Meanwhile, in Arizona…

News heats up, and alas, so should I, I suppose. 

I wanted to be a lawyer for about two hours in middle school. I was watching a movie not really appropriate for my age – thanks parents! – and Andrew Beckett was this sweet guy, super smart and suddenly thrust into an almost unimaginable situation of unfairness. Co-workers colluded against him, and for what? Being gay didn’t make a ton of sense to me at the time. The film provided enough snippets of seediness that I could grasp that the guy wasn’t 100% pure, whatever that meant, but I was also on my way to discovering what sex was at that point (albeit in a very preliminary sense), so it wasn’t all that hard to sympathize. Beyond that, it all just seemed so fucking irrelevant to the question of what kind of lawyer Beckett was and whether the way he was being treated had any basis in fair play.  

So when he decided to fight back and enlist the help of another lawyer, and when he died but still won, I sat there, enthralled at the prospect of doing so much with words and argument and the presentation of thoughts. It was all immensely interesting because there was purpose; there was good being done. 

Then my mom, upon hearing my piqued interest in what I believed to be an illustrious career path, informed me that being a lawyer means long hours and hard work and being away from your family, in addition to the opportunity to do the kind of stuff I saw in Philadelphia.

So, unsurprisingly, I chose laziness and gave up that dream, held ever-so-briefly.

I am, however, now a lawyer. Nearly six years out of law school and admitted to practice in New York State for five, I do this thing for my living, and from time to time I get the chance to do some good while throwing my craft about in moments of intellectual sport. It is fun as hell.  It is rewarding.

And, yes, it is fucking maddening very often. But never so much as when the profession I chose – for many of the same reasons that I felt when I was 13 or so, plus some other more pragmatic ones – is, on a fundamental level, bastardized and made into mockery. Those moments when law is transformed into lawlessness, up becomes down, and those of us who care to give a shit are wondering how the fuck it could have gotten so shitty. 

Practically, the law is often bastardized and made into mockery.  One need only look into the courtrooms of New York City to see weird perversions of justice via over-packed courts and careless advocates. But, on a fundamental level, fairness and justice and right is lingering, underpinning the system with rules and codes and statutes borne out of reasonable debate and reasoned care for the outcome. 

And then there’s Arizona – and to a lesser degree, thankfully, Kansas, which has nipped it’s insane legislation in the bud – which has taken law, swallowed it, and shat it out in a gesture as arrogant as it is abhorrent. Arizona, which has now, pending its Executive’s signature, codified hateful discrimination in the guise of religious freedom.  Arizona, which has now chosen to take America’s darkest moments of prejudice and bigotry, dress it up with a modern look and reboot it for the next generation.

Jim Crow is back, and he looooooks fabulous!

This is beyond shitty. Not only does this piece of garbage legislation, in its very essence, encroach upon the freedoms guaranteed in the 14th Amendment – that quaint constitutional add-on that guarantees every citizen equal fucking protection of the laws of his/her state and, by way of federal case law, requires that a state choosing to treat someone unequally better have a damned good reason to jump into the mire of “well, yeah, we don’t like THEM as much as we like US, so fuck THEM” – but it does so with as much insidiousness as one could imagine. RELIGIOUS FUCKING LIBERTY?!? Is that the religious liberty that is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which also expressly forbids the government from making any law concerning the establishment of religion? That establishment clause, generally speaking, that forbids the government from passing a law if it (a) does not have a legitimate secular purpose, (b) advances or inhibits religion, or (c) results in excessive entanglement with religion? 

Yeah, that one.

On their face, laws that carve out space in our civic life for religious groups to exist are pretty problematic, since they’re typically lobbied for by similar groups that want space carved out for similar reasons … here, the reason being that some Christians don’t like icky LGBT types and YUCK GROSSSSSSSS.  So Arizona wants to carve out space for the expression of this religious idea to take place, but in doing so gives a not-so-subtle nod to religious groups that choose, as one of their central tenets, the idea that some people are better than others and, more to the point, the those lesser people don’t deserve, under civil law, the same stuff that the good people get.

