Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why?

All right, I’ve got something I wanna get off my chest. It’s been sitting there for, what, 23 years now, I guess?

Namely, I need to rail against an injustice.

Why yes, I shall elaborate:

A meme cropped up after this weekend’s flap over NFL players kneeling (or not) during presentations of the National Anthem.

My beef is not with the meme, or the NFL players, or the National Anthem, or the guy who flapped.

Actually it IS with the meme, or rather what it represents.

The meme is a photo of two American figure skaters, clearly a publicity shot from the run-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. To the left: the blonde, diminutive Tonya Harding. To the right: the tall, brunette Nancy Kerrigan.

(Oh, that’s what he’s going on about.)

The text: “Back when taking a knee meant taking a knee”.

Ouch, baby.

 

For 23 years, people have mocked Kerrigan for one single moment, a moment captured by video cameras and replayed how many hundreds of times since?

The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships were being held in Detroit a few weeks before the Lillehammer Olympics were set to begin. Following a practice session at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, a briefly-unknown assailant whacked Kerrigan in the thigh, very close to her (figure-skating-crucial) knee, with a club, as she exited the ice rink.

Who does that?

Well, we found out who it was, and who he was affiliated with; and the soap opera that had already begun just escalated from there.

Miserable. Potentially, an injustice. But, worthy as it is of being railed against, it’s not exactly the one I’m thinking of.

In the moments just after the assault, before Kerrigan knew that the injury was not immediately career-ending, while EMTs and other personnel tended to her injured leg, she sobbed inconsolably … at one point, wailing, “why??”

Yeah. Why’d this have to happen at that moment? And why would anybody do something like that, in that moment, in that context, to anybody else, at all? Particularly to an athlete who kinda needed healthy knees in order to go about her business?

Hell, it was only the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships. Only an event that an athlete would likely be working toward for her whole life. Nothing to get upset about.

Um, can we forgive Nancy Kerrigan for being just a little put out?

The injustice I’m thinking of is, frankly, the one committed by every person in the last 23 years who has mocked that particular cry, “—Why??”

She wasn’t whining.

Literally, her life’s work (to that point) was in jeopardy.

 

For 23 years, it’s been far too easy for the comics and the wags to set aside empathy for the sake of a joke … for the sake of mocking an easy target. And every time I hear somebody do that to Ms. Kerrigan, I get defensive, at least inside my own head. Cut that right out.

And then I think, well, okay; was it because I was rooting hard for her and not for Tonya and her attacker turned out to be some schnook hired by Tonya’s ex-husband for the specific purpose of eliminating the competition, like some second-rate 1940s gangster? Was it because Kerrigan was from a town not far from my hometown, so rah rah rah for the Massachusetts native?

Was it because in her shoes … skates … whatever … being attacked like that would cause me to lose a little faith in humanity?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So … while this may not be the most important issue to deal with at this moment in history (while, say, the population of Puerto Rico is in desperate straits and not getting any help … just as one example of something that really genuinely overshadows most other issues) … it does have at least one thing in common with a whole lot of issues facing us.

In this case, it wasn’t a Presidential tweet, or a controversial Congressional bill, or a proposed governmental policy which would actively make life more difficult for this or that group of people. It was a meme; a joke.

But a representative one. Lately, we’ve been inundated by instances of startling lack of empathy and compassion for people who are hurting, or injured, or vulnerable.

Why?

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September 26, 2017 Posted by | Famous Persons, sports | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fear and Loathing, Not Just in Las Vegas

I could’ve been writing for the Blogge, all this time.

Lord knows there’s been plenty to write about, as regards current events and such.

That’s the problem: way too much to write about. Or, more accurately, almost unfathomable outrages coming at me, one after the other, sometimes several in a single day, and who can keep up with that? Exhausting, dispiriting …

As my friends in the software business say: it’s not a bug. It’s a feature.

That. Is. The. Point.

Hurl everything at the American public – from substantive policies that genuinely hurt the vulnerable and benefit the utterly comfortable, to spurious name-calling spasms (the Hamilton flap, “Rocket Man”, the NFL’s kneeling SOBs) that nonetheless shine lights on important issues that we shouldn’t ignore either – and see whether they can withstand such an onslaught.

