Monday, July 27, 2020

On the State of the Disunion

As a middle-aged, American-born, heterosexual cis white man, I- well, I just shut myself out of the conversation, didn't I? I've still got opinions, though, and they don't always line up neatly with (or against) my demographic... and I really need to vent.

There's this ridiculous notion going around that one's "unalienable" right to liberty supersedes everyone else's reasonable expectation of health and safety. I can appreciate exercising one's rights even when that makes others uncomfortable or angry; I've certainly done so myself. I can't understand how you can want to live in a society but flout its conventions or scientifically-based rules designed to minimize the spread of a contagious disease throughout that society. You're as entitled to an opinion as I am, but my well-being shouldn't be dependent on your opinion. If you're significantly increasing the chances of the pandemic spreading, maybe you need to rethink whether you belong around other people at all (or at least other people who are willing to endure some inconvenience to reduce your risk).

Going back to upsetting others while exercising one's rights: yes, here in the US, we have the right to free speech. You, I, Donnie Dumbo, the CEOs of companies like Goya or Tesla or Facebook, politicians and political commentators espousing far-left or far-right ideologies (or anything in-between), authors and actors and singers and dancers and athletes, and any average Joe or Jane are all free to say just about anything we want, whether or not it's backed by popular opinion or facts or the almighty dollar.



What some people are objecting strenuously to these days, and labeling 'cancel culture,' is the new realization that they are not necessarily free any longer from the consequences of what they say or do, that they can be called out for it, rightly or wrongly, and that's just not the same thing as taking away your freedom of speech. (They of course have the right to write and sign that open letter, as their detractors have the right to rebut.) Too many people have gotten too used to the lack of repercussions. It's that lack of real response to what you said, and in some cases your platform, that's being canceled, not your right to say it. The First Amendment still lets you spew ignorance and hatred and bad jokes and laughably sad conspiracy theories, but the American people are making it clear that they increasingly no longer feel like they can't or shouldn't object, with their words or their wallets or their presence on the streets. In the United States of America, you've always had the right to be an asshole, and you still do; you're just more likely to pay a price for it these days. That should never include violence, of course, actual or threatened or encouraged, but if you're losing followers or friends or political support or job security or market share or profits, and that concerns you, maybe you need to rethink your words before you speak or tweet or post them.

This goes for anyone and everyone. People with whose opinions I generally agree are certainly not immune from saying stupid or cruel or blatantly false things. We all need to stop making excuses for 'our' person saying or doing something that we'd condemn if the 'other side' said or did it. Humans seem to have an innate need for an "us against them" mentality, to label someone as "other" and then fear/hate the "other," and that's hardly new. If American conservatives and liberals, and libertarians and progressives and socialists and neocons and neolibs and everyone else, won't stop the posturing and the finger-pointing and the wagon-circling when one of their own is rightfully called out, however, things are going to get uglier. I don't care about the Republican and Democratic parties; whether they survive or not makes no difference to me. What concerns me is their manipulation, their turning citizen against citizen over real (immigration, riots, unidentified federal forces with unmarked vehicles detaining law-abiding citizens in American cities - notice how non-violent, unarmed moms and nurses get tear-gassed?) or imagined (the "deep state," QAnon, the "destruction" of the treasonous Confederate "heritage") outrages while carefully maintaining the status quo.

Regardless of who wins the election ninety-nine days from now (con? yay!), neither the world nor the nation will burst into sulfurous flames on November 4th, or January 20th, no matter what the rabble-rousers on both sides tell you. (But vote, damn you!) Trump isn't the source of all (or even most) of the good or the bad things happening in this country. Trumpism and the issues that led to its rise won't end if Biden is elected president and Democrats keep the House and take the Senate. Progressivism and the issues that led to its rise won't disappear if Trump gets a second term and Republicans hang on to the Senate. The pandemic won't suddenly disappear, the economy won't be magically resuscitated, the rough beast won't stop slouching towards Bethlehem, we won't get Carl Reiner or Little Richard back. A dozen more Kamalas or AOCs or Notorious RBGs, or a dozen more Cruzes or Grahams or Joseph Kevin McCarthys, won't radically change my or your day-to-day life.

