“Get Up” – And Vote! Playing R.E.M. At The Ballot Box


“Get Up” and vote.

Absentee ballot. Early voting. Election Day. Just “Get Up” and vote.

Immigration “policies,” Supreme Court appointees, exiting from multi-lateral agreements and treaties, Muslim bans, tariffs, mass shootings on schools and media outlets, partisan politics before principles, etc. – these are all part of isolationist nightmares, bad dreams that have become reality and more than “complicating” life.

Voting might be the single most powerful action people (especially 18-24 year-olds) can take in this “midterm” season. Every restrictive Voter ID law that is supposedly combatting non-existent voter fraud is an attempt to get people to not “wake up” and exercise that right, a right to make real dreams that actually “complement” our lives. The next 4+ months is not a time to get “sleepy.”

For so many people, “life is hard” with no access to health care or living wages and discrimination running rampant.

Help them. Help them “get up.”

Because you don’t want to wake up sometime in late November and ask, “Where (did) time go?” or realize that all of those music boxes in the bridge of the song no longer play.

Tuesday, November 6.


 Sleep delays my life (get up, get up)
Where does time go? (get up, get up, get up)
I don’t know

Sleep, sleep, sleepy head (get up, get up, get up)
Wake it up, up (get up, get up)
You’ve got all your life (way up ahead)
(Get up, get up, get up)

Dreams they complicate my life (Dreams they complement my life)
I’ve seen you laying pined (get up, get up)
I’ve seen you laying pined (get up, get up)

Life is rough, rough (get up, get up, get up)
I’ve seen you laying down (get up)
With the loving kind (get up, get up)
I know life is hard, hard (where goes your time?)
Where to turn? Where to turn? (get up)

Dreams they complicate my life (Dreams they complement my life)

Dreams they complicate my life (Dreams they complement my life)
This time, no escape, I wake up (get up, get up)
(get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up, get up)





Our “World Leader Pretend”

worl leader pretend2

If one was to choose a song that played through unseen speakers when a self-important individual like Donald Trump walked into the room, “World Leader Pretend” would be hard to overlook.

And it isn’t just because of the obvious parallels to the lyrics, but the fact that the first person point of view so brilliantly frames and profiles the inner workings of a narcissist who happens to be the “Leader of the Free World.”

Using this song to express dismay with the current POTUS is certainly not an original idea. The title alone places it on an unofficial soundtrack for Trump. But it’s the constant proof presented in Trump’s everyday words and actions that reinforce that the lyrics of this song serve as a strong warning of the kind of leader this country does not need to have sitting in the Oval Office.

This week Sen. John McCain delivered one of the more powerful criticisms of Trump when he said that “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” Apparently, against the advice of those who told him to not congratulate Vladimir Putin in winning another sham of an election to remain in totalitarian power, Trump openly “celebrated” Putin’s victory. This is on the heels of making a positive comment (maybe jokingly) about China’s own leader winning the constitutional “right” to stay in office for life.

Throw in some tariffs, some non-disclosures, some staff turnover, and some scandals involving elicit affairs, and you have just last week’s events. So “World Leader Pretend” becomes the song that is on constant “repeat.”

“I sit at my table” might just be an ample euphemism for “Executive Time,” those hours spent in seclusion before public business where Trump supposedly “lets his machine talk to him” through daily doses of the Fox network.

No doubt Trump has shown that he is a “master” of his own defenses. His constant use of the “I know you are, but what am I?” tactic has been used countless times so that many have become desensitized to it. And it is rather ironic that the wall he places around him like “barricades” resembles the same isolationist wall that he wants raised on our country’s southern border. Stoking the fire of an electorate helped provide the mortar to that wall.

Trump knows Trump best. He has a “rich understanding of his finest defenses,” and he has his own clear vision of his pretend “world” and the fact that he is its “World Leader Pretend.” But there are many cracks in the “mortar” of his wall, the one that he has designed. Those “tax cuts,” those “improvements” to healthcare, and those promises to stand firm against Russia are weakening his fort.

When the only person who seems to be important in the world of Trump is “I,” then the collective “we” that “I” is supposed to work for suffers. But with the midterm elections approaching and more possible indictments looming, that wall might be compromised soon.

