien ensign side-eyes him appraisingly, all but licking her lips. Or pretty much anything Rooster Cogburn says, in the eponymous film or either version of True Grit. And see, by gods I did it. Snuck it right in there at the top. Maybe that’s why I write: the giddy, intoxicating sensation of power?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, and usually settle on an answer that is as much compromise as it is informative: I write because I can’t not write. I’ve been hobby writing, for lack of a better description, on the Internet for a while now, with varying degrees of consistency and relatively little real discipline, throwing words out across a diverse range of platforms and in numerous formats and “communities.” Sometimes, in the most satisfying instances, I’ve fallen into small groups of readers and bloggers, developing a sort of camaraderie—not quite friendship, but a familiarity among individuals whose situations, insights, and experiences are far different those I encounter in the analog world. Other times, I’ve shouted into the void with nary a hint that even a single word of it was noticed, much less read.

My last blog withered away due to my shifting attentions: working on an ongoing novel, one that I should have finished a decade ago, at the same time that our nation’s politics took a dark turn into the surreally macabre. I found it almost impossible to write anything positive, and I was reluctant to rehash—even critically—the bizarro-world events manifesting themselves minute by minute in the headlines. I know who I am. Commentary turns to screeds, screeds devolve into tantrums, tantrums to hissy fits, and we end up with a full-blown rant. A festival of rants. Unfortunately, although they can be deeply, emotionally satisfying, rants—like methamphetamine—offer only short-term satiety, and are equally alluring to outside observers.

While this was happening, bloggery was changing. I’d found myself able to easily, happily sidestep the word-vomit that is Twitter—a disorienting cacophony of hyper-brief, purposefully inarticulate blurts and burps of artificial brevity that reminds me of a tabernacle choir gathered together, with each member shouting a different limerick, Hallmark greeting, excerpt from the instructions for assembling a new Wayfair coat rack (in the original Mandarin) or middle-school haiku at the top of their lungs. My attention span extends beyond the twelve or thirteen words I’m allowed on Twitter—that’s not even room enough for a decent rant.

The image-first blogs, primarily Instgram but also TikTok—or Tick Talk, or whatever—and its latest flash in the pan app trend (Vine, anyone?) made for a much more discouraging hurdle. First of all, as you will shortly see should you choose to return, I am what the English so cunningly describe as “shit” when it comes to photography. I have lousy instincts and I’m too lazy to learn how to do it better. I mean, adjusting shutter speed and aperture? That is verging dangerously close to something heinous, something my STEM-savvy daughters refer to as “algebra.” All those variables. No thanks. I’m lucky when I remember how to change the length between intermittent windshield wiper swipes when I’m in traffic. Instagram killed my blog community—the tone over there is very post-apocalyptic, broken windows, overturned cars, and trash blowing down the street. I can’t compete with all the prettiness on Instagram, even though I enjoy it—especially during the pandemic, when the lure of vicarious adventure, vicarious dining, vicarious gawking at all that pretty stuff, transitioned from an amusing distraction to a full-bore necessity, a window into the world that was, as cheery as photos from the Johnstown Flood.

Nevertheless, I prefer something word-based, something that encourages articulation, and something more permanent than the recent trend of messages that evaporate as I read them—”stories”?–the ultimate tease, and certainly an apt subject for some sort of zen-discovery exploration about experiencing before immediately letting go. I’m not Zen at all. Not even close. My family legacy is self-destructive nostalgia and borderline hoarding. So here we are, back to the words.

I arrived at this site on the advice and encouragement of my wife and I must admit to a certain degree of leaping before I look on my way here. Immediate action to preclude reflection. But isn’t that often the way with fresh starts? There’s an element of suddenly jumping from a moving train when some disconnected voice urges “Now!”

Dumping a once-in-a-century pandemic on top of this whole mess has felt a lot like standing knee-deep in mud, hands cuffed behind my head, and being pummeled in the belly and face by a fat, shirtless clown in boxing gloves: more than irksome but not enough to kill me, leaving me bruised, nauseous and disoriented, with a chance of long-term complications. Indeed, I toyed with the idea of calling this blog “A Journal After The Plague Year,” with apologies to Daniel Defoe, but that sounded just a bit too pretentious—and I’m far too pessimistic to embrace the word “after” when it comes to SARS-CoV2. Instead, I went for “The New Old Road Apples,” referencing a former blog and a self-depreciating nudge and a wink reminder that this endeavor shouldn’t be taken too seriously. As for the old “Old Road Apples,” why not just stick with it? Why not, as the saying goes, “make 10 louder?” I made a concious decision to move on from what now feels to be too juvenile, too whimsical, and more focused on volume and production over quality of content—however arguable my use of the word “quality” may be in this context.

