Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I've been up to.

Just a quick post to advertise my weekly gig at The Naked Word Surfer.

Here is a link to my pieces. It would be awesome if you'd read and comment.

I also am going to post some stuff wrapping up this first semester at college. Hopefully I have some entertaining and not TOO embarrassing stories.

Here's the link:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Behind the 8Ball with Only a Straw

By Joshua M. Patton

Writing is not something one does to get rich. Some are lucky enough to become successful beyond their wildest dreams and others are luckier still to eke out enough for a decent living and the freedom to not have to work for The Man. I had a lot of success with writing when I was very young. It allowed me the sin of taking the craft and the business side of it for granted. Opportunity has seemingly become a scarce resource for almost every industry.

No, no, this is not a "woe is me," post although it is a dark day of the soul, if I do say so myself and I will cause it is my self. Yet, I did create this weblog and I suppose that since I have no specific direction for it, I can take advantage of it for a little self-indulgence. All in all things are well, but it feels as if everything is hanging by a thread and if it were to snap everything good could come unraveling apart. Chaos, pandemonium, rock fucking bottom.

Yet the thread and the center both apparently still hold. Thus, one must dwell not on the worries in life, but try one's best to enjoy the shit sandwich life sometimes puts on our plates. The college campus I visit four times a week is populated by both the spoiled brats of the well off that have never really had to try at much in their life. Conversely there are single-mothers and people who work two or three part-time jobs while maintaining a full-time course schedule. The spoiled complain about classes, parents, and their general malaise at having life thrust upon them. However those that have no parents to fall back on, those who life has beaten the shit out of, and those whose circumstances justify their being bitter assholes are hopeful of the future and grateful at the opportunity to go to our dinky little school.

So what am I going to do? Write. Study. Live. And try my damndest to be happy. I will have a weekly column appearing at Naked World Post each Tuesday. I continue to look for stories to tell and places to publish them. I am going to keep my main focus on school, a gift given to me by the country (GI Bill)…a gift not to be wasted. I will persist in trying to be a good Dad. This first semester almost got the best of me, but when it came down to it, I buckled down and made that fucker submit. The next semester is going to be even worse, but when we stop challenging ourselves we have given up, haven't we? Still like Ringo, I get by with a little help from my friends. Charles Bukowski worked in a Post-Office for twelve years and didn't make a name for himself as a writer until later in life. There are stories like this for whatever it is you want to do. It just takes a little courage to bet the farm and really go after what it is you want.

We'll talk soon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

College Campus Blues

College has changed since I last attended it. No one looks at each other anymore. I walk around campus looking into the faces of those around me. Looking them in the eyes trying to take measure of the sack of flesh before me, but were I to see a spark of anything worth interacting with, I would not be able to get through to the fucker because of earphones shoved in ears and eyes only for the text message screen. I am not sure if it is because this is a post-Columbine, post-9/11, post-Virginia Tech society or if just because kids today grow up with instant messaging, e-mail, and all other sorts of ways to electronically interact.

I attend a small school, Robert Morris University only has about 5,000 students total. Yet, this is what boggles my mind. It is so much harder to be anonymous in a smaller setting. I went to a small high school. Regardless of levels of interaction, the younger kids knew who all of the older kids were. I routinely hang out with people who have no real recollection of my attending our high school. I remember them, because they were older and we wanted to talk to them.

In college, I went to Lock Haven University right after high school and it was more of a small community than anything. Everyone knew everyone and there were always the same three parties happening at various locations around campus. They got it right. If you are going to have to look at each others' faces all the time, why not see what it looks like after they take one shot too many? The dating scene was even more dramatic. Yet, there was no text-stalking or facebook flaming or myspace blasting or skype fisting or anything other than, "I had heard that your man/girl was…." Etc.

I look around at my peers in school and some of them are a decade younger than I am. They seem to know so little, and know that they know so little. When I was 18 I didn't know anything, but I thought I knew everything. These mediocre bastards are quite happy with being ignorant and are in school hoping to find "a good job." I remember looking at some of the less scholarly members of the military when I was serving and thinking that we got those that have no place in college. Yet, now that I see the kids on campus at RMU and I know that those hardworking, thick-headed numbskulls in the Army would have no trouble getting through school other than the awareness that they were not maximizing their potential.

These kids need a little weirdness in their lives. A little bit of blind, irrational ambition. Are we training a generation of worker-bees to pay off the debts of the future? How long until it is just a few pigs around the table, dividing up all of the nation's wealth once the youth has been stripped of real ambition. Or maybe I just picked a fucked-up school? I don't know. The good thing is, I could steal all kinds of stuff from Back to School because these kids have probably never even heard of Rodney Dangerfield. Let the shenanigans begin….

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recent work online

Hey all, here are some of the most recent things I have had published:

Getting Sick Over It: Part One of Three Covering the Healthcare Debate

Lighter Fare: A Review of Jay-Z's New Album

And as always I publish a weekly column at Steelersmix.com

Hope you all enjoy them.

Something new here soon.

JMP

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy 9/11.

That's right, I said it, "Happy 9/11." In the past eight years, there has been really nothing at all happy about 9/11, but as the time passes and the memories and pain soften, I find myself thinking this more and more. Now, allow me to say that my personal experience with 9/11 is like that of 80% of the country: I watched it on TV. I did not know anyone (at the time) who was there that day and the prevailing feeling of that day was a surreal fear.

Once the plane went down in Shanksville, PA, the city of Pittsburgh was evacuated. I had just put my pregnant girlfriend in the car and sent her about sixty miles south of the city to her parents' remote and reasonably well-armed home. I think she may have just beat the rush, but I have never asked her about that day. I drove to State College for business but took the route past Shanksville and only got as close as the traffic detour.

As the years have gone past, those directly effected by the attacks and those just affected by them, as I was, on a national level have found different ways to memorialize and mourn on the anniversaries of the attacks. As the national narrative unfolds -- the economy, the wars, and the deeper divide that is happeing to our nation -- 9/11 seems to be a grim reminder of the first day of it all going to hell. It's why when I say, "Happy 9/11" I am not being glib or disrespectful. I am trying to remind myself that it is okay to be happy today. I am hoping to move my thoughts towards the future, instead of with my back turned looking down the path.

I am not saying forget what happened, because that is impossible. It is the most documentend day in history and it will be forever discussed, debated, and studied. The holes created in the lives of the families and friends of those who lost their lives that day will never be filled or even vindicated in any real way. Yet, I honor those who lost their lives by celebrating mine and yours and even the lives of the people I can't stand the most.

There is no reason we can't mourn with tears in our eyes and laughter in our hearts. I like the idea of 9/11 becoming a day about service and helping others. The weeks following that event were arguably the closest I have ever seen the citizens of this country. Especially with the political vitriol that seems to separate more and more, I am reminded of the last time we were all simply Americans. It brought out the best in us, if not the government. If the anniversary of this horror can cause that phenonmenon to come back, even in just a small amount for just a small time, that will indeed be a happy 9/11.

JMP

P.S. I apologize for the infrequency of my posts, all dozen of my readers. However my words are elsewhere and I encourage you to click and check them out.

http://steelersmix.com -- I post a weekly column on Tuesdays.

http://www.blackandwhiteprogram.com -- An essay about the economy and it's effect on the ease of retention.

Friday, August 28, 2009

BFFs Don't Let BFFs TXT N DRV.

