Category Archives: politics

An Argument About Guns

I argue on Facebook a lot. I’m that guy. You got an opinion on something? Let’s start arguing, see where it takes us.

I have principles and values that I attempt to defend, but I don’t get angry if someone attacks them. After all, if they can’t stand up to an attack, then maybe they’re not worth defending.

One of my principles is that guns create deadly violence. They are not the only weapons to do so, but they are — in fact and deed — manufactured to create deadly violence. It may not be violence to a human being, but it is violence to a target, whatever that target may be.

The absence of guns, however, does not mean the absence of violence. Violence is a by-product of nature, and nature is everywhere and for all time, therefore, the potential for violence can never reach absolute zero.

I accept this.

What I do not accept is the idea that adding a weapon to any situation will actually reduce the potential for deadly violence. The presence of a weapon threatens violence, regardless of whether the weapon is used. It increases, in every instance, the potential for deadly violence.

This is not an opinion. I understand it as a statement of fact, one hardly worth defending, since it seems so rock steady and impervious.

I do, however, note potential cracks, areas where, while suffering a direct attack, my pillar of an argument may — in fact and deed — require my direct support.

The constructing of an argument is the concentration of diverse forces upon a central point, and just as in the construction of a bridge, where the best way to channel forces is through a series of triangles, the best way to construct an argument is to triangulate a central point. That means one side of the argument must address the forces marshaled in favor of a counterargument.

The central point of my argument is that guns create deadly violence, but the counterargument I addressed defends the thesis that guns do not create the potential for violence.

I have committed the fallacy of a straw-man argument. Not even the biggest gun proponent would defend the position that guns do not create the potential for violence; instead, and more reasonably, they argue that guns are the best answer to actual violence.

And in that, we differ.

There will be another school shooting and dozens of children and teachers will die. We live in a violent world, and school shootings are one manifestation of that violence. I accept that.

But gun proponents do not think I ought to accept that. They believe that they truly cherish every innocent life, and they want to defend that innocent life with everything they’ve got. I respect that.

But I do not think it is possible to defend every innocent life.

We live in nature, and nature is a violent place that we can never escape. It creates in us the potential for violence in the same way that it creates in us the oxygen that keeps our bodies alive. The potential for violence is a condition of our being, the ground state of our existence.

That is why I argue about reducing the potential for violence; because we can never get actual violence to zero. Gun proponents, to their credit, argue about reducing actual violence, and they refuse to accept their failure.

I would like to respect and support both positions, but I cannot accept a reality in which there is never any failure.

I do not believe in utopia. I do not believe in perfection. This is a byproduct of my not believing in God. Because I do not believe in God, I am not required to defend any one position as perfect.

Christians believe in a triangular God because they believe that talking about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit best allows them to concentrate the weight of their wisdom on one central and holy principle: a single, perfect God. They believe that God’s righteous anger, as well as His infinite mercy, reveals the way we ought to live in moments small and large, and that this revelation is experienced through the grace of His Holy Spirit.

I don’t very much disagree with them; but in the end, I only accept their argument as wisdom, and not as fact.

Because I do not accept the existence of a single, perfect God, I do not have to accept any idea of perfection as a possible fact. I do not believe in nor feel I ought not to strive for the creation of perfection.

Instead, I believe in and feel I ought to strive for the best way to improve the potential for love and/or reduce the potential for violence.

That means, in this instance, I strive to reduce, while knowing we can never eliminate, the threat of violence to our school children.

Any positive argument I make from this position is therefore unacceptable to gun proponents, and perhaps it ought to be. With them, I am not willing to accept actual violence befalling my own child, or the children I teach each day, or my own wife, or the children she teaches each day. With them, I want our schools to be free from actual violence, and with them, I don’t deny that guns are perhaps the best way to confront actual violence.

But we can never free every child from the potential for violence, and so that’s where I choose to put my effort — to reduce the potential rather than to stop the actual (which, in all instances, we will never be able to do).

I do not believe that putting guns in our schools will actually reduce the potential for violence.

I can imagine, because we see it happen every day, armed authority figures killing actually innocent men and boys. It will be a single story on the news, perhaps lasting a month at most (depending on the circumstances), and then the authority figure(s) will be suspended, fired, and perhaps even convicted, and the story will go away.

And then, maybe a month or two later, an armed authority figure will kill a single armed shooter, preventing the body count in one attack from rising any higher (though almost definitely not reducing it to zero). The story will be incredible for its real and actual heroism, and the number of proponents for removing the guns from our schools will reduce.

And then another actually innocent man or boy will be killed, and the authority figure will be suspended, fire, or convicted. And then another, and then another, and then perhaps another school shooter will be stopped by an official’s gun.

And that will just become our reality.

The number of school shootings by armed and angry boys will eventually reduce, but never equal zero, and yet still, unencumbered, the number of dead actually innocent kids gunned down by armed authority figures will go on and on, and because the school shooters keep coming, even if in drastically reduced numbers, no positive argument will be heard that suggests removing the armed authority figures from the school will actually make every school shooter stop.

And actually innocent children will continue to die.

That cannot be helped. I don’t care how many guns you throw at the problem.

Gun proponents envision a future where every child accepts the presence of guns in both their personal and their public lives, but in that instance, the child becomes conditioned to a reality where there exists a drastically high potential for violence — violence in self-defense, perhaps, but still, and always, violence.

But I’m trying to envision a future where every child and every adult thinks of schools as sacrosanct. Shooters won’t stay away because they are afraid. They will stay away because of respect.