Change has to come from us. But we need to work together and agree on areas we want to change, then insist that our "leaders" listen. As long as we stay divided, and keep sniping at each other, and continue to insist that either:
  • you blindly follow authority and wear a mask, or you're stupid or selfish and want others to die
  • you don't care about unemployed Americans, or you don't understand this country was built by immigrants
  • you love abortions, or you hate women having choices and agency
  • you're "woke" because you're afraid not to be, or you're a racist/sexist/homophobe/transphobe
  • you're a violent, radical member of Antifa, or you're a fascist or "Profa"
  • you want to kill cops, or you want cops to kill minorities
  • you're out to destroy honest American businesses, or you're out to destroy the environment
  • you're a socialist or communist, or you don't care that Wall Street and big corporations get fat on our blood, sweat, and tears
  • you're a social justice warrior only "virtue signaling" on Twitter, or you're a social injustice warrior only "vice signaling" on Parler
we're not going to get anywhere. Life is rarely that black and white. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts have this year confounded those on the left and the right who assumed that because they personally lean conservative and were nominated by Republican presidents, they would of course always rule on the side of the more conservative litigant. That's not how it works, or at least not how it should. There are Democrat legislators supportive of Trump, and there are Republicans putting money and effort into voting him out. This is how people work. Turns out you can say and believe that Black Lives Matter yet still acknowledge that police have a sometimes brutal job (encompassing more than it should, really) and most of them do it well. You can support our troops yet still want to spend less time and money on war. You can love the country and respect the presidency yet still be appalled by the words and/or deeds of the Oval Office's occupant. You can be comfortable and secure with your masculine heterosexuality yet still be a supportive ally to women and to LGBQTIA+ people. And you can be upset or angered by someone's speech or actions yet maintain grace and dignity in your response.

Most people aren't either angelically good or demonically evil, but somewhere between. Most of us don't actually hate each other, and understand that there are areas where you can compromise, and you can actually agree to disagree when the compromising's done, and that's what we need to remember. Don't let the demagogues rile you up. Anger can be power (d'you know that you can use it?), but you don't have to let yourself get angry over everything, and hate ultimately does no one any good. Well, maybe Facebook.

Sometimes it's your reaction, more than the action, that hurts you. Change your state. Remember the humanity of the person you think is so wrong. Remember your own, and that you've been wrong before, too, and will be again. Ultimately, whether my neighbor / manager / colleague / cashier or clerk / bus driver / local cop is gay / Muslim / a single, unwed mother / black / trans / a Spanish speaker / a member of the Democratic or Republican or Green or Libertarian Party doesn't matter to me. What you do or say or think in private, what you do or don't eat or drink, who you do or don't sleep with, how or if you practice a faith, doesn't matter to me.

What does matter to me is whether or not you're willing to have a discussion, to acknowledge that others have the same rights you do, even others you dislike or disagree with; that no one who doesn't pose a physical threat should be hurt or killed by those we've entrusted with keeping the peace; that treating each other with more respect and civility and humanity without needing government to mandate that behavior would be better for everyone; that talking less and listening more is a great start.

And with that, I've done more than enough talking.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

To Lafayette Square from Tiananmen Square

If you're more bothered by images and video of riots and looting than you are by the knowledge that another black man, George Floyd, was indefensibly murdered by a cop, then you're part of the problem.



That's not to say that you're a racist. But watching a man die slowly under another man's knee, for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill?!? And knowing that the murderer and his accomplices were not immediately arrested? That should outrage you more.

That's also not to say that you can't be outraged by both. I'm not a fan of either violence or looting. I feel for the small business owners whose shops were attacked, and for cops who took a knee with protesters only to have things thrown at them, and for anyone injured who wasn't on the offensive. It is more than possible to hate racism and discrimination and intolerance, and also support police who do an incredibly difficult job without abusing or murdering people. But we go through this again and again and again, while more and more black men and women and children are killed. There are thoughts and prayers, some harsh words are spoken, there's a general murmur of agreement that this can't go on... and then it goes on. Of course people are frustrated. Of course that boils over. It's ugly, but it's a symptom, and we're not treating the ailment.

And of course, embedded in the protesters, there could well be third-party instigators, from the far left or the far right, or both, with their own agendas. None of that takes away from the pain and the anguish, none of that changes the fact that black Americans are not treated equally to white Americans. Yes, white Americans are harassed, and beaten, and killed by cops, too, but it's not proportional and it's not systemic.

