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Archive for August, 2010

               It is a bitch to grow old! “Oh, you’re only as old as you feel,” they tell me. Oh, really; some days I feel like I’m about, oh, let’s say going on a few years past Methuselah; other days I just feel about as old as dirt. “Throw out the numbers,” some sage wrote. The numbers being referred to were age and weight. I suppose it’s all right if you wish to throw them out, but that really doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. I’m still about twelve inches too short for my weight, and as for the age number, there are times when I try to forget that I’ll be 76 next week, but particularly on rainy or damp days, my knees, elbows, shoulders, toes, and sometimes even my hangnails remind me that I’m not in the very bloom of my youth.

               I can describe to you in great detail the day of my wedding in 1957 but I really can’t tell you the ages of the nine grandchildren. I can recall with alarming accuracy, each day of basic training while I was in the Army, but I have trouble keeping track of how many troops we have fighting in foreign countries today. Shucks, I can even tell you precisely what we had for dinner on our 25th anniversary, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what I had for dinner last night. They say that the first thing to go as one gets older is the memory; I’ve already forgotten what the second thing is.

               Getting older, I’ve been reminded on numerous occasions, does have its benefits. You’re less likely to be the one held in a hostage situation because they don’t know precisely what you might do and they really don’t wish to kill an old fart. Younger people think you’re trying to be funny when you tell them off. You don’t have to worry about getting enough sleep when you’re older because you develop this remarkable ability to fall asleep anywhere, any time. People are afraid to wake you because they’re not certain if you’re dead or just napping. If you’re dead, they don’t want to get involved; if you’re just napping, they’re afraid you’ll get pissed off and scream at them…they’re right on that count, of course.

               I saw a list a while ago that gave thirty benefits of growing older. Some of them were rather funny; others were stupid…you can say that when you’re older…and others, well, they required analysis and I’m not certain I have enough time or energy left to do that. One that I did like was that “No one expects you to run into a burning building.” Hell, I had too much sense to do that when I was younger. You get caught in a burning building; get the hell out on your own. I didn’t start the fire; why do you want me to run in and get you out? Do I look like a fireman? They get paid – not much, but they do receive minimum wage – to get you out, so that one doesn’t make any sense.

               “People call at 9 p.m. and ask , ‘Did I wake you?’” Some dumb son-of-a-bitch calls me at nine in the evening, he or she is going to get my answering machine. I’m in bed at eight. Now, before you start making nasty comments, understand that I’m also up at four the next morning to go to the gym; ha, and you thought senior citizens didn’t exercise. I admit that I’m now going only five days a week, and that I only spend an hour on the elliptical machine or only half an hour on the bike…that’s each time I go, friend…both cardio exercises. The only reason I don’t lift much anymore is because I have two torn biceps muscles. Yeah, I’m so old that the doctor asked, “Why should I sew the muscle back up? The tendons are so old they’re only going to snap again. Live with it.” So, that’s what I do.

               I don’t go to the gym to impress people. I go because I don’t wish to have any more stents put in my heart; five is more than enough, thank you. Hell, I don’t even try to hold my stomach in when I’m working out. Someone wants to ask me when I’m due or claim that I’m a miracle of motherhood, they’ll learn the pain that can be inflicted by an aluminum cane. One of the nice things about getting older and having more problems is that your health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

               “People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.” It reminds me of the tombstone of B.P. Roberts who is buried in a Key West cemetery; “See, I told you I was sick,” reads the stone. I’m convinced that the same writing appears on tombstones in other cemeteries, including one on Nantucket, but I don’t have time to investigate where they all might be. Speaking of that, another “benefit” of growing older is that the “…things I buy now won’t wear out.” Hey, if you did it right, the stuff you bought ten years ago hasn’t worn out; you’ve just gotten too damned fat to wear it. Truth to tell, my lady friend and I go through about two dozen bananas a week. She makes smoothies in the morning and we’ll enjoy a banana or two during the day. It bothers me when she grabs a bunch of green bananas, because I’m never certain whether or not I’ll be around when they’re ripe. Of course, she could finish them since she’s just a 54-year old child.

               A couple of the things on this list of “benefits” I really disagree with. “Your eyes won’t get much worse” is one of them. For over forty years I wore eyeglasses. It reached the point where I had trifocals and those damned things are really a challenge. I had to change eye doctors because “You have to be in a circle of doctors” – what a bunch of malarkey that is, but I changed and the first thing the new doc asked was, “Would you prefer not to wear glasses?” It’s really a challenging question; you’ve been wearing them for so long that they’ve become a fixture. What would not wearing them mean? If you have worn glasses for any length of time, imagine being asked that question. He’s not saying that you can wear contact lenses; he’s saying that he can bring your sight back to the point where you will not be required to wear glasses for everything you do. The procedure took about half an hour. I now wear store-bought glasses that do nothing but magnify and I wear them only for reading. I’ve been without the regular glasses for about three years and I’m still getting used to not having to wear them…it’s weird!

