Wednesday, August 26, 2009

American Pi

Here are those American Pi pages I mentioned in my previous post. Please read it before you peruse these (and I think you can click to enlarge 'em).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mr. Hickman Goes to Canada

So...I've gotten back from Vancouver, and just in time to rant (and as we all know, my ranting gets raves). I'm liable to pontificate here at length, so either get yourself a cold beverage and settle in, or go do something more productive with your time, like lugubrious nose-twanging.
Anyway, there's a lot of talk in socio-political circles these days about "us" and "them." I hear people who I know to be of good conscience and ostensibly noble aims breaking the U.S. down in terms of "our side" and "their side." I hear folks who I would call my pals talking about how suddenly they're "proud of their country again" and how the air smells sweeter just because folks they support are holding the reins at the moment.

And you know, there's a time when I would have BEEN one of those people. For the first thirty-odd years of my life, when I was probably just to the left of Abbie Hoffman, I would've blindly gone along with that. And when I finally wised up and found myself merely REACTING to what a nimrod I'd previously been, I might have convinced myself of the "common sense" of that, too, and I would have been equally wrong.

But I'm not a kid anymore, nor am I an over-aged kid who never stopped being a rebel without a clue and asking "whattaya got?" And after a lot of soul-searching, and thousands of hours of my OCD-driven brain being able to think about nothing else (or, more accurately, adding it to the thousand other things my mental state makes me think about constantly and simultaneously), I've come to the conclusion that I have two "enemies" out there.

Nope, they're not one political party or another. Nope, not even a particular ideology.

No, my enemies are, put simply, ignorance and hypocrisy. And I'll give a couple of anecdotes to show to what I refer.

What got me thinking about all this was something that happened during my trip to Canada over the last couple of weeks. Lea and I went to visit her parents in Okanagan Falls, and while we were there (specifically while the snoozy woman I love was sleeping in), I went to an early-morning flea market that was right next door in a big vacant lot. For those who only care about things of a non-politcal/philosophical nature, I'll hold your interest by pointing out that while there, I bought a nice big video camera bag that I can use for all sorts of stuff, four mid-90s wrestling figures for Gabriel (Hogan, Savage, Vader, and Johnny B. Badd), a pair of nice silver/blue stone stud earrings for my girly-man pierced ears, a great handmade leather belt, and a bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Ahem. Anyway, while I was trekking around the place, I stopped by a stand where an older British fellow was conversing with a younger Canadian guy about gun control, the NRA, and such. Now, frankly, I would've liked to have joined in and turned it into a rousing, and possibly heated discussion. Those of you who know me know that there's nothing I like more than debate, and that my answer to "is this the hill you're willing to die on" is always "yes," for good or ill.

But after a couple of minutes, I realized the utter futility of it all, given the INCREDIBLE ignorance of these guys, especially the Canuck. He was spouting all this absolute drivel, and putting it forth as absolute FACT. He went on about the 2nd Amendment specifically containing the phrase "in defense of God and country" and how that showed what a theocracy we continue to be. Of course, the amendment doesn't say anything even REMOTELY like that, but why let simple truth get in the way of a good head of steam?

Then he actually said, and I quote: "Every DAY 22,000 people die in the U.S. from gun deaths." For a second, I thought maybe he had just mispoke; god knows I do often enough. But then he REPEATED it for emphasis. "Ya, every... single... day 22,000 people are killed there because of their stupid love for guns. That means in the ten minutes or so I've been talking to you, over 150 people have been shot and killed."

Uh...22,000 a day. Really. Really?

Folks, I wanted to slap him with a slab of maple-encrusted back bacon but I'm proud to say I kept my composure. But criminy, I'm pretty sure that math works the same way in the Great White North that it works here, and it doesn't take Enrico freakin' Fermi to figure out that 22,000 people a day amounts to over EIGHT MILLION PEOPLE A YEAR. At that rate, it wouldn't take long before we killed those 500 million people a month that are losing their jobs.

Y'know, if you want to argue about gun control, that's a valid argument. I might end up still disagreeing with you, but I think there's virtue in having the debate, as I'd certainly like to prevent ANY gun deaths if I could. But for the love of Zod, there's no point in arguing with someone if they don't have ANY sense of the facts behind the issue, on whatever side.
So rather than standing there and doing what I do best (being a pain in the ass), I just let it go. It became obvious from what this guy was saying that not only didn't he know the facts, but he had no DESIRE to know the facts (it's not like he couldn't have found the text to the 2nd Amendment and gun death statistics on the internet in all of about twenty seconds). He had probably heard these "facts" from some other jughead, and since they figured into his agenda, he was willing to accept them as gospel.

And I see this stuff ALL the time, from folks all over the political spectrum. They see something or hear something or read something, and it reinforces what they believe, so it MUST BE TRUE. It makes me sick when someone who disagrees with me blindly accepts this crap, and it makes me even sicker when someone who agrees with me does so (as "support" from mallet-heads does nothing but weaken my case).

