Kaepernick Castigated–Revised and Updated

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It seems like I’m writing about jocks a lot of late, but what’s a guy to do? Colin Kaepernick, the once beloved, now beleaguered quarterback from the San Francisco 49ers, hit the news with a big old bang by sitting out the national anthem before his premier appearance in a pre-season NFL game last night. When the expected, foaming-mouthed outcries exploded across the inter-webs, Kaepernick doubled down with a now-removed tweet, that read “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

Oh, Colin. I hope you know what you’re doing.

It seems that he might because, where there’s a bunch of this kind of asshattery:
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from people who don’t really get what liberty and free speech means, he’s also getting a tremendous amount of support for the personal risk he’s taken in speaking his mind. The blathering choruses of “if he doesn’t like America, he should leave” along with various threats and, most interestingly, the declarations that because of his own, hard-won successes he doesn’t deserve to speak out on social issues are almost as bemusing—and certainly as predictable—as they are disappointing.

I was pleased and surprised to see any support after all the overwrought reaction to Gabby Douglas’s distracted forgetting to place her hand on her heart during her Olympic medal ceremony. Douglas made a mistake, but Kaepernick made a political statement, and frankly I expected that Twitter would be burning up with demands for his literal crucifixion. I did see some burning effigies, wild accusations of Muslim extremism (because everything bad in America is related to Islam, somehow, it seems), but mostly just tired calls to shut up and get out.

I realized that this isn’t really about Kaepernick at all—it’s about people using him as an excuse to exhibit their own, superior nationalist fervor. Indeed, it’s like there’s a contest for people to compete against each other to prove who’s the most awesomest best damn American ever.

We are officially a nation of Eighth Graders.

What Kaepernick did is not something that I would do, even though I passionately and aggressively support the right of anyone to express dissent. I must admit to considerable ambivalence about the sanctity of the national anthem. Don’t get me wrong, I like the anthem—at least the first two verses of it. That bit in the third stanza, No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave… that curses runaway slaves to death is a little iffy, but put me in a stadium with just the first, common verse and I like hearing it, I respect the tradition, and I respect those for whom the ritual holds great reverence. I participate in it even though I hate the sheep-like feeling of everyone standing up and fawning over a symbol-whether that symbol is a flag or a song. But I’m not fond of mass oaths and that sort of stuff in general. In church, growing up, the droning Lord’s Prayer and the responsive readings made me uncomfortable. I’ve just never been much of a joiner.

But do we want to live in a country where standing up and saluting the symbols of the motherland is compulsory? We’ve seen that sort of thing before and it never works out real well.

“But do we want to live in a country where standing up and saluting the symbols of the motherland is compulsory? We’ve seen that sort of thing before and it never works out real well.”

Interestingly, at least to me, when I sat down to write this, I had it in my mind that I wanted to talk about the futility of controversial statements and actions and the tendency of those things to do little more than stir up knee-jerk reactionaries who tend to equate dissatisfaction with the state and subsequent expressions of free speech as disrespect for God, Jesus, and the sacrifices of our brave veterans. I’ve covered this ground previously, in regard to flag-burning, which I’ve always considered a wasteful and counter-productive act because the right to burn a flag means that in destroying it one actually enforces the ideals behind it. Like Jesus forgiving from the cross, or Obi-Wan Kenobi saying “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can imagine.” And that’s a beautiful thing.

As I wrote, I lost just about any impulse to condemn the San Francisco quarterback, mostly in response to Mr. Kaepernick’s explanation of his position. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game against Green Bay. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

It seems a little crass to suggest that Kaepernick is a bad person whose wealth disqualifies him from speaking about what he sees. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that we’re in the middle of an ugly Presidential election in which one candidate’s entire platform is based on the fact that America sucks. Every day, his ads tell us we’re not great, we’re awful, we’re losers. Every word that oozes out of his thin, gelatinous lips tells us how  awful and low we are, how terrible the country is, and yet he is beloved by legions of flag-waving yahoos who brag about wanting to lynch black men by their penises. (Yes, apparently that is a thing.) Here’s a rich guy running for President who actually called our military  “a disaster” and who jokingly compared what soldiers endured in Viet Nam to his fight not to catch a venereal disease while sitting out due to one of his four deferments. On a personal note, I didn’t know my father until I was three years old because Appalachian farm boys didn’t get deferments for bone spurs so they could stay home, play squash and baseball in the day, and fight desperately against the scourge of gonorrhea by night.

