Freedom Isn’t Easy

I could tell you a lot of cool things about my school, but yesterday, the sheriff’s department escorted one of our students out of our school in handcuffs; and earlier this year, one of our former students (who had dropped out) was shot in the head while sitting in a parked car at two in the morning; and one of the people in the car when the gun went off was also a former student, and he went to prison soon after because, by being in the car that night, he violated his parole; and earlier last year, two other former students were accused (though not convicted) of stealing from their employers, with each incident independent from the other.

No matter how cool our school might be, the truth is that we attract some difficult kids, and while we try to provide them with every opportunity to take control of their education and, in the process, gain control of their lives, too many of them find the freedom too difficult to handle.

One of my students told me yesterday that they feel like they’re living in a role-playing game because even for the simplest of decisions, they sometimes roll a die to decide what they should do. When the student told me this, they were thinking of episodes in their life where they actually, physically rolled a six-sided die, but they were not connecting this anecdote to their immediate reality, wherein they were seated on the floor, consulting a new-age ripoff of Tarot cards for insight into their current predicament. They honestly didn’t see a connection between their inability to make simple decisions and their desire to seek out answers to life’s problems in a deck of commercially produced and professionally marketed cards.

Earlier in the class, for reasons I don’t need to go into, I found myself having to explain to this same student the market forces that lead to SPAM phone calls and emails, a conversation that resulted in the student returning a SPAM phone call they had received earlier in the day to demand an answer from the telemarketer as to how her company acquired the student’s phone number. The conversation did not go well; my student was being earnest and the telemarketer refused to budge from her script, leading me to have to provide explicit instructions as to how and why my student should simply hang up the phone, regardless of whether the telemarketer was done speaking on the other end.

All of which is to say that most of the students who come to my school have difficulty with the simplest things. It’s not that they are dumb — in fact, most of the kids I work with are incredibly bright — it’s that some simple but important things about living in society do not click into place for them like they do for you and me. They just don’t get it, and unfortunately, some of them never will.

We designed our school for one mission: to provide every student, regardless of their abilities, with the opportunity to be interested and engaged in their own education (including their social-emotional education). But so many of our students come to us without being interested or engaged in anything beyond their own drama, or what’s worse, their own trauma, which makes them unable to stay out of their own way.

Our tactic to overcome this is both simple and incredibly hard: We try to make them feel safe. At bottom, that means safe not just from something, but also to become something. The kids who come to us have rarely heard an encouraging word; they’ve been told they are worthless, and in some cases, they’ve been abandoned by their dearest family members, literally left alone in the world with no one to protect or care for them.

It’s no wonder they have trouble making decisions. They have zero self-confidence, and so they don’t trust themselves. Every decision they’ve ever made has led them to where they are now: kicked out of almost every school they’ve ever attended — some residential, some not, some institutional, some not — told that they don’t belong, told to get out, told that they’re a freak of some kind. Their parents, if they’re around, are rarely worth much, and what they are worth is often compounded with negative interest in their kids, which can often mean verbal, physical, or sometimes even sexual abuse, resulting in the child experiencing incredible pain and suffering at the hands of the people society tells them are supposed to love them more than anyone.

Why would they trust themselves? Why would they trust anyone?

And then we come along, offering these students with incredibly acute social-emotional needs a true progressive model of education — one that is student-centered and student-driven, where they’re asked not to do as they’re told but, instead, to do as they think they ought to.

What do we expect will happen? That they’ll all start singing kumbaya, and butterflies will descend from the heavens, and within days, they’ll each be as happy and as engaged as the students on a college brochure?

No. What we expect to happen is what happened today. One student will be escorted from the building in handcuffs. Another will have such an emotional crisis that they will collapse to the ground shaking and in tears. Another will scream so loud on the drive to school that their driver will have an actual panic attack in the car and be unable to feel her hands and feet. Another will refuse to comply with even the simplest of requests, choosing instead to physically wrestle with their teacher. Still others will actively avoid your best advice and refuse to work on the projects they need to exhibit publicly in just over two weeks.

Trying to give kids conscious and moral control over their freedom is a struggle. It’s a real struggle.

Thankfully, I’ve had enough days that were the complete opposite of yesterday to know that, with most kids, the struggle is worth it.