In fact, we “will be the ones to knock it down.”

worl leader pretend


“World Leader Pretend”

I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I’ve used them well

This is my mistake
Let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

I’ve a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated
I demand a rematch

I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I’ve practiced them well
I fitted them myself

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
This is my mistake, let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

Reach out for me
Hold me tight
Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me
Let my machine talk to me

This is my world, and I am the World Leader Pretend
This is my life, and this is my time
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit
It’s high time I razed the walls that I’ve constructed

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize
This is my mistake, let me make it good
I raised the wall
And I will be the one to knock it down

You fill in the mortar
You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar
I raised the wall
And I’m the only one
I will be the one to knock it down


The Pilgrimage Of Douglas High School

The students at Douglas High School are on a pilgrimage.

It has gained a lot of momentum.

And as our country begins to see the younger generations start to assert their voices, many in Washington D.C. are having a hard time letting those new leaders “take a turn” at deciding what their country should be like.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s rather stunning lack of true leadership during the CNN town hall meeting in Florida on February 21st showed not only the glaring disconnect between lawmakers and their constituents; it showed the two-faced nature of many politicians and their loyalties.

This two-faced characteristic is sometimes linked to the Roman god named Janus, who is shown with two faces. Overtly, many like Rubio seem loyal to those whom they supposedly represent. This is what they show publicly. In reality, it seems like Rubio and company are really loyal to those who fund them. This is what they display through their actions, or lack of action.

In the English language, there are words that can have multiple meanings denotatively and connotatively. Sometimes those meanings can be in complete contradiction to each other. These specific words are called “contronyms” or “Janus words.”

R.E.M. ‘s song “Pilgrimage” plays with one of those Janus words: “clip.”

They called the clip, a two-headed cow


“Clip” can mean to attach something to another object like using a paper clip or clipping two things together. It can also mean to cut something off like with fingernail clips.

In “Pilgrimage” that “two-headed cow” could be the divide between the very two elements that separate those young activists from Douglas High School and the politicians like Rubio who aim to keep the status quo. And one of those heads is literally calling out the other one for its hypocrisy, its “hate,” and its “broken lips.”

The word “pilgrimage” itself suggests a spiritual quest, mostly one that is a physical journey to some holy place for fulfillment of the soul. And starting with a trip to Tallahassee and the Washington D.C. and culminating with various pilgrimages outside of schools to show support of gun control laws, what is happening is the beginning of spiritual quest for the soul of this country being led by those taking their “turn.”

Most of the politicians who stand in the way of these young leaders and their pilgrimage use a pharisaical façade of holiness and religious piety. They use double-speak explain their actions in terms of freedom to have arms. They literally are “speaking in tongues.” That outward and vain show of religious expression is covering up an empty morality, one that makes the world “take a turn for the worse” and allows us to “keep our hate.”

There definitely is momentum. These young people are taking their “fortune.”

And making sure that the political status quo “will not last.”



Take a turn, take a turn
Take a fortune, take a fortune

Keep your hate, clipped and distant
Keep your luck with pilgrimage
Rest assured this will not last
Take a turn for the worst
Keep your hate, clipped and distant
Keep your luck, a two-headed cow

The pilgrimage has gained momentum
Take a turn, take a turn
Take a fortune, take a fortune

Speaking in tongues, it’s worth a broken lip
Keep your hate, clipped and distant
Keep your luck with pilgrimage
Rest assured this will not last
Take a turn for the worse
Keep your hate, clipped and distant
Keep your luck, a two-headed cow

The pilgrimage has gained momentum
Take a turn, take a turn
Take a fortune, take a fortune
Pilgrimage, pilgrimage

Speaking in tongues, it’s worth a broken lip
Keep your hate, clipped and distant
Keep your luck
Rest assured this will not last
Take a turn for the worse
Keep your hate, clipped and distant
Keep your luck, two-headed

The pilgrimage has gained momentum
Take a turn, take a turn
Take a fortune, take a fortune
Pilgrimage, pilgrimage

The pilgrimage has gained momentum
Take a turn, take a turn
Take a fortune, take a fortune
Take a turn, take a turn
Take a fortune, take a fortune



Only One Person is “Attractive Inside of This Moral Kiosk”

“It‘s so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk.”


It is true that if your ego is both big and fragile enough that everything can be “so much more attractive inside the moral kiosk” especially if it is a kiosk of your own construction.

