JUST MUSING: “Rock-paper-scissors” …

I never was good at the game rock-paper-scissors.  I can’t explain why.  Either I lost interest after one or two rounds, ultimately conceding, agreeing the other person was the winner, or I simply didn’t have the requisite skills to compete.  Wikipedia describes the game as “a zero sum game in which each player simultaneously forms one of three shapes with an outstretched hand.”   A simple fist (rock), a flat hand (paper), a fist with the index and middle fingers extend forming a V (scissors).  Rock beats scissors, paper cover rocks, and scissors in turn cut paper.  If both players choose the same shape, the game is tied and is usually immediately replayed to break the tie.  Maybe my inability and unwillingness to compete was because the game seemed to reduce winning to a simplistic absurdity.  Corrupting the game’s rules for me involved displaying the same form repeatedly.  No, I don’t know whether my chance of winning increased or decreased by forming the same figure.  No, I can’t give you any mathematical probabilities.  Opting out, choosing not to play – which I did, always, walking away, worried little whether rock-paper-scissors won.

I disagree with Wikipedia defining rock-paper-scissors as a zero-sum game. To me a zero sum game, in life, is a hand which is played when all else fails; occurring when there is a total loss of hope, followed by a be-damned decision, an act of defiance.  It is when life becomes unbearable, thus reducing winning to destruction, annihilation.  I am not sure I am making sense.  Let me try explaining with real world examples.

Palestinians strapping bombs onto their bodies to kill themselves and Israelis represents a zero-sum game – “my loss is your loss” – winning by losing, reducing life to an absurdity; an act which is clearly not a game of rock-paper-scissors.

A Tunisian vendor (Arab Spring), standing in the middle of the plaza and setting himself afire, taking his own life, is a zero sum game.  Rock-paper-scissors, ha!

Prisoners electing death over living is a zero sum game; indefinite detention, no hope of formal charges, or trial, in an isolated setting, invites hopelessness.  The game played at Guantanamo Bay is not rock-paper-scissors.  It is a life-game played against the backdrop of the total loss of hope causing the prisoners to react, taking power away from their captor, giving all, forsaking all to win.

*           *           *

I have been in a state of daze since the presidential election.  No, not because my candidate lost.  No, not because the United States continues to limit its highest office to a limited class of persons (Just Musing:  Babble, babble, babble …”).  No, not because of my health is failing, allergies, the change in seasons, or because I just realized, at this late date, that elections have consequences (Just Musing:  “No longer a chameleon”…).  No, no, no … this haze is different, much different.

When Barry Goldwater ran for the office of the presidency (1964 election), I was nine/ten years old.  Mr. Goldwater was a United States Senator from the great state of Arizona.  I remember, even at that age, being insulted by his words.  He was talking about me and people who looked like me.  His picture of America, cast under the umbrella of conservatism was much like the black and white television sets of my youth – clear – black and white – pitting white folks against black folks.  Telling his fellow America to follow his lead, give him their vote, to protect “us from them.”  The American public didn’t follow his lead, rejecting Goldwater’s call to hate.

In 1968, George Wallace, the Governor of the great state of Alabama, ran for the office of the presidency.  He, Wallace, was an avowed segregationist.  His image remained ingrained in the minds of every southern black child, standing in front of the school house door, telling the rest of America that America was a white man’s country and he, and he alone, would remain principled to protect America from us.  The American public by and large rejected Wallace’s message, affirming that hope remained part and parcel of the American dream.

Oh sure, part and parcel of any election is an “us against them” message; encouraging citizens to vote for a particular candidate, showing contrast, extending a hand requesting “the privilege of your vote.”   Absolutely, communities of interest become important, even when those communities of interests invoke race, sex, nationality, religion.  But this election seems different.  A tactical invitation to separate “us from them”, played masterfully from beginning to end, an in-your-face display of hate.  The results of this election caused the haze to roll over the hill, clearing the horizon, making it clear the American public accepted this candidate’s words and lead.

When he moved down the escalator and cast aspersions against Mexicans, a good friend of mine who is a White female, a liberal most of her life, told me she thought the candidate was funny; as if he didn’t mean it, as if he was play acting.  I listened to her hearty laugh, curled my mind around her words and laughter; curled my body around my anger and anxieties.  I explained then that his invoking race and racism could never be funny to me; it is always personal.

He never stopped his supposed joking – grabbing and reaching – touching any many disparate groups as possible.  But he was not joking, not at all a play of symbolism, no, no, no – his were direct words – directed against “the Muslims”, “the African Americans”, those lying women (whom he promised to sue), the disabled (whom he openly mocked and then said he wasn’t mocking; sort of like others contention of his joking, play-acting).  The consequences of his actions however were clear – causing others to laugh, point, cheer and jeer.

*           *           *

Americans stood up in 1964, a time our society was under fundamental pressure to do better; truly a zero-sum time in the country’s history.

Americans rejected Wallace’s attempt to import his hate to other states – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin – and white women – said no – but not now, but not now.

