October 23, 1983

On October 23, 1983,  the multinational peacekeeper barracks in Beirut, Lebanon was attacked by two suicide truck bombers. The terrorist group Islamic Jihad, actually Hezbollah, working in conjunction with the governments of Iran and Syria were responsible.


The attack killed 220 U.S. Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and 3 Army soldiers, along with 58 French troops and 6 civilians.


The attack had the desired effect our enemies intended. President Reagan reconsidered U.S. involvement in the Lebanese Civil War and pulled our people out. Many Americans, myself included, like to remember Reagan fondly for standing tough against the Soviets and ending the Cold War, but we tend to ignore this horrible day and other things that might tarnish his image. You can spin it to say that Reagan made the wise choice – that we never should have been there in the first place – but he is the one who put us there, so this was either a failure of nerve or a failure of judgement, or both.

For decades now the invocation of Reagan has become an all purpose seal of approval that you are a good conservative, as if mentioning his name proves he would be in solidarity with you and whatever you want to upload as right thinking policy. It’s obligatory that most every Republican running for any office, and certainly any Republican running for President, must drop Reagan stories, Reagan quotes, or their personal connection to the Reagan Administration. On today’s regretful anniversary I can’t help but think of how these same Republicans have been up in arms for years about President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s mishandling of the September 11, 2012 attack on America in Benghazi, Libya, by the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to defend Obama or Clinton’s actions; it was a very poorly mishandled affair. I’m simply asking, “What if we held Reagan to the same standard?” Wouldn’t we still be holding Congressional Hearings trying to get to the bottom of Beirut? And this is exactly what I’m sick of; the lack of intellectual honesty in politics. It’s so red team, blue team, we’re right, you’re wrong, we’re smart, you’re stupid, we’re good, you’re evil, and the standards by which we judge ourselves will never match the standards by which we judge the other.

I’m not sure how we get out of this trap, or if it is even possible at this point, but I do hope that we can take a moment to realize we are in one.

My trip to DC

Last weekend I took a trip to Washington, DC that was very inspiring. I know, people are all cynical and depressed from this ridiculous election, but you walk around the mall and the other parts of the nation’s capital and it will make you appreciate what we have, and those who have sacrificed to give it to us. I don’t have time to go into everything I saw but I want to highlight couple of new pieces of artwork (new since the last time I was in DC, eight years ago) because I found them very moving.

First is the FDR Memorial, which I got to see both in the daylight and at night. It is laid out like a series of outdoor rooms that stretch over several acres to tell the story of our longest serving President.




It is also the only memorial to a President that features a First Lady statue, for Eleanor, who was our first ambassador to the United Nations and a highly influential figure in her own right.


I know it’s fashionable in conservative and libertarian circles to parrot lines about how Roosevelt actually prolonged the Great Depression and wasn’t all that he’s made out to be. I’ve parroted more than a few of these lines myself over the years. But I also know that my father was on a boat in the South Pacific when he got the news that FDR was dead and half a century later you could still feel how much it affected him. I still think there is some valid criticism of Franklin’s Administration (try reading The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes) but after watching Ken Burns’ seven documentaries on The Roosevelts (2014) – which you can currently find on Netflix – I can’t help but admire them greatly.

The other new memorial that profoundly moved me was for Martin Luther King. You walk in through a mountain with a stone pull from it.


Then you walk around to find MLK on the other side of that stone, looking out at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial across the water.


To either side of the mountain are walls with quotes from King at different times and places where he fought, peacefully, for his beliefs.


It really made me question what it is that I believe (as if I haven’t done enough of that already this year) and what kind of world I should be working for?

One last thing that I saw, both this time and last, is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknows in Arlington National Cemetery. They have been performing this same ritual every day, 24 hours a day, since 1937. It’s very touching and I highly recommend that you make the extra effort to cross the river and see it for yourself if you are even in DC.

Trump: ‘Lynch em’

Most of the public’s attention recently has been focused on contempt for Donald Trump’s horrible treatment of women. A few Trumpets [Trump Idiots] have tried their desperate best to pretend that, “bad boy talk,” or, “locker room banter,” from eleven years ago is irrelevant, but the vast majority seems to know better. 1) We understand the difference between impolite remarks about a woman’s anatomy and bragging about how fun it is to molest women. 2) We have heard enough of Trump’s reckless disregard for others – from Mexicans and Muslims to women and POWs – to know that these comments from eleven years ago could have been made eleven minutes ago. Trump’s character is well known, deeply entrenched, and unlikely to change.

There is another story, however, that highlights an even sicker aspect of Trump’s soul and hasn’t received its fair share of attention. More than two decades ago a woman was brutally raped in New York’s Central Park while jogging at night. The woman was white and the five young men arrested for the crime were all black and Latino. Under pressure from the police and a disregard for the rights of the accused, all five defendants cracked and confessed to their involvement in the rape. They were later convicted based only on these false confessions. Many people were caught up in this emotional moment and their worst elements came to the surface in calls for something to be done. Donald Trump took out a full page newspaper ad calling for the return of the death penalty in New York and chose to make himself a very public face of the angry (white) body politic.

