When it’s staring you in the face, it just might be the truth

“Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

The phrase has morphed from hackneyed joke to cliche to words to live by.

When I saw the street scene from the familiar city of Tucson, Ariz., it looked like a creation of Claes Oldenburg. But this tableau of a port-a-potty sliding into a plastic heap in the Southwestern heat was reality, not art object, something I doubt the artist, who recently died at 93 after a career of creativity, could ever have imagined.

When I lived in Tucson 30-plus years ago, we certainly had our hot days, ones where the sun seemed to be sitting on your shoulders with no relief in the weather report. But I don’t remember witnessing anything like that.

Yet, that image and so many more — wildfires all over the world, buckling airport runways and Texas roadways “bleeding” the binder that holds them together — have resulted in solutions that could only be described as temporary. Wrapping London’s Hammersmith Bridge in foil or coating Phoenix streets with a gray emulsion might work, but for how long?

And what’s to become of the iconic Tour de France? The first yellow jersey donned by the bicycle race leader in 1919 was made of wool, the thought of which is more than scary in 2022, when riders and spectators risked their lives while navigating twisty routes throughout that broiling country.

What are leaders doing about a long-term threat we feel in our cities, our homes and our bodies?

Hedging, dissembling and putting it off on our children and grandchildren, who must be thrilled at yet another problem left by the grown-ups.

Americans who excuse violence need to see the world through Maxine McNair’s eyes — and soul

It looked like an ordinary room when I visited it years ago, a place you’d pause for a chat in the middle of a work day or to enjoy that lunch packed from home. But it was so much more, a room where memories and emotions overwhelm in the space of a few seconds.

When a business trip took me to Birmingham, Ala., I knew I had to visit, to witness at the 16th Street Baptist Church, where cowards placed a bomb that injured many and murdered four little girls getting ready for a church program on Sept. 15, 1963.

While the church itself is a beautiful sanctuary, the basement space is no less sacred.

That is what violence looks like, violence spurred by hate, violence that ended the lives of Addie Mae Collins, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14; Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, just 11 years old. It wasn’t just Ku Klux Klan members whose fingerprints stained that evil and bloody act. Among the guilty were the “good” white citizens of Alabama, the leaders and politicians, who feared any change in the social, economic and political order that solidified their status, their place at the top. Whether silent or vocal, they supported the folks who did the dirty work.

Maxine McNair, the last living parent of any of the girls killed in the 1963 church bombing, died on Jan. 2 at the age of 93. Any mother, any person, could and should feel a piece of that pain in their bones; they should try to imagine how it might have felt to live nearly 60 years after burying a child, all those years to remember what was and to think of what might have been.

Short-term memories

Instead, a lot of Americans have apparently forgotten that important historical event from not that long ago. It’s not that surprising if you paid any attention to how divided Americans were in their commemoration of an insurrection, a violent attempt to overturn the results of an election judged fair by officials of every political party.

And that was just one year ago, on Jan. 6, 2021.

recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that about 1 in 3 Americans believed violence against the government could at times be justified. Though that third included all Americans, who listed a range of said justifications, from vaccine requirements to “protection,” there was a distinct partisan divide — with 40 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats indicating approval.

The state of democracy one year after January 6

Talked about the state of democracy one year after January 6 with Charles Blow and Ohio State professor Hasan Kwame Jeffries on BNC’s ‘Prime.’

Dysfunction in America is no longer just knocking on the door

My college roommate has been much in demand in the last few years. (In truth, the presidency of Donald Trump marked a definite uptick in her mainstream media popularity.) You see, her academic specialty is Sinclair Lewis. And if his 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here,” was once seen as dystopian political fantasy, it became — in some circles — a plausible blueprint for the state of the United States of America. What, exactly, is happening here?

It’s human nature not to take crises too seriously until they come knocking at your front door. But we’ve passed that point on a host of issues, with too many citizens either in denial or using the dysfunction as a partisan tool rather than an all-hands-on-deck call to action.

Joe Biden, in his first address to the United Nations as president, asked questions the world hasn’t yet answered: “Will we meet the threat of challenging climate — the challenging climate we’re all feeling already ravaging every part of our world with extreme weather? Or will we suffer the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes, longer heat waves and rising seas?”

It wasn’t that long ago, in 2015, in fact, that Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe toted a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that the globe was not warming. And while that demonstration stands out for its absurdity and rejection of science, there are still leaders who downplay the importance of the effects of global warming, despite the reality of ever-more-destructive hurricanes in the South, never-ending fires in the West and scenes of New York subway stations awash in flood waters.

The U.S. has rejoined the Paris climate agreement that the Trump administration backed the country out of. But the size and scope of provisions in the congressional budget package to deal with the effects of climate change, a major part of the Biden agenda, are still being debated, including within the Democratic Party that barely controls the House and Senate.

That won’t stop climate from touching almost every other issue, from housing to food production to immigration. Certainly, those seeking refuge in the U.S. from places such as Central America and Haiti, ravaged by developments they may have had nothing to do with, won’t be stopped by walls or agents on horseback.

‘Punching down,’ the political weapon of so-called tough guys

The late great stand-up, actor and occasional philosopher George Carlin was known to cross the lines of what polite society would call good taste, but he himself drew a few lines when it came to his theory of funny.

Asked by Larry King in 1990 about popular bad-boy comedian Andrew Dice Clay, Carlin, while defending Clay’s right to say whatever, said, “His targets are underdogs. And comedy has traditionally picked on people in power, people who abuse their power.” Clay’s core audience, Carlin said, were “young white males” threatened by Clay’s targets, assertive women and immigrants among them.

Rule-breaker Eddie Murphy came to look back on his younger self, the brash young man dressed in leather, and cringe, especially at his jokes about women and relationships, he told The New York Times in 2019. “I was a young guy processing a broken heart, you know, kind of an …” — well, you get the idea.

In today’s cruel world, it’s not just comedians punching down, reaching for the “easy” joke, setting new and low standards, though a few still revel in their ability to shock (see Michael Che and his approving nods to vile remarks about the sexual abuse of young female athletes).

Many who should know better have given up seeking a more perfect union, one that welcomes all. They see advantage in aggression and, unlike Murphy, don’t feel one bit embarrassed when reflecting on their words and actions.

In fact, the “punching” is the point, and it’s always aimed squarely at those perceived as less powerful, from poor and disabled Americans who want to vote without jumping through unnecessary hoops and facing intimidation from poll watchers to transgender children eager to play sports to Black and brown students who would like their role in the country’s history to be taught without accommodation for those too fragile to hear the truth.

Local News Roundup: School Districts Buck CDC Mask Guidance; Charlotte Unveils Nondiscrimination Ordinance

It was only a few weeks ago that North Carolina’s rate for positive COVID-19 tests was below 2%. But the spread of the delta variant sent the positivity rate above 10% this week — the first time since February it crossed that threshold.

Gov. Roy Cooper and others said the worsening metrics were the result of COVID-19 spreading among those who have not been vaccinated.

“This virus is now much more contagious and spreading fast, and it’ll find you if you’re unvaccinated,” Cooper said Thursday.

Join our roundtable of reporters for more on those and other stories from the week’s news.

GUESTS

Mary C. Curtis, Roll Call columnist and host of the Equal Time podcast (@mcurtisnc3)

Claire Donnelly, WFAE health care reporter (@donnellyclairee)

Hunter Saenz, WCNC local government reporter (@Hunt_Saenz)

Erik Spanberg, Charlotte Business Journal managing editor (@CBJspanberg)

For GOP, ‘back the blue’ doesn’t matter when there’s an election to be won

It was both politically smart, and the right thing to do.

By opening the hearing of the House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol with the testimony of police officers on the front line, still suffering from the effects of the violence of that day, the world got to hear what really happened and to see the human cost.

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell compared it with his Army service, “different” because the Jan. 6 attackers were “our own citizens.” He described warning his worried wife away when she tried to hug him on his return home because his uniform was drenched with chemical spray. D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges said white rioters tried to recruit him as one of their own: “Are you my brother?” one asked. Another told Hodges he would “die on your knees.” MPD Officer Michael Fanone thought he would be killed and almost was, before his plea that he had kids moved a few.

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is African American, is still in therapy after being booed and showered with obscenities and racial slurs. “Frankly, I guess it is America,” he said.