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He is the very model…

abilityThis has happened. Today a man put his diminutive hands on a book he’s likely never read and recited words from a document, similarly unread, to take a job he clearly never wanted.

I didn’t watch it myself. I’m waiting for something else in my life that I can point to and say, “Now I’ve seen it all.”

As Mr. Trump spun the wheel of fortune, egged on by a carnival barker, in order to select his cabinet and advisors, it became clear he wasn’t serious about governing. As the names – and the credentials attached to those names – became public, I started thinking that Mr. Trump was not picking a cabinet. He was casting a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.

It was in that spirit that I began a project during my time off during the recent holiday season. –  “What I Did for Christmas Vacation.” I’ve also applied for the job of court jester in the new Trump administration. I expect to get a few digs in before the collective brain trust at the newly gilded White House brings its considerable intellect to bear and discovers that the president doesn’t have a jester, or a court for that matter.

If you’d like to sing along, by all means do so.

This is only the instrumental track. I don’t care about President Hyperbole enough to add the lyrics, so don’t follow the bouncing ball. Ignore the chorus. I could not find a slower tempo that did not include the chorus from the original tune, so just sing louder than the canned musicians.

In attempting to sing it myself, I’ve determined that the lyrics are a tad unsingable, but I encourage you to give it a good try anyway. If anyone has ideas on how I might massage these lyrics to make them trip off the tongue more efficiently, I’m open to suggestions. I wouldn’t mind recording this one day, so anyone interested in joining in that effort, please let me know.

Also, I feel the need to remind my fellow liberals (we are sometimes a sensitive lot) that there is some offensive language in here. I am writing this in his voice. It has been a bravery test for me, and I may be doing a lot more of it in the next four years.

If you want to listen to the original, which is far superior to any parody, go here.

If you want to hear the best parody of this, go here.

And now…

WHAT I DID FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION

donald-trump-firedTRUMP:
I am the very model of an autocratic President
My bigly governmental pseudo-knowledge should be evident

‘Tis constitutional aberrance that I owe my victory
(Tho’ voter count would seem to show my win is contradictory)

Detractors count my inexperience as liability
I’ll counter them with immature and petulant hostility

To Twitter I will go to give my thoughts upon diplomacy
The guy who wrote these lyrics is a hack at rhapsodomancy.

deplorable1LES DEPLORABLES*:
The guy who wrote these lyrics is a hack at rhapsodomancy.
The guy who wrote these lyrics is a hack at rhapsodomancy.
The guy who wrote these lyrics is a hack at rhapsodoma-domancy.

TRUMP:
My po-li-ti-cal prowess is banal and unspectacular
It’s up to Pence to get me up to speed on the vernacular

I’ll send your ass to Gitmo ’cos you mocked this angry Tweet I sent
Believe me I can do it for I am the U.S. President.

LES DEPLORABLES:
He’ll send your ass to Gitmo ’cos you mocked this angry Tweet he sent
Believe him he can do it for he is the U.S. President.

c_scalefl_progressiveq_80w_800TRUMP:
Who knew I’d be so popular with all the white supremacists?
For that you cannot blame me, though I’ll gladly take the benefits.

And Muslims shouldn’t fret much if they see me haul a cleric in
It’s not the same as what we did to Japanese Americans

My thoughts on reproductive issues border on draconian
You’ll find my stance on women’s rights enshrined in the Smithsonian.

The broads all spurn my offers of an orgy bacchanalia
But it’s no bother, I just grab them by the genitalia

depplorable3LES DEPLORABLES:
But it’s no bother, he just grabs them by the genitalia
But it’s no bother, he just grabs them by the genitalia
But it’s no bother, he just grabs them by the geni-genitalia

TRUMP:
My status as a billionaire caucasian gives immunity
I’ll mock the Muslim crippled female lesbos with impunity

Tho’ I’m a Baby Christian, I’ll be damned if I am penitent
For by a technicality, I am the U.S. President.

LES DEPLORABLES:
Tho’ he’s a Baby Christian, he’ll be damned if he is penitent
For by a technicality, he is the U.S. President.

tangerine-07TRUMP:
In fact when I know what is meant by “constitutionality”
When I appoint my cabinet with patent whimsicality

When my base of supporters know the promises I cannot keep
And national security intrudes upon my beauty sleep

When I have learn’t the social progress made in our society
And why it gives my alt-right friends such fits of sheer anxiety

In short, when I can figure out just how you all gave me a pass
In four more years I’ll try to pull another rabbit from my ass

trumpshockreuters-800x430LES DEPLORABLES:
In four more years he’ll try to pull another rabbit from his ass
In four more years he’ll try to pull another rabbit from his ass
In four more years he’ll try to pull another rabbit, rabbit from his ass

TRUMP:
My narcissistic nature has been verified empirical
If we survive this quarter score, ’twill be a bless-ed miracle

Though while you wring your hands and gnash your teeth and offer your lament
There’s nothing you can do about it, I’m the U.S. President.

