Three Words

I hate him.

A few weeks ago I posted three words on Facebook: I believe her. Three words.

My good old liberal friend Ruth said right on. Another acquaintance said I don’t, and left it at that.

A woman I know, who is now a former friend, came back with a rant about how I was unfair and how would I like to be falsely accused and how terrible the liberal media was, and so on. Roughly 100 words of hysteria brought on by a simple opinion.

At that point I shrugged it off. Then another friend shot back, highly offended by the former friend’s dismissive tone. Ah well. A flame war had begun. I’ve seen it before, and have been sorely tempted to join in. Still, no big deal.

The woman who shot back happened to mention she had been raped. My heart went out to her, as it does to any woman brave enough to come forward.

My former friend went into overdrive. She piled on the invective, the bitterness, the ignorance. She would not relent.

The woman she attacked is my friend. She has been most supportive of me through some difficult times. She’s part of my support network.

I could not let this verbal assault pass. I told the attacker to knock it off or I would report her.

I have heard nothing from her since.

I hate him. He has used the office of the presidency as a club against anyone and everyone who does not live up to his warped standards. He mocked Dr. Ford before a cheering crowd, and while many were outraged, I was simply surprised he had not done it earlier.

It says very little about our nation that he was elected. There is an excellent chance he will get another four years, and that says even less.

He did not create create bigotry. The racism behind his ascension to power has festered for a long time. He is a symptom of our failure to be decent.

But… he exploited the worst in our country, and he panders to it every day. He works day and night to turn us against each other.

Somewhere in my former friend, a kind and decent person is struggling to get out. I pray for her. I hope she finds a better way. But the man she admires is ruining her humanity.

I hate him. But more than that, I hate the hatred this unleashes in me.

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Whose Wicked Ways?

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

It’s a lovely, hopeful verse. It implies to me that a nation, even one like ours that is rife with fear and inequality, can mend its ways and learn the ways of justice. It tells me that the United States of America could once again lead the world toward democracy and human rights.

It’s too bad the fundamentalists have hijacked it. More often than not, it is used not as a call to prayerful amendment of wrongs but as a signal to credulous Christians to defend the status quo. Its latest appearance is in The Trump Prophecy, a film that propounds a dangerous doctrine that God’s children should submit without question to state authority.

Make no mistake. When the religious right talks about “wicked ways”, they mean same-sex behavior. Nothing offends fundamentalists more than homosexuality, even though Jesus never favors one mode of sexuality over another.

Several verses in the Bible condemn homosexual behavior. Biblical literalists use them to persecute the LGBTQ population.

In the view of many scholars, these verses refer to specific practices that violated the religious norms of the society in which they were written. (So are the apostle Paul’s injunctions against women speaking in church.) Those who take a more nuanced view of the bible will tell you that many verses are meant to address culture-specific problems. They were not intended to be universal truths.

Written in a pre-scientific world, the Bible does not acknowledge that homosexuality involves a deep and inborn attraction to members of the same gender.

Coexisting with the fundamentalists’ Pharisaical obsession with heterosexuality is a dangerous attachment to nationalism, sexism, plutocracy, racism, nativism, militarism, and greed (aka unregulated capitalism).

I apply 2 Chronicles 7:14 differently. You want wicked? Here’s wicked.

Sexual assault. Immigrant children torn from parents. Muslims castigated. Women insulted. Minorities demonized. The poor left to rot. Science denied. Art censored. Flags used to sell cars. Soldiers who come home addicted and suicidal. Oppressive marriages. History forgotten. Selfishness elevated. Gambling hyped. Alcoholism glorified. Ignorance enthroned. The intellect derided. Bigotry championed.

Yes, adultery and pornography are on the list, but so is male domination and the exploitation of children. (By the way, does anyone besides me consider it wrong to push a career on an eight-year-old?)

I could go on all night.

You may have detected anger in my list of sins. So be it. Evil should make us angry. Dwelling on and acting on anger is dangerous… but so is complacency.

God breathes hot fury against injustice. One day that fury will scorch everyone who cheats the poor and shafts the downtrodden. He will do this without regard to what believers profess with their lips. Judgment will come. Count on it.