“Here’s a rich guy running for President who actually called our military  “a disaster” and who jokingly compared what soldiers endured in Viet Nam to his fight not to catch a venereal disease while sitting out due to one of his four deferments”

Should Trump keep his mouth shut because America has been good to him? Is he too rich to have the right to stick his foot in his mouth? I wish, but the answer is no. Indeed, I’m a working class white guy–nobody is oppressing me–does that mean I don’t have the right to speak out about perceived injustices? Because I haven’t experienced them personally? Does Mr. Kaepernick’s wealth negate his right to free expression any more of less than Mr. Trump’s?

So, what would I say to Mr. Kaepernick, if I had the chance? Well, I disagree with the idea that the confederate battle flag and the American Flag are no different from each other—but let’s take into account that, as a mature white guy, the America I experience on a daily basis is very different from the world even my most educated, articulate, and prosperous black friends experience. My pretty blonde wife got pulled over for a burned out tail-light the other day. She never worried about whether that traffic stop would end her life, and the officer didn’t even run her license. “I just wanted to let you know to get that fixed as soon as you can. Have a nice day.”

From where I stand the rebel flag is an overt assertion that both glorifies and threatens oppression, racial supremacy, and exploitation. It is also the flag of traitors. The American flag, in my mind, does not symbolize our failures–of which there are so very many–as a nation and a society so much as it does the higher ideals and possibilities to which we should and often do aspire. Equating the American flag with the southern hate rag means surrendering to cynicism and abandoning hope, two things I refuse to do, however tempted I might be from time to time. The stars and stripes represent the dream of what we could be, at our best. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire Mr. Kaepernick for the personal risk he is taking in speaking up for what is right. Perhaps my entitlement has allowed me just enough hope that I’m either unwilling to surrender the American flag to the blathering simpletons of the Redneck Right, which is what I’d feel like I was doing.

In trying to understand Mr. Kaepernick’s perspective, something his critics have clearly not bothered to do, it is vital to remember that he’s a kid, still ingrained with the idealism I mentioned above, and probably more than a little feisty in the way most exceptional athletes are—confident and inclined towards action.

Who can’t remember being angry at unfairness—a complaint every kid makes. It’s not fair. I can clearly remember becoming furiously angry upon learning that were “wrong” and “unjust,” specifically because I was raised in a devoutly patriotic family where a big deal was made about all the veterans in our line, going back to the French and Indian war. I took it all in, and then I grew up and I learned about slavery and the labor movement and it was the 1980s and we were manipulating governments in south and central America and I was outraged. Outraged! I wanted to argue all the time and protest and speak up and, you know, fix stuff. Did I hate America? No, I hated that America hadn’t lived up to the higher standards to which I held it—and to which I still hold it.

“Kaepernick is a jock… what can he do? He runs fast, but he can’t stop a single speeding bullet, let alone hundreds upon hundreds of them. So, he makes a gesture…”

It’s easy to look at at kid like Kaepernick, who has so much, and be dismissive. He was adopted by a great family, got a super education, and seized opportunities to experience fame, success and wealth. Why shouldn’t he just shut up and count his blessings? Is it a bad thing that when he looks around himself, from his position of comfort, and sees that it is still a terrifying thing for young black men to live in America, he follows the urge to speak up? I know there are plenty of folks who are think that the thousands–thousands!–of dead kids are fully culpable for their own deaths. They shouldn’t have run. They should have raised their hands. They shouldn’t be carrying guns even if they’ve got permits. They shouldn’t be in that neighborhood. On that street. On that corner. Its probably right to assume that some of those dead kids brought it on themselves. Alternately, just as most cops are good, enough of them are not that we’ve got an epidemic. It’s not all racism, the transition to dominance-based policing over community policing has created a militaristic law enforcement paradigm that is rooted in aggression.

