Dog Whistles In My Hometown

Dog Whistle: a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.

Every year, I like to pay attention to lawn signs. My local elections don’t get a lot of press coverage. It’s not like anyone’s polling Newington and handicapping the races. So, as I go around town, I look for the signs to give myself some sort of sense for who might win. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

This year, using my unscientific method, it appears to be a close race for state representative. It shouldn’t be close. The incumbent, Democrat Gary Turco is doing a good job. He’s smart, he listens, he’s responsive, and he actually cares about our town and its people. He deserves another term.

But, I’m downright disturbed by his opponent, Michael Camillo. Camillo seems to be running on a platform of Blue Lives Matter, which, as we all should know, is racist. His campaign signs have a quote on them, “If we expect our officers to stand in front of us, we need to stand behind them.” There’s a lot wrong with that statement, but it is clearly saying that he supports the police. With no other context given, we have to assume that he supports the police against the Black Lives Matter movement as they are the most prominent, if not only, group fighting for police accountability at the moment. Combine that with the blue stripe (the same color blue as the Blue Lives Matter flags) behind his name on the signs and the fact that his signs are frequently paired with signs that say, “We support the Newington police” (which also have the blue stripe), and it’s pretty clear he’s running on racism.

Of course, he would probably deny any accusations of racism, but that’s the thing about dog whistles, plausible deniability. He can say that he’s not even talking about race, he just really likes the police. We have to call him out on it. Imagine if, when the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal broke, a politician had put up signs saying, “I support the priests.” People would have been appalled. It would have been like putting up signs saying he was anti-children or pro-abuse. This is the same. The only reason we’re talking about the police at all in 2020 is because they keep murdering Black people. Making a big show of your support for the police right now is the same as showing your racism. Blue Lives Matter is so obviously racist that it’s barely even a dog whistle anymore. It’s a small step away from a noose and a white hood.

For as long as I’ve lived here, Newington has been more conservative than I am. But, up until now, it has always been the anti-tax conservatives rather than the racist conservatives. I’m truly shaken that, in 2020, my town has a significant population responding positively to racist dog whistles. We should be better than this.

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What Have the Police Done for You?

Photo by ev on Unsplash

My girlfriend makes fun of me because I always stop at crosswalks, press the button and wait. I tell her I do that because I see people run red lights in Hartford almost every day. This morning was no exception. I took a walk to the ATM, and on the way back I watched a car run through a red light while I was crossing the street. Of course, there were no police in sight. There never are.

I keep seeing shit like, “We need police to respond to emergencies and violence!” Yet they never seem to be around when they’re needed. Or is that just a cliche? Let’s go through my history with crime, violence and the police and see if they’ve actually helped me.

  1. My first memory of the police was when they raided my apartment and took my father to prison. That led to my mother losing the apartment, so we moved to Bloomfield. Police were not helpful.
  2. My mother started receiving anonymous threats of violence that were so serious, we moved into a battered women’s shelter for several months. No one was arrested or charged. Police were not helpful.
  3. My brothers and I kept getting into fights with this kid in our neighborhood. My mother calls the police to resolve the issue. We all end up in court in a “rehabilitation” program where our records will be expunged after a year of staying out of trouble. We stay clean. After the year, we start fighting again. Police were not helpful.
  4. I joined the Bloomfield Police Explorers in the 8th grade. It was actually alot of fun, and I met several police officers I liked. I went to Explorers Summer Camp and had alot of fun there too. Police were helpful.
  5. Officer Jenny at Carmen Arace was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen up until that point. I guess that’s helpful?
  6. I was burglarized twice while living on Main Street. The first time I called the police. It took them 40 minutes to show up. When the officer got there, I told him that several electronics had been stolen from me, and that I suspected building maintenance had done it because there was no forced entry. He then proceeds to walk around the apartment, looking for signs of forced entry. I repeatedly tell him that there was no forced entry. After ten minutes of this, he gives me his card and tells me there’s not much they can do because I don’t have the serial numbers of the devices. He leaves. Police were not helpful.