I don't think black lives are "more important" than white lives, nor do I think that white ones are more important than black, or any other color. I don't think all, or even most, cops are bad people. I don't think all, or even most, Americans want to see this cycle repeat itself endlessly, but I do think there's a lot of inertia that needs to be overcome for real change to happen.

Would it be OK if, instead of George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor (or Michael Brown, or Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice, or Freddie Gray, or Atatiana Jefferson, or David McAtee, or Manuel Ellis, or...), it had been you or your parent or sibling or child or partner? And next time, your friend? And the time after that, your cousin? It's easy to say that "It's a shame, and it never should have happened, but it's not my problem."

But it is. If we all intend to live here, in this country that promises "equal justice under law," we can't sit quietly by while the civil liberties we claim for ourselves are ripped away from our fellow citizens. No one is free until we are all free.

The Chinese government cracked down on its protesting citizens at Tiananmen Square 31 years ago today. Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are also notorious for tolerating little to no dissent from their own people. It doesn't work that way in this country, at least not yet. As long as our military and our police forces answer to civilian leaders, who answer to us, we need to keep the pressure on and make our voices heard. And thank you to those around the world who are raising your voices for equality in America, too.

It's not too much to ask, we shouldn't even have to ask, for black lives to matter.

Friday, May 1, 2020

May It Be

It's May Day, Labour Day, International Workers' Day... and hopefully more people understand now how important and underappreciated a lot of workers are. Healthcare professionals and other hospital workers, first responders, teachers, grocery store employees, truck drivers, postal workers, plumbers, sanitation workers, and so many more: they're essential. They make the world go round, they make a difference. Not Sir Richard Branson, who wants government assistance to keep Virgin Atlantic afloat, or Elon Musk, who rails against state governments preventing his workers from going back to the factories. Not the governors who are reopening their states for business, nor even the ones who say it's too soon. Not, for the love of the gods, any celebrities. I have my share of favorite actors and musicians, too, but guess what? They're not as important, not as essential to our society, as those workers. Neither are politicians, or Wall Street bankers. Amazon is overrated; I haven't ordered anything from them in over a month and a half. Now that I'm all caught up on "The Tick" and "Good Omens," I may well wave my Amazon Prime membership goodbye.

(OK. Breathe, Andy, breathe.) Thing is, I knew all this stuff before. Some of you probably did, too, at least some of it. But it's becoming clearer to more people, and there are some out there who don't like that fact at all. The idea that "we can't go back to 'normal'" scares the kind of people who made lots of money or got some sort of power from the old 'normal.' So what if 'normal' meant there were a lot of people who were never more than two or three paychecks away from desperation? So what if 'normal' meant that people living in one neighborhood never had to worry about the police, while people in another could never be comfortable around them? So what if 'normal' meant that an illness could bankrupt someone? So what if 'normal' meant that people would obsess over the latest celebrity gossip or outrage or "beef" while important and relevant news died in a vacuum?

Yeah, I don't much like the idea of that 'normal' coming back. I do want to be able to go to ShopRite or Dunkin' or Walgreens again without covering my face. I don't want to keep getting E-mails trying to sell me expensive outdoor furniture or guitars or computer hardware or software at a time when those things mean nothing to me (OK, almost nothing). I do want COVID-19 to fade into the background. I don't want anyone to play it down because "more people die of this, that, and the other thing" (which can't spread the way the coronavirus does). I do want to go to the park or to Greenwich Village, and see and smile at women's faces - and even get the occasional smile back. I don't want to hear politicians taking undue credit and deflecting due blame. I do want discourse and dialog and critical thinking. I don't want knee-jerk reactions and propaganda and entrenched camps that refuse to consider other points of view. I do want the economy to recover, and the Virgin Atlantics and Teslas and Amazons of the world to continue to operate and employ countless people. I don't want it to happen atop the bodies of workers, essential or otherwise, and widen the wealth gap even further.

I don't claim to have the answers, but at least I'm not afraid to consider the questions. And whatever your political, social, religious, ethnic standpoint, for this society to persevere, we need to work together. We need to talk. To argue, certainly, but to have a conversation. With discussion and compromise, or without, change is coming.

Eight years ago today, I marched with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello and the Occupy Guitarmy in New York City, in support of Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement in general. Some things have gotten better since then, some things have gotten worse. Change is never easy, and sometimes you do have to take a step back, like it or not, before you can push forward another two steps.



