A Fourth of July factoid

Many of you probably know this, either because you’re history buffs like me or you’ve seen me mention it here before or you saw it somewhere else today, as this is going to be far from the only place to learn this today.

But!

One of my favorite stupid party tricks is that I can always tell you how old America is without having to do the math. My birthday is tomorrow, and I was born on July 5, 1976, meaning I was born the day after America’s bicentennial. I therefore can determine America’s age by just adding 200 to my own rather than dealing with any piddling subtraction like some sort of heathen.

But I have another trick! I can also, by adding 150 to my age, tell you how many years it has been since both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. You see, the two men both died on the same day– and not only did they die on the same day, but it was July 4, 1826– in other words, on America’s 50th birthday.

Jefferson’s last words were “Is it the Fourth?”

Adams, who always thought America should celebrate its birthday on July 2 because he was a contrary old bastard like that (hot take: Adams was the Bernie Sanders of the 1700s,) didn’t give a damn about dying on the Fourth, but his last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He was wrong. Jefferson had been dead for a few hours, but, y’know, 1826. I don’t know how long it took for the knowledge of Jefferson’s death to make it from Virginia to Massachusetts, but it was probably at least a week or so, and I imagine it took a minute to determine which man had actually passed away first.

And now you know something about what happened 195 years ago today.

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.

In which we emerge, blinking

Went outside and did a thing today— the Leeper Park Art Fair, held in scenic downtown South Bend, in a park that until a year or two ago was home to an inbred, angry, violent group of ducks– so angry, inbred and violent that the city had to step in to figure out how to deal with them. There was a massive kerfuffle, of the type that can only be found in small- and mid-sized towns, and some of the ducks were eventually euthanized, some taken elsewhere, and their pond was filled in, producing a much nicer public park that people can actually bike and walk through without fear of being attacked.

The fair was really nice, honestly– the temperature suddenly shot up by a good ten degrees on the (short) walk back to the car, but for the whole time we were walking around it was pleasant and breezy outside, and it’s always fun to look at art, even if in general everything was far outside of my price range. I’m not disputing the prices these folks were charging, mind you; this isn’t you shouldn’t be charging $250 for this hand-turned wooden vase, it’s I don’t have $250 I can spend on this hand-turned wooden vase, and honestly for most of the things I looked at, $250 was inexpensive. There was some amazing stuff there, but even if I had the money, I don’t know what the hell I’d do with a $250 wooden vase if I bought one, because we really don’t have that kind of house. At any rate, if you’re local, it’s open for a couple more hours today and all day tomorrow, although tomorrow there’s a risk of rain.

Instructions from the fair organizers were to mask up and socially distance, especially when you were actually in an artist’s booth, and you can probably get a good idea from the picture there how well that went over. The vaccination rate in St. Joseph County is less than 50%, so it’s an awfully interesting coincidence that no one who was unvaccinated showed up at this thing.

(That said, my self-righteousness only goes so far; I brought a mask with me but didn’t put it on. The crowds weren’t so tight that staying away from people was much of a challenge, and the event was outdoors. I did get into a conversation with one of the woodworkers that had me thinking about putting my mask on, since we were standing fairly close to each other and talking, but I didn’t end up doing it. That said, I’ve had my fucking shots.)

At any rate, this is the first time we’ve done something like this since February of 2020, so it was really nice to be outdoors and around people for a while. That said, I stepped in a hole as we were going back to the car and it went straight up my back and through my ribcage, so I expect to be unable to walk by the end of the day. This is probably my punishment for getting judgy about masks.


I can actually pinpoint fairly precisely when I learned Juneteenth was a thing– it was my senior year of college, in a class about Black American religion. So probably 1997, 1998 or so. I just reread Ralph Ellison’s novel of the same name, since I needed an author from Oklahoma and figured it was appropriate. And I’ll be honest: while my opinion matters not at all, I don’t love the idea of it being a national holiday– or, at least, I don’t love the idea of it being a national holiday in America.

Why? Because capitalism, and because this country can’t take a Goddamned thing seriously. Because this is exactly what’s going to happen:

@rynnstar

I realized after recording that the Silverado is Chevy not Toyota but who cares #juneteenth

♬ original sound – Rynn

And this:

If you’re on TikTok, btw, you should be following both of these creators. They’re great.

Like, capitalism has destroyed Christmas. It’s fucking Thanksgiving all up. It’s eaten Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I don’t need it chewing up Juneteenth too. Especially galling, beyond the capitalism angle, is the fact that low-paying jobs are not going to be getting a holiday for Juneteenth precisely because capitalism is going to eat Juneteenth, and that means a whole lot of Black people working service jobs are going to have to work on that day.

Yell at me if you want, although I don’t think I’m going to have any takers among my current readership: I think only black people should get Juneteenth off. As a teacher I’m off every June 19 anyway, since school never goes that late, but it’s ridiculous that my lily-white ass might get a day off to celebrate the ending of slavery when the actual descendants of those slaves have to go to work so that I can buy a mattress or whatever fucked-up knickknacks Target vomits up for the day.

Nattering on

I’m in a mood again today, and I think it’s social media related; I need to spend less time on … well, everything, really. I’ve done a reasonable amount of adulting today; I rescheduled a doctor’s appointment, made my first dentist’s appointment since before the pandemic (letting people stick their fingers in my mouth before I was vaccinated was not happening) and got some more planning done for next year. I also finished my first bookbinding project, which I was going to share with you but I think I’ll wait until I finish the second one instead. All I can see when I look at this one are the mistakes, so I’m going to give it to my son and make a better one for my wife, which hopefully will be something I’m actually willing to share with people.

You’d think this would have me in a decent headspace, but I just can’t deal with the level of stupid the world is throwing at me today:

I also sat down with the estimate I just got from the fixtures place for our bathroom renovation, and compared it to our initial estimate, which was supposedly based on average prices at that specific location, and I’m going to have to have a stern word with someone about it, because right now we are astronomically over budget, before a single square inch of drywall gets pulled off the wall or a single tile gets laid. To a certain degree I’m willing to blame myself for not paying attention to certain things– like the fact that a shower door wasn’t included in the original estimate, when in fact what I was told was a very basic shower door at this place is thirteen hundred dollars, and a shower door is not exactly an unexpected purchase when redoing a bathroom. But when you tell us that your estimate for the vanity will cover a “custom” vanity for the space, and we in fact pick out a pre-built, non custom vanity, and the vanity still runs three times the estimate? That’s on you. When we are specific across the board that we are looking for mid-range stuff, and we ask you to quote us out for mid-range stuff, and then they show us what they are saying is mid-range stuff, and the estimate is off two hundred percent? I am not taking all the blame for that shit.

So first I have to go over all this with my wife to figure out just how deep in the shit we are, and how much we can afford to crawl out of said shit, and then I need to call my guy who put this estimate together and we’re gonna have us a come to Jesus moment.

So, yeah. I’m in a mood.

#REVIEW: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

This one sat on my shelf for a lot longer than I expected it to. Amazon tells me it arrived at my house on February 6, so it took almost exactly four months for me to actually read it once I had it. There are reasons, I suppose; the fact that the damn book is two inches thick and 700-pages-plus-endnotes long certainly had something to do with it, but the simple fact is that while I wanted to hear what Barack Obama had to say about his presidency, I didn’t really feel like I was ready for it. Frankly, I was angry with him, and not really for any good reason; the last four years were not his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t really ready to remind myself of a time where I not only liked the president but was reasonably happy to be living in America. And while I feel like Joe Biden has had an enormously consequential first 100 days, it remains to be seen whether we’ll be right back neck-deep in shit in a couple of years.

On Sunday, unwilling to take yet another Unread Shelf picture with this damn book in it, I begrudgingly picked it up and started it. The entire idea of wading through it made me tired, frankly, and I was fully prepared to force myself through a hundred pages and then put it down, convincing myself that I’d tried and it’s not like I can’t pick it back up later. I wasn’t going to burn the thing or anything, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it.

Well, it’s the 3rd, and I probably read the last 300 pages of the thing today– which turned out to only be volume one of Obama’s memoirs, ending with the night they killed Osama bin Laden– so apparently I got over that. Obama has always been an engaging author (I have both of his previous books) and that is on full display here. There is also something about reading what is essentially a history book about a time that I remember. I have said this before, but let me remind you: not only have I voted for Obama nearly every time he has run for public office (I moved into his district in 1998; he became an Illinois state Senator in 1997) but my life intersected with his in a lot of ways. I know exactly where his home in Hyde Park was. His first kiss with Michelle was at a Baskin-Robbins that was literally across the street from my first apartment in Chicago; there’s a plaque there now. I had several classes with Bill Ayers in graduate school, and Ayers was very nearly my Ph.D advisor. And I’ve met Jeremiah Wright, his pastor. I am one of those people who was telling everyone that he was going to be our first Black President, although I figured it would be 2012 or 2016 before he ran. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly happy with his decision to run in 2008, thinking he was too young and inexperienced; his campaign convinced me I was wrong about that. Obama was my President in a way that no other President has been, and unless Pete Buttigieg actually succeeds in gaining the White House at some point in the future, it’s hard to imagine that any such thing will happen again.

tl;dr I barely put the damn book down for four days, and even took it to work on Tuesday. It’s exactly as good as Barack Obama’s memoirs ought to be, and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that I enjoyed it. Honestly, I feel dumb that it surprised me; I let myself get too caught up in my head over the whole thing and forgot that being reminded of a time where even if I didn’t agree with everything the guy in the White House did (he made terrible choices on education, which was the worst thing about his presidency, or at least his domestic policy) I at least trusted him to think. And there’s something to be said about voting for someone who you are absolutely certain is smarter than you. I wish I could do it more often, honestly.

(Before you say anything: Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris are both smarter than me. I’m not convinced that Biden is, but he’s absolutely a better President than I could be.)

Anyway, go read the book. Even if you don’t tear through it like I did, it’s engaging and interesting, and while I can imagine someone who finds it a little dry (did you find Obama too professorial? You will feel the same way about the book. He gets into the weeds.) I am absolutely not that person. Maybe wait for paperback, as the list price of the hardcover is $45, but go read it.