Category Archives: Politics

Enigma

“I just want competency to be the standard for political office. All else is a distraction. I don’t need a leader. I need a decision-maker who takes pride in making the best available choice with the options given. Whether the person is a D or an R is a ridiculous modifier. We should have many political parties, with each staffed with the best, brightest, and most compassionate people. Governments not run by coalition fail us – and lead us to fail each other.” – X

You Can Count On Me

The census worker stood by my custom address plate when I emerged from around the blind corner of the house, holding a long metal ladder over my head like an idiot. I didn’t know he was standing there; the ladder was over my head for purely ridiculous reasons. The truth is that it seems perfectly safe and reasonable to run around one’s house with a long metal ladder above one’s head, much in the same way that scampering inside the house with two pairs of open scissors seems safe. I’m 53, so stupidity hasn’t so far been fatal. Check back tomorrow, please.

The census worker must have noted a large shadow was overtaking him because he turned around quickly. I’m not sure what he was thinking – only that he was perplexed. Without bothering explaining why I say so, he was the embodiment of what a census taker should look like. I wish he had been wearing a green accountant’s visor. It could save us all a lot of guessing and speculation as the workers navigate through neighborhoods. (If you’re with the Census Bureau, you’re welcome.)

“I completed my census form online a long time ago,” I told him. “Sorry about listing myself as a Vulcan. It was hard enough searching for ‘human’ on the checkboxes.”

“Yes, I saw that in my system. I’m doing a follow-up on a few of your neighbors.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place,” I told him. “I’m X, bilingual, and do genealogy and general nosiness.”

He smiled. “I’m having problems getting these two houses to respond. I’ve been here before, left notes, etc.” He pointed across the street.

“Yes, you’re not going to get a great response rate here for the reasons you’d expect.” I told him the number of people residing in each house and their general age, ethnicity, and why I thought they wouldn’t respond no matter how many times he knocked, called, emailed, or parachuted into their respective backyards. The census worker seemed surprised when I told him that the first house he pointed to had 6 cars usually parked everywhere. (It looks like a parking lot. The entire neighborhood is slowly becoming one – a fact I predicted when we moved here. A closed set of streets that allows parking on both sides is doomed to become a hazard.)

“You’re going to need to bring a minority census worker with you. You need to come back at 6 p.m. and approach the house when one occupant is already outside. And say, “We need your help” instead of whatever has been scripted for you.” The census worker nodded. We talked for a few minutes.

Before surprising the census worker, I noticed someone sitting suspiciously along the curb a couple of times. I imagined several imaginary scenarios for him: assassin, assessor, or inept thief. I’m still surprised that people distrust census workers. That says a lot about my sheltered life and privilege.

The total number of residents in those two houses is 15-17, depending on the time of the year. That’s a lot of federal money and representation missing. Multiply it by the likelihood that the same pattern is being repeated over much of Springdale, and you get the idea of how massive the problem is.

I’ve done more than my share to help people understand what the census is for and why citizenship is irrelevant for the purposes of counting. I can understand why some people might not be so trusting, given the White House’s occupant in the last few years. Since the census is being prematurely closed down this year, it is a certainty that we’re all being undercounted. Whatever else is going on, the current president isn’t helping matters.

Whether every person should be counted is an issue for us to decide and remedy via the constitution. Until we change the way we do it, we rely on accuracy to share dollars and representation. I get a little cranky about constitutional arguments, as the group of rich white men who wrote it managed to demean well over half the population when they did so.

I have a few white American friends who are also deliberately not participating in the census. Some do so out of privacy fears, some simply because they don’t understand how it impacts them, their community, or their children. The others fall into a category I call “boneheadedness.” That’s what democracy is for: to irritate one’s neighbors. As a liberal, I do my part.

Everyone failing to be counted is doing all of us a disservice. Unlike failing to vote, it is inaction that literally costs us.

With the technology we have today, it is difficult to understand why such a herculean bureaucracy is needed to do what consistently applied technology can. Before I pat myself on the back, I admit that such a system would rely on people much smarter than I am – and not as prone to shenanigans.

Meanwhile, countless residents refuse to answer their doors or reply to the mail the census bureau sends.

As for neighbors who didn’t answer directly, they can thank me for doing the heavy lifting for them. If I had the inclination, I would knock on their doors and leave a note to let them know that their secrecy in itself draws attention to a handful of possible explanations that tend to draw increased scrutiny rather than less. Unlike many, I understand their reluctance and remind myself that my reality is not theirs and to stop blinding myself to it.

I enjoyed talking to the census worker. He was impressively smart about a lot of topics. They really need the green visors, though.
.

Notes: The 2020 census was conducted with fewer than 1/2 the total census workers we used in 2016. Many Americans don’t know that everyone alive inside the United States is supposed to be counted. This is the first census that allowed responses by mail, internet, phone, and in-person. For those who don’t do genealogy, census data is released 72 years after it was taken. (This information is incredibly valuable to us tracking ancestors.)

