Monday, February 20, 2017

Cultural Impact of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre

On the February 14th episode of the Unpopular Opinion podcast (Pretty Scary - "Mrs. Doody"), Caitlin from "White Wine True Crime" said the following about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Here's what I find most fascinating about this: how unremarkable it is. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre is exactly what you think of when you think of the mob: a bunch of guys with suits outside getting shot with Tommy-guns. I'm just fascinated why this is the story that persists through time. It has so many cliche elements to it, I don't know if that's why, or if it started all these cliche elements. Why is this case the one we always hear about? If there's anybody out there who has a love of organized crime history, I'd be interested in hearing what it is about this case...

This was like catnip for me, because it's exactly the sort of question I love exploring by digging up old newspaper articles. In my genealogy work, I've discovered that the modern sense of an event may bear little resemblance to how people of the time saw it. The choices that newspaper publishers made speaks to the sort of content that they thought would sell papers, so poring over contemporary articles has provided me with insights into late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century culture that I never could have gotten otherwise.

So I went to FultonHistory.com and searched for articles from 1929 that contained the words "2122 North Clark Street". I cropped the images and put the "clippings" in an album linked below. Below that is a stream of phrases that leaped out at me as I read through the articles. I stopped after six, because the content started to repeat itself. Those repeating patterns reveal the particular images and stories that news writers of 1929 thought would grab readers' attention.

The most obvious thread was brutality; words like "slaughter" abound. But look a little deeper. It's not just brutality that characterized these stories, but automated brutality. Now consider the year: 1929. World War I, famous for traumatizing the world with the advent of mechanized warfare, was just ten years in the past. To those readers, the thought of lining people up and executing them as dispassionately as one would cows in a slaughterhouse was still a shockingly new horror. Sitting here in 2017, having steeped in such images since childhood, it's difficult if not impossible for me to imagine how disturbing this was.

Further exploring the theme of dehumanizing mechanized murder, we see an obsession with cars. Again, think about the year. The 1920s were the first time in history when a working class person could afford a car, and that transformed the way people lived and worked. It must have been fascinating for consumers, who had only just begun to benefit from this innovation, to see it used for crime.

Note that, although the seven men seem to have been herded into a back room and executed, some articles claim that they were killed by bullets sprayed from machine guns mounted on cars. At least one article contains both contradictory versions! This error is understandable when you consider the following.

Today's slayings, was something new in Chicago gang warfare. Before the gangsters took their victims for a "ride", luring them into automobiles and killing them, or else swept past in automobiles and raked their victims with gunfire.
Never before, however, has one gang invaded the stronghold of another, rounded up the victims and calmly shot them to death. The slayers escaped today in approved gangster fashion, dashing away in waiting motor cars.

So this story was a twist on what readers were used to. It took the fresh concept of a drive-by shooting and incorporated other captivating story elements never before associated with gang warfare: the planning, the "siege" by an enemy disguised as police, and the herding of an enemy into a well-lit, impersonal, mechanized killing floor. Oh, and it also included a juicy story about a possible connection between the crime and the election of an alderman. Nothing like collusion between the mob and the Chicago machine to spice up a story.




slaughter
Chicago's latest, and bloodiest of all, gang killings
72 previous gang killings in the last four years without a conviction--many without an arrest
lined up their victims against a brick wall
two dressed as policemen
four theories: two involving liquor, politics and the cleaning and dyeing business


line victims up against wall and shoot them down
bodies are riddled with bullets from shotguns and machine guns
pose as policemen
invade headquarters of rival gang and commit murder wholesale
summarily executed
cold blood

posing as policemen
invade the stronghold
mow them down with automatic pistols and machine guns
wholesale execution is carried out with the precision of an army firing squad
posing as policemen
lined up seven helpless, unarmed victims with their faces to a white brick wall
mowed them down with automatic pistols and machine guns
wholesale execution
precision of an army firing squad
it was an innovation in Chicago gang history
They rushed into the garage with drawn pistols and machine guns, infoming the seven men they were police officers. Some of them flashed stars and others wore parts of police uniforms. Without ado they herded the victims to a courtyard in the rear.
Overhead gleamed a powerful electric light to make the work of the firing squad easier
The victims, killed by their merciless executioners without having a chance at escape sprawled grotesquely on the floor
wholesale killing
brutally annihilated
slaughter
wholesale slaughter, unlike any killings ever before attempted in the gang war of annihilation
wholesale raids
active alliance between crime and politics
Alderman Titus Haffa
aldermanic elections, a laundry labor controversy and a Detroit rum running syndicate

brutally shot
victims of a band of men who invaded their north side headquarters
intruders posed as policemen
men lined up against wall and shot down with shot and machine guns
lined up against a wall and summarily executed
shot them down in cold blood
heaped bodies
displaying stars
herded their victims
herded
Today's slayings, was something new in Chicago gang warfare. Before the gangsters took their victims for a "ride", luring them into automobiles and killing them, or else swept past in automobiles and raked their victims wtih gunfire.
Never before, however, has one gang invaded the stronghold of another, rounded up the victims and calmly shot them to death. The slayers escaped today in approved gangster fashion, dashing away in waiting motor cars.

