Category Archives: Politics

Dry Counties In Arkansas

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*This is a truncated version of a social media post I wrote for someone in a dry county a few years ago. It tickled me that after commenting on a post of one of the pages working for a vote in the county in question, the person organizing it asked me to write a post about the basic arguments against dry counties. I removed the arcane historical information that, while interesting, was too cumbersome for many people.

Before launching into my point, I’d like to mention that DUI/DWI and alcohol-related violence has affected my life. I had a family member killed in a DWI incident. Many in my family were affected by violence and many were also affected by alcoholism. It’s a subject that has touched the core of my life. We as humans are immensely gifted at perverting pleasures into afflictions. It is wrong on a moral level to dictate the otherwise free choices of citizens living in a free society. For those who abuse, we should focus on lending a hand without exception.

It’s easy to look at a United States map of wet vs. dry and draw an immediate conclusion: dry counties still exist predominantly in areas in which have a less-developed infrastructure – and residual religious influences at work. Most of us with a rudimentary grasp of history know that the United States attempted to stop all alcohol consumption in the past. It was a failure. Afterward, the federal government left alcohol laws in the hands of states. The South is home to most dry counties.

In Arkansas, many of the counties are dry. The counties with the highest level of economic development and education, interestingly enough, are wet. Studies continue to demonstrate that dry counties are punishing their own economic growth. If you’re interested, the U of A did a study for Independence County in 2016. The conclusions and observations it makes are exactly what one would expect: being dry is a terrible economic indicator. (If you’re not interested in contextual facts – or reading anything contrary to your established opinion, please stop reading now. Reading my opinion will likely cause spontaneous shouts of anger.

To those who say, “But we will gladly lose economic vitality if it means we can restrict alcohol sales in our county,” I’d reply that they are making the decision for everyone else. This attitude tends to come from those who believe that they have the duty to impose a quasi-religious restriction on their fellow citizens. The geographic areas prone to agree with limiting alcohol sales tend to be cloistered and resistant to the idea that other viewpoints have validity. It’s a generalization; as such, it’s generally true in the spirit in which it is cited. Believing that it’s better (or easier) to outlaw alcohol sales instead of addressing any potential problems strikes to the core of an authoritarian mindset.

Some religions ban pork, others caffeine. In a secular society, it is both immoral and ambiguous to allow a specific religious minority to dictate these choices.

I use the term ‘quasi-religious,’ not out of contempt, but rather as an acknowledgment that it would be disingenuous to classify the argument as exclusively religious. To claim it as a religious reason would be in denial of the fact that most people who self-identify as religious have no issue whatsoever with adult consumption of alcohol. That a vocal segment of religion continues to attempt an illogical co-opting of the singular voice for all religious people speaks to the problem inherent in such an ideology. In short, if it were strictly a religious issue, those identifying as religious would overwhelming agree. They don’t.

To further clarify, I have many religious friends who loathe the fact that some religious groups attempt to limit or sanction the choices people of other religions or denominations make. Most people are cautious about using their religious beliefs to justify an imposition of their will on another member of society. This type of circular reasoning leads to some groups dictating behavior to others. When the tables are turned, they shout in protest, alleging persecution or a lack of freedom. It’s troubling to me, as we all walk out our respective doors into a society which we expect to generally leave us in peace unless we are harming other people.

I’m not asking anyone who wishes to not drink to do so. Quite the contrary; I’m asking for those who choose not to, for whatever reason, to respect the adult decisions of those around them. You lead by example, not by pointing angry fingers at those who live their lives differently. For Christians, it’s difficult to reconcile a defiant attitude about alcohol when Jesus himself imbibed.

I am of course not making the argument that alcohol consumption doesn’t come with some serious caveats. Like all human activity, there are undesirable consequences. It’s our job as a society to balance the consequences with our ability to stop encroaching on the lives of our fellow citizens. I’ve learned to distrust anyone who feels competent to judge the acceptability of certain behaviors in others. Once the line is crossed, it becomes all too easy to begin judging many other personal decisions.

“More crime!” some will object. Even if such a scenario is true, the economic gain from alcohol sales c-o-u-l-d overcome the negative impact, especially if we use the motivation and collective intelligence of the people around us to divert money toward enforcement and assistance for problems which may arise. More importantly, though, is that in a nation of laws, it is hypocritical to argue that each of us is responsible for our own actions, yet demand that fellow citizens desist from legal activities because they might misbehave. Abolition of all potential negative behaviors is no way to run a democracy.

We already spend an inordinate amount of our budgets on police and incarceration. I tend to have less interest in the abolitionist mentality of the police for a variety of reasons. Among them is the fact that law enforcement tends to suffer from a greater degree of alcoholism than the general population. Another is that it’s generally unwise to prioritize the complaints of those tasked with enforcing the laws we decide.

“More DWIs,” others will say. It’s as if those saying this believe that adults interested in drinking aren’t already doing so, many after being forced to drive to imbibe in their own homes. Interestingly enough, the argument of a greater frequency of possible DWI incidents echoes that of those who resist any gun control laws, stating that the responsibility for misuse falls on the person misusing them. The same logic, therefore, falls to driving while impaired.

Each of us has the ability to choose to engage in behavior we find rewarding or pleasurable. To participate in a system which gives greater voice to another person’s personal choice, even if based on quasi-religious reasoning, is wrong. If you disagree, I’ll remind you that many people have quasi-religious issues with pork. Imagine if we were to collectively vote to outlaw pork. Bacon is the unofficial salvation of many an Arkansan. Or imagine if we outlawed hunting, citing dangers to hunters and bystanders, or an appeal to ethics toward animals.

