Why I Don’t Celebrate Veterans Day

My reasons have nothing to do with veterans. I respect people who take risks for what they believe in, period. I may oppose those same people bitterly, but keeping who they are and what their virtues are in mind makes me both a better opponent and a better human.

So what are my reasons? There are two and they are related.

The first is that with the end of Armistice Day, we have no day to celebrate the end of war–any war. That was the original intent of Armistice Day, which I observe with a moment of silence at 11:11 (or as close to it as I can manage) every 11/11.

Neither do we have a day to celebrate peace, nor a day to mourn all the war dead. I don’t find the death of a civilian killed in saturation bombing of a city any less regrettable than the death of the solider who dropped that bomb then was shot from the air.

The second is that this change came during the McCarthy era, at the same time coinage lost E Pluribus Unum (United We Stand) for the sad trade of In God We Trust, and the Pledge of Allegiance gained the divisive phrase “under God” before “indivisible”.

The meaning of Veterans Day, and Armistice Day before it, had long been contested. Here’s an example:

On that same Armistice Day in 1919, an American Legion parade in Centralia, Washington, the heart of lumber country and long running labor strife, broke ranks on a pre-arranged signal and attacked the local hall of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Wobblies in the hall opened fire in self defense as the Legionaries tried to charge up the stairs.  Four Legionaries were killed in the attack and several others were wounded inside the hall in a confusing melee before most of the union men were disarmed.  Wesley Everest, himself a veteran and in uniform, escaped although wounded and was chased down to the river where he shot two or more of his pursuers before being overwhelmed.

That night a mob of Legionaries, with the complicity of authorities, seized the wounded Everest from his jail cell, dragged him behind an automobile, castrated him, and hung him from a railroad bridge.  Several IWW members including those captured in the hall and others tracked down by posses in a massive man hunt were put on trial.  Eight Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to long prison terms.  No Legionnaires were charged in the initial assault.

That just sticks in my craw. Where is the Grand Army of the Republic when you need them, anyway? Perhaps I digress.

So if you are reading this and you are a veteran, please take no offense at my non-celebration of the holiday. It’s not about you and it’s not about what you did. If you fought bravely for any cause, I respect your personal virtues. But it’s time for a peace holiday.

The prerequisite to peace, of course, is justice. And so:

Let us not break faith with those who have died in defense of human rights, human dignity, human life.

May we recognize the grief that flows in and among us today
and may we keep the faith.

UU 102: What Is Fairness?

From danah boyd, who is not (so far as I know a Unitarian Universalist) comes What Is Fairness? She’s put her finger on one version of a question that haunts us:

In the United States, fairness has historically been a battle between equality and equity. Equality is the notion that everyone should have an equal opportunity. It’s the core of meritocracy and central to the American Dream. Preferential treatment is seen as antithetical to equality and the root of corruption. And yet, as civil rights leaders have long argued, we don’t all start out from the same place. Privilege matters. As a result, we’ve seen historical battles over equity, arguing that fairness is only possible when we take into account systemic marginalization and differences of ability, opportunity, and access…

And that’s where we are now–or are we? Those of us who have watched the Internet become a tool of commerce first and a means of communication second have seen other troubling trends. This is one danah boyd understands differently than than I had before:

Beyond the cultural fight over equality vs. equity, a new battle to define fairness has emerged. Long normative in business, a market logic of fairness is moving beyond industry to increasingly become our normative understanding of fairness in America.

It’s long been known that The Poor Pay More. Like it has done to so many other things, the Internet has changed the speed, the volume, and the frequency of the mechanisms that makes that happen. It’s also an ideal means of enforcing those mechanisms:

Increasingly, tech folks are participating in the instantiation of fairness in our society. Not only do they produce the algorithms that score people and unevenly distribute scarce resources, but the fetishization of “personalization” and the increasingly common practice of “curation” are, in effect, arbiters of fairness.

(Those “tech folks”? That’s me. That’s what we do for a living. When I’m not destroying skilled jobs or performing guard labor, I enforce market values through technology. We also do productive labor, but the majority of what we do is not for the good of humanity.)

This is another systemic problem, and it will take systemic change. It’ll have to begin with an acceptance that we live in a socially engineered environment. (Every society is.) Those who invent and spread the myth that we do not, those who preach most loudly against social engineering? Those are the bosses of the social engineers. They have the power to work their will and would rather not change that. It’s understandable they don’t want to cede their power gracefully. And it’s understandable I believe they should lose that power utterly.

