Archive for January, 2012

“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” Helen Keller said that. There’s a bit of humor in that because I didn’t recall having seen that quote from Miss Keller and yet, it is one of the most appropriate happenstances that I should see it today.

Yesterday, I was speaking with my friend, Juli, and complaining about how terrible this past Congress has been; about how vicious this Republican candidate campaigning has been; about how badly the Supreme Court screwed up when it gave permission for corporations to donate as much money as they wished to form “superpacs” or gigantic-sized political actions committees on behalf of one or another or all of the candidates. There were several other things that I lambasted while I was at it, but of course, Juli merely stood there and listened. I finished by lamenting that “there’s really not one goddamn thing I can do about it.”

“That’s right,” she said and turned around and walked away.

Then, this morning, the Keller quote came in by e-mail. It started me thinking, “What is the one thing that I can do about this political process?” The only thing that I can do is writing. I can write and hope that there are enough people out there who will read and believe what I write that they, too, will look for the one thing they can do to help get their candidate elected to town council, school committee, Congressman, Senator, or President of the United States of America.

Let me begin by saying that I agree one hundred percent with Boston Bruins goalie, Tim Thomas. Our country is in a lot of trouble. We have too many people who have to choose between medicine or meals; rent or paying the oil company. In other words, there are too many Americans who are in a thoroughly untenable situation. On top of that, there are too many politicians in Washington who really don’t give a damn about those people. And “those people” don’t feel as though they are empowered to do one damned thing about it…and they’re right.

Big money is running our country. Big money couldn’t care less about you or me unless we’re making over $200,000 per year. At that rate, they might give us a minute or so on the telephone in their busy schedules, but not a hell of a lot more. If we’re earning a bit over a million, hell, they even take a half hour meeting with us every so often…as long as they know we’re supporting their candidate for whatever office he or she may be competing for. As for you and me, well…we’re screwed! Our only choice is to find out who among those candidates has one bloody clue about what’s really going on in this country and will try to do something about it.

At a recent speech at the University of Michigan, the President stated, “I don’t need a tax break. I’m not the one who’s hurting. I’m willing to pay my fair share, but Congress won’t pass legislation that will allow me to do that.” He didn’t say why Congress wouldn’t pass that legislation but you and I both know, don’t we? We know that there are two reasons why Congress won’t pass any kind of tax reform that would put “big money” on a somewhat more equal footing with thee and me. First, and foremost, the bulk of our members of Congress are already millionaires, and they don’t want to pay more taxes. As one member put it, “It’s tough just to live on $400,000 per year.” Yea, life’s a real bitch when you have to live on 400K. Anybody out there willing to try to live on that paltry amount, Careful, you might get run over in the stampede! The second reason that Congress won’t pass any kind of tax reform to equalize the burden is that if they even think about it, “big money” will step in and find ways to “help” them. As I say, “big money is running our country.”

I really believed that when President Obama was campaigning, he was a good man and the right person for the job. I happen to be one who still believes that. Bill Clinton tried to balance the budget after Reagan had spent like a kid in a candy store. He did a fair job, but the national debt still increased. George W. Bush came in and like every Republican President before him, he spent money like it was going out of style tomorrow, and up, up, up when the national debt. After eight years in the White House, he left a disaster behind. Now, in just over three years, Mr. Obama seems to be doing some things to help the country. He managed to get an imperfect health care bill passed. It still needs a lot of rewrite, but it’s a huge start. He managed to get our troops out of Iraq – a few more than 200 service men and women died while he was trying to do it – but he got them out. I’m certainly hoping he’ll do the same thing with Afghanistan. I believe he knows as well as the rest of us that once we leave any of those countries in the Middle East, they’ll just fall back into their old tribal warfare ways. Democracy’s a great idea, but if you’ve been doing business one way for over 2,500 years, it’s really kind of tough to change your practices.

Now, after the Republican presidents spent money like drunken sailors through a period that encompassed 16 years with a brief pause in between, the members of the Republican Party want the President to reduce the national date by an impossible level within an impossible time frame. Because he understands that it can’t be done while keeping the country running, they want him out…out, do you hear me, out! And in his place, they want to put another one of their millionaire buddies who neither know the problems of the average American, but worse, who don’t give a damn about our problems.

I can write, and I will continue to write about this upcoming election. Hopefully, I can intersperse a few funny stories along the way – oh, wait, a colony on the moon is pretty funny – and other essays that may be of interest. Until the next time, what’s the one thing you can do?

