Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Friday, August 18, 2017

An Angry Geezer

I'm now categorized as an "young old guy" or "mature middle-aged fellow," depending on who is doing the labeling. To my 87-year old mother-in-law, I'm relatively young, while to my kids, I'm clearly a dinosaur.

But however I'm labeled, I will tell you that in my six-plus decades on the planet, the last year or so has seen a level of social, political, and cultural rest the likes of which I have not seen since the 1960s and early 70s. And I'm fairly certain its going to get worse before it gets better.

Now, philosophically I believe in principles that lean in the Buddhist direction. In other words, I believe that on a universal level it is tolerance, compassion, and equanimity that have the power to eventually create peace and happiness for everyone.

What I believe and what I'm able to practice are two different things, though, and I fully acknowledge that I'm not a great Buddhist yet. In immediate terms, I'm pissed as hell at our president and his chief priest Steve Bannon and the 35% of Americans who appear to be their disciples.

The problem with a Ghandi philosophy of peaceful, non-violent social resistance is that it takes so damned long, and in my American experience, I observe that it is usually genuine physical action that brings about change. And yes, sometimes that action borders on the violent. In the 1960s and 70s, it was only at the point where the Black Panthers stopped being peaceful neighborhood activists and began stocking their headquarters with guns in defense against police raids that civil rights change began to accelerate. And it was at the point where college protestors began throwing tear gas canisters back at police that we as a nation grew truly weary of the Vietnam war.

It's now been shown that Donald Trump's most recent fake fact—that the violence in Charlottesville, VA involved equal culpability by white supremacists and members of the Antifa crowd—is so much bull dung. Objective reports verify that the right-wing crowd arrived with clubs, helmets, shields and pepper spray in anticipation of conflict, and that Antifa members became physical only when the right-wing began pushing and shoving and punching ordinary counter-demonstrators. Left-wing violence was indisputably an act of self-defense. After all, who was it that drove a car through the crowd in an act of murder?

Nor does the insistence that there were "fine people" to be found on the white nationalist side of demonstration seem to hold any water. Virtually all the advertisements and posters announcing the Charlottesville event either featured the confederate flag, or more blatantly stated things like "White People, Take Back Your Country from the Jews!" Where, I wonder, are the fine people who come out to participate in an event defined in such a way?

I'd like to be able to frown and discourage all violence wherever it occurs. Maybe white supremacists and Neo-Nazis can indeed be defeated through peaceful disagreement over a period of many decades. And I'd also like to be that guy who gathers up cockroaches, takes them outside and releases them into the wild. However, I'm an imperfect human being, and in practical terms I feel that cockroaches of any ilk need to be stepped on, or at least chased back into the shadows and made afraid of the light.

This is not to say that I believe we necessarily need to physically assault members of the Neo-Nazi crowd wherever we find them. There are levels of violence that can be pursued in a war against these bastards. On one level, all disagreement—verbal and political—is an act of violence. I do believe that we need to make it clear, at least through the verbal and political violence of word and opinion, that we do not tolerate that which is intolerable. White supremacists need to be insulted, derided, chastised and in every way made to understand that we do not tolerate their beliefs and do not accept their right to spread the disease. And decent people do need—and in fact have a responsibility—to physically protect themselves when attacked. To practice tolerance with this crowd is like accepting the right of small pox to exist.

As for Steve Bannon, if he were to suddenly step in front of my car on the street while jaywalking, I would apply the brakes—but I fear that I'd think for a long, long moment before doing the right thing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Citizens of 4F: June 27, 2017

The United State of Trump motors on. The legislature now has made it clear they want to move 22 million Americans off their health insurance in order to redistribute wealth back to citizens who are already affluent, and the Supreme Court is about to once again give businesses the right to discriminate based on religion and sexual preference. Recent special elections in which Republicans have won 4 out of 4 tell us that we have moved from the U.S.A to U.S.T. and aren’t swinging back, despite or melancholy hopes.

So this morning on the #4 bus into downtown Minneapolis, I began to evaluate my fellow passengers according to demographics that I can’t ignore.