And so while I should expect days like today, I should also be ready to celebrate success whenever I can find it. Like the fact that yesterday two of my students donated their time to complete the duties of a staff member who had to leave early due to a family emergency. Or the fact that the day before, one of my students consulted with a professional in the student’s field of interest to verify the quality of their homework, and the student did so with only the most minimal of supports. Or the fact that, earlier in the week, another of my students, despite being incredibly tired and out of sorts and despite having a history of verbal diarrhea, found enough self-control to be respectful with their peers, their teachers, and the public for longer than I thought possible.

All of them did those things not because they were told to, but because, as free thinkers, it was what they thought they ought to do.

Some days are a struggle. But the struggle really is worth it.

What’s the Significance?

You’ll often read that observation is a skill you need to become a good writer. I don’t have strong observation skills. Like the stereotypical husband that I can be, I am the world’s worst looker for things, and I often can’t tell you what outfit my wife puts on each morning, even after she’s only just left the room.

But I’ve learned that observation doesn’t just mean observing objects in a room or the precise details of a woman’s dress. It also means observing yourself and your relationship with others, and observing others and their relationship with those around them. It means trying to read verbal, physical, and social cues to understand the underlying dynamic of a given situation, and to then empathize with all of the elements affecting or being affected by that dynamic.

Observation is not looking. It’s probing and pursuing.

The action of looking is too passive. To be a good writer, you need to ask questions and follow wherever those questions lead, at every point asking yourself, “What is the significance of this? Why does it matter?”

It sounds like journalism, and to some extent it is — good journalism being, at bottom, good writing — but good writing posits those questions not only to bodies of power, but also to even the most basic of facts, such as the details of a woman’s dress.

This applies to blogging as well.

After all, what is the significance of this post? Why does it matter?

Blogging is a timely art form. Its impact is limited to the moment. While a blogger could post an article whose value lasts for weeks or months or years, the value of most blog posts are ephemeral, relevant only for a day or two beyond their time stamps.

The art of being a blogger, then, is to seek significance in everyday existence, to probe your entire day until you find something that matters, something that deserves to be talked about beyond its temporal confines.

This week, I had several experiences that could qualify, some of which I’ve already shared, others of which are still in the drafting stage, and still others of which I’ve yet to attempt to memorialize.

Like the fact that my college roommate and his wife are visiting us this weekend. Within that fact lies an entire treatise on the meaning of friendship.

Or the fact that I might have traumatized my daughter this week by letting her watch Coraline at way too young of an age, the result of which was a four-year-old girl who was afraid to go to sleep in her bed. I could connect that story with another where she was genuinely curious about what happens to the skin when a bug bites it: why does it get itchy and why is there a bump? I could then extend the investigation to her recurring fascination with — and existential dread about — the fact that, sometime in the future, the sun will explode. By the time I wrapped it up, it could be a blog post about the challenge of raising a child who is curious about the things that scare her, and the wisdom of that idea.

Or I could write a blog post about two different experiences I had at school this week, and both on the same day, the first of which involved getting an angry and belligerent teenager to stop being angry and literally smell the flowers, the result of which was an outpouring of creative energy whose like I’d yet to experience with this student; and the second of which involved letting an 11-year-old boy smack me in the face for 40 minutes straight because that was the only way I could get him to look me in the eye and talk to me about his life, each smack allowing him to punctuate his sadness and loneliness with peels of tension-releasing laughter.

Or I could write a blog post about buying my wife a Roomba for Mother’s Day, and use it to investigate why the gift was both good and not-good at one and the same time, resulting perhaps in a blog post about the intricacies of marital gift giving, with a tangent about the joys and challenges of being married to an incredibly intelligent feminist and the patriarchal irony of giving such a feminist a Roomba for Mother’s Day.

Regardless of what I chose to blog about, the key would be to find within it something of significance, something that matters beyond my need to “journal,” because blogging shouldn’t be about journaling. Journaling is a private affair, and blogging, due to its medium, is very much a public one. A blog shouldn’t be a place to make a confession. It should be a place where the act of reflection (whether on your experiences or on the news of the day) results in something that is worthy enough to share — worthy enough to be read, even if only once.