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Make your vote count

Mitt Romney pays income taxes at a rate that is less than half of the rate at which the average American pays. Some of his money is in banks in the Cayman Islands. He makes a $10,000 bet the way you and I would gamble half a buck on something. He enjoys firing people. He flip-flops his position on issues to the extent you need a mirror just to see which side of his mouth he’s speaking from. Yep, this is a great candidate to be the next leader of the free world.

Newt Gingrich has the moral strength of a male rabbit set loose in a hutch of females. He’s so compassionate, he serves divorce papers on one of his wives while she’s in the hospital recovering from breast cancer surgery. He bends history to fit his own set of “facts.” He has, on his third try, finally found a woman who says that it’s okay for him to screw around with other women. He’s made millions from Freddie Mac and now wants to break it up…getting rid of some evidence, are we? Yep, Newt has a moral compass than spins like a top but he’s another great candidate to be the next leader of the free world.

Dr. Ron Paul seems like a pretty good guy. It worries me that he’s from Texas and served in the Air National Guard in that state. I keep thinking back to the last Republican President from Texas who served in the Air National Guard…and that scares the pants off me. Oops, sorry, I’m male and Dr. Paul is a gynecologist.  It also bothers me that he believes the bombing of the World Trade Center on 911 is our own fault. It appears he’d like America to be in a bubble and let the rest of the world flow around it. I’m a year older than Dr. Paul and hope to live a few more years. However, with his finger so close to “the button,” I’m not certain long-term survival is a guaranteed option because I’m fearful that retaliation in his mind would mean total annihilation. Yep, he’s another ‘good-un.’

The Republican golden boy at this stage is Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Congressman. In Iowa he was the only candidate who shook hands in all 99 counties of the state. That’s commendable but it’s not a prerequisite for a president. While in the Senate, Santorum had the reputation of being “earmark happy,” attaching over $16 billion in earmarks to various bills. Now, he’s looking to stop federal spending and lower the deficit. Can you say, “Flip-flop?” Santorum is arrogant and, in his own mind, his never wrong; so much for the idea of listen to those on the frontline. He also lacks executive leadership experience. In addition, I have trouble supporting someone who appears to feel that women have no right to choose, even if she has been raped or impregnated by a member of her own family. No, I cannot even consider that Rick Santorum should be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. Perhaps when he grows up, he might be considered a viable candidate.

Maybe I’m way off base here and one of these men would be a good change. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, “I wouldn’t trust one of them to hold my wallet for five seconds.” I’ve talked about Santorum’s arrogance but the rest of the candidates are just as bad. They are George W. Bush robots. They will spout anything to get elected, but don’t believe that once they are, they’ll do as they said. If lying, cheating, and stealing is your bag, these are the people for you.

Do I believe that Barack Obama has done a great job? No, I think his priorities have been a bit screwed up. The health care bill was a stubborn, bull-headed move. Yes, it got passed, but I don’t know that it should have been number one on the ‘to-do list.’ I didn’t agree with TARP and still don’t, but what the hell, things did seem to get somewhat turned around. I still have a problem with some of the banks and companies that were saved and are now back to paying their executives the huge salaries and bonuses all over again, but I guess I’m just jealous of people making millions while there are still so many homeless and hungry in this country. I guess perhaps I have a warped view about what American should be and how it should be run. But let me get back to my opening question about our incumbent President: He’s a man trying to do a job, and I can’t see any of the opposing candidates doing a better job than he has done in his first shot. If you’re an American and if you’re of voting age, the choice is yours. The only thing I would ask is that you make your vote count…understand what is being said and make your vote count.

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Taking shots at politicians is somewhat unfair. It’s rather like shooting fish in a barrel, and although I’ve never participated in that, I’ve been deep sea fishing when the darn things seemed to be trying to jump into the boat…sort of takes all the sport out of the whole thing.

Back to the politicians. The Republican primaries have brought a great deal of enjoyment. These men and former woman have fired so much mud at one another that it seems they’re just providing fodder for the Democratic ad team who must be drooling from information overload. Like you, I have not the slightest idea of who will win the Republican nomination…nor do I care. You see, I lived through eight years of George W. Bush. I had just retired a couple of years before he came into office. I watched my retirement income shrink over those eight years of idiocy. I watched two wars begin for no reason whatsoever. I watched terrorists wreak havoc on American soil such as not had been done in more than half a century. I watched as one man, so in love with himself and his position of power, made this nation a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Now that he is gone, I’m watching as his remaining cronies attempt to blame all of his mistakes on the man who had to take over and try to “right the ship” in four short years.

