Does It Matter?

Pick your battles. I've been given this advice over and over and over again. In parenting with rambunctious kids: pick your battles - address the worst behaviors first and worry about the rest later. In politics: pick your battles - there are too many issues to take all of them on at the same time. At work: pick your battles - don't burn out by spreading yourself too thin. In personal conflicts: pick your battles - sometimes the dispute isn't worth the effort.

In theory, this makes sense. I understand the value of the statement and my friends would tell you they have received this piece of advice from me. In practice though? I suck. It is hard for me to let things slide. I don't enjoy sweeping sins under the rug; I'd rather light the rug on fire and deal with everybody's dirt. I want to talk about it. I want to argue over it. I want to wage war. I want it resolved so I never have to see it again. My rational side knows not every battle needs fought while my emotional side says, "LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE."

This isn't a new perspective. My passions are not unique. In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of the disciples wanting to pick fights. It begins in verse 38 when they complain to Jesus: "We saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."

I referee these disputes all the time with my kids. "Dad, I told her to stop singing and she won't stop. Make her stop!" "Dad, he's spinning in circles again and he won't stop. I told him to stop but he won't listen to me." "Dad, he keeps bumping into me and I don't like it."

The disciples didn't want someone else working under the name of Christ. They followed Jesus, traveled with him, dined with him, laughed and cried with him. They felt as if they were the only ones qualified to do what God called them to do. Jesus had a different perspective than his friends. He replied, "Do not stop him. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us."

Paul echoed this sentiment in his message to the Philippians. This letter was written while Paul was in prison. In his absence, other believers stepped up to carry on Paul's ministry. The differences in personalities and styles caused some disagreements and Paul wanted to silence those quarrels. He explained how some people preached out of envy, rivalry, selfish ambition, or to cause trouble for Paul, while others did it out of goodwill and love. Paul could have gone on the attack and criticized anyone insincerely joining the ministry or preaching to inflate their own ego. Instead, he picked his battles. He wrote, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."

I wish I was more like Paul and took the high road a little more frequently. However, I don't ask, "Does it matter?" Instead, I tend to take the disciples’ approach. Run into the fray kicking and screaming and sometimes pouting. "But but but ... They're wrong. They need to quit. Oh dear God make them stop ... "

But does it matter? What if I'm wrong? What if they're wrong but it's not causing any harm? What if they're not wrong and I'm not wrong we're just different? What if we're trying to accomplish the same goal from divergent perspectives? We might disagree on a multitude of issues, but do we agree on what is most important? Is it worth the fight?

There are battles that need to be fought and won. Occasionally though, judgement can wait. Sometimes, there are more urgent issues to tackle. Other times, I might need to step back and let someone else throw some punches. In a world where I would prefer being right all the time, I should learn to pick my battles.


Bailing Out

Through geekery alone, my knowledge is significant. I can crack open a book, read, and absorb information; surf the internet and flex my Google-Fu; take classes and attend seminars. The possibilities seem endless. But there are limits. There are things that you cannot fully understand until experienced through hands-on application. I can argue superiority between Star Trek and Star Wars because I've seen all the movies and TV shows; I've played video games and board games related to both franchises. I've experienced both fandoms so my knowledge is equally practical and intellectual.

However ...

There are things where (until recently) I've had no need to learn through visual, auditory, or kinesthetic pursuits. Farming is one of those topics. During 1985’s Farm Aid concert, I knew American growers faced a financial crisis, fighting against political pressures. However, I was only six years old so the technical details and shifting dynamics in our economy were far beyond my grasp. I knew nothing of the changes corporate agriculture had on independent and small family farms. First grade curriculum doesn’t include the concepts of supply and demand, property rights, mass production, or GMOs. Even as I got older and learned about economic principles and American civics, costs and efforts required to harvest food were irrelevant to me. I was a product of the suburbs, completely disinterested in the agrarian lifestyle. I saw the American heartland as endless amber waves of grain, boring scenery between me and Grandma's house. I valued purple mountain majesty and fruited plains, preferred the scent of cedar groves and alpine meadows over dairy air, and would rather hear honking horns than mooing bovine. I was content to keep it that way. If I could go to the grocery store and buy prepackaged delights, then the plight of the farmer was not my concern.

