Monthly Archives: February 2017

Being a thermostat

A friend of mine just had a week that could fairly be characterized as one of the worst weeks a person can have. It was like a shit tsunami hit and just kept rolling in. The details aren’t important. But I can say that if I had a week like that, the price of beer in the Tampa Bay area would probably go up a lot.

Some of the shit tsunami was the stuff that happens as part of life. It involved some passages that are as organic to life as life itself. And some were the result of hurt people hurting people. Sometimes people’s reactions to circumstances are understandable, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult or hurtful.

One of the most important things I could do for this person was to do something useful. To show support and do what I could so they could deal with the ongoing wave of shit.

My pastor has, of late, liked to use the phrase “be a thermostat, not a thermometer.” In other words, don’t reflect the temperature of the situation you are in. Do what you can do lower the temperature.

Thermostats have hard jobs. They’re the ones who remain calm and human when a person or a situation has just hauled off and kicked them in the nuts hard enough to be featured on Funniest Home Videos (because testicular pain is somehow hilarious). They’re the people who can maintain their cool in the face of hostility and sometimes even talk the hostile person down.

I am not a good thermostat. But I am improving.

I recently had an opportunity to have long discussions with service representatives for my internet provider. Very long, very repetitive discussions. Hours long. On several occasions spaced over about two weeks.

Frontier Town in upstate New York was a fun place to go that one time. Just saying.

Frontier Town in upstate New York was a fun place to go that one time. Just saying. Not really relevant to anything…

I was not a good thermostat. I wasn’t abusive. I wasn’t a schmuck. But I was frustrated and annoyed (and for several of the conversations, sick). But I did make a point of saying that I was sorry that I was frustrated and that I knew it wasn’t their fault that my internet wasn’t working.

I could’ve done better. I could have controlled my frustration and anger. Though it was justified, it didn’t really help the situation. But I could’ve done a lot worse, and at last I recognized my problem and did my best to manage it.

And I like to think the folks on the other side of the phone appreciated my efforts, at least a little.

Not everyone can be Gandhi. Not everyone can be Mr. Rogers. But everyone, starting with me, can try to be the person who, in difficult circumstances, doesn’t add to the temperature.

It’s not a thing you’ll do instantly. But it is a thing worth striving for.

Because it’s possible they could be drowning in their own tsunami. And I’d hate to think I added to it.

Petty hollow gods

There’s a guy I know.

Okay, I don’t really know him. I’m Facebook friends with him. He seems like a decent guy, though politically we agree on nothing. But my interaction with him online leaves a good feeling. I mean, this guy’s a successful published author and columnist and he’s taken the time to say some nice things to me online.

So this guy posts on his Facebook feed that another guy–we’ll call him John Orr, but that’s not his real name–is stalking him online and bragging about how many guns he has. John Orr has come to this guy’s place of work and was turned away. He’s met the guy’s wife at said place of work.

In short, he’s a bully. He’s got an in with some people, it seems, and he’s using that in to skirt the law, and generally let it be known that my Facebook friend’s opinions aren’t appreciated. My Facebook friend has gone so far as to post using the guy’s name and say that if anything happens, you know where to start looking.

I don’t know either one of these guys, really. It could be that my Facebook friend got cut off by John Orr in traffic and wants to get even. But I tend to doubt it. This guy would lose a lot lying about John Orr.

There’s another guy I know about who went out of his way to bully the living crap out of someone in a service industry–all because of a minor mistake that was quickly made right. Then bragging about it afterward.

There are guys who show up at political rallies slinging “impressive-looking” firearms. And there are social media warriors who seize on remarks and use them as fodder to not only denounce the remark, but to ruin the lives of the people who made the remark and even go after friends and relatives.

And all of these people–John Orr, the guy who bullied the service industry person, the guys who hide behind their impressive-looking guns at events where there’s really no danger, the social media warriors–do it because they can.

They do it because they have power relative to the people they target. Because those people are somehow less. Because they don’t matter. If they mattered, they’d be the ones dishing out the righteous punishment.

They are petty, hollow gods whose idea of the world ends at the tips of their noses.

It’s possible–maybe even likely for all I know–that these people are carrying a cross I can’t even imagine. It’s been said that hurt people hurt people and it’s possible these people have been hurt in deep, meaningful ways.

But they’re still wrong.


We don’t need more yelling, that’s for sure. But we can still draw lines and still stand up against the bullies.