No, this time was different.  They laughed at him while gifting him as much press time he needed to import his hate.   As if making a point, they remained silent, saying they were undecided.  Ginger-flexing (if ginger-flexing is a word), self-reflecting, assuring the rest of us he didn’t mean a word he said, while casting their ballots in the privacy of their homes, in voting booths throughout the land.  Not like Goldwater.  Not like Wallace.  Not like the rest of nation who rejected the hate – then.  Not this time.  A stark reminder we do have something to lose, while they closed their doors in the rest of our faces, to finish their hearty laughter.

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JUST MUSING: “Abraham, Martin and John…”

Let’s see – Colin Powell, John Podesta – hacked – both powerful individuals with superior technical support, arguably superior to the average citizen, with security clearances that allow them to receive sensitive government data.  Both existing in cloistered worlds, separate from the rest of us, seemingly immune from our mundane problems.  So they assumed. So we assumed.  After they were hacked, we all participated unwittingly in the breach.  A breach which played out on the news, in cable-land, accompanied with questions about what the “public wants to know,” ignoring and refusing to discuss the fundamental breach of privacy and illegal activity done on our watch, supposedly in our name.

What else do we know? – Government and corporate entities are also not immune. India hacked.  India hackers in turn targeted Pakistani websites.  Name any country, if connected by phone, computer, banking, in this bold-new world, they too have been hacked, are doing the hacking, invading, exploring, stealing data.  The Europeans, the Africans, the Asians, the Americans – all participants in the new rules of plunder.

In the United States, 21.5 million were affected by the breach of the United States government computers (obtaining health care information, financial data, personal information, including social security numbers, and fingerprints).  Think your financial records are secure?  Think again. Even the IRS isn’t immune – hacked.   USA Today reported a 2015 IRS hack exposed 700,000 accounts.  US News reported in February 2016, the additional hacking of IRS accounts, affecting 100,000 accounts.  Robbing a bank by gun seemed so passé.

The predictable sentiments are loud and clear, wishing for the good old days.  Don’t worry – the good old days are here.  We are going to sleep at night with our doors and windows unlocked, comfortable with our safety, while hackers (both private and government) enter our world, pulling back the bed covers and do as they please.  Telling us to put tape over the camera while we sleep doesn’t seem to solve the problem.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) this past month (October 2016) issued a ruling [WC Docket No. 16-106], that some commentators have labeled “landmark.”  The new rules permit the consumers to forbid Internet providers from sharing sensitive personal information, such as app and browsing histories, mobile location data and other information generated while using the Internet.  Privacy advocates have applauded the changes.  I would contend it is a good start, but we can’t ignore the other inaction and direct actions of our government; tantamount to locking the door, disabling the camera and security system, while leaving 9 out of the 10 windows cracked, open for theirs and others access.

In 2015, President Obama, urged Congress to pass a Personal Data and Protection Act, legislature which would require companies, read this as private companies, to notify customers within thirty days of discovery of a breach and if sensitive information is exposed.  Congress took no action on the President’s request.

Our government (effective December 1, 2016), now has invoked new rules, “which would let judges issue search warrants for remote access to computers located in any jurisdiction, potentially including foreign countries.” These new rules broaden the government powers, allowing further access to data, breaching our privacy, further eroding the Fourth Amendment.

Absolutely, they tell us (read they, as politicians) that they too are concerned about privacy.  In fact, it was reported that on October 27, 2016, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers from the U.S. Congress asked the Justice Department to clarify how the new rule change in the government’s hacking powers could impact privacy of innocent Americans.  Of course, they (politicians) will ask, point to their asking and then go about their busy lives, reminding us of security concerns, and the need to make us safe, while our privacy rights continue to be eviscerated.

Sure, we can attempt to go off the grid, riding ourselves of computers, phones, any microchips found anywhere in our homes or work, but any such solution is about as unrealistic as some of us swearing off anything made with butter or sugar.  Some of you can.  Most of us can’t.   Travel, banking, our jobs all implicate privacy concerns – where there is a computer, there is access.  Ask the Democratic National Committee (DNC) – they too were hacked.  And everyone laughed, ignoring the threat to our freedoms.  Posting, musing, engaging in Face-time exposes each of us to the world.  I can’t help but muse:  if John Podesta and Colin Powell can be hacked, no one stands a chance, no matter what we do – particularly not under the current rules.  Changing our passwords, spending billions on patches and security systems seems to ignore there are eight other windows open in which they can crawl through.  Invading, touching, taking as they please – they did it to John.  They did it to Colin.

JUST MUSING: “Be it resolved…”

Reaching, reaching, reaching was Chester’s movement, backward, without looking, extending the left hand, searching the crevices of the church’s pew, continuing to look forward while Clinnetta moved in place.  As if anticipating – as if knowing – as if paying tribute Chester remained erect, standing – reaching, reaching – securing.