But Kaepernick is a jock—he’s not a sociologist, or social critic, or even some guy with a blog who’d rather write all night than sleep. He turns on the news, like so many people of all colors, and sees dead black guys weekly, sometimes daily, and he gets angry, but what can he do? He runs fast, but he can’t stop a single speeding bullet, let alone hundreds upon hundreds of them. So, he makes a gesture, probably thinking “I’m sick of this shit.” (He must be, because I am). He sits down and decides not to sing the national anthem, which rings so hollow in his ears. Then someone sticks a microphone in his face, and the next thing we all know he is the vehicle through which every Trump-grubbing Yahoo in America is trying to earn his ‘Murican flag lapel pin.

Personally, I think it was an ill-considered move on his part–but I’m old and cynical, far removed from the kid who refused to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag his entire senior year in high school because 1) I read in a civics book that it wasn’t a law, just a red scare thing, and they couldn’t make me, 2) It’s kind of creepy, making public pledges, everyone droning the same words at the same time feels cultish to me still, and 3) It pissed off my homeroom teacher, and I liked that.

Well, Mrs. Chronoski had the good sense to sit quietly and not encourage me. Perhaps she even smiled to herself and remembered what it was like to be young and idealist. It’s a pity so many of us haven’t a similar capacity for restraint.

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Colin Kaepernick Castigated For Free Speech

sio9ul01fseodfb4r4q4Seems like I’m writing about jocks a lot of late, but what’s a guy to do? Colin Kaepernick, the once beloved, now beleaguered quarterback from the San Francisco 49ers, hit the news with a big old bang by sitting out the national anthem before his premier appearance in a pre-season nfl game last night. When the expected, foaming-mouthed outcries exploded across the interwebs, Kaepernick doubled down with a now-removed tweet, that read “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

Oh, Colin. I hope you know what you’re doing.

It seems that he might because, where there’s a bunch of this kind of asshattery:
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from people who don’t really get what liberty and free speech means–except that you should be humble and respectful that you have it, and absolutely unable to actually use it–, he’s also getting a tremendous amount of support for taking a stand. I was pleased and surprised to see that support after all the overwrought reaction to Gabby Douglas’s distracted forgetting to place her hand on her heart during her Olympic medal ceremony.  Douglas made a mistake, but Kaepernick made a political statement, and frankly I expected that Twitter would be burning up with demands for his literal crucifixion.

It is not something that I would do, even though I passionately and aggressively support the right of anyone to express dissent.  I’m absolutely ambivalent about the sanctity of the national anthem. I like the anthem. I like hearing it, I respect the tradition, and I respect those for whom the ritual holds great reverence. I participate in it even though I hate the sheeplike feeling of everyone standing up and fawning over a symbol-whether that symbol is a flag or a song. But I’m not fond of mass oaths and that sort of stuff in general. In church, growing up, the droning Lord’s Prayer and the responsive readings made me uncomfortable. I guess I’m just not much of a joiner.

When I sat down to write this, I had it in my mind that I wanted to talk about the futility of controversial statements and actions and the tendency of those things to do little more than stir up kneejerk reactionaries who tend to equate dissatisfaction with the state and subsequent expressions of free speech as disrespect for God, Jesus, and the sacrifices of our brave veterans.

In the course of writing, that has changed. Much of that change is rooted in Mr. Kaepernick’s explanation of his position. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game against Green Bay. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that we’re in the middle of an ugly Presidential election in which one candidate’s entire platform is based on the fact that America sucks. Every day, his ads tell us we’re not great, we’re awful, we’re losers. Every word that oozes out of his thin, gelatinous lips tells us how just how awful and low we are, how terrible the country is, and yet he is beloved by legions of flag-waving yahoos who brag about wanting to lynch black men by their penises. Yes, apparently that is a thing.

