Friday Links, April 14, 2017

Happy Good Friday.  Here’s why we call it Good Friday.

My kids’ school closed this week for Spring Break. They’re 1 and 4 years old so they don’t know they’re supposed to be in Destin or Breckenridge. I stayed home from work and we did things that don’t cost money. We roughhoused. We played with action figures. We went to the playground. I read the news on my phone while Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood taught them how to be good people.

Maybe.  Daniel clearly doesn’t know that it’s offensive to dress up in lion face.

Point being, I don’t let caring for my children (or performing my real job, or having friends or hobbies, or it being Good Friday) interfere with my commitment to provide you with quality news and commentary each and every Friday.

I do let it interfere with my commitment to provide those things in a timely manner.


Let’s Begin with Tears.

I was seven years old when Return of the Jedi ended the Star Wars saga.  Thus, unlike a great many young men at the north end of my generation, I was too young to claim Princess Leia as my first celebrity crush.* But I loved the character, and Carrie Fisher, all the same, and Fisher’s death stung in a far deeper and more visceral way than the other casualties of the 2016 Celebrity Death March. Especially occurring the way it did at the tail end of such a rough year.

And while wet stuff doesn’t typically fall from my eyes, this Fisher tribute, released this week at a Star Wars celebration in Orlando, comes with an extra helping of feels.

*(That honor goes to Jennifer O’Neill).


Hey, it’s an alternate timeline where Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a movie about an alternate timeline. At least that was my takeaway from this Cracked article about movies we almost got instead of the movies we know. The Star Trek entry involves a script treatment of monumental lunacy where JFK not being in Dallas on the day of his assassination results in the destruction of the Federation by the Klingons. The movie was to end with Spock shooting from the grassy knoll and killing JFK to reset the timeline.

Think about the trauma that plot line would have inflicted on the collective psyche of the American public. Star Trek II came out in 1982, not even 20 years after the JFK assassination. A lot of the people on the upper end of the coveted 18-35 age bracket in 1982 got to experience the trauma of a President’s head exploding as their most seminal childhood/adolescent memory. Watching one of their science fiction heroes re-enact that event would be akin to us watching Harry Potter return to save the timeline by personally piloting a plane into the South Tower.

Fortunately, cooler heads belonging to people not named Gene Roddenberry prevailed.

Anatomy of a Country Mouse.

Cracked’s John Cheese outlines several weird aspects of living in a small town that city dwellers won’t appreciate and may not even believe. I can personally vouch for each of these. In fact, 50% or more of the reason I now live in a city is because I hate running into people I know at the grocery store.

Racism, the New Porn.

For my money, David Wong is one of today’s most insightful writers on American culture, and he writes for a humor site. Here, he compares racism to pornography. It’s an edgy subject to kids, and parents have a well-intentioned tendency to shut down debate on it instantly without giving their kids tools to handle an encounter with racists versed in the art of propaganda. Basically, “No, we do not talk about race in this house!” Except, by making racism taboo, parents make it attractive.

An African-American friend of mine once pointed out to me that raising a white child in a race-blind or race-neutral environment is actually counter-productive because it prevents them from understanding prejudice or empathizing with people of color, who, in the U.S., often walk a different path than whites in terms of negative life experiences. The other unintended consequence, it seems, is that when race-neutral kids encounter racism, they don’t have any defenses, and can fall right down the rabbit hole. And, per the article, there are a lot of rabbit holes out there.

Re-thinking Policing.

As a counterweight to all the stories of police shootings, Cracked published an article where a grand jury member discusses the process for deciding whether to indict an officer for use of lethal force. I don’t offer this piece up as a broad defense of police officers (the issue is complicated and situational) or even as a defense of non-indictments. But the article makes some interesting points about police training and procedures, and offers even-handed, rational reasons for those procedures. For example, the reason the cops filled your love ones with so much lead is because, contrary to movies, shooting a guy doesn’t put him down immediately, and he’s still a threat until he drops, or at least drops his weapon. Additionally, while it might sound good on paper to have 911 dispatchers (or someone else with a better tactical overview than the on-scene cops) patched in to give information to the police during a confrontation, that would split their focus and endanger them.

Still, given (a) the police have to be trained to protect themselves; (b) this training, to be effective, has to preach reactive and instinctual responses, and be overly broad and maybe even tinged with a little paranoia; and (c) given that the results of this training is more citizen death than rational people are comfortable with, maybe the solution is to re-think citizen/police encounters.

The fact is, in our age of technology and databases, we may need to consider whether there’s any reason short of imminent danger that a police officer should ever come into personal contact with an ordinary person. We’d have to change some laws and maybe compromise on certain rights in minor situations, but I can’t see any reason for most ordinary traffic stops. Yes, a cop should pull over a driver who is weaving at midnight, or a super-speeder who is physically endangering other motorists in that moment; and they should absolutely execute arrest warrants. But busted tail lights, expired registration, moving violations, garden variety speeders, other regulatory violations (the only purpose of which is to generate money for a municipality that is too politically gutless to raise taxes or cut spending)- all of this can be handled by taking a photo of the license plate and sending the driver a ticket, without ever getting out of the car (or even stopping the driver in many cases). Hell, robots and drones could handle a lot of this. Point is, if we’re going to have officers so well-trained that they’re on a hair-trigger, and if we’re going to send them out to police a society as paranoid and fetishizing of violence as ours (and it would be foolish to think the overall societal mindset doesn’t affect officers too), we may need to think about how to reduce their contact with ordinary people.

Maybe there are unintended consequences there too, but it’s a discussion worth having.

Mystery in New York.

A high level New York judge was found dead, floating in the Hudson.

The Enemy of My Enemy.

Atlanta’s Jay Bookman discusses a study showing that Republicans are way more likely than Democrats to flip flop their position on an issue if a Republican President supports a contrary view. For example, Democrats are equally wary about intervening in Syria regardless of whether Obama or Trump is President, whereas Republicans, as a rule, opposed involvement in Syria in 2013, but will now do whatever Trump tells them to do.

Mystery in Atlanta.

Why the hell are there chicken bones everywhere in this city?

Let’s Not Overthink This.

Second place is the first loser. But Democrats are celebrating nonetheless that they lost the race for Mike Pompeo’s seat in Kansas by a much lower margin than expected based on Trump’s crushing performance in that particular congressional district. Democrats believe this non-victory reflects some impending midterm wave because it shows dissatisfaction with the President is affecting party allegiance. And there’s historical evidence for unpopular Presidents re-writing electoral maps to the benefit of the opposing party.

BUT, people are more wed to their parties than ever before. Trump simply isn’t President if large numbers of people had not been willing to check the box by this name because”Go team!” In Kansas, the Republican still won, despite the fact that Republicans have nearly run the state into the ground, and despite the fact that Trump is slightly less popular than canned spinach in an Easter basket. I’m not optimistic that people are rational enough to change their (R) to (D) over something so minor as bad governance by the party in power.

Also, how Democrats campaign is vastly different based on the district, and it’s causing some conflict between the true believers and the pragmatists. Next up: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where Democratic candidate John Ossoff is attempting to upset former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and a bunch of other Republicans you’ve never heard of to claim HHS Secretary Tom Price’s old seat. Ossoff’s chief negative, according to Georgia Republicans, is he likes Star Wars.

Mystery on my Feet.

Why the hell do my shoe strings keep coming untied. It’s 2017!

Sweet Home(wrecker) Alabama.

Alabama won’t have Governor Robert Bentley to kick around anymore, after he resigned his governorship in disgrace over an investigation into his illegal efforts to cover up his extra-marital affair with a much younger woman. Apparently, his wife was instrumental in taking him down.

Not my circus, not my monkeys, but I do wonder how many evangelicals calling for Bentley’s head supported and continue to support Trump.

This Week in Trumpville.

(1) As you know, we shot missiles at Syria late last week. This week, we navel-gazed about it a lot.  Why did Trump do it? Who supports the decision? Who opposes it? Was it good strategy, or even Constitutional? What’s the next step? Does Trump have a plan? Does he have an endgame? What about Russia?

(2) In other munitions news, we also dropped “the mother of all bombs” on an ISIS cell in Afghanistan.  For…reasons. I liken it to what Dave Barry said, in explaining the 1945 strike on Nagasaki in his book Dave Barry Slept Here: “Because we had another bomb.”

Honestly, it was probably to make a point. Like when you’re at a nice dinner party and the host ambles out, greets you, makes small talk, and then unzips and authoritatively lays his penis on the table.

Wait, what?

Only a total bore with no sense of boundaries would do something like that?

That might explain why prior Presidents did not drop “the mother of all bombs.”

A word on nomenclature. The “mother of all bombs” is thousands of times less powerful than the original atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. For a nuclear capable nation, calling such a bomb “the mother of all bombs” is like bragging about how you bought the most expensive fish sticks on the market when there are eight nice sushi restaurants in easy driving distance of your home. Of course, I probably shouldn’t say that too loudly. Trump has allegedly wondered why we don’t use our nuclear weapons more. Maybe SecDef Mattis told him this was the nuke, and I’m blowing the con.

Either way, “the mother of all bombs” apparently only killed 36 terrorists.

Don’t worry, Trump. I’m sure it happens to everybody.

(3) Boy, it’s hard out there for a pimp, isn’t it Spicey? Maybe just..let’s just stay away from the Nazi thing. Even good flacks have a hard time navigating Hitler comparisons, and you are not a good flack.

(I genuinely think Spicer is trying to get fired. In honor of Easter, Trump probably had him scourged, and sent him back to work with a menacingly whispered “Don’t forget- you’re here forever”).

(4) One of my great theories of Presidenting is that a President or Presidential hopeful can only be felled by a line of attack once. And then that line of attack will never work on any other President ever again. Byzantine cover-ups destroyed Nixon, but Reagan managed to look confused whenever anyone said “Contras” and nobody cared. The divining rod in Gary Hart’s penis led him right out of the Presidential race, but Clinton’s extra-curriculars with that Flowers lady barely registered. Clinton had a bigger problem with his marijuana use- it wasn’t disqualifying, but it made for some tough news cycles. But Bush, Jr. and Obama dusted the coke off their resumes, looked at Clinton’s weak reefer game, and started giggling.

Or maybe it was something like this scene (that my Mom should not watch if she wants to keep holding Danny Tanner in high regard).

Clinton got impeached for birthing the love child of Gary Hart and Richard Nixon when he didn’t just lie, but lied about sex. Trump said, “Hold my beer” and adultered and assaulted and pussy-grabbed and lied and lied and lied and lied throughout the 2016 campaign until the evangelicals bloodied their hands with applause. John Kerry flip-flopped in saying he was against the Iraq war before he was for it, and everybody thought he was a laughingstock…

…and Trump has turned more flips than an Olympic gymnast in an out of control space capsule, and people still wear those stupid red hats. Just in the last ten days, Trump, the candidate of no extra-national donnybrooks, shot missiles at Syria. The candidate who despised NATO now loves NATO. The candidate who took sponge baths with Steve Bannon now appears to be mulling an exit strategy for Bannon, while he turns on his nationalist friends to make friends with Gary Cohn and the pragmatists. The candidate who planned to crack down on Chinese currency manipulation is now not feeling the need. And just wait until the GOP runs full tilt at Social Security and Medicaid.

Sure, old Clinton hand Dick Morris would call this “triangulation.” Sure, even President Obama would acknowledge that sometimes you get to be the President and the classified briefings change your tune (see, Guantanamo Bay). And sure, Trump’s flip-flops seem like (marginal) signs of growth to those of us who operate with rational thought as our guiding star. But how much can you honestly trust a guy working at this level of naked expedience? If the last guy to whisper in Trump’s ear wins the day, we’d better hope we like what that guy has to say.

Music I’m Listening to This Week

Nothing of note. My kids have non-kid musical taste other than a couple of Disney soundtracks. So hanging with them all week doesn’t necessarily mean I’m cut off from good music. But we didn’t spend much time in the car either, so it never came up.

Here, for lack of anything better to write, I put my iPod on shuffle during the run I took today between starting this entry and finishing it.  Live by the shuffle, die by the shuffle, right?

Force Ten– Rush
Crawling in the Dark– Hoobstank
Drive All Night– Bruce Springsteen
So Fine– Guns n’ Roses
Careful– Paramore
Hey Jealousy– Gin Blossoms
Feeling That Way– Journey
One Good Woman– Peter Cetera
Let’s Go– The Cars
Eye of the Tiger– Survivor
Layla– Derek and the Dominos

Books I’m Reading This Week.

Oooo…Revelations for my Bible study.  Now we’re getting to the good stuff.

I finished The Door by Magda Szabo. I liked it, but not enough to tell you to run out and buy a copy. It’s a beautifully written, 261 page character piece with some fairly generic, but well-rendered insights into human nature, choices, and regrets. If that’s your speed, then I think you’ll enjoy it. If not, there’s nothing beyond personal taste to recommend it.

I restarted Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I tried it a few years ago and bogged down in the middle. My wife just plowed through it and that inspired me to try again. So far, this week’s child care duties have not allowed for much progress.

TV I’m Watching This Week.

My wife had an episode of The Big Bang Theory on in the background last night. I watched the Braves lose a couple and win one, and watched The Masters.

White Russian Wednesday.

Last Wednesday, the difficulties of adjusting to our new traffic reality here in Atlanta had us so beat up that we were looking for any kind of release. My wife walked over to the liquor area and observed that she’d forgotten we had half a bottle of Kahlua.  I noted the presence of a half bottle of Ketel One vodka. We accepted the signs, gave thanks to The Lord, and made White Russians and watched The Big Lebowski.

This Wednesday, my wife went to hang with the gals, but I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to drink booze and call it “A Tradition.” So I poured a White Russian and rented Silver Linings Playbook.

Weekly Inspiration.

I can be a bit of a stumbling block as a Christian. I drink (not to excess, but unapologetically). I curse. I have a mocking spirit. I question incessantly. I default to a (some would say counter-intuitive) intellectual approach to faith that often seals me off from faith’s joys. And I foresook Christian solidarity decades ago and will absolutely condemn and call out other Christians for trying to use the sword of government to persecute others.

Anyone looking at my life is going to have to perhaps look deeper than they should to find The Lord. But I try to give to charity (even if “charity” occasionally means giving money to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood so that they can pound on the pharisees); I try to treat others the way I want to be treated; I don’t pretend to know all the answers pertaining to faith; I try to raise my children in the faith, but also to respect others and to be open-minded and intellectually curious; and I try to look for God’s will in our lives. Most importantly, I believe, through all trials, tribulations, toils, snares, counter-arguments, doubts, mocking, and condemnation that The Lord sent his son Jesus Christ to teach us a better way, to die for our sins, and to build us a bridge from this world to a better one where our faith and our labors and our suffering are rewarded.

This Sunday, Easter Sunday, is the celebration of that bridge. If you haven’t made plans to attend a service, please do so. It’s a joyful time.

Have a good week.




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