Thursday, April 19, 2018

Open letter to the mayor of Auburn MI

Dear Mr. Mayor,

I am a resident of ******* MI and grew up in ******* MI, where I still spend winters. Please know that I love this area a great deal.

Unless you were misquoted (were you?) your statements to the media regarding the recent confederate flag episode at an unnamed Auburn MI high school seemed confusing and somewhat contradictory; therefore, I'm guessing what you were actually trying to say might have been that hate speech is --- while vile and rank and aptly named --- protected speech per SCOTUS. I would only ask that you state this more clearly in future, lest you send the wrong message to both sides of this contentious issue. Please allow me to explain.

The Rawstory article I read --- and, again, assuming you were not misquoted by whomever claims to have quoted you --- mentions that you, "...aren’t sure whether the flag demonstrations are racially motivated." 

 "Not sure?" Really? 

What might their motivations have been? Simply out exercising their right to free expression? Airing out their musty flags after a long winter's hibernation in storage? Doing their part for the local economy by burning gasoline they bought in Auburn?

Yes indeed, these confederate-flag wavers are exercising First Amendment rights; waving a racist symbol at people (for whom it is, in fact, nothing but a racist symbol) is protected free speech. In other words, the flag wavers were just doing something anyone can do, legally. But you might at least consider that doing a thing simply because you can do it is rarely, if ever, a sufficient rationale for the doing of that thing. And when you said "they're doing their legal constitutional duty," I'm almost certain you didn't mean exactly this and that you'd like to amend it to "exercising their constitutional rights," because no one has a "constitutional duty" to be hateful, rude, racist, and mean-spirited. But they do have a constitutional right to actually be all these things and to prove it openly and publicly.

Hooray for our freedoms!

I'll leave you with a thought experiment: imagine someone drove around your church --- off private property, of course --- waving flags that said, "Christians are delusional!" or "Jesus Christ is a fictional character!" or that showed upside-down crucifixes. How would you feel? Would you think the flag wavers to be doing their "constitutional duty?" Would you say you weren't sure if their flag demonstration was religiously motivated? Or would you simply smile and say, "Look at those darn freedom-loving guys exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression?"

I'm pretty sure how you would feel is mighty close to if not exactly how those African-American kids felt the other day having the plainest, most obvious symbol of a long-defunct, slavery promoting, and unarguably racist and illegal shadow government flown in their faces, being shouted at, and being made to feel the hatred and contempt of hateful and contemptible "demonstrators."

I see that your term ends in November of this year. I wish you good luck with the remainder of your term, sir.

Sincerely and respectfully,
Open Mike

Ed. Note: I sent this to the mayor via the email address listed at the Auburn MI webpage.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Do whatever we can for whomever we can do it...

Some friends of mine are not doing well at all, and I'm struggling with how to help them, or if I'm even able to help them.

A friend from high school was diagnosed with ALS about two years ago. Another friend was recently diagnosed with leukemia. A third friend just found out his 85-year-old mom probably has late-stage lymphoma and she passed away barely 24 hours later. 

I've been able to do little things for each of them, but I'm not sure what else, if anything, I can do, or, candidly, if I'm even emotionally or physically able to do it. I know their travails are indicative of the state of things at our age, which for us all is 65, but the range in which these predicaments present themselves swings dramatically. Other friends have gone through their own struggles... with brain cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart disease... and they've passed away from those illnesses. They no longer need our assistance. But there are plenty of others who do and this is a trend to continue for many of us.

My friend whose mom passed away can be helped simply by lending him an ear and a shoulder when they're needed. He was trying to do so much for her, and faced the reality that there simply was nothing else that could be done. My friend with leukemia is in remission, but is now faced with the ironic secondary issues that have arisen from his heavy chemotherapy; however, he seems to be staying positive and is moving forward, getting stronger every day. 