LES DEPLORABLES:
Though while you wring your hands and gnash your teeth and offer your lament
There’s nothing you can do about it, he’s the U.S. President.

Lyrics by Tom (with a one-line assist by Dr. Wes Flinn),
inspired by Sir W.S. Gilbert
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan

* – Pronounced “Lay day-plo-RA-blech”**
** – I hate Les Misera-blech

I flapped my arms like wings

In the mid-1990s when I was the arts and entertainment editor of our college campus newspaper, I received a review copy of a CD by comedian/satirist Paul Krassner. As a burgeoning young liberal, it spoke to me. My favorite track off the CD was titled “Dreaming the News.” In it, Krassner tells about an incident in his childhood that led to a litmus test he applied to determining whether he was dreaming or reading the news. He would simply flap his arms like wings. If he flew, he knew he was dreaming (or having an acid flashback) and could just ride the fantasy to the end. If he didn’t, he knew whatever he was reading was reality and he’d have to process it.

I’ve been doing a lot of flapping lately. The cats are ready to attack me.

I’ll just address a few incidents of attempted human nonmechanized flight.

‘Stephen Colbert’ will no longer be portrayed by Stephen Colbert

Last week, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert host revived his character from the long-running Comedy Central program The Colbert Report for a segment on his current CBS show. Specifically, he brought back a Colbert Report monologue feature called “The Word.” I found it hilarious, and it was nice to see the caricature of the right wing media back on television.

You know who didn’t find it hilarious? The lawyers for Comedy Central. The contacted CBS claiming that they own the intellectual property of the character “Stephen Colbert.”

“Which, is surprising, because I never thought of that guy as much of an intellectual,” Colbert joked last Wednesday night. “The lawyers have spoken. I cannot reasonably argue that I own my face or name. And as much as I would like to have that guy on again, I can’t.”

I flapped my arms for that and remained stationary. Stephen Colbert was, in fact, not Stephen Colbert.

Before you fret that we are left without a liberal pretending to be a conservative pretending to be a professional journalist, you need not worry. Colbert introduced a new character that very evening: his identical cousin named Stephen Colbert.

Hey. It worked for Patty Duke.

cousin-colbert

I’ll bet a hot dog makes him lose control.

Cousin Stephen will, from time to time on The Late Show, be presenting the new feature “The Werd.”

Part of me wonders if this whole mess might have been avoided if Colbert had just copied and pasted that stupid Facebook privacy message in his status.

‘I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!’

In the wake of the Democratic National Convention, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (yeah…I hate typing it almost as much as a lot of Republicans hate thinking about it) said – in front of reporters – that he’d like to hit speakers at the DNC who disparaged him.

All right. Fess up. Who forgot to give The Donald the memo that says folks might say bad things about him during a presidential campaign?

I flapped my arms so hard that if it had been a dream, the wind would have blown that rug off The Donald’s melon. Disparaging other people seems to be Donald Trump’s stock in trade.

Trump-tweet-1

 

Trump-tweet-3

 

Trump-tweet-4

And those are his friends! We have a little more than three months left of hearing him spew his bile about “Crooked Hillary.”

This next one is leveled at Kentucky’s junior senator, the guy who currently occupies the seat formerly held by Wendell Ford. As a Kentucky-born liberal, it’s near to my heart.

Trump-tweet-2

 

And if there’s something Trump is an expert on it’s spoiled brats with malfunctioning brains.

I have a hard time believing a man like Donald Trump can hurl insults with reckless abandon and then claim to be bruised from the ordinary jabs of a contentious political campaign.

One might even say I was shocked.

renault

Restoring dignity

In light of the craptastic voter turnout in the general election earlier this month, I’d think that the infusion of 140,000 voters who likely will not take for granted the privilege would be a good thing.

Today, though, following Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order restoring voting rights to certain classifications of former felons, I’ve seen commentary suggesting that this is a defiance of the “will of the people” and putting forth the idea that felons who have been released from prison should wait five years before having their voting rights reinstated.

The “will of the people” argument is so asinine I’m not going to explore it, except to say that it might be possible that the will of the people has been wrong before (Jim Crow, the Red Scare, National Socialism).

I find the idea of a five-year waiting period interesting. What exactly is it that proponents of this idea hope to accomplish? What’s supposed to happen in those five years? Training the former felon how to use the new voting machines? A refresher on high school civics? That’s about four months there. What are they supposed to do for the remaining 56 months?

