Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The day I stood up — by NOT standing up

In 2008 I attended a concert by the U.S. Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors in Greensburg, a 45-minute drive from Pittsburgh. The last song was an arrangement of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and everyone in the hall stood.

Except for me. It was nothing planned — given the history of racism in this country, I just couldn’t do so, not even for the military.

I thought of that in reference to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who announced that he would no longer stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games due to the racism that he sees as still being unaddressed. While he recognized people who served in the military, he just didn’t see the justice in it. His stance has upset a lot of people, especially military supporters

Indeed, he said,  "This stand wasn’t for me — this is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice. People that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and affect change. I’m in a position where I can do that, and I'm gonna do that for people who can’t.”

And I get it, really.

You see, Kaepernick's biological father is black, and he says he's seen oppression of people of color.

More to the point, however, it's been my contention that the true patriot doesn't simply glorify his or her country; he or she points out its flaws so that they can be corrected.

Not for nothing does the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance read "with liberty and justice [emphasis mine] for all."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dance: Part of my masculine journey

Those of you who know me know that over the last seven years I’ve gotten involved in the local social dance scene. And I’m growing as a man as a result.

In fact, in the process I’ve found a piece of me that had long gone undiscovered until then — it seems as though everything I am and have can be wrapped up in dance of late. I’m a former basketball player who retired a decade ago from competitive sports, primarily basketball, and have also been a musician since I started taking piano at age 7. Basically, not only can I hear and feel the music but I can move to it as well.

So what does this have to do with the masculine journey that my favorite Christian author, John Eldredge, often refers to? Several things.

One, it’s a skill that needs to, and can, be learned, which means you need someone to teach you; fortunately, at least in my case, my teachers have been good and patient and will tell me exactly what I do right and where I can improve. I’ve been taking lessons in West Coast Swing, my favorite dance, for about two years, and last month the instructor was showing us how to get out of a certain position. I did something different than what he was demonstrating, but he told me that what I did was simply another way to do it. (In WCS there’s a lot of leeway.)

Two, done properly dance is elegant, with elegance being one of my weaknesses, so to speak, and I’ve come to appreciate watching couples on the floor who’ve been at it for a while. At some point I’d like to develop a routine with a regular partner; while I don’t see myself as a competitor it’s something to look forward to. Eldredge has consistently said that appreciating beauty is part of the journey.

Three — and I’m seeing this more and more — it really is a way to impress women, who appreciate a man who knows how to take the lead. While attending a birthday party in November I spotted a woman squirming in her seat to the Earth, Wind & Fire song “September” so, seeing an opportunity, I offered my hand, lifted her to her feet and led her in some basic WCS steps. At the end she grabbed my arm and, nearly in tears, said to me, because I knew how to dance with a partner, “You made my day!” (And in photos I saw later I noticed the delight on her face.) Thinking about it now, I’ve always been attracted to dancers — during my first romantic relationship, in the summer of 1988, when I was visiting her at her apartment my girlfriend often wore ballet slippers, which I found incredibly sexy.

Indeed, many of my fondest memories of late have involved dance. Last month I wrote a tune inspired by another regular at an East Coast Swing (jitterbug) dance, and after I presented her with the lead sheet she was moved to tears. She even told me that not only did she want to hear the tune performed by the 16-piece band that plays there — I also do arranging — but that she wanted to dance with me when it’s played. (Needless to say, I’m working on that now.)

Here in Pittsburgh ballroom dancing has become quite popular, and while I’m not nearly as accomplished as I am with swing dancing it has a similar effect on me. Learning gives a sense of accomplishment, and I hope to keep doing it as long as I live. Which is the point.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Democratic Derangement Syndrome?

I must admit that I’ve always been mystified by the pure hatred displayed over the years toward Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I really am, especially now.

At this point it can’t simply be about policies, especially since current Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump isn’t, and never has pretended to be by anyone’s standards, a true conservative. Indeed, a number of evangelical Christians have pretty much ignored his flip-flops on abortion and embrace (at last publicly) of gay rights. It can’t be about “truthfulness,” since Obama and the Clintons don’t lie more than anyone else.

It seems to me that the situation comes about because, and only because, a Democrat targeted for defeat just won’t go down. And that’s juvenile.

In 1999 Bill Clinton of course beat the impeachment rap not simply because the charges were bogus, which they were, but also because he was able to talk his way back into the good graces of much of the public. Of course, Obama would have been impeached were his enemies in Washington able to find charges to do so — but they couldn’t.

And with Hillary Clinton, she’s had eight hearings on “Benghazi,” the last one going 11 hours. What’s worse from the perspective of her enemies, she seemed to be the only one standing after they tried to punch her lights out (figuratively); if anything, she’s emerged stronger than ever. And except for a choice few words, she’s pretty much ignored Trump, who’s called her “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and “the devil.” (And Trump’s base eats up those epithets.)

I’m forced to conclude that their critics want only someone to hate. Trouble is, such a hunger can never be sated because it’s all-consuming — even at the cost of their souls.

That’s what concerns me about this election, that if Hillary is elected, and at this point the odds strongly favor her, we’ll see four more years of sabotage. I don’t suspect that the people who don’t want her back in the White House will suddenly call off the dogs and accept her — I see them fighting her at every turn. And she has to know that as well. This appears personal, not just political — and won’t stand.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What will we talk about on Nov. 9?

This general election season, especially with Hillary Clinton running against Donald Trump for the presidency, has promised to be to be entertaining and it’s certainly been that.

But of course, like all campaigns, it will end in November. And then what will we do?

If recent history is any guide, people will still be fuming that their person won’t get to the White House. And that’s sad because we have only one president per country.

It also speaks to the focus on the presidential race; while certainly important, we also need to consider the “down-ballot” races, for Congress, both in the House and Senate.

And here I’ll say that the only way we’ll have any substantive change — assuming that’s what people want—is if Secretary Clinton wins. And it will have little or nothing to do with her.

Why? Because of all the candidates she’s the only one with coattails — that is to say, people voting for her will also likely vote for House and Senate Democrats. Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson don’t have that kind of pull, and numerous other Republicans are running away from Trump due to his intemperate statements. (Of course Trump supporters are already complaining that the media are giving him a raw deal. If you’re one of those, give it a rest because it isn’t true.)

I guess it reminds me just how many people wrongly put their trust in the presidency to enact substantive change. Yes, he (or, come next year, likely she) does have a lot of power but needs to work with Congress to get anything done. Trump said at the Republican National Convention said that he alone understood the system and thus could push his program through, which said plenty.

That being said, however, over the past few cycles families have been divided and friendships lost over politics, which ironically should represent compromise. It will be sad to see if we’re unable to pick up the pieces come Nov. 9.