After Ferguson, four changes are necessary

Four problems with American culture converge to make stories like the shootings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice way too common.

1. Cops are badly trained. Darren Wilson said he was acting as he was trained to do. If that’s the case (and we’ll probably never know if it was), then his training was insufficient. For one thing, he should have been able to deescalate the situation. For another, he shouldn’t have had to kill Michael Brown — and certainly not with six or more shots.

Cops are taught that if they’re going to fire their weapon they need to aim at the biggest target: the torso. That way they have the best chance to disable the threat.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Other countries do things differently. The rule about shooting at the torso is a choice the cops make to protect themselves, too often at the expense of an innocent civilian. They could just as easily train themselves and each other to shoot to scare, to disable, or to wound, especially when they’re a long distance from their target and have plenty of time to react should their initial attempt to control the suspect fail. The cops themselves should not be the only ones determining how cops should be trained.

2. Our culture and our cops are obsessed with Wild West mythology. We hate government, yet we love the military, and the closest thing to a domestic military (and getting closer all the time) is the cops. As a result, we deify cops almost as much as we do soldiers. They can do no wrong.

We love the thought of a cop — Wyatt Earp, John Wayne, or Buford Pusser — violently dispatching a villain. Who needs a judge, jury, and defense attorney?

Let’s face it: We’re a culture that loves violence and war. Our founding mythology is that evil can only be dealt with through violence — whether the enemy is the king, the slave trader, or the outlaw. That mythology continues to plague us as we almost never respond to an international crisis with anything but bombs and bullets (in that order).

3. Yes, it’s about race. Darren Wilson’s testimony describing Michael Brown as “Hulk Hogan” or a “demon” can hardly be read any other way. It’s unlikely that he would have the same description of a big white kid, or that an encounter with two white kids walking down the street would have turned into a killing.

Wilson was irrationally afraid of a black teenager. A person like that should not be patrolling black neighborhoods. If he hadn’t been irrationally afraid, he could’ve deescalated the situation. If a cop doesn’t know how to calm a situation like that, then he shouldn’t be allowed to carry a gun, and he needs better training.

Similarly, the shooting of Tamir Rice was too quick and merciless to be explained any other way. White kids in white neighborhoods don’t get shot for playing with air soft guns, and thousands do it every day.

4. Laws favor cops. It’s almost impossible to convict a cop of anything if they were at work when they pulled the trigger. Commentators have said the law is on Wilson’s side. If that’s the case, then the law needs to change.

The laws — not the cops — need to establish when deadly force is appropriate, but the system we have now gives too much authority to police and sheriffs’ departments and to individual officers.

Despite our aversion to government, we love cops and soldiers — unelected government employees — and give them more respect and power than our elected representatives who should be keeping them in check. The only reason is our love affair with guns and the men (mostly white men) who wield them.

We need a society where politicians tell cops what they can and can’t do. We have a society where cops tell politicians what they can and can’t do.

The cops are not going to change unless someone makes them change. The current rules endanger the public, who are too often punished without probable cause, much less a trial. Politicians love telling teachers and other government employees what they’re doing wrong. It’s time for them to do the same with the police.

Cops are unaccountable and out of control. It’s time for our representatives to rein them in.

“Leading ethicist” finally sees the light on gay rights

The blogger Andrew Sullivan gave a shout-out the other day to David Gushee, who has written a book called Changing Our Mind: A call from America’s leading evangelical ethics scholar for full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.

Well, congratulations, Dr. Gushee. We’re glad to have you on board, but I have one little question: WHAT IN GOD’S NAME TOOK YOU SO LONG??

Thousands of evangelicals saw the light on this issue decades ago. Let me introduce you to a couple.

When I was a student at Bethel College (now “University,” for some reason), I heard a professor of mine give a lunchtime seminar called “Slavery, Sexism, Homosexuality,” in which he outlined the evolution of Christians’ thinking on various issues, which — surprise, surprise — tends to lag behind that of American culture at large, but always ends up drifting toward the mainstream. If it didn’t, Dr. Smalley argued, Evangelicals would quickly become irrelevant.