Conventional wisdom is that a blog—or any writing, for that matter—should be targeted towards a specific audience, bound by a cohesive topic or focus or, ideally, both. Some degree of continuity seems appropriate, but the thing is: I want to start now and I have yet to figure out the particulars. Who do I want to reach as an audience? Simple: everyone, anyone! What do I want to write about? Not quite everything, anything! And continuity? I guess that makes me the continuity.

So, that’s where we’ll begin, assuming a (possibly arrogant) relevance and proceeding as if there is some interest in what I’ve got to say. We’ll consider it a variety site with a bit of this and that: culture, politics, commentary, culture—like the Atlantic, but written by a semi-retired manual laborer pecking at an aged desktop perched upon a cluttered desk in a small, dark, cold little room at the top of the staircase. Or maybe it’s more like pantry soup: when you pull a bunch of frost- or dust-coated stuff off the shelves and out of the deep freeze and throw it together in a crock pot. With any luck, I’ll find some level of direction, or something that tastes good enough to choke down with a few slices of homemade bread, as time passes. What’s the worst that can happen?

Charles. New Years, 2021 


Saying “The ‘Rona” Ain’t Funny At All

I’ve been acting like a jerk on the internet. Again. Reflexively chastising friends on Facebook for breezily referring to 2020’s viral villain by its trendy sobriquet, “the ‘Rona.” Because I hate that crap like Indiana Jones hates Nazis. Don’t get me wrong; I hate Nazis too. I have a big enough heart to hold more than enough seething rage and disgust for both–with plenty left over for the current political administration. But I digress.

After taking one of my pals to task for her dismissive ‘Rona-quote yesterday she replied, “why do you hate that name so much? And what could be the alternative Nick-name?

Fair enough. I spewed out a quick and bile-tinted response along the lines of this:

You’ll be sorry you asked, but: just Covid-19. No nickname. No pseudonym. No alias. No tag. No hashtag. No handle. Just Covid-19 or, if you must, “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)”–the scientific equivalent of a mom who has had it up to here bellowing her child’s name off the back porch, brandishing full name like a k-bar with which she intends to eviscerate the guilty. “Elizabeth! Cora! Habersham! Get your sorry ass home RIGHT NOW.”

You know the tone. And we all know that Covid-19 has been a very bad girl. Not bad in the garters and bustier sense of the word, but bad like the Burgermeister Meisterburger or Dick Cheney. Joy-killing, breath-stealing, vomit-inducing bad.

There is nothing funny or cute about it. The virus posesses no sentience to pique with mockery, and no lighthearted irreverence will make anything better. It is serious as a blow to the back of the head with a lead pipe. When I hear that term, “Rona” used I think of mask-less, cheese-eating high school boys chortling around a keg of Coors Lite, shrugging non-nonchalantly over 1,712,818 (and counting) deaths and, even worse, the very real chance of becoming viral carriers. I think of thoughtless ass-hats who don’t give a damn.

We’re roiling in a dark shit-pit of death and despair mostly because a significant portion of our neighbors are either too ignorant or too selfish (I’m talking to you, you backwards freedom monkeys whining about your “consteetootshanal rights” to kill the rest of us) to take the virus seriously. You got us here. The very least you can do is not joke about it, no matter how much it shades that deeply felt and forcefully denied sense of utter fear and helplessness that haunts your every breathing moment. Call it by its name.


“Defund The Police?” Really?

I’ve held my tongue regarding this catchy slogan over the past six months or so, largely out of respect for the dozens of people, most of them innocent, most of them people of color, most of them black, murdered–and in many cases executed by police officers, and the hundreds, even thousands, who have been shot, beaten, strangled, kicked, tortured, and, yes, in cases like citizens like Sandra Bland, literally lynched within the very walls of a jail cell (which is, apparently, the accepted punishment for black folks in Texas who forget to use their turn signal.)

After the very public murder of George Floyd at the hands of a pyschopathic veteran “peace officer,” in which he alternately glowered and stared mirthfully–his pleasure seeming to verge on eroticism–at the witnesses held back by his willing compatriots, I dared to think “finally, this will lead to some sort of change, some reckoning and accountability). Surely, those nearly-nine minutes of lascivious violence, abetted by fellow officers who formed a barrier against and menaced the burgeoning crowd, would strike into the heart of a nation we like to imagine as free and fair? But no. Less than three weeks later, Rayshard Brooks was executed for falling asleep in a fast food drive-thru lane and, after over half an hour in custody, grabbing an already-discharged taser and running away. He was shot twice in the back.

