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

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

Dear Prudence: John’s beautiful dreamer…

The song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary…

“Dear Prudence is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in….  That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.” – John Lennon

Prudence Farrow (far left, dark hair) with the Beatles and Maharishi in India (image courtesy Rolling Stone)

The Beatles famously went to India in February of 1968 to study transcendental meditation. While they didn’t necessarily reach nirvanic enlightenment (hence John’s bit of waggery in the above comment), they wrote many of the songs that appeared in November 1968 on the epic double album The Beatles known as “the White Album”). Among these is “Dear Prudence,” John’s tune about his, George’s, and Paul’s attempts to coax Prudence Farrow, Mia’s sister, from her hut where she had become “addicted to meditation.”

The song is notable for a couple of reasons. One is that John learned a finger picking style from Donovan who was also on the retreat and “Dear Prudence” is the first song where one hears John’s newly developed skill. The second reason is that the song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary such as “Back in the USSR,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Martha, My Dear,” “Julia,” Piggies,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Honey Pie,” and “Cry, Baby, Cry,”

“Dear Prudence” is perhaps the loveliest and kindest of these portraits. 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

Donald’s new executive order gives really rich people another dark-money weapon

President Donald signed an executive order this week, intending to relax tax-law consequences on churches that endorse political candidates. In his zeal to “protect and vigorously promote religious liberty,” he opened the door to yet another avenue for really rich people to subvert democratic choice in U.S. elections.

https://www.legalzoom.com/sites/legalzoom.com/files/uploaded/articles/maintaining_tax_exempt_status_in_a_nonprofit.jpgDonald’s language a few months ago foreshadowed this: “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Well, he can’t do that. Congress makes law, not presidents.

However, his executive order “discourages the IRS from going after churches aggressively for their political expression.” The Johnson Amendment “prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations such as churches from participating directly or indirectly in any political campaign to support or oppose a candidate. Continue reading

Pedophilia and our sexualized media: is naïveté a good thing or a bad thing?

The Mr. C case has me wondering if widespread familiarity with sexual themes and content makes today’s youth more or less susceptible to pedophiles.

Part 2 of a series.

UPDATE: As explained in the update to part 1, Mr. C is Thomas Tilman Cridlebaugh, a longtime teacher and coach at Wallburg and Ledford Jr. High Schools in Davidson County, NC.

_____

Yesterday I reflected on the conflict I’m facing in light of the revelation that one of the most important influences in my life, a junior high teacher and coach, had been convicted of sexually abusing several minor students. In closing, I wondered how close I came to being one of those victims.

I was a naïve, deeply religious boy. Prosecutors said Mr. C’s dirty jokes and “locker room talk” were “grooming” behavior designed to figure out who might be amenable to his advances. 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

The Mature Society, pt 3: what would a better America look like?

Part 3 in a series.

by Dr. Michael Tracey

The problems of education, religion, critical thinking, a commitment to the truth, and holding ourselves to a higher standard: creating the mature society won’t be simple.

There is, then, a different question, driven by another thought which is that there is a certain sense of responsibility for the critic – if one is not to be nihilistic or utterly despondent – to suggest if not a way out then at least a sense of what something “better” might actually look like. In particular, here, to ask the question of just what a mature society might look like: what would be the texture of its culture, its mood, its ambition, its practices, its relationships, its preferences, its allegiances? What would it look like as a moral and ethical entity? What would there be about it that the dispassionate mind could admire?

A useful definition of mature would include: Continue reading

The Mature Society, pt 2: politics and leadership in the age of anti-science

Part 2 in a series.

by Dr. Michael Tracey

How stupid are Americans, anyway? And how much worse are our leaders?

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) explains climate change

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) explains climate change

Numerous events and curious beliefs – large and small – caught the eye, even before the election of 2008 and certainly beyond. Consider:

  • a CNN discussion on October 10, 2005, featuring the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, addressed the subject of whether recent climate events – the Christmas 2004 tsunami in Asia, hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005, an earthquake in Asia – actually presaged the end times, the Rapture and the second coming of Christ; Continue reading

HB2 cost NC a lot more than $3.76B

The AP says the “bathroom bill” cost North Carolina $3.76 billion. The real damage is likely much, much higher.

The AP yesterday released an analysis indicating that reaction to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 – the “bathroom bill” – cost the state a staggering $3.76 billion in lost business, projected over 12 years. That’s a remarkable hit to economy, but as I read the full details of how the AP arrived at that number, I can’t help wondering just how badly they underestimated the true damage that former governor “One Term” Pat McCrory and the rest of the jackals in the state GOP caused NC.

Have a look at the WaPo article linked above, then consider: 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

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

Rural elites: I’ve had it with the arrogance of ignorance (and its promoters)

ignorance-is-powerThe only thing worse than the willfully ignorant is the legion of apologists enabling them.

Since the election – before, really – we’ve heard a lot of talk about how all those urban liberal elites need to stop being so arrogant and start listening to very real concerns of real Americans in rural flyover values America.

We have more recently begun to see some informed pushback against this silliness self-serving rhetorical engineering masquerading as good-faith socio-political analysis. Now we’ve hit the daily double, though.

First, our friend Otherwise passed along a righteous rant from a very frustrated Melinda Byerley, CMO of TimeShare. Have a quick look. Continue reading

The darkest song ever sung: “Coventry Carol” (Saturday Video Roundup)

Remembering the blackest moment of the entire nativity cycle is an odd way to celebrate.

For a couple weeks now I have been assembling my “Dark Christmas Melancholy” playlist, a process I described in a post a few days ago.

While I have listened to (and sung) a lot of holiday music through the years, my little project introduced me to a classic that somehow I had never encountered before, the English traditional “Coventry Carol.” This version, by Darkwave artists Nox Arcana, is by far my favorite for the way in which it captures the interwoven beauty and horror of the Massacre of the Innocents story.

Continue reading