Fires on the mountain

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The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area of the Great Smoky Mountains–and the word “Great” does apply to this region–is a beautiful place. I’ve been there on a few occasions, beginning when I was ten years old, and I’ve written about it here before. So the news that there are 14 fires burning there right now is very saddening.

Fires are natural, and the region has no doubt burned before. But this is awful news, and rebuilding won’t be an easy process. Some will certainly lose all they have. My heart goes out to them, absolutely.

The beauty of the mountains won’t look like this again for quite some time. I’m glad I have memories of how it once looked.

May those who suffer losses one day feel whole again. And may we wake up to the reality of what we’re doing to our planet.

Shut down Volkswagen

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My parents had a light blue Volkswagen Beetle like the one pictured above when I was a kid, and I called it a “Vopiad” because I couldn’t say “Volkswagen.” It’s a happy memory for me.

But those warm fuzzys have been abolished forever by the way Volkswagen has behaved since 2009. They installed software that was specifically designed to beat emissions testing into many of their models, but which then shut off when the car was not being tested. Their cars thus spit many times the allowable limits of pollutants into the air, which I and everyone else on the planet had to breathe.

Volkswagen is paying for their deception, as they should. But the settlement funding seems to be directed to the people who bought these cars in the first place. Those of us who breathed in foul air over these past few years apparently won’t see a dime in damages.

I frankly don’t want any money from Volkswagen, but I do want them to pay. And the only fitting penalty I can imagine is to have them shut down for good, permanently unable to soil our environment with their products ever again.

This won’t happen, of course, but it should. There’s nothing Volkswagen can do, and no check they could ever write, that will undo the environmental damage they’ve caused through their subterfuge. May the people who dreamed this scheme up–and who knew and did nothing about it through the years–be criminally punished for what they have done. And may the name “Volkswagen” forever be synonymous with irreversible environmental damage. They’ve certainly earned it.

No More Guns Over People

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I’ve never held a gun, owned a gun, fired a gun, or had the first thing to do with a gun. They aren’t my thing, but they are many people’s thing. That’s fine. I’m not here to pass judgment on anybody for that. But the Columbine shooting happened just a few days after my older daughter was born, and how many mass shootings have happened since then? Sandy Hook hit me hard, and Orlando did too, but there are probably a hundred others where I shook my head and moved along until it happened again. That can’t happen anymore.
 
I’m quite comfortable with the 2016 elections being a binary propositions about guns in this country. Either we do nothing at all to limit people’s access to guns–the NRA model–or we do something in the hope that it saves even one life somewhere. If your home is on fire, you don’t passively watch it burn. But that’s what our Congress is doing, and will continue to do. The NRA owns them, and their inaction on this matter is entirely by design.
 
So vote guns this fall, or don’t. It really is just that simple. Mark Kirk, my senator in Illinois, broke ranks with his party (the GunsOverPeople crowd) but it won’t be enough to get him re-elected, not when his war hero opponent was on the House floor during yesterday’s sit in. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are indeed desperate times. Grieving families from coast to coast will attest to that.

One Proud Nation

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I’m heartbroken over the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It’s a guns problem, for certain, because not a single person deserves the right to take 49 lives in an instant. Banning assault weapons makes perfect sense to me. Keep some guns if you want to, but don’t put that kind of firepower in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to control themselves.

It’s also a hatred problem, too. The shooter targeted people whose lifestyle he didn’t agree with. If there is a hell, hopefully he’s in it. But either way, dozens are dead, and millions are crushed and angry at the same time. And moments of silence must not become a token gesture, or a cover for a Congress that won’t change a damn thing, no matter how many lives are lost.

When I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, gay people were hidden deep in the closet. They were a curiosity, a punchline, and something to be afraid of, because of course they wanted to make everybody else gay, too. But then I went to college in the late 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic was raging. I began to realize that even though being gay wasn’t my thing, it didn’t pose any threats to me, either.

I moved into Chicago in the early 1990s, and found the Gay Pride Parade, as it was known back then, to be the highlight of the summer. People came from far and wide to line Broadway, soak up the sunshine, and have a good time together. For as long as I lived in Lakeview and what later became known as Boystown, it was the summer event I looked forward to all year long.

It’s amazing that society–at least the part I want to be a part of–has moved to gay rights acceptance so quickly. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a shame that it didn’t happen sooner than it did. But it has happened, and people can live their lives openly and marry the person they love, regardless of what gender they are.

