Nuns: A belated appreciation

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Since I don’t think I’ve ever written about nuns before, it’s time to change that today.

I was raised a Catholic, and attended Catholic schools until I was 18 years old. This included interactions with several nuns, and they generally weren’t good experiences. One particular story from first grade, back in the spring of 1975, stands out in my memory. I get to tell the story on occasion, and it’s a backdrop for the rest of my comments here, so it goes like this:

It was a rainy day, and my buddy and I were playing tic-tac-toe on the fogged-up classroom windows. I don’t think I had ever played it before, and it was a new thing which I was enjoying very much. For reference’s sake, I’m the kid in the top row in the green shirt, second from the left, and my tic-tac-toe buddy is in the top row, far right, in the striped sweater. This was a class picture, and our teacher has been deliberately cropped out. But she ruled our classroom with an iron fist.

In the middle of one game, the teacher grabbed me hard on my right ear and dragged me across the classroom, where she proceeded to scream at me about my lack of respect for classroom decorum. From that day forward, I never gave any nuns a fair shake. When I described the incident to my mother one day, 30 years after it happened, she was visibly upset and asked why I never said anything about it. I remember telling her “Would anybody have believed me if I did? I just kept quiet, because bringing it up would only mean more trouble for me.”

This week, long after I left Catholic school and the church altogether, the Pope is in Rome, trying to come to grips with a crisis of a much bigger magnitude. For many decades–basically the whole time I was growing up–the culture that prevented me from speaking out was known and exploited by a staggering number of pedophile priests. The men who had the authority to step in and prevent these abuses looked the other way, and allowed priests to move from one parish to another, leaving priests free to continue their evil behavior unabated and unchecked. What happened to me once in a first grade classroom is literally nothing by comparison.

The power structure of the church–then and now–is such that women are routinely victimized and are powerless to do anything to prevent it. My heart breaks at the revelations that women have been raped by priests, which runs contrary to everything that Jesus taught. It’s an abomination that women have been treated so poorly by a church that they only wanted to serve.

I never in a million years thought I would ever have a nun in my family, but it turns out that I do, and she’s now in hospice care. I appreciate the sacrifices that she, and countless other women, have made in the service of a church that has–quite frankly–abused their good intentions.

How can Pope Francis make things right, going forward? He can’t undo any past misdeeds, either at the individual parish level or at the larger, diocesan level. Thousands of victims and their families will continue to suffer, just as they have been for decades. But maybe this wreckage also offers a singular opportunity for the church.

Since men have transgressed against women and children on a scale which nobody will ever completely understand, it’s now time to admit women into the priesthood and all higher levels of the Catholic hierarchy. Most Catholics won’t want to hear this, and would rather fall back on the old ways, instead. But that is EXACTLY what has led everyone to such a terrible state of affairs. The moral authority of the church has been sacrificed at the altar–literally–of a throng of wicked and predatory men. It makes sense that men must never again be allowed to have a similar monopoly on church power.

The truth is that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m now a recovering Catholic, and have no desire to be anything else for the rest of my days on this earth. But I’m willing to speak up for the women who have been mistreated and marginalized for far too long. Suggestions to end celibacy requirements and allow gays to serve as priests do not go far enough. The only way to make such terrible actions a thing of the past is to turn the page and start over. But I’m not going to hold my breath on this, either.

UPDATE: Sister Mary Lucy Bottosto, O.S.M. passed away on February 25, 2019, less than  48 hours after I wrote this. I never met her, but I hope she’s now at peace, wherever she is.

What the pundits missed in Trump’s Oval Office speech

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I’m not at all a fan of Donald Trump. Spend five minutes on my blog reading some of the other posts I’ve wriiten, and that much becomes clear. I’ve essentially shut down this blog, which I once really enjoyed writing, because responding to Trump’s actions can be an all-consuming task, especially when it’s done on a volunteer basis. In other words, life is too short to engage with a Trump presidency.

But having said all that, I wasn’t going to ignore his speech from the Oval Office this evening. I knew there was nothing he could say that would win me over to his way of thinking, and he didn’t really even try to do so. But I found one sentence at the end of the speech to be nothing less than stunning.

Of course, as soon as the speech was over, the paid political analysts began flooding the air at CNN, MSNBC, and (I would presume) Fox News. Some people get paid big money to tell us, the unwashed masses, what to think. It feels as though we’ve outsourced any intelligent thought of our own to the same two dozen or so talking heads who call this their career. After all, we have Kardashians to keep up with, and isn’t that challenging enough?

But I prefer to think for myself. I started this little blog–in the great online wildneress in which it resides–to put my own thinking on the record, in whatever humble fashion that may be. And here’s what nobody seems to have noticed from the end of Donald Trump’s speech.

The exact words that escaped from his mouth are linked to above, and they begin at 9:16 of the video posted to CNN.com. His exact words were “When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country and that is what I will always do.” But that, like so many other things he has said over the first two years of his presidency, was a misrepresentation of the truth.

The U.S. Constitution–in Article II, Section 1–sets forth exactly what the Presidential oath of office is. I think of it as a script, which has been passed down from Washington and Hamilton and all the others from 1787 to today. The presidents who take the oath are like actors, who can bring whatever inflections or verbal interpretations to the words they want to. But the words themselves are not subject to being improvised or rewritten. In order to become the president, the words have to be spoken exactly as the Founders intended.

