Tuesday, December 8, 2015

But it's Donald Trump who hates America.
I'll say it again: Donald. Trump. Hates. America.

"F*ck America, make Trump Great Again."
I don't care anymore whether his presidential candidacy is sincere or just an elaborate performance designed to increase his influence on the national stage. Neither should you, because it no longer matters. It's possible that Trump truly believes that he is going to "make America great again," but it doesn't make a difference. His actions and his words threaten us as a nation of united states. His is the language of division, fear, and hostility. His are the politics of exclusion, demagoguery, and violence. Those things cannot create. They can only destroy.
Regardless of Trump's true intentions, he's playing a dangerous game with the American values of unity, brotherhood, liberty, and justice. He's attempting to hijack the cultural anxiety of contemporary working-class white America, dividing the population against itself and either tearing our society apart or laying the foundation for a fascist takeover. America under President Trump would succumb to anger and fear, betraying and murdering the America the Founders envisioned just as surely as Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin Skywalker. Even without the presidency, he's succeeded in creating an environment of hostility and suspicion at a time when unity is more important than ever if we're going to have any hope of confronting the true challenges of the 21st century.
So to the people being interviewed in this video and those inclined to agree with them, let me state this in no uncertain terms (on the infinitesimal chance any of you read my blog): Donald trump does not care about you. He does not care about keeping you safe. Donald Trump cares about Donald Trump. He represents the wealthy elites, the moneyed interests who would keep you, me, our families and friends, our neighbors and colleagues, all of us distracted and fighting among ourselves while their irresponsible, unchecked brand of militarized hyper-capitalism enslaves us. Creating a scary "other" out of Muslims is only the beginning. Before long the monster under the bed will be someone else. Who knows, it could even be you.
It's time to shut this dangerous demagogue out of our national politics before he can do any more damage.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An election day message

We in the (nominal) capital of global democracy don't have anything to vote on today. One of the side-effects of being a federal district without voting representation in Congress, I suppose... which is just one reason why I emphasize that we're the nominal capital of democracy only. 

And I've got a craving for some secondhand political participation satisfaction, you know what I mean?

So hey, friends and neighbors in Virginia? (And also Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Colorado, Houston, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, or anywhere else that has a referendum or a race for office) Just go and vote, all right? 

I know it's not glamorous voting in an off year, and the issues at hand might not interest you directly. But what's happening at the state and local level is, believe it or not, going to affect you much more directly than what's happening on the national stage. 

So make your voice heard. I don't even care where you stand on a given issue or politician. Just make your voice heard. As citizens, we agree on more than we think, and when we don't use our civic power, special interests and their wealthy backers win, and we lose.

Happy election day from a privileged white man in a disenfranchised city.


There's no need to rush...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Another weird dream!

As I sat down at the greasy table in a dimly lit bar, I was surprised to find a dark-haired, female police detective take the seat across from me. Ignoring the obvious question (how did I end up in a low-rent, gender-swapped version of True Detective season 2?)*, I asked what I could do for her.

The answer, it seemed, was to explain why I shouldn't go to jail.

She slid a few photos my way, blurry messes of colored light and shadow, and pointed to an ill-defined figure at the center of one of them.

"Is that you?" she asked me.

As I squinted at the barely recognizable shapes, my new friend began to explain that a man matching my description was a suspect in a serious investigation from the day before, armed robbery or something like that. He was described as kind of a wannabe rocker, and was known by the victims to play in a rock cover band in bars not unlike the one we were now sitting in.

"I don't see how that could be me," I replied, after a long moment, "honestly, I can't even make out who that guy is, you couldn't get a better picture than this?"

"And what makes you think it's not you," she pressed. "Same build, same dark hair, same..." she glanced disapprovingly at our surroundings, "...pastimes."

"Look, ma'am," I began, tracing the faded outline of a guitar neck jutting out from the picture of my supposed doppelgänger, as the first few notes of Eve 6's "Arch Drive Goodbye"** twanged around us, "there's no way that man is me."

"Convince me."

"Fine." I stood up as the music swelled, breaking into my own rendition of the final song on my favorite band from middle school's final album, following the second verse and chorus, I belted:

"I don't play decent guitar/ I'm never gonna be some rock star/  And I'm not that guy, got an alibi/
I'm so sorry...


The alarm, again. A gray morning and boring ride to work on the Metro.

God, why is my life never as cool as my dreams?


*Haha, just kidding! TD Season 2 came off as surprisingly low-rent, considering it probably had a budget several times that of the first season.

**For reference. The whole story seems much more real if you play the song over it. Like most of my dream music, I hadn't actually heard the song in months.