This was 1982 (THAT’S THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO) at a very conservative Christian college in the Midwest that didn’t even allow students to dance. Those were the days when “liberal evangelical” was not an oxymoron. Dr. Smalley was my dad’s close friend, whom I called “Uncle Bill” as a kid. He was also a good Christian with evangelical bona fides and an academic track record that would put most evangelical academics to shame. Like many of my professors, he was a theological and political liberal. He was a thinker of great clarity, and he saw not only that evangelicals were on the wrong side of history, but also that their Biblical defenses of homophobia were no better than their defenses of slavery or sexism.

A few years later another professor at my alma mater was pressured into resignation because he had the gall to declare to a student in a private conversation that homosexual Christians should be in committed relationships. Another good evangelical ethicist by the name of Dr. John Piper used his power and influence to force a good man from his job and stall the advance of modernity into the dank cave of evangelicalism. Dr. Gowdy, according to Piper, should have told the student that homosexuality was wrong in all circumstances.

(Some of these professors’ students took their teachings seriously and remembered what they’d learned, using it to advocate for equality for gays and lesbians even when it made them unpopular.)

It didn’t take some of us quite as long as it took Dr. Gushee to see the light on this issue, so forgive me if I’m not impressed with his conversion. During the last several decades of Dr. Gushee’s career as “America’s leading evangelical ethical scholar,” countless gays and lesbians have been persecuted, discriminated against, hated, and bullied thanks to evangelical Christians dragging their feet and wielding their Bibles like a club.

In a recent blog post, Dr. Gushee all but admits that his lateness to the party was due to cowardice: “I undertook these reflections as a good-faith effort, in response to the suffering of LGBT Christians and my own calling as a Christian ethicist, to end ‘avoidism’ on this issue by myself and in my religious world. For years, everyone has been waiting for someone else to take on the challenge. (‘You first. No, after you.’) Finally, I took the plunge.”

Thanks to “ethicists” like Dr. Gushee, not only was the evangelical church’s inevitable embrace of gays delayed by decades, but the church also became an unfriendly place for those who disagreed, including my mother, my father, and most of my friends. And this was only one issue among many in which evangelical scholars turned the church of my grandparents — once a force for social justice in America — into a handmaiden of the Republican Party.

So again, welcome, Dr. Gushee. Please get it right a little sooner next time.

The best day ever

I updated my Facebook cover photo the other day with this one that I found on my long-lost Picasa page:
I was thinking as I came across it that it was my favorite day ever. It was our first overnight hike (“tramp”) after moving to New Zealand in 2006. Something about that day — the combination of being on the other side of the world, in the wilderness, with my family — heightened my emotions like almost nothing before or since. It was also the only time I ever heard Diane use the word “stoked.” I found this article about the experience that I wrote on my blog back then.