UU 102: REA: Peace Experiments

Dan Harper is the Directory of Religious Education at the UU Church of Palo Alto.  This is the text of his presentation about religious education and peacemaking. There are two things I’d like to hold up from it in particular. Here’s the first:

As the religious education committee and I reviewed all these various factors…we began to talk explicitly about feminist theology, which is a core theology in my denomination. Feminist theology reminds us that so-called women’s work is just as important as so-called men’s work. Feminist theology reminds us that children of any gender are at least as important as adult males. Feminist theology reminds us that we are embodied beings, and we need more than words and information, we need hands and bodies.

I’m going to go further than Dan Harper: If you have not spent any time studying feminism and feminist theology, you are almost certainly not competent to talk about Unitarian Universalism as it is practiced today.

And here’s the second:

…we realized what really made a difference was not trying to teach essentialist skills…

and yet

…we also included some activities that could come across as essentialist in orientation, because we had adults who were passionate…

Since you can’t buy passion at any price, some mindsets regard it as worthless and sell it as cheap or throw it away. Do you?

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and Jesus, I’m thankful

As you may have read, I got bad news about my mom earlier in the week. The short update? This time, it turned out to be a dress rehearsal, a valuable one. Here’s the long version:

The word I got on my mom Thursday was that I should come that day, not the next, so I did. She’s got congestive heart failure and they felt the edema in her right side–a swollen leg and arm–was thus a sign of imminent decline. The next morning, the edema was gone. She is still weak–I mean, ninety-six, right?–but in good spirits, mostly clearheaded, and in hopes of getting better. I don’t think she will but I’m damned if I’m telling her so. They no longer think she’s on the verge any more than she always is.

The best news is I got to do something I’d stalled on. When she was checked into the home, her record ended up indicating that CPR and other invasive procedures could be done on my mom. She’s been to the hospital three or four times since then, and I approve. My mom has a lot of vitality and life left in her–she’s still getting something from hanging around or she wouldn’t be doing it–and I’m happy to get her care that will help. But anything at this point that requires CPR is truly an imminent death sentence. My mom is nearly ninety-seven years old. The success rate for CPR at her age is around seven percent, and success means a chest full of broken bones and even less capacity than one had beforehand. So I changed that and a couple of other things, so they don’t get to keep her meat working after she’s gone. They did this on my authority as her health care proxy. I’d expected difficulty, but no.

My mom believes she’s going to heaven and seeing Jesus and her family when she dies. I figure if anyone does, she will. I have my doubts about heaven, myself, but then, I’ve never died yet and don’t know any of it for a fact. What I do know for a fact is that when she does finally die, I can do my best to see to it her last consciousness is that of loving family surrounding her–Jesus will have to bring his own self, but I figure he’ll make an appearance of some sort–and as pleasant as it can be. It won’t be people busting up her rib cage so she can draw another hour’s breath and then die.

I must briefly brag on my ex-wife-to-be. When I called her, she wanted to know what she could do to help. The next day, she took the daughter out of school right after her tests (four freaking tests before noon and she’s in sixth grade; what is wrong with this country?) and drove up. She’d packed up her work and a week’s clothing and was willing to stay for some time if need be. So the three of us spent time with my mom–my ex hadn’t seen my mom since we separated nearly five years ago–and hung out around town and had an awfully good time together.

Like I say, I doubt there’s a heaven, but I have no doubts about hell. It’s real, it exists here on earth, and while its intensity cannot reliably be measured, its duration is finite. Had it not been for the ex and the daughter, that’s where I’d’ve been these last few days. As it turned out, we had a small family vacation and a lovely weekend.

End of life

While it is not yet certain, it appears the end of my mother’s life is near at hand. This (reprinted below) is all I can do to give you a piece of how I feel about her. Please note the Times left off my last line, which I may never be able to say again.

I was pleased to see my mother’s body on the cover of a recent Arkansas Times (Jan. 18), but was puzzled as to why Alice Walton’s head was atop it.

My mother, Golda Belle Watson Adams, wasn’t the Rosie the Riveter, but she was an airplane inspector at Tulsa’s McDonnell-Douglas airplane plant during World War II. My dear aunt, her late sister Mary, was the first woman to become a final inspector there. Her late brother Roosevelt lived through Bataan and spent 43 months in a Japanese POW camp. My late father Melton Eugene Adams flew in those planes as a flight engineer over the Hump and back.

Yes, my family is a cliche — mama built ’em and daddy flew ’em — and I’m proud of it.

Each of them worked like dogs and risked their lives for democracy, my father and my uncle more so, my mother and my aunt less so, but factory work is dangerous, too, then and now. After that war was over, they worked at other jobs, some paid (beautician, farm equipment salesman, nightclub worker, union steward) and some not (housewife), making their living from the sweat of their brows.

Alice Walton has never worked a day in her life.

She exerts effort, but it isn’t work. It’s play.