...love the way that you shock shock shock me...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Has it really been 14 years?

I hadn't even realized what day it was until I heard a brass quartet playing a slow-jam rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner as I rode by the McPherson Square metro station. Frankly, that's probably the extent of the Patriot Day observation I'll do. The morning bustle of one of the busiest courthouses in the United States didn't exactly lend itself to observing a moment of silence at 8:47 this morning.

Over the years, I've gone back and forth on how strongly I want to commemorate 9/11, waffling between "Support Our Troops!" platitudes and belligerent "America is the REAL aggressor!" college campus rhetoric. Now I fall somewhere in between.  

Memorializing a terrorist attack is important, but we can't afford to think only about ourselves, even for one day. So reflecting about everything that has happened since those towers were knocked down, I'll simply acknowledge how privileged I am to exist in a society (and a body) where neither my physical safety nor my socioeconomic security have ever been put in serious danger. I recognize that many people, both at home and around the world, are denied that safety, while others choose to put themselves in harm's way to protect me.

What's more, I'm fortunate to have a job helping to safeguard access to justice and the rule of law. Institutions like courts protect societies from breaking down into overt violence, and (when we do our jobs right) give voice to the voiceless and do our part to ease structural violence.    

Remember 9/11, but also remember that it's each of our duty to work toward a world where evil cannot take root in the soil of desperation.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

I've been thinking a lot this week about Peggy Hubbard, after she posted a video rant against Black Lives Matter:

The points she makes, especially about so-called black on black crime, are ones that I've heard trotted out again and again, usually by white (but sometimes by black) conservatives, as an argument against a greater focus on police violence in America. Not to suggest she's being co-opted-- Ms. Hubbard is very sincere and I've no reason to think this isn't truly how she feels.

But I DO think she's missing the point of BLM. Protests and social change movements are not aimed at changing the behavior of communities, but at changing the behavior of a government or other power structure-- others have made this point much more eloquently than I could. Do yourself a favor and go read their stuff.

There's another theme underlying her rant, though, and it's one I feel the need to address- that black people are protesting police violence while being, in her view, overly violent and unruly themselves. As if that makes black people unworthy of equal protection under the law.

But the right to life is not contingent upon good citizenship or good behavior. As a species, we recognize that there is such a thing as inherent human dignity; that each human life is worthy of protection and advocacy without regard to how, exactly, that life is lived or how sympathetic a figure someone is.

Most importantly, we realize that individual lives cannot be extinguished without due process of law.

The field of human rights exists because of that ethic, and it's one that I stand behind. But it's being violated again and again on the streets and in the homes of this country. I have nothing but respect for Peggy Hubbard and the obviously raw emotional reaction she displays. But the notion that an entire community of people is somehow unworthy of equal treatment is a dangerous one-- the "lesser" status white colonials afforded to Africans formed the basis for slavery in the first place, and and that's led us directly to where we are today.

A person's life must be worthy of protection regardless of their conduct, or we've made no progress at all and "human rights" are simply imaginary.

To those who have countered that "ALL lives matter," that's true, but it misses the point. "Black Lives Matter" is not an attempt to make a life contained within skin of a certain color matter more than a life contained within skin of another color. Instead it's both a recognition and a call to action. A recognition of the injustice inherent to a system in which the deepest and most essential of human rights, the right to live and be free from bondage, is denied to our black American brothers and sisters. Where, for too long, black lives have mattered *less* than other lives in a very real way.

A call to action that cuts through all of our self-congratulatory rhetoric about the victories of the Civil Rights Era and the advent of a "post-racial America." To make those of us who have benefited from that system, the "privileged" like me, wake up to that injustice and work to mitigate it.

Reasonable people can and do disagree about the tactics of BLM, or wonder (as I do) how to be an ally when the movement seems so bent on confrontation as a raison d'etre.

But when Peggy Hubbard says "white people don't care," that's an indictment of white people, probably more than she even realizes. White people, we cannot allow those words to be true.

If we care anything about human rights, BLM's goals must be our goals.


I've been worrying that my time here's a little unclear...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I had to return a library book today before I was done reading it.

Oh, I tried to renew it, but the website told me "This item has holds", meaning of course that someone else wants the book so I can't renew it.

How frustrating is that, right?!

"Oh, just read faster/more, Adam," you say, "other people need books too."

Well, I would have, except the book was Master and Commander (yes, the one they made the movie about,) and I had to look up every third word until I finally learned the difference between a mizzen yardarm and a main topgallant.

And now I'll never know how Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin became such good friends. I hope you're happy, random person who put a hold on my book.