The words that Donald Trump uttered, not quite two years ago, are as follows:

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What was said on that January morning, as the Constitution requires, is that the president swore to defend not the United States itself, but the Constitution that established it so many years ago. It must be said that the land itself, and the people who live on it, are not addressed in the presidential oath.

Was this misrepresentation of the presidential oath intentional on Trump’s part? I have to believe it was. The stated rationale for building a wall on the Southern border is to keep out all the drugs and the gangs and the people who are coming to take our jobs and ruin the country we all love. But there’s no Constitutional mandate for this course of action. Checks and balances, the enumerated and reserved powers of the three branches of government, and the provisions of all the amendments made through the years are what he actually swore to protect.

To the extent that a Trump supporter would ever read these words, I would say I know that you will defend him at all costs. He’s always right, in your worldview. I’m a misguided and dangerous far left radical who doesn’t love this country in the way that you believe I should.

And you’re wrong in these beliefs, of course.

I’m merely pointing out the words that Trump uttered back on Inauguration day, and describing the role that he has agreed to take on. If he’s willing to be dishonest about that, why should anything else he says ever be believed?

The present government shutdown threatens to drag us all down, the longer it goes on. But strip all of the rest away, and it’s clear–to me, at least–that Trump does not grasp what his duty actually is. He doesn’t owe me, or you, or any other American any form of personal protection. But what he does owe to me, and to you, and to every other person in the United States, is fidelity to the terms of the document that created and sustains this nation.

 

Thank you for your sacrifice

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In a few hours’ time I’ll get up, get dressed, and drive to my job at the Chicago Police Academy. And it will be filled with sadness and grief at the passing of an officer named Samuel Jimenez.

A few short months ago he was a recruit, learning all about police work and what it entails. I did not know him personally, but I’ll see hundreds of recruits just like him tomorrow, and they’ll all be asking themselves if a similar fate is awaiting them someday. Some, no doubt, will be questioning whether they really want to pursue this as a career. It would be entirely human to have second thoughts, given what happened today. And in a hospital, of all places.

I’m profoundly saddened by the loss of an officer, at the age of 28 with three children who he won’t be able to watch as they grow up. And as a resident of Chicago, I’m exceedingly grateful for the men and women who are willing to put their lives in danger to serve and protect the city I call home. I’ll be sure to show this gratitude to them in whatever small ways I can, in the days and months and years to come. Each of them deserves nothing less.

Republicans are no longer the Party of Lincoln

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The nomination of Corey Stewart for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, and the president’s embrace of him, means that the Republicans can no longer call themselves the Party of Lincoln. It’s just that simple.

Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and the entirety of his time in office was dedicated to settling the question of whether states could leave the Union. He killed the Confederacy, and a Confederate sympathizer then killed him. It’s still the worst episode in American history, but its lessons have apparently been lost on far too many people.

To repeat: Abraham Lincoln killed the Confederacy. He was their kryptonite. The reason they are historical relics is because of him.

By embracing the Confederacy in any way, shape, or form, the modern Republican party effectively spits on the memory of the man who gave them their greatest accomplishment. If the Confederates had their way in the 19th century, we wouldn’t have a United States of America in the 21st.

So embrace Corey Stewart if you want to, Republicans, but understand that you can never again consider yourself the Party of Lincoln. This Lincoln won’t allow you to do it.

We must do better than this

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When I see the story of two African American men arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks, waiting for a friend to arrive, it’s a troubling moment. They know, and I know, and everybody who lives in America in 2018 knows that this only happened to them because of their skin color. Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, it was the color of these two men’s skin that landed them in police custody. The content of their character had nothing to do with what happened to them.

The manager of the store somehow determined that calling the police was the right course of action to take in this situation. This should have never been a situation to begin with, but since it became one we need to sort through its ramifications. It’s not my intention to blame the police in this, either. It was the decision to call the police that led to this story in the first place.

Firing the store manager is the obvious first step to take. Whatever lapse of judgment was committed can never be allowed to happen again. No amount of remorse or retraining or unpaid suspension time can undo the toxic views this person carries around inside of him or her. We all make mistakes, but this is one that must not be repeated.

Public businesses like Starbucks provide washroom facilities for their customers. But access to these facilities–which I believe is what gave rise to the incident in Philadelphia–must not be predicated on skin color. There’s not a business around that would deny a white guy like me the ability to use their washroom. There’s no valid reason for denying the same courtesy to anyone else, either.

Starbucks will likely develop and implement guidelines over access to facilities in the wake of this incident. It’s surely leading to the type of backlash that isn’t good for the company’s well-maintained public image. But even more importantly, it’s a chance to examine who we are as people. I like clean bathrooms as much as anyone else, but I’m not comfortable with telling anyone that they can’t use washroom facilities, particularly when skin color appears to be the determining factor in the equation.

We must do the right thing here. All of us.

American Hash

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I’ve never written about this before, but I was in a fraternity when I was in college. Drinking and hazing and general stupidity have given fraternities (I don’t like using the term “frats”) a bad name, and I wouldn’t disagree with much of the criticism of them. But one element of the fraternity life seems relevant in these times, and that’s the experience of fraternity rush.

Rush in my time, back in the 1980s, was soaked in alcohol. There was talk of moving to “dry” rush, and that might be a better way to do it, because nobody’s really at their best when they’re drunk. I’m certainly no exception to that, either. But the reason rush exists is to find new members, to keep your house growing for the future. It’s recruiting under a different name, really. And it needs to be done, for the long-term survival of the House.

