Ladders

This was originally posted on Facebook on Nov. 20, 2015 (LINK).

***

So, I’ve been talking a lot about refugees lately. Maybe an explanation is in order. Story time!

I’ve been very lucky. VERY lucky. I was born into a loving family, to a mother and father that moved over an ocean to give me a shot at the best life I could somehow carve out for myself. They left the Philippines at a time when a dictator and his wife were in power, hoarding money and shoes and years in purgatory.
I was raised in the U.S., which, for all her faults, is a dream country to many, many people. I was traveling overseas a few years ago and met a pedicab driver who asked where I was from; when I said, “America,” he said “That is my dream. That is my dream. That is the dream of all of us,” he said, waving his arm at his fellow pedicab drivers.

Just so you know, my family members back in the Philippines are doing well, and through hard work and talent they’ve built wonderful lives for their families there. I, for one, do not have the skill that my cousins back in the Philippines have, but I live in the U.S., and here, an eternal B-minus student with a penchant for bullshit can do alright. And I do.

There was a communist insurgency in the Philippines, then and now, and the specter of murderers and thugs calling themselves Abu Sayyaf and MILF still haunts men and women in the southern part of the nation, Muslim and Christian alike. I did not have anything to do with either the communists or Abu Sayyaf. I was one when we left for the United States. More on this later.

I will always be proud of my Filipino heritage, and the values and culture and history and religion that go hand in glove with it. Make no mistake, though: the U.S. has given me everything I have. Here I found a career, an education, a safe home, the Texan who freed my soul, and the Most Beautiful Daughter In The World. I owe it all to my parents, who emigrated from home and taught me bravery and sacrifice and basketball; they had their struggles to get us here, but I think that is not my story to tell.

Here, I can read any book I choose and argue freely on Facebook and put whatever bumper sticker I want on my car. American men and women I’ve never met fought and died so I could vote and be free; they roared and charged and fell, holding helmets and rifles and newsprint.

I was given a ladder I did not earn, and that ladder lead me up to where I am, to an apartment with hot running water and Chinese take-out within walking distance and a life without drones and mortars and men with bombs.

Here, you really only see most balaclavas on bitterly cold days.

I did nothing to deserve this. My parents worked and sacrificed to get me here; I am tremendously lucky, as I said. I could have been born in a war zone. My parents could have been killed by a car bomb or snipers or morality police. I spent my seventh year on earth in primary school, racing to get the good play rug in Ms. Wendell’s second grade classroom; I could have spent it in a camp after my school was burned to the ground.

Whenever I meet an immigrant here, no matter their origin, their religion, nor how they got here, I admit: I see little bit of me, as a young boy. I see a bit of my father, my mother, looking for work and affordable clothes and some picture books for their boys.

Sometimes these other immigrants worship God differently than I do, or not at all. Sometimes they were professionals Back Home, sometimes they were laborers. Sometimes they want to leave memories of the Old County behind forever, and sometimes they would pay anything to have soup the way Mother made it one last time. They remind me of me. They are me; they are me if only the Cosmic dice had rolled differently. If those dice had rolled differently, the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and communist insurgencies could have halted immigration from the Philippines to U.S., or at least made it harder. Those are the dice that have been rolled from some would-be Americans, for some immigrants who made it to our soil.

These other immigrants, they came here on that ladder I used. Sometimes that ladder looked like an unguarded part of the Rio Grande and sometimes it looked like the front door of a consular office and sometimes it looked like a wedding veil. I took that ladder, too, ma’am; my parents carried me. I was on that ladder, too, sir; it is not always an easy climb.

Sometimes that ladder is in a refugee camp, through 18 months of interviews and vetting and background checks and more interviews.

I admit, I have been on something of a soapbox lately about refugees, at least on social media. I’m sorry if I have come off as shrill, and to anyone who does not want to accept more refugees here, I disagree, but I want to make sure you know I respect you. Most of you who oppose the refugees are concerned for your own families, your own little ones, and I cannot fault you for that. Some of you have lived in places with bombs and blasts and monsters with human faces, and you don’t want that here, on American soil, and I cannot fault you for that.

By way of explanation, this is not an political exercise for me; I like the U.S. president, but I will vote for any and all of his political rivals if it would mean that more refugees would be let into the U.S.

When I see the doors closing on refugees, I see my ladder being pulled up. When I see the gate close on any of these families, I see the gate closing on me. Please, let down that ladder, I am down there. Please, please, someone let down that ladder, my father and my mother are down there, holding me. Please let down that ladder, I am down there, holding my daughter and my wife and we are scared and we have nowhere to go. I am trapped down here with murderers and killers, and they will either kill me or turn my son into one of them.

