The Coronavirus and Friendship

In recent weeks, many people have been losing friends, questioning their friends’ morals, or finding their friendships strained because friends are taking social distancing less seriously than they are.

“Friends Are Breaking Up Over Social Distancing”
Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic, April 2020

The excellent Atlantic article quoted above is about how people are ending friendships over differences in attitudes regarding the pandemic and social distancing and how to avoid it. It’s well-written and worth the read. As I was reading through it, I thought of my own friends and family and it got me wondering why this is happening, and what, if anything, we can do about it. What matters, and what doesn’t?

The last two months have been a lesson in human nature. This novel coronavirus is hitting our humanity. There is a lot that is unknown about this virus, and we humans freak out about the unknown. And we freak out differently.

Social distancing is a pretty simple concept. If we stay away from each other, the virus can’t spread, and if it can’t spread, then eventually the virus will abate. Social distancing is the method we in America have decided will slow the growth of the number of cases and will give us a fighting chance to find treatments and eventually find a vaccine.

Everyone values social distancing differently. I have friends who are hunkered up at home, getting stuff delivered, and who do not go out at all. Personally, I shop for things we need and I wear a mask and try to stay away from people, and I wash my hands and have hand-sanitizer at the ready. But I have friends who poo-poo this whole thing, do not do any social distancing, and get together for social activities, despite stay-at-home orders. The Atlantic article addresses these differences in attitudes toward social distancing and how it can end friendships.

There is a factor that I believe makes these differences more perilous: we are not seeing our friends in person. We may talk on the phone, or even from time to time put together Zoom meetings, but more likely we are interacting on social media and/or chat programs. We try to understand each other and try to get others to understand our points of view, but we are not doing it in person. We are not talking to each other. We are looking at flickering letters on a screen with an occasional picture. We are isolated.

We are human. We are meant to be together, in person. We go to coffeeshops or restaurants by ourselves just to be with people, even people we don’t know, even if we are introverts. When we are with friends, we can have conversations, or we can watch a movie or concert, or just hang out. If we have conversations, they are less important than just the fact of being together.

And when we do have conversations, the conversations are immediate. We don’t just talk; rather, we see, we “read the room,” we are aware of body language and tone, and we see all these social cues because we are together. Tempers may flair on controversial topics, but we see this happening in real time, and we generally know when to back off and change the subject: “how about those Dodgers, eh?” A blown-up discussion can be diffused, and the clouds clear. Because we are together and because we are friends and we love each other, even when we disagree. It’s not about the conversation. It’s about being together, and about being friends.

No two people will agree on everything. Add more people to the mix, and the areas of agreement become fewer and fewer. This is life. This is human nature. Some disagreements are minor, such as whether pineapple belongs on a pizza. Some are fundamental, such as whether or not God exists. Friendship transcends these differences – it must, because no one agrees completely with anyone else.

Friendship endures because people are not their opinions. Opinions and beliefs can change over time as you live your life. You may find that, hey! Pineapple is not so bad. Or that, yes, you can make barbecue with beef as well as pork. Or that the death penalty may not be such a great idea. If you change your mind are you a different person? No. If anything, you are more complete. Or perhaps more jaded. But you are still fundamentally you.

A person is a soul put on this earth to try to get along and do the best he or she can, trying to do good in a world that’s hard to know what doing good is. Everyone is imperfect and is imperfectly dealing with life’s trials and struggles. Life goes on with its tragedies and victories, and we in our imperfections do what we can to do the best we can. Every person is on their own epic journey. Each person’s journey is worthy of a novel.

I believe that when you come across someone and get to know their core goodness, that person can become a friend regardless of superficial beliefs or opinions. You recognize the genuineness of their soul, and that’s what matters. Friendship is therefore honoring and respecting your friends’ souls, regardless of their opinions or beliefs.

Enter social media and enter the isolation in which social media puts us. Social media connects us, but it only does so through words on a screen, intermingled with pictures and memes. Social media gives the appearance of connection, but not the reality of connection. It is a cliché that Facebook and Instagram show the highlight reel of our lives. But it’s true. Even when true grief is shared on social media, real connection is not there. You are not there in person to hold someone who just lost their husband or child. All you can do is type “so sorry for your loss” and press Enter. Words on a flickering screen.