But for my friend with ALS, it's as if he's physically vanishing before our eyes. Little by little, inexorably, he's less able to do much of anything for himself. He has to rely on so many others to do so many things for him. Little things. But make no mistake. He's still very much in there. He's still whip smart and still extremely --- and sometimes wickedly --- funny. But his other challenge comes just in finding reliable people to help him, and I include myself in this category. His contemporaries are unable to do much for him because they're his age and perhaps not fit or available enough for the physical demands that his situation requires. And his wonderful wife is struggling as well because so many things have fallen to her, and spouses who are care givers always seem to be affected as they suffer along with the one who is ill, mainly because of the effort and strain required to give care and the pain in watching their loved ones fail.

I called a great friend today to talk about things. I lost it on the phone with him. I broke down, unable to speak for a moment; I guess my heart is breaking, but this is not about me. After a really good cry, I've resolved just to do what I can, even if it's just to write some checks to related support organizations, to make calls and write letters to legislators who can affect change, to just sit with a friend and discuss whatever that friend wants to discuss, or to just listen and not speak.

It's all we can do, sometimes: to do whatever we can for whomever we can do it.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Finding the Strawman in a Bale of Hay...

If taking a knee during the national anthem is a protest against the anthem or the flag or our military, then for you, maybe…
  • Playing tackle football is a protest against clear brain scans,
  • Sea-level rise is a protest against beach property,
  • MLB is a protest against clean baseballs,
  • Slavery was a protest against high wages and good benefits, 
  • Driving a car is a protest against deer, squirrels, possums, and racoons,
  • Playing loud music is a protest against good hearing,
  • Shooting a gun is a protest against paper targets,
  • OCCUPY is a protest against comfortable RV camping,
  • Exercise is a protest against dry clothing, and
  • NASCAR is a protest against right turns.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Letter to a former Facebook friend...

Dear ____… 

You don’t know me, ____, and you don’t know what kind of a person I am, so please don’t speak to me as if you do and please spare me your specious piety and hateful sarcasm. If you don't like what I post, ignore it. Simple. Have I ever come to your page and blasted on you for anything you've said? No. You know why? Because I respect your right to post whatever you wish and would never call you out and embarrass you in front of anyone else. Why? Because you don’t know me, I don’t know you, and people just shouldn't do that to other people!

We spent our early years hovering in one another's periphery, and at the time you were most active, I thought you to be a fine musician, and had nothing but respect for you. Time has passed and we have three things in common, ____: we're both male, we're both musicians, and we're both from Midland. That's it. We have nothing whatsoever in common aside from these three things. 

You keep making quasi-religious references in your responses to me, so I think you're trying to tell me something. If I'm wrong about this, please accept my apologies, but in case I'm not, you need to know that I'm an agnostic atheist and you're whatever you are. You believe in what you believe. You have faith in what you have faith. You look to a deity I'm fairly certain doesn't exist (agnostic, of course, meaning "does not know or profess to know"). Good for you, and I mean this. If faith helps you, great. And I mean this too, but I happen to see religion, blind faith, and fervently, often fanatically held beliefs as having done more to fuck up this world and millions who live on it, than any other 10 things ever could. I am up to my neck with those who profess to be pious and ethical and moral, and who then hatefully blast others for what they think, for not thinking the same way. It's called tribalism and it's rampant. 

Ironically, people of faith, people who so often claim the moral high ground, seem to do this with alacrity. I see it every day. It's all around us. I don't believe in an invisible man in the sky. I don't believe in a life after this one, so I want to live this one, the only one I will have, as well as I can without being harassed and without harassing. I don't feel that ethics and morality spring from some invisible force, and, frankly, I see people who think they actually hear from their deities as delusional; and they're bordering on psychotic if and when they act on what they claim to have heard, because it's often some pretty heinous stuff (e.g., the Crusades, the Holocaust, Son of Sam, the Spanish Inquisition, Westboro Baptist Church, Pope Alexander VI, the KKK, ISIS, Boko Haram, etc.). 

But the saddest part is that what they're hearing is just the voice in their heads that we all hear. It's part of being human. We have a conscience; this is not a deity speaking to us. It's our inner regulator doing its job. But when that regulator takes over, when our conscience lets us down, problems arise and things run amok. Besides, what sort of hubris and ego does it take to believe one is in direct one-to-one communication with what, assuming its existence (which I don't), has to be the busiest entity in the universe; it's a rhetorical question, but please. Really? C'mon.