It’s more important now than ever.

Time for plan b

According to what I claim to believe, God looked down and knew we–that I–wasn’t able to arrange things to see clearly to him and to his overwhelming love for me, so he came down and gave his life in the person of Jesus so that I might be able to do that.

If that sounds ridiculous, think about your children. Or think about a baby. There’s a scene in the season finale of The Leftovers in which a baby in placed in the path of a stampede of people. One of the main characters covers the baby with her body and gets kicked and stepped on to save that baby. I suspect most people would do the same in that circumstance.

So that’s what God did because we (I) couldn’t.

All I have to do in order to get in on that relationship is to believe it’s possible–to believe that the creator of the universe wants relationship with me that much.

According to Christian beliefs, when Jesus was dying, he said the words, “It is finished.” That doesn’t mean his life was over or his ministry was over. It means that our debts (my debts) are forgiven. They’re cast away.

Because of love.

That said, I’m not perfect. The point of the sacrifice is that I’m not capable of perfection. None of us, not even Nolan Ryan, are.

There’s so much fear and anger now. Conservatives are afraid of Islamists and open borders (both with some justification). Liberals are afraid of intolerance and hate crimes (again, both with some justification). Conservatives are afraid that they won’t be accepted in this America they see emerging–that their traditional stances will be viewed as hate and bigotry, even if the aren’t hateful or bigoted. Liberals are afraid for their gay and immigrant friends and ultimately for themselves.

And the anger between these two sets of fearful people is palpable and growing.

We won’t resolve these things by outshouting the other side. The need to crush the other side, to render them impotent and (with luck) silent under the moral certainty of our righteous stances isn’t going to get us to the place where we don’t have to live in fear.

It’s easy and self-satisfying to look over at them and decide to stick with our own, to find the power in our group of true believers and become more cohesive with them in the face of a shared enemy. It makes us pure and helps us to fit in.

But this time calls for hard things, for things more important than satisfaction. It calls for courage and discomfort. It calls for checking ego and certainty at the door. It calls for extending a hand to the people we disagree with, not with all our fingers (or all but one) curled tight. But with an open hand.

Fear begets fear. Anger begets anger. And we’re choking on both.

It’s time to try something else.

That something, the reaching across, is risky. And it’s hard. If you chose to do it, you’ll screw it up, fall back to your old pattern and they will pick your misstep up and beat you with it.

Try again.

And again. And again and again and again and again.

Ultimately, it’s the angry flameflowers who get the headlines, but it’s the people who look beyond that who provide the hope.

Right now, hope is more important.

PS — Yes, I’m a hypocrite. At times, I suck at this. But I’m working on it.

Seeing better

So my daughter, who is probably gobs smarter than I am, though can’t rock a Hawaiian shirt, got cranky  with me last night. In general, since the election, our relationship has been, at times, uneasy because of politics. Not that I’m a Trump supporter; I’m not. (I don’t want him to fail, but I would like him to quit with the Twitter and, you know, do the actual work rather than running his mouth…)

Actual Trump tweet, sent and then deleted on September 11. Dude…

Anyway, I implied pretty strongly that liberals, in general, don’t only support open borders, but have no patience with anyone who doesn’t. She called me on it and I said, in a pretty snarky tone, “No human is illegal.”

In my defense, most of the liberals I run into are on my Facebook feed. And for most of them Republican seems to be synonymous with wrong, stupid, racist, and bigoted. I’m sure they’re very nice people in person–in fact, I know some of them personally and they are. But the impression they leave is that X is correct and anything other than X is not only incorrect, it’s morally flawed because of greed, bigotry, hatred, or whatever.

I’m sure there are others whose experience of conservatives runs the same way.

When I posted a couple times why I can’t be a Democrat–because I don’t support open borders and because while you’ll never eliminate abortion by making it illegal, it should ideally be rare, I got my ass kicked. One lovely tolerant soul suggested with anger that my, uhh, joystick should be federally regulated and that I shouldn’t be allowed to use it without government permission. Never mind that the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton–a man she probably voted for and defended at the time, said that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare–more or less what I said.

My daughter is obviously not a fan of open borders, given her annoyance with me.

And maybe my experience is skewed. As I said, my experience is more or less that people on the other side–I’m more or less conservative, but kind of eclectic–pretty much believe what Occupy Democrats has to say and more or less view people who disagree as hate criminals in waiting.

