Colorado Springs shootings twice in 30 days

I probably shouldn’t say this with the NSA listening in…

I have in my life dreamed and fantasized about violent revenge against my enemies. This has been everyone from people I know personally to figures I only know indirectly like Dick Cheney. Yes, he’s bad enough to inspire that kind of murderous rage even from a distance of thousands of miles and mediated by newsprint and pixellated text.

Anyway, that’s relevant in my mind to the terrorist murders in Colorado Springs. It sounds to me like the GOP is right that this guy is a nutcase acting mostly independent of any serious organization. I also agree with many on the other side who say that he probably chose Planned Parenthood because of the massive propaganda and hatred campaign against it by the GOP.

But what I really want to say is I think I can relate to this guy. I imagine he feels like the world is falling down around him, that there are evil people trying to control him and take away the things he holds dear. He probably didn’t just experience anger but also confusion and helplessness.

Yes it’s quite appropriate to blame the GOP for emphasizing and reinforcing the hatred response. At the same time I don’t think they are very comfortable with the fact that crazy men came out of the hills with guns blazing and mowed people down twice in just the last 30 days. And that’s just in Colorado Springs. I certainly doubt that most of the 1% of filthy rich people that the GOP represents are comfortable with this insanity. No one wants Mad Max or Snow Crash to become a reality with fortified compounds and armored cars.

Of course if it does get that bad those who can afford to do so will move in. And the rest of us will have to survive in the howling wilderness.

I just don’t think this is what anyone truly wants. I know I don’t.

We need a better way. Slinging mud doesn’t work. What’s the saying? Even if you’re really good at it an eye for an eye might leave you with two good eyes but now you’ve blinded your opponent and you don’t know what to do with yourself.


Alienation, Alien Nation, Green Day

As I overheard the familiar chords of “Back in Black” by AC/DC ringing out from the TV speakers in another room I wondered if I was hearing an ad from the same company that has been using that song in advertising campaigns for a while now, or if perhaps it is just such a popular and familiar song that multiple companies are using it. My subsequent thought was about how that band is incredibly popular and for so many people brings up good memories, often of their childhoods, youth, teenage years and young adulthood, thus making it a sought-after commodity for advertisers. And then I moved on to considering the millions of dollars the band members have likely accrued via royalty payments for such commercials over the years.

It’s so weird. These guys started out poor, playing in bars and getting ripped-off and underpaid as Bon Scott famously sang in “It’s a long way to the top” (If you wanna rock and roll.) And now of course they made it to the top and are themselves living out memories of their younger days every time they trot out on stage and play the same songs that made them famous 35 years ago. Someone once put it like this: “they’ve become a tribute band of themselves.”

This is a common story for rock bands, as far as I know. The creative spark explodes into fire and then quickly burns out; if you’re lucky the embers smolder on for years. More often they die out before the night is through. John Mellencamp said it well: “life goes on, even after the thrill of living is gone.”

And money keeps flowing too, even if it’s just “funny paper” and not “what I want” or what anyone needs. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Green Day named their band after. But they did have their green day of financial success and popularity, as well as a creative decline by most accounts.

We make music not because we fear “the sound of silence” but rather to add our own harmonies to those we hear around us. No matter how prolific a musician, she will always have time for anxious chatter.

“Where is my mind?” Black Francis of the Pixies asked. Hopefully waiting patiently for its return to the driver’s seat, is my reply.

I have on my hard drive an album entitled “Left, Right, wrong.” I just had the thought that maybe she was talking about the two hemispheres of the brain. Of course, we make music with our bodies, resonance in singing comes from the nasal and oral cavities, fingers pick guitar strings, the whole arm beats on drums. Both arms, working equally well, will definitely lead to better drumming.

Hunger no longer on strike; fed

Apparently Johnathan Butler, MU hunger striker, is not as different from Tim Wolfe, the ousted MU president as you might think. They both were members of state championship football teams in high school. While Tim Wolfe held a job as President of MU, Butler is studying Educational Policy and Leadership for his master’s degree. Tim Wolfe has made millions of dollars in his life (He previously worked for decades at Novel) while Johnathan Butler has rich parents: his father is a Railroad company executive as well as a church pastor.

Of course Wolfe is white while Butler is black. And they are on opposite sides of a serious conflict over significant issues regarding UM policies as well as broader issues. Even as an outside observer I feel comfortable coming to the conclusion that they walk in different circles and have markedly different values.

I choose to highlight their commonalities because for me it provides some contrasting relief for the “him or me” nature of this conflict. Butler said his hunger strike would end when Wolfe resigned or he died, whichever came first. On the other hand, from what I can tell, Wolfe expressed only contempt for Butler and the other students who sought redress of their grievances.

As I read of the drama in Columbia, Missouri I am reminded of the events of the Arab Spring of 2010-2012 as well as their aftermath. Masses of people poured into the streets in dozens of countries, brought down presidents in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, civil wars broke out in Libya and Syria. A lot of people died and in Syria in particular they are still dying.

