|In February, 2017, I began a monthly column for my home town paper, The Yuma Pioneer, wherein I attempt to discuss lessons (valuable and otherwise) I learned as a horrible six-man football player on the High Plains. I quickly gave up on the football schtick, but I'm not changing the photo. I shall archive the columns on this page, or not, as time permits.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to announce, here in the Yuma Pioneer, that I have found the solution to all of our problems. What I'm about to reveal to you will end the arguing and consternation about all subjects that have been grinding this country's humanity into tiny, shapeless chunks for the past several years. If my solution is implemented, it's all gonna be okay: immigration, racism, foreign policy, healthcare, abortion, all sorts of welfare (including farm subsidies), income disparity, uppity women, global warming, the whole doggone list.
As we all know, there's an ongoing debate about the definition of reality in American politics. And, if you read my column in November, you know that I think it's a waste of time to try to reason with people who believe in unreasonable (aka unreal) things.
But if we can't reason with one another, then there's no hope.
Or is there?
Surprisingly, the answer lies in lies.
Nobody chooses to believe in nonsense. I believe that, in spite of all the horrible things we do to one another, humans are decent, optimistic creatures. We all believe that we could get along if only everyone could just see things from the same perspective.
Alas, because we are optimists, we humans are vulnerable creatures. Our hunger for justice can be fed by a few decontextualized quotes, a clever-but-dishonest meme posted on a social media site, or hours and hours of dishonest cable news programming. It feels good to be right, and it feels even better to be told that you're right.
When somebody accuses you of being wrong, it hurts. I suspect it's especially painful for patrons of the beloved Fox News. What's worse than being told that your heroes are liars? All those hours of television; the breathless NEWS ALERTS; the endless commercial breaks for Citracal, Expedia, Celadrin, Zyrtec...has it all been a waste?
No! It has not been a waste. There's no need to humiliate anyone by insisting that they're making catastrophically horrible decisions based on cynical fantasies spread by a malicious, fear-mongering, manipulative propaganda machine.
Instead--and I can't believe this has only just occurred to me--the solution lies within the problem. The optimistic nature of the viewers of Fox News has led them to believe in fictional solutions to fictional problems. I won't rehash those fictions here, as that would subvert my argument. And here's my argument: Fox News needs to start lying more. You read that right.
If one segment of society is willing to believe what Fox tells them, and if another segment of society refuses to believe Fox News, then there's really no way that this country is ever going to see things from the same perspective, and so there's no way we'll resolve our problems. But perhaps we don't need to resolve these issues! Why fight it when you can embrace it?
One thing you'll learn if you ever spend time with someone with dementia is that sometimes it's easier just to let them believe in things that are demonstrably false. "You think I'm your grandfather? Okay, I'm your grandfather." No one gets hurt, and you get to hone your acting skills.
That's just what Fox News needs to do: ease the suffering by telling the audience what they need to hear.
Imagine these headlines:
MEXICO AGREES TO FUND BORDER WALL: CONSTRUCTION TO BEGIN NEXT WEEK.
HILLARY CLINTON SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON
SCIENTISTS ADMIT GLOBAL WARMING IS A SCAM
TIM TEBOW INDUCTED INTO NFL HALL OF FAME
SEAN HANNITY ELECTED PRESIDENT
Imagine the relief! It won't matter that none of these things are true. Because the truth is irrelevant as long as the lies feel better. So, I implore you Laura, Tucker, Sean, Bret, Martha, Shannon and the rest of the gang, take that extra step, give your fiction a happy ending, and give the people the satisfaction they deserve.
Have you ever met one of those people who believes that Sandy Hook was a fraud? I did, once. The person in this case shall remain unnamed, out of respect for…whom? People, I guess.
He was eating a sandwich, conversing with my wife and I in our dining room. I'd been working with him all morning and he'd seemed like a more or less normal person: sensible, clever, generous. I never would have suspected him for a conspiracy nut, until, out of the blue, he explained that the Sandy Hook shooting (this was a few years ago, so he had fewer mass-shootings to choose from) had been faked. It was all a sham intended to convince soft-minded Americans to support gun control.
With a rising voice, he explained that It couldn't have happened the way it was reported. They're just trying to take our guns. I suppose I could have called him out on this garbage. But that would have been rude. Who am I to say what another human should believe?
There was a moment of monumentally awkward silence as my wife and I madly blinked Morse code to each other: "Is this guy a lunatic?"
Somehow, our guest concluded that we were not the ideal audience for this particular line of whatever-the-opposite-of-thought-is. We finished lunch without another word on the Sandy Hook massacre and our guest and I returned to the task of the day (trying, unsuccessfully, to start a decrepit Caterpillar).
Over the next year, I would spend many more hours working alongside this gentleman. We kept the conversation to anodyne topics, such as what kind of oil you should use in an air compressor. By "agreeing to disagree," both of us had effectively saved ourselves from what surely would have ended in a shouting match (or, given my friend's firearm fetish, my funeral). We'd made a mutual, unspoken agreement to avoid controversial subjects. Thanks to that agreement, we still communicate.
By not confronting my guest, I had passively approved of his paranoid delusions. And these delusions are not unique to him. I can't help but marvel at the nonsense that finds its way into people's brains. Global warming is a hoax, Seth Rich was murdered by the Clintons, Cesar Sayoc was a patsy for the Democratic party, vaccines cause autism. What's next? The earth is flat?
People are vulnerable to lies, especially lies that exploit fear, outrage, and a sense of persecution. It helps if the lies are spread by cable news, poorly-made online videos, talk radio, or, Lord have mercy on us all, the President of the United States. Nobody really bought into all of Trump's crap about Obama being born outside the US. Right?
