Saturday, February 27, 2016

Should Willy Daffern be in the RnR HoF?

Pop quiz.  What do the following bands have in common:  The Beatles; The Rolling Stones; The Who; U2; Rush; Genesis; Lynyrd Skynyrd; Black Sabbath; Def Leppard; REM.

In each of these bands, the original members met as kids.  Many went to the same school.  Most probably learned to play their instruments together.  At some point, lightning struck and they became famous.

This, of course, is not how all bands come to be.  According to the Wikipedia article about Deep Purple, they were put together to be a rotating band of hired guns.  The original lineup was culled from musicians who were already working pros or semi-pros.

It's a statement that you hear all over the place, since Deep Purple was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; that in the 1970's, there were three hard rock groups that mattered: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.

A lot of people have a real problem with the Rock Hall, mainly because of artists that have not been inducted.  The hall is very secretive about the process by which artists are chosen, and the perception is that certain individuals simply will not allow acts that they personally don't like.  The names that come up the most often are Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine and the hall, and Little Steven, long-time guitarist with Bruce Springsteen and vocal advocate of "garage band" music.  But so far as I know, nobody knows the names of all of the hall's leadership.

This is the explanation for why such acts as Jethro Tull, Yes, and the Moody Blues aren't in the hall.  And, it also explains why acts like Rush, Kiss, and Deep Purple took so long to get in.  Ian Gillian recently revealed that he was told Deep Purple didn't get in until now because they were a "one-hit wonder."  His reply was, which one hit?  Hush?  Smoke on the Water?  He proceeded to rattle off half a dozen singles that went high on the charts in both the US and UK.  Of course, it didn't count that their albums sold in the millions, and that they were stars of album-oriented rock radio.

It's a lame excuse, and a quick look through the list of hall members shows it.  It would seem that the hall's leadership has an image in their head of what rock is, and the above mentioned groups simply don't fit.  If they had their way and could ignore the outcry, Rush and Deep Purple wouldn't be in yet, and would never be.

It's almost like good musicianship somehow isn't rock and roll.  To me, that's sad.  It's the idea that Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Martin Barre, Neil Peart, and Roger Glover have attained a level of skill that somehow makes the music they play and compose ineligible to be called rock.  Buddy Guy, Cat Stevens, Public Enemy, and Bob Marley are rock, and the Moody Blues aren't?

In fairness, looking through the list of inductees, I don't see one single name that I don't think belongs there.  That's the thing about halls of fame; they're about fame.  All the artists in the Rock Hall, even if I personally don't care for their music, or think of them as rock, have considerable followings, have had significant influence, and are worthy of the recognition they've received.

As a hall of fame, the rock one seems to hew more toward the model of the Football hall than the Baseball one.  The Baseball Hall of Fame tends to set the bar very high.  There are pitchers with 300 wins and hitters with 300 homers that aren't in the hall.  It took a long time, for instance, for Jim Rice to be named.  The football hall is much more inclusive.  Just take a look at the number of players inducted to each in any given year.  Baseball, it's unusual to see more than three.  The rock hall sometimes has a dozen.

This is not a complaint, but it does show what induction to the hall really means.  In baseball, it means that you are part of a much more elite group.  By his induction, Jim Rice stands shoulder to shoulder with Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Honus Wagner, and other giants.  It could be argued that being more inclusive lowers the stature of the greatest members, and being less inclusive elevates the lesser ones.

Be that as it may, the rock hall is what it is.  By being inducted, Deep Purple stands alongside the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Green Day, Elvis Presley, The Hollies, NWA, Cheap Trick, Chuck Berry, James Taylor, Booker T and the MG's, and Johnny Cash.  Take that any way you like.

Their induction caused me to dig out a bunch of old Deep Purple.  I'm sorry to admit I haven't listened to them in a long time.  To be frank, while I've always liked them, they've never been one of my favorites.  I guess I just don't relate to a lot of what their music is about.  Even so, it's hard to beat "Made In Japan."  That's just a great, great album.  Jon Lord on Space Truckin'?  Ya can't beat it.

One thing that quickly jumped out at me was the very high level of musicianship, especially in the second incarnation.  Ian Gillian and Roger Glover replaced Rod Evans and Nick Simper on vocals and bass respectively and, while the originals were very good, the replacements were even better.  This is my favorite version of the band, along with Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice.

David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes eventually replaced Gillian and Glover, and once again were very good.  Blackmore left and was replaced by Tommy Bolin.  Personally, I think in retrospect Bolin was in over his head in Blackmore's place, but that's me.  If you really want to hear Bolin at his best, get Billy Cobham's "Spectrum."

Deep Purple is an example of a scenario that came to prominence in the 70's.  In the 60's we were introduced to the concept of the supergroup, the most famous of which were Cream and CSNY.  By the 70's groups were being put together and sold as supergroups whether the members had achieved any significant prior success or not.

Following the threads in and out of Deep Purple is an education in this area.  Original vocalist Rod Evans went on to form a band called Captain Beyond with the former drummer of Johnny Winter And, Bobby Caldwell, and two former members of Iron Butterfly; bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist Larry Reinhart.

I kept chasing the threads in and out and around Deep Purple, and they led me through such acts as Atomic Rooster, Cactus, the James Gang, and on and on until I found myself at Brand X.  Brand X and Captain Beyond are two of my favorite lesser known bands, which each went through several incarnations and always included a very high level of musicianship.

Brand X was a jazz fusion band that sometimes included Phil Collins on drums.  Incredible musicians, highly recommended.  YouTube has entire albums of theirs posted.  I would direct you to Moroccan Roll and Product for an introduction.

Which brings me to the original subject of this essay, Willie Daffern.  Captain Beyond released two albums in 1972 and 1973, ("Captain Beyond" and "Sufficiently Breathless") then broke up.  The members went on to other groups and other things.  Then, about '76 some of the members decided to start the group up again.  Relations between these members and Rod Evans had deteriorated, so Willie Daffern was tapped to take over lead vocal duties for their third album, Dawn Explosion.

