Full disclosure on this Fourth-of-July weekend: I am the son of an Englishman.
When I was in the third grade, the social studies curriculum included quite a long time spent examining the American Revolution. Cases of tea in the Harbor! One if by land, two if by sea! Whites of their eyes! Give me liberty or give me death! Second of July [look it up]! All that stuff.
(Living in Massachusetts as I do, that period of history is ever-present in my everyday life. School field trips to the battlefields of Lexington and Concord are just a short bus ride away. There’s a 1760s-vintage stone marker around the corner from the house of my youth into which “Boston → 18 miles” is carved, and I imagine fellas on horseback wearing tri-cornered hats looking at the marker, then to the east, and saying, “yep … we can make it by lunchtime.” And the church wherein I do my church-musician-gigging is located in the area of town known as the Historic District … meaning if you want to build anything bigger than a mailbox, it darn well better look like something that was built by those colonial Americans, or no construction permits for you!)
So I was paying attention in class. The California Gold Rush? Lewis and Clark? Even most of the Civil War? Harder to envision. The Boston Massacre? Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride? The Battle of Bunker Hill? We pass that stuff all the time on the way to the mall.
But, unlike my classmates, I was considering that there are two sides to every conflict, and that during the American Revolution, those guys in red coats were human beings, weren’t they?
Thanks, I suspect, to the presence of a English father in my life, I thought often of the British soldiers. Sent far from home, to try to convince the expatriates to calm the heck down … possibly thinking it was the right thing to do, preserve the Empire and all that … and they had to carry out warfare while wearing outfits that kinda didn’t camouflage them all that well.
I didn’t talk about it too loudly, of course. But it may have been among my first moments dealing with empathy.
Let me be clear: my dad moved to the US from England’s West Midlands (via Scotland and Canada) as he followed a trail of jobs that led to a chemical engineering career. I don’t think he looked at America the way we Americans romantically imagine immigrants looking at it. I doubt he was murmuring “give me your tired, your poor” as he crossed the border … rather, I bet he was muttering, “give me your map of New Jersey and do you even do tea?” He never relinquished his English-ness and never apologized for it.
That said, he was plenty knowledgeable about, and happy with, this country. I suspect that knew and appreciated more about the sport of baseball than almost any of his countrymen. His accent faked out a lot of unsuspecting ugly Americans, in this regard.
So, with this example of English-ness in my life, I’ve always harbored great fondness for the land of my father’s birth. Rule Britannia! Monty Python! Gustav Holst! (Not an especially UK name, but he was an English citizen.) The stereotypical English reputation for gentility and stiff-upper-lip is both somewhat accurate and often overblown. As adorable as “Wallace and Gromit” are, John Cleese and the “Blackadder” series are only two examples of the English people’s unmatched facility for cruel humor. As stately and majestic as “Land of Hope and Glory” is, well … England also cultivated the early development of punk rock, and that’s not exactly the soundtrack of high tea.
“Stiff-upper-lip” is not a phrase often used to describe any sports fandom, English or otherwise – what my dad used to call “English football” surely included. (He called American football “heaps of men”.) Soccer hooliganism was rather a problem in the 1980s, but one sportswriter in particular has chronicled the lengths to which England has gone in the intervening time to put a damper on it. English football fans are passionate, and most inter-club rivalries tend to dwarf all but the most rabid of their American counterparts (Yankees/Red Sox … Auburn/Alabama … Coke/Pepsi …), but at least there’s not so much rioting lately.
But there is a distinct tradition in England of holding people’s feet to the fire, and not being shy about it. If a professional English athlete – particularly one who is representing their country – fails to carry out their patriotical athlete duties, they become a verbal target in the pub and/or the press. If they let down their country … the existence of which clearly hinges on their ability to swing a club or racket, or to boot a ball, or to run fast, or to fling an oddly-shaped object … well, perspective is set aside and …
Well, good luck to ya.
And so it was, earlier this week, following a Women’s World Cup soccer semifinal match between Japan and England, that a set of feet had the chance to be held to said fire – except that it didn’t happen. Almost at all.
The match was tied at one goal each. The second half had expired, but play continued in what soccer enthusiasts call “added time”. That’s a few minutes of overtime tacked directly onto the end of a match at the discretion of the referee, based upon how much second-half time had previously been wasted watching players roll around in fake agony on the ground (or similar delays). Important to play 45 genuine minutes of actual soccer per half.