It is doubtful either of those things will happen. They would cost money. The only other reason I can think of that anyone would impose a waiting period on regaining such a fundamental human right is as a punitive measure.

And punishment for what? For successfully completing a prison sentence? For repaying a debt to society?

Never having been to prison, I can only speculate what it’s like coming out into “the world” again. I have talked with some former felons in my previous professional life, and I know there are, not surprisingly, obstacles to re-entering society. It can be difficult with a felony record to find a job or secure housing. The social stigma of having served time follows the former felon almost everywhere. I’m not going to argue that it’s wrong. You can’t legislate peoples’ thoughts and perceptions. Society should choose to nurture former felons, but if people fear or are distrustful of former felons, there isn’t a law that will make people trust a former felon. That’s a justifiable position, by the way. I’ll give a former felon a chance, but I’ll also defend someone’s right not to. You went to jail for a reason. Life’s going to be a little bit hard when you come out.

Even though society is not obligated to welcome the former felon with open arms, they ought not feel further disenfranchised by being treated like second class citizens. After all, they have served their time. They are square with the house. By imposing a waiting period of five years (or three, or ten, because it seems so completely arbitrary), we may as well just send the former felon back to prison.

My senior year in college, a roommate stole my credit cards and went on a shopping spree around Morehead. He was arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to the crime, and afterward served time in prison. I’m not sorry that he went to jail, and I hope it gave him time to reflect on what he had done. If he had a hard time regaining his footing when he got out, I’m not sorry. But, I’m glad he can vote now. It doesn’t hurt me at all.

Critics have suggested this executive order is a good thing for Democrats. It is what it is. Liberals have been championing this issue for a long time, and have delivered on it. If that puts Democrats in the good graces of former felons who can now vote, then all I can say is that Republicans could have done the same thing and been seen as the champion of civil rights for former felons, and maybe they could have welcomed those voters into their fold. They didn’t.

Why? That’s a good question. Was it to maintain the image of being tough on crime? Is the definition of being tough on crime is breaking someone even after they’ve served their time and paid their restitution? Was it to “protect us”? From what? Hordes of registered voters showing up at the polls?

To release a person from prison, call them reformed, tell them they’ve repaid their debt, and then to withhold a basic human right is setting a bad example. It’s beating someone when they’re down. It’s bullying.

It’s not the kind of society I want to live in. At least I don’t have to now, and neither do 140,000 former felons.

Star Dreck: The Next Degradation

This story is primarily about Star Wars, but there are statements in it about Star Trek that have gotten up the dander in this middle-aged Trekkie.

We’ll start with this one:

“I often think about the areas of the Star Trek universe that haven’t been taken advantage of,” Paramount’s (Marc) Evans says. “Like, I’ll be ridiculous with you, but what would ‘Star Trek: Zero Dark Thirty’ look like? Where is the SEAL Team Six of the Star Trek universe? That fascinates me.”

If Gene Roddenberry hadn’t been cremated, he’d be rolling over in his motherfucking grave right now.

Redshirts021014 (2)

Starfleet’s Seal Team 6. They’d be recasting every week.

Starfleet, the quasi-military organization depicted in the multiple television and film incarnations of Star Trek, was never intended to be a shoot-‘em-up instrument of gunboat diplomacy. Yes, every incarnation of Trek on television and on the big screen has capitalized on a rougher, tougher rendition of Starfleet, but that was never part of Roddenberry’s vision. Indeed, he is said to have hated the uniforms introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, (the so-called “monster maroons,” the coolest uniforms in sci-fi, in my opinion) because they were too militaristic compared to the simpler uniforms of the 1966 television series and the one-piece pajama uniforms of the 1979 feature film (which were god-awful).

I’ll make a confession now. I actually did enjoy the Dominion War story arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) at the time it aired. Some years later, though, I started watching reruns of the original series, and realized how far Trek had strayed from its original intent, which was to tell the story of a “wagon train to the stars.” The opening monologue, spoken by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) spelled it out clearly. “Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” In the late 1980s, Star Trek: The Next Generation amended the monologue, replacing the word “man” with “one,” art imitating life. That show continued the tradition set forth by the original series, but subsequent series drifted away from that premise. DS9 started out with promise, with its complex and diverse characters and distinctively non-Starfleet alien environment, but took a darker turn with the introduction of a new adversary threatening the United Federation of Planets, spiraling into full-scale war, a first for any incarnation of Star Trek.