lined up against wall and shot
lined up against a wall and summarily executed
posing as police
shot them down in cold blood
heaped bodies
displaying stars
herded
lining them up against a wall with hands over their heads
mowed down by machine gun fire from two automobiles
The guns were mounted on the sides of the two cars

fell like ten-pins

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sons of Onondaga in the Age of Fraternal Organizations

Months ago I found a fragmentary newspaper article from the late 1800s which mentions my great-grand-aunt. The headline was "FAMOUS SONS OF ONONDAGA", which gave me the mistaken impression that she was part of a group with that name. Eventually I figured out that she was part of a centennial celebration for Onondaga County, and that "Sons of Onondaga" was a general term that newspaper writers liked to toss around in articles about new recruits, veterans and sports figures.

By the time I figured out that my great-grand-aunt wasn't in a group named "Sons of Onondaga", I'd found two references, in newspapers from 1908 and 1912, to a group with that name. I've included images and transcriptions below. The articles—particularly the second one—were like catnip to me. Even though they had nothing to do with any of my ancestors, my obsessive brain couldn't resist researching them.

I'm fascinated at the way people in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Americans gravitated toward fraternal organizations. The Masons were just the tip of the iceberg; it seems like everyone was a member of at least one organization based on politics, business, or hobbies. So when I found these articles about a society of prominent figures from Onondaga in New York City, I was hooked. Also, I found the goofiness of the poem irresistible.

It didn't take too much Googling to confirm my suspicion that every name in that poem is a reference to a well-known person from Onondaga. They were probably also members of the Sons of Onondaga. I found out, at least in general, who most of them were. I've included notes and links below. If you have any information on those I didn't find, please contact me.

(transcription below)


SEMI-WEEKLY
Skaneateles Free Press.
Skaneateles, N. Y., TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 1908.

SPECULATION AND BUSINESS.

THE LEGISLATION THAT STOPPED ONE WOULD CRIPPLE THE OTHER, SAYS ARMSTRONG.

Collin Armstrong, editor of the Wall Street Summary, lectured last night before the New York chapter of the American Institute of Banking on "The Relation of Speculation to Business." Most of his argument was directed against the proposed legislation aimed to stop the so-called Wall Street gambling, short sales, trading in futures and on margin. Most of the agitation in favor of such measures, he declared, comes either from those who are ignorant of the workings of the markets or those who have lost money and are doing the "baby cot."

Without marginal trading, he said, it would be impossible to carry on the business of the world. Dealings on margin are simply credit transactions, he explained, and differ only in form from those made by real estate dealers and investors, by manufacturers and merchants, the world over. There is not enough money in the world to put business on a cash basis.

Mr. Armstrong blamed such get rich quick stock enterprises as the New York-Chicago Electric Air Line for a large part of the criticism which is made against Wall Street, although Wall Street and the exchanges are in no way responsible. He concluded that the exchanges cannot be legislated out of existence without driving business out of the country, and that the only solution of the problem is for public opinion to make it so hot for the gamblers that they will quit.—N. Y. Sun, Friday, April 20th.

Mr. Armstrong, who is a prominent writer on financial topics, is a native of Fayetteville, Onondaga county, and was elected president of the Society of Sons of Onondaga, recently organized in New York city. Mr. Armstrong married Miss Elizabeth Hale, fomerly of Skaneateles, daughter of W. S. Hale, who is now a resident of Neenah, Wis.



THE POST-STANDARD, SYRACUSE, N. Y., FRIDAY MORNING, FEBRUARY 16, 1912

To Sons of Onondaga.

Verses to the Banquet Committee of the Sons of Onondaga, who dine at Astor Hotel, New York, to-morrow night:

I'm on the wing, with not a thing
  in shape of evening clothes.
My well filled bag begins to sag
  With what? God only knows.

