Thursday, December 22, 2016

Childhood Memories of Buying a Christmas Tree

This is a revised version of a story that appeared in the Virginia Beach Sun on December 1, 1988.     

      Men measures their progression through time in many ways. As young boys, we cut our neighbors grass and as adolescents, we deliver their newspapers. As adults, we bring them their mail and sell them their cars and as old men we exaggerate how well we accomplished all of these tasks.

      For me, the one sure measure of time and my own journey through it has been the Christmas tree—or more precisely, how I have gone about getting one each year.

      I remember as a child, in Rochester, how my father and I would walk up the street to the City Service gas station where the man would have all his trees leaning on one side of the building. They would be stacked up in a giant heap making it impossible to compare them but nevertheless my father would hold up one after another, and ask my opinion.

     “What do you think of this one?”

  “How do you like this one?”

  “How about this one?”

  “Do you like this one?”

  Until finally he found one that he liked.

  “This one looks pretty good. I think we’ll get it.” My father would then pay the man what I suppose was a couple of bucks and then we would carry it back home. Not even the freezing cold could dampen my excitement.

When is Enough, Enough?

*nec dominam usque canit adipe
**Etiam non obscuram, sed eam attingit

It is estimated that the universe is around 13.8 billion years old and still expanding. It could very well be nearing middle age and at some point, another billion years or so, it and we, could begin our long anticipated death spiral, eventually bringing an end to…I don’t know, a 30-billion-year, bigger-than-a-bread-box experiment in going nowhere .

The point is the universe is not going to be around forever, although never has forever seemed so long. The consensus of every single person living on Earth, backed by every religion trusted by those gentle souls, is that whether a God created the universe with a wave of His hand or did nothing more than jumpstart something that eventually was going to happen anyway, the appearance of man has always been the intended end game.

If everything simply fell into place on its own, man still has every right to be proud but he can’t really accept any credit. Being around when shit happens is no big deal even if we are the best shit in the universe—and we don’t know for sure that we are.

However, if a God is behind this, and I don’t mean in a sinister way; but if He is behind it, a logical question would be, why did it take so long to get to the main act? What was He expecting? Is He happy with what He got?

If we are the straw that stirs the drink, why are we only now entering at last call?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Ice Hill

     I had just gotten off the phone with my buddy Joe who lives up in the Detroit area. We’ve known each other for almost 60 years but probably don’t talk as often as we should. With the Winter Olympics entering their fifth day of round-the-clock coverage, the two of us were probably bored to the gills and took the opportunity to call.

Talking so infrequently has gotten both of us out of practice in the art of meaningful small talk. We talk about what we’re doing but, the truth is, we don’t do much—at least nothing worth talking about.

The grandkids come up, as does our ailments and the high cost of treating those ailments. Politics surface occasionally but neither of us has a real personal stake. We’ll both survive whatever Congress can throw at us.

Our lives resemble more of a holding pattern and fortunately, we won’t have to hold on forever. Detroit’s terrible professional sports teams continue to haunt Joe just as Virginia Beach’s lack of sports teams irks me but, again, neither of us really care.

There was a time when not having anything to talk about didn’t make any difference. Like those long summer afternoons when it was too hot to play baseball—too hot even to play catch. Neither of us had a problem with lying on the grass and watching the clouds pass overhead.

Now, it’s like the clouds really have passed us by.

“We’re going camping, this weekend,” Joe said, matter-of-factly. “We’re pretty excited about it,” he added, predictably.

Sounds exciting,” I said, as my elbow slipped and my head dropped. Our conversation was fizzling out faster than a 3 a. m. campfire and then Joe provided the spark.

“Remember Camp Cutler?”

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Winning at all cost can cost a pretty penny

Donald Trump is the single most unqualified individual to ever come this close to winning the presidency. This is scary, but the scariest reality by far is that some Republicans, while agreeing he is unqualified are nevertheless admitting that they will vote for him.


Because they cannot possibly, under any circumstances, bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. Hillary is a politician in a year when no one is hated more than politicians.

In fact, she is not hated within the Democratic Party as much as she is hated within the Republican Party who have hated the Clintons even before hating the Clintons was cool. In her favor, she is not hated within the Democratic Party as much as Trump is hated with the Republican Party.

