Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered


It was mid October 1967, the Wisconsin air chilly, the sun bright.  The long drawn out discussion was over—those who wanted to be arrested inside the commerce building would block the Dow recruiters’ doors and those who didn’t would line its corridors.  Or protest outside.

I quickly realized that any distinction about committing civil disobedience was moot.  We were stuffed inside the building like sardines in a can.  No one could tell who was blocking a door and who wasn’t.

A university rep gave us a chance to leave before police would be called in to clear the building but no one made a move. I guess we thought that, at worse, they would push us outside—if we thought anything at all.

Then the tear gas bombs hit and the sardines, blinded and choking, began pushing and pulling each other in a deteriorating meltdown of rage and confusion.  Facemasks lowered, a phalanx of riot geared cops descended, indiscriminately swinging clubs in every direction.  We were red meat in front of Dobermans. Men, women, it didn’t matter. Blood flew in all directions.

They cleared the building with brute force but as we stumbled into the sun, eyes tearing, coughing, gagging, we saw the enormous swell of the crowd—many of whom had come to watch or were simply going to class but had now joined the ranks of outside protesters appalled by what they had seen.

Hundreds and hundreds were politicized that day including folks who’d never paid any attention to the anti-war movement.  And now actually began to listen.  It was a seminal moment, not only at the University but nationwide as people were stunned by what they had seen on television.

There are those who believe the anti-war movement of the Sixties failed.  From where I sat it was the genesis of long lasting social change: women’s rights, gay rights, poor peoples’ rights, and a vision of a world no longer built on the “survival of the fittest.”

And now, 42 years later I watch Wisconsin’s protesters, relive my memories, my beliefs about our lasting effects, but wonder whether  this year’s Madison augurs well for Amerika’s political direction or a losing stand against the country’s dark march.


Detroit just announced that it is closing half of its schools and firing one half of its teachers.  Providence, because of “budget” rules, fired all their teachers. Boston’s school superintendent is trying to unilaterally close about half a dozen schools and you can pretty well imagine the neighborhoods she chose.

Health Insurance companies are creating hospital tiers. You want to go to a “good” one, you pay extra.  Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation requiring abortion offices, clinics, and centers that perform first-trimester abortions to be regulated as hospitals—arguably the strictest requirement in the country.

Texas has committed 466 of the 1,239 state-sanctioned murders (executions) that have taken place in our country since 1975. And it’s Texas, by virtue of population, that designs much of the content of our nation’s social studies textbooks—content decided by a committee that includes a real estate agent and a dentist but no historians or economists. Corey Booker, a mayor I respect, makes it clear in Brick City, a TV documentary series about his administration, that he’ll cut everything possible to keep police and firemen happy.  And a couple of years ago The Boston Globe presented a pie chart that indicated almost 70% of the country didn’t believe in evolution.

I could probably write on forever, but would prefer, love it, if people would fill in their own blanks.


It was Wisconsin who voted in this governor.  Who voted out a fairly progressive senator.  Am I really surrounded by seven out of ten people who refuse to incorporate fossil evidence into their world view?  Have we totally given up trying to break the cycle of poverty that causes crimes to simply rely on catching and jailing those who commit them?  I know we’ve turned our backs onany notion of rehabilitation in our prisons.

And yet, and yet, there are people on the street fighting for the right of collective bargaining and unions in general.  People on the street struggling for a woman’s right to choose.  People on the street championing gay marriage and the actualization of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  People on the street demanding decent housing and food for the poor and disenfranchised.  Honorable lawyers working every day to keep innocent people of color out of jail.

I’d like to believe.  I hate the idea of doing a lemming into the sea but I smell the salt.  I hope it’s fucking age.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” -Robert Frost

Horsehair Or Horseshit

I wanted to write about spring training.  About the Green Monster and the Yankee pitching staff.  About trips with my friend Bill to Arizona the past couple of years to watch teams I never get to see.  About the pleasure of reading on the porch, listening to a game on the radio during warm summer nights.

I wanted to let my mind slide past the snowdrifts piled high on my street.  To think about the upcoming softball season, my first as player/manager of the team I’ve been on for twenty years.  But it ain’t gonna happen.

Because it’s a cold, cold, winter in Amerika and I’m really, really pissed.

Arizona has a Judge murdered and a Congresswoman shot through the head then does nothing to make it even slightly more difficult to buy and carry guns. More and more states allow concealed weapons without adequate background, license or user safety checks.  Hell, you gotta pass two tests to get a damn driver’s license. Instead of riding our horses back to the Cowboys and Indians days—‘cause those were such wonderful times—let’s watch Deadwood reruns and revel in the loss of that era.

Deficits and Budgets.  Yeah, I know the Repubs won the house and a ton of state legislatures.  So what do we get?  A so-called “progressive” president bending over the nearest chair telling the reactionaries to have at it.

And they are.  We’re in such bad fiscal shape that we can not, must not, raise money by taxing those poor folks who earn more than a half a million a year. But it’s fine to slice and dice the other poor folks—the real ones who can’t afford usurious mortgages, food on their table, and any of life’s small pleasures.  Like frigging Christmas.

It’s okay to repeal an extremely moderate (if that) health care law while people can’t afford medicines or doctor visits.  Only this time it won’t just be the poor who get fucked, but working people and the slowly dwindling middle class.  Let’s go back to leeches.  That will really balance the budget in one fell swoop.

The list seems endless. Fuck women’s right to choose.  Fuck unions. Fuck education.  Fuck community service.  Fuck financial oversight.  Fuck transportation.  Fuck infrastructure.  Who needs bridges? Who needs tunnels?  Definitely fuck poor people. They just take up resources that could go to the wealthy. Fuck the environment.  Who really gives a shit about arsenic in peoples’ drinking wells?  Or oily shrimp beds when there’s drilling to be done?