I am an American citizen, and I have freedom and privilege that other, better men earned for me; I do not deserve it by my own acts. Please let the ladder down, I am also in a refugee camp with my children and my grandchildren and we did nothing to deserve this, either.

The Pearls of Medusa

http://www.props.eric-hart.com/how-to/medusa-head/

Credit: Eric Hart

[TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault]

1. You are wrong, I promise you, when you think of Medusa. She had snakes for hair, we are taught; the hideous sight of her turned men into stone. Perseus was a hero, we are told, because he slew her and escaped her monstrous sisters, the Gorgons. Her head was a trophy, proof on the shield of Athena of the death of an evil monstrosity, we are taught. Yes. We are wrong.

Medusa’s gaze turned people into stone, we are told. Her sisters, horrid and immortal, flew into a murderous rage at her death. Yes, yes. But why were they there? Why did the Gorgons exist? I will tell you: to suffer.

In the temple of Athena was a priestess, beautiful and beloved. As Ovid says, “Words would fail to tell the glory of her hair.” She lived here, like her goddess, Athena, chaste and loyal. She had family, the priestess did. Her older sisters, Sthenno and Euryale, loved her, watched for her, cared for her.

And then Poseidon, god of the sea, came to her in the temple. He came to the temple and he raped her. He attacked the priestess, Medusa, on the holy ground of Athena.

It was a crime, a sacrilege, a monstrosity. Athena howled in rage, in anger, and she took her revenge. Athena would have her revenge, oh yes.

She took her revenge on Medusa, the priestess. That is who was punished. Not Poseidon, no, it was Medusa. Athena punished her priestess, turning her hair into snakes and cursing her with the gaze of stone, so she could never fully live in the world. Medusa was victimized for a second time. Her sisters, Sthenno and Euryale, for the crime of loving and defending their sister, Athena cursed them as well.

The sisters were immortal, they could not die, so in their exile into a remote island, they protected Medusa, as best they could, since they could not be hurt like their sister. There on that island they lived, in a cave that held less horror than the temple of Athena. The frozen statues of those who came to kill Medusa grew in number, but Medusa lived. That, at least, Sthenno and Euryale could do.

And then Perseus, founder of Mycenae, crept in and took her head. He never looked directly at her, never confronted what Poseidon had done, what Athena had done. Perseus killed her and ran, and her sisters screamed and wept, and we are asked to call Perseus a hero. We are asked to call Perseus a hero for escaping the Gorgons, who attacked the stranger who crept in and murdered their little sister.

***

2. It is just a story, you know, a myth. The story has changed, like all stories. Sometime the Gorgons have names, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes Medusa is hideous, sometimes she is beautiful.

But in all the stories, a few things are always told the same way. Perseus is a hero. Yes. And Athena is wise. Yes. And Medusa is dead, and she cannot suffer anymore.

And Sthenno and Euryale, the Gorgons, are immortal, and their little sister is dead. They will never see her again. They lost their sister many times: When Poseidon came, when Perseus came, and again when their story is told.

***

3. “NASHVILLE – In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to life in prison because she killed a man who bought her. 13 years later, she is still in prison…

When she was just 16, Cyntoia Brown was being sex-trafficked by a pimp named “Kutthroat.” She was verbally, physically, and sexually abused then sold to a 43-year-old Nashville realtor, named Johnny Allen, who used her for sex.

According to Newsweek, Cyntoia eventually shot and killed Allen after being taken to his home.” (Source: WGNTV.com, 2017-11-23)

***

4. “She left me, you know that? My wife abandoned me, walked out of me, was fucking who knows who. And now SHE wants something?” he told us. “She got a restraining order on me, saying I choked her? Does she know how fucking embarrassing that is? I’m not giving her anything.”

“This isn’t about assigning blame, sir,” my boss said. “We are asking for possession of the home. She takes care of the children, she should get to stay the home.”

“No,” the man’s attorney said. “Unfortunately, my client’s hours at work were drastically cut a few months before we filed for divorce and he has almost no income. Since your client is not working, and they can’t afford the underwater mortgage, we’re going to have to have a short sale. My client has family in the area with a large house, so we think its best for the kids to live with him, since your client has no one.”

***

5. “Former kicker Katie Hnida, 22, said this week she was raped by a teammate in 2000 after her final season at Colorado. Hnida, one of the first women to ever play college football and now a student at the University of New Mexico, said she does not plan to file charges… [Colorado Coach Gary] Barnett told reporters Tuesday that Hnida never told him about a sexual assault and he knew of no evidence to back up her claim.

He said the football program tried to make Hnida comfortable and had provided extra precautions when she told him about a stalker.

But he also bluntly criticized Hnida’s ability.

