2028: A Letter to My 14-year-old Daughter at the Half-way Mark

September 27, 2021

Our daughter, Cozette turned seven last month and she’s way ahead of where I was in terms of coolness. When I was a new second grader at Highland Christian Academy, I didn’t even know the #1 single for that week (“Maggie May”), but I did know the Frito Bandito song. Cozy can riff on some Dua Lipa cuts and has a vast knowledge of classic rock lyrics. (She has a soft spot for Lindsey Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac songs.) Cozy is well-versed, from Coltrane to Storm Large.

It just dawned on me that, at 7, she is halfway to 14, which was a big year for me and my musical coming out, so I thought I should write her a letter now and tuck it away on this blog until 2028.

Dear Cozy,

Happy 14th birthday! Every day with you has been a thrill and it’s so exciting to see you ready to rock 9th grade. You have turned into the most joyful, complex, and kind young woman I know. And even though your mom and I have had some influence, who you are comes from some wonderful spark that exists deep inside you. I thought I’d use this moment to tell you a little bit about what I was like when I was 14 and make a birthday promise to you.

I turned 14 fifty years ago in 1978. It was a great year of self-discovery and what I like to think of as my “musical coming out” year. You know what a role music has played in my life, starting with my pre-school raiding of my parents jazz records and endless hours listening to your grandmother playing Scott Joplin rags on the baby grand piano in our living room. But 1978 was different. It was the year your grandparents started letting their oldest son go to concerts without adults!

I already had caught the concert bug the year before. (Ask me someday what it was like to see Kiss in concert in 1977). For some reason, once I turned 14, my folks trusted me enough to let me go to concerts with my friends. And we went to every big show that came through Atlanta, from Blondie (at the Fox Theater) to Black Sabbath (at the Omni). In fact, if you listen to the 1978 live Blue Oyster Cult album, Some Enchanted Evening, (recorded at the Fox Theater) you can hear Charlie, Richie, and I screaming our lungs out.

You know how exciting live music is. Officially, your first concert was U2 in Vancouver, BC on May 15, 2015. For the record, you were 9 months old and The Edge fell off the stage. We’ve been to countless shows together since then. You know about the anticipation swelling as the main act is about to take the stage. You know about singing along with the actual people on the recording. You know about your ears ringing when it’s all over.

When I was 14, the other element at concerts was drugs. A lot of drugs. And everything else. I remember a guy drinking straight Jack Daniels before a Who concert, and telling everyone it was his life’s dream to see The Who in concert. By the time The Who took the stage, he was passed out drunk. Missed the entire show. I’m sure he told all his friends how brilliant the concert was. Those concerts were too important for me to miss a thing. I was clear-eyed sober, focused on every element of the experience, every guitar solo, every screaming fan pressed against the stage. And I remember them all 50 years later. Just a suggestion about the value of a clear head. You’ll want to remember this stuff.

Concerts were where I found my tribe. Other music fanatics and the various subtribes. By 15, I was firmly in the mod/punk/new wave tribe and going to Ramones shows. But at 14, it was all brand new. I people watched as much as band watched.

So you are at a magical spot right now. Given life expectancies in 2028, you’ve got another 70+ years of life ahead of you. That means you’ve got 14 years behind you, much of which you don’t remember because you were little, and 70 years ahead of you. The future is wide open. Most of my life is behind me, which is why I bore you with stories of the distant past. But for you there is this incredible newness and potential wrapped up in every experience. I would give anything to hear music that way I did in 1978. For my 14th birthday, I got the debut album of a band called Van Halen and you would have thought the Rapture had unfolded on Earth. That album was like a lightning bolt from God. (Our poor neighbors in Stone Mountain who had to tolerate me playing “You Really Got Me,” at full volume over and over again.) I can listen to that record now and it sounds nothing like it did when I was 14. Now, it’s just a classic rock classic. Then, it was EVERYTHING.

I know kids always get tired of us old folks saying, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people,” or “enjoy your youth.” But we’re speaking from a place of regret. I wish I would have known about the magic of 14 when I was 14. I just wanted to be 18, or 25, or 30. (Definitely not 64.) I’m begging you to take it all in. Close your eyes and turn the volume up all the way. Take a minute to feel how the sound lands on your body and what it connects you to in this moment in history. For me, it gave me the dream of escape; to the lower east side of Manhattan, to Liverpool, to London, or to wherever Styx wanted me to sail away to.

That’s my request. Listen and connect your music to your space and time and maybe your own tribe. My promise is, now that you’re 14, you can go to concerts without me. You have a great set of friends and I trust you to be there for the music. I will still drop you off and pick you up (unless I need my driverless car to do it), but you are free to be as fully into the experience of live music as I was at your age. And feel free to pick music that you think I will hate, because that’s also what 14 is about. (Bringing home the Sex Pistols album at 14 almost got me booted from the Blazak family.) You will find your people at shows. And you’ll find fashions. And you’ll find great opening bands that you will end up loving more than the headliners.

Fourteen is go time. It’s new car smell. It’s endless discoveries. It’s an entire human history of possibilities. And it’s music that will mean EVERYTHING. Go get it. I’ll be there to give you a ride home.

Love,

Dad

Death By a Thousand 9/11s

September 11, 2021

They say one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. From the perspective of a lowly stormtrooper inside the Death Star, Luke Skywalker and his band of rebel fighters, guided by an archaic religion, were not heroes, but mass murderers. Was the U.S drone strike that targeted ISIS-K in Kabul on August 29th a part of our righteous war on terror or was it a terrorist attack that killed seven children (and no ISIS fighters)? Remember when Bill Maher said, on his show Politically Incorrect, the 9/11 hijackers were not cowards, but those who launch cruise missiles from 2000 miles away were and ABC canned him? Are we even allowed to ask these questions?

Today is not the day to debate whether or not the attacks twenty years ago were terrorism. They most certainly were. If they weren’t, the word has no meaning. Anyone who was alive and old enough to pay attention on September 11, 2001 (and now a quarter of Americans weren’t), felt the terror. I had just flown to Atlanta on 9/10 for my 20th high school reunion and my dad woke me up in time for me to see the second plane slam into the World Trade Center. I remember saying out loud, “What the hell is happening?” as Peter Jennings attempted to translate the untranslatable. It was about to get worse. Much worse.