               I also did not “…buy a compass for the dash of my car.” I do remember “watching television while lying on the floor,” although that was because my back had gone out again and I had no choice. I didn’t “…get cable for the weather channel,” because, as I’ve already said, my joints are much better prognosticators of the weather than any computer or forecaster.

               The list adds that, “There’s nothing left to learn the hard way,” and with that I truly take umbrage. Try something new and different with your computer and you’ll quickly learn that the “hard way” can be excruciatingly painful. Crashed hard drives are as challenging as speed limits were when we were younger. Losing a license for a while or paying a fine is nothing compared to losing your most trusted files. “Back up; back up; back up” has become the mantra of the 21st Century.

               Yes, I’m old and, thank the Good Lord, I’m getting older. I have a number of friends and former colleagues who didn’t make it this far for one reason or another. I have the distinct feeling that if, “Only the good die young, I may well be around for another 76 years.” Now that is a very scary thought.

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Some time ago I authored a piece regarding political correctness. It was not complimentary to those who demand that we speak in gobbledygook to make our points. That was before a report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that sank to a new low in bureaucratese by saying that the hungry aren’t hungry at all; they’re just experiencing “very low food security.” Does this now mean that the homeless aren’t homeless; they merely have “greatly decreased dwelling opportunities.” Just how far are we willing to be shepherded by this crooked staff of verbiage? As Juliet Capulet so aptly put it, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Unfortunately, the words being used in the latest USDA report that measures Americans’ “access to food” doesn’t have a sweet odor at all; in fact, it’s more of the musk we smell when the skunks are around…with apologies to the skunks.

            It might not be of much interest to you to know that the national poverty rate stands at 13.2 percent for 2008. You probably don’t even care that Louisiana is the most impoverished state in the country at 18.2%. They took the title from Mississippi in 2009, with the District of Columbia, our nation’s capitol, coming in third…disgraceful! Those are just figures; they don’t mean all that much to most of us. How about this one; there are over 650,000 people in Massachusetts who live in poverty. We’re home to a higher concentration of colleges and universities than almost any other part of the US, yet they can’t solve the problem of our poverty. We’re a Mecca for medicine and health care, yet we can’t find a cure for our own economic ills, and I’m not implying that to be the job of hospitals or doctors. Our economy is stagnant; our employment rate is at nearly 9% and over 10% of our population is living below the poverty level. Are we better off than other areas of the country? Absolutely, no question about it; however, being better off is not good enough. It’s one of the major challenges that Governor Deval Patrick or one of his successors will face following the next election. I wish whoever luck, but I’m not taking odds on his chances of success.

            According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, “The poverty rate measures the percentage of people who live in families with incomes below a certain level, known as the poverty threshold. This threshold varies depending on the number of people in a family and their ages; it is updated each year for inflation. For 2008, the poverty threshold for a single person under the age of 65 was $10,991. For a family of four with two children, it was $21,834 and, for a single parent with two children, it was $17,346. For the purposes of determining the poverty rate, income is defined as all money income earned by a family, before taxes and excluding and non-cash benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps.”

            Now, I don’t want to sound petty or anything, but if we, as a nation, have $2 billion to spend every two weeks for a war that makes no sense, doesn’t it seem more reasonable to be increasing the wages of those living in poverty in this country? Please don’t tell me that the terrorists will be boarding planes at the same time our troops are heading home and that we’ll be under immediate attack. That’s hogwash and we all know it. Build a few more spy satellites; that will help to increase employment and keep an eye in the sky on the bad guys. What, you say that we need spies on the ground? Sure we do, but face facts, there aren’t that many Middle Eastern people who want to work for the CIA. The long-term prospects just aren’t that healthy. If, as we’ve been told, we have the ability to drop a missile on a camel’s hump from several miles away, we should be able to build spy satellites that can keep us informed of what the bad guys are doing.

            We seem to be so damned intent on minding everyone else’s business, on trying to bring our 250 plus-year old form of democracy to the rest of the world that we’re forgetting to solve our own problems right here at home. Think about some of these statistics from the USDA regarding those who have “very low food security,” i.e., they’re hungry. “Ninety-eight percent worried that the food would run out before money came in to help them buy more. In the case of 96 percent, that happened; the food did run out and they didn’t have money to buy any more. Ninety-four percent couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals. Ninety-six percent had to cut the size of their meals or skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money.” Americans are going hungry because state and federal legislatures are acting in their own best interests and not necessarily in the best interests of those who put them in office. “Ninety-four percent of those living below the poverty level had eaten less than they felt they should because they didn’t have enough money. Sixty percent were hungry but didn’t eat because they couldn’t afford food; forty-four percent lost weight because they were going hungry; and, in thirty-one percent of the cases, an adult didn’t eat for an entire day because there was not enough money.”

