Happy 4th of July: what does “freedom” mean to you?

America is a great idea, but it’s hard to love these days.

At some point tonight millions and millions of us will find ourselves sitting in a stadium or a park or maybe on a city rooftop or a grassy hill in the country, staring at the sky, celebrating our country’s anniversary by watching the annual fireworks show. I won’t lie – I love fireworks. They’re spectacular to watch, but beyond that I’m fascinated by how they work. How do you get one to look like a flower? How do you get multiple colors in one burst? I assume I could learn these things if I spent the time, but regardless, it’s a pretty cool exercise in artistry.

But I don’t love everything about fireworks shows. If you’re at an official civic event you’ll certainly get to hear Lee Greenwood belting out his famous “God Bless the USA.” This is a massively famous and popular song, having reached #7 on the Billboard Country charts. It’s sold over a million copies and there’s no telling how much it has earned Greenwood in royalties.

It’s also perhaps the greatest lie ever set to music. Bear with me.

America is a wonderful idea. Continue reading

I’m So Tired: of a lot of stuff…

“…and curse Sir Walter Raleigh/He was such a stupid git….” – John Lennon

“…and the time will come when you see we’re all one/And life flows on within you and without you….” – George Harrison

John and George in their last picture together, circa 1974 (image courtesy FeelNumb.com)

I wrote a couple of days ago about John Lennon’s great White Album song, “I’m So Tired.” It didn’t seem appropriate in that essay to get into my personal appropriation of John’s tune.

I’ve been listening to the Fabs more lately than usual. (That is saying something, since I listen to them a lot by any reasonable standard.) Two songs that I’ve found myself repeating again and again have been “I’m So Tired” and George’s beautiful meditation from Sgt. Pepper, “Within You Without You.” Slightly mad? Why, yes, thanks for asking.

There’s method to my madness.We listen to music for lots of reasons. Solace. Inspiration. Motivation. Sentimentality. These days, I, like a lot of people, have been looking for solace.

We live these days in a country that feels more at odds with itself than it did even during the sixties. Continue reading

Score one for the First Amendment: The Slants win

by Amber Healy

In writing for the entire eight-member US Supreme Court Monday morning, Justice Samuel Alito told Simon Tam and his band, The Slants, that they were correct in their fight and justified for refusing to accept that their name was disparaging to Asian Americans and therefore ineligible for trademark protection.

“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech. Because the ‘Free Speech Clause… does not regulate government speech’…the government is not required to maintain viewpoint neutrality on its own speech. This court exercises great caution in extending its government-speech precedents, for if private speech could be passed off as government speech by simply affixing a government seal of approval, government could silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints.”

This was a case eight years in the process. Continue reading

US Supreme Court rules in favor of The Slants

The Slants

The Slants

by Amber Healy

In a unanimous decision Monday morning, the US Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of The Slants, the Portland, Oregon-based band that’s been fighting for years for the right to trademark their name.

In a statement released by their publicist, bassist and band founder Simon Tam says that after the

“excruciating legal battle that has spanned nearly eight years, we’re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court. Continue reading

Where is my tribe?

drums-2026535_960_720In the last two days I’ve been tone policed for being unkind, uncool, and tribal. Mind you, the single person doing the tone policing had nothing to say about what I signified. Typical of tone policing, it’s all about style over substance, the signifier, not the signified.

So I confess. Surprising nobody, I’m both unkind and uncool. Looked at across the great spectrum of human behavior where, oh, let’s say Hitler occupies one extreme, lacking in both kindness and coolness (well, there’s that whole fashion sense/propaganda style thing, but I digress), and on the other end there’s some saint or other noted for both kindness and coolness. Bono, maybe? I’m sure the tone police will pardon me for falling somewhere closer to the middle than not.

But am I tribal? Damned skippy. Let me tell you a little about my tribe.

We abhor political violence. Continue reading

Rep. Clay Higgins needs to be prosecuted

If a person cannot see how utterly un-American this is, I don’t know what to say. We have a Bill of Rights for a reason.Clay_Higgins_Official_Portrait.jpeg

Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins, an embarrassment to all things American and Christian, had this to say on Facebook Saturday by way of his ongoing campaign account, rather than from his official account [my emphasis in bold]:

The free world… all of Christendom… is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.
-Captain Clay Higgins

Continue reading

Bill Maher: it’s not the words he used, it’s how he used them

Our fear of the “N-word” only makes it stronger, but Maher used it for a cheap laugh. This is not acceptable and he knows it.