Possibly one of the most underrated songs of R.E.M. is “Moral Kiosk.” While the fifth song on the Murmur album is uniquely 1980’s, it has morphed from a catchy, dance-able tune that may have been laced with ambiguous lyrics to a song whose verses seem almost eerily pertinent to today’s political landscape.

Imagine having your own floating pedestal that follows you wherever you go that you can climb upon at any time to present yourself as blessed, pure, and most righteous. All who see you upon it immediately look negatively inward and compare themselves unfavorably to you.

This pedestal looks inviting, but no one else is allowed on it but you. It may even look like one of those kiosks in the mall that openly sells some sort of consumable or displays something newsworthy. But no one else is allowed to shop there no matter how much money he/she may have.

It’s like a “moral kiosk” that allows you to look down upon others and pass judgement. In fact, it is surrounded by a glass dome that when viewing the outside world from within automatically casts all others in an inferior light and makes them “little” by belittling them.

“Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper!”– February 5, 2018.

Or “treasonous” (for not clapping for you).

“They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.” – February 5, 2018.

The moral kiosk allows you to openly absolve yourself when even the most egregious character defects and “scratched scandals” that would ruin others like grabbing women by the “p***y” or providing hush money to people with whom “idle hands oriented” are washed away with talk of religion.

And there are those who look from the outside in see only grace, humility, and integrity – even supposed “Men of God.”


In a country where so many supposedly benefited from a massive tax break, the idea of having a “magic pillow under head” is still a far-fetched idea for almost everyone. That’s because many do not even have a pillow to sleep upon or a pot to piss in unless it is on loan from the Guggenheim Museum.


That moral kiosk allows you to script a doctor’s findings in an “official” physical because inside of it you can defy time itself (Horae) and reverse gravity to grow another inch in height from your last physical.

Small hands become “yuge.”

All positive things like unemployment and the stock market are all of your doing.

All negative actions that reflect badly on you are to be blamed on others.

And you are so much more attractive.

At least to yourself.

“This Land is the Land of Ours” – R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” and Donald’s Xenophobia

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”  – Donald Trump, January 11, 2018.

The current president’s words about immigrants from other countries comes two days after stripping protections for over 200,000 Salvadorians here in the states. His statement specifically alluded to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, most of whom are experiencing humanitarian crises of devastating proportions.

Yes, it’s apparent that Trump purposefully forgets we are a country of immigrants built on a land first inhabited by people who still fight for acknowledgment.

Trump himself searches for “lands” to conquer and brand as his own with a fake holy façade and a win-at-all-costs arrogance. Screw the truth. Screw the history. Trump will reinvent the story with short sentences and simple words.

Sounds very much like the bridge of R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga” which states,

“Rewrite the book and rule the pages
Saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you”

The Cuyahoga River and the surrounding area are both the source of a great early R.E.M. tune and part of the Trump imperialistic showcase. “Cuyahoga” is on the Life’s Rich Pageant album and has an environmental bent with some of Bill Berry’s best recorded drumming. Cleveland is where Trump accepted the republican nomination for president.

But the river itself has more than a physical attachment to Trump; it has a strong metaphorical tie. Trump’s environmental policies and the irony that Trump received the nomination in a town that heavily supports democrats seem as baffling as his use of the word “shitholes.”

The Cuyahoga River is synonymous with Cleveland, Ohio, once a hub of American manufacturing. In 1969, the river actually caught on fire. That incident helped to fuel the very environmental movements that Trump’s current administration is trying to reverse.


When most of the people who came to the US from oppressed countries that Trump calls “shitholes,” it was to seek a place to maybe call their own – a place to “swim” and “walk” safely and possibly take “pictures” of hope even if it meant working jobs that “skinned” their knees and physically wore them out. They did not mind bleeding on soil that was not originally theirs but for that matter was not ours either.

Certainly not Trump’s.

Yet, he wants to send them back with “souvenirs” that are branded with the Trump name.

“Take a picture here
Take a souvenir”

It really shows his true disconnect with reality: the present and the past.

At one brief time, the Cuyahoga was actually the western boundary for the United States in 1795. Being on one side of the river meant that you were not in America. Trump likes boundaries. But instead of sending someone across a river, he wants to send people who have been here for years across the seas and keep others from coming to our country.

It should not be lost on Trump that his own grandparents were immigrants wanting nothing more than to “bank a quarry” and “swim a river.” It also should not be lost on us that Trump probably has never “knee-skinned” anything in his life.