I don’t care what the books tell you: observation is not the skill you most need to be a writer; more than observation, you need interrogation — the ability to probe and pursue every fact and every experience until it reveals its significance within the wider moment. Whether that means interrogating a news item, a mother’s day gift, the arrival of a friend, or the details of a woman’s dress, at all points you must ask, “What is the significance? Why does it matter?”

Only then can you say to yourself, I know what to write.

I Joyfully Disagree

A few years ago, I had an argument with my brother that lasted a little over four hours. It started around 10pm and ended after 2am. We argued the entire time. By the time we both went to bed, we were slightly upset with one another, but thankfully, the negative energy didn’t carry beyond the following morning.

Several weeks ago, I had an argument with my cousin-in-law. It also started late at night and ended sometime early in the morning. This one involved a myriad of people standing outside at a party, but he and I started it and he and I finished it. At one point, he physically threw me up against a wall, but at no point did I feel that we were actually upset with one another.

I do this a lot.

A couple of days ago, I argued with three of my students for forty-five minutes straight, only stopping because the clock told us we had to. While one of the students grew verbally exasperated with me during the argument, and another seemed to get silently so, at no point did I feel like they wanted the argument to stop.

I do this all the time.

I’m not entirely sure where this personality trait originates. My family argued a lot growing up, and my best friend and I used to (and still do) argue all the time, but I don’t know how much was nurture or how much was nature.

I’ve even bought into the astrological argument on this one, despite telling myself I don’t believe in astrology. While I understand and agree with all of the arguments that explain why I shouldn’t agree with astrology, when it comes to being a Gemini, for me, it simply feels true.

As Astrology.com explains it:

[Talking is] not just idle chatter with these folks… The driving force behind a Gemini’s conversation is their mind. The Gemini-born are intellectually inclined, forever probing people and places in search of information. The more information a Gemini collects, the better. Sharing that information later on with those they love is also a lot of fun, for Geminis are supremely interested in developing their relationships.

Forever probing; collecting and sharing information for the pure joy of it; and developing relationships through this method — it sounds like a person who loves to argue (and who loves to blog).

The argument with my brother started because he endorsed the Confederate flag. The argument with my cousin-in-law started because he supported Judge Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court (and as a lawyer, he thought he knew of what he spoke). The argument with my three students started because they doubted that there is such a thing as altruism.

These are all good arguments.

My brother argued that the Confederate flag doesn’t have to stand for racism. It can also stand for rock n’roll in the way that Bo & Luke Duke were rock n’roll. It can stand for bad-assness, that brand of American individuality that flouts convention and shoots from the hip. After all, it comes from Confederacy not just of slaveholders, but of rebels. My brother’s argument wasn’t wrong.

My cousin-in-law argued that, when it comes to the Supreme Court, the best judges would be textualists. It’s not the Supreme Court’s job to do what it thinks is morally right. Our country’s morals and values should be democratically determined through a legislative process whereby competing interests make their best arguments and majority opinions rule the day (tempered by the minority’s right to continue the argument even when they don’t have the votes, forcing the legislature to arrive at some kind of near consensus). It’s a drawn-out and dirty way to determine our society’s values, but it’s the best method anyone’s come up with yet to balance the rights of the individual with the obligations of a society.

To best protect those democratically determined values, we want a Supreme Court that restrains itself to the values entombed in a text that the people themselves have agreed upon (through their elected representatives). The Supreme Court should not make rulings because of some kind of prevailing societal wind whose presence can sometimes only be sensed by five out of the nine judges. My cousin-in-law’s argument was not wrong.

My students argued that altruism doesn’t exist because human beings have evolved to sometimes seek experiences that will increase the flow of dopamine in the brain (altruism has been shown to be associated with dopamine). In other words, we don’t act altruistic because we’re nice people; we act altruistic because it gets us a little high. Since the unselfish acts required for altruism ultimately reward the self, the act’s altruistic origin is false. My students’ argument was not wrong.

And yet, argue with all of them I did.