It took eight years for George W. Bush and his cadre of well-to-do-hangers-on to bleed the American teat dry and now they’re blaming the Black kid for their screw-ups? I don’t care who the Republican nominee is because I’m going to give Obama a chance. I have to admit that he has turned the economy around…partly. He has brought health care to all Americans, something that seven Presidents before him were unable to do. Yes, the jobless rate is still poor, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was in 2009 when he took over. And, despite having a wife who doesn’t have a clue about being or how to act like a First Lady, Obama hasn’t done all that badly.

Have you noticed that the Republican candidates are not saying that their ideas are any better than what the incumbent has? What they constantly repeat is, “We want a candidate who can beat Barack Obama.” I have to ask, “Why?” What has this guy done that is so terrible? Bush threw troops into Iraq and I have never understood that. “We know that Saddam has WMDs.” Oh, really? Well, that’s one turned out to be rather erroneous, wouldn’t you say? And it only cost us approximately 4,500 American dead since President Bush said, “Mission Accomplished.” What “mission” was worth that number of young American men and women? Even after Obama took office, we lost another 300+, but at least the remainder of the troops is now out of there. Yeah, and so what happens less than a week after we leave? The insurgent bombings begin again. If we were wise, we’d pull every American out of the Middle East; advise Pakistan and Afghanistan to break out their old swords and get back into the tribal warfare. It’s what’s going to eventually happen anyway so why shouldn’t we just speed things up a bit?

What I really hat is watching the house of Saud get away with all of their machinations while we coddle them because they have the oil. That sickens me. Saudi Arabia is the training ground for terrorists but we treat them as if they were our best friends. I don’t understand it.

Anyway, back to the politicians.  Things started out smoothly enough in Iowa. Herman Cain started to get a bit too big for his britches so they trotted out a few bimbos because his was vulnerable on that front. After all, aren’t all Black men just after white women…nice generality; untrue but a generality that got Herman out of the running. Rick Perry began doing Dan Quayle imitations and that has probably been his downfall. Romney damn near blew it with his $10K wager comment, and Ron Paul is just plain scary. John Huntsman had some reasonably good standing until he took himself out. Now, we’re really left with Newt, Mitt, and Tea Party Patsy, Ron Santorum. If those three aren’t enough to scare you into giving Obama four more years, I don’t know what in the name of God would possibly do it!

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You will have to pardon me but I have no problem with four marines pissing on the bodies of Taliban fighters. I do have a problem with “sawing” off heads of innocent civilians such as Daniel Pearl, Jack Hensley, Nicholas Berg and Eugene Armstrong. On the one hand, one might say that both are disgraceful deeds and they’d probably be right. On the other hand, what goes on in war is often disgraceful to the casual sideline observer. At least the bodies of the Taliban fighters were already dead. They weren’t subject to the torture to which Pearl and company were subjected.

I have not been in war. Let’s get that straight right up front. I cannot comment first hand on what does and does not happen. A friend of mine was in Korea with a shiny gold bar on his shoulder. He didn’t wish to speak of his experiences in that country. One evening, however, on a trip from Boston to Washington, D.C., he opened up and told me – it was just the two of us in the car – about what he’d seen and what he’d experienced. He cried through parts of the narrative. I’d never seen him cry before. He talked about one of his men trying to dig a foxhole on a hill that had been pulverized by artillery. Everyone was on edge, exhausted from taking the hill by day and then being forced to retreat from an enemy counterattack at night. As the young soldier was digging, he unearthed a fresh forearm from the shelling the night before. It was the final straw; he ran back down the hill screaming; he’d had enough. “There are two things that defy description when you’re in war,” he told me. “You can’t imagine the noise and you can’t imagine the stench. Dead, dying, and decaying bodies just plain stink. It gets in your nose and mouth; into your clothing and even into your boots. It’s worse than anything you could ever think of.”

You and I, we sit at home and watch war on television. Television cannot duplicate the noise; television cannot bring you the stink of war. Television doesn’t show you war up close and personal. We think it does through some of our “captured film footage” or “film by combat cameramen,” but that stuff has all been edited. When you see German POW camps, you don’t see Major Ralph T., a late friend of mine, being pissed on by German soldiers after they’d beaten his back blood raw…no, you don’t see stuff like that; that’s not for public consumption. “We must protect the public from the truth. After all, when Lt. William Calley’s Mei Lai massacre story came out, the public was outraged, and we mustn’t have that again.” That is such a crock of horse manure, it makes me want to puke.

Things happen in wars that are abominable. If everybody and his brother had a camera during the Civil War and if television had been as vast a medium as it is today, America would never have gone to war again. In all probability, wars would have been confined to tribes in the Middle East and other parts of the uncivilized world.

