Commentary Uncategorized

Don’t Equate Protest With Disrespect

President Donald Trump catapulted the issue of growing numbers of athletes opting to “take a knee” during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before their contests further into the limelight this past weekend, jumping in on the side of the hyper-patriotic conservative reactionaries who have been, predictably, popping gaskets over this form of protest since former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick first decided to sit out the anthem around this time last year. Trump spewed a typically vindictive, smirking and self-satisfied incitement, urging NFL owners to respond to protests by terminating any player who dares to take a knee.

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired,'” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

The president doubled down on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect. … our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

I wanted to write about this, but where to start? A sitting President who, already widely accused of white nationalist proclivities, profanely demands the revocation of fundamental rights for a prominent group of predominantly black young men who dare to speak up for a righteous cause? The now-customary Trump tactic of purposefully throwing a polarizing, divisive tantrum on the heels a a particularly bad news week? The pride-inspiring response of the NFL which, from top to bottom, demonstrated an admirable front of solidarity?

No, what gets me is the cheap rhetorical trick of equating the flag with veterans, and common protest with disrespect for veterans–a false equivalency that trivializes both the symbol of our nation and the men and women who have stood up to defend it or, too often, project its ideological will.

If one insists on waxing symbolic over the stars and stripes, it is compulsory to understand that the flag stands for so much more than military service, representing the core values–the unrealized ideals–upon which this nation was founded. Not just what we are, but what we purport to be, what we must aspire to be. Chief among these is free speech, particularly free speech in dissent.

The glory of the flag is that even the most disrespectful act against it as a symbol and, by extension, the institutions it represents, is turned into a sign of the strength. A protester burning a flag is at once showing her anger and disappointment while simultaneously demonstrating the freedoms the flag represents. In burning the flag, one proves its inviolability. You can’t really destroy the flag–burning its fibers only proves what it is supposed to stand for.

The flag does not need defense against committed young men who kneel before it to express their legitimate frustration and discontent in an inherently gentle act. Indeed, the flag protects them like a shield. In the same way, our veterans do not need to be protected from peaceful citizens who clasp hands, take a knee, and bow their heads quietly. Those veterans fought to preserve the right for these men to do so and, what’s more, both flag and fighting men and women are stronger than an imagined insult.

Funny and/or Strange meme Uncategorized

Autumn Coming: Time For Pumpkin Flavored Everything

We recently had the first crisp evening that hinted at the changes to come, that feeling in the air that native Westsylvanians recognize as “a Football Night.” In the verges, the annual flora are showing wear, the color of goldenrod lines country roads and the counts of our prolific whitetail deer seen dead along the highways, stirred to their violent ends by the hormonal surges of the rut and the the instinctive understanding that food will soon be much less abundant. In the trees, the earliest leaves are already beginning to flush, and in the bars and coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries, the taps and pitchers and shelves are suddenly and predictably weighted by food and drink flavored with “Pumpkin Spice.” If you expected me to offer consolation, I apologize. I have none to give. Indeed, the words that might help are these: be strong and resolute. Like all tribulations, this too will pass.


Kaepernick Castigated–Revised and Updated


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:

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.


I Don’t Care. I’m With Hope.


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.


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.


Johnny “Football” Manziel Throwing It Away

The cops knocked on another door last night and guess who answered? If you said Johnny anbjlqcxm3qr5fgleyqrManziel, the pride of Texas, you’d be right, although the odds were pretty much stacked in your favor.  Something like 67% of all police calls these days involve the ubiquitously undisciplined (soon to be ex-?) Cleveland Browns quarterback.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch a guy shovel money into a shredder, or turn gold into compost, Johnny Football gives you the chance.  I simply cannot recall a situation where someone with such promise has so methodically thrown away wealth that folks were literally scrambling over each other to deliver. The only thing he is squandering faster than his future is the goodwill of the people–rich, powerful people who don’t enjoy having noses thumbed in their direction, and who sign his checks. Not only that, but he could have owned Cleveland (like the Steelers do!), a city so desperate for even the promise of success that his inevitably slow development would have been patiently accepted. They’re dying for a hero in Browns’ country.