Willie's only other recordings up to that point had been as a drummer for a couple bands I'd never heard of.  He turned out to be a very good singer, and I think Dawn Explosion stands up well to the group's previous releases.  Unfortunately, none of their albums ever really took off, but they're excellent.

Willie, like many other fine musicians, spent his career bouncing in and out of bands.  Sometimes musicians like this backed up a front person, and sometimes they were part of an attempt to form a group.  And sometimes, people would leave an established act and their roles would have to be filled.  That's how Fleetwood Mac, Yes, the Moody Blues, the James Gang, Brand X, and countless others survived through the years.  It's also why they evolved so dramatically.

So I would like to take this opportunity to honor all the hard working professional musicians who, like Willie Daffern, and Dominic Troiano, Morris Pert, John Goodsall, Carmine Appice, Don Airie, Nils Lofgren and hundreds of others that have moved in an out of bands, spent long weeks and months on the road, and worked the grind of numberless studio sessions.

These men and women dedicated themselves to the life of a working musician.  They started families, put bread on the table, and then spent weeks and months away from family and table to work on the road.  They played a lot of music they didn't really care about, and poured their heart and souls into music they did.  They watched lesser talents go by them on the way up, and down, the ladder.

They entered into musical relationships that sometimes had zero chemistry and even less chance of success.  Sometimes the chemistry was there, the music was cooking, but nobody cared.  Sometimes they would get right to the ragged edge of major success, only to find themselves replaced.  Or to find they had dishonest management who cleaned them out before leaving them dead beside the road.  Or to be told by some talentless A&R guy, "I don't hear a single."

In a way, the induction of Deep Purple honors all those musicians who sell their gun arm because they love to play and keep hoping for that big break.  Having passed through that band is comparable to winning the Daytona 500, or wearing a Super Bowl ring.  It's a career maker.  It's a guaranteed free beer in any bar you walk into.  Yeah, I was in Deep Purple.  Y'know, when I was in Australia touring with Deep Purple ...

Kudos to the hall for inducting them.  Do they diminish or elevate the other members of the hall?  I don't think that's the question.  What their induction does is elevate the hall.  It makes it more relevant to people who love the whole of rock music.  It's a victory for those who can appreciate skill as well as passion, and do not think the two are mutually exclusive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Open Letter to Jeb Bush

Open Letter to Jeb Bush

I hear you’re having a frustrating time of it. The nomination was supposed to be yours for the asking, and it’s getting further away all the time. I don’t know if what I’ve got to say is going to make you feel any better, but maybe I can offer a little clarity.

The bane of your existence seems – and I choose that word carefully – seems to be Donald Trump. He’s “the outsider,” and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are riding his coattails by being “outsiders” who are potentially more palatable than Mr. Trump. Carson’s ahead of you, and Fiorina’s breathing down your neck. In fact, the three of them are getting as many voters right now as the whole rest of you put together. But you know that.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s not Donald Trump’s golden personality that is your problem. Your problem … well … is you, sir. Not you, personally, but the whole lot of you. And not so much you, as what and who you represent.

The perception is that we can’t believe anything that you say. Big, ongoing problems in this country have been getting nothing but lip service from the Republicans for decades now. Yes, I know, you were a big success back in Florida, brought the budget down, good conservative, stared down the liberals, all that. Acknowledged.

But believe it or not – and many in your party choose not to believe it – we out here in fly-over country actually have brains, and pay attention to what’s going on. For instance, we remember all the way back to 2014, when the Republicans running for Congress promised to use the “power of the purse” to shut down Obamacare and so forth and so on. And … uh … they seem to have forgotten.

Now, to be fair, I know why they didn’t do anything like that. Just so we’re on the same page, I’ll spell it out; Any disagreement like that comes down, in the end, to the budget. You give the President a budget he doesn’t like, and he won’t sign it. Then, the government shuts down until somebody gives in. And the Republicans have learned three things about President Obama:

1 – He’s arrogant
2 – He’s stubborn
3 – He’s not running for reelection.

So, he’d be perfectly happy to leave the government shut down until January 21, 2017. Therefore, it would be stupid to stick a budget under his nose that he won’t like, because he has nothing to lose.

The trouble, then, is that the Republicans don’t bother to explain this to us, the great unwashed mass.  They act as if we can't figure that out. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and some others scream bloody murder, and the mainstream boys say nothing. It becomes a passive-aggressive game, and anyone with two functioning brain cells knows it.

What nobody seems to realize is, the simple act of telling the truth and moving on would defuse a lot of this. Look at what happened last Saturday in the Democratic debate. First question to Sanders was about whether or not he should apologize for Hillary’s donor lists being hacked, and he said yes, and apologized.

The look on Hillary’s face was priceless. You could see the wheels turning. She never expected that. She assumed he’d do what she would do, which was deflect and shuck and jive. It’s why Bernie has so much traction. Right or wrong, he’s honest. Dumb, maybe, but honest.  (Isis was caused by global warming!) Like Jimmy Carter, but with a spine.

But you, sir, are a mainstream Republican. And the average person in this country doesn’t trust mainstream Republicans any more. You, as a group, talk about the government being too big, but you never seem to make it any smaller. You talk about too much waste in the Federal budget, but it just grows. You talk about security, but the borders still hemorrhage undocumented people. You make big noise about not letting in Syrian refugees, but Canada’s letting in 20,000 and the perception is that you’ll do nothing to keep them from coming here.

We know why, too. The people who gave you that big, fat war chest want those undocumented workers for their own purposes. They pay some temp agency minimum wage x how many people they can jam into a van, and those people in the back of the van are lucky to see half of it. And they can’t bitch or unionize, because they’re illegal.