But just showing up at a party wasn’t enough to gain acceptance. A prospective member needed to show that he could offer something to the existing members, to the point where a bid, or an invitation to join, would be offered. The members of the house would meet people, take their measure in whatever social setting was going on, and decide what to do about offering a bid. That’s where the hash came in.

After a rush party was over, the existing members (you can use the term “brothers” if you want, but I never cared for the term too much) met to discuss the various people who came to the festivities. We called it “hash” because we hashed out our differences about particular people. Some prospective members were generally liked, some people were not, and most fell somewhere in between.  Speeches were made in support of some prospective members, and in the end votes were taken.

In my house, at least, the strongest gesture in support of a prospective member was “jumping the couch,” and if someone I respected in the house jumped the couch for someone else, that was enough to get me to vote in their favor. People who warranted a couch jumping generally received a bid.

At the other end of this spectrum was a “blackball” which I now realize has loaded racial meanings, but the effect of a blackball was that a member would put their opposition to someone in the strongest terms possible. Blackballed persons didn’t get bids, because doing so would be disrespectful to whoever offered it.

The people known as “Dreamers” are essentially prospective members of the American fraternity. They didn’t come to our rush party by themselves, but were brought here by their parents as children. They aren’t “illegal immigrants” as the blackballers among us prefer to call them. They grew up here, and think of the United States as their home. 700,000 of them, give or take whatever the actual number is, are now waiting for our national hash to play itself out.

Extending a bid to these Dreamers will shape the future, without a doubt.  Sending all these people away—or worse, forcing them to live in fear of deportation in the land they call home, as most of them would surely do before leaving on their own terms—would be an act that goes against what America is all about. They’re here now, waiting for the chance to raise their families in the only land they know.

With that in mind, I’m ready to jump the couch on their behalf. Let’s ensure America’s continued survival by giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship, and welcoming them to the American fraternity. It’s the smart and compassionate thing to do, so let’s do it.

Out with the old

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2017 sucked, no two ways about it. The Cubs didn’t win the World Series, my older daughter went away to college (which is good for her, but I miss her a lot), and we’ve had a bully and a buffoon sitting in the White House. And the tax bill that just got passed by Congress will reshape America in ways we don’t yet fully understand.

So what to do with a year gone wrong? Shut it down. Bring down the curtain. Throw away the calendar and get an early start what has to be a better year in 2018.

Finish out the string in 2017 if you want, but I’ve already moved on. Here’s to better days ahead.

A letter to the president concerning Confederate “heritage”

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“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

–Donald Trump, August 17, 2017

Mr. President,

Your sentiment about history and our collective ability to learn from it could be the truest thing you’ve ever said. Since you’ve opened the door to history’s teachable qualities, this former U.S. History teacher from Chicago is delivering a lesson from the past that you need to hear.

In 1860–on November 6, to be exact–a presidential election was held. The victorious candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and he received less than 40% of the popular votes that were cast. Like you, Lincoln did not win a majority of the popular vote but, as you well know, a majority of votes in the Electoral College is what the successful candidate needs to acquire. I’m absolutely certain that you would not quibble with the validity of a presidency based upon an Electoral College majority. Indeed, without that provision of the Constitution nobody would be addressing you as “Mr. President” today.

The Confederacy was born from the unwillingness of many Southern states to accept the 1860 election as legitimate. South Carolina was the first to leave ihe Union in December of 1860, and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas all followed suit, before Lincoln was even sworn in as president. Four more states followed after Lincoln was inagurated in March of 1861.

I’m sure it isn’t lost on you that each of these states (with the exception of Virginia) were also won by you in last November’s election. The script from 1860 was completely flipped on its head in 2016. The reasons why that happened are a discussion for another day. All that matters here is that the states which couldn’t abide the election of Lincoln contributed to your own election, 156 years later.

By advancing the preservation of statues honoring Confederate generals as part of your “heritage” (which makes no sense, given that your home state of New York was instrumental in the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy), you dishonor those who gave their lives fighting to preserve the nation that you are now privileged to lead. But even more than that, you send the message that states should be able to disregard election results they do not agree with.

To put it another way, did California, or New York, or my home state of Illinois secede from the Union following the 2016 election? Of course not. The Civil War settled that issue, once and for all. That “heritage” benefits you, every single day of your presidency.

By siding with those who chose to fight rather than accept the results of a presidential election,  you are undermining the legitimacy of the institution upon which your presidency rests. Can you not see the inherent contradiction in this position? And are you willing to learn from the events of the past, as you stated we all could do just two months ago?

I urge you to take this message to heart, before going any further with your racially coded appeals to Southern “heritage.” The legitimacy of your own claim to the presidency depends upon it.

Why I’m taking a knee today

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If you wanted to be somebody at my high school (which no longer exists, by the way) you had to be on the football team. There were other sports teams and activities, but the attention that was given to the football team made many of my classmates put in the time and effort that were needed to suit up and play a game on Friday nights in the fall.

American society has put football–and particularly the NFL–on an exceedingly high platform. The athletes who play the game at this level have made enormous sacrifices to be where they are, including the newly-understood risks to their mental health and well-being. The players live lives the rest of us can hardly imagine, and when their time on the field is over, many of them painfully wither away. All the fame and adulation given to them today won’t  restore what’s being lost underneath their helmets.

