This again

Jury duty tomorrow, and I think that this time I might actually make it into the courtroom. I’ve been called … seven times? Eight? Twelveteen? times since I moved back to Indiana, and never-not-once have I even made it as far as jury selection. I’ve had one cancelled as I was getting in the car to leave and another where they reached a deal right before jury selection was supposed to start, but I’ve never made it any further. Summertime is basically as good of a time as it’s going to get for me to be on a jury, and I don’t mind the idea in theory, so we’ll see how this goes. So long as they don’t ask me my opinions on anything I might even make it through voir dire! We’ll see.

In the meantime, there are robots out there who need to be shot with arrows, so that’s the rest of my night sorted.

What I know

I can find Ukraine on a map, and I could have found Ukraine on a map prior to all this happening. I know Ukraine is a former Soviet republic. I know it’s “Ukraine” and not “The Ukraine,” although I can’t tell you why everyone seemed to spend so much time thinking it was “The Ukraine” or whether there was some formal name change or this is some sort of Mandela effect nonsense. I know that Kyiv is the capital, although until recently I was under the impression it was generally spelled “Kiev,” and I’m not sure when that change happened either.

I read a book by a pair of Ukrainian authors last year, and liked it quite a bit, but until earlier today I was under the impression that Chernobyl was in Siberia.

I just discovered that the golden dome that seems to be in the background in a lot of shots of Kyiv’s skyline is the Cathedral of St. Sophia, and it looks really damn cool:

It also looks weirdly computer-generated in a lot of the pictures of it online, and I can’t quite figure out what about it is generating that impression.

In addition, the following is true:

I am, in general, Against War.

I am, in its entirety, Against Tyranny.

While I am fully and entirely aware that the US has, to put it mildly, not been remotely the force for good in the world that we pretend to be, I am one hundred percent comfortable with trusting anything Joe Biden has to say against anything Vladimir fucking Putin has to say. Putin is an autocrat and a tyrant and a murderer, and I need you to understand that when I call him a murderer I am saying that he, personally, has murdered people. Joe Biden has blood on his hands too; it is impossible to be the President of the United States without having blood on your hands, but there is no credible moral comparison between him and Putin, period.

Combine the following with the fact that I was in elementary school during the Reagan years, when we were all convinced that global nuclear war could break out at any moment, and fuck an “active shooter” drill, we had actual nuclear bomb drills, and it should not be surprising that I take the side of the Ukrainians in this conflict. I am in a situation where I feel like “the facts” are mostly outside my grasp but the moral fact of the situation does not seem to be; the Russians are invading a sovereign country under what seems to be utterly bullshit premises, and regardless of any other details I feel pretty good about coming out and stating that they shouldn’t do that.

I am also encouraged by reports that there are protests happening in hundreds of cities across Russia.

I am not– and this is where I seem to differ with a lot of people online– going to be arguing with the Biden administration about the details of how they push back against Moscow on this. I had never heard of SWIFT before today and I think probably 90% of the people who are online arguing about whether we should kick Russia off of SWIFT had also never heard of it before today. I support the idea of “sanctions,” but that doesn’t mean that I have any real fucking clue what form they should take. I voted for this dude so that he could either make those decisions himself or hire people who were smart enough to tell him what decisions to make. I’m a motherfucking middle school math teacher in Indiana. This is about as “not my lane” as anything could possibly be. And I have not the slightest idea what the hell we or anyone should do if whatever sanctions package gets put into place doesn’t work, because I really, really, really, really don’t want to go to war with Russia.

The end.

On adult responsibility

Before I get too far into the meat of this post, I want to say something that will, perhaps, not endear me to some of you. News media have gotten some abuse for using the photograph on the right of this person rather than his post-apprehension mug shot on the left, a supposedly humanizing touch that is never, ever granted to mass murderers when they are people of color.

I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but the picture on the right screams “school shooter” to me every bit as much as the picture on the left. That kid is visibly deeply fucked up; there is nothing at all behind his eyes, and the fact that he’s holding his hands in a posture of prayer, to me, just means that he’s coming from an environment where it’s incredibly unlikely that he’s actually going to get any help for whatever is wrong with him.

I got into a Twitter conversation the other day with someone, and in that conversation made the point that my ability to feel shared humanity with and compassion for terrible people had diminished significantly over the last five years. And the interesting thing about that tweet is that the one immediately before it is about a discovery that I had made about the family of a former student. I had found out a couple of years ago that this particular kid had been locked up for thirteen years (minimum) for armed robbery. Yesterday I discovered that his little brother, who I never had in class but I knew, has been convicted of murder and was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

My student, as it turns out, was also sentenced as an adult. This school shooter, 15 years old, is also going to be tried as an adult.

