Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vandals, I Don't Get You. Can We Talk?

noun: vandal; plural noun: vandals
  1. 1.
    a person who deliberately destroys or damages public or private property.
    "the rear window of the car was smashed by vandals"
    synonyms:hoodlum, barbarian, thug, hooligan, delinquent, despoiler, desecrator, saboteur
    "vandals defaced the front steps of the church"
  2. 2.
    a member of a Germanic people that ravaged Gaul, Spain, and North Africa in the 4th–5th centuries and sacked Rome in AD 455.

When I was around seven years old I wandered over to our neighbor's roadside mailbox and stole the mail out of it.  There was a vacant lot between their house and ours and I remember sitting in the weeds opening that mail. (The mail that, at seven, I doubt I could even read) Then I got scared.  I tore it all up into little pieces.  I got caught--I don't remember how--and my mother marched me over to our neighbors, where I had to apologize for stealing their mail and tearing it up.

What I learned through my tears was that one piece of that mail--the pretty one with the red and blue stripes around the edges--was a long-awaited letter from their soldier son who was fighting in the war overseas.   That was seven decades ago and I still cringe at the memory.  They were sweet people, those neighbors, and they were kind enough to accept my apology, but I've never forgotten how I felt when I had to admit, to them, to my mother, and to myself, that I did a terrible thing.  What was I thinking?  What would make me steal and then destroy something that didn't belong to me?  I didn't do it to deliberately hurt our neighbors but the end result was that I did hurt them.

But even though I was a vandal myself--no getting around it--I've never understood acts of vandalism.  I've heard all the excuses-- pent-up rage, drunkenness, group dynamics, an extreme sense of privilege--but every act of vandalism is a criminal act.  Deliberate, wanton destruction is a crime.  It's not cute, it's not cool, it's not ever justified, and it can't be considered anything less than what it is, just because the people who do it aren't your ordinary criminals. 

So last week this happened:  University of Michigan frat members took over 45 rooms at a Michigan ski resort and over the course of a couple of days did more than $50,000 in damage:

Treetops Resort manager Barry Owens said the students were escorted from the premises by Michigan State Police last weekend after causing $50,000 in damage. The resort is in Dover Township near Gaylord.
Owens said Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity members caused significant damage to furniture, carpet, walls and ceilings.
Sigma Alpha Mu Michigan chapter President Joshua Kaplan says his members "are embarrassed and ashamed of the behavior" of some members. He says the chapter "accepts full responsibility" and "will be working with the management of the resort to pay for all damages and cleaning costs."
"This behavior is inconsistent with the values, policies, and practices of this organization," Kaplan said in a statement. "We will work within our own organization and with university officials to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions.
Kaplan said there will be no further comment from his chapter or organization.
"They caused an excessive amount of damage," Owens said. "The rooms were just a pigsty. Unfortunately, I've been in this business for 30 years and it's the worst condition of rooms that I've ever seen. There were broken ceiling tiles in the hallway, broken furniture, broken windows. There's carpet that's going to need to be replaced."
Owens said there were more than 120 people, men and women, in about 45 rooms.
"A lot of the rooms were just very, very dirty," he said. "There were holes in the walls and different things like that. They were very disruptive to additional guests that were here."
Owens said prior to the students being removed, resort staff attempted to rectify the situation.
"We tried to address it with them, but we made a mistake and took these people at their word when they said they would change their behavior," he said.
The resort is considering its options, including pursuing criminal charges against the fraternity. Owens said the resort also has a meeting planned with university officials.
What about the criminal charges against the students? What happened after the Kids Just Want to Have Fun Gang were "escorted from the premises" by the State Police?  Were they fingerprinted and then thrown into as many cells as it took to fill?  Are they still there?

I haven't heard, but you know they're not still in jail up there in Gaylord. Who are they?  Give me their names.  Let me talk to them.  Let them try to explain why they did what they did.  I want to know how they're feeling right now.  Not how they're feeling about getting caught or being blamed or  about whether or not they'll still have a fraternity.  I want to know how they're feeling about themselves.

(And whether, at some future date, they're going to be thinking about running for public office. . .)

Treetops Resort damage - Photo credit:  Detroit Free Press/Keith Wilkinson

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Constant Commoner, and FreakOutNation)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Cowardly Liberal Talks About Strength

About once a year or so I have a confidence crisis.  When it happens I'm able to convince myself that I can't go on writing about politics and hate and fear and unfairness.  This year it was even worse, brought on by the very real fact that the dreaded Republicans swept the elections last November and are now in almost complete control of our lives.

The Republican rout is depressing and demoralizing, setting in rock-hard concrete, as it does, the image of us liberals as big, fat losers.  We had such a beautiful message--and we lost.  We had such plans for a kinder, more equitable future--and we lost.  We're such nice people--and we lost.

But we will survive and go on.  I know that. Our problem is local and, so far, not lethal.  In the bigger world outside, unfathomable horrors persist. A barbaric group of subhumans get away with slaughtering some 2000 Nigerians, mainly women, children, and the elderly, for--who knows what?  Two lone radical terrorists murder 12 journalists in a Paris cartoon magazine office as retribution for blasphemy.  A murder spree in a Paris kosher market is seen as a ghastly punctuation mark.