Social media forces us to write. Worse, it forces us to write in short bursts scattershot to a multitude rather than in long letters written to an individual or to a family. Writing is difficult in the best of circumstances when you have the space and time to fully flesh out what you really want to convey. A good writer can capture emotions and convey genuineness and can console a person to the point where it is as if they are in the room with you, consoling you in your grief, and easing your pain. Ninety-nine years ago, William Allen White, the editor of the Emporia Gazette in Emporia, Kansas, wrote an obituary for his young daughter who died in an accident. It is an amazing piece. Here is a father, writing about his daughter who was taken away too soon, and he was able to wring out the grief completely and leave us with hope and love. It’s one of my favorite pieces of literature. The singer and songwriter John Prine died just a few weeks ago, taken by COVID-19, and his death hit me hard. And yet a song he wrote called “When I Get to Heaven” made my own grief easier to bear. I can see him up there smoking his nine-mile-long cigarette, and it makes me smile. William Allen White and John Prine are writers, and as writers, they can take the insane complexity of humanity and put it into words. They are exceptional because they could write so well.

However, most people are not writers. And yet social media forces us to write, and worse, to write in small tweet-sized bursts. It is impossible to convey humanity and connection in tweet-sized bursts.

And now we are confronted with existential problems none of us have seen in our lifetimes. We are enduring events that have changed our lives in an incredibly short period of time. Over a million and a half people in this country have been sickened by a disease that we didn’t even know existed at the beginning of the year. As of this writing, one hundred thousand people have perished in the United States, a third of a million world-wide, all in just a few months. Because we have to fight this disease, over thirty-eight million people in the US have lost their jobs just in the last two months. Thirty-eight million! That is unbelievable. And in this period of true human suffering, because this disease spreads easily by human physical contact, we have been asked to stay apart from each other. To be isolated. To stay home, stay out of school and out of work, stay away from parks, from theaters, sports events, and even from our friends’ houses. Even from our loved-ones’ funerals.

We humans need physical, in-person, interaction. Even introverts like myself are missing real connection with people in person. This virus is forcing us to stop doing what we as humans must do: to be together. And this change happened in a flash.

We, as the human race collectively, do not have the full picture of exactly what this virus is and will do. We don’t know exactly how it spreads. We don’t know if someone who recovers is now immune. We don’t know if we can make a vaccine for it, and if we can, when it will be available. We don’t know exactly how to treat COVID-19. Experts who dedicated their lives to epidemiology and virology and emergency medicine do not yet have a handle on this, and that creates a huge gap of knowledge that we humans cannot tolerate. We need to know, and we need to know now! But we don’t know, and because we don’t know, we are prone to grasping at straws. And there are people who just love to provide those straws, even if they have to invent them. What we do know is, we are all affected by this, and we want it to stop.

While we are all facing this existential threat, we are all affected in different ways. The coronavirus is the root of this threat, but it spawns existential threats of its own: Isolation and lack of connection. Uncertainty. Conflicting messages. Loss of income and property. Loss of businesses, some of which will never reopen. Doubt about how it’s being addressed by society and the government. The daily increase of the number of people who died. This thing is hitting us from all sides, and it’s hitting us at our core values. We end up having different opinions about which type of hit is worse.

Except in cases of sociopathy, no one wants people to be sick or die. No one wants people to be out of work, or to lose their livelihood, or their home. Or their sanity. No one is trying to make a case for evil – certainly not our friends. Each of our friends wants to do the right thing, and address this in the best way they can. Each of us is operating on the data we have. Each of us is experiencing our own level of pain and desperation. And we will disagree on these existential threats that are unprecedented in our lifetimes, and which are hurting us now.

Because we can’t be together physically, we can’t do what we would normally do to work this out: argue at the dinner table, argue at the pub or cigar lounge or coffee shop, or argue in the public square. We can’t hug it out. We can’t even fight it out. Our human strength of working things out in person is not available to us. Even those people who are protesting stay-at-home orders in public aren’t working it out in public. The people they need to work it out with are at home. We are isolated from each other. Isolation, uncertainty, and the real threat to our lives are making us crazy, some of us more than others.