People will disagree about whether it was all worth it, if there was some sort of progress achieved through all this bloodshed. Maybe there was. I live halfway around the world, not the best vantage point for gauging the truth of that particular matter.

I can say that in my life every time I choose to stubbornly make my stand I find myself some time later on my knees, wondering dumbly how I got there. Whether the episode is mercifully short or painfully long, I know I’m always grateful to get back up and start walking again. Look around and get a fresh view through clear eyes. Of a world that is familiar and perhaps unchanged, yet seems to be welcoming me back with a bright smile.

Did I mention it’s been pouring buckets in Seattle?

Thoughts about police brutality

Some thoughts about the current political situation and how to most effectively address the issue of police brutality in the United States. My impression personally is that we’re seeing a major shift in popular opinion on this issue, and that significant factions within government at all levels are showing a willingness to address it seriously.

I think the federal government has shown an increased willingness to take serious steps to mitigate police violence. In December 2014 the congress passed a bill that requires states to keep track of all the people that cops kill.

Also in that same month Obama announced federal money for the purpose of putting bodycams on police around the country.

Localities have shown more willingness to prosecute. 2015 saw more cops charged with crimes and put on trial for their killings. Still, it was only 12 total nationwide.

Personally I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen this level of media focus on this issue, particularly the increased sympathy for victims and criticism of the cops. And that goes for general popular discussion and consciousness also.

I think that federal action holds the most potential power to save lives and prevent violence. Also we’ve seen recent action by both congress and Obama. I looked online and couldn’t find any current bills in congress that address this issue.

I might have missed something, but it strikes me that as concerned citizens we have an opportunity to propose and push forward a bill. My thought is to build on the bodycams that Obama is already promoting. Providing more funding for these is a good step. Creating guidelines for their use, including mandated reporting to DOJ would also help to build a habit of transparency as well as a database of evidence for any local trials or lawsuits.

One article I read cautioned that cameras may not lead to increased trust between police and citizens. I think that another important element could be funding for community events that include police. In this way it would provide an incentive to community organizations to invite police to be part of what they are doing. I think this could help ease the increased tension and pressure on police introduced by cameras. It could also help direct resources toward community organizations. And this proposal would take the teeth out of right-wing criticisms that the liberals hate the police, because here the bill is actually encouraging liberal non-profits to include police in their work.

Some thoughts regarding red cups

I’ve noticed a trend in the history of advertising and media. The tendency is toward a goal of maximum distraction, maximum emotional impact– the meaning of the words and their relationship to fact tends to be secondary. And over time we’ve seen this become more and more extreme.

It’s basically Aldous Huxley and the Brave New World– over time the people who do this for a living are getting better and better at essentially pushing a button which stimulates the animal pleasure/pain/fear/joy response so that more and more people spend less and less time paying attention to how their behavior actually affects the world around them in a concrete way. Instead we are focusing on how we feel about it.

I used to be much more cavalier about ads– my attitude was essentially that I knew they were lying to me so I just didn’t pay attention.

Well I realized that I do pay attention– it’s inevitable. I just don’t have that level of control over my attention, and ads are everywhere. And of course even sober articles have various emotional cues, the author adopts some sort of attitude or tone.

The idea of “groupthink” is that people all adopt the attitudes, behaviors and beliefs of the group, no matter how ridiculous or even destructive, because they want and need to fit it, to be accepted by their peers. Well I think this is much deeper. Over time as media have come to dominate our experience of the world, direct unmediated person-to-person relationships inevitably bear some imprint from that. You talk about TV shows or the football game. Or a book you read about the history of New Guinea. It’s all a step removed from direct experience, as well as from matters pertaining directly to the relationship between you and the person you’re talking to.

I think this has both negative and positive social implications. On the one hand it means there is pressure and temptation to exist in a world to some extent removed from reality where you can avoid responsibility and just play games or read books. On the other hand I think it takes pressure off of our relationships because with all this stimulation you can avoid them for a while. And maybe more to the point it provides a way to save face and more safely navigate emotional tension. Instead of arguing about who stole whose sandwich or who is more equipped to be the boss or wear the pants, you can release that energy more safely by playing mortal kombat against each other or arguing about the coach’s decision in the seahawks game.

The straight dope on the pope

All right so someone shared this article about the Pope on Facebook. Well, it’s in National Geographic. And since over the last few days I’ve learned that Nat Geo died rather suddenly I’m in a little bit of shock. I decided to start mourning early; though I’m still in denial I’m making the push toward acceptance. Lessee, I forgot what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross listed as the intermediate stages of grief and loss. One sec, looking it up. OK, anger. Yes that fits. I’m so pissed that Rupert Murdoch took my beloved knowledge porn from me– I am going to now dive into the archive and he can’t stop me. Yeah Rupert, that’s right, I’m learning, whatcha gonna do about it?