Wrong. Trump's lies worked and they're still working. The man is an incoherent manipulator of incoherent hate. He cares about two things: himself and his reflection. I sometimes try to come up with explanations as to why his septic froth could tempt otherwise sensible people. In fact, I had intended this column to be a "rational examination of what happens when people are pulled headfirst into the fantastical world of demagogical propaganda."
But why bother? When rational thought takes a back seat to, "There were good people on both sides," then what good is a rational discussion? It'll only be met with the arrogance of ignorance.
If eleven dead bodies in a Pittsburgh synagogue can't change minds, if fourteen mail bombs can't sober us up, if Trump's popularity among white supremacists doesn't make his followers rub their chins, then what could I possibly hope to achieve with an argument based on something so silly as facts?
No longer will I politely change the conversation next time someone tells a racist joke, or repeats half-baked baloney about invading hordes of barefooted asylum seekers, or describes the cabal of evil climate scientists who are trying to take down the fossil fuel industry. These creatures can go ahead and believe what they want, and they can say what they want. I'm not going to waste my time trying to talk them back to reality. Instead, I'm going to let them know that it's time to grow up, get a clue, and stop embarrassing us all with their foolishness.
Let's talk about resolution. By "resolution" I don't mean the promises we break on January 2nd of every year; rather I'm taking about density of information. If you have eyes (likely, given that you're reading this) you're at least casually familiar with this concept. As a zygote in your mother's womb, you had no eyes. A few months later, now floating in amniotic fluid, you developed eyes, but they remained closed until you were born. For the first few months of your life, you could barely make out shapes. Over the course of three or four years, your brain learned to process visual information and you ended up with something close to 20/20 vision (hopefully).
Ever since, you've been taking in the splendor of the material world: nature, human faces, etc.; all of this filtered thru two optical orbs and sent to your brain, which combines those images into a stereoscopic, highest-possible-resolution account of your surroundings.
In addition to the material world, we spend a lot of time pointing our eyes at TVs, computers, phones. By definition, screens offer radically lower resolution than simply looking out the nearest window. Even a 60" 1080p super HD TV limits your field of vision to a two-dimensional, radically shrunken version of reality. Which leads to the obvious statement: TV is not the same thing as reality. In other words, the very act of looking at the world thru a screen lowers the amount of information our eyes can take in. Less information, at least by my definition, equals lower resolution.
On the other hand, there's a lot of stuff that we'll never experience first-hand. Raise your hand if you've ever seen a presidential press conference. Me, neither. But I've seen one on TV! Even though watching the nightly news on TV is a low-resolution version of reality, it's the only version of that particular reality that's available to our eyes. It might not be perfect, but it's better than nothing.
Many of this article's readers (as well as its author) were not alive for Walter Cronkite's heyday as a newscaster. At his peak, he gained the reputation as "the most trusted man in America." At a time when there were only three TV networks, his job at CBS was to explain the day's news to all of his viewers: Republican, Democratic, and otherwise. By most accounts, he did a bang-up job. And yet…viewers were only getting his version of events.
Fast-forward to the ongoing explosions of the internet and of cable TV. We now have hundreds of news outlets offering gads of perspectives, a flood of contradictory information, which, if you pick the right channel or click the right link, can be used to validate any conceivable argument. Pick an "ism"--anarchism, liberalism, conservatism, evangelicalism--somebody right now is shouting into a camera about how awful it is. And someone else is shouting into a different camera about how great it is.
Our access to information is unprecedented; the resolution is limitless. We should be in a golden age of knowledge. Except for one thing: most of this information comes us via the limited perspective of our screens.
And, while screens may offer a glimpse into unseen realities (such as presidential press conferences), they are not reality. And that complicates things considerably.
We'll have to leave it there for now, otherwise Tony's gonna start charging me for extra ink. But I'll be back in a couple of weeks to address some of those complications in my next column (okay, my next Lecture on Philosophy), wherein I'll examine conspiracy theories, one-dimensional space, and the importance of a quality focal point.
You know how sometimes you really believe in something and then it turns out you were dead wrong? In 2008, a man named John Edwards was running for president. He said all the right things. He seemed like righteous dude for a politician. Yes, people complained about his vanity, his $400 haircuts, his smarmy attitude, and his waffling on the Iraq War, but his policies seemed more or less reasonable, especially his focus on poverty in rural America. And so, in spite of my misgivings, I found myself hoping he'd win the Democratic nomination.
But then we learned the truth.
His former aide, Andrew Young, claimed that, contrary to his overtures to rural America, Edwards had hated campaigning at state fairs where "fat rednecks try to shove food down my face." Further reinforcing how out of touch he was with his own message of inclusion, he was quoted as saying, "I know I'm the people's Senator, but do I have to hang out with them?"
Worse, we learned that he'd cheated on his wife while she was dying of cancer, and that he'd allegedly used campaign funds to cover up the affair. He was eventually indicted on six charges related to illegal campaign contributions meant to cover up the affair. Although the charges were eventually dropped, the scandal destroyed his political career. In 2008, in a moment of contrition, Edwards wrote, "In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.” Yes, sir, you did.
Millions of people, myself included, had respected and admired this man and then he turned out to be a hypocritical creep. It took me weeks to accept that this slick-talking con artist had played me for a fool. I had contributed to his presidential campaign, for crying out loud. My first impulse was to blame the media, blame his opponents, blame, blame, blame. I was like a delusional parent defending a cretinous child who bullies his classmates.
Eventually, I had to allow that I'd been wrong; the man I'd believed in had been a lie.
Having gone thru this experience, I feel a solidarity with the folks who've vigorously supported Donald J. Trump's rise to the White House. We want to trust our heroes, to defend them against all accusations. Our brains will do incredible gymnastics to in order to justify our misplaced loyalty. But sometimes we just have to admit that we've been conned.