    The second time, I wrote a bunch of notes asking for my stuff back and slid them under the doors of all my neighbors. I got my stuff back two days later.
  7. I’ve been assaulted twice while walking down the street in Hartford. Not a police officer in sight. Police were not helpful.
  8. I met a few police officers working through various community initiatives. They were all friendly and helpful during those meetings, and we’ve stayed friendly since. I recently went to reach out to one on LinkedIn for help on an article when I realized that he’d friended me using a burner account. I don’t know why, but I don’t like it. Not helpful.
  9. The two people that I personally know very well (as in, years of knowing and talking to them) as police officers are the absolute last people you’d want with a gun in their hands. I am not joking. They will not be helpful to you.

I would say that, on the whole, the police have been very unhelpful to me, even in moments when I reached out to them for help. So yeah, you can skip me with that “police are necessary” nonsense.

However!

I recognize that my experiences represent only one person, and that yours might be different. So I want to know: what have the police done for you?

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Brand Names

The warehouse I work in does natural, organic, and specialty food. That means there’s a lot of ethnic/imported foods, a lot of kosher foods, and a lot of brands that I wasn’t familiar with before working there. One that I ran across the other day is called Autocrat Coffee. I did an actual double take when I read the label. Who would decide to name their brand Autocrat?

Then, a bit of self-doubt crept in. Maybe autocrat doesn’t mean what I think it means. So, I looked it up. There are two definitions given for autocrat, “1. a ruler who has absolute power. 2. someone who insists on complete obedience from others; an imperious or domineering person.” I wasn’t wrong. An autocrat is a dictator. Franco was the example given when I looked it up. Every one of the synonyms is pretty evil. So, why would a coffee company decide to associate their brand with evil?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but it got me thinking and I realized that they’re not the only company with a bizarre name. Before it was a clothing store, a banana republic was, “a politically unstable country with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, such as bananas or minerals.” Who pitched that? And how many bars out there are called The Pour House? I get the pun, but why would anybody want to go to the poorhouse?

I just think it’s a weird phenomenon. If I were starting a business, I’d want positive connotations with the name. Maybe I’m overthinking it.

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Quarantine Hair

I haven’t gotten a haircut in eight or nine months. I know haircuts have been allowed since the summer, but it strikes me as a high risk/low reward activity. I have to say, I’m loving it. It doesn’t look good. I’m well aware of that. Aside from being too old for long hair, I’ve been follicly challenged for more than a decade now. But, I’m loving it anyway. It feels great.

I had long hair as a college student, like past my shoulders long hair. Through the first half of my twenties, I had what I would call shaggy hair. There was no consistency to my haircuts. I got one when I noticed I needed one. Often that was weeks after I actually needed one. But in the past twenty years, I’ve gotten a haircut every six weeks, whether I needed it or not.

This is the one good thing about the COVID era. Letting my hair grow while being in a social environment where it’s acceptable has been liberating. When I say it feels great, I mean it. It’s insanely comfortable having a mane. Twirling it in my fingers is soothing. I just love it.

That’s all I’ve got to say. I know it’s not exciting, but it’s a small positive in an otherwise bad year. I’ll just add that I almost took my first selfie to accompany this post, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hate getting my picture taken that much. You’ll just have to trust me that it doesn’t look good.

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We’re Still In a Pandemic, Aren’t We?

This was an interesting week. But I guess to tell it right, I have to start with last week. We had a COVID-scare. My brother was showing symptoms and went to get tested. He had been in contact with my parents. Socially distant contact, but still contact. My parents were supposed to be my childcare while I worked, but we didn’t want to possibly expose my daughter before the test results came back. So, I took a day off from work and acted as my own childcare.

It was a fantastic day. I really like being a dad. Plus, it was curriculum night. I had thought I was going to miss it because of work, but the stars aligned and I was able to attend. My daughter’s school system started the fall with hybrid learning, a week on followed by a week off so that there are never more than half the students in the school at a time. At curriculum night, the teacher talked about how well everything was going and that it looked like they would be switching to full-time school in a week.

I didn’t say anything, but it struck me as odd. Maybe it was just what my brother was going through amplified everything for me, but I felt like I was getting 3-4 positive test notifications each week from the school system and the news kept talking about how numbers were up. I know the difficulties of the hybrid system, but it seemed risky. But, it wasn’t my daughter’s teacher’s decision, so I wasn’t going to argue with her about it.

