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What My 50th High School Reunion Meant

There we were. A bunch of kids transformed into old men and women by fifty years of living. It’s hard to believe, but with the exception of my friends Ed and Nick, I hadn’t seen any of them in half a century. As I wrote in a poem prior to going, for those few hours, we were young again. Old stories in high school, buried in the archives of our memories, suddenly were front and center. New memories were created. Maybe even new relationships. I remember talking to people whom I didn’t talk to in high school, because we travelled in different circles. But we all walked in the same hallways and classrooms and had many of the same teachers and coaches, so we had that in common.

And when I talked to people I knew then, I saw that they weren’t different. That whatever happened in their lives, they hadn’t really changed. And the heart-break that is part of living, didn’t show…at least for that night. In a way that seemed magical, they became the kids I knew in high school.

And the people who were gone – on display in our memorial – were a stark reminder not only about the shortness of life; but that we are fortunate for the time we still have. I could hear my friend  and classmate John, gone two years, say to me, “Don’t waste it!”

I know I’ll never see most of them again. But for those few hours, we revived a lost world…and were young again. It was a rare opportunity that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

 

What do Conservatives Want to Conserve?

Conservative: Tending to emphasize the importance of preserving traditional cultural and religious values, and to oppose change, esp. sudden change. – Cambridge Dictionary

There are definitely things worth conserving. As long as that conservation doesn’t fly in the face of facts…or preserve the discrimination of groups of people. I do a lot of wondering about this. For example…

I wonder how long it took conservatives of the time to accept that the Earth is a sphere, an idea first put forth by Pythagoras in Ancient Greece?

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I wonder how long it took conservatives in Copernicus’s time, to accept that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the Solar System?

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I wonder how long it took conservatives after the 1956 call for massive resistance to the civil rights movement to accept civil rights, even as they slowed progress toward this goal?

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I wonder how long it will take conservatives in our time to accept equal rights for the LGBTQ community, even as they slow progress toward this goal?

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I wonder how long it will take conservatives in our time to accept the science that human activity is changing the climate of Earth and endangering human existence, even as they slow progress toward this goal?

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I really do wonder…

Because the conservative road, according to history, could lead to a dead-end.

Breaking News: Andrew Jackson Supports Donald Trump!

Recently, CNN reporter Coyote Spritzer travelled back in time to visit former President Jackson at his home, The Hermitage, in Tennessee.

Coyote Spritzer: Mr. President, you said you have experience removing large numbers of people, and could advise Republican candidate Donald Trump on how to do it. I’m referring, of course, to the Indian Removal Act that you signed in 1830, which led to the “Trail of Tears.”

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The Trail of Tears

President Jackson: Trail of Tears? That’s what the media calls it. Believe me, there were no tears. I saved the Cherokee by removing them. A tremendous number of Americans were crossing the Appalachians. They were coming like a colony of red ants. They needed a place to live. Many people wrote to me and said, hey Andrew, you have to get rid of those Indians. I was humane. I made them leave or the settlers  would have killed them. That I can tell you. Believe me. I support Mr. Trump’s plan to get rid of illegal Mexicans.

Coyote Spritzer: But many Cherokee died on the way to Oklahoma. Do you feel bad about that?

President Jackson: Listen. More would have died if they stayed. Besides, nobody liked the Cherokee. That I can tell you. Go talk to the Choctaw Indians. They hate the Cherokee. They tell me the women are fat and the men are lazy and just go around smoking tobacco.

Coyote Spritzer: But it was their home. They had a sophisticated government and a written language. They were one of the five “civilized” tribes.

President Jackson: Gimme a break. They wrote a few words down on parchment. Listen. They were going around banging on drums and sending up smoke signals. Civilized? Plus, you go to the Indian country now. Oklahoma? Where the hell did that name come from? You talk to the Cherokee. They all love me. Many of them write to me and tell me how happy they are that I removed their ancestors.

Coyote Spritzer: So tell me what advice you would give Mr. Trump about his plan to remove more than eleven million illegal aliens from the United States?

President Jackson: It’s simple. You get an army together and you get them the hell out of here!  I know more than the generals do on how to do this. Believe me. Those Mexicans have to go. That I can tell you.

