Never Give Up ( How To Be An Eagles Fan)

Victory is always improbable but never impossible.

People constantly harp on sports’ ability to be inspirational. And I understand it because  of what goes through our minds when we watch a game. Why is it so instinctual to find something to root for?  Why do “we” use the royal “we” when the team “we” cheer for wins (as in “we won” when all “you” did was drink a beer and eat some hotdogs)?

What about sports inspires us? For some of us there is a personal connection. For some of us it’s a pure admiration of the athletic excellence on display. But for most of us sports is a retreat from a world where victories aren’t so easy to categorize. Watching the Philadelphia Eagles play these past two seasons has provided me with a rollercoasters of emotions more than I can remember as a sports fan. I will say in my personal and professional life I have also been experiencing a strange mixture of highs and lows.

This got me pondering what if any message can be distilled from my favorite sports Franchise. And besides the obvious cliché (Never Give Up!!). I came up with a few things. First, Victory is always improbable but never impossible. There are mathematical equations that can explain the odds you are up again in any endeavor. But there is only one thing you need to know. You are one of many who want the job, the car, the house, and your significant other. However only you made it there. You beat out all those other people who wanted that slot. However likely or unlikely it is be proud of where you are and how you got there. (Unless you are a member of the Trump Administration or a Kardashian/Jenner).

Second I would say be ready when opportunities present themselves. Nick Foles isn’t the first backup QB to win a Super Bowl and he definitely won’t be the last. His career hasn’t been smooth sailing. He went from 7 touchdowns in a single game to being benched in St. Louis to riding the pine in KC. On the verge of retirement he decided to give it a go and ended reaching the highest pinnacle in sports. And now he’s defying the odds again. So much so that some people have moved beyond the improbable firmly into the impossible (by suggesting that the Eagles trade Carson Wentz and stick with Foles).

Lastly I would say never be complacent. You can enjoy your accomplishments but get back to work as soon as you can. “What Have You Done For Me, Lately” is more than just a song by Janet Jackson. It’s basically what every person invested in your success says two days after your latest win. Part of actually believing in yourself is to approach the next mission with the same vigor. You did this before, you can do it again. And Mitigating Circumstances be damned.

I guess I actually didn’t avoid the cliché because I’m about to say it here: Never Give Up. I won’t quit just because it gets hard. It can be emotionally draining to deal with hardships but the next win is around the corner with that win be confident in the fact that you’ve already defied the odds simply by being here now in this moment.

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My Problematic Favorite In The Age Of Wokeness

I’m a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite because of Notorious B.I.G. I am a hypocrite because of Big Pun. I am a hypocrite because of Sam Cooke. I am a hypocrite because of James Brown, Bobby Brown and Chris Brown. I am a hypocrite because of Rick James. I am a hypocrite because of …(and this one hurts most of all) Nas.

Today TMZ published a story about Philadelphia Eagles Defensive End Chris Long labeling John Lennon a bad person. Ostensibly because he physically abused women during his life. This led to a back and forth Twitter exchange between Long and a Lennon fan who insisted things were too complicated to label Lennon a bad guy. To which Chris Long replied “Shut the fuck up”.

We are experiencing a moment in American discourse where (especially among those of us who have opted in to social media) it is becoming easier to establish a baseline for acceptable behavior. We have almost all identified a common language that makes it easier to express ideas without fully understanding them. To know what “social justice” or “white privilege” is or to label yourself a feminist without truly doing the work besides tacking on a few hashtags at the end of your scorching hot tweets.

But rightly or wrongly those of us who consider ourselves on the right side of history have begun demanding better behavior than our predecessors. (I stress this doesn’t apply to anyone who wants to Make America Great Again). We’ve coalesced around a set of common values that doesn’t attempt to transcend race, religion, gender or sexual orientation but instead it attempts to include those considerations in our execution of these ideals. Witness the Parkland shooting survivors reaching out to include the urban youth of Chicago in their crusade against the gun lobby. Those who recognize their privilege and instead of jealously hoarding it like a precious commodity extend it to the marginalized are the manifestation of the slow incremental progress of a shared respect for human rights.

In other words as we evolve socially at a snail’s pace our standards for behavior evolve. The marginalized are no longer voiceless and at this point if you remain ignorant to their pleas for justice that is a willful ignorance that results either from a personal antipathy or an irresponsible apathy.