It's as if there is an overload switch that goes off whenever I'm at a point where I begin to believe half the world is mad and the other half is pure evil. (There is a tiny percentage who are good but their numbers are so small they barely register.  Or so it seems when I'm in this state.)  I shut down.  I read  Dave Barry.  I curl up on the couch and watch the Hallmark Channel.

I admit there are times when I relish those cowardly moments.  I understand now how video snippets of precious kittens could hit the billion watcher mark.  It's R&R, it's therapy, and, in a world like ours, it's necessary.

So I was all set to just not think about all this for a while, but then I came upon an article by Edwin Lyngar. The writer, a former right winger now turned liberal, warns us liberals that in order to defeat these people we have to take a page from their playbook and "learn to talk big and fight dirty."

He says:
When I lived conservative values, I attended many events with like-minded people. Conservative movements foster a herd mentality. Even when someone stood up to “lead,” he or she often regurgitated well-accepted talking points while crowds nodded in unison. Listen to talk radio or watch Fox News, and you can barely tally the number of times you hear, “yes, I think that’s true.”
A perfect example of thoughtless regurgitation is when callers on talk radio mention “Saul Alinsky Democrats.” Still others like to sling the insult of “Obama’s Chicago political machine,” with no context whatsoever. I’m going to make the obvious point that few if any of these callers have read one word of Alinsky, and fewer still have any direct, pointed or even third-hand knowledge of “Chicago politics.” These goofy phrases have become totems of the insider, and like children, these listeners mindlessly repeat what someone else has said as if they had insight.

Now that I’ve been in the liberal camp for a few years, I’ve noticed the complete opposite with the politically engaged left. They often identify as “contrarian.” They question everything and have a hard time taking a firm stand, even when 70% of the public is with them (on minimum wage, for instance). In an ideological battle, the tendency toward inclusion and reflection can become a handicap. As a side effect of all this soul-searching, the left becomes ineffectual at fighting even the worst excesses on the right. I’m boiling this down to a false dichotomy to illustrate a point. Of course there is every gradation of political belief on the right and left; yet our system itself is incapable of nuance, because only one side has even heard of the word.

It's true that liberals of all stripes tend to over-think things and strive to a fault to consider what's best for everybody.  We--or, at least, I--do try to reason with the wingers, and waste a lot of valuable time trying to figure them out.  But, as much as I admire most of what Edwin Lyngar had to say, when it comes right down to it, I don't want to get down and dirty with them.

I want to understand their tactics so I can head 'em off at the pass, but I sure as hell don't want to emulate them.  They're nasty.  They're hateful.  We don't need a double dose of that.

At the same time, we're heading into a new and dangerous era, with right wing politics and fundamentalist religion at the forefront, and no cute kitten image is going to obscure what is absolute fact:  The Republican takeover will put in place unprecedented barriers to our constitutionally-endowed liberties.

After promising to do it for decades, they will finally be in a position to dismantle any signs of what they tout as liberal Commie secularism.  They're already giving essential, science-based committee chairs to avowed anti-science legislators.  They're doing it as an in-your-face gesture--a joke on us--with no regard to our health or the planet's future.  They'll work overtime to try and overturn Obamacare and Roe v. Wade.  The rich will get richer and the poor, poorer.  Our infrastructure will continue to crumble--but not to worry--public lands will be sold off to private interests and we'll be the better for it.  Pollution will turn out to be good for us.

The chambers in congress now ring with Old Testament bible passages proclaiming the advent of God in his proper place as lawmaker.  Dozens of representatives were elected almost exclusively on the strength of their religious views, and they see their elections as a mandate from their Maker.

We're in for many battles on many fronts, and Edwin Lyngar is right that we need to study our enemy and get strong.  I'm pretty sure I can do it without calling anybody a Shithead, as he suggests, but if that's your thing, I'll defend to the death your right to say it.

But we're not them.  We'll never be them.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog, Alan Colmes' Liberaland and FreakOutNation. Featured on Crooks and Liars)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Resolved: To Make 2015 A Year To Remember. If I Don’t Forget

Here it is 2015 (Where did the time go, right?) and let me say once again that New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.  Not meaning to burst your little bubble on the very first day of the new year;  just telling you, in case you woke up this morning actually believing that all it takes to do something life-changing before the next year is out is to sincerely resolve to do it on New Year’s Day.

Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on.  I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions.  It was a good luck gesture I really believed in.  Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.

But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again.  This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I mean it.
Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:
Lose 20 pounds.
Make a lot of money with my writing.
Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go.
Okay, lose 10 pounds.
Okay, make any money with my writing.
Okay, at least get out of the state.
Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again.

Well, okay, not never.  By the next New Year’s Eve those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I promised!  I resolved!  I said them out loud!  I didn’t do any of them!  (Except to get out of the state.  I did manage to do that.  But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)

So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition.  The world won’t come to an end.  The year will start, the days will go by, one by one, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.

I didn’t know that when I was young.  I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did.  I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions.  I know better now.  It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.
You too can be free.  Just say no.  No resolutions!  (If you think you can’t do it, write me.  I’ll talk you down.  I’ve been there.  I know.)

So Happy New Year!  Health! Prosperity!  Love!  Joy!

Carry on. . .