Documentarian Ken Burns captured the hysteria and tragedy of this case masterfully in The Central Park Five (2013), which is currently playing on Amazon Prime. I say “tragedy” because we now know beyond any reasonable doubt that all five defendants were wrongfully convicted, serving between five and thirteen years in prison, until DNA evidence completely exonerated them and the actual assailant, a convicted murder and serial rapist, was found. You would think this would be a cautionary tale and men like Trump would learn not to rush to judgement or let themselves be fueled by hate, but self reflection is clearly not The Donald’s strong suit. To this day he refuses to accept the facts and thinks the $40,000,000 New York paid out to these greatly abused citizens was an injustice. Donald’s judgements (i.e. feelings) are the only thing that matters in Donald’s mind.

When Trump speaks of, “Law and Order,” remember this case and realize what he is really saying. In another time, when you could get away with that kind of thing, he would have been the head of the lynch mob raining “justice” down upon these boys. His, “stop and frisk,” mentality is not only the wrong answer to our current problems, it is a Yuge reason why we have those problems in the first place. There is no intellectually honest way to spin it. This racist, sexist, buffoon of a conman, exemplifies everything that has held America back from being as great as it can possibly be.

Implicit Bias

Campaign 2016 VP Debate

I’ve largely avoided the constant stream of commentators telling me their spin on Tuesday night’s VP Debate but I couldn’t help overhearing and seeing a few reoccurring talking points: Governor Pence was the Winner (even before the debate began), he seemed more Presidential, in control, and calm. This in turn raises questions of whether or not Pence’s performance helps Trump or hurts him. Does is simply draw greater attention to Trump’s horrible behavior and inability to control himself? And what about Pence’s ability to straight up lie about everything Trump has actually said? Is that Presidential?

Personally I kind of liked Senator Kaine playing the attack dog role and ripping into a few key points, like Trump’s refusal to keep his word and release his taxes. No matter what you think of either man’s performance, however, or the importance of this matchup to the overall election, there was a moment that stood out to me and seems to have been largely overlooked. I did find some mention of it when I searched for it but it certainly wasn’t in the main headlines and soundbites I encountered.

At one point, Pence was rebuking Secretary Clinton for talking about, “implicit bias” (i.e. racial bias) and making the argument that if two people are of the same “race” then it is (as Pence seems to see it) self-evidently impossible for racism to be a factor in how they treat one another. Specifically, Pence said: “When an African American police officer is involved in a police … shooting involving an African American, why would Hillary Clinton accuse that African American police officer of implicit bias?” I’m sure that made many of Trump’s supporters let out a little cheer at home. “Yeah! You can’t be racist again your own race. Stupid liberals. You tell-em Pence!”

This line of thinking is actually a huge (or is it “Yuge”) part of the problem and proof of the implicit bias we all live with. The very concept of race is false. There is only one human race. No skin color or nationality or religion or artificial subdivision, no matter how pseudoscientific it sounds, can be biologically defined as a, “race,” separate from other, “races.” We have all been raised to believe that, “blacks” and “whites,” “African Americans” and “Caucasians,” are distinct races, even if we are also told that they are equal before the law and before God. This fundamental misconception of the world continues to haunt us and lead to all manner of problems (all manner of implicit biases) and the fact that so many people can’t even see this makes these problems dramatically worse.

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom he talks about his life as an ANC Activist, before he was imprisoned, traveling around Africa to generate support of the anti-apartheid, pro-democracy cause in South Africa. At one point he admits that he got on a plane where the cockpit door was open and he could see there was a black pilot. Mandela’s first thought was, “We’re going to die,” because blacks can’t be pilots. He quickly realized how silly he was being; how he had bought into the very lie he was fighting against. He did not think of blacks as pilots because he had never seen one and subconsciously accepted the idea that pilots are white. If Mandela, arguably the greatest international symbol in the world against racism, could not completely escape the confines of this false worldview and the implicit biases that flow from it, why should we think a black police office, or any of us can be free from such tendencies.

One of the implicit biases that is most prominent throughout America is the idea that black men, particularly young black men, are more prone to violence, more incapable to controlling themselves, and less trustworthy than white men. You can say, “I don’t believe that,” and I hope you don’t! But that doesn’t change the fact that we have been inundated with this message in our homes and in the media for generations upon generations. Even when you try to be consciously aware of this fact and reject it, you cannot so easily escape from its effect on the way you think and act. Now, take an police officer – “black,” “white,” or whatever artificial “racial” label you wish to put upon him – put him in a stressful situation, and tell me he’ll be free from implicit bias just because the fellow citizen in from of him is of the, “same race.” It’s ridiculous.

Pence may have fired up the base of Trumps supporters by not being as bad as Trump but he only proved to me how clueless the political right has become. As I have tried to argue before, these are not, “real conservatives,” and I won’t be a party to their willful ignorance.

22, A Million

Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) has been one of my favorite artists since I first heard “Blood Bank” on The Current, in what must have been 2009. This morning he (technically, the band, but really, it’s mostly him) released 22, A Million and I’m listening to it for the third time on Spotify as I write this.


This new album has the familiar, hauntingly beautiful feeling of his other works, but it also strikes me as very much, an album, rather than a collection of singles, as most “albums” are. It’s not quite, Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, but it does work well from start to finish; like you’re going on a journey with him.

Did you see/do you remember, back in 2012, when Bon Iver won Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards? He gave one of the best, most heartfelt acceptance speeches you’ll ever see at an awards program. He’s so non-Hollywood, so unpolished and awkward in look and manner, so Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He is the a great representative for all the talented artists who don’t fit into an easily marketable mold and will never have their moment on such a stage.

Any husker du, you should check out his new album and then go back and listen to his previous work, if you haven’t already.