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Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Brief History of (My) Ineffectual Dissent



1.) Not entirely sure when I did it—junior or senior year—I stole the high school US flag and burned it in a YMCA parking lot.

There were maybe four of us, and we'd been reading a Time magazine article (some kids once read Time magazine) about then-President George Bush (the first one) pushing for a ban on flag burning. The Supreme Court had previously ruled on the flag-burning issue in 1989, but the issue kept coming back for a few years. It comes back even today.

As I recall it, there was an assault on funding for the Arts (the NEA), an assault on Public Broadcasting (CPB), an assault on free speech (get rid of Texas v. Johnson
No disrespect: It is a great picture
), and a pending war in Iraq. Dumb angry teenagers in a small town decided to take a stand—so we stole the flag from our high school courtyard, took it across the highway to the YMCA, and attempted to burn it. Turned out the flag was flame-retardant; it didn't burn so much as melt.

What's always amazed me about it is that no one noticed. We were in full view of a well-traveled highway, and despite the melting rather than burning, there was a decent flame in that YMCA parking lot, and a noticeably purloined flag in the school courtyard the following Monday. Nothing was ever said about it.

Can free speech happen in a vacuum?

2.) During the same period, I refused to stand while an ill-tuned school band played the National Anthem during a pep rally. Pep rallies were always awful for me, but this one was particularly awful because it came just after we'd started bombing Iraq. (If you recall, the first Iraq War was less a war and more of a game of horseshoes, and lasted about as long as a visit to Wal-Mart.) Not realizing it would be noticed—I was one anonymous kid in a sea of anonymous kids far more popular than I, all of us sitting on bleachers in a gym as the band played on—I didn't stand. I sat quietly, reading a book and letting the creaky rendition of 'Star Spangled Banner' waiver o'er the land of the free and the gym of the brave.

There was no disrespect meant. I'd done the same thing for years during family prayer over turkey and dressing and Christmas geese: I quietly waited for those who wanted to express gratitude I lacked to give their expression, and assumed my quite refusal was respected. After all, the entire point of our Republic is to allow for the individual over the group.

Before the pep rally was brought to its clamoring conclusion, my AP English teacher pulled me from the bleachers into the hall outside the gym. She demanded to know why I had not stood during the anthem. I explained—in a no doubt snotty-teen way—that it just didn't seem right for me to stand in support of the anthem right then, as I didn't agree with the war, and didn't agree with many of the policies coming out of Washington. I stressed I wasn't disagreeing with others to support all of that (and I'm sure I rolled my eyes when I said 'all of that'), but I couldn't pretend, and preferred to finish my book.

I got a few hours in detention.

3.)My graduating class latched on to another hot-button issue of the time: Prayer in public school. The class—my class—insisted publicly that we demanded a prayer at our graduation, which was not at all true. There were several students who could not care less about a prayer, and even more who would rather just get the diploma and go home and skip the long speeches. Get to the cake and the family after the ceremony.

When I wrote a letter to the editor (yeah, I know...) about the Christians forgetting that there were other faiths in the class, and ridiculing the idea of a Christian Majority thinking itself a victimized minority, I was made to apologize to my grandparents. My letter to the editor pissed off a local media celebrity named Jamie Cooper, known as a Country Rover, who threatened to strangle me.

4.) I haven't done much since. I pushed for same-sex marriage, came out in a very public way, spent time at OWS, marched against the second Iraq War and the second term of GWB. Got gay-married. Would still burn a flag if the cause presented itself. All my small, long-past protests come back to me sometimes, and I think I should return. Rather than attempting to Twitter or Facebook my disgust, I should fight as I used to fight, go analogue rather than keeping it digital.

When I wrote about being gay, I said I was not trying to be political. It is the stupidest thing I've ever written. My life is political, and it is made so not by me, but by those who think sitting down during the National Anthem is an affront to those who serve a free country. One would hope those who serve understand that is one of the things they're fighting for.

Also, they're fighting for the right to end a sentence in a preposition.

Think of all the men and women who, for decades, could not serve because of gender, skin-color, or orientation. And think of how many people can now, after just a few years, serve.





Tuesday, August 23, 2016

So You Made the Top of Gawkerati. What Next?

On Gawker.com's final day, I was surprised to be name-checked twice in one of the last posts: my handle, GregSamsa, was listed amongst the top commenters of the site, and one of my comments was noted as being one of the top ten comments of its 13 year history.

My last hurrah. See me there, just under the wonderful GREGORYABUTLER10031? GregSamsa. I beat!
None of these accomplishments are, in fact, accomplishments. They are hollow victories. They are 'ThatChampionship Season' which was a play written by the young priest from The Exorcist. They are pats on the head. They are the result of distraction winning out over ambition.

And that's as one Gawker writer would say, 'Okay.'

There's a lot of virtual ink-spillage over the end of Gawker.com (which is to say there is not much being written about Gawker Media, the site's parent company, being absorbed by Univision; Gawker.com is dead; its sister sites--Gizmodo.com, Deadspin.com, Jezebel.com and others—live on. But the hub site, the main site, the namesake site of Gawker Media, is now over for a variety of reasons I—twist--won't comment upon. Gawker.com is dead.