In between Floyd and Brooks, thirteen other black human beings were shot dead by law enforcement–and I don’t mean to imply in any way that all of them were innocent. Many of them were not. The issue–the atrocity–is that there is a clear disparity in the way our public servants initiate these confrontations, not to mention how they conclude them. For every black suspect shot in a quickly-escalated incident, there are a dozen instances in which officers go to great lengths to keep from killing white perpetrators. The optics: a black person is going to be beaten and often killed, while a white person, at worst, is going to be issued a citation.

Sadly, the predominant narrative generated from protests during the weeks of national grief and outrage that followed Mr. Floyd’s murder has been “defund the police.” As slogans go, it has a lot going for it: it is brief, catchy, and radical. The best way to control the center of a dialogue is to lean towards extemism, and thus pull the middle towards your side, thus making an outlying position seem more moderate. The problem here is that the middle is made up of human lives, and rhetorical victories don’t stop the bloodshed, even if they make us feel good about ourselves. Forget that this slogan–or rallying cry, if you must–succeeded mostly by alienating moderates who otherwise be inclined to join, or at least support, the fight for reform, while simultaneously galvanizing the “Blue Lives Matter” authoritarian crowd. It is safe to say that numerous left-leaning public officials lost seats to conservative “law and order” candidates in the recent election, thereby acting like a quay against the expected “blue tide” that was supposed to bring reform-minded leaders into positions where they could enable positive change.

I was encouraged to read President Barack O’Bama speak up on the “snappy slogan,” as he called it, recently, explaining “You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” Obama said. “The key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?”


My friends on the hard left, many of whom I respect deeply and support, lost their collective minds. “We lose people in the hands of police,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. whom I also respect, quickly retorted. “It’s not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”

But what is the policy? “Defund,” as defined by Websters, is a transitive verb meaning “to withdraw funding from.” When I read that word, “defund” I must presume that it is being used appropriately–removing the funding from police, putting them out of work, and then–what? I’ve seen some pie in the sky alternatives suggested to replace the police. Unarmed teams of sociologists designated as mediators? Maybe. Self-policing? Interesting, but are you fully prepared to submit to the whims of all your neighbors, let alone the guy who refuses to wear a mask in grocery store, or (gods help us) the evangelical minister who rants in front of the women’s health clinic three afternoons a week? There’s a lot of people in my rural, republican community whom I have no interest in “self-policing” me.

I’m much more comfortable with the idea of re-training law enforcement officers, providing them with suitable pay–a lot of the sheriff’s deputies and part time officers hired by small towns around our parts earn $10/hour of less and have to stitch together gigs in two of three jurisdictions to make a living wage–and that still doesn’t get them insurance. We get what we pay for.

More importantly, we need to create an environment where police misbehavior is noted and acted upon, where officers who act egregiously and held accountable, and where their peers feel obligated to cull the bad seeds from their ranks–if not for honor’s sake, then for self-preservation. Cops get out of line because they know they can. In most cases, an officer need only say “I feared for my safety” to justify even the most heinous and barbarous acts of violence, including murder. Successful prosecution–on those rare instances where District Attorneys choose to follow up charges against the officers who, by and large, are their co-workers–requires prooving that the “state of mind” of the officer was malicious. That is the problem. Cops have no boundaries, and good cops exist in a system that actively discourages them from speaking out against their fellow officers, even when they know–and you know that they know–that those officers are destroying the reputations of all cops, everywhere. That’s why, despite all the media coverage and the preponderance of home video, cops keep doing bad stuff for all the world to see. They know that nothing will happen to them. They won’t be sent to jail. They won’t lose their jobs (indeed, the most common punishment is “administrative duty” or paid time off–a literal vacation.) Solving that problem is the key–not removing protection from our communities.

I live in a rural Pennsylvania county where Trump carried 73%, guns are more sacred than crucifixes, and confederate flags are a daily sight (because our economy is so beat down that certain elements relate closely to the confederacy, that perfect, epic example of losing?) Within this county, in our town is a large university that accounts for nearly all our diversity. Our 22-person police department is scrupulously trained for for sensitivity to diversity, conflict resolution, and and de-escalation via programs implemented by a highly competent young Police Chief and a relatively progressive town government. For me, and many of my neighbors, they are our first responders, arriving before ambulances or the volunteer fire department, and the first line of defense for the anger-soaked racists and rednecks who surround us. When I spiked a high fever this spring and became disoriented by a nasty case of pneumonia it was a cop who arrived on my doorstep within two minutes, helped me down the steps, and calmly reassured me while I waited for the ambulance. Less than six weeks ago, when a drunk stood outside my house, ranting and shouting threats at us from the shadows beyond our porch light, as well as threats against himself, the cops were there in moments. When they ask for a description I was reluctant to guess the drunk’s race, not wanting to be one of those white people who wield the cops as a weapon. The officer understood, replying. “Don’t worry. I get it, but we don’t play that game here. We only ask to make him easier to find, and trust me, it sounds like the big worry here is making sure he doesn’t harm himself.”