We KNOW this! It’s not a big, dark secret, and we’re not all stupid. Lots of big businesses want an army of workers they can use like toilet paper. They also want hell-hole countries for them to come from, so that they’ll keep on coming. It’s the Royal Scam, by Steely Dan. If we helped Mexico and Honduras and El Salvador become more democratic and prosperous, who would make the Beanie Babies and pick the fruit?

So, why should we believe you? You stood there on Fox News the other night outlining a reasonable plan for dealing with illegal immigrants, and I just don’t believe you. I think it’s bullshit. I think that, given eight years, you and your party would figure out some reason why it just couldn’t get done. Then, you could blame the next Democrat for not doing it. Why do I think this? Because I've seen it already.

So, no, sir, I won’t be voting for you in the NH primary. I’m not sure who I am voting for yet, but it won’t be you, or Marco, or George Pitaki, or Chris Christie, or Rand Paul, et cetera, because you’re all liars. Okay, maybe not specifically liars, but your positions and ideas are so “nuanced” that what you want us to think you’re saying isn’t what you’re ACTUALLY saying at all. In fact, if you get the nomination that you seem to think is your birthright, I might just – for the first time in my life – not vote at all.

Unless …

This is why I’m taking the time to write to you. You CAN earn my vote. For the most part, I agree with you on many important issues. There are a few simple things that you could say and do to set yourself apart from the pack. One would be to explain that budget thing, about Obama not caring if the government gets shut down. Yeah, I know, you’re not in Congress, but you could still explain it. And don’t use it as a club, just explain it.

In fact, just about anywhere that you could break things down into plain old truth would make you a lot of friends. You need to address things like whether or not you have backers that benefit from illegal immigration. Take a risk. Tell the world, live on television, that as President you’ll help make their countries the kind of places they won’t have to leave. You’ll pressure their dictators to reform, instead of just selling them more planes. Remember, billionaires only get one vote each.

That is how you could separate yourself from the pack. You're at a crossroads, Mr. Bush. You've gotten as far as you have with help from billionaires, businessmen, and deep-inside Republican movers and shakers. You're standing in the place where John McCain and Mitt Romney have stood before you.

Except that the train is leaving the station, and you're not on it. The people, the individual voters, are driving the train this year, and they see who's backing you, and whose phone calls you're taking and who you're leaving on hold, and they don't like you. WE don't like you.

Think back to the first debate. To that moment when Rand Paul made some sharp remark about Trump, and The Donald shot back about Paul saying something on the floor of the Senate and then immediately posting it on line. Trump exposed the game! And thousands, if not millions, of us felt a thrill go through us. He pulled back the curtain and exposed the little man pushing the buttons.

Ted Cruz does it, too. He rants and raves, knowing that if Mitch McConnell did as he asked and dug in his heels, that they'd lock down the government for the next year and a half. It's easy to bitch that the machine you're riding in won't make the hill when you're not driving.

So, Mr. Bush, expose the game. Call them out. And call yourself out, too. It's time to choose. Are you going to be President for your rich, powerful friends? Or are you going to be President to make the country, and the world, a better place? Because that's what we want, and we hate the thought of holding our nose and settling for less, yet again.

Mr. Bush, it's time to turn to your rich, powerful friends and say thanks for your help, but I'm going to give the people what they want. And in the end, you'll thank me. You'll have to work a little harder, but you're used to that and you're starting from a position of advantage. The rising tide that the people want will raise you as well. The auto industry hated the idea of opening our doors to Japan and Europe, and building cars that were safer and cleaner, but the smart ones buckled down and did the job, and we're all happier for it.

Assure them that the things you're going to do will help them, even if it pinches a little at the beginning. Then, turn your back on them and embrace the people you want to vote for you. Tell them the truth. Admit that you were trying to walk the line. Bet the farm. Risk it all. Be the first American politician, maybe ever, that told the real, whole truth. Expose the games.

Explain how basic conservative values, like smaller government and strong foreign policy, benefit everybody, and not just white men. Explain how it will help blacks, and women, and hispanics. Explain how the Democrats, who claim to be compassionate by not doing anything about illegal immigration, are actually ripping off those very same people.

Explain how liberals are actually keeping the downtrodden down by making them dependent on big government. And then explain, in terms we can understand, how you're going to make government smaller. Not just grow more slowly, but actually become smaller.

We, the people, believe these things. We get it. We understand that these are things that are real. And we want somebody who wants to take us in that direction. We want to follow a leader who will actually improve things.

Those of us who are old enough to remember 1980 watch you and Trump cross swords, and hear you saying a lot of the things that people said about Reagan. Trump isn't the man behind the curtain, covering up what he really is with a lot of smoke and fire and lights. You are.

So pull back the curtain yourself. Expose the game. And step out into the light, and be that guy. The guy that actually did something to help the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. The translucent face in the smoke and fire couldn't do anything for them, but the exposed huckster changed their lives by telling them the truth and altering their perspective. He even got Dorothy home!

Remember, if you will, the tale of when the Disciples were in the boat on the sea of Galilee in the storm. They looked out and saw Jesus walking on the water. Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus, and then saw the storm and almost sank. But Jesus took his hand, and calmed the storm.

Mr. Bush, you are in a boat in a storm with a group of other disciples. The one who will stand on the sea with Jesus is the one bold and brave enough to get out of the boat.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Foreign Policy and Illegal Immigration

In late October of 2015 I heard a story on NPR. In it, the woman was telling the sad tale of a man who had made his way from El Salvador or Honduras or some other Central American country, through Mexico, and finally to the United States. At some point he was sent back, having to return or be taken all the way through Mexico until he got back to his homeland. Eventually, he arrived back at his own home. Within 24 hours of walking in his front door, the thugs that had threatened him in the first place and forced him to seek asylum in the North came and shot him in the head.

