Our Country

Just Plain Folk

I’m probably tilting at windmills here but I’ve got to be straight – the thinking that aww, shucks, I’m just a normal, every-day-guy is exactly the kind of quality we need in Washington, or our local governments for that matter, drives me absolutely. fucking. crazy.

Take a recent interview with Ted Nugent (see the entire clip here) where Fox host David Asman says the following:

“Well Ted, you have common sense, which probably 98 percent of the people inside the Beltway don’t have. And common sense means much more to living a good life than any kind of degree from an Ivy League university. These government officials, just because they have an Ivy League education doesn’t mean they know more than we do.”

Take away for a moment that, well, it kind of does, and instead consider this: when did having an education become a negative? That former President Bush projected the everyman persona any time he was in front of a camera boggles my mind. That the country elected him twice while he did so makes me want slam my head into a wall. Twice. The right’s continued love of former Governor Palin (due in large part to the same kind of personality) does the same.  

Sure, we elect politicians. But it’s important to note that we call them by another name, too – leaders. And don’t we want our leaders to have a first-rate mind? One that’s informed and analytical and capable of attacking the problems our country faces – problems that are incredibly complex, nuanced, and in dire need of all the brain-power we can put behind them, by the bye – with a little more intellectual might than Joe the Plumber?  

Thoughts?

Thanks to Eileen Smith at In the Pink for the original post.

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The man and the flood

You’ve probably heard this story before:

A man, at home during a storm, hears an emergency broadcast over the radio that warns of an impending flood and instructs everyone to evacuate. But he’s a religious man, and sure that God will save him, so he decides to stay. The minutes pass, and as the waters begin to rush into his home he’s forced to move to his roof. 
A short time later, a boat pulls up next to the house and the crew shouts for the man to join them.
“No,” he shouts back, “I’m a religious man. I pray. God will save me.”
As the boat pulls away, the water begins to pour over the eaves. 
A helicopter then appears overhead and the pilot shouts down to the man, “Let me throw you a rope and pull you up!”
“No,” he shouts again, “I’m a religious man. I pray. God will save me.”
But as the helicopter flies away the waters swallow the house, and sweep the man away.
When he arrived in heaven, the man demanded to speak to God.
“Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man. I pray. Why didn’t you save me?”
God looked down to the man and said, “I sent you a radio broadcast, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you expect me to do?”

I heard this story again watching an old episode of West Wing a couple of weeks ago. The bulk of the episode followed the President as he agonized over the decision of whether or not to grant a stay of execution. Each of the three people he talked to over the course of the show told him that capital punishment was, for various reasons, wrong and that he should make the call. And while he agreed, he ultimately decided he couldn’t justify a stay based solely on his feelings.

Shortly after the prisoner was executed, the President sat with his old parish priest and expressed his frustration with God. “I prayed, Father, I really did. But nothing came.”

The priest, Father Cavanaugh, then told him the story you read above. When he had finished he said, “Mr. President, God sent you a Rabbi, a Quaker,  and a priest. What more did you expect him to do?”

A little more than three weeks ago, John Allen Muhammad – the “D.C. Sniper” – was executed in Virginia by lethal injection. His accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, will spend the rest of his life in prison. It’s been reported that Muhammad was silent throughout the process. He refused to acknowledge questions or the gallery; completely silent until pronounced dead.

Good riddance, you might say.

Me, I’m with Father Cavanaugh, the Rabbi, the Quaker, and the priest. I think the death penalty is just wrong. And while I could give you a host of logical, rational reasons why I feel that way, chances are the impact of those arguments would be very little if your beliefs swing the other way.

Meaning, if I were to show you data that unequivocally proves a black man is far more likely to be given the death penalty than a white man, for the same crime, that information probably wouldn’t change your mind. If I were to show you that an unattractive woman is more likely to be given the death penalty than a pretty, dimpled lass, that wouldn’t change your mind either.

In other words, the fact that our judicial system dispenses punishment unequally probably wouldn’t be enough to change your mind if you favored the death penalty.

So I’ve been thinking about hypocrisy.

Keep in mind, I’m fully aware this is a pretty massive generalization, but in many cases if you favor the death penalty there’s also a pretty good chance you’re pro-life. And I just don’t get it.

It’s okay to kill here, but not there. This is justified, and that’s a sin. One right and one wrong.

To be fair, I’m fully aware that the hypocrisy swings both ways. Like many of my ilk, I’m both pro-choice and anti death penalty. Again, like above, death is okay here but not here. My only explanation is that my beliefs for both are founded on the rational rather than the spiritual. Take that for what you will.

So I’d like your opinions. How do so many of us justify these contradictory beliefs?

Why U2 is the shizzle

towers

Eight years ago today the unthinkable happened.

I remember most of that day very clearly – the phone call from the lovely woman who would one day become my wife, standing in front of the television and watching one horror after another, or later trying to interact with guests when I pulled a double behind the bar.