I tried to explain to my brother that, while what he was saying wasn’t wrong, the violence of slavery was so horrific that its symbol should only be able to exist in history books and museums. I didn’t disagree that any individual anywhere has the right to wave whatever flag they choose to wave, but just because they have the right to do so doesn’t mean that they should. It’s a sad world when someone tells you that the flag you’re waving creates a sense of visceral fear and/or horror in their hearts, and they have all the facts of history to support their emotional response as a reasonable reaction, and yet, just because you can, you continue to wave the flag. That’s not an act of rebellion; that’s just disrespect and hate.

I tried to explain to my cousin-in-law that, while textualism sounds like a great method for interpreting the law, I’d rather have judges who share the majority’s understanding of fairness, regardless of the intricacies of the text that fairness should be based on. In addition, when a judge has a clear preference for finding for the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals (as Justice Gorsuch has been shown to do), then that judge isn’t capable of (or interested in) defending the people against the moneyed interests who have corrupted the legislative process that is responsible for those texts.

To be a textualist, then, is to be a judge who openly declares his faith in a system of laws whose creation is funded and driven by a combination of multinational corporations and the richest individuals who run them. Corporations do not need any more influence in our government than they already have, but the confirmation of Justice Gorsuch gave them not just one more representative, but one more incredibly powerful representative whose preference for the corporate interest will have an effect for generations.

I tried to explain to my students that, while altruistic acts ultimately reward the individual with dopamine, that doesn’t mean altruism doesn’t exist. For two reasons, the first of which is a question of timing, and the second of which is a question of semantics — of where you locate the meaning of altruism.

The process of altruism leading to an increase in dopamine is an evolved process, which means that at some point, some creature (possibly pre-chordates) did something altruistic, and then, and only then, was the dopamine triggered, the joyful experience of which created the drive to do something nice again, even if only to get a little buzzed again.

The same process probably happens in the development of young children: first they do something nice (probably because they were taught to), and then, and only then, can the dopamine be triggered.

But until they (chordates or children) actually commit the altruistic act, they can’t know that it will result in the joyful release of dopamine, and so, wouldn’t the impulse to altruism have to come first, rather than the reward of the dopamine?

Even if a child only commits an altruistic act because their parent(s) taught them that it’s right to do so, they must first do so not because of the reward they’ll receive (which they know nothing about) but because it’s the right thing for them to do.

The second reason is that it doesn’t actually matter how the drive to be altruistic evolved. Obviously, for social creatures such as ourselves, being altruistic makes it easier to live among the group and, hence, to survive long enough to create the next generation of altruists, which of course passes on the genes for altruism (including too, perhaps, the genes for listening to one’s elders). But this doesn’t change the fact that the person doing the altruistic act does so to be helpful.

Yes, there is a biological and evolutionary reward, but if there’s one thing that defines the human species, it’s that we’ve evolved to transcend our bodies, hence the evolutionary and transcendent gifts of language, culture, and technology. Just because something finds it origin in our biology doesn’t mean we ought to locate its meaning there as well.

The meaning of altruism exists beyond the body — this is in some ways its definition: a helpful act extending from one’s body and through which nothing good is expected in return. Just because something good is returned (the joyful flood of dopamine) doesn’t discount the fact that nothing good was expected. It’s that lack of an expectation (factual or not) that defines altruism; not the gene that floods the brain inside our bodies, but the lack of an expectation that something good will come to us from outside of our bodies.

It was a long and complex argument with many twists and turns and a healthy amount of crossover, and by the end, we seem to agree to disagree. My students are damn smart, and they know, themselves, how to make an argument.

Regardless, this is who I am: the Gemini who’s going to argue with you, not because I’m angry (rarely) or passionate (often), but because it just feels so damn fun to do.

A Serious Mistake

I had a moment with a student this week. It was early in the morning, and this student was not feeling up to it. I entered the classroom and already I could tell that something was wrong.

But for some reason, I didn’t do anything to help him. I was in my own head, feeling self-important as I entered the room and focused on my own agenda for how the next sixty minutes would go. While I saw him and knew something was wrong, I did not let that deter me from accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.

In my school, teachers share classrooms. While we are a one-to-one school, very few of our blocks are truly one-to-one. Even if we have one staff member assigned to one student, we often group students and staff together in the same space, even when they’re not working on the same subject. This allows the students and the staff to play off of each other in fruitful and often serendipitous ways.