The woman telling the story then declared that he died as a result of this country’s policies.

Now, I didn’t get to hear the first part of the story, so I have no idea where she got this information. Somehow, she knew about this one guy who came all that way and had to go all that way back. Then, one solar day later, he was murdered by somebody for some reason. Pretty specific detail as well, seeing that she knew he was shot in the head.

Who was this guy? What had he done to piss off those thugs? Who were they? How did she find out about it? And her last statement might even raise up the possibility that this poor man’s murderer(s) might have been a US Marine, or a white police officer, or an ICE agent, or a covert operative from the CIA. After all, it was US, as in the U. S. that killed this poor fellow. My guess is, we killed him just by turning him away and that somebody local to him did the dirty work.

I dispute this claim. I believe, if this fellow’s neighborhood in El Salvador or Honduras is rife with thuggery of this nature, then it’s the fault of the local authorities for failing to properly police the situation. Unless she is suggesting that it’s the responsibility of the United States to make sure this fellow’s neighborhood be made safe. I suspect, however, that this same person telling the story would insist that it’s not the responsibility of the US to be the world’s policeman.

Actually, what she seems to be suggesting is that we ARE supposed to be the world’s policeman, so long as the world comes to this country. Unless, of course, she doesn’t believe we should police the people who come here illegally. I don’t know about you, but I’m confused.

One side of the debate insists on framing this as the other side being against immigration, conveniently forgetting all about the word “illegal.” Somehow, they’re not illegal, they’re just “undocumented.” That allows them to declare the other side as racists. I might be tempted to buy into this idea if that other side were also trying to drive out non-whites who were here legally. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, so the argument doesn’t stand up to logic. And even if they were (or are), it still doesn’t make what is now illegal legal.

Whether you call them illegal or undocumented, the fact is indisputable that they’re here without proper documentation, thereby making their presence here illegal. So why is it all right for those laws to be broken? If they’re bad laws, why don’t we change them?

The immigration laws, any immigration laws in any country, are based on two concepts; national sovereignty and citizenship. In most places, you are a citizen if you were born there. There’s some fluctuation in certain places, but generally if you were born in Greece, you’re Greek. Born in Japan, you’re Japanese. And so forth. Maybe you’re not racially Japanese, maybe your parents came there from Scotland but now live in Japan and you were born there. There might be room to think that you’re also British, or maybe just British, because of your parents. But if your parents came from Scotland and you were born in Japan, you’re not Brazilian. Are you still with me?

So the people we’re talking about didn’t acquire proper documentation, didn’t wait in line at the border, didn’t go through customs, didn’t show anybody a passport. Therefore, they are here – what’s the word? – ILLEGALLY!! Very good, class.

So, therefore, if you still think that’s all right for them to be here in spite of the fact that they broke the law in doing so, what is your solution? Should people not have to show passports or acquire visas to enter the United States? Should people from certain countries or certain economic strata or certain races be allowed to bypass those things? If so, then why don’t you hound some congressman to submit a bill making it … you must know the word by now … LEGAL? Then, the debate would be about whether or not such a thing should or should not be legal.

But while it’s illegal, law enforcement has a responsibility to enforce the law, does it not? If there was a law that everyone had to wear purple socks and you kept wearing green ones, you would probably fight for a law that said any color socks were fine, right? Sure beats paying all those fines, or being on the run. In green socks.

Bottom line is, either we should have borders and limitations on who can cross them, or not. It would be an interesting experiment to just declare that the United States of America no longer has borders. Anybody may come and go as they please. Who wants that? Let’s have a show of hands, please. Although, you’ve got to admit, we have some pretty plain and formidable natural borders. A big, wide river, two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico … just leaves that imaginary line to the North, I guess. What if Canada wanted a border, but we didn’t?  And how about Alaska?

Which kind of brings us back around to the original point; that people from all over the place are coming here. How many people from here ever go there illegally? Hell, how many go there legally? Is there a big community of American expatriates in Honduras? I didn’t think so. Why is that?

Because this country is known for some interesting things that we’ve gained over the years. Things like peace, prosperity, security, equality, and freedom. All, very cool things. And at the same time, we tend to let people decide morality for themselves. Sounds like a great place to live. Can’t say that I blame anybody that wants to come here.

What would be REALLY cool would be if their countries were like that, too. Then, they wouldn’t have to come here. They could stay where they are, and be happy, healthy, prosperous, free, all that great stuff. So, how could their countries get a little closer to being like this country?

Let’s look at an example; Germany. After World War One, the rest of Europe (mostly England and France, really) wanted to stomp Germany into the ground. It’s kind of traditional. European countries have been doing that to each other for centuries. If it hadn’t been for Woodrow Wilson – a man much reviled by modern hard-line Conservatives, by the way – that’s probably exactly what they’d have done.

Instead, Wilson promoted the idea of a League of Nations, that would do the dirty work of helping countries resolve their differences. A noble idea, pretty badly flawed in some ways, and doomed by the refusal of the very country that Wilson was President of to join it themselves. But, it was an idea rooted in a very important and daring concept; compassion.

Remember that only twenty years earlier we had fought and won the Spanish-American war. We never sent troops to Spain, but we did kick theirs out of Central America once and for all. And the day-to-day operation of most of Central America and some of South America was taken over, not by the United States government … but by the United Fruit Company. Better known as Chiquita bananas. Some of the history can be seen in a Wikipedia article:

This became a model for future international affairs, for good and for ill. The USA went to war, but followed a pattern of not behaving as conquerors. Instead, at the end of World War Two – which many scholars believe was a direct result of the way the Axis powers were treated after WWI – the US led the way toward a different relationship with the defeated Axis powers. This time, instead of putting the nations of Germany and Japan under their thumb, we helped them rebuild.