“It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful,” he said. “Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There’s no other way to say it.

…At the heart of the scandal are federal lawsuits filed by three women who say they were raped by football athletes at or after a December 2001 off-campus recruiting party. Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan decided against assault charges in the case, saying the heavy drinking involved would make it too difficult to prove in court.”” (Source: Associated Press, 2004-02-19)

***

6. It was just a myth. There was no Poseidon, no Athena, no Medusa. It was just a story, after all. In the story, is Perseus the hero? Is Athena? Maybe there are no heros in the story, not really. Maybe there is just Sthenno and Euryale, and what is left of Medusa.

A note from the modern Ellis Island

It is nice to know how many folks wish me and my family never came to this country.

“But Mark,” they say, “Trump wasn’t talking about Filipinos!”

I have no desire to take comfort in that. All of us lucky enough to make it to these shores have more in common with each other than we do with the folks who don’t like us because we come from places of low GDP, or from authoritarian regimes, or mostly brown folks, or high infant mortality.

I am incredibly fortunate to be here in America, like many other immigrants from the developing world. We owe it to this country to give our fellow citizens our gratitude, our tax dollars, and our military and civic service. I also will state without hesitation that the nation is stronger, smarter, and healthier with us here.

I’m happy you’re here, Ghana, Nigeria, El Salvador, Laos, Assyria, Budapest. My life is better that you’re with us, Beirut, Oslo, Sao Paolo, Catbalogan.

Some of you may not be happy we’re here, some of you may wish there were just less of us. That’s your right as an American to think that. I will defend your right to be wrong, because I believe that minority views should be protected.

Make no mistake: the xenophobes are a minority. The majority of us in the USA welcome all those who come here to build a new, productive life, no matter their nation of origin, their native tongue, or how and if they worship God. The reason I know that fact is that the majority of Americans welcomed an immigrant family from a third world dictatorship back in 1980, and have been wonderful to me and us my whole life. I am honored and happy to join the vast majority of us that will be doing the welcoming in the years to come.

Dreamers


Dreamers, the children brought here who are covered under DACA (for only 6 more months) are just like me. They’re just like many of us who were brought here by our parents in search of a better life.

One of those Dreamers lost his life saving other Americans in the floods in Houston.

The was a time when a boat load of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Italy would be met by members of the American Nativist Party, who wanted to keep them out.

When we debate this issue with others and in own hearts, please close your eyes and imagine that scene from 1880s New York or Boston. Now ask:

“Did I imagine myself as a person on the shore, or a person on a boat?”

I suspect that our answers to that question will predict how we feel about Dreamers. For me, I know what I see when I close my eyes.

*** If you choose to comment, please be civil and be kind. Any comments that are neither may be deleted without notice. ***

Guy Fawkes and a Concert in Manchester

Guy Fawkes in an illustration by Cruikshank (Wikipedia)

In 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes planted an enormous cache of gunpowder in a plot to blow up the English Parliament. In response, Russia banned all Protestants from entering Russia because of fears of importing English style bombing violence.

“Wait,” you may say, “that makes no sense. Guy Fawkes was a radical Catholic, and it was the entirely-Protestant English Parliament that was the target of his plan. It makes no sense to blame Protestants for that.”

You would be correct, and Russia did no such thing. To many in the Western or Western-influenced world, we are able to make that distinction because we readily can tell the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant. Why is that? Familiarity. We in the US all know several Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians. We don’t lump them all together (at least, unless we are talking about ecumenical issues). For many in the US, we don’t know many Muslims or many Middle Easterners, and tend to lump them all together and fail to readily distinguish between Sunni and Shia Muslims, or between Christian people from the Middle East and Muslims (and Yazidis and Mandeans and Jews).

In the USA, most of us KNOW more people who call themselves Methodists than who call themselves Muslim. We KNOW more people who are Dutch Reformed, who are Unitarians. We don’t lump them together. I argue that we shouldn’t lump the violent and genocidal brand of Islam that ISIS and Al Queda represent with the Islamic traditions of Sufi Mystics, with the Ismaili followers of the Aga Khan, or with Ahmed who lives down the street.

I guess the last one in the last is the big one, huh? I HAVE a guy who lives down the street named Ahmed. He’s a good neighbor. His kids need to pick the toys off the sidewalk more often, but they’re a great family to have on the block. I can’t lump all Muslims with the murderous bastard who bombed the concert in Manchester, because the majority of interactions with Muslim men and women in my life have been positive. One of my kid’s teachers is a Muslim lady. The guy in my old fantasy football league who won every other year is a Muslim. They shouldn’t have to bear the moral weight of a guy killing children in England. Not all Muslims are good neighbors, of course; Ibrahim from high school was a prick back then and he was a prick at our reunion, and Miriam from college always wanted to borrow other people’s notes and never gave you any of hers. My friend Samuel is from an Assyrian Christian family in Northern Iraq, and the Muslim neighbors he knew his whole life laughed and taunted his family when ISIS came to town and they all had to flee to the US and Canada. Muslims are good people, kindly people, and they are assholes and collaborators with evil, just like every. one. else. on. earth.