This kid who, either the day of or the day before the shooting, wrote “The voices won’t stop. Help me.” on a note, a note that led to him receiving no help of any kind. The kid whose parents bought him a semiautomatic handgun for Christmas four days before he used it to kill four people. The kid whose parents are such subhuman trash that upon finding out they were being charged as accessories to their son’s murders, went on the lam and attempted to flee the country.

Imagine that. Imagine that your child is charged with murder and your reaction is to leave him behind and run.

And as angry as I am with his parents, I’m even angrier with the school officials at Oxford High School. Their most important job is to keep their students safe. That responsibility extends to the shooter as well as the other students in the school. The very first thing that should have happened upon this not being discovered is this kid being brought to the attention of mental health professionals and social workers– the first fucking thing, even before notifying the parents. I’m seeing that his mother and father resisted removing him from school. That’s where the “protect everyone else” thing kicks in– yes, you are going to take your son to get some help, and if you refuse to do so, he is not entering this building again. I have not been in this exact situation before but I have been in some that are very close, and schools are absolutely within their rights to refuse to allow a child back on campus until a psych evaluation has taken place. And when a student combines hearing voices with violent imagery and an explicit request for help, it is absolutely criminal on the part of the parents and the administration of Oxford High School that he was allowed to remain on campus.

This is unforgivable. It is a dereliction of responsibility at the highest level and it led directly to four dead kids.

I don’t know what to do with a fifteen-year-old who murders. Part of me is screaming for vengeance the same way it might be had a fully capable adult performed the killings. Part of me is still trying to hold onto the scrap of me that can still see humanity in those who perform inhumane acts. And ultimately as the person who pulled the trigger, the greatest responsibility falls upon him. But the failure of every adult in this young man’s life cannot be passed over. The parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter; bury them under the jail and let their names never be spoken again.

But it should not end there. Early reports in situations like this are always wrong in some way; it may turn out that my understanding of what happened is flawed in some critical way. But if the events unfolded according to the timeline I’m currently aware of, all of the adults who had a responsibility to keep this child and those around him safe should face consequences for their actions. All of them.

Neck-deep in human waste, underneath the jail

This post has almost been about several things already; Gift of Gab, one of my favorite hiphop artists, passed away earlier today, and there will still likely be a post about him in the next couple of days. I’ve had a post about critical race theory brewing as well.

And then this murdering shitbag cop’s sentencing came down, and, well, that’s probably the most timely thing I could be writing about right now.

270 months. He murdered someone he knew by kneeling on his neck for nine and a half minutes and for that he will serve 22 and one-half years in jail. If the crime hadn’t been filmed, we’d likely never have heard of it, and he would no doubt have continued to be a murdering, racist asshole for the rest of his career.

I’m of two minds– well, several, really– about all this. He was convicted of second degree murder, for which the recommended sentence was 10 years, and the prosecution was pushing for probation. So the fact that he got over twice the recommended sentence is a good thing even if the defense was hoping for 30 years. I brought this up on Twitter earlier about an entirely different criminal; I don’t know that I’m any good about determining how long sentences should be for crimes.

The person I was talking about then was one of the Capitol rioters; she was in the building for around 10 minutes and committed no acts of violence while she was in there, and she got three years of probation. Is that “enough”? Hell, I don’t know. Would jail time have been better? 3o days of jail, to pick a number, instead of three years of probation? Six months? Is that too much for participating in an insurrection for ten minutes and not being one of the ringleaders of the crowd?

And this man gets 22.5 years for cold-blooded murder in broad daylight. Which doesn’t sound like enough; life without possibility of parole sounds great to me. Sure, there are more direct ways he could have murdered George Floyd; he was convicted of 2nd degree and not 1st for a reason. But George Floyd will still be dead when and if this man gets out of jail.

Well, okay, but he’s going to be spending that entire time in solitary, and when I am in a less bloodthirsty mental state I recognize that any amount of time in solitary confinement in America’s jails amounts to psychological torture, to say nothing of fifteen years, which is what I’m seeing would be the minimum amount of time he’d serve (who knows if that’s right, because Twitter, but whatever.). Fifteen years of solitary confinement 23 hours a day is not a sentence that many people can be expected to survive, and if they survive it, what emerges is not the person that went in. And I’m strugging, right now, to balance that need for justice and vengeance (not the same thing) with my disgust at the carceral state in America. I would prefer that jail be a place for rehabilitation and not for punishment. But it isn’t, and it likely won’t be in my lifetime. And this creature is not about to be the hill I choose to die on to fight the badly broken American justice system. The fact that he was convicted at all is remarkable, to say nothing of the sentence being more than the bare available minimum.

So.

I don’t want this to happen to anyone, but if it’s going to happen to anyone, it may as well happen to him. I’m not sure how that stands as a moral position, but it’s what I have at the moment. If he doesn’t like it, he probably should have listened to the crowd of people begging him to stop strangling another human being under his knee until that man died crying for his mother.