Additionally, citizens of today are not obligated to honor the decisions made by their predecessors; laws, like society, change over time. Some proponents of dry counties point to the past as a mistaken indicator of how best to proceed in the future. For anyone interested, take a look at the time frame during which many dry counties measures were passed. Even a casual look back into history immediately reminds us that we’ve made some monstrous decisions, some which we defended despite serious moral foundations. Each generation has the opportunity to examine its laws and to determine their relevancy. To those thwarting the necessary reexamination of past laws, you should remind yourself that no positive social change ever occurs in which people aren’t given a choice.

Even in supposed dry counties, many allow private clubs. This fact provides an anecdote for the contention that many dry counties cater to those with economic clout. The cliché of wealth demanding access to alcohol exists in recognition of the fact that people with political influence will drink regardless of local prohibition laws. Although it is needless to point it out, those who are members of private clubs are generally going to drive away from their private clubs after drinking. Dry counties with private clubs are one of the most perplexing things I’ve encountered.

Dry county laws more adversely impact a person if he or she is on the lower end of the economic spectrum. If you’re about to make an argument in the spirit of “looking after your fellow man,” I’d like you to start by doing so in all aspects of life, not just in those areas in which you feel you have a moral voice to do so.

As for the argument, “I don’t want to pay for other people’s decisions,” I default to my observation that this is exactly what we all do in regards to everyone else. We all pay for issues, programs, or consequences we disagree with. People with no children fund schools their entire lives, those who don’t drive pay for roads, pacifists fund countless wars, and so on.

The reality is that being a dry county simply obscures the fact that a great number of its citizens are still consuming alcohol, whether in private clubs therein or by spending their tax dollars in surrounding communities. Prohibition relies on an illusion, one which most adults recognize as false. Perhaps it helps some people to know that they’ve made another person’s choices much more difficult or that the ‘other’ is the real problem.

I’d like to point out that regardless of whether you’re in agreement or not, it serves no one to needlessly insult the opposition. Most people simply wish to be able to live their lives without needless restrictions. It’s important to be able to passionately engage yet simultaneously avoid the pitfall of shouting in anger or vilifying those who disagree. At a certain point, though, those who feel the boot on their neck are going to stop being so polite or careful in their choice of words. Although it may sound like it, I am not categorizing all those who oppose their counties becoming wet under the same label. There are many reasons people use to justify staying dry; some are reasonable and more logical than others. For me, all of them fall short. To be clear, it’s important that we define who objects to alcohol sales and why. Not all opposition is created equal and not all arguments are worthy of usage in a free society.

If you live in a dry county and wish it were wet, please accept my apology. That feeling of frustration you experience when you consider the idea that other adults feel capable of limiting your personal choices and enjoyment of life can only be avoided by demanding that it be changed.

Further, if you reside in a county in which there is a concerted effort to thwart such an issue reaching the ballot box, you can be certain that those doing so do not have your best interests as a free citizen in their hearts. Such efforts are an obvious nod to the fact that abolitionist views are in the minority. That’s no way to run government and no way to treat citizens.

 

The Constitution Is Imperfect By Its Own Admission

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This post originally appeared on a social media page. It garnered a huge amount of anger, after someone shared it on a conservative forum and asked that it be flooded with trollish commentary. The unintended consequence of that trolling resulted in a lot more readers than it ever would have received absent the trolls.

*

I wrote this as a simple appeal, one devoid of the complicated and dense language employed by so many when addressing one of the most basic parts of our system of governance.

Another brilliant person vehemently argued that we have no business changing the constitution. Further, he insisted that those who wrote it knew what they were doing. It disturbs me to hear people argue that the law is a closed and perfect system. Obviously, it is not.

The process of amendment aside, I always go for the easy point by pointing out that those rich white men thought that slavery was an excellent idea, as well as failing to include half the population in the right to vote and full participation. The constitution contained several ideas which are reprehensible, undemocratic, and unworthy of continued regard. Even a bit of scrutiny demonstrates that many of the founders wrote the constitution with their own best interests in mind. Those interests were not in favor of much of the population.

Either of those two points is sufficient to derail a thinking man’s reverence for the law. The constitution saddled us with several institutions which do not achieve the objectives for which they were designed.

More importantly, of course, we have the right for self-determination. We owe no total allegiance to those who founded this country, no more than the founders did toward the Crown when they declared war on Great Britain. Circumstances change. Society advances or declines in ways never imagined by the Founders. Even if such changes had been in their minds, it’s irrelevant.

We have just as much right to alter our course now as we did then.

For all the groups deliberately ignored in the original constitution, I apologize. Most people who defend the legitimacy of the original constitution aren’t deliberately endorsing the misogyny and racism of its contents; they are focusing on the idealism allegedly behind it.

Given that the founders also included a method for amendment to our fundamental framework, it’s ridiculous to insist that we should blindly continue allegiance to the parts of our past system which don’t further our evolving values and views. Strangely enough, I’m surprised constantly by how many Americans don’t know that our constitution allows a vote of the states to reconvene another constitutional convention, one which could conceivably rewrite our entire system of governance without oversight.

We do not need to discard our entire constitution to change it. The Founders at least managed to get that part right. As circumstances change, we can alter our framework without the needless waste of revolution.

Many scholars want us to complicate the issue to the point of absurdity.

They employ distracting arguments to have us look away from our ongoing and permanent ability to determine our destiny as a nation.