Before any of you fanboys and girls get apoplectic, let me qualify that last statement. Yes, the Dominion War was the first war that ever played out in the Star Trek universe. The conflict with the Klingons, which was portrayed in a handful of episodes during the three-year run of the original series and depicted in three of the six movies featuring the original series cast exclusively (not including Star Trek: Generations), was, at best, a cold war. Think about it. Did we ever hear details about massive armed conflicts between the Klingon Empire and United Federation of Planets during the years 2266-2269 (the 23rd century calendar years in which the original series were set)? The Klingons merely showed up every so often, there was tension, conflict and resolution. The closest it ever got to escalation was in the episode “Errand of Mercy,” when the Klingons inflicted martial law on the peaceful neutral zone world of Organia. One could argue that this was the 23rd century political equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which, at the time that episode aired, was probably still fresh in the minds of American television viewers. There was documentation of the Romulan War, but until the episode “Balance of Terror,” occurring in 2266 on the Star Trek calendar, the Romulans had been reclusive for more than a century, following a brutal war that brought both sides to its knees and resulted in a treaty establishing a neutral zone between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire.

Indeed, war and other armed conflict is in the backstory of Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets, but, until DS9 it had not taken a front row seat. Roddenberry would not have wanted it, preferring a more optimistic depiction of human development in the 23rd century, a story of humans who would attempt all other avenues to solve problems before resorting to armed conflict. For all the talk of Kirk vs. Picard, and the popular notion that Kirk was tougher (if he was, it was a reflection of the historical period in which the respective series were created), Kirk was reliant on and tempered by the other half of his brain, first officer and science officer Mr. Spock. NATO could use a Mr. Spock.

In recent years, J.J. Abrams’ reboots of Star Trek have further drifted from Roddenberry’s original intent, with a pair of movies that put the Federation under siege from a Romulan from the past with a most decidely non-Romulan-looking ship (do some homework J.J.) and again, rebooting a popular character from the original series and the movies, Khan Noonien Singh, and injecting him into his spinoff Trek universe. The two movies were action-packed, to be sure, but they were not Trek, and that may have been by design.

Again from the above-mentioned article.

“Abrams’ Star Trek movies were fine. But he acknowledges, now, that the rational, scientific, boldly-going Trek paracosm didn’t resonate with him when he was a kid.”

Here’s an idea, J.J.: if Trek didn’t resonate with you, then why don’t you just leave it the hell alone?

Abrams’ two Trek movies were, in my opinion, well-funded fan fiction, and they have had the unfortunate effect of bringing into the Trekkie fold new fans who like Star Trek for all the wrong reasons. I have no use for those movies or the new “fans.”

Because of this slippery slope, though, we now have a Paramount executive speculating on the possibility of a Starfleet equivalent of Seal Team 6. I know it’s just a TV show, and that I should just go out and get a girlfriend, but assassinating heads of state or other leading threat force operatives is not in the character of the United Federation of Planets. Starfleet was never meant to be an equivalent of the American military, but rather a multicultural exploration and peacekeeping organization.

If Paramount’s intent is to take Star Trek down this treacherous and morally questionable road, it may as well just let the Trek franchise die.

Requiem aeternam…

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Todd and me, ca. 1977 or ’78.

I’ll be honest. When I looked at the concert schedule at the beginning of the season I didn’t notice the proximity of the dates. When I read this story, though, in the Lexington Herald-Leader and learned how personal this “Requiem” is to composer Gregory Partain, it took me back to the very early morning hours of Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000, when my brother Todd died.

I don’t say “passed away,” “passed on,” “went on to his reward,” or anything else like that because 1) I’m a journalist and we don’t use two words when one will do and 2) no parsing of language will bring him back. Almost six months after his 24th birthday, Todd died.

Writing about it has never been my strong suit, though. It could be because we often had a strained relationship, stemming from the fact that we were about 180 degrees apart in personality. Todd was never afraid to talk to girls, he had a casual attitude toward “the rules” as set forth by my parents, he excelled in sports. I reserved my first swear word in front of my mom and dad for after I turned 18 (on my birthday, in fact). Todd heard that, saw that I got away with it, and, at 15, decided to add “bad” words to the lexicon of what was acceptable to say in front of Zena and Tom Sr. I was very much the oldest child, and Todd was the quintessential middle child.

Still, he was my brother. I’m the only person in the world, aside from mom and dad, who knew him his whole life. We were getting along toward the end of his life. I had started working for a collegiate sports marketing company in Lexington, so I could actually manage a conversation about sports with him. Todd is the only person I know who ever used the phrase “die hard blueneck” to describe University of Kentucky athletics fans while on a radio call-in show, whose audience was made up primarily of University of Kentucky athletics fans. I sometimes display an irreverence toward societal norms, which, I suppose, I can attribute to me trying to memorialize him. That’s the sentimental answer. The real answer is that it took me longer to figure out a concept he mastered early on: it’s much more fun to be naughty. If he were alive today, I’d thank him for the lesson, but I’d add that it’s even more fun to be naughty when no one expects it from you. I’m still the big brother, after all.