Give ‘Em the Bird

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Those new-fangled Bird scooters are popular here in Raleigh. They are convenient and look like fun to ride. They provide income to people who collect them and night and recharge them. They are all the rage among the new urbanists.

Here is why I wish they would die a horrible death.

An Indy reader pointed out their danger to persons with visual impairments who encounter them on sidewalks without warning. Enough said.

I see them everywhere. It was okay when they began popping up in a few places. It was a curiosity.

Now they are mechanized litter. There is one on every block it seems. Three of them appeared on the sidewalk beside a church. Somehow that bothers me.

They represent the power of distant corporations to dump their products into the environment with the consent of no one. Since they represent a new kind of transportation that has yet to be legally defined, they are essentially operating outside the law.

I have heard this strategy was deliberately aimed at sidestepping the process of governmental reviews and citizen input. I guess democracy isn’t cost-effective to these folks.

Has any representative of Bird ever visited Raleigh, even for a cup of coffee? I doubt it.

Of course they are here to stay. Their shills have made sure of that.

I am going to invent a useless machine that contributes absolutely nothing to society. Call it a pushmi-pullyu (with apologies to Hugh Lofting, the creator of Dr. Doolittle).

My underlings will deposit one on the front lawn of every member of the Bird board of directors. (Big yards will get an entire squad.) It will make unbearable noises and emit disgusting liquids.

Fair is fair.

My Code

Personal mottoes:

 

Don’t fuck with my peeps.

Never kick someone when they are down.

Fight fair.

Win and lose gracefully.

If the movie sucks, leave.

Question your first impulse, except in emergencies.

Root for the underdog.

Vote or shut up.

Hit no one for any reason.

Give to all your full attention, especially kids.

Think for yourself and no one else.

Admire art.

Bathe in music twice a day.

Take the stick out.

Laugh at old jokes.

Practice silliness.

Read your favorite book every ten years.

When all else fails, procrastinate.

Honor the God of your misunderstanding.

The Final Scene From a Movie That Will Never Be Made

EXTERIOR. MEDIUM LONG SHOT

Late autumn sunset in the parking lot we saw in scene one, when the BOY had been kidnapped. A brick school building glows in deep red tones. Leaves fall from the trees beside the parking lot. They skid across the pavement in the brisk wind. The flashing lights of police cars and emergency vehicles strobe on and off, reflecting off the crouched form of the FATHER, who extends his arms in welcome.

The back of a police SUV opens. A woman in police uniform steps out, holding the boy in her arms. She sets him gently on the ground. He stares at his father, hesitates. The cop gives him a little push.

He runs to the FATHER, clutching his teddy bear. He trips at the last second, and the FATHER catches him. They embrace. The boy folds into the FATHER, whose body shakes with sobs. All watch. No one moves.

TWO-SHOT

The BOY and the FATHER. Tears flow down their faces.

FATHER

Safe.

The boy smiles through his tears.

BACK TO THE WIDE SHOT

Leaves fly by, dancing on the asphalt.

The wind picks up. A mass of leaves swirls toward the camera, which freezes as they fill the screen.

CUT TO BLACK

Ode to Cup a Joe

Josephus Daniels, whose family owned the fervently Democratic Raleigh News and Observer, was Secretary of the Navy in the First World War. The prohibition movement was in full swing, and Secretary Daniels banned the consumption of alcohol by sailors and officers.

As you can imagine, this edict met with faint praise. A cup of coffee became nicknamed a “cup of Joe” to commemorate this event.

Fast forward a century. Daniels’ name lives on at Cup a Joe’s, one of Raleigh’s most venerable coffeehouses, located on Hillsborough Street, across from another hideous condo block, and in Mission Valley, happily situated beside a movie theater.

The Bliss amigos hold forth in the Mission Valley location on Friday mornings, going on ten years. You can find us in the corner, next to the green recycling bin.

Cup a Joe’s is democracy at its best. Students, professors, parents, kids, even celebrities from WRAL-TV meet over the common brew. The baristas are uniformly friendly and helpful. They don’t wear uniforms, unlike you-know-who. A sign on the wall once encouraged customers to drive by you-know-where and honk their disdain. Ya gotta admire that spirit.