Was all this the “mandate” of the 2010 election?  Bring down the price of flat-screens and let folks live vicariously while corporations are defined as people under the twisted decision of a Supreme Court.  This isn’t “taking back America,” it’s giving America back to the robber barons.

In truth, I don’t blame the Repubs for forcing me to forgo writing about baseball.  Or even their wholesale trashing of any sort of social fairness.  They’ve been crystal clear since Reagan about their mission.  Figure out every possible way to pillage and place the nation’s wealth into the coffers of the Already Wealthy.  Reagan meant it when he called ketchup a vegetable. It was just his homey way of saying, “Let them eat cake.”

And his revolution still rolls on.  Along with a couple of expensive useless wars and fresh body counts.

Something is really wrong when the 1950s look good.


So what do you want to do today?”

“I dunno.  I just got up.”

“Yeah, but it’s almost noon.”


“I’m just thinking we ought to do something useful.”

“It’s cold out there.”

“Not that bad.  Maybe 30 or so.”

“That’s not exactly a heat wave.”

“For February?”

“Okay, man, what is it you want to do?”

“I’m thinking we head down to the State House for the Palestinian demonstration.”


“You heard me.”

“Which is why I said, “Huh?”

“You feel the same way I do about Israel and the Palestinians.”


“Then what’s with the attitude?”

“It’s a fucking waste of time. You walk to the State House in the freezing cold, wave a few banners, listen to the same stuff you been listening to or reading about for ten years, then walk home chilled to the bone.”

“I’d come home knowing I did something.”

“You did shit is what you did.”

“That seems harsh.”

“But it’s true.  We got any bread?”

“You finished it last night.  There’s eggs.  You know what’s happening to the Palestinians.  It’s getting pretty close to genocide.  Already apartheid.”

“Explain to me how 150 people freezing their asses off changes any of it.”

“A sign of support.  A belief that things can actually be different.  Look at Egypt.”

You look at Egypt.  It happened because the Egyptian people made it happen, not American protests.  You think Israelis are gonna  jump up and demand their borders get rolled back to 1967, settlements be torn down, Hamas recognized, and Jerusalem become an International city?  I don’t think so.”

“It’s not just 150 people anymore.  All sorts of groups are springing up.  Jews demanding that Israel stop what they’re doing.”

“A lot of good they do.  You want change?  The United States got to stomp on Israel’s throat and force ‘em to do what they have to do.  And frankly, I ain’t betting rent.  Not now, not ever.  And where are the damn eggs?”

“Right in front of you.  You been holding the refrig open for ten minutes.  Serious case of male disease.”

“Got ‘em, thanks.  I see two possibilities.  One, the Palestinians out-wait the Israelis and let demographics control the situation.  Or, the demographics make Israel seriously uncomfortable and they slaughter as many Palestinians as possible.”

“Jeez, that’s a bright shining light.  Close the damn refrigerator door, will you?”

“I’m looking for the butter.”

“It’s right in front of you. Now will you close the door?”

“It’s closed, it’s closed.   Want some eggs?

“Hell no.  You may be right about the future but that’s the future.  Now is the time to change it.  Not when the massacre begins.  So what are you going to do?”

“Eat breakfast and watch the game.”

When Guns Go Down?

I received a number of public and private comments in response to my Wisconsin post about how badly anti-war protestors treated returning Vietnam vets.  My first impulse was to compare the activists’ behavior  with that of the U.S. government’s refusal to acknowledge the effects of Agent Orange and PTSD therefore denying treatment.

But the issue got me thinking about if an individual soldier has the ethical and moral responsibility to lay down arms when he/she realizes the war they are fighting is unjust, irresponsible, or flat-out wrong.  How much information does an individual soldier need to realize that napalm incinerated more than enemy soldiers?  That the killing of civilians in Panama was simply to rid the country of a leader we no longer needed?  That “shock and awe” was slaughtering noncombatant Iraqis by the tens of thousands?

In an award-winning documentary about Robert McNamara called The Fog of War, he talks about his part in the military planning of destroying Dresden and later Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Almost offhandedly McN comments (and I paraphrase): Had the “other” side won, he and the rest of the Brass would have been tried as war criminals.

To the victor go the spoils and the opportunity.  In this case to convict upper echelon Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials.  But what about the soldiers who herded people into trains they knew were bound for extermination camps?  Is “just following orders” really enough of a justification for sending innocent people to certain death?  Of course, that Nazi soldier would be trading his life in protest for boxcars of lives.  Is it even imaginable to ask anyone to make that choice?

One glance at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict raises the same sad question.  A suicide bomber kills ten Israelis (which I don’t in any way condone) and Israel responds by bombing hundreds of Palestinians.  When did “collateral damage” become something to simply ignore?  I suppose it happens during any war, every war.  But it sure don’t make it right.

And so we have modern precedent for trying leadership for “giving orders” but nowhere do we grapple with the responsibility of those who carry them out.  In our culture, one that prides itself on touting “individual responsibility,” there’s something wrong with this picture.

Of course the notion of individual soldiers laying down their weapons is a daunting thought.  But is it any more daunting than those who burned their draft cards during the Vietnam era, or for those who refused to serve?  Or the memories I have of visiting friends in prison because they wouldn’t step forward when ordered to board the Army bus.  Or other friends who were forced to expatriate because of their beliefs?

I understand the military is based upon an individual relinquishing his or her self to a chain of command.  But perhaps it’s time for those individuals to hold onto their selves and decide if those commands are, in fact, ethical, moral, or not.  And then decide whether to “just follow orders.”

Could be the world might have fewer wars and, more significantly, a much lower body count.