In the last election, Minnesota went narrowly for Hillary Clinton, but only by the smallest of margins. And since this morning’s passenger assortment is mostly white and male, it seems pretty likely that it hews close to the national average that elected The Orange One into office.  So….

Arguably, the unholiest of the four
riders of the apocalypse...
Of my 25 fellow adult passengers on my bus this morning, half of them are standing in the aisle and did not vote at all in the last election, and may not have ever voted. These folks, studies suggest, may not know who the vice president is, nor their U.S. senators, and almost certainly do not know who their U.S. Representatives are. And as regards state politics, the only elected official they may know by name is the current Governor, though even that is not a slam-dunk. Such is the level of disinterest and apathy. Not that I can blame them, exactly. If the options are sitting next to Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi, aren’t we all tempted to stand?

Of the remaining 50% on the bus, perhaps one voted for an off candidate, such as Gary Johnson, who ran as a Libertarian, or Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. Or maybe they got no votes at all.  
...followed closely by this numb-nuts.

Of the other 12 or maybe 13 passengers on my bus who did vote in the last presidential election, 6 or 7 sitting on the right voted for Trump, and 6 or 7 sitting on the left voted for Hillary. Pretty much a tossup. In other words, out of 25 passengers on this bus, the Dems and Repubs each talked only 6 or 7 into taking a seat.

Many of us liberals saddened and depressed by the last election have spent much time in the last few months imagining that we must now convince one of the 6 or 7 Trump voters with their butts planted on the right side of the bus that they must switch seats to sit on the left.  But think about it for a moment. The reality is that 2 or 3 of those folks already have “Deplorable” labels on their underwear or maybe even tattooed on their inner thighs. (Hillary may have been stupid to say so, but she was right). And sitting next to them are a larger bunch of folks willing to overlook deplorable labels because they are too fearful of ethnic minorities or a gay people or liberal women.

Not that the Ragin' Commie is much better.
Do we really thing any one of these people is going to change seats? You’d have more luck converting a Baptist into a Hindu than to talk a Trump voter into taking a seat next to Bernie Sanders or Al Franken, who are yacking up a storm sitting just behind me. And don’t get me started on Nancy Pelosi, who none of us want to sit near.

But here’s the thing. About half the passengers on this bus didn’t vote at all. They are just standing in the aisles, bored and frankly repulsed by what they see. All that’s necessary is to make friends with a single one of them. What is shameful about our nation is not the 25% of  passengers that sit on the right side of the bus, and not even the  10% or 15% of 'em with "deplorable" stamped on their underwear. No, what is shameful is the 12 or 13 passengers that are standing up while we on the left ignore them.

Forget about those sitting across the aisle, my friends. They ain’t movin’. If we didn’t win a single one of the four recent special congressional elections when the Republicans are led by the worst excuse for a president since Warren Harding, who are we kidding?
And here I have no words...

But I suggest we each have a look at those folks standing in aisle, the ones who have no desire to sit by any of the four loudmouths shown here or others of their ilk. Offer up the seat next to you to a single standing passenger and make friends with him or her. Suddenly, the bus changes its destination, and we’re headed back towards America.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Enough is Enough

Another recent horror involving a policeman killing a young black man occurred right here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, as you probably know. The case is that of Philando Castille, who was shot to death by a patrol officer in the Twin Cities neighborhood of St. Anthony by Patrolman Geronimo Yanez. Yanez was acquitted by a jury this week in Ramsey County, where St. Paul is located. 

Now, I am not one who thinks that EVERY young black man who is shot by police is the victim of murder. For example, in the Ferguson MO case, after reading carefully, I could see how a jury might give the police officer the benefit of the doubt. There was another case in Minneapolis last year, in which  in which I wasn't pepared to automatically throw the cop in jail for using deadly force. 

But Geronimo Yanez is a different matter. I don't know if you saw the dashboard video (look for it if you haven't), but once I saw it, I cannot see how a reasonable jury would not find criminal blame for the cop. 

It plays out like this: 

1. A young black man named Philando Castillee passes a St. Anthony squad car, and  the driver of the squad car, patrolman Geronimo Yanez decides to pull Philando over—ostensibly because his tail-light is out, although later he says "the wide-set of the driver's nose made me think of a robbery suspect." Translation: Philando is black. 