So that morning, as I entered the classroom, I saw this student having a real problem, but he wasn’t my student for the next sixty minutes, so I passed him by and moved on to what I imagined my responsibilities were for that block, a combination of administrative obligations and student supervision (not teaching, per se, but supervision; my assigned student works independently that block). There were two other teachers in this shared space, so I assumed he was one of theirs, and hence, his problem was their problem.

About twenty minutes later, I noticed that the student was still sitting there, without any adult’s undivided attention, so I asked him, “Hey, who are you supposed to be with this block?” He looked up at me and said, “You.”

And then it hit me: he was absolutely right. It’s just that, until this day, he had worked side by side with the student who was working independently, and so I forgot he was assigned to me. And then, on this day, when it really mattered, I wasn’t there for him.

As soon as I realized my mistake, I immediately left behind every obligation I imagined I had and sat down with this student, made direct and clear eye contact with him, and asked him what was going on. Within moments, he had tears in his eyes, and for the next 30 minutes, we just talked. We didn’t talk about the problem directly (he doesn’t yet trust me enough for that), but we did talk about something else that was bothering him, and by helping him process that more minor problem, I believe I helped him talk about the real problem later on in the day with our school counselor (not to take anything away from the incredible skills of our school counselor, who is perhaps one of the most analytical and yet most present listeners I’ve ever met).

But that’s not the point. It’s not about the twenty minutes he and I spent together, having what I felt to be a meaningful conversation; it’s about the 35 minutes before that, when I told him with every fiber of my being that he didn’t matter (not enough for me to stop focusing on my goals anyway).

Unfortunately, at my school, there’s really only one thing our boss completely expects from us (most staff members have other obligations, but this is the big one), and that’s to be present with the kids we are assigned to. When a staff member is having an issue connecting with one of our kids, they can blame whoever does the schedule, but I’m the guy who does the schedule, so there’s no one left to blame but myself. In my capacity as the scheduler, I chose this student for this block; I knowingly committed myself to him; and that day, I forgot he was mine.

As I said, I didn’t solve my student’s underlying problem that day. And the truth is, I’ll never be able to. It’s a systemic problem that originates in the home, is diffused and exacerbated by society, and spilled onto the floor for everyone else to deal with. It’s the problem of being (or at least feeling like) an unwanted child.

Most of the students in my school have come to us as the last stop. There really isn’t anything after us except a bed in a state-run institution, and there’s not always enough beds. They’ve been told by almost every single adult they’ve ever interacted with that they’re not wanted. Many of them are in some kind of foster care, or living with non-parental relatives, or shuttled off into quasi- or state-paid-for apartments. They’ve been kicked out of every school they’ve ever attended, and sometimes they’ve even been kicked out of other schools like ours.

We are the last stop, and when they don’t make it with us, the next stop might not just be a state-run institution; it might actually be death.

I’m not trained to handle that kind of responsibility. But honestly, who is?

You might think, “Um….psychiatrists? psychologists?…you know…doctors?”

Okay, fine. But do you know how much doctors get paid? How much are you willing to pay in your taxes for some other kid’s education? Would it be enough to pay for a school full of doctors? And just one school or two? What about seven? What about 250? What about 98,271?

Until society decides to pay teachers like doctors (or pay doctors to be teachers), who are we willing to pay to be present with those kids whose next step might include a noose, or even worse, holding a loaded machine gun?

Me. That’s who.

You’re willing to pay me.

An adult who sometimes forgets what kid he’s assigned to. But also an adult who is willing, every single day, to sit down with any troubled young person and ask, with all my heart, “What’s going on?”

Boston Defense

I’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to understand what it means to be a fan from Boston.

The topic first came up in my classroom, when two of my colleagues (one of whom is a Yankees fan and the other of whom is a Lebron fan) accused Boston of being a terrible place to play sports. Later that day, I learned about an incident at a recent Red Sox game when a bunch of Boston fans yelled racist slurs at an opposing player, an incident that sparked a national conversation about racism in Boston.

I am a Boston fan, and I know Boston is racist because Bill Russell said Boston is racist. As a lifelong Celtics fan who was raised on the original Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, I love and revere Bill Russell, and if this person whom I love tells me Boston is racist, I have to believe him, just as I would have to believe Tom Brady if he told me Vince Wilfork was gay.

