“Green fields grow dead, white trees” Memorial Day 2013

cemetery

Green fields grow dead, white trees,
gleaming in the sun, pretending at life.
Fed on blood and manure,
the trees stand still.
Whitewashed tombs.

The beast devours children,
shits them out,
and we feed it more, and more, and more.

It keeps our fields green,
our memories cleaned.

Other fields,
other blood,
other excrement that once breathed,
moved,
loved,
lived…
they’re hidden from our eyes.
Rubble,
rock and dirt and sand.

Death hides behind platitudes,
valor, honor, heroism,
and we stare at the dead white trees,
the green fields,
the mimicry of life.

We feed the beast the hearts of our children,
build meaning from its shit,
and tell ourselves our hands are clean.

Who dat say dey gonna own dem words?

In January 2010 someone at the National Football League said, “Holy shit! People are paying attention to the Saints!” and proceeded to send cease and desist letters to businesses selling merchandise with the phrase “Who Dat?” on it. The NFL eventually backed off under massive public pressure. Of course the fact that someone else had the phrase trademarked before the NFL claimed exclusive rights helped push them to back off.

At the time I was most struck by the absurdity of anyone claiming to own two words that are so much a part of the culture. It’s ludicrous. And I knew that trademark would eventually come back around to bite us in the ass again. Now Sal and Steve Monistere and their company, in an effort to assert their right to the phrase, are suing local businesses who are selling Who Dat merchandise. Once again there’s going to be an outcry against this, but it’s going to be much more difficult to stop the Monistere’s.

The problem here isn’t greed, it’s intellectual property itself. Somewhere along the way people decided they could own ideas. Anything that had been part of culture could now be privately held. Where once poems could inspire books which could inspire operas that would inspire other operas, now licensing stood in the way.

For nearly all of human history our stories, our songs, our poetry, our language was held in common. Stories would evolve as they were retold, adapting to fit different circumstances. Poems would be recited by anyone who knew them. Songs were sung by anyone with the ability. Now all of that has been taken away. To sing a song publicly, you have to pay a fee. To share a poem, you have to get permission from its owner. To retell a story, you have to pay for the license to do so.

And apparently to print a chant widely used by the population of south Louisiana, you have to pay Sal and Steve Monistere.

I say, along with most folks in this area, that “Who Dat” belongs to everyone. I’m not just saying that because the chant predates the trademark claim. I’m not just saying that because the phrase has grown beyond its use by the Monistere’s and thus transcends their right to ownership.

“Who Dat” belongs to everyone in the same way that Cinderella, Rent, “Howl,” “Stairway to Heaven” and the letter B belong to everyone. Art and language are not private property, but cultural property. No one person can claim any of it. Stories, songs, poems and chants grow out of their cultures and belong to everyone.

Who dat say dey own “Who Dat?” Me. And you. And everyone.

The Police

The other day I said on Twitter, “I really do think cops are bad people.”

I need to go ahead and rescind that statement. I don’t actually believe there is a category such as “bad people.”

Let me back up and explain what led to this, and tell you a little bit about what I think of the police.

Sunday night my partner and I had left Bonnaroo and geared up for a 10 hour drive home overnight. About 40 miles away from the site we passed a car that was pulled over and being searched by the police. It was pretty obvious that they were also coming from Bonnaroo, and I wasn’t surprised that small town cops were targeting traffic leaving the festival. After all, it’s their big chance to get some drug busts in and feel special. Not a minute later blue lights start flashing behind us as well. The guy who pulled us over said we hadn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign. He went to write a warning and another cop walked up with a dog and said he was going to walk the dog around the car, and if the dog signaled, they had probable cause to search the vehicle. The dog signaled, and we were told to step out of the car. As seems to be standard, we were told that they could help us if we just told them where we had hidden our stash.

The cops (over the course of the stop there were a total of 5 of them) then proceeded to go through everything in our car. They didn’t find anything because we didn’t have anything. The cop who had brought the dog then said that he could smell marijuana in the car, and said that if we didn’t tell him where it was, that he was going to have to start taking panels off the car. “You don’t want your friend’s car to get messed up, do you?” We again told him we didn’t know of anything in the car. Finally they let us go.

Our things were a mess. Every bag had been opened and rifled through, and nothing had been put back. Backpacks and purses were tossed back into the backseat without even closing them back first. Through the entire time we were detained we were lied to and manipulated by the police. We were threatened with damage to the car. We were told that if we just confessed they could make it easier on us. We were asked questions designed to get us to implicate ourselves in a crime we didn’t commit. Our belongings were treated with complete disregard. And this is not an instance of bad cops. This is standard procedure for those thought to have committed a crime.

It was shortly thereafter that I relayed the experience on Twitter and said “I really do think cops are bad people.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t become pro-cop in the time it’s taken me to calm my nerves. I just realized that in a moment of fear and anger I misspoke. I do think the police, individually and systematically, make the world a worse place. I do not, however, think that they are bad people. As I said above, I don’t believe that there is such a category.

I understand that many people join police and military forces because they have a drive to protect the people, things and a way of life that they love. I can see a nobility in that drive. I do not believe, however, that working as a cop (nor as a soldier) actually protects anyone. It only punishes people. To join a police force is not to dedicate oneself to protecting others. It is to dedicate oneself to upholding the law. Those are two very different things.

In the US, more people are imprisoned per capita than in any other country. More than in North Korea. More than in China. More than in Iran.

The goal of a police officer is not to make sure people don’t get hurt. The goal is to punish people for violating the law. The law doesn’t need to be just. It doesn’t need to be reasonable. It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with people getting hurt. The law simply states that the behavior outlined in its words is grounds for punishment. The job of a cop is to find people who cross the boundaries of a law.

This includes activities where no one is harmed, such as consensual prostitution, stripping in outfits that don’t cover enough of a body, and yes, possession of a controlled substance. The police find justification in the law for using violence against people who are hurting no one. They can use intimidation, lies and force and are considered to be on the right side of the law and of society, when others who are causing no harm to anyone are on the wrong side.

And it is that dedication to the law and upholding it with violence that I see as an unequivocal wrong.

My dad trains dogs to do police work. Or at least he used to. He’s been too busy with his full time job the last few years to really be able to do that. He trains them to search for drugs, explosives, firearms and people. He started doing it for two reasons. He likes dogs, and he wanted to help make the world a better place. I love my dad, and I respect his desire to help. I also think he participated in evil acts and helped perpetuate violence. His drive may be noble, but the way he followed that drive led him to engage in evil. And I believe that is true of every cop, every soldier, every judge and every politician.

Cops can be people’s friends. They can do nice things. They can be good company. And they make a deliberate, daily choice to make their priority violently punishing people for violating law. They are no different from gang members and mafia thugs, folks who also have reasons, even noble reasons, for the things they do as well. They can be your friend. They can help people. And they choose violence, death and destruction over and over again. The ONLY difference is that they don’t have the majority of society approving of their violence and their reasons for exercising violence. Neither police nor mafia thugs are bad people, but they are people who do equally bad things. They dedicate themselves to a system built on violence, then act violently within that system.

The police are my enemies. Each one of them. When my own father works with them, he is my enemy. I love him and I respect him, and I’m disappointed and saddened by the choices he’s made. Jesus said “Love your enemies,” and I try to do so. I fail often, and I admit that. But he never said they wouldn’t be our enemies. And the police are my enemy, individually and as an institution, regardless of the love I, or others, have for them. For that, and for my own anger at and mistrust of the police, I will not apologize.