Rookie trampers survive the storm

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Or it gets you there, anyway. If someone had told me about the thunder and lightning, the wind and rain, the wading through creeks, navigating fields of tussock, and the climbs through forests too close to vertical, I never would’ve made the hike to Green Lake our family’s first overnight tramp in New Zealand. I would’ve stayed home and waited for better weather, or maybe never made the trip at all.
Good judgment can lead a person astray, and foolhardiness is sometimes your best friend.
It seemed easy during the planning stages. The map said it was a three-hour hike from the Borland Road to the Green Lake hut, a perfect starter tramp for eleven-year-old Cedar and nine-year-old Leif, whose parents have brought them up to expect an occasional hike as the price they pay for things like water slides and ice cream. The weather report was a little scary, but unclear. It said it would be sunny in Tuatapere and pouring rain in Te Anau. The Green Lake track is right in between.
We got a late start, leaving Tuatapere at noon on Saturday. The Borland Road took us on a winding path through a gorge of sheer cliffs and steep beech forest, an awe-inspiring drive marred slightly by the power lines coming from the Manapouri Power Station. The power station generates electricity from an underground tunnel 200 meters below the lake and leading to the ocean. The station was created following protests in the 1960s that halted plans for a dam that would’ve raised the level of Lake Manapouri. Taking into account that the tunnel saved the lake, those power lines don’t look so bad.
About 28 km from the highway, the road reaches Borland Saddle, where a trail leads to the mountain tops and a viewpoint tells the story of the Green Lake landslide. A couple kilometers after the road starts down the other side of the saddle, we found the sign marking the start of the Green Lake trail.
Two hikers, a man and a woman, were sitting by the small A-frame building at the beginning of the trail. Mud covered their legs from the knee down. We asked them how the trail was. “The signs give the distance to the old hut,” the woman said. “The new hut is another twenty minutes on, so it’ll take you about three-and-a-half hours.” She glanced at the kids. “Or maybe longer.”  That would put us there at dusk. No margin for error.
The man said, “You’ll get a bit wet. Up to about here.”  He chopped at his ankles, but the mud told a different story. He looked at my tennis shoes and frowned. “There’s a wee book in the bivvy. You might want to sign in. You know, in case you get lost.”
The kids and the tennies apparently made him skeptical about our tramping ability. We weren’t too concerned. Diane and I have each spent about a year of our lives in tents, and hiked hundreds of miles on trails and off, often with just a map and compass. A three-hour hike was nothing.
Well, the first half hour, anyway. After descending through a forest of huge craggy beech trees on a glowing carpet of moss, we hit a steep hill that dropped sharply toward a field of grass, which they call “tussock” here in New Zealand. The tussock grass grows in clumps that rise a couple feet off the ground. The base of the clump is thick and hard and sticks out a few inches above the ground. If the ground is wet, you can try to step on the tussocks and fall off. If it’s dry, you can try to step between them and trip. In most places, it’s so thick that you can’t see the ground, which sometimes drops off without warning. It’s an ankle sprain waiting to happen.
The thunder started as we headed downhill in the rocky bed of an intermittent stream winding through the grasses and shrubs. Each of us tripped a couple times in hidden holes. When the ground leveled out, we had to hop a few streams. They announced their presence with loud gurgling and babbling that we couldn’t hear until we were nearly on top of them.
By the time we had crossed this first tussock field, it had begun to sprinkle, and our legs were now soaked from brushing against the wet tussock. For some reason, the kids were still in high spirits. Maybe it was the fact that they were allowed to get their feet wet without their parents yelling at them.
After the first tussock was a long, relatively flat hike through another beech forest. Leif, who was in the lead during this stretch, scared off a bird that he later identified, with the help of our pocket bird guide, as a weka. It’s a chicken-like bird (actually a rail) that used to be common in the Fiordland bush, but like nearly all birds it’s suffered from the introduction of Australian possums and Europeans weasels, which they call “stoats” here. Folks we talked to at the end of the tramp said wekas are common pests in some areas of the country.
We came to another field of tussock that stretched about a kilometer to another forest. By this time, the rain was steady, but aside from a knee-deep creek we had to wade, the walking was easier, or maybe we had just gotten used to weaving through the tussock to find the best trail. We entered the woods again and were soon at the junction of the track to Island Lake and the Clarke Hut. The sign said one hour to Green Lake Hut, but we knew that actually meant an hour and twenty minutes to the new hut. By this time, the kids were noticeably tired, and the hardest part of the hike was still ahead of us.
Shortly after the junction, we crossed a creek that ran through the forest. On the other side was a 45-degree hill with no summit in sight. The orange trail markers pointed straight up. Nothing to do but climb.
Cedar started groaning and collapsing every few meters, and Leif said he couldn’t carry his pack any farther, so Dad took over. Diane had the brainstorm of telling Cedar that she could go first, which always gives her energy. We took a lot of breaks for candy (“lollies,” they call it here), and in about a half hour we had reached the summit of the saddle. From there, a longer but more gradual hill brought us down to Green Lake. We stopped and took it in, a breathtaking sight, a mile of water surrounded by high ridges, with snow-capped peaks visible through the valleys. Getting soaked never felt so good.
The old Green Lake hut, a small A-frame with three bunks, was run down and dirty, and we hoped the new hut would be an improvement.
Another sign pointed us in the direction of the hut, saying the trail followed the beach. Even though we were tired and ready to be done, this was the highlight of the hike. The gravel beach paralleled a tussock field that sloped gently from the ridge tops. On the other side of the lake were beech forests rising to sheer cliffs and snowy mountains. Cedar, knowing the end was near, had enough energy to skip on ahead. I tried to keep up, while Diane and Leif took their time behind. At each bend, we thought we’d see the hut, and finally, after the fourth or fifth “false peak,” so to speak, there it was, in the shadow of a beech forest that stretched up to the bush line and a ridge top with patches of snow.
In some cases, “hut” seems a misnomer. This was one of them. The Green Lake hut is brand new, christened in April of 2006. It sleeps 12 on a huge bunk bed – six side-by-side on the bottom, and six on top. There’s a long table, a wood stove, and a stainless steel counter for food preparation. Outside is a sink with running water, collected in a cistern by a gutter system on the roof of the hut. A short boardwalk leads to the “long drop” or outhouse.
We were the only ones there, and since it was nearly dark, we figured we’d have the place to ourselves. The kids started building a fort out of mattresses on the top bunk, while Diane lit the fire and I started cooking. After supper and cocoa and a game of cards, we went to bed to the rumble of thunder and flash of lightning. It rained most of the night, but I finally woke up to a sky full of stars, and it turned out to be a promise of a good day ahead.
We relaxed away the morning and headed out at noon, taking our time and arriving back at the car at 4 p.m. The highlight of the hike out was a visit from a kea, a wild native parrot, when we stopped for lunch in the woods. The bird swooped through the treetops and perched about 15 feet above our heads. Keas are a common sight to New Zealanders. They’ve been known to tear apart backpacks and even cars collecting food and trinkets. To us Yanks, only a month in the country, it was exciting to see such a bird in the middle of the woods. It made us imagine an earlier time when the forest was full of strange flightless birds like kiwis and kakapos and giant moas, which were taller than ostriches and weighed a thousand pounds. Most of those birds are extinct or endangered, a sad testament to the unintentional blundering of human beings.
The beauty of the place doesn’t let negative thoughts linger. On the hike out, when the kids were running ahead, Diane stopped to show me a mountain peak through the beeches. “I’m totally stoked about this,” she said, meaning our whole New Zealand adventure in general, and tramping in Fiordland in particular. I knew it was true, because I’d never heard her use the word “stoked” before.
The Green Lake track made us both search for new words. Makes me feel like being speechless again next weekend.