Going back even further, twenty-five years ago (yes, I am) I tried my hand at creating a scene. No, wait, a 'zine: the Extreme. "Sort of an alternative to the established 'alternative,'" I brazenly claimed in the first issue. Well, while I threw in the towel much too early, I did sell some copies, and I did get a lot of submissions. After all this time, I've finally begun the process of digitizing the entire eight-issue run (the material I've held onto has held up surprisingly well). Looking over those old copies of "a magazine for three finkers" has made me nostalgic. And defiant. Maybe the stir-crazy has awakened my inner Skinny the Foo...



Anyway, happy May Day, and thank you, again, to all the essential workers.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Unexpected Pandemic Blues

Oh, hey, from the locked-down state of New Jersey. The squirrels, my guitars, my computers, and I are all fine, thanks for asking.


To be clear, the CDC and WHO both say don't wear masks
unless you're sick or advised to by a doctor.
I visited my mom yesterday. She lives 80+ miles from me, and I'd figured there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to go next weekend (this was before I learned of Governor Murphy's shutdown executive order that went into effect at 9 PM last night). I managed to get her some extra provisions, too, and of course I took what precautions I could to keep her safe. As we should all be doing, in locked-down states and otherwise.

I am confounded by how many "covidiots" there still are out there, people who refuse to believe that there really is a virus and/or pandemic, or who think the media is blowing it out of proportion, or who think that this is all a cover for a last-ditch liberal attack on Dear Leader Trump. Some people, sadly, will only begin to understand when their family and friends begin to get sick (and some people only when their family and friends begin to die).

New Jersey's first "presumptive positive" COVID-19 case was announced on March 5 (the US' first was on Jan. 20, in Washington). That escalated quickly; yesterday, 16 days later, we had our 16th death in the state, with over 1300 positive cases reported, and the governor saw fit to keep everyone home. The township where I live, Lyndhurst, had its first case reported this past Tuesday; we're now up to six. These numbers are as of my writing, anyway; for more recent updates, check:
Live Coronavirus Update from Worldometer
COVID-19 Global Cases by the CSSE at Johns Hopkins University
NJ COVID-19 Dashboard

The company for which I work had the foresight to start prepping two weeks ago to have its Paramus, NJ office employees be able to work from home. This past week, we had a skeleton crew in the office, and on Friday every last one of us was working from home. (see my "working from home" Twitter thread here.) We all need to be cutting out physical interactions to help flatten the curve (and if your state or municipality hasn't caught on yet, maybe you need to tell 'em so). Social distancing is the only thing we've got, until we get a vaccine for this coronavirus. Guess we'll see which of the anti-vaxxers are left when this is all over are still against getting vaccinated.

This isn't a time to be selfish. This isn't about you, or me, or our elderly relatives, or our friends with cancer, or those morons on spring break. This is about our society. Refusing to do your part to stop the spread means you could be indirectly leading to the deaths of medical professionals, or cashiers, or sanitation engineers, or teachers, or bakers, or bank employees, or musicians, or law enforcement officials, or gas station attendants, or... In other words, refusing to do your part means you're chipping away at the society in which you live. If you don't appreciate that society and its members, do us all a favor and leave it; if you do, do us all a favor and help us protect it. Please.

I've set myself up so I probably don't need to head out for anything for at least a week anyway, but if I do, I'm fortunate enough to have a Walgreens, Dunkin', and Wine Country (YES! liquor stores are considered 'essential' and can stay open!) across the street, and a ShopRite and Stop & Shop, plus several takeout restaurants, within a 10-15 minute walk. Things may not be quite so convenient where you are, but all my fellow Americans who are already whining about #QuarantineLife really need to stop. Things could be a lot worse... and in some parts of the world, they already are. Hunker down and make the best of it. Me, I'll be watching "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon" on Netflix with some friends (virtually) at 8 PM Eastern tonight. Feel free to join us.

Oh, yeah, and I need to finish writing "Unexpected Pandemic Blues" and get it recorded, too. 😃



For facts and not myths:
the CDC's Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions
the World Health Organization's Coronavirus Q&A

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Hindsight Is Always...

Tonight's fortune cookie contained inside it my attitude for 2020: "If you want it... take it."