Throw the crazy at them (us) (We the People) so fast, so high and tight, with such unrelenting tennis-ball-machine-of-doom ferocity that they (we) can’t keep up; so we give up trying, give up paying attention, … and then it’s REALLY a jailbreak. If there are enough of us they can’t catch us all.

I didn’t truly grasp this reality, I don’t think, until this weekend, when I read a Twitter thread–

[Ed. note: this is the 21st century’s newest innovation: long-form Tweeting. Almost as if 140 characters really aren’t enough to express what we have to express. What could we call it? … yes! yes! an ESSAY!]

Ahem. I spotted a thread made up of fifty consecutive Tweets, posted by a University of New Hampshire professor of English named Seth Abramson, which expressed this reality so much better than I think I could have.

So, I shall yield the rest of my time to my learned colleague from Live Free or Die. See what you think.

[Ed. note: I’ve tried to do some clever writerly things that will transform Mr. Abramson’s thoughts from fifty blasts to several essay-form paragraphs.]

 

We need to never again discuss this man with respect to policy – it’s become more than clear in 9 months that he holds no policy positions. So if you support Donald Trump because of any view you claim he holds, I don’t ever want to hear from you again. The man holds no views. There is no position Donald Trump has ever taken that he has not, at some point in the past or present, taken the opposite position to.

We mustn’t ever discuss this man as someone “challenging the system” or any similar bromide. His White House is the most corrupt ever. Not one story of honorable conduct has emerged from this White House. Instead, it’s been lies, deception, corruption, graft, propaganda.

But the most important thing is this: this is the first U.S. president to systematically and willfully terrorize his own populace daily. His changeability is intended to keep us anxious and on guard. In fact, he’s admitted publicly, many times, that this is a tactic of his.

His corruption is equally studied: his business model has always been “get away with what you can,” and that’s exactly how he’s governed. He saw that he had a GOP Congress – and knew that his worst-case scenario was not getting re-elected to a job that he never really wanted. That’s why he hasn’t eliminated his conflicts of interest, delivered on his promises, “drained the swamp,” acted as any kind of leader. His presidency is a criminal enterprise designed to enrich his family and give him the attention his father clearly denied him as a kid.

He has no beliefs, no ambitions, no morals, no principles, no guidelines, no plans, no expectations. He simply needs to sow chaos daily. What Trump knows better than most is that America is a chaos machine – you feed it and it spits out attention, headlines, sometimes money.

I want to be very clear here: Donald Trump is a toxic human with a toxic public presence and – worst of all – he wants to poison his people. His reign will go down not just in U.S. history but human history as a reign of uncommon cruelty in the democracies of this millennium. It’s more than [the idea] that he’ll go down in our history as the worst president we’ll ever have – he’ll go down as one of our greatest villains. Benedict Arnold tried to betray America for a prior sovereign – Trump is trying to torture a nation that was good to him his whole life.

Have you noticed a change in your mood since January? I mean a change you can’t seem to escape? Anxiety, anger, fear, confusion, doubt? The most ubiquitous man in your nation is trying to poison you daily – because it gives him power – and no one’s stopping him from doing it. If you’ve seen a dramatic change lately in your personality, home life, belief in the nation you love – please know that you’re not alone. I’m not using hyperbole: you’re under attack. A deliberate, unprovoked, systematic, and – yes – evil attack. And it’s working. We’re losing.

When humans are [1] endangered, [2] confused and [3] hopeless, there are certain things we turn to – all of which Trump is deliberately stealing away.

Our fight or flight instinct – which Trump activates – can be quelled if we’re given respite, which is why Trump ensures [that] we have no respite. That’s why his tweets – which are intended to terrorize, and do – come in a daily barrage of needless conflict, warmongering, and cruelty. He must never stop tweeting, because his tweets now activate our culture in a way so inescapable that we’re almost like his prisoners. You think he’s attacking North Korea in his tweets? No – he’s trying to terrorize you. The NFL? You. Segments of America? No – all of us.

When humans are confused, we seek the stability of truth, trusted institutions, neighbors. He’s destroying those anchors systematically. “Fake news” isn’t about getting re-elected – it’s about controlling your fight-or-flight instinct by giving you no safe harbor in “truth.” Every institution we like or trust, he’s undermined. The media. Government. Unions. Hell – even the NFL. Veterans (when he feels like it). He’s enabled by the GOP – but he’s no Republican. He wants to destroy any politics or politician whose world he’s not at the center of. He’s a malignant narcissist, and his only ambition is to spread his toxicity nationwide in whichever ways feed his perverse pathology.