Anyway and in closing, please do feel free to continue to stop by my FB page, as I will yours, but please, if you don't like what I'm saying or posting, have the good grace to keep it to yourself, as I do with you. My making fun of pandering politicians and low-lifes via satirical commentary is not an attack on anyone but those pandering politicians and low-lifes. No one. Full stop. Facebook is an egalitarian place, ____. People are free to post what they wish and others are free to either read it or not read it. But if they do read it, subsequently using bigoted ad hominems to attack the person who posted is just classless and mean, and not at all "Christian." Like anyone else, I post things I think are funny. If someone else doesn’t think they're funny, if you don't think they're funny, ____, so be it. Yet another thing we lack in common, and vive la diffĂ©rence.

It's really pretty simple: I am a happy, optimistic, and kind and warm recovering-Catholic, and if you really knew me, you'd know this, but you don’t, so... you don't.

Thank you and respectfully...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Good Bye, Brian Bennett...

I wrote and sent the following in a letter to my friend, Brian, back in July of 2016. Today he passed away from the effects of his cancer, which had been ravaging him for some time. I was lucky enough to have had his friend and caregiver read this letter to him, because I knew I would never be able to do it myself.  If there's someone in your life who you feel you need to speak to, do it now. You might never have another chance.

My Dearest Brian… 

It’s been far too long since we last spoke, this is entirely on me, and I’ll have to live with it. But now that I have your attention, I want to speak to you as directly as I can; I’ve always written far better than I could speak.

The last thing you need is to have me blubbering beside you, which is what I would do, all I would do. I can’t even talk to friends on the phone about you without losing it. So please humor me in this. I’ll speak plainly: I’m struggling mightily with what you’re going through and I take comfort knowing I’m lucky to have you as my friend. I’m thankful for our time, for our experiences, for you, Brian Bennett.

From the first second of the first minute we talked in Bay Music, what seems a lifetime ago, I knew you to be just as sweet as you always remained. I loved you then, I love you now, and I will love you until the day that I die. I believe you already know this, but saying it to you now helps me. You would of course remind me of your flaws and humbly deflect, but you can’t do that to a letter.

People so often refer to their hearts when they’re talking about affection: they’re hearts are “filled with love,” and their hearts “go out” to people. Well you entered my heart that day, you’ve never left, and there you remain. And although that part of my heart is breaking now, I know it’ll mend with time; however, enough about my heart. This is not even remotely about me, how I feel is immaterial, and the pain in my heart is my problem, not yours. Please know, though, that this breaking place in my heart is yours alone, and it will always be. I’ll always have you there to visit in my memories. Always.

Because it’s you I’m talking to, because you are to your core a sweet, kind person, I know you’ll understand this expression of love and not squirm over it. We’ve told one another “I love you” for decades. We’ve always meant it. Your strength has been humbling, but not surprising. You’ve been like a big brother to me, you’ve taught me so much, and I thank you for the lessons you’re teaching even now, Brian. Thank you.

In closing, please be at peace, please know within your own heart how I feel about you, and please know that I’ve enjoyed our journey so much. Although Todd Rundgren, your favorite, said, “There’s something here that doesn’t last too long,” please believe that my affection for you will last a long time.

Until we might meet again, ever your friend, forever your friend…

Monday, September 12, 2016

Half, three-quarters, five-eighths... who cares?

Hilary Clinton recently suggested that half of Trump's supporters were a "basket of deplorables." Questionable grammar and bad metaphors aside, what's there to apologize for? 


Fact: Trump has said deplorable things about a whole lot of people: Muslims, African-Americans, and Mexicans, to name a just a few groups. He still calls Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas," which is shameful on several levels.

Fact: his supporters have cheered for him at his rallies as he has said --- and continues to say --- deplorable things. 

Conclusion: those supporters are deplorable as well. 

Look, if someone says something that is patently racist or xenophobic or just plain mean-spirited and people agree with that statement, doesn't that make them racist or xenophobic or just plain mean-spirited by association? 

What am I missing here? 

Maybe she needs to apologize for the fraction she used. Maybe half of his supporters aren't deplorable assholes like the guy they support. Maybe it's only three-quarters or five-eighths of them. Who knows and who cares because it doesn't matter. He says deplorable things folks support those deplorable things; that makes them deplorable as well, regardless of their number. Ipso facto and Q.E.D.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Missing the point after...