2. Philando pulls over gently to the curb, waits with his hands on the wheel, rolls down his window. Upon being asked for his driver's license and registration, he hands the officer his registration, then very politiely and quietly says that he has a firearm. The officer says, "Then don't reach for it."

3. Philando says "I'm not reaching for it," but does begin to reach for his wallet, which is in his back right pocket, behind the front pocket where the handgun is located. Also in his wallet is his permit-to-carry. 

4. Upon which, Officer Yanez screams not to reach for it, and simultaneously pumps seven bullets into the car, five of which hit Philando, another going through the seat into the back seat near where the toddler daughter is sitting strapped into her car seat. Less than a minute has passed since Yanez got out of the squad car. When you view the tape, it is the incredible speed with which the tragedy unfolds that really hits you. 

5. As Philando dies, he cries out "I wasn't reaching for it."

Later on, there are some telltale quotes from Yanez on the matter during an interview with BCA officials investigating the shooting.  One is the fact Philando's wide set nose "reminds" Yanez  of a recent robbery suspect. Two, that Yanez smells marijuana in the car, and immediately upon being told that Philando owns a gun with permit, he wonders if Philando is a drug dealer, or carries a gun to protect himself from other drug dealers trying to rip him off. 

Two things don't pass the smell test here for any reasonable person. One, no Minneapolis area police officer bothers at all this stuff as small as a burned out tail light. There are just too many more serious matters to think about. There is no way any white man ever gets stopped for something like this. Second, marijuana is a minor, minor thing in the Twin Cities these days, and no policeman imagines that this a casual smoker is some kind of big time drug dealer. The officer stopped the car simply because Philando was a black man, and being a black man, he's assumed to likely to be a drug dealer.  
(By the way, Philando had been stopped 49 times by police in the last few years, virtually always for nonsense reasons, most of which did not even elicit a ticket.)

6. The handgun that Yanez later claims to have seen on Philando's leg is later found still in the young man's pocket. During interview and at trial, much is made of the possibility that the gun simply fell back into his pocket after Philando is shot to death.  Yeah, right. 

7. At trial, Yanez trotted out the standard policeman's defense:  "I feared for my life." And the jury bought it, hook, line and sinker. 

Enough is enough. We all know that if Philando had been white, he would still be alive. 

 I don't think officer Yanez is a bad fellow, necessarily. But he is a terrible cop, and he panicked in a a way that was utterly unprofessional and criminally liable. But in today's culture, fear is used to justify just about any crazy thing you do. And policemen have learned that the way out of any such tragedy is simply to say that they feared for their lives. 

The thing is, just because you are afraid (or say you are), does not excuse negligence that kills another human being. Even if you are a policeman, you should be held accountable for serious lapses in judgment.  This may not have been murder, but it sure as hell was negligent manslaughter.

Undoubtedly I have some bias in this, since my son-in-law is a young black man who has braided hair about the length of Philando's. Being a dark-skinned black man, white police officers undoubtedly would even see a resemblance between my son-in-law and Philando Castille. And David, too, gets stopped or followed by cops for nonsense, bullshit reasons. All the fucking time. I am scared to death for him. 

God in Heaven.  Enough is enough. Fear cannot be used as an excuse to justify any goddamn behavior you like. Not even for cops. Especially for cops. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why I Am Optimistic

"Nothing can be changed until you first recognize it."   -- James Baldwin.

The ascension of Donald Trump and his cohorts into the White House has certainly discouraged me much of the time and even depressed me on frequent occasions. Yet I have also been aware of a paradoxical feeling of optimism that occurs at rare fleeting moments. The odd thing about this is that the optimism has not been a matter of defiance—it's not an optimism I somehow muster in spite of the Trumpites.  No, the fact that we are now confronted with Donald Trump and his awful tribe is the very reason I'm optimistic.

Up to now, I haven't really understood exactly what this was about. On the face of things, there is precious little to be happy about when you look at the state of the nation.  But I now realized that we are are in the process of learning something valuable about ourselves as a nation because of Donald Trump. It's a little like learning that that awful itch in the middle of your back is not an allergy but is actually shingles. The recognition feels awful at first, but then you start strategizing on how to deal with it. 