Japan wasn’t that difficult a project. Their leaders wisely surrendered before we could lay waste to their country. Something about being the first and only victims of nuclear weapons might have had a little to do with it. But Germany and the Nazi’s insisted on fighting literally right up to the door of Hitler’s bunker. Germany, and most of Europe, had been bombed back to the stone age.

In both cases, the losing country was handed a constitution and instructed to sign it without question. But Germany needed a lot more than redirected leadership. They needed homes, food, businesses. So President Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall came up with a bold, daring plan. The, er, Marshall plan. Much better at doing things than naming them, I guess.

This was all couched in language about American security, but really it was nothing more or less than an act of compassion. We broke it, we fixed it. Not that we didn’t have an excellent reason for breaking it, but broke it so thoroughly that they were left incapable of fixing it. In the end, responsibility for protecting themselves was taken over by us. Everything else was up to them, and since they signed the constitutions we handed them, that meant the will of the public held sway. Just like here, governments came and went, the people were represented, and a free market economy was allowed to prosper.

The end result is that both Japan and Germany grew to rival us as economic powers, a situation that we all enjoy today. And we only had to leave thousands of troops in these countries for … er, well, they’re still there, as a matter of fact. And nobody’s talking about taking them out any time in the foreseeable future. It’s given thousands of our people solid employment, maintains the peace in Europe and East Asia, holds the commies at bay, and frees up the Japanese and Germans to crank out Volkswagens and Hitachis. Looks like a win-win all the way around.

So why couldn’t we have done that in Afghanistan and Iraq? You mind the store and raise your kids, we’ll watch your backs. Call it conquered, or occupied, or whatever you like. It’s a proven system. You can suffer under our thumbs as much as the Germans and Japanese. And go ahead and be Muslim, or Sikh, or Zoroastrian if you like. You could do a hell of a lot worse, and have for millennia.

The only thing they’d really have to be leery of is getting sucked in by the infamous military-industrial complex. Remember Central America? It’s amazing how things like this swing back and forth. Used to be, the Marines would go in and settle a place down, and then a big company/companies like Chiquita would go in and manage the situation. Plantations, single-focus economy, all that sort of thing. Kinda what Haliburton continually gets accused of doing.

Around 1965, President Johnson sent Marines in to settle things down in the Dominican Republic. There was a huge cry of outrage over it, too. Accusations of a whole Chiquita-Halliburton-kind of thing, being warmongers just as the whole Vietnam protest was heating up. So Johnson and Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara (former CEO of Ford Motor Co.) helped develop a different plan; from then on, it was left largely to the corporations that wanted to control a place (and whatever it put out) to do their own dirty work.  The government involvement was limited to diplomacy.

For a reference on this, I highly recommend a book by John Perkins, called “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” Mr. Perkins is a native of Tilton, NH who spent much of his adult life working for a consulting firm based in Boston that few outside of the boardrooms have ever heard of.

His job was to go around and help decide things like who was going to win the next civil war or phony election or whatever. He did the sort of thing that was done in the semi-recent James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace.” After deciding he felt just terrible about it, he started a kind of New Age doohingy (Imagine whirled peas!) and wrote this book that nobody wants to admit exists, but your library or a decent book store might be able to get for you. Or just Google it. Amazon’s probably got it. I found out about it from a radio interview he did.

But my recommendation for Iraq and Afghanistan would be much closer to the Marshall plan. Say what you will, I got the impression those Iraqi people liked voting. How about all those blue fingers attached to smiling faces? And, fine, keep Halliburton out. Just have the Army corps of engineers rebuild the infrastructure. And a few big bases, with buildings built to last, as if we were going to stay for a very, very long time. Don’t worry, we’ll prosecute anyone that messes with your women. We’ll even help paint your mosque.

After all, that’s what we do. We are the one, single, solitary country in history that does that sort of thing. We don’t conquer people, we liberate them. Then, we do business with them. Clearly, nobody else can be trusted to do that. France? Hell, they were in bed up to their eyeballs with Saddam Hussein. Russia? Yeah, right. England? Check with the Irish on that. And isn’t that where the whole Balfour Directive came from, that created the current roster of “countries” in the Middle East?

Because where all these terrorists and suicide bombers and Isil (Isis? Al Quieda? New York Mets?) recruits come from is desperate people. Not the leaders, of course. The leaders are the ones who want the desperate people to slit somebody else’s throat besides theirs. No, no, not me!! Go get, er, um, the Americans! Yeah, the Americans. They’re the ones buying all the oil. They’re the oppressors, not us guys with our foot on your necks. Go get them rotten bastards. And bring me another iced tea before you go, wouldja?

As for the countries that we haven’t sent troops into, we should start applying serious pressure on their governments to change their ways. There’s too many fiefdoms and dictatorships in the Middle East and Central America, and there should be consequences. We should stop handing billions to people who mistreat their populations just so they’ll let us land planes there.

There is danger to that, of course. Many of these dictators, etc. won’t want to play along. They’ll go to Russia or Iran or somebody else less interested in being compassionate and let them land their planes there instead. Our response should be to make that as difficult as possible, working with the friends we already have.

To the Sheiks and El Presidentes and other tin-pot demi-gods, the path to friendship is simple. You want to be King? Fine, be King. England’s got a King. So do Norway and Denmark. Japan’s got an Emperor, even. They have no power, but they’ve got big, fat paychecks and fine houses and their faces on the coins and everything. They smile and open Parliament, and then go to the Summer house in the Hamptons and drink margaritas.

But let your people vote, and make things, and profit from the black stuff in the ground and the yellow stuff in the trees. Let them go from being destitute and poverty stricken to being fat, having cable TV, sitting in barcaloungers. Let them fight obesity instead of starvation. Let them drive their VW’s and Toyotas to the Mosque and hang in the parking lot after, talking about how good that chicken pie supper was last week and how their kids’ grades suck. Yeah, let them have schools, and stores, and all that good junk. Instead of suicide-bombing your armored caravan, they can hang at the mall.