Coyote Spritzer: But you were a general, Mr. President, and you tried to get the Seminole Indians in Florida to leave as well. What happened?

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President Jackson: You can’t blame me for that! You know that the Spanish owned Florida first, right? They pampered those Indians and made them feel like they belonged there. Many people in Florida wrote to me saying get these Indians out of here! They’re thieves and rapists and they kill all the birds to make headdresses.

Coyote Spritzer: So why weren’t you successful in removing them?

President Jackson: Are you kidding me? You ever been to Florida? They ran into the goddamn swamp. It’s all swamps down there. White people hate swamps. They wouldn’t live there. So I said, fine. Let the Indians live with the alligators and mosquitos. I’ll tell you what. Go there today and talk to the Seminole. They love me down there. They actually come and put flowers on my grave here at the Hermitage. That I can tell you.

Coyote Spritzer: So you think if Mr. Trump wins, he can successfully remove all those people?

President Jackson: If he takes my advice. Of course, I won’t get any credit for it. I still haven’t gotten enough credit for all the Indians I got rid of. Believe me.

Coyote Spritzer: But you’re dead Mr. President! Why do you want credit?

President Jackson: What does that have to do with it? I still want the credit!

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Tribes subjected to Removal

What Should America be?

 

Trump is a rascal

A grown-up Eddie Haskell

He would build a wall between us and Mexico

While Hillary takes money from Texaco

Trump doesn’t give a damn about facts

And Hillary sold herself to Goldman-Sachs

The truth is dead, lying on a gurney

So whatever happened to Bernie?

Flawed candidates, no doubt. So whom will I vote for? It’s easy for me, because ultimately it’s about more than the candidates. They represent two vastly different philosophies of life. Two visions of America.

Here’s my vision for America:

  • I want to see equal rights for all Americans. I don’t care how they look, where they came from, what their sexual orientation is…or anything else.
  • I want to see action on the most serious problem of our time – global warming. To hear Trump say that it’s a Chinese hoax is appalling.
  • I want to see a thoughtful and humane solution to the immigration problem. Building a wall is as offensive to me as the Berlin wall was to the world.
  • I want to see common sense gun control. Period. Fuck the NRA.
  • I’m sick of trickle-down economics and its time-honored tax breaks for the rich. It’s never worked. Except for the rich.
  • I want to see policies that promote the growth of the middle class.
  • I want a country that tackles poverty and racism head on.
  • I want to see a serious respect for science.
  • I want to see religion out of politics, as the founders intended. Christian extremism is as dangerous as other types of extremism.
  • I want to see the role of money in elections reduced – and Citizens United overturned.
  • I want to see term limits for Congress.

Hillary Clinton is certainly not George Washington. But if you believe as I do, you must vote for her, or put the country in the hands of a power-hungry narcissist and a Christian evangelist who once proclaimed that cigarettes don’t kill.

What’s your vision for America?

Can Trump Make America Great “Again?”

I have a problem with Trump’s campaign slogan. The problematic word is ‘again.’ In my view, America has to be great for all of its people to be really great.  Has it ever been that way? Trump isn’t specific about when America was great; but it’s a good guess that he means during the economic boom following World War II and beyond.

Let me point out a few groups for which America wasn’t so great back then:

It wasn’t great for African-Americans in so many ways I don’t have enough space to write about them. But here’s a few: Yes, Jackie Robinson was playing ball in the majors; but black people couldn’t use the “whites only” bathrooms in many of the stadiums in which they went to see him play. And they couldn’t vote or eat in the same restaurants as their fellow white citizens…in large swaths of America.

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And it wasn’t great for gay people, because they had to hide in “closets” to avoid being bullied, beaten, killed or coerced into “cures” for homosexuality.

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1953 Thinking

And it wasn’t great for many women who had to hide from the sexual advances of their bosses at work or the abuse of their husbands at home, because they had little financial means to escape from either. How many of them numbed themselves with Miltown?

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And it wasn’t great for many catholic schoolboys, because they had to hide from priests who coveted them sexually as they preached the word of God and while church “fathers” turned a blind eye.

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And it wasn’t great for many African-American WWII soldiers who came home and wanted a bit of the American dream by owning a small house to raise their families. Levittown, that great post war social experiment, was perfect for returning soldiers – but only if you were white.