Should I appear, would Sherlock jeer
  And Armstrong throw a fit?
Would Shubert, Lee, cry out in gless
  Old pal, your welcome, Nit?

Would Whelan, George make me disgorge
  As he does those who smoke?
Would my friend Gere, man of good cheer,
  Consider it a joke?

Would Marshall rare, whose "Cabinet Chair"
  Looms now up into view,
Recall the day he ran away
  And left me in the stew?

In Cedar street, he threw so neat,
  A stone of wondrous size;
The window crashed, the man we thrashed
  Much to my great surprise.

Would Sam Wandell leave his snug shell
  To save me from retreat,
As he each fall in Freeman Hall
  Talked us to sure defeat?

Would Marion, Frank think me a crank
  Unfit to dine with you?
Would Joe Tebeau appear to know
  His friend of ninety-two?

Would our good Mayor rise from his chair
  And welcome me with joy?
And say to our sons, present your guns,
  Salute! A white haired boy?

My suit of gray I know you'll say
  in cut is up to date.
For Charlie Alvord thinks he knows
Just how to cut the swellest clothes—
  He charges on his slate.

My necktie red perhaps I'll shed,
  Unless you're color blind.
With striped blue, white collar, too,
  I hope you boys won't mind.

I've sung my song, and now so long,
  Don't think this is a ruse.
Of one in need of a good feed,
  Far from old Syracuse.
                JOHN J. CUMMINS,
Scranton, February 18.



Collin Armstrong 
A famous figure in New York State finance and advertising.

Lee Shubert
A Jewish-Lithuanian-born American theatre owner/operator and producer and the eldest of seven siblings of the theatrical Shubert family.


Sherlock
? Is that just a reference to the fictional character, or the nickname of a member?

Nit
? No idea.

George Whelan
"Uncle George, as the family still calls him, was "a player." He loved to speculate in stocks and did so with varying degrees of success. He was usually associated with tobacco millionaire James B. Duke and speculator Thomas Fortune Ryan. Uncle George was sometimes allied with Bethlehem Steel's CEO Charles Schwab. My grandfather's most vivid memory of Uncle George was watching him conduct a complex business deal over three of those 1920s "candlestick" phones at once."

Gere
? No idea.

Marshall rare
? I'm not sure if I'm reading the blurry text correctly.

Cedar Street
? The poem seems to refer to an incident in which someone named Marshall threw a stone through a window on Cedar Street.

Samuel H. Wandell
A prominent attorney and author.

FindAGrave memorial
His book on hotel law

Freeman Hall
Elk's Lodge, corner of East Jefferson and S. Townsend Streets.

Frank J. Marion
American motion picture pioneer. Member of the class responsible for the S.U. colors.

Joseph Tebeau
Prominent figure in the Syracuse press. Was city editor of Syracuse Courier in the 1890s. Was assistant to the editor of the New York Times for many years.
According to one article, he worked for the New York sun.

Charles Alvord
Horse Racer

John J. Cummins
Leader of the Democratic party in Onondaga County.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Don't come at me with your horseshit equivocation.

Hi. My name is Hugh Yeman. I'm named after another Hugh Yeman. Here he is.


And here I am next to his grave.



Hugh Yeman died of gangrene three days after taking a Vichy French bullet during the Battle of St. Cloud in North Africa on November 10, 1942. Follow that bullet back. Roll back all that German steel across the sand dunes, across the water. All those forces were set in motion by a little man who discovered he could gain popularity by telling poor people that malignant, subhuman foreigners were to blame for all their problems.

So when you tell me there's "no difference" between the candidates, I think you're a goddamn infant who shits all over the most howlingly obvious lessons of history in pursuit of an onanist tableau featuring you looking down on my plebeian world from such a rarefied perspective that you can't possibly distinguish between the two parties. And I think you can go fuck yourself.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Running With Young People


Here's me and  my Goddaughter on Saturday. She's showing off the stains that she got while climbing a pine tree in her yard. The tree-climbing thing? Yeah, she got that from me.

To say that I get a warm feeling at the thought of her climbing trees seems inadequate. "Warmth" doesn't come close to articulating the electric tingle that surges through me as a see my childhood echoing in her. Yet even that pales in comparison to how I felt on Sunday.

I invited my Goddaughter to join me on a run, and she enthusiastically accepted. As she led me around her neighborhood, I observed her form. I asked her if she'd had any instruction in running, and was amazed to hear that she hadn't. From her fingers to her toes, I see things she's doing and, more importantly, things she's not doing, that tell me she's a natural. She's got a strong foundation, and I'm thrilled at the potential I see in her.