I want to make it very clear that I get, as a white guy, that the America I experience on a day to day basis is very different from the world even my most educated, articulate, and prosperous black friends experience. My pretty blonde wife got pulled over for a burned out tail-light the other day. She never worried about whether that traffic stop would end her life, and the officer didn’t even run her license. “I just wanted to let you know to get that fixed as soon as you can. Have a nice day.”

Nevertheless, I so disagree with the idea that the confederate battle flag and the American Flag are no different from each other. The rebel flag is an overt assertion in favor of oppression, racial supremacy, and exploitation. It is the flag of traitors. The American flag, in my mind, does not symbolize our failures–of which there are so very many–as a nation and a society so much as it does the higher ideals and possibilities to which we should and often do aspire. Equating the American flag with the Southern Hate Rag means surrendering to cynicism and abandoning hope, two things I refuse to do, however tempted I might be from time to time. The stars and stripes represent the dream of what we could be, at our best. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire Mr. Kaepernick for the personal risk he is taking in speaking up for what is right. Perhaps my entitlement has allowed me just enough hope that I’m either unwilling to surrender the American flag to the blathering simpletons of the Redneck Right, which is what I’d feel like I was doing. After all, I still cling to my favorite meme:
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I Don’t Care. I’m With Hope.

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Lots of schadenfreude in the op ed pages and comment sections since Hope Solo, bitter and disappointed in Team USA’s unexpected loss to Sweden in the Olympics, stepped in it on the world stage. Facing the athletically superior Americans, Sweden used a strategy of slow down and keep-away to maintain a slim lead, and hung on to win. After the game, Solo, the American goalkeeper, frustrated and heartbroken, lashed out, calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” for their tactical unwillingness to engage the Americans straight up.

To be clear, Solo shouldn’t have done that. It not only reflected poorly on her and on the team, but it gave the Sweden’s snarky coach (who once upon a time coached the American team, and knew them well) on opportunity to gloat.

The recriminations against the larger-than-life Solo, who has been no stranger to controversy, were as swift and merciless as they were gleeful. Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Sally Jenkins wrote against Solo as if gunning for some sort of personal retribution, her petty screed so tangible I swear I could see the ink running where here spittle-flying assault speckled the text. I had no idea so many people hated a woman who has, by her own admissions, has had some troubled moments and suffered from some serious lapses in judgement off the field, while possibly being the all-time best American to ever play.

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Today, it was reported that Solo has had her contract cancelled as well as receiving a 6-month suspension from the national team. I expected Solo to face discipline, but I’m not sure that stripping one the great athletes of her generation of her livelihood in the waning years of her career is commensurate to her transgression.

The thing that I keep coming back to is that Solo’s remarks–and once again I’ll tell you that she was wrong to make them–were made in the moments following a devastating and unexpected loss. I couldn’t help but think of the press pillorying Cam Newton after the most recent Super Bowl when the player seemed withdrawn and unemotional after his gut-wrenching loss. I thought at the time: do you  want the guy who seems utterly destroyed by a super bowl loss on your team, or the guy who is glibly yakking it up with the media, smiling and barking “we’ll get ’em next year” platitudes? I’ll take the destroyed guy every time, the guy who is aching.

It is no different with Hope Solo. I want the players who are broken up or, yes, mad as hell, about losing. I don’t want sheep. I want lions, and whatever Hope Solo may be she is, first and foremost, a lion.

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Why Not Solve A Real Problem, Uber?

Screenshot_6I love the idea of Uber, since I’m not a traditional taxi driver working within the old paradigm, but it upsets me that the ultimate goal of this company is to join the rush to replace human drivers with robots. As a Sci-Fi guy, I ought to be thrilled as pie over the prospect of autonomous robot cars taking us where we want to go–visions of retro-futuristic transparent capsules whisking us through tubes from one place to another come to mind–but I’m weary of the profit-driven philosophy of eliminating good, honest workers from the dynamic.

skytran_stationI’m also wondering: how long before these robot cars are hacked by some Ukrainian 14-year-old who takes one on a demolition derby joyride through downtown at lunch hour?