The Solutions are the Problems
Part 1 of an Unfortunately Ongoing Series on The Pussification of America's Youth

Sex and blood will always capture the attention of the American audience. Whether it is in fiction, film, or our nightly news, we have an unnatural, almost weird obsession with gore and eroticism -- especially the dirty stuff. Yet in “polite” society, this is rarely acknowledged. I am shocked and saddened by the puritanical nature and early twentieth-century thinking of those entrusted with keeping the children of the twenty-first century safe from twenty-first century problems. Those responsible for educating the youth of the country in issues of responsibility and morality are usually so completely out of touch with those they are trying to reach, it can seem counter-productive. Media that deals with “teen issues” or any issue deemed a little too uncomfortable to be handled with a direct conversation are virtually ignored unless a quiz immediately follows. These presentations are usually so painfully uncool in their attempts to be cool that the credibility of the speaker or organization behind it is immediately gone. I think this happens for two reasons. First, the American teenager is hyper-aware of condescension from adults and the establishment. Secondly, even deathly serious issues are delivered with “kid gloves.” Teenagers respond to me well because if you are over the age of twelve, I interact with them no differently than I would an adult, with the exception that I actually will think before I speak.

Viewed as an “adult” now, when I interact with high school-age children, I do not continue to appear to speak their language. In fact, I usually admonish them if they speak aloud any cyber-phrases, e.g. LOL, BRB, and the like. I did not send very many text messages until I purchased a phone that had a keyboard. I found it far too time-consuming to text-message and I would try to write in complete sentences. I saw these messages as e-mail only 140 characters in length. Yet, the keyboard makes it nearly impossible to consider attempting to send a text message while operating a vehicle. Others, however, thanks to T9 Software, are able to text away at blinding speed and barely glance at the screen and what they are typing. This would make the temptation to text message and drive much, much higher. The temptation also increases as the age of the driver decreases – for some text messaging is a preferred method of communication. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute determined in a comprehensive study that the likelihood of crashing while reading and replying to text messages is 23 times greater than if one is not. That staggering statistic alone was enough to make me plug in my headphone attachment and place my phone far out of reach, when I am driving the vehicle. Yet, I know countless friends that habitually send text messages while driving and with kids growing up “texting,” it is incumbent upon those of us who have not, that it is dangerous and inappropriate to send text messages while driving. We also have to have a conversation with them about not sending around naked pictures of themselves, but I digress.

It is also not just an American problem and the British have attempted what is really not that drastic of a solution. Available on YouTube, there is a video of three young British teenagers that cause a multi-car accident while distracted by text messages on the phone. The accident happens fifteen seconds into the video and what follows is over four minutes of the crash – highly cinematic and very bloody, the rescue effort – including an unresponsive infant that really doesn’t look dead, just adorable, and the paramedics’ rescue efforts for the person who caused the accident – the young actress does a very good job of soundlessly expressing guilt as her primary feeling during this part of the video. Graphic though it may be, I think the most brilliant part of the video is the last few seconds where in the helicopter flight to the hospital it is successfully implied that the driver has only the rest of her life to live with the result of such a careless act. Yet, there is a narrative being developed that this video is far too graphic to be effective for the youth of America.

I think the main argument should be that this particular ad is purely fiction. It is a very well-acted, well-directed, high quality public service announcement and that is all that it is. It goes no further than any network show that substitutes laugh tracks for gun blasts. The last scene of the season finale of LOST this year was far more bloody and “graphic” than anything in that video. Don’t even get me started on Wolverine…. When I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, I recall a group of mothers that happened to be very much against drunk driving showing us video of real drunk driving accidents involving teenagers. In that afternoon, on public school property and time, I saw video of brains splattered across the pavement, a leg not cleanly severed somewhere about mid-calf, sneaker still on the foot, and a myriad of other horrible bloody images. And you know what? It fucking worked. Even without the element of drinking, I realize that while flying down the road I am piloting a massive death trap for myself and anyone unfortunate enough to be in my vicinity when I lose all control and careen into something or someone only to be discovered a bloody mess, cigarette clasped in one hand and, in the other, my phone with a half-written text message to a dope dealer.

Rather than being too graphic, the British ad is exactly the type of thing that would reach the kids of today. Sure, it is still painfully uncool, but the pain comes from a different place than it did when I was forced to listen to 40 year-olds say things like “radical” and “whack” in 1997. So often people usually more invested in a particular cause than the youths they are trying to reach, will discount unorthodox methods of reaching out to kids and this is where they fail. The world is more dangerous than it was when I was growing up, and if we are to prepare our children to survive everyday life we cannot spare their feelings. The purpose of the ad, and others like it, is to shock the shit out of these kids and hopefully at least reach enough of them so that they survive long enough to ensure the survival of the human race. When was it decided that it was in the best interest of our children to hide them away from reality and then shove them out into the harsh light of the real world as workers, college students, or as a part of the military. As a father, I know that we love our kids and want to protect them, but I also know that it is because of this that we must make it hard for them sometimes. We have to force them to deal with uncomfortable or downright twisted happenings in the real world, mostly on their own. They have the potential to be a stronger and smarter people than we will ever be, yet they won’t make it if someone doesn’t tell them to keep their eyes on the road and off that goddamn phone.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Town Hall Torn Asunder By Madness.

Luckily for me, but not so much for my sad little weblog here, I have been been working on some things for sites that are not my own. However, I thought I would take a few minutes to write my impressions of the unrest and the seemingly spontaneous, disruptive shouting matches that have been on the lips and attention spans of average Americans during the same week that the the GLOBAL War on TERROR met a quiet demise and the Pentagon's position that global warming is a very real and potential threat to the security of the homeland and the world-at-large. For once, I am not blaming the media – although without questions these two happenings should have been much larger stories – the scenes from the town halls are illuminating and a systemic problem of the way America works today has been given center stage.

Polite conversationalists tend to eschew topics such as politics and religion. With regard to religion, I do not feel that discussions and questions about Religion should be taboo, but I can understand why it can be seen as a personal and off-limits to casual discussion. However, when it comes to politics, we should discuss these matters often. Even when civics was taught in every classroom across the nation, a lot of the country does not even understand how our government works. They believe that it is and should be withing the power of the president to “fix the economy” or “make pot/gay marriage/et. al legal.” Sarah Palin herself believe that the Vice President was “in charge” of the Senate. If we don't talk about these issues we'll soon be living in an Orwellian nightmare.

Sure, everyone has their own viewpoints and their own beliefs and are entitled to them. Yet we should not believe so strongly in anything that an opposing argument is seen as heretical. Nonsense will come and an educated and informed public can be trusted to discount these occurrences instead of allowing them to become the foundation of their own ideology. I am certain that some even believe one thing, but do another simply because the courage of their convictions or fear of political damage outweighs the importance of remaining authentically oneself. Yet, when these are distorted half-truths to begin with and are spread about the majority of the ignorant populace, the rage builds and the truth remains hidden because these folks are far too polite to discuss such matters, unless they are certain they are around like-minded people.

When did we become such pussies? So what if a few words or ideas that you may not like are said aloud in your presence? Does this give one the right to become hysterical, unreasonable, or plainly discourteous? I think not. I am an outspoken, almost extreme, supporter of the first amendment. These people have the right to do what they are doing, however I do believe that just because one can do something does not mean that one should. I feel that the lack of plain speech and clear, concise answers from the politicians could be why these folks become so wracked with emotion that they lose the capacity for good sense and manners. Yet, it is these type of reactions that lead politicians to fear that a plain answer would anger the wrong people, or worse, alienate voters. It is a snake eating its own tail and determined to finish, despite the fact that it has no plan to devour its own mouth.

Because these folks trust the wrong outlets for their information, there are those that believe a foreign-born, illegal President is dismantling the constitution with his opposable thumbs, the only feature he shares with these people who just couldn't put into words why they didn't like him. Shouts of “I want my country back!” take on a whole different meaning if one considers that perhaps the American citizen is not as “post-racial” as we were led to believe. For those that hold up the photos of Obama yukking it up with Hitler or sporting a moustache himself, I feel that in this analogy the Jews are these angry white Americans that are having a harder time with this historic presidency than they may even admit to themselves. Purely speculation, but like GWB before me it feels right in my decider-gut.