The next day, my brother’s test came back negative. I went to work. My parents watched my daughter. Back to normal, or at least 2020 normal. That evening, I got an email from the superintendent of my daughter’s school system. He expressed his regrets that the most recent COVID numbers weren’t good, and that they were going to stick with hybrid learning for the time being. That made me happy, I thought it was too soon for full time school anyway.

Now, for this week. I went to work on Monday. It was announced that someone at work tested positive for COVID. They wouldn’t tell us who, for obvious reasons, and they assured us that they did contact tracing and anyone who had been in close contact with the person was sent home. Apparently I hadn’t been in close contact with the person. Still, I couldn’t help speculating. I noticed the people who were missing. There was one that I was a little worried about, but the rest of them were people I never interacted with.

Later, I started feeling lousy. I tried to brush it off as hypochondria at first. It’s just all this COVID talk from the past week. It’s getting in my head. But, it got worse. Chills, sweating, headache, and nausea. It seems like almost everything is a symptom of COVID, but these definitely fell in the possible-COVID category. I’m a responsible person. I always wear my mask and keep socially distant, and the only responsible thing to do was to go home.

I won’t go into details, but the next day and a half weren’t fun. I called my doctor. I told him that under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother him. He assured me that I did the right thing. It was probably a stomach bug, but I needed a COVID test to make sure and that I had to isolate until the results of the test came back.

I went for the test the next morning (It wouldn’t have been safe to drive myself any earlier). I was already feeling a lot better. It’s kind of a weird feeling getting a test after you’ve started to feel better, but it couldn’t be helped. After the test, I called work and explained what was happening. They agreed that I should stay away pending the test results. Then, I had to coordinate my parenting arrangement with my ex, since I couldn’t see my daughter until after the test results.

The next two days were spent in a weird limbo. I felt fine, but I couldn’t work or go shopping or see my daughter or anything. I watched a bunch of baseball, read, and wrote. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I got a call from the doctor. The test was negative. I was in the clear.

I picked up my daughter so we could spend the weekend together. When we got home, there was an email from her superintendent. It seems that this week’s numbers were good. So he was announcing that, after next week, my daughter would be returning to full time school. She’s thrilled about it. She hates home-school.

I find myself confused. Like I said, I understand the difficulties of the hybrid model. It’s hard on the kids, the parents, jobs, schools, teachers, everyone. But, COVID is real. There’s no vaccine or reliable treatment. My family has had two COVID-scares in two weeks. We were lucky both times, but hundreds of thousands of families have not been so lucky. What’s the rush?

Is it just me? Who else feels this way?

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I’m Confused

I didn’t think I could be surprised anymore. The past four years have been that bizarre. But when news broke that the FBI arrested a group of terrorists who were planning on kidnapping Governor Gretchen Whitmer and overthrowing the government of Michigan, I have to admit, I was surprised. Though I’m having some trouble figuring out why I’m surprised. This isn’t the strangest or most tragic thing to happen in recent memory. Not by a long shot. Still, I can’t quite believe that it’s a real story.

I don’t know what it is about the case that’s throwing me. Domestic terrorists have been a problem for decades. (I hate the phrase domestic terrorist, by the way.) Trump has been inciting the far right for years. Earlier this year, he even called for the liberation of Michigan. There’s nothing surprising there.

The aftermath has also been totally predictable. Governor Whitmer thanked the law-enforcement people who helped thwart the plot. Trump tried to bad-mouth her by saying she didn’t even thank the justice department. He tried to make the successful counterterrorism operation about him even though he wasn’t in any way personally involved. And he took the opportunity to insult the intended victim. When you stop and think about it, this whole story is about as on-brand as 2020 can get.

Even though I keep telling myself this, I don’t quite believe it’s true. I was reading about it in the Washington Post, but I kept glancing at the URL to see if it was The Onion. Maybe all the BS has finally gotten to me. I’ve lost the ability to trust. Or maybe I’m just having a bad day. All I know is that I’m confused.

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Short-termism

I’m not, by nature, a person concerned with the short-term. If I lie awake worrying, there’s a better chance that I’m worrying about the eventual heat-death of the universe than what might happen at work tomorrow. An hour, a day, a year are nothing. I can stand on my head that long. Give me the long-term. Let’s talk about what’s going to happen over decades and generations. That’s what’s going to hold my interest.