To the wise rulers who take these risks, trusting their people and showing them compassion, the United States is prepared to be lavish in its support. Your country can be a shining beacon of prosperity and opportunity, which will really piss off your neighbors that went with the Russians. Their people will be looking longingly across the border at those BMW’s and blue fingers and ask each other why their Sheik is so damned stupid.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t desperate, malnourished people. I think he misses the point. They were radicalized in the same crucible, but they had the where-with-all to get here and do that. A lot of it was paid for by those people who wanted their disaffected starving brethren to slit somebody else’s throat.

Really, the only solid alternative to my recommendation above; modified Marshall plan, and diplomatic pressure; is the “Fortress America” concept suggested by Eisenhower Sec. of State John Foster Dulles. In that plan, we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world and start a free-trade, mutual defense pact with the rest of North and South America. We stay in our hemisphere, and your hemisphere can go wherever it wants in whatever hand basket you can find.

I’ll admit, there’s something to be said for the idea. But I prefer the one that has us reaching out in compassion and helping others achieve what we’ve got. It’s hard work, requiring constant vigilance. Or, at least a semi-interested occasional glance. Maybe helping the next poor Honduran from getting his head blown off won’t help this country, but it’s a good thing to do. And, it would keep that poor guy/gal/kid/trans-gender giraffe from having to swim the Rio Grande.  It would actually make the world a better place.  People wouldn't have to come here to escape squalor.  Wouldn't that be better?

Let's face the fact, the very poorly kept secret; there are people in this country that benefit from illegal immigration, and it's NOT the illegal immigrants.  It's businessmen who like having a large pool of workers who can't unionize and can't ask for even minimum wage.  And these rich businessmen shovel money at both sides of the aisle.  Do you seriously believe the Democrats ignore the logic of enforcing the immigration laws out of compassion?  Or that the NOTHING that the Republicans have done since Reagan gave 3 million illegals amnesty is?  No, it's so that Archer Daniels Midland and Wal-Mart and the other big money players can pay low-skilled laborers a starvation wage.

Twenty or so years ago, I supported NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.  I believed that it would benefit the people of Mexico and other underprivileged countries.  Turns out, the country most benefited by NAFTA was China.  That's because we have restrictions on goods shipped from China.  But because of NAFTA, we have no such restrictions on goods shipped from Mexico.  So China sends ships to Mexico, loads cheap goods made by near-slave labor onto Mexican trucks, and sends them here.  Think about that next time you go to Wal-Mart.

So I believe we need a major re-think on foreign policy.  We need to push our government to pay attention to somebody besides the billionaires that fund their campaigns.  We need to insist on a foreign policy that helps people, here and around the world, instead of lining the pockets of the arms makers and everybody else that profits from the status quo, at the expense of billions of people around the world.

And yes, we need to be strong, and we need to flex that muscle, but we should flex it in the name of that which helps people.  We in this country are the product of a crazy experiment about republican democracy.  It seems to work pretty well.  When we declared our independence, just about every country in Europe was a monarchy.  Now, even the ones that have monarchs are actually run by governments modeled after ours.  But with so many making so much off the third world as it is today, who but us can lead the way to help them improve their lot?

We need to take a hard look at the countries where the illegal immigrants and terrorists are coming from.  If they're right in looking to us, to join us or to hurt us, it's because we're not doing anything to help improve their lot right where they are.  May I be bold enough to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we SHOULD be the world’s policeman? Or at least, our brother’s keeper?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Music rant

This might become a series, but can't say yet.  There's certainly enough material for it.

Back about 1983 I was living in Sacramento, California.  As it happens, the California State Fair is held there, which makes sense as it's the state capital.  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are all bigger and more important, but Sacto gets the fair.  Yay.  So, I went.  And, as I was unemployed at the time, I went several times.

I grew up in New England, where there's all kinds of fairs.  They last usually 4 days.  California's lasts a month.  Lots and lots of cool stuff to see and do.  One of the things is a big stage, and there was music every day and every night.  I heard that Bill Graham was promoting the stage that year.  I got to see Santana, the Police, Huey Lewis and the News, Greg Kihn, and a number of other great acts, all for the price of admission to the fair.

My favorite of all those acts was an afternoon session by Ronnie Montrose and Mitchel Froom.  Now, one of the things that's always impressed me about Rush is how much music three guys can make.  Montrose and Froom went one better.  No vocals, which made it easier, but those two guys made a lot of great sound.  And Montrose only played guitar!

This was in the early days of MIDI, and maybe even before, I'm not sure.  Froom was surrounded by a bank of keyboards and boxes, and at one point stepped out from behind it, with incredible music cranking away, and played what looked like a digital trumpet; it had three buttons on the top, a dial in the front, and he blew into it.  Way too cool!!  The biggest shame of it is they never did a record.

From that day on I kept an eye out for the latest musical technology.  In the later '80's when I got back to NH I started collecting some stuff.  I had a budget of zero, so it was all used and obsolete, but worked just fine.  If you've ever heard my CD, "Rough Edges," most of it was done on a Tascam 4-track cassette machine owned by the band I was in, Tribute, and the sounds came from a Yamaha DX7, a Roland Juno 106 and a Yamaha drum machine, all controlled by a Roland MSQ-700.  If you're a synth gear head, maybe you're impressed now.  Lots with little, in a nutshell.

All that stuff is long gone.  About 1999 or so, T. C. Sweeney talked me into forming a band, and I've been oriented toward live guitar playing ever since.  Which I love, btw.  Nothing better than working with live people.  But for about 10 years before that, I rarely played live.  I spent most of my musical life after the end of Tribute hiding in a hole making little demos.  If it wasn't for Jonathan Sindorf and the Hidden Place Coffeehouse, I'd have probably never played out at all.