It is the hope of many that the courts will strike down Trump’s immigration mandates, that the press will continue to report what he says and does, and that others in power will hold him accountable.

But if we really want to preserve this land we need “to put our heads together and start a new” chapter of our “country up.”

The midterm elections of 2018 would be a great place to start. This “land is the land of ours” and it is the land of immigrants as well.


Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up
Our father’s father’s father tried, erased the parts he didn’t like
Let’s try to fill it in, bank the quarry river, swim
We knee-skinned it you and me, we knee-skinned that river red

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it
We knee-skinned it you and me, we knee-skinned that river red
And we gathered up our friends, bank the quarry river, swim
We knee-skinned it you and me, underneath the river bed

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga, gone

Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up
Up underneath the river bed we’ll burn the river down

This is where they walked, swam
Hunted, danced and sang
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga, gone

Rewrite the book and rule the pages
Saving face, secured in faith
Bury, burn the waste behind you

This land is the land of ours, this river runs red over it
We are not your allies, we cannot defend

This is where they walked
This is where they swam
Take a picture here
Take a souvenir

Cuyahoga, gone
Cuyahoga, gone

“Calling Out In Transit” – Radio Free CDC


When R.E.M. first recorded “Radio Free Europe” it was hard to even comprehend what Michael Stipe was actually singing. Just listen to the “Hib-Tone” recording that opens the Eponymous album.

According to Cary O’Dell’s essay that accompanies the song’s entrance into the Library of Congress,

“Lead singer Michael Stipe later admitted that, for the Hib-Tone recording, he purposefully mumbled most of his singing since he had not yet finalized the song’s words. In either form, “Radio Free Europe” is as opaque in meaning as most other alternative rock lyrics of the era. Even Stipe has called the words to the song “complete babbling” (https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-recording-preservation-board/documents/RadioFreeEurope.pdf).

Actually as time passes, there seems to be a method and genius to this “babbling.” It certainly wasn’t as “complete” as originally thought.

However, if one wants “complete babbling,” then simply listen to President Trump speak without a script. That’s complete babbling. In fact, it seems that straightforward and concise ways of using language to describe truth and reality are so threatening to the Trump administration that this past week it issued some rather Orwellian dictates to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based ” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-gets-list-of-forbidden-words-fetus-transgender-diversity/2017/12/15/f503837a-e1cf-11e7-89e8-edec16379010_story.html?utm_term=.3c060e17c7de).

When Trump first took office, many government workers started their own “rogue” Twitter accounts as a way of communicating the truth of what was happening in their departments despite the propaganda veneer applied by Trump and his appointees. It simply is using the very medium that Trump loves so much, Twitter, to combat the very messages that Trump and his cronies “tweet” out.

It should be no surprise that when Trump was elected, George Orwell’s book 1984 (along with other novels about dystopia) became a best-seller. With the obsessive need to control the conversation in America and the need to discredit any news outlet that reported something beyond the limited illusion of the White House, Trump has spent a majority of his time in office crying about “fake news” and distorting facts.

From Orwell’s 1984:

“And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.” (Book 1).

It is almost as if he is trying to create his own version of the controlled language of Newspeak.

Whether someone interprets R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” as what Rolling Stone called “a vague riff on U.S. cultural imperialism” (again referencing O’Dell) or homage to keeping airways clean of political pollution, it cannot be overstated that there must be free press in a democracy, especially now when there is an administration that so wants to keep certain words that express truth and fact from being heard.

Looking at the lyrics of “Radio Free Europe” in today’s context makes what seemed like “babbling” rather germane to today’s America.

There’s that line “Straight off the boat, where to go” and the first thing that comes to mind is the xenophobic policies of the immigration bans Trump has been pushing.

“Put that, put that, put that up your wall” uses one of Trump’s favorite images.

And that shrinking disapproval rating is showing that “this isn’t fortunate at all.”

Sure, a little fandom mixed with some self-fulfilled prophecy and coincidence can bend an explanation of a great, somewhat vague, song into almost anything, but why does this R.E.M. song come to mind when reading about how Trump’s administration is trying to control the language of a free society?

Because the need to have a free press matters more now than ever.

Philomath is Where Donald Needs To Go

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people. Together we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come.” – Donald Trump, Jan. 2017.

Those words began the inaugural address of one Donald Trump in front of a “record” crowd. It began his quest to take this country to a new place and rebuild our foundations. Maybe it was the first fable of his reconstruction, pun intended.

In Trump’s mind, that “place” might be one where he is highly approved and highly adore by people other than his immediate family and acquaintances. That place might be one where he is regarded as someone who is highly effective and highly empathetic, but that is highly questionable. Why?

Because Donald Trump “can’t get there from here.”

Besides having one of the most original videos for a song, R.E.M.’s “Can’t Get There From Here” also has one of the greatest descriptions that one could ever tag to a person like Donald Trump.


“Mr. Citywide, hypnotized, suit-and-tied” might be one of the most appropriate phrases to define our current president. But with all of his campaign promises, fiery rhetoric, Twitter rants, bang and blame, and obvious disconnect, he is about to realize that he “can’t get there from here.”

This “world is a monster” right now. Russian interference, North Korea, hurricanes, mass shootings, segregation along racial and socio-economic lines, and lack of equitable health care have become the course of America. And the way Trump is handling all of these is “bad to swallow you whole.”

What Trump refuses to do is realize that he has a lot to learn. He has to become a student himself to others rather than the person who claims to already know it all. And he will have to get over his own ego, which is the biggest “troll at his door.”


Actually, I did not know that Trump’s I.Q. was one of the highest. And I do not feel stupid for not knowing that.

But I am insecure about where the country is going because the “there” and “here” I have in my mind are not the same “there” and “here” that Trump seems to have.

Trump touts his incredible intellect and memory. Just this month he was quoted as saying,

“People don’t understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person….”

“…One of the great memories of all time.”

It is safe to say that I did not attend an Ivy League college. But there is Philomath, GA, and “I’ve been there. I know the way.”

As the song goes,

“If you’re needing inspiration, Philomath is where I go.”

Really, I have. It’s an actual place in Oglethorpe County, GA not far from where I grew up in Greene County. It is an unincorporated town situated between “Lexington and Crawfordville,” according to the liner notes for Eponymous. Actually, I have spent time in both of those tiny metropolises as well. There are not many “citywide, suit-and-tied” people in those towns. But they have very good memories.


The name “Philomath” has a special meaning. It is from the Greek word meaning “a lover of learning.” At one time there was a well-known boys school in that Georgia town. The word “philomath” also has a leaning toward a “love for mathematics,” and when the president starts playing around with health care costs and tax reform, he is playing with some fuzzy math.

Fuzzy math means bad calculations. Bad calculations mean stunted progress. Stunted progress will not get you “there from here.”

Simply put, Donald Trump probably needs to spend time in Philomath because there he can “know the lowdown.” But getting to Philomath would require a humility, an empathetic nature, a willingness to be among those less fortunate, and the ability to take criticism.

And Trump is not capable of those things.

In short, it would require a need for an education not offered in the halls of an Ivy League college, but on the roads that really link communities together even the small highways that connect Lexington and Crawfordville via Philomath.

Just watch out for the “deer” in the road.


“Can’t Get There From Here”

When the world is a monster bad to swallow you whole
Kick the clay that holds the teeth in, throw your trolls out the door
If you’re needing inspiration, Philomath is where I go by dawn
Lawyer Jeff, he knows the lowdown, he’s mighty bad to visit home

(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here

When your hands are feeling empty, stick head jumpin’ off the ground round
Tris is sure to shirr the deer out, Brother Ray can sing my song

(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here

Hands down, Calechee bound, landlocked, kiss the ground
Dirt of seven continents going round and round
Go on ahead, Mr. Citywide, hypnotized, suit-and-tied
Gentlemen, testify

If your world is a monster bad to swallow you whole
Philomath, they know the lowdown, throw your trolls out the door

(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here
(I’ve been there I know the way) Can’t get there from here


“Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?” – Sen. Flake Invokes “Exhuming McCarthy”

There is no doubt that President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and initial actions in office had a most direct influence on the 2016 Dictionary.com “Word of the Year”: xenophobia.

Xenophobia – noun: Fear or hatred of foreigners.

In a nation that was built on immigration it seems interesting that 2016’s word of the year would be so appropriate when it has such negative denotations and connotations. But the word “xenophobia” captures so much of what is happening in this nation and in other nations. One just needs to follow the “nighttweeting” and comments of the president.