In the second added minute, a Japanese midfielder put a pass forward toward the English goal. To keep a Japanese striker (I’m sorry, but “striker” is a terrific term for a member of the offense!) from getting to the ball and probably drilling it past the goalkeeper for the winning goal, one English defender did catch up to the striker and the ball, and flicked a foot at the ball in order to deflect it away from the goal.
A successful kick of the ball, yes … but oh, the direction.
Usually in nightmares, the event that you can’t do anything about takes place in slow-motion. This was a high-speed chase with a drag-racing fireball of an ending. The ball soared, not away from the goal, but a little bit high and a whole lot toward the net. It glanced off the underside of the crossbar, down, and over the goal line by eighteen inches or so. It took no time at all for the English world to come crashing down.
All the blue-clad Japanese players leapt.
None of the white-clad English did.
Some of them sank to their knees; some collapsed to the ground. Some stood, looking for all the world like they’d been hit in the head with one of those animated Monty Python 40-ton weights. It was not untrue.
The term “own goal” is so very inadequate as a descriptive device.
The Women’s World Cup happens only every four years, and no matter how good a player you are, every Cup tournament you get to play in … might be your last. You might not be chosen for the national team next time around; or an injury might dash your hopes.
Even if you’re a perennial (quadrennial?) fixture on your country’s squad, the World Cup is your sport’s Big Moment. The men’s side of the Cup has been the stuff of internationally-televised legend for decades. More recently, the women’s tournament has begun to rise to that level. So a Cup semifinal is a big, big deal. If you’re in it, you want to do well. You want to win. You don’t want to lose, clearly.
You don’t want to screw up. You, yourself, personally.
Here in the US, we have athlete names which need only be whispered, to communicate the concept of “goat” … the guy who let the ball go through his legs as the winning run scored, threw the interception with time expiring, missed the two-foot putt on 18, double-faulted on match point. (We even have guys who hit the winning home run, whose names bring to mind not so much the home run but the pitcher who threw the hanging curveball, or the manager who kept him in the game for just one more batter. We’re amazingly creative that way.)
The defender’s name was Laura Bassett, and until that moment, she was recognized as one of English soccer’s heroic women. Her England team, nicknamed the “Lionesses”, reached the Women’s World Cup semifinal for the first time ever, this year. She had taken a nasty elbow to the face, near her eye, during an early-round match against France, and kept on playing regardless.
Bassett became a professional soccer player in England’s FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division at the age of fourteen. She has been a member of the English women’s national team for a dozen years. She has been the object of WPL bidding wars. In short: no slouch, she.
Because our world has an Internet in it, there were Internet trolls. Following that heart-breaker of a match, nasty Twitter messages immediately popped up, directed at Bassett (likely by people who wouldn’t think of saying these things to her face, as this is the way of the Web). They contained a great variety of snark, from knee-jerk amateur soccer analysts’ instant dismissal of her skills (“Scoring an own goal to ruin the country’s hopes is not quality. @laurabassett6 should be ashamed and should retire”) to unfunny jokes (“Congratulations to Laura Bassett who was officially voted Scotland’s favourite footballer today”). This is, again, very sadly, to be expected.
But this moment seemed to generate far more online support than your average professional athletic disaster. Numerous British media outlets have reported on the great wave of sympathy that has arisen.
Of course, fellow pro footballers checked in immediately on Twitter. They understood, better than anyone.
Former England captain Casey Stoney wrote, “If anyone did not deserve that today it was @laurabassett6 she is the most honest, hard working, professional who is an amazing team mate!!!” Former Premier League player Gary Lineker wrote, “What a dreadful way to lose! Poor, poor Laura Bassett.” Current WPL player Kelly Smith wrote, “@laurabassett6 Hold your head up high girl. You have lead by example and been IMMENSE all tournament. We <3 you.” Current England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain (into whose net the errant clear had sailed) wrote, “Football can be so so cruel. Absolutely gutted but so proud to be a part of this team.”
Most affectingly, for me, though, were a pack of Twitter messages that made me think perhaps the United Kingdom in general had its priorities uncommonly straight, in this case:
A young English musician wrote, “@laurabassett6 you played excellently and did your country proud. Literally inspired a nation. Nothing to be ashamed of from that performance” and a young man from somewhere in the British Isles wrote, “@laurabassett6 don’t think for a second that there is a single person who isn’t proud of and inspired by you, chin up! #ProudOfBassett”
One Premier League supporter wrote, “@laurabassett6 We’re all proud of you Laura. Onward and upward. That cup[‘]s got your name on it.” Another English football fan with the curious Twitter account name “Invalid Parking” wrote, revealingly, “@laurabassett6 Head up, **it happens. :( Can’t blame yourself, fantastic effort from all of you! (Previously only men’s football fan)!” … and an RAF veteran living in Aberdeen wrote, “#proudofbassett and that’s from Scotland! You should all be proud and look forward not back.”