On Saturday mornings, I think about punctuation

Two days, two sentences, each one appearing on a website edited by people who should know better. The nouns have been changed to protect the guilty.

Exhibit A:

Freelance writer, Bob Mahoney, has the answer.

Exhibit B:

White Bear Lake sixth-grader, Brett Larson, spends his Monday afternoons like a lot of kids – on the Internet.

In both cases, the commas around the name are incorrect — not optional, or ill-advised, but just plain wrong.

For some reason, this is a very difficult rule to understand. I know that because I’ve been a part-time college English teacher for the equivalent of 10 full-time years and a newspaper editor and reporter for another 10. I have tried and failed hundreds of times to explain this simple rule. I’ve tried to explain it to one small staff of one small newspaper for the better part of two decades, and they still can’t get it right. (Which is part of the reason I had to quit that job. Call it comma-induced psychosis.)

I could explain it by using terms like restrictive (essential) vs. non-restrictive element, or appositive vs. descriptive phrase, or subject vs. modifier, but instead just think of it as “the rule of thumb.” Put your thumb over what you have between commas. If it’s still a good sentence, then the commas are correct. If not, delete them.

In Exhibit A, if you remove the name, the sentence reads “Freelance writer has the answer,” which is a ridiculous sentence. “Freelance writer Bob Mahoney has the answer” is a perfectly acceptable sentence.

In Exhibit B, the sentence would read “White Bear Lake sixth-grader spends his Monday afternoons on the Internet.” That works as a headline because headlines eliminate many otherwise necessary words, but it does not work as the first sentence of a story. The sentence should read “White Bear Lake sixth-grader Brett Larson spends his Monday afternoons on the Internet.”

While we’re on the subject, I may as well tell you why the Associated Press is wrong about the Oxford Comma (a, b, and c) and always has been and always will be. Also referred to as the Harvard comma or the serial comma, this little friend is recommended by every style manual EXCEPT the Associated Press Stylebook, so it’s fairly clear who’s right.

I’ll just say this: Including the Oxford comma always prevents misreading. Following the AP rule always creates ambiguity.

Exhibit C: I like three kinds of sandwiches: tuna fish, peanut butter and jelly, and ham and cheese.

When people are trained in AP style (as most American readers and writers are, sadly) the sentence above is ambiguous because no one knows if the “and” after “butter” is the end of the series or not. If we were all trained in the Oxford comma, there would be no ambiguity and no possibility of misreading.