            We are the wealthiest nation in the world. In terms of hunger, we don’t begin to compare with underdeveloped countries in other parts of the world. The fact remains, however, that we have a nation where over 13 percent of our population lives below the poverty level. In Massachusetts, over 650,000 people, over 10 percent, are in that same sinking boat.

            Food pantries are facing tough times. The holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. – will be upon us sooner than we know. Let’s make room this year for an extra gift to help out those so much less fortunate than we are. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you can afford to make a contribution to your local food pantry. It’s not a cure; it’s a beginning and a very small one at that. In January, we will have a new administration in our State House. I hope you’ll join me in watching them very carefully regarding their attitude toward reducing poverty in Massachusetts.

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Several years ago, I received a letter from Howard Dean, then head of the National Democratic Committee; at least, I guess that’s why he was writing. Recently, I came across my response to Howard. It seems just as appropriate today as it did when first written. How ironic that rather than the Democrats being fed up with their particular leadership, it has been a group of arch-conservative Republicans who have created a new party, known as the Tea Party. It seems to me that “…government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has somehow been lost since the words were first spoken by President Lincoln. I cannot help but wonder if our Founding Fathers are laughing or crying over what this nation has become. I can just hear Lincoln saying to Washington, “Jeez, George, I wouldn’t want to be down there today. You can’t please any of the people any of the time,” and Washington replying, “Ya know, Abe, I always thought that telling a lie was a bad thing. Those thugs seem to think it’s the only thing” But enough of that, here’s my reply to Dr., former Governor, and ex-presidential hopeful, Howard Dean.

            Dear Howard: Since you were kind enough to scratch out “Fellow Democrat” in your letter and substitute “Richard,” I gather we’re on a first name basis.  Of course, no one calls me Richard either, so I guess “Dear Screamer” wouldn’t work when I’m writing back to you. Be that as it may, I’m not certain that I’m truly interested in completing the “Grassroots Survey of Democratic Leaders” that you sent to me. The fact that I’m registered as a Democrat is purely an omission on my part, which is that I forgot to go to Westwood Town Hall to change my political stance back to Independent.

            You see, Howard, it’s very difficult for me to support either the Democratic or Republican Parties these days. I’m more of a mind to support the thinking of Thomas Jefferson. You remember him, I hope. He authored the Declaration of Independence.  Remember when he said, “I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” He wrote that to James Madison a full 220 years ago, but it’s still pretty good advice.

            I’d like to ask you to join me, Howard, in starting a little rebellion. I’m looking for a few good people who are willing to cast off labels such as democrat or republican, people who are willing to abandon an ass or an elephant as their symbol; people who will step back and ask the hard questions about life in these United States, and who won’t be afraid to come up with intelligent answers. Those answers may not always be popular, and they may not always seem fair, but I’m looking for some folks to join me who are willing to show a little backbone, unlike the current Congress of the United States. By the way, Howard, that’s a Democratically controlled Congress, one you worked so hard to ensure in the 2006 elections. It doesn’t appear to me that they’ve done a whole helluva lot, other than complain and whine, and continue to give money to the administration so that they may keep this idiotic oil-for-lives war going in the Middle East.

            While I don’t advocate violence in our own society, I’m also very fond of another Jefferson quote: “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part [of the population] which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” It seems to me that our “tree of liberty” is always in someone else’s yard, whether that yard is in Kosovo, Baghdad, or wherever else we wish to send some cannon fodder. The tree of liberty in America is not being refreshed by the blood of patriots. It is being undermined by the blood of 13-year old kids in every city in the country, and that’s not “natural manure;” that’s unnecessary waste of potentially valuable resources. We need to clean up our cities, Howard, and don’t give me that hogwash that it can’t be done. Stop hiding behind the wall of political correctness and admit that there are a bunch of minority folks, Black, Hispanic, White, and Illegals who are screwing up and making things harder for those Black, Hispanic, White, and Legals who want to help make this country great once more.

            We have many problems in this country, Howard, but you and your fellow Democrats do little more than ‘talk’ about them. Your ‘enemies’ on the other side of the aisle and on Pennsylvania Avenue either ignore them, tell us that they are the fault of the Democrats, or pay lip service to them without doing a damned thing to correct them. In the survey you sent, you ask that I prioritize the issues that are most important to me. I don’t matter. It’s not about me. It’s about America and what’s most important to this country as a whole. We have serious poverty problems in many areas of the nation. We have unemployment rates in certain parts of this country that are totally unacceptable. We have an educational system that is not doing the job of preparing kids for the future. Why? Because we aren’t seeing the future; we aren’t planning what the future should be. We’re being reactive rather than proactive. We’re letting outside forces influence our decision making rather than creating a vision for where our nation should be going. We are, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, giving up essential liberties to obtain some temporary safety. And, to quote Franklin,  [we] deserve neither liberty nor safety. Iran is not going to lob nuclear weapons at us. Iraq may attempt to send terrorists to our shores. Let’s create a Homeland Security Department that will ensure they don’t land.