This is the most I’ve ever written publicly about Todd since I wrote his obituary, and probably the most I’ll ever write in this space about how his death has affected me. Not everything in this life has to be shared with strangers. I will say that having to cope with losing a sibling made me tougher for the challenges I had yet to face. It taught me not to mourn solitude so much, even if that was a lesson I sometimes chose to ignore.

Following Dr. Partain’s example, I will be thinking of my brother, Todd Louis Musgrave, as we perform the “In Paradisum” movement of Dr. Partain’s “Requiem” on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, 15 years and two days after my brother’s death.

Love the one you’re with

marylouise3414

Oh, Amy Gardner, for you I will be the guy dancing around at the end of the prize fight.

I enjoy my solitude and have settled into a lifestyle where I do not depend on another person’s presence to define my life. I am a complete person on my own, and adding a similarly complete woman to the picture would only serve to enhance us both. Bachelorhood is not so bad.

Having said that…

Tonight is one of those nights where it would be nice to be dating a liberal Democratic woman. What good is having your party stereotyped as being godless and of loose moral character if you can’t act on it to take your mind off a disappointing election night?

As always, if there are references here you do not understand, please click here.

‘Well, did you evah?’

“What a swell party this is.”

Don’t worry. Cole Porter would approve. Tip o’ the hat to Wes for the headline inspiration.

Another magnificent day for human rights in America – June 26, 2015 – has ended, though its ramifications will echo into the future.

bumper sticker

I was looking for an image of one of those bumper stickers I saw in 2004 illustrating “Man + Woman = Family,” but I couldn’t find it. What I did find was this, and I think it better illustrates the disparity and discrimination that was legal until yesterday.

My thoughts, however, seem to be drifting into the past. Specifically, 2004. That’s when residents of my home state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, when asked for a show of hands, declared marriage to be between a man and woman. And if the bumper stickers promoting that constitutional amendment were any indication, they also declared that a family was only a family if a man and a woman produced children. Because, God forbid, a man and a woman have sex for the pleasure of it. That’s just insane. For crying out loud, people, the clitoris is a bundle of nerve endings and it serves one biological purpose, usually to make sure that the word “God” is somehow involved in the sexual act. Repeatedly if you know what you’re doing. I don’t know what atheists cry out during climax, though I’m willing to seek grant funding for that study.

I digress.

In 2004 the residents of the Commonwealth of Kentucky were asked by the state legislature to define marriage (or rather, ill-define marriage). Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling today, the outcome of that election is void (as it should be). Still, I feel the need to rebuke the legislature that put such an important legal decision in the hands of Kentucky’s residents, as well as the statehouses of other states who left it up to the citizens to decide such an issue.

This goes out to Democrats and Republicans: Don’t you dare, DON’T YOU DARE ask the residents of this state for a show of hands to create a subclass of American citizen ever again. EVER AGAIN!

Just because people oppose something doesn’t make it proper. Interracial marriage used to be illegal. Separate, but equal was once the norm. The injustice of all injustices – slavery – used to be “our peculiar institution.”

Creating a lottery? Ask us for a show of hands. Legalizing casino gaming? Ask us for a show of hands. Want to sell pot? Ask us for a show of hands, man. None of those issues involves relegating a segment of the population to second-class status.

There have been many people saying the Supreme Court has trampled on states’ rights. If they’re talking about a state’s right to codify discrimination into law, then I would concede the low ground. If creating a second class of citizenry was a state right and put to a vote of citizens, then the voting bloc of the pre-Civil War south – “the land of the boll weevil where the laws are medieval” – probably would have made slavery legal in the southern states.

Civil rights are not a state issue, and they certainly aren’t up for a show of hands. In 2004 Kentucky’s General Assembly (and other states’ legislatures) failed to realize this.

Apart from being a grossly inappropriate way to address a major social issue, it was a depressing snapshot inside the minds of Kentuckians. A majority of my fellow Bluegrass State residents said that it was OK to deny a segment of the population the right to marriage simply because they didn’t agree with the homosexual lifestyle (whatever that is). They obfuscated their opinions by saying that they were voting to define marriage as one man and one woman, but anyone with half a brain could read between the lines. It made me think – and fear – that, if put to a vote, a majority of the residents of Kentucky would approve converting our form of government to a theocracy. Conveniently, there are a few contemporary examples of theocracy we could call upon as models. In fact, we have several practitioners of theocracy residing at Camp Hummus Enema and Waterpark down in Cuba. We could easily fly them up here to consult with us on setting up a working theocracy.