And that bothers some people, clearly. But those people are being pushed to the fringes, on their way–hopefully–to ultimate extinction. The person I got into a shouting match with across Diversey Avenue more than a decade ago, about whether bringing my young children to the Pride Parade (as it was known by then) was a sin, has hopefully moderated his position since then. But if not, he’s quickly becoming outnumbered in society, as he deserves to be.

I haven’t been to the Pride parade in many years, because I don’t live in the neighborhood anymore, and because fighting the crowds–routinely estimated at over a million people each year–seems like a hassle. But this year, in light of the Orlando shooting, I feel as if I have to go.

Pride started out as something organic within the gay community, but it’s since grown far beyond that. And the millions who will line Broadway Avenue again in ten days’ time will serve as a beautiful testament to our capacity for celebrating ourselves and having a good time in the process.

About the guy in the gold top hat above: I’m not sure why I took his picture a long time ago, but my daughters and I have affectionately referred to him over the years as “Captain Buttcheeks.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to devote an entire post to him, but I definitely wanted to share him with the world. Wherever he is today, I hope he’s still rocking the boots with the top hat, and waving at everyone he meets.

Sign O’ the times, mess with your mind

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Learning that Prince died from an overdose of fentanyl makes his death harder to deal with than ever. I’ve forgotten by now what the original cause of death was reported to be, but people swore up and down that his religion and/or his healthy lifestyle meant that drugs could not have played a role. But that lie has now been exposed for what it is.

When I was in graduate school a quarter of a century ago, I was given an assignment to find artifacts from different periods of history. The artifacts I used were a metallic bell that purported to be made from the USS Maine as a relic from the 1890s, the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter as a relic of the 1940s, and Prince’s song “Sign O’ the Times” as a relic of the 1980s. We were hardly even out of the 1980s at that point, and it already felt like Prince had encapsulated that decade as well as anybody could.

The lyrics to the song addressed everything from AIDS (“a big disease with a little name”) to crime (“being ‘ in a gang called the Disciples high on crack, totin’ a machine gun”) to the space shuttle disaster (“when the rocket ship explodes”). It was a snapshot of, well, the times we were living in back in the 1980s. I knew it then, and am even more aware of it now, all these years later.

But a line from it foreshadows Prince’s own death. Anyone familiar with the song knows what it is, but since many aren’t familiar with it, I’ll spell it out here as a public service. Think of it as my good deed for the day. Prince sings the following line:

In September my cousin tried reefer for the very first time

Now he’s doin’ Horse, it’s June

“Horse” was a reference to heroin, and the idea Prince was getting at was marijuana was thought of as a gateway to harder, more serious drugs like heroin. It’s beyond ironic, then, that a man who sang about heroin addiction could one day become a victim of it, himself. But what’s even more telling is that a gateway to heroin does exist, but it’s not marijuana at all.

The gateway that led Prince to heroin and fentanyl was opioids, and Percocet in particular. It needs to be pointed out that these drugs are legal when prescribed by a doctor. They aren’t illegal street drugs, the way that marijuana and LSD are. They are what’s known as Schedule II drugs, meaning they are entrusted to the medical community for the purposes of treating and managing pain. But once they leave the medical community, havoc ensues. And the path from there to heroin–a Schedule I drug which is cheaper and easier to obtain than the prescription drugs–is all too well-traveled.

If Prince– with all of his fame and notoriety–could not escape the clutches of these drugs, it highlights the challenges the rest of us face. We’re all just an injury or a surgical recovery away from having these things given to us. And it’s all legal, right there before us, with a doctor’s approval and an insurance company co-pay to soften the financial blow.

Congress and the individual states have at last grasped the seriousness of the heroin and opioid epidemic. May prevention and treatment be the leaders of the pack in this regard, instead of a “tough on crime” approach that our legal system isn’t ready to support. That was tried once already, and it simply hasn’t worked.

Maybe the best thing to come from Prince’s death, if anything positive is to be found, is a realization that “horse” and the drugs leading up to it are not a joke, and that those of us who have been lucky enough to escape their clutches must not judge those who are in their grip. We should instead help them in whatever way we can, which will help our society rise above the damage these drugs have wrought. If this should happen, we’ll all be much better off.

To close with another Prince lyric, in the outro part of “Sign o’ the Times” he sings

Sign o’ the times, mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late.

