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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:
Screenshot_7

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:
Screenshot_7

 

 

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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Michael Vick Furor + I H8 Change.org

So, my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers went out and signed pariah quarterback Michael Vick as what is likely to be a short term fill-in as a backup.  Predictably, a few dim, narrow corridors in the social media maze have gone ablaze with fury fired so hot that it quickly consumed all available oxygen, which resulted in secondary hypoxia for all therein.  That anti-Vick crowd, now gasping for breath, still writhes angrily on the floor, contorted in bitter and frustrated resentment.

vickAfter almost no thought at all I offered my own opinion elsewhere…

“Vick screwed up–but I think it’s safe, if not particularly correct or popular–to say that the business with dog fighting has a certain cultural element to it–and by culture I mean, yes: poverty, latitude, and race.  That isn’t an indictment of any group–different communities have their vices–poor people, and black people are inordinately represented among the poor, are more apt to be involved in dog fighting than wealthier folks–and it doesn’t hurt that the latter know better how to keep their hands appearing clean.

Dog fighting, and its associated abuses, was not taboo in Vick’s microcosm.  He grew up around it, like a lot of poor city kids, and while he probably knew in the abstract that it was wrong, it didn’t really sink in until he was hip deep in trouble. (and for the love of the gods why doesn’t the NFL hire a team of “cleaners” who would find these kids and see what they hell they’re into that won’t wash now that they’re famous, then make them stop?) Ignorance–or even the fact that in much of the word dogs = calories–doesn’t exonerate him, but it does explain what he did and why, and it’s long past time to move forward from what happened because, as those before me said, he’s paid what society demanded of him. And more. He went to prison and lost millions upon millions of dollars as well as the prime years of his athletic career. We forgive a lot worse people for a lot more terrible things.

He also worked his way back and, as far as we know, has been an exemplary citizen (and yeh, I’m knocking on wood as I say it) and an admirably professional athlete. The free agent cupboard is pretty bare, especialy at quarterback, and I can’t think of a better available free agent, between his maturity and his skills. I’m glad that the Steelers are going out and taking care of business pro-actively. If Gradkowski wasn’t hurt, I’d think differently. At this point, I don’t sign Vick over Bruce–but with no viable backup (Jones is still a project and then some)–there simply isn’t anyone else out there right now, and from a purely football standpoint this is a good signing.”

Within a few minutes of posting this, one of my “real name” friends stuck up an angry change.org petition on her facebook page, that bleated “Michael Vick is a convicted felon and no-class piece of crap. He is also a terrible QB which is why he has no team.  Let’s united as Steeler fans – as NFL fans – and stop him from playing on our team! Steelers fans united! Sign to keep Vick from ever wearing the coveted Steelers uniform!!”

Ugh.  If there is one thing that makes me want to invite Michael Vick over to the house for a nice, “Welcome To Western Pennsylvania” meal, it is a Change.org petition.

Change.org petitions are one of several reasons that I have stopped identifying myself as a liberal, which strictly speaking I never was, at least not by definition. Libertine, but not liberal.  As I’ve said before, my politics skew to the old school Bull Moose progressivism–populist, anti-corporate, strong domestic policy, etc–and the namby pamby sensitivity that accompanies “liberalism” as it is colloquially regarded, respulses me. These petitions are little more than vehicles for us to feel good about ourselves with the least possible effort–look, ma, I clicked against that guy who did that thing! I clicked hard, too!  I was really ticked off! I made a difference! Yay me!

We’ve become too weak, too fragile in our sensitivities, and it the case of Mr. Vick, we’re grossly hypocritical. He killed dogs. It’s a terrible thing. I love dogs. I love my 40 pound dog who sits on my lap and lets me hold her like she’s an infant. I prefer her company to that of all but a very few humans. Vick’s actions disgusted me, but how much do we ask of one man–at what point do we forgive? We work tirelessly to rehabilitate other criminals–we cheer them when they transcend their missteps, however vile, but because Mike Vick is famous he must be forever marked. If he was a stringy haired punk from the corner who’d done his time, cleared his parole, and got himself a new job, we’d point to him as gleaming beacon of hope for the success of justice system. But he’s a black dude who runs fast, and gets to be on TV, so he’ll never pay enough. Would we resent him if he got a job at Dairy Queen? No, because the schadenfreude would be washing over us so thick and warm we’d tremble in orgiastic delight.

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The Great Carols Conflict

This post appears out of order–it should have hit the net before the last post, but I’m apparently not clever enough to handle complex things like calendars.  I trust that you all are smart enough to figure it out, so here you go

My wife has a little less Christmas spirit than I do. More specifically: she’s sane. I am not.

While we both object to the ridiculous hastening of Christmas marketing–some national retailers were stocking Holiday displays in mid-October this year,– including the appearance of Christmas paraphernalia on store shelves, and Christmas commercials on TV and radio before we even carve our Jack-O-Lanterns, there is a small, silent part of me that responds to the commercial propaganda with an irresistible anticipation. My wife wants nothing to do with anything Christmas-related before about Dec 20. When Christmas carols begin warbling from the radio in mid-November she has been known to glower and mumble irritably.