It’s not a great idea, but it has the benefit of being batshit crazy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a warlock in my family tree. In an American theocracy, do I have a choice between being burned at the stake or stoned? Drawn and quartered? Hung? Forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s screeds until my ears bleed?

I also never bought the idea that same-sex marriage would damage the so-called sanctity of marriage. I’m a divorced man. My marital split did more damage to the sanctity of marriage than all the collected same-sex marriages ever will. And there are many reasons I’m no longer married (and I realize I’m going to burn in hellfire for all eternity for it, but I’m here now and I’m going to do some good), but nowhere on that list is “becuz teh gayz can gets married.” I would challenge anyone to present evidence, grounded in reputable biological or social scientific fact, that gay marriage contributed to the dissolution of my marriage.

To end on a less controversial note, I would be remiss if I did not point out that, on social media platforms today, messages of love and acceptance and respect far outweighed (and outclassed) posts of disappointment and, to a lesser extent, butthurt by people who, quite frankly, are unaffected at all by the Court’s decision. I am happy for so many people whom I am fortunate to call “friends.” I wish I could have seen every one of your faces today when the news broke. I know several of you have waited decades for this day. I can’t begin to imagine what that was like, but I know that if I get married again, I will not take it for granted. Thank you for your example of dignity and grace.

In the meantime, celebrate. You’ve waited long enough.

“It is so ordered.”

Not just another terror attack

I’m going to acknowledge that I write this collection of words sitting in a place of white privilege. It’s not said often enough, and unfortunately when it is, it’s usually in the wake of tragedies like the terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C. on Wednesday evening. Still, I think it’s important to acknowledge, because when I still went to church, I never had to worry that a human being with subhuman thoughts and motivations would walk into choir practice on Wednesday night and gun us down. That’s largely because everyone I went to church with looked like I do.

So, let’s stow the rhetoric about the Charleston church shootings being an “attack on faith.” This was a mass lynching and anyone who tries to cast it as persecution against Christians should just check themselves out of the conversation right now.

They won’t, of course, but I’m not going to let that stop me from lecturing to them.

I have hated the continued slaughter of Americans by Americans, even more than I have hated the murder of Americans by foreign nationals. We have a horribly paradoxical attitude, though, about the former and the latter. Foreign terrorists fly planes into our buildings, and we are ready to rain down thunder upon them and do everything we can to remove their ability to do it again. American terrorists gun down innocents in schools, churches, theaters, places of business and we call it an isolated tragedy and do very little to impede similar groups from repeating the carnage. We hold up the Second Amendment as our excuse, and we bastardize and corrupt the words “freedom” and “liberty.”

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result every time, then America has first-class tickets and is living it up in the bar car on the crazy train. Let’s put to bed the myth that we are the “greatest country in the world,” because this is not the behavior of a great civilization. Greatness does not respect the beliefs espoused by that racist slime, that feckless thug. Greatness may tolerate it in our midst, but not without saying “you’re wrong, and we are not going to allow you to fester and hamper our progress.”

We aren’t the greatest country in the world, but we can become better than we are.

In my short life, I’ve been around for too many of these, but I’ve always been insulated from them because of distance, either geographical or relational. I never knew anyone personally involved. That changed on Thursday morning, when I read a post from a friend, a former classmate at Morehead. She teaches in Charleston and was coworkers and friends with one of the shooting victims, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, who was a speech therapist and track coach, and who was also a pastor in the church. I’m trying not to make this about me, but I can’t imagine I’m the only person in America for whom the degrees of separation from these massacres of Americans by Americans are getting fewer and fewer as time marches on. Yesterday it was a friend of a friend. I’ll admit, I grieve when these things happen, but there’s always an arrogance about it because I somehow feel that it will never happen to me or to someone I know. And no one ever does.

Well, that’s not true. African-Americans do. There have been enough church burnings, lynchings, and other atrocities committed against African-Americans throughout American history to justify the fear they might have. As I said, though, at the beginning, I do not know that kind of fear because I sit in a place of white privilege. Sure, if I was fighting for my country, I could sit in a bunker and be afraid, but at least I know that the fellows on the other side are trying to kill me. But because I’m white, I can come home from that war, move into a home and be completely ignorant that my neighbor is a white supremacist with a Klan hood hanging in his closet. We’re not going to bother each other because I’m ignorant of his views and he’s ignorant of my views. I don’t know that I’m living next to a terrorist.

I can’t imagine that a black family who moves into a predominantly white neighborhood can feel that kind of security. I may wonder if any of my neighbors are domestic terrorists, but it doesn’t directly affect me. I can’t fathom that level of fear.