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LEVITTOWN: FOR WHITES ONLY

Whew! America’s greatness excluded millions of Americans, didn’t it?

So who did enjoy its greatness? For the most part, white heterosexual men who could take advantage of the open road of opportunity called the American Dream.

Until that road is open to all Americans, it can never be really great. It never was, by this definition. I believe Trump’s greatness has more to do with American power and influence in the world of nations and little to do with quality of life and equal opportunity for its people. There is a balance we can achieve and find greatness in both.

I don’t believe that Mr. Trump gives a damned about balanced greatness. So I say I don’t want you as our leader.

What do you say?

The Door that Keeps Opening

Justice Antonin Scalia called yesterday’s Supreme Court Decision on same-sex marriage a “threat to democracy.”

Here’s a guy who defended the Supreme Court decision to allow the super rich to pour millions into campaigns to get their candidates elected – called Citizen’s United. Now that’s a threat to democracy.

Let me put this up here, just in case Justice Scalia hasn’t read this in recent years:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Mike Huckabee, would-be President:

“I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

Mike would have been jumping for joy if the Supreme Court had ruled against same-sex marriage. Take your ball and go home Mike, like any spoiled kid who doesn’t get his way.

Let me put this up here for Mike, just in case he hasn’t read this in recent years:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said that catholic bishops would continue to teach that marriage remains solely between a man and a woman. But the Catholic Conference of Bishops also urged “compassion for gay individuals.”

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That’s like saying we’re going to keep you in chains; but we will give you good food to eat.

Let me put this up here for Bishop Vigneron and all the other catholic bishops who urge compassion for gay people. Just in case they haven’t read this in recent years:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And for the Republican candidates for President who threaten to push for a constitutional amendment to allow states to deny same-sex marriage, maybe they haven’t read this in recent years:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And for all those who purport to know what God intended or to point to history or religion or whatever cockamamie justification you use to try to keep the door shut on full equality for all people, the door keeps opening. And while it’s not yet open enough for everyone to walk through – all you can do, as you have always done – is to stand behind the door and try to push it until it closes.

You know who you are. You have always been on the wrong side of history; a.k.a. – The Door… that keeps opening.

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Cuba Mc-Libre?

Lately, there’s been a salivating epidemic in America. But curiously, it affects only CEOs of major American corporations. And it’s not because of the aroma wafting through their corporate food courts. It’s because they smell a gigantic untapped market of over 12,000,000 people. We call them Cubans.

Since Presidents Obama and Castro met and forged a new direction for their countries, the salivating CEO’s want to forge a new relationship with the Cuban people. It would go something like this:

We sell a lot: You buy a lot. We make jobs for you; you buy even more.

Fast-forward a bunch a years to a free Cuba. One of the triumphs of freedom, of course, is freedom of choice. And the choices for the Cuban people will go something like this:

Want a burger? No problem. Big Mac or a Whopper. There’s a McDonald’s or Burger King on every block. Want to try some Mexican food to expand your palate? No problem: Chi-Chi’s or Taco Bell. Want some Italian food? No problem: Olive Garden or Pizza Hut. You live on an island. Want to try something new from the sea? No problem. Red Lobster or Long John Silver’s.

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Need a new dress? No problem. Check out JCPenney or Macy’s. Need some tools to fix up your house? No problem. There’s a Home Depot or Lowe’s in your town. You say you need a one-stop shopping place? No problem. Wal-Mart is everywhere! And if you crave a good cup of Cuban coffee? No problem. Just walk over to Starbucks and try their Cuban Blend.

Even with the most private issues, the salivating CEOs will give you the freedom of choice. Men – can’t get it up anymore? No problem. Just go to CVS or Rite Aid and get your prescription for Cialis or Viagra. Are you depressed? No problem. Get your Lexapro or Cymbalta or Prozac or nine million other antidepressants and be like Americans. What? They don’t work for you? No problem. Top off your antidepressant with Abilify.

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It’s incredible how far we’ve come since the Cuban Missile Crisis, isn’t it? Too young to remember it? No problem. “Thirteen Days in October“ will be coming soon to a Regal or AMC cinema near you. Buy some popcorn, drink a coke, sit back and watch the movie.

Enjoy the freedom of choice – just like an American.