My personal rules exclude carols from regular rotation until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (unless she awakes in a bad mood) because I recall fond memories of my mother rushing about wildly trying to catch up on all the holiday chores she let go until the very last minute while a succession of vinyl LPs blared Andy Williams, Steve & Edie, Bing Crosby and dozens of others on the old General Electric stereo—the fancy kind with the device on the center that let us pile on up to seven records that played one side of each in succession, after which the entire stack was flipped to play the b-sides inrecord player reverse order. That was the day, as a child, that I knew with certainty that Christmas was, at last, on the horizon—and possibly why we celebrate the holidays here from around November 25 until Twelfth Night.

We listen with some respect to my wife’s sensibility now—and it isn’t until the day after Thanksgiving, the dreaded Black Friday, that I generally  let the music fly.  Traditionally, the first Carol of the year is Steve & Edie’s Sleigh Ride,

followed by The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York—not spiritual tunes, but songs of joy, festivity, celebration, love, dreams, hopes, regrets and so many of the varied emotions that flood our hearts at this time of year.  My favorite Christmas carol pun, always sure to coax a few groans from the crowd: “Steve and Edie sleigh me.”  Get it?

I have about 40 Christmas recordings on CD dozens more on vinyl , and a growing variety of MP3 recordings– so many that some are barely played while others seem to invariably be called up again and again. Posts about my favorite Christmas albums are in the near future, so I won’t spoil that here, but for 5 weeks everyone around me is subjected to swing-heavy barrage of seasonal cheer. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the assault is relentless, but also cheerful and more than a little nostalgic.

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Olympics Volume 2–Meryl Takes Down Downton

It was Sunday night, the sofa was soft, the down comforter warm, and the sun was shining on Downton Abbey–it’s always shining on the glacially slow BBC soap opera, you might have noticed, despite what I’ve heard about England, yet it was brighter still inside the ice arena in Sochi, Russia where the world’s finest ice dancers were doing their thing in the short program–see how I’m talking in cool skater jargon?–and lighting things up.  We tuned out of England and headed for the East.

I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at, of course–I know basketball and football (American Football, the best kind 😉 )–but all I know about skating is that skaters have to fit “swizzles” into their programs.  Otherwise, I’m judging what looks good, what looks fluid and graceful and, well, (sorry, gentlemen) what looks pretty.  Last night, they all looked pretty, and it doesn’t help that I’m a guy who, despite feminist leanings, can’t help noticing how beautiful some of these women are–muscles, smiles, short skirts–it’s better than art on a wall.  I’m generally too beguiled by the beauty and the unfamiliar sport to be any kind of judge, unless one of them teeters visibly or falls down.

moir, virtueThe top couples last night all stayed upright.  We caught Canadians Scott Moir and  Tessa Virtue early on and decided they were unbeatable, even if the young lady didn’t have the most perfect figure skater name ever.  Tessa Virtue.  A name like that doesn’t even need a publicist–at least not in theory.

Elena Ilinykh, Nikita KatsalapovA short while later, we enjoyed watching a young Russian pair, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, and you know what? Yep, they looked unbeatable, though I thought–or, more appropriately, felt something that made me wonder if the Canadians were not just a little bit better.  At it turned out, it was close, but I was right.

Fabian Bourzat Nathalie PechalatThe next skaters were noticed were a French pair, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who I think I liked best of all, up to that point, and guess what: I thought they looked unbeatable. It doesn’t hurt that Ms. Pechalat wore the most beautiful, most exuberant smile on her already beautiful face throughout their program–I wanted them to do well on spirit alone, and they did, landing briefly in third place behind Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Virtue/Moir.

Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew PojeThey had to know it would be short-lived.  Even though another young Canadian pair–Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje--came out and gave a great showing–not quite unbeatable, but fluid and spirited, and Ms. Weaver’s brilliant blue dress was the hands-down scene stealer of the evening, the night belonged to the last couple to skate.

It seemed like NBC packed an especically dense set of commercials into the space before Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice, and why shouldn’t they?  This all-American couple of student-athletes has been anointed as the face of the American Olympic team this year, and for all intents and purposes they were a very good choice: smart, upbeat, and wholesome–some of my favorite images of this Olympics have been of White and Davis off the ice, cheering for their team-mates and consoling them when things haven’t turned for the best.  You have to like that.

c55885bce17cdc211e64e00fb26901b6dc406cd5Of course, they’re also the best skaters in the world right now, and while I can’t quantify why, it was clear the moment they hit the ice–even to a neophyte like myself.  I could not see, so much as I felt the difference–the skill and the surety of their performance, the confidence in every movement.  It is their moment, they knew it, and their world record finish pretty much cemented the fact–while simultaneously burying all but the most emphatic–and nationalistic–rumors of score fixing that had been swirling around. Meanwhile, back and Downton Abbey, absolutely nothing had happened.

More Olympics:

https://oldroadapples.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/the-olympics-volume-1/