What I will comment upon is, first: it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition. Language is what we do, not what others rule we should do. In this piece I will actively try to split infinitives and dangle participles, and will most definitely attempt to end sentences in either prepositions or in the actual word 'preposition'. Which, oddly, is not a preposition.

Secondly: I will explain how I became a name-checked commenter of Gawker. This explanation will seem boring because it is, and it will seem awkward because it is. Life is boring and awkward. Life isn't what happens when you're making other plans, as John Lennon once said; life is what happens when you have no plans and still expect to wake up the next morning. Life is habit, and I habitually commented on Gawker.

I was born in the salt-mines one dreary day in Nixon's America.

No, that's not true. Preposition.

Supposition: it is true I was born in Nixon's America. It is also true I grew up with a reverence for journalism preposition preposition. I liked honest people, and never trusted anyone mostly because I knew I could lie quite well, and didn't like being a liar. Lying is a talent only an honest person has. If you, too, are a liar, you know full well how much honesty you need to pull off a lie, and you know when to use your lying superpower, when to lie after speaking the truth. Preposition.

Being a skilled liar does not, oddly, make one an actual liar. It makes one a dealer in truths, and one can store up truth like a camel stores up water. It's true! Lying is not something one should do often, but in a selective and artful way... the way one learns how to use language, and knows when it is okay to end a sentence in a preposition. Lying is the absence of skill, you see. A straight-up liar will be so obvious everyone assumes a tall tale is coming. Nothing is to be trusted.

As a child of Nixon, I know better. You take Emily Dickson to heart and tell the truth, but when you want to lie, tell it slant.

I understood Gawker (Dot Com!).

I was a kid who grew up with certain lies, and knew those lies had truths within them. I loved comedians who hit on political themes—Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Paul Mooney Elaine Boosler, Paula Poundstone—and understood they were lying while telling a truth.

Which is what Gawker.com did. Once upon a time.

So my comments—and they were a small contribution—where an attempt to bring liar's poker to a lion's den. And to remind everyone that language is not a shameful thing: If you need to communicate, do it. And do it in a grand way. If someone corrects your grammar, remind them that the President of the United States once inspired this column.

Gawker. [clutch to breast] I will miss you. When I moved to NYC, you were one of the only places to get my wit, my honesty, and my obsession. So many stories made sense, and so many stories kept me up at night. Preposition.

It is easy to lie and say you deserved your end. But there's a truth we all know: You did good work.


I'm honored to be included in the top commenter bullshit, even though there were many more worthy. And I'm glad to know one of my comments was in the final 10 of all comments here. But I know it was a lie. That kid never had a visionquest. She was just being true to herself.

Friday, August 12, 2016

How to Vote Your Conscience

NATHAN J. ROBINSON:  Well see, this is the thing, is I think this has a very strange and sort of romantic conception of what voting is, where voting is the way that we express our innermost identities and we declare who we are and what we stand for. I don’t think of voting that way. I think of voting as something that you do five minutes one day of the year and that most political action and most expression of your moral convictions should occur elsewhere, in other realms. Voting is just about the consequences.  --On the Media


Vote your conscience” is a phrase used off and on for those ambivalent about voting for Donald Trump, and it's a versatile phrase, used with both bravery and desperation. At the Republican National Convention, defeated contender Senator Ted Cruz delivered a prime-time speech in which he failed to endorse Trump, instead inviting the delegates in attendance—and, of course, the viewers at home—to vote their conscience.

#NeverTrump started the push for conscience-voting just a week or so before Cruz took the stage, and not long after Cruz's speech, #NeverTrump dropped into the distant zeitgeist, a present but hardly dominant force to make sure Trump would never sit in the Oval Office.

There are those on the Right still hopeful that someone will wake them from the Nostradamus fever dream that is November 8th.

“Vote your conscience.”

Fun fact about the word 'conscience': the way I learned how to spell the word was to spell 'con' and then 'science.'

Voting one's conscience is a standard call every election cycle. And it is a con of science, really, if you think voting is about conscience. If one votes their conscience, they're giving up fundamental ideas about collective wholes. They are ignoring certain obvious truths in deference to Randian absolutes. To vote one's conscience is to vote one's desires, and the voting booth is no place for wish fulfillment. It is a place where one looks practicality in the face, and makes the best choice.

And there's a fun thing about this election: if Republicans reluctant to vote for Trump are encouraging a vote of confidence this year , #NeverTrump2016!, then Democrats are certainly arguing about the #PracticalVote.

Hillary Clinton is not a popular choice on the Left. She's a practical choice, certainly, but not a conscience-affirming vote. She comes with baggage both real and imagined. And she came out of a primary where a socialist came close to beating her. Eugene V. Debs would be proud of Bernie Sanders.

No mind about that. What matters is that on the right you have Voting Conscience, and on the left you have Practicality.