            I find it most unfortunate, Howard that our country is now run almost exclusively by those of great wealth. These appear to be the only people who can afford ‘public service’ as a calling, but the way in which cronyism has crept into the political arena, I often believe and fear that rather than serving the public, our politicians are serving only those whom they see as their friends, and the rest of the so-called public be damned.

            Sadly, I will draw on Jefferson again and remind you that he said, “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: (1) Those that fear and distrust people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. (2) Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist; and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves.” Perhaps it’s that freedom that we should all cherish.

            I love this country, Howard, and I’ve spent my time in her military, defending her to the very best of my ability. Don’t you dare try to put me on one side of the aisle or the other. I’m not a Democrat and I’m not a Republican. I am an American who wants only what is best for America. There are a lot of us, Howard, and we don’t like the way our two-party political system is treating us.  Are you hearing me, Howard…and George…and Dick…and Nancy…and Hillary…and the rest of you?

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            Now, ya see, this is what I mean when I say I’m not crazy about goin’ to see the doctor. You walk in for one thing that you think is minor – well, maybe not real minor – but it’s not any big deal to you, and they wind up saying, “Why don’t we also just check….” and the next thing ya know, you’re spending three nights in the hospital. Somehow, it just don’t seem fair.

            Oops, I’m sorry; I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. Guess it would be better to start from the beginning, just so’s you can catch up and we can be on the same page, so to speak.

            I’ve already told you about my fall a few months back; how it resulted in a blood clot in my lung, and how I had to learn to give myself shots a couple of times a day for five days. I still can’t get over how easy that was. Anyway, I guess that once you’ve had a blood clot, they worry about the possibility of another one, so that put you on this drug called coumadin. Now, from what I’m told, this is a good drug. It thins out your blood so you don’t get any more clots and it helps the old ticker to work a little bit easier. Only side effect is that it makes you feel like crap, and that’s a pretty bad side effect. The other think I don’t like about it is that you have to be tested to see if you fall within some range of numbers they’ve got set up. They call it a ‘prothrombin time international normalized ratio’ test or a PT-INR. Don’t really know what the whole thing means except the first few times they stuck my finger and then squeezed blood onto some kind of strip that looks like a map. The blood followed all these little trails, and I guess it must have gotten measured somehow, somewhere. They found out that this wasn’t a particularly accurate way to measure this PT-INR, so now they just stick a needle in your arm, draw out a vial of the red stuff and send it off to some lab for analysis. Let’s not get into the increase in cost on this one, but you can be pretty much guaranteed that someone, somewhere is paying a hell of a lot more. As for the inaccuracy of the former test…well, they’d been doing it for years and people seemed to be surviving.

            Well, that’s not really what I wanted to tell ya about anyway. So, after the test, Maureen, that’s the nurse practitioner – she’s the person I see; don’t eve know if my doctor’s alive, it’s been so long since I’ve seen him – well, she wanted to take my blood pressure. It was so low – 60 over something – that she wanted to call an ambulance. I’m not much for riding in those things, and I finally convinced her to let me drive to the hospital. I should add that we had gone for a walk and the BP (that’s medical jargon for blood pressure) had gone high enough so I guess she wasn’t too worried.

            So I hauled ass over to the hospital and parked the car out in front of the emergency room – we call it the ER; more medical talk – and walked in. They were ready for me, moved me into a bed and then told me I was gonna be there for a day or two. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” sez I; what about the dog.” Well, they allowed as how I could call the kids, and the kids, as usual came through and set up times for feedin’ and walkin’ the pooch.

            I gotta tell ya, they did more tests on me than they probably did on one of those astronauts before they sent them up into space. I was poked prodded, and stuck with so damn many needles, I was beginnin’ to feel like a pin cushion. It wasn’t enough that they started an IV in my left arm, one of the tests they wanted to do required them to put an even bigger needle in my right arm. I felt somethin’ like a kid I once knew who said he’d never give blood cuz he hated needles. Wouldn’t ya know it, when he finally agreed to try it, they missed; wiggled that needle all around his left arm and couldn’t make anything come out. He said, “God dammit,” take it out of the right arm. They allowed as how that couldn’t be done, but the nurse in charge knew the kid and said it was all right. Well, that kid walked around all day long tellin’ everyone he knew that he’d given blood from both arms. Don’t know how many believed him, but it was a hell of a story.

            So after all these tests, and after they put me upstairs on what was supposed to be a woman’s floor – that was kinda interesting except they were all older than the Blessed Virgin – and a doctor came in to see me. “What’s the problem?” I asked. “We don’t know,” she said.

That wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping to get, but it seemed the best they could do at the time. I finally went to sleep, figuring that by tomorrow they’d have all their facts and figures together and they could tell me the problem…oh what a dreamer!

            Now, when I went to sleep, the bed next to me was empty, when I woke up the next morning, there was a guy laying in that bed who looked like he’d been in a bar fight and came out on the short end. The left part of his forehead had an egg the size that the ostrich lays; he had a gash up into his hair that looked like it came from the sharp part of a busted Budweiser bottle and his left eye coulda been from a shot by Rocky Marciano. The nurses kept tellin’ him not to try to get out of bed without help…and he kept getting’ out of bed using just the walker they’d provided. The second day he was there – they still hadn’t figured out what was wrong with me – but anyway, the second day he was there, he was all happy cuz they’d said he could go home…but don’t get out of your bed without help….it still held and he still didn’t listen.

            So I’m lying back in my bed, thinkin’ about the problems of the world when I hear a crash that shook the room. I got out of bed to see my roomie sittin’ on his ass with his back and head up against the wall and his eyes lookin’ like a referee could count to 20 and he still wouldn’t be up. I pushed the nurse’s call button, went over to keep him from trying to get up and I’m yellin’ “Nurse, nurse.” Thankfully, she was just next door and she felt the shaking of the room, so she came right in. “What were you thinking?” she asked him. “I was just going to the bathroom,” he said. Hot damn, that was one big mistake. His doctor came in and told him that fall had earned him another night with me. Well, when the doctor left, you shoulda’ heard the cussin.’ I mean, I’ve been known to say a few things in my time, but some ‘o those words I’d never even heard before. Mad is probably a bit of an understatement when it comes to how he felt.

            Later that day, my doc came in and told me they thought they had a handle on my problem. It’s called “orthostatic hypotension” and it means that when I stand up, my blood pressure goes down…like a stone tossed in a brook; just about that fast. They put me on a new drug and told me I could go home the next day. Since we’d been having a bit of a battle about when I could go home, I set a time. “I want out by 10:30,” I said. It was a deal and we shook on it. I have to say that she was true to her word. Ten thirty-five was only five minutes after we’d agreed on, and I think that’s pretty damned good for a hospital. Course, the funny part was when I rode by my roomie in a wheelchair and bid him a “fond farewell.” Here I was goin’ home, and here he was still stuck there. It was sorta like one of those…”if looks could kill” moments, and all I could think of was, “Ya dumb son-of-a-bitch; they told ya not to get out of bed without help…serves ya right, ya horse’s ass.”  See, when it comes right down to it, I’m not really as nice as I seem, and after you’ve spent three nights in a hospital, you really begin to understand what they mean when they say, “Hospitals just ain’t for sick people.” They just make ya ornery.

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            “West Side shooting leaves one dead, two wounded.”

            “Man arrested with explosive devices.”

            “Teen fatally shot while leaving S. Side party.”

            “Suspect in killing spree charged in four more murders.”

            “Cop faces charges in beating.”

            “Suspect acquitted of rape but now indicted for murder.”

            You can find these and similar headlines in nearly every daily newspaper in the country every single day. What we do to one another; what we even consider doing to our fellow man; the horrific manner in which we behave gives many of us pause to consider the future of our civilization.

            More than one in one hundred American adults is behind prison bars, giving rise to the question, “What the hell is going on in America?” and, “Is America the most violent nation on earth?”

            Actually, America is pretty tame and mild-mannered by world standards. The last ranking I was able to dig up put us at number 24 in the world in terms of murder per capita. Of course, that was only out of 62 countries ranked, so falling well into the top half doesn’t make us any angels.

            I have to admit that I don’t recall this type of violence when I was growing up. There were no such things as “drive-by’s” and “road rage” and ethnic gangs like the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Asian gangs, Russian gangs, Vietnamese gangs, etc. History tells us that gangs have been around since the first immigrants came to America’s shores, and I’m certain that taken in its broadest definition, that is, dissidents who felt that they were treated unfairly by the majority, one could have referred to them as ‘gangs.’

            Few nations have escaped the “violence” tag, attached to them by one group or another. In fact, that seems to be the criterion. You have to piss off some writer for an influential publication and suddenly, yours is a violent nation. Maybe the writer had his or her pocket picked. Maybe he or she was drunk in a bar one night, became belligerent, and got thrown out. Then again, maybe someone did check some police records and came to the conclusion that “this” must be a violent country because, “ …there sure is a lot of crime here.”  It all goes back to that old barb that says figures don’t lie, but liars sure know how to figure.