Our Wretched Ways

“I find it damning that I can both love someone as a person walking this earth with me and yet despise their ideals. Politics is subverted because we are.”

We blame our response on the system itself as if we did not actively create it or passively nod as we inherited it. Few of us find this to be what gives us comfort or represents the best in us. Most of us scowl and grow angrier at what we’ve allowed, although we might do so from opposite political spectrums. That we don’t have ten distinct political powers is the single biggest issue we face; such fragmentation requires coalition and cooperation. Two-party systems destroy our ability to stop rooting for ‘us’ at the exclusion of ‘them.’

It is our system, the one we’ve allowed to remain. Acknowledging our failure is an indictment of how incapable we are of managing our affairs—failing to realize it is a charge of compassionless disregard. The constitution recognizes itself as a fluid document, just as we should see ourselves as fallible and prone to selfishness and stupidity.

If we are each not culpable, no one is.

Wandering through this year, each of us fought against our better nature. Simply put, it is not about an election. It’s about us.

We’ve failed.

No political system that culminates in a crescendo of shouts and dissonant voices like this one is a success – no matter how it turns out. The victory you might imagine will be its opposite to those who lost.

We all know that elections are supposed to be a collective handshake about the direction we choose. Words like ‘us’ mean nothing when we disagree on what ‘us’ is or how we get to raise our hands and offer opinions. Marginalizing anyone will water dissent and anger.

We learned of our shared history in school and wondered how such a young country could tear itself or reveal that its dedication to ideals could be so completely torn. Observant citizens no longer wonder; instead, they pivot and watch those around them.

No matter who wins the election, we have fundamentally exposed the facade of our imperfect system. As flawed as it is, it is merely a reflection of us.

We’re fixable. So is the system that seems to dissatisfy all of us.

Though I’m a liberal, I’ll give up all my nuanced objections if we could establish a political system designed to help people. As ignorant as I am about so much, most of us agree that what we have is unworkable and increasingly worse.

If we don’t devise an intelligent way to find a system that serves us better, entropy and chaos will align to assign us as a footnote to an avoidable disaster.

2020 had its issues before involving a national election. How many of us can survive a repeat of this for the rest of our lives? We will lose the ability to engage in public policy and how to manage it.

Unlike many, I’m not foolishly offering solutions. If we can’t get there from here, we’re in trouble.

Breaking the entire system will result in something no one will enjoy.

Since we seem to be there already, I suggest we try something different.

Hanging

I see so much teeth-gnashing about truth and reality.

Even Grammarly, the proofreading AI I use, told me, “Your tone is angry.” If it had such a mechanism, I’d reply, “No, you’re wrong,” to prove this post. I did chose “ignore suggestion,” which does address one aspect of this post. It’s ironic that I pay for this service only to ignore such suggestions.

It doesn’t matter what the specific conspiracy theory or weird belief is. It is not the particular belief that is the problem. People don’t have a system to examine how they got there or how to get out of that particular belief. Politics, vaccines, covid, religion, astrology, or white people’s alleged supremacy are a few examples. We bludgeon our way through our lives, trying the same tactics and responses repeatedly, even as we paint ourselves into constricting circles.

Our biggest problem is that “we know.” Even when we don’t.

As wrong as I was when I was younger, it is still hard for me to accept that I must be wrong about things now too. Having always been wrong about something indicates that I’m currently suffering from an unidentified bit of idiocy.

To get the hypocrisy out of the way, I have my blind spots. I have a system to counteract it. I hold a very few people in esteem enough to let them gleefully bodycheck me if necessary if I’m trapped in a stupidity loop. If they point out that I’ve suddenly fallen victim to believing something stupid, I’ll take a long look. But I don’t include most people in this circle. For example, anyone trying to discuss politics but doesn’t vote, I don’t listen. (But I do believe that non-voters have the right to participate and opine.) If they are working an entry-level job, I disregard anything financial they say unless they are monk-like in their happiness. If someone hasn’t read a book in five years, let’s be honest – they should sit down and be quiet. The tricky part is convincing a good person that you’re interested in frank criticism. It’s a rare offering. Human beings aren’t programmed to make friends by being honest in that way. “Hey, you’re getting kind of chunky, X” would be a good example of something hard to share, no matter how close I am to that person.

One of my favorite go-to comments is that millions of people think the moon landing was fake – and many more millions are ‘undecided’ regarding its validity. I try to say it like a mantra, as it reminds me that no matter how well we explain ourselves, teach science, or rely on the common bond of truth, the lunatic fringe is not only more than just a fringe, but one that we can’t convince to evolve.

Among my list of popular ‘truths’ that are bogus is the Lunar Effect. It addresses the misconception that the moon (and especially a full moon) affects human behavior and especially strange human behavior. Pop culture, our grandmothers, and countless reinforcements have pushed it into people’s brains in such a way that it is just background noise and accepted. Due to the recent full moon, I saw at least two Lunar Effect posts on social media, with multiple comments and anecdotes. I didn’t interfere. The result would have been immediate contradiction and anger if I insisted. A letter from both Jesus and Albert Einstein would not have diverted their certainty.