Arizona has established, as its state-sponsored religion, a branch of religion that reveres its people as holy and considers difference evil to be scorned not just with a sneer or a hiss, but with the denial of public services. Arizona has established a religion that separates and divides, and all for the sake of some vague sense that the intolerant must be given state-sanctioned liberty to be as intolerant as they fucking choose; that allowing free exercise of prayer and liturgy and belief that seeks to condemn homosexuality is not nearly enough … people must be permitted to condemn homosexuality with every single thing they do.

This is disgusting public policy, and even more disgusting religion.

Don’t want to serve everyone you don’t like who comes into your establishment? Open a private club or don’t own a restaurant. Don’t want to provide prescriptions or medical care to people you don’t like? The ethical standards of your profession say otherwise, so perhaps you should do something else.  Give me a fucking break and don’t be a dick.

A person being gay is not an affront to your belief that it’s wrong, nor is the requirement that you serve him coffee that he pays for, nor is the requirement that you respond to his 911 call just the same as you otherwise would. Your religious liberty does not give you special privileges in a society necessarily founded upon the liberty to not be religious and to pursue happiness in whatever way you feel is right. Your right to be an intolerant prick does not somehow give you license to prioritize it over the fundamental rights of others, christ that’s beyond selfish and it’s not how we do it. You may feel uncomfortable having to accept homosexuals into your business or your community, but tough fucking breaks. America isn’t meant to be comfortable. It is meant to be fair and it is meant to be free.

For all of us.

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It isn’t about them. It’s about us.

I’m reposting myself here because I’m vain and all, but a scribbled thought on a comment thread is just as good as an original scribble here, especially when I can copy and paste.

Governor Cuomo has proposed a plan to provide a college education to New York’s prison population. In the ballpark of $5,000 per year per inmate. Not a terribly novel idea, but the fact that it’s progressive relative to New York and many parts of America makes it all the more crucial. Education is the answer, we’re told, so it’s entirely sensible to explore whether it could be the answer for prisoners, particularly if we hope a prisoner won’t find his way back to a criminal conviction.

The biggest and most annoying retort to the idea deals with two overlapping concepts: prisoners don’t deserve a thing (higher ed) that we pay out the ass for in the real world, and fuck if I’m going to allow my tax dollars to help a prisoner get what I’m steeped in debt trying to achieve.

I’ve read and heard this refrain probably upwards of fifty times in the past few days. It’s enormous bullshit.

The “I have it rough so I’m opposed to anything that might make someone else’s life better until my life is perfect” doctrine is pervasive, divisive and, in many cases, wholly counterproductive. Asking “why do I have to pay for college when this dirtbag gets it for free” ignores (a) the college you’re paying for isn’t paired with strip searches, the crushing loss of freedom, and daily fear of violence and, worse, sexual violence; (b) the quality of the education you’re paying for is exponentially better than what a guy would get in prison due to quality of instruction, the school community and the lack of highly intense stresses as noted above; (c) the high price of college is an issue independent of this discussion and is a legit source of frustration that is in no way cured by furthering the notion that higher education need not be provided to each and every segment of society; (d) we ALL benefit if we can find a way to stop recidivism, and at this point we have to be willing to try every option, since we’ve proven ourselves to be pretty terrible at imprisoning people and releasing them as a better version of themselves; (e) we generally have no problem, as a society, with long incarcerations, sometimes administered by private penal corporations, no matter the social and economic costs, and no matter that the private companies have a financial incentive to NOT rehabilitate the prisoner populations; and (f) the scumbag you don’t want to help in any way is a person. A person. A person who made a mistake and maybe regrets it and, based on statistics, serving a mandatory minimum for drugs and maybe never hurt anyone but himself. He’s a fucking person. Hell, he may not have even done the crime for which he is serving time.

What we do and how we treat him while he is a ward of the state after being prosecuted by the People isn’t about him. It’s about us. Do we want to be a nation who doesn’t give a shit about prisoners and is willing to forfeit their life out of some bizarre sense of justice mixed with rage and a side of feigned superiority? Or can we be better?