It’s not too late to address the issue of heroin and its related drugs, but we do need to have some urgency as the death toll continues to rise.

Time….

 

Governor Snyder, you can’t fix this

When I think about what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, I get really angry. Whoever thought that giving poisoned water to the public–in order to save money over clean water taken from another source–needed to be reined in by the person who had the authority to do so, and in this case it was the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder.

But Snyder let the deed go down, and the people of Flint have paid the price. A legionnaire’s disease outbreak has already killed 10 people, and everyone who drank or used that water–which had been tested at elevated levels of carcinogens–did damage to themselves that we won’t see for a long time to come.

We need water to live, and as citizens we have a right to expect our water to be safe to use. If government is to have any purpose at all, that’s one of them. And when the water is unsafe, those who approved of giving it to the people cannot be trusted to clean up the mess themselves.

Rick Snyder and anyone else who knew that Flint was receiving poisoned water–but did nothing to warn the people about its dangers–needs to be removed from office and prosecuted for a criminal act. Terrorists would love to poison a city’s drinking water, so why do the people who actually succeeded at doing so get a chance to “fix” their mistake? It won’t bring back those who have died, nor will it remove the nasty chemicals inside the people who drank or bathed in this toxic stuff.

The solutions to this situation are very pricey, and for a city and a state (and a nation, if we’re being honest about it) that doesn’t have the money to spare, things can look pretty dire. But as long as the governor who allowed this to happen remains in charge, nothing will truly get solved. Step one is to remove the present governor, and let someone else try to fix the damage from there.

May we never see anything like this ever again in an American city.

Thoughts at a fire

Yesterday morning I wrote a post in this space bemoaning the lack of good news stories this year. I had a realization later in the evening, though, as I was watching the fire in my fireplace burn. And it’s worth sharing it here, before it crawls back into the recesses of my mind. This is why I started this blog, after all.

If I start a fire in my fireplace and it burns all night and it goes out, there’s nothing “newsworthy” in that. But if my house were to somehow catch fire, then not only would the fire trucks come, but the news vans, as well. And the bigger the fire, the bigger the story would be.

So I realized, as my fire burned without incident in my fireplace, that “the news” wasn’t good for a reason. As Don Hendley once sang, it’s interesting when people die. And apparently, that’s the only time.

So I’m not waiting for the news to be good anymore. There’s good things all around us every day, and there’s nobody looking to tell us what it is. That’s apparently our job to determine what it is.

And my fire went out, and it was a happy time, indeed. I’m glad that nobody else got to hear anything about it.

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The gift of light and heat

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About a year ago, I made an unusual find at an estate sale. The guy who had just passed away was apparently fond of going to Las Vegas and picking up matches while he was there. I bought hundreds of these things in a big ziploc bag for two dollars.

They sat in my house for nearly a year, until a couple of days ago, at an office-based drive for typhoon relief in the Philippines. For some reason, matches were on the list of needed supplies, and I was glad to give them away so that someone who has lost everything can cook some food, or perhaps light the darkness for a little while.

There will be thousands of fires in the Philippines soon, all because of some dead guy’s match collection. I was just an intermediary along the way, but I wish them well. They certainly need all that we can send their way. As Bono sang all those years ago, “Tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you.” Well said, indeed.

The good that people can do

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A few days ago, I read about an effort that the Chicago Cubs were making for tornado relief in Central Illinois. Rather than asking for money (although I’m sure they accepted that, too) the Cubs were gathering up supplies and then driving what they collected down to the Washington/Pekin areas where they are needed.

I grabbed a few paper goods from my basement, and dropped them off at Wrigley Field on Thursday morning. It wasn’t much, and I freely admitted that to the world. But at the same time, I felt good about doing it. Some donated more than I did, of course, but the vast majority of people gave nothing at all. Just to be included among those that gave made me feel very positive.

The thing about giving, like anything else, is that it’s completely voluntary. Some can give, but most can’t or don’t, for whatever reason. Inertia is probably the main culprit. I know that’s typically the case for me and disaster relief situations. I feel bad for people affected by the storms, but when it comes to doing anything more than that, I had never really have donated anything before. But the proximity of the tornadoes last Sunday to the Chicago area finally compelled me to do something. Illinois is my home, and damage done here means more to me than it would any place else.

I donated some paper goods, and challenged others to do the same. Many people did exactly that, as the above picture shows. Whatever I donated is somewhere in that shot, and by now it has all been delivered to those in need. Hats off to all of us who kicked in and gave something, no matter what it was.