Bill Maher stepped in it on his last show and now a lot of people are calling for his head. He (and HBO) have apologized, and for the moment it doesn’t look as though the network has any plans to sack him, although that could change.

At issue is this exchange between Maher and frequent guest Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb), who invites Maher to visit Nebraska.

Sasse: We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.

Maher: Work in the fields? Senator … I’m a house nigger.”

This sort of controversy isn’t new to Maher, who uses his position to poke – hard – at a range of prickly socio-political issues facing our society. Continue reading

Alamo Drafthouse / Wonder Woman sexism controversy: let’s have a men-only talk

Hey guys, let’s talk about this outrage man to man.

Alamo Drafthouse is having women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. And across the country people of the male persuasion are losing their minds because it’s sexist.

[sigh]

Okay, let’s talk calmly, man to man, for just a second. It doesn’t bother me at all, so I need to understand why you’re upset.

If these screenings bother you, why? Continue reading

John Oliver’s beatdown of DaVita reminds us: Richard Nixon was an American liberal icon

Noam Chomsky, of all people, has called Tricky Dick “America’s last liberal president.” Sadly, he couldn’t have been more right.

Way back in 2008 I said this:

If he were a candidate in the 2008 presidential election, Richard M. Nixon would be more progressive than either the Republican or Democratic nominees.

What a ludicrous thing to say, right? I mean, Nixon was as twisted and corrupt as any president in US history. Hunter Thompson said “Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.” He got caught with said pants down in l’affaire Watergate and had to resign. He’s the reason anything remotely scandalous has to have a name ending in “-gate.”

Worst. President. Ever. A fixer of the first order. All of which attached, by association, to the Republican Party, making his name synonymous with the rank evil of the American conservative polity.

That he was congenitally shady is unarguable, but the conservative part probably isn’t fair at all. Continue reading

Betrayal of trust: surviving sexual abuse in the age of Trump

Having that man as president is like having to face my attacker all over again. Every. Single. Day.

by Lea Booth

I read last week’s article here, and comments on it, about a pedophile who managed to hide within boundaries of what should be a safe environment. The man in question was a school teacher and coach at the junior high/middle school I attended. I’ve heard discussions of “why was I not chosen,” “how could I have trusted, even admired, this person” and “what if it had been me.”

There are even people who have expressed doubts about why the victims would wait 30 years to come forward. Such conjecture does what is often done with victims of abuse or rape – cast doubt on their accounts of what they endured. At a time when the focus on campus rape has, rightfully, increased, and people in power believe they can treat women as less than human, I’ve been having flashbacks and issues arising from being raped almost forty years ago. Continue reading

The only way to defeat Trump and his supporters

It’s about tribalism. You cannot work with Trumpists. Period. You must defeat them and then fix the problems that handed them control.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into. – Jonathan Swift

Since the moment of Campaign 2016 when it became clear that Donald Trump actually had a chance, a lot of people have done a lot of thinking and pontificating and punditofying and writing and hand-wringing about the reasons for his viability. On one end of the spectrum: Donald gave the drooling, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, ignorant, anti-intellectual, hillbillies a cynical, smirking, dog-whistling charlatan they could line up behind. On the other, we’ve had all manner of thoughtful, complex analyses about how economic anxiety (and utter despair) fueled the rise of a non-partisan populist backlash against a political establishment that has spent decades betraying those it represents.

Both versions are compelling because each was built on a measure of observable truth. Continue reading

Live in a rural area? Can you find a doctor when you really, really need one?

The vascular surgeon who removed my gangrenous gall bladder last month received his early medical training in Lahore, Pakistan. He’s been a member of the medical community in my rural valley for more than three decades.

eimyxgertMy primary-care physician for the past 20 years received his medical training in Taiwan. My urologist for a decade was an Iranian-American. The surgeon who removed a subcutaneous growth from my right elbow is a Pakistani-American. So is the internist who treated a pulmonary issue. He’s been here more than two decades.

Those who live in rural areas likely know, or have, doctors with surnames they might think uncommon. Yet all my foreign-born physicians are American citizens with deep ties to the community in which I live. They’ve taken good care of me.

But why have these wonderful doctors settled here, in rural America?

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Jane Austen, alt-right heroine…say what…?

“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” – Jane Austen

Various news sources, both here in America and elsewhere, are claiming that Jane Austen, doyenne of English respectability, has become a heroine to the despicable group called by the all-too-euphemistic moniker the alt-right.