Russell’s statement is corroborated by players in a variety of leagues. There is no dispute of this. I know Boston is racist.

But Boston also isn’t racist. The very next night at the Red Sox game, the entire stadium gave a standing ovation to the opposing player who received those slurs, and that too is a testament to the quality of the fanbase.

There are racists among us. We know this. But we don’t want the racists to define us.

We want to be defined by one thing: our ability to make a difference on the court or on the field.

It means something to play a home game in Boston. I know home teams everywhere have the advantage, but in Boston, it’s more than an advantage. It’s a legacy. Bill Russell (and Red Auerbach) gave us that legacy, and that is one of the reasons we will always love him. Together, Russell & Auerbach taught us not to expect anything less from our teams than a championship (a lesson Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck have been reinforcing for almost fifteen years now).

As fans, we see ourselves as having one job. When the visiting team comes to town, we want them to get nervous to play in front of us. We’re not on the court or on the field, and we don’t have the talent or the discipline to develop a career in professional sports, but we do have one skill: we can get fucking rowdy, and even though we’re stuck in the seats, we can use our words and our noise to get inside their heads (not to mention the heads of the refs, who, it turns out, are really affected by home-court crowds).

That’s the one thing we can do to help our city win a championship, and we take that job very seriously.

While that rowdiness is directed at the opposing team, it has the additional benefit of charging up our players. If, as a player for the home team, you need the crowd to give you energy in the fourth quarter, the ninth inning, or the third period, you can count on Boston to give it you.

And because of that, we — the Boston crowd — can make a real difference in the game. We know we do.

As a player, that’s what you should expect from us. It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black or Canadian, if you play hard enough to stay competitive, then the fans of Boston can provide the energy you need to take it the rest of the way. We cannot give you talent, but we can give you energy; and in the playoffs, energy makes the difference. As Bill Russell once said, “The great reward is watching the other team slowly suffocate.”

But it’s not just the racist thing, or the energy thing, that makes Boston fans who we are.

Two nights ago, in game five of a seven-game series, the Celtics needed a win at home. The story of the series is that the Celtics fought tooth and nail to win two games at home, and then they got blown out of the water for two games on the road, making themselves look very, very bad on the national stage.

During the first of those road games (game 3), a young player on the opposing team named Kelly Oubre charged and shoved one the Celtics players, a white doofus named Kelly Olynyk. Now some people hate Olynyk (maybe rightfully so), but the doofus actually plays the game well sometimes, draining threes when they matter, playing defense with a real sense heart (if not always real smarts), and even causing turnovers at crucial points in the game.

Anyway, in game three, Oubre shoved Olynyk, Olynyk went flying, and controlled chaos erupted on the floor. When everything settled down, Oubre got ejected from game three and suspended for game four.

All of which meant that Oubre’s first game back after the incident was this one, game five, when the series came back to Boston.

Oubre is not a starting player. But about five minutes into the game, when the Celtics had demonstrated that this wasn’t going to be the same kind of team the Wizards faced in Washington and that the game was probably not going to go the Wizards’ way, the Boston crowd started chanting, “We want Oubre! We want Oubre!” Oubre hadn’t played yet. He was still sitting on the bench. And the Boston fans were calling him out (later in the game, the chant would change to something more profane).

That’s also what it means to be from Boston. It means that when the opposing team comes to town, we’re going to talk shit to them. We’re like those guys clustered around two fighters in the street. We’re not in the fight ourselves, but man, we’re gonna talk shit to anyone whose trying to beat our boys at home. We can’t be in the ring (which is why we can’t wear the ring), but we can talk shit if it helps our boys defend the home turf.

I love that about us.

It’s just that sometimes, the shit we say can be rather shitty.

Here’s another story. A week or so ago, soon after the racist slur incident, a fan used the jumbotron at Fenway Park to propose to his girlfriend, making the grandest gesture he could think of. And the girl said no….on the jumbotron.

And what did the Boston crowd do? It started chanting, “She said no! She said no!”

That’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s also hilarious. It doesn’t take into account how devastated that man must have felt, nor how embarrassed that woman had to be, which means in some real humane sense, it was a completely shitty thing for the crowd to do, but it’s also hilarious.