On the way back she talked about her running, and she said something so familiar that it was like a bell ringing in my head: "...I can't keep up..." The way she phrased it, I assumed she meant that she'd been out running with a group, and couldn't keep up with them. When I asked her about it, I found out that's not what she meant. She wasn't referring to any group runs. She simply felt that, when she ran by herself, she couldn't keep her speed up.

Is there a word for "hilarity" that carries a deep undercurrent of empathy? There should be. That's what I felt when I heard this. Her childhood was nothing like mine, yet the way she compared herself unfavorably to some imagined benchmark was instantly and deeply familiar.  There was no one telling her she wasn't running fast enough. No one but her.

I told her about the decades I spent feeling like I was too slow, too this, too that. I told her how I finally learned to relax, let go of my expectations, and give myself the room to explore. I struggled to articulate the paradox of finding my speed and stamina only after I stopped looking for it.

As soon as I got her home, I went out again to get in my weekend distance run.  As I ran, I thought about what I'd attempted to convey to my Goddaughter, and how to distill it down to something pithy. Suddenly a new aphorism popped into my head: "Come at running with a feeling of exploration, not expectation." That's good. I'm going to start using that with the young people I run with.

I've expended a lot of thought on that distillation process, but it's easy compared to articulating the joy I feel when I share running with the young people in my life. That's because I'm not just nurturing the next generation. I'm reaching back to the younger me and healing us both.

Forty years ago there was an obese little kid who was already busy constructing the sort of expectations my Goddaughter voiced. He was telling himself what he was, what he was not and what he would never be. He was furiously carving the lavish filigree of his own limitations.

I spent half a lifetime hating my body, which was unfair because nothing about my situation was my body's fault. I was the one shoveling food into it. Only during the last few years have I cultivated a collaborative relationship with my body. And as magnificent and rewarding as all that work feels, the greatest part of it all is sharing it with a young person.

When I was a kid, I couldn't see the bars of the prison I'd built around me. And now I get to take all that pain and turn it around. I get to make something positive out of it. I get to show my nephew and my niece and my Goddaughter that there are other ways to be: that we're always capable of more growth than we imagine. I get to present to them options I didn't have.

And as I reach out to them, I get to reach back. I get not only to reconcile with the young me, but to cherish and comfort him. When I run with a young person, I feel like I'm saying to that young me "Hey, you know what? We turned out OK."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My First Marathon

I'd been training for this marathon since April. I'd filled in that grid day by day with orange highlighter, and eventually the whole thing was orange. The morning of November 15th had arrived.

Grace drove us into Brooklyn while I was taping my feet and not driving into Brooklyn. Thanks, Grace.

These next few shots give you a sense of what a beautiful morning it was: chilly, with brilliant sunlight radiating through the lovely autumn foliage.

I was lucky to have not only Grace, but also some of our Brooklyn friends, cheering me on.



After my warm-up jog, I knew I'd be too hot with my second layer, so I stripped down to my base layer, pinned my bib back on and took my place at the rear of the small crowd of runners



The starting signal sounded, and I took my time approaching the timing mat. No use cramming myself into the crowd at the beginning.

50 minutes into the race. I was averaging somewhere around 8:10, which felt good but was also worrisome. I wondered if I was setting myself up for an early burnout.

1 hour and 15 minutes into the race. At this point I'd maintained an average pace of around 8:15, and was feeling strong and hopeful. My training pace indicated that I should have been capable of running a marathon in under four hours, and I had every hope of doing so.

At 2 hours and 15 minutes into the race, I was still feeling strong. I'd finished the first half in about 1:50, and at this point I still hoped to complete the marathon in under four hours, though my pace had begun to drop.
 

At 2 hours and 50 minutes into the race, my pace was dropping more and more. I note with some chagrin that I didn't return Grace's enthusiasm. By this time I was deep in my head, focusing all my energy on the run. Thanks again for your support, Grace.


At 3 hours and 25 minutes into the race, I entered the final lap around Prospect Park. By this time I knew I wasn't going to finish in under four hours, but I didn't particularly care, because I was approaching the point where all my energy would be devoted to keeping running. From around the time I passed Grand Army Plaza, everything in me said "Stop. Just walk it." But I didn't. My pace wasn't great, but I kept running--with the exception of a few seconds of walking at the water stations.


Headed for the finish line! Oh man, I was hurtin'.

This shot comes from the video of me crossing the finish line, which you can see on the NYCRuns race results site.