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I might just send them down to take care of it.”

The fact that “xenophobia” was 2016’s “word of the year” also shines further light on the fact that irony makes this nation and world “go ‘round.”

Trump’s home state of New York is home to Lady Liberty who stands off of Manhattan, surely within sight from atop buildings near Trump Tower. She would never tweet what Trump has tweeted or even allowed what he has said to pass her lips. What she says directly is in the form of a poem by Emma Lazarus, “The New Colussus”, that is affixed on the base of the Statue of Liberty near Ellis Island.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

How that poem and the word “xenophobia” can collide in the same sentence seems implausible, except we are talking about a country that just elected Donald Trump as president. And we are talking about a country that not so long ago immersed itself into a Red Scare led by the one and only Joseph McCarthy.

Donald Trump fanned those very flames that McCarthy originally ignited when he suggested that we ban all Muslims from coming into America. That, and he helped cement the word “xenophobia” as the Word of the Year when he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border. It did not stop with that. In fact, it is has escalated since the beginning of his term (or even before). And it is not relegated to foreigners now. He is attacking his own countrymen and women.

Think the birtherism conspiracy theory against the first minority POTUS.

Think about targeting a Muslim Gold Star family.

Think about Charlottesville and never denouncing the white-supremacists until prodded endlessly.

Think about his feud with Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Hell, think about Steve Bannon being a top advisor for months in the White House.

This past week, Sen. Jeff Flake wrote a rather scathing op-ed in the Washington Post in which he invoked the spirit of Joseph Welch and his words from 1954’s Army-McCarthy hearings that brought an end to McCarthyism as it stood (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/enough–it-is-time-to-stand-up-to-trump/2017/10/24/12488ee4-b908-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html?utm_term=.5c974f308624).

“Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Welch-to-McCarthy_Have-you-no-sense-of-decency (1)

And again, do not let it be understated that the irony in what Flake writes is thicker than the phonebook McCarthy used a prop in one of his earlier speeches. Here is a hardline Republican taking up Welch’s persona against today’s McCarthy when he himself has voted along party lines to some of the more exclusionary pieces of legislation in modern times. But it is a stand nonetheless and it has power considering that midterm elections are around the corner. Furthermore, it captures a vivid still frame of what our country is like right now.

R.E.M.’s song “Exhuming McCarthy” might as well have been composed with Donald Trump in mind but delivers a more poignant repudiation against the current administration than what Sen. Flake delivered. It’s almost as if Flake had it playing in the background when he wrote his op-ed. In fact, one could argue that he quotes R.E.M. quoting Welch.

In a country built on immigration that supposedly practices freedom of religion and freedom of speech and expressions like kneeling at NFL games, this song reminds us to look at history as a living textbook on what to not allow to happen again, lest we repeat mistakes from the past.

Just look at the lyrics.

“Exhuming McCarthy”

You’re beautiful, more beautiful than me
You’re honorable, more honorable than me
Loyal to the Bank of America

(It’s a sign of the times)
(It’s a sign of the times)

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
Sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Vested interest, united ties
Landed gentry, rationalize
Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

(It’s a sign of the times)
(It’s a sign of the times)

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
Sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Enemy sighted, enemy met
I’m addressing the real politic
Look who bought the myth
By jingo, buy America

“Let us not assassinate this man further, Senator, you’ve done enough.
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals
To improve your business acumen
sharpening stones walking on coals
To improve your business acumen

Enemy sighted enemy met
I’m addressing the real politic
You’ve seen start and you’ve seen quit (I’m addressing the table of content)
I always thought of you as quick

Exhuming McCarthy, exhuming McCarthy (meet me at the book burning)
Exhuming McCarthy, exhuming McCarthy (meet me at the book burning)

Loyal to the Bank of America? Check! Hell, Mike Pence just cast a deciding vote on protecting big banks and credit companies from getting sued as easily.
You’re sharpening stones, walking on coals? Check! More nuclear weapons make for more coals. And we need coal because it is making a comeback, right?
Look who bought the myth By jingo, buy America? Check! That is unless you are Trump and manufacture your products overseas.
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency? Damn right –  Check!

The link between Trump and McCarthy is actually quite strong. Marc Fisher’s piece in the Washington Post last August 11th highlights some of the similarities and lack of decency on all fronts (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/trumps-approach-to-the-press-mirrors-another-politicians-joe-mccarthy/2017/08/11/80186b0e-7c6f-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html?utm_term=.f9bda2ee03f4).