You have Trump or #NeverTrump, and you have Clinton or... Trump.

If you like Trump, you support overturning Obergefell v. Hodges. Which is definitely a vote of conning science.

If you like Trump, you're ignorant of actual science.

If you like, support, or in any way think Trump is right, you are ignoring economists, sociologists, geologists, and other -ists. So by all means, con science.

There are so many practical reasons—hashtag Practical—not to vote for Trump, I am amazed people still consider him a viable candidate.

True story: Six or so years ago, my husband Greg lamented his vote. “President Obama is not doing anything,” he said. “I voted for him and he hasn't done anything.”

“Did you read the article about how Mitch McConnell held a meeting the night of the inauguration?”

“Yes, but so what? Obama should fight.”

“This isn't politics anymore. This is a long game.”

Clinton has learned from the best, is what I'm saying. Over eight years, despite rabid obstruction, President Obama has gotten a good bit of his agenda done. And he even beat the Clintons in 2008. And he did it without conning science. He did it by being practical.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

This Election, Lemme Tell You...

This election. Am I right?

Hey. I recall a time when people were okay being awful to one another. Now? You mention Trump's name and everyone screams 'racist'. I was playing poker the other day and got called a racist 12 times. I finally had to cut my losses. Leave my chips.

I don't even play poker. I just know to yell 'Trump' at cards is a useful skill.

My boss the other day. I asked her, so how's your husband? And she said, I can't talk to him anymore. He's DVRing MSNBC when he's at work, he's watching CNN when he's at home, and he's yelling all the time. I don't even have a joke for this. He's actually doing this. I asked about FOX and she said "Stop reminding me of ALL CAPS."

No, seriously, it's a thing causing stress in a marriage.

But seriously, they're in love.

BUT STOP WITH THE CAPS. CNN. FOX. CSNBC. MSNBC. DVR.

They just don't talk no longer because Rachael Maddow and Anderson Cooper can't agree on sexual positions.

No respect.

Also: I'm done with Trump supporters. Hey! I am. I'm thinking people who justify Trump are misguided humans who also think 'The Big Bang Theory' is a sitcom. Hey. Whoa. 'The Big Bang Theory' is not a sitcom. It's an excuse for commercial advertisers to pretend they understand science and cosmology.  "Is it just me, or is it getting Swiffer in here." Hey!

Trump just suggested a Second Amendment solution to Hillary Clinton. Only Trump would try to be Aaron Burr. Next he'll pull a Goldwater and do whatever Goldwater did to not be elected.

Seriously.

But you know what's serious? There are people who are trying to justify Trump. And they're serious to the point that they are willing to excuse a lot of things: they're excusing hate, logic, family, federal law, and good jokes.

Here's a good joke: I hope my opponent falls in cat-poop.

Here's a bad joke: Please just shoot all of the people who oppose me. I get no respect. I'm an old man. Give me some mercy. Just shoot me.

No. Really. Just shoot me.

Shoot me. Or send me to one of those anti-gay places. No respect.

Earn this: click on it


https://youtu.be/DODvxqkUlac


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Review of 'Julius Caesar' written by Donald Trump, age 13

I really liked that part where Calpurnia swallowed coals. They were burning coals, hot coals, the best coals she could swallow. She made me proud. We need more coal to swallow.

Outside of that, it was understandable and totally right, completely right they did what they did to Cinna. I wanted to call him Cinnamon, because he was such a loser bit of spice. No one uses cinnamon anymore. No one. No one. No one asks for cinnamon on their food. You know what they ask for? They ask for salt. They ask for pepper. They ask for salt and pepper and no one gives a damn about Cinna, man. They just don't care.

But the purpose of 'Julius Caesar' is not Cinna or Calpurnia. It's about Julius, and how he'd built all of Rome, and how men in the government conspired together to undo all that he had built. You have Antony, and you have Brutus. Brutus ends up killing himself, right, he kills himself while Antony gets his own new Shakespeare play. There is no 'Brutus and Cleopatra'. There is 'Antony and Cleopatra,' and it's about building a wall so high Liz Taylor's hair couldn't get over it.

There are some that say, and I get why they say this. Really, I understand. I understand. I get why they must say that Cleopatra was African. She was black. They say this. Truly. And they say the same about Jesus, and a lot of other people we admire. Political correctness! It is politically correct to say such things as "A woman on the African continent in 69 BC was not a white European woman from 1963."

But I'm not supposed to talk about that. I'm supposed to talk here about 'Julius Caesar'.  Which Shakespeare wrote against his will. It's true. He wrote this play against his will, and most of his plays against his will. If he'd known I would be forced to read this play, and many other plays by him, he would never have agreed to finish them. This one. Them. These plays. 'People will be forced, in government-funded schools, to read my work?' he'd say.

One should not be forced to read, or think, or use Cinnamon.

Coal, however, is a very good thing. It keeps us burning all the right people.

In conclusion, I am too rich to read this play. You will give me an A for this essay. The best A. My A is so big no other student in this class will be allowed to bring knives to school and keep me from this A.

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