If we choose to dissolve ourselves from the obligations created by an elitist group of rich white men, we have that right. We can do better. We will do better, or suffer the consequences at our own peril.

You can pontificate all you want to say otherwise. You’ve already lost the argument, however.

You don’t get to frame the issue.

We do.

By law, by necessity, by will.

A Faded Sky

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After a dehumanizing day at work today, I made my escape. I’d delve into the niceties of what made this day of work particularly dehumanizing but not only would it fail to help me even as a catharsis, but would probably rekindle the rebuke that formed in my mind earlier. Covid-19 has amplified some of the worst tendencies of some employers – and enabled cracks along fault lines of equality to grow larger.

It was slightly before 11 when I decided to stop and pick up a couple of things.

I stopped at a little store, one common to most communities. Outside, a gentleman was using twine to re-affix a mattress to the roof of his beaten-up car. I was going to offer to help him but noted that he had double-tucked the twine like he was a master of the Mattress Haul. It was quite the work of art. I would be terrified to attempt it but I could tell the mattress was not going to fly off into the sunset after being tied down so efficiently, even if twine was all that was available.

As I entered, I saw a phalanx of men about twenty feet inside the door. With one of the men was a boy about 10 years old. One of the men was an employee of the store; the other was a vendor with a couple of shallow inventory bins.

This story is entirely true, even if I get the words a bit wrong. The quotes are from the men who stood there.

“I’m not a violent person, but when I saw that (offensive word for Latino) waving that flag, I would have ripped it out of his hands and killed him with it. I was going to literally hit him but my wife was with me. Anyone with a flag that isn’t American should be shot. We literally should be able to kill them.” The other gentlemen agreed. “I don’t want to hear no Mexican talk when I’m in public. A fist in the mouth will cut their ability to talk that nonsense around me and my family. We might need them to do our dirty work but they should know their place.”

“I’m proud we have a president who can speak the truth. We don’t need any blacks, fa%S, or sp@cs here. I don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. Trump needs to have the Supreme Court shot, as well as every BLM member. Those cops? The only thing they did wrong was not kill a bunch more of them.” A hearty round of approval. “He (Trump) needs to shut down all media except Fox. People who aren’t guilty of crimes don’t get hurt by the police.”

“Yeah, I’m going to see Trump in Tulsa next week. The tickets? They are free. I want to shake his hand and tell him that we’ll help him kick anyone that isn’t one of us out of this country. Those p@ssy liberals are going to get lynched like the rest of them. We are not going to put up with it anymore.” The man took out his phone and read a couple of lines of propaganda from the event notification. Whatever he was saying, I can state with certainty that none of his words were going to make America great again. His words certainly weren’t helping improve the store any.

I stood less than 10 feet away, albeit with a tall shelf of cookies and snacks towering between us. I simply stood where I was, listening, wondering how far they’d go.

The store employee bragged that he had his Glock on him as he tapped his hip. He bragged about having a 50-round clip if the gun clip was out. He added that he didn’t believe in a reload. If he was going to kill someone, he wasn’t going to stop with a bullet. The vendor jumped in and gave a list of his guns, clips, and ammo, legal and otherwise.

“We’re going to need them. If they steal the election in November, I’m going to shoot some people. Trump is the best president this country’s ever had. If that monkey before him hadn’t stolen an election, we wouldn’t be in this mess with this hoax virus.” I bit my tongue to avoid reminding him that Obama had somehow stolen 2 elections, not just 1.

Note: none of the gentlemen talking had masks on, including the store employee. The 10-year-old with them didn’t either.

I walked around the next shelf the long way and walked within a foot of the men. None seemed perturbed by me being there. I winked at the 10-year-old and made eye contact.  “How are you,” I asked, ignoring the people engaged in the ignorant and hateful talk. “Good,” he said. The men stopped talking long enough to make eye contact with me. I kept walking and went another shelf over. A female employee was stocking. She could hear them talking but didn’t intervene. I pretended to look at the salsas while I listened a bit longer to the talk going on.

As hard as it is to believe, the talk continued on from one hateful topic to another. I won’t recount more of it here.

The tone and content reminded me of many conversations I overheard when I was growing up in a family with racists in every rafter.

When I neared the register, the employee who’d actively participated in the hate speech walked around to ring up my purchases.

As he finished and I pulled my debit card from the kiosk, I told him, “You know I’m white right?”

He looked at me confusedly. “Yes, I’d say you’re white.”

“There’s no such thing as white. It’s all in your head. Our day is over. You should be careful who you voice your opinion around. Liberals are everywhere.” I shrugged. I left him, confused. He couldn’t tell whether I was a liberal or someone who agreed with his hate.

I smiled and went outside. I looked at the mattress on the old car by the door, then up to the blue sky.

I don’t know what my point is.

I can’t wrap this one up neatly in a bow.

This is America.

That 10-year-old boy in the store is going to grow up with a choice: echo his ancestors or recognize hate and ignorance as live animals, ones which must be starved into extinction.

X

 

P.S. This post isn’t anti-Trump, even though I can’t think of anything redeeming to say about him as a person or President. It’s telling that those who tend toward the most violent viewpoints tend to be his most ardent supporters. Those stuck in the middle get painted with the same brush, though, fair or otherwise.