That’s my reality. The kicker is that I am well aware of being a marginally articulate, white, working class guy. Cops too often behave differently at the homes of black folks, but when I hear “defund the police” I understand it as the intent is to remove the officers and administration who have worked so hard to build trust and do it right. It needn’t be a draconian act like that. I understand that full removal of law enforcement isn’t what is meant by that word, “defund,” but we don’t get to pretend that a word means something that it doesn’t, then condemn those who don’t jump on board with the confused message. And let’s be straight: plenty of activists mean exactly what they’re saying: all police are bad, anarchy is better.

I disagree. I don’t want to get rid of the police, but to give them more tools to deal with the issues they face–and that doesn’t mean surplus military equipment, but training to teach them how to deal with people who, when they meet them, are often having the worst day of their lives. Psychologists? Yes. Mediators? Absolutely. But what I want most of all is for officers who are prepared for what they face in the street, who also know they’ll be held accountable, who are trained not only to handle difficult encounters but also to recognize when they are out of their depth, and who truly want to serve–not to bully and dominate.

I think that is an agenda that a majority of us can be on board with, unlike the vague but trendy “defund police.” At the same time, reforming, re-imagining, and retraining as a methodolgy defangs those who defend even most corrupt officers and the worst derelictions of duty. Still want to get rid of the cops–look up and down your street, think of your last trip on public transportation, and put weapons in the hands of just the people you remember. If you can do that and still sleep soundly at night, you’re a lot more optimistic than I am.


Of Elliot Page Amidst A Blizzard of Snowflakes

My wife and I were having a conversation last night about pronouns and trans-folks, which is pretty much to say that she was rightfully flaying me over my admitted difficulty with mastering the words–she accused me of being stubborn, a bit tone-deaf, and–this is the kicker–too comfortable in my white male privilege. We’ll forget, in this argument, that opening a dialogue with one of the great conversation-ending tropes of our time–the accusation of “white male privilege” is counter-productive, pretty much saying, “We’re going to have this conversation now but let’s get this one thing clear: anything you say, think, feel, or experience on even the basest sensory level is inherently invalid and probably offensive.”

I give her a break on this because we’ve been together nearly 30 years, raised two children together, and remain best friends. I suspect that, on her part, this is a largely charitable endeavor. As for me, I think she’s perfect. In this case, her perfection is her ability to excise the worst of what I am, impale it on the tip of a knife, and hold it up in my face like a piece of fetid, rotten flesh. Not to be mean (usually), but because she loves me and expects better. That’s a lot to live up to, but I try. We all need someone to lean on. We all want somebody to love. And we all need someone to shove our bullshit back in our faces from time to time. It’s good when that all comes from the same person.

Now, during the midst of this conversation/evisceration, my lovely wife hit me with a compelling quote from the actor Elliot Page who, when last I heard, was known as Ellen Page. “My joy is real, but it is also fragile. The truth is, despite feeling profoundly happy right now and knowing how much privilege I carry, I am also scared….” It is a powerful and vulnerable statement worth reading in full. That said, the depth of it didn’t really strike me until I encountered a Facebook post leading to an article on an unfamiliar website called ”” in which a writer, Nicole Russell, of Texas, posits “Mass Acceptance of Elliot Page’s Gender Transition is Dangerous Whimsy.” Having no concept of the venue’s editorial tone and target audience, and no familiarity with the writer (whose resume, on closer inspection, leans heavily towards right-leading publications–nothing wrong with that, but it is important to know what audience a writer is aiming for, and which editorial perspectives intersect with a writer’s tone and context), I opened the page and dug in.

The article was about what I expected: reactionary and hyperbolic responses to how Page’s orientation, presentation and, basically, general person-hood represented another broad step towards cultural decay, the breakdown of civilization, and quite possibly the end of the world as we know it. The usual stuff, painted in a tone of dismissiveness common to the saved, when addressing sinners. There was a bit of complaining about how Page’s personal life inconveniences people “outside Hollywood” who, presumably, are now forced to reckon with the idea that not everyone is just like them, and then a massive leap to proclaim that Page “erases all women” but especially lesbians. Predictably, Ms. Russell digs out a jab about “the mainstream media” before descending into horror, looking to shock readers with references to ” surgically-replaced genitalia” and brings it all home with a reminder that the last time a culture embraced gender fluidity and non-binary sexuality was in the Roman Empire, and we all know what happened to them!