            There is no question that the genocide that has taken place around the world, whether it be America of the 1600’s, China of the thirties, Nazi Germany during WWII, Serbia, Romania, or many countries in the Middle East and in Africa. Genocide is a fact of life. We don’t have to like it. We don’t even have to tolerate it if we’re of a mind not to. However, America seems to have picked and chosen which genocides it cares to get pissed about and which it just cares to let slide by…but that’s another story. We’re talking violence in America.

            Is this a cultural thing? We have one of the highest rates of firearms ownership and usage of any industrialized nation in the world. We kill one another with guns more than eleven thousand times each year. What is the story?

            Look at our history. We were kicked out of what we thought of as “our” country. We landed in a place where we had to fight for survival. Forget the first Thanksgiving and all that bullshit. There were hostiles among the Indians just as there were hostiles among the Pilgrims. If you don’t believe it, go back and read how we really treated each other, not from one of these “happy time” textbooks that youngsters get to read in school. Do some research about how we warred against one another. Then check out how we even became a country. We did it by going to war against the English who wanted to subjugate us and make us one of their colonies. We no sooner finish that war than we have a war between ourselves, this time over the question of whether or not  – as the Constitution says – “all men are created equal,” except of course those whose skin happens to be a different color from that of the men who are drawing up the Constitution.  So we manage to kill off another million human beings before that little argument gets settled.

            Not satisfied to fight for ourselves, we have to go get in a war with Spain over the way in which they are treating the Cubans. There seems to be a great deal of “confusion” about how we became involved in this conflict, but we “warriored” our way into it, with Teddy Roosevelt leading the charge of the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and America winning another victory, this time resulting in the Treaty of Paris that was signed in 1898. Part of that treaty gave the United States possession of Cuba, Puerto, the Philippines, and Guam. So what happens next? We send troops to the Philippines which results in the Philippine-American War, and depending on who you wish to believe, that lasted until 1902 or 1913. if you believe the latter, it gave us just enough time to rest up before we entered the closing days of World War I. Gotta have a little rest somewhere in there if for no other reason than to repopulate the country and keep it strong enough to keep on killin.’

            You know the rest as well as I do. After WWI, we took a short break before the ‘Roaring Twenties’ came along. Prohibition and gang warfare  – gee, that’s a familiar term – were hallmarks of the country.  The Great Depression saw people become even more violent, but thankfully, Hitler was rearming Germany, the Japanese were getting more and more pissed at the Americans for refusing them oil and scrap metal, so World War II came along to once more allow us to vent our violent attitude on others, in this case, those who spoke a different tongue or whose skin was a different color…oh, back to that again?

            It really isn’t necessary for me to continue to give a history lesson. Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq…wherever there is someone doing something we believe is not in our best interest – and that means the American government and the party currently in power – we stomp right in like the proverbial bull in the proverbial china shop. Truth to tell, we’re always looking for a fight. You aren’t; I’m not, but there are a great many people in this country who walk around with pieces of 2 x 4 on their shoulders, daring anyone to knock off the chip.     

            I have worked with and trained more than 4,000 police officers in my life and I can tell you that darned few of them are as violent as many other Americans are. They’re willing to become violent if that’s what it takes, but most of those with whom I’ve worked would rather not. They look on their job as preventing violence, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. When that happens, we all get really bent out of shape for a few days while the wake is held, showing the grieving widow or widower and his or her children, the lines of officers from departments around the country; the funeral with coverage by television stations, depending on the degree of heinousness of the way in which the officer died. Then, it’s back to business as usual…until someone else is killed. Then we start the whole process all over again.

            I’m not anti Second Amendment; please don’t think that. However, when my e-mail friends and my IM buddies from other countries ask me about all of the violence in America, I have a tough time explaining that we aren’t all cowboys, looking for a fight. When they ask why Americans want everyone in the world to practice the same form of government that we practice, I don’t try to justify it the way the politicians do. I just can’t shovel bullshit that fast and I refuse to lie to my friends and tell them that I do have answers. I certainly wish that I did.

            Why did we bring down Saddam Hussein when the person we were really after was Osama Bin Laden.? Why did we lie about the WMD that no one has ever been able to find? I will agree that Hussein’s government is probably better off out of power, but what’s replacing it hasn’t seemed a whale of a lot better.

            Let me ask another question? Who crowned us as the world’s policeman? Who gave us the right to interfere with what other countries are doing? Are we in the Middle East because we need their oil? If that’s the case, admit it, but at the very same time, we should damn well admit that we are seeking alternative sources of energy and not hem and haw about where we stand in the process.

            Instead of spending trillions of dollars on war-related activities abroad, let’s get the hell out of some of these countries and take care of our own social problems at home. If we poured the money into those that we pour into trying to keep others at peace, maybe we’d show the world how to live rather than trying to tell them how to live. Genocide is going to occur in Africa and probably elsewhere; get over it, and stop trying to prevent it. Genocide is occurring right here in the United States and we don’t even recognize it. Every time some kid is killed in a drive-by; every time a natural disaster strikes and we can’t save the entire group affected, we are being genocidal. We are being genocidal because we have the resources, we have the assets; we just lack the courage.