Focusing on the long-term has advantages. It helps me cope with a lot of the bad things that happen. For example, in the fight for racial justice, I take hope from demographics. I know that over the next generation, white people will become a minority in the United States, and there’s no going back. At some point, white-supremacy simply won’t have the numbers to be sustainable. I know that’s abstract and won’t work for everyone. It might even be my own version of burying my head in the sand. For me, though, the evening news would be unbearable without that hope.

However, there is a great, big but which shows itself every November. For a long time now, I’ve struggled with arguments like the one presented here. How am I supposed to tell a Black person essentially, “Hang in there. If things go the way I think they’re going to go, maybe your kids or grandkids won’t have to be afraid of being murdered by the police?” At best it’s condescending, insensitive, and heartless even though I don’t mean it in those ways. A long-term perspective just isn’t appropriate when people are suffering in the here and now, especially for those who are suffering in the here and now.

So, for matters of practical politics, I adopt a short-term view. “Biden wasn’t my first choice, I know he’s not perfect, but Trump is an existential threat. . .” I never feel good about this, though. I’m vulnerable to the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil, but it goes deeper than that. I can’t shake the feeling that short-termism is what caused a lot of our problems in the first place.

When they were writing the Constitution, the founding fathers knew how badly slavery conflicted with the ideals of the Revolution. There was a real effort to ban the slave trade from the outset. Georgia and South Carolina flat refused any attempt to do so. So, a short-term compromise was reached. The federal government was kept from passing any laws that interfered with the slave trade or individual states’ treatment of slaves until 1808. The southern states felt protected while the abolitionists told themselves that by 1808, the slave trade would have died a natural death without government intervention since it was trending in that direction anyway. Of course, the trade did not die a natural death. And, in 1808, when the federal government started passing laws designed to end the slave trade, the south made sure the laws had no teeth or were improperly enforced.

That kind of moral abomination may not be the result every time we make a short-term compromise, but it feels like that danger is real. Is that just what short-termism does? I don’t know the answer to that, but I also don’t see that we have any choice. There isn’t a long-term option.

Another term of Trump really is an existential threat. Biden really is the only way to stop Trump. Trump will really try to maintain power through any means necessary. Biden really needs his victory to be so decisive that the courts, the military, and everyone else are forced to accept it. The pressing needs of the present have blotted out real future considerations. I really want us to survive the short-term so I can get back to worrying about the long-term.

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Eddie Van Halen

When Tom Petty died, I talked about how rare it was for me to be into a musician or band that was popular when they were popular. Van Halen was one of those bands for me. I mostly think of the 80s as a low point for music, but Van Halen was one of the few bright spots. It often surprises people when they find out I like Van Halen, as if it’s somehow out of character. I’ve never really understood why.

Since Eddie died, much of the talk has been about him as a guitarist, for good reason. He was an extraordinary guitar player. I’m not one to get into rankings, but I will say that he is in a special class. He changed what people thought was possible on the instrument. There’s guitar before EVH, and there’s guitar after EVH, and they are different because of Eddie.

I wanted to bring up two things that haven’t been getting the same attention, but are two of the most important reasons I’m a fan. First is the songs. Van Halen wrote a lot of really good songs. They’re not just shred-fests where he could show off his skills. They are high-quality songs. They’re catchy, fun, hummable, and danceable. The virtuosity was always in service of the music, of the songs, never the other way around.

The other thing is that Eddie was a really hard worker. It’s always bothered me a little when musicians talk about being a vessel or being divinely inspired. Good music takes a lot of hard work. Eddie’s practice is legendary. He would practice, then practice more, then practice more, then practice more. It’s no accident that he got as good as he did. His story about “Little Guitars” from Diver Down is a great example, “I think that the best thing I do is cheat. I came up with the intro after I bought a couple of Carlos Montoya records. I was hearing his fingerpicking, going, ‘My God, this guy is great. I can’t do that.’ So, I just listened to that style of music for a couple of days and I cheated! [Using a pick] I am doing trills on the high E and pull-offs with my left hand, and slapping my middle finger on the low E. If there’s something I want to do and can’t, I won’t give up until I can figure out some way to make it sound similar to what I really can do.” He called it “cheating,” but it was anything but. That’s what work looks like. When Eddie was faced with a musical problem, he worked at it until he solved it.

I’m going to spend the next few days listening to a lot of Van Halen. It will be a lot of fun, thanks to Eddie’s hard work. I want to thank him for that.

