National prison strike

It’s been several days, and still no major Ohio news organization has reported on the national prison strike. The only Ohio piece I can find is this great reporting from Brian Sonenstein on Siddique Abdullah Hasan and ODRC suppression of speech.


When I worked at an alt-weekly, there’s no doubt that we would have been talking through local or statewide angles on the national prison strike. We’d covered human rights issues within the ODRC before, and this movement gives news organizations a chance to discuss sweeping reforms and concerning policies. If anything, it’s a great opportunity to check in on the conditions/progress in the prison system nationwide — on an annual basis! Simple editorial leadership.

Now, I can’t speak to what my former employer is up to on this story, but I can say that I’ve surveyed major news organizations in Ohio this week. Nothing’s come up. At least online, these organizations aren’t even running the scant wire reports available. (The USA Today Network, for example, was running a sort of overview piece on the story, which included mention that prison inmates in the Columbus, Ohio, area intended on participating. The paper followed up with a closer look this morning.

An excerpt (again, for a more moderate and mainstream audience)…

Created in response to a brutal prison brawl that left at least seven inmates dead earlier this year in South Carolina, the 19-day protest involves prisoners conducting labor and hunger strikes, sit-ins and commissary boycotts in at least 17 states, giving it the potential to become one of the largest such rallies in US history.

The goal of protesters is to put an end to what organizers refer to as “modern-day slavery,” a practice where inmates are paid slave wages for labor. Such is the case in California, where prisoners are assisting in efforts to fight wildfires and being paid as little as $2 per day.

“I think the outcome is likely to be greater public awareness about the difficult and inhumane conditions that many prisoners face across the country — an elevated public attention to the broad issues as well as some of the more specific concerns that prisoners themselves have raised,” said Toussaint Losier, assistant professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts and author of “Rethinking the American Prison Movement.”

The stories that land in each day’s newspaper or on each hour’s homepage petri dish are the stories that national editorial power sees fit to print. They’re the stories that you’re supposed to integrate into your life, into your own decision-making. The stories that aren’t chosen? Are you supposed to care? Why? Why not?


Top five, today

Mason & Dixon: I’m nearly through this incredible titan of a novel. I’m sure I’ll write more about it once I’ve finished the story, but, for now, it’s enough to say that this is one of the greatest reading experiences I’ve had in life. The writing style, the historical references, the grand world-building of the 1760s and their seismic shifts in American political consciousness and revolutionary spirit. It’s an enveloping romp and a window into a dream of the past and of the timeless future of American progress.

8/3/18: For my money, this is the finest show of Phish’s summer tour this year. We’ve still got one more show at MPP tonight (and the grand finale festival next weekend), but, at the moment, this show towers above the rest — by a wide margin. It’s a wonderful show, and I’m hoping that the heights attained that night in Atlanta are reached once again, in one form or another, next week in Watkins Glen.

Small City Taphouse: B and I got beers and dinner here Friday night. It’s a fantastic little outpost in downtown Sandusky. We spent most of the day at Cedar Point, riding coasters and wandering around in a haze of youthful bliss — the sort that can only be found at amusement parks. I don’t go to CP too often these days (once or twice in the past decade?), but it’s always fun. B’s parents had raved about Small City, so we had to check it out. Very cool vibe: wide open space, multiple bars, killer Asian fusion menu and a hell of a lot of beers on tap. I drank two IPAs from JAFB in Wooster, Ohio. We each got a nice bowl of pho and split a plate of calamari. No doubt, we’ll be back soon. (Sandusky, also, more generally, is a great and weird little place. We ended up down the water for a few hours after dinner, talking about the meaning of time and life, sipping vodka as the sun set low against the Lake Erie horizon. Great night.)

The Game: I’m watching this early David Fincher classic this afternoon. He was one of my first  “favorite directors,” and his output hasn’t slowed down at all. But The Game is the sort of knotty, real-life thriller that I love tripping through on a Sunday afternoon. The dog is sleeping next to me. Great movie in the background.

Blue Train: I’ve been listening to a lot of Coltrane lately. Part of it is this: I can’t write while listening to music with a lot of lyrics, and so I end up listening to Phish or the Dead or whatever all day long. And that’s fine! But I need to branch out my instrumental listening habits, and I’ve long been lurking on the fringes of jazz. For the past few weeks, I’ve just picked out early Coltrane albums and let them roll while I knock out a story at work or while I write something on the blog at night. My jazz literacy isn’t great, so I’m hoping that I keep this experiment going and, with a little luck, learn a thing or two about a vast corner of American music history that I confess I’ve skipped over for far too long.

I always wanted it this way

My favorite band played an incredible show in Atlanta last night. Stuff like that matters to me greatly, somehow, on lazy Saturday mornings when I can wake up and grab the headphones and an iced coffee, lay low on the couch and watch the clouds drift across the window in the polyrhythmic dance of an early first-set “Ghost” jam.

My dog is sleeping nearby.

Stuart Davis, “Swing Landscape,” 1939

What’s the point?

Phish’s music represents, to me, a visionary experience. It’s a mural painted across decades of creative improvisation and serendipitous musical evolution. It’s always happening, much like one end of the painting (depicting, say, a four-headed hydra coiling around the summit of Mt. Vesuvius) exists simultaneously with the other end of the painting (which may, let’s imagine, depict a farmer harvesting hemp in central Asia). It’s always happening, and I carry that visionary experience, that knowledge, into my daily life. The joy of last night’s “Ghost” jam is felt while I drive down I-77, while I purchase green peppers from a local market, while I sleep and while I walk the hills of Salt Run Trail with Forrest.