Today was a colder than usual day here in Chicago, and in the areas that were affected by the storms, too. Clearing the damage that nature caused is going to take a long time, and the short, cold days will make the process that much more difficult. The calendar will say it’s the holiday season in parts of central Illinois, but it won’t look very much like Christmas this year.

People have stepped up to help, and that’s inspiring on so many levels. But the need will linger for some time, and I’ve read that relief donations usually dwindle over time. I hope that doesn’t happen here, because there’s plenty of short, cold days ahead.

A story I was glad to tell

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The reason that I write anything on the internet, whether it’s on this blog or anywhere else, is because I love to tell stories. I also like sharing ideas that pop into my head on occasion, but it’s the storytelling that really sustains me. And over the past couple of days, I’ve been able to put one together that I really enjoyed telling.

The piece appeared on ChicagoSideSports today. The tragedy that happened in Washington and other places around the state of Illinois last Sunday left me wondering what I could do to help. If I can write something that puts some meat on the bones of what is already a great story of generosity and compassion, I’ll gladly do it. And if I can appeal to the readers of the story to make a donation and help these people out in some way, I’ll gladly do that too.

As I wrote this story, a combination of nostalgia and sleep deprivation served to bring my old school back to life, if only for a moment and only within the recesses of my memory. I couldn’t go back and walk the halls of Griffin High, even if I wanted to. But writing this story took me back there in a metaphorical sense. And that’s fine, because now it only exists in my memories and those of my schoolmates, anyway. The building still exists, but it wouldn’t be–and couldn’t be–the same as it was back in the 1980s.

I’m rooting for Sacred Heart-Griffin to win this weekend, and not because I graduated from one of its predecessor schools. And it’s not because I want to deny Washington anything, either. No, this is all about being kind and generous. People don’t do that enough, and I wish I saw more of it in this world. So when it does happen, I want to celebrate it as much as possible, in the hopes that I’ll see more of it in the future. That would sure be an improvement over what we have today, wouldn’t it?

Go Cyclones!

Jersey Shore 2013 (Sandy)

One year ago today, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York with a force that I never thought possible. I hope that the people who were impacted have found a way to move on with their lives, because there isn’t another choice for any of us.

On my honeymoon, many years ago, I took a cruise through some of the islands of the Caribbean. It seemed like every island had one storm or another come through over the years, and the locals all remember the name of that storm. And so I imagine it must be along the New Jersey shore. They’ll remember the name Sandy for a very long time to come.

What are the odds that the 18th named storm (and the order of the names is determined many years in advance) in 2012 would visit such destruction on New Jersey? It couldn’t have been Oscar, or Rafael, or Valerie, or William, which were all names that were scheduled to be assigned to storms in 2012. No, it had to be Sandy, which is the name of a Bruce Springsteen song about wanting to leave the Jersey shore. The irony is just too much to be believed, and yet there it is.

All the best to the people who were affected by this storm, and every other storm, past and future. It’s nature’s world, and we just happen to live in it temporarily.

A tragedy in Kentucky (with update)

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The story out of Kentucky today is enough to break the heart of anyone who has one. A five-year old boy, who apparently was given a rifle as a present by his terminally vacant parents, fired a shot from his rifle and killed his two year-old sister. Yes, a two year-old was shot and killed by a five year-old. If that’s not a sign of the price that guns exact on our society, I’m not sure what could be. Something needs to give, in order to keep something like this from ever happening again.

But a look at the website–and especially the “Kids’ Corner” page–of Crickett.com is nothing short of terrifying. Here’s a company that makes real, actual rifles, and markets them specifically to young children. Children like the five year-old who just killed his little sister. Amendment Two apparently trumps the life of a Two year-old child.

So what should be done to the parents of the boy and his dead sister? They negligently left the gun out, with a round still in it, and now a child–their child–is dead. Are the parents to face criminal charges for this? They need to, or else a little girl will have died in vain.

I want somebody to make a statement about how enforcing the existing gun laws would have prevented this, or how the death of this child is a price that must be paid to keep the status quo in place. There will be some worthless platitudes given about grieving for the family, but the NRA will continue to fight against anything that might have prevented this from happening. The two year-old wouldn’t have understood this term, but tough luck for you, kid.

It’s a sad day in America when something like this happens. What can be done to fix it? As a society, we must try to come up with something to make a change. To do nothing would be the coward’s way out.