Just ask the press.

Maybe 2017’s “word of the year” should be “impeach.”


“Sweetness Follows” – Hopefully


Hopefully, sweetness will follow. All of the “little things” and the bigger events happening in the world today have cast a gloomy haze on our world.

And the response by those who could affect change has added a bitterness to it all.

Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Hurricane Irma in Florida. Hurricane Maria ripping Puerto Rico. Wildfires in California. DACA attacked. ACA being dismantled. Silent protest loudly criticized. Growing income inequality.

That’s just since August. In America, and yes, Puerto Rico is America.

Almost six years ago in January of 2017, NPR’s All Things Considered did a series of interviews with well-known artists and writers about “winter songs” and specific effects those songs had on the featured person.

Thomas Mullen, the novelist, chose to speak about R.E.M.’s “Sweetness Follows.” He stated in his interview,

“It’s a kind of dark and brooding song … I was home from break, it was my junior year, and my family had gone through a major financial reversal that fall,” Mullen says. “My dad’s business had gone under, we’d gone bankrupt, and we’d lost our house. We weren’t sure if it was going to get worse. So when I came back, my family, we spent some time in the old house — you know, boxing up our things — and trying to decide, you know, what are we going to put in storage or in some extended relative’s basement, or what might we take to an antique store or sell in a yard sale” (http://www.npr.org/2012/01/13/145172254/winter-songs-r-e-m-s-dark-and-brooding-sweetness).

Mullen spoke of a “low, fronting cello and spectral organ” that serenaded the short days and extended darkness of the Northeast. Interesting how a “dark and brooding” song with such a distinct sound is so sweet upon the ear. That’s because it is more than the ear listening to it.

While many have never had to confront the reality of what Mullen’s family experienced, we as a society must somehow come to grips that what devastates the reality of others can just as easily devastate us, especially if they are family – the biological one and the extended one.

Mullen mentions some simple but powerful words: “dad,” “our,” “extended relatives.” Stipe sings of a “father,” “mother,” “sister,” and “brother.” Both speak of family.

We all have a family – biological and chosen. When they hurt or are devastated, we feel that same pain, that sense of loss, and perhaps that notion that things will not get better. Then hopefully, sweetness follows.

When so many in our country profess a faith that abides by a “Golden Rule” of doing “unto others as you would have done upon you,” being a “brother’s keeper,” calling fellow churchgoers your church “family,” all while worshipping a heavenly father who looks at us all as his children, it is not a far-fetched conclusion that we have fallen short of what Christ seemed to be preaching.

But those in power advertise such good intentions well on their sleeves (and tweets) with messages of thoughts and prayers that are devoid of actions. One has to look no further than our president whose response to aid for those citizens he supposedly leads has been more bitter than sweet. It’s almost as if some who are supposed to help have intentionally “distanced” themselves by deliberately becoming “blind” and “deaf to the other” while living their “little lives.”

Mullen said of his family’s experience, “You know, I think back to that time, and it was tough, and it was dark, and it was hard for everyone — but we got through it.” While the lives of many people will forever be altered by the natural and man-made disasters they undeservedly endured, they will find a way to get by with or without the help of those in government.

Yet there is no red tape, protocol, or formality involved when it comes to helping those in need with action.

Then hopefully, sweetness will follow.

For all of us.



Readying to bury your father and your mother
What did you think when you lost another?
I used to wonder, why did you bother?
Distanced from one, blind to the other

Listen here my sister and my brother
What would you care if you lost the other?
I always wonder, why did we bother?
Distanced from one, blind to the other

Oh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and wonder
I always knew this altogether thunder
Was lost in our little lives

Oh, but sweetness follows
Oh, but sweetness follows

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder
Yeah, yeah we were altogether
Lost in our little lives

Oh, but sweetness follows
Oh, but sweetness follows

“Everybody Hurts” – Prioritizing Mental Health In High Schools With Some R.E.M.

Everybody hurts. Sometimes.

Teach for twenty years in public high schools and you become entrenched in the lives of young people. Thousands of them. Literally thousands.

If you take the avocation of being a teacher seriously, then that investment in young people is not confined to the four walls of a classroom and not restricted by one or two school years. You will be invited to celebrate their weddings, meet their children, even work with a few in the same school. And those dividends are worth more than the paycheck.