The main problem is that people who are yelling are indicating that they will not even allow you to make a counterpoint in case it accidentally makes sense. These folks are ranting and raving and punishing their legislators for daring to try and talk to them in-person and take their specific questions. How long before the legislators just say “the hell with it,” and we are removed from the discussion all together? I feel that there are important discussions that are not being had thanks to this chest-thumping, teary-eyed bullshit regurgitation of nonsense that make up majority of these “informed” citizen's tirades. Ideas of how to limit the use of prescription drugs, focus on wellness and prevention, and that if given the option the majority of costly uninsured patients' treatments would have been easily fought if they hadn't had to wait until the malady became catastrophic. Talk of the national sacrifice that will be needed to pay for this, repair the system and ourselves should be sober, frank, and politely debated – not held stagnant by those spouting arguments gleaned almost verbatim from a Fox News chyron. The American people need to get their collective shit together: read, discuss, understand, and be prepared to listen. There is no need to get all worked up and behave like those in the videos on the news and internet. The stress alone will kill you.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Broken News: PFC Bergdahl, The War, and Stupid people drink beer.

by Joshua M. Patton

I watched today as the President of the United States had a beer with a man he called, “stupid,” and the man whose arrest prompted that comment. When I initially heard this story, I was indeed disgusted by the behavior of the police in this instance and thought the President had just called it as he saw it. Yet, this story would not go away and soon the airwaves were abound with talk of the police and race and the President. All the while, Bowe Bergdahl sits somewhere far away from Ketchum, Idaho where – I am assuming – at the age of fifteen he watched two smoldering towers fall down in a city far across the country. One that would seem like another world to a boy who considered Boise the “big city.” Today at age 23 and now a member of the United States Army, he is in the country we went to war with after those towers fell and, by the grace of God, were going to bring those that did it to justice.

Throughout the campaign, President Obama supported the effort in Afghanistan and vowed to turn our attentions back to the war President Bush “forgot.” We have recently had our deadliest month in the country, and Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl is some-God-know's-where at the mercy of the “new and improved” Taliban. I wonder was this discussed during the Brew Summit? Do PFC Bergdahl's family merit a happy hour with the President? Perhaps in light of their sacrifice, a late lunch with wine? Have we forgotten about Bowe because a sexier story came along? Let's hope Sarah Palin doesn't say anything stupid next week, perhaps we can get an update on his condition?

All in all, I think the President is doing a fair job with what he was given, but that is not the point I am trying to convey, nor am I attempting to shame him for the G-24-pack. I would think he has better shit to do, but it reflects well on the man. If he makes a mess of things, he tries to clean it up. At least, this is what I hope will happen in Afghanistan. It is much easier to iron out differences and settle problems between two educated men. While I am far from privy to the best intel, it would seem that we are facing a similar challenge in Afghanistan to the one we faced in the middle of the Iraq war in as much as: there is no clear mission they are executing, no clear timetable for the achievement of objectives, and we are squaring off against natives that have successfully repelled foreign invaders for literally thousands of years. I remain confident in our military and its leaders, and I do hope I am merely under-informed about the situation.

It is my ignorance and the general ignorance of the average American that causes me to place the blame strictly at the feet of the media in America today. We just mourned the passing of the legendary Walter Cronkite, and I watched the network news anchors all lament that Cronkite's era represented something pure and lost to the news today. They said it as if they were powerless to affect any sort of real change in the industry of which they are the public faces. During the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy, we watched live as Walter Cronkite and his staff researched and fact-checked on-air, only confirming it once he heard the news from Dan Rather, another of the old tradition of news journalists that we are lucky enough to still have around. Conversely, a week later, the details surrounding the abduction of PFC Bergdahl are confused and shady at best. The military's official investigation implies that he may have left willingly, which is a terrible thing to even release until the case is concluded one way or another. The Taliban released a story accusing him of raping women and may or may not have called him a hash-addict, lies surely, but reported on by American news while the truth remains a mystery.

If the 24-hour news machine can't get past deceased pop singers, racial tension and police, or the President's birth-certificate, and get back to the business of reporting what the American public needs to know, slanted through bias or otherwise, we are in huge trouble as a country. The problem isn't just missing the story about the captured soldier, although such news always affects me in a personal way. The problem is that what is the “top story” is often determined not by the most pressing matter facing the country that day, but by which story is juicier and more entertaining. PFC Bergdahl's story remains unfinished and also mostly ignored by the media, but his story is part of the larger, mostly ignored narrative of the war in Afghanistan. I hope he is treated well and does not have to suffer for what America did as we traveled down Dick Cheney's “dark roads.” I hope that the people of Afghanistan want Freedom for themselves as badly as we do. I hope when it happens, it's a slow news week so we hear about it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Registering for class ... Court of public opinion ... A second run-in with the police ... looking for a handout


I didn't intend to be drunk when I went to register for classes, but I had only slept about three hours and the effects of the previous night had not worn away. I arrived on campus and parked the car in the first place I could find, no sense driving – campuses were made for those on foot. I immediately ran into a very kind and equally lost black family. I approached them and demanded they tell me where the hall was that held the event. While they didn't know, I then insisted the join me and we would find it together. I was worried that they, the mother especially – she had a keen eye and no-nonsense attitude, she bore watching – would realize that I was a mess.

As we climbed a fairly steep hill, we were greeted with a large tent filled with middle-schoolers and perhaps some junior high, it is far to difficult to discern age in females especially through just visual cues. I recommend obtaining through the black market sonic emitters that create a sound only those under the age of 20 can hear. It was then that I saw a campus police officer. It never occurred to me that with hundreds of pre-teens running around, he might have something other to look at than the drunken mess walking with an obviously lost family. I again felt the direct approach was the best approach. I stepped in front of his vehicle, a cigarette burning in my upraised hand.

The officer rolled down his window and leaned his head out of the window, but before he could say anything I shouted, “Officer! Can you tell us where we can go to register for classes? Is it this large tent?”

He looked over at the tent, shot a glare toward my adopted family and then proceeded to give me directions that were far too complicated for me to have retained in my state. I glanced over at my family and they were doing their best to look at the ground and not make eye contact. Still, I believe the mother picked up some of the directions. We started off towards one of the main buildings and at that moment an attractive woman crossed the street. She wasn't beautiful, perhaps not even pretty, but she bore heavy burdens and seemed to carry them well. I liked her instantly and by chance she had all the information we needed. The building was down the hill, but we had to register upstairs. The tent was for a non-denominational overnight religious retreat. We would be surrounded by tweens all day.

I approached the table to register and the hash I had smoked in the parking lot kicked in and mellowed my mood. Now I just needed some coffee. My papers were not in the box of very thick white envelopes that contained two thick books of exactly the same material. I did not realize this at the time, or I would have left when I had the paper listing my transferable classes. Luckily I ran into a former co-worker from the scammy online university to which I gave almost two years of my life. We chatted and I was able to observe the hodge-podge collection of mid-twenties kids finishing up their degrees and nervous adults, older than I, simultaneously terrified and exhilarated to be taking the real steps towards going back to school. It is one thing to browse online and “request information” later dodging calls from what are essentially education telemarketers. It is still retains this dreamlike quality that promises better days and brighter futures. Once in the cold halls of the actual campus, it becomes what all school is to the insecure – a series of social and intellectual challenges that one must overcome in order to be offered up for judgment and deemed worthy by not just employers but everyone.

This realization changed my whole perspective on my surroundings. I was familiar and comfortable in college settings. I used to work for a sales company that would routinely sneak onto campuses and sell things without even the decency to get a table and offer up a free t-shirt. Yet, for some this place could be a terrifying, overwhelming array of JUDGMENT. One had to be ACCEPTED into the program. The fear of rejection is literally the foundation for a relationship with a school and its populace. I remembered when I was younger feeling this pressure, but it never gripped me for long. I made friends easy and the flow of my life naturally drifts towards the weird, dangerous, and wild. It made the place seem far more vicious and cold than I originally thought upon my first visit. During the OPEN HOUSE I found it to be a clean and professional place and the admissions folks were warm and friendly. I had my daughter with me and she was being a far heavier critic of school than I could ever be at the time, so I felt it appropriate at the time to argue against her point. Still, though my vision was skewed, I could see past the bullshit and I realized the my 8 year old was more right than she may have realized. I needed some coffee or perhaps some of this little kids walking around had their Ritalin on them. I grabbed my enevelope and fled from the registration table, in search of the room with refreshments.

