All posts by John A Arkansawyer

A Meditation On A Ritual: Concert Wristbands

I got asked a question today in the form of a statement: “Tell me about a favourite ritual”. I was just going to write a sentence, but I kept adding comments. Here’s what I finally said:

After a great rock show or other event, I keep the wristbands on till they fall off.

We have Drive-By Truckers Homecoming at the 40 Watt, where the coat checkers write the number of your item on your wristband with a Sharpie. I play with the numbers, whether they’re in order, whether the order is rising or falling, how they factor, what they might signify. This year, I got:

  • 168–the hours in a week
  • 93–the passengers who fought back
  • 111–a sixth of the way there

It also lets me have some idea where I was in line each time. 😉

In the days after that in particular, I play with the wristbands, stacking them on my wrist, in date order sometimes, but really in whatever order they fit my arm best, the largest furthest up, each other slid under the next largest, a little showing of each.

They’d last longer if I didn’t, but then, so would I.

From a Detail in “Warrior”, by Gordon R. Dickson

That man sounds like some cheap gangster

Faking up the public anger

Necessary when a coward

Has a killing to move forward

But can’t find the guts within him

In cold blood to kill his victim

So his fear of looking foolish

After threats both wild and stupid

Gives the shove he needs to do what

Worse men do more easily.

So there’s that

For consolation, once destruction

Runs its course:

It could have been worse.

Why Bernie Sanders Has To Run Even If He Can’t Win

"Bernie

So I’m to the left of most of the folks here, which gives me a different point of view on a lot of things. Today I read a story in Slate (which is liberalish but more contrarian than any other one thing) which triggered my memory of a piece from The Jacobin (which is honest-to-god leftist). I read them in the opposite order than I’m going to put them in for you.

From Slate: America’s Brush With Fascism: The second KKK shared a disquieting kinship with European fascist movements. Why did it fail to take over American politics?

From The Jacobin: Bernie Sanders Wants You to Fight: When Bernie Sanders says “It’s not about me, it’s about us,” he’s not just pandering. He’s trying to create a mass movement — because he knows that without one, his agenda doesn’t stand a chance.

The first piece is long, the second is short. If you want the tl;dr of it, here is the end of the first followed by another bit from the second. I’ll put a bit of my own analysis after them:

Continue reading Why Bernie Sanders Has To Run Even If He Can’t Win

The Hermit of Walden Pond Meets the Sage of Tuscumbia, Alabama

This morning in church, the responsive reading from Singing the Living Tradition was #660–just six short!–“Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?” from Henry David Thoreau. I do and did respond.

The call: “I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear,”

The response: “Nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary.”

President “That Guy” Knows What He Is Doing

Don’t lie to yourself. That Guy knows exactly what he’s doing.

Yesterday, about the attempted bombings:

Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on democracy itself.

The day before, about a Republican congressman who assaulted a reporter:

Any guy who can do a bodyslam, he’s my kinda guy.

And then he acted out the bodyslam. Don’t lie to yourself. That Guy knows exactly what he’s doing.

Sen. Chuck “Chickenshit” Schumer (D-Wall Street) Speaks Out On The Current Crisis

Apparently this story got under the skin of the Senior Senator from the Great State of Wall Street:

Chuck Schumer Relieved He’s Never Taken Stance Meaningful Enough To Have Someone Mail Him Explosive

As usual, The Onion had the real news. That story was published yesterday at 12:53 PM. It ends:

At press time, Schumer had issued a tepid statement urging Americans to consider all sides in the matter.

Two hours earlier, Schumer had tweeted:

Make no mistake: Despicable acts of violence and harassment are being carried out by radicals across the political spectrum—not just by one side. Regardless of who is responsible, these acts are wrong and must be condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike. Period.

It’s accompanied by a graphic showing one news story about a rock being thrown through the office of a Republican and another about a bomb being sent to the home of a Democratic ally. I keep thinking I’ve heard this sort of thing before, somewhere…

You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.

CNN President Jeff Zucker Has Failed In The Current Crisis

After yesterday’s attempted bombing of CNN headquarters, CNN president Jeff Zucker issued this statement:

There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.