As Donald Trump's presidency continues to unravel, as he is increasingly revealed to be pack of lies, immorality, frightening incoherence, and juvenile incuriousity wrapped in a husk of self-deceit, I suspect his supporters are going to find themselves in states of denial, similar to what I experienced with John Edwards. Eventually, after all the tweeting and the firings and lord knows what other foolishness, Trump will exit office as a disgraced stain on Democracy. At that point, his supporters are going to be left to decide whether they should cling to increasingly preposterous conspiracy theories (Qanon, anyone?) or to swallow their pride and move on, chastened, cynical, but grounded in the humility that reality often thrusts upon us.
So, to all the Trump devotees, I offer my sincere sympathies. I admire your dedication. There's no shame in believing a lie, especially when the liar is so damned good at telling you what you want to hear. Here's something you don't want to hear: there will never be a wall, Obamacare will not be replaced with something wonderful, he will not faithfully execute the law, he will not stop playing golf, he will not make college more affordable, he will not drain the swamp, he will not lower the national debt, and he'll never, ever lock that nasty woman up.
The next several months are going to be difficult, but I know you will make it thru this, and when you do allow the pain of reality to puncture your dreams of hope, you--and America as a whole--will emerge wiser and stronger than ever.
I've been down that road. It's bumpy.
When I was a kid watching my dad build stuff in his shed, he'd occasionally put down his tools and sit on a chair and close his eyes. This always surprised me, as he was the kind of fellow who preached the gospel of Hard Work is the Supreme Manifestation of Human Worth. Sitting on a chair with his eyes closed? That looked suspiciously like laziness to me. So I'd ask, "Why'd you stop working?" He'd say, "Hush. I'm thinking. You have to imagine a thing before you can build it." What I realize now is that he'd built a mental, 3-D model of the carburetor or differential or whatever other gizmo he was about to create and he was checking it to make sure he had the proper tools to build it, that it would function, and that it wouldn't fail under stress. Over the years, as I've figured out my own ways to imagine things (things that are decidedly not carburetors and differentials, we're different people after all) into existence, his patience and faith in his own mind have been an unwavering inspiration.
1) Listen to talk radio.
Were I to allow these sources to guide my principles, all my worries would disappear like a midday sun melts away the morning fog. The simple answer to all things is: The President is Right. Four simple words and, poof!, I won't have to smash my head against a wall wondering how any honest Christian could endorse a serial philanderer. I won't have to twist my cerebellum into knots pondering issues like racism, health care, voting rights, nuclear war, tariffs, the economy, women's rights, gay rights, religious rights, border walls, education, free speech, corporate corruption, fake news, real news, national anthems, police shootings, school shootings...pick a controversial subject and the controversy disappears, just so long as I agree that The President is Right.
Hello, friend. I'm glad I know you. When we see each other, it's always pleasant. You say hello, how are you. I say, I'm doing fine, how are you. You say you're doing great. We discuss this and that and then we shake hands and bid each other good day.
I recently made a visit to a website called Facebook. Usually, when I make such a foray, I keep it as quick as possible; get in, get out, get back to reality. This time, I lingered. Facebook has been in the news lately and I figured I ought to see what all the fuss was about. In my lingering, I found myself looking at your profile. And what a profile it is! Look at those photographs superimposed with bumper sticker phrases! What a fascinating, efficient way to share your personal philosophy with the world! What a revelation it is to see into your mind!
We've known each other for years, and yet I never knew how much you loathed me! You hate "brainwashed, anti-American, liberal, pieces of s**t"! According to your pictures, I'm a snowflake, a libtard, even a Nazi! I'm a spoiled, ignorant, entitled teenager in need of a strict father figure! I had no idea what a vain, soulless monster I am!
80% of all gun violence is gang related! It says so on that picture you posted! I'm not going to fact-check your picture! There's a man with scary face tattoos! It must be true! George Washington once said that "When any nation mistrusts its citizens, it is sending a clear message. It no longer trusts its citizens because such a government has evil plans." I can't seem to find any evidence of him actually saying that, but there's a picture of George Washington right there and those words are in an old-fashioned style font!
You are terrified of evil! And there's a lot of evil in the world! Scary gangs! Black people who need to pull their pants up! Withered, unconstitutional wimps who want to rob you of your gun collection! I don't know who those people are, but they definitely exist, because it says so right there on your Facebook page!
Kids who get shot are wimps! If they only had the discipline to stand up to bullies, their schools would be safe! You love flags, two of them. One that hangs over the US capitol, another that represents a group of heroes who bravely fought for their right to own slaves!
"Men with the biggest hearts have the worst tempers, because they are passionate about every aspect of life." I thought ill-tempered men were annoying! But now I know that when some aggressive drunk pokes his finger in my chest, it's because he's got a big heart!
Discipline! People need more discipline! It must take a great deal of discipline not to pummel me when we're saying hello to each other! That's the sort of discipline that makes a civil society! But now that I know what a pathetic little b***h I am, I'll make sure to apologize next time I see you!
Since I'm such a sensitive little snowflake, I should probably share some pictures of my own, ones that express my personal beliefs while at the same time lobbing insults at anyone who disagrees with me. Surely that'll help me be less pathetic!
Alternatively, I could log out of that pixelated cesspool altogether. It's a nice day, after all, and I want to breathe some fresh country air, maybe go strum my guitar at our lovely community center.
But first, because I lack discipline, I scroll down, look at one more of your pictures, this one of Vin Diesel, the handsome actor who drives fast and furiously: "I'd rather have an enemy who hates me instead of a friend who puts me down."
That, my friend, is something we can agree upon.
Every year, apparently because I like to torture myself, I evaluate the political landscape and try to confirm that I'm registered with the party that best fits my ideals.
First off, thanks to everybody who heeded Tony’s recent call for letters-to-the-editor. I love to see what people are thinking, especially those who see things differently from me.
Second off, starting in 2018, I’m going to be writing fewer articles for the Pioneer so I can focus on my next novel.