Jane Austen (image courtesy biography.com)

For any rational person (and my beloved Miss Austen was nothing if not rational) her embrace by such loathsome characters is both horrifying and bizarre. Conservative as she was (Austen found her contemporary Byron’s behavior wild and reprehensible, for example, violating as it did the established social mores of Regency England), Austen undoubtedly would have found the behavior of a number of the more well known figures of the alt-right movement equally reprehensible. One has a difficult time, indeed, imagining Miss Austen feeling able to tolerate being on the same planet, much less in the same room with creatures such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos.

The alt-right loves them some Jane, though – for reasons that mystify anyone capable of reading Austen’s work intelligently. Continue reading

Facebook and the “oh shit” moment when Trump supporters reveal their true nature

Trump hate cartoonBecause of what they call “political correctness” (and the normal world calls decency) conservatives have long hidden their true selves. But now, they’re emboldened by the election and thanks to tools like Facebook, we get to see who they truly are.

In January of 1979, the Shah of Iran was deposed by Ayatollah Khomeini. Like all liberal types of the time, I thought that was a great thing. The Shah had been a brutal ruler, overseen an inefficient kleptocracy and been prone to ridiculous personal excess. I seem to remember photos of the Shah at the time always involved lots of gold—gold furniture, gold clothes, etc. I didn’t know much about the Ayatollah, but he had to be better than the Shah, right? Yay freedom!

One day, I found myself in the student lounge with Amir, a quiet exchange student from Iran. Continue reading

Lady Day’s blues: Billie Holiday remembers…

Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away.

“I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, it ain’t music, it’s close order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.” – Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lady Sings the Blues is, I suppose, one of the first autobiographies by a popular music star. This, the first book from the 2017 reading list, is an “as told to.” One of the things the ghost writer (to resurrect an old term), William Dufty, a reporter for the New York Post and a personal friend of Holiday, does beautifully is avoid much revision of Holiday’s words. As best as I have been able to discover, Dufty did a series of extended interviews with Holiday without the benefit of tape recording. That Lady Sings the Blues reads like a transcribed conversation with Lady Day is a tribute to Dufty’s careful rendering of Holiday’s words in her voice.

Dufty’s success in allowing Holiday to speak for herself is both charming and haunting, both illuminating and (unintentionally, perhaps) misleading. What one realizes as one reads this autobiography is that Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away. Let me put that more accurately: what Billie Holiday tries to do in Lady Sings the Blues is not give her self away even as she reveals herself. Continue reading

Through a glass darkly

I’m sharing this article from Independent Journal Review just to make a point.

hypocritesIndependent Journal Review: Those Outraged At Trump Blocking Refugees Didn’t Seem To Care About What Obama Did To Cubans

I learned of it from the Facebook page Conservative Daily. To hell with that page, no link. Thanks to my embrace of people at least as good-hearted as me however differently, people of widely differing viewpoints, I have the good fortune of seeing this kind of crap splatter across my screen on a regular basis, like I’ve just flown under a magpie’s flight path at exactly the wrong time.

For the moment, for the point I’m coming to, I actually don’t care if the claims in this particular case are true or not. The truth of the claims is beside the point. Continue reading

Why I marched

20170121_095000We took Uber from the Trinidad neighborhood near Gallaudet University as close as we could get to the Capitol. We were told to be on the lookout for St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, which was opening its doors for marchers who needed a bathroom, some refreshment, or to charge their phones. Our driver was from Baltimore–he’d brought a carload of women down to DC and then decided to work the city since he was already there. He dropped us off across the street from St. Mark’s. He wished us luck on the march and we wished him luck with fares. Continue reading

Dear Liberals: you don’t vote in your economic best interests, either

trump-votersBottom line: almost ALL Americans vote against their best interests.

For years progressives have been hammering conservatives – specifically social conservatives – who “vote against their own interests.” As in, poor working people who vote for the wealthy GOP interests that are the reason they’re poor, and whose policies insure they will remain that way. I have certainly been among this crowd – I remember wondering back in the 1992 election what the fuck could be wrong with Arkansas Bush I voters, for instance. They concluded that Dubya’s Daddy was the sort of guy “they’d like to have a beer with.” Somehow a Northeastern blueblood Skull & Boneser who’d been born with a silver spoon up his ass was more “one of them” than, you know, the guy who was actually born in the trailer park down the road.

It was irrational, it was self-defeating, and it was stupid beyond all imagining. Continue reading