I’m forced to wonder if he’ll be so cavalier when he’s drawing $32,850 as an assistant football coach at some Division 2 college way out in the sweaty part of Missouri.

Photo I Like summer photos

2015 Summer Wonders #44: Biggest Meets Smallest

B8ye9NAIQAEHe54.jpg large



Michael Chow/USA Today Sports
Getty Images
Getty Images
Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Was That A Soccer Game, Or What?

Blood, mayhem, aggression, speed, defense…USA 2, Germany 0.  Should have gone to a bar for the wall-sized TV.


Commentary Funny and/or Strange

Soccer (football with a “small f”) Corruption

Wars, disease, famine, earthquakes, a really big case hitting the U.S. Supreme Court tomororow, and a movie about California breaking in half before The Rock fixes it with a helicopter–and STILL the top story in the news for a second day in a row is that some guys in suits related to some international soccer organization or another are corrupt. Woooooooo, I’m shocked.

What’s next? Hurling? (That’s not fair, hurling is kind of cool). Okay then: curling?

A guy named Sepp Blatter is somehow involved. I think he might have deflated some soccer balls, not to give anyone an advantage or anything, but out of vengeance for that name. Sepp Blatter sounds like an ineptly villainous Monty Python character–i’m thinking German guy, maybe with a lisp.  Or maybe it’s German for “Tom Brady?”

My news aggregator is full of these soccer stories. What the hell?  I could read them to find out what the deal is but, you know, it’s soccer.  Maybe if it was croquette?  Or Marbles?  Marbles would make it a story.

But maybe this Sepp Blatter fellow is bad. It’s possible, I guess. I know Putin is all pissed off about it.  But I’m wondering, what’s ISIL up to today?  How about those Chinese naval hijinks?  Floods in Texas?  Lost shipments of Anthrax–that’s a real page 6 whoopsie, eh?

But maybe they did cover all that stuff adequately?  It’s possible I missed it amidst all the coverage over news that McDonalds is going to make its buns a little crispier.  And speaking of buns, have you seen what’s going down on The Bachelor?  Oh, man–that Tammy Lee Sapinsky is up to no damn good, but she got a rose.  What’s the world coming to?


Winter Photos: Safety First

Safety First

I figured that it was time to start posting some cool “found” winter pictures, the way I do for summer.  The thing is, it is not nearly as easy to find fun, photos of winter–it’s a more serious season, in many ways.  Google “winter” and you get a lot of landscapes and snowy foliage, as opposed to the surfing and bikini babes a ‘”summer” search turns up.  Nevertheless, I found a few.

The image above reminds me , however obliquely, of my own The elementary school days.  My school was at the top of a hill–not a precipitous slope by any means, but in winter before the age of kneejerk school cancellations, and during the heyday of large, rear-wheel drive american cars, there was no shortage of tire-spinning mechanized behemoths churning halfway up the street before surrendering to gravity and backing their way back down the hill.

My children today fixate on the possibility of delayed schedules the moment word reaches Mercthem of even a single flake, but back in the day snow meant getting ready and going to school a half hour, maybe even forty minutes early, in order to join the daily round of “smear the queer” (yes, I know how that sounds, but I guarantee that not once of us ever gave pause to consider sexual orientation and, in fact, in this game “the queer” was generally the role of the bravest, boldest, and most athletic of the lot of us) which wasn’t as bad as it sounds: in short, one kid has the ball and he runs like hell while all the other kids try to get it from him.  We played in snow over asphalt.  There was often blood.  It was wonderful–we all wanted to be the queer.

Even better, however, was when twenty or thirty of us would be busy beating the living tar out of each other and a car would start spinning tires on the slick hill, and we would run out into the street, en masse, and push it up the hill, laughing and shouting, erupting into a boisterous cheer.

Can you imagine that happening today.  I’d be terrified of the liability issues if a horde of children surrounded my car on a slippery hill.  Eventually, a driver called the school to complain and the principal herded a bunch of us into the school library and proceeded to shout and foam at the mouth along the way towards banning that tradition.  He stopped “smear the queer,” too, just because he could.