I can’t say “Islam is the cause of all this extremism” because I know too many Muslim people, barbers and cardiologists and cab drivers and stay at home moms and school teachers and liars and angels. Is Extremism an evil that the Muslim community has to contend with? Yes. And we all who oppose extremism, violence, and misogyny need to stand with members of the Muslim community who also oppose those things. For example, there are Muslim men and women in Pakistan who are fighting against persecution of non-Muslim minorities and apostates out of Islam, and we need to support them in their fight against increasing theocracy. Malala Yousafzai is a Muslim, and our familiarity with her story prevents us from lumping her in with the Taliban bastards who shot her. It should be the same for all people, Muslim or not, who are fighting their oppressors. It will take familiarity with Islamic philosophy, history, and with Muslim individuals for us to see the same differences within that community that we see between the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Franklin Graham, and David Koresh.

Don’t forget: it would be unjust for the English crown to blame all Catholics for Fawkes’ gunpowder plot. Punish the murderers and their accomplices; don’t punish people who are not the murderers. The enemies we must fight are murderers, are fascists, are those who dehumanize others to justify their own violence and tyranny. A peaceful Christian has more common interest with a peaceful Muslim, a peaceful atheist, and a peaceful Jew than any of them have with a murderer. The later must be opposed without demonizing any of the former.

 

*Ahmed is not the real name of my neighbor, and I’ve anonymized all the other names of people I personally know.

Fastball Hymnal

“Ok Mark, I believe in you. We need this run, but don’t worry about the two outs, don’t worry about the loaded bases, just focus on the next pitch, got it?”

I nodded. The batting helmet, two sizes too small for my head, fell off. Again. The only helmet that fit my head was the one we inherited from the junior high kids, and David Rezick always used it because he knew that if he got a hit I’d have no helmets that could stay on my head. Rezick was standing at second base.

Coach R picked the helmet up out of the dirt and brushed it off. “You can do this. If you can just get one run in, we tie the game, ok? I put you in the number two spot in this lineup for a reason, you know that? You deserve it. You’ll deserve it no matter what happens in this at bat. Just play your heart out, you’ve got a big one.”

I rubbed my nose. “I’m pretty sure a big heart is a health problem, coach.”

“Shut up, Mark. Just get on the Goddamn base, ok, big guy? Get on base.” He trotted back to the dugout, spitting in the ground as he got there. Five or six of the 10-year-olds sitting the dug out spit in response, a Greek chorus chomping on Big League Chew. I stepped up to the plate.

The umpire looked me in the eye. His eyes narrowed to slits, remembering me from the last two at-bats. Randy Stein’s older brother Adam was a sophomore and had classes with the ump, and Randy said he was a jag-off, so we took it as gospel that he was obviously, then, a jag-off. Jag-off, as in, “this jag-off better call the game fairly.”

“PLAY BALL” the jag-off yelled, pulling his facemark on.

I stepped up to the plate, right to the very edge of the batter’s box. I saw my father standing up, shielding his eyes with his right hand. My mother was sitting on a lawn chair next to him, my little bother was in his baseball uniform sitting on the grass. The t-ball league ended earlier in the day, so he was eating whatever snacks my folks had packed and picking at dandelions. Or maybe he was picking at the snacks and eating the dandelions, I don’t know. What am I, a high elf ranger? My eyes are terrible, I can’t see that far.

I can make out the sound of my family cheering for me, but the helmet is pinching my ears.

I look up at the pitchers mound. The pitcher is tall, the tallest 6th grader in the league. His fastball is so strong that it was whispered that he once broke a catcher’s hand, like Dwight Gooden. It was so fast that, to hit it, you had to start swinging before you even stepped up to the plate. When we heard which team were facing for this game, we knew exactly who would be pitching: John Moon. John Moon, the biggest arm in Morton Grove Little League, the terror of Mansfield Park.

I wiped my brow, caking my hand in dirt and sweat and gatorade. I was nervous, a kind of nervousness that only baseball players feel, the nerves that come from being alone against the storm. There are reasons why poems are written about being at-bat; its a microcosm of life, you know? I had to have absolute concentration if I wanted to have any shot at all of

“STRIKE ONE!”

What the heck oh crap, geez, really? C’mon Mark, pay attention, I thought, punching myself in the hip.