On Captain America and racism

First things first: I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as I can, and really, Episode 5 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is not really an episode that can be spoiled, but something minor might slip through here and there if you haven’t seen the episode yet.

So, the whole thing about this show is this extended meditation– and, to put it out there, it’s a process I’ve very much enjoyed– on what the idea of Captain America is, and on what America itself is, and what it means when America’s so-called ideals don’t match up with America’s actions. We’ve been repeatedly reminded that the super-soldier serum makes you more of what you already were, and we’ve had the moral exemplar of Steve Rogers hovering over the entire show as someone everyone on the show is trying to live up to. Left unclear is whether Rogers is actually still alive; Sam and Bucky have both used the word “gone” for him several times, and everyone else thinks he’s dead, but I don’t know exactly what the situation is there.

They’ve done a good job of making John Walker a character who people can empathize with to some degree without making him sympathetic, I think, and it’s clear and getting clearer by the moment that he’s not up to the job of Captain America. But is anyone? Is Sam, who Steve Rogers actually gave the shield to, worthy of it? Is Bucky, for that matter, who doesn’t seem to want the job but also seems more than anyone else in the story to need there to be someone out there called Captain America? (Bucky, by the way, has served as Cap in the comics. So has Sam.)

And then there’s this specter of racism that’s hung over the entire show. Early on, Sam and his sister Sarah are denied a loan by a bank officer. He blames it on the effects of the Blip, and of course they leave that frisson of deniability in there, but you wonder. There’s Isaiah Bradley, a Black man experimented on in the process of developing the super soldier serum and later locked in jail and forgotten. Walker literally tells Sam to his face that America will never accept a Black Captain America– and, hell, judging from the reaction when he was Cap in the comics, America had a lot of trouble with a comic book about a Black Captain America. And then there’s Walker himself, a less-than-great white man propped up by a Black wife and a Black best friend, introduced to a screaming crowd by a Black marching band, and who only has the shield in the first place because a Black man gave it up and the government stole it.

All this is leading into me wondering why the hell Bucky and Steve aren’t big racists.

Now, okay, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: these versions of those characters can’t be racists, and that’s why they aren’t. Marvel needed Chris Evans’ Captain America to be all-caps-and-italics CAPTAIN AMERICA, and while Bucky is allowed his dark side, what with the decades of murdering, we still need him to be sympathetic and a hero. Both Rogers’ and Barnes’ man-out-of-time thing is played mostly for laughs and nothing else; Cap doesn’t understand pop culture references and doesn’t like to swear, and Barnes read Lord of the Rings when it first came out, because he’s a hundred and nine damn years old. So we’re just going to choose to ignore certain aspects of being a white man in 1945 who suddenly wakes up in 2015 (or whatever year Captain America: The First Avenger was set in) and is immediately confronted with a Black man in a position of enormous power and has absolutely no questions about it. Bucky Barnes grew up white in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 40s but he has a date with a Japanese girl in the first episode and has immediate chemistry with Sam’s sister in the fifth, and never once treats his Black Best Friend ™ with a drop of paternalism or condescension or anything.

Well, okay, he won’t move his seat up, but I don’t think that counts. And maybe you’re wondering Wait, Luther, are you seriously saying that every white person in the 1940s was a racist? To which my answer is, yes, I absolutely am saying that, at least by modern-day standards. And Steve and Bucky haven’t had eighty years of changing society to drag them along, they got plucked out of one timeline and dropped into another with no time to adjust in between.

But, to be clear: I don’t actually want Bucky accidentally dropping the n-word about Sam’s sister and having an episode where he apologizes. I don’t want Steve Rogers calling the Black Widow “Toots,” or blowing the Scarlet Witch shit for being Jewish, assuming she actually is Jewish in the MCU, which is sort of up for debate.

But it would be damned interesting to see a sort of What If? or Elseworlds-type series where Cap gets brought back by the type of person who is always holding up the forties and fifties as some sort of American Golden Age, something we should try to get back to, only to find out that the guy who was such a big hero in World War II is a massive asshole by anything approaching modern standards. The Ultimates universe leaned into this a little harder than the regular Marvel universe ever has; their Cap was jingoistic and a sexist and a whole lot of other things, but it was mostly played for comedy and/or shock value; what I’m looking for here tilts closer into villainy, and I want to see a story where America’s reaction to Captain America is part of the story. They got into that a little bit when Sam Wilson became Cap in the comics, now let’s see what happens when Steve Rogers himself is held up as this great guy and turns out not to be. What if Cap came back to modern-day America and rejected it? What if America rejected him, and said this is not who we want to be?

It’s been fun to think about, at least.


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