The U.S. government defines terrorism as, ““the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). Much of my work is built around the description of hate crimes as acts of terrorism. Why do we not think of the 9/11 attacks as merely 2,977 murders? Because all Americans were the targets. I had a friend from college who was in Tower 1. Osama bin Laden didn’t know about him, or have anything against him personally. (Three of my former Emory classmates were killed in the New York attacks.) He was a random target, a death meant to intimidate a larger civilian population. And it worked. It was several months after 9/11 before I could enter a tall building or drive over a Portland bridge without thinking of a passenger plane crashing into it.

Hate crimes work the same way. Like the victims of 9/11, targets are randomly selected for their symbolic value, to coerce others like the targets that they aren’t wanted here. Leave. A burning cross, a gay bashing, a swastika on a synagogue, all meant to terrorize large populations. After the 9/11 attacks hate crimes against American Arabs and Muslim (and people perceived to be Arab and/or Muslim) increased 500%. Four days after the attack a Sikh named Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot in the head in a gas station in Mesa, Arizona by a white male who claimed he seeking revenge for the 9/11 attacks. Not only were Arab and Muslim-Americans living in fear, but so were Sikhs and others. (Here in Portland, an Italian man was beaten by three teenagers after the attacks because he was perceived to be Middle Eastern.) 2001 wasn’t an anomaly. Just this week, data released but the FBI revealed that hate crimes increased dramatically in 2020. Who is terrorizing whom?

On this sad occasion, I’m reminded of how the Bush-Cheney-Halliburton Administration tried to falsely pin 9/11 on Saddam Hussein, leading to the invasion of the wrong county, a protracted and completely unnecessary war that was responsible for the death in over 4000 U.S. troops, and over half a million Iraqi men, women, and children killed. But we were the ones fighting terrorism. We couldn’t possibly be the terrorists. Could we?

I visited Ground Zero the summer following the attack and I could still smell the dust of all the souls who had been atomized on that Tuesday in September. I’ve been to New York at least a dozen times since then and always notice what’s not there and what is. My recurring 9/11 dreams were central to my 2016 novel, The Dream Police. At the 9/11 memorial when I see the names of the victims who were pregnant women, I can’t help but convulse and every trip I make to Washington DC, I have a moment when I wonder what would have happened if the fourth plane had hit its intended target, the U.S. Capitol building. I carry this as trauma as does every American, to varying degrees, who remembers that day.

But we also carry the trauma of all the other acts of terrorism, many done in our name or done by people who look like us against people who don’t look like us. We’ve become blasé to the trauma and really good at rationalizing the traumatizing of others. We’ve become masters at dehumanizing the “other.” They see us as “infidels” and we see them as “fanatics.” They see us as “libtards” and we see them as “Nazis.” Nobody is just a human being capable of love and redeemable imperfection. If you told members of the radical right or the radical left they could push a button to launch a drone strike to wipe out the other side, the air would be filled robots on their death trips.

Trauma requires healing and there has been a lot of healing in the last 20 years. New Yorkers are resilient. The passengers on Flight 93 showed great courage in the face of their own deaths. And the work of the war machine that launches drone strikes into wherever continues at the Pentagon. But the healing is hampered by all the other terror we inflict on each other. An open wound never truly heals.

I will never forget that day. The confusion of wondering if it was real or a movie. The image of people choosing to jump rather than burn. The realization that the world would never be the same. But I will also never forget a lot of other things, including what happened in a Mesa, Arizona gas station four days after the attack and what happened two weeks ago in Kabul. Never forget any of it.

Freedom Morons: What am I supposed to think about people who refuse get vaccinated?

August 27, 2021

“Medical tyranny!”

My capacity for empathy is really being challenged in 2021. The Delta variant is raging across the country, now putting children in hospitals. ICU beds are filled to capacity with unvaccinated COVID patients who are not vaccinated because they didn’t have access to immunization. They chose to be unvaccinated. Over 80 million Americans are still unvaccinated. A recent poll found that 29 percent of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated. (Side note: I’m old enough to remember when Republicans were private school snobs and Democrats were knuckle dragging factory workers. Now Democrats are the over-educated Volvo drivers and Republicans are the Neanderthals who believe whatever noted white supremacist Tucker Carlson tells them to believe. “The election was stolen!” “Tom Hanks is an alien pedophile!”)

Variants rage through America and kids are on ventilators because of these people. A North Carolina study found that the unvaccinated are 15 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the unvaccinated , but there’s an anti-mask rally coming to your town. We’re 10 minutes away from another economy-crushing shutdown because MAGA Mike hates the CDC and thinks Dr. Anthony Fauci is out to destroy America. I’m not talking about cancer patients and other immunocompromised people who can’t tolerate the vaccine. I’m talking about people like Marjorie Taylor Greene who equate mask mandates with the Holocaust. I’m talking about people who claim they have “medical research” to back up their positions, but none of it is in peer reviewed science journals.

What am I supposed to think of these people?

The sociologist and educator wants to see these people as victims. They’ve been manipulated by right-wing media and self-serving politicians, like Florida governor Ron DeSantis. They’re the result of 40 years of defunding education that’s replaced scientific research with something you saw on YouTube. (Reading is hard.) We have failed these people and they are dying because they think the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine is “fake news.”

Or maybe they’re just idiots.

These people don’t trust the “the science.” That is until they get sick and show up at the hospital asking those same medical scientists to save their assess. Heaven help you if you have a stroke or a heart attack right now. The hospital is chocked full of covidiots, who can’t say they were wrong because they have ventilators shoved down their necks. There is always prayer, I guess. Good luck with that heart attack! I’m praying for you.

I want to be compassionate, but I’m just angry. I’ve seen these Mensa Society members at town halls and school board meetings screaming about FREEDOM! They want to be free to unmask their kids in school and go to Dairy Queen for the Flamethrower Combo with their face uncovered. “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-freedom,” they robotically say. They’re dooming their children to the ICU and the rest of us to an endless pandemic. I’m free to walk down the middle of I-5. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Freedumb!