And maybe that’s not fair. Or even if it is, maybe I should practice what I preach a little and look past it.

It’s a little hypocritical for me to rip pinhea…, err liberals, for viewing everyone from Joe Manchin and right as horrible schmucks if I’m viewing them as a monolith of anti-conservative condescension who have all the flexibility of a pretzel.

Because the simple fact of the matter is, as the man on Lost said, we can live together or die alone. To paraphrase the man on Firefly, I like the life thing. It’s always a hoot and we don’t all die from it.

Yeah, some humans are illegal.

A minor ruckus ensued Sunday after the AB Inbev (Budweiser) ad that showed pucky young Adolphus Busch make his way to America (the country, not the ill-conceived marketing ploy to sell beer) and met up with Eberhard Anheuser in a bar in a mudpit known as St. Louis.

Some conservatives objected to the ad because of the immigration angle. A lot of liberals magnified the objections to the ad to show the abject stupidity and racism of anyone who disagrees with them on immigration.

But it’s not 1857–the year Busch emigrated to St. Louis–and I happen to disagree with them on immigration issue. And no, I’m not racist or stupid. And it’s not the conservatives who’ve shifted positions on immigration.

When liberals say “No human is illegal,” yeah, they’re quote Elie Weisel, but they seem to advocate an open border policy. If you get here, you stay here–you cannot and should not be illegal (unless you’re from Cuba). And while much of my ancestry came from abroad–there was that one time someone slept with a Mohawk Indian, but that’s kind of fuzzy–they didn’t just wander across their border, plant their flag and proclaim that they’d found America.

America beer! The beer that says freedom! (And desperation to regain market share.)

They had to go through the process.

One of the characteristics of a sovereign country is controlling its borders. Open borders aren’t controlled. It doesn’t matter if you’re a migrant farm worker, a computer programmer from India, the Mets new middle infielder, or Bob and Doug McKenzie’s microbrewing nephew, you need to follow the process. (You may have noticed some cultural diversity there.)

If youse guys let our nephew in the States, eh, like we'll give you this donut. It's a jelly from, like, Tim Horton's eh?

If youse guys let our nephew in the States, eh, like we’ll give you this donut. It’s a jelly from, like, Tim Horton’s eh?

When we open the borders, we create a demand for people who can “help” other people get to the border. Some of these people are called coyotes, and their help sometimes consists of taking people to the middle of the desert, relieving of their meager possessions, and leaving them in the middle of nowhere to fend for themselves.

If we had a reasonable, workable system, at least some of those people would have to find another job, perhaps as Nigerian royalty on the Internet, because with a workable, reasonable immigration plan, demand for their “services” would be reduced.

Unfortunately, that will never happen because people on both sides of the aisle benefit from open borders. The Democrats can promise people government largess. They can alsoplay to their base by singing the sweet, sweet song that those ugly, stupid, Republicans are so racist (RACIST!) that they hate brown people and other people of color. And the Republicans get to play to their base by sneering at the Democrats while collecting donations from big businesses who benefit from the reduced labor costs that open borders create.

Imagine that, a smug, self-righteous, condescending meme that stereotypes. Never saw one of those before.

Imagine that, a smug, self-righteous, condescending meme that stereotypes. Never saw one of those before.

If Donald Trump were serious about immigration, he’d stop yammering about the wall and who’s paying for it. Instead, he’d announce that he’s directed the Department of Labor to fully enforce immigration laws on employers. He’d be working with Congress to create a program that’s fair, appropriate, and enforceable. A program that doesn’t let everyone in, but creates incentives for the people who benefit this country, from migrant farm workers, to Indian programmers, Dominican middle infielders, and even microbrewing Canadians.

If Republicans were serious about border control, they wouldn’t have run on it in 2014, then turned their backs on the issue before they were even sworn in.

And Democrats? They aren’t serious about it. Why should they be? It’s a wedge issue, one on which they can proudly and loudly (mostly loudly) proclaim their moral superiority while ignoring the consequences of an open-border policy.

It’s a win-win scenario.

Except for many of the immigrants and American people who lose by it.


Swimming in fear

When I was in college, we had to attend dorm meetings from time to time, and I still remember the first one my first year. The Resident Director–the head RA–had a speech he worked up that was utterly forgettable, except for the part where he said he wasn’t going to have anyone living in fear in his dorm.

