Saturday, May 30, 2020

Social Insanity

This country seems to have lost its mind.  All kinds of stresses are causing all kinds of bad behavior, all over the country, and they're feeding off each other.
- Police in Minneapolis kill a black man during an arrest.
- Rioting follows over several days and people destroy their own neighborhoods.
- More police in Minneapolis arrest a black CNN reporter while he's on the air, leaving his white team members alone at first.  They were arrested later.

That's just one stresser in the past several days.  Others have been building over months or years.
- A black woman is shot and killed by a police SWAT team while she's sleeping in her own apartment.  The cops went to the wrong address.
- A black man is killed while jogging.  The white attackers thought he was a burglar.
- A white woman in Central Park goes nuts and calls 911 over a black man who asked her to put her dog on a leash. 
- A white office worker calls 911 on two black men in an office building gym.  The two were authorized to use the gym.

And these are just a few of the most recent racist events regarding blacks.  There's so much more going on, all at once.
- People are being assaulted for wearing a mask.
- People are being assaulted for NOT wearing a mask.
- Hundreds of people jammed a pool party in the Ozarks in total disregard of their health.
- Thousands of people jammed beaches over Memorial Day weekend.
- Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately getting Covid, mostly due to environments and cultural habits that promote the spread of the virus.
- White protestors wearing body armor and carrying AR-15s invaded state government buildings to push for ending the coronavirus lockdowns.  (Imagine the outcry if they were black or Hispanic.)
- Angry people asserting that their rights to do whatever they want have precedence over everybody else's rights to stay safe and healthy.
- Angry people are blaming it all on the Democrats.
- Angry people are blaming it all on the Republicans.
- Angry people are blaming it all on China.

There are lots of very angry people these days and we're taking it out on each other in very destructive ways.

And where's the leadership to counter this?  Where's the leadership to calm things down, bring people together, find common ground, and develop some answers?  If you're looking to Donald Trump, you're looking in the wrong place.  He's fanning the flames.  Sowing division and distrust is how he ran his TV show, how he got elected, and how he runs the country.

If you're looking to news media, you're looking in the wrong place.  We used to have Walter Cronkite, whose calm approach made you feel like we would get through whatever the crisis of the day was.  And we did.  Now, the media flames passions on all sides.  "If it bleeds, it leads."  That's how you get ratings, baby.

If you're looking to social media, you're looking in the wrong place.  All I see there is anger.  Lots and lots of anger.  Little in the way of possible answers.  Or, if you look at my own posts, mostly levity as a relief valve for all the pent-up anxiety that's being spread.

The situation today reminds me very much of the late 60's and early 70's.  Then we had race riots, anti-war demonstrations, the Chicago national convention riots, a pandemic that killed over 100,000 just in the US (the Hong Kong flu in '68-69), armed white vigilantes, the Black Panthers, political assassinations, an unnecessary war, the Kent State massacre, high-level corruption, and a criminal President.  There was a lot of talk about "revolution" and even the Beatles sang about it.  It took a lot of work by a whole lot of people at all levels to bring the nation back to an even keel, make changes (never enough), and restore some semblance of normality.

I don't see many leaders with a Big Name stepping up.  What I do see are lots of us little people doing what we can.  The doctors and nurses who volunteered to go to New York to help with the pandemic response, for example.  The thousands of police officers around the country who are doing what they can to counter the image put forth by the four Minneapolis cops.  The workers in my local grocery store who wear their masks and wipe down their checkout station in between every customer.

We got through it in the 60's and 70's and we can get through this if we want to.  It will take a willingness to quit demonizing those who disagree with you, to listen to other people's concerns, examine our own prejudices, and be more considerate.  It will also take a sea change in Washington.  We need a new set of politicians (they're not "leaders") to work together.  And we need to pay less attention to the opinion-makers and talking heads who sow dissension, and more to each other.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Coronavirus Lockdown

The coronavirus has really locked things down around this house.  We're keeping a low profile, doing stuff in our own private places (house, yard, studio), and venturing out as little as possible.  That part is fairly easy to accept: there's a deadly virus out there, so minimize your chances of catching it.  And we're pretty quiet and private people, anyway.