We are beginning four years in which Donald Trump—with his lips and jaws being moved by Steve Bannon's hand and arm firmly stuffed up the President's rump—will be speaking in ways that will graphically show us the very worst things about our culture and prejudices. These are realities which America has really wanted to pretend did not exist, but will now confront in unavoidable ways. 

We are learning that there is a substantial part of America that hates the poor and the sick. This is not hyperbole in any way. Much of the current rhetoric is implying pretty openly now that if you are reach and healthy, it is because God likes you, and if you are poor or sick, it is your own fault. There is a decided strain of Manifest Destiny theory at work now in America. We genuinely believe that America should win, and the implication of this is that the rest of the world is expected to lose. This really is who we are.

Fully half of America does not believe in religious freedom or tolerance. We don't.  We don't want Muslims to be among us, and we don't really care much for Jewish people, either. We really want to be a Christian nation, and as a nation we have elected a President who pays lip service to what we secretly wanted to hear all along. This is really who we are.

America hates brown and black people. We will begin by barring and expelling Muslims from a few countries, and we'll build some kind of barb-wire fence to the south, but once this is successfully accomplished, it's a quick step to closing the doors on those pesky Nigerians and Congolese and Koreans. It is not a matter of feeling safe or wanting to protect jobs.  We simply don't like anyone non-white or non-Christian. This is really who we are.

America places no particular value on education. The President who speaks for us wants a Secretary of Education who does not believe in public education.  Despite our pretense at valuing education, many of us don't believe in evolution and don't believe pollution has any effect on climate despite scientific evidence. This is who we are. 

We don't like women very much. We are afraid and threatened by them, and, like our President, we would like them to "dress like women," and do what men tell them to do. This is not a purely male thing, really, because a great many voting women don't like themselves or their fellow women very much either, and are relieved that the President is setting rules of behavior for them. This is who we are. 

A lot of these truths have been present all along, but up to now we've uneasily pretended that we are better people than that. No more can we hide; we are quickly learning who we are as a nation, and the necessary lessons will be some unpleasant ones. This is the reason for my optimism, and I assure you that I do not say this with any sarcasm at all. Over the next four years, it will be very hard to avoid self-awareness about who we are as a nation, because we have a President who vocalizes our worst impulses. Self awareness is always a good thing. 

A local newspaper recently interviewed some small-town Minnesotans, and one woman in a little community of 10,000 people confessed that while she had voted for Trump largely because of nervousness about Somalis in Minnesota, she was now surprised about how bad she now felt about herself when the refugee ban went into effect. 

I was very encouraged when I read this article. The next four years will see a lot of us feeling bad about ourselves as we recognize things about ourselves through the example of our President. We will not be able to pretend that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are "other." They speak for us. They are us.  This will prove to be a very good thing. Our President and his staff will be showing us our ignorance,  our prejudices, our intolerance, all our dirty little secrets, and I genuinely believe that learning these things about ourselves will only be a good thing in the long run. 

You cannot cure a horrible disease until you recognize you have it. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Citizens of 4F: Feb. 2 2017

 I don’t ride the bus downtown all that often anymore. I’m only asked to be at the downtown office once each week, and with my emeritus status nobody makes an issue of it if I decide to skip even that visit and choose instead to work from my cozy home office on Thursdays. And when I do go downtown, for the last few months I’ve tended to drive. Initially this was out of deference to a surgically repaired knee that allowed me to park in front of the building for free, but then it became habit. Habit is what often happens if you don’t carefully consider your choices.

But the knee is nearly healed now, and I’ve vowed to walk the six miles home after work today, so the #4 bus is where I am this early morning before dawn.

Things change quickly when you don’t pay close attention, and I’m startled this morning by how many different faces are on the bus this morning. From my elevated seat midway back in the big electric hybrid bus, I find myself studying one of the unfamiliar faces, Margret, who sits as close to the front as she can. Margret bears a passing resemblance to Stockard Channing from the era of the movie “Grease. ” She has the same short dark hair and similar features to Ms. Channing. In age though, Margret is pretty close to Stockard Channing’s current age, which makes the very dark hair a bit out of place and artificial.