Anyway, this article about the pope.…/vatican/draper-text

I mean, the pope had to get elected by all the cardinals. Apparently a lot of them didn’t really know who he was. But the Catholic Church has been having all sorts of money problems as well as popularity problems from being out of touch and of course abusing boys and covering it up. Well, over the years a large section of the Catholic Church in South America has devoted itself toward helping the poor. Francis himself (originally named Mario Jose Bergoglio) was in exile for a while from Argentina during a dictatorship that murdered thousands of political opponents. So it’s really been brewing for some time that one of these liberals from south america was going to become pope.

But he’s able to play with the big conservative boys; apparently the pope has as much guile, discipline and cold-calculating strategy in him as he has the joy, humility and compassion which he’s better known for. The article quotes Ramiro de la Serna, a Franciscan priest based in Buenos Aires who has known the pope for more than 30 years: “I believe we haven’t yet seen the real changes, and I also believe we haven’t seen the real resistance yet either.”

Nonetheless, I assume Pope Francis is going to use his power within the church bureaucracy, not just his influential smile, wave, bow, kneel and tear ducts leaking for the cameras. Because really, the way I see it, all of that stuff is to help the church look good, cover up all the unseemly stuff going on under the robes. By all accounts this guy is very genuine; I really think he wants to help people. And that means nuts and bolts, loaves and fishes, not just hearts and minds.

What I find interesting– the article makes it clear that Francis hasn’t challenged official church beliefs. In fact he appointed a conservative cardinal to head up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the General Congregation of the Universal Inquisition.)

The pope’s focus is on showing (not telling) people how an honorable and righteous person executes his or her faith through acts that bring glory to god. Hugging orphans, washing the feet of prisoners, cracking jokes and riding around with the windows down no matter the weather.

But hold the phone and hang on to your pointy hat, isn’t there a contradiction in there somewhere? It’s a strange form of hypocrisy to practice humility and generosity while preaching evil and sin. And yet this is the bizarre approach of Pope Francis.

As many of the aging and world-weary catholic bureaucrats in the article– I feel bemused, confused and otherwise disarmed. Is this the masterful strategy of someone who apparently outgrew impulses years ago and now plans out his days well in advance? Or is it rather the desperate ploy of a man in an impossible situation who knows that the moment he shows weakness his life is over?

I know that I couldn’t do what he does. I have no interest in being anybody’s hero but my own. And even if Francis is 100% humble, seriously pure, the best stuff you can grow in Argentina, I can’t put the pope in my pipe and smoke him. Because along with the smoke, you get mirrors– self-reflection requires just one or the other.

Now I wouldn’t mind hot boxing the vatican with the pope and a few hundred of our closest Catholic friends. Who needs heaven when you can get high on earth? But seriously, it would be great because when I got the munchies I know there would be an endless supply of ‘nilla wafers. I’m tellin’ you, those white boys know how to party.

AC/DC is sexist, dude

AC/DC– not really current anymore, you’d think, yet like an unexpected turn of phrase, they might just surprise you.

Forces aligned to make their 1980 album “Back in Black” the second best-selling album of all time after MJ’s “Thriller.” They still sell out arenas around the world despite being as old as cliched jokes about aging rock stars.

We all know about Angus Young’s blazing and brilliant guitar work, Brian Johnson’s trademark ear-splitting disaster of a vocal line, everybody else’s fist-pumpable, head-bangable rhythmic rock cred, and of course the power and simplicity of their songs’ stripped-down essentialist rock and roll bravado and badassery.

Why so big? In a word, sexism. Not really news to anyone who’s been able to discern a lyric or two (OK, that’s actually pretty hard, but we have the internet now and they used to print the words on the labels that came with the records, kids.) But no one to my knowledge has articulated the appeal to men AND women. One critic was turned off by their “boys locker-room sexuality,” but for a lot of people it’s a real turn on to dispense with the bullshit and admit you just want to fuck like an animal (Not everybody wants even one nine inch nail to come anywhere near that picture.) I joke, but there is something incredibly and deeply down-to-earth about not just the chords but everything about these guys. And I think that translates across languages and national boundaries. I heard an extended radio interview with one die-hard lifelong fan who described how their music meant so much to him in high school. At one point he gleefully described how women at live concerts tear off their shirts when the stadium cameras show them on the big screen. To me this is the perfect sexist minimalism to complement the music itself– Yeah there’s chords and stuff, maybe it’s the women who have to take off their shirts, but everyone equally agrees that this is really about having a Fucking Good Time. Together.

US comic Jim Breuer tells of worshipping various rockers as a kid in the ’80s, then having the opportunity as a successful entertainer to become friends with Brian Johnson. Breuer tells the story much better than I can, funny voices, comedic timing, the whole bit. But I hope I can effectively paraphrase his point that Johnson liked him because he’s “just a regular guy.” And I dare anyone, even the legendarily fat “Rosie” who Bon Scott undresses metaphorically with just a few bars, to speak a word against this band’s profoundly authentic humility.

No need for words, Rosie, just kick ’em in their “Big Balls.” I’ll be pumping my fist and shaking my ass the whole time.

*Originally published at november 20, 2013*