 

A Note About Initials, Signatures & Identity

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Given that it is likely going to be an issue in the future…

In addition to having a weird name, I’m also a notary. When I had just one name, I signed my name with a pictograph next to my ‘X.’ This pissed people off. People get pissed off about everything, as you probably know. For many, it irritated them to see my have fun with my signature. Additionally, having a short name made signing amazingly easy. When I had just one legal name, it annoyed some folks that I could technically NOT ‘initial’ anything – because people with large sticks up their butts insisted that ‘to initial’ meant one had to sign two initials. Obviously, that was both incorrect and stupid. Pointing out that someone is wrong, obstinate, and probably stupid isn’t a good course of action. Fun, but not necessarily useful. Note: most of us have learned that last part the hard way on the internet. Can I get an amen?

For generations, people who couldn’t read or write could legally ‘make their mark’ using an ‘X.’ These signatures were as legally binding as if one had signed Josephus Antonio Freebird, Jr. on the contract to buy 10,000 pig bellies. They still are, if you are wondering.

In the same way that you can use whatever name you want, you can also spell it (and say it) however you want, thanks to the majesty of our strange English language.

As a notary, I got a stern warning from an autocrat that my signature absolutely had to be consistent each and every time. In her case, I went to the courthouse and found records with her name on it. Guess what? She’d changed her signature style several times – and often in the same year. Shockingly, she did not greet me with a smile when I proved that she was a hypocrite.

Once, when I went to vote, the elderly poll worker scrutinized my ID with a critical eye. I almost always took my birth certificate and every imaginable form of ID. “What’s this little doodle on there? Where’s your name on this license.” She had a large “Gotcha!” waiting to scream at me. I smiled. “My name is in the blank where everyone else’s name always is. The doodle is part of my legal signature.” She scowled. Her pointed finger scanned the book. When she realized my voter registration had the same nonsensical doodle face on it, she looked at me like I had swallowed a live snake in front of her. “Is it legal to have just one name,” she asked as she processed my ballot. “Absolutely not!” I told her, winked, and moved on.

Now, I try to make my signature more or less the same on legal documents. Let’s face it: I like the weirdness of it. I change it up for a while. It’s kind of weird to worry a lot about my signature when just about anyone can get a copy of my credit report for a few dollars, hack my wi-fi traffic, or spoof my phone.

Because there are people out there who watch a lot of Fox News, there’s a growing argument that one principal detriment to mail-in voting is signature matching. It’s a dumb argument. The incidence of fraud aside, we can eradicate all the potential ‘issues’ with both logic and a bit of technology. In my case, I would love for my vote to be publicly recorded. It would be very difficult to use my identity to vote under such a scenario. I know that many are not comfortable with this. For whatever reason, they don’t want people to know how they voted. The red hat is a dead giveaway for conservatives, and the drooling is a giveaway for the liberals; we don’t need to see your vote to know who you voted for most of the time. I’m a liberal, so I’m obviously going to vote for whoever can spend the most tax money as quickly as possible.

Here’s a simple trick if you’re worried about your signature matching: for your license or state ID, use it as your “official” signature. When you sign a ballot, use your license as a template. If we all switch to mail-in voting, all possible objections can be overcome with a bit of preparation.

Demanding a perfect system when we don’t have one now is an admission that you’re not thinking logically.

It’s not true that your signature must match your name letter for letter, just as it is untrue that your signature must be legible. Equally true is that your signature does not need to be in cursive. Your signature, legally speaking, is whatever you make it, and the intent with which you do so.

Take it from someone with a weird name: for almost all of us, it is no burden to use a similar signature for most legal purposes. Pick something, even if it is weird, and stick to it. For everything else, it is not as pressing of a concern, especially in the age of digital signing.

Personally, if it were me, I’d like to have all the voting rolls published for all to see. Anyone voting dead, in the wrong precinct, or otherwise up to shenanigans could be easily spotted. Also, I would ask each of you to use better names, such as Squirrel Aficionado, Buffoon Jackson, and names Key & Peele used in their famous “East/West College Bowl” skit, especially names such as “T.J.A.J.R.J. Backslashinfourth V.”

I’ll note too that an awful lot of y’all aren’t using the names which are clearly spelled out on your birth certificates. If your name is Beauregard, don’t call yourself Bo unless you’re willing to change that messy moniker.

P.S. For all of y’all freaking out about your legal signature, I’d like to remind you that your signature is everywhere. If you own a house, it is likely that the deed is online, saving you the trouble of going to the courthouse. Your signature is all over those documents. I included an example in the picture to use randomly. If I know your birthday, I can look up your voter registration. That’s why I refer to all of this privacy stuff as either “The Unicorn of Privacy” or “The Leprechaun of Privacy.” (One is imaginary and the other is almost impossible to get.)

W E

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On Saturday, Dawn and I watched 1995’s “Outbreak,” followed by 2011’s “Contagion.” Whether it sounds ridiculous or not, watching the movies made everything better in a way that probably sounds ludicrous to a normal-minded person.

Even the opening graphic for “Outbreak” seemed fitting: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.” (Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate.) For a movie made 25 years ago, it still has much to say.

I’m amazed by how quickly the dynamic of the entire world has changed. Each of us is attempting to find a stable landing place, one from which we can find a sliver of tranquility. I know many people who are barely cobbling together the ability to move one foot in front of the other. I know many who are guilty of conspiracy theories, hoarding drugs and essentials that take it from the hands and veins of those who actually need it. I see it every day.

For my part, I’m forced to go out in the word daily because of my job. I’ve never feared exposure. Everyone around me has heard me say that I assume I’m exposed every single day I walk around. I don’t wish to needlessly expose others to the virus. But I have to say, my personal efforts are dwarfed by the decisions of large agencies and businesses around me, ones who’ve made questionable choices. I’m at the mercy of every person I intersect with. It’s always been that way. The only thing that’s changed is that the reality of it is now one that can’t be ignored.