UPDATE: Speaking of cowards, the Crickett website is down today. I imagine they don’t like the light that has been shone on their business since this happened.

It really makes me wonder

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There’s no doubt in my mind that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is the song of my lifetime. I’ve written about the song before, and it always seems to be able to lift my spirits up. And today, as I was contemplating the senseless attacks at the Boston marathon, the song worked its magic once again.

I had seen a picture of one of the fatalities on Facebook earlier in the day. His name is Martin Richard, and he was eight years old. It hit me hard, because eight years old is such a great age. Kids haven’t yet become jaded and cynical, and they haven’t learned that constant stimulation is necessary, lest they become “bored.” And the look on Martin’s face is enough to suggest that this was a good kid, the kind that anyone would want to have for a son.

So where does Led Zeppelin come in? The repeated lyrics about “it makes me wonder” came into play for me.

I wondered who would do such a terrible act, taking the life away from a good kid like this.

I wondered if other people will get any sinister ideas from this attack, and if so whether they will be able to be thwarted before other innocent kids are hurt.

I wondered if the person who made these bombs and detonated them had any remorse for the damage they did.

Whatever the answers to these might be, I hope that we, as a people, can learn something from Martin Richard’s senseless death. Let’s all hold the children around us a little bit tighter, and realize how precious they really are.

I got you, babe

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Groundhog Day is one of the more ingenious movies to have come along in my lifetime. Yes, it’s funny, and that made it entertaining to watch. But what made it ingenious was how it has become a cultural shorthand for the same thing happening over and over and over again. When you tell someone that something is “like Groundhog Day” they know exactly what you mean. And how many movies can you say that about?

One of the things about Phil, Bill Murray’s character in the movie, is that once he realizes what’s going on with the same day being repeated over and over again, he uses this recurrence to modify his behavior. Take the scene where he asks Rita, Andie McDowell’s character, out for some coffee. He learns about what she likes, and then goes about becoming that person. He learns to play the piano, after he discovers that she wants a guy who’s a musician. He then gets the girl, and as a result his repeating day spell is broken the next day. There was no more “I got you, babe” played on the radio to start each day.

So I want to apply this lesson to the wave of gun shootings taking place in this country. When someone shoots up a high school in Colorado, or a college campus in Virginia, or a mosque in Wisconsin, we should take notes and learn from those experiences. The shooter who killed several people in Arizona, and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, had to stop firing to reload his weapon, and that’s when he was taken down. So smaller magazines would make a difference to prevent these things from happening again. We can learn from the tragedies, in order to prevent similar ones in the future. That shouldn’t be so hard to do.

But the gun makers don’t see it that way. Using the Second Amendment as a full and complete bar to any sort of reasonable gun restrictions–which might save the lives of innocent bystanders one day in the future–they go to great lengths to suggest that no changes should be made. And they throw their political and PR weight around until we, as a nation, get distracted by something else, and then life goes on. Or, at least it does until the next gun massacre takes place. Modifying our collective behavior in the hopes of getting the girl isn’t in the NRA’s playbook, because they’ve already got the girl right now. It’s the rest of us that have to watch as children are blasted into bloody bits.

Let’s see this for what it is. “Getting the girl” as Phil saw it in Groundhog Day, is reaching a point where these massacres don’t happen quite so much anymore. The experiences of Newtown and Aurora and the Kenwood neighborhood in Chicago can all help us to get there, if we make this a priority.

Let’s all of us understand that the NRA doesn’t want us to get the girl, and will do everything it can–up to and including distorting the Constitution–in order to see that it doesn’t happen. For a group of unarmed children standing in a park on a rainy day after final exams are over, their answer is to put more guns into the equation, not to remove the one that was already there. But that way of thinking won’t help any of us learn from the past. And it will only provide a steady diet of “I got you, babe” in the morning.

I’m on the President’s side

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My one and only uncle-by-marriage was an avid hunter, and I could count the number of times I actually saw him in my life, if not on one hand, then certainly on two. The only time I can remember being his house was  horrifying to me, because a large trophy was mounted on the wall of his, was it a den? Whatever he called it, there was a deer’s head and a very large set of antlers that dominated the room. The first time I saw it–and I think I was about ten years old–I knew I could never be a hunter. Killing that animal, and then mounting its head on the wall, struck me as a barbaric act.