That was a long, long twelve hours, I might add. Right up until I wiped off the last tap and handed in my drawer, each of my guests had sat quietly, watching one of the televisions that hung suspended from the ceiling, nursed their drinks, and spoke almost not at all. And for me, things seemed to stay like that for almost a month and a half.

And then U2 came to town.

The concert was , in a word, awesome. They did their new stuff, which was great, but about an hour in to the show the red Joshua Tree backdrop lit up across the back of the stage and Bono and the rest of the crew  started pouring through the music most of us there had fallen in love with in the first place; from albums going all the way back to Boy. We were dancing, singing, laughing, and really letting go.  

The weight that had settled onto my chest and into my spirit, the one that I hadn’t even realized was there until the moment it lessened, seemed to slowly shrink and fade, and without warning I found I could suddenly breath again. All of us could.

But they weren’t done.  

Near the end of the concert the band went silent and two large screens slowly descended from above.  Most of us were still smiling and swaying a bit from the previous tune and we looked at the screens and then at each other? What’s this? No idea, but it’s going to be cool. And to be certain, we were right, but not in any way we imagined. 

As we stood, growing more still and silent, names began streaming down each screen, one after another after another, and Bono finally stepped up to the mic, paused a moment, and said, “For all of those lost in September.”  And as the first quiet notes from Edge’s guitar reached us we realized that we were seeing a list of everyone who had died on 9/11.  And it seemed to go on forever.

But during those moments a wonderful thing happened. We stood there, quietly watching and listening, lighters or cell phones winking in and out, and people began to truly let go. There were sighs and coughs. Then there were sniffles. And finally sobs. People held one another tightly, and all around me there were tears and grief and strangers again connected by what had happened. But when the lists finally came to an end there were actually smiles and hugs, and as the last notes faded away we realized that a first essential and powerful step to healing had just happened, and man, we went absolutely fucking crazy. Cheers, claps, shouts, even roars. Joyous, lovely roars as Larry started pounding away at his drum kit.

Thank you, U2.

Readers – what’s your story?

Image by Sister72

The land of the free, unless you’re gay

Lt. Dan Choi

The last week or so I’ve seen quite a bit of activity on Twitter about him; most being requests to electronically sign either a petition to the Army or a letter addressed to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, on Choi’s behalf.

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, check out this link for Courage Campaign. In essence, the story is this: Lt. Choi, a West Point graduate and decorated Army veteran, is being discharged for violating the “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” Policy.

You see, Choi, during an interview on the Rachel Maddow show March 19th, admitted to being gay and a few weeks later received a letter informing him he would be dismissed from the Army in accordance with DADT. Both the letter and petition circulating on Twitter and the Web urge the repeal of that policy as well as a request to allow Lt. Choi to continue his service.

I agree with half of it.

tribal2

Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

For those of you that don’t know, once upon a time I served in the Marine Corps. Four years of active duty, stationed from California to Japan, and during my tour I received quite a few commendations, medals, and other nice bits of this and that that let me know I didn’t suck when it came to being a Marine.

So there’s that.

And during that time, I can tell you with absolute certainty I served with quite a few gay men and women. They were, all of them, good people who served their country proudly and passionately and in my experience their sexuality hindered their ability to serve, perform, or lead not in the slightest.

That the guy to my left had a boyfriend mattered absolutely zip in his ability to set a perimeter, navigate through unfamiliar territory, or apply the three or so pounds of pressure it takes to fire an M-16, is what I’m saying.   

So there’s also that.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was crap from inception – an olive branch to Gay America that the Right could live with – but it really didn’t change much in regard to how the military operated from day to day. Before the policy, gay men and women would simply lie if they were asked. Now they just weren’t asked.

But either period would see a discharge if the truth came to light, and in addition to the immediate aftermath of frustration, humiliation, or depression, your discharge status is something that follows you the rest of your life.

In short, DADT isn’t just, doesn’t work, and ignores the fundamental problems with DOD policy. But it was, I think, a first step in the right direction. And in my humble opinion, it’s time to take the next. 

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The Good Lieutenant

Lt. Choi is a different matter entirely. While his discharge is a tragedy – this is a guy who’s an Iraq War Vet, a West Point graduate, and an Arabic translator (which we clearly need all we can get) – I have to say I think he must still be discharged.

You see, Lt. Choi is a man who accepted his commission, honorably served his country, and then publically came-out on television – but did each well aware of the military’s policy regarding gay men and women in uniform as well as the ramifications of breaking that policy.

In other words, he knew the rules, broke them, and is now crying foul. And while I appreciate and respect his desire to serve, a well-ordered military doesn’t operate that way. A well-ordered anything doesn’t work that way.

A far better approach, I think, is for Lt. Choi to work diligently to repeal DADT and then petition for reinstatement if and when the policy has changed. He, and the countless other Marines, soldiers, Airman, and Sailors who have been discharged under the policy, could then have the opportunity to serve again when they’re most needed.