Even AP acknowledges that the Oxford comma is sometimes necessary to prevent misreading, so their unwillingness to join the crowd is inexcusable. I reckon it’s because newspaper editors are fundamentalists and just ain’t bright enough to figure it out.

They simply follow the rules they were taught, whether they understand them or not, and they were taught (by some old curmudgeon in suspenders) to do two things: delete commas and delete the word “that.” (Some other Saturday I’ll explain what a wonderful word “that” is, when used in moderation.)

Another comma you almost never see in newspaper and magazine copy is the “coordinator.” (It’s another of Sheridan Baker’s “four basic commas” described in The Practical Stylist. Strunk and White recommend similar comma use.) The coordinator is used with a coordinating conjunction when joining two independent clauses.

In other words, if you want to make two little sentences into one big sentence, use a comma before the conjunction. This, too, makes misreading almost impossible.

For example, look at these two sentences:

My dad chewed sunflower seeds, and he spit out the shells.

My dad chewed sunflower seeds and spit out the shells.

Most AP editors would delete the comma in the first sentence, so the reader would not know if another subject was coming (he), or just a verb (spit). If the coordinator is used consistently, the reader always knows what’s coming.

The basic rule of the “coordinator” comma is this:

SV(etc.), and SV(etc.). (compound sentence, comma before “and”)

SV and V. (simple sentence, compound predicate, no comma before “and”)

If we all punctuated that way, all writing would be clearer, but unfortunately we have the AP style book competing against better models, and we have armies of editors who compulsively delete commas, so we end up with sentences that cough and sputter like a badly timed engine. When we see “comma and” we don’t know what direction the sentence is going. We stand at a fork in the road, turning our heads from side to side.

One final comma for today: the introducer. AP also recommends this comma in many cases, but journalists rarely use it, again for the simple reason that they don’t understand the AP style guide and just do what some uninformed editor or journalism professor taught them decades ago, which is “see comma, delete comma.”

And again, the introductory comma always prevents misreading because it signals that the subject of the sentence is coming (the grammatical subject, not the topic, for those of you who know the difference).

Here’s one from an old student: As I grew up coloring inside the lines became boring.

A simple introductory comma after “up” makes it impossible to misread the sentence. Without it, most readers will have to stop, back up, and start again.

Four basic commas, as described by Sheridan Baker: inserter, linker, coordinator, introducer. It’s not that hard, but AP makes it harder with their outdated rules and internal inconsistency, and editors make it harder with their poor understanding of grammar and their own style book.

Commas are road signs that tell readers where sentences are going. They should be treated as friends, not enemies.

I should also note in closing that comma rules, like all grammar rules, are rules of thumb. There are always exceptions, and good writers may choose to break the rules for a certain effect or, to quote Orwell out of context, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.” But as Richard Starkey once said, “You got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues.” In other words, editors should know the rules before they break them.

One more final final note: Not understanding punctuation or grammar should not disqualify anyone from being a writer. Some of the best writers know nothing about proper use of commas or the difference between a dangling participle and a split infinitive.

Editors, on the other hand, should know better. Too many couldn’t tell a dependent clause from Santa Clause, even if you placed them side-by-side in a police lineup. Unfortunately, the number of people who understand basic grammar is shrinking, while the amount of published material is growing exponentially. All this goes back to the 1970s, when English teachers stopped teaching grammar and switched their focus to “the writing process” (over product). We now have a couple generations of English teachers who don’t understand grammar themselves, so there’s little chance that any of this will change any time soon. Ever, probably.

And those of us who do understand it are often unemployed, either because no one wants to be around us (who can blame them?) or because we had to quit due to comma-induced psychosis.

Speaking of which, should I be collecting disability?


From Salon: Wilson’s new wife, Officer Barbara Spradling won a medal of valor award in 2012

How fantasy destroys the world

Joni Ernst, the newly elected hog-castrating delusional senator from the once great state of Iowa, has this to say about open carry and the jackbooted government thugs:

“I have a beautiful little Smith &Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family–whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

What she and the rest of the clown choir don’t seem to understand is that if the scary socialists decide your rights are no longer important, they aren’t going to greet you with flowers and chocolate, so your little Smith & Wesson will be about as useful as a pea-shooter.