To reap what’s been sown: That’s the inevitable promise/curse of life. What you make of that is up to you. Visionary experiences — like music or like a long walk in the woods with a dog, like a sharp blade through a fresh pepper — are there for the reaping, as well. Why not partake in the finest, most ego-shattering joys of this brief trip?

There is a place on the mountain nearby
Deep in a cave, but it’s up rather high
There in the darkness are safely concealed
All of the dreams that you never revealed

And if you go there
and after you do
All of these dreams 
would be yours to pursue
The rest of your lifetime 
devoid of a care
If you keep your eyes open 
you may find yourself there

Such is the promise
such is the curse
You could just live your life 
better or worse
Knowing the cache of dreams 
up on that hill
Beckons and sways 
but won’t bend to your will

You might find a river 
under a mountain
That feeds a remote subterranean fountain

Drink from this taste 
just a hint of a dream
That somehow leaked into 
the underground stream

The way out is in

This is isn’t the most well-written piece I’ve found on the subject, but maybe it’s the most succinct. And that matters in an obsessive culture that keeps the pedal firmly on the floor every second of every day.

Unhappy people tend to look outward in their belief systems. They place their faith in lines of demarcation, in the empty idea that there’s something concrete and permanent in this universe. Seethingly, they hold fast to political identities, to social constructs taken as eternal biological fact, to guns!, to a worldview that maintains humans as being distinct from and superior to the rest of the planet. They believe they can take — that it is their duty to take! — and, if pressed, they would surely admit to a near fetishistic passion for the greatest hits of unhappiness, stuff like Genesis 1:26, Papa John’s and, doubtlessly, the 2016 Trump campaign.

They tend not to be creative or funny.

And while they’re really not worth harping on for too long (such a bore, honestly), it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves that there’s a whole lotta miserable fuckers out there, that there are people whose unhappiness can infect others and drive them to do horrible things in the name of a god (take your pick; gods aren’t always deities). These sorts have always been floating in the great waters of humanity. This goes back to the Garden, if I might borrow their language for a moment.

And so what of it?

There’s that old trope that says: The opposite of love isn’t hate — it’s indifference. And that’s true, certainly. But there’s another thing diametrically opposed to love: obstinacy.

“Love is the ultimate outlaw,” Tom Robbins wrote. “It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words ‘make’ and ‘stay’ become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”

Why I play golf: Ruminating at Mastick Woods

This piece was originally published on May 4, 2014. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

By Duff Kozar

We decided to strike out as a trio on a recent and thoroughly beautiful Sunday afternoon. Mister Tee was putting before the game and asking me why I played golf. Good question, T…

I explained that on some level, it was in my blood. Conditioned by years of working as a caddie for the well-heeled brutes of Northeast Ohio, I almost had no choice but to succumb to this strange game. It’s not like I come from a family of golfers; the game was just always there, an intrinsic part of my summers growing up.

Beyond that, though, I’ve found golf to be a terrific conduit for fun – the sort of revelry that grown-ass adults with the right kind of head on their shoulders never really outgrow. Mischief. Bawdiness.

While I’m trying to play with a more diverse crowd this summer (and potentially become something akin to a “good” golfer), I’ve cut my teeth on the game with a tight-knit group of guys with whom I grew up. Some have moved on and been summarily replaced in the interest of maintaining a core of four. Others, it seems, will plant their roots in Cleveland ever deeper and play the fine courses of Northeast Ohio until the end of time. They’re all good people, and our shared senses of humor really shine on the links. Golf is, in sum, a hell of a lot of fun.

But *is* that why I play?

I dunno. Why do I play golf rather than, say, tennis? Why golf when I can spend time and money becoming a better cook? Or a better writer? I mean, part of this question is about opportunity cost, sure; but the question of “why” someone does something has more to do with some unidentifiable magnetism.

To determine why we do the things we do, it seems to me that it’s worthwhile to examine a) how we change (improve) as people by doing this thing and b) how this thing impacts how and why we do other things. But even more – and getting back to my main point – is a need to understand the human relationships that are born out of these particular things.

I would say that by playing golf I’ve become a closer friend to those with whom I play (or, in other cases, a more effective employee or whatever). When my life is easing into a gentle lope many, many years from now, it’ll be the friendships I nourished on the links (and at the bar and on the road and in fair weather and storms) that will bring a smile to my wrinkled, addled face. I won’t give a shit about golf. None of this will matter to me or to them or to my children.

Why do I golf? I can’t resist the lure of good friends – old or new – and the sound of a tall Budweiser cracking open beneath a scorching Midwestern sun. But mostly the friends.


I guess, when all’s said and done, I’m the kind of guy who stays up until 2 a.m. on a weeknight, watching a live stream of my favorite band performing on the other side of the country, critiquing the apparent health of the lead singer and writing a few hundred words on what the current rendition of a 30-year-old song means for the foreseeable future on this tour AND THEN deleting those words, knowing, somewhere in his heart, that it’s all fine — that love, after all, triumphs in the face of the unknowable and that, truly, the only thing that matters is the present moment and its infinite and self-repeating nature.