It never ceases to amaze me (although at this point it should) how willing people are to ignore facts, logic, reason, and objectivity when it makes them feel good about being "on the right side" of an issue. Doesn't the truth matter anymore? But then, I forget that relativism has become the new coin of the realm ("What is truth" said Pontius Pilate).

We've become so caught up in this elementary school-level mindset of "us vs. them" that we can ONLY see things from one perspective. Y'know, I've been critical of some of the things the current political administration has done, and almost inevitably, when I've voiced that criticism, some yahoo will say "Well, what about Dubya??? Huh? What about THAT?"

What about that? Well, how about the fact that I wasn't a supporter of Bush, and didn't vote for him his second term (just like I voted for Clinton in 92, but not 96; I may not be a rocket scientist, but I'm a fairly quick study of a man's character). But these poster children for prophylactics apparently can't conceive of someone who doesn't follow a party line, doesn't vote straight ticket, and doesn't fall in lock step with any one ideology. To them, you're either "with us or agin us" and if you don't sycophantically support our guy, you must be in "the enemy's camp."

It's like when I wrote the story "This'll Be the Day" for Holey Crullers #6 (which was redrawn by Sam Kieth for Common Grounds #6). I wrote what I considered a fairly non-controversial story, a tribute to what Steve Englehart and others had done with Captain America at one time, regarding what I thought was the best stuff about America: a degree of opportunity and the freedom to speak out against injustice and lawfully change things if we disagree with them. Wow, what a crazy reactionary notion, eh? And 99% of folks of ALL ideologies seemed to get it. But I did see one or two comments where people referred to it as "propaganda" and such. And for the life of me, I couldn't, and still can't, understand what's propagandistic about saying America, for all its faults (and it has myriad faults), is still a place where we have a lot more freedom and self-determination than many places in the world. I mean, I kind of hold these truths to be self-evident, y'know? But I think some folks were probably rubbed the wrong way that I presented even THAT notion, as it's not firmly in the "America is always the bad guy" mindset. I dunno, maybe I'm wrong. I'll make a separate post with the pages of the story where its heroine, American Pi, and her detractors talk about this country, and you can decide for yourself (are there any more beautiful words in the English language?).

Now, I said I consider there to be TWO enemies out there, and the other is hypocrisy, a scurvy little spider that burrows under my skin and slowly makes its way to my brain like few other things. I've long said that while nature abhors a vacuum, Troy Hickman abhors a double standard, and few things are truer than that.

So here's another anecdote from just a few days ago. A guy that I work with, let's call him Percy, was talking about all the recent comparison of a political figure or program with Hitler or the Nazis. He went on about how terrible such analogies are, and I absolutely agreed with him. I think we have to be very careful about when we make such comparison, not just because of the gravity of the charge, but also because at some point, we're going to want that charge to actually MEAN something when we ARE confronted by Nazi-like behavior.

But then I made the "mistake" of saying that it ALWAYS bothers me, whether it's someone with whom I agree saying it, or Nancy Pelosi and people in the Congress or Senate saying it, or folks CONSTANTLY saying it for the last eight years about Bush (I have a lot of problems with that guy, but they mainly have to do with his wishy-washy qualities, not a resemblance to Adolf).

Well, those were apparently fightin' words to Percy, who was quick to add "oh, no, it's OK to make those comparisons to the Bushies, and to the tea party and town hall types."

"Why is that OK," I asked, knowing full well what was coming.

"Because in those cases, of course, it's true!" he said.

I just walked away.

And you know, I find myself more and more these days just walking away. There was a time when I spent Zod knows how many hours making my thoughts known on various message boards, arguing for what I believed was right, fighting the good fight. But these days, I think I've (somewhat) gained the wisdom to know when anything I say is going to fall on deaf ears. These days, rather than arguing with people whose views are almost certainly NEVER GOING TO CHANGE IN ANY WAY, I end up choosing to use that time to do some actual good, to do stuff that may not be as flashy, but that is actually more likely to change the world for the better in PRACTICAL terms. There are a ton of ways a person like myself, who hopefully has at least SOME talent with communication, can make a socio-political difference, other than engaging in irrelevant mental ping-pong with some drone.

Lately, when I DO confront someone with whom I disagree, it's more likely to manifest itself as a simple question: if I could prove to you that what I'm saying is 100% correct, TO YOUR SATISFACTION, would that make a difference to you? Would it cause you to change your views?

Folks, the answer I usually get should terrify any person who cares about the truth, and reason, and objectivity. It sure scares the living HELL out of me.

Back to hypocrisy, though. There is NOTHING that shames me more than when someone points out to me that I'm holding a double standard about something. It doesn't happen often, because I at least TRY to be introspective about such stuff, but occasionally I screw up, and when I do I'm mortified.