The best way to protect your family when the government comes for your guns and freedom is to say “Yes, sir. No, sir. How high, sir?” If you pull out the 9mm, you’ll be smiling up at the angels from the bottom of a mass grave.

These people’s heads are full of John Wayne movies and the rantings of fundamentalist preachers. Their thoughts are a rotten stew of half-remembered Sunday school lessons and cartoon filmstrips of American history. In a sane country, Joni Ernst would be lucky to work at a 7-11.

The media don’t tell us this story because they don’t understand religious zealots. They can’t believe a Veteran or a nice-looking fellow in a suit could have a Medieval worldview, or that the American people would choose an insane or stupid person to represent them. Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, Joni Ernst, and dozens of others — these people are so steeped in religious fantasy that they belong in an institution.

This loud and pasty congregation has determined that the Republican party is God’s party because Republicans oppose abortion; therefore, everything they say and do — from bombing children to bashing gays to opposing the minimum wage — has the weight of Holy Writ.

Not only do they not believe in climate change; even if they did, they wouldn’t care, because the earth is fallen anyway (thank you, Lord), and Jesus is coming soon to bring us to a gaudy golden cloud city with praise songs on eternal repeat. God bless Ronald Reagan for begetting a generation of ambitious fundamentalists and a zombie army to elect them.

The only thing worse than these idiots leading us to ruin are the journalists who fail to see them for what they are. It’s one thing to be a fool; it’s another to be fooled.

An incompetent media has given us an incompetent government. We deserve what we get for letting them.

(Inspiration for this rant:

Post-election reflections

For me, it was all about Stewart Mills THE THIRD (as in Thurston Howell). Since I won’t have to go through the next two years with this guy representing me in Washington, I’m not that worried about the rest of the country empowering the religious lunatics and evil billionaires.

Honestly, it wasn’t Stewart’s hair (although it was really bad hair), and it wasn’t his money. I have no problem with rich people who inherited their wealth (although I do think they should pay more taxes to support the system they’ve benefitted from), or with people who use their inherited wealth to serve in politics (like Mark Dayton and many Rockefellers, Roosevelts, and Kennedys over the decades), but if you’re a wealthy and powerful person who wants to use his wealth and power to increase the wealth and power of the wealthy and powerful, then I have no time for you, and neither should anyone else who isn’t a millionaire.
And with Stewart, it was also the obnoxious gun rights video he made a month after Sandy Hook trying to “prove” that a shotgun is more deadly than an AR15. Stay classy, Stewart! I didn’t like you before you went into politics, and I’ll keep disliking you (and staying away from your ugly orange discount store) now that you’re out.
Of course I’m actually bothered by the results, but you could see it coming, and you can also see what’s coming down the pike in 2016. Her name’s Hillary, and her coattails will sweep a good number of the yahoos elected on Tuesday back to the turnip patch (although Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner will be with us for six years).
To me, it was a mistake for Obama to stay out of the election because the media said he was “toxic” and blamed him (instead of themselves or the intransigent GOP) for his 42 percent approval ratings. Obama’s 42 is a pretty good number, considering the fact that a good chunk of those who “disapprove” are on his left. They voted for him and would again because they vastly prefer him to the alternative. It’s not that hard to understand, but the media calls him “toxic” and the Democrats believe it, and apparently Obama does too.
Every time a poll comes out saying Congress has an approval rating in the teens, the media get hysterical and the pundits point their fingers in all directions, and nobody says the obvious: Their approval rating is in the cellar for one simple reason: Democrats hate Congress because of all the Republicans, and Republicans hate Congress because of all the Democrats. Everyone likes their own team, but that doesn’t show up in the polls.
The reason the losses were so significant was because young people stayed home, and Obama could’ve used his persuasive power to remind them that Republicans are anti-gay marriage, anti-minimum wage, anti-equality for women, anti-environment, and often blatantly racist. Forty-two percent approval (just like Congress’ 10 or 20 percent) is not as bad as it sounds, and the media should be able to explain that to the American people if they can’t figure it out for themselves.
The media should take a large share of the blame for what the country has become because of their lazy and phony “objectivity” and “balance” and their inability to explain reality for fear of being labeled “biased” by evil bastards like Rush Limbaugh.
It’s their falling down on the job that is most to blame for the nation’s transition over the last 35 years from an optimistic, reasonable, middle-class nation (one of the best in the world), to a basket case of inequality, dysfunction, and downright lunacy (not to mention the country most to blame for the looming Doomsday of climate change, energy shortage, and/or financial collapse).
The media failed to tell the truth about what was happening, again and again and again, and they enabled The Three White Men Who Destroyed the World.
(Stay tuned for that column.)