FIf you’re a Trump voter, by all means laugh it up. You’ll be caught in wars, recessions, and international collapse like the rest of us. He has 35% support because Americans love to be right/see fools suffer – and Trump voters think they’re on the right side of the equation. Time will show that we were all the fools – and whatever temporary satisfaction the Right got from annoying the Left wasn’t worth America.

Because the last thing – of the three I mentioned – [which] humans look for in a crisis is hope, and he’s systematically taking that away as well.

We don’t have hope [that] future elections will be fair. We don’t have hope [that] our government is working in our interests. We don’t have hope [that] we can trust and love our neighbors and they’ll trust and love us back. And we don’t have hope [that] things will start to make sense again.

Trump has declared war on America – crafting his own brand of “American carnage” – and some groups have felt the pain quicker than others. But only a fool fails to see that the pain and suffering that comes from having a madman as a leader is soon coming for every one of us.

Things are going to get very bad. And many fools will say, “Well – that’s America.” And America is deeply flawed. But we weren’t this. One in every few generations in the West, a leader arises so vile that he can draw out the evil from his population and weaponize it. Trump is not Hitler. There was only one Hitler. But Trump is the sort of Hitler that America in 2017 – at its very worst – can breed.

Everything evil a man can do to a country like this, at a time like this, in a span of four or eight years, Donald Trump will try to do. He’ll try to make the vulnerable live in fear. He’ll position himself as unreviewable by the media and government. He’ll sow confusion. And when his crimes are uncovered – and he’s been a villain and criminal his whole adult life – he’ll try to stoke violence to save himself.

Trump is the most dangerous American of all our lifetimes – he’s so dangerous we can’t fully apprehend the danger or how to respond to it. He’s everything people say – a pathological liar; a corrupt politician; a serial sexual assailant; and, yes, a traitor – but he’s also more. He’s an actually evil presence that hangs over your life – and the life of a nation you love – every single day. And he may be unstoppable.

Is there any reason to trust future election results – now that we know Russia is hacking/interfering and Trump’s doing zero to stop it? And is there any reason to think the damage Trump has done to our political system can be solved in just a single American generation? And as he plunges us deeper into our Longest War and tries to start World War III in Asia, can we be certain lasting doom isn’t ahead?

My point: there is only one fight in America today that matters, because all other fights are ultimately a direct corollary to this one. If we want to save ourselves – and our country – Trump must be legally, peacefully and transparently removed from a position of power. ASAP.

P.S. It’s OK to finally indulge the idea that everything is as bad as you think it is if hitting rock-bottom gives you the courage to FIGHT.

 

#resist

#remove

September 25, 2017 Posted by | current events, government, news, politics, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Way

Not long ago, I happened upon a YouTube video of a TED Talk, and the end of the thing got me to thinking a bit. Which, according to what TED Talks purport to be, is kinda the point.

These TED Talk things can be anywhere from profound to pretentious – behold, an eight-minute speech by someone who wishes to present Big Ideas! – which is to say, they can be hit or miss. Some deliver the goods, some don’t (in my estimation; take my opinion or leave it).

This particular Talk was presented by a Australian standup comedian called Alice Fraser, a performer of whom I wasn’t aware until probably a month ago or so, which is not her fault. She is funny in an understated manner that I appreciate a lot.

Ms. Fraser’s Talk begins with some fairly smart commentary on Cosmopolitan magazine quizzes and supermodel attributes, moves into a riff on mourning via a story about an odd funeral that she went to once, and then dances around the topic of public restrooms and their purpose (you had to be there, I guess), before swerving suddenly into the Good Bit.

This week, that Good Bit, the last segment of the Talk, got my attention mainly because of what time of the year it is now.

Hold on, I’ll explain.

Here’s a transcript of Alice Fraser’s last, Good Bit.