We are all our weakest link.

Dawn and I didn’t hoard anything from day one. Looking toward the horizon, it’s pointless. We are not islands. If you hoard, you are hurting the people that don’t have what you have amassed, whether it is a can of tuna or a vial of Hydroxychloroquine. If our situation deteriorates, only those who embrace a total dedication to taking only what they need will survive. If the situation morphs into a worst-case scenario, no one will be able to thwart the madness that will take what you have.

If you are looking for a silver lining, I can only hope that this results in all of us appreciating science and education more, as this is a warning shot that shouldn’t be ignored. To embrace the idea that we are dependent on one another, a dependence that surpasses our local hospital, state line, or national border. To understand that the person cleaning the floor is as integral to our survival as the three piece suit who seldom gets his hands dirty but makes triage decisions about our supply systems during emergencies.

There may be no silver lining to this. It might just be a harsh lesson. We already had the tools needed to lessen this crisis. We took too much time and effort fighting for our fiefdoms instead of looking toward the world map and seeing ‘W E’ spread across all of it.

Of all the hopes, I hope it leads us to stop bickering over oil, sand, and land, or that we find ourselves able to willingly give everyone health care without regard to payment. If we forego war and aggression, we can pay for it. Our economy will not look the same once this fades. Everything we’ve learned will be meaningless. Hard hearts must soften.

I’m already looking beyond the peak of this emergency.

It’ll be us, still. I hope it is a different us. I think most people were dissatisfied with what we were, for wildly and contradicting reasons. Some of the facade of our differences has vanished. Each of us looks toward the microscopic threat of a virus and wonders what will become of us.

Whatever ‘that’ is, it is our choice.

It’s always been our choice.
Love, X

Not-So Super Tuesday

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I declined the GOP primary ballot this time because my vote against Trump would be meaningless, much like a vote for most of the Democrats. (Unlike 2016, when I voted against Trump twice.) In Trump’s name, I did trip someone, mocked a dozen people, and took another person’s wallet and flung it across the parking lot, so it was like Trump himself was there in spirit. Voting on the Democratic side, every candidate I chose was female. The one school board race without a female, I skipped. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Bernie due to his desire to outlaw lined notebook paper and his refusal to nominate Tom Hanks to be the Vice President. That last part isn’t true, but we’re living in a post-truth dystopia, so I can say whatever I want. The truth is that Bernie never mailed me the check he promised to get my vote. Like all liberals, I’m in it for the free money and services. (As always, I put that in to irritate at least one liberal.)

I was relieved I didn’t have a poll worker ask me which name was my first name, as if the laws governing states IDs had suddenly been rendered arbitrary, or based on what kind of flower we feel like. I recited my name, address, and date of birth as if I were reciting poetry without any meter to it.

I did give strange answers to the questions the ‘pre-screener’ asked. “Do I have the right to remain silent?” isn’t something they are accustomed to hearing. She walked away very quickly, wondering why no one had noticed my dosage wasn’t sufficient.

The strangest moment happened as I walked away after voting, paper tally in hand, headed toward the ballot box. “Sir!” someone kept shouting. After four or five repeats, I turned. “Sir? Did you already vote?” I looked down at the completed ballot in my hand and then back toward the voting machine fifty feet away, the one I had stood at for sixty seconds while I voted. It took everything I had to not say, “No, this is my CVS Pharmacy receipt.” Instead, I just smiled and nodded. I wondered about HER dosage at that point. When I reached the ballot box, the worker gave me redundant instructions. I said, “The Phoenix sees the mouse, all clear” and winked at him. I suspect he was very sad to see me leave, even though he was laughing a bit.

In November, my vote won’t matter. You can howl and moan all you want to about it. G̶i̶l̶e̶a̶d̶ Arkansas is a solid lock for Trump. Even if the Democrats ‘win’ the popular vote by some impossible miracle after stumbling around while the GOP puts them in the ditch one by one, our beloved constitutional democratic republic will award the presidency to him for a second term, if the hysteria from the latest plague doesn’t kill us all.

We enjoy boasting that we voted as if participating in the process elevates us. That’s not the case. We pick our team, our camp, our tribe and throw knives from the sidelines. I’ll vote for a bad case of derriere acne in November if it keeps Trump from office.

But I’d give my middle fingers if the Republicans would have picked anyone to run in Trump’s place. And gave Tom Hanks the Vice Presidency.

If you’re a Trump fan, just remember that I’m a liberal in Arkansas, which is about as rewarding as eating lunch in the bathroom.

Fried Chicken Amen

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*I was hesitant to post this. People tend to jump over subtlety and substance by unforgivingly bringing their own observations to things unsaid.

On a recent Wednesday, in a town which can be found in several states across the South, I entered a local eatery to pass a bit of the time away from the blistering reach of the summer sun. I gladly surrendered in the fight against it. I could tell that the little place was a hub for all manner of necessary human activity: gas, small groceries, food, and tobacco. The place was packed with smiling faces, each focused on satisfying their hunger.

I went inside, ordered a bit of deliciousness, and sat down at one of the dozen rectangular white tables scattered on one side of the convenience store. It wasn’t my intention to get another bite to eat. I’d already had lunch across the street. Overcoming the scent of the food filling in the air, however, was impossible for a man of my age and girth. Bacon and butter are my beloved enemies.