Of course, there are endless stories of these folks ending up in the hospital, wishing they would have gotten the vaccine. A whole lot of them die. Should we laugh? Tweet, “I told you so!” Make a comment about Darwin and the thinning of the herd?

There’s an old adage in comedy that says, tragedy + time = comedy. It’s probably too soon to laugh at the anti-vaccine people who have died. That includes the pathetic conservative radio host Phil Valentine who regularly spread lies about the coronavirus and the vaccines on his syndicated show. He died last week of COVID. They say God has a sense of humor and I’ll just leave it at that.

I wrestle with this issue because my mother is one of these covidiots. I generally think of her as an intelligent person, but, now in her late 70s, she’s become influenced by whatever crap she reads on the internet. Her mother, once a psychologist, fell under the spell of televangelist and prostitute funder Jimmy Swaggart in her later years and gave the family inheritance to the Jesus Man on TV. Similarly, watching my mother’s magical thinking being exploited by internet based mis-information is just heartbreaking. “Well, I heard…” You know what I heard Mom? People like you are dying right and left.

While I was in the basement, making it through my mild case of COVID earlier this month (I had the Johnson &. Johnson vaccine), she was a comforting voice, calling from Georgia. She had refused to get vaccinated and I tried to explain to her that the reason I was sick was because the unvaccinated have created a petri dish that has allowed the much more deadly Delta variant to spread. I begged her to get vaccinated. Being 78 in Georgia and living with her (also unvaccinated) grandson puts her at high risk. Finally, out of frustration I told her not to call me until she was vaccinated. I haven’t heard from her since. She chose the lies over her son.

It’s like America is taking a national IQ test right now. I used to joke there were two types of people in the world, those that love cilantro and idiots. Just replace “love cilantro” with “got the vaccine.” I’m cool with you willing to die for your “freedom,” but I’m not cool with you putting the rest of us through hell to prove your stupid point; that you’re stupid. And your stupidity is upending my freedom to dive into a mosh pit or know my daughter is safe in her classroom from your disease (excuse me, I mean “hoax”).

Like I said, I’m wrestling with this. I’m 90% fed up with these idiots and want to deny them entry into the hospital when they get sick and realize they need some of that science. But 10% of me still is looking for ways to reach these folks. And that includes my mother.

NOTE: Within 24-hours this post had already attracted the righteous wrath of the QAnon bozos. Lordy.

COVID, Climate Change, and Misinformation: How Shock Doctrine Kills American Democracy

August 9, 2021

I just survived being knocked down by the Delta variant of COVID, but I’m starting to think this country might not. My vaccine saved me and meant I spent 10 days in the basement with Netflix instead of in the ICU with a ventilator down my throat. I’m leery of long term effects but I know that unvaccinated idiots who get this will go through a hell that made my rough road look like a stroll through Candyland. A recent NPR poll found that 1 in 4 Americans refuse to get vaccinated (including my mother). This is the idiocracy that could spell the end of America.

We’re in a moment of national reckoning that might have less to do with George Floyd (that’s another reckoning) and be more about what happens when a nation spends 40 years defunding education.

The Big Three Waves of Shock

The news of how this Delta variant is burning through the national defenses is more than alarming. The vaccinated are getting sick (but living). The unvaccinated are dying in numbers we haven’t seen since the peak of the pandemic. And, most frighteningly, the number of pediatric COVID cases is exploding. Kids are getting sick and dying because their “freedom loving” parents are not getting vaccinated. Hospital beds are full of covidiots so if you need an ER bed because you crashed your Ram 2500 truck or rolled under your riding lawnmower, you’re just out of luck Bubba Jo. Pray.

The idiocy of these people whose refuse to get vaccinated based on “Well, I heard…” will cause this pandemic to drag on for years. These are people who, on the surface, might seem relatively intelligent. We were sitting poolside at the Tropicana in Las Vegas last spring when a third grade teacher told us, “Well, I read that the vaccine will kill you in six months.” People with supposed medical degrees, like this quack Dr. Joseph Mercola, are profiting from peoples fears of the virus. Leading activists who I used to trust, like Naomi Wolf and Robert Kennedy, Jr., are spreading anti-vax lunacy. My own mother has repeated some of the worst anti-science “facts” to justify her refusal to get vaccine. She’s in high risk Georgia and I really hope I don’t have to write “Killed by her own stupidity” on her gravestone.

These nutjobs claim they are defending their freedom. Just because I have the freedom to walk down the middle of the interstate doesn’t mean I should. They’re not defending any freedom. They are endangering all of us. If we could only send these rocket scientists on a one way trip to Florida.

Much of this vaccine hesitancy comes from a legitimate concern. Science is complex and a whole bunch of the science that was true in April is not true in August because of the information coming in about Delta and other variants. It’s understandable that some folks might retreat from the complexity into the comfort of simple blankets of misinformation. Did you know you can prevent coronavirus infection with Vitamin D? And a $100 donation to the Trump 2024 campaign? I mean even I feel a little weird telling people to “trust the government on this one.” But I spent a lot of time at CDC in my many years at Emory and I know those people are driven by the cold hard facts of science, not momentary political trends.

The second piece of this is the impact of the climate crisis. The earth is on fire and flooding at the same time. The Great Salt Lake is evaporating and Greek islands are up in flames. This is the rapid acceleration Dennis Quaid warned us about in 2004 in the film The Day After Tomorrow. Why didn’t we listen to Dennis Quaid?! Not only will this environmental spiral increase the number of SARS pandemics in the future (COVID-22 will cause incessant farting and anal bleeding), but disrupt the supply of food and water, sending populations on the move. You think the southern border is a mess now, wait until caravans of starving families are motivated by the far off glow of the golden arches across the Rio Grande.

The third piece that ties all this together is just the unstoppable explosion of misinformation, spread across the internet. Facebook and Twitter can play endless Whack-A-Mole trying to knock down false information about the election, COVID vaccines, and the “proof” that Earth is hollow, but the desire for convenient “truths” knows no limits. The internet was supposed to make us smarter as we all joined the information superhighway. Instead it has created a planetary dumbing down as people throw the values of journalism and science out the window in favor of a meme that “proves” their point. Have you spent any time on Gab, the MAGA alternative to Facebook? They have “evidence” that Dr. Anthony Fauci is part of a global Zionist conspiracy to kill off white people! It’s true and you’re a sheep if you don’t believe it! Sheeple baaaaad!

