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. ***

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.

Tragedies and Statistics

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in "The Fisher King."

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in “The Fisher King.”

Robin Williams died yesterday, killed in what was reported as a suicide. My breath caught when I heard, but I made a small mental readjustment and thought, “Nah, it’ll be like all the other fake celebrity deaths; I’ll go on eating my burrito.”

When later the Responsible Media (TM) started reporting it, I deflated. I don’t think I was the only one to shrink a little; my social media was swamped with tributes, statements of sadness, and memories of Robin Williams and his work. It was filled with something else, too: a counter-reaction.

There was a collection of people who lamented that there was so much attention being paid to the suicide of one druggie comedian instead of some other major world event, like poverty, Gaza, ISIS, police brutality, etc. I actually think theirs is a reasonable reaction, as the loss of one man cannot be equivalent to the loss of scores of people, so let me explain why I think my sadness at William’s death is just as reasonable.

In a nutshell, Robin Williams was like a friend, who popped into and out of my life with each movie, routine, and painful story of drug use or loss that I saw or read about.  If I lost a loved one, a cousin, sibling, or parent, no one would question my right to grieve, because we know that I “know” them, they were in my life and I in theirs. The loss of Williams is obviously less, since he was a performer and I was a stranger to him, but like most of my favorite authors, musicians, and artists, he was no stranger to me.

Many of my friends in stand-up have been able to meet and get to know Robin Williams, something I’ll sadly not be able to do. Even without that secondary personal connection, though, his movies mirrored my emotional development. I was a kid when he made Aladdin, I was a student when he made Good Will Hunting, and I knew grief when he made The Fisher King. With his passing, I feel like I lost an reliable emotional touchstone, like an old restaurant in your hometown that has somehow stayed in business decades longer than it should have. Was he a friend of mine? No, he was not, but he was there when I made friends, and when I lost them.

With a celebrity like Williams dies, it is easy to dismiss the crass celebrity culture that exists in the US, which celebrates the trite, the superficial, and the pretty over the deep and meaningful. The news cycle should have more substance and less style, more analysis and less Hollywood gossip; this is a totally valid, and damning, critique on modern celebrity culture. In the case of Robin Williams, though, feeling less bad about his death does not mean we would feel more bad about the loss of civilians in a civil conflict; I’d argue that becoming more callous about the loss of anyone, even just some actor, just gives us a little more practice in the art of callousness.

If we intend to be more empathetic with strangers across the world and in our own hometowns, the solution is not to ridicule people who feel emotional about the loss of a famous celebrity; it is to give us more reason to feel the loss of the non-famous, the anonymous.

When Robin Williams died, we saw a person who made us laugh, an actor who could make us cry, and the face of a loneliness and depression that far, far too many of us confront in the dark, alone. We know that face, we see in our family, in our friends, and in our mirror.

If we want more of us to feel the loss of the family in Aleppo shelled by mortar fire, or the baby in the hospital in Gaza who died from a rocket attack, or the young man caught in a Molotov cocktail attack on his synagogue in Frankfurt, then we have to tell their stories, too. Don’t simply pass on a news report about a nameless, faceless refugee camp; find one of them and tell me her name, tell me his dreams. Tell me what they wanted out of life before the men with guns came, before their home became a war zone. Tell me how they lived before they died.

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside a refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border. (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside a refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border. (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

“500 dead” is just a number, a collection of bodies. We are not just bodies, we are the souls and hopes and dreams that live in those bodies until the moment our hearts stop. We know what Robin Williams looked like when his heart was beating; we know how he smiled and we know how he spoke. Can we try to say the same for the Tsunami victim? For the flood victim?

Don’t get me wrong; we should care about the dozen that died from X, and the thousand that are fleeing for safety in Y, even if we don’t know their stories. But if we know their stories, then we are not just mourning a number, we are mourning a person, a person that could have been our friend, a person that could have been us.

People will shed their tears for strangers, but they will shed their blood for their friends. We should give the unnamed names, put faces on the faceless, because that is the only way we can start to see the friends we have, hidden in the numbers.


12 Aug 2014
by Mark Nabong

Weirdos from Another Planet strike again: Mars Rover successfully fires laser on Mars, vaporizes rock.

NASA’s work makes me squeal with joy

Curioislity, the Mars rover successfully placed on the red planet by NASA, has successfully deployed its ChemCam laser to vaporize a rock in order to test the rock’s chemistry.

This is a victory by a large number of people from NASA and from partner organizations, but my favorite reaction so far has been from Kelkulus, who tweeted:

I’m reminded of the Calvin and Hobbes strip from Weirdos from Another Planet:

Bill Watterson is always right.

The monster is always us.  Which is awesome.

Blood Donation

Blood donation worker [reading from script]: Have you taken any medication not prescribed by a doctor in the last eight weeks?

Me: Uh, I took some orthotricyclen once.

Her: …that’s birth control.

Me: Yeah.

Her: Why would you take that?!

Me: It was for a dare.

Her: Don’t take medication on a dare anymore.