What Colin Kaepernick did is not about him being an admittedly privileged, seemingly ungrateful, and assumedly petulant athlete, who is once again misbehaving by acting badly in public. 

Nope. This is not about him. 

Moreover, I’ll bet you that he doesn't believe this is about him, either, and for folks to suggest otherwise (via their words or their memes), is probably proof of either denial or ignorance of what he has so clearly told us is the underlying issue. In saying this, however, I’m not criticizing anyone for going after him via word or meme or for being in denial or ignorant, two things with which I'm all too familiar. They are simply states of mind and everyone has a right to visit them on occasion. Go ahead. Have at him. I understand that on its surface, what he did could be seen as rude and puerile, yet even as he would probably tell folks he has nothing about which to complain because he has a great life, and that this imbroglio is about something larger than just him, he would probably also tell them they have the right to think he’s a douche-nozzle. 

But this is not about him and to make it about him is to completely miss his point. 

Of course, I could be wrong, and I so often am, but what this is about is an American who's acting within his constitutionally protected right to free speech (as irritating as that speech might seem to some), by standing up (irony intended) for what he believes are injustices to others who are marginalized and less fortunate than he is. If we’re being honest, we’ll admit that if Joe Schmoe sat through the anthem, no one would have cared aside from maybe Joe’s family or those adjacent to him, and if Joe had been caught on camera, it would have led to yet another GIF going viral. Poor Joe.

But that the “someone” who did do this is one who routinely has a microscope focused on him due to his chronically well-aimed, self-inflicted foot wounds, this might make it seem like he was not thinking and was just being thick. But this is wrong-headed, because if you don’t think he knew that the same microscope would probably serve to focus attention on what he believes (and what he actually said) is the real issue, and that doing what he did might keep a discussion going, then it’s probably questionable exactly who is being wrong-headed here. 

I’m a white guy, so WTF do I know about being anything else, but please allow me to suggest that to many people of color, our national anthem's phrase, "land of the free," just might ring more than a bit hollow and that, for them, this reality is objectively true. So why would they want to say “land of the free” if they don’t believe the words to be true for everyone, even though these same words are absolutely true for Colin (a point he freely admits)? But allow me to also suggest that "home of the brave" might simultaneously (and perhaps, to some, ironically) ring just as true in Colin's case as well. But before I get there, please know that for a long time I’ve been trying my hardest to empathize as best I can, trying to see the points of view that spawned things as simple as his recent action and as complex as Black Lives Matter, and I'll continue to try. Yup. OK. All lives matter. Got it. Thanks, but one perspective does not preclude the other; one perspective is just a different one than the other, and they can both exist simultaneously. And here's why: for a much longer time, and obviously to many people of many backgrounds, some lives seem not to matter much at all (also objectively true), so is it really that surprising, then, to see frustration boiling over? 

By way of an answer, try this simple thought experiment: ask yourself honestly if, after watching what he did, you A) saw his action as the problem/issue, or B) at least tried to understand the reasons behind his action (his inaction, as it were) as the possible genesis of why he felt he needed to take the action? If the former, this could be saying more loudly than anything else ever could exactly what the real problem is

As with so much else, so much of this tempest in a jock strap seems to be about perspective. Case in point. If this event can be viewed as a matter of patriotism--- as in, you're unpatriotic for having done this thing, as seems to be the case here --- then this event can also be viewed as the act of a brave, patriotic person who loves his country. So much so, in fact, that he feels he has to tell that country when he thinks it's wrong about something, even as he has to also know that doing this could quite possibly be viewed as career-limiting petulance at least, and as personally dangerous behavior at worst. And it's exactly this essential, seemingly mutually exclusive dilemma, this dichotomy, that makes America one of the best fucking ideas ever, even as some of its ideas are the most fucked-up ideas ever, and this, too, is objectively true. 

