Wrong and On the Internet

someone-is-wrong-on-the-internetI’m that guy who’s wrong on the internet.

Don’t pretend you don’t know who I’m talking about.

The thing is, I’ve seen your 2 a.m. dissertations in my Facebook threads, and I’ve scrolled through every one of your snarky Twitter replies that light up my phone while I’m Instagramming my Grape Nuts. Speaking of total wastes of time, don’t your staff meetings happen around that time? But I guess defending cyberspace’s southern border against my MAGA memes and fake news shares is more important than paying attention to your CFO’s quarterly revenue report. It’s hard to blame you for that. Nobody ever swiped right for a quarterly revenue report. Amirite? (more…)

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Not a Bush Eulogy

I don’t eulogize the famous dead. 800px-George_H._W._Bush_cropHero worship spoils the one good thing about a corpse — its inability to act superior to the bones in the box next door. We forfeit our V.I.P. backstage passes and country club memberships at last breath. Dust is dust. Ashes are ashes.

I won’t speculate on whether George H. W. Bush was a good man or a bad man. I haven’t read his biographies or given much thought to the gossip and scandals that cling to a politician like lint on a black suit.  But I do have an angle worth (I hope) writing on — not who Bush 41 was, but who I am because of him and his presidency. (more…)

So another election has passed

The most meaningful part of my voting day experience was the walk to my polling station. I work from home, and I don’t step outside my door nearly enough. The election gave me an excuse to inhale the fresh air and crunch some fall leaves while scarfing down my pepperoni bread lunch (do people still say scarfing?). In the midday peacefulness, with nary a human being in sight, the latest “most important election in U.S. history” felt small and far away. The pickup trucks parked on the curb were curiously free of the political campaign stickers that had littered the nation’s landscape just two years ago. I caught a yard sign here or there, but the names felt disconnected from the tactile reality of basketball hoops, swing sets, bay windows, manicured lawns, and even some jack-o-lanterns that lingered on the pampered porches of well-loved middle-class homes.

The polling station was my childhood church. I arrived at the head of the line. Which is to say,  I was the ONLY voter in line. A mural of Jonah and the whale hovered over us as the nice old lady at the desk (why is it always an old lady?) handed me my stub and directed me to the gentleman to my left, who then directed me to my electronic ballot booth. It felt right to be casting my ballot in the same space where I learned the golden rule, and where I learned that God is always watching and his law surpasses man’s. Would my Sunday school self approve of my choices? Would the Big Chap Upstairs?

As always, the actual voting process felt anticlimactic. No lever to pull. No hole to punch. Just a finger tap on a screen. I didn’t even get an “I Voted” sticker. As always, I walked away wondering whether I’d missed a step. Had I really voted at all? Would my vote be counted? Did it matter?

As I walked home, I passed century-old houses that had risen from the dirt long before today’s crop of power-hungry statesmen were born, and that will remain as they are today long after those statesmen have lost their seats to other expensive suits full of bombast and empty promises and naive utopian dreams. I felt calm, because this is home. This is where real life begins and ends. This is where children grow up and grow old, and where some of them will make a fingerprint on a ballot screen every two years, but all will reap the rewards and consequences of the little everyday choices they make that no one in Washington or Harrisburg or on Twitter will ever know about. But those choices matter deeply–maybe even more than the choices at the ballot box–because those secret little decisions are the stuff of human families, and human families are the heart of civilization. America survives on our backs, as it should. And when those families finally break, our rulers will become our worst demons, and our world will burn to the ground.


Amazon betrays the system that made it rich

A coworker once said the problem with capitalism is that eventually someone wins.

I can’t help but dwell on his warning as the blood spatter from the ugly crime scene formerly known as a great online shopping service hits the press.

Who is Jeff Bezos really? And who is his victim? Here’s the evidence we’ve collected so far:

  • In response to bad publicity, Amazon raises its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Shortly after, it begins lobbying Congress to force all other businesses (i.e., Amazon’s less wealthy competitors), to do likewise.
  • Amazon makes a deal with NYC to open a new HQ.
  • NYC’s mayor announces, “Amazon understood that if you come to New York City, you have to live by our values.”
  • In return, the city offers Amazon $1.525 billion in tax credits and grants.
  • Amazon also announces its intention to build an additional HQ in northern Virginia, near D.C.

I try not to cast blame without evidence. I try not to make assumptions about people’s hidden motivations. But in this case, we’ve at least got probable cause to dig deeper, because it doesn’t look good. If I were writing a mystery novel based on these scattered facts, the plot would write itself.

Here’s the synopsis: Corporate kingpin fears bad publicity about his alleged  maltreatment of workforce. The bad press is not only hurting sales but also threatens to hijack his backroom dealings with NYC’s ruling monarch to open a new HQ in the East Coast’s most prestigious metropolis. He and his buddies concoct a brilliant solution. First, raise the minimum wage to the politically popular $15 an hour, which will garner favor with the press and NYC. Second, get reimbursed for the new cost through NYC’s financial incentives. Third, and this is the devious part, cancel out the competitive disadvantage of the $15 minimum wage by lobbying the government to force everyone else to follow suit. Not only does this cancel out the disadvantage–it actually flips it into an advantage for Amazon. The wage hike gives Amazon the street cred to pressure everyone else to do it, but guess what? Amazon’s competitors are far less capable of absorbing the cost increase. The result? Competitors go out of business, and small startups fail to grow, while Amazon comes out looking (in theory, if not in actuality) like a self-sacrificial moral superior.