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The REAL World Championship

Soccer – futbol – seemed to me to defy evolution. The hands are the instruments of progress. The opposing thumb distinguishes us from other animals. Hands painted the Sistine Chapel and put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Hands perform life-saving surgery. So how perverse, I used to think, to design a game that forbid the use of hands? It made no sense to me for a long time – until I started to pay attention to the incredible skills of soccer players.

I only knew about Pele; but my soccer acumen improved when I watched the U.S. hosted World Cup in 1994. I loved the national spirit. Players from all over the world came home to play for their countries. The U.S. team, of course, was nowhere to be found. So I rooted for Italy, since I am of Italian “extraction” – even though that sounds like a dental procedure, you get my drift. Then the Italian team’s pony-tailed, Buddhist star, Roberto Baggio, who carried the team on his foot against mighty Brazil, blew his penalty kick and Brazil won the World Cup.

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When I went outside to face my Portuguese neighbor, an ardent Brazil fan, he was wearing the biggest smile I ever saw. It was a source of ethnic pride for him as it would have been for me if Italy had won.

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When I was in high school, soccer was a foreign sport, played by immigrants. Just about the whole soccer team spoke in broken English, as we called it then. But while Americans were fanatical about football and basketball and baseball, there was a groundswell of support in the changing community for soccer, especially the World Cup.

In 2006, while the U.S. team made a good showing, it finally lost. Italy won the World Cup in penalty kicks against France, and when my wife Alexis and I went to Italy for a three-week vacation a couple of weeks later, pictures of the Italian National Team were everywhere. It was bigger than sports.

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I’m not sure my interest in soccer will lead me to watch teams in league play, because then it is just like football, basketball and baseball – a business that showcases good athletes.

But the World Cup, the real world championship, will always pique my interest.

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A 9/11 Memory

I still think about the people who jumped from the towers.  A report said they were going so fast when they hit the ground that the impact caused the blood in their smashed bodies to “splash” high into the air and create a pink film that hung in the air.

That image, more than any of the horrible images of that day, hasn’t left me because it was the result of the unthinkable choice each person had to make:  To be incinerated by the unbearable heat or to jump from so far above the Earth that survival was impossible.

But was it really a choice?  Did the searing heat make them jump, even though they knew it meant certain death? Was the pain so excruciating that they could only think about relieving the pain by jumping?

Witnesses said that some of the people held hands as they jumped.  I hope this gave them something when there was nothing left.

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The Long, Happy Life of a Christmas Tree

When I was young, I hated the end of Christmas and the holidays.  I used to think about ways to keep Christmas alive.  My favorite way was to become one with the Christmas tree.  I would stand in front of the Christmas tree and imagine that I could shrink into a miniature person and climb into the tree and live there for a while. And because no one could find me, my parents wouldn’t dare take the tree down until I emerged from the wilderness, like Robinson Crusoe.

So there I would be, hiding among the pine needles and moving stealthily from Christmas ornament to Christmas ornament.And if I hid there long enough…then, as an added bonus, I wouldn’t have to go back to school when the holidays were over.

That was a long time ago. About fifty Christmas trees have gone up and come down.  They all had the short, happy life of a Christmas tree…and all were gone during the first week of January.

But not this year. 

It hit me sometime after I had watched that annual “roll call” of dead people on TV.  You know, they play this profoundly sad music as they show you images of all the famous people who died this year. After that finality, I was determined that I wouldn’t allow Christmas to be final.

So my wife Alexis and I agreed to leave the tree up.  To break the “rules” of Christmas trees.  To live change. She still waters it…I still put the lights on every night.  There are still gift boxes under the tree. Incredibly, hardly any needles have fallen.  Our dog Sophia steals a Christmas ornament every now and then and we find them in other rooms. She, like us, doesn’t want Christmas to end.

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We’re now nine days into the post holiday dead-of-winter season; but that’s what’s happening outside; inside…it’s still Christmas.

Each day is Christmas again. And right at the moment that I’m writing this last sentence, James Taylor is singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

We’re living the “The Power of Now,” as Eckart Tolle calls it. It’s Christmas in our house…Now!  And for as long as we want.

This year, we gave our tree, and ourselves, a gift:

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The Long, Happy Life of a Christmas Tree  

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