We try in earnest to figure out what is going on, to fill in the gaps, to find a way to get through this, and to disseminate what we think are the best ways to get us back on track. And we can’t do it in person.

What are we left with? Social media. Where we as mostly non-writers are trying to work out core-value fears in texts, tweets, and memes, broadcasted out to the world.

The best writers write thousand-word opinion pieces rather than try to make their points in one hundred and forty characters. Forcing important thoughts into a brief paragraph or meme squeezes out the nuance and complexity of the issue. Our opinions cannot be fully expressed in a tweet. Instead of a post being exactly what we mean, it becomes kinda what we mean – and it can and will miss the mark. It is a shell of what we really believe, because we are complex beings, not paper dolls. This inadequate shell of a post becomes a straw man when someone argues against it, to the point where we argue past each other, leaving us to struggle to explain what we really meant, sometimes to people we don’t even know. We are all arguing from a position of doing the right thing, but we differ on what “doing the right” thing is. We are forced to use small-paragraph bludgeons that are stereotypes of our real opinions to make our points. But our written opinions are incorrect because they are incomplete. To fully complete our opinions requires time, space, and effort, and we don’t do that.

The result of people with passion arguing existential ideas in word bursts online is what we are seeing on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc.: sincere people and an army of trolls, all misunderstanding each other. When we are forced into this mode of communication with our good friends, friends we’ve known for years, who’ve been there for us in times of trouble and triumph, well, we get lost in a tangle of words, and we lose sight of our friends’ humanity, complexity, and genuine soul. And unfortunately, this can result in losing the friend.

I have strong opinions, and my friends have strong opinions, and our opinions can be vastly different. And yet we are friends, because we recognize and respect each other’s genuine soul. We love each other. We’re there for each other. I can say that my friends saved my life. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have disrupted our being together at a time when there is not one of us who has not been adversely affected by this damned virus. My friends and I are experiencing genuine pain, and/or fear, and/or anger, and we can’t all be together. We can snipe at each other on social media, though. This crisis has taught me that social media is not really social at all.

As I look over the surreal world we have been chucked into just a few weeks ago, and as I look at the shocks we are enduring, the threats to our humanity, and especially at the fact that we are forced to be apart to better our chances of survival, I have to come to one conclusion: we have to refuse to lose each other. We can’t let our being forced apart break us apart. We have to stay human to each other especially now that we can’t share a hug or a handshake. Right now, our friends and our family need us, and we need them. Especially now. We need to give our friends and family a break. Friendship and love are more important and deeper than any disagreement we may have. Be there for them now, and give them a hug when it’s all over.

Our humanity will get us through this.

The Democratic Party Should Learn from FDR

Democrats should learn and read FDR rather than just ape his program names. FDR’s acceptance speech at the 1936 convention is amazing – and you can see why he was elected to four terms. In this speech, he lays out the case that while we won political freedom in 1776, the then-current fight in 1936 is for economic freedom – and that you can’t have true political freedom without economic freedom.

It’s a long read of course. The speech was half an hour long, short by today’s standards, but way too long for modern political discussion, but if you look at the economic problems we face now brought on by globalization, automation, concentration of economic power, and the resulting transfers of wealth and power from the middle- and lower-classes to the privileged, this speech is spot-on, and should be the playbook for whichever Democratic candidate goes up against the corrupt GOP machine.

Some excerpts:

“Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

“An old English judge once said: “Necessitous men are not free men.” Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.”


“Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”

“We are poor indeed if this Nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude.

“In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.”

This is FDR laying our his case for his fight against the tyranny of economic privilege. Much of what he tried to do crossed some lines – but he said in response (in this speech):

“Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.”

This is greatness.

We See Dead People

When I was a teenager, we had a neighbor next door who lived in the same house since the mid-1930s. She had a sister who was a pack rat, and subscribed to magazines and news papers, and never threw them away. Rather, she put them in the garage. After fifty years of this, the garage was full. Since my neighbor’s sister passed away, my neighbor asked me if I would clean out the garage for her for a sum, and said I could keep whatever I found in the garage.

The house was a nice thirties-style California house, two stories, with stucco and a Spanish tile roof, and three huge avocado trees in the backyard. The garage was detached, and was just big enough for a decent sized DeSoto if it weren’t for the fact that it was fully stuffed with newspapers and magazines. Over the next week, I attacked the garage.