I teach in a school for students who have been diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disorders. Many of them have been expelled from other schools because their presence increased the potential for violence. The state does not know what to do with these kids, and so they send them to us.

Our entire school is based on the concept of respect. We respect the students, and in return, we expect them to respect us. They often don’t. But our response never changes. In this one place, they are not required to earn or maintain our respect. We simply give it to them. Every day. All day. Regardless of what they do. And through that experience, the students witness, every day, all day, what it means for one person to respect another, and we hope, through that experience, they learn to respect the place that we’ve built, and maybe, if we’re lucky, the people who continue to build it.

I don’t worry about any of my students coming to my school to shoot us up, and mine are the students virtually every other school is worried about.

I don’t worry about them because I trust they know I respect them.

Most gun proponents I have spoken with make a big deal out of respect, and rightfully so. But one does not earn respect by threatening someone with violence; a threat can only earn their fear.

The worst thing that could happen at my school is for an armed authority figure to show up. The state has sent these kids, over the course of their short lifetimes, to residential facilities that, in the minds of these kids, are little better than jails. They’ve been thrown to the ground and forcibly restrained by adults. Many of them have been handcuffed and taken to an actual jail.

To these kids, authority figures are, for very valid reasons, just triggers to a post-traumatic episode — sources of anxiety, anger, and fear.

We work to socialize our students to authority figures, but we also respect the experiences that they’ve gone through, not seeing in them any reason for blame or judgement, just respecting them for who they are and what they’re experiencing now.

We are able to do this because the discussions we have in our professional-development workshops value therapy above academic achievement. While it is true that we are a school, we believe that teaching them about respect, acceptance, anger, and coping will do them more good than teaching them to do their sums. We strive to provide them with skills for communications, empirical reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and social reasoning, but the primary focus is on the development of their personal qualities.

The students we traditionally receive have been so disobedient that they’ve, in almost all cases, been literally beat down by their families and society. Many of them have never known, since the moment they were born, a moment free from anxiety, fear, and pain.

They do not need to be further conditioned to a reality with a high potential for violence. They do not need to worry more that their disobedience may result in their death. That is already the only existence they’ve ever known.

I beg you, as a man who spends virtually every waking hour thinking about how to help the broken children in our communities, do not put armed authority figures in our schools.

Help me teach these children that, before anything else, and just because they are alive, they deserve our respect.

Because that is the only thing that will ever bring us closer to actually reducing the violence.

(Which, I accept, we can never reduce to zero.)

Teacher Advocates “Students, Go On Strike.”

Let’s not bullshit anyone. I’m the teacher in the headline and I’m advocating that every student in the United States go on strike until Congress takes decisive action on the issue of school shootings.

I am not advocating for one position or another. I do not have the solution.

But it’s not my job to come up with the solution. It’s the job of our Senators and Representatives in Congress. This is exactly what we sent them to Congress to do.

School shootings are a national problem. They are not a local problem or a state problem. They are a national problem, and there is only one place in America with the authority to address a national problem. It’s not Hollywood or New York City or even Fairfax, Virginia. It’s Washington D.C.

We send representatives to Washington D.C. to work together to address and solve the problems that beset us all. We understand that there will be disagreements as to a proper solution, and that the system will be corrupted by the current state of human nature, but we are also willing to accept the results of the American democratic process. We may not like the results, and we may continue to fight to improve them or change them, but we’ll also accept them.

But before we can get results, we need to have an open and honest debate, where all the cards are on the table and people of good will can persuade other people of good will to form a majority in favor of a specific solution or set of solutions and where the minority also accepts the solution (begrudgingly if need be) and neglects to force the majority to form a supermajority.

I say this knowing full well that the Republican National Party holds a majority of seats in Congress and that the platform of that party is antithetical to my values on virtually every issue, including this one, but I also say it knowing that this particular issue is one where every American truly wants their Congressperson to vote their conscience.

If every Congressperson is able to speak honestly and openly about their feelings and thoughts on this one issue, and every American, regardless of their party affiliation or their employer, is willing to accept that Congressperson’s position as, at the very least, open and honest, then I believe their vote on this particular issue would not dampen their ability to run for re-election. It would, regardless of which way they voted, do the opposite.

When people talk about being sick of the politicians, what we mean is that we’re sick of the liars. We don’t want our representatives to vote a certain way because it will help them keep their job. We want them to vote a certain way because they believe in it. It’s not their job to run for office. It’s our job to determine whether we want someone with their beliefs to represent us in Congress.

The politicians need to stop running for re-election and start doing the job we sent them there to do: use their conscience to do what they think is best.

More than any other public institution, schools should be a refuge from danger. They are where virtually every parent in the community sends their children for the majority of the work day. Yes, schools have other priorities, but they are also, and maybe primarily, our daycare.

Not one parent — whether they are an NRA member or a member of — wants to go to work every day worried about receiving a phone call notifying them of the death of their child. As parents, we can deal with phone calls about suspensions and expulsions. We can deal with drug convictions, special education restrictions, sick days, a teacher’s concern about a lack of homework, the fact that our child has been bullying someone, whatever.

What we can’t handle is the phone call that tells us our child is dead.

If we trust schools with anything, we trust them with that.

But now we can’t, and we haven’t been able to for a long time. We now know, and we’ve known for a while, that our schools have become the most vulnerable institutions in our communities — the one public space where deranged individuals can do the most damage.