So now I'm back out playing, and I'm also back to writing, and it's time to record.  Actually, I never really intended to stop writing and recording, but the Tascam 4-track gave up the ghost years ago.  So for the past several years I've been looking at the new developments in digital recording.  And here comes the rant for which this is the long-winded intro.

Advice to my musician friends; NEVER recommend a piece of Tascam recording gear to me.  I rented an 8-track digital recorder for a month once.  Didn't get one lousy note recorded.  Had the manual, read it cover to cover, went online and sought advice, tried and tried and tried to plug it in and hook it up and figure out the confusing menus on the little screen, and ended up with bupkis.  Bupkus?  However you spell it, I got nutt'n.

When I took it back and told the young man at the store what I ended up with, he had the audacity to ask if I wanted to rent it for another month!  No, I don't want to grtzn frtzn rent the grzzl frakk thing for another khtthkn frzzgrn month, you &%$#@ ...

So my dear friend, Rocko now owns a Zoom R-16.  He's the drummer in one version of the Red Hat Band, the version that does all the original material.  Perfect.  I'd been looking around at digital multitrack recorders, and I've owned a few pieces of Zoom equipment, and they're always pretty easy to use.  I had been thinking about an R-24, but Rocko decided to save me $400 and bought this one first.

He immediately loaned it to me!  But first, he warned me that he'd had very little luck figuring out how to use it.  Basically, all he'd managed to do with it so far is use it like an old-fashioned tape recorder.  You could hook up mics and guitars and get tracks laid down, but that's it.  He couldn't figure out how to add the on-board effects or access the on-board drum and bass programs, or any of the other bells and whistles that came with it.

No problem.  He still had the manual, and I would take the time and figure out how to make it do its tricks.  Zooms are user friendly.

Note to Zoom; when you put that phrase on your packaging, Hoser is spelled with an H.

I come from a day when "portable" meant that it had wheels.  There was nothing wrong with that.  I think it's wonderful that you can now put almost infinite capabilities inside a box no bigger than a pack of cigarettes.  Unfortunately, when you do, it equals the pack of cigarettes in usability.  The R-16 is only as big as it is because it has 8 sliders.  So, you've got a small 8-channel mixing board with a pack of butts attached to it.

My recommendation is that you put all this marvelous technology in a device big enough for banks of buttons and switches, with clear markings as to their purpose.  Large, readable print would be nice, too.  You should also include a 21" high-def television screen for showing what the hell's going on in the pack of butts all the 1's and 0's live in.  Then, put wheels on it.  Charge an extra hundred bucks if you have to.  If it actually works as advertised, you will find me in the long line of old geeks waiting to buy one.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Explaining Trump

First off, I have the solution for campaign finance reform. At least for this election cycle. Here it is.

Hold the Democratic and Republican national conventions next week, and nominate Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Then, make them debate once a month on pay-per-view. Not only will they not need to spend a dime on ads, the money raised could probably make a serious dent in the national debt.

You're welcome. Moving on.

Second thing; the object of this is NOT to endorse Donald Trump. And, it's not to explain his popularity. The purpose of this is to explain him, his thinking, his whole point in running. It's a good point, it's a great point, you'll love it, all the polls say that you'll just think it's fabulous, when I posted this you know what happened? My numbers went up! People who are reading those other blogs, they're asleep! Hispanics love me. Love me.

Ahem. Sorry.

Jeb Bush has been, as I write this, taking shots at Trump for not being a real conservative or a real Republican.  Personally, I think this plays in The Donald's favor.  When he raised his hand at the first debate (being the only one at the time who refused to promise not to run as an independent candidate if he lost the nomination) I think his answer should have been; "Because I'm an American, not a Republican."

News outlets, and other candidates, take great pleasure in replaying old footage of Trump saying that he supports abortion, gave money to the Clintons, and on and on.  What people, media and political people in particular, tend to forget is that, until recently, Trump wasn't a politician.

When you're a politician, you've probably been one since you did it as an amateur.  You were the class treasurer in 5th grade.  You went out on your bicycle and canvassed the neighborhood for your favorite candidates and causes, years before you could vote yourself.  You made it a point to disagree with your Dad at the dinner table about some issue or other.  And you kept a calendar, marking off every day until you were old enough to run for the state legislature.

That would describe everybody currently in the race on both sides, with the probable exception of Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson, and Donald Trump.  These people had jobs, and lives, and probably didn't pay any more attention to politics beyond making it a point to vote.  They cared, they stayed in touch, they watched the news, but they also led busy lives.  They didn't worry about carefully crafting everything they've said since they were 12, in case it came up in a future campaign.  Trump was just another working stiff, a real estate mogul and part-time television celebrity.

Abortion?  Lots of women want to have them, the Supreme Court says it's all right, why not?  Sure, he supports abortion.  Clinton?  Hey, I want a foot in the door.  When I call, I want them to pick up and not let it go to voicemail.  If pressed, he'd have probably said in 1989 that he was against slavery and segregation, and for the free market.  So, you think you can come down another $100,000 on that building lot, or not?

When he started seriously thinking about running for President, that's probably when he started seriously thinking about policy.  And the more he looked, the more he realized that what they need (this is Probably Trump-think, btw) is a businessman.  People have been saying it for years.  Career politicians have, well, made a career out of maintaining the status quo, keeping everything on an even keel, and by all means don't DO anything!  Don't shake things up!  As the great songwriter, Bruce Cockburn, once said; the trouble with normal is, it always gets worse.

So if Donald Trump is so liberal ... then why isn't he running as a Democrat?  Because the field is so strong?  A scandal-ridden high-school class president clearly out of her depth, a geriatric banana-wacky who is NEVER going to be President and knows it himself, and "hoof-in-mouth" Biden.  An intimidating group, to be sure.  Oh, wait, I know; he's afraid President Obama will ignore yet another part of the Constitution and run for a third term!