It’s not true, of course. Like the ongoing and incorrect belief that an ulcer is primarily caused by stress rather than a bacteria, no amount of evidence, study, or direct appeal can convince people that they are completely wrong about the moon’s effects on behavior.

As you would guess, even bringing this up triggers many people’s defensive response. Their brains immediately react with a litany of learned responses. All are wrong. You’ll see a barrage of misstatements, each based on faulty methodology and study – but also cemented into their rigid structures identified as truth.

If you’re reading this and disagree, you’ll invest a great deal of your time and attention to devise a point to ‘prove’ my argument is invalid. Meanwhile, pieces of your life will pass you by, you’ll lose vital energy, and you’ll still be wrong. The only thing you’ve proven is that you’ll waste much of your time and energy trying to convince someone who probably isn’t in your inner circle anyway.

As with the moon landing deniers, no amount of science, data, or facts can dissuade a closed mind.

Don’t try it.

At any given time, about 1/3 of Americans are on the fringe side of any debate, question, or issue.

You can expose people to the truth, but no amount of words or strident argument will ever turn their attention and convince them. People must convince themselves.

Any effort you expend to convince an unwilling dissident will be a piece of your life that you’ve wasted. There is no magic combination of words that will ignite a light of recognition in people’s minds.

When my Facebook author page started getting readers, I had a smart older gentleman start reading all my posts and interacting. One day, I opened Facebook to discover that he’d angrily written at least a half dozen angry comments, each of them detailing the evil of using the word “xmas” instead of “Christmas.” My post was very optimistic. He focused solely on the word “xmas” to the exclusion of all else. Of course, I politely linked him to multiple sources indicating that he should acquaint himself with the historical and religious context of “xmas.” At that point, he flamed out like a cotton bale on the 4th of July.

Over the years, I’ve had multiple instances of grammar experts incorrectly repeating various ‘rules’ that are mostly just generally agreed-upon ways to communicate. Whether it’s the apostrophe, ain’t, you’re/your, couldn’t care less, or any of the other thousand bones of contention, many people want language to be as concise and static as math. It’s not. As a bona fide older person, I’m supposed to become more rigid as I age. I don’t. Quite the opposite. As late as yesterday, I found myself surprised that there is no agreement whether “detectible” or “detectable” is the correct choice.

Without getting into the weeds, I recently had someone challenge me on the validity of something I’d written. I’d mentioned I could prove it. The person in question angrily said I had fabricated the allegation. Naturally, I did my best to stay calm. I wrote an email and attached a copy of the email that proved what I said and an IP index. The reply was hate-filled. The person writing didn’t stop to think that he/she sounded like an angry lunatic. After thinking about it, I wrote back and said, “Ask _. They’ll confirm. That should convince you.” A couple of days later, another reply. This one was worse than the first. They were furious that someone else knew about the incident in question – and worse, that it made the angry person look stupid and hateful – something out of my control. My final reply was an apology for expecting them to respond critically and that I’d keep their correspondence for myself unless they tried to call me a liar again.

A few years ago, I finally hit the end with my mom. I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d been through the cycle of no contact with her several times. Discovering she had Stage 4 cancer forced me to try to navigate the waters with her until her death. I’m not sure I would do it if given an unlikely chance for a do-over. My emotional deficit made it impossible for me to engage logically.

In the last couple of years, I alternated wildly with my brother, despite knowing that I was inconsistent and probably stupid. One of my go-to people told me that I needed to avoid replying, as it would fan the flames and reward the person trying to victimize me. (This person wasn’t my brother.) It took me a bit to see how right it was. It didn’t stop the other person from being a tool to me, but it did leave me out of the equation. When I did get around to addressing it, I was able to be peaceful and calm about it. (Which, of course, made the person even angrier. No one likes being angry while dealing with someone who won’t’ stoop to your level.)

As a liberal, it took me years to understand that not all the immigration arguments were specious. All the shouting obscured much of the meat and bones of the counter-arguments. As a result, I realized one day that while there were a lot of angles and I still generally disagreed substantially with the conservative viewpoint, I saw the truth in some of the objections. More importantly, I noticed that not allowing any flexibility in my stance was causing me dissonance.

More importantly, living a good life is often 80% the act of not engaging. That part is almost a miraculous ability.

If you’ve read this post and wondered what the theme is, accept my apology. I’ve had a version of this sitting in my growing list of drafts long enough to have children.

Dry Counties In Arkansas

wil-stewart-UErWoQEoMrc-unsplash

*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

tingey-injury-law-firm-DZpc4UY8ZtY-unsplash

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

brandon-mowinkel-DF1hKdVsn_c-unsplash

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

black white gray shaded (2)

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

william-navarro-82Xsw-pGsJI-unsplash

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

victoriano-izquierdo-JG35CpZLfVs-unsplash

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.