Just like the next guy, I love the idea of a place like the USA. This is easy to say and I know it; it’s like saying, “I’m against violence” or “I’m for goodwill toward all.” Easy, right? Who isn't and who doesn't, aside from assholes? The point is, though, that I’m daily delighted that I live here, and I appreciate the happy accident of birth that put me here as I am, and make no mistake: "happy accident" is how I came to be born in the USA and not somewhere else, and "happy accident" is how Colin came to be found by those who adopted him. We’d be singing a different tune if we had been born in 1930's Germany, in 1980's South Africa, or in 1400's Spain. We'd definitely be speaking a different language, if we were still alive to be speaking at all. Q.E.D.

But as I continue to try to grow and listen and read and learn, and as great of an idea as I see America to be, I'm not always proud of some of the ideas America comes up with, with some of the things some Americans do, or with some of the ways some Americans think. I admit this freely, but folks are entitled to do and say what they wish, within the bounds of law and ethics, and regardless of what I might perceive to be good taste and decorum; therefore, truly being "the land of the free," truly living this as a reality, just has to mean that we should be free to simultaneously hold seemingly diametrical thoughts, or at least to respect that some among us do hold them. Lambaste if you must; it’s your right to do so. But one position doesn't negate the other; one position shouldn’t threaten the other; one position needn’t preclude the other. An action taken by one is not an action taken against all. Two conflicting positions can exist within the same mind and, most importantly, among the same people, as in this case, but do agreeably disagree as needed, by all means. Just maybe, though, you could try to work to respect and presume the possibility of an honorable, ulterior motive rather than immediately suspect and assume the presence of a dishonorable, hidden agenda. As trite as this might be, judging a book by its cover does little to discover what’s inside that book. Put in another, equally timeworn way, metaphorically walk a mile in some other shoes, and if, when you’re finished, you and those shoes are still in the place you were when you started, then so be it: but at least you tried.

I hope some of this makes sense, and I offer all of it with respect.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Learn something new every day...

I've been on Facebook for almost 10 years and have never blocked someone... until today.

Like most folks do, I post things on my FB page (which, thank you, I know is public) as they occur to me and try my best to make points about things that I see happening in the world. I guess I do this mostly to make sense of them for myself. Call it, "thinking out loud." Yes, I do make fun of demagogues, politicians, and celebrities, but I don't try to be mean, demeaning, rude, offensive, or intentionally controversial, provocative, or argumentative; nor do I ever intend for arguments to start based on something I've posted (a statement which, itself, could, I suppose, start one), and really hate it when they do start. I'm often wrong, freely admit when I am, try to learn from it, and then just move on. Intransigence is its own reward and I've learned to bend in a breeze. 

I'm politically independent: I'm not tied to a party or a political ideology. Moreover, I'm spiritually/religiously independent: I'm not tied to a religion or a religious ideology. I try not to wear my philosophy like an article of clothing and, instead, try to just live it by my actions and my deeds. I might often fail, but I keep trying. For me, this is a personal thing, not a bumper sticker, and nothing I would ever expect someone else to do. I know I'm an ethical and kind person, and I don't require subsequent validation in order to know this is true. I just do.

If what I post doesn't suit folks, they have two options: like it or don't like it. It's pretty simple.

Unfortunately, however, they can, and quite often do, take a more overt action, such as, A) troll it, which just seems pointlessly mean-spirited and rude; B) start an argument, which rarely, if ever, goes well; C) block me, if what I've posted (or I, myself) really pissed them off; or they could just, D) simply ignore my post and go about their days, which, I admit, is sometimes the hardest thing to do, but is, perhaps (and, again, arguably in itself), the more dignified approach.

All of this having been said, I see many, many, many things that folks post with which I disagree fundamentally, thoroughly, and in no uncertain terms, or that I simply find objectively inappropriate for public consumption, but... this view, my view, is entirely my problem, not theirs. I would never, ever, ever attack them for what they're saying. If I disagree, I demonstrate that disagreement by simply ignoring the post and choosing to not view the world in the way it's being presented.

Thank you if you already take a similar approach, and please have no worries if you don't, because I've not said this as some sort of share bait; rather, I've said it because it's true for me. 

C'est la vie, and respectfully so...

A scene from a gangster movie?

Reporter: So, Mr. Trump, what's your perspective on the possibility of a contested convention in Cleveland?