Shock Doctrine: Authoritarian Edition

Naomi Klein’s groundbreaking 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explained how nations, like Pinochet’s Chile or the United States after 9/11, use the chaos of national crises to consolidate corporate power and pass laws that favor big business and undermine democratic institutions. Anyone who lived through the Iraq War and didn’t have stock in Halliburton is still smarting from that stab through America’s heart.

You know what I trust even less than the military industrial complex? Fascism. The world has seen a rapid rise in authoritarian movements. From Putin’s Russia to Duterte’s Philippines, democracy is out of favor. Neo-Nazis are back in Germany and Fox New’s resident white supremacist, Tucker Carlson, is in Budapest celebrating Hungry’s slide from democracy into oligarchy. Countless pages have been written about the cult of personality that surrounds Donald Trump and its hatred of democracy. It was evident in his coup attempt last winter. It’s evident among the QAnon zealots who believe he will be reinstated into power this month. And it’s evident in the people who want him back even though his one and only policy position is the expansion of his own power.

There is enough chaos between spiking COVID rates, the upheaval from the climate crisis, and the tsunami of misinformation spreading through the world to completely destabilize American democracy. Add to that the Republican overdrive efforts at voter suppression and gerrymandering, and the events of January 6th could be just a typical Wednesday in America. Here come the COVID-compromised farmers, their soy bean farms ablaze, enraged because they read on the internet that their tax dollars are going to teaching Critical Race Theory to transgender Guatemalan immigrants instead of dropping sports drinks on their burning fields. (“It’s got electrolytes!”)

Remember The Enlightenment

I start every one of my sociology classes with a discussion of the The Enlightenment, that 18th century intellectual movement that dragged our idiot asses out of the Dark Ages and into the Age of Reason. If gave us everything from modern science (without Louis Pasteur we wouldn’t have Fro Yo!) and the vast experiment that is the United States of America. The values of rationality and empiricism put us on a path of a more thoughtful and logical world that stopped burning witches at the stake and sent robots to Mars. As we watch Afghanistan tumble back into the Stone Age, don’t think the growing chorus of prophet preachers, flat earth dads, anti-vax moms, and freedom-screaming “patriots” won’t achieve the same thing here. The science obsessed Chinese are watching our decent into mass stupidity, ready to pick up the pieces. Is our future a dumb and dumber slide into new Dark Ages filled with screeching street preachers and angry MAGA mobs watching colleges and hospitals burn down? Or, as Patti Smith once sang, will we “wrestle the world from fools?”

This is it. Make America smart again. Or else.

The Delta Variant Got Me: Hubris Amid a Pandemic

August 1, 2021

OK, I’m gonna be brief, because I feel like absolute crap. I have COVID-19. I tested positive yesterday after three or four days of coughing that turned into headaches and a fever. I thought it was a summer cold. My wise wife took one look at me and said, “You’ve got Corona.” So let me lay it out in bullet points so I can go back to sleep.

  • I received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which, some sources have reported, is not as effective against the Delta Variant.
  • When the vaccines rolled out at the beginning of the year, the science said the vaccinated are near 100% protected and also unlikely to spread the virus. That was BEFORE the Delta variant arrived.
  • Science changes as incoming data changes.
  • The end of the state mask mandate had many of us vaccinated people thinking we were back to life as normal. I pretty much stopped wearing my mask and was back at the bar and other indoor places with people who may not have been vaccinated.
  • There’s a whole bunch of people at Lollapalooza in Chicago right now who are about to get a very sobering telegram from reality.
  • As much as I want to blame this on the people who are not getting vaccinated, it’s my own damn fault, pretending that I was fully protected while I heard the daily horror stories on NPR.
  • I’m pretty sure I’m not going to end up in the ICU, but this version of COVID has still knocked me on my ass.
  • I worry that I may have infected several people before I know that I had it. I’m most worried about my 6-year-old daughter.

This thing is far from over. We have to get vaccination rates up. Get your mask back out. Wash your hands to “Happy Birthday.” Stay home. The 1918 flu pandemic didn’t end in 1919. It took a couple years. But then we had the Roaring Twenties. So hunker down. Our roaring twenties is coming.

Mindful Meditation: Save me, Ringo!

July 15, 2021

Let’s be honest, the pandemic has brought us some good things. For example, there are people who will deliver vanilla lattes to your home and text you when they are on your doorstep. The 2020-2021 lockdown was also a great time to work on ourselves and our relationships. Besides the long conversations with my wife about what I might need to tweak in my own psychodynamic, I read a lot that put me on a path of internal work. Books like Get Out You Mind and Into Your Life, and You Might Be a Narcissist If…, and (currently) Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives. As an educator, I want to de-stigmatize the effort to do self work. Let’s be honest, we all could use a little help to be better people

But what really changed the game was meditation.

As a Beatle maniac, I was always enamored with how the practice of transcendental meditation changed the trajectory of the Fab Four’s career. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were in Bangor, Wales in August, 1967 attending a seminar in TM held by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when their manager, Brian Epstein, suddenly died. Seeing how they handled his death with calmness was a bit shocking to Western sensibilities about grief. Those seminars and their extended trip to India the following spring to study under the Maharishi set them on lifelong paths of meditation (and vegetarianism). Ringo Starr just turned 81 and still meditates every single day. So does Paul McCartney.

My first personal experience with meditation was when I was about 12 and taking karate classes. As a child I suffered from intense insomnia, my mind racing with fantasies about dinosaurs and Spiderman. The meditation practice at the end of each karate class promised “astral projection,” but really taught me how to calm my mind and I’ve used it as a tool to get to sleep ever since. (I often focus on images under the sea, so when I started scuba diving in 2016, it was like I manifested my dream world through deep thought.)