Immediately upon entering the room, I was grabbed about the shoulders by an older man and shoved in front of a table. He looked at me and although for the rest of the conversation he sounded like he was from western PA, he said in german accent, “Papers, please.” I handed him the evaluation of my transferable credits and he proceeded to evaluate my evaluation. The same nervous housefrau I had noticed lingering at the registration table was told she would only have two transferable classes out of a supposed fifteen she had taken. She tried to argue a few of them, but the school she attended lost their accreditation for her particular subject and this poor woman had not been aware. As she walked with her head down away from the table, the affable ROTC guy – tall, thick, spoke in a way that made him sound a little dumb – offered her an ROTC key chain and told her to help herself to all of the refreshments.

The two evaluators teamed up on me. One scribbled furiously on my paper with felt pen and two colors of highlighters, the purpose of which I have still not been able to discern. The other grilled me extensively about my background. He had taken a class at one of the schools, I asked when. “Oh before your time, lad, it was about ten years ago,” he said with a dismissive gesture.

“Cool, ten years ago was when I was on campus. We probably partied at the same frats. In fact, I think I remember you. You showed up at the cheerleader house in the toga with the case of PBR!”

He eyed me suspiciously, I must have gotten too close to the truth then he liked. There were a lot of older guys who visited the cheerleader house just off campus. “Ten years, huh? I was there in the fall of 1998, looks like you were there in Spring of '99. Just missed each other.”

“Oh, I was in basic training then,” I said and gave him the same dismissive gesture. The ROTC guy perked up at the words “basic training.” He was a very affable man and I told him how during my semester at school I beat up the various commanders in my ROTC class. He laughed in a way that told me completely understood as he was prior service and a war vet. When any vets meet, there is a brief – sometimes not-so-brief – discussion about the desert. It can be a simple swapping of situations survived or it can turn into arguments for or against certain military doings. Torture rarely comes up, it is generally distasteful to discuss amongst men who routinely discuss graphic sex acts, excrement, and death. The initial remarks were wrapping up as I walked into the auditorium full of about a hundred students or so. A woman was introducing a representative from the bank that had ATM's on-campus offering the student account. It was a terrible pitch and the fool tried to involve the students. He was the first one and it wasn't really important to anyone in the room at 8:30 AM. I wrote in my notebook, remembering the tables of credit card applications on campus during my first semester at school, “where's my free t-shirt?” About ten minutes later he offered the group a free t-shirt with an account or if you already had one. Although instead of bootleg t-shirts of copyrighted characters, it was a shirt with the name of the school on the front and the bank on the back. I had only to show my ATM card, but I passed anyway.

The surly police officer that begrudgingly gave us directions took the stage next. His first words were “We are police officers and we will arrest you.” I understand that he was trying to emphasize the fact that they were police not security guards, but his tone, his high & tight haircut, his goddamn smug face when he said it made me instantly not like him. He continued to talk about various ways he can arrest people, but he wouldn't say it again. He tried to make “We'll do what we have to do,” a tagline, catchphrase for his quasi-fascist speech about the mission of his public service office. Finally, I raised my hand and asked, “What does that mean exactly. When you say 'do what we have to do?'”

He laughed at me and gestured toward the crowd as if to say, “get a load of this idiot.” I merely looked directly at him until he finally, awkwardly almost, said, “Arrest you. We'll arrest you.”

“Oh, 10-4!” I said and felt like my class clown credentials were being considered for renewal with the snickers that followed. He then asked if anyone was going to be living on campus and he pulled out his notepad. None raised their hand and I glanced at the son of the family I arrived with, he had told me of his plans to live on campus. He was tentatively about to raise his hand, but he was the only black kid in the room and so I shook my head at him. Luckily he saw me or just decided to quickly put his hand down. The cop was smiling and talking quietly to a pretty girl in the front row about pepper spray. It is the policy of the school that no weapons be allowed on campus. The young lady had asked about pepper spray and the officer repeated the question and answered that women were indeed allowed to arm themselves in this fashion.

A voice from across the room asked, “What about the dudes?” He sighed and said that he wasn't sure, but it probably wasn't a good idea. I understood why the young man asked the question. If the ladies themselves are armed with pepper spray, some poor cheating bastard will have his face sprayed full of the stuff by a scorned woman. Perhaps even catch some sort of sexual misconduct charge! My God! The mere presence of the police officer was turning the mood of the room very dark and tinged with the sexual energies of the women and some of the boys perhaps, who cannot resist a man in uniform. I have a feeling this guy is going to be trouble.

Thankfully his presentation was over and we dug into the meat and potatoes of selecting classes. This person had worked at the University for 40 years and answered every question specifically and the mood of the room switched back to that buzzing excitement of the going-back-to-school mythos. I even felt it in my state of deep cynicism and terror at what had become of academia in a mere decade.

As the day progressed, the sixty or so people in the group were shuffled off to meet with their department heads and receive some personal interaction from those in charge of their programs. In my case these men were both in charge of the department but also in charge of the military programs as well. It was when I learned that since I do not receive 100% of the Post 9/11 GI BILL (the lion's share of my active duty time was pre-9/11), I was not entitled to have my full tuition covered. I had not begun to apply for financial aid and certain tax mishaps complicate the matters further. The undertone of judgment and sense that the world-weary, older students just don't belong all came crashing down around me. I felt that any moment the cop would show up and arrest me for vagrancy or loitering. I was ready to lie down in the grass and allow myself to be trampled by the youth in the tents at the top of the hill making abstinence promises.

Thankfully I was able to bum a cigarette off of a fellow student and veteran and we chatted a bit. It was really just inane bullshit, talking about where he had been stationed, being very cryptic about his job. Perhaps practicing what he would say to the girls, it was very good. I imagined many a freshmen dropping her panties for stories of intrigue and danger in a land that cannot be named for security reasons. During his talk, I realized that I had to at least try to salvage this situation as this actually is the BACKUP plan. That career as a male prostitute did not turn out quite as well as I thought. But it's fun, so I still do it for free. I spoke with a few very kind and helpful school officials and went about procuring financial aid. This is the real hustle in school. The extra financial aid that can somehow find its way into the hands of those attending school. It's used to buy computers, pay bills, even take vacations. The questions from the students change from meek inquiries, pleading for assistance to pay for college, to feverish, screaming demands for the reimbursement check. Some students choosing schools based solely on how much of the aid they can get back. It is a dirty business and one I would have liked to avoid. However, I had gone too far down the path. I was in too deep to escape now. I divulged all of my deepest, darkest financial secrets and the decision determining whether or not I can actually go back and complete some sort of degree and become a respectable adult would be made for me. They had broken me, I was humbled. I knelt at their feet and awaited my Judgment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Where there's smoke, there's at least something....

By Joshua M. Patton


My experience with smoking began in the military. At the high school I attended, smoking was quite popular. A lot of kids would smoke, some excessively, but it seemed like something that I did not want to do. I tried it a few times, but it never took. I was fairly fit and when I joined the Army after high school, I found myself enjoying my physical fitness, although I never enjoyed running. I drank enough, but never found the allure of the cigarette with drink. Most of the time we children were drinking pure piss like “hard” lemonade or some semen-colored stuff with a Russian name or, conversely, Mad Dog 20/20. Alcohol can be a delicacy, but that shit is pure poison and I had not lived hard enough at this point in my life to survive drinking that and the slow smothering hell that is smoking.