The politicians in Washington D.C. are afraid of this issue, and for good reason: there is no  answer that will satisfy everyone, and there’s a lot of money at stake when it comes to this particular issue. These politicians don’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole, not the ones who are there now.

More than anything, the lack of movement on this issue reveals our representatives’ inability to do the one job we sent them to Washington to do: participate in an open and honest debate and at the end of the day, vote their conscience.

If they are unable to do that, they should all, regardless of party, be replaced. Failure to move the ball on this one issue should cost them their seat, and they ought to stake their future on that.

Every student in every school in every Congressional district in the United States ought to stay home from school until their elected representative pledges to move the ball on this issue before the November election, and the students should continue to stay out of school until the majority and minority leaders agree that, on this one issue, any threat to filibuster or any act of filibustering be staged from the House or Senate floor. If they let the debate be open and honest, then Americans will respect the results.

Failing that, every student ought to refuse to attend school, and every parent in every district in every state in the United States will have to solve the problem of daycare. This will put such a screeching halt to the national economy that Congress will have no choice but to respond.

As a teacher, I hear every day from my students how children have no rights. I try to tell them that as human beings, they always have rights. But as human beings, they’re also vulnerable to having those rights taken away. Which means they have two choices: they can either stand up and fight for their rights, or they can give them away. But no one, no one, can just take their rights away from them.

As a human being on planet earth, you have the right to petition your government for a redress of grievances. The most polite way to do that is to write a letter. The most effective way to do that is to make a lot of noise until the entire head of the government is forced to turn your way and deal with you.

As individuals below the age of 18, you do not have the right to vote. But as human beings, you do have the right to make your voices heard.

As citizens, you also have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — all of which add up to the right to be free from fear.

Every day, your guardians are required by law to send you to an adult-managed place where contemporary events demonstrate your safety cannot be guaranteed, and where your life seems to be increasingly at risk. This should not be acceptable to you.

And you ought to stand up and do something about it.

Right now, to these politicians who refuse do anything about it, your deaths — your lives — don’t matter.

You have to stand up and make them matter. You have to hit these fuckers where it counts: in their wallets.

And by fuckers, I mean every adult who continues to let this happen.

Stop going to school and they’ll have to stop going to work. When they stop going to work, the money dries up. When the money dries up, that’s when adults turn to Washington. Which will mean that those fuckers in D.C. will have to do their jobs while the whole world is watching.

If they’re not able to stand up and vote their conscience then, then they’ll never be able to do it and they won’t be worth the title on their door: Representative.

I hear the liberal/cynical response to this: rich people can pay for daycare, and it’s the rich who are preventing any movement on this issue; all this demonstration will do is hurt poor people. While this may or may not be true, most people’s daycare depends, somewhere, on a low-income parent showing up to do their job. When that low-income parent is unable to find or afford daycare of their own, the pain will trickle uphill.

Meanwhile, the children of rich people ought to use their funds to fight this fight. If they can afford to get themselves someplace where an entire congregation of students can demonstrate, in the most public way possible, that they are, in fact, not going to attend school until this issue is addressed by Congress, then all the better.

Yes, there will be pain felt during this demonstration. There always is. Think of the men and women in the Civil Rights movement: the police dogs, the firehoses, the batons, the nooses. Yes, there will be pain. Single mothers will lose their jobs when they have no options for daycare. Fathers and mothers will scream and fight over who will stay home with the children, and women will be abused over their answers. Children will be beat for disobeying their mothers and fathers, and some will feel the wrath of the belt or the burn of the cigarette, the sting of the hard slap or the collision of the closed fist.

But will it be worth it? Is the right to go to school free from fear worth it?

If you think so, stand up and make your lives matter.

Stand up and go on strike.

I teach in Vermont, where every student goes on a week vacation starting on Monday. Use that week to plan, organize, and publicize. Talk to your parents about it. Let them know it is happening, and be willing to defend your position. If they make you go to the physical school on the Monday after vacation is over, make a sign and picket outside the front door. Get your friends to join you. Have someone call the news. Attract a lot of attention. But be deep and thoughtful. Stay somber. Remember why you’re there. Remember the dead bodies, the dead children, feel the fear of all those children having to run for their lives, the sound of gunfire coming from right behind them, the sight of their friends and teachers bleeding on the ground beside them.

They didn’t deserve that. No one deserves that. Refuse to become a victim.

Stand up. Stand up and go on strike.

On Publicly-Funded School Choice

The Democratic and Progressive Parties both oppose public funding for private schools, and they both oppose school choice. I have a hard time agreeing with these positions, and I’d like to understand why.

Let’s start with the recognition that I work for a publicly funded private school where a significant percentage of students are only able to attend thanks to their communities’ commitment to school choice.

But let’s join to that recognition my active participation in progressive politics, a stance that sees me supporting many politicians who, along with sharing many of my progressive values, disagree with me on the questions at hand.

Hence this essay, which is not intended to persuade. I am not trying to convince you. I am simply trying to understand my own position when it comes to school choice and publicly funded private schools.

The argument begins with a shared commitment to free, universal schooling for every child who lives in our communities, regardless of their economic status or citizenship. More than any other institution, public schools are the most interactive spaces within our communities, more so even than our churches, synagogues, and mosques, for schools are the great equalizer, allowing access to all, regardless of religion, race, sex, sexuality, gender, or class. A public school is where the community meets itself, whole and unvarnished, day in and day out, for a dozen years straight. It should be a safe, enlightened, and open space, and it should absolutely be funded by the community itself (with support from the state and federal governments, inasmuch as the state and the nation have an interest in what goes on in that space).