            We can stop the violence in America. Like everything else, however, we’re going to have to work at it…and we’re going to have to work harder than we’ve ever worked at anything before in our lives.

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If you are asked a direct question and you do not give a direct answer, you are doing one of two things; you are either equivocating because you know you answer will be provocative and get you in some kind of trouble with someone, or you are just an evasive, lying son-of-a-bitch who knows that your answer is wrong.

Recently, I listened to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R Kentucky) and former leader of the House of Representatives tap dance their way through a session of Meet the Press (MTP) without giving one direct answer to any question asked by host David Gregory. It was about as embarrassing an exhibition of political rhetoric as I have seen in many a moon and it scare the daylights out of me that these people had or do represent Americans in Congress. McConnell, of course, is from Kentucky, where anything seems to go, up to and including scandalous behavior on the part of university players and coaches without penalization, about the only place in the country where “America’s Toughest Sherriff” can speak without fear of demonstrations, where state fairs crown white queens only, and where they consider “My Old Kentucky Home,” to be the national anthem. Army, on the other hand, is the same man who was hypercritical of former President Clinton’s assignation with what’s-her-name, but who failed to mention that he was accused of sexually harassing his female students – thank God it wasn’t the males – while he was teaching and later divorced his wife to marry one of his students.

What is written in the above paragraph is called “character assassination.” It is just about as bad as what former House Leader Army and Minority Leader McConnell tried to do to President Barack Obama and anyone else who disagreed with them during their visit to Meet the Press. Never, in all my years of watching MTP, whether with the late Tim Russert or with Gregory, have I been so insulted by the despicable comments by a couple of political hacks. If they believe that they were speaking to the general public of the United States, they have sadly misunderstood the intelligence of those who watch such programs.

Conversely, when candidate for Governor of New York, Rick Lazio (R) weighed in on whether or not a mosque should be built at ground zero, he asked one of the most intelligent questions I’ve heard to date: “Who is supplying the funding for the Cordoba Institute to build this facility?” As he said, the Institute I considered a charitable organization and, as such, is supposed to make its books open to the NY State Attorney General. While other members of the panel meandered around the character of the Imam of the mosque and how President Obama should or should not have said anything concerning the issue, Lazio focused on a serious and sensible question.

I have come to the conclusion that the majority of American politicians as well as newscasters, reporters, and other media figures are really no better than the rest of us. They just happen to have egos that are totally insatiable. Admittedly, I write because I want people to read my writings. Yeah, that’s right; that’s my ego speaking and as anyone who knows me well will tell you, my ego is pretty large. However, I also write to make people think, to cause them to get pissed off, to cause them to question, whether it be my writing ability, the topics on which I choose to expound, or just on me – I’ve grown so used to being called “asshole” that I automatically turn around whenever I hear it said by anyone anywhere.

If you, as a respected leader of your political party, are invited to address issues in front of millions of people, whether it be by radio or television, address those issues. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.” If you elect to deliver a dissertation on something other than the issue under discussion, you will most assuredly fall within the last portion President Lincoln’s proclamation.

By these comments, does that mean that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat? No, it does not; it means simply that I would like us to come together as a country to face up to the most severe economic problems we have had since the late twenties, early thirties. It means that Congress should get off its collective fat butts and pass the Small Business Initiative. It means that we, as a nation, have to become creative in reeducating people whose jobs have been made obsolete by technology or by outsourcing. It means that we must reconsider whether or not we wish to draw back some of those jobs that we have outsourced because Americans thought that they were “too good” to perform such menial tasks. Not one person in America is so good that he or she can’t afford to get their hands dirty once in a while. We have allowed pricing to outstrip income, often purely to feed the greed of others. And all of this has to stop.

The conservative “Tea Party” is not the answer to bringing America back to Americans. The political party that can do that has yet to be created. It’s going to take a group of young idealists from a few college campuses to recognize that it’s their future that is at stake and that unless they totally discard the policies of the past, they won’t have a future. I deeply regret that I won’t be around to see that rebellion take place, for it won’t be in my lifetime. It would be sort of fun, however, to have a ringside seat and to be able to root for those idealists.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking before the General Assembly of the United Nations, promised the people of Pakistan more relief for the flood-ridden country. “We will be with you,” Clinton kept saying over and over and over, until I was on the verge of losing my toast. “Why, oh, why,” I asked myself, “does the United States continue to help others before it helps its own?” What do we have to prove? Are we saying that we’re so damnably rich that we can afford to help everyone else? I’m sorry, folks, but from where I’m standing, that just isn’t the case.

The United States is a nation of skewed priorities. We seem to believe that we can get the world to love us if only we take care of their problems. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Columbian and Mexican drug lords, tribal leaders who slaughter others and who beg and receive aid from us, have all shown that they really don’t give a damn what we do as long as we take care of them. As much as the thought appalls rather than appeals, I must agree with some of the Taliban leaders who have rejected the aid America is giving to Pakistan because as they say, “The aid will only go to help those of the ruling class,” and the ruling class doesn’t really give a hoot about the average Pakistani. When that average Ahmad or Abdul doesn’t receive his or her fair share, the Taliban will have been proven correct and will find it easier to recruit soldiers for their illegal, illicit, and hypocritical rebellion against a leadership that is already, illegal, illicit, and hypocritical. I have only to look at Cuba and what the Castro rebellion promised. In over half a century, they certainly haven’t delivered the goods to the average Cuban, and if they had Miami might still be an English-speaking city.

The situation in some of these nations that have been devastated by natural disasters seems similar to what is going on in our own country. We are a more developed nation and I freely admit that. I ask, however, why, many of these other countries are not further along in their own growth.  Many of them are centuries older than the United States. Are you trying to tell me that it is all due to the forms of government that they have had in all that time. If that is true, then I’m sorry, but I blame the people of the nation for their lack of courage in not rebelling against oppressive leadership.

Here, in America, we have a democracy, a form of government that allows the people to make the decisions of who leads, who represents, who is responsible for caring for the rest of us. Sometimes, those people do it poorly and they are voted – what a wonderful word – voted out of their positions of leadership.  At most other times, they do the job well enough that we allow them to remain as our representatives. That certainly is an oversimplification but it’s the way the system is supposed to work. When you toss big business, with all of their money, their lobbyists, and their greed into the equation, things manage to get fairly well mixed up so that the few reap the rewards until some whistle-blower comes along and then everyone repents, rehabs, and begins again to see how they can screw the great American public.

Secretary Clinton told the Pakistanis that “We will be with you through the rebuilding of your infrastructure,” among other promises that she made. Well, Ms. Clinton, there is an infrastructure in our own nation that could use a bit of the aid you’re promising to others. Our roads and bridges are collapsing; gangs have taken over large portions of our cities; illegals are pouring into our nation and our own government tries to stop individual states from putting an end to it rather than working with the states to end the problem; greed is so rampant in our own capitol that those of us in the hinterlands are sick to our stomachs; we have a society of citizens who are so obese that many won’t outlive their parents. We have become a nation of swine because profit has become more important than propriety.

Our own government seems to be unable, unwilling, or sufficiently polarized to solve some of our own very basic problems. Recently, I had the opportunity to fly over the great state of California. In places, it sparkles in greenery; in other spots, it is a desolate brown. I also had occasion to speak with a couple of employees of Governor Schwarzenegger about this situation. “The Governor is just as concerned as anyone,” one of these people told me, “but there are so many groups and factors involved in trying to bring water to the areas that need it, the whole thing has become a tangled web that defies undoing.” These people went on to say, and granted they are prejudiced toward the ‘Governator,’ “He’s really a great guy who wants to do things for the State, but the State is too damned big.” I would agree with that statement, but I’m fearful that dividing it into two or three states would only create more bureaucracy and problems than already exist.

We have 535 elected representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties who are unable to agree on how to help American regain its economic strength. Yet, here we are promising billions of dollars in aid to countries that couldn’t care less about the problems we have in our own country. We are so eager to please others that we forget that we must first please our own. We wish to be loved by everyone in the world and let me give Washington a clue…it ain’t gonna happen, Jack. There are governments and nations that are going to see us as the spoiled brats we are, forever and a day. Let’s just accept that and get on with becoming a hardass nation with a strong infrastructure and a stronger military. The world has changed and we haven’t changed with it. To those people who would destroy us from within, we will find you and we will kill or deport you. To those who would attack us from other shores, be aware that we will retaliate in a manner that will hurt you very, very badly. We will not begin World War III, but recognize that we are willing to take steps to end it and end it quickly. To those who think they have an economic stranglehold on us, please understand that you do not. We are a tolerant people, but only up to a point. Step past that point and you bring about your own consequences.

If all of this sounds like the rant of a madman, you’re right; it is. I am furious with our elected politicians for not seeing the problems in our own country and for their failure to come together to solve them. They are a group of selfish bastards who are putting party before country and that is wrong. I am furious that we are sacrificing young men and women daily using the excuse – it’s a more polite word than ‘lie’ – that if we fight them on their turf we won’t have to fight them on our own. I am furious that my country has lost so much of the respect it once had because we, in our ignorance, have elected wimpy presidents for the past several decades who have bowed down to the desires of others using excuse after excuse to the American people. It’s time we grew a set of big brass ‘cojones’ and stood tall once more.

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