It would seem that the Republican Party has cornered the hate market. I could be wrong. If so, tell me.

Who do they love?

The Republican Party has worked harder than anyone in the past eight years to foster a hatred of government, threatening to shut it down regularly and shutting it down on one occasion.

Then, in the height of arrogance, they have run on a platform that government isn’t working.

Winning is so important to Republicans—and losing, so distasteful—that they are willing to put the country at risk if it means salvaging a win.

To be sure, many Republicans cannot bring themselves to vote for Trump and will actually vote for Hillary because they realize what the stakes are.

Unfortunately, there are far more who while they cannot vote for him, will not vote for her. If this results in Trump winning the election, so be it. That’s the price, they will tell you, for living in a democracy.

Then, there are those who support Trump one hundred percent. They are behind him come hell or high water—and it will come because it always comes when you leave the gates open.

These folks like him because—

He is not politically correct.

He talks like them, says what they want to hear.

He is as angry as they are, even though like him, they don’t have that much to be angry about—upset with, maybe, but angry? Come on.

He is a smart businessman who has made billions.

Apparently, they also like him when they learn he is a businessman who has lost billions but smart enough to channel that loss into avoiding taxes for a couple of decades.

They like him because we’ve become a country that caters too much to the have-nots that he disparages at every opportunity he gets. It’s time, his supporters will tell you, that we start paying attention to them—many of them also have-nots, but have-nots in a good way, the American way.

I don’t blame Trump for his political success. I find much of his business success questionable and possibly abhorrent and don’t understand why more people don’t feel this way, but I never really understood the appeal of The Apprentice, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge.

He’s not the first person with an obnoxiously high opinion of himself.

I do blame those who support him despite never hearing a single proposal that made sense and a lot of stuff that makes no sense.

He wants to increase government spending, lower taxes and balance the budget. This alone should make Republicans want to look around and scream, “Next?”

The words out of his mouth are divisive, insulting, abrasive innuendos, easily disproven lies, and worst of all for a man who wants to be our spokesman to the world—incoherent.

I do not understand how winning could be so important to people that they would be willing to accept a Trump presidency. They have looked at all his negatives and decided he is better than someone who has worked for American citizens all her adult life, served honorably as a United States Senator, created a successful charitable foundation with her husband, served as Secretary of State during a difficult time that offered no easy solutions but plenty of opportunity for partisan criticism. In short, they are choosing a nincompoop over a politician because now, being a nincompoop seems more attractive than being a politician.

If Trump were to win, succeed in shaking the government up and it turns out badly, I think the consolation for many of his supporters would be, well, at least we won the election.

A not-so-famous man once said, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.” A famous man is credited with saying it but fact-checking, like politicians, are passé this year.

The point is, it wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.  

Trump supporters had better come to their senses, because the matter rests largely in their hands. The next autopsy might be for the country and not just the Republican Party.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Reflections in the Middle of the Night

My grandfather and I lived four hundred miles apart for the first 17years of my life. However, we saw each other at least once and often more times each and every one of those years.

In 1964, I was beginning my first year of college in the city where my mom grew up and my grandfather still lived. This turned out to be a very good thing because when I arrived at the dorm to check in, I learned I didn’t have a room waiting for me. My grandfather was the first person I called.

Together, we scoured the Lowell Sun for apartments to rent, drove around to check them out, and finally discovered the one that would become my first home away from home.

Pa Toohey relaxing at the camp
That wasn’t our first shared experience. Not by a long shot.

In the late fifties, he was adding a second room to “the camp”—the small cabin located near Cobbetts Pond in Windham, New Hampshire. I was his assistant doing what young assistant’s do—which was try not to make the job any more difficult than it already was. When we were done, we’d go down to the lake where I would swim and he would just relax after a hard day of having me for an assistant.

Still, this wasn’t even our first experience at the camp.

In previous years, he’d taught me the fundamentals of horseshoes—how to hold them, how to throw them and how to determine the winners. On other occasions, he’d shown me where the best blueberries could be found or how to use a rope tied to a tree to keep the hammock swaying back and forth. Best of all was when he’d let me roll his cigarettes in his Top Cigarette Tobacco Roller.

But we went back further than that.

Early on, he’d introduced me to the pigeons—showed me how to hold them, round them up and load them into his car. Together, we’d take them for long rides, release them and then race them home. I still have the picture of the one he let me pick for my own.

A few days ago, I was doing something that caused me to recall an even earlier event, an event I don’t remember but am certain must have happened.

My grandsons, Brayden and his ten-month old brother Ethan were staying with us for a few days. It was four o-clock in the morning and I had gotten up to feed Ethan his nightly bottle.

As we sat in total silence and almost total darkness, our eyes met. Thoughts of events, yet unseen or even imagined became as real as the bottle we were both gazing over. We were both, in our own way, enjoying the moment when suddenly I was caught off guard by this memory of what likely could be the earliest shared experience between my grandfather and me. I couldn’t have seen it coming because I didn’t remember it ever taking place. Yet, there it was unfolding in my mind, just as clear as day, as if it were happening right at that moment.

It was a time, when I was very young—too young to do anything for myself. The best way to describe something you don’t remember happening but know must have happened because of everything else that happened after it, is that it was the start of something big.

The scene unfolds this way. Sometime in late 1946 or early 1947—we were visiting at my grandfather’s big house or he might have come to my little house.

My mom, having bathed and fed me, was putting me to bed.

“I hope he sleeps through the night,” she might have casually said as she passed me around the room for my good-night kisses. “Today has really been a long one.”

“Look,” I imagine my grandfather saying, “We’re all going to hear him when he wakes up but there’s no need for you to get up. I can feed the little stinker if he starts crying.” My grandfather talked a tough game but was a real softie at heart.

“Are you sure?”

“Don’t you think I know what to do?”


“Okay, it’s settled.”

Of course, at some point, I did wake up and began to wail like there was no tomorrow, which is usually the case when a baby wakes up in the middle of the night. I’m sure everyone did hear me but everyone except my grandfather turned over and went back to sleep. He had the situation under control.

There, in the early morning darkness, he and I stared across the ridge of my bottle into each other’s eyes. Neither one of us spoke because he was a man of few words and I was a baby of no words. He wasn’t a singer so there probably wasn’t a sound to be heard. That didn’t mean something wasn’t going on.

He may have been thinking about all the good times we’d eventually share at the camp or maybe the pigeons. I’m sure hunting for my college apartment didn’t cross his mind. I probably thought, in whatever manner a baby does his thinking, that I was a very lucky boy.

Now baby feedings are a common enough occurrence. Everybody does them. But those that happen at 4 a.m. are different. Maybe the hour causes them to seem more like a dream. Likewise, bonding experiences are nothing new either, but each one is different. This one was certainly getting crowded as I held Ethan in my arms, while imagining my grandfather holding me in his arms.

Everyone was in the room—my grandfather, me as a baby, me as a grandfather, and of course, Ethan, whose eyes were darting back and forth and looked to be telling everyone in the now-crowded room, “This is my bottle, so don’t even think about making a move on it.”

Any way I looked at it, I was the middle link in a five-generation bonding experience. As his brother Brayden has been fond of saying in the past few months, “I didn’t seen that coming.”

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Who's in Wall Street's pockets—and does it really matter?

There is a lot of debate going on as to which political party will do more for Wall Street and big business. Trump says Hillary is in bed with the big Wall Street firms. On the other hand, whenever Trump goes to bed, it’s always big money turning off the lights.

I think it is fair to say that both parties do Wall Street’s bidding. They always have and they always will. Politicians bow to the will of Wall Street and big business for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks—because that is where the money is.

And it isn’t just campaign financing—although that is always appreciated. I think it simply comes down to the rich—wealth-with-power-thrown-in and powerful—political-power-with-wealth-thrown-in, taking care of the rich and powerful.

Both parties should stop running away from the obvious. The truth is, while not in every way but certainly in many ways, America is great not solely because of democracy and not solely because of capitalism but rather because in America, democracy and capitalism have become uneasy bedfellows.

Our government has consistently, and unabashedly, allowed itself to be corrupted by money while our economic system has unenthusiastically allowed itself to be governed by regulations—with a clear understanding that they don’t go too far.

So do elections not make a difference? Is neither party different from the other?

Of course, elections make a difference. And yes, the parties are different. Just not to the rich.