I'm amazed, though, by how many people hold hypocritical views and not only AREN'T ashamed, but revel in the damned thing!

Y'know, in my favorite film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart spouts a lot of wisdom, and among it is these lines: "Now, you're not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven't got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose."

Sadly, there are far too many folks in this country who don't mind that punch in the nose, as long as it's the "right" nose that's being punched. For example, there are the truly awful people, of WHATEVER political stripe, who have no problem with dictators, as long as those dictators are closer to "our side" of the political spectrum. Hey, here's a crazy idea: evil is evil.

And there are far too many people who are perfectly fine with our country becoming a gilded cage, as long as THEIR cage gets some gilding. Well, I'm glad you could get a new Blu-Ray player there, Hoss, but MY freedom is something I'm not willing to sell, and I'm sure as hell not willing to have YOU broker it for me.

These are often the same folks who think they're being "good people" (and they may be) for taking a stand on buying dolphin-safe tuna, or boycotting Walmart, or refusing to support the advertisers of a particular program, but then tell me I'M simply an extremist if I choose not to purchase Ben & Jerry's ice cream or stop buying Springsteen's albums because I disagreed with a position they took.

They're the same people who think that if a politician they support says something dumb, that's merely a "slip of the tongue," but if someone on the "other side" does it, they're obviously idiots (we ALL occasionally say goofy crap, whether it's mispronouncing "nuclear" and "strategy," saying there are 57 states, the aforementioned "500 million" comment, or probably a thing or two I say in this rant).

They're the same people who can talk for YEARS about how dissent is "the highest form of patriotism" (and it may well be) and then LITERALLY, within 24 hours time, change their tune to "we all have to come together" and "it's un-American if you disagree.

And sadly, they're the same folks who, by virtue of NOTHING more than a change of political administration, say "I'm finally proud of my country again." Gang, I try, I really, really try to maintain an even strain, and to control my temper, but when I hear that phrase, I just want to go all Billy Jack.

In MY opinion (and this is my freakin' blog, so that's what you're going to get), if you can ONLY be proud of your country when people YOU approve of are in office, or policies with which you agree are in effect...then YOU...JUST...DON'T...GET...IT.

I have ALWAYS been proud of my country. I haven't always been proud of the actions of its leaders or its citizens, but the United States of America ITSELF is not just a series of good or bad decisions by individuals or groups. It's about an idea, the idea that people can live freely and determine their own destiny, and the idea that, even if we're vehemently opposed to someone's ideas, we can still UNITE (hence the name) in our common desire for freedom (that's why I will not accept the notion of "diversity uber alles" unless it incorporates the idea of diversity of THOUGHT; otherwise it's nothing more than the superficial attempt to make sure you have different colored eggs in your basket).

I feel shame for FDR and the other leaders of his time who allowed the internment of Americans of Japanese descent. But I don't feel ashamed of my country for it. I feel shame for those people in our government who OKed the Tuskegee Study. But I don't feel any less pride for this "experiment" we call the United States of America.

I felt tremendous shame for Bill Clinton when he cheated on his wife and lied about it on national television (and if you're the sort of person who says "all men cheat" or "he HAD to lie about it," please, don't let the screen door hit you in the ass on the way out of this blog). But as awful as I consider adultery, I was still proud of our country and its ideals, whatever our president might have done. I felt shame for George W. Bush when he authorized the bailouts late in his term, a cowardly and stupid act that is partially at fault for getting us into our current straits. But his boneheaded play didn't make me any less proud of this nation and what I believe it stands for (and if you want to know what that is, take another look at my American Pi "propaganda" mentioned above).

The people of this country have done a lot of terrible things, just like the people of pretty much every country have. They've also done some pretty wonderful things. But either way, the NOTION of the U.S.A., the values that MOST of us (at least the ones not wearing tinfoil hats) strive for, are something bigger than any one of us, bigger than any group of us, bigger than any stupid or miraculous or completely neutral act that we will ever commit.

So yeah, I may think you're a total sleazebag. Hell, sometimes I might think I'M a total sleazebag. But this country is a lot more than just you, or me, or Percy, or Springsteen, or Clinton, or Bush, or anyone else. It's about an ideal that, while we may fail terribly to achieve at times, we continue to strive for amidst all the bad decisions and outright EVIL because...well...because it's THAT important.

Anyway, I guess I've rambled on enough about this. I think I'll leave off the comments this time since, as I said, I'm not sure I want to spend my time arguing on the internet, especially since you good folks reading this either (A) already get it, or (B) never will (though you can email me if you want). But it's something I needed to get off my chest. Of course, an hour from now I'll be pissed off about it again, but such is the nature of my beast...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quick Update

A couple of things.

(1) I'm currently in Canada. Don't panic, U.S.A....I'll be back soon.

(2) I've lost 40 pounds so far. Eventually I'll be half the man I used to be, but still twice the man any of you are! (Except Rosie O'Donnell)