That’s how it looks, and the stink of it makes me a little less inclined to shop on Amazon, as much as I love the service.

But whatever you think of Jeff Bezos and Co., this development does force us to revisit the question of whether capitalism, taken to its logical end, breeds its own worst enemies. When a businesman “wins,” his money gives him power, and he wields that power to buy politicians, change laws, create a monopoly, and institute a crony-capitalistic fiefdom.

When it comes to economics, I lean Libertarian. I say lean, because I’m not fully there. I just can’t shake the concern that there comes a point where big business is just too big and it begins to resemble the sort of authoritarian takeover that Libertarians so fear.

Where is that line, and what do we do about it? I’m open to suggestions.

Sex crimes are not a game

At first, I didn’t recognize the name. Then I saw the mugshot and reread the headline. A visceral revulsion surged through me. My Facebook friend who shared the news story might as well have stapled my small intestine to a blender and hit “chop.” The discovery that a man I trusted — a good Christian man — had committed a vile crime was like peeling back a leaf that had embedded itself under a fresh coat of deck paint, then recoiling from the moist, moldy underbelly and the stench of its secret rot.

James Leroy. My former youth leader. Could that James Leroy really be this monster? What parallel universe had I slipped into to find old Jim on his way to a 30-year prison sentence? How could Jim — kind, fun-loving Jim — have sexually molested underage boys? (more…)

The Death of Satire

If you’re an aspiring satirist, I’ve got 2hle1fa hot tip: Walmart is hiring.

Satire, I’m sorry to say, is going the way of dial-up and MySpace, and I’ve got a 100 percent satire-free argument to prove it.

To earn your  trust, let me first explain I was once an aspiring satirist just like you. My dream hit a wall when I tried my hand at satire for a college writing assignment. My Jonathan Swift-style treatment of the abortion debate was poignant, biting, devilishly clever and, unfortunately for me, a failure. The professor worried I hadn’t gone far enough. Readers might take my barbaric argument at face value and actually agree with it.

As you know, a satirist’s clay is a half-mad world he can mold into a mad world. But when the world is already full mad — when the clay pot has already baked — you’ve got nothing left to do but smash that world and find a new one. Tragically, scientists have not yet discovered an “Earth 2,” so you’re stuck in the Earth we’ve got.

As citizens of this present Earth, here are the crazy things you are now under pressure to accept — things that, only a century ago, even a satirist might have considered too absurd to put on paper. (more…)

When I die, the nation won’t give a crap…

…and so unto John McCain I offer not the smallest crap. Not even a crusty fleck.

That’s not an anti-John McCain comment. That’s an anti-Celebrity comment, and it’s an anti-Statist comment. I don’t get to mourn the distant gods of the Bureau of Central Planning until I’ve first knocked on my neighbor’s door and asked her how she’s recovering from her gall bladder surgery.

My point is that it’s too easy to miss what’s right in front of us. Easy to forget how to value what we can smell with our own noses and touch with our own hands. Unless, of course, what we’re touching is an iPad, breathlessly swiping through clickbait slideshows of bold and beautiful strangers who spent more money on their socks than they would ever spend to save you from losing your left foot.

But with technology today, who needs two feet anyway? Ah, priorities.

 

America needs Roy Hobbs

The Natural is a baseball movie that couldn’t b1984_-_The_Natural_Movie_Postere made today. There’s too much sincerity, too much unapologetic manliness, too few moral loopholes, and no trace of the upturned nose down which films set in past decades tend to view their subjects.

Also, The Natural is not a baseball movie. I didn’t know that until now.

As a boy, I watched the classic Robert Redford film through the eyes of the hero’s admiring bat boy, Bobby. I looked up to Roy Hobbs because I wanted to be Roy Hobbs. His victories validated my “wish upon a star” fantasy of making the big leagues and unleashing an explosive barrage of latent talent upon my formerly mocking peers. The plot, as I saw it, was simple: a gifted Wonder Boy pursues his dream while trying to avoid being distracted by a bunch of boring adult stuff (like, you know, money, women, women with guns, whatever).

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When you’re tired of the politics

As a South Florida bachelor,  I didn’t do the crazy things most South Florida bachelors are contractually obligated to do.

My idea of a wild night life was to head out, alone, to the beach after dark, after the sunbathers and vacationers and snowbirds retreated to their air conditioned condos. I’d go to walk, to think, to listen, to decompress, to find God, or at least to glimpse his shadow, or maybe just to glimpse my own shadow and not be disgusted at what I saw. (more…)

License to Murder

Nataliia Karia hanged a toddler in her basement. The toddler survived, but not on purpose. Nataliia wanted him dead, and she confessed to the crime. Attempted murder: guilty. Third degree assault: guilty.

Her punishment? Probation.

This sick joke of a trial is just the latest in a long-established tradition of “innocent by reason of insanity” verdicts. This tradition has hundreds of years of precedent to back it up, and I believe it has merit when carefully applied. But in our current legal and social climate, putting the “insanity” tool in a judge’s toolbox is as wise as storing matches in gasoline canisters.

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