/mic drop

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The Crushing Weight of Our Distress

(NSFW, slightly, if you care… I do not. I am angry. This is catharsis as per usual.)

A something happens to force your head firmly into a tight grasp of your hands, fingers pressing down on temples, your hair tightly stretched back, symbolic perhaps of your mind reaching its outer limits as it tries to understand things complex and infuriating and persistent. Events play out before our eyes and as we try to process these things for ourselves, but others beat us to the concluding thought and feign to make up our minds for us. Media conglomerates urge us to step in line, giving few facts but myriad end points.

This past weekend, a woman performed on television and she was kind of a trainwreck but whatever, MTV is known for trainwrecks. But the woman was wearing underwear and little else and she danced sexually and grinded up on on a male singer, one who incidentally has a hit single about a woman being an animal…. so, as we have before, we have shifted to a grand gesture of sanctimony and protecting “THE CHILDREN” and we do it in such a unanimous, quick way, via twitter and cable news and the like, that we never stop to breathe in the complexity and the contours of what it is we actually saw and why it is that our first inclination is to call Miley Cyrus a whore for what she did on television over the course of a few brief minutes.

This is the same storyline we’ve seen before. Woman gets overtly sexual to make a point about art or culture or just to have fun – GASP – and suddenly she has to account for her behavior in a way that a man, frankly, rarely does. Fuck, I hate Miley Cyrus – her music is terrible, for one – but shouldn’t she be able to perform like that without having to answer to an army of angry moms and dads and news anchors and internet commentators who have nothing to say about her music being bad but everything to say about how she’s being a bad example?

How exactly is she being a bad example, generally? Is it making millions before she’s even 18? Or having a career that she can shape with her own choices and in doing so explore her identity in a way that the rest of us simply never will?

We’re willing to accept a lot as a culture … gun deaths and national debt and crippling urban poverty and acquaintance rape and men who write songs about subjecting a woman to his sexual will… but dancing in underwear and making a mockery of the sexual culture which we allow to persist on TV, that somehow crosses the line.

Because she’s a woman. Don’t bother arguing. Don’t put up some objections as to her gender being the biggest reason that her career has specific, preordained limits and that we’re talking about her performance making Robin Thicke’s wife embarrassed rather than a Robin Thicke hit that likens a woman to some anthropomophized beast, asking her to accept that the man she is with won’t “make her,” (because a woman’s self is dependent on being made by a man, duh), and asking her allow him to liberate her… with his dick, probably.

This is the kind of music we accept. Miley’s crime, perhaps, was not playing her part sexy enough.

A female performer has to be able to – she fucking has to – be allowed to take chances with her art, such as it is; to take chances by playing the part weird or freaky or outside the preordained limits within which we would prefer to exist. She has to be able to do it without being held to account in this way; without a million people calling her a slut for what she did during a fraction of her weekend.

This kind of paradigm has played itself out before, publicly – Janet or Marilyn or Rihanna or Madonna or Tori … women who from time to time are sexual in their art, just like we prefer them, right?, but who from time to time crossed that ever vague line into unacceptable. What happened after we saw Janet’s breast? Where did her career go? And then, inevitably, where did Timberlake go?

Can we find a place where we can dislike what a woman does with her sexuality without, as the only publicly acceptable response, putting her in a place where she’s a whore or an animal or dirty, and instead just accept that it wasn’t our cup of tea but that doesn’t mean she isn’t still a fucking person. Not a whore. Not a slut. Not a skank. A woman, simply.

We have to do better with this stuff. More patient, more discerning, more forgiving and more accepting. Maybe a performance like Miley’s isn’t acceptable. But maybe it’s simply because it was bad, but not that Ms. Cyrus, in any fundamental way, is.

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Summer.

My days, these days, often start with a reflection.

When I was young, things seemed indestructible. Not me, necessarily, but the things around me. The places I found peace. I never felt that invincibility so often projected onto children; an adult assessment and description of little people who seem so clearly to live without fear; a white-washed observation of little people who may simply lack the tools to express their fear, or perhaps the option of expressing such in the face of a demanded happiness.