This latest chapter was born from intense frustration. I could read all the “self-help” books in the world but my impulses were still getting the better of me. My need to be confrontational likely stems from my early family dynamic. I like to fight. Me vs. You. I could be a road rager, given the right traffic jam. Often in my marriage, while I “know” Andi and I are on the same team, sometimes I act like we are opposing forces. This is especially true in emotional moments. Even if it’s something stupid, like me wondering, “Why do I always have to be the one to wash the dishes?” My emotional self takes over my intellectual self and I say something stupid. There have been a thousand apologies after I get my head back on straight. I do plenty of trainings on implicit bias, but the greater challenge is teaching people to not let those “unthought thoughts” turn into bad behavior.

So, if some of this is hardwired into the subconscious, how can you ever get in front of it?

Starting a daily meditation practice has provided the answer. Just ten minutes each morning. I sit in the backyard, under an apple tree, and pop open a guided meditation video on YouTube. (The ones by Calm are amazing.) The focus is first on the breath, and seeing any incoming thoughts as clouds floating by, there and gone. The cackling crows and planes landing at PDX are just part of the ambient symphony of my environment. The rest of the time is focusing on not being my thoughts. Thoughts and emotions are not real. They don’t have to control me.

Today’s meditation focused on alleviating worry. Occasionally, I’ll get in a sour mood because of something stupid I did in the past, or something I imagine going on in the present or future, and it’s down a little black hole. The meditation focused on how there are three parts of this process. First is the image of the situation, like remembering some micro aggression I committed in the past or some upcoming event I’m not looking forward to. The second part is the emotion that thought brings up and the third is how that emotion impacts the body. The physical response could be the muscles tensing up or (worse) being more impulsive. Mindfulness says if you can witness this process, you can interrupt it before it gets to Step 3.

It was perfect timing to focus on this as just a few days earlier I totally did this spiral. It was Andi’s turn to prepare dinner but she stopped after work to have drinks and do some career planning with a mentor. Based on something that happened to me nearly 25 years ago, my head went somewhere stupid, I got frustrated and angry, and my fingers sent some pretty snarky texts. My subconscious kicked my ass. Again. If I had been more mindful, I would have identified what that emotion was about and it wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the Send button. Meditation helped me to see that flow-chart so I don’t repeat the mistake.

The great thing about meditation is that you are literally retraining my brain to be more thoughtful. Andi has commented on the dramatic difference in my demeanor. I no longer start stupid fights (that I later have to apologize for) and center her needs as a part of my normal behavior pattern. I see challenging thoughts like leaves floating down a stream and then I hear Bono sing, “Let it go!” It feels like a rebirth. It feels like embracing thankfulness instead of anger.

Meditation has come into the daily practice of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and LeBron James, who meditates on the bench in the middle of games. Our active culture has a hard time “doing nothing” for 10 minutes. Before the pandemic, my yoga class would end with 5 minutes of meditation, cutely referred to as corpse pose (Shavasana). There are always a handful of people who bail to spend that 5 minutes on the Stairmaster. They’re really missing out. Filmmaker David Lynch has a foundation that brings meditation into schools and seen mediating students become less violent and more productive. Meditation is being used to treat trauma and improve the quality of inmate lives in prisons.

I had hit a wall in my self work, battling with my subconscious programming. Then I thought, well, if Ringo Starr can mediate 10 minutes a day and be so “peace and love” all the time (and be married to “Bond Girl” Barbara Bach for 40 years), maybe I should give it a try. Starting each day with 10 minutes, quieting my mind and reminding myself that I am not my emotions has transformed the quality of my life in a palpable way. I can only encourage you to start your own practice under your own apple tree. And thank you, Ringo.

The Black Strawman: In Defense of Critical Race Theory

June 18, 2021

Note: Sometimes, “idiot” is the only word that applies.

There’s been a lot of right-wing nuts, Trumpists, and QAnon moms freaking out lately about something called Critical Race Theory. Ask these troglodytes what CRT actually is and you’ll get some hastily prepared bullet points from conservative tools, like Candace Owens; “It’s Marxist re-education!” “It’s anti-white racism!” “It’s teaching our children to hate America!” “It’s Barak Obama’s secret plot for a Muslim takeover of America, financed by Chinese communists!” States like Oklahoma and Florida (not known as bastions of anti-racism and/or intelligence) have tried to outlaw CRT from classrooms, causing concerns about the civil liberties of teachers. As we mark Juneteenth, let us stand against the anti-education hordes. (CRT-foe Owens bashed Juneteenth yesterday, tweeting “I’ll be celebrating July 4th and July 4th only. I’m American.”)

As an educator who actually teaches Critical Race Theory, it’s a bit sad seeing the hysteria that seems way too much like last season’s hysteria about Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss. I see a lot of inflamed idiots who know absolutely nothing about CRT convinced that some evil cabal is going to destroy “their” country. It’s tiring. If there’s one thing worse than feeling the country has fallen into idiocracy, it’s that it’s fallen into a racist idiocracy.

First of all, Critical Race Theory has been around since the 1970s. All that it is is a set of assumptions, backed up by a massive amounts of data, that the damage done by racism is not by garden variety white supremacists, like Klansmen, Nazi skinheads, and Tucker Carlson. It’s done by institutions that carry the white supremacists ideology that this country was founded on. (Google “Three-fifths Compromise,” cracker!) These institutions include, but are not limited to government, the police, courts, housing, healthcare, education, and the media. That’s it. You’d think that fragile white people would love that. “You’re not racist, the system is!”

But Lordy are these white people (and their well-paid enablers, like Owens) fragile. They believe that telling the truth about race relations in America is unpatriotic. These people don’t want Americans to learn that the ideology of slavery was central to this nation’s founding. These people don’t want Americans to learn about the 120,000 Japanese immigrants, most American citizens, placed in concentration camps by the Roosevelt Administration after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. These people don’t want Americans to know about the forced assimilation of indigenous persons. These people don’t want Americans to know why the average white American lives seven years longer than the average African American. Ignorance is bliss.