It would be very interesting to know the ‘backstory’ of the those four marines. How long had they been in combat? What ugly sights had they seen? Is it possible those Taliban bodies were part of a group that had cleaned out a village of men, women, and children, leaving them in the street to be further robbed of their dignity by desert flies? We don’t know. Had these marines been stretched to the breaking point but still left on the front lines? Will any of the four eventually have to be treated for post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)?

Before someone starts screaming, “But we’re the United States; we don’t do things like that,” I want to let you know that there isn’t a country in the world that wouldn’t say the same thing about its young warriors. Yes, we are the United States of America. Our military warriors come from all walks of life, For some, being in the military is the best thing that could ever happen to them. However, don’t you dare tell me that in the heat of battle, when push comes to shove, when it’s kill or be killed, you wouldn’t fling shit in the face of your enemy just to gain a split second advantage. Yes, the “rules of war” say that one should bury one’s enemy on the field of battle. Are you kidding me? Bury, my ass; kill the sonofabitch and get the hell out of Dodge. One of the other rules of war is the chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) weapons are not to be used, and yet there are places in the world where that rule is clearly disobeyed. If you want these young men and women of the United States military to be polite in battle, you damn well better tear down Ft. Myer North Post and expand Arlington National Cemetery. Better yet, stop trying to tell them how to fight when they get in a combat situation. It’s like the Italian woman who said, after listening to one of the Pope’s sermons, raging against abortion, “You no play the game, you don’t make the rules. When some three-star desk jockey in the Pentagon gets pissed about “the pissers,” he better remember his days in combat.

Let me close with one final story. The Korean War had been over for a couple of weeks. My cousin, Paul, was standing by his ammo truck with his best friend, Frenchy. They were happy and having their picture taken by another soldier. Right after the picture was taken, a North Korean sniper put a bullet through Frenchy’s forehead. My cousin was in therapy for years after that little episode. War? War sucks. However, if the world is going to be run by animals, there will always have to be hunters, and let’s face it, there are no rules when you’re hunting.

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I will grant you this: Collegiate football players have to learn a playbook and know what their responsibility is once the ball is snapped…offensively or defensively. They also have to be in excellent physical condition to get hit or to hit as many times as they do during a game. In addition, they must listen to and absorb the bullshit yelling of offensive, defensive, special teams, weight and conditioning coaches, plus the head coach throughout the week and during the game. They’ve got it tough, right?

There are some other athletes involved during the year and at the bowl games, should their team win a sufficient number of games to qualify. These athletes receive polite applause for their efforts…or not, depending on the quality of the crowd that might just be watching them. If these athletes make a mistake, it’s usually very obvious to everyone in the stands. A tackle might miss a block; a defensive back might blow a coverage; even a facemask violation might be missed by the average fan, but if one of these other athletes screws up, the whole damned stadium can see it.

By now you’ve probably guessed that I’m speaking of the members of the collegiate marching bands. No, they aren’t six-five, 305. They don’t run the 40 in 4.4. What they do is march…in step with Lord only knows how many other band members. They often must know intricate maneuvers to form outlines of this or that. In addition, they must play an instrument, whether it’s a set of snares, trombone, saxophone, xylophone, or cell phone (what?), they have to read the music, march in time, and not screw up…because if they do, they will get laughed out of the stadium, and probably get kicked out of the band.

I watched the University of Oregon marching band this morning at the Tournament of Roses Parade. They marched five miles. I can’t say how often they played, but I’m betting it was a hell of a lot. They then took a break, went off to march and entertain before the game with Wisconsin at the Rose Bowl, and then entertained the crowd with another performance at halftime.  No, they didn’t have to dodge blitzing linebackers, cover speedy receivers, or take out the drum major, but they worked their butts off, and for what? As I have said, a bit of meager applause when they finish. There was a time, years ago, when the announcers took a break at halftime and just let the bands do their thing. I guess ‘real football fans’ must not have liked that, so today we go ‘back to the studio’ for an update on what else is happening in pigskin world or for a local newscast. So long, band members; have fun with your music. We’ll come back when the ‘real action’ begins. You may not be an All-American as a band member, but you’re still learning the basics of teamwork, physical conditioning, plus you have a skill you can carry throughout life…without having to use a cane when you’re 40. Hey, Clinton still plays a mean sax!

Oh, and don’t forget those other athletes on the field. I call ‘em “the zebras.” Umpires, line judges, back judges, referees…these people are anywhere from 20 to 30 or more years older than the kids who are playing the game. Most of the time they can get out of the way, but if a smart receiver tries to use you as a pick of a defender….ooh, the pain. These men are in remarkable shape. Rarely, very rarely, do they receive the recognition they deserve. Do I want them to stop the game midway through and bow to both sides in expectation of applause or coins tossed to them? No, of course not; big bills maybe, but certainly not coins.