Clinnetta sung at Chester Anna’s funeral – our grandmother; at Louis Wright’s – our grandfather; at Uncle Clint’s – Clinnetta’s father – my uncle; at her mother’s (Aunt Ruby); my mother’s (Georgia Ann) funeral; as she has done innumerable times – walking toward the pulpit, taking a deep breath, extending her respects to elders, extending a radiant smile- singing.  Laying claim to the church was her habit, her ritual, allowing her voice to soar, while extending a hand skyward, sequestering every heart, capturing every eye, sprinkling tears, allowing us to smile and cry at the same time.

This time seemed different, much different.  Absolutely, she moved toward the pulpit, took the stage, and grabbed the microphone – as usual.  The pastor hugged her – as other pastor’s had done in the past.  She smiled – as she is wont to do.  Turning, turning, turning, in the audience’s direction, as if a steel rod had been inserted – standing exceedingly erect.  Smiling, acknowledging all of us – as she had done in the past.  The napkins now cloistered in Chester’s hand may have well been a dinner roll.  As was his habit when a child, Chester had no intentions of sharing, securing  seconds, protecting his from the rest of us – “mine, mine, mine.”

Clinnetta’s voice extended grace to her God, to other’s God, to the Gods – forcing the remainder of us to mimic Chester’s action, searching, reaching, securing, bowing our heads, wiping, watching, listening.  Clinnetta proceeded to take the air out of the room, filtering it through her vocal cords before floating the notes outward, upward, forward, to the rest of us – allowing us to breathe, allowing us to live.  While waiting for my ration of air, I estimated Clinnetta’s age, my age, and resolved to die before Clinnetta so that she could sing at my funeral.

Time’s march is persistent, waiting on no man.  The full proverb is time and tide waits on no man, a seemingly meaningless proverb in one’s youth, obtaining meaning when time passes, converting minutes into pauses, days into brief preludes, blending months, secreting years, stealing faces, names and memories.  And time didn’t wait.

Instead being in Hurst, Texas, I was now in Houston, Texas attending another funeral – no more than ten days had passed.  Taking a seat, observing, admiring the church’s interior, wondering whether others noticed the person who painted the walls was a good painter, straight lines, true colors, painstaking work.  The painter’s patience, patience and craft remained on display daily – at funerals, weddings, masses.

Looking upward, sideward – left, right – seeing a wheelchair bound elderly woman motion, then whisper.  She was the same woman I saw when entering the church.  The same woman I offered to lift over the steps, until the access ramp was located.  Now, the process was reversed, carefully guiding her back to the chair, before exiting the sanctuary.  It was then I noticed them – a smallish man, a largish man – situated in the front of the church, off to the left.  They unencumbered their guitars, performed a mike check, strumming their instruments – slightly off, slightly, just slightly.  They began in earnest, singing, playing – emitting a still off-beat sound, slightly off-beat, just slightly.

The smaller man’s voice possessed the intonation of a “Banty Rooster”, filling every space, attacking, occupying every crevice, taking the air out of the room, refusing other’s air.  The more the he sang, “Slightly off” became “assuredly off”; extending a voice to thee, insulting, taking common songs of the Catholic funeral liturgy and making them his own.   This last statement is not intended to be a compliment.  Watching others, wondering whether they heard what I heard.

Maybe the woman in the wheelchair knew Banty?  They appeared to be of the same generation.  Maybe her removing herself occurred when she saw who was singing, refusing to sit through another butchered performance, coming back much later, much later.  Maybe, just maybe, I should have run over and offered to help again, this time ignoring her gracious insistence and helped anyway.  Instead, I stayed locked in place, anchored to the pew, as if I was prisoner in a medieval dungeon, remembering other versions of the song, trying to contain the involuntarily shake now possessing my head, hands, body.  Wanting the assault on the lyrics to stop, complaining – to myself, to others, to no one in particular – complaints packaged in short burst of discontent.  Why?  Who is this man!  Asking for the Gods to intervene, looking for the Gods to intervene, wondering whether there was a God – particularly, after hearing what I was hearing.

Ave Maria indeed!  Ave Maria indeed!

The smaller man claimed the space, dominating the mike, while the larger man stood to his right, to his rear, in the recesses, occasionally stopping, looking, as if he knew his smallish-partner was off-beat.  Never interfering, participating, but not participating, knowing full-well they were not the best in their blessed craft.

I have heard it both ways:  funerals are for the living, funerals are for the dead.  I don’t know the answer to the idiom and don’t pretend to solve the question in this muse.  Maybe both are true.  While Banty sung, in one eye, I became particularly insulted for the dead.  In the other eye, I saw Clinnetta ending her tribute to Ira, while Chester move the bundle of napkins to the left side of his face and wipe.  The third eye:  I noticed the woman in the wheelchair come back only when the Priest began the mass.  The third eye helped me to resolve part of Father Time’s Rubik’s cube.  Time doesn’t wait.  Marching at a ritualistic, persistent pace causing us to remain amazed at both the predictable, unpredictable.  Seemingly speeding as we age, causing us to see backward and forward, recognizing our humanity, frailty, limitations.  Some things we can control.  Some things we have no control over.   So be it resolved – two years, two years max, and out.

So I muse!