The garage was a time machine. When I opened the garage door, I was confronted with stacks and stacks of relatively recent newspapers. Most of what I found was, at least to me, just a bunch of papers, and so I recycled virtually all them. However, I hit pay dirt when I got to the 1930s and ’40s, which was about 80% into the garage. I found dozens of copies of magazines like GQ, Look, Liberty, Life, and others. I kept a lot of them, and sold a number to used book stores in Hollywood.

The magazines I really prized, and the ones I still have today, were from the ’30s: The first few years of “Look” magazine, and a pile of “Motion Picture” and “Photoplay” mags. These magazines were so beautiful! The colors of the covers were so rich, with pictures of the stars, like Deanna Durbin, Olivia De Havilland, Delores Del Rio, Sonia Henny, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable. I fell in love with the glamor that was 1930s Hollywood. All the stars were dressed to the nines. They all drove huge Duesenbergs, Cords, and Lincolns, and smoked Lucky Strikes (with the green pack), or Camels, or Chesterfields. They all smiled, and when they were not smiling, they were fighting over some man. It was a walk into a world that was vivid and alive before me, but which no longer existed.

I have a box set of movies that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The first few movies were from the years 1929 through 1937: “Broadway Melody,” “Grand Hotel,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,”and “The Life of Emile Zola.” “Broadway Melody” was the first sound picture to win Best Picture. It won the Oscar eighty-seven years ago.

These four movies are worth watching. It is interesting to see how movies changed during the “Golden Age,” but more importantly, at a time when Hollywood was cranking out movies by the trainload, these were the best of their time, and are really well made, and entertaining.

As I watched these movies, I realized that everyone in them or involved in making them is dead now. Every actor, every extra, all the sound men, all the camera men, the screen writers, the directors, the producers, the caterers, everyone. And yet, here they are, alive, on the screen. You see and hear the actors. You hear the words of the writers, you see the direction of the directors, and the cinematography of the cameramen. They live on, even though they are no longer here in the flesh.

A few years ago I realized that technology has given us a gift that I don’t think people really understand. And that is: we are the first people who can see and hear what generations past really looked like and sounded like. Photography first started in 1839, and sound recording started in 1877, so we have records of people going back to the nineteenth century – all of whom are now dead. But movies with sound came into being in 1927, less than one hundred years ago. While photographs and sound recordings are great, movies bring people to life. It fascinates me that we can see people on the screen, and they are alive! And yet they are no longer with us.

We as human beings naturally put our generation and our era as the pinnacle of times. We know so much. We are dealing with problems no one ever heard of before. The ’70s, the ’60s, the ’30s – oh, it was so much simpler then! So much more innocent! They never had to deal with the problems we have now. How did they ever live without ATM machines or mobile phones? But I don’t believe there ever were innocent times. Humans are brutal and we tend to focus on the good and gloss over the bad when we cast our memories back to those “simpler times.”

When you you look at motion pictures from decades ago – ideally the best ones, but even the worst ones, you are forced to recon with the fact that these people really were alive. They breathed and they lived and they married, and mourned, and lived in fear, and triumph – and you know that these people, these generations now dead, had the same fears and aspirations, and desires, and faults that we have now. We have the benefit of hindsight – we know what happened after these movies were made, and we know what happened to the actors and the players in them, thanks to IMDB and Wikipedia. At the time, we didn’t know how the depression would end. Considering that other countries resorted to fascism and communism to attempt to solve their economic challenges, and given where Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s head was at, we could have easily become a socialist state. No one knew at the time. We do know that they partied and enjoyed their good times when they had them. It seems every generation thinks the old folks were stodgy and that they are the first generation to have fun and stay out all night. But we know that’s not true. We know because we read, but we really know because of the movies. The song “Lullaby of Broadway” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1936 – and it was about people who stayed up all night partying on Broadway:

When a Broadway baby says “Good night,”
It’s early in the morning.
Manhattan babies don’t sleep tight until the dawn.

If you clicked on the link above and saw the Busby Berkeley clip of all those dancers tapping in the movie, you have know know that virtually all of them are no longer with us. But they were alive! And every single one of them had their dreams and aspirations of making it in Hollywood, and every single one of them was flesh and blood. Whatever life they ended up having after this clip, it is over now.