It wasn't until I deployed to Bosnia as part of a peace-keeping mission that I found smoking. The Army is essentially the worst job you have ever had. You have no freedoms beyond what you are given by the people most directly associated with your life. I am not disparaging the military, but I am highly critical of how it functions. For example, the supervising NCO on our shift was a hard man that respected quiet, work ethic, and diligence. I was fortunate to serve with some very pretty, very interesting ladies, they worked under the supervision of another soldier, one that had a more progressive management style. Real six-sigma, paradigm-empowerment bullshit, but it proved effective with his soldiers. I was not allowed to break from my work to have a conversation, even in passing with these young women. I am 19 years-old and had been trapped in the sexless army for my second three-month-long stretch in a year. I knew at least one of them liked me, so I told him that I smoked and it was my smoke-break.

“Smoke break? I didn't know you smoked, Patton,” He told me.
“Sure,” I said, “I usually smoke when I drink, at you know-houseparties and stuff. I really miss that and even though there's nothing to drink, I have a smoke and it kinda feels like home. I never really understood how it relieved stress before, Sergeant, but damned if I don't understand it a little better now.” He looked me over and I thought I was sunk. It was a freestyle lie, something I was actually thinking about for shallow character in a terrible one-act play set in a guard tower I was writing when I was actually in guard towers. It must have really sounded absurd, especially since my Sergeant was the farthest thing from an intended audience that I could have had.
“Sometimes, I forget how young you kids are. It's a terrible habit, I quit nine years ago and it was like having a second life, but hell, you've barely started yours. When you get home though son, just go back to not smoking, it's better for you.” It was over and I could take a smoke-break pretty much anytime I wanted for the remainder of our time there. I eventually did hook up with that girl and we continued to smoke and fuck our way through what was, to us, a long deployment. Yet, it was as if the Sergeant's words were a curse, because I went home and the relationship continued beyond our forced solitude in Eastern Europe. So did the smoking. She actually quit smoking soon after returning home, but it stuck for me this time.

Today, I read that the military is considering a ban on smoking and the use of all tobacco products. They did the same thing to drugs and alcohol in the field after Vietnam, but this is the first time it was something the military used to ration to the soldiers with their meals. This is being considered because of the overall improvement in the health of soldiers; their bodies will not have to deal with the effects of that destructive behavior and ultimately will lead to a healthier, fitter fighting force. It sounds like excellent reasoning for complete and utter bullshit.

Army suicides have been on the rise at record-pace for the past two years according to CNN.com, and I can't imagine what would happen to the morale of the smokers no longer allowed to at least express freedom, even if it is only by willfully poisoning oneself. Sure the Army has taken steps to correct the issue, yet somehow avoiding the answering of all of the relevant questions. The plan seems to be a focus on family and it is arguably working at Fort Hood ,where day shift soldiers are told when to be home for dinner and given afternoons off to spend with their families. Sounds nice doesn't it? Well, it isn't. It is actually the exact opposite of what they should be doing. It's all the proof I need that they don't actually care about the welfare of soldiers or the achievement of progress, but merely the appearance of doing such.

Perhaps I am being unfair, but the ignorance almost feels willful. Anyone who has served can tell you that while you may be defending freedom, you are in possession of none. They tell you when to eat, when to sleep, when to relieve yourself, when to work out, when to play, and now they are telling these poor fools when to be with their families. What is the command for that I wonder? “COMPANY, raise CHILDREN!” It can crush the spirits of the men and women that must live it without their family in a desert that remains cold even when the temperate is over 140 degrees. These people are barely able to communicate effectively with their families while deployed and are constantly in possession of at least 15 rounds of ammunition and a working weapon. I have never traveled down this dark path, but I have stared into the mouth of it – I have known many who have taken their own life. I have also been a fan of others who have ultimately chose to end their lives: David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson, and Kurt Cobain. There are as many different reasons for suicide as there are those that consider it. Yet, for soldiers I feel that it is a final act of defiance that is simultaneously the last expression of freedom for one already doomed.

Screening for mental health issues upon returning from these missions is horribly backwards and broken. It deserves its own examination, but in short, improvements in this field would go miles farther to achieve healthier soldiers than a ban on smoking. It is during the redeployment that soldiers are offered some sham help, in my experience in the form of questions on a worksheet and the promise of a future appointment. Others have been directly interviewed, but medical interviews in the military are quite often lies on top of lies from both parties. In either case, the soldier would be required to remain in this redeployment process at the redeployment location, often not near their homes, indefinitely. Who wouldn't believe that all they really needed is the familiar surroundings of home? Surely they dreamed of them every night they spent in those cramped, dark places where the military will nestle in. This doesn't even take into consideration the stigma in the military associated with treatment for mental health issues. The choice for the soldier can arguably be called a choice between career suicide or actual suicide.

Even the most troubled addicts in the most intense rehabilitation programs for the gamut of substances and behaviors allows their patients caffeine and cigarettes. It is practically encouraged, despite the blatant contradiction to the very ideological center of program itself. They're just people. Not even the type of people that have that much of a value in the eyes of society. Drug addicts and the dregs of the sociological spectrum, these are not people anyone really expects anything out of other than to be let down. Yet, our heroes, our brave soldiers are held in the highest of regard. To admit that something as trivial and unpopular as quitting smoking could break them is considered, but not seriously. Also, think of what better role models they'll be for the kids at the parades!

With everything that the military implements, it will be a slow-moving process and one wonders how they will make it stick. I recall one night at sunset in Iraq, I was standing on the back of a truck destroying the mail that deserved it (catalogs, credit card offers, and that tripe) by throwing it into a smoldering pile of garbage. It was an eerie setting, but somehow breathtaking. I paused and sort of took it all in. I was roused by the coughing of my assistant driver, him a non-smoker, because of the fumes of the burning trash. It was a pretty vicious fit and I threw away the last two bags and we left. We drove up the hill and arrived at the gate, run by a civilian contractor probably making $90,000 a year. He sat in a small booth, often smoking a cigar, and would press the button to release the gate when we would sign in and out on a hanging clipboard. He rarely left the booth, he knew better than to breathe in that smoking death in the burn pit. “It's what you soldiers get paid for,” he'd say laughing, but looking sinister behind a haze of smoke.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Article from Twodaymag.com -- 2/2009

By Joshua M. Patton

Iraq is not a place for lovers. This war’s purpose was to be the stepping-stone for a major change in the Middle East. It was not to last more than six months and while no one ever expected it to be easy, it was not supposed to last this long. Iraq is a country ravaged by violence – Iraqi against Iraqi, mujahedeen from radical Islamic sects fighting locals or the coalition forces, and our forces themselves -finding it difficult to differentiate between enemy and civilian. Just being there takes a toll on those of us who have never seen war before. The Army does its best to establish a support system for its troops. There are chaplains of every faith available and soldiers often lean on other soldiers. Yet there is no substitute for the voice of a loved on even across miles of ocean and desert.

It is a challenge for couples to work through the stresses of a relationship even when there isn’t war raging around them or a separation of thousands of miles. The true problem couples face in this situation is a lack of selflessness. The soldier faces an entire change of lifestyle with restrictions on everything he or she does from eating to recreational time. Violence can erupt around one so suddenly, it can be difficult to ever let one’s guard down. Yet, the person at home also has to deal with everyday life made worse by the absence of a partner. The problems tend to come when couples stop listening to each other and focus on oneself. The couples that “make it” are those who in spite of all their immediate concerns remain focused on the needs of their loved one, trusting the other to do the same.

My friend Hank was married to the mother of his two sons, Karen during our deployment. She met him at a party at the college they both attended at one of the local frat houses. Karen found herself facing the unwanted advances of one of the frat brothers, literally backed into a corner. She was contemplating the self-defense moves her mother had taught her before she left for school (thumbs in the eyes or a knee in the groin?) when the very drunk boy was grabbed from behind and she found herself face to face with her rescuer, Hank.