When Chris Long reached back through the annals of time to remind the worshippers of the vastly overrated Beatles that John Lennon himself (their Patron saint) was a confessed abuser of women I had a brief gloating smirk at the hypocrisy of that Lennon fan who rushed into the fray to defend his hero. Then I stopped myself because I’m a hypocrite. I am a hypocrite because of Notorious B.I.G. I am a hypocrite because of Big Pun. I am a hypocrite because of Sam Cooke. I am a hypocrite because of James Brown, Bobby Brown and Chris Brown. I am a hypocrite because of Rick James. I am a hypocrite because of …(and this one hurts most of all) Nas.

All of these men have been accused of, proven to be, or admitted to physically abusing women. And yet I haven’t seen my behavior towards them change. I haven’t labeled any of them bad guys although a few of them most assuredly are. What standard should I hold them to? I see the hypocrisy within myself because when I hear about new rappers with whom I have no attachment being abusive towards women I instantly and reflexively reject them. You won’t hear me rocking too much with XXXtenacion and I’ve had my fill of Kodak Black. Neither of them will be getting any intentional spin in my rotation. But even that is inconsistent after all Kevin Gates kicked a female fan and although I don’t have a decades deep respect for him I check for his music.

You have to right to do what you want. In life you will most certainly make choices that contradict other choices. The only time this is truly problematic is when you to try to preach purity to others. Chris Long doesn’t want to hear any moral equivocation when it comes to John Lennon. Part of this is admittedly for him that he is no fan of the Beatles. The other part of this is that he’s not trying to convert John Lennon’s fans. You decide for yourself what can turn you off from an artist beyond their music. If abusing women in his youth automatically makes John Lennon a bad guy then I’m confident in his line of work Chris Long has embraced some bad guys as teammates.

I’m pretty sure most of us have some bad guys amongst our family and friends. This is not to excuse any one’s actions or provoke a circular debate. If you tell me Nas is a bad guy and I reply “It’s complicated” feel free to tell me to “Shut the fuck up”.

Book Of The Month: The New Jim Crow

 

It seems we are having a moment in America. Let me correct that it seems we are having a Moment with a capital M in America. What the activists and commentators on social media are doing is raising awareness to the level that traditional media has been forced to respond and in some cases alter the narrative that reinforces white supremacy in the majority of these cases.

But sometimes we need more than the immediate reaction to current events. Before we can start to think of solutions to our current standing in society we must accurately diagnose the problem. Michelle Alexander has done a pretty good job articulating one of the more pressing issues in her book The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration In the Age Of Colorblindness .

In this book she advances the premise that the disastrous war on drugs and the “tough on crime” mentality in the national consciousness since at least the 1980’s is actually a root cause of the problems plaguing the black community in America and not a result of a pre-existing affinity for crime among the urban poor as the common media narrative would have you believe.  It’s empowering to finally have someone exhaustively examine this topic. When discussing the idea that blackness has inherent criminality in the view of society you rarely find someone who can succinctly articulate the valid points that support your reasoning.

But when confronted with statistics and some general facts about our current state of mass incarceration one with a firm grasp on reality would be hard pressed to deny the inequity  that exists in our judicial system. Explored in depth in this book is the execution of the drug war itself. Although drugs are used at almost identical rates by white and black youths the drug war has almost exclusively been waged in neighborhoods of color.  The prison population that hovers at nearly 50% black despite the fact that we never make up more than 14% of the US population should be a clue that some sort of unnatural selection is being made. And although the media makes a big deal about the arrest and prosecution of violent criminals the majority of African-Americans branded felons by the state have been convicted of non violent drug offenses and are subject to harsh mandatory sentences that even some prosecutors and judges fear are too harsh.

Also explored is the stigma attached to someone labeled a felon in this country. If you are an African-American convicted of a felony your role as a functioning member of society is essentially over. The harsh truth is that another system of control has been constructed in America. Slavery and Jim Crow existed to exploit and expand inequity. Mass Incarceration is nothing short of genocide. A society actively working to weaken an entire population without implicitly invoking race so that it can sleep at night believing that it somehow has realized Martin Luther King’s dream.  But for most of us reducing MLK to platitudes about colorblindness isn’t a solution it’s actually part of the problem. Read this book for the rest of the diagnosis.