I casually watched through the glass as a young mom ignored her little daughter as she strained to reach over into the ice cream case. Her short arm stretched, and her fingers moved like scurrying spiders in their attempt to reach the unattainable buckets of ice cream. Her brother watched from the opposite end of the case, undoubtedly anticipating that she’d either reach the ice cream or fall into it. They were all behind the ice cream case on the employee’s side. The mom looked up and noticed my gaze. Without hesitation, she turned and struck the little girl forcefully on the back. It seemed like an instinctive reaction to her guilt at being observed. The girl shrieked in a small voice, and the mom grabbed her by the nape of the neck. The scream died. I could tell it was a long-rehearsed dance between them. The young mom then looked to her right, toward a stern older woman with a scream of a ponytail at the other register. It turns out that the young mom was an off-duty employee of the store, there to feed her four children. The old lady with the austere ponytail was undoubtedly the young mom’s boss. I later observed the family huddled around one of the tables, each devouring their pieces of chicken as their fingers became increasingly greasy. Watching little kids lick their fingers in deep appreciation is one of the minor joys in life. The little girl didn’t seem to recall being hit like an approaching tennis ball. I silently hoped that the hits weren’t frequent. I could easily see how much the daughter loved her mom. I hoped she could maintain that love as she grew.

Atop the ice cream case was a placard, one of those telling the world that the owners love their god and country, stand for the flag, and for anyone who felt otherwise, they should use the door as quickly as possible. I had a feeling that many visitors of different customs or appearance had seen the placard through the years and winced, many of them understanding that they weren’t welcomed there and were simply tolerated for the purpose of commerce. There’s no nuance in such signs, even if the owners believe there is. It’s the equivalent of a harsh, angry shout; this world needs more whispers and gentle examples of encouragement.

It wasn’t until I noticed the placard that I questioned much of the content of my experience there. My eyes wandered around the store, finding confederate flags in more than one place. Such flags are not a guarantee of other sinister inclinations; their presence, though, tends to accompany such attitudes. People can fly confederate flags and be good people. I’ve learned that the combination seldom proves the exception, leaving those without prejudice to be lumped in and suffer with those who use the symbols as shortcuts for unforgiving opinions. It’s unfortunate and unfair for all of us. Each of us in our own private lives tends to embrace ambiguity and understand that people are a spectrum of conflicting ideas.

Inside the store, the air was thick with the scent of biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken. While I was inside, there was a constant, impatient line, slowly shuffling forward, and the tables were filled with people, each bubbling with a conversation. Unlike my adopted hometown, there were no faces of other color or snippets of foreign languages. There was no rainbow there and no spectrum of humanity. Once noticed, such absences are hard to unsee. There should have been other faces, though, because despite the small-town population, there were industries and occupations which were comprised of a majority of minorities. I was curious to know where those people enjoyed their lunch. I would describe the mood of everyone as happy and concentrated on their own bit of life.

Because of the recent tragedies, many of the conversations were about guns and violence. I could hear two distinct conversations ridiculing those who wanted things to change. The conversations merged into one, with the participant’s voices rising in volume. We all became involuntary listeners.

At the furthest table, a man in overalls and a plaid shirt leaned back and cocked his head toward the bulk of the tables and said, “Ain’t no one here going to disagree. Not in this town. We love our guns and those who don’t can leave.” Even though I was in a distant place, I laughed, the kind of raucous, loud laugh that makes my wife cringe sometimes. The speaker looked toward me with surprise, probably in an attempt to gauge my allegiance. Externally, I looked like them. Maybe my bright purple laptop case signaled a departure. Nothing else about me raised suspicion that I might differ strikingly from most of them.

The loud-voiced man’s false bravado revealed his temperament, one not accustomed to nuance or differing opinion. It’s a common affliction in places where the realm is small, and the courage to speak up is often swallowed to keep the peace. I doubt he was actually as harsh as the situation implied.

“You think they should take our guns away?” He challenged me. Several people turned their heads to look in my direction. I could see the owner standing next to the food counter, waiting to hear what foolishness would jump from my mouth.

All I could think to say was, “If you drink and can’t stop yourself from driving, you should lose the privilege of driving. But I don’t know who ‘they’ are.”

An older woman wearing a bright red shirt seated with two very young kids said, “That’s right!” as if she were in church and reciting a well-worn and enthusiastic “Amen.”

The original speaker abruptly leaned forward again in his chair as the conversations in the room went momentarily quiet. He wasn’t expecting a response to his oration, especially to encounter disagreement among his own tribe. Each table resumed speaking in subdued voices. I’m confident that several people were wondering how a traitor like me had entered their eating-place without being noticed. Truthfully, it gladdened me a little bit. I couldn’t get the smile of satisfaction off my face. The old lady who had invoked the informal amen smiled back at me and nodded.

Regardless of our individual opinions, each of us continued to eat our delicious food. Differences over guns seldom distract those with fried chicken on their plates.

A little later, I listened as the owner pulled up a chair and sat at a table nearby with one of his customers. He smiled and exuded friendliness. After a few seconds of listening to his conversation, I realized that the smile was a little forced. He had a lot to say about guns and the attitudes recently expressed in his eatery. I tuned him out. It’s unwise to strive to overhear words that you know will only serve to bait you toward a base response. We all vent, sometimes to the point of letting our mouths outrun our honest hearts. I’m afflicted with the tendency too. It would be unwise for me to paint him in a situation where one’s self-defense mechanism might override his ability to express himself honestly.