This being the case, I’d like to return to a subject I addressed in the first column I wrote, back in February. That one was about the differences between rural and urban living, and how I believe those differences have less to do with the people who live in those places and more to do with how those places require people to interact.
This past weekend, I was able to witness firsthand some of those differences. Let me set the scene:
I’ve been a wildly unsuccessful musician, mostly based in Denver, for over twenty years. In that time, I’ve established a wildly unsuccessful recording studio, also mostly based in Denver. Now that I spend most of my time in Yuma County, I’m hoping to re-locate my studio to this area. With that in mind, I recently invited a Denver-based country band spend a weekend recording several songs at my house. Since they would be the first band to come out here, and since that meant I’d have some bugs to work out during the process, I agreed to charge them the heady sum of five dollars per hour, with half of that going to a friend who would co-engineer the recording. My only requirement was for the band to perform at the monthly music night we host at the Grassroots Community Center in Joes.
When the band arrived on Thursday afternoon, the first thing they said was, “Half the guys won’t be able to make it to the show in Joes.”
Okay, fine, I guess. The rest of you can still play right?
Good, let’s get to work.
We got to work, everything sounded splendid, and everything went terrifically. For one night.
Something strange happened on the second day of the session. It became clear that the band hadn’t adequately rehearsed their songs; the phrases “thank you” and “please” evaporated from their vocabulary; and I came to suspect that these guys thought my buddy and I ought to be honored to sit on our butts for nine hours while they struggled to record four songs that should have taken them two hours to knock out.
At nine o’clock that night, they completed their final take, much to our relief. We figured this meant they were done. Instead, they decided to record several of their songs AGAIN, but this time with my buddy now shooting a video so they could post it online.
Seeing no end to this, I asked them to wrap things up by ten o’clock. They ignored me, which did not please me.
When ten o’clock rolled around, I shut off their microphones, which did not please them.
Relations were strained for a while, but there was a minimum of swearing and we managed to keep things more or less civil. The next afternoon, I sent the whole group (I won’t be naming the band here, but feel free to call them Ego and the Session Men. Or The Ungrateful Red) home with a fantastic recording, having fulfilled my end of our informal contract and feeling more than a little unhappy with the way things had turned out, not least because I’d missed the 6-man football championship game on their account.
That evening, I had to explain to the folks who came to Music Night why the featured band would not be in attendance. While it was disappointing, nobody was heartbroken about it.
As soon as soon as our local gang of stalwart kooks, The Rural Roots, began to play, my opinion of humanity, which had been at an ebb, rose again. There are few things I enjoy more than playing music with my friends and for my friends. We can joke around, play great or play sloppy, and the audience can tease us without mercy. Given the frustrations of the previous day, Saturday’s show was a reminder of what it means to live in a close-knit community.
While there are real and profound differences between rural America and urban America, I would argue that virtually all of those differences are a consequence of how close you live to your neighbors. (I could go on about this for days. I will not. You are welcome.) Furthermore, I would argue that if people in the rural and urban versions of America could acknowledge that these superficial differences are the root cause of our utterly ridiculous cultural divisions (which are relentlessly exploited by various news outlets), then maybe we can stop screaming at one another for a little while. But first we have to spend some time with one another.
That is precisely why, in lieu of payment, I had asked the Denver band to join us at our community center. They did not take that obligation seriously because they were far more concerned with putting their country music on a computer hard drive than they were with sharing it with a bunch of strangers in a country town they’d never heard of. The poor suckers really missed out. Sure, they got themselves a record. But an evening with the gang at the Grassroots Community Center could have given them a glimpse of something far more rewarding than the mirrored finish of a CD.
But fear not. Cultural exchanges can go in two directions. So, gang, who wants to come play a gig in Denver?
Please do not take this as a blanket condemnation of “Denver Bands.” These guys were an unfortunate exception to the rule. If you were among the lucky folks who got to see the Flobots play in Joes a couple of years ago, you saw the very best of what music can accomplish.
Imagine somebody who's driven the same pickup for forty years. Over those forty years, every single part of that truck has at some point become worn out or busted or dented. The owner has dutifully replaced those parts, to the point where there is not a single molecule remaining from the original truck. Which raises the question, if every single part of a pickup has been replaced, then is it the same pickup the owner originally purchased in 1977?
When does a thing cease to be itself? It's a question that has stumped philosophers for at least two thousand years. (The Greeks called it Theseus's Paradox. In their version, they used a ship rather than a pickup.) Which, naturally, brings us back to the ongoing discussion of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who knelt in the name of civil rights. In recent weeks, the number of NFL players participating in pregame protests during the playing of the national anthem has ballooned from less than forty to more than a hundred. This increase coincides directly with a speech delivered by Donald Trump in Alabama in which he stated that any player who protests during the anthem should be fired. And then, presumably because he needed a break from all the work he was doing to get disaster aid to Puerto Rico, he sent several tweets about the subject, suggesting, among other things, that people should boycott the NFL until the protests stop.
If there's anybody whose desperation for adoration can compete with that of our president, it's a group of highly paid professional athletes and their billionaire employers. Trump insulted them, so they showed him who was the boss by turning the sporadic protests into a movement.
In doing so, Trump has once again taken an issue and turned it into a referendum on himself as a person. Make no mistake, the players who have recently joined in the protests are doing so as referendum on Trump as much as they're doing it as a reaction to unjustified police shootings. Even a couple of team owners joined the protests. Those team owners are the same people who have made sure that Colin Kaepernick doesn't have a job in the NFL (I believe the term is "blackballing".) If those owners truly believed they were protesting in the name of civil rights, don't you think they might consider hiring Kaepernick, the very player who started all this kneeling business? Nope, it’s got nothing to do with civil rights. Instead, they're like the cocky kid who's been poked in the chest and who now feels compelled to prove that he ain’t no sissy. (For some particularly rich irony, do an online search for the terms: “Jerry Jones” and “hypocrisy.”)