I didn't finish in under four hours, but by golly, 4:06:03 is a solid time for a first marathon, as is finishing 33rd of 58 in my age group. I'm happy with my performance!

I hobbled over to the grass, laid down and attempted to stretch. My muscles took this as an opportunity to express their profound dissatisfaction with the current administration.



My muscles began spasming and trying to cramp, so I knew I had to get up... very carefully. Eventually I was able to complete that civil engineering project and lurch woozily back to the car.



I stopped to do a bit of stretching...

...which triggered more agonizing cramps...

...but I was able, slowly, to walk it off...

...and return home with some sweet swag!


After the race I was looking for ways to improve next time. I found an article on running a sub-four-hour marathon, which indicates that my pacing during the first half was spot on. So I'm wondering if the problem was related to the food I ate during the race. The article recommends eating at most 500 calories during the first twenty miles, but when I did the math I realized I took in around 800 calories! The article talks about runners who don't take in enough carbohydrates "hitting the wall", and the symptoms of lethargy it describes sure seem like what I experienced. But there's no way I at too little. And I suspect that, if I did eat too much, the symptoms would have been similar; digestive difficulties combined with high sugar levels were probably to blame.

Another problem I had (perhaps it stems from the tiredness I already mentioned, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it's a distinct problem) was psychological. The article talks about using positive imagery to psych yourself up, but boy, that's easier said than done. I tried to do fartlek, but I just couldn't. During those last few miles, it took everything I had not to stop running; that was absolutely the most I could do. I didn't feel particularly positive. I was just determined to finish without walking.

Speaking of psychology, the most fascinating thing about the whole experience was the altered state I felt. That run did not seem like four hours. It seems that, when the mind tells the body to do something unendurable, the body steps in and alters the brain chemistry so that it becomes endurable.

So... wow. I ran a marathon. I'm still telling myself what I told myself as I crossed the finish line: "I did it. It's no longer future tense. I did it. I ran a marathon."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Analog of Prayer

The foliage was glorious today. The temperature was around 59°. The sun shone occasionally from behind silvery clouds. I felt lucky to be alive, much less running fifteen miles. Naturally, my thoughts gravitated to a topic on which I ruminate frequently: gratitude and its relationship with spirituality.

Let me preface this by saying it's not my intent to disparage agnostics and atheists. Agnostics and atheists are my people. I'm neither an apologist for the religious, nor a detractor of the areligious. I'm just musing on relative strengths and weaknesses, is all.

The greatest mistake agnostics and atheists make is to disparage notions such as prayer. To many folks, prayer is the most risible, easiest target in the world, and that strikes me as not merely mean-spirited, but myopic. In its purest form, prayer is an expression of gratitude. And boy, do we need that. We are animals who absolutely must have checks and balances for our innate sense of self-righteousness. We need periodically to see ourselves as we relate to our universe so that we understand that we are not the center of it. We need to see the gifts the universe bequeaths. We need to count our blessings.

To see what I mean, consider one common political disagreement. Conservatives tend to think that poor people choose to be poor: that anyone can claw their way up from the worst circumstances, so social cushions merely coddle and encourage laziness. Liberals tend to take the opposing view: that luck and circumstance play such a large part in success or failure that our public policy should reflect this.

And then atheists and agnostics--who are, oddly, much more likely to identify as liberal--turn around and do the exact thing they criticize conservatives for. They sneer and titter at the notion of prayer, not just dismissing the possibility that it has any value, but proudly proclaiming their own Randian superman self-sufficiency. "I'm not going to thank any forces outside myself," they say. "I got where I am through hard work, and I'll be damned if I'll give up any of the credit!" Doesn't that sound bafflingly familiar?

I'm not religious. Not only don't I believe in God in any conventional sense, I see no reason to suspect that the universe has any intent. Of course I think I'm right. We all think we're right. I'm utterly uninterested in conversations of rightness. I'm interested in conversations of efficacy. I need what they need. Whatever forces compel religious people to pray are also present in me, and whatever benefits they derive from prayer would likewise benefit me. So why in hell shouldn't I pray? Yeah, sure, I have no face in the clouds to pray to, and that's the whole damn problem. Prayer is orders of magnitude harder for me and for my people. We don't have a focal point for the prayer. But damn it, even if we don't pray in any conventional sense, we need an analog for prayer!

Don't buy it? All right. Do you buy this?