Priorities have shifted over the past several months. Farming is no longer something other people do; it's a part of my daily life. My health improved because of the work it takes to build fencing and stack hay. I appreciate the view from my back porch where I watch the sunset every evening. I love the darkness at night, revealing a vast expanse of stars undiminished from the light pollution plaguing city folk. I also understand how hard you must labor to enjoy this life and how much it costs to maintain it.

We love our horses. Horses eat a lot of hay. Hay can be expensive - especially when the horses eat (roughly) a ton of food each month.

Until now, the financial side of equestrian care was a foreign subject. Money spent on field fencing is staggering for someone who has never investigated those prices. A trip to the theater for the newest Marvel movie (including soda and popcorn) is cheap compared to the price tags on saddles at the tack shop. I've been exposed to the world of rodeos, household repair, and farm maintenance. I now spend time in North 40 and Home Depot the same way a younger version of me once occupied Hastings and GameStop. I’ve become familiar with how expensive it is to maintain a farm with goats, geese, ducks, chickens, horses, and a free-spirited rabbit who does whatever it wants; I also see how hard my neighbors work with their pigs and cattle. We purchased hay from local farms - all of which are grown and harvested by young families or old men wanting to be productive after retiring from the workforce. I’m grateful for how much they spend on equipment and the hard work they do to cut and bale the hay we buy to feed our animals.

When I hear people talk about their motivations behind voting or Trump, it makes sense to me. Vibrancy fades once you get out of urban centers and bedroom communities. Small towns in rural America have been shrinking. I've driven through many dwindling municipalities with boarded up windows, signs announcing store closures, and empty streets on what should have been a busy day filled with people shopping for goods, services, and supplies. Their populations are leaving for better opportunities in bigger cities, costs of running a farm are increasing, profits from selling meat and produce are slimmer. Their way of life is slowly disappearing. Livelihoods of many Americans depend on their land, their crops, their livestock. They see an uncertain future, a possible end to their lifestyle. Justified or not, many of them blame Obama and Democratic policies for these changes. Afraid of losing everything they've ever known, they believe Donald Trump was the only candidate who cared about them. They thought Trump was the one would protect the familiar, he would be a champion of their values and interests.

Economic, social, political, and demographic insecurity. They were unsettled by changes in the populace from gay rights and immigration to lower attendance in their churches every Sunday morning. They saw massive societal shifts and it scared them. People who are anxious of losing their status, power, or influence can act irrationally. Fear makes us stupid. Trump tapped into those fears and exploited them. Now, the farmers who voted for him need rescue from the negative impacts of his administration.

It's sad because it was all entirely predictable. We could see this coming. Trump campaigned on promises of trade wars and tariffs. Democrats raged against his plans. Comedians and late-night talk show hosts mocked him. Conservatives voiced tempered concern. Economists predicted disaster. When Trump threatened trade wars, we all knew it wouldn't end well. We all knew what would happen. Those of us who opposed Trump tried to warn everyone. Yet Trump still won the election. The predictions of doom came true and the people hurt the worst by Trump's tariffs are (or were) his biggest supporters. Trump offered a $12-billion bail out to offset the consequences of harm caused by his trade war.

Money fixes everything.

How do you get a slice of that $12-billion pie? Our farm needs two more pastures fenced in, a new round pen, deer fencing erected so we can start our garden, privacy landscaping planted to shield our pool from view of people driving by, and several trees need to be felled or pruned. A pest control treatment would be nice. Our work truck broke down and needs replaced. When you live on a farm, there are always a list of projects you'll complete if/when you get a little extra cash. Our list is a little longer than most.

Realistically though, my family won't qualify for any funds. Nor will my neighbors, or the ma & pa farms where we purchase hay. Operations like ours are ineligible. The $12-billion will not be going to independent and family farms with small acreage. Instead, large corporate owned farms are getting it. Companies who stock the frozen foods isle at major grocery stores. Ag-industry giants who supply beef and French fries to fast food chains. The bailouts are gifts to big businesses, not to the people who need it most.