So if a player at that level of the game wants to use their notoriety to bring attention to causes or issues they believe in, who among us is qualified to say they can’t? The act of taking a knee during the National Anthem–which many players are poised to do–is only disrespect to those who want to see it as such.

When Donald Trump went to a rally in Alabama and called players taking a knee in this manner “disrespectful” and labelled them as “sons of bitches,” he scored some cheap, racially-motivated points. But he also set off a firestorm that America doesn’t need, especially not now. Houston needs rebuilding, the Florida Keys need rebuilding, and Puerto Rico needs basically everything: Power, water, you name it. But rather than address those issues, Trump decided to ride the racist wave one more time. It’s not surprising, and it’s not leadership, either.

Last night, I went out to dinner with my wife and youngest daughter to a Thai and Chinese restaurant in Chicago. At the end of the meal, there were three fortune cookies brought out, and the one I opened up read as follows: “People are waiting to take cues from you. Lead them well.” If only Donald Trump could have such wisdom and insight as my fortune cookie did last night.

Let’s do what we can to help Americans in need, and not let a dictator wannabe set the tone on what patriotism looks like.

In defiance of Donald Trump–who took multiple draft deferments to fight in Vietnam and has wrongly impugned the actions and character of his predecessor, Barack Obama– I’m reviving my blog today in order to take a knee. I love this country, and even though I was never a football player, I did play one onstage once. I was 15 at the time, and the man I am today is grateful that whatever physical concerns I may have, potentially having CTE is not among them.

Whatever is said or written about the actions of these players today will be a distraction from the profound needs of many Americans right now. Donald Trump can’t see that, but I’m hopeful that others will. Think of this blog post as my attempt to live up to what a fortune cookie told me to do last night.

 

One song, Comey

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As the six year anniversary of my blog is coming up in a few days, it’s pretty clear that my interest in doing this has waned considerably. I once thought the Trump era would lead to all sorts of insights and observations on my part about how terrible everything has become under his stewardship, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Every day new “bombshells” are revealed, each one more terrible than the one before, but nothing seems to happen as a result. And while this didn’t start off as a political blog, the nature of the times has made it difficult to muster up much interest in writing about anything else.

The plain truth is that republicans in congress are aiding and abetting Trump, and they aren’t going to change their course, either.

Jim Comey–who all but ushered Trump into office last October–will get his comeuppance against Trump tomorrow, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I hope that Trump’s malfeasance in trying to kill the investigation into Mike Flynn is as tawdry and shameful as anything that’s ever been said aloud in the halls of congress. The rest of the world is already aghast at this villain who seems bent on upending the United States and all of its democratic institutions.  They scoff at him, and at all of us Americans for electing such a buffoon in the first place. And by allowing him to remain in office for over four months so far, we deserve their contempt.

So let Jim Comey swing away at Trump tomorrow. If there were any justice in the world, his words in June would unmake Trump as president, as effectively as his words made him president last year. But with the Obamacare repeal and tax cuts for people who don’t need them and that grotesque farce of a budget on the horizon, the republicans are like Slim Pickens at the end of A Clockwork Orange: They’re going down toward certain destruction, but they’ll be waving their hats and hollering as they go. Here’s hoping that Jim Comey can at least throw a wet blanket over their ride into oblivion.

(NOTE: The title of this post is a tribute to Jonathan Larson and RENT, which I saw for the second time recently, nearly two decades after the first time. The songs still sounded as good as I remember them. Viva la vie boheme!)

An indefensible act

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By removing the United States from the Paris Agreement–which every other nation in the world save for Syria and Nicaragua has signed onto–Donald Trump has declared war on the planet that all of us inhabit. He clearly doesn’t care about my children, shown above on the rim of the Grand Canyon and in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. They don’t matter to him, nor do millions of other children around the world, who rightly consider this world of ours as their birthright.

This planet is my home, and I won’t keep silent as Trump attempts to ruin it by his actions. Laughing at Trump–which once seemed like it would have been enough–isn’t the answer. Scoffing at Trump hasn’t worked either, not as long as he has a sycophantic army of supporters who seem oblivious to the harm he is doing. But we all must speak out, to raise our voices in protest of this diabolical act.

Red Alert for Democracy in the USA

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The Trump White House has gone lower and lower since it began on January 20, and today it struck an alarming new low. This president fired the man who was investigating his ties to the Russians. Make no mistake: This was the act of a desperate man.

What’s going to happen next? I don’t know. I want congress to stand up and become the bulwark against tyranny that it was designed to be. But the republicans in the house and senate (no capitalization is used because that indicates respect, and none is appropriate here) have put their own political party above the nation that they once swore to protect.

Trump is an unqualified stain on this nation, and every day that goes by drives us deeper and deeper into a quagmire that we must extricate ourselves from.

USA? How about SOS instead?

Time to give a history lesson to Donald Trump

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The man seems to be unaware of what the reason for the Civil War was, so here goes:

In 1860, there was a presidential election held. In that election, there were four main candidates: Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John Bell, and John C. Breckinridge. Here’s a primer on Breckinridge, in case anyone hasn’t heard the name before.

Lincoln got a majority of the electoral votes, so he was declared the winner. I’m certain Trump knows all about that. Lincoln won 59.4 percent of the electoral vote, a landslide in comparison to Trump’s 56.5% in 2016. But 50% plus one is really all a candidate needs, Trump’s braggadocio aside.

Presidential inaugurations didn’t happen until early March in those days, so some Southern states–slaveholders all–decided they were not going to wait around until Lincoln took the oath of office. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington,  seven states had already gone ahead and left the Union. They believed they could do it, and so they did. Election results be damned.