I feel maybe closer to death than a lot of people, because my Mum has been dying since before I was born. She was diagnosed with MS at twenty-five; and my whole life has been marked by a series of visits to hospital, increasingly often and of increasing seriousness, where parts of my Mum were stripped away. Every part – her balance, her ability to use her hands very well, her ability to go to the toilet properly – all of these things were stripped away; and every time, you think, ‘is that the part of the person [that has gone,] after which she is no longer a person? Memory; her love of books; her articulacy [If that’s not a word, it should be. -Ed.]; all of these things, one after the other, they go away. And every time, you think, ‘this is grief. This is mourning. This is death,’ –and it’s not. It’s not; she’s still there.

And, this is the thing: when somebody’s dying, and you know that they’re dying, what do you say to them? You say, ‘I love you’. You say ‘I love you’ a lot, a lot more than you need to. It’s not like she doesn’t know that I love her; of course she knows that I love her. It’s because you know beyond a certain point you won’t be able to say it anymore.

So how do we deal? We don’t deal with even simple grief, and we don’t have a way of dealing with complicated grief. And I’m not a particularly religious person; my Dad was Jewish, my Mum was Catholic, I was brought up Buddhist. I’m oppressed, repressed, and depressed. [laughter; gentle applause] BUT, the reality is, we’re all dying. Some of us are more dying than others. And the only thing that I can think of that’s worth doing, when somebody dies … is taking that last part of them, the part of them you remember the most – for my Mum, it’s her infinite sweetness and her care for other people – other people, it might be other things – and that one thing is what I want to do now. It’s what I want to practice. It’s what I want to get better at. It’s what I want to take forward, into my life. …

And the only way of remembering somebody, the only way of carrying them forward into your life, is by picking one thing, and doing that thing.

Thank you.”

 

It’s coming toward seven years, now, since the unexpected passing of George N. Parks, who was my college marching band director but a lot of other people’s too. Every early September since 2010, along with those other people, the community of people who were his students … as well as an extended community of people who weren’t UMass marchers but were his students too, or were affected by him in some way … we have all (collectively and individually) settled on different ways at different times to commemorate, or honor, or emulate, or carry on his legacy … or mourn. Sometimes somber, sometimes rooted in the humorous; sometimes looking back with sadness or smiles or both, sometimes looking forward with trust or trepidation or both. One year, the focus seemed to be on the funny stories. Another year, it was making note of the ways in which we (collectively and individually) continue to live our lives #BecauseOfGNP.

Ms. Fraser’s thesis may not fit this situation exactly, only because Mr. Parks’ passing was sudden, rather than gradual … there was exactly zero time to prepare, to work out how we were going to carry on that hypothetical “last part of them, that you remember the most”.

As well, as with many (arguably, hopefully all) people in the world, there may not be just one last part of someone that you remember the most. I was trying to think, what was that last part of Mr. Parks that I remembered the most? Intense performer; caring teacher; all those Starred Thoughts… By the time I’d thought for only a moment, I’d come up with many more than just the one part, and how do you narrow it down? And if you do, you leave off some other part of how he lived his life that seems worth not leaving off.

Four years ago at this time, I wrote a blog post in this space called “Lift Up … Up Up Up Up Up”, which was “three short stories that may offer some idea about just why George Parks impressed the hell out of me.”

The first story’s moral was: “Starred Thought®: Go out of your way to treat people kindly.”

The second story was about taking time to pay attention to people, and care for them, whether you’ve known them forever or you’ve just met them; and its moral was: “Starred Thought®: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

The third story was about some sage professional advice about not throwing in the metaphorical towel, and its moral was: “Starred Thought®: To become a great teacher: 1. get a response, 2. care.”

The three stories, lumped together, described just how skilled George Parks was at holding other people up, lifting them up, propping them up when necessary. So, four years ago, that was my “last part” to carry forward into the world. But still, I end up considering the many other ways GNP made everybody around him better …

I am large; I contain multitudes.”

The song Mr. Parks brought to his band … the one which his band has in turn brought to its audiences for thirty-three years and more … said, “more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Which, as it turns out, is curious, if not ironic: with him, unless you only ever saw him at football games, there wasn’t just one single way that he reached out to people – not one single facet, not one single approach that was obviously dominant, obviously his way.

So everybody has their particular way of remembering. Everybody takes a different “thing” (if they even can narrow it down to just one thing) from Mr. Parks’ presence and effect on our lives.

Which may actually be the best “last part” to take forward, into our lives.

September 16, 2017 Posted by | GNP, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment