Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Random musings ...

It's been a while since I've attempted to write anything ... December 5, to be precise. That was the night I wrote about John Lennon as I waited for the Patriots to destroy the Jets.

Too bad the Pats couldn't have saved some of those points, eh?

Anyway, to get back into the practice of doing this, here are number of musings that I've gathered up since then ...


On the matter of Gabby Giffords. It was a horrible, horrible tragedy that I'm not sure is ever really preventable. This country is far too big, and far too populated, to expect that people aren't going to fall through the cracks now and then.

That said, I don't think you can escape the reality that -- even if the gunman was seriously mentally disturbed -- there is definitely an undercurrent of ugliness in how we relate to one another in the 21st century ... whether we're talking politics or any other type of discourse.

And, of course, with the internet and the blogosphere, people get to hide behind screen names and fake IDs on line and say some of the most outrageous, hateful, and bigoted things you can imagine.

It's easy to say "oh, well, it's only a blog ... it doesn't mean anything." But it's just as easy -- and just as much of a cop-out, to blithely pass this off as the act of a deranged man ... WITHOUT at least considering the context of the times.

I think it's fair to say that mentally disturbed people might possibly have a different -- less effective -- filter than the rest of us. I think it's fair to say that if the rest of us -- the ones who aren't mentally disturbed -- can shrug and see this stuff for what it is, an emotionally sick person might react differently. He might feed off such negativity and feel compelled to act on it.

I don't know this for a fact. But I sense that it's certainly possible ... and even probable.

Now, hate has no particular political ideology; no "official" religion; and no exclusivity. History is filled with instances where irrational hate has spurred monumental tragedies far more horrific than what happened in Arizona earlier this month. We saw it in World War II, we saw it in Oklahoma City, and we saw it on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the immediate aftermath, considering it was a political figure who was gunned down (along with six others who were killed), it seemed logical to conclude that the acrimony of public discourse might have had an influence on Jared Lee Loughner (and why is it, as an aside, that all assassins are referred to by their full names: Mark David Chapman; John Warnock Hinkley; this guy). And since Giffords is a Democrat, it might have further been a natural reaction that the continuous vitriol liberals and conservatives too routinely fling at one another might have also been a contributing factor.

Conservatives don't like hearing this, but too bad. Whether it was, or wasn't, a factor, the reality exists. My take on this is that it's much easier to arouse people to anger than it is to appeal to their better nature. We may be more highly developed, but we're still animals, with animal instincts -- which is to say we're hard-wired to worry about ourselves, and our survival, first before we become overly concerned with others.

Compassion and regard for others are qualities that need to be taught. Self-survival is instinctive.

So, it's much easier to rally people to your cause if you can easily convince them that the "other guy" is picking their pockets, or destroying all that they hold near and dear, or giving "them" all the breaks instead of "us."

Thus, George W. Bush was a "Nazi" to liberals; and Barack Obama is a "Socialist" to conservatives.

Both are buzzwords, political code, if you will. Bush, or course, was not a Nazi and Obama is not a Socialist. Half the people who throw those words around probably don't know the half of what they mean because -- sadly -- history is not a subject that is well taught, or even valued, in the United States of America.

It's much easier to throw those words around, though, because they result in visceral reactions in people not disposed to like particular people or their politics. I was not, and never will be, a George W. Bush supporter, but I can certainly acknowledge that there were elements about him that were likable. I also think that toward the end of his presidency, he had a better sense of how ill-used he'd been by some of his inner circle. I just think it's too bad it took him so long to realize this. He was not prone to introspection or curiosity, or -- as he famously said -- nuance. And I feel he allowed himself to be led too easily by people with agendas that didn't necessarily put the best interests of the country first.

I do support Obama, but -- again -- I can acknowledge that he could stand some improvement. I think he made the same mistake Bill Clinton did ... picking an issue right out of the chute (health care) that was hopelessly muddled in all kinds of arcane debate. He set himself up for what followed ... and what is yet to come.

I'd rather have seen him pick some winnable issues in Year One -- and take a few victory laps for them. He needed to establish some political cachet before picking an ugly fight ... and it WAS ugly. There's no getting around that.

We're off the track here, but this is only to show that ugliness has no preference. I think the entire tenor of public discourse is ugly, and I also think that mentally disturbed people have a different set of antennae than the more stable among us. Who knows what signals they're receiving ... and how they're processing those signals.

You put all of this together ... the free-wheeling blogs and bulletin boards where people who know they'll never be held accountable spew outrageous invective ... the stridency of the public discourse ... one obviously disturbed individual ... and you have the makings of an immense tragedy.

But what's curious about all this, to me, was the reaction for both liberals and conservatives. Whatever we may think privately, to come out in public (and by public I also mean blogs, bulletin boards and Facebook, as well as the mainstream media) and pin the blame solely on Sarah Palin's crosshairs advertisement was irresponsible. Even if I might not necessarily discount such stridency and hyperbole as contributing factors, to come right out and accuse her (or the Tea Party in general) -- especially in light of such a horrible tragedy -- struck me as outrageously opportunistic.

And I say this with the full admission that I do not buy -- even a little -- anything the Tea Party movement (or Palin, for that matter), says. It's just that Palin has become, in a very short time, the Ted Kennedy of her party ... which is to say she's made herself into a cheap and easy target that liberals can freely lambaste as sort of a symbol for all that they oppose ... the same way Teddy was a magnet for conservative missives.

Yet at the same time, I feel Palin -- and people like her -- certainly aren't blameless. The ad was there ... and whether she was or was not the first person to use the crosshairs theme, she certainly refined it and seemed pretty darn proud of it too ... until she took it down after the shootings. So obviously she felt some initial responsibility to tone her OWN rhetoric down (which is why I find it hilarious that she so vehemently denied culpability when she had a chance to think about it some more). In fact, if the basic liberal reaction was to blame Sarah, the basic conservative reaction was to say "not MY fault," and complain about attempts to stifle their First Amendment right to free speech.

I'm not sure which was more of an overreaction at this point.

Everything in life has context. Students didn't demonstrate at Kent State -- and end up with four of them being killed by National Guard fire -- in a vacuum. They were spurred on to do that by a systematic drumbeat of inflammatory rhetoric and violence (a lot of it by the radical LEFT) that funneled itself into this singular tragedy.

Likewise, people, mentally disturbed or otherwise, don't target politicians just because. There's a reason ... a context. And I think it's because we've reduced politicians and leaders in this country to evil caricatures, with each radical element demonizing the other to the point where shooting them might almost seem noble to a sick person. And when I say "radical element," I mean anyone who goes predictably nuclear whenever someone from the opposite end of the political spectrum says, or does, something.

I won't even get into the whole "blood libel" thing. First, I doubt Palin even knew the historical context of the term (if she did, and still used it ... God help us all if she's ever elected to anything ever again). And second, it's just typical hyperbole ... and again, hyperbole that adds nothing to the gravitas of the debate -- which is that we all could perhaps take a step back from the rhetoric and at least THINK about the damage it's doing to this country.


Onto other things ... New England is in one of those crazy winter weather patterns where it seems to snow every other day ... and then it gets so cold everything turns to cement. Cities and towns all over region are having a devil of a time keeping up.

But I fear we, the people, have become far too spoiled when it comes to how fast, and how effectively, the plows are cleaning up. Granted, I've seen better in my life, but there are factors to consider when it comes to snow removal.

The first one, obviously, is the amount of snow. Our first real serious snowstorm was a blizzard the day after Christmas, which lasted well into the next day. It was a 24-hour storm, yet by Tuesday -- the first full day after the storm stopped -- the whining about how awful the plowing was reached fever pitch.

Seriously, people. A foot and a half of snow fell! Life ain't a sitcom, and problems don't get solved in a half hour.

The next big storm was even worse. We got almost two feet. And this time, rather than the fine, powdery stuff that's easy to move, we got the heavy sludge that weighs a ton.

This one started around midnight and lasted through the afternoon. Not a 24-hour event, but a much more intense storm with a lot of wind. Again, the streets weren't down to pavement by the next day because ... well ... that would have been impossible. Still, you'd think nobody touched a plow the way people moaned and groaned.

Yesterday, we got snow that changed to rain ... and enough snow that the ground looked like that river of slime that flowed in "Ghostbusters." It was unplowable. How do you plow water?

But again, waaaaaaahhhhhhhhh. Why aren't my streets plowed?

Grow up, people.


Onto sports (sorry, Kat): It is indeed refreshing to see how thoroughly Shaquille O'Neal is enjoying his Boston Celtics experience. In fact, it's refreshing to see how much Shaq enjoys being Shaq. You can't help but like the guy. He's infectious ... and a perfect counterbalance to the dour, sour persona demonstrated in Foxborough.

I'd never go as far as saying that refusing to engage in trash talk translates into defeats. But I will say that Bill Belichick's reaction to Wes Welker's brilliant injection of the words "foot, feet or toes" into every sentence of his brief press conference last Thursday (he benched Welker for the game's first series) was idiotic.

To those who don't know the context, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan -- apparently -- has a bit of a foot fetish ... something that came out in a YouTube clip. Now, that is totally, totally harmless. There are far worse sexual fetishes one can have.

But Ryan, as we know, is a bit of a blabbermouth and blusterer in the finest sense of George Steinbrenner. And people who are like that are trying to get under the other guy's skin.

And while it's futile to match a blusterer word for word (by their nature, guys like Ryan are always going to win that game) it was rather brilliant of Welker -- after a week's worth of scurrilous insults by the Jets directed toward the Patriots and Tom Brady -- to offer a gentle, subtle dig at ol' Rex.

Consider: a guy who has fathered nine children by eight women, and who had to have his wages garnished by the Jets to pay back child support (Antonio Cromartie) is running around calling out Brady in the crudest terms possible. His coach (Ryan) thought that was just fine. Cromartie played the entire game Sunday and -- as much as anyone on the Jets did -- absolutely KILLED the Patriots. He was clearly the game's MVP.

Yet Welker very craftily responds -- and not even in KIND -- and finds himself benched for the first series of the most important game of the year? Ridiculous.

Maybe Welker should remind Belichick of HIS first amendment right to feet speech!

Bringing up Shaq in this context is my way of saying that maybe if the Patriots lightened up a little, and weren't so haughty about how much better "their way" is, and learned to allow their players even the simplest of latitudes in what they say and how they act, they wouldn't tighten up like a drum in big games against teams that do a lot of yakking (you'll recall Plaxico Burress did his share before that 2008 Super Bowl ... and caught the game-winning pass!).

Larry Bird was the worst trash talker ever ... and he has three rings. It doesn't necessarily follow that piously turning the other cheek accomplishes anything in the long run.

Besides, you can't fault Rex for understanding that pro sports, in this era, is as much about theater as it is about athletics. The objective is to keep people interested enough in what you're doing to attend, or watch, the games. Lack of interest will kill the golden goose.

And nobody can say there was a lack of interest in this game.

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