“HEY MARK PAY ATTENTION WILL YA?” Coach R yelled from the third base dugout, adjusting his cap. I had played for him for three straight years, and about once a year he would show up to practice without his ball cap and we would all be surprised that he was bald, all over again, every year.

Alright, I can do this. I can do this. I turned to face John Moon, the Howitzer of the North Shore, gripping the bat tight as I steeled my nerves. I’m gonna be a hero, like Frodo or Peter Parker or Willis Drummond, and I just had to focus on the moment and not think about how itchy this jock strap is and

“STRIKE TWO!”

A collective groan came up from the Greek chorus. Coach R folded his arms and spit again. A voice cried out “That was three feet out of the strike zone, jag-off!”

The ump whipped off his facemark and wheeled around to face the spectators. “I will kick you out of here if if you use that language again, do you hear me?” the ump yelled, pointing his finger at the stands on the first base line, “and I mean it, ma’am.”

“MOM SIT DOWN,” Rezick screamed from second base.

I squared my stance, spitting into my hands. The spit helps to remove dirt that can decrease your grip, so the bat is easier to control. Aluminum bats can be really painful if you connect on a good swing, which makes it weird that little leagues tend to use them. I guess its because of their durability? Or the lower expense? Maybe there is, like, an aluminum conspiracy or

“PAY ATTENTION THIS TIME, BUDDY, YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.” Coach R called, soft chirps of agreement coming from the dugout.

John Moon looked at the signal from his catcher. We all used signals, even though no one was allowed to throw anything but a fastball. Curveballs can hurt your arm development, so the league outlawed them. He stood up, exhaled loudly, then started his wind up.

I tightened my grip on the bat, inhaled as hard as I could and did what I had done many, many times before, what I did better than anyone else in the league, maybe in the whole Chicagoland area: I crowded the damn plate.

A wet smack, louder than you’d expect, and my hip felt like it was on fire. My helmet fell off and I dropped my bat.

“TAKE YOUR BASE” yelled the jag-off, “…AGAIN.” The crowd roared, or as much as about a dozen people can roar.

The ball had struck me on the thigh, on the meaty part, and I left out a manly yell. Or, in my head I Let out a manly yell. I was told later that I screamed like a little girl, but that’s ok. I knew my job, and I did it.

“YEAH! YEAH! Way to go, Mark!” Coach R was jumping up and down. The dugout was a mass of jumping, cheering, and sunflower seeds.

“Way to go, Ma-Mark! Way to go!” my father yelled, clapping his hands and high fiving my brother. “Tie game!”

My mother was clapping, smiling, and shaking her head. “Why does he never get out of the way? Why is this always happening to him? No one else gets hit like this.”

I picked myself out of the dirt (when did I fall?) The third base runner came jogging into home plate, fist pumping. We high fived, and he said “Great job, Mark, I knew you’d get hit.” I smiled and whimpered a “damn right.”

I limped to first base, holding my helmet in my hand. I gave a thumbs up to Rezick at third.

John Moon’s first baseman looked at me, his grimace softening into a smile. “Nice job. You’re crying less than you did the last time.”

“Thanks, man,” I replied, “That’s what I said to your mom last night.”

Maybe no one told you

 

Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American eagle is a phoenix.
It hurts to see our country turn away the poor, the sick, the abused; to close our door to victims of war.
It is painful to see the nation say to the world that only people of some religions deserve help, aid, and comfort.
It is terrifying to see people you love, you work with, and you share a bed with, cheer the hatred of other people because of their country of origin, their faith, or the papers they possess.
That’s ok. You are allowed to feel hurt, to feel pain, to feel the terror those poor people must feel. Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American eagle is a phoenix.
This is a dark time, because the US government is muzzling scientists.
This is a dark time, because the US government is declaring war on journalists.
This is a dark time, because the US government is taking a harder stand against Chicago and Philadelphia than against Moscow.
That’s ok. Its dark. It can be dark; it’s ok if you don’t see how we’re going to get out of this, if you don’t see any fire or candlelight out of this. Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American Eagle is a Phoenix.
There is a person in your town who is Muslim, or Middle Eastern, or African, and they need you to stand up for them against the thugs and bullies. They need you to stand up for them whether they are there or not. In your street, in your break room, in your church and synagogue and mosque and knitting circle and school parking lot, stand up for the people in front of you.
There is a person in your town who does not have papers, and she needs you to treat her like a human being. She needs you to be kind to her children, to pay her a living wage, to call the cops for her when she is too scared to involve the authorities because of her legal status.
There is a person who laughs at the plight of the refugee, who unwittingly quotes neo-nazis, who passes lies on like a collection plate. We need you to love truth and facts more than he hates them. We need you to support newspapers as much as he hates them. We need you to embrace kindness as much as he rejects it.
That’s ok if it’s difficult, you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to carry the world on your shoulders, you have to care for yourself first. You will stand at the right time, you will march at exactly the right time, you will spread your wings at exactly the right time. Maybe no one told you, but you need to know: the American Eagle is a Phoenix.