Me: But it did clear up my acne…

***

Donate blood to Lifesource (Chicago Area) or the American Red Cross (Nationalwide)

 

EDIT: spelling

Blind cave salamander lives to 100, is worried about Romney/Ryan cuts to Medicare

“Atreyuuuuuuu”

Ok, the title is kind of a cheap shot, so let me summarize what follows: party nominees can be a bit like blind salamanders.  I can’t promise that that sentence will make any more sense at the end of this essay, but here goes.

The Olm is a blind cave salamander that lives in Slovenia and Croatia; the cool part of the linked Discover article is that it does seem to have a possible lifespan of about 100 years.  What’s interesting about the olm for the sake of this discussion is that its blindness is a secondary characteristic, what evolutionary biologists call a “derived trait.”  The ancestors of the olm, just like the ancestors of other blind cave species (blind cave tetras, etc.) all had sight; the vision was lost later as an evolutionary development.

Loss of eyesight is believed to have occurred due to lack of advantage in keeping the very-complex mechanisms that allow sight maintained over generations; cave salamanders that had good sight had no advantage over cave salamanders that had terrible vision, so over time the maintenance of a high level of the trait was unnecessary.  If you have a hard time understanding that, I’ll put it this way: I have worn thick glasses since I was 10 years old.  If I had such terrible vision as a child 5,000 years ago, I probably would not have amounted to much except lunch for a predator.  As I am lucky enough to have been born in a developed country in the late 20th century, to parents that had a vision plan as part of their health insurance coverage, I can live, work, and eventually marry (two years ago today!) despite my awful eyesight.  If my children have terrible eyesight inherited through me, it will be because I (presumably) have other traits that outweigh the trait of bad vision, which is no longer as big of a handicap as it would have been 5K years ago.  Think of cave fish and other blind cave animals as the subterranean equivalent of thousands of years of Mark-breeding.

That is the weirdest sentence I have ever typed.

Anyway, in some conditions the loss of eyesight can be non-detrimental, as in the case of me.  In the case of the blind cave animals, it can be adaptive, as it can allow animals to select mates based on other, more cave-friendly traits.  I’ll provide one last analogy, this time from baseball’s designated hitter.

Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame as much as a blind salamander

In the National League of U.S. baseball, every player in the lineup bats (offense) and every player in the lineup plays the field (defense).  Managers have to strike a balance by picking the lineup with the right mix of offense and defense.  Every player in the National League is evaluated in that fashion, including the pitcher.  The pitcher is often the worst batter on the team (but not always, Kerry Wood cough cough), he still has to take his swings at the plate.  Conversely, as a manager you may be hesitant to play a well-hitting but defensively atrocious player.  If, say, a possible first baseman is an amazing batter but cannot catch a ball to save his life, the manager may decide that the risk on defense is not worth the added chance of defensive errors from that player.

The American League uses a different system, in that teams there have what is called a designated hitter (DH).  The DH is a batter who takes the place of the pitcher, so the typically-worst hitter is no longer in the offense.  The DH hits but does not take the field; he does not play defense at all.  Thus, in the American League, managers can set a lineup without having to include one player in the defensive calculus at all; the manager is free to select one good hitter without constraint of that player’s fielding at all.

This creates a scoring advantage for the American League in comparison to the National League; in 2011 alone American League teams scored  723 runs to the National League’s 668.  This scoring difference in favor of AL teams is pretty consistent over the last few years; by not having to worry about how the pitcher is hitting, teams with DH’s can devote more resources (line up spots) to other, more offensively-minded, players.

Similarly, the cave fish and salamanders lose their sight in part because individuals (the unit of selection) that don’t expend energy on maintaining eyesight may have moved those resources to other traits that are better for surviving and reproducing in a cave, like hearing or smell.  Over generations, these traits may multiply; good vision may become less and less important without any external need to have it.

What does this have to do with politics?

Like primary politics, but less messy

The American political system at the presidential level is two headed: there is a primary election and a general election.  The standard canard is that this creates more extreme candidates.  The thinking goes that the primaries are voted on by stalwarts, hard-liners in each party, and this tends to create more extreme candidates that then have to moderate their positions in the general election.

I don’t disagree with this line of thinking, but I found myself wondering WHY we ended up with such moderates in the last few election cycles as John McCain, John Kerry, Mitt Romney (he WAS a moderate in 2008, remember) and Barack Obama (he IS a moderate, moreso than a Barney Frank or a Kirsten Gillibrand).  If the idea that we get extreme nominees from the primary system is true, wouldn’t that have given us more fire breathing candidates than the ones we’ve had?

To be sure, in Congress the primaries give some real foot soldiers for both parties, but at the presidential level we’ve gotten, well, Romney and Kerry.  I have a theory: the trait that gets you out of the primaries at the presidential level is perceived electability rather than by substantive agreement with policies or personality.

Perceived electability is the nebulous factor that causes people to say “I don’t like him/her, but he/she is better than Bush/Obama.”  The candidate that seems most mushily in the middle tends to get the nomination in the last few elections.  Even Obama, who some called “the most liberal senator” was considered electable compared to Hilary Clinton.  As experienced and formidable as Clinton was, she carried large negatives that made a lot of Democrats that agreed with her in substance shrink away from the thought of defending her the general.  The perception of electability is why Kerry beat liberal screamer Howard Dean, why McCain beat a pile of more conservative candidates, and why Romney emerged victorious over <shudder> Rick Santorum; the other guys were thought to have less of a chance than the eventual victors.