The furniture is comfortable and varied. There are several deep chairs, the kind that make older folks grunt when they get up. I avoid those. (The Hillsborough store, the older of the two, seems to have been designed from yard sales. Tables range from heavy-duty formica monstrosities to ancient wooden school desks. Cheerful anarchy.)

The patio in front has its own cafe society. I have sat out there a few times with a book, enjoying the loose conversation between the regulars.

In the 1932 film, Grand Hotel, in which Greta Garbo famously intones, I vant to be alone, the narrator says “Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” In the movie, the sentiment is sad, resigned, mournful. At Cup a Joe, it’s a badge of honor.

We Americans badly need places to step away from work, family, gym, and commuting. Places to kick back, be among the other social animals, and just chill out. (Since Cup a Joe trades in caffeine, maybe chill up is the better term.)

A place to simply enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company.

It’s not the place where everybody knows your name. But they know my order. That’s enough.

I received no compensation for this endorsement. But if someone wants to buy me a cuppa, I won’t refuse.

Tough are the soles that tread the knife’s edge*

As an old Jethro Tull fan, this is one of my favorite lines from Ian Anderson. I like the originality of the metaphor. I like the fact that “soles” and “souls” are pronounced the same.

At times like now, when I am going through long-overdue changes, I rely on my resilience.

I am basically soft and sweet, but I am also tough as nails. I have been through the wars, particularly the internal civil war of clashing desires and fears that is the common lot of humanity.

Tough soles. If you are young and reading this, you will need them. You will need to spit in the face of adversity. You will need to confront your demons, and you will need to tell them to f_ck off. And move on.

If you are old and reading this, your soles are well-worn. They have taken you this far through the valley of the shadow of death. A good pair of shoes will carry you safely to the other side.

Sometimes life is a knife-edge. Sometimes it is wonderful, and sometimes it is just plain terrible. You can’t change the nature of life, so you may as well ride the wave.

Onward. Always, onward.

 

* From an underappreciated album, A Passion Play.

Can We Do This?

I want America back.

I want back the America of my teenage years, when Democrats and Republicans fought and debated with energy and verve… and at the end of the day, they listened to each other, hammered out a solution, and shook hands. They were of course creatures of self-interest, but they loved our country and on the major issues, they put her interests first.

I want back the America where hard work was rewarded with a living wage, where an employee could count on thirty years in one career.

I want back the America of making and selling things and services, rather than an America where fortunes are made by buying and selling other companies and either absorbing competitors or driving them out of business.

I want back the America where children played in the dirt, by the creek. They came home dirty and ran around in packs bent on harmless mischief. They played with tiny, cheap plastic cars, crude toys… and their imaginations ran wild.

I want back the America where kids were allowed to learn at their own pace, the days before the standardized test, the days when education was a gift and not a commodity.

I want back the America of local radio, when deejays chose music based on their instincts and conversations with listeners, rather than focus groups. Where you could hear the Beatles, followed by Frank Sinatra, followed by Johnny Cash.

I want back the America of thick Sunday newspapers, of long articles on a universe of topics. I want back the America in which publishers practiced muckraking, whether the advertisers liked it or not.

I want back the America whose elected representatives, reluctantly but decisively, set out to dismantle segregation.

I am well aware that the America of my youth was infected with sexism, racism, ecological ignorance, and militarism, to say nothing of blind patriotism. I know full well those things flourish today, and must be eradicated. My eyes are clear.

But somewhere along the line we lost precious things: a sense of national destiny, a spirit of flying to the moon, of striving mightily to build a better world.

I dearly hope we will survive our crisis of collective faith. By 2050, Caucasians will be a minority group. There will be no majority of color. God speed that day when power is shared by all, when all can be heard and respected, when all have decent, fulfilling jobs that contribute to the common good.

To coin a phrase, let’s make America great again.

Go PACK!

nc_state_wolfpack_by_los_mandoade

Money Magazine just ranked my alma mater, N. C. State University, as 31st in the nation on its Best Colleges for the Money List. State is ranked just under Notre Dame and just ahead of Duke. And, I must add, way ahead of the Tar Heels.

Of course, these rankings are subjective and value for money is only one of many criteria for selecting excellence. But the list does prove that State is an outstanding institution that has done much for the world.