While I pause to convey my great admiration of the heroic Ms. Russell for her Captain Marvel-esque role as the protector of womanhood, femininity and pretty much all lesbians everywhere (except for the ones who wear pants and act like we expect boys to act, it wasn’t really her tired conservative screed that caught my attention. It was the freakshow of human spume that had collected around the comments section beneath the link to this story on Facebook. I’d cut and pasted the worst of the lot–the profane accusations of attention-seeking and mental illness, the smirking masterworks of wit like “i’ll stick to what I know, a tree is a tree and a rock is a rock.” And then the inevitable accusations of “parents forcing their kids to change gender on a whim.” I never fail to be astounded by how much fear and contempt is channeled just by the idea that someone in the world, someone they will never encounter and who has no effect on their lives.

It might be humorous were it not for the power that these trembling, shallow-minded individuals wield. Not all of them are apocalypse monkeys hiding in their basement waiting for the return of Jesus–though mostly under-educated and restrained by their reliance on social media for news of the world, too many of them are employers, teachers, co-workers, and politicians. They are also the people who have perpetrated an epidemic of usually random violence and murder against gay and trans folks across the nation.

Nevertheless, I have to learn from them. I’m forced to inspect my own reactions and behaviors and I find myself coming up short, most of the time. I don’t feel like it is my place to judge the sociological implications on a grand scale. That is to say: I’m unsuited to declare that a slim minority of non-binary people are bringing about the downfall of western values, even if I did believe that. It is certainly not my place to impose my own values on the intimate lives of others.

I have deep misgivings about inter-sectionalism as a guiding philosophy or political entity, because I feel that it leads to tribalism, crushes communication, and is inherently divisive–not to mention dehumanizing in many cases; but that’s a philosophcial debate about modes of thougjht. When it comes down to living, breathing, human individuals, who the hell am I to tell anyone who they are, what they feel, how they present themselves, and who they love?

I sometimes resent the awkwardness of non-traditional pro-nouns, particularly employing collective pronouns in place of singular–but that really says more about my shortcomings, doesn’t it? Remember that bit above where my wife said I was stubborn? Yup. Wah, wah, wah. In the end, it’s just about words, and it’s an easy way to be respectful of other humans. I’ll do my best to remember what folks like to be called and hope they don’t skewer me when I get confused and say “They? Who else was there? Wait! Ohhhh. I get it.” That’s where my white privilege pays off: people expect me to be grumpy and offensive, so expectations are low.

But seriously, if that’s the biggest sacrifice I have to make, sign me up. Like all moments of historical sea change, activists feel momentum and clamor for more change and faster, while those on the outside often struggle to adjust to what can feel like destabilizing uncertainty. Too often both sides channel their experience–righteous impatience on one side, insecurity about one’s place in a new world on the other–into anger. The popularity of the term “cancel” doesn’t help, tapping into a profound existential terror. If I speak up about my difficulty doing the right thing, Were I to voice my uncertainty of my place in the wrong company, I would risk scorn and accusations of resenting loss of my white male privilege, for example, while someone else could be accused of being “politically correct” or some other demeaning buzzword. It’s a pointless cycle

What is lost is this: political correctness is defined by the New Universe Dictionary as “Just not being a dick to people because you can.” If someone wants to be seen as one thing or another, who the hell cares? If Ellen wants or needs to be Elliot, and you’re the kind of person who keeps calling them “Her” then you’re rude, cruel, and worst of all petty. In a world thigh deep in hate and anger, why do we waste energy twisting our gutchies into a knot over this small crap?

And, finally, there is this: in these sorts of posts, I have a rule about editing. I write once-through, no rough drafts beyond the occasional lifting from comments I’ve scribbled on Facebook posts of website comment sections (so I can say, as I wrote yesterday in the New York Times–or not) for elaboration. I often end up someplace different than where I expected to be and sometimes I had no idea where I was going from the beginning. I note this with extra irony today, as I reread what I’ve written over the past hour and realize: this post is too much about me. I got my story prompt from Elliot Page & Nicole Russell, but that turned out to be unintentional bait and switch. It’s all about me. My reactions. My thoughts. My condemnations. My bandy-legged effort to be a better person. Isn’t that part of the same continuum I’m condemning? Isn’t my leg snagged in the same trap?


Wednesday Words: Abraham Lincoln


Wednesday Words is a weekly offering of an inspiring, insightful, or temporally relevant quote–given the current state of the USA, this one felt particularly appropriate.

My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.
–Abraham Lincoln