Not all the signs and symbols for these places are visible. That ideas and differences weren’t welcome somehow pervaded the room, though. The divisive placard on the ice cream case didn’t help much. Each of us loves our lives, our friends, and our families. Most of us appreciate our community. We don’t need code words or exclusion to feel like our lives are full. When I departed the store, I noted vehicles with confederate flags and harsh bumper stickers with rigid, us-vs.-them messages. Strangely, people don’t stop to think that at a certain level, we are all ‘them’ to other people.

The smell of fried chicken and gravy should be a sign of welcome for all those who appreciate a full stomach. Such a thing is a unifier, drawing us to places where each of us brings our differences and yet somehow joins in the spectacle of community.

If I could, I would ask the owners to remove their placard and relics of the confederacy. I’d ask them to instead let their smiles and kind words serve as both example and proof of their living creator flowing through them. The placard and things like it can only serve as whistles of perceived prejudices. Armed with love and fried chicken, it’s difficult to imagine a divided world. We preach our best sermons by example. I think that so many people feel cornered into a defensive position when the world stops seeing that everything is intertwined and complex. Except for love, few ideas worth fighting for can be encapsulated on a bumper sticker, placard, or t-shirt.

It is possible to love your religion and customs while also openly loving other people’s opportunity to do the same. Acknowledging their choices in no way denigrates your ability to live a good life in the way that you see fit. Only when we demand allegiance to our choices does our society suffer.

Let the chicken and gravy be sufficient to unite us.

We live in the United States of America, a place where all of us have an equal voice to be as proud or as ignorant as our own hearts require. There’s room for ignorance and intellect on all sides in this crowded room of togetherness. Let the best argument always prevail, though. Losing respect for the best ideas leads us all away from the truth and fried chicken.

All those in agreement say either “Amen,” or “Fried chicken and gravy.” They both come from the purest of hearts.
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A Few Words About Springdale

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Anyone who knows me or has read my comments about Springdale will tell you that I’ve been overwhelmingly positive about the changes in the city. The most significant exception, albeit half-jokingly, is my opinion of the marketing and design of the city’s logo, which is as inspiring as a crossword puzzle in German. Any improvements which reduce the number of cowboy hats being worn at government meetings can only be classified as miraculous and welcome. (In all seriousness, I like cowboy hats, but a couple of previous political players who donned them soured my regard for them in the public forum.)

Economics drove many of the changes. There’s been a lot of resistance from many, especially from the older citizens and less progressive people living in the city. Trails, polylingualism, and diversity are things which weren’t embraced in Springdale’s past.  Springdale’s roots are parochial and restrictive. By no means am I falsely claiming that these tendencies were homogenous or shared by everyone; they were, however, powerful influencers which resisted change. This tendency is as much Southern as it is a reflection of Springdale.

By almost all metrics, Springdale is a better city than it was in the past.

Springdale’s growth is directly intertwined with its embrace of modern amenities and dedication toward economic pragmatism.

Behind the scenes, though, we have a few forces which tend to exert a strange warping of the general direction of change. Whether it’s a corporation with an unusually loud voice in the Chamber of Commerce or a church with a disproportionate voice in politics and government, Springdale is not governed as transparently as one might expect. It is the quasi-government that carries a portion of the power in Springdale.

Because of the weird confluence of cultures, Springdale is undergoing an uneven metamorphosis. By any measure, its population is well over one-third Latino. Even though it’s only the fourth largest city in Arkansas, its school enrollment is the largest. About 4 in 10 residents speak a non-English language, and about 8 in 10 are citizens. (The citizenship rate is lower in Springdale than surrounding large cities and Washington County.) 1 in 4 residents was born outside the United States. (Compared to 1 in 9 in Benton County.) As the economy strengthens, the stability of the area allows residents to stay and put down roots. Most of them will not leave, statistically speaking. Despite these facts, the poverty rate is about 18%. Springdale’s homeownership rate is much lower than the national rate of about 64% – and also lower than our neighbors above us.

Having said that, Springdale is suffering from a problem that has blossomed in other places. As demographics shift, those left in the unbalanced position often deviate from their dedicated focus and adopt a less progressive attitude, both in their approach to economics and policy. Pragmatic governance gives rise to politics and issues.

I distrust all politicians who choose ideology over pragmatism, even those who agree with me on issues.

That Springdale is going to undergo a drastic shift in diversity and population is undeniable. Whether those tasked with peering into the future will honor this inevitability is the central question. Springdale will be a majority of non-whites, probably much more quickly than people realize. Springdale will be a crucible of language, culture, and diversity. Anything which fails to recognize this fact is a disservice to the future of the city. Like all cities growing in population, it is not a safe bet to assume that the community will not deviate in matters of religion or non-religion, language, and politics. It is a fool’s errand to engage in behavior which ignores the wave of changes that are coming.

The great thing about city government is that those involved in it traditionally can dedicate themselves to infrastructure and financial planning. There’s usually no room for demagoguery. When those tasked with local governance deviate into political ideology, things often go awry.

The most recent symptom of this loss of pragmatism is the effort of some to pass a non-binding resolution declaring that Springdale is a pro-life city. Even though the decision is entirely devoid of legal meaning, those in favor of the proclamation would rather be able to literally circumvent established law were they able to do so. It is disingenuous of them to claim it will not affect reproductive options. Obviously, this can’t be the case. If the resolution is meaningless, why pass it? Some of the City Council and within the government want to make abortion illegal. Simply say so, without the color of the city government’s authority behind it.

If it is any comfort, I personally cannot imagine that the right to abortion will stand as the law of the land for very much longer. My personal solution for this is to require every male to have a vasectomy by maturation. (They can be reversed.) It’s about time we put the burden of planning on the male half of the population, anyway. Am I kidding or not about the last half of this paragraph?