People really need to be more accommodating of my needs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

To Kill Our Childhoods?

Early reviews of "Go Set a Watchman," the much-anticipated sequel to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," are out, and the news... is not great.

Criticism of the novel has coalesced around two main points: one, it's not written terribly well. That makes sense perfect sense, because while it takes place 20 years after "Mockingbird", Lee wrote "Watchman" some years prior, when she had less experience. Her publishers basically told her "well this is all right, but it'd be better if you did it this way..." hence "Mockingbird". In essence, it's a rough draft that got made into a full sequel.*

The second criticism of the novel intrigues me far more. So 20 years have passed since Scout Finch watched her lawyer dad defend Tom Robinson, a black man facing charges of raping a white woman, in the segregated South. Since that time, Atticus has gone to a Klan meeting or two, and supports segregation.

Naturally, there are folks saying "but Harper, HOW could you make Atticus Finch a RACIST??? He's like... such a nice guy! You've ruined my childhood!"

Really, though?

I think it's time I dusted off my Valyrian Steel Greatsword of Unassailable Truth.

Imminent Ned  - brace yourselves disappointed harper lee fans are coming

You can't criticize something merely because you didn't like it. It's like, the second rule of critical analysis. You're free to think less of Atticus Finch now that he's done some unpalatable things. But that doesn't mean that the book is bad. If it's bad, it's bad for other reasons. I'm sure lots of qualified people are going to pick apart the social and political significance of whether or not Atticus Finch gives in to hatred later in life. Let 'em. I think that misses the point.

To me, the relevant issue in Mockingbird was never how Atticus Finch feels about black people in general, though his serene demeanor and overall sense of justice suggest that he bears them no specific ill will. But the real proof of his character is that he believes in the rule of law, and believes that a black man deserves equal protection under the law while many of his peers don't.

When the judge approaches Atticus about the case, it's clear from the conversation that they're both aware of the systemic (as well as overt) discrimination Tom Robinson is likely to face. No one else will take the case, and the jury's not likely to be kind or even fair. Atticus believes, to paraphrase John Adams, that no accused person should lack legal counsel in a free country, and so he agrees to represent Robinson to help him get a fair shot. He even goes so far as to defend Robinson against a lynch mob (with Scout's help) but he does that out of dedication not to the man, but to due process of law. Whatever his personal feelings on race, Atticus Finch knows that mob justice is no justice at all. He knows that the legal system in which he operates is inherently unfair, and feels committed to correcting that injustice in whatever small way he can.

Fast forward 60 years, to a time when symbols and actions born of overt racism are no longer seen as acceptable, but systemic racism and inequity are as strong as ever.** White people can feel more and more comfortable that we are not racists, because we bear no specific ill will to non-whites and don't use racial slurs in conversation. We are ignorant of the fact that we benefit greatly from systemic oppression. When someone points out that our tacit support for a racist system is equally as bad as, say, using the n-word, we freak out like we're being personally attacked. At that point, we tend to shut the conversation down.***

We all like to pretend we're Atticus Finch, doing as best we can for ourselves and our loved ones, with no specific malice for anyone. But we (for the most part) don't fight against the system that oppresses and destroys our fellow Americans for the crime of not having white skin. In reality we're the Maycomb jury, struggling with the decision of whether (and how hard) to fight back against a stacked deck that, to be honest, has worked out pretty well for us.

It's hard to see a paragon like Atticus Finch tarnished. But good people grow old, grow bitter, become distressed by the changes around them and the feeling that the world no longer plays by the rules that they understood to be inviolable. Ultimately, though, that's not what's important about his character. Even if Atticus Finch resents black people by the time "Watchman" takes place, the fact remains that he once took on the Herculean task of teaching a whole town an important lesson about justice (to mixed success.) He worked from within an oppressive system to fight back, in some way, against oppression.

THAT is the example we should be celebrating and attempting to emulate.


*I haven't read the book, and honestly, I probably won't. I get this ooky feeling that Lee was coerced into publishing it, to satisfy our sequel-obsessed culture of media consumption. So there's an outside chance that I'm downplaying the...downfall... of the Atticus Finch character.

**And all the more insidious because they're subliminal, and we do our best not to refer to them. The more social privilege you enjoy, the harder it is to detect systemic bias unless someone points it out to you. Even then, you're likely at first to react defensively and attempt to shut down the dialogue.

***Check out John Metta's excellent piece "I, Racist" and Doug Muder's "The Distress of the Privileged" for a better understanding of the "I'm not a racist, stop playing the race card!" dynamic.