I jest, but not really. It would be great, if the goal was to lift us all into some sort of morally elevated “post-economics” economy where folks are freed from the necessity of earning money and able to pursue livelihoods as passionate pursuits rather than life or death struggles for shelter and sustenance, but we all know that robot Yelp cars are not being made so poets can be poets, singers can sing songs, and scientists can toil, free from funding concerns, to right the wrongs of a few centuries of egregious consumption.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-18/uber-s-first-self-driving-fleet-arrives-in-pittsburgh-this-month-is06r7on

Uber robot cars are being made so taxi drivers can lose their jobs, and their former salaries can land in the oversized pockets of wealthy investors. There is no thought or concern for 53695250.cmsthe welfare of the displaced, and that’s a bad thing. Uber cars are also not going to do a damned thing about the real transportation problem, which is that too many of us have too many cars, a problem we can only fix with improved mass transit or, preferably, birth control. Lots and lots and lots of birth control.

Now, you’re thinking: listen to the mealy-mouthed socialist ranting about economic justice; but you’re wrong. I’m a money grubbing materialist just like the rest of you–the difference is that I’m fundamentally lazy and just unwilling to do a lot of the stuff I’d need to do in order to have the cool stuff I covet. The result is the same, however: a life mostly unencumbered by commerce.

What is bad about Uber, and all the other technologists laboring diligently to trade manpower for money, is that none of them exist in a vacuum and when these advancements reach widespread implementation the cumulative effect will be staggering, as the wages of first tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, pool in the pockets of a few score of speculators and “innovators.” Now, if you believe in the gospel of trickle-down economics, you may not be concerned, but the years have shown me that those pools are deep, with almost unlimited capacity, and only a fraction of what goes in actually drips out.

When Henry Ford began implementing his assembly line factory in the early 1900s some of his fellow industrialists were put off by his insistence on paying his workers a salary far closer to a living wage than was common at the time. They argued that other workers would demand similarly “unreasonable” treatment, but Ford shrugged them off, not out of any great fondness for the utterly replaceable men whose sweat and blood comprised the building blocks of his fortune. No, he simply recognized that if he wanted to sell his automobiles there would need to be sufficient prosperity in the middle class for enough people to be able to actually buy them.

It is happening already, though we don’t see it. Take two primary extraction industries whose howls of government persecution and vilification at the hands of tree-hugging liberals, if you will. I won’t bother with the details here, but I invite you to compare the number of coal mining jobs lost to environmental regulation with the number of reductions caused by automation in that industry as well as the significant effects of competing energies–largely natural gas–in which increased efficiencies, many of them labor-saving, have resulted in more competitive pricing. On the west coast, ten times as many jobs in the timber industry have been lost to automation as have been lost to environmental concerns, like the infamous Spotted Owl.

That’s where we’re heading with each labor-killing step towards automation: an economy in which the only viable industries will be built around servicing the super-wealthy, a flawed and dangerously unstable prospect. I can’t be alone in thinking that we’d be better off incentivizing technology that elevates people and creates jobs–and solve real social and environmental problems, rather than rewarding those who revolutionize the time-honored tradition of filling our pockets with the contents of others’.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-18/uber-s-first-self-driving-fleet-arrives-in-pittsburgh-this-month-is06r7on

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I’m More Patriotic Than You…

…And I can prove by being the biggest asshole I can be to Olympic Gymnast Gabby Douglas, a young woman I never met, barely heard about, and haven’t thought of since her spectacular performances in the London Olympic Games of 2012.

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In case you’re living under a rock–and if so, I envy you–you at least know who Gabby Douglas is, but just in case, here’s the lowdown: American gymnast, kicked ass in London four years ago, made the team again this year as a bit of a long shot at age 20. Once a darling of the media, and those who are told by the media who is supposed to be our darling, she was replaced this time around with a younger, even better model of cute tiny bouncing jumping twisting tumbling cover-your-eyes-she-could-fall bundle of energy and recast as the somber old fogey grasping for a last chance at glory.