Walk left side, safe; walk right side, safe. Walk middle, get squish just like grape.

This raises the question: thought by whom?  The answer is, of course, primary voters (influenced by media, endorsements, etc.).  Primary voters have been voting against candidates they may have preferred in order to vote for “moderate” candidates they dislike that they think the other side may find more palatable.  “Mitt Romney is the dog with the least fleas.”  It is the election equivalent of dating someone your parents like instead of the person you yourself like; sure, you’d prefer someone else, but at least this person won’t be as bad as having no date.

Back to the cave fish: maybe we’ve unmoored the need have a candidate who has substance that we like from the need to have a candidate that is electable, maybe we care about vision less than beating the other party.  Perhaps perceived electability is what parties choose (Romney, Kerry) over candidates that have concrete proposals that are then open to criticism.  Maybe we occasional choose blind salamanders precisely because they have less of a record of leadership.

The blind salamanders and the electorate have one thing in common: neither can see Romney’s tax returns.

 

Motorola (or what’s left of it) will move to Downtown Chicago

Home sweet home

Motorola Mobility, which was purchased by Google earlier this year, will move the bulk of its headquarters from Libertyville to the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, cutting over 700 jobs in the process.

The company, a former mobile phone giant now surpassed by Apple and Samsung, is in the process of reinventing itself.  Google hopes that it can foster change by creating a small, creative group within the company known as Advanced Technology and Products.  They’ve recruited a former director of DARPA to run the skunk-works style research center.  It remains to be seen whether the ship can be turned.

One person who is not skeptical, at least in public, is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who reportedly sees the move to the city from the ‘burbs as evidence of Chicago’s rise as a tech center.

 

Five things I learned from the 2012 London Olympics

These are the first summer Olympics that have occurred during my 30’s, so now seems like a good time to assess what I’ve taken away from the London 2012 games.

 

1) Never, ever mess with Kazakhstan.

Podobedova’s struggles were not in vein.

Kazakhstan has won seven gold medals in 2012, with almost all of them in weightlifting and boxing.  In fact, out of their 13 medals total, 11 of them are in weightlifting, boxing, or wrestling.  This included both men’s and women’s events, which means that on a per-capita basis, Kazakhstan has more people that could whoop you than anywhere else on the planet.

If the U.S. had the same level of badassery, we would have over 220 medals in lifting weights or fightin’.

There was some controversy about the origins of the medalists, as Russia and China both complained that some of Kazakhstan’s athletes were originally from their training programs.  That seems silly, as many athletes train in other countries or change nationalities over their career.  The regulations in the Olympics are much less strict than in international soccer.

Kazakstan’s prowess at these events raises the question: Why doesn’t the UFC just recruit in Astana?

 

2) Olympic athletes work out more in one day than I do in a month.

This is a sobering statistic: I have spent more time thinking about exercising this week than I have actually spent exercising.  [Source: my uptime on Reddit.com]

 

3) NBC thinks we like to watch Olympians watch themselves.

Inception.

This happened during a lot of interviews, the most memorable of which is the beach volleyball interview with Bob Costas. NBC had devoted five minutes of prime time coverage to an interview with Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings; we watched them watch themselves watch the flag being raised. That is five minutes more time than they spent coving the Pentathlon, which leads me to #4.

 

4) The Pentathlon is the coolest non-fictional sporting event, ever.

Seriously, what is it?

Leaving aside The Running Man and Hunger Games, the Pentathlon is the most awesome sport at the 2012 games, because it has five different levels of sub-awesome comprising it.  It combines fencing, riding a horse, and swimming. Then the scores give you handicap for the final component, running and shooting AT THE SAME TIME.

That’s so awesome you couldn’t make a video game out of it because it would be too unrealistic.  The Pentathlon is so amazing they may drop it from the games entirely because it is too awesome.

 

5) Chicago would have been an awesome host for 2016.

Chicago 2016 Proposed Logo

Really, I’m not being tongue-in-cheek here; we would have been a great host city.  We would have been a great place to visit, the city would have worked hard to shed it’s rough-and-corrupt image, and the CTA would have been modernized.

Maybe I just really wanted the CTA modernized.

Phoenix

20120810-233845.jpg

I’ve been away from posting for a while, as I had a difficult time getting myself excited about posting. Part of that was from inertia (i.e. laziness) and part of that was from format; I didn’t like the former blog’s format and I felt hampered by what I had written and posted before.

Knowing that, I hesitated starting again because I didn’t know what kind of blog this was going to become. Would it be a solely fiction writing blog? Non-fiction plus news commentary a lá Andrew Sullivan? General interest like the great Irish Trojan blog? I didn’t know and I still don’t, but I didn’t want that to keep me from posting.

So, here we have a work in progress. I’m running out of the hobbit hole with out my handkerchief.

EDIT: fixed some of the more egregious autocorrect errors.