But I am of the opinion that communities need more than an open space. They also need the intimacy of a publicly funded private space where people are more allowed to be themselves while also opening themselves up to the values of the greater community, a place where they can engage in difficult conversations without the wide eye of the entire community observing their every word and deed, a place where they can work through their weirdness until it becomes a gift.

But people are weird in so many different ways. I am the product of a public school, and I like to think that I was weird in a positive way, one that would, at least at times, be interesting and maybe even valuable to some of the people in my community. I had confidence in my weirdness, and while I hope I didn’t flaunt it, I don’t think I ever rejected it. In short, I may have been weird as a kid and as a teenager, but I was rarely (if ever) uncomfortable.

But not everyone is weird in a positive way. Some people’s weirdness carries a lot of anger, or anxiety, or trauma, and it can become an object of ridicule or the cause of their social exile. Some people’s weirdness makes them very, very lonely, or very, very prone to violence.

Still other people are weird in different ways. Maybe their weirdness fits the wider community’s definition of the artist, and it’s cultivated by teachers and mentors from a very early age, to the point where their weirdness is recognized as a genuine talent, one that deserves further nurturing above and beyond those skills that society has deemed minimally appropriate, a weirdness that commands respect and is justifiably deserving of a publicly funded private space where it can innovate on a topic free from the community’s judgement.

People are weird, and while everyone ought to be free to engage with that publicly funded open space, they also ought to be free to pursue their education in publicly funded private spaces where they can be as weird and as free as they want.

I understand there is an economic disparity when it comes to private schools. Some people’s idea of an education costs a lot of money. Other people’s ideas hardly cost anything at all. The question is how to pay for it all.

Should a community be responsible for paying tuition for every child within that community, regardless of which school the child attends? If my child’s weirdness suggests her best opportunity at an education will cost nearly $23,000 a year, while my neighbor’s child’s weirdness would be best served at a cost of only $14,000 a year, should the community be on the hook for both? Is there room for disagreement as to what constitute’s a child’s weirdness or as to how best a particular weirdness can be nurtured? Should there be a financial limit set, with any additional funding being required to come out of a family’s pocket, and if so, should there be a way for lower-income families to request additional community funds, provided their request can meet some kind of standard, and who ought make that standard, and what ought it to be?

These are all valid questions. What are not valid questions are whether each child’s weirdness ought to be recognized, and while maybe not encouraged, whether it ought to be respected enough by the community to at least deserve access to a publicly funded private space where it be worked on in a healthy way.

Communities ought to be responsible for paying for their young persons’ educations, regardless of which school the child attends. Everyone in a community has a stake in the future of that community, and educating their young serves an interest in that stake, regardless of who that young person might be or whose family she might belong to.

Communities also benefit from investing in each child individually, rather than as a group. A set budget should be provided to increase the richness of the open, publicly funded space, but each child should be considered individually and be the recipient of their own budget, one they are free to spend as best as their family sees fit.

It would not be a question as to each child’s “worth” to the community because each child deserves the very best the community can offer; rather, it would be a question as to the “cost” of their education. The services required by one student may far exceed the services required by another, and so the former would receive a stipend greater than the latter’s. Fairness would depend on the standards used to determine a reasonable cost for those services.

If a family is able to pay for services over and above what the community considers a reasonable cost, they ought to be able to do so. But there ought to be a process by which lower-income families could provide greater detail so that the community could look at their child’s unique circumstances in a deeper and more open-hearted way and decide whether to fund them, choosing in most instances to err on the side of the child.

What would this look like in practice, and how could the quality of that open, public space be increasingly enriched while perhaps serving fewer members of the community, and why, in those circumstances, would we continue to want it to?

We begin by assuming the cost to minimally educate every young person in a community. We adjust that cost on an annual basis, investigating at every turn the community’s definition of “minimal.” To that cost we add an administrative fee for managing the open, publicly funded space, an administrative fee for evaluating the special weirdness of every child, and an administrative fee for discovering the cost for servicing that weirdness in a way that is available on the open market.

For some children, it might mean purchasing a few books. For others, it might mean purchasing a guitar. For still others, it might mean purchasing hours of labor and years of expertise from a certified occupational therapist. For still others, it might mean purchasing the time and labor of an in-home nurse. For still others, it might mean a series of tennis lessons. Regardless, the community will guarantee to pay for each service up to a reasonable cost. That cost, obviously, ought to be made public, though perhaps not in an immediately identifiable way, if only to protect a child’s right to privacy.

The key part is to differentiate the cost for providing the open space and the cost for providing each child with their optimum education. Both of those costs ought be to be known, but both of those costs ought to also be considered a given, each coming from the need for every community to best invest in its own future.

In practice, this means an educational budget that is subject to a town’s vote, and a town, state, and federally funded commitment to nurturing each child’s individuality. Each town should be served by a publicly funded school board, either appointed or elected, as determined by each town. The school board should be the ultimate arbiter of all educational decisions, subject only to the town’s vote on the budget.

But the budget should be broken out into two items. The first is the cost for maintaining an open, public space capable of educating every young person in the community. The second is the cost for servicing each child individually, less the funds provided by the state and federal governments. A rejection of the latter item could only be registered through the election or appointment of a new, publicly funded comptroller, a vote against the cost in fact being a vote of no confidence in the comptroller’s ability to find the best prices available on the open market rather than a vote against the interests of each child, an investment in which every community agrees it ought to make to its fullest extent.

The school board would be responsible for determining a child’s weirdness and how best it ought to be nurtured. There would not be a single, universal test for this determination, its foundational element involving the conviction that every child is weird in her own way and thus deserves to be evaluated in her own way. A community could employ individuals to make this evaluation as best they see fit, subject only to rules and regulations handed down by state and federal officials and the past and future decisions of the electorate.

The goal for both budgets would be to reveal to the community the exact cost of investing in their future, and then letting the community decide whether they’re investing enough or too much, less the funds provided by the state and federal governments.

Again, the voters would not be able to directly reject the budget for investing in each child individually. They’d only be able to reject the funding for the open, public space.

If the funding for the open, public space is rejected, that does not mean the complete closure of that space. The space would be capable of charging each individual student who attends it the cost of their separately configured individualized education. It would put the services provided by the open, publicly funded space in direct competition with services provided on the open market, charging the lowest possible cost to each student as determined by the school board (and subject to appeal).

And what if a town decides not to open a public space? The cost to provide the unique educational services required by every child in that town would still be subject to the determination of the school board, and the residents of that town would be on the hook for sending that money to spaces outside of town, open or private, depending on the ability of that space to best serve the child’s educational interests, again, as determined by the town, less the rules and regulations of the state and federal governments.

As to the question as to what the standards ought to be when it comes to determining a child’s weirdness and how best to nurture that weirdness, I really can’t say, but I also ought not to. At some point, I have to recognize that my way isn’t always the best way, and I ought to listen to a proposal rather that assert a determination.

With that being said, I remain committed to the position that a child’s weirdness ought to be recognized and respected and receive nothing less than the community’s full support.

I also remain committed to the idea that educational innovation is best served by a well-regulated and publicly funded market with a customer base of progressively oriented school boards, with every dollar spent on schools (public or private) being a dollar spent on the health of the future.

And what about the teachers’ unions? I believe every school, public or private, ought to be subject to a union, but not every school ought to be subject to the same union. Every school should receive federal funding for the procurement of union dues, and the school staff ought to be able to form a union of themselves, capable of joining if they choose a union of greater schools. The teachers would not be responsible for union dues over and above their federal responsibilities as citizens of the United States.

By giving each teacher, public or private, access to a union of their peers, school boards will be forced to reckon with the true costs of educating each child and not the cost as determined by a capitalist-benefitting market.

When the federal government agrees to pay in full the dues of each union, it creates a new, federally regulated market for the services required by unions, namely financial management, legal assistance, and administration, not to mention educational research and development as a way to differentiate the benefits of one union over another. They may be federally funded jobs, but they’re also federal investments in the future of the nation, agreeing from the outset that teachers are on the front line when it comes to the development of our educational goals and strategies and so we ought to listen to them when they tell us the real costs associated with those goals and strategies.

I want to make the presence of a union a condition for receiving public funding for educational-related services, but I want the union dues of those professionals to be funded by the public, creating in the process more competition among the unions and more jobs related to servicing them.

This feels right to me. It feels like a progressive model of publicly funded school choice, one that accepts the radically democratic idea that towns should be responsible for educating their young people, less the responsibilities already funded by the wider state and national communities. It rejects standardized testing and standardized education in general. It promotes and supports the need for teacher unions. It remains committed to funding the special needs of every child, and goes even further by expanding the notion of special needs to recognize each child’s gifts and talents. It provides access to additional funding for lower-income families so that every child can thrive despite the natural predation of the market. It creates jobs, publicly funded jobs, but jobs with true costs that are protected by the unions, and it doesn’t hide those costs from its citizens. It gives towns, ultimately, the right to decide on how much to invest in their futures.

Will it cost a lot? Yes. Will it be worth it? It’s up to each community to decide.

Oh, there’s something I forgot. Each provider of a publicly funded educational-service ought to operate as a non-profit (with opportunities for endowments). This will ensure public funds do not enrich individual members of the community, which will hopefully reduce the number of sleaze ball capitalists who choose to invest in the education market. Any profit generated by the education system ought to be invested right back into the kids.

That’s a radically democratic, deeply progressive model that I can get behind. While I’m not trying to persuade you, I hope that you can get behind it too.

Is Supporting the NFL Racist?

My wife and I watched Concussion Protocol last night, a short film that dramatically presents every concussion in the NFL this season. It reimagines the context, removing the visual thrill audiences get when we watch two professional athletes slam into each other at full force. It takes away the beauty of the violence and leaves us with only its after-effect, the irreparable brain injury that leads, we now know, to intense personality changes, increased depression, alcohol and drug addiction (as a way to self-medicate), and, ultimately, suicide.

In yesterday’s post about polytheism, I quickly referenced an interesting question, “What things am I doing now that will be considered racist or sexist by future generations?” After watching the short film and discussing it with my wife, I wonder if “Supporting the NFL” might be my best answer.

My wife noticed that a majority of the NFL players who suffered a concussion in the 2017-2018 season were persons of color. This should not be surprising. According to the annual report from the Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sport, roughly 72% of NFL players are people of color and roughly 69% of them are African-American. It would make sense that of the 281 diagnosed concussions in 2017-2018 season, a majority would happen to a person of color.

With such a race disparity in the league and 2017’s 13.5% increase in the number of diagnosed concussions (the highest number of concussions in the last five years, despite the 47 rule changes the NFL has made since 2002 to reduce concussions), we have to ask: Is supporting the NFL and helping it become the most successful professional sports league in the world (by revenue) the everyday normal thing that future generations will consider incredibly racist?

According to that same report from the Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sport, only two teams in the NFL have a majority owner who is a person of color. The Jacksonville Jaguars are owned by Shahid Khan, a Pakistani-American who is the 158th wealthiest person in the world and the wealthiest Pakistani on Earth. He made his money supplying bumpers to the Big Three automakers and Toyota, but he also owns a team in the Premier League, which I’m sure helps improve his bottom line. His net worth is $7.5 billion.

The second majority owner of color is Kim Pegula of the Buffalo Bills. Mrs. Pegula is a woman of South Korean origins, having been born there in 1968. She was adopted by an American family in 1974. Later, while interviewing for a waitressing job in Western New York, she met her future husband, Terry Pegula, a man almost 20 years her senior who had made billions in fracking. Despite interviewing for a waitress job, her future husband hired her to work at one of his natural gas companies. They eventually married.

In the one interview I watched of Mrs. Pegula, she seemed interested and yet not particularly knowledgable, offering substance free responses to a local interviewer’s softball questions. I don’t want to take anything away from whatever work Mrs. Pegula might be doing in the front office, but one gets the impression that the Buffalo Bills’ “majority ownership by a person of color” is a legalistic fiction. I used to work for a company where the man who owned the corporation shifted its legal ownership to his wife so that the company could receive tax benefits and friendly financing terms for being “minority owned.” Despite the legal arrangement, everyone within the company knew the seat of power and authority never changed.

There may be two persons of color who are legal majority owners of an NFL team, but I suspect in reality there’s only one. Mrs. Pegula may be doing a fine job — she really might be — but she’s not the person with $4.5 billion in her bank account.

All of which is to say that the majority of the money generated by the on-field violence of 1,696 professional athletes, roughly 1,200 of whom are persons of color, winds up in the pockets of filthy-rich white people (and one filthy-rich Pakistani-American).

Now consider the extended economy that exists around the NFL.

Anheauser-Busch InBev, the largest brewer of beer in the world, is principally owned by three white families in Belgium. Yum! Brands, the owners of Pizza Hut, the largest pizza chain in America by revenue, is principally owned — once you follow the money — by a bunch of filthy-rich, primarily white men who sit on the boards of dozens of financial behemoths. The same goes for PepsiCo, owner of Frito Lay and all its brands of potato and corn chips (including Tostitos). While PepsiCo has a diverse board of directors, some of the people who sit on it include the son of an oil company tycoon, a former Google executive, a wife of a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, and a Swiss pharmaceutical executive who served as the CEO of the world’s fifth largest drug company; in other words, filthy-rich white people.

According to one newspaper article I found (from 2011), NFL games add roughly $5 billion to the broader economy in NFL cities. Cleveland, for example, sees around $8 million in extra economic activity on days when the Browns play at home. The Meadowlands in New Jersey employs roughly 4,000 people on any given NFL Sunday, from ticket takers to parking lot attendants to janitors. The company that supplies the hot dogs and beers to the Meadowlands maintains a payroll of roughly $24 million. Other companies supply the napkins, the mops, the toilet paper. TV networks, of course, generate roughly $3.5 billion in advertising revenues. The list could go on.

In the United States, roughly 70% of all businesses are owned by white men, so we can assume that roughly 70% of all the revenue generated by the NFL’s extended economic sphere winds up in the hands of those same white men.

With no fine point, we’re talking about billions and billions and billions of dollars, all generated on the backs of 1,696 professional athletes, roughly 1,200 of whom are persons of color, and an increasing number of whom are enduring a level of brain trauma that will, for certain, decrease the length and quality of their lives, and in the process, the quality of lives of family members and friends.

“What things am I doing now that will be considered racist or sexist by future generations?”

The slave trade was a vastly profitable engine of the American economy, but we realize now that wasn’t worth it. Regardless of how much money one could make off it, slavery was wrong in every way.

I don’t want to suggest a 1:1 relationship between slavery and professional football. The highest paid player of color in the 2017 NFL season made over $12 million to run a ball into the end zone, while slaves generally didn’t get paid a dime. Of course, slaves also had no control over their past, present, or future, and they feared for their lives at the hands of their masters. Along with being worked to death, they were tortured, raped, and murdered, and their family members were taken from them like puppies from their mother. No one is raping wide receivers or selling off the children of free safeties.

But I do want to suggest that generations from now, people might look back on our support for the NFL and say, “It wasn’t worth it. It was wrong in every way. It was a league of predominantly white men making vast sums of money on gladiatorial violence done to the bodies of predominantly black men.”

I’m not sure I can disagree.

But I am sure that come Super Bowl Sunday night, I’ll gather with friends to watch my beloved New England Patriots (principally owned by a white guy) strive to achieve their sixth NFL championship. I’ll purchase craft-brewed beers from companies that are probably owned by (maybe not so filthy rich) white men and eat chicken wings produced with ingredients from primarily white-owned companies. I’ll bring with me to the party a dip whose ingredients are also produced by primarily white-owned companies. Virtually all of the economic activity I engage in on Sunday night will eventually stream into the pockets of an already-filthy-rich white man.

There are people who look at everything Thomas Jefferson accomplished and say, “Yeah, but he owned slaves.” Will future generations say of you and me, “Yeah, but they supported the NFL”?

I fear that maybe they will.

And yet still, I say with my wallet and my voice, “Go Patriots!”