Kaepernick began his protests to bring light to the communities that suffer from unjustified killings of innocent people. Now they’ve become an excuse for the NFL to demonstrate solidarity in the face of an egomaniac’s tweets.
No wonder people keep asking, "What are they protesting?" At this point, it's anybody's guess. It’s sort of like asking if a 1977 pickup that's had all its parts replaced is still a 1977 pickup.
Meanwhile, what’s Colin Kaepernick up to?
First, there’s a bright side to not playing football: he’s not getting concussions, and he’s not in a league that turns a blind eye to sexual assault, domestic assault, and child abuse. (There's not room here for a full list of the NFL players who, unlike Kaepernick, remain in the league in spite of some truly abhorrent behavior.)
With his newfound free time, he pledged last fall to give a million dollars, plus any profits from jersey sales, to various charities, $100,000 per month. As of today, he's donated $900,000 to more organizations than I could possible list here. (For the full list, go to www.kaepernick7.com.) He's helped organize a Know Your Rights Camp, whose point is to "raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios." In doing so, he's taking specific action to counter the social forces that have led to the disenfranchisement of people of color, and he's doing what he can to give them the tools to prepare themselves for the awkward scenario of being confronted by a poorly-trained police officer who might mistake walking down the street for a capital offense.
It seems like Colin Kaepernick is still behind the wheel of his good old truck, but now he’s learned how to drive the thing.
It’s human nature to be outraged at things that make us uncomfortable. But remember, we have the option of seeing beyond that outrage. To that end, we, as citizens, would do well to notice that, while our president stokes anger in order to stroke his ego, Colin Kaepernick is trying to make this a country worth standing up for. It's up to you whose example you'll choose to follow.
Thanks for reading.
Okie dokie, gang. Back to the subject of Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who knelt. As I mentioned in my last column, I going to try to climb down from my "Mountain of Truth," and I invite you to do the same, with the hope that we can meet in the "Valley of Things We All Have in Common ." As you would expect, this conversation starts with a suicidal albatross.
Imagine, if you will, the following nightmarish scenario: an airplane is innocently flying above Washington DC and it just happens to strike a despondent albatross who just happens to have eaten a can of starter fluid for breakfast. Upon being struck, the bird catches fire and then plummets like a comet 50,000 feet straight down and thru the roof of the National Archives where it smashes into the display case containing the original version of the US Constitution, which is burned to a crisp.
Were this to occur, two things would happen. One, we, as a nation would be very upset that such a valuable historical document has been lost in such a ridiculous fashion. The other thing that would happen is...nothing. As in, even if the physical copy of the Constitution were destroyed, its meaning would remain the law of the land. The United States of America would still have three branches of government, the Bill of Rights would still apply, and so on.
In other words, while the physical copy of the Constitution is a legitimate historical treasure, its true value lies in the system of government it established, and which will persist for as long as we honor the spirit of the document.
The same goes for the American flag. Old Glory, with its stars and stripes, is a symbol of America, but it is not literally America. Alas, while the Constitution clearly spells out the structure of our government, the flag is far less specific. With the flag, we are left on our own to define what it stands for. At the very least, we can agree that the flag is:
A) A symbol of the concept of America.
B) Not literally America.
The concept of America as represented by the flag, will continue unabated no matter how the flag is represented, be it flying above the US Capitol building, hung upside down as a distress signal, silkscreened on a tee-shirt superimposed with the words I support the troops. Sit on my lap and raise the flag pole, or stretched out across the length and breadth of a football field.
My point being, some depictions of the flag are respectful and some are disgraceful, but none of them have any direct consequence to the ability of this country to function as a democratic republic based on the rule of law.
This is because, just as with the Constitution, the flag is a symbol of America, but it is not literally America. This is all obvious, I know, but we need to establish common terms before we can proceed to the subject of kneeling football players.
Let us now discuss our national anthem. As we all remember, The Star-Spangled Banner is a poem by Francis Scott Key, that was set to music that had been originally composed for a British men's social club. Key's lyrics, which include three verses that aren't typically performed, were inspired the by the sight of the flag the morning after the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814.
Just as with the Constitution and the flag itself, the functionality of the United States of America will continue unabated whether the Star-Spangled Banner is performed by Whitney Houston, Rosanne Barr, or an electronic doorbell.
Having said all this, I understand why people don't like to see the Constitution, the flag, or the National Anthem disrespected. They represent American ideals, and to insult those ideals is to insult the very essence of the USA. But, paradoxically, one essential component of the USA is that people are allowed to speak freely, and that includes the right to make dumb tee-shirts and to screech the national anthem.
I, for one, am sufficiently secure in my belief in the ideals of this country that I don't get offended when someone toys with one of our symbols. Because symbols are one thing. Ideals are a far greater thing, and those cannot be touched by fire.
Next week: I'll talk about the different interpretations of American "ideals" and America's "essence." Because even those terms are vague and it's perfectly reasonable that not everyone will agree on what they mean.
As I mentioned last month, I’m going to spend a few words on Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who, in the name of civil rights, refused to stand for the national anthem, and the brain-ripping controversy that has followed that decision. I had hoped to whip up a quick little piece that’d capture the various perspectives on this subject and then wrap it all up with an amusing life-lesson-learned. As with most of the things I leap into, I was altogether too hopeful. Quick little piece, my eye. To get to the bottom of this one, I’d need to write roughly five hundred pages, annotated, footnoted, and illustrated with pie charts and nineteenth-century woodcuts. Something tells me that our dear editor, Tony, would rather not give over the next three years' worth of the Yuma Pioneer so I can talk about the history of patriotism, nationalism, civil rights, and whatever else might pop into my head. And I rather suspect that you, dear reader, would be even less inclined to endure such a thing. On the other hand, it’d be an insult to your intelligence if I were to try and boil down my thoughts until they could fit in a single column.
What, then, shall I do? I guess I’ll do what I always do, and write until I’ve finished, and hope you’re willing to read until the end.
Let’s begin with a recap of the Colin Kaepernick saga.
Last year, Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem, which is traditionally played before the beginning of an NFL game. His explanation: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He’s talking about the numerous cell-phone videos that show black men being killed by police officers. Specifically, he’s referencing those videos in which there is no clear indication that the dead men behaved in a manner that would warrant an instant death sentence.
Kaepernick faced a massive backlash for his protest. And then the backlash was faced with backlash. With your permission, I’ll summarize those backlashes with an imaginary conversation between two imaginary people drinking coffee at an imaginary diner:
ORVILLE: Kaepernick’s protest was an insult to the soldiers who fought to keep our country free!
WILBUR: The protest has nothing to do with soldiers!
ORVILLE: The NFL is a private business. They have the right to tell him to stand his butt up or get the heck out!
WILBUR: You’ve got a point there. Except, last year, the NFL commissioner said, “Players have a platform, and it's his right to do that.”
ORVILLE: Tell me, smartypants, why won’t any team hire him?
WILBUR: Good question!
ORVILLE: He’s a coward is what he is!
WILBUR: Does a coward risk his career to call attention to issues that affect groups of people he doesn’t even know?!?
ORVILLE: His message is incoherent! What’s he trying to accomplish?
WILBUR: He’s trying to get people to think about the value of black lives and the value of proper training for police officers!
ORVILLE: Go fly a kite!
WILBUR: No, you go fly a kite!
And that’s more or less where we currently stand. As always, we’re got two schools of thought, shouting at each other from mountain peaks that are so far apart, they can’t even hear one another. Welcome to America in 2017.
As humans, we’re all biological creatures who simply want to enjoy long, productive lives. It’s only when we talk about abstract concepts—such as race or politics--that we start to diverge. As those abstract concepts stack up, they can isolate us from one another, until we’re so far apart that we can’t communicate. And so, as I continue writing about this subject, I’d like to climb down from my mountain and I’d invite you to do the same, for here at the bottom of things is where we all meet. Hopefully, by the time I’m done, we’ll have made our mountains a little closer to one another. With that being said, I’ll continue this next month (or maybe sooner if Tony has room) with a discussion about Old Glory, The Star Spangled Banner, and a suicidal albatross.
When I was a gangly freshman on Liberty's six-man football team, I once made the mistake of calling our coach "sir." He had told us to do some push-ups or something and I said, "Yes, sir." To which he replied, "I like the sound of that. Everybody shall call me 'Sir' from now on." And so, from then on, Coach was 'Sir' and we were his obedient--if not athletic--soldiers .
Once we figured out how it worked, this chain of command business really wasn't so bad. If you do what Sir says, then you don't have to bother with thinking, which only has a tendency to complicate things anyway. What was bad was our offensive line, of which I was a member. We couldn't block worth a lick, which played a significant role in our 0-8 record that year.
By the time I was a senior, we still couldn't block. But then, one Saturday in 1990, I was watching a college football game and the announcers started talking about a CU player who was doing a crummy job of blocking. As I recall, they stated that, on a running play, one must drive forward into his opponent, opening up a hole for the halfback. (That's how I tried to block on every play.) However, the announcers continued, on passing plays, the linemen should take a step back and focus primarily on keeping the opponent from getting around you to sack the quarterback. That was a revelation. My teammates and I had been pass-blocking incorrectly all this time. For our next game, I switched up my technique and it worked !
But here's the ridiculous thing, I didn't share this insight with anybody. I vividly remember thinking, Should I tell my teammates? Nah, that would just make me sound like a smarty-pants. Should I tell Sir? Nah. It’ll make him insecure and when he’s insecure he makes people run laps.
I was more concerned with my own status within our football culture than I was with the success of our football team.
What pithy lesson did I learn from all of this? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but I'll make a guess: For the good of the team, it's sometimes necessary to speak up to Sir, even if you don't think he'll take it well.
With this in mind, you can look forward to next month's column, in which I'm going to take an unpopular view on the controversy around Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who refused to stand for the national anthem.
I used to love concussions. I reckon I had two of 'em in my time as a six-man footballer. We'd kick off, and then everybody would sprint at each other like a pair of Red Rover teams gone mad. The objective was to knock somebody's block off, preferably someone from the opposing team. On two occasions, I'd actually managed to tee-up someone and slam into him. Boom! Next thing you know, I'm peering out of the earhole of my helmet and one of my teammates is saying, "Dude, do you know where you are?" And then, as the sparkles melt away from my eyes, my muddified brain tells me to say, "Blue." Which is hilarious because blue is a color, not a place. And then my teammates would gently turn me around because I was walking toward the wrong sideline.
Sit on the bench, helmet off, dreamy haze. A little while later, Coach asks if I'm ready to go back in and I say, "Yes," because I don't fear concussions, because they're fun! So I'd go back in and play the rest of the game, badly, which always went unnoticed because I played badly under all circumstances. Then, after we lost the game, everyone would have a laugh at how discombobulated I was. It's a blast, seriously.
Even after my football days were over, in my mid-twenties, a buddy and I played a game where we'd roll up a newspaper and whack each other on the forehead. Why? Because it was fun!
Let's be clear: rolling up a newspaper and hitting someone on the head is a really stupid way to get yer kicks.
Is running full speed into a guy holding a football any less stupid? As football players in the late 80's and early 90's, we kind of knew that concussions were kind of bad, but we also figured we'd be fine once the old cobwebs had cleared out of the old noggin.
Now, thanks to our good pal, science, we know just how unhealthy concussions can be. And yet I still hear arguments that go like this, "NFL players need to stop acting like wimps. They know what a concussion is and they get paid too much money to start whining when they develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy." (I've just employed a strawman argument, which is bad writing. But, just like Loretta Lynn in a cornfield, I stand by my strawman.)