And it didn’t come from the UK, but it came from Canada, which is a Commonwealth nation, so perhaps it’ll still count: arguably my favorite Tweet on this topic, from a Toronto sportswriter called Eric Koreen.
Meanwhile, although England lost in the aptly-named knockout stage, there’s still work to be done. In American sports, we don’t muck around with silly things like consolation games, as there’s no consolation to be had after losing. But in this tournament, there’s still third place to be decided. To advance to the Cup final, the US women had to outdo Germany, and did. So, for the Lionesses, Deutschland awaits. Not a small mountain to climb, and especially for a side that just had their hearts broken in little pieces just this past Wednesday.
If the universe is a fair place … and we know all about that big ol’ “if”, but go with me anyway … if there’s any kind of justice in the world, I will expect my Twitter feed to esssplode tomorrow afternoon, around 4 o’clock Eastern time, on the very Fourth of July. It’ll happen when a beautiful entry pass from an English defender called Laura Bassett, in the midfield, will skitter through the German defense during the 89th minute, and a marauding England striker will bury it in the back of the net for the only goal of the third-place match. #ProudOfBassett, indeed.
If not, though … if England fall to Germany … I still have faith that England’s supporters back home will, in their unique way, come through again.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
A postscript of sorts to the day’s Big News From The Supremes (or at least two-thirds of them)…
A good friend of mine posted online, earlier today, suggesting that she was tiring of reading posts and press statements from various people, who were not supportive of the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision, that featured the skilled use of complaining. (She phrased it differently and more succinctly; using a reference that a smaller subset of our universe would grasp immediately.)
After the decision was handed down, swiftly from out’ the larger world of Bigger Names the complaining did appear.
It’s not the Josh Robinsons of the world who really bug me.
Although I will say, it was more than a bit jarring to read this young gentleman’s Tweet: a not-especially-well-logicked one which compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and child molestation. In our current public-discourse environment, not surprising, but still arresting. Being that this is a country endued with Free Speech, it was inevitable that somebody, a highly-paid professional athlete or similar public figure, would Tweet something out like that, which would then go viral because of its author’s celebrity.
[Ed. note: I happen to know a pair of same-sex couples, who each have adopted at least one child, whose relationships and parenting tactics, I am quite sure, would never in a million years remotely resemble anything but what they are: loving parents just trying to bring up decent kids in an often-indecent world, caring for each other and their children because that’s what good parents do, no matter who they are. Weirdly, this is not the point of this post; but I felt it very important to point out, at least parenthetically. Because maybe Mr. Robinson isn’t lucky enough to be able to observe how non-disastrous it can be. Maybe he just doesn’t know any same-sex parenting couples personally. Yet. Or maybe he does, and just doesn’t know it. … Yet.]
(Also: maybe I don’t live in the right part of the world, or follow that corner of American pop culture closely enough … but before this afternoon, I didn’t know that Tweeter Josh Robinson of the Minnesota Vikings was cornerback Josh Robinson of the Minnesota Vikings. Now I do. In a tiny way, I think he’s gained more than I have from this transaction. Which is sad. For me, at least.)
So, Josh Robinson pulled a “complain, complain, complain” … and predictably, some of the online world praised him, and some of the online world condemned him. And, give or take a Vikings pink slip (not a certain thing by any stretch), Mr. Robinson will impact my life, and the lives of the people who now are allowed legally to get married, not a bit. And life will continue forward. He’s got celebrity, and notoriety, and a slightly more public platform from which to pontificate; but no particular power over me or my friends, really.
So, in the grand scheme … whatever.
It is, however, the Jim Hoods and Ken Paxtons of the world that bug me.
Jim Hood is the Mississippi attorney general. Very soon after the Supreme Court handed down its decision today, his office released two statements.
On his Facebook page: “The Office of the Attorney General is certainly not standing in the way of the Supreme Court’s decision. We simply want to inform our citizens of the procedure that takes effect after this ruling. The Supreme Court decision is the law of the land and we do not dispute that.”
Except, as described in his press release:
The Supreme Court’s decision is not effective immediately in Mississippi.