When Lincoln came into office and said that he was not going to interfere with slavery where it already existed, the die had already been cast for those seven states. How Andrew Jackson could have prevented this is unclear, because he had already been dead for over ten years, but Trump isn’t one to give any details, is he?

Lincoln never considered secession to be a legitimate course of action, because there is no mechanism for it spelled out in the Constitution. He always considered South Carolina and the others as part of the Union, even as they had soldiers in arms trying to destroy it.

Virginia and three other states left the Union after the Confederacy opened fire on federal troops at Fort Sumter, in South Carolina. Lincoln said there would be no armed conflict without the South being the aggressors, and he was right about that.

Flash forward 156 years, to the election of 2016. Trump got a majority of the electoral college votes, and he took office as president as the result. I really don’t like typing out those words, but that’s what happened. The issue of whether California or New York or my home state of Illinois would be allowed to disregard the election results and just walk away was definitively and forever settled by the 600,000 soldiers who died on the battlefields of the Civil War. States like mine would just have to live with the results.

The fact that this country is still united today, in the face of such overwhelming opposition to the policies of Donald Trump, is a testament to the finality of the Civil War’s outcome. But how many of those seven states who didn’t even give Lincoln a chance to take office first did Trump win in 2016? All seven. And how many of the other four states that seceded did Trump win? All except Virginia. Maybe it’s no accident that the man who won 92% of the old Confedercy’s electoral votes is ignorant about why the Civil War broke out.

The electoral college–the sole reason why Trump holds office today–was Lincoln’s key to the White House in 1860. The rash and impulsive decision by eleven Southern states to withdraw from the Union–absent any Constitutional authority for doing so–was the reason for the war’s outbreak, not any failing by Lincoln or anyone on the Northern side of the conflict. The backhanded suggestion that Lincoln should have tried to negotiate away an election that he won fair and square is outrageous, and needs to be labeled as such.

Elections have consequences, as Trump supporters are quick to remind us. If the Southern states had acted upon this conviction back in 1860, perhaps the war could have been avoided. But the Southern states are the ones that started the war, and any responsibility for the conflict and the suffering it caused lies squarely on their shoulders. Or, to put it another way, with the states that form his 21st century base.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

Here’s to a beautiful flag

 

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The Pride parade in Chicago was–and still is–an event I look forward to each year, because people can come together to celebrate who they are, whatever that is. The rainbow flag captures that idea, so much so that whenever a person sees the flag, they instantly know what it stands for. I can’t imagine how good that must have made Gilbert Baker feel. Long may it wave.

Gonna sail away

How sad it is to watch people who I’ve never met–but who still enriched my life in some way–cross over into whatever comes next. In just the past week, Chuck Berry died (and I’ve had Johnny B. Goode stuck in my head ever since), followed by Jerry Krause of the Chicago Bulls, Chuck Barris of the Gong Show, Dallas Green of the Cubs (and several other baseball teams) and most recently, Sib Hashian from the rock band Boston.

I can still picture seeing Sib’s image on the back of my vinyl copy of Boston’s debut album. He had the giant afro and was standing in the middle of the group, which made him look totally badass. The album was released in 1976, which was just before I discovered rock music for the first time. I regret that I wasn’t cool enough for this at age 8, but I got there once I reached high school in the mid 1980s.

I listened to the first two Boston albums over and over again back in 1985 and 1986, as I was biding my time and waiting for life to begin. I couldn’t have the kind of life I wanted to have–and I wasn’t very clear on what that should be, either–so long as I was living under my parent’s roof. So I waited, and listened to Boston every chance I got.

Sib Hashian was not the musical mastermind behind the group’s music, nor was he the voice that people hear on songs like “More than a Feeling” or “Hitch a Ride.” But his drumming was always there with me, and it will be for as long as the music means something to me, and to everyone else who feels the same way. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind, isn’t it?

It’s gotta be rock and roll music, if you wanna dance with me

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I’ve been writing this blog for almost six years now, and have put more than 1,500 posts up for the world to consider. I do it because I know that we’re all mortal, and when we leave this world there will be few traces of us left behind. Whether anyone alive today reads these things or not, I want future generations to have some insight into the life that I lived, in the early 21st century in the United States of America.

My main writing muses became pretty clear early on in the development of this blog. Baseball and the Chicago Cubs were one, and just behind that came a music genre known as rock and roll. I’m not a musician, so my interest in this music comes strictly from a consumer standpoint. I admire musicians a great deal, because they have a talent that I wish I had.

Rock and roll first entered my life back in late 1976 or early 1977, in my parents’ house in Jerome, Illinois. We had recently moved into the house, and their old turntable–along with a few LP albums–took up residence in the basement. When my siblings and I and our neighbor from across the street figured out how the thing worked, we immediately gravitated toward Side 1 of Beatles ’65. It was filled with two-minute songs that opened my world up like nothing ever had before. They were catchy, which was the essential part of the music, but they also told stories that went beyond “The Farmer in the Dell” and all the kiddie songs I had known before then. It was the first step in the transition away from childhood and into the world of adolescence. It truly did change my worldview in a way that nothing else had before.

My favorite song on Side 1 of Beatles ’65 was “Rock and Roll Music.” This song not only introduced me to the music I loved, but it gave it a name, too. “Just let me hear some of that Rock and Roll music…” was sung by John Lennon, but it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered he didn’t write those lyrics. Chuck Berry first wrote and recorded the song in 1957, and it ushered in a musical wave that I caught on to some 20 years later.

The first record that I ever bought for myself was the Grease soundtrack in 1978, and even though it had no Chuck Berry songs on it, it was filled with the music that he had inspired. Disco was also on the airwaves back in 1978, and I heard plenty of it on the airwaves of the AM hit music station where I lived. But it was a fad, which fortunately passed away in a few years’ time. While other genres have met with a similar fate, rock and roll has endured for me. As AC/DC once proclaimed, “Rock and Roll will never die.” And that’s exactly what Chuck Berry’s legacy will be.

If you ever wanted any perspective on how important Chuck Berry was in rock and roll’s history, consider that he opened up the Rock Hall in Cleveland back in 1995. Without Chuck Berry, the music–and the building that honors it–would not exist.

From the time I began purchasing music for myself–when I started to view the world through something other than a child’s eyes–I’ve wanted to hear some of that rock and roll music. My gratitude to Chuck Berry for creating it–and for giving it its name–is beyond my ability to describe it here. But the effort is one that must be made, so let’s just turn up his music and appreciate it for as long as we can.

Failing Hamilton, Failing us all

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These crazy and terrifying political times have caused me to dust off my old copy–or more accurately, my father’s old copy–of The Federalist Papers. The paperback edition I have was published several years before I was born, but the issues described within its covers are timeless.

Tonight I pondered, as I have on many occasions over the past month, the subject of impeachment. A president has never before been successfully impeached and removed from office. It’s a rare and, quite honestly, a desperation tactic. It’s the “In case of fire, break glass” tool that should never need to be used. But these are not normal times, and we should be grateful that Hamilton and the other founders gave us this tool.

The tail end of Federalist #77, written by Alexander Hamilton, puts a very fine point on the reason for having a check on the authority of the president:

“The election of the President once in four years by persons immediately chosen by the people for that purpose, and his being at all times liable to impeachment, trial, dismission from office, incapacity to serve in any other, and to the forfeiture of life and estate by subsequent prosecution in the common course of law. The precautions, great as they are, are not the only ones which the plan of the convention has provided in favor of the public security. In the only instances in which the abuse of the executive authority was materially to be feared, the Chief Magistrate of the United States, would, by that plan, be subjected to the control of a branch of the legislative body. What more can an enlightened and reasonable people desire?”

Speaking strictly for myself–a fairly enlightened and reasonable citizen of the United States–here’s one thing that I want in America, 2017: a Congress that isn’t afraid to exercise their right to “control” the president and remove him from office. It’s not a question of whether he’s disqualified himself from office: The refusal to release tax returns, the backchannel discussions with Putin while President Obama was still in office, and the attacks on the legitimacy of the judiciary are all enough, taken by themselves, to establish that the current president has crossed a line and must leave office immediately.

The process for impeaching the president relies on the House of Representatives approving articles of impeachment against a sitting president, and then a vote in the Senate, after a public trial, to convict and remove the president from office. But Paul Ryan and his republicans in the house, and Mitch McConnell and his republicans in the senate, will not lift a finger to remove Trump. At least a few of them probably believe that they are sufficiently “safe” from any meaningful opposition in the 2018 elections. So instead they leave Trump alone and let him do whatever damage he wants to do. It’s a complete and utter abdication of the responsibilities entrusted to them by the Constitution.

Here’s what I’m asking for, Mr. Hamilton: A congress with integrity and courage. The congress we have now will not act, since they are clearly unwilling to give Trump his walking papers. Hamilton couldn’t see this situation coming back in 1787, so now it’s time to hunker down and hope we can survive until the 2018 midterm elections. Once those elections get here, we better damn well make sure that all politicians with an R next to their names get voted out of office. They have failed Hamilton and, by extension, they have failed us all.

It’s all hands on deck

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On the first day of this new year, I met up with a cousin I hadn’t seen in a very long time. He was in Chicago with his family, and we met up to see a few sights and–in true Chicago fashion–have some deep dish pizza. It was a great day, and I was happy to begin 2017 by renewing an old acquaintance.

As we were talking over dinner, I mentioned that I write a blog. My cousin asked if it was political, and I replied “It can be.” I didn’t start writing this blog for that reason, and baseball and family and rock and roll–the things that really matter to me–are my principal writing muses. But here in 2017, politics  appears to have crowded out everything else. These times don’t allow for much else besides a discussion of our government system and how to protect it against a despot. For progressives like me, this is our moment of truth.

The fact remains, no matter what is said to the contrary, that Hillary Clinton received millions more votes than Donald Trump did. He entered the presidency with that hanging over everything else, and the tens of millions of people who saw Donald Trump’s name on the ballot and voted for somebody else have a right to feel betrayed by the electoral college. We all were.

The ties to Russia and the hacks directed by Putin and the Kremlin on Trump’s behalf further clouded the matter of Trump’s ascension. How many votes would Trump had lost if this information had come out before the election? We’ll never know for certain, but it’s fair to say at least a few Trump voters may be feeling some buyer’s remorse at their decision.

And then there’s the actions Trump has taken since that dark and desolate Friday, just ten days ago. The immigration ban is by far the worst one, striking at the heart of what America has always been for the rest of the world. Those tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free have been replaced, inside Trump’s warped mind, with a bunch of angry jihadists. The countries where the terrorists actually came from–Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and a couple more–are left alone, while seven countries that are far less of a threat statistically are left out. So what if those seven nations aren’t lucky enough to have a Trump golf course or high-rise within their borders? That’s just a happy coincidence, isn’t it?