Look at elections the way you would look at a boxing match or a concert. You’ve got the main event and the undercard.

Both parties take care of the headliner—the rich, but it’s the undercard where the most interesting fights occur—and Democrats tend to favor the undercards.

Republican trickle-down theory, at its best, was a policy of taking care of the wealthy, first and foremost, on the outside chance that with so much money floating around, some of it was bound to wind up in the pockets of the middle class—if they lived long enough and the poorer class—when hell froze over.

At its worse, it was a cruel joke.

Republicans believe in their souls that taking care of the wealthy is the only way to take care of the masses. Make a man rich, they believe, and he will take care of the rest. That’s what the wealthy do—except that history tells us they don’t. Never have and never will.

But Democrats have and will continue to.

Their history of protecting workers and defending unions, have resulted in shorter work weeks, higher hourly wages, pensions, healthcare, and safer working conditions. They have defended minorities—racial, religious, and otherwise—the majority of whom have always resided on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

On the other hand, Republicans gave us the Gilded Age plagued by the recessions of 1873, 1893, 1907; the roaring twenties followed by the Great Depression; and the Bush tax cuts and deregulations that led to the Great Recession of 2008.

Workers will receive minor tax cuts from Republicans but the nation will go broke from the massive tax cuts given billionaires and millionaires.

Republicans are convinced that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs by destroying companies. They believe allowing CEOs to become billionaires is the way to grow companies. The problem is that even companies that do badly have well-paid CEOs and even companies that do great have low paid workers. Why don’t Republicans and CEOs just admit that they don’t really care for workers and would be happier employing robots? Sure, they would have maintenance expenses but gone would be health insurance, pensions, and break rooms.

Health insurance won’t expand under Republicans who’ve taken 60 votes to kill Obamacare and not released one plan to replace it. It’s not because they’ve been busy doing other things.

Republicans at the state level have shown us what they think of voting rights.

All those Republican recessions and depressions mentioned earlier cost millions of jobs—over 15-million in the Great Depression and another nine million in the 2008 recession. Democrats receive no credit for recouping those jobs. Halting the skid and turning the corner should count for something.

People might not like hearing these facts but people have to get over liking only what they want to hear.

The rich will always win. There is virtually no way for them to lose. It reminds me of an old joke, so old it was politically correct to tell it back then.

Put a fat lady, a bulldog, and a can of dog food in one room.  In another room, put a fat lady and a bulldog.  In the room with the fat lady, bulldog, and dog food, the lady ate the dog food.  In the room with just the fat lady and the bulldog, the fat lady ate the bulldog.

CONCLUSION: Fat ladies will always make the best of a situation. 

Rich people are the fat lady.

Today’s poor and middle class don’t have the luxury of winning no matter who is in office. They have to look for small wins anywhere they can find them. They can’t be sucked into thinking things are going to be great. They should be happy with things being good because when you already live in the greatest nation, good ain’t that bad.








Monday, August 8, 2016

Sizing up the Trump kids as they size up their dad

The Trump kids, bless their hearts, have been thrust into a horribly awkward position. The success of the GOP in this year’s presidential election is resting clearly on their shoulders. They have the unenviable task of making their dad look less scary.

They must portray Hillary as a murdering thug deserving to be locked up, but must do so with smiles on their faces instead of eyeballs bursting and veins popping.

They must articulate a clear, concise message in a comforting tone to offset the rants and rages of their dad who usually appears to be “wound tighter than a bigot at a Black Lives Matter barbecue.” The must look poised as an antidote to their dad’s poison.

Most people seem to agree that the kids are pulling it off. They are polite, well-dressed and have excellent posture. They smile. They are not panting or foaming at the mouth. They don’t appear to be sucking up any more air than anyone else in the room and their arms aren’t flailing away at imaginary demons.

They don’t punctuate each statement, no matter how far-fetched, with a “believe me,” which does start to sound a little disingenuous after a while—if not a little far-fetched. In short, they are believable without having to beg for it. They don’t make that little teensy tiny A-ok sign that dad does when he wants to appear very exacting and in-the-know—unusual for someone who is anything but on the mark and almost never in the know.

But something—and I’m speaking for myself now and only because Cruz authorized me to—something just doesn’t seem right. Questions are surfacing in my head, which not only Fox News but also the right-wing liberal press have failed to ask.

Are they as good as they appear to be? Let’s face it. Trump does have some of the best marketing people billions can buy.

Even if they are as good as they seem, and it does seem like a big if, what does it have to do with his qualifications to be president and how much of it is really his doing?

After all, he has properties around the world and his own jet to get his there. I’m guessing he was away from home a lot during his kid’s formative years. And when I say a lot, I mean a whole lot not a little a lot (picture a teeny tiny A-ok sign here). Even when he was at home, which home was it?

Ivanka told us that there is no one who loves his family more, but two messy, very public divorces conducted in large part on the pages of New York City tabloids call for either a new definition of love or a more inclusive definition of family.

I’ve played golf and know that it can take a good chunk out of a Sunday morning. But if you own courses around the world and play with kings and presidents and movie stars and business leaders, and politicians, you probably aren’t finishing the round with a burger and a beer in a place called the “The 19th Hole” and returning home for a sit-down dinner.

The kids all hold positions of authority within their father’s company. They tell us nothing was handed to them on a silver platter. No news there. Trump doesn’t do silver. Still, they all insist they worked hard for what they got.

Again, they could be right. Or, they could be delusional. I had a supervisor when I worked for the Post Office whose father was the Postmaster. He swore he neither asked for nor got any favors. What he did get when his father retired, was a demotion back to the carrier ranks. I think that says more about the perks of working for your father than the tale the kids are telling.

It’s been said that Barron Trump—and isn’t that a positively splendid name for a billionaire’s son—has his own floor in Trump Tower. He is too young to have addressed the convention but I can only imagine the kind words he would have had for the dad that’s given him more real estate than most New Yorker’s will ever have.

I mean them no disrespect. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from them standing up and telling the nation how great their dad is. They seem well-adjusted but appearances aren’t everything, which is something I’m sure their father never told them. 

What I do know, and you can take this to the bank, is that if he were my dad, even a flawed dad, I would sure as hell know the value of faking it, if I knew what was good for me—and I think all the Trump kids know what is good for them.



Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Meet-ups: You never know who you're gonna meet

I had gotten an article published in the “Sunday Forum” of the Virginian-Pilot and was busy online, defending my position to critics—some whose names were familiar to me while others were new additions to my growing list of Internet infantrymen fighting the battle of words gone wild in the virtual world of anything goes.

This ritual was interrupted by a phone call from a man named Frank who had gone to the trouble of looking my name up in the phone book. I don’t know why anyone even bothers to do this because no one has a listed phone number anymore. I still do, and maybe Frank does.

He liked the piece and in the course of a short conversation, we discovered numerous things we had in common and decided to meet at a Panera’s for coffee later in the week.

There we spent several hours discussing politics and government—we were both Democrats; immigration—we were both third generation Italians from New York; and the world in general—we were both college educated, had had successful careers, were now retired and both liked to write.

After finally exhausting every topic, we said our good-byes but not before agreeing to a second “meet-up” down the road.

This was last November. The holidays came and went. He and his wife went on a cruise. My wife and I continued our frequent visits to Richmond to see the kids and grandkids. Many months went by until one day in early spring, I received an e-mail asking if I wanted to get together again.

I did and we agreed to meet again.

When I arrived, he was already seated at the same table reading the newspaper’s editorial page, just as he’d been doing the first time we met.

I came up behind him and as I was taking my seat, I offered up my standard greeting.

“How’s it going?”

He put his paper down and looked up. “It looks like Clinton is going to win.”

“Yeah, I think so. If she gets by Bernie, I don’t think she’ll have any trouble with Trump.”

For the next ten minutes, we discussed every facet of the on-going primaries and the issues at stake. As you might expect, neither of us had changed our positions on immigration, taxes and money in politics.

He reiterated his family’s experience settling in New York City. I talked again about my family’s arrival in Rochester, by way of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania and Bridgeport, Connecticut.

At this point, he folded his paper, rose from his seat, told me he enjoyed talking to me, but that he had to be moving along.

“Yeah, nice talking to you,” I said as he walked away.

I watched him light up a cigarette as he stepped outside the door.

My only thought was, that was mighty short. We hadn’t seen each other in five months, I had driven about 20 minutes to get here, and we’d only talked for about ten minutes. Hell, my coffee was still too hot to pick up.

I was still working on it when a man approached my table—a man who looked even more like the man I had talked to five months earlier than the man I had just spent 10 minutes talking to.

“How’s it going?” He asked as he sat down in his chair. “I see you have your coffee already.”

“Yes I do. Just waiting for it to cool. How have you been?”

I looked out the window. The man I was just talking to who I thought was the man that I was now talking to was still on the sidewalk, smoking his cigarette.

Had Frank been waiting for this man to leave? Did he not want to interrupt us? Was he waiting in the wings all that time wondering who my new friend was? Was I going crazy?

If he had seen us, he didn’t mention it. It never came up. For all I knew—and I really didn’t know what I knew—he had only now just walked in when he sat down. Whether it was true or not, I didn’t know—and I certainly wasn’t going to ask.  

We talked for a couple of hours about all of the same stuff we talked about the first time we met, which happened to be the same stuff I had just finished talking about with the stranger. When we said good-bye, we agreed to meet again.

“Maybe we could start a discussion group,” he said.

He didn’t know I was already working on it.

When I arrived home, I walked in the door. My wife greeted me.

“How’d it go?”

“Well, it was a little strange.”

“How so?”

“Maybe you should sit down.”


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Let's Look at the Big Map

The best part of the conventions is knowing that the primaries are over. No longer will I have to listen to some computer nerd say: Let’s look at the big map

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m tired of looking at the big map. I’m tired of being told what this candidate or that candidate needs to wins in order to beat this other candidate or that other candidate.

“If A picks up 23 delegates in this state and 36 delegates in that state and B loses 13 delegates in a state where he should win all 27 delegates, and if A is able to gather at least half the votes in the sixth quadrant of the fourth district, then there is an outside chance that A will win the nomination with a slim margin of one delegate—unless that delegate goes rogue and votes for B, or writes in C  on his ballot...or D...or E...or well, you can see the list is endless.”

My question is, where do these analyst go in off-election years? I know where I’d like to tell them to go, but where do they actually go.

My guess is almost anywhere because obviously, no one is paying any attention to them. The scenarios are as endless as robo-calls. Here’s one.

“As your personal trainer, this is my advice to you if you really want to lose five pounds. We have to get your daily calorie count down to 2500. Say your current breakfast calorie intake is 900 and your lunch time calorie count is 1300 and your dinner tally is around 1800, give or take an extra helping of mashed potatoes. 

“What I’d like to suggest is we get your breakfast down to 400 and your lunch down to let’s say 900. If we can do that, then you can get away with a 1200 dinner, assuming you don’t give in to that ice cream craving just before bedtime.

“I suspect that you won’t be able to resist that craving and you are probably going to wind up with anywhere from a 900 to 1500-calorie surplus before you hit the sack. That’s the bad news because for some reason calories multiply like rabbits when we’re asleep. The good news is if, while watching your favorite night time TV shows, you jog in place during all the commercial breaks, you can knock off anywhere from 600 to 1200 calories. This may or may not leave you over your mark, so if you think you can’t avoid that Rocky Road disaster, you can probably go with a 200-calorie breakfast, a 700-calorie lunch and a 1000-calorie dinner.

“Or, you can skip breakfast entirely, go for a morning walk, and have your normal night time snack and maybe even sneak in a cookie along the way. The key is to never lose sight of your goal and your goal won’t lose sight of you.”

Here’s another.

“Johnny, as your guidance counselor, it is my job to get you through your freshman year. Now I’ve looked at your grades up this point and taken into account the exams you still have facing you as well as the extra point opportunities that are available to you. I know all this looks complicated but bear with me. If you could just turn your attention to the big board.

“That’s right. It’s a black board. This is school not prime time TV.

“Now, these are your grades to this point. Math—test scores of 85, 57, and 78 and a mid-semester exam of 76. Science—35 and 46 on your labs, 32 and 66 on your tests, and 58 on your midterm. You have two demerits for missed assignments and two bonus points for cleaning the glass flasks. In English, you have pass, pass, pass, fail, pass, did not turn in, and pass. In Civics you’ve earned good, good, could be better, could be worse, I dunno.

“Okay, it looks like we have our work cut out for us. Math seems to be going well but you have to stay with it. I don’t see how you can pass science unless you clean a whole lot more flasks. You can’t afford to miss any more assignments but this is where it gets tough because from the looks of your lab scores, you also can’t afford to do any more assignments.

“Looking at your English results, I think you might be able to skip a couple of assignments, don’t hand them in but rather spend the time on math. This way, if you do wind up losing science, you’ll have enough of a cushion in math that no one will notice.

“I’ve looked at your civic results and to be honest, I dunno either.”

The good news for me is mid-terms are right around the corner. Good luck. See ya in junior year.





Monday, June 27, 2016

Rainbow Flag and the Color of Compromise

Seeing the rainbow colors of the LBGT movement everywhere has gotten me to thinking.

Not about hate crimes or gun violence or terrorists.

It’s gotten me to thinking about colors and how they combine to form new colors.

You could call it a miracle except that it’s not. It’s simple physics.

Just the mention of physics drives a lot of people away. I suppose the mention of miracles does the same thing. It would be nice if there was a term somewhere between miracle and physics to describe the process of red and yellow coming together to form an exciting new color—orange.

For lack of a better word, let’s call it a compromise.

Red and yellow bring something to the table and a new color walks away from the table.

There is still plenty of red to go around and all the yellow we will ever need, but now there is also a new color in town, orange.

Of course, red and yellow don’t actually make a compromise. Neither do they bring attitude or biases to the process. Neither is afraid or suspicious of the other. They don’t question the need for a new color. That is why combining red and yellow to form orange is no big deal.

As you might expect, this essay isn’t about colors so much as it is about compromise, but the science of mixing colors can offer some insight into the difficulty of finding compromise—specifically compromise in Congress.

Red and blue combining to create purple is a relatively easy task. So is bringing blue and yellow together to produce green. Creating maroon or fuchsia or crimson or any of the thousands of other possible potential colors is a little harder to accomplish—but not impossible.

Physics tell us so. Creating new colors is no different than sending a man to the moon. You simply set goals, start at the beginning, build on what you have and keep moving forward. You can’t tackle the big problems until you tackle the little ones.   

 Reaching compromise in Congress relies on the same principles. It has nothing to do with physics but when it happens, it is often referred to as a miracle. It’s really no more than common sense.  

We’ve seen how the Congress can work together—Democrats and Republicans, working together to name a new post office, or something else of little significance. But the hard decisions, the truly important decisions, seem impossible. It wasn’t always this way.

In 1964, liberals from the liberal Republican Party, whose presidential candidate was right-wing conservative Barry Goldwater, joined forces with liberals from a predominantly conservative Democratic Party, led by Lyndon Johnson, a FDR New Deal liberal president to pass the Civil Rights Act. This monumental piece of legislation was enacted in spite of and because of split votes within the parties.

The key was having liberal and conservative wings within each party to essentially break down barriers at a level where they could be broken down. As barriers fell, areas of agreement arose. By the time the Civil Rights bill reached the halls of Congress, the heavy lifting had been done. To be sure, not everyone was happy. They never are. But something did get done.

It took about two months for this legislation to pass. Today’s Congress has passed little significant legislation in the past eight years. It cannot even initiate hearing to confirm a Supreme Court judge.

The fifties and sixties was a time of great advancements made possible by common sense compromise. The interstate highway system, landing a man on the moon, moving from a prewar depression and a wartime military buildup to a consumer based economy were all accomplished by two political parties working together. Whatever divisions that existed, existed in both parties and it was within those parties that the initial work was done.

The problem today is that there is a huge split between the parties and almost no split within the parties. The result is that compromise winds up be sought at the highest levels of government where failure is almost certainly guaranteed.

Anticipating compromise on the floor of Congress today is like bringing red and blue together and expecting to get fuchsia out of the deal. It’s simply too big a project hindered by too little ground work within the parties. There has to be room within the Democratic Party for conservatives and within the Republican Party for liberals—not to mention a few other voices. Then there has to be debate within those parties. It also wouldn’t hurt if liberal and conservative weren’t seen as derogatory terms and compromise seen as surrender.

Maybe our leaders should lay aside the Constitution—for just a moment—and brush up on their physics.






Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Who Killed the GOP

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t our fault,” said the gun lobby  

We’re only protecting an American hobby  
‘Sides, guns don’t kill people, people do  
If you’re looking to place blame, maybe it was you  
Second Amendment says guns are a right  
You know you’d want one in a fight  
So don’t you come looking for me  
Cause I’m armed to the gills, as you can see  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“Not me,” said the political strategist  
Times are ‘a-changin’, I’m just a catalyst  
I take polls and line up venues  
Schedule flights and finalize menus  
I make ads, and yes, some get nasty   
I gotta be tough. I ain’t no patsy  
I don’t want to hear ‘bout no dirty tricks  
Those Democrats can also be pricks  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t me,” said the global warming denier  
It’s freezing outside, so now whose the liar  
Those bergs have been around a million years  
Now that they’re gone, I’ll shed no tears  
Sure, some were big and some were greater  
They were all bound to melt, sooner or later  
God gave us the world and said go use it  
He never said nothing ‘bout not abusin’ it  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t me,” said the pious evangelical  
Why must everyone be so cynical  
When I see a wrong in my line of sight  
It’s my duty to speak out and make it right   
The world’s not perfect, so it’s my job  
To make heathens listen to the word of God  
The end is coming and it’s coming soon  
Everybody better start singing my tune  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.
“It wasn’t me,” said the strict Constitutionalist  
Looking at his list of people-to-take-down-to-do list  
We’ve got laws to uphold, and goals to meet   
Getting rid of slackers would make them easier to keep  
Don’t give me that shit ‘bout the times ‘a-changin’  
It’s there in black and white, that’s all I’m saying  
The forefathers, they were quite explicit  
Read the Constitution, but don’t dare dis it   

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“Not me,” said the billionaire  
With the flaming mop of orange hair  
Some say suckers are born every minute  
My jobs to show ‘em a new way to spin it   
Tell him and show him what he wants to see  
Any of you would do it, might as well be me  
Don’t call me a pathological liar  
I’m just lighting a political fire   

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

It wasn’t us Capitalists, we just like money  
We take to it like bees to honey  
Everyone can be rich, that ain’t no secret  
Just get a good job and work hard to keep it  
If you can’t do that, and not all can  
It doesn’t hurt if your dad’s an oil man   
It isn’t money that brought down the party  
It’s those Harvard elites and other smarties  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

It wasn’t us Conservatives, that’s for sure  
We don’t even know what we’re against or for  
We do know that we like the past   
Sure wish those days could have last-ed  
Can’t a man dream of bygone days and days of yore  
Of times when twenty was recorded as a score  
Liberals are always on the go  
While we kind of like the status quo  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t us,” said the Tea Party idealists  
We’re patriots, we never said we were realists  
Maybe we’re old school, but we’re no dinos  
We’re just tired of dealing with RINOs  
Someone stole the government and we can’t find it  
Sure, everyone hates our butt, but we don’t mind it  
We didn’t turn the world turvy-topsy  
So don’t put us in your fuckin’ autopsy    

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“Don’t go blaming me,” said the Obama hater  
He was bound to screw up sooner or later  
Maybe he’s a Kenyan, or maybe Hawaiian  
If his lips are moving, I know he’s lying  
He went to Libya, when he shouldn’t have  
Didn’t go to Syria when he could have  
All we ever wanted was to take him down  
None of us can believe he’s still around   

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“Not me,” said the illegal Hispanic immigrant  
In a country this big, I barely leave a fingerprint  
Blame me for this, blame me for that  
All I wanted was a place to hang my hat  
I do the dirty jobs and clean your pools  
Amigo! I’ve been to college, I ain’t no fool  
Estamos en un lugar duro     (We are in a tough spot)   
Pero no somos asesinos        (But we are not killers)

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.

“It wasn’t us,” said the primary voters  
We’re just a bunch of daydreamers and hopers  
We wanted someone to speak to our fears  
To sooth our pain and wipe away our tears  
We didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt  
We like the Party, just not the jerks  
That’s not true, I guess you realize  
All we know is we sure can’t compromise  

Who killed the GOP?
I dunno. It wasn’t me.
On second thought, maybe we all share the blame  
It doesn’t matter, we’re losing just the same.