What's been much more stressful is the massive stupidity that is even more widespread than the virus.  Way too many people are way too eager to get back to "normality" RIGHT NOW, and to hell with any virus.  "It's just the flu, and anyway, it's a Democratic hoax, and by the way I HAVE A RIGHT TO TAKE MY AR-15 ANYWHERE".  The past two months, and especially the past four weeks, have shown that the spirit of the Greatest Generation is long gone.  People are way more concerned with their own petty wants, have no trust for people who actually know things about viruses and epidemiology, and are perfectly happy to fuck the rest of the world over so they can have a good time.  The just-completed Memorial Day weekend was full of examples, with people jamming beaches, restaurants, bars, pools, churches, parks, stores, you name it.  I expect we'll see many of them jamming ICU's before long.  I'll have no sympathy whatsoever for them, but I will have sympathy for those people that they spread the virus to.  And I'm doing everything I can to NOT be one of those people.

Keeping busy isn't a problem here.  I had a proposal-writing project that required a lot of time and effort.  Springtime demands lots of work in the yard and we've had way more rain than normal, meaning the grass and weeds are growing way faster than normal.  And my Alfa is in the garage with a big chunk of the interior removed so I can do some work on it.

In the studio, I've been reading, watching art videos and online demos, and experimenting with new-to-me techniques.  Most have gone right into the trash can.  Two paintings are nearing completion after being in progress for seemingly forever.  Both are small and I keep thinking they really should be bigger, as in 30x40 or 36x48, meaning I'd have to start over again.  Shouldn't take "forever" since the small ones are working out most of the issues with composition, color, and technique, but still, that's a lot of work.  And I have a couple of other ideas pending for new paintings anyway.

So: I'm off to the studio this afternoon.  Or the garage.  Whatever.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Kent State - 50 Years Later

The Kent State student massacre was 50 years ago today.  At the time, it was one of the worst events in a series of social conflicts that had been going on for years.  For me, it marked the point at which I began to realize that my values were different from many around me.

Quick recap: the late 60's saw increasing disruption over the Vietnam War and race relations.  There had been the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King a couple of years previously.  Race riots had torn up cities across the country.  The Vietnam war was getting bigger, the draft was underway, and a great many people didn't see any reason why we were involved there at all.  There were increasing numbers of anti-war protests at colleges all over the country. 

In May, 1970, I was finishing my junior year in high school.  My parents and most everybody I knew were staunch Republicans.  I supported the war without really thinking about it because everybody else did.  One guy from my neighborhood got commissioned in the Army, went to Vietnam, and was back in just a couple of months, minus one eye.  Everybody thought he did his duty.

Then the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a protest at Kent State University.  They killed four students and wounded nine.  Their claim, at the time, was that the students were throwing rocks and bricks at them and the Guardsmen were afraid for their lives.

I was horrified at this.  I couldn't believe that a troop of soldiers, armed with rifles and tear gas, would be afraid of students.  To me, it was murder, pure and simple.

And this is where I ran smack into the wall of my conservative environment.  My parents didn't have much sympathy for the students.  My high school friends had none.  "Serves 'em right.  They asked for it.  Damn longhairs."  I couldn't believe it.  They were just students.  But they weren't just students to most of those around me.  They weren't people at all.

I read everything I could on the event - Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, a few others.  It became clear that the initial reports of rock-throwing and "threatening" students were wrong.  They were unarmed.  Of the four dead, two weren't even protesting, they were just watching in the background, and one was a ROTC student.  It just reinforced my sense that it was murder.  But nobody else in my family or circle of friends saw it that way.  Meanwhile, more mass protests and riots erupted across the country, over both the war and the Kent State shootings.  I wasn't interested in protesting or rioting because I still supported the war, but thought the over-reaction of the Guard was totally wrong.

Over the next few years, some members of the Guard faced criminal charges that were dismissed.  Then they faced civil charges that were also dismissed.  It made me sick.

Still does.