Then we look at something like this, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and marvel at how beautiful and poetic it is, and how alive Fred and Ginger are, and how even then people were desperate, had money problems, were discouraged, were suicidal, and:

There may be teardrops to shed
So while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance.

We are human beings and yet we are so quick to forget that there have been human beings for thousands of years before our generation, and that every generation in every country, and on every continent, in every era, in every station of life, lived and loved and bled and hurt and died. And we have documented it now. The previous generations are no longer figments of  history books or snippets of novels about rich people, or books of quotations. We can see them, alive, on the screen, even though they are long dead.

I find it reassuring. I don’t feel alone in my experiences. While whatever we are dealing with now is real and urgent to us, it is comforting to know that other people faced similar and even worse situations and lived – at least in the aggregate. It is reassuring and sometimes frustrating to know that history has echoes. You can look at the fight Humankind has had with ignorance, want, and evil, and be discouraged that we still have to fight ignorance, want, and evil. And yet, while we have had horrific experiences as a species, we are still here, and we have won the major battles, albeit with casualties. We have dodged nuclear war, so far, when the odds were against us. We have become more tolerant over our existence even though there are still deep pockets of intolerance. We are winning the fight to transcend primitive tribalism, even though there are those that are grasping onto it with both hands. We are incrementally better. But we were also pretty damn good back in the day, as well. And now we have the proof we didn’t have before.

The Big Chill

We have had mountains of snow this year in Central Oregon, and we are on track to get at least another foot of snow over the next couple of days. We have had snow on the ground since December 6th. But I don’t want to write about snow. Writing about the weather is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

I will write, however, about how it is affecting us here in our community. As I said, it started snowing on December 6th, but the big dump came a week later. And then came the cold – temperatures in the ‘teens dropping to sub zero. Sisters, Oregon is on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest, and is a “destination” town for all kinds of outdoor activities, including camping. Central Oregon rents have been increasing the last few years, and therefore we have a contingent of homeless folks who make camp out in the National Forest or in their vehicles around town. In summer, it is actually doable. Since there is a lot of camping of all kinds, Sisters has amenities to support backpackers and campers. The National Forest allows “dispersed camping” which means you can trek out into the forest, find a spot away from people, and set up camp. So, some people opt out of apartments and elect to follow the primitive lifestyle. And then winter comes, and their campsites are buried in snow, and there’s no plowing out there.

On December 17th, Sisters was shocked by the death of a man who was found in his car across the street from McDonalds. He lived in his car, and he was known around town, at least in passing. He worked at McDonalds, and he spent time in the library on the computers. My son knew him from the library, but not well. The night of December 17, he slept in his car with the car running, and he died. The preliminary cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning. The temperature that night went down to -5, and that was the first really cold night of the season. It was cold, the gentleman went into his car, turned it on, turned on the heat, and then was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes as he slept.

The truth came a day or two later: He did not die of carbon monoxide poisoning. He died of hypothermia. He froze to death. That shocked me and a number of other people in the community. His death was tragic in any circumstance, but with carbon monoxide, it was an accident that could be avoided – open the window, whatever. It was just bad luck.

But when a man freezes to death – that is different. He didn’t die because he was unlucky. He died because he was homeless. Despite having his car running, the cold still killed him. The cold was too much. The cold was greater than he and his circumstances, and it overcame what a prudent man might try to do to stay alive. And that was shocking.

He had family. How do you call his parent? How do you tell a father that his son froze to death in a car across from a McDonalds?

His death sent home the point that subzero temperatures are no joke, and that there are a number of people in our community who are at risk. It also sent home the reality that despite the fact that the economy is getting better, there are still a lot of people who are out there just on the edge of disaster.

 

I’m trying to think of some message that we can glean from this tragedy, some words of wisdom to impart that will wrap things up neatly, but I can’t. It really affected me that this man passed away, and that he did so in such a manner. It’s sad, and it shouldn’t have happened. Yes, accidents happen all the time, but the death of this man hit close to home, and it just shows that we have work to do, that we can’t just say to people “sink or swim.” These people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and yet they are still in trouble. They have jobs, they have cars, and yet, they succumb. I guess the thing to do is to be kind. To assume goodness. Most people are good. And help when you can.