If I were to hazard a guess - and that IS why I'm writing this - I would suppose that he might have looked at the issues in greater depth, and decided that maybe his earlier stands were ill considered.  Then, maybe he took a hard look at recent history and, like a good businessman, evaluated what works and what doesn't.  His conclusion, in this hypothetical situation, would apparently be that he's actually more of a Republican than a Democrat.

I think he's deadly serious about wanting to become President.  He isn't willing to cheat, but he believes he has a good shot, and a much better one than any of the "experts" think.  It used to be that a particularly successful General, like Eisenhower or Zachary Taylor, could get by the argument that they had no experience in government by pointing to how accomplished they'd been in their other endeavors.

So why not a businessman?  Are the politicians doing so well that nobody could do better?  Who, in the world of business, has the credentials to challenge the political class on their own turf?  Who has the accomplishments AND the name recognition?  Warren Buffet ... Bill Gates ... maybe a couple others ... and Donald Trump.

So should Donald Trump be President?  Well, that's the question we're all asking, isn't it?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

For Emily

I don't know about you, but I've sometimes wondered what I'd be like on the worst day of my life.  Now, I know.

It was a Thursday night.  I was getting ready for bed, under the assumption that I was going to get up at 5 am and head for work like any other day.  Like I had that day.  Then, Lynn called upstairs.  "Rick!  Get dressed and come down, now!"

A chill went through me.  The first thing I thought of was; Emily.  Something's happened to Emily.

We quickly decided to take two cars, in case one of us had to camp out while the other came home, for whatever reason.  I prayed the whole ride, while keeping one eye on the rear view mirror, because the Blazer Lynn was driving has some issues and I didn't want to lose sight of her.

There are three stages, it would seem.  There's the initial shock, when you're getting and absorbing all the information.  Then there's The Long Slog, when you're waiting for the inevitable.  Finally, there's The Long Slog 2.0, in which you get the past completed and start moving on.

Have you ever been in a room full of mourning teenagers?  It would almost be amusing to observe if you weren't going through it with them.  They don't know what to say, or what to do.  Then again, they're never supposed to.  Their friends aren't supposed to be lying there like that.  What has happened is supposed to happen to their great grandparents.  It's supposed to be expected.  It's not supposed to be one of them.

When we went to Lisbon to pick up the car, I could see it all.  The car was parked in a little lot up on a hill.  Coming down the hill, I could see across the river at the town hall and fire station.  She'd gone there to visit friends.  She got the urge to go out on her long board and cruise around the parking lot.

Did you know that they ask you to write something down, that they can then read in the OR when they do the organ transfers?  They actually read it out loud before they start.  I don't know if anyone but Dartmouth/Hitchcock does that, but I think it's an incredibly generous thing to do.  It keeps it from becoming just another job, where you disassemble a broken thing to repair other broken things.  I don't remember exactly what Lynn wrote, but it was perfect and I had nothing to add to it.

We're both proud and humbled by the fact that, entirely on her own, Emily chose to check the 'organ donor' box on her driver's license.  We both had done so ever since the option was available.  So far, five people have benefitted from receiving both of her kidneys, her liver, her pancreas, and her heart.

I have seen the hand of God everywhere, throughout this whole agonizing process.  I've felt it on my shoulder, and felt His warm embrace holding me up with I could not stand on my own.  When we finally meet face to face, I plan to sit down and ask Him about this whole thing.  I respect His opinions and decisions, most definitely, but I do have some questions.  I believe that He is active in this world, but not necessarily that everything that happens is His doing.  I also believe that He grants us free will.

I firmly believe that He knew what was coming.  He saw it when she walked out her friend's door and grabbed her board.  He knew what was going to happen when that man got into his pickup to drive home.  He knew it when she was born, and when the man in the truck was born.  I'm sure that during some battle between the Phoenicians and some warlord millennia ago, somewhere in the back of His mind, He was aware of how many days it would be before Emily Sharon Clogston would zig when she should zag.

But I don't know if He planned it; if, somehow, it was something He wanted.  There might be a thousand reasons for Him to want that.  I certainly hope the five people who received her organs are grateful to Him.  Some people are talking about it as if He did it on a whim, like He wanted another soprano in the choir, or somebody to show Him a move on that board.  Or, to spare her from something that would suck even worse than getting hit by a pickup.  They take comfort in that, and I'm cool with that.  Heck, it's a possibility.  Just because He sees all of time and space doesn't mean He can't improvise.

The burning question in the back of my mind from that first moment has been; did she know the Lord? Oddly, I find that I have a peace with that.  It was her decision, of course, but I've been getting lots of reminders that she used to come to church with us, insisted on taking communion, had favorite hymns, went to youth group.  And the couple that ran that group are pretty sure that she sought a relationship with Jesus.  It's a little scary, because the last couple of years she's been backing away from all that.  But He would never back away from her. So, I think we'll meet again.

Now, those of you who aren't Christians may be privately rolling your eyes.  That's your privilege, of course, but remember; you're betting your life that it doesn't matter.

The outpouring of support has been amazing.  Her story made the front page of the Caledonia Record, and a really nice piece it was.  I could go on and on about what an incredible person she was.  I could also go on about how aggravating she could sometimes be, but it's all consistent with the fact that she worked very had to be as unique as she could be.

At one point, she was determined to become a veterinarian.  She always loved animals.  The cats in our house were all hers.  A few of them would not have survived as long as they did without her.  I can remember her diving into the shrubbery in front of the church, through all the stickers and cobwebs and everything, to fish out a scared and starving kitten.  We named him Junie, after the juniper bushes she crawled through to get him.

When she was little, she wanted to be one of the mermaids at Weeki Watchee Springs in Florida.  She couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 when we went down there to visit family, and she just thought that was the