That statement is a serious, possibly fatal, failure of journalistic standards. Why?

CNN and the press has been strict about not calling false statements from “The President and the White House Press Secretary” lies, on the grounds they don’t know the state of mind of a person making a statement, that they usually can’t know a false statement is a lie.

A liar has to know he’s lying in order to tell a lie. A false statement made in good faith, or even in ignorance, is not a lie. Depending on the circumstances, it is something else: A false statement, a negligent act, an irresponsible statement, but not a lie.

The time my boss told me I was getting a raise, and his boss make him take it back? While the expression is “made him a liar”, and while he was rightly chagrined at going back on his word, that is not a lie. He told what he believed to be the truth. He was not a liar.

(I still hold a grudge over that, as much over my boss getting jerked around by his boss as over losing my tiny cost of living raise.)

So read this again:

There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.

That is an example of Jeff Zucker assuming he knows the state of mind of “The President and the White House Press Secretary”. He assumes they don’t understand what they are doing. He is assuming he knows their state of mind, which he does not.

Possibly Zucker is trying to de-escalate. That is an understandable mistake, but it is still a mistake. It’s wrong to go against journalistic standards to give powerful people a break in one case while obeying those standards elsewhere, also to give powerful people a break.

It’s also a grave misunderstanding of the situation. What was the response from “The President and the White House Press Secretary”? Here are the words of President That Guy earlier this morning:

A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!

So here is my question to Jeff Zucker: What makes you think That Guy doesn’t know what he’s doing?

You Are On Fire

It was a pleasure to burn.

The President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Susan Frederick-Gray wrote a thoughtful call to action, Time for cold anger. It’s a quick read and worth your time. It contains several pointers to useful actions, and one piece of false hope when it says:

Anger is the legitimate response to pain, but it can become destructive. Turned inward and swallowed, it can consume us with shame, self-destruction, and despair. Turned outward, it can be explosive and violent. But when we understand the concept of cold anger—an anger that burns without consuming—we understand that anger can be the fire and the energy for action, for organizing, for creating justice. (emphasis added)

Right now, you are on fire. Every breath you take pulls oxygen in to burn in your guts; every exhalation puts out the carbon dioxide generated by the sacred trash fire that is our body. Every moment consumes a tiny bit more of us, some moments eating more than others. When we stop that burning, we are dead.

Take it from an anger swallower who wants to fly: There is no form of anger that does not consume you. Everything we do has a cost, even if it is only–only!–seconds of our life. Sometimes hot anger slices through stone cold bullshit like nobody’s business, saving precious time. Saving precious life. Precious lives.

Great Artists have told us this about fury and anger.

There’s anger that costs more and anger that costs less, and anger that gets more done or less done. We all pick our way through these choices and burn a little of ourselves every step of the way. Some of it is conscious choice–a slow and cautious way–and most of us run on habit and reaction and inertia. Sometimes you have to burn your way out of a rut.

Not that burning is a pure good. It’s not. Fire is a great refiner, a wonderful source of heat and light, all that. And if you’ve ever spent a fun night around a trash barrel with friends and a six-pack, you will remember that “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”

But the quote continues, “He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.” If I were asked to give an example of Evil without violence, burning books would be a good choice. There’s a special terror in seeing what isn’t built to die–unlike a human, for whom death is just another punch on our ticket–die anyway. A book, a painting, a hope, an idea. They don’t die like we die, though in the long term they do die as we die. We live short term and save what we can.

So accept that you are on fire, that you are burning as we speak and will eventually go out. You may rise again like the phoenix, disperse like smoke, or settle like ash. You may just be a process that ends, or you may be one more cycle round the center. No one knows for sure, and I think most of those who claim they do harbor secret doubts.

Go ahead and burn as you wish, hot or cold, fast or slow, over under sideways down. Here are two opportunities to Catch Fire, two of many Great Ways To Burn:

Walk through the fire
Fly through the smoke
See my enemy
At the end of their rope

I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when you taste so good
I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when my head it burns

You don’t have to pick one or the other, or either one. You just have to choose something.