So, the next time you go to a football game or watch a collegiate game on television, see how much air time those athletes we call band members get. Watch the officials closely and see how they dodge and jump, run, and turn on a dime, all the while, watching for and catching ninety-nine point nine percent of the infractions that are taking place. See, and here you thought it was just 66 or more guys just knocking heads to see who could put the most points on the board. Where did I get 66? Well you have to figure an offense, a defense, and special teams. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, that’s 33 men for each team; double it and there’s the number. Betcha never thought about that one either, didja?

Enjoy the game!

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Had a comment on the blog the other day. It came from a 15-year old. “Can you tell me how to get ripped and have bigger biceps?” I wasn’t certain whether to laugh, cry, or just throw it in the SPAM folder. In addition, the article which prompted him to ask the question had nothing to do with lifting weights or “getting ripped.” I suppose I could have answered, but if he ever learned he was receiving advice from a 77-year old man, I’m certain he would have been the one laughing so hard, he’d cry and then throw the answer in the SPAM folder.

When I was growing up, “ripped” meant that your pants were torn or a teacher thought your paper was so bad, he or she tore it up…generally in front of the entire class – I had some really sadistic teachers (just kidding). Today, new definitions seem to have been added, including the one of which the young man was speaking. Having a nicely toned body can be very attractive; however, some of the ripped bodies that I have seen at the gym – both male and female – are pretty damned ugly! In addition, what many of these muscle heads go through to achieve exaggerated musculature is, in itself, rather unintelligent. Yes, I’m talking about steroidal use. I knew a body builder who had won a national championship. I never had known that steroids could have such a negative effect on one’s personality. He was never wrong…about anything…ever. It was rather sad because he wouldn’t take advice from anyone.

My advice to this 15-year old and to any young person who wants to build some muscle and tone their body is first, set some goals for yourself. Why do you want to build your body? Are you being bullied? Do you think that by building yourself up, you can then bully others? Those are not good reasons. Do you want to become stronger so that you can be a better athlete or just look better? Great, but don’t delude yourself. The girls might like you for your bod, but it takes a whale of lot more to impress today’s female than just a set of muscles. Finally, remember that once you start, it’s difficult to go back. Somehow, the body seems to lose tone and muscle a heck of a lot faster than it took to build it. Conditioning requires constant effort and a genuine commitment.

You might wish to consider joining a gym and attending on a regular basis. That does not mean seven days a week. Remember, your body needs time to recover from certain workouts. When I was in my 60s, I finally joined a gym. It became addictive and I found myself attending every single day. A friend who had been lifting since he was 18 came to me and indicated that I was hurting myself. “If you lift properly,” he said, “you’re going to feel it for a couple of days. You cannot lift weights on a daily basis and expect not to get hurt.” It was sound advice. I finally hired a personal trainer who set up a wonderful program that included cardiovascular conditioning as well as weights. Unfortunately, he left and went to Seton Hall as an athletic trainer…bummer!

My second recommendation is to find a personal trainer who knows what he or she is doing. There are any number of ‘trainers’ who don’t know what the hell they’re doing, so choose wisely. If you can’t afford that, look around. Who looks like he or she knows what they’re doing; ask questions…but never, ever during someone’s set. You don’t want to interfere with their concentration. In addition, if you’re going to ask, choose wisely. My friend who had been lifting since 18 became a mentor. He knew how to lift; how much to lift, and; what parts of the body should be exercised and how often. Lifting incorrectly is exceedingly dangerous. I watched a young man bench pressing what was obviously too much weight. When he finally got the bar back on its rests, I asked, “Do you want a spotter?” The spotter is one who stands behind the lifter and gives assistance as required, “Naw, I’m okay,” the young man said. On his next lift, his left arm collapsed and the weights came down across his chest. He had dislocated his shoulder and cracked three ribs. There are several lessons to be learned here. The most important is don’t be an asshole!

Gyms are everywhere today. They don’t have the stigma that was attached to them when I was growing up. I have made more friends at the two gyms of which I am a member than I have made in many a moon. As a group, we have watched members swell and become mothers, some for the first time. We have experienced sadness when our members or a member of their own family have become ill and died. I drove the manager of my ‘old gym’ to a wake one afternoon. When we walked in, she turned back to me and whispered in something of a disbelieving voice, “These are all people from the gym.” “I know, Katy,” I said. “We’re a family.”

So, go ahead, young man; build those muscles; get yourself in great physical shape. It’s one of the best addictions you can possibly have, and it’s a wonderful way to meet some genuinely nice people.

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