Racism is America’s Greatest Weaknes

If The United States Of America were a nation of robust empathy and moral temerity then no amount of racist agitprop would have had any noticeable effect on our election.

Last week we learned that a company called Cambridge Analytica used some dubious methods to collect and sell data from Facebook for profit. Most of the reporting on this story has been about the unethical way in which this data was collected and exploited. But what troubles me more personally is what the data suggested. America’s failure to grapple with the legacy of race has metastasized into a terminal cancer that has the potential to kill us all. It was so easy to stir the seeds of racial resentment among not only the least educated whites but among large swaths across every single segmentation to the point where a plurality of white voters are ensnared in the delusion. And thus begat Trump.

If The United States Of America were a nation of robust empathy and moral temerity then no amount of racist agitprop would have had any noticeable effect on our election. However we are extremely weak in that area. America’s obsession with race is surpassed only with its need to appear to not be racist. Even as study after study after study empirically confirms what all people of color know in their hearts to be true: that American racism is a malevolent force making our nation weaker. You will read a lot in the press about “racial resentment” but let’s be clear here what they mean is out and out racism. And the levers of power and privilege are such that in this case the moral crime must be reported timidly as to not offend the perpetrators. Because they represent a sizable portion of the audience.

It’s incredible how racism works in our society. Racism isn’t just about attitudes and actions, it’s about language, it’s about power, and it’s about the lens through which interpret all of the above. The 2016 serves a serious case study in which all the ways racism has made our country vulnerable. All throughout the election you heard about the travails of the “white working class”. The media never interrogated our society to ask what the most important part of that phrase was. What is so remarkable about white people that they need their own special subset of the working class? Why would their interests be any different than that of the Latino working class or the African-American working class? The answer to those questions which the media never got around to asking are simple. The culture of whiteness has been shaped to view the economic upliftment of non white people as being at the expense of white people. The forces of tribalism, nationalism and racism have conspired to create a toxic, entitled, and embittered population. This is so clear that when turned into a statistical model Cambridge Analytica, Russia, and the Republican Party are able to deftly exploit it. They don’t need to know anything about Trump other than that his rise upsets Blacks and Latinos that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.

The same Republican Party that touted family values in the wake of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in the White House have largely acquiesced control of their party to a man who bragged about sexual assault and had multiple affairs throughout his 3 marriages. Racism is a cancer and Trump is a tumor. He has weakened our resolve. He has exploited the divides in our country and he is governing a nation for the 1 percent while exploiting the unique ignorance of his supporters.

If Americans stopped being racist we would be safer as a country. Sure both political parties might still be in the thrall of special interests and corporate lobbyists. But those lobbyist themselves would be demanding policies that actually helped us economically. A sensible immigration policy not based on xenophobia and fear mongering but on the net economic benefit of immigration would be a start. A school reform policy that saw black and brown and even poor white children as the raw material for a new tech based economy. (Teach these kids how to code) would be next. A new GI bill that served to rectify the inherent injustice of the WWII era where white veterans came home to create the middle class and while black veterans were deposited in slums and ghettos. Imagine a non racist America where these ideas were feasible based on face value alone.

Knowing that the resentment and hatred of minorities is a prevalent force in our politics is only half the battle. The other half is to find and support candidates who will openly acknowledge and address this. As such for me any candidate mentioning specifically the “white working class” will get an automatic side eye from me. There you again making exceptions and pleas for the hateful to drop their psychological bags and join the rest of us. I need a candidate to learn from the failures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You can’t work with people who hate you. You have to work around them. We must stand fast in what we believe in even as the opposition wavers.

In a way we are lucky it is Donald Trump and not someone with more class, dignity and sophistication. Someone with the charm of Ronald Reagan, the false piety of George W. Bush or the sheer sinister maneuverability of Richard Nixon might do more serious permanent damage to our world. No Trump is the accidental president. Someone who probably didn’t even want the office but most likely has been blackmailed by a foreign government into taking it. He’s a rich con artist, a vain fool, a sexual abuser and an unrepentant racist. And he’s sitting at the highest seat in the land. Every second he sits in that chair he exposes the lie that his supporters care about anything or anyone but themselves. I’ll sign off by repeating one of my everlasting truths: to the greedy, the ignorant and the hateful Trump is all of you.

My Thoughts On Black Panther

My spoiler free reflection on the most important Superhero movie ever.