Trump’s nominees, from Jeff Sessions on down, must now receive “extreme vetting” by the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. And what about the Supreme Court nominee, who is expected to be announced as early as tomorrow? That needs to be a war like none other that has ever been seen. Clarence Thomas should wince by the time that process is over, if it ever does come to an end.

I love the sight of protests in airports and peaceful marches through cities and towns of all sizes, and all around the world. Trump’s presidency has awakened something that I had always hoped was there: the defiant mood of a people who realize that America is worth fighting for. And fight we must. Resistance is the watchword of whatever number of days or weeks remain in Trump’s presidency. I’m not suggesting violence in the streets, because Trump and the strongman facade will spring into action if that happens. More restraint will be needed, instead. But the cause couldn’t be any more important.

The time for remaining silent probably ended before Trump’s inauguration address. As Thomas Paine once wrote, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” A Mike Pence presidency doesn’t seem like too much of a triumph to me, but we have to get Donald Trump removed from office. Every day his presidency reaches new depths, the likes of which Jefferson and Franklin and the others in Philadelphia could scarcely imagine.

I long for the day when this blog goes back to trivial things like guitar solos and baseball games. But on January 31, 2017, we aren’t at that point. A hard struggle lies ahead, and I’m in for whatever happens along the way.  The continued viability of America is at stake.

About that wall…

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The first week of the new presidency has shocked and alarmed everyone that I know. It’s an onslaught on the nation that still is, and will always be, my home. Since I love America, I’m willing to fight for it. I won’t sit and watch as our water is imperiled, our openness to immigration is shut down, and our treasury is further depleted in the name of “securing the borders.”

Simply put, the wall won’t work, and building it would be a terrible and unprecedented waste of resources. But Congress has become nothing but a servile accomplice, and they seem to be willing to appropriate whatever amount of money is requested. And they consider themselves to be fiscal conservatives? That’s a good one.

So in all the debate over building this ill-advised wall, the obvious issue is one that I haven’t seen raised anywhere, by anyone. Since this blog is my soapbox for addressing the world, I’m going to ask the question myself:

Does anyone truly believe there won’t be massive corruption involved?

Because I sure don’t. With that much money involved, and apparently no Congressional oversight being contemplated, the opportunities for graft are almost beyond description.

Will there be a bidding process to acquire materials at the lowest possible price?

Will land acquisition costs be paid fairly, or will politically connected people receive massive windfalls, instead?

Will contractors be selected for the quality of their work, or will their political allegiances carry the day?

And most importantly of all, how much of this $12-20 billion will end up in the pockets of Donald Trump?

These are questions that must be answered, but they haven’t even been asked yet. In the service of the great nation that I love, I’m willing to throw these out into the vastness of cyberspace. The wall is a terrible idea, which also threatens to become a swindle of epic proportions. We must not allow that to happen.

#Resist

The battle is joined

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Yesterday I wrote that I wasn’t too happy to call myself an American. Today I take it all back.

250,000 people in Chicago–my wife and younger daughter among them–participated in a march that grew so large that there was no marching to be done. Cities around the country, and even around the world, also joined in, and the total is easily in the millions. Not a single person of those millions was happy about the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, either.

Trump sent out his press secretary to lecture the press about inauguration crowd size estimates, and basically try to shame the press into reporting the things that Trump and his people approve of. Oh, and deflect attention away from the marches that were going on at the very same time. It was an awful performance, but if it serves to get the people more fired up and ready to go than they already were, it will be a great thing, indeed.

I wasn’t able to attend the march today, but I did pass by it at one point. I noticed a sign saying “History has its eyes on us,” which is an obvious reference to Hamilton. The pro-Trump crowd will desperately search for something else–anything else–to put their eyes on at the end of this terrible day for them. But the message has been delivered, and Trump and his people would be terribly unwise to ignore it.

The Resistance begins

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Today was a dark day for my country. I’ll never want another one, but today I wasn’t too happy to call myself an American.

When 11 AM rolled around, and I heard the first strains of that all-too-familiar voice, I couldn’t listen to it. Presidential inaugurations have mattered to me, ever since the nuns brought a TV into a classroom to watch Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977. Watching TV in the classroom was a BFD, as Joe Biden might put it, and since then it always seemed like a good idea to listen to what the new president had to say. But it wasn’t like that today. Not in the least.

I judged a middle school science fair today, and was able to take on an additional project during the time of the inauguration speech. Science is apparently going to be politicized and de-legitimized in the coming years, in the name of raising corporate profits and continuing the assault on the planet we call home. When did Rex Tillerson, and the people who reported to people he knew at Exxon, first know that the icecaps were melting because of fossil fuels being burned? Was it on the day I watched Jimmy Carter sworn in as president, some 40 years ago? No, but it was just a few months later than that. And now Exxon will have one of their own shaping our foreign policy. How could it get any worse than that?

But just wait, because it does. Betsy DeVos has no background in Education, and no interest in  making the public schools system any better on her watch, either. She’ll gladly oversee the crippling of public education, and attack anyone and everyone who tries to stand up for the status quo. Public schools aren’t perfect, and they never will be. But we need a robust public school system in this country. And if we don’t have that, we’ll never be the best we can be.