I can't think of a single thing about that argument that holds merit. Unless, of course, you consider If you get paid a lot of money, then you shouldn't be a wimp to be a valid point of debate, which it isn't.
("Don't be a wimp" is something third-graders shout at the indecisive kid lingering at the edge of the high dive, not something adults shout at someone who (a) played professional football and (b) can no longer remember his own address.)
Certainly, all football players know that they're going to bang their heads. But do they understand the true consequences of all that headbanging? Way back when, in the distant year of 2010, who knew that linemen could develop CTE simply due to an accumulation of micro-concussions that occur on play after play? The NFL did. (For evidence, the documentary League of Denial is a good place to start.) and yet they denied it. In doing so, they deceived their players (and fans). Give the NFL credit, at least they had a sound argument. If players (and fans) were to understand the consequences of concussions, they might stop playing (and watching), and that would slow down the river of money.
All of this begs the question, "Given what you know, Mr. Righteous Pants, do you still watch football?" I'll have to think on that one. Can I get back to you after the Superbowl?
 For the record, Lombardi appropriated the quote from a guy named Red Sanders, coach of the UCLA Bruins, who was apparently saying it as early as 1950.
 Speaking of which, George Bernard Shaw may have been onto something when he said, in 1893, “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it....”
We’re all aware of Vince Lombardi’s legendary quote, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."  Today, I shall argue that winning isn’t a thing at all.
Changing our final record didn’t change the fact that, in our newly-discovered victory, Woodlin had forty-fived us before the fourth quarter, it didn’t change the fact that our running back twisted his ankle and had to sit out our next game, and it didn’t change the fact that Woodlin would have beaten us even if half of their team had been on the down-list.
In reality, Woodlin “won” the game. The players they put on the field trounced the players we put on the field. In another reality, Liberty “won” the game. The players we put on the field did not violate eligibility rules. Even though we lost the game, we won the game, simply by not cheating, which is the equivalent of passing a test because you spelled your name right at the top of the paper.
But I don’t care about any of that, because, as I mentioned five paragraphs ago, winning isn’t a thing.
Well, obviously, that’s silly. Without winning, how would we know for certain that the Broncos won Super Bowl 50? How would we know who earned the most money on Jeopardy last week? Without winning, how would we know that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world?
Hang on a minute. How do we know that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world? It’s not like the United States competes in an annual Greatest Country in the World Contest. And if we did, and if we won, I’m fairly certain that someone would claim that the referees were being paid off, and therefore declare the results invalid.
I mean, I sure do like living here. But I really don’t know a whole lot about the other 195 nations on Earth. I hear things are pretty good in Norway; low crime, great health care, lots of fjords. Maybe Norway’s the world’s greatest country. Maybe it’s Canada, or Costa Rica, or some place in Africa. Who knows? Who cares? I like it here. This is where I'm from.  I love our free press, free speech, and freedom of (and from) religion. The Bill of Rights is awesome! The constitution was a brilliant document! I love Colorado! I love Yuma County!
That’s good enough for me. My self-esteem ought not to hinge on whether I’m a citizen of the world’s greatest country, or if my football team won one or two games, or if I’ve once again failed to write a coherent column.
In fact, there are many cases I’m just as happy to lose as to win, which is why I often do things that might seem nutty to an outside observer. When I fail at something--which is often--I endeavor to examine where I went wrong, take note of where I managed to go right, and then move on just a little wiser for having taken a risk. Or, in the case of six-man football, I was able to move on with the understanding that, no matter how many games we won in 1990, I would be wise to never touch a pigskin again.
 For the record, Lombardi appropriated the quote from a guy named Red Sanders, coach of the UCLA Bruins, who was apparently saying it as early as 1950.
 Speaking of which, George Bernard Shaw may have been onto something when he said, in 1893, “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it....”
I used to hate Arickaree School. Really, really hate them. In the eighties, Arickaree had an incredible run in basketball and football where they beat Liberty, like, a thousand times in a row. Arickaree was Gargamel and we were a bunch of Smurfs . I didn't hate just the athletes, I hated the coaches, I hated the parents, I hated their school colors (green and yellow), and I hated the Yuma Pioneer for printing articles with headlines like "Osthoff Scores 112 Points on Struggling Liberty Hoopsters." 
 I'm assuming everybody on Earth knows who the Smurfs are. If do not know who the Smurfs are, consider yourself lucky.
 This is not a real headline.
 Anybody who beats you all the time is your rival, even if that rivalry isn’t reciprocated.
 One example: Their basketball coach drew up this clever screen play for missed freethrows, and it tricked us every time. That wasn't cheating, it was thinking.
Today, rather than discuss 6-man football, I'll focus on the NFL, with a particular focus on referees. As a reminder, a referee is someone who wears a black and white shirt, who exists in a land where nothing is black and white, and who is loathed because he  has the final say. Let's examine the previous sentence clause by clause:
A referee is someone who wears a black and white shirt… The striped shirt is not very fashionable. I wouldn’t recommend wearing one to a wedding, or funeral, or any non-sports engagement. However, the design stands out nicely in a crowd and so it works well in a ball game.
…who exists in a land where nothing is black and white… You know how, when you’re watching the Broncos and you throw popcorn at the TV because the refs didn't see the defensive back interfere with Demaryius Thomas? Meanwhile, on the same play, a fan in Massachusetts is throwing Boston cream pies at his TV because the officials failed to flag Demaryius Thomas for interfering with the defensive back. Two fans watching the same television broadcast, but seeing opposite things. Clearly, at least one person is mistaken here. So why is everybody throwing food? Because, when it comes to judgement calls, nothing is black and white.