Hulk Hogan and Atticus Finch Race to the Bottom: How Racially Charged Remarks Felled These American Heroes

In the fading months of this annus horribilis, America received unwelcome word of two distasteful nods to its pop cultural past. Excommunicated wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan has been contacted by WWE (according to his daughter’s comments to TMZ) regarding WrestleMania 33 this coming year. And earlier this month, plans were announced to revamp the hometown of Harper Lee into a tourist destination through creating the Harper Lee Trail, a collection of attractions that would feature a museum and replicas of three homes set in her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Both proclamations met with a mixed reception. Washington Post reporter Travis M. Andrews writes that, while “it’s impossible to guess how Lee would have felt about the trail, it’s not a stretch to claim” that the famously private author “likely wouldn’t have been pleased.” Literary critic Sarah Churchwell goes so far as to warn that the Monroeville, Alabama project could create “a Disneyland for racists” nostalgic for a bygone age. As for the Hulkster, he spent most of 2016 under the wing of this delusional benefactor (Brother!).

These foreboding announcements harken back to last year, when two paragons of American virtue were bodyslammed by the unexpected release of racially charged content long kept from public view. Yes, for devotees of Hogan and southern trial lawyer Atticus Finch, July 2015 was the cruel summer when it came crashing down and it hurt inside. Hogan fell into ignominy when audio was released from a recording (made several years ago) that caught the Hulkster making racist remarks – some of which involve theoretical suitors for his daughter. WWE swiftly cut ties with the “Real American”, even erasing mentions of its former top star from the company’s website.

This controversy followed an even more shocking release that took place ten days earlier: that of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was published, writes Eve L. Ewing in The Atlantic, when Lee was “at the eve of her death and beset with a dementia that some say enabled her attorney to take advantage” of her condition. Although written prior to her debut novel, Watchman functions as a companion piece to that beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning story. Or, as denounced by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, serves as “one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” In this book, Atticus Finch expresses segregationist views and attends a Citizens’ Council meeting.

Suddenly, the most famous wrestler of his generation and the legal demigod of what Oprah Winfrey proclaimed “our national novel” have seemingly been exposed as bigoted blowhards. How could these emblems of American idealism fall so far, so fast? Join us as we investigate the rise and fall of “the steward of the nation’s conscience” – and the man who gave the world Hulkamania.

Tale of the Tape
Atticus: Middle-aged and bespectacled; seersucker suit; poor indeed, but not as poor as the Cunninghams. Member of Alabama state legislature.
Hogan: 6’7, 303 lbs.; yellow spandex trunks with bandanna and tear-away shirt; net worth dependent on future sextape-related legal proceedings. Star of Santa With Muscles.

Professional Accolades
Atticus: Academy Award for Best Actor (as awarded to Gregory Peck for his portrayal in the 1962 film adaptation).
Hogan: Six-time WWE Champion.

Biggest Fans
Atticus: Other attorneys. As the American Bar Association gushes, “To lawyers, he was the lawyer they wanted to be. To nonlawyers, he fostered the desire to become one.”
Hogan: Hulkamaniacs. These fanatics adhere to the teachings proselytized by Hogan himself in this worshipful song.

Tag Team Partners
Atticus: Family cook (and surrogate disciplinarian) Calpurnia.
Hogan: Wrestling manager (and megaphone enthusiast) Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart.

Finest Hours
Atticus: His eloquent yet fiery trial defense of Tom Robinson.
Hogan: His eloquent yet fiery title defense against Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III.

Toughest Opponents
Atticus: Racist Jury; Social Injustice.
Hogan: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

Finishing Moves
Atticus: The Closing Argument.
Hogan: Atomic Leg Drop.

Hero Worship
Atticus, as praised by Thane Rosenbaum, Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law: “Babies are named after him. Indeed, despite his many parental shortcomings, he is the father many wish for themselves.”
Hogan, as praised by WWE announcer Gorilla Monsoon at WrestleMania VII: “Our national hero… An unprecedented winner, three times, of the World Wrestling Federation title. The gold once again around the waist of that incredible individual. And put it all to rest, the war is now officially over. Keeping his promise good to his nation, the immortal Hulk Hogan.” Note: Donald Trump cheered on Hogan from ringside during this match.