It will become effective in Mississippi, and circuit clerks will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses, when the 5th Circuit lifts the stay of Judge Reeves’ order.
This could come quickly or may take several days.
The 5th Circuit might also choose not to lift the stay and instead issue an order, which could take considerably longer before it becomes effective.”
So, AG Hood is using whatever legal tactics he has at his disposal to carry out a letter-of-the-law version of “dragged kicking and screaming”.
(Whether he actually has those tactics to use … is debatable; the Supreme Court ruling read, in part: “The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court also must hold – and it now does hold – that there is no lawful basis for a state to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the grounds of its same-sex character.” And the day when a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stay actually does trump a Supreme Court decision will be a Constitutionally touchy day. But anyway…)
Meanwhile, Ken Paxton is the Texas attorney general. He’s being dragged kicking and screaming, too. He released this press statement today:
Today’s ruling by five Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court marks a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition. The impact of this opinion on our society and the familial fabric of our nation will be profound. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution.
What is most disturbing is the extent to which this opinion is yet another assault on the actual text of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law itself. Just as Roe v. Wade ripped from the hands of the American people the issue of life and placed it in the judge-made ‘penumbras’ of the Constitution, so has this opinion made clear that our governing document – the protector of our liberties through representative government – can be molded to mean anything by unelected judges.
But no court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Nothing will change the importance of a mother and a father to the raising of a child. And nothing will change our collective resolve that all Americans should be able to exercise their faith in their daily lives without infringement and harassment.
We start by recognizing the primacy and importance of our first freedom – religious liberty. The truth is that the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs about marriage. … This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion.
It is not acceptable that people of faith be exposed to such abuse. …
Our guiding principle should be to protect people who want to live, work and raise their families in accordance with their religious faith. … Shortly, my office will be addressing questions about the religious liberties of clerks of court and justices of the peace.
Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith should be denounced by all people of good will and spark concern among anyone who believes in religious liberty and freedom for all.
Despite this decision, I still have faith in America and the American people. We must be vigilant about our freedom and must use the democratic process to make sure America lives up to its promise as a land of freedom, religious tolerance and hope.
So, AG Paxton’s take is somewhat different. Hot on the heels of, “well okay, that’s the (flawed) ruling then” … comes the distinct air of “this ain’t over yet”. Maybe it’s a Texas thing … maybe it’s just a Ken Paxton thing … but most of his press releases about Court decisions or other legislation he opposes contain a sentence or two to the effect that we’re going to fight this, don’t you worry your pretty little head.
In this press statement, it’s five paragraphs’ worth of a public official camouflaging ideological petulance behind expressions of faith and support for “religious liberty”. He appears to fundamentally miscast “religious liberty” as not a shield against people keeping him from worshiping as he pleases but as a sword to be wielded against those who do not conform to his beliefs.
Not only is Paxton hiding behind those expressions of piety and concern for the faithful, but he’s folding them into a diatribe about how his faith is under assault from all sides. “Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith” are cast as boogeymen, and tacitly (but no less clearly) those displays are cast as coming from people who support marriage between members of the same gender.
[Ed. note: I might also suggest that Paxton uses an argument that turns a complete 180 degrees from what seems to me the actual genesis of the marriage equality movement. My sense is that the “debate” over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against same-sex couples who have sought to live their lives merely as participants in the institution of marriage. Perhaps a post for another time.]
The arguments of Paxton and Hood, and perhaps people like Robinson as well, for that matter, are based on a “faith” grounded in self-centeredness, rather than in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Love others as you would love yourself, except if they make you feel icky. My way, or the highway.
But by contrast with a professional football player, who only has the celebrity influence accorded to him by (fleeting) fame or popularity which he can only hope has some effect on his fans … Attorneys General have political and civic power that they can and do wield over all of the people in the states in which they serve.
On top of which, these two particular AGs seem to be holding desperately to the notion that they are within their rights, in one way or another, to defy the rulings of the US Supreme Court. (And I don’t find it difficult to imagine that they would bring the full effect of their political power to bear on anyone who protested or defied a Supreme Court ruling that they, or their faith, or their devotion to “religious liberty”, did support or agree with.)
Those are the kind of people who still bug me – and worry me: the ones for whom it is unclear what limits they feel their instruments of pushback may or may not have.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has taken some pretty serious body shots from his critics, during his two and a half decades in that job.