2019, while not without its highlights and fun moments, was a hard year. Losing my father in early February took a lot out of me, for a long time. Seeing Amanda Palmer in April (and learning more about her struggles and sorrows), and Aimee Mann in July, and Tessa Violet in August, and Tegan and Sara in September helped bring me back a bit. (The pic I got with Tessa when meeting her before the show seems to have convinced my aunt that we were dating or something...) Having a number of my closest friends join me at the New York Renaissance Faire on my birthday helped a lot, too. Oh, and discovering the official Twitter account of the Garden State.

Tony Robbins' "Unleash the Power Within" event in Miami in November impacted me more than I'd expected. The firewalk (yes, I am a firewalker now) and the other things I did and lost and gained there have changed me- well, really, they've helped me to change me. It's an ongoing process, but I feel better overall than I did two months ago.

And that's where "If you want it... take it" fits so well. Not in a Trumpian "They let you do it. You can do anything" sorta way, but in a "You can be/have/achieve whatever you set your mind to" sorta way. No, not adamantium claws. I wrote 50,000 words toward my (first?) novel, Just the One of Us, in November for NaNoWriMo. I still have some more to write, and then a hell of a lot of editing to do, but it felt pretty good to get that much writing done. I finally replaced my seven-year old 15" MacBook Pro with a brand-spankin'-new 16" MBP just before Thanksgiving. After a few fits and starts earlier in the year, I began playing guitar regularly again in December, and I've got a few new ideas (plus one or two old ones for which I found some scribbled tablature) for songs.

And so, 2020, take note: if I want it, I'm going to do my damnedest to take it. Thursday night, I'm flying back to Brazil for two weeks. When I come back, I'll start running again, and get back to the guitar (thought about bringing one with me, but nah). There's a lot of troubling stuff going on, in this country, and in Brazil, and in the world at large, but I'm trying to focus on changing the things I can rather than railing (too much) against the things I can't. Time to seize the day, find joy in the now again, and take it. Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Return of the Son of NaNoWriMo Lives Again IV

Yes, I'm taking another stab (and slash, and burn...) at NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, this November. 50,000 words? Pshaw.

My ninja!
I first planned to tackle writing a novel called They Might Be Roses for NaNoWriMo in 2012. Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and a planned flight to Louisville, Kentucky was canceled, forcing me to drive instead, and... suffice it to say, I didn't get much writing done (though I did eventually write and record a song with the same title). I made attempts again at banging out a novel in 2013 and 2014, but it still never worked out.


I'd vaguely considered trying again this year, but really wasn't certain I wanted to commit myself to it. I'm seeing Sleater-Kinney tonight (yes, a Halloween concert!), and "Terminator: Dark Fate" tomorrow night, I'll be traveling next week, and attending another concert the week after that, and then there's Thanksgiving... It just seemed like I'd already lost so much writing time. Then I opened an E-mail this Monday about a gathering of regional Northeast New Jersey "nenja" NaNoWriMo participants, at a time and place (three miles from home!) that I could easily make. I still dithered about it for a few hours, particularly since I wasn't going to know a single person there, though I finally decided I'd check it out. I'm glad I did.




I had a fun time with these people. OK, maybe the margarita helped, but rather than cutting out early as I'd expected to do, I stayed over an hour later than the event was planned to end. I didn't talk much about my own novel plans; truth be told, I didn't have much in the way of novel plans, other than a title (Just the One of Us)and a vague idea, which has grown a bit since then. At any rate, I am now determined to do this. Pretty sure I need to do this. So NaNoWriMo, here I come...

Friday, August 16, 2019

RenFaire Gathering?

I'm asking my local(ish) friends to join me on my birthday, Sunday, Sept. 29th, at the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo. Yes, it's a drive. No, it's not free, or cheap. Yes, the weather is unpredictable. But, hey, I'm gonna go (though if the weather looks like it'll be particularly unpleasant as the date approaches, I might switch to Saturday instead), and I'd really like to see friends there, too. Doesn't mean we'd all have to spend the entire day together, but it would be nice to be able to hang out at various points during the afternoon.


OK, the Vixens En Garde are sadly not appearing at the NYRF anymore, but I do enjoy this pic of me surrounded by bodacious babes with blades... Anyway, please consider comin' out for my birthday. You don't have to buy me a drink or any food on a stick, just show up. And let me know!