The reality is that those that support Critical Race Theory are more true to the promise of America than these woke-ophobics” spazzing out at school board meetings. Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term, recently said, 

“Critical race theory is not anti- patriotic. In fact it is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it because we believe in the 13th and the 14th and the 15th amendment. We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”

The reality is that the legacy of slavery is with us in 2021. It is present in the wealth gap between whites and blacks. It is present in the data from traffic stops to the death penalty. And it is with us in every African-American whose last name is Smith, Jackson, or Washington. It’s not just the mouth breather in a Trump hat, waving a Confederate battle flag, it’s also there in unequal hiring practices, redlining, and the lack of doctors in poor urban areas. That’s why we celebrate Juneteenth. 1865 was not the end of racism in America, it was the beginning of healing. But it’s hard to heal when there is another Jim Crow-fashioned attack coming at us. Just ask black voters in Georgia in 2021.

So what’s behind the kooky white-wing backlash against CRT by moronic reactionaries who don’t even know what it is? It’s more of the same thinly disguised racism. Just like the idiots 60 years ago who were burning rock and roll records because it was “jungle music,” there is a fear among white supremacists in acknowledging the impact and manifestation of racism in America. In 1966, the Ku Klux Klan and radio stations organized “Beatle bonfires” across the South. (And don’t make me make you watch Footloose.) White fear of black bodies has been used to justify everything from slavery to racially objectifying porn. Greater than the fear of black bodies is the fear black truth. That reality holds up a mirror to white faces and fragile whites know they aren’t gonna like what they will see. So smash the mirror.

Therefore it’s not surprising that the anti-CRT mob chants, “CRT is racism!” That’s called projection. It comes from the same place the myths of the black rapist came from – from white men who were raping slave women.

But teachers are smart. They know the old – “Columbus discovered America – Pioneers tamed the west – Lincoln freed the slaves” myths require context. Their classroom is less white these days, so instead of teaching a curriculum that serves to empower white students and marginalize everyone else, teachers will address systemic racism, whether it’s been banned by they racist lawmakers or not.

I know I will. 

Happy Juneteenth, Candace. Let me tell you how free people like you were in 1776. And the white kids will be alright.

If You’re Hiring, Just Be Decent to Applicants, OK?

June 11, 2021

We’re hearing a lot now about how employers can’t find workers to come back to their crappy low wage/no benefit jobs. Shocking, I know. We’re not really hearing how things are still rough for mid-range workers who are trying to return to salaried positions with some health care. I’m one of those people and there is no desperation to hire us. Slave labor, oh sure there are plenty of opportunities! A living wage that supports a family, not so much.

It’s no secret that I left my secure tenured position at Hogwarts when I learned the school had been taken over by trolls and goblins. It was time to try something else after two decades of institutional loyalty. So, as a stay-at-home dad, I focused on my writing and growing my consulting business. But that baby just finished first grade and it’s time to bring more revenue into the household. So scanning indeed.com and writing the cover letters began.

I’ve had some great experiences as a job applicant, including being flown to places like New York City to interview. I know it’s competitive and there are a lot of qualified applicants, some who are willing to work for cheap. I’ve had interviews in boardrooms and on Zoom and I get it if I might not be the right fit. I’m not a cookie cutter applicant. But that’s not what this about. This about one aspect of the hiring process that is a reason so many jobseekers are frustrated, the lack of contact.

I was on a lot of hiring committees at Hogwarts and here’s how it went. When we advertised for a position, we’d get a ton of applicants (usually around 50). We’d end up interviewing three or four people and hopefully having a “successful search.” (You’re hired!) But everyone of those  applicants got a call or email that said thanks for applying but you we won’t be advancing your candidacy. It was just being decent. Putting applications together takes a lot of work. Let those folks know they’re not in the running so they can move on and spend their job-seeking time wisely, instead of sitting by the phone like chumps.

The norm for hiring officers now is to be a dick. This has happened to me numerous times. My first sociology professor was retiring and he encouraged me to apply and step into his shoes. It seemed perfect. I became a fairly renown expert in my field because of the impact he had on me as a college freshman. I even flew in to have lunch with him and discuss how the college had changed so I could best frame my application. I prepared a solid package and began imagining moving my family across the country and becoming a sociology professor at Oxford College of Emory University, where I started in the field. And then I waited.

And I waited. And waited. Finally my wife said I should contact them. I sent an email to the chair of the department to ask about the status of my application and he casually replied that they had hired someone else.  I let him know that the CUSTOM (something sociologists should understand) is to let applicants know when they are no longer being considered. Asshole.

There are jobs I’ve applied to where I know it’s a complete long shot, like the position to be the equity director for Macy’s in NYC (Hey, I love a parade!), but even those should trigger a “Thanks, but no thanks” email. How hard can that be? Can’t you hire a bot to do that job if you’re too lazy to do it yourself?

So much of my work is built around how concepts like racism, sexism, and ableism dehumanize people. They’re not thinking, feeling people, they’re things to be used. While it’s not as historically traumatizing, jobseekers get dehumanized too, just a name on an online application. Just another PDF of a resume taking up data space. Not worthy of a, “Hey, this position is closed but good luck to ya!”

There’s an equity director position at my credit union that applied for. Twice. It’s still being advertised. They must have had a few failed searches, but they never bothered to let me know I was not in the running. Aren’t credit unions supposed to be “more human”? Do I have to be Arnold Horshack? “Oh! Oh! Pick me!”

This isn’t just me complaining. This is something so many jobseekers are going through. Even Toby on This Is Us! You totally think you’ve got an interview for a gig in the bag. You start imagining your new work life. You mentally pay off your credit cards. You buy pants. And then there is the roar of silence. Maybe their email is in the spam folder! Ah, shit.  It makes you appreciate when someone actually takes the time to turn you down, like this email that came while I was writing this paragraph:

“Unfortunately, at this time, we decided to proceed with our selection process with another candidate. The interview committee was impressed with your credentials and experience and it is a decision we didn’t make easily.

We will keep your resume in our talent database, and in case that we have a job opening that better fits your profile, we will make sure to get in touch with you.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.” – Email received on June 11, 2021

It’s been a rough year. A ton of people have drained their savings accounts and maxed their credit cards. If you are in charge of hiring, or just on a hiring team, think of the people on the other side of that application process. Please. They are both stressed and hopeful. Don’t just let them dangle. It’s not cool. Mental wellbeing can be fragile, especially in a pandemic. If you don’t want someone on your payroll, have the decency to let them know.