(There’s a reason Louie C.K. will always be a Boston comic, regardless of where he lives or how big he gets. With Louie, everything that is shitty about life is also hilarious. Using a master’s control of his craft, Louie’s stand-up bits and television shows demonstrate in exacting and emotional detail how shitty life human existence can be in the twenty-first century, but they also make us experience how funny it can be at the exact same timeThat’s a sensibility you get from living in Boston.)

And I love that about us. We can be shitty and funny at the exact same time and as an entire crowd: tens of thousands of people being shitty and funny together. It’s great.

And it’s part of what makes Boston Boston. And it’s why “I love that dirty water….”

Trump In The Führerbunker

Donald Trump is a dumb guy. He’s not the dumbest guy — you’ve got to have some kind of intelligence (a ruthless one?) if you’re going to make as many millions of dollars as he has — but to fire James Comey like that, right now, with the Russian heat as hot as it’s been, is there any other word for it except dumb?

I guess we could call it bad strategy. I’ve been reading a lot about war and politics lately, as well as playing a lot of Madden football, so strategy is something that’s been on my mind, and thinking about Donald Trump, I have to ask: What kind of game is he playing?

He’s not playing politics. If you’re playing the game of politics, you do not fire the official who is in charge of investigating your administration the day after the other justice official you fired testifies in front of Congress about that investigation, a testimony that includes the coincidence that just as she increased the heat on the investigation of your administration, you found another cause to fire her. That would just be dumb. It arouses more suspicion, which craters your approval ratings, which decreases your influence among those whose votes you’ll need to get your policies passed. It’s just bad politics.

But what if he’s playing war? If this is a war between Donald Trump and the rest of the world (as a narcissist like Donald Trump could only imagine it to be), would firing Comey still be such a dumb idea? I’m not so sure.

Comey was obviously a liability to the White House. The man was actively investigating the administration’s ties to a foreign power where the suspicion was not simply money laundering, but also straight-up treason. If your only public goal is to survive until the next election, then it might make a lot of sense to cut your losses and simply get rid of the guy. As the head of the executive branch, you’re responsible for appointing the man’s successor, so why not get rid of him now and install someone you know you can trust? Yes, you’ll take shit for it in the short term, but in the long term, you might be able to sleep better at night.

Trump has to be wondering what his opposition’s counter move is going to be. Yes, the Congressional investigations will get more intense, and yes the heat from the media will increase, but ultimately, what does that matter? If the Republicans keep control of the Congress, there’s no way he gets impeached, and if you’d just won a Presidential election against all the odds that the bookmakers could quote you, you’d probably believe it doesn’t matter what the odds are going to be in 2018, because you’ll still end up on the lucky side of the coin.

In that case, firing Comey right now, regardless of what it looks like, makes perfect sense. You know the battle’s lost on the investigation front, so cut your losses, appoint someone loyal to defend the front, and move on to the next problem. The Congress and the media can do whatever they want, as long as you’re ultimately protected by those whom you know are loyal.

It’s a bunker mentality, and the Trump White House is currently under siege.

And in that kind of reality, it’s actually a reasonable move.

So now you have to ask, as the opposition, what should we do to counter it?

We could intensify the investigation, of course; that’s where the White House is feeling the most pressure, so we should just keep pushing until it breaks. Already, the quantity and quality of the leaks have expanded, so appointing someone loyal might be the equivalent of Trump trying to stick his thumb in the dyke.

But to use a war analogy, that would be like we were sticking with the infantry instead of overwhelming our opponent through a combination of Air Force, Army, and Navy.

We ought to, of course, intensify the investigations (which the Senate Intelligence Committee seems highly committed to doing, thank goodness), but we’ve got to account for the possibility that the person Trump appoints might actually be up to the job of derailing the investigation long enough for the Republican House to get re-elected (which, again, would eliminate the risk of impeachment), which means that the investigation can’t be the only front in our war.

The other front is obvious: taking control of the House in 2018. I live in Vermont, where the House & the Senate are a lock, so there’s only so much good I can do (and all of it will have to be at a distance). Thankfully, Bernie’s movement is actively channeling itself into local and state elections, which means there’s already an army on the ground. Now we just need to give them some air support.