Let’s treat those poor farmer-CEOs the way many conservatives malign impoverished Americans. They don't deserve welfare, need a hand up not a hand up. It's time they pull themselves up by the bootstraps. They're just lazy. I don't pay my taxes so these people can have money handed to them – no strings attached. Who do they think funds their free lunch? They better not be buying beer or cigarettes. If they're unable to pay their bills, they should go get a second or third job. They could drive their tractors for Uber or list their farms on Airbnb. Perhaps they should be drug tested before they get a bailout. Why not drug test all their employees? Hopefully none of those employees are undocumented workers; we'd have to deport them.

If all else fails, we can vote differently in November than we did in 2016. We might still be scared; hopefully we're smarter.


The Double Negative

After a disastrous summit in Helsinki, Donald Trump finally did something I never thought I'd see him do: he retracted his comments and admitted a mistake. Perhaps only because of the backlash. Accusations of treason from Democrats, liberals, and constant critics were echoed by supporters like FOX News pundits and GOP stalwarts. So, Trump took a mulligan.

“It's not really treason if I misspoke.” In this instance, "I misspoke" seems equal to "Please don't impeach me."

At the news conference, Trump said, "They said they think it's Russia. Uh, I have uh President Putin. Uh, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be." In other words, "My people said it's Russian, Putin says it wasn't, I believe Putin."

According to Trump, only one word was victim to his faux pas: would. What he meant to say was wouldn't. His (supposedly) intended statement was "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be." Trump clarified it was "sort of a double negative."

Double negatives are common grammatical errors where two negative words cancel each other out. In mathematics, subtracting a negative number is the same as adding a positive integer or the negative number's absolute value. Language follows similar patterns. The negatives negate each other. When Pink Floyd sang "We don't need no education," the grammatically proper interpretation would assume they do need education. If someone tells you "You don't have to go nowhere," what they're really saying is you do have to go somewhere. Items described as not uncommon really are common.

Double negative trouble is that the speaker usually doesn't mean to contradict their own statement. Pink Floyd is declining a need for education. “Ain't no" is an uneducated method of saying "isn't." Double negatives only function like a true double negative when used to make a point. Like when I say I can't not write, I truly mean it's a thing I cannot not do. In other words, I must write. It's a part of who I am; if I wasn't a writer, I wouldn't be me.

There is reason to doubt Trump intended to use a double negative; no accidental slip of the tongue? It's possible, but I doubt it. I am skeptical for several reasons.

1. Putin was questioned if his regime meddled in the 2016 US elections. His answer didn't mention anything about meddling, only denied collusion. Then Putin offered to help Muller's investigation on the condition allowing Russian authorities to interrogate American intelligence agents. Trump called it "an incredible offer." If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he wouldn't think allowing Russian authorities to help investigate Russian meddling is an incredible offer. If he trusted American intelligence over Putin's denials, Trump wouldn't be impressed by an offer that permits the interrogation of American agents by Russian officers.

2. When asked if he holds Russia accountable for anything, Trump answered, "Yes I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. We've all been foolish, and I think we're all to blame." This remark is just as offensive as Trump’s response to the carnage caused when neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville. It puts all parties on the same level when one side clearly is more nefarious. If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he wouldn't assign blame to both sides.

3. The double negative doesn't fit within the context of Trump's full response. Given the opportunity to denounce Putin, Trump said, "My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me. And some others. They said they think it's Russia. Uh, I have uh President Putin. Uh, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but, uh, I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today." Let's place his misstated claim into the full statement.
"My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me. And some others. They said they think it's Russia. Uh, I have uh President Putin. Uh, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but, uh, I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
Doesn't work. His answer began with opponents: his people versus Vladimir Putin. Then he said Putin denied it in an "extremely strong and powerful" way. Finally, the misstated statement was what Trump described as "the key sentence in my remarks." It was the most urgent thing he said, prefaced by the unnecessary phrase "I will say this," as if to say "this is important, you better be listening." The original makes more sense in context of the full statement than the corrected version Trump acquiesced. Besides, if Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, it wouldn't matter how extremely strong and powerfully Putin denied the meddling.