Sex is pleasurable because environmental factors during our evolution selected for a strong sex drive. Now that we are exceeding the carrying capacity of every biome on earth, that strong sex drive is obsolete: the behavioral equivalent of a vestigial organ. As rational, civilized beings, we should recognize that non-procreative sex is not only a silly remnant of primitive cultures, but actively harmful. Sex leads to abuse, violence and overpopulation. We should discourage sex. Sex is bad. Every scientist should be a militant asexual.

I'll bet you wouldn't get behind that. Yet I know folks who get behind this.

Religion comforts people because environmental factors during our evolution selected for social cohesion. Now that we have science, religion is obsolete: the cultural equivalent of a vestigial organ. As rational, civilized beings, we should recognize that religion is not only a silly remnant of primitive cultures, but actively harmful. Religion leads to abuse, violence and genocide. We should discourage religion. Religion is bad. Every scientist should be a militant atheist.

Now I agree with some of that, just like I agree with some of the paragraph about sex. But I ain't willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater in either case. I will make no apologies about continuing to enjoy sex, because I'm a member of a species which evolved to draw nourishment from sex. And I will make no apologies for seeking an analog for prayer, because I'm a member of a species which evolved to draw nourishment from questing after the numinous.

Again, I'm not an apologist for the religious. I'm a devout agnostic. I have no use for religion. I ain't never gonna do what they do. Don't mean I don't need what they need.

So here is my prayer for today.

Thank you, sun. Thank you, sky and clouds and lambent foliage. Thank you, universe, for the gift of my mere existence. Thank you for bones and muscles and blood and nerves, and for my capacity to appreciate them. Thank you for the circumstances that led me to develop a healthy relationship with my body, and then sneak past my own defenses so that I slowly came to believe I could run a marathon. Thank you for the opportunity to follow through on the necessary training.  Thank you for this day, when that training led me to run fifteen glorious miles. I see no reason to think I deserve any of these blessings any more than billions of others who aren't afforded them, and I'm grateful.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Hero Worship

Yesterday I had one of those unexpected confluences of thought that led me to an intriguing realization: some people glorify soldiers, police and firefighters in the same way that other people glorify artists.

If I went to a doctor, and that doctor's negligence caused me unnecessary pain and injury, I would be justified in taking that doctor to task because that doctor failed to uphold the standards of a doctor. No sane person would scream "How dare you! Doctors do a hard job! You wouldn't want to do that job! You don't know how to perform surgery! You live your life under the blanket of health that doctors provide! Shut up, you pathetic liberal!"

If I took my car to a mechanic for repairs, and that mechanic left the oil cap off, and my engine block cracked, I would be justified in taking that mechanic to task because that mechanic failed to uphold the standards of a mechanic. No sane person would scream "How dare you! Mechanics do a hard job! You wouldn't want to do that job! You don't know how to fix engines! You live your life under the blanket of transportation that mechanics provide! Shut up, you pathetic liberal!"

I work as a computer programmer in a hospital system. If I were negligent in processing patient records, and those patients suffered because of that negligence, the patients and my employer would be justified in taking me to task for my failure to uphold the standards of a computer programmer. No sane person would scream "How dare you! Computer programmers do a hard job! You wouldn't want to do that job! You don't know how to write code and process database records! You live your life under the blanket of efficiency that computer programmers provide! Shut up, you pathetic liberal!"

Yet whenever someone points out that a cop, or a group of cops, or a percentage of cops, are behaving in ways that reflect poorly on cops in general, some people scream "How dare you! Cops do a hard job! You wouldn't want to do that job! You don't know how to deal with criminals! You live your life under the blanket of safety that cops provide! Shut up, you pathetic liberal!"

I've long found this mystifying. To me, pointing out the bad apples in the barrel is the most sensible thing in the world, because I would hate to see that whole barrel go bad. Yet when some folks look at me doing so, all they see is someone who hates apples. And the weirdest thing is they don't do this for everyone. To them, the argument that "It's a hard job that you couldn't do" is only applicable to those professions. To them, soldiers, cops and firefighters are exempt from being held accountable to the very standards that make us idolize them in the first place! I just don't understand it.

But I do understand this: it's the same thing some people do with artists. To those people, artists exist on a pedestal that renders them unassailable to the quantifiable standards we apply to other professions. To those people, the mere act of looking at artists the same way we look at everyone else is an insult. Artists are heroes. Artists are above us.

It's hero worship. Or if it ain't, I don't know what the hell it is.

The longer I live, the more I think everybody's afraid. The way we respond to that fear defines us and separates us. But if you peel back those distinctions... it looks like none of us can stand the thought of a world where we're all accountable. It looks like we all need heroes to worship.