Involuntary servitude and the Angry Orange Chimp’s shutdown

People who travel a lot know that TSA agents in the States, while sometimes irritating, are underpaid workers with a terrible job. Many live paycheck-to-paycheck.

The president’s ridiculous, cruel shutdown of our government means TSA workers are now compelled to work without pay or lose their jobs. They don’t make this choice freely; they do so only under severe duress. Maybe they’ll be paid someday — or maybe the threatened “permanent shutdown” means they will never see a dime.

Sounds like involuntary servitude to me.

For a century and a half, the law of the land in the US has forbidden such abuse:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (13th Amendment to the Constitution).

I’m not conflating TSA workers’ plight with the horrors of slavery. But the 13th Amendment makes a distinction by using the disjunctive “nor”. TSA workers’ servitude is arguably involuntary — their economic status and powerlessness give them no reasonable choices.

How can unionized workers be so powerless? Why hasn’t the TSA’s union yet stood up for their own people by filing a lawsuit challenging the Angry Orange Chimp?

An open letter to Rep. Ilhan Omar

Dear Representative Omar:

Please accept my congratulations upon your election to the US House of Representatives. I wish you the greatest success and offer whatever help I can provide.

As your constituent, I ask for your thoughts.

Recently, Rep. Nancy Pelosi suggested that the newly-empowered Democratic majority in the House has a duty to “find common ground” with the Republicans in Congress who have supported what many believe to be an unprecedentedly corrupt administration.

Please respond to those of us who believe that it is not possible to find common ground with those who have fostered the amorality of Trumpism.

  • Do you support Rep. Pelosi’s bid to serve as Speaker of the House? Or do you support a different candidate for Speaker? If so, who do you support?
  • Do you believe (as I clearly do!) that the role of newly-empowered Democrats is to ensure the Mueller investigation is protected so it can come to its own full and fair conclusions? Do you believe that if the Mueller investigation produces credible proof of impeachable behavior that the House should commence impeachment hearings against the President?

On another matter, do you believe that there is sufficient evidence of Brett Kavanaugh lying to Congress that an investigation should begin to determine whether he should be impeached?

Rep. Omar, a traditional politician would respond to this message with generalities designed to avoid answering the simple questions I have posed. I hope your response will be extraordinary: I hope that you respond to these straightforward questions with straightforward responses.

Thank you very much.

Robert Sykora

Happy National Coming Out Day!

So, for 2018 Coming Out Day, here’s my story.

After Paul and I fell in love, I decided to tell my dad. This was a big deal because he was a conservative judge well-known for being cruel to gay people. For years I had read in the gay press how in court he was so mean to, as he called us, “the homosexuals”.

He was a bright guy, but he had some really serious limitations caused by his deep religious beliefs.

It was about this time of year in 1983 that I told him.

After the words came out of my mouth, he paused. He raised an index finger and said “excuse me for a minute”. He went out to the garage where he hid his cigarettes. He lit one up, and I watched him out of the kitchen window. He stood in front of the garage, hands on his hips, looking up toward the sky, rocking back and forth and inhaling a Carlton down to its filter.

He came back inside. He took both of my hands in his. His eyes were filled with tears, and so were mine.

He said: “I’m so proud of myself that I have the kind of relationship with my son that you’d think it important to tell me this.”

He immediately loved Paul. They had long conversations about religion and philosophy.

My dad lived for four years after that, coming to a quick end because of his cigarettes. During his three-month decline, we cared for him at home. Paul cooked beautiful meals to help him gain weight. I remember Paul arranging on dad’s plate little butter-fried cubes of steak as he muttered, apparently to no one, “small portions, attractively arranged.” Dad ate gratefully, though the high-calorie meals could only keep him going for so long.

So, happy Coming Out Day. And here’s to my dad, who did the best possible thing a dad could do upon learning that his son is gay.

Trust this baboon

Seriously, trust him. This baboon has a far greater chance of successfully guiding US foreign policy and its economy than does the current occupant of the White House. (So, when making decisions about where to invest our little nest egg while the US recovers over the next 20 years, Mexico’s looking pretty good.)