Now back to Indeed.

Pandemic Nostalgia: Save a Mask, It’s Coming!

June 4, 2021

We social scientists love to come up with sharp names for social phenomenon. I’ve written a lot in this blog about anomie, Emile Durkheim’s 1897 term for the sense of normlessness that’s helped to explain the backslide into Trumpism. There’s been a lot of talk about Naomi Klein’s 2007 concept of shock doctrine again. But there are some phenomenon that still have no name, like when your walk into a bookstore or record store and immediately forget what you were looking for. Or when vintage t-shirts for a band that you know and love are being sold at Urban Outfitters to posers who never listened to the damn band. (“Name one Motorhead song! I dare you!”) There should be a name for that!

There’s another phenomenon as yet unnamed – feeling nostalgic for really horrible times. I just finished reading The Volunteer, Jack Fairweather’s epically researched 2019 book about a Polish officer who snuck into Auschwitz in 1940 and spent the next two and half years sending out reports of Nazi atrocities and organizing the camp resistance. Then when it became clear that the concentration camp had transitioned into a mass death camp, he escaped. When he was out, with good food and free from Typhus-infected lice and the stench of burning bodies, you know what he wanted to do? Go back! That world made sense, unlike the blasé attitude (that’s Georg Simmel’s concept) towards the Holocaust he found outside the camp.

I first experienced this weird feeling about a year after 9/11. The 2001 terrorist attacks had unified the nation. Republican and Democratic congress people stood together on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless In America.” I was in Atlanta where locals covered their “Yankees Suck!” T-shirts with “I Love New York.” Sure there was some serious Islamophobia and a spike in xenophobic hate crimes, but there was also a powerful sense that we were all in this together. I miss that. Do we need another slaughter of civilians to get that feeling back?

As the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, I can already feel that old itch coming back. As of today, 136 million Americans are fully vaccinated (About 41.5% of the US population). Kids are wrapping up the last of their remote learning and we even saw a movie in a movie theater last weekend! There are nearly 4 million souls worldwide to mourn (with deaths spiking in India and Vietnam) and a mental health toll that will take generations to fully see, but, at least here on the home front, you can lay off the mask-making, feverous hand-washing, and crossing the street to avoid a panting jogger. Happy days are here again.

So what’s that tinge? The dread of having to jump back into the endless rush hour commute or the race to get the kid to school on time? Not having an excuse to not hang out with boring people? Having to find your pants? (Or buy new ones because you were binging on Love Island while devouring countless mole burritos, delivered by GrubHub?) The earth got a year-long break from us as the drop in our carbon footprints let us see the horizon for the first time in a generation. (“I didn’t know the Himalayas were right there!”) Although, I imagine landfills exploded with take-out containers in 2020. Are we ready to say goodbye to those random whiffs of fresh air?

Around mid-March 2020, when it started to be clear we were going to have to hunker down for a while, I said goodbye to some life-sustaining activities, like seeing live music and being belly-up to the bar with a whiskey ginger and set of great songs cued up on the jukebox. But I also thought of the things I’d have time to do, like read for fun and work on fixing up the house. Andi and I even started writing a screenplay. Most of that fell by the wayside as we found solace in the endless stream of Hulu and Netflix. Maybe we’ll finish the screenplay during the next pandemic. (Jinks!)

So I never got around to reading War & Peace (but I did spend way too many hours dissecting the new Dylan album). However one wonderful thing that came out of the lockdown was the opportunity to work on my marriage. There was really no escape, so it was either that or build myself a shed in the backyard. With ample supplies from the thank-god-it-stayed-open liquor store, we stayed up late into the nights, talking about how to build a stronger connection that was as beneficial to her. Zoom therapy sessions helped me identify some useful tools and Andi gave me a reading list. The book You Might be a Narcissist If…: How to Identify Narcissism in Ourselves and Others and What We Can Do About It turned my whole head around within two pages. There were some rough moments when I thought Donald Trump wasn’t the only thing that was going to get canceled by COVID, but she encouraged me to do the work and not fall back on old lazy habits. Without the 9-5 and the call of the nightlife, I could focus on what was and is important.

Perhaps everyone found a silver lining during this mess. So many of us, fearing for older family members, brought people together through Zoom sessions. I talked to my mother on the phone this year more than I have in the last 5 years combined. Neighbors began looking out for each other, making masks and hot meals and checking on that crazy old man nobody ever talks to. There was an explosion of book clubs and cocktail parties on Google Meet

As I craved live music, online concerts from home became a lifeline. (Ben Gibbard and Kevn Kinney, thank you.) And all the free webinars plugged me into global community of peers. We spent plenty of time over the last year in the streets, but there was plenty of activism that was happening in front of laptops. Just the fact that† my first grader spent this past February digesting amazing stories for Black History Month gave me hope that consciousness raising can happen on a keyboard. I know I wasn’t the only one who used the down time to plug into the whole wide world via webcam.

No doubt around 2030 they will start throwing 2020 socially distanced parties, and people can go to the costume store and buy face masks, sweat pants and “Got My Fauci Ouchie!” T-shirts. We can not invite anti-Asian hate criminals and the phony militia men protesting public health mandates, as we dance alone to oldies by DaBaby and/or Lil Baby and pretend we don’t know what day it is. Me at this moment, I’m just trying to come up a name for the strange feeling that I’m a little sad this nightmare is ending. Just a little.

Cancelling White Fragility: Can Progressives Get an Assist from Madison Avenue?

May 13, 2021

You gotta admit, “Make America Great Again” was a brilliant slogan. Besides doubling as a handy acronym (MAGA!), it was a “politically correct” way of masking the deep racism of Trump supporters who wanted to make America Jim Crow America again. Since Trump left office, Trump supporters in 47 states have introduced or passed voter suppression laws. (Shout out to my ass backwards home state, Georgia!) MAGA fit on hats, t-shirts, and hashtags and immediately conveyed where the supporter stood on transgender bathrooms, racial equity, and the 2020 election. Who came up with this perfect (if fascistic) slogan?