At Christmas dinner every year, my uncle would go on and on about the Nashnul Rahful Soseeashun and what a good thing they were doing for all Americans. He must have known that my family had no guns, and had no inclination toward guns, and this must have rubbed him the wrong way. Just like evangelicals go out looking for converts to their religion, my uncle seemed to think that we should all own and use guns, even if we didn’t realize it.

The last time I saw my uncle, not long before I left my hometown to go away for college, he offered to enroll me in a gun training course, and to pay for it himself. Knowing how little I actually saw him, and not being the least bit interested in learning how to shoot a gun or a rifle or anything of that nature, I put him off with some sort of an “I’ll think about it” line. And sure enough, I never saw him again, as he passed away several years later.

I thought about my uncle in the wake of the Newtown Massacre last month. Why none of the other shooting rampages brought him to mind is beyond me. But I remembered the offer that he made to me the last time I saw him, and it made Adam Lanza a bit more understandable to me. Adam Lanza’s mother had guns, and she took her son to shooting ranges with her. Guns were introduced to him at an early age, by an older family member.

I was never introduced to guns, by my father, my uncle, or anyone else, but I’ve seen what guns have done, and will continue to do, to my city and my nation. Guns have thinned our collective herd, and for some this is the price that must be paid to preserve the Second Amendment. I see it a different way, though. For all of the innocent lives lost in Newtown, and Aurora, and Chicago, and a thousand other places, we need to make our stand.

President Obama is taking a huge risk to his personal safety in doing this, but right is on his side. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Putting 2012 in the rear-view mirror

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I took this one day last Spring, after a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The tradition at Wrigley is that when the Cubs win the game, a white flag with a blue W is flown from the flagpole on the scoreboard in centerfield. When the Cubs lose, a blue flag with a white L is flown instead. If you look in the mirror real closely, you’ll see that it’s not a white flag being flown from the scoreboard. Most years, the blue flag flies from the scoreboard more than the white one does.

This year’s baseball season is still a month away from Spring Training, and more than two months away from Opening Day. I’ll have to put all of last year’s losing–a whole lifetime of losing, really–behind me, just like the flag in my car’s mirror suggests. I’m willing to move on, in the hopes that the Cubs will win for once in my lifetime.

But it’s a strategy that can work for all of 2012, too. Some good things happened, and some horrible things happened, but we all need to keep moving forward to make things better this year. If the Cubs win more than 61 games in 2013, we can say, legitimately, that they’re better than they were last year. But life itself doesn’t come with such an easily-defined benchmark number.

Whatever benchmarks I’m using to measure my life, hopefully they’ll all trend upward in 2013. And for anyone else who might read this, I hope that yours do, too.

Shut up already, damn

I can’t find the words to express how moronic these statements are. Larry Ward, whoever he is, clearly doesn’t understand American history at all. But whatever gun group is paying him is getting their money’s worth, at least.

I wrote about the gun massacres in Colorado and in Wisconsin after they happened last year, but then I went back to the inane crap that I normally write about here in short order. But Newtown was so grotesque that it’s hard to formulate too many thoughts about other topics. And now it feels like drifting away from a life-and-death subject when I do that. So this is nothing more than an attempt to keep my own focus on the issue. If anyone else reads it, all the better.

I know that the status quo when it comes to guns is fine with some people. But it’s not fine with most people, and it’s not fine with me, either. Democracy rules this country, not guns and the fear of those who own guns. And the people on both sides of the issue would do well to remember that.

NOTE: The title of this post is taken from Prince’s song Housequake from the amazing “Sign o’ the Times” album. Have a listen if you want to.

New Year’s Eve and the humanitarian impulse

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Forty years ago, Roberto Clemente lost his life on New Year’s Eve, trying to deliver supplies that had been donated to the people of Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. His own spirit of generosity and determination to help people who weren’t even his countrymen is a heroic thing. I salute him for this, and wish there was a similar spirit among the ballplayers of today. They have a lot more money than Clemente did, and perhaps they donate some of it to charity, but the idea that a star player would get personally involved with relief efforts–as Clemente did–seems to be lost anymore. And if I’m wrong about that, I’ll certainly take it back. But I’ll need some proof first.

Let’s don’t forget about it

Today I had to drop off a cable box at a customer service center. The place was empty, which I had never seen before in this location. People seem to love their cable TV, and there are always long lines of people whenever I have gone there in the past. But today was a nice change of pace.