Alice Walton inherited billions of dollars that her late father’s corporation systematically gouged out of the American working man and woman. She plays investment banker with those dollars to make more dollars. That isn’t work. It’s play, cruel, brutal play with other people’s lives at other people’s expense for Alice Walton’s profit. We all have our family traditions.

I’m thrilled for Arkansas that Crystal Bridges is here. Arkansas is no less deserving of great art than any other place. After all, most great American museums are the legacy of robber barons, ruthless industrialists, and other swine. That our local swine has so gifted us with the fruits of others’ labors is simply in the American tradition.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when Tom Dillard, historian at the University in Arkansas of Walmart up in lost little Fayetteville said, “I don’t think the Waltons are robber barons, but if they are, they’re OUR ROBBER BARONS. After serving as a ‘colony’ for more than a century during which our natural resources and labor were shipped north, it is about time that Arkansas received some payback.”

Is that what it comes down to? My CEO can beat up your CEO? My warlord is stronger than your warlord? My robber baron can steal from your robber baron? I want nothing of it.

When Randy Newman wrote his brilliant song “Rednecks,” his incitement of Northerners comfortably bashing the South for the sins found in their own Northern backyards, his narrator said this of Lester Maddox: “Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool / If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong.”

I’m under no illusions that I’m better than Lester Maddox. Randy Newman told me so, from on stage in Atlanta, when we in the audience thoughtlessly clapped at his mention of Maddox’s death. When it arrives, I won’t clap for Alice Walton’s death, either. I’ve learned that lesson.

But the living Alice Walton isn’t fit to kiss my living mother’s ass.

Johnnie Watson Adams

Little Rock

Post-Election Review

I’m not sure, but I think something or someone I voted for won! That doesn’t always happen. So it’s time to take stock:

Do song and story still have the power to connect and move people across time and space and culture? Why, yes, they do.

Does human solidarity still have the power to pull people together for the common good as they understand it, for kind and compassionate action as they see it called for in the world? Why, yes, it does.

Does the magnificence of the world we live in, both the physical world we all share and the interior world we each possess, and those shared world we create, still stir my heart and ear and eye? Why, yes, it does.

All things considered, I’m in pretty good shape. What about you?

The Cynical Brilliance of the Tom Cotton YouTube ad

You know the ad I’m talking about, right? The guy who said, “It’s me again!” in those unskippable fifteen-second YouTube ads for Tom Cotton. That ad. I’ve turned it down and done something else for thirteen seconds so often this last month. And it was effective.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about this ad. We both seized on it as a sign that the Cotton campaign was doing something smart with its fistful of money. I didn’t realize till today just how smart it was.

Think about the character in that ad. What made it so annoying was the part he played. He looked like that jerk who always knows everything, is typically right, is a real jackass, and is a lot of fun to hang out with when he isn’t taking your paycheck on a bar bet.

He depressed me with his vitality in the service of death.

What was your reaction? I suspect it was more weariness than anger. And that’s important.

One of the tactics everyone in politics uses is to demoralize the opponents, getting them to beat themselves with poor morale and thus poor performance. This ad did a bang-up job of doing that, especially among the YouTube demographic, which skews young.

It’s always hard to untangle causality in real-world social science, but if we could in this case, I would bet you cash money a significant number of voters, disproportionately young with all that goes along with that, did not vote due to this ad.

Well played, Tom Cotton, well played.

UU 102: Mirror, Mirror: Cultural Misappropriation Bites Me in the Ass (Part II)

It’s so easy to be fooled, as irrevespekay found out:

It is only now, in the midst of this frame around cultural borrrowing and misappropriation, I am now noticing *myself* in the mirror.  I found this poem online (which should have been my first clue that something could go awry).  SHIT-WHITE-GIRLS-SAY-2It was attributed to someone named Bee Lake who was described an Aboriginal poet.  I loved the imagery and the theology and thought, sure, not that I know much, but it seems to exude Aboriginal. Whatever that means.


Turns out that Bee Lake is a fictional character, created by a white American woman named Marlo Morgan, who spent four months in Australia and wrote a book:

We’re very open to the world, and that’s good, but that doesn’t mean we should consider the world open to us like a candy store. It is open to us–just not in that way, like someplace where we pay a little cash and take what we want.  It’s more open like the open road.

UU 102: The (next) President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Tired of elections? Sorry–you have another one coming up, for presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Tony Lorenzen has some thoughts about what’s needed in the next president. There are three items on his list:

1. A person under the age of 50  2. A person with a deep sense of spirituality  3. A person who has a deep sense of mission and who will help Unitarian Universalists articulate our mission is in a way that speaks to our culture.

What do you think? (Be sure to see Tony’s response to a comment. It clarifies his thought considerable.) Is 40 more reasonable? 45?