And needed they are. As of this week, 4,308 United States military personnel have died in Iraq and 710 have died in Afghanistan. And I’d bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in yours that there’s more than a few gay men and women in those two lists.

Thoughts?

Great advice, no matter what the decade

A wonderful, sassy designer I work with here at Hoover’s named Sarah (you can find her site by clicking on the “What’s on my mind” link in the Blogroll to the right) sent me a link to an ad she thought I might like a while back. I certainly did, and thought about it over the weekend. Given the constant, mind-numbing bad news we hear every time we turn the dial or watch the news, I thought you might enjoy the following:

superman 

You can find the actual ad here or the overall site, Ads of the World, here. There’s some really funny stuff if you have the time.

Patriotism dies (just a little)

As  superheroes go, I was always a bit luke-warm with Captain America.  I was an X-Men disciple from the jump, and the broad range of personalities and cool powers (combined with the struggle to find their place in a society that misunderstood or rejected them completely)  felt far closer to my reality as an early teen than fighting evil in the name of country ever did.

Nor did Cap have traits I liked in other heroes: the brooding conflict of the Dark Knight, the isolation of Dare Devil, or even the snappy banter of Spiderman. Instead, he was just a man: tall, broad, and muscled, and unquestionably tough. He also sported an indestructible, absolutely righteous shield. And while that combination pretty much did the trick in the days of single-fire weapons or a good-old knife fight, they didn’t really reach out and grab me the way a furry blue teleporter nicknamed “Elf,” or a crazy-hot southern lass who couldn’t be touched, or a soulful Russian artist who transformed into organic steel and put himself in front of harm’s way, did every time I cracked open the cover of my newest issue of X-Men.   

Of all Captain America’s assets, however, I think his most endearing was a steadfast moral compass that most of us share only a marginal acquaintance. He didn’t have three razor-sharp adamantium claws popping out of both clenched fists (Snikt!), but this was a hero who always knew right from wrong and fought for the former – even when it cost him to do so. And I think I’ve come to appreciate his kind of heroism more and more as the years have passed.

Which is why I was surprised and actually saddened when I saw the “Where were you when Captain America died?” link on Twitter not long ago. It led to a page on the Marvel Website where industry players (writers, artists, execs, and on) wrote about their reaction to hearing the news that Captain America had died.  The page also had the issue’s cover art you see below.  

But killing off heroes for weeks, months, or even years and then bringing them back is hardly uncommon in comics – DC even did it to Superman in the early 90s. However, fairly quickly after Superman’s death a handful of limited series (one of which introduced the character “Steel” and later made it to the big screen in a fairly awful movie starring Shaq) were released that developed the plot for the Man in Blue’s return.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this one’s going to play that way.

Sure, there are a million things far more important than the death of a fictional character in a comic book. I get it. But I’m also not too old to remember just how important those stories were to me when I was young. He wasn’t my favorite good guy, nor was  he flashy, conflicted, or edgy, but the lack of those things didn’t stop me from collecting a stack of his comics right next to his mutant cousins on my bedroom bookshelf. 

All of which makes me think. I’ve written about this before, but comics seem to be far, far darker than they were when I was a kid. Hell, entertainment seems darker and scarier before.  Movies, television, music, and yes, comics, all seem a bit more real than they once did.  And while conflict and dark, brooding anger are great for a boy – as boys we were often mired in it – I’m left wondering. What comic is going to give my nephew what Steve Rogers gave to us? What hero will teach him doing the right thing even when it hurts is still the right thing?

Captain America cover art

Ice Cube was right – today was a good day

It was an odd morning. Thanks to a 21mg nicotine patch worn around the clock sleep has been, well, interesting. More than two weeks of active dreams, fitful sleep, and lots of staring at the ceiling in the wee hours of the night have left me feeling more than a little washed-out and punchy.

But the dreams have been cool, too. Last nights’ starred my old boss (now happily chugging away at a new gig) who gave me my end of year review using riddles and a rather odd mind-map. Knowing the man, I’m certain that if it was actually his company that kind of review wouldn’t be entirely out of the question.

He then invited me to watch then President-elect Obama’s inaugural ceremony and we stepped out of an office into a basketball gym and then into a pretty day. Not sure what that last bit was about – I can’t dribble to save my life – but I woke up singing/whispering, “Yes. We. Can.”

I was pretty excited about today, is what I’m saying.

Throughout my shower, lacing up my shoes, and over and around spoonfuls of cereal, I was humming along with that lovely tune in my head. In fact, I was singing along…And a King that led us to a mountaintop… right up to the point I was rear-ended on the way to work.

So now I have a dented car, a throbbing headache (coupled with the thinness from little sleep and it feels a little like Codine to me, and I enjoy Codine about as much as I do mucking out a latrine in the desert) but I’m still smiling. Wide and happy, I’m still smiling, and haven’t really stopped since I arrived this morning.

I’m glad you’re here, Mr. President.