The gift that keeps on giving

In 2016 when Paul and I were trying to get our swim safety program off the ground in Nongyasai, we encountered a major obstacle. Our wise Thai friends advised us that traditional notions of modesty required both boys and girls to be covered with large swim suits from neck to knee. Large coverage = lots of spandex = lots of money. Our friends shrugged: since there’s no way the village could afford such swim suits for a large number of students, our swim program was doomed.

Or was it?

By Skype, we poured out our woes to world-famous master swimmer Brian Jacobson.

Brian responded immediately. It was on a Thursday that he launched his GoFundMe campaign to solicit funds to pay for the swim suits. By Sunday online donors had provided enough to buy the suits plus provide funding for scores of ten-free-swim punchcards to allow our kids to return to the pool to practice what they learned.

TODAY our wonderful Thai friends sent several videos showing the swim suits bought by American donors in use at a current training program in the very same pool Paul and I helped build (detail-oriented viewers will note additional skylights added to the roof — an effort to increase solar heating during “cool season” [75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit]). One of those videos is included below. Also included below is a picture of the 10-swim punch cards and one of the kids showing off her card.

Thanks again, donors. You did a good thing.

Sweet dreams of you

You know what it’s like. A friend dies. You may be shocked. You may cry. You offer condolences, you have pleasant reminiscences with mutual friends. You tell stories featuring flattering memories of the dead friend. You say things like “we’ll miss her” and “he was a great guy”.

And then you move on.

This can seem cold. At first it feels like it’s a betrayal to laugh and be silly in light of the recent mortal event. But those moments pass and your senses are soon filled with the needs and joys of the living. The dead are just … gone. Their Cup of Life ran dry. It sucks, but there you go.

We are a fragile and frightened species. So we tend to fight the idea that when we die we’re just gone and are destined for obscurity. We’re dead certain: I’ll leave a legacy! People will hang onto their memories of me after I’m gone! They will! For sure!

Belief in the immortal soul isn’t just a con offered up by religious charlatans. There’s a demand. Cosmology responds to market forces: we all lust for the promise of never-ending life and eternal legacy. Maybe we’ll last forever as we’re repeatedly reincarnated and eventually transition to god-status. Maybe by a cosmic transplant of our memories to an ethereal life atop a fluffy cloud somewhere. A guy with a big book might make permanent record of our deeds and misdeeds. Creatures from another planet may liberate our tortured souls.

Back here on Earth, my mortal remains might be maintained under a slab of granite with my name chiseled into it. Maybe they’ll be parked in a nice little ornamental urn, or perhaps the family shrine or crypt. My weepy surviving loved ones might purchase a brick bearing my name for a local park, or maybe a bench with a brass In Memoriam plaque. Maybe a cash infusion to the Legacy Fund at one of the educational institutions I frequented? Future generations surely will read my name, right? And they’ll make an effort to learn who I was? And they’ll ask about me. For sure, they’ll ask about me.

For parents, producing offspring is a festival of potential legacy. Way down the genetic trail, a child will see a picture of me and know that he got his oversize eyebrows from me, his great-grandpa, just as I got them from my dad, and my dad’s dad. And that goofy kid will ask about me, I’m sure. What did great-grandpa think? What did he do? What was his life like?

But mere procreation is an amateur’s game. The real grasp at immortality is made by artists, composers, writers, architects, playwrights, choreographers. Want a legacy? Write or design something profound. How about a snappy YouTube video, Facebook or Instagram post? That’ll last forever. Right?

Um, no.

Sweet dreams of you, however real and justified, will be fleeting. You’re gonna be forgotten. When the people who knew you and loved you have themselves gone to rot, so too will their memories. Maybe it’ll take a generation, maybe two or three. But your erasure looms.

So, celebrate your imminent obscurity! Live your life delighted by today’s joys. Be proud that you’ve been a kind person, a smart or funny person, a loving parent, a friend, a sibling, a partner. You’ve one chance to drink from the Cup of Life, so slurp it up, baby! Don’t waste any time pretending it’ll last forever.