…and who is loathed because he has the final say. This, to me, is the key to this discussion, because it’s not entirely true. The referees do not have the final say. They have a say in the final say, but I'd argue that the players have a greater say in the final say than the referees. After all, the players are the only people in the game who can actually score the points that end up on the scoreboard, and the scoreboard is the final, final say.
1) Referees are humans and humans make mistakes.
This is why you get people in Denver and Boston throwing food at their TVs for the same play but for opposite reasons. Which is fine; a little cognitive dissonance within a football game isn’t going to hurt anyone.
 I say, “he,” but with the understanding that women are also perfectly capable of officiating sporting events.
In 1990, the Liberty Black Knights won a total of one football game, against the Bethune Bobcats. Given how crummy we were, the Bobcats must have been having a very bad day. But we clobbered them (by two points) and in doing so, I learned what it's like to crush an opponent (by two points). For once, my team got to smile as we went thru the end-of-game good-sportsmanship handshakes.
 To be clear, I do not object to the use of sailor-speak. In fact, I'm a big fan of it, as long as it's used for constructive purposes.
 Peter 3:9, New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Edition
My name is Gregory Hill, and today I’m writing as a former, and really awful, six-man football player for Liberty High School. When I was a freshman, we lost all of our games Because of this, and because I didn’t like getting my butt kicked all over the field, I skipped the next two years. As I senior, I returned to the team, but only because I lost a bet. (The story of that wager is funny, very long, and would impugn the dignity of several humans if I were to tell it here.) We won one game that year. (For the record, in the two years I didn’t play, the team was phenomenal. You do the math.)
No matter how I felt about the sport, it did, as coaches always promise, impart some valuable life-lessons. In this column, which I hope to write once a month, I shall divulge some of those lessons. Today’s lesson is:
Six-Man Football is a Reasonable Approximation of the Urban-Rural divide.
If you’ve ever looked at an electoral map, you are at least casually familiar with the Urban-Rural divide; the cities are blue and the rural areas are red. Why is this? One depressingly popular answer is, “It’s because those people in [insert region of your choice] are dummies.” Or they’re elites, or they’re vulgar, or violent, or lazy, or…
I’m of the radical opinion that people are the same from one region to the next, it’s just that different regions require us to behave in specific ways in order for us to get along within those regions. It’s no wonder then, that when people from red areas meet people from blue areas, there’s going to be some cultural confusion.
Which brings us back to six-man football. First, is six-man football actually football? My broken pinkie and crummy knee would say yes. However, if, in 1987, someone had plucked me off the 80-yard field where I played a position known as guardtackletightendwidereceiver, and then brought me to Denver and tossed me onto a 100-yard field in the midst of a varsity eleven-man team, I would have been dead within moments.
Because, while six-man football is football, it is not eleven-man football. You can’t play eleven-man when there aren’t even eleven boys in your entire high school. Which is why somebody had to invent six-man football, a game similar to eleven-man, but with significant differences in the rules.
In six-man, it takes fifteen yards to get a first-down, hand-offs are illegal, quarterbacks can’t run the ball, anyone is eligible to receive a pass, and so on. My favorite rule was the 45 Rule, aka the Slaughter Rule. When I played it went this way: if a team got ahead by 45 points, the game was over (but you had to play the entire first half). Without the Slaughter Rule, my teams would have lost most of our games by sixty or more points, and lord knows how many more pinkies I might have broken.
The six-man rules exist primarily to prevent one person from dominating a game. I’ve always thought about it this way: In eleven-man football, if nobody blocks, then the poor sucker with the ball is going to be chased by 11 bloodthirsty kids. In the same scenario in six-man, you’re only gonna get chased by six kids, at least one of whom will stand 4’11” and weigh 106 pounds.
There’s nothing unusual about a 6’7” 270lb kid in eleven-man varsity football. In six-man, a kid of that size is so rare that, assuming he has the teeniest bit of athleticism, he’s going to dominate like a Newfoundland at a Chihuahua party.
Six-man rules (aka regulations) exist for two reasons. One, to make sure that schools with small populations are allowed to field a team. Two, those rules exist to make it harder for one player to completely take over. Which is to say, the rules make it easier for the little guy to have a chance. It’s almost as if someone said, “Kids in rural America are entitled to play a version of football that suits their limited resources.”
Let’s now return to the Urban-Rural Divide. Because of high population-density, people in cities have to play by different rules from people in rural America. If you live in Denver, you will probably interact with hundreds of strangers every single day; in traffic, walking down the sidewalk, waiting in line at the grocery store.
There’s an implied rule that you must get along with every one of these strangers, even if it means that you have to pretend they don’t exist. For instance, don’t stare at people on the bus unless you want to make them very uncomfortable. Confusingly, there are other times when you absolutely must acknowledge the existence of strangers. If you’re driving down a busy street—or any street, frankly—use your turn signals. Otherwise, you could potentially throw the whole system into chaos, and maybe clobber a bicyclist, which is not only rude, but painful.
Country life has its own rules and regulations, some of which are the complete opposite of city rules. For example, in those rare situations when a stranger sits next to you in the bleachers of a six-man football game, you’re absolutely going to pay close attention. You may even find yourself staring. Because, compared to an urban setting, strangers are uncommon out here, and humans tend to be fascinated by uncommon things. Or, if you’re the type of person who religiously uses his turn signal, even on a dirt road in the middle of the night on your way home from Music Night at the Grassroots Community Center, there’s a good chance your passenger will call you a nut.
You can’t just pluck someone out of Joes, Colorado and expect them to thrive in the city. And you can’t take someone from Denver and expect them to thrive on the Great Plains. Because humans, by necessity, behave by different rules in different places, and those different ways of interaction lead to wildly divergent ideas of privacy, courtesy, and fellowship.
Fortunately, as long as we can acknowledge these differences and respect the appropriate societal rules (either formal or implied), we can all still find a way to enjoy the game.