Yet there are people, high-level people, who seem to thrive in ignorance in the wake of these domestic terror attacks. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – you know…the one who won’t retire the state’s treasonous flag – wrote on her Facebook page that “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

We’ll never understand? Gov. Haley, this is not one of life’s great mysteries. A guy wearing the flag of pre-South African Apartheid went into a church with a gun and slaughtered human beings whose skin color was different than his own. He is reported by the only living witness to have said “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you’ll have to go.” He confessed to authorities that he executed this terrorist attack in order to start a race war.

This one is open and shut, governor. Lieutenant Columbo has left the building.

Presidential candidate, former Florida governor and brother of a famous idiot Jeb Bush said on Friday “I don’t know what was on the mind or the heart of the man who committed these atrocious crimes.”

Either he is genuinely as stupid as his brother, or someone on his campaign staff (the guy who buys cigarettes for Satan) advised him to be purposely nebulous (ignorant) for fear of losing the slackjaw neanderthal vote.

Rick Santorum (is he still relevant?), to his credit, called it what it was – a hate crime. Unfortunately, he missed the mark when identifying the group that was being targeted, taking his cue from Fox News. On Thursday he told radio host Joe Piscopo “We don’t know the rationale, but what other rationale could there be? You’re sort of lost that someone would walk into a Bible study at a church and indiscriminately kill people.”

What other rationale?

To this trio, and others like them who are dancing around the elephant in the room, I ask this: Are you intentionally ignorant, or can you really not make the connection between a white supremacist domestic terrorist and his intent to gun down members of a black church? Are you aware that people listen to the words coming out of those holes in your heads? How many other terrorist attacks like this must we endure before you have the grand epiphany, before you grow up, before we can finally have an honest discussion about racism in America.

We aren’t the greatest country in the world. Wednesday night proved that. We can become better than we are, though. As soon as our leaders can do as the struggling alcoholic does and admit we have a problem, then we can truly progress.

To the class of 2015

As I look out at this massive crowd I see the tops of mortarboards.

Put the phones away, kids.

I cannot help but look at this sea of fresh faces and think of the soul-crushing pile of student debt you are about to collectively accumulate. I mean huge. I mean so big you should probably start shopping around for a funeral home now while your credit is still good.

The good news is that somewhere in this throng of wide-eyed terror lurks a few future white collar criminals. My advice is to make friends with those guys (or gals…it’s an equal opportunity world). You’ll get a better interest rate from those loan sharks than you ever would from a bank.

If you are one of those future white collar criminals, my advice is don’t get caught. If you do get caught, don’t drop the soap. I wouldn’t worry about that too much though. You can always follow the career model of the poster boy for white collar crime, Enron’s Kenneth Lay, who had the good sense to die before he could get raped in prison by a hairy behemoth the other cons call Twinkie.

To the kids who almost had a perfect GPA for their high school careers, except for that one “B” you got this semester in music appreciation, you got what you deserved. You probably would have received an “A” if you hadn’t asked – five times per class – “is this going to be on the exam?” In case you were wondering if your parents are secretly disappointed that you didn’t make a perfect 4.0, they are. Don’t worry, though. That disappointment is nothing compared to when you tell them you’re changing your major from accounting to Sanskrit. Keep your chin up.

To the overachievers I say: yes, it’s true. Your friends have been making fun of your anal retentive obsession with grades and accolades this entire time. Before you make that same mistake in college, here’s a little joke for you. What do you call the person who finishes last in their class at medical school? Doctor! So if you’re a dude, go on panty raids. If you’re a chick, go kidnap a fraternity pledge.

By the way, that actually happened to me in college. I got dragged off the street by a carload of sorority girls, and it’s every bit as fun as it sounds.

But I digress…

My point is this: you should have gone toilet papering a little more (or at all).

For the “C” students, take heart. It is possible to become gainfully employed. If you have enough personality and know how to bullshit, you can one day supervise a straight “A” student. And won’t that be fun? Please, though, for the love of whatever it is you believe in, let’s make a pact right here and now that you “C” students will never, EVER accept a nomination by your party to be President of the United States. You’d be like the toddler going on the grocery shopping trip with his mom. She only had a list of things she needed, but she ended up spending more money because of the stuff you broke, and the lives you ruined, and the international reputation you took a dump on.

In closing – because like most of you writing your own essays, I’m too lazy to think up a more thoughtful transition to the concluding paragraph, so I’m just taking the obvious route – I’d like to point out that there are some very serious high school graduation speeches being given today by extraordinarily well-credentialed and distinguished speakers. If just one person in any of those audiences, listening to those sage words, was so moved as to decide, right then and there, that they were going to turn from their slacker ways and lives of mediocrity, I would be utterly shocked.

Thank you and God help us.