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Magic

I’m tired of people saying there’s no such thing as magic. That’s one of my least favorite features of the modern world. We have science now, so no more magic. There’s Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” When people say that, they usually mean that whatever we are witnessing is not really magic, it’s just something we don’t understand. I’m calling shenanigans on that. Magic and understanding aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m not saying we should stop using science, I just want science to let magic back in.

To illustrate my point, let’s look at magnets. Magnets are magic. Anyone who’s ever played with magnets must know this. They stick together without any adhesive. Then, when you flip one over, they won’t stick together no matter how hard you push them towards each other. They make things levitate without any physical contact with the object. They make electricity (which is also magic, by the way). They make other objects move, again, without any physical contact with the object. They always know which way is north. I could go on, but there can’t be any need. If the word magic has any meaning, clearly, magnets are an example of magic.

Why on Earth should that change just because someone can explain what is going on? By saying, “all magnetization is due to the effect of microscopic, or atomic, circular bound currents, also called Ampèrian currents, throughout the material. For a uniformly magnetized cylindrical bar magnet, the net effect of the microscopic bound currents is to make the magnet behave as if there is a macroscopic sheet of electric current flowing around the surface, with local flow direction normal to the cylinder axis.[13] Microscopic currents in atoms inside the material are generally canceled by currents in neighboring atoms, so only the surface makes a net contribution” (Wikipedia, Magnet) we don’t change anything about the magnets themselves. They still do all of the crazy cool stuff they’ve always been able to do. Magnets are still magic, no matter what we say about them.

The world is a better place with magic in it. The idea that a scientific explanation stops something from being magical is silly. We all witness magical things every day. Instead of acting like there’s no magic, I say we learn to appreciate the magic that we experience.

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Economics

I’ve been saying for a long time now that the economy has never been good in my lifetime. I make that as an honest and serious statement. It’s not hyperbole. The economy has not been good for at least 45 years. But, the official outlets (the government, news agencies, professional economists) have said differently. They often talk about the booming economies of Reagan, Clinton, and Obama, at least. I wanted to talk a little bit about where this disconnect comes from and why I think I’m right.

Economists use economic indicators to judge the economy. They look at things like Gross Domestic Product, Unemployment, Stock Prices, Property Values, and on and on. They use these indicators to determine the size and direction of the economy, whether it is expanding or contracting and by how much. The problem is when they try to translate the size and direction of the economy into good or bad.

Too often, people forget the relational nature of good and bad. Nothing is good or bad in itself. It is good or bad in relation to something. Red is not good or bad. It’s just red. When red, a rose for example, is seen by something that finds it beautiful, it is good. When red, blood for example, is seen by something that finds it horrifying, it is bad.

The economy is the same. A 2% growth in GDP is not good or bad in itself. A 4% drop in unemployment is not good or bad in itself. They are just statistics, but economists tend to talk about them as if they have inherent value, as if they are good or bad in themselves. A growing economy is a good economy. A shrinking economy is a bad economy. The more growth, the better (I’m oversimplifying, of course, economists do worry about unstable growth and they do celebrate market corrections).

The catch here is the relationship that is being used to determine good and bad. Economists compare an economy to itself at different points in time, or they compare one economy to another. But those aren’t the relationships that matter. The relationship that matters is between the economy and the people who live in that economy. The 2012 economy might have been growing while the 2008 economy was shrinking, but that doesn’t tell us if either of them were good or bad. To find that out, we have to look at how the people were doing in those years.

In the past 45 years, the people haven’t been in very good shape. Some people have done very well, but most people have either stagnated or gone backwards. The supposed good economy of the 1980s saw the destruction of organized labor making workers less secure than they were before. The supposed good economy of the 1990s saw a dramatic rise in underemployment while increases in the cost of health care and education far outstripped salaries. The supposed good economy of the 2010s was fueled by the rise of the gig economy which leaves workers less secure than they were in the 80s. 2012 might have been better than 2008, but that doesn’t make it good if too many people are still suffering.

That’s the bottom line. For all the growth and booming markets and real estate peaks achieved during my lifetime, there has always been a large and persistent group of people struggling. There are many reasons for this, but the economy has not done anything to help fix it. Until that happens, I can’t call the economy good.

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