Speaking of “political correctness,” there’s a perfect example of how the left has a language problem. All political correctness is is an attempt to be mindful of the way words and practices marginalize and hurt people in our community. If African-Americans what to be referred to as people of color instead of “colored people,” show them the basic respect of doing it without whining. Those folks have been through some shit! But truth be told, nobody wants to be “corrected.” Ugh. And bothered about getting the he/she thing wrong? A recent study found that nearly 42% of non-binary and transgender youth attempted suicide. By just using a person’s preferred pronoun, you might save a life. Suck it up, snowflake! But there is a cottage industry dedicated to bitching about political correctness as if it was some grand conspiracy to suppress your first amendment right to be an asshole. Your constitutional right to be an asshole remains sacred and defended by both the Supreme Court and the liberal ACLU.

The progressive movement is full of terms, phrases, and slogans that get at the depth of inequity in our society and are intended to start conversations and affect change to transform America into a nation where there truly is liberty and justice for all. But these turns of phrase also trigger right wing trolls and news networks. Over 4 million people watch white supremacist Tucker Carlson each night. If something bothers him, it becomes an instant internet meme spread far and wide by the “proud” boys that want to make America 1950 again. Some of these slogans (and the responses by people who don’t take the time to understand them) include:

Black Lives Matter (“All lives matter!” – Or as my father tried to tell me, “Black Lives Matter means white lives don’t matter.” And yes, he’s a Trumpie.)

Defund the Police (“These anarchists just want criminals to run free!”)

Toxic Masculinity (“Masculinity built this nation!”)

Implicit Bias (“Don’t tell me I’m biased, I have a black cousin!”)

White Privilege (“I’m not privileged. I lived in a car!”)

Micro-aggression (“It’s MICRO! Get over it, libtard! Jeez, you can’t even make a joke anymore.)

And let’s not forget Hillary Clinton’s 2016 “basket of deplorables” line that became adopted by the not-too-bright Trump base as a badge of honor. If Clinton had tried to be less cutesy and just said, “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the cesspool of bigots,” you probably wouldn’t have seen an army of white people with “I’m a bigot!” T-shirts at Trump rallies. (Wait, I may have to rethink that.)

Sometimes the left’s slogans seem as if they were penned by right-wing agent provocateurs. Case in point, ACAB – “All Cops Are Bastards.” Now I understand that provocative slogan is meant to highlight the tendency in the policing world to prevent officers from addressing the systemic racism that has left countless George Floyd’s dead in the streets. (Police unions, I’m looking at you.) But I personally know many police officers, including BIPOC police officers, who desperately want to infuse policing with social justice values. Let’s not forget that several police officers testified for the prosecution in the trial of George Floyd’s uniformed killer. Are all black cops bastards? Are are all women cops bastards? The average woman who sees a cop carting off the man who assaulted her probably doesn’t spray paint ACAB on local businesses.

Anecdote: In 1987, my roommate and I called 911 in Atlanta. Yuppie ninjas had kicked in our apartment door and we’re going to attack us with num-chucks. Our call the the police scared them off but I had to turn off the music we were blasting before the cops arrived; NWA’s “Fuck the Police.” True story.

Perhaps the best example of this is the term, white fragility, which derives from Robin DiAngleo’s 2018 book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. The book is simply about the defensiveness that white people express when you alert them to the reality of racism. They say silly things, like “I was raised to be colorblind” (You weren’t) and “I can’t be racist, I voted for Obama! (You can). The innovative text is required reading in my Diversity class and has sparked insightful discussions among both white and non-white students. It was a best seller among people who read books and rose back to the top of the charts during the churning summer of 2020.

However, bring up the concept of white fragility to white people who haven’t read the book or have no interest in reading any book about racism, and you get a lot of, well, fragility. For easy reference, watch the June 2020 interview DiAngelo did with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. A seemingly interested Fallon allows DiAngelo to explain that all she is trying to do is ask white people to act with humility and grace and address their own internalized white supremacy. The YouTube video’s 27,000 downvotes sets up the 14,000 comments by fragile white people, accusing DiAngleo of racism herself. “The left: Let’s solve racism with more racism” (John Spinelli) “If ‘self-hatred’ was a person, it’d be Robin DiAngelo” (Jack) “This is what happens when you make a career out of gaslighting.” (SWJobson) Each comment perfectly proves DiAngelo’s central thesis about white fragility. Since “fragility” is feminized in our culture, there’s a macho pushback against it. The term “fragility” literally causes men to become fragile.

The “anti-woke” crowd is pretty good with staying on point. From “Drain the swamp!” to “Stop the steal,” it feels like the right has a high-power Madison Avenue team coining their slogans. What if the left had their own progressive Don Draper, instead of the Antifa Darren Stevens is who pens confrontational taglines on cardboard signs? (How about MCAB? Many Cops Are Bastards! Or what about BLMT? Black Lives Matter, Too!) I mean, whatever intern came up with “Stop Asian Hate” should be run out of the slogan business. “What have you got on your resume? Stop Asian hate. So just who do Asians hate and why should they stop? Come back kid when you’ve got something that makes sense.”

I generally loathe advertising, but we’re in a rut here. It’s time to rebrand white fragility. Maybe “I’m Not A Racist Freak Out Syndrome.” Or how about, “I’m Not A Racist But Those People Scare Me Dysphoria.” I don’t know. I’m a sociologist, not a marketing director. We got close to it with “Pro Choice,” but they beat our pants off with “Pro Life.” There’s gotta be better verbiage that doesn’t drive every Karen and Tucker into a “That’s reverse racism!!” spasm-fest.

The reality is these issues are more complex than a handy slogan could capture. They are nuanced and contextual and all the things that scare superficial thinkers that still think “pro-black” means “anti-white.” In my trainings, we get into the weeds, but it takes me an hour just to define the terms. You can’t get all the bullet points of my training on internalized white supremacy on a street banner let alone a bumpersticker.

So let’s pass the beanie and take up a collection to hire a radical marketing genius to help make America not horrible again.

If you’d like to continue this conversation, you can find me here: www.randyblazak.com