As I explained to the lady working behind the counter what my issue was, the TV that was on in the room had a CNN story about guns, asking whether we would ever be able to find some common ground about what to do with them. The lady behind the counter asked me what I thought about guns, and in particular the story of the fire fighters who were killed while responding to a fire alarm in western New York. The lull in business to the customer service center made this conversation possible, and I was glad it did. As anyone who knows me or reads my blog can attest, I’m always happy to share my opinions.

I told her that it was a tragedy for the families of the firefighters, and for us a nation as well. On the heels of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, it proves that something needs to be done. What exactly that is isn’t clear, but we can’t accept the status quo any more.

I also told her that news outlets like CNN are part of the problem. The 24-hour news cycle that makes an event from three days ago feel like ancient history allows us all to forget about things like firefighters killed in the line of duty. Life doesn’t ever return to normal for the victims of these crimes and their surviving families, but as soon as a big storm comes along, or a political scandal takes place, or any of a hundred other distractions occurs, we’re focused on that, instead of remembering the tragedy that just took place. Until, of course, the next gun tragedy comes along, just as it always does.

The lady behind the service window agreed with me, and told me that we need to keep this issue in the forefront of people’s minds. We parted by wishing each other a good day, and a happy new year as well. It sucks that such a set of circumstances had to occur in order to have a conversation like this with a stranger, but it’s one that I’m happy to have had.

I walked out of the service center, and thought about the ending of Santana’s song “Smooth.” It’s one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite albums, and I’ve not written about it before in this space. Near the end of the song, Rob Thomas–who wrote the song, but only sang it after Carlos Santana suggested it–sings “let’s don’t forget about it” over and over again.

It’s Thomas’ frenetic insistence that helps to bring a truly great song to its conclusion. I didn’t want to forget my conversation with the lady, whose name I didn’t even learn, because we forget about important things too readily in our society.

Gun violence keeps on happening, and when we forget about this–or become sidetracked by what Lindsay Lohan is doing, or other such trivial matters–then assault rifles will continue to be sold to civilians, high-capacity magazines will continue to be stockpiled, and the NRA will keep working to normalize guns in our society. We’ve let it happen for too long already, so let’s stop it while we’re already far, far behind. Or as Rob Thomas suggests, “Let’s don’t forget about it.”

It’s worse at the holidays

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How many of the 20 children who died in the Newtown shooting today were looking forward to Christmas this year? Kids being kids–especially at five years of age–I’ll say that most of them were. Or perhaps they were looking forward to the seventh night of Chanukah instead. Whatever holidays they were enjoying or looking forward to, they’ll never have that chance again. And that’s just horrible.

And the classmates and schoolmates and loved ones of the victims won’t ever have the same reaction at the holidays ever again. Every year will bring reminders not of a joyous time, but a time of heartbreak and sorrow. I hope that they can one day enjoy this season again, but that won’t be anytime soon, if it ever happens at all. The carnage is over, and the healing must begin. But all things Christmas and Chanukah will be yearly reminders of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I wish them all peace, both now and in the future. They certainly will need it.

A man took this into a school today

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And now 18 children are dead. We need to do something about this as a society. Will those who love their guns succeed at wishing this away, by telling us that an armed teacher could have stopped this? Shame on us all if they do.

I feel such profound shock and sorrow right now, but I’m also expecting something will change, so that it didn’t happen in vain.

How about it, Sandy?

If you want to know what “irony” is, you can’t do any better than realizing the hurricane that devastated New Jersey and its boardwalk bore the same name as a Bruce Springsteen song about leaving the boardwalk behind.

The storm’s name was chosen well before it ever formed, and it could have gone anywhere at all. But instead, it came to New Jersey and wiped the boardwalk away. It’s equal parts unbelievable and heartbreaking.

One of my very good friends lives in New Jersey, and I hope he’s doing all right. I hope New York gets back on its feet soon, too. And I hope that we finally understand how the planet we all call home is trying to tell us something. The oil companies and their paid mouthpieces in the media don’t want us to hear it, but we ignore it at our own peril. And if this storm doesn’t break through the noise of denial on the issue, then I suppose nothing ever will.

A little too close

Halloween is supposed to be a night where the line between the dead and the undead is blurred a little bit. But this year, with at least 50 deaths caused by Hurricane Sandy, and millions without power and facing a clean-up from after the storm, I can understand how some might not embrace the concept of Halloween quite so fully. All the best to those impacted by the storm.