In January 2013, several media outlets reported on his remarks from the bench. Not so much their content, though, as the fact that he had actually made remarks at all. It had been a month shy of seven years since he had spoken at all during Supreme Court oral arguments. “A study of transcripts by Timothy Johnson of the University of Minnesota,” reported CNN, “found in the past four decades, no justice besides Thomas had failed to speak at least once during an entire 12-month term.”
Speaking (!) as a shy person, I may not wish to assess someone’s intelligence or engagement based solely on the frequency of his or her utterances. That way might lead to hypocrisy. There are people who have impressed me greatly (or, in some cases, frankly unnerved me) during my life who have spoken very infrequently, or concisely, and who have done a lot more listening than blabbing.
And, doing a little digging, I discovered an interesting and relevant tidbit: Justice Thomas spoke the Gullah language, not English, during his childhood near Savannah, Georgia. When he attended the College of the Holy Cross, Thomas realized that his speech still sounded unpolished, despite having been drilled in English grammar at school, and chose to major in English literature “to conquer the language”.
Recognizing that childhood experiences often have a lifelong effect on a person, I can see my way to excusing a certain residual reticence on his part. Historically, I myself have been much more comfortable sending an eMail to a person or company than picking up the phone and making a cold call. I can do public speaking; but I have to kinda rev myself up for it.
The usual verbosity of this blog, in fact, might lead a reader to think that verbosity pervades my whole life. The reader would be very wrong.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to recognize writing as an easier environment in which to organize one’s thoughts. And if I were a Supreme Court justice, with my dissents and decisions and such being in the public record, potentially to be pored over by legal and non-legal minds for many ensuing decades … well, I’d want to do a few drafts before doing the Supreme Court equivalent of hitting “send”. And I think I’m careful with this blog!…
So I’m inclined to read one of Justice Thomas’ bits of writing, from one of this week’s decisions, with some chin-scratching of my own.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that states’ bans on same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Justice Thomas was one of the three dissenting judges.
In his dissent, Thomas wrote:
Perhaps recognizing that these cases do not actually involve liberty as it has been understood, the majority goes to great lengths to assert that its decision will advance the “dignity” of same-sex couples. … The flaw in that reasoning, of course, is that the Constitution contains no “dignity” Clause, and even if it did, the government would be incapable of bestowing dignity.
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
Objection, Your Honor: … human dignity cannot be taken away by a government? Those held in internment camps do not lose their dignity because a government confines them?
Counsel wishes to enter into evidence: perhaps the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s? … Or perhaps the Christians and the lions engaging in an afternoon tilt on a beautiful Rome day in the Colosseum? … Or perhaps Birmingham, Alabama public safety commissioner “Bull” Connor’s 1963 use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against civil rights protestors, including their children, to enforce racial segregation? … Or, with my profuse apologies for the invocation of Godwin’s Law, but … Auschwitz?
Also: objection, Your Honor: … slaves did not lose their dignity because the government allowed them to be enslaved?
Counsel wishes to enter into evidence: the idea that if someone is owned by someone else, regardless of whether a government has stepped in and said “hold it” … the person who is owned has by definition lost at least some of their dignity, regardless of whether their owner “treats them well”.
I dunno, maybe I need to brush up on my definition of “dignity” … but I don’t think so.
Finally, and this is the crux of the decision … so, objection, Your Honor: … those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits?
Counsel wishes to place this into evidence:
Until today, there were same-sex couples that wished to be married, went to their local government office to try to secure a marriage license, so that they could be registered as legally committed to each other (and thereby enjoy the same rights and protections that “straight” couples have always enjoyed – including those related to social security, tax law, health care, hospital visitations, child custody, and plain ol’ public acceptance and recognition of a committed personal relationship) – and were refused by some local-government employee who took it upon themselves to pass judgment upon them for personal or religious reasons, or our-state-law-still-bans-this-sort-of-thing reasons, or no very damn good reason at all.
And they probably felt like, in fact were treated like, second-class citizens.
That’s not an example of a government contributing to their loss of dignity?
Counsel wishes to suggest, Your Honor, that you have not exhibited the empathy for your fellow human beings (those who wish to enjoy the same benefits of marriage – not more, but the same benefits – and have the same opportunity to screw marriage up) that any human being ought to be capable of showing another human being.
Counsel also wishes to suggest – may it please the Court – that if the Justice is going to utilize analogies, that in the future he ought to find some that most of the good and decent people that I know wouldn’t sadly shake their heads at.
“Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.” –Sigmund Freud, The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis