A kick ass American weekend

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The first time that I ever felt any national pride over a sporting event was the Miracle on Ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. I was 11 years old, and giddy at the prospect of beating the big, bad Soviets at what appeared to be their own game.

Flash forward 35 years, to Sunday’s triumph of the U.S. National Women’s Team at the World Cup. Again, soccer doesn’t seem to really be America’s game, particularly since the rest of the world calls it “football” instead. But when America’s best matched up against the rest of the world, the Red, White, and Blue came out on top. A better way to cap off the 4th of July weekend cannot be imagined, at least in the sporting realm.

The proceedings in Soldier Field were also a pretty good capper, in the artistic realm. It was a great weekend for America, all the way around.

A Moron and his Flag

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This is such a raw and terrible moment in our nation. The scourge of racism is alive and well, unfortunately. Anyone who thought that the election of Barack Obama somehow made us “post-racial” has now been proven wrong.

I grieve for the Charleston victims and their families, and I also grieve for everyone who no longer feels safe in their house of worship. Some would like to carry their guns to church with them, but those people live in a twisted world that I would never want to share. If we need to be strapped to worship the almighty, we may as well cease to consider ourselves civilized.

And if the massacre inside a church in Charleston has any silver linings at all, it will be that everyone–except for the most dark-hearted and hard-headed among us–now understands that the Confederate flag is a stain on America’s past, and has no place whatsoever in America’s future. It won’t bring the victims of Dylann Storm back, but it will have an impact going forward.

Thinking for myself

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The stories about the tragic and needless deaths of African American men and boys have been coming at us for some time now: Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. And now, Freddie Gray. And I can almost certainly say that another name will be added to the list shortly.

The reactions in the media and online have been both predictable and lamentable. The dead black man is routinely and as a matter of course demonized and called a dangerous thug.  The word “thug” only seems to exist as racial shorthand for victims who somehow brought their demise on themselves.

The cops or law enforcement who caused the death of the supposed “thug” is routinely lionized, as well. Or at least, there were extenuating circumstances that make the death somehow rational. Never mind that the murdered African American men all had friends and loved ones who will mourn their passage. No, the world is now better off without the menace that the dead man or boy would have no doubt posed to society had they continued living. This is the narrative we’re fed on a regular basis by the media in this country.

In the name of being “informed” about events like this, people will willingly allow themselves to be told this narrative over and over again. So I would rather just skip all of this, because I know the conclusion I’m supposed to draw. And I won’t allow this to happen.

I visited Baltimore once, for a few hours on Spring Break three years ago. It won’t ever be the same again, not after the riots that brought about the imposition of martial law in the city. But give it another week or two, and the same story will play itself out all over again. The victim’s name and location will be different, but the end result will be all too familiar.

I’m taking the time that I otherwise might spend on hearing the media’s old story and doing something constructive, instead. I don’t regret broken windows or destroyed property, because that can be replaced if the will to do so exists. Rather, I mourn the loss of life because nobody can wake the dead.

Murder is an act of brutal finality, and it needs to be understood as such. What will that take for this to become an accepted societal narrative? I’m not sure, but there’s no way that CNN or the other news sources will ever provide it to me. That’s one thing I can confidently say.

If you’re an idiot and you know it

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Social media has taught the SAE fraternity, and all the rest of us who are paying attention, an important lesson: Don’t be an asshole, even for a few seconds. And when you sing racist songs, you are an asshole.

What I haven’t yet heard anyone say is that the racist tune that was sung on the bus was set to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” A simple child’s tune about happiness, which any three-year old knows how to sing, should never be used as some sort of racial manifesto.

How many others have sung this song, within the SAE organization? We won’t ever know, but the ones who sang it on the bus learned it from somewhere. Anyone with a speck of common sense knows that much.

There are times when I wish the Internet and social media existed when I was in college, back in the late 1980s. But then I reconsider this idea, for while I never sang racist songs, I did do some stupid things which I would not want to end up going viral. After all, the college days might fly past, but the Internet is forever.

O Beautiful

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I witnessed a moment of history today, watching President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. In a nation still marked by racial strife–witness the Ferguson report and the killing of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin–the president did what presidents are supposed to do: lead and inspire the people.

The entire speech is as good a history lesson as you’ll ever find. America is always striving to better itself, instead of returning to an idyllic past that never existed in the first place. The president has rhetorical and oratorical gifts, and he turned them all the way up to 11 today. The moment demanded nothing less.

Thank you for your words, Mr. President. You brilliantly captured the importance of the day, both in recognizing the struggles at Selma and elsewhere, and challenging us to press ahead with the work of making America better in the days ahead. We will all do well to take your words, and the sacrifices of John Lewis and others, to heart.

A victory for weirdness

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I’m very glad that Birdman won the Oscar for best picture tonight. The director admitted it was a crazy idea, but somehow the film got made. I’ve never seen a movie quite like it, and this award will hopefully inspire more people in the movie business to follow their weird ideas until they make it to the screen.

Farewell, Harris

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When I played youth baseball in the Khoury League many years ago, there was one kid on my team I really hated. And hate isn’t a feeling I come by very easily, either. But I had my reasons, and they came flooding back to me this evening. The best thing about writing a blog is having some outlet for the thoughts and stories that swirl around inside my head, so here goes with this one:

Harris is my last name, but I never thought of referring to anyone by using their last name. Tom Jones would have been Tom to me, not Jones. But this teammate of mine delighted in calling me “Harris.” Even though he had the same first name that I did, he never once referred to me by my first name. I found it strange and more than a bit disrespectful, and if I was a different sort of kid I would have let him know about it. But I was a tall, awkward kid who wasn’t prone to violence, so I let it go. There were other things worth getting upset about, I suppose.

The way that “Harris” was pronounced made it even worse. It was a drawn-out nasally sneer, like “Haaaaaris,” and it was irritating enough to hear it in the first place. But to then realize that not only was I being mocked, but so were my parents, my siblings, and essentially my entire family, it made it really hard to hold that inside. So I internalized it, instead.

As far back as I can remember, I think of myself as “Harris” whenever I’m trying to get something across to myself. “We need to get this project done, Harris, before it’s due next week.” Things like that. As much as I didn’t like it when someone else called me Harris, I have routinely allowed myself to do it. It’s a coping mechanism, you might say.

Over the past few weeks, as I discovered that an actor named Harris Wittels had a recurring role on the show “Parks and Recreation,” I thought about how cool that was. Somebody was actually given Harris as their first name, and everyone who came into contact with him called him that, and not in an insulting manner. Even better, the character he played on the show was also named Harris. It’s annoying that Tony Danza always played characters named Tony on screen, but when Harris Wittels became Harris onscreen, it was nothing short of awesome, at least for me.

When I learned today that Harris died at the age of 30 from a drug overdose, I was shocked and a little bit saddened. I know that “Parks and Recreation” is finishing up its run soon, but Harris Wittels still had lots of time to do other things. Maybe he would have gone and been Harris again somewhere else, or perhaps written other books to go along with Humblebrag. The entertainment industry was his oyster, and now he’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Farley and Freddie Prinze. It’s a shame, really.

I’m now at an age where whenever somebody dies–whether I knew them or not–the first thing I want to know is how old they were. Somebody who dies at 52, like Jerome Kersey just did, reminds me that the end can come at a relatively young age. Although I have zero in common with Jerome Kersey, he got to walk the earth for 52 years, so hopefully I’ll get at least that much time myself.

But 30 is another story altogether. Harris Wittels found that drugs were to his liking, and his success afforded him both the money and the opportunity to indulge this habit. I never had either of these things when I was 30, and looking at what happened to him, I’m glad of it. Something is going to get me one day, but it won’t be drugs, I hope.

So from a Harris who lives a life of anonymity, to a Harris who appeared to have the world by the tail, thanks for wearing the name like a badge of honor. I wish you had allowed yourself more time to do it.

Thoughts at a fire

Yesterday morning I wrote a post in this space bemoaning the lack of good news stories this year. I had a realization later in the evening, though, as I was watching the fire in my fireplace burn. And it’s worth sharing it here, before it crawls back into the recesses of my mind. This is why I started this blog, after all.

If I start a fire in my fireplace and it burns all night and it goes out, there’s nothing “newsworthy” in that. But if my house were to somehow catch fire, then not only would the fire trucks come, but the news vans, as well. And the bigger the fire, the bigger the story would be.

So I realized, as my fire burned without incident in my fireplace, that “the news” wasn’t good for a reason. As Don Hendley once sang, it’s interesting when people die. And apparently, that’s the only time.

So I’m not waiting for the news to be good anymore. There’s good things all around us every day, and there’s nobody looking to tell us what it is. That’s apparently our job to determine what it is.

And my fire went out, and it was a happy time, indeed. I’m glad that nobody else got to hear anything about it.

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Waiting for the sun in 2015

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The number one album in America for the week that I was born was the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun. I’ve loved the Doors since I was in grammar school, and I was pleased to learn they were on top when I entered the world. And the title of this, their third studio album, seems very fitting this year.

With the Charlie Hedbo shooting in Paris, the death of Stuart Scott, and the horrible story about young Phoebe Jonchuck, this new year hasn’t given anything in the way of good news yet. It’s coming, I hope, but so far the returns aren’t good. And winter is just setting in where I live, too. Some good news would really help at this time.

Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting…..