I feared things, certainly. Immediate things like bullies and loneliness and being stuck in a static boredom pervading my days. Dragging them on in perpetuity.

I feared change. I feared leaving things behind. Memories left on distant playing fields, in boats still in need of a knotted connection to shore, in bunk beds littered with hushed conversations between instant friends.

But, in the midst of that fear, I never imagined or considered that those things left behind would vanish altogether. That those places, all filled with deepening wells of love and grace, would cease to exist, leaving a new version of myself unable to make his return.

The geography of a place – the localized landscape, filled with man and God’s architecture and the fading footprints of the people that have loved it – sustains the past. It envelops and holds on to memories for future use, while inciting new ones. The simple fact of a place’s existence, of it’s continuing utility as a place to harvest joy and love and friendship, is the kind of thing that gives hope. Hope in spite of a fear of change. Hope to spite the loneliness one feels when he’s left so much behind.

We value such spaces too little, I think, entrusting them to those who might not understand the kind of sacred qualities a place can have in inspiring that love and joy and friendship, re-created and re-imagined with each visit, and placed atop the legacy the place has made. The lack of understanding is a symptom of shifting priorities; of a willingness to let the past remain passed; a willingness to let memories become stale and fragile in the absence of new joy and new love.

So we find new spaces and new places and hope that we remain able and willing to sustain the joy and love created back then on our own, without the benefit of that lost geography that was so very good at triggering grace.

Happy Summer, all. Missing you, Bement.

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Days Like This

There’s a certain kind of clarity that can rush onto you in a moment of grief. Shared, communal grief even more so, probably.

This morning, my mind dwelt on trivialities – furor over a sports columnist being sort of harsh and sort of stupid about something sort of irrelevant. I struggled to concentrate on work as my mind skipped from meaningless thought to meaningless thought; their value created, if at all, by the vocabulary and structure with which I described them in my head.

And then my wife called, eager for additional news about a terrible event about which I had not yet heard. My heart skips a beat, my eyes and fingers eagerly navigating google and twitter, and then my mind predictably hovers to family and friends and possibilities of deeper grief to come.

Paralyzed in that moment by a fear of the unanswered, a sudden desire to work hard followed. To keep moving towards a completed task, to find solace in simple achievements.

After a few hours, adrenaline faded, achievements recorded and billed, a feeling like grief returns. An eagerness to feel connected to others through love and joy. A fear that such connections may never truly be sewn, replaced instead by a lingering regret.

I rushed home to hold my kid in my arms, putting on him a probably unfair burden of acting as my human connection for an hour or two. I felt better, but still incredibly troubled. I doubt it’ll change anytime soon.

I’ve typed this a few times today, so I guess I just needed to work my way to it; to travel through words as I did through emotions today:

Days like today don’t make me fear death, they make me fear a wasted life with things undone and joyful moments missed.

For just my second post here, this isn’t what I had expected to drop. I had a great set of notes on Brad Paisley being a dumb asshole and I was hoping to put it together as a little literary mic drop. But alas. Some other time, I guess.

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Why now?

I really don’t know, but it seemed like I have waited long enough.

For a couple years now, I have had the opportunity to write on a sports website of some minor acclaim and it has been a joy. Well, at least sometimes.

Maybe because those who refer to me for #hotsportstakes have grown weary of the bleeding lines between my position as humble sports fan/observer/ranter and my position as human being with opinions about an assortment of other issues, some quite controversial and annoying, perhaps…. it seemed about the time to bite the bullet and arrange myself a space where I can write about other things I care about without littering my twitter feed or facebook feed or, probably, my marriage with the kind of over-written prose I so often feel compelled to express.

If you don’t know me, I’m a lawyer, father, husband, liberal, Christian and probably an asshole most of the time.

While I’m still not sure how I’ll use this space – and my intentions will most likely vary – I’ll at the very least try to be interesting and spell words right when possible.

Cheers,

Dubs

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