“Mind if I take this guy’s place and ask you to dance?” He asked her with a wry smile.

“It was yours to begin with,” Karen replied softly.

In six months, they were living together in a small apartment in the Southside of Chicago. Karen continued at the University of Chicago, while Hank left school and began to work in the newly exploding mortgage market. After a few successful months, Hank surprised Karen with a cruise to the Bahamas. On the last night of the cruise, they stood on the deck watching the sunset into the Atlantic.

“Have you ever seen anything more beautiful,” she asked looking out at the horizon.

“Yes, you” said Hank. Karen turned to him to smile and saw him on one knee, arm extended, and a small box in his hand.

“What are you doing?” she asked breathlessly.

“Asking you to marry me,” he replied, the normal air of confidence in his voice absent, replaced with nervousness she had not heard from him before. They both wept tears of joy as the sun disappeared for the night.

As with all love stories, the actual business of living happily ever-after was more of a challenge than they had imagined. Hank’s mortgage business was struggling, as the bubble seemed poised to burst at any moment. When their second child was born, Hank left his reserve unit with two years left on his contract remaining in the Army. Yet without the extra money, he became more desperate for business. One particularly stressful day, Hank took a call from a hysterical Karen. He had been called up from the inactive reserves and was to be deployed to Iraq. Without him to run the day-to-day operations, the business he worked to build was doomed. Karen, however, thought the steady income from the military would bring some needed financial stability, Hank’s absence notwithstanding.

The couple had been growing distant for months before this and Karen had decided to go graduate school while Hank was gone. While he was still stateside, Karen was often rushed to get off of the phone when he called, late for some class or behind on reading or homework. Once our unit was in country, we would travel to the phone center and Hank was always the first one through with his phone calls. He would speak to his oldest son for a few minutes and then after a few terse exchanges with Karen he would hang up without the air of relief and comfort most of us had after calling home. He was buckling under the pressures of duty, the separation in general, and uncertainty about his future post-Iraq since the mortgage business was all but gone.

I was attached to a unit from Chicago, but our unit was attached to a National Guard battalion from Idaho. Lisa was a platoon leader in the headquarters unit and we often interacted, becoming fast friends. Her husband was a truck driver attached to a different company and stationed on another base. Despite what we thought, even though he was in country with her, this too came with its share of problems. The spoke only through e-mail and rarely saw each other. When they did, the differences in rank prevented them from expressing their love through physical means – a hug, a kiss, handholding – all verboten by US Army standards. She would often wile away the down time by telling us about their relationship and its beginnings.

Matt and Lisa had been friends since he had joined the Idaho National Guard. Yet, that all changed at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin during their annual two-week training. They were at the on-post club when compelled by drink and dancing Lisa kissed Matt. They loaded up on buses to be taken back to their barracks, and once back at their rooms, armed with a small bottle of rum, they located an empty barracks to spend the night in each other’s arms.

It was common knowledge in the unit that the two were a couple, despite the fact that they worked in different sections. Lisa climbed through the ranks and became an officer. Matt, a troubled soldier at best, was still a private first class, but he harbored no jealousy about Lisa’s promotion. In fact, he was very proud of her and often joked about having an Officer “in his pocket.” These words found their way to the commanding officer. In a meeting with the couple, she explained how the regulations were poised to change to disallow any relationships between officers and enlisted soldiers unless they were married. An angry Matt yelled at his captain, “Well then just TRY and stop us from getting married,” and stormed out of the office.

“Well, that wasn’t the result I was looking for. What do you have to say, Lieutenant?”

A shocked Lisa looked at her fellow officer and said, “I think I am getting married!

When the battalion received orders to deploy to Iraq, Lisa was on the list to go but not Matt. He ran around frantically and found himself a place with another platoon. Iraq was a scary prospect, but now they could face it together. Once they arrived in-country, Matt’s platoon was placed on a base in Tikrit and Lisa’s on our base two hours north near Kirkuk. The only way they could see each other was to convoy between the bases. Each time he would convoy, Lisa would wait by the gate nervously until they arrived. Only rarely did they get to do much more than eat a quick meal or maybe sneak off to her quarters for a few short hours. “It’s maddening,” she told us, “for him to be so close and yet always at least an arm’s length away.”

As our deployment wound to a close, Hank noticed that the letters and e-mails from Karen were becoming more and more infrequent. Hank’s duties were of an administrative nature, so he rarely left the base. Still, this comes with its own pressures. As a squad leader, he also had to deal with increasingly stressed soldiers suffering from the cabin fever that comes from living and working in this horrid desert for almost a year. His happiest moments were his talks with his sons; they were spending more time with Hank’s parents and Karen’s lack of communication worried him. The tension he suffered between work and his personal situation became serious and our commander ordered Hank to take the next rest and relaxation leave, giving him two weeks at home. He spoke to Karen only twice to arrange for transportation home from the airport.

After no less than 20 hours of travel time in cramped military aircraft, Hank arrived in Chicago feeling a mixture of relief and the sense that something bad was about to happen. Karen met him at the airport, accompanied by a man. They had met at school, not unlike her and Hank, and had fallen in love she explained. Hank said nothing when Karen asked for a divorce but after a few tense moments broke the nose of the man standing next to his future ex-wife. He picked up his green duffel bag and walked off to find a cab; he was the only one weeping this time.

Back in Iraq, the tensions were heating up as the second round of elections loomed. During election time, the attacks against civilians and soldiers would double. These usually came in the form of roadside bombs. Matt and Lisa had continued to see each other infrequently, but they were always happy times. Hank once asked his secret, and Matt simply said when he saw his wife – his concerns, his stresses melted away and he was only concerned about her. “Helping her deal with her problems somehow erased mine.” They had started to use the military postal system to send each other letters and small packages, finding joy in the smallest of things.

Right before the election, the couple had not spoken in about three weeks. With the increasing violence, travel between the two bases was only by helicopter, but there were some supplies that by truck. The road between Kirkuk and Tikrit had been heavily attacked, but Matt was so desperate to see his wife, he was the only one to volunteer for the trip. Lisa arrived at the gate to see the guards frantic – barking into the radio and receiving the standard Med Evac reports. Matt’s convoy had been hit and two soldiers were wounded, one dead. The guards did not know the names, so Lisa had no idea about her husband’s fate. After what seemed like days, the vehicles pulled in to the base. Lisa scanned the vehicles not seeing her husband and her stomach went cold. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes and then she heard her name. In what seemed like slow-motion she turned to see him jump from the back of a large truck – dirty and covered in blood that was not his own.

“I thought…” she stammered.

“Shh,” Matt said, holding his wife and keeping the tears at bay, “It’ll take more than a war to keep me from you.” As the commotion continued around them, they held each other weeping a mixture of joy and despair for being together but in this place.

War by its very nature is destructive, but the casualties are not always victims of some form of violence. The mental distress soldiers suffer upon their return from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan is vastly underreported and undertreated. Some casualties are families ripped apart because the soldier and the spouse do not know how to support each other or ask for the support they need. All too often couples will just talk at each other, each relaying why it is they need the others' support, instead of just listening. Also, ten minute-phone calls and fifteen minutes to use computers, do not lead to healthy communication in relationships. The military is taking "efforts" to reduce the strain on families and couples, but whatever they do it will not be enough. Iraq is not a place for lovers.




Tuesday, July 7, 2009

THE LAST RUBE

By Joshua M. Patton

The title of this blahg is in homage to the only blog I ever read faithfully...Hey Rube on Espn.com, written by Hunter S. Thompson. It was written on a typewriter and somehow, I think one could tell in the reading. Anyway, I was stumped and The Last Rube seemed like a good title and it is literally the first thing you have to think of when you create a blog...I have always saved my titles for the end. It wasn't until today, I found out what I meant by the last rube.

When I was younger, about 14, I began writing for America Online's teenager section. I didn't get paid, but my family also did not have to pay for AOL when it was $40 bucks a month for unlimited internet access. It was great, I just wrote what I thought for about 500 or 1000 words and that was that. I was amazingly fortunate over the next three years, meeting and working with a number of people that have gone on to some moderate fame (they had an amazing race to dance with stars, but their survivors). When I joined the military and became a father, I left this field behind because I needed to provide for my family.

It was when I was serving in Iraq that I realized how much I missed writing and I wanted to get back to it. I found it much more difficult than before to break in and at first I blamed blogs and twitters for shortening our collective attention span for written words, plus most people were just giving their words away (sort of like I am right now, but we'll get to that). Yet, I realize that it is just I have lost the luck that comes with being a bright-eyed and talented teenager. Now I am just a whiskey-soaked, raspy-voiced, unemployed war vet with a mouth to feed, who even cares if I have any talent?

Still, I march onward. I write for a political site for a few months, to get my feet wet and get used to writing again. I move on to some freelance work, not journalism but certainly journo-tainment. Paper copies of the Writer's Digest part of my past, I sign up for the Writer's Market website. I see there is an agent in my town and I think it's 1994 again and you can just e-mail someone and expect a helpful, human response. This, was not the case. However, I don't blame the agent. All salesmen are whores, agents are just the literate ones.

No the real surprise came when I posted something at the AbsoluteWrite forum, what passes for an online writers' community these days. These other writers reacted as if I hadn't written a simple recount of an experience, but had pasted a picture of my forehead with male genitalia growing from it. One of the actually asked why someone would read any e-mail from me if he or she did not stand to profit directly from it. The irony of her replying this to a strangers' e-mail on a public forum apparently escaping her (I assume it was a female, it was a feminine screen name anyway).

This is why I consider myself the last rube. I am still foolish enough to believe in kind strangers. I am still foolish enough to try and help someone even if I don't stand to profit from it. Hell, I'll help someone I don't even like just because I was raised this way. I can be an asshole, but I try not to be one on purpose. Apparently, this is my largest and most glaring mistake.

Whatever, there's a guy who thinks he can guess my weight, if he doesn't I win a stuffed owl...I think I'll take my chances with him.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Big States, Little States, United States.

Big States, Little States, United States

An article discussing the dangers of the "big-state" theory of campaigning that has turned all of our national elections into a matter of winning Florida or Ohio into winning the nomination or an election. Do read and comment, thanks!!

While watching the twenty-four hour news networks form a narrative for the elections, most specifically this current primary season, I have noticed a disturbing trend that threatens to marginalize the democratic process in these United States of America. The pundits and talking heads dismiss the primary and even general elections in states such as Idaho, Mississippi, Utah, and others. The way the primary system is set up, my state of Pennsylvania is typically irrelevant in the nomination process. Sure, our voice is heard to the tune of possibly 21 electoral votes in November, but in that election we have rarely had any say about for whom it is that we are casting our ballots. Today, our primary election is seen as the next significant battleground for the Democratic candidates and I am surprised at the small amount of attention we have been getting from these candidates.

Senator Clinton made her play for the state early, riding her momentum from the victories in Texas and Ohio. She appeared at my native Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day parade and wracked up significant endorsements from politician delegates and local officials alike. Senator Obama has conducted some town hall meetings in the outlying areas of the city and had one rally in the Oakland area of the city around a number of the largest colleges in the area. I had hoped for some more vigorous campaigning on his part, but the politics of race have been played rather heavily in this area, and I think the rural folks across the state need a little more time with the candidate than those of us in the city. We shall see what the final weeks leading up to the election bring in terms of campaign appearances.

I wonder, though, how many people in Mississippi would have liked the opportunity to have a town meeting with the candidate of their choosing as the Iowa or New Hampshire constituencies enjoyed. I wonder if the people of Delaware suffer less from the effects of this crippling economy than those in big "important" states. The disenfranchisement of the American Voter seems to continue in an a day and age when technology is as such we no longer need these antiquated contrivances that served their purposes in their day but should be pushed to evolve into a more pure version of this experiment called democracy.

After all, this is simply the party nomination process and we tend to forget that the political parties are organizations that should be allowed to make up their own rules. Yet, the two-party system we have in place limits the ability for all of the voices in the population to be heard. However, given the arguments made by this particular party during the resolutions of the 2000 and 2004 elections, the party that dares to call itself democratic should ensure that their nomination process is as democratic as possible. The delegates should be bound to vote as the voters which sent them to the convention directed. We are in a day and age where we can move towards a more popular vote.

I do not believe that we should get rid of the Electoral College, it actually promotes fairness in that it protects states that are outnumbered in population maintain a voice in the democratic process. However, I do believe that we need to bind these representatives in both the Electoral College and amongst the ranks of the delegates elected in the primaries to adhere to the wishes of the voters in their districts. I also believe that a party calling itself democratic should remove the politician delegates they so adorably adorned with the moniker "super." While I am not so keen on the notion of only a two-party system, this is what we are stuck with. Thusly I believe the party should be bound by the will of its members not of its bosses and top elected officials.

Barack Obama has effectively ignored the type of "big-state" strategy that Senator Clinton has employed. He has taken the opportunity to campaign vigorously in all states sending a message that transcends simple delegate tallies and exit polls. He is sending the message that every vote matters to him and that he is running for President of the United States not President of the Blue States. I believe his opponent's logic is fatally flawed and his current status as front-runner is the evidence of that. The opposing candidate herself has said that despite which of them will be the nominee, the Democratic Party should align itself behind the nominee and truly be a unified party for a change in the current Washington scene. Senator Clinton's campaign messages of late, and to a lesser extent the responses of Senator Obama's campaign, have not carried that harmonious tone. However, are we to believe the solid blue states will not toe the line and fall in to support Obama were he to win the nomination? The swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and some of the south hang in the balance and will require attention from both candidates in the general election as none of these candidates are like anything that we are used to.

I am sure that John McCain will run a dignified campaign and I believe Barack Obama has shown that he too wants to change the timbre of political campaigning for the betterment of the process. There are a few contests left in the primary season, will there be substantive debate on the differences between these candidates or will they rip each others' characters to shreds and in doing so destroy their own effectively doing the work of the Republicans for them when it comes to exploiting the weakness of these candidates? And what of the message Senator Clinton is sending to the voters of the states she ignores on the campaign trail while at the same time speaking up for the "disenfranchised" voters of Florida and Michigan because she desperately needs them now?

On a side note, the Florida and Michigan debate also causes me to scratch my head in bewilderment. Back when this was first decided, no one seemed to care that the voters' voices had been silenced because it was supposed to be over before 50% of the country had voted. The voters however, have retaken ownership of the process. It seems disingenuous that there is such an outcry now, when the offenses were committed so long ago. It is not a concern for a constituency to be fairly represented bur more political positioning in order to either regain or maintain an advantage. Senator Clinton is almost out of it, I believe, but she will not go down with out a fight. My only hope is that she does not take half of the party with her. The time has come to make a change: a drastic change of what is considered politics-as-usual; a change that allows us to look beyond skin color or gender; a change to the myth of political experience equating executive qualification; a change that allows us to see past the partisanship that should represent a foundation for ideological debate instead of vicious infighting that strangles our government and renders it ineffectual. The largest indicator in my mind that someone represents that change is when they break from the mold, do something unexpected, and take the road less traveled by.


The Day Hope Was Murdered on a Hotel Balcony

4 - 4 - 1968

On Friday we remember the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He has now been gone longer than he was alive. What is important to remember at this time about the man? The mystery surrounding his death? The suggestions of government conspiracy? There are better things to talk about....

"You may well ask: 'Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?' You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored"
Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr.