Dear Facebook friends,

I have something to tell you that’s a little hard to say, and may be a little hard for you to hear, but here goes: You don’t like me enough.

Facebook is a kind of social contract, and when you accepted my friend request, or I yours, you were basically committing to a certain number of clicks on my posts.
I regret to inform you that you are not holding up your end of the deal.
I take partial responsibility. I only have 180 friends, mainly because I haven’t asked many people to be my friend. I’m Swedish, so I consider it a character flaw to try to make friends.
But now that we’re stuck with each other, believe me when I tell you that your output of “likes” has been well below mine, so you need to step up your game.
Imagine how I feel when another 50-something guy posts a photo of himself as The Dude from a Halloween party and gets 80 likes. If I did the same, I’d be lucky to get two: my wife, and Margo Bonneville, my childhood friend Chris’s mom, and my current favorite person in the universe.
I didn’t even get 80 likes when my mom died, for crying out loud.
What’s wrong with you people?
You may want to turn the tables on me and say I’m also guilty of not liking you enough, but I will deny the charge. I am profligate with my likes.
I like things even if I don’t really like them. I like your new profile pic, even though it’s little overexposed. I like the picture of you in the your Halloween costume, even though it’s more than a little overdone.
I even like photos of your kids, even though I don’t like photos of kids, or kids, for that matter (at least other people’s kids).
I mean, do you have that much more integrity than I do, that you can’t “like” something just to be nice, even if you don’t like it? Do you think you have to read my blog post or listen to my song before clicking “like”? I’m here to tell you: You don’t! Just click “like” for cripe’s sakes! There won’t be a quiz! You can even share it and comment to your friends that you don’t actually like it, but you’re just sharing it to be nice to the desperate old guy who posted it.
Or is the truth even worse, as I fear, that you actually don’t like me and my photos, and my blog posts, and my links, and my songs, and my clever and pithy commentary on current events?
I have to admit that I don’t actually like all of you, either. In fact, I have blocked many of you because I find your posts and comments annoying. I apologize for that, but I don’t want to open my Facebook page in the morning and see a link to Fox News or the NRA. If you want to do the same to me, more power to you.
Which makes me a little afraid that I’ve offended just about everyone over the years, so of my 180 friends, only the dozen or so who still “like” me actually see my posts.
I guess I can’t blame you if that’s the case, but have I really been just as annoying as you? Is it the strident, left-wing links? I think not, because most of my friends are lefties (except the ones I’ve blocked).
Is it the self-promotional links to my blog, and my music? If so, gimme a break. I’m a writer, so I need to try to get some damn clicks, and I put heart and soul and hours of effort into those blog posts and songs, not to mention the years of training and experience (and drinking) that I have invested in my various crafts.
As for you, you fart out a sentence and the bloody angels rejoice, judging by all the love you get.
I admit I can get a little wordy, but you gotta give me credit for output. I mean, yeah, that last post was 4,000 words, but every one was a gem! (And if you disagree, at least “like” the effort! Isn’t quantity worth the fraction of a second it takes to hit “like”?)
I also have a few words for the lurkers out there. Going on Facebook and never admitting it is like being a Peeping Tom. You get to see me in my underwear, but I don’t even know you’re out there. If you’re scrolling around on Facebook, you owe it to your friends to let them know. Like something. Post something. Or (God forbid!) SHARE something one of your wannabe writer friends posted in which he really cut open a vein, or summed something up perfectly, or just had a few nice turns of phrase.
And please, don’t just post when you have to promote yourself! Join the party. We’re not your damn customers; we’re your friends.
You have to admit that for every bit of self-promotion I do, I post half a dozen inane or banal comments, which get more likes that the stuff I’ve slaved over, poured heart and soul into, and posted with fear and trepidation and risk to my fragile ego because I MIGHT NOT GET ENOUGH DAMN LIKES!!!
And now that you know the truth, remember that you are not the one I was taking jabs at with all the passive-aggressive insults in this post.
I like you. I really do.