It seemed stupid to me at the time. We were in Plattsburgh, New York at a state college. Other than frostbite and whatever was in the “jambalaya” at the dining hall, what was there to fear?

It was a long time ago.

A Facebook friend posted a video of a swastika on the subway map in New York City, along with the statement that Jews belong in the oven. It only takes one jackass with a marker for something like that to appear, so I asked whether there was actually more of it, or it was just noticed more. She said that she’s been riding the subway since 1968 (before she was born, I’m sure) and she’s never seen something like that, but it’s becoming more common now.

A continent away, according to a CBS News post, conservatives in the San Fransisco Bay Area are meeting in secret because they fear the repercussions of being “outed” as conservative. Their fears have increased as the result of the riots in Berkeley last week.

In short, a lot of people are living in fear now. Some of it’s probably justified. Some is generated by a media that seems to thrive on generating fear to generate ratings. Some is probably a figment of their imagination.

But as I think back to this guy and his ridiculous statement about not having people live in fear, it seems a lot less ridiculous now.

We’re swimming in fear. As much as neither will admit to it, both sides in the political debate traffic in it.

The Republicans are going to reduce your Grandma to eating cat food, steal your Social Security, and create a world where your gay kid is burned at the stake.

Not really gay conversion therapy--though it's not always friendly.

Not really gay conversion therapy–though it’s not always friendly.

The Democrats hate Christianity and everything to do with it. They and a cabal of bloodthirsty Muslims are going to take your guns, shred the Constitution, and unilaterally impose Shariah Law on everyone except the Mexican illegal immigrant who took your job.

There are things to fear in this country. I’m not entirely convinced that the keyboard warrior who currently occupies the White House isn’t one of them. And I know there are people in this world who want to kill everyone who doesn’t toe the religious lines (hint: it’s not the Methodists and Catholics).

Not a full-immersion baptism at the church down the street

Not a full-immersion baptism at the church down the street

But the only way to confront fear is to shine a light on it. The people who protested and rioted at Berkeley (and most protesters weren’t rioters) wanted Milo Yiannopoulos silenced. And free speech has more than its share of enemies on the right, as well.

Bigotry flourishes in the dark. Although President Trump is harming the country and the presidency with his Twitter tantrums, at least they’re out where we can react to them. And the schmucks in the NY Subway are being public schmucks.

They don’t scare me (then again, I’m not a Jew on the NY subway or a San Fransisco conservative).

But as I think back, my Resident Director was right. Whether or not conservatives in San Fransisco are stupid to be afraid, or Jews in New York–they are afraid, and not all their fears are imagined.

Diversity isn’t a bad thing. In its truest form, it is what Jesus sought–the opporunity for all of us to be as God created us without having to be afraid of that.

True diversity is a noble goal and the schmucks who want to bully the world into their way of thinking, regardless of political alignment, are the enemy.

If Judge Gorsuch is a threat to the Republic, then…

One of the current anti-Christs of the political environment is Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to succeed Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Before we get to Judge Gorsuch, a bit of context. The Republicans–wrongly, in my opinion–ran out the clock on Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s choice for Scalia’s seat. It was a risky thing to do, because had she won, Hillary Clinton may have withdrawn Garland and picked someone less moderate, perhaps even President Obama himself.

Judge Merrick Garland--wrongly kept from the a vote

Judge Merrick Garland–wrongly kept from the a vote. Though it could also be former ESPN baseball guru Peter Gammons.

Democrats protested long and hard about the ploy, and rightfully so. Obama was the sitting President and the spot was his to fill. That said, it’s…let me see, what’s the word I’m looking for…hypocrisy, that’s it–for Democrats to plan to do exactly what they condemned Republicans for. In short, if you were to encapsulate what’s wrong with the political environment in this country in one thought, it’s that everything is right as long as my party is doing it.

That aside, when places like The Economist and Slate don’t condemn the guy, it’s not a good sign that he is, actually, an anti-Christ. In fact, when he was sent for confirmation to his current seat, he was confirmed with a voice vote–no one against. That means one of the following things must be true:

  • Judge Gorsuch has moved so far to the right that he’s not the same judge that was so easily confirmed the last time around. Problem is, no one seems to be making that argument.
  • Senate Democrats went along and confirmed the guy, even though he’s the plain threat to the republic he appears to be today. That’s not a good thing, either.
  • Senate Democrats are planning to oppose everything that comes from the Trump White House, regardless of its reasonableness.