On January 1st, members of the community set up the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter in one of our local churches to provide a warm place to stay to anyone who asks on nights where the temperatures go below freezing. This is a great thing, and it makes me proud that we chose Sisters as our home. This is a great example of the things we can do to help.

Samuel Whittemore, from 1775

Authors’s note: I wrote this on September 15, 2008. My encounter with the monument was early in 1997. I republish this on January 6th, 2017.

I was cleaning out my office and papers over the weekend, and came across a card that I wrote about eleven years ago. I was working in the Boston area, and in the evenings I liked to explore around.

I always had a passion for the American revolution. Growing up near Philadelphia only made it easier to indulge in a subject that already suited my anti-tyranical and libertarian leanings.

One night I was walking in Arlington, Massachusetts. Arlington is one of the small towns just outside Boston, near Lexington, Concord, and other towns that collectively were the birthplace of the American Revolution.

I walked by a park, and noticed a stone monument. It read:

“Samuel Whittemore, then eighty years old, killed three British soldiers, April 19, 1775. He was shot, bayoneted, beaten, and left for dead, but recovered, and lived to be ninety-eight years of age.”

After reading, I couldn’t help but blurt out aloud: “Now that’s a Man!” I took out a 3×5 card and wrote down the inscription.

It’s these things that capture my imagination. Think about it: Here is a man, eighty years old in 1775. Eighty. 1775. What does that mean in those days? No walkers. No Meals on Wheels. Wooden teeth, if any at all. No Lipitor or Geritol. If you were sick, they bled you or gave you some other Ungodly “treatment.” No antibiotics. No ice! No knowledge of clean hands before surgery, nor of using any kind of antiseptics — “antiseptic” was not even a word. He was shot. Beaten. Bayoneted! And lived. My God. He died at ninety-eight! I want his genes!

On top of that, I had this picture in my head of an old fart with a trusty flint-lock taking aim those red-coated soldiers, muttering as he was firing “take that, you British bastards! Get the hell off of my land!” I could hear him say after the last bayonet jabbed him “it’s only a flesh wound! Come back here you cowards!”

If you put this guy in a movie, no one would believe it. What a man!

As I started this post, I decided to Google him — and what a story. Turns out he was the oldest combatant in the Revolutionary War. April 19, 1775 was the first day of the Revolution — the shot heard round the world was shot that morning in Concord.

You know, it is important to remember that this country is not here by accident, that it took a lot of guts and blood to establish the USA and keep it here. The US has had many faults and sins, but they are faults and sins against a standard no other country even advocates, let alone adheres to. When we had slavery, we also had the Declaration of Independence, which states that all men are created equal. The lofty idealism of the Declaration beat out the base cruelty of slavery. There are people and interests from across the political spectrum that take shots at the Constitution, from universities enacting speech codes to cities enacting gun control to presidents suspending habeas corpus. Despite the onslaught, the rights remain, because they are so ingrained in our collective psyche as Americans and because we are diligent about pointing out and eradicating transgressions against them. So here’s Sam Whittemore, at the dawn of our country, showing what it took to get it done and get this standard established. We need to keep that in mind.

“They Live” Does Not Belong to Racists

 

“On Wednesday, Hollywood legend John Carpenter hit back at neo-Nazis and white supremacists online who had been idolizing his 1988 cult classic, They Live, as an allegory for fighting against Jewish supremacy.”Gizmodo, January 3, 2017

One of my favorite movies of all time is “They Live,” the fantastic 1988 movie starring Roddy Piper which posits that the world is not what it seems to be. In “They Live,” aliens have taken over Earth and brainwashed us Earthlings into becoming docile food, using subliminal commands like “OBEY,” “CONSUME,” “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT,” etc. Roddy comes across a pair of magic sunglasses that show what the world is really like when you put them on: Some of the people milling about are really hideous aliens, and all the wonderful advertisements and traffic signs are all really commands to subdue you.

Somehow, the Alt-right Neo-Nazi faction have latched on to this movie as a way to show how frustrating it is to know the real truth only to have the “sheeple” just drone along without a care in the world. Naturally, if someone is antisemitic and not quite bright, of course “They Live” is about Jew Aliens taking over the world. What else could it possibly be?