Fight for the Rights of Every Man
Atticus: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Hogan: “But just like Donald Trump, Macho Man, I hope you’re ready, brother. Because Donald Trump has questions in his own mind… Donald Trump, don’t worry about my Hulkamaniacs. They’re survivors! They’re ready!”

Epic Challenge to His Peers
Atticus: “I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”
Hogan: “Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you?”

Best Advice for the Next Generation
Atticus: “First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Hogan: “Train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins, be true to yourself, true to your country. Be a REAL American.”

Heel Turn
Atticus: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”
Hogan: Uhhh … you can read all that here.

Enemies List
Atticus: The NAACP and U.S. Supreme Court.
Hogan: African-Americans and online media companies.

Definitive Response
Atticus: From Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, who swore, “I’ll never believe a word you say to me again. I despise you and everything you stand for.”
Hogan: From WWE, which released a statement noting that Hogan’s contract had been terminated, and claiming a commitment “to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”

Kneejerk Reactions
Atticus, as bleated in this Daily Mail headline: “It’s like finding out Santa beats his reindeer.”
Hogan, as pleaded by Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan): “Oh my gosh, please forgive me. Please forgive me. I’m a nice guy. I’m not the Hulk Hogan that rips his shirt off and bang, bang, bang, slams giants. I’m Terry Bollea. I’m just a normal man.”

Public Defenders
Atticus, as defended by Harper Lee biographer Charles J. Shields: “We could turn this into a plus in our national conversation about racism and the Confederate flag. It turns out that Atticus is no saint, as none of us are, but a man with prejudices.”
Hogan, as defended by The Rock: “I was pretty disappointed with what I heard, like all of us, by the way… I’ve known Terry for a lot of years, my dad helped train him in Florida in the ’70s when he was breaking into the business… I have not known the man to be racist.”

Character Witnesses
Atticus, as represented by Peggy Noonan: “Atticus, now in his 70s, holds views the reader will reject, yet he is patient, sincere—more human as a character than his daughter.”
Hogan, as represented by his daughter, Brooke, in a poem posted online: “If you knew my father, you would know how hard he fought… and the way it brought a smile to people light, medium and dark.”

Strike That from the Record!
Atticus: The Washington Times’ Charles Hurt babbled the following: “Freedom can be ugly business and sometimes you need a man in a suit with a steady hand who can shoot a rabid dog. It doesn’t matter what his opinions are on black people or white people. He just has to be able to shoot straight.”
Hogan: Retweeted a message about President Obama not being similarly vilified for using the N-word, context be damned.

Following their top-rope swan dives from grace, both Atticus and the Hulkster have experienced comebacks of sorts. HarperCollins Publishers announced that Go Set a Watchman is now the fastest-selling book in the company’s history. Meanwhile, Hogan settled his litigation with Gawker Media for $31 million last month. He also expressed interest in serving as the running mate for his old buddy Trump – a low to which even a newly Alt-Right Atticus would hopefully never stoop.

Armistice Day

Soldiers in Flanders. Credit: History.co.uk

Soldiers in Flanders. Credit: History.co.uk

Nov. 11, 1918. At 11:11am, I will stand as a sign of respect for the men and women who lost their lives in World War One, when Europe tore itself to pieces and the old world died.

We get a lot of WW2 history in the US, and rightly so, given the long shadow it casts. It is important, though, that we devote just as much time to the study of the causes of the first Great War. It does not have an obvious bad guy, certainly not as obvious as its sequel, but that’s precisely why it should be examined in detail.

It was the story of the military juggernaut of Germany and the aging husks of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, versus the British seawall, the latest of a succession of French republics/kingdoms/republics, and the somehow still-medieval Empire of Russia.

It was the invasion of neutral Belgium, the rise of the demon of chemical warfare, and destruction of the social fabric of the West.

It was the seedbed of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and America the Superpower.

If you can, I highly highly recommend you listen to Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon series. It is one of the best and most accessibly series on WW1 around.

The war was supposed to be over within weeks; it took four years and 39 million casualties, military and civilian. It was supposed to be a fine and dandy display of national pride; it would became the morass of corpses, mud, and blood that inspired the land of Mordor to JRR Tolkein.

Nothing the generals, politicians, or businessmen promised before the war came true, for either side. Men with white gloves and cloth hats charged into machine guns on faulty orders, Empires that lasted for centuries fell apart like cigarette ash, and the modern world was born via untrained cesarean section.

The decisions made by the men and too-few-women prior to world war one were made for the most banal of motives: this hedgerow belongs France, this farmstead belongs to Germany.

The errors were made for the most personal of reasons: the madman who healed the Czar’s son convinced the Czar to go to the front, leaving behind petty nobles and the royal family to the tender mercies of Vladimir Lenin. The Kaiser was born with a deformity of his arm and demanded military credits and accomplishments to prove his manliness and worth after the death of his Grandmother, Queen Victoria.