Margret talks steadily to the bus driver, and from nature of the conversation I know that they are new acquaintances, since the dialogue speaks to basics about their families, their jobs. If they had known each other even a few days, some of these questions and answers wouldn’t need to be discussed. The pitch of Margret’s voice is such that I can hear her clearly. I cannot hear the bus driver at all, but can get the gist of the conversation just from Margret’s questions and answers. I learn, for example, that Margret cannot tolerate caffeine any longer, and that her favorite vacation spot is Florida. She has three grown children, only one of which really likes her. Her husband passed away three years ago, and she can’t believe it’s been that long. Seems like last week that he passed.

People like Margret fascinate me and make me a little jealous. She is one of those people, as is my wife, who thrives on social communion. People like this seek interaction with people, the more people the better. In moments of discouragement or dejection, these folks gain energy from simple social contact with many people. For others of us, though, rejuvenation is found in solitude. Though I’m not a traditionally religious fellow, it is when I’m in utter solitude in a natural setting—deep in a woods or off in a prairie meadow—that I feel the presence of the gods. It’s not that I believe with Jean Paul Sartre that “hell is other people,” exactly—I very much enjoy being with a few close friends.  But a crowd of people surely isn’t heaven for me. Walking alone in the mountains, though, is indeed nirvana. I do envy Margret, though. Life would be easier, I think, if crowds of people invigorated you. 

It is still completely dark in this early morning hour, and as the bus passes Bryant Park, strings of white LED lights in the skeletal trees reflect down into the smooth surface of a skating rink. The reflection in the ice looks like strings of translucent pearls. A lone young man who is wearing hockey-style skates sails noiselessly around the ice, doing maneuvers that seem more like figure skating than hockey moves. I’m charmed by the idea of this young fellow choosing to go out for a skate at 6:45 am in the morning. It is a very Minnesotan thing to do.

As the bus begins to fill up, the conversation between Margret and the bus driver begins to quiet down. Whether this is because they have exhausted the conversational topics appropriate between strangers, or because they don’t want to disturb the now-larger group of passengers, is unclear. Politeness would be a likely reason, because this, too, is a very Minnesotan virtue.

I recognize very few of the passengers today, but near Lake Street, the bus is boarded by Frank, whom I do recognize. Frank is a 70-something black man wearing a cowboy hat and western-style suede jacket covering a white chef’s uniform. It’s never been clear to me which downtown restaurant he works at, though it has to be one that serves breakfast. Frank pats each of the passengers in the first few seats at the front of the bus—the two facing rows that traditionally has been the home of the passengers who like to chat amiably across the aisle in the mornings. Further back in the bus, the passengers tend to be those who spend the time scrolling on their smart phones or reading the newspaper. Or those whose recreation is studying the other passengers and imagining their lives.

Although the up-front passenger greet Frank warmly, after he sits down Frank quickly fades into silence. Though a friendly and social man, I’ve never seen him engage in a lot of chit-chat in the morning. He always seems quite comfortable to be alone with his thoughts.

As we near Franklin Avenue, I see a Victorian-style home in which the residents have placed one of those programmable electric signs in the front picture window—one of those that can be programmed to flash verbal messages. This one flashes a two-line message: “Nasty Women,”  “Live Here,” it says repeatedly in red lights arranged in small dots. I reflect on my good fortune to live in a city where the liberalism is strident and sometimes slightly angry. For example, the very next day after Donald Trump’s edict regarding restricting entry to the U.S. by Muslims, more than 5,000 people spontaneously appeared in front of the Federal building in downtown Minneapolis in protest. Nearly 100,000 appeared during the women’s march after the presidential inauguration. I very much like this quality of my city.

The sky has pinkened by the time I step off the bus at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Fourth Street in downtown Minneapolis. I am slightly sad to be leaving the bus, and I think that someday when I have transitioned into full-time retirement, I shall sometimes ride the bus in the pre-dawn hours. Just for the fun of it.