‘Of all the souls…’

Leonard Nimoy directs Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik) in Star Trek III.

Leonard Nimoy directs Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik) in Star Trek III.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the soul of Star Trek just died.

That’s not to denigrate the performances of the other six cast members. There was diversity unlike anything else on TV during the 1960s and everyone, to a person, had their moments. When you look at it, though, from the early 21st century they were really just standard issue humans on a spaceship.

But not Spock, and the job of making Spock nonstandard fell to Leonard Nimoy.

Like a lot of Trekkies (or Trekkers as Nimoy preferred calling us), I came to

Spock in his office.

Spock in his office.

Star Trek years after the original series had been canceled. I wasn’t even born yet when it aired its last episode in 1969. And, like many, the thing that drew me to the series wasn’t the ship or the rayguns or the space battles. It was that pointy-eared fellow with the funny haircut.

A good friend of mine, Wes Flinn, wrote today that “if you were different in any way, you had Spock as someone to look up to.” Spock set the standard for science fiction. He was the alien character who served to reflect humanity, and even American culture, back at itself, seen through the prism of an intelligent alien.

Spock's parents, Amanda (Jane Wyatt) and Sarek (Mark Lenard). I can't believe network executives let this scandalous interracial marriage be on television.

Spock’s parents, Amanda (Jane Wyatt) and Sarek (Mark Lenard). I can’t believe network executives let this scandalous interracial marriage be on television.

Well, half-alien. Spock was human on his mother’s side and Vulcan on his father’s side, but as much as this flies in the face of the paranoiacs at Homeland Security and the CIA, we’re all alien to somebody.

I doubt there’s accurate polling data to support whether people would have tuned in to Star Trek if Spock was not on the show, but I probably would not have. I was surprised to learn, when I was researching Star Trek’s history for a speech I had to give in a college class, that NBC wanted to axe the Spock character because with his pointed ears and upturned eyebrows he appeared too satanic.

Mister Spock, cleaned up for the Bible Belt.

Mister Spock, cleaned up for the Bible Belt.

Indeed, in the publicity stills released before the series aired, NBC had airbrushed out Spock’s pointed ears and eyebrows for fear of offending some viewers. I view that as an anthropological curiosity about American

corporate culture in the 1960s that they would worry about offending an audience segment that probably wouldn’t watch the show to begin with. “If you don’t like our resident alien, you’re definitely not going to like our African communications officer or our Asian-American (Sulu was born in San Fran) helmsman. And hang around for season two, where you will lose your shit over our commie navigator.”

That’s a not-so-polite way to say that Star Trek isn’t for everybody.

It’s difficult to write about what Spock, and by extension Leonard Nimoy, meant to me without writing about Star Trek itself. As I postulated above, I believe Spock, with Nimoy as his conduit, was the soul of the show, there to reflect our human (and American) values back to us, warts and all. He was the good at his job, yet he was a misfit, a man without a country, neither fully Vulcan nor fully human. Put in the context of growing up in the 80s, he was a nerd in a world of jocks and preppies, and I think that’s why those of us who never felt like we were “standard issue humans” gravitated toward Spock, Nimoy and the show. If it were not for the lack of longevity that would allow me to live into the 23rd century (and not be a blubbering senior senior senior citizen), I would have wanted to be Spock when I grew up. It seemed to be a better gig than cop, fireman or race car driver, and you got to do more traveling.

But you can’t be Spock. None of us can. Leonard Nimoy already did it, and he put his signature on it. He invented the Vulcan salute and the customary Vulcan “blessing” (I can’t think of a better word…admonition, maybe?) to “live long and prosper.” When a script called for Spock to brawl with an evil duplicate of Captain Kirk, Nimoy objected. He rationalized that Vulcans, steeped in logic and general emotional control (no one ever said they did not have emotions) were above such primitive fisticuffs. Thus, the Vulcan nerve pinch was born. It was a nonlethal maneuever by which Spock would apply pressure where the neck meets the shoulder, rendering a foe unconscious without unnecessary and excessive force. I’ll never forget the first time I saw it in action. It was at my granny and granddaddy’s one weekend. They live in Cox’s Creek, which is a few counties over from Louisville, so they picked up Louisville television stations. WAVE 3 aired Star Trek reruns on Sundays. My granddaddy and I were watching and Spock felled some poor soul with the nerve pinch. Granddaddy looked at me and said “that Spock’s got a helluva grip, huh?”

Gene Roddenberry may have thought up Spock, but Leonard Nimoy made him true, from the measured cadence and controlled tone of his voice to the way he carried himself, to the way he sat at his station on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. It’s hard to say goodbye to the guy who gave birth to one of the most – if not THE most – iconic characters of American television.

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