But you will help families say goodbye to them as well.

Attending the funeral of a former student who seems to have his/her whole life to look forward to is one too many. Yes, there are tragic events that occur, but there are also other forces at work in the lives of many of our students that while unseen to the naked eye could be confronted to give the possibility of renewal and reclamation – if we are willing to invest more in our kids.

Addiction, depression, and hopelessness are becoming more prevalent in today’s youth, and this public school teacher can emphatically state that it is causing us to lose too many of our young people. And while society as a whole can debate the extent to which mental health issues should be dealt with, there should be no doubt whatsoever that more should be done.

I teach in one of the larger school systems in the state of North Carolina. In a workshop during pre-planning for this new school year, I was presented with rather disturbing statistics shared by our school’s social worker.

To summarize, social workers in my school system served 7,688 individual students for an average of 248 students per social worker. Those social workers received 13,995 different referrals and provided 21,716 different interventions – 192 of them were interventions for suicide which is a 53% increase from the previous school year.

Those numbers are for ONE school district in ONE school year. And that was only what was reported.

It is rather sobering that tragedy becomes the very instance that forces us to consider preemptive actions on mental health. Just like the idea that we can physically do things to make our bodies healthier, we can do the same for our emotional and mental well-being.

Because “everybody hurts.” But not everyone gets a chance to heal.


Think opioid epidemic. Think cyberbullying. Think xenophobia. Think homophobia. Think white supremacists. Think “The Wall”. Think transgender ban. Think Muslim ban.

Then think of how that is just a slice of what is going on. To be frank, it is no wonder why so many of our students look for ways to not hurt so much in a society that refuses to acknowledge that “everybody hurts.”

I am not convinced that people who take their own lives are performing selfish acts. If you have listened to people who suffer from depression or severe mental issues, it becomes apparent that the idea of suicide for many is actually a last resort because so many other options have not either worked or never presented themselves. Obstacles for healing have been placed in their way in the name of profit or taboo.

I am convinced that addiction is not a choice as much as it is a sickness, a disease, and every time there is an active period of substance abuse, the one thing that gets most compromised is the ability to rationally think about what is happening. It is almost like losing the very capacity to make healthy decisions.

R.E.M.’s song “Everybody Hurts” has come to mind for many reasons here in the last few days. During that presentation from the school social worker, I googled the lyrics on my phone. Afterwards, I listened to the song.

The words are sweet, concise, heartfelt and set to a somber, yet inviting rhythm. Stipe’s voice is clear and unfettered.

Later, I took time to look at the video made for the song. It’s been years since I saw it, yet the metaphor of the traffic jam with each individual contemplating what is happening in his/her life that keeps that person from being a shiny happy person is like watching a school day unfold in the halls of the buildings.


There are a lot of struggling young people in schools, affluent and poverty stricken alike.

Then I realize that the video is shot on I-10 in Texas (primarily in San Antonio).

That’s the same major thoroughfare that runs through Houston which has just been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Yes, houses and schools can be rebuilt. Roads resurfaced. Material possessions can be replaced. Yet “homes” and “pathways” and “memories” cannot be simply restored. Attached to those are mental, emotional, and spiritual ties that need the most attention and most care. Life altering events can cause many teens to be at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

For many students, school might be the firmest “constant” in a life that seems to be hopeless and alone. If we as a society were serious about the welfare of our students, then we would make more of an effort to offer avenues for help. We could make it a priority to staff schools with more social workers, give teachers more resources to confront issues that affect students’ wellbeing, and stop using a profit line as the final determination of health in society.

The same playlist that has “Everybody Hurts” also includes some Soundgarden and Linkin Park. I know that Chris Cornell  is not foreign to today’s high school students. His music spans generations, and Chester Bennington is on a lot of student iPhones. There are students who wear Kurt Cobain t-shirts who weren’t even born until a decade after his death. Does that mean these students are contemplating the same end these musical giants had in the physical world? Maybe not.

Maybe it might be a way to not let go and to “hold on.”

Either way, what a powerful force it can be to always give students a means to “hold on” and not “be alone” in the very setting that most will inhabit – schools.

“Everybody Hurts”

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (Hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life, well hang on

Everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand, oh no

Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you are not alone

If you’re on your own in this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
Everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes

So hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts