Monday, May 17, 2010

Summertime, and the Livin' is Crazy

As we start our long, slow descent into Hades, otherwise known as summertime around here, we begin to feel the fear and loathing as we anticipate the inevitable 110-plus-degree days sure to come. This discomfort is made a tad bit worse due to the craziness which still envelops us like a sweltering, humid monsoon afternoon.

The blowback from the passage of SB 1070 continues unabated and even the Gulf oil spill can't knock it out of the top news story position. For anyone who's been living in a cave, SB 1070 is the new, get-tough illegal immigration law recently passed by our fair state. I was all ready to jump on the liberal bandwagon and condemn this law as racist and unconstitutional, but when some of its opponents catagorized it as "un-Christian," well, they lost me. Since when do our laws have a Christian aspect to them? Like we have to get the Catholic Church to approve them before passage? This is just one more of the annoying and vexing instances of the church-state separation being breached as part of some group's agenda.

Also on this topic, our lovely governor-without-a-mandate Jan Brewer is trying to counter the anti-SB 1070 furor and push back on all the boycotts and economic backlash that have been directed at us by holding a press conference and dredging up that chirpy, detestable Sarah Palin to come in and talk to us about something or other. The second I saw that pinhead's face and heard her fingernails-on-a-blackboard voice I changed the channel, but you know things are going to hell whenever you have to trot out an ignorant, inbred hillbilly to make a point. Brewer has also been taking to the airwaves in support of Proposition 100, which would add 1% to our state sales tax, ostensibly for education and public services. I am so against any new taxes because I feel I pay my share and so much of our money is wasted on stupid nonsense, but I would definitely be in favor of kicking in a couple of bucks to get that woman a face lift. She always looks so horrible on the news, like she is over 200 years old. The phrase "rode hard and put away wet" fits her perfectly and her face truly does look like 100 miles of bumpy dirt road.

President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court and everyone seems to agree (or can't find evidence to the contrary) that she is a pre-eminent legal scholar and would make a good Justice of the Court. But, in a development that is completely incomprehensible to me, some people are moaning about the fact that there will be no more Protestants on the Supreme Court, only Catholics and Jews. Is anyone actually serious about that? Why would the religious make-up of the Supreme Court matter to anyone? Again, to run the point into the ground, our government is not supposed to be about religion. The Founding Fathers made no provision for religious balance on the Supreme Court, and in fact if there is ANY arm of the government that needs to be free of religious influences, it should be the Supreme Court. Remember, there's this little something called "equal justice under law" that says our legal system should not, and CANNOT, take into account religious affiliation when interpreting the Constitution. If people are so wound up about some kind of religious "balance" in the highest court in the land, why are there no Buddhists, Muslims, Quakers or atheists on the court? Another of the really loathsome and distasteful incursions of religion into the lifeblood of our democracy, and it is very shameful and disgusting.

And, last but certainly not least, we have been subjected to a really obnoxious political ad by the eternally creepy Senator John McCain, an incumbent who is facing an uphill re-election campaign against opponent J. D. Hayworth this fall. Only this wretched state could come up with someone even more repellent and repulsive than McCain, but more on that in a future post. The television ads in question shows McCain doddering along the Arizona-Mexico border fence with Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu, discussing the sorry state of illegal immigration and how we need to "complete the danged fence". Since when does the word "danged" enter into political discourse among adults? Babeu is wearing his full sheriff drag, but an amusing little disclaimer on the bottom of the screen quietly notes that he is "appearing only in his personal capacity." That means that despite wearing his uniform, we should ignore that fact that he is head of the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, wink wink nudge nudge, and is only granting us the benefit of his own personal opinions. Then why isn't he wearing civilian clothes? Maybe because no one would give a crap if they thought he was just a civilian expressing his own views, but do pay attention if they think he's a law enforcement officer. I'm sure there are some legal prohibitions against a county sheriff using the power of his office to endorse a candidate, and this is the McCain committee's underhanded, cynical way of getting around that. And the very saddest part of this is that it will work with a number of voters who are too gullible and dimwitted to realize they are being played.

So, life here continues to swirl around the toilet bowl and each passing day brings a new load of baffling, confusing and demoralizing examples of people being stupid morons. It is really going to be a long, hot, depressing summer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kent State Plus 40 Years

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings. For those who are too young to remember anything about it, four college students were shot dead by Ohio National Guardsmen as they were protesting the war in Vietnam, among other things. In comparison to, say, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this seems like small potatoes but at the time the seismic waves of this event shook the country to its core.

It's impossible to truly understand Kent State without understanding the context of the country in 1970. The nation was truly in turmoil, probably the most profound it had experienced since the Great Depression or the Civil War. The war in Vietnam was going badly and was polarizing the country intensely. Richard Nixon was president and he was truly one of the most psychotic and unpopular presidents in history. His administration was top-heavy with right-wing creeps and rife with paranoia; they were sure that hordes of dirty hippies were crawling out from under every stone to destroy everything that was good in this country. They apparently couldn't figure out that hippies were stoned all the time and could barely get it together to go to the store and buy a box on Twinkies, let alone subvert and corrupt an entire country. The sexual revolution was in full bloom, and conventional morals and gender roles were being swept aside for the then-salacious "if it feels good, do it" maxim. Timothy Leary was urging everyone to "turn on, tune in and drop out," and the nascent women's movement was turning everything upside down, from the home to the workplace.

Additionally, the country had gone through the disastrous Democratic National Convention in Chicago during the presidential elections of 1968, and the media had shown mobs of long-haired anarchists trashing the streets and getting arrested. The previous year, the infamous Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967 brought the libertine, anything-goes counterculture to every corner of middle America, and people were appalled and frightened. Everything sounds pathetically dated and antiquated now, just like watching a rerun of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," but back then it was heady, radical stuff. Rarely in this country's history had so much changed so drastically and completely in such a short time, and the sense of disorientation and confusion was palpable.

So, into this intense cultural and social maelstrom I was dropped. I had just graduated high school in June of 1969 and was preparing for my freshman year as an astronomy major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland that September. Just going to college was a very dislocating experience for me - I had led a very sheltered life in a small steel-mill town in western Pennsylvania and was now facing a big and totally alien world on my own, away from everything with which I had become familiar. I also learned more about the socio-economic class system in this country because at college I was rubbing elbows with students who came from very well-to-do families in ultra-wealthy, upper-class New York enclaves like Rye and Scarsdale and White Plains and they kind of regarded me as a poverty case from the wrong side of the tracks. I felt alone and isolated a lot of the time.

Monday, May 4, 1970 started out like any other day. A very pleasant mid-spring morning, the trees on the grounds of the student union were blooming and warm breezes blew through the Lagoon park, a favorite place to hang out. But that afternoon, news of the shootings spread through the campus like wildfire. People went NUTS! Students poured out of the dormitories and classrooms. Euclid Avenue, a main thoroughfare in east Cleveland which ran right through the campus, was blocked by thousands of angry protesters. The police quickly showed up with some officers on horseback. They started charging the crowd to try to break us up, but the crowd quickly re-formed in their wake. I will never forget seeing a young mother pushing her baby daughter in a stroller, right in the front of the line of students, facing the police on their horses with a grim look on her face. The stand-off lasted several hours and eventually Euclid Avenue got freed up. The students went back on the campus grounds, and the mounted police stayed to maintain order. Despite all the anger and outrage, a short time later we were coming up to the policemen and talking to them, and petting the horses. Classes at the university were suspended for weeks, and I spent my days going to workshops and seminars put on by various radical political factions. I attended speeches and rallies by such notables as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.

Kent State University is located in Kent, Ohio, about 35 miles south of Cleveland, so the shootings had a real sense of urgency to us. It was personal because it was so close to us, and we all knew it could have easily happened here. The incident was my first real indication that our government was not always the benevolent, remote presence in our lives, but could be corrupt, dangerous and murderous.

The actual act of shooting took 13 seconds. In the end, four students died and nine more injured. Not one of the National Guardsmen who fired into a crowd of young people was ever punished, another indication to me that justice in America is not independent and objective, but rather situational and relative, and easily influenced by politics and driven by motives other than fairness for all.

A lot has happened since then. Forty years - 1,261,440,000 seconds- a whole lifetime. But I will never forget how on that pleasant spring day in 1970, my world expanded exponentially and 13 seconds changed my life.