Douglas did well, but not as well as the last time around, and she was clearly disappointed in herself, which the media played up, contrasting her unhappiness with the effervescent ebullience of Simone Biles, the aforementioned new darling. Douglas was good enough to compete for the team award, however, which won a Gold Medal, which should have been the crowning moment for a stupendous week, if it weren’t for a lapse.

During the playing of the American National Anthem. Douglas stood straight-backed and stoic, hands at her side.Uh-oh.
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The internet exploded with angry recriminations as spit-spraying idiots tripped all over themselves in competition to prove how fucking awesomely patriotic they are by trying to administer the biggest symbolic beat down on some kid, by tearing into a young woman whose big crime is a breach of the “flag code.”

I could not help but wonder what mode of torment would sufficiently punish this horrible bitch for her irredeemable transgression. Would tar and feathering be good, or is that too old fashioned? What about burning at the stake?  Or hanging?–but that might remind us of some stuff great-grandpa did on his night rides that we’d rather not talk about. Gunfire seems to be in vogue–but it turned out they were content to rant on twitter like a bunch of petty little children.

It didn’t help that the internet is filled with photos like this, from a previous competition:
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The Twitter noise was intense, as morons vomited recriminations from trailer packs across the country. You can find them easily enough, but I won’t link a thing here, lest I generate hits for these bellicose asshats. But the content is easy enough to imagine: bitch, traitor, ingrate, baby, un-American, and a host of subtle and not so  subtle racial stuff, much of it aimed as impaling Ms. Douglas as a proxy for the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been hard to read any of it without feeling ashamed by my own patriotism, wondering, is this the country that I love so much?

Seriously. This is what outrages us? What a small, ugly people we’ve become. They ought to build a wall to keep us in. Until then, I’m forced to wonder, which is more unpatriotic?
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Is It Acceptable To Be An Angry White Guy…

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When what I’m angry about is all the other angry white guys who also happen to be stupid, gullible, rage-addled, entitled douchebags?

Honestly, I’d made a conscious vow to lay low over the summer and on into November, partly to continue work on the novel that won’t seem to end, partly to enjoy more time with my family and friends, but mostly to alleviate the caustic, cumulative effects of a long and bitter political season.

I couldn’t do it. I went to my doctor the other day and discovered exceedingly high–dangerously high–levels of bile in my system, as well as a large amount of detritus lodged in my craw. Both, I was warned, can be life-threatening if not addressed swiftly. Luckily for me, both conditions can be mitigated (there is no total cure, one can only address the symptoms) through incision and drainage, releasing pressure and toxins as one would lance a boil.

Consider much of what’s to come a direct result of that process. And be warned. I’ve sat quietly through months of Trump, and the resulting immune response has left me brimming with rancorous puss (what? the boil isn’t the metaphor you would have chosen to carry forward?) to drain onto the page.

So, I guess I’m back early. I know a few of you won’t be rejoicing, but tough. Read at your own peril.

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An Hour From Boise (another excerpt from an abandoned story)

A fun little bit from back in earliest days of this blog, as my full schedule continues to stand between you, gentle reader, and me.

Old Road Apples

Motorcycle_CopThere’s this pit of the stomach feeling, I know you know it, when you blaze over the crest of a slope on the highway with the Pogues blaring Streams of Whiskey from a dozen speakers and that big block Chevy 454 thundering backup, and the unmistakable profile of a Ford Police Interceptor crouches on the median like a sullen lion. There’s no time to brake, no place to go, the speedo jiggling somewhere north of ninety.  You reel it in causally, will he buy it that the beast got away from you—and your normally grandmother-like driving—and what about those hippie-dippy girls in the backseat, stinking of patchouli and peanut butter.  The pretty one, the one with the freckles in her cleavage and the ice blue eyes, is snoring like a drunk.  It’s likely she is, in fact, still drunk—and god knows what else.  You don’t even want to know what…

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