We have strong programs in the humanities, agriculture, engineering, computer technology, the sciences, and veterinary medicine. Our business school is just underway, but I am sure it will do great things.

In particular, I am proud of the College of Education, where I attained my master’s degree. I worked in what was once called the Department of Adult and Community College Education and is now known as Leadership, Policy, Adult and Higher Education.

Regardless of title, its professors are uniformly excellent. They are outstanding teachers who base their practice on solid research and an unswerving dedication to democratic discourse. Many are called thought leaders as a marketing tool, but these women and men truly lead their students and colleagues to great thoughts.

Being there invigorated my love of learning and exploration. I swam in challenging theories and learned the immense capacity of the adult mind. I learned alongside bright young achievers, veterans of the business world, homemakers looking for a new beginning, and retirees still seeking a challenge.

It was hard work, but it was more fun than you can imagine. I treasure those days.

N. C. State enriches the world. When you operate your computer, eat healthy food, enjoy your pet, walk into a sturdy building, and when your kids learn from a great teacher, you have State to thank.

GO PACK!!

Exile

I do not intend to come off as some political genius, but I was not surprised in 2016. I could never have predicted Donald Trump’s surge to the top of the Republican party, but when he was elected, the news did not faze me.

I attended what was quaintly called junior high school in the late Sixties. Back then, Raleigh was far removed from Haight Ashbury. I was too young to join in the Summer of Love.

Although most of my friends were professor’s kids and hence leaned left, most of the kids at Martin Junior High came from conservative parents, who saw the hippies as lazy bums with no respect for the law or their elders.

A classmate once said, they ought to shoot all the hippies. (To her credit, the teacher called him on it.) The incident spoke volumes about prevailing attitudes.

Integration was still a hot topic in North Carolina. Every time I went down east, I passed by a billboard for the Ku Klux Klan. Racial slurs were an accepted part of our conversations.

WRAL-TV carried nightly editorials that were virulent in their disdain for the Great Society and the Civil Rights Act. They were delivered by one Jesse Helms, and they carried a lot of weight.

Richard Nixon and George Wallace combined to take 70% of North Carolina’s 1968 vote, and although Republicans back then were a weak minority, the GOP candidate that year came very close to being elected governor.

Every revolution has a counter-revolution. The turmoil of 1968, the shock of desegregation, the opposition to the Vietnam War, and the defiance of authority by the “love generation” catalyzed a reaction. People who grew up in revival halls, championed  military service, preferred booze to marijuana, and revered the flag began to feel left out of the American conversation.

My conservative friends saw the flag spit upon, soldiers castigated, their parents mocked, and their God insulted. They didn’t like it one damn bit. They began to feel they had been left behind in their own country. They did not like what they saw on the nightly news.

For every person who left home to find themselves, another stayed at home and started families.

This divide only deepened as they saw political power transferred to people they saw as fundamentally different. The spike in unemployment during the energy crisis tore holes in their faith in the free market. As wages stagnated in relation to rising costs, they saw their belief in hard work become increasingly less rewarded.

Feeling their religion threatened, sincere followers of Christ followed the left into the political arena. The rise of black power unsettled them, but gay pride shook them to the core. They saw Ronald Reagan, a man they deeply loved, replaced by a man they considered an unrepentant draft-evader and adulterer.

It didn’t help that many liberals exuded an air of moral superiority and acted as though they were the only ones in favor of peace, justice, and enlightenment.

These are the people I grew up with. I did not share their fear of the new, but I understood them.

When another Clinton sought the presidency, the levee broke. The resistance found an unlikely hero in Donald Trump, and they swept their champion into office. As far as they were concerned, God had given voice to their fears of losing a way of life.

Yes, that way of life was built on white superiority and male dominance, whose power had to be broken… but it was the only way they knew. Yes, they were blind to social inequity, but they were also born into a tradition of community and piety that brought great comfort. They were good people.

By 2016, they had had enough.

As a nation, we failed to hear their voices. They felt like exiles in their own land. They felt persecuted and cheated by the nation their fathers had died for in the Second World War.

Every revolution has a counter-revolution. We are now reaping the whirlwind. I sure as hell hope we can repair the bridges we burned.