One could argue, with some basis in fact, that Republicans did the same thing to Obama, but that’s not entirely true. Though his appointment of Judge Garland was (wrongly) denied, he was able to move the ball forward on a number of important initiatives in eight years. It’s nice hyperbole to claim that Republicans denied everything President Obama wanted to do, but it’s just not true.

Oh, you argue, but Judge Gorsuch created a fascism forever club in high school. What about that? Huh? Huh!?!?

According to Snopes, the club never existed and was, in fact, a response to what Gorsuch felt at the time was rhetorical overreach by students and professors on the left. As a conservative college student in the mid-80, I get it. It’s called sarcasm. It’s fun and appropriate when people around you are being unreasonable.

In short, if you deny Trump a reasonable, qualified choice for his pick, what incentive does he have to play ball? If you’re going to deny a qualified nominee who happens to be conservative, why not nominate Ted Cruz next time out? Or Sarah Palin? Or Rush Limbaugh?

I, Justice Rushbo, am watching you.

I, Justice Rushbo, am watching you.

For the record, Trump is not my guy. In my estimation, his assorted public temper tantrums show a level of embarrassment around the nation’s capital that hasn’t been seen since the days of Marion Barry. There’s no way to defend praying for Celebrity Apprentice ratings, Twitter fits, alternate facts, and the Bowling Green massacre, but this nomination is none of those things.

The real Bowling Green massacre: Ohio State 77,. Bowling Green 10.

The real Bowling Green massacre: Ohio State 77,. Bowling Green 10.

If you oppose this nomination, your stance is, by definition, that the only meaningful qualification for the Supreme Court is that one must be liberal. And that’s not a way to move the country forward.

Choosing joy

I’ve been sick this week–a viral thing, they say. I’ll feel better soon they say. Still, I haven’t worked as I would like. I haven’t worked out, and I dove into my personal email with fear and trepidation today, as I haven’t been there in almost a week.

A friend of mine will may me to get over it. But being confined to bed for a week, not being able to do what I should be doing, is too fresh a memory to ignore.

It was an uneven week. My intent Monday was to work a partial day, but this, that, and the other happened and I wound up getting in my allotment of hours in service of The Man. That was followed by a three-hour odyssey with Frontier before the Internet worked right again. By the end of the night, I was a livid, crazed asshole.

<insert political image of your choice here>

Good God, I was stupid.  (And that’s not an instance taken in vain.)

See, here’s the thing–Jets jokes aside (Just Endure The Suffering), I am a pessimist by nature. I don’t know why, exactly. It just is.

It's been THAT long, so unless you root for the Cardinals, Browns, Lions, Eagles, or Chargers, I don't want to hear you talk about how great your fans are.

It’s been THAT long, so unless you root for the Cardinals, Browns, Lions, Eagles, or Chargers, I don’t want to hear you talk about how great your fans are.

But, like my Jabba-like girth, I am free to change what is–or at least try.

Shit happens. I’m sorry, but some things can’t be justly described without a coarse, vulgar word. The world contains coarse, vulgar things and nothing is gained by sanitizing that central aspect of existence. Until the last couple years, there’s been a dash of shit here or there, but lately there’s been a lot of serious shit going on all around.

In the shadow of the shit, I’ve thought a lot about joy. For the purposes of this discussion, joy isn’t another word for happiness happiness. Happiness is fleeting. It’s the feeling that comes when your kids achieve something or something you worked on goes very well or your team is unexpectedly good.

Joy is a state of being. It’s an alignment, a way of perceiving the world.

The shit that happens is going to happen. You can’t stop most of it. You can’t avoid it. You can lean on the people who love you and weather those storms. Your outlook can’t prevent them.

I have seen the beauty in people that wouldn’t have been visible to me if it were all sunshine and bunnies. I’ve experienced love and care from places I never expected. The people I know, I’ve gotten to know so much better. And I’ve gotten to know the best sides of the people I barely knew before.

It’s work for me, but in terms of outlooks, I’m going to try to choose joy. Instead of starting the day wondering what can go wrong, I’m going to try to expect wonderful things–even when things go spectacularly wrong.

Most times, at least to start, I’ll fail. But that doesn’t make the goal any less worth pursuing. And if I dwell on my failures, especially in this area, I will never, ever succeed.

And success is worth the effort, at least in this circumstance.