It is so tempting to think  that people who don’t believe what we believe, or see what we see, are somehow brainwashed by some evil force. “Of course it’s the Rothchilds! How can they not see that?” or “Just look at the mastheads of all the ‘Lame Stream’ media outlets – they’re as jewish as chopped liver! It’s so obvious.

I waffle between being certain in what I know to be true, and being open-minded about possibly being wrong. I have changed my mind on some fundamental points of view in my life. I used to be for the death penalty; now I am opposed to it. I used to be a full-blown Libertarian, now I am more pragmatic about the benefits of government and law. I used to be a Republican, and now in the last election I voted for the first Democrat of my life. Things change. So what the heck do I know?

But some things are fundamental and unchanging. To broad brush individuals with group-wide stereotypes (i.e. racism, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, hell – any phobia) is wrong and has always been wrong. So I am certain about this: racists who believe they have the inside dirt on what is really going on are full of crap. In fact, I say that racists and paranoid conspiracists who latch on to movies like “They Live” and “The Matrix” to explain their superior insights are not the guys wearing the glasses or taking the red pills. Nor are they the ones wandering around blissfully unaware of the evils that lurk in the world. No, they have it worse than that: they are the ones who are inventing imaginary evils of the world, creating fantastically bizarre worlds all their own, with made-up “truths” and made-up explanations, and who see the real world filtered through hallucinogenic smoked glass visors of their own invention. No one is forcing them to wear these things; no, they and their buddies don these glasses willingly, with their distortion fields all set to the same setting: eleven.

I wish I knew how to fix it. It is not a matter of fighting for six minutes to get them to put the magic glasses on. No, I think it is a matter of figuring out how to get their damn glasses off.

In the meantime, they need to leave “They Live” alone.

 

 

Welcome 2017!

I’ve been joking that we entered into an alternate universe the day Lemmy Kilmister died at the end of 2015. How else can we explain 2016? It seems like every week – hell, sometimes every day – some core part of our collective soul was ripped out with the announcement of yet another brilliant person departing this orb too soon, or our hearts were broken by the deaths of innocents in Nice and Orlando and Chicago and Aleppo and Istanbul, and the too many other places around the globe. I am happy to see 2016 slide into the past.

And yet, this new year is a strange one. I am fretful of 2017 simply because Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th, and all signs lead to a bumpy ride. Trump is a volatile man, and I know many of his supporters believe his take on the world and disbelieve the “main stream” media and “career politicians.” I find it astounding that Trump and the Trumpists believe Russia and Vladamir Putin over all our own loyal United States intelligence agencies, for example.

On the other hand, I know America is great, that our imperfect system nonetheless is a robust system, and that this Republic of ours is greater than any one man, and can withstand any attempts to derail it. We are not Germany in the 1930s. We are not Italy in the 1920s. We are not Russia in the 1910s. America was founded on the concepts of Liberty, and Liberty is such a part of our DNA that freedom is a given. No one anywhere on the political spectrum is even considering repealing the Bill of Rights or changing our constitution.

The election of Trump was a monumental event. A lot will happen this coming year on the political front. Some of those things can be monumentally bad, but the optimist in me thinks we’ll avoid full-on disasters. There is a limit to what a GOP congress will do, and while Trump is volatile, he is not suicidal. Odd that I have to say this, but Trump’s desire to bask in a wonderful legacy is probably enough to keep him from pressing the button.

The Left and the Right are both invigorated. The Left (and certain “Never Trump” folks like me) never really took Trump seriously and were resigned to a Clinton presidency. However, Trump made chumps of all the experts and was elected, and as a result the Left has been shocked into action. On the Right, Trumpists are ecstatic that their guy won. They are crying “Mandate!” and are getting their plans in place. Right now, I can envision the groundskeepers laying down new chalk lines, trimming the field, and brushing off the mound in the 2017 political arena, with the teams in their locker rooms getting ready for the contest. This new vigor can only mean good things, ultimately. And so I am optimistic for 2017. I believe we will not only survive the Trump presidency, I believe that we will be stronger for it… eventually.

Happy New Year!