So I was happy to be talking science with a seventh grader, discussing what significant figures are and hearing about his use of the scientific method. It was far more useful to me–and frankly, to society itself–than listening to a speech that was apparently more of the same from the guy who will be the president until further notice. Alec Baldwin thinks two months is what he’ll get, and that would be fine with me. However long it ends up being, the clock is now ticking.

Into the abyss

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The day that I’ve been dreading since last November is finally here. On Friday, January 20, 2017, America plunges into a deep, dark abyss. The look of trepidation on my young daughter’s face in this picture from a few years ago sums up the way I feel right now.

I wish I had a glimmer of hope to offer up in this space, but I don’t know what it might be. Not a single one of the cabinet nominees that I’ve seen so far appears to be right for the job. It seems like a rogue’s gallery, specifically designed to make a shambles of the government as a bulwark against tyranny. And if that sounds like hyperbole, it isn’t meant to be.

So let it come–since apparently it must–and let’s hope I’m wrong in my dire assessments. I’ll gladly eat some crow here, if it should come to that. But I’m not the least bit optimistic, either.

2 + 2 = 4

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George Orwell’s 1984 grabbed a hold of me when I read it in high school back in the 1980s, and it hasn’t let go since. But never did I think I’d actually be living through it, the way it appears all of us are today.

Near the end of the book, after Winston’s secret life with Julia has been discovered and rubbed out, the pace of Orwell’s writing becomes frantic. Everything is gone, nothing matters anymore, and Winston is holding fast to the idea that some things are objectively true.

“2+2 =4. Remember that!” Orwell admonishes us all. The powers that be –IngSoc in the novel itself–will tell you that 2+2 =5, but we must always be ready to assert that the truth is not what someone else decides it is. 2+2 has to equal four, because if we ever give up and allow it to equal five, they win and the rest of us lose.

At the Golden Globes the other night, Meryl Streep gave a speech about Trump mocking a reporter with a disability. Trump (and that’s all he’ll ever be to me–no titles will be appended to his name on January 20th) responded with his typical bluster and buffoonery, first by calling her overrated (which is demonstrably not true) and stating that he did not mock the reporter.

I know what mocking looks like. It’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t actively been mocked, or mocked someone else, or stood by as another was being mocked. Mockery is the fruit of the bad side of human nature, and we’ve all seen it. For Trump to say he didn’t mock the reporter is the same thing as trying to tell us that 2+2 =5. The question is are we willing to cast aside that which we know (2+2=4) and allow others to define it for us, instead?

I’m hereby calling bullshit on that. Orwell tells us to hold fast to what we know, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Trump could very easily offer an apology for what he did, even though it wouldn’t be the tiniest bit sincere. He could use the old “I apologize if anyone was offended” line that gets used all the time in statements like this. But no, that’s not who he is. The four years ahead of us all are scarier than anything I’ve ever contemplated. But 2+2 is always going to equal 4 to me, no matter what Donald Trump says to the contrary.

 

What’s your definition of dirty, baby?

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I would be lying if I said I was, or ever considered myself as, a fan of George Michael’s music. In the free-wheeling days of the 1980s in which I grew up, I listened to the skirt-chasing, hellraising bands that made up the hair metal scene, but to groove on George Michael and his bubblegum pop stuff would have been a bridge too far for me in those days.

But having said that, I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t familiar with a lot of his music. Wham! first, um, made it big when I was in high school, his Faith album dropped when I was in college, and his radio relevancy continued into my first few years of post-college. Those are the years when musical tastes and memories are formed, and there he was, right in the middle of it. So how could I not have something to say about George Michael’s passing at age 53? Well, it turns out that I have got something to say about it.

When the Faith album came out in my sophomore year in college, the lead single was called “I Want Your Sex.” The desire for sex drives all of popular music, and it always will, but the word itself was largely missing–with one notable exception–until George Michael came along.

One predecessor that I can think of was the song “DMSR” from Prince’s 1999 album in the early 1980s. The meaning of those four letters are “Dance Music Sex Romance” and the word “sex” appeared in the song’s chorus a couple of times, but it could be that the use of those initials was intended to self-censor the word from the title to the song.

George Michael’s song did have a radio edit that I remember hearing, but I can’t recall if it was in and around Springfield, Illinois or someplace else. But the song edited out the word “sex” so that it effectively sounded like “I want your” being sung over and over again. But the word appeared in the title everywhere, and in the all-important music video (these were the 80s, after all) there was never any question about George Michael’s intentions or his lyrics. He wanted to get busy in the worst way, and he was more direct about it than any song that I can remember up to that point.

Now that we’ve had “I Wanna Sex You Up” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” and many other songs in that vein on the radio, it seems almost quaint to be bringing this up now. And the fact that George Michael was a gay man who had to hide who really was until 1998 makes his story all the more tragic. His music got the attention that it did because he was singing about the old-fashioned boy-meets-girl attraction. And while we’ve since moved toward acceptance of other sexual preferences, I can’t imagine that George Michael telling another guy he wanted to get it on would ever get too far on mass-market radio stations.

Speaking of mass-market and mass-media news, they’ll all be weighing in about his music and what it means. They’ll try to shape public opinion, just as they always do. But I write this blog because I like to share my own take on things, and sometimes it’s worth reading and other times it may not be. But the word S-E-X was seldom heard on the radio before George Michael came along, and for that alone he deserves to be recognized.

Thanks for the music and rest in peace!

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.