I Get High With A Little Help From My…Politicians

The state of Vermont just became the first state in the nation where our elected representatives voted to legalize marijuana. This isn’t happening by a citizens’ referendum, as happened in California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, but by the people we elected to represent us in our State Capitol.

That’s what happens when you have a truly citizen government: you don’t need referendums to move a progressive agenda forward — you just need to do the hard work of convincing your representatives, who are, in reality, just your neighbors.

I smoke marijuana. By legalizing marijuana through the legislative process, the responsible citizens whom I call my neighbors have signaled their acceptance of my right to relax in whatever way I see fit.

I don’t smoke marijuana at work. I don’t smoke it before work. I do not go to work stoned, nor have I ever gone to work stoned. When I was a ski bum living in Utah, where my only responsibility was to yell the word “Hamburger!” down a cafeteria line to a person who had the responsibility of actually cooking the burger, even then, with essentially zero responsibilities, I still did not go to work stoned. Now that I’m a teacher who is responsible for working closely with students who have been diagnosed with a variety of  emotional and behavioral disorders, there’s no way in hell I would go to work stoned.

Marijuana does make me better at my job though. The hyper-intensity that comes from a marijuana high is not dissimilar to the intensity that comes from sitting with another human being and allowing yourself to become completely present for them.

Nor is it that different from sitting at a keyboard and trying to make yourself completely present to an absent reader, present in a way that the force of your voice cuts across space and time to be with your reader whenever and wherever they happen to find your text.

Both experiences require a sense of hyper-intensity, and marijuana allows me to exercise that particular sense.

For too long, society has asked responsible marijuana smokers to live in the shadows lest we get pigeonholed with all of the slackers and stoners whose depiction we can find in virtually every movie or show where marijuana is present.

But with this move by the Vermont legislature, my elected officials acknowledge the reality that people who go to work every day, raise kids every day, and volunteer in their community every day, can smoke marijuana and still be positive members of society.

I’m not ashamed of smoking marijuana, just as I am not ashamed of enjoying a cold beer, or watching a violent movie, or playing a violent video game, or of doing anything else that a 40-year-old person ought to be able to do.

Thank you, my fellow Vermonters, for recognizing my right to be a responsible adult.

Now if only you’d get rid of all of the “No Turn on Red” signs.

Tell Me a Joke About It, Tig

We don’t get a lot of stand-up comedy in rural Vermont. The population of our entire state is less than the population of the city of Boston, so why would a touring comedian come up to the hills when all of the wallets are down in the valleys? One of my friends recently saw Chris Rock perform in Boston; another saw him perform in Los Angeles. That’s where the people are; hence, that’s where the comedians go.

Which is why I was so surprised to hear that Tig Notaro was performing at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington (about 90 minutes from my house). My wife and I love Tig’s comedy, and we are huge fans of her Amazon show, One Mississippi. As soon as I heard she was coming, I snatched up two tickets.

Here’s the thing though. I first heard of Tig because of Louie C.K., whom we all know by now is guilty of sexual misconduct. Louie released Tig’s incredible “cancer set” on his website, trying to spread it far and wide using his vast email list, upon which I was included. After hearing the set, I searched out every video I could find of Tig and quickly fell in love with her slow, deadpan delivery and the way the basic cuteness of her soul combines with her thrill for messing with the expectations of an audience.

As soon as I got the tickets, I asked my friends what were the chances that Tig would make at least part of her set about Louie’s crimes. I figured with the way her career was tied to his — not only did Louie introduce her to the mainstream, but he also served as an executive producer on her Amazon show; in addition, he stole one of her ideas when he hosted Saturday Night Live last year, turning that connection dark —  even so, with all of those connections, plus the fact that Tig played a large role in calling Louie out for his misconduct, there was no way she wasn’t going to comment on his public reckoning during her set.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. For her first bit, Tig came on stage and said (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m not very political, but I’m trying to get more political. I’ve started going to a lot of rallies, but I don’t always know what to say. So I just walk around with a sign that says, ‘I totally agree.'”

And that was it. That was her only “political” joke of the night. And it was great, not just the joke, but the night. She had the entire room laughing virtually non-stop for the hour, and her closing bit left most of us exhausted from laughing so hard. If she comes anywhere near your town, you’ll definitely want to spend the money and go.

But this isn’t a review of Tig’s awesome hour of comedy. It’s an attempt to understand why I really wanted her to comment on the Louie thing.

Tig isn’t shy about speaking on the topic. She was on The View recently where they pretty much ignored her own career and made her focus on Louie’s perverted habits. She also dedicated a portion of the second season of One Mississippi to exploring the downstream effects (no pun intended) of when a male authority figure masturbates in front of one of his female employees (which is basically what Louie did). She also talks about sexual abuse when she goes on the late night shows.

So it’s not like I can’t find Tig talking about it in other places. But still, I wanted her to talk about it during her show, and when she didn’t, I was slightly disappointed.

Today, I read a short piece on The New Yorker website about “How Sarah Silverman Reckoned with Louis C.K. in the Year of Sexual Harassment.” As Silverman explained on I Love You America, her show on Hulu, “I hope it’s okay if I am at once very angry for the women he wronged, and the culture that enabled it, and also sad, because he’s my friend.”

In The New Yorker piece, the writer, Ian Crouch, makes an interesting observation: “So often in this reckoning, it has fallen to women to explain what bad men did and why they had to go away,” and I’m wondering if some version of that is what I wanted from Tig, some explanation not of what he did and why he has to go away, but of how I’m supposed to feel about him now.