4. Even when admitting he believed the US intelligence community, he added a caveat as if to say he might not believe them. In a meeting with GOP lawmakers the day after returning from Helsinki, Trump read a prepared statement: "I accept our intelligents community’s conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. Uh, a lot of people out there." (Yes, he said, "intelligents." There was even a pause between intelligent and the s to make it plural. Bygones.) Allegedly, he meant to say he had no reason Russia wouldn't meddle. Yet his statement was completely undone when he floated the idea that it could have been someone other than Russia. If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he would place full confidence in the findings provided from all intelligence agencies without adding the possibility they could be wrong, no inclusion it could be other people or a lot of people. If Trump believed Russia meddled, he would admit it was Russia and only Russia.

5. His posture is one of defiance. The reading of the prepared statement clarifying his statement was super awkward, as evidenced by him saying intellligents instead of intelligence. It also shows the statement wasn't his idea. He was uncomfortable the entire time, sitting with a scowl on his face and his arms crossed in anger, like a petulant child giving a forced apology to an older brother for kicking him in the balls. In fact, the only time he appeared to be comfy in his statement is when he went off script. Then he sounded more assured and smug. Donald only acts like that when he's using his own words. If someone else wrote it, he sounds defeated like an obnoxious child punished for kicking his older brother in the balls. If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he would say so with the same swagger and confidence he uses when speaking at rallies and in ad-libbed statements at press conferences. He wouldn't read it like a hostage under duress.

Trump revealed himself when he sided with Russia. Despite walking back on his comments, it's clear he still believes Putin. Does it matter? Probably not. Many of the Republicans who condemned his Helsinki performance are now acting like it's no big deal. If you believe his mea culpa, Trump's words and actions are irrelevant. He could say, "Yup, Russia did it and I don't care. Thanking him is patriotic." You'd reply, "Spasibo comrade."


Remembering Reagan

Roughly a decade ago and a half ago, I was tied up in a conversation which left me feeling older than anyone under the age of thirty should ever feel. It was halfway through George W Bush's presidency, shortly after he won re-election, and a group of coworkers were discussing politics in the breakroom. One girl, who was in her younger twenties at the time, was complaining of rumored changes working their way through congress.

"Did you know they're trying to pass a law so people not born in the US can become president?"

I didn't know that because it wasn't happening. Even if congress was debating such changes, it would require a constitutional amendment. Such a drastic change was unlikely then and would be practically impossible now.

Then she continued with her reasoning. "It's because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be president, but he can't because he was born in Germany or somewhere like that. So, congress is trying to help him out."

One of the other coworkers at the table asked, "What's wrong with that?"

"Because," she answered, "he's an actor. Actors shouldn't be allowed to be president."

"We've already had an actor become president." I objected to her reasoning.

"We have?"

"Yes." I spoke, but there were a few heads nodding in confirmation.


"Ronald Reagan." I said.

"Who's Ronald Reagan?" She asked.

Who's Ronald Reagan?!? Really? I did some quick math. Ronald Reagan would have been in office when this girl was born. How do you reach legal drinking age without knowing who was president in the year of your birth? For someone to be so ignorant of such recent history … It made me feel ancient. I had to walk away.

image courtesy of Chicago Tribune

I remember Reagan. Granted, he led our nation through a significant part of my childhood. I remember Farm Aid. I remember the speech when he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." I remember the First Lady's "Just Say No" campaign. I remember the revelation of Iran-Contra details and Reagan accepting responsibility. And I remember his farewell address.

The current trend for Republicans is bracing Reagan as a sacred American icon. However, what stands out most in my memories of Reagan places him at odd with the modern GOP. He was philosophically consistent from the beginning of his administration to the end, yet he was willing to compromise with those who disagreed with him. He admitted his faults and failures. He valued intelligence and pragmatism. He promoted civility and respect. Whether he succeeded or not, he aimed to meet the needs of the average American and he adjusted his policies as culture and situations changed. Even among those who disagreed with his politics he was generally well liked, and he carried a dignity that elevated the office of President.