In my MP3 player I have an eclectic mix of music to get me through the 40 minute bus ride from my home to downtown. Along with music, I have a collection of spoken word pieces and some inspiring speeches. One of these is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" and it is a speech that I never tire of hearing. We can see what was unequivocally bad then with the benefit of hindsight, what has changed by comparing the present to then, and even can apply these words to stimulate real discussion of where we still have to go. It is something that I think all Americans should be familiar with as we are with JFK's inauguration speech, the Gettysburg Address, or if I may be so bold, the Sermon on the Mount.

I am not trying to assign a sainthood or divinity to Dr. King. He was undeniably a typically flawed human being just like the rest of us. Sadly, the FBI pursued Dr. King through countless wiretaps and electronic surveillance. They were searching for anything that could ties him to the Communists, in an attempt to attach a powerful black leader to the nation's fiercest enemy. All they discovered was an intensely self-critical man that had a weakness the President who authorized the surveillance also suffered, the problem of infidelity. The relentless harassment that Dr. King received in terms of written threats and physical acts of violence possibly aided by the Federal investigation serve to further exemplify that this was a man who was larger than his faults and begs the question what scared the establishment so much about this man that they devoted so many resources to his downfall? For the might of the FBI all they could find was pillow talk and tabloid news that today's society relegates to the entertainment news. Was it a fear that he was a megalomaniacal leader looking to overturn the infrastructure of the government?

From his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:
"Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood,"
and
"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him."
These quotes do not reflect the Anti-American ravings of a dangerous subversive. These powerful statements come from a man who so loves his country that he will castigate it with no hesitation when its actions go against the values we hold sacrosanct as a nation. These are the characteristics of the Patriot. Unlike the most commonly misunderstood idea of patriotism, unquestioning obedience to the government and the current agenda, Dr. King -- like Lincoln and the delegates of the Continental Congress -- held the national authority to task and ensured that our shared equality was equally honored.

Thus we remember the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, a particular milestone the man himself never achieved only 39 years of age when he was gunned down. Some believe his killers to be the great white establishment, an entire conspiracy network put into place to remove from power a man that was, according to an FBI Memo, "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country." How tragic it would be if this great man was killed by a singular hateful and small-minded man. Truly a life as grand as his deserves an equally grand finish. The truth may be forever argued and never discovered. Now 40 years past his death, I wonder if it isn't one of the more irrelevant points in the discussion. What Dr King, I believe, would have us remember about his time on earth is what he said, and how we relate those words to our experiences in today's world. As we remember his passing -- when a champion of peace had his life taken in an act of cowardly violence -- let us reflect on the way this change was brought about and look at ourselves for the courage to continue to strive for a better cohesion of cultures.

Change was achieved and ground was made to level the racial playing field. We no longer have Bull Conner keeping his police officers at home and allowing his town to come under mob rule. The journey of the Freedom Riders ensured that nothing like that could ever happen again. This was a victory of the civil rights movement and Dr. King. Today's racism is more subtle and more subverted. There are no more great demonstrations of hate or intolerance, merely quiet acts that "hopefully" go unnoticed by the mainstream media. This is part of the reason that the racial discussion has become stagnant because it ultimately comes down to "It's better than the 60's, right?"

In times like these the quiet resolve of Dr. King can inspire us all to strive for the betterment of our national community and to have the courage to stand up in the face of corruption, ignorance, and violence without sullying one's own principles. The courage to take unpopular stances will be tested in no more difficult way than when attacked. Dr. King would instruct us to turn the other cheek as individuals or as a people. Today, he would be called soft, Un-American, and perhaps a traitor when considering the war on terror and the fervor behind it. During these times we remember not just the way Dr. King was taken from us, but what he did while he was here. His love of the people extended not to just the black community but the entire community. When we look at the life of the man and not just his death perhaps we of all colors and beliefs can emulate in some small way the character of a man who had the courage to peacefully stand up to an entire nation for the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness


The Argument for The Democratic Process

The Argument for The Democratic Process

There are calls from Party insiders on both sides of the fence for a short primary process. This has not been the case in this particular season. The Democrats wasted a huge opportunity and are on very thin ice as the voters demand to be heard. Add your opinions to the end if you agree or disagree with the idea that the elections should continue.

The dominating political discussion is the Democratic primary, and Pennsylvania's relevance in this contest is rather exciting to voters all across the state, Republican and Democrat. Throughout the Republican Primary season and this continuing Democratic race there has been a call from some in the parties expressing eagerness to make the latter contests irrelevant with the underdog ceding the nomination to the front-runner. If one looks at the political party nomination process as party business and not as an exercise in democracy, then the position makes sense. There is more time to stimulate the general election debate, raise funds, and organize constituencies. Therefore the late scheduling of the conventions and disqualifications of some states were party business as well. The parties deemed that the conventions had become more coronations and, it is my guess, that they scheduled these conventions to build momentum for the home stretch of the general election race. However, given the actions of the Florida and Michigan governments, and the almost down-the-middle divide in the party between the candidates the voters and the party leaders are sadly reminded of what the traditional purpose of the convention has been, to fairly and effectively select the party's nominee.

Some have called for Senator Clinton to leave the race and cede victory to Senator Obama. While as a voter, I would love to see Senators McCain and Obama begin their campaigns and the greater national discussion to follow. There are some within the Democratic Party that believe this continued primary season hurts the party. Others say it is fantastic for the party and should continue until the convention is held, (with time adjusted for the effect of 24-hour news media) some half-dozen years from now. Either of these points-of-view could be correct, it depends on the manner in which the campaigns are conducted throughout.

For the past month John McCain has been able to quietly rally the Republican troops, fill in the gaps in his organization, and essentially begin his general election campaign while the two Democratic candidates lambasted each other's character. The question changed from which of these two would be the best agent of change into why the other candidate and, by extension, those they associate with would make for a bad candidacy. This to me was a wasted opportunity and one of the reasons why Democrats are viewed as disorganized and their own worst enemy. When John McCain secured the nomination Mike Huckabee was still gaining a significant percentage of votes building steam seemingly because Sen. McCain was the front-runner. Every media outlet drove into the voters' mind that since there was no way for Huck to win the nomination, that it was time to call the race. When Huck bowed out, both Senators Obama and Clinton should have picked up right where he left off. Sen. Obama had the right idea, identifying their differences but also pointing out why Democrats should be respectful of John McCain and thus appealing to some of McCain's moderate and independent support.

However, his opponent then launched her 3 A.M. ad and he had to turn his focus on his primary opponent. Had she taken the same approach and deftly included why she would be superior to Sen. Obama in challenging Sen. McCain, he would have had to fend off attacks from two directions with little organization to handle such work. This is her current strategy in Pennsylvania. Attacks directly against Sen. Obama have not worked before. However, now that the subject of race has been introduced by her surrogates and the Rev. Wright attention, the notion that "She's the only candidate that can beat John McCain," has a new effectiveness with some of the blue-collar white democrats in the state.

The notion that any election in a democracy is not good for the country is ludicrous. The voters have made this more than simply party business. When there are only two significant parties presenting candidates on a national level, the selection of the nominee is very important. However, if the tones of these campaigns are not dignified and helpful to the party first and the candidate second, then effectively the Democrats make the Republican's workload much easier when it comes time to start raking muck. The differences in policy are not attention grabbing and will not keep the senior election analysts on the news networks talking. Instead they have engaged in snarky backbiting and character assaults that grab headlines but may hurt their efforts in the long run to November 2. The challenge lies at the feet of the Democratic candidates and the steps they take on the road to the convention. Senator Obama, in my opinion has so far done the best job of attempting to elevate the debate and focus forward rather than at sinking the ship sailing along next to him. He is content to make his case rather than be divisive and then let the American voter decide like adults. This week it seems as though Senator Clinton is attempting to lighten things up as well, even engaging in a poorly-delivered April Fool's joke. I only hope that she has the courage to run her campaign with dignity and honesty, not for herself, not even for her party, but for the American people so that we may move towards a future in which we are able to again believe in not only the candidates but the process itself.
 
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