My argument isn’t in regard to Planned Parenthood, which indeed is a polarizing organization. My point is that the city should tread cautiously in its approach to using city time to make political comments that overreach the governing function of a local city government. We have entirely too much of that nonsense at the state and federal level. As for the latest development and the non-binding resolution, many of you might recall that I predicted that this sort of thing would occur as the composition of the city government changed.

Can they do so? Of course! We can all agree that politicians seem to be unable to stop using their status as elected public servants to wag their fingers and pontificate. It’s one of the things we dislike the most. We choose them to represent us as employees, and they repay us by lecturing us. I’ll admit we collectively behave stupidly, which partially explains the tendency.

Doing so, however, draws contentious scrutiny to the City of Springdale. The arguments in favor of economics simply get abbreviated and silenced by the weight of the stigma of the underlying fight. Businesses and people coming to the area have too many other legitimate choices regarding infrastructure, employment, and residence, especially when considering our neighbors to the north. It’s easier to sidestep the issue by going north. Employers behave in this pragmatic manner all the time. It’s safer to avoid a job applicant with potentially unwelcome baggage. This tendency in part explains why Harrison, which should be a large, thriving city, stills remains behind the curve.

If the City of Springdale cannot prohibit reproductive services inside city limits, those with profound objections to their availability should devote themselves to providing better alternatives. Many people do – and that is an honorable course of action if you honestly disagree with the status quo. I’m not mocking those with regard for human life. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

If the City of Springdale wishes to draw attention to itself by using non-binding resolutions, I would recommend that they choose ones which do not contain the fuse for a public relations fight. We have better people than this. I know that those in favor of this particular non-binding resolution want to send a message. And they probably will. But the converse to the message is generally disfavorable. It’s enough of a risk to dissuade most cautious people from making it.

On another note, it is unwise to appeal to the majority on issues, whatever those issues may be.

I think I’ve made a case to remind anyone who has forgotten that the majority is going to be someone else fairly soon. Giving predominant voice to the majority simply because you can, also provides the opposition with the right to do the same to you when the time comes.

We can do better.

We are better.

We don’t need a resolution to tell us.

P.S. The tenor and tone of any possible replies are indicators of the depth of your regard for civil discourse. Be nice, be concise, and as in life, don’t reduce the room by your presence. Civil servants are supposed to face criticism openly.

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Government Dress Codes Are Not Democratic

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Another post from another social media site. This one drew commentary, mainly from people who said they’d never thought about the issue in this way before.

 

 

Before I begin, I’m assuming you understand that I’m discussing normal, everyday people and the prevailing mode of dress. It’s important that I remove arguments toward the exception from the conversation before I elaborate.

Forgive my tone and insistence.

Though I might be wrong and you might not agree, the older I become, the more I find this issue to be a problem for me.

If you are in a public governmental space and anyone demands that you dress formally, you can be certain that the forces behind it aren’t interested in democratic representation and equality; title and formality do nothing except to distance us from those who work for us. Beggar, plumber, and lawyer alike are equal where the government is concerned.

All requirements of dress are artificial ways to insist that there are hierarchical distinctions between those served and those serving: servant and master, or at minimum, superior and inferior. In the governance of a democracy, no such distinction should exist.

All government officials work for us, even judges and senators. They are our employees, appointed or chosen based on qualification of résumé rather than worth. In a democracy, we are all equal, even to those who would claim elevated status. While it tends to be a more conservative point, almost all government officials are our employees or representatives; hired, chosen, or assigned to perform a job.

Observing so much of the process and methodology of our government, I’m always surprised that citizens grant illusory privilege to those we choose to govern or judge our disagreements. That we extend this privilege in such a manner that allows them to feel able to sanction us for our clothing is arrogance on their part and idiocy on ours. Whether it’s a judge who irately demands that you put on a tie or never wear open-toed shoes or a senator who won’t allow you to speak to your representatives because you’re wearing mechanic’s coveralls, it’s wrong and wrong-minded.

We owe our respect and allegiance to our collective agreement of justice and equity, not to the fallible men and women who often forget that they serve for us rather than over us. The title or robe do not bring reverence, and if you demand it, you are not worthy of either the robe or the title. I can think of no practical reason to demand that fellow citizens follow a dress code in the presence of the operation of any facet of governance or judicial determination.

Whether I wear a tie, slacks, or dress shoes in no way determines my attitude regarding the service rendered. If the place holds no intrinsic honor and the title is assignable based on qualification, to whom then do we bow to when we acquiesce to the unreasonable and undemocratic demand that we conform our appearance to an arbitrary standard they choose.

Fashion and attire are subjective; they are not factors any reputable government servant should weigh, much less censure. It’s not your job to demand conformity in attire or ours to fear your displeasure.

Simply put, sir or madam, I’ve given up the pretense. If you insist that my attire doesn’t do justice to the place you were appointed or chosen to work, it is you who needs to be removed or sanctioned. We are human beings in the presence of government officials, seeking that you do your job as assigned. Our reverence is toward the law and our democracy, not those who imperfectly bend it to human caprice or avarice.

If you choose to elevate yourself through requirements of attire, please be aware that we as voters can and should pass laws to require you to wear common clothing of our choosing.

Those who fear the mob or accountability to the masses know that dress codes are almost always motivated by a misguided demand to be honored, whether deserved or not.

In the presence of the execution of any government duty, no one should take into consideration the garments on the citizen’s back. This is especially true where our individual interests can be harmed or infringed.

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