After seeing Black Panther for the first (but certainly not the last) time last night I was struck by how appropriate this film is for this moment in time. The black power fantasy of an African nation untouched by European colonization and therefore able to thrive as the most technologically advanced nation on our Earth is revolutionary based on its premise alone. But that is the story we comic book nerds have been reading for decades. It’s a powerful story in print but to see it played out on the big screen is like nothing I could have imagined.

In many ways Black Panther shares so much DNA with other Marvel Studios films. This is definitely the same world created in Iron Man and The Avengers. But in so many other ways this is something I have never witnessed before. Black people almost exclusively dominate every single minute of the screen and yet it’s a superhero story for everyone. People who love movies whether they are Black, Latino, Asian or other will have to concede that you can’t expect to go all year long without seeing one movie that is almost exclusively about white men saving the world. Black Panther foretells the day when people who love movies concede that you won’t be able to go a year, or 6 months, or one month without one movie dominated by a cast of color in any or all genres.

The movie itself hits the right beats for an action movie but it also grapples with the moral conundrum of responsibility for a nation versus responsibility to all of the world’s oppressed people. This is the first Marvel movie where I kind of agree with the bad guy. This movie raises complex questions about black revolution, isolationism, racism and human suffering but doesn’t ram any lessons down your throat. Overall the film knows where its responsibility lies so for those seeking deeper analyzation of what the implications of a place like Wakanda would mean in the real world the film starts the conversation but makes no attempt to finish it.

Without getting into spoilers I will say that Black Panther supersedes the hype train. Performances from Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo and especially Michael B. Jordan encapsulate a who’s who’s of the next generation of Black Hollywood. (Seriously the only people missing are Donald Glover, Tessa Thomposn and John Boyega). The director manages to convey the scope of the world of Wakanda and inch the Marvel Universe one step closer towards its next climax this summer. As one reviewer put it the movie manages to do what these superhero movies are supposed to do while also managing the burden of showcasing black excellence.  In some ways that’s the perfect metaphor for the black experience not just in America but globally.

If you stick around for the first post credit scene you’ll hear a message written loud and clear to confront the times we live in. Some may view this as a Disneyfied dumbing down of the Resistance. But in Trump’s America we have to take these messages and sow them into the imaginations of children. There is a vacuum at the top of the moral universe if only there was really a T’Challa to fill it.

Book Of The Month: Black Panther

What I notice immediately near the beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ iteration of Black Panther was that this wasn’t a hard reboot of the character. While this may be counterintuitive for non-comic book readers nowadays when Marvel starts with a number 1 issue we start with a story that’s pretty much already in progress. I had not read a Black Panther comic in about 10 years so I was pretty unfamiliar with where the character was in the context of the current Marvel Universe timeline.

Coates does a great job getting you up to speed. T’Challa is currently the King of Wakanda (there have been times in the continuum where he has abdicated the throne or otherwise been usurped either by a family member, friend, or foe) and his sister (who has ruled as Queen at some point) is currently in the spirit world. The head of his royal guard (an all-female elite fighting force known as the Dora Milaje) has gone rogue to free her lover who was about to be executed for treason. If you read any online critiques of comic books you’ll know that Marvel’s books have had more success with diversity than its Cinematic Universe. But the film universe’s introduction of Black Panther is probably the main reason this book exists right now. That the editors at Marvel had the idea to get respected Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates to try his hand at the complicated mythology of Wakanda is a gift for the significant overlap in their two fan-bases. This is not to say that everyone who reads Coates grew up as a Black Panther fan. But if you are the type of person that follows a writer like Coates and a comic book fan there is a chance that you fall in that sector on the Venn Diagram.

Coates background as a poet serves him well in this endeavor. While expectations may be unreasonably high, Marvel fans are typically used to the interweaving story arcs in comic books. Coates here is threading the needle with three separate character arcs. We follow the rebel Dora Milaje lovers ( whose very existence is making a statement denouncing homophobia) as they free women and children from modern slavery, there is also the Panther’s sister Shuri as she continues her journey through and eventually out of the spirit world and of course there is the main event T’Challa himself as he stamps out the last seeds of rebellion and attempts to make amends to a citizenry that is understandably skeptical because of recent government sanctioned atrocities.

Over the first year and a half of Coates run we’ve seen the Black Panther universe expand to three books and then contract back to one. If you are looking for consistency stick with the main story told by Coates. In it he grapples with the concept of a benign monarchy and the unifying power of an external threat. He doesn’t have to go out of his way to weave political statements into the narrative as Black Panther’s very existence is a political statement. Hopefully the spotlight shined on T’Challa by this Friday’s major film release will see this book get the props it deserves.

Book Of The Month: Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House

When 63 million people made the decision on November 8, 2016 to vote for Donald J. Trump to become the forty-fifth President Of The United States the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world was understandably shaken. Whether you loved or hated Trump you could agree on one thing we would be getting something in The White House the likes of which we had never seen. Donald Trump is a man with no boundaries, no sense of decorum, no true ideology except a pathetic need for approval and a more transparent capitulation to white supremacy (I mean more transparent than a normal Republican which is already pretty translucent).

In “Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House” journalist Michael Wolff takes advantage of the chaos of the amateurish and discordant Trump Administration to observe and confirm what many of us have suspected. The President and his minions are a house of fools and the entire world is much worse for their usurpation of actual power.

Among the characters profiled in this story you will find no heroes. If you were searching for a “protagonist” I guess you would have to go with Steve Bannon which is odd because he’s done so much to agitate and amplify the worst things about America. But rather Bannon than the feckless Jared Kushner, the ineffectual Reince Priebus, the sycophantic Kellyanne Conway or anyone who’s last name is Trump.

Wolff starts with The Trump Campaign in 2016 through to the ouster of Steve Bannon and weaves a narrative around much of what we already learned through leaks. Throughout the book based on whatever subject or character he is currently expounding on Wolff will sometimes flashback to earlier periods either from the campaign or earlier in Trump’s life. While those of us who have been political news junkies won’t find many new facts it is interesting to hear direct quotes from the principals involved in the story. One thing that is more clear I will say is that even most of the Trump Administration believes their was collusion with Russia and Trump’s family made it worse by obstructing justice and firing Comey.

What I find most disconcerting is the cynical opportunism of the “adults” in the room. The serious Republican operatives who at times are baffled by Trump’s ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence and who privately express concerns about his mental health. Most can’t quite decide if he’s crazy but a running theme throughout the book is that they all agree that he’s a fucking moron. And yet rather than spare us they all put party before country and are playing politics at a time when the geopolitical ramifications could be staggering.

The most troubling thing about Donald Trump himself is that his blatant expression of racial animus is basically his only truth. He hasn’t made a dogged effort to follow through on any of his other campaign promises and as Wolff pulls back the curtain you understand why. The only thing he craves is the accolades, the applause and the attention. Where he actually believes in anything it is the racist, anti-semitic, and sexist stew that has transfixed much of the consciousness of the Make America Great Again crowd.

Trump isn’t the most hardcore believer of course. That would be Steve Bannon. But at times Steve Bannon comes across as a pragmatic and flawed mastermind. You quickly find that only in a room full of mental midgets does he loom as an intellectual giant. This book is interested in telling a very particular story about the ins and outs and political machinations in the Trump Administration. What you will come to understand is that these people are as objectively terrible at being human as any villain in a comic book movie. As a matter of fact I sympathize with the motives of Loki more than any of the people presented in this book. These people are so uniquely despicable they don’t even like each other.

What is pertinent and what gives me most hope as a political partisan but most dread as a citizen of the United States is that by the end of this book (which concludes some time in the fall of 2017) the most competent, and effective political operators have essentially been neutralized in favor of Trump’s incompetent, and extremely corrupt family. While they may not have the same exact nationalist agenda as a true villain like Bannon they do intend to pilfer the Treasury and use their plunder to reward the Republican congress and their donors (many of whom won’t be re-elected as a result). What’s worrisome is that their inability to reign in the worst impulses of Donald Trump could find us on the brink of a nuclear crisis. As Donald Trump, a man who is easily wounded, grapples with the fact that one of the United States’ most bitter enemies doesn’t like him very much and isn’t afraid of him.

As much as the election of Donald Trump gave me existential dread about the United States I still believe there are people here worth saving. Are there enough good people here to stop Trump and his flunkies from destroying our country? That remains to be seen.  Maybe the “adults” in the room will invoke the 25th amendment and deal with the political fallout as opposed to you know… a nuclear one.