Trump: They have an amazing town, Cleveland does. An amazing town. An amazing convention center there. Beautiful. It'd be a shame if something were to... I don't know... happen to it. A real shame. Terrible shame.

Reporter: Mr. Trump, what are you saying will happen?

Trump: Nothing. Nothing. I would never say something will happen. But it'd be a shame if something did happen. It'd be a terrible thing. Terrible. A riot is a terrible thing. Top people have told me this. Top people. I don't know, but those people have told me they're terrible. What do I know about riots? Just terrible, though.

Reporter: Mr. Trump... ummm... are you threatening there will be... uuuh... riots?

Trump: I never said there will be riots. Never said it. You disgusting reporters are always saying disgusting things by putting words in my mouth.

Reporter: I'm just...

Trump: Disgusting reporters.

Reporter: ...trying to get you to use words to answer questions.

Trump: You know what this is? 

Reporter: Ummmm... an interview?

Trump: I'll tell you what this is... it's another hit piece, let me tell you! A real cheap, disgusting hit piece! I just said it'd be a terrible thing if there were riots. And what do you do? you ask me if I'm saying there will be riots. I'm not saying that. Never said that. 

Reporter: Well then, Mr. Trump, what did you just say?
Trump: I said it'd be terrible if something terrible happened. Amazing town, Cleveland. It'd be a shame to see something bad happen. Terrible. Riots are terrible, so I'm told. You? You're disgusting. I'll sue you.

Reporter: Back to you Bill...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Falling for David Bowie...

Here's an admittedly tangential, but nevertheless true, David Bowie (-ish-esque-y) story.

In autumn of 1975, our band, Flood, was playing a late-Saturday-afternoon matinee at a large college club called Maxwell's in Iowa City, IA. Earlier that afternoon, a number of us had been at the Iowa State-Iowa game and witnessed Iowa win on a last-minute, classic, Statue-of-Liberty play. The stadium was a frenzy and that celebratory mood found its way to the club, fully intact. Maxwell's, a fairly large club (between 200 to 250 seats) --- with a capacious four-foot-high stage, a sunken dance floor, and a large high-wattage, Cerwin-Vega house PA (that rocked) --- was completely full by the start of our first of two matinee sets. Dancers and revelers were well lubricated and definitely interpreted the word "party" as a verb.

By the time we got to the end of the first set, our energy level was at least equal to the room's, and our volume level was probably twice that. We closed that set with Bowie's "Suffragette City," from the "Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars" LP. We were in the song's raucous ending chorus and, as I had the habit of doing back then, I was rocking back and forth with abandon. Stupidly loud met energized bombast and rarely had either one had it so good.

Then, it happened.

In less than the blink of an eye, I lost my balance on a backward rock, then, as I rocked forward, dizzy but aware I was out of control, I kicked out with my foot to catch my now lost balance, whereupon my foot smacked firmly against a strip of 1-inch-high molding that ran along the front edge of the stage. The Laws of Physics being what they are --- constant and immutable --- my forward foot-action resulted in an equal-and-opposite body-action, and I went up and out, feet over hands, into the wild blue yonder and onto the sunken dance floor. As I fell in what I recall being a cross between flying and diving into a sea of startled dancers, my left hand stayed firmly around the neck of my bass even as my right hand tried to find something/someone to grab. My bass's head stock struck the dance floor first (snapping off a small piece of wood that I would never find), my right hand landed second, and the rest of me, faithfully still attached, landed third in what could best be described as, a crumpled heap. Had the Russian judges been there, I would have carded a solid 9.0, easy. I had not had a drop to drink, by the way.

Anyway, and amazingly all the while, the band was still blasting away, with Tommy, Steve, Don, and Paige still singing the chorus. Even as I was helped to my feet, the band was still playing, seemingly oblivious. Even as I found my place on stage and re-tuned my now-sharp A string with the tuning gear that I had just bent on landing, the band was still playing.

I managed to finish the song with the rest of the band, and our version of David Bowie's tune, one of my all-time favorites, and one of Flood's best, might never have sounded better.

It was a small price to pay for rock-and-roll. May David rest in peace. I have always believed, and will continue to believe, he would have appreciated the moment.