Because the truth is that Louie’s comedy has been the gold standard for me for over a decade. His combination of surrealism, optimism, humanism, and dark, dark comedy spoke (speaks) to my sense of the world, a brutally honest place with death and destruction and perversion, but also a place where “once in a while you [can] get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

I counted on Louie to help me understand the world. His comedy exposed the little hypocrisies that make up humanity’s attempt to act civilized while also being ruled by animalistic and selfish impulses. His brutal honesty about parenting — which I had never heard before in a comedian — also helped me figure out what kind of father I want to be.

In short, I loved Louie and looked up to him, not as a role model per se, but as a wisdom-possessed elder. He helped me make sense of the world, and he gave me a lot of laughter while he did it.

But he is also a person who assaulted at least half a dozen women (and probably more) over the last couple of decades.

I don’t yet know how to deal with that kind of moral complexity. More than anything, I want Louie to do another special where his unique mind and perspective can address the issue head on, and does so as brilliantly and as brutally and as funnily as it has addressed everything else.

But I also don’t know if I should want that. He is, in all honesty, a perverted criminal, and the last thing we should give a perverted criminal is a stage and a microphone.

And that’s why I think I wanted Tig to address it during her set last weekend. More than I want to hear from Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, I want to hear from Tig. She is one of the bravest comedians I’ve ever heard, and I love the way her honesty and bravery combines with her ninth-grade education to provide deep, yet simple insights into the complexity of our modern world. I really want her take on the topic.

But I don’t want it in a contrived talk-show format where mainstream sensitivities are at their highest. I want to hear it in a stand-up format. I need to hear a long, layered, intelligent, emotional, and deeply comedic monologue on Louie’s crimes and on the way individual humans, society, and the subculture of comedy nerds ought to reckon with it.

I haven’t heard that yet. And I really wanted Tig to deliver it.


(Thankfully, she was still as funny as all hell, and you should definitely go see her!)

Catching Up

I haven’t posted for over a month. I’ve posted articles in other places, but nothing here on Fluid Imagination. Part of the reason had to do with my job. During the last month, I wrote, built, and launched a new website for my school, and before that, I spent most of my free time developing the second-quarter schedule for all of our staff and students. You see, along with teaching, I’m also an administrator and marketing person, so things can get a little busy.

But a lot of things have been happening over the last month: sexual predators facing the music, President Trump’s administration circling the drain, Congressional Republicans stealing trillions of dollars from the future, the potential loss of Internet freedom, and so much more. Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve missed.

First and foremost is the continued outing of powerful sexual predators, assaulters, and harassers. While we can all applaud the takedown of powerful sleaze bags, in my own life, I’ve seen the #metoo movement help individuals come out against their not-so-famous assaulters. Several months ago, a person I know had fallen victim to a sexual predator, but with all of the shame around the issue, they had not gone to the police about it. Following  the publicity around these other cases though, and the way the predators have actually seen some consequences from their actions, the person I know gained the confidence to press charges against her perpetrator. What we’ve seen on the news is just a drop in the bucket, but if the (apparently) changing perceptions of assault victims continues towards belief rather than doubt, the world might actually improve a little bit.

Next, of course, is the way Comrade Trump’s administration continues to flounder in light of the Russia investigation. Without a doubt, the best explainer of all this stuff has been the Twitter feed of a professor of law and journalism at the University of New Hampshire, Seth Abramson.

If you’re not following Abramson on Twitter, get on it. The guy deserves a Pulitzer for the work he’s been doing.

Then, of course, there’s the incredible distribution of wealth from the 99% to the 1%, also known as H.R. 1: Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office will increase the deficit by $1.437 trillion over the next 10 years. The Senate snuck this thing through in the most ridiculous and cynical manner possible, and every relatively moderate Republican ought to be ashamed of themselves (the other Republicans are long past the ability to actually feel shame).

Along with reporting on that increase in the deficit, the CBO reports that “it is not practicable for a macroeconomic analysis to incorporate the full effects of all of the provisions in the bill…within the very short time available between completion of the bill and the filing of the committee report.” In other words, this bill is not only messed up from a content perspective, but from a process perspective too. By now, you’ve heard that this 400+ page bill was passed before anyone had the time to read it, and that the bill itself still contained handwritten amendments since they wouldn’t take the time to print out the changes.

Next, there’s the announcement from the chairman of the FCC that they’d like to repeal the rules that protect net neutrality. This is an incredibly colossal mistake, putting the freedom of the Internet into the corrupt and greedy hands of Comcast, Verizon, and others.

One member of the FCC, who posted in Op-Ed in the LA Times under the headline, “I’m on the FCC. Please stop us from killing net neutrality,” writes, “There is something not right about a few unelected FCC officials making such vast determinations about the future of the internet…Before my fellow FCC members vote to dismantle net neutrality, they need to get out from behind their desks and computers and speak to the public directly…When they do this, they will likely find that, outside of a cadre of high-paid lobbyists and lawyers in Washington, there isn’t a constituency that likes this proposal.”

Nobody but the telecoms want this bill. No real human being has complained about having an open internet that allows low-income individuals to access the same websites as high-income individuals, and mom-and-pop and startup organizations to access the same audience as multinational corporations such as Microsoft and Google.

No one wants this policy change. But because the FCC is run by a former Verizon employee, the policy change is going forward. And that sucks.

So…that should bring us up today. Hopefully, my next post won’t be another month from now.