The effects were even larger off the battlefield: A young veteran sees the vengeance taken by the allies on Germany and filters it through a warped and vile soul, eventually writing Mein Kampf. London Banks are unable to finance the long war so the Allied governments take out loan after loan from the only source of capital: New York, and the transfer of authority, prestige, and cash in the West was began.

A geologist and self-made millionaire who spoke Mandarin used his considerable fortune and organizing skill to provide food relief to abused and flooded Belgium, catching the attention of President Woodrow Wilson. That Herbert Hoover fellow, Wilson must have thought, he knows how to fix things.

Read about WW1. And if you are devastated or exulted by the election of an American president, that’s appropriate and rational, but remember that children fifty years on will live in a world built by the actions you take, or fail to take, now. Have humility in victory, and have courage in loss. The roads on which our grandchildren will walk will follow a path based on the walls and bridges we choose to make here, in this time. As in World War One and at all times, we stand on the fulcrum of history; we *must* push the lever, we have no choice except to decide the direction.

On Living A Life Rich and Strange: Part 1, Introduction

On Living A Life Rich and Strange:
A open letter to my child from an unprepared parent

Part 1, Introduction

“God writes straight with crooked lines.” – Original author unknown

Little one, you can’t read yet. You can’t stand, you can’t feed yourself, you can’t identify sarcasm, you can’t crack a knowing smile, you can’t eat fries while driving, you can’t doubt your own worth. You will do all those things, someday, and that day will come far, far too soon for your poor father and mother.

We can’t shield you from the world, even though there is a scared, wet-eyed part of me that wants to.

I can’t do that, though, and your mother and I can only do one thing, and that is try and give you the tools we’ve managed to fashion for ourselves to deal with this great, terrible, wonderful and atrocious world we all find ourselves in. They’re the tools we used, and some of these tools are like Damascus steel: beautiful and strong. Others are like flint arrowheads: crude, homemade, and usable. Some of these tools were handed to us by your grandparents, some we stole from other people along the way. They’re what we’ve got to give you, and, when the sun sets on our own lives, maybe they’re the only things we ever give you. These tools, and our Love; that’s all of it, really.

I’m going to throw advice at you, advice you never asked for. Over the course of your life with us, we’re going to teach you skills that are vital (how to read graphs and charts with a critical eye) and skills of dubious worth (how to de-bone sardines). Some of it will be practical (how to get a front-wheel drive car out of the mud) and some will be social (how to look like you belong when you feel like you don’t belong at all).

As you read this, though, please never forget one thing: I will most definitely be wrong on some (most?) things, and in these cases you will need to fashion your own tools. I hope your mom and I give you enough in this life to help you to make your own tools strong and sharp, even when the time comes for you to ditch the tools we made and handed down. Don’t ever feel like you are letting us down if you have to turn your back on the Way We Do Things. We love you, no matter what. You cannot let us down. We may expect you to be better, kinder, braver, more curious in the future, but while we may sometimes be disappointed in your actions, you yourself will never be a disappointment. Stand and fight, we believe in you. Turn and run, we believe in you. Grow up and accept our principles and our history and our philosophy and our theology; we are proud to be your parents. Grow up and reject our ideas or all we ever taught you; we are proud to be your parents. Use our tools and then make your own; don’t be afraid.

One last thing, by way of introduction: please forgive me for making parts of this letter public. I am loud, I am obnoxious, I overshare, but those stem from one small fact about your father: I am scared. I am scared that all of this will go unsaid. I fear that if I don’t write this publicly, or at least part of it, I’ll forget to tell you all these things that I really hope to tell you. I’m worried that I’ll let the day to day concerns of life make me neglect this letter, that in the putting on of shoes, the paying of bills, the washing of dishes, the Please Just Get In the Car We’re Running Late, I’ll let the chance to tell you these things pass. Maybe the social accountability of writing these publicly will help remind me to tell you. Maybe, someday, the public nature of this letter will help remind me who I was when I wrote it, when fatherhood and motherhood and you, yourself, were new. Maybe the people who love your mother and me, the people who will also love you, maybe they will remind you of these things when we are not around.

No one thing any of us do or create defines us, not the worst thing we do and not the best thing we do. We are the sum and mean of all our actions and stillness. What I write here, what I teach you, is only part of my story; what I actually do is another. What your mother does in her role as Your Mother is only part of her story; her hopes and fears before you came along is another. Your story is being written every day, and I hope that what is written here will be a useful footnote in your life.

Next at bat: Part 2 of this letter, “How to know what you know.”

– MCN

 

Copyright © 2016 Mark Nabong