As for those policies? Well, they are not the kind the GOP would approve of today. He supported waiting periods for purchasing guns. He supported a climate treaty which eliminated the use of a few chemical compounds. His immigration stances were far more liberal than the current “build a wall” rhetoric, and he supported the amnesty immigration bill introduced by Teddy Kennedy - a Democrat. He was adamantly critical of the Russians, calling the USSR "evil." His foreign policy was less isolationist and more interventionist. Despite making major tax cuts at the beginning of his presidency, Reagan raised taxes eleven times during his two terms. His frequent increases explain why his successor campaigned on the promise, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

Looking back, the 80s was an odd decade. Horrendous fashion but fabulous music. The movies were either gloriously awesome or embarrassingly terrible. It was a difficult time to be a geek, but a great era for those who loved cocaine. At least we had an honorable President. Someone we could respect. Someone who inspired. Someone who is remembered fondly. On days like today, I kind of miss Reagan.


Ode to Mullets

It's the Kentucky waterfall, the neckwarmer, or the Camero cut. The official hairdo of NASCAR, ice hockey, country music, butt-rock, meth addicts, and our worst memories of the 80s. If you have one, I'll assume you drive an El Camino and listen to Nickelback. It's even a movie trope. When you see a kid with a mullet in the theater, you know he's a bully. Or a redneck. Or both.

image courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Pictures

In the early days of Bush Jr's presidency, my friend Steve and I spent a couple afternoons mullet hunting. We'd hang out at Boise Towne Square or drive through Garden City looking for people with the regrettable hairstyle so we could take a photograph of them. Somewhere on the internet, in the days before social media, there was a website full of hilarious pictures of mullet-topped citizens. It even had them sorted by classifications, coiffured subspecies. There was the frullet (part afro, part mullet), or the skullet (bald on top, long and flowy in back). The website was completely driven by user submissions and Steve's goal was for them to use a picture he submitted.

We never got a picture good enough to be sent to the web collection of epic mullets. But a juvenile with a kidlet (kid with a mullet) flipped us off, and we were chased through the mall by a body builder unironically dressed like a member of The Power Team.

image courtesy of The Power Team

There are times I wish I had a camera with me to sneak a photo of some creative mullets. At a birthday party for a friend of a friend several years ago, there was a mullet of preposterous proportions worn by the birthday boy's mother's girlfriend. It started with mall-bangs up front (like Tiffany in I Think We’re Alone Now), Farrah Fawcett feathering on top, buzzed in racing lines on the side, and the mullet sprouting down the back. But it was no ordinary mullet, it was divided in half. The left side was cut a few inches shorter than the right side and neither half was trimmed straight; the two sides were cut at odd angles - one of which was sharper than the other. Finally, out from underneath the staggered mullet, like Obi Wan in Episode 1, a thin Padawan braid pony tail hung down to her waistline. It's like her hairstylist asked her what she wanted and she replied, "Give me one of everything."

It's been a good long while since I've witnessed one in public, until this week. It was a mullet that was trying not to be a mullet but clearly was still a mullet.

Between his build and facial features, he looked like Milton from Office Space. His fashion choices were similar too, only substitute current geek-chic glasses for the oversized wire frames and add a minimalist tribal tattoo sleeve.

image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

As for the hair? It was that weird moldy blonde, similar in color and texture as Donald Trump, and slicked back the way Trump’s sons do. Then in back it went down further than you’d expect, ending in a peculiar pointy shape - as if it was once a rat tail cut off while he slept by a prankster sibling.

Mullets have often been referred to as business up front and party in the back. This hair cut was New Yorker up front and homeschooled from Athol in the back. Never have I been more confused by someone else’s haircut.

Thankfully, the mullet has faded from use. Billy Ray Cyrus abandoned it years ago and it's been shunned by most everyone in the public spotlight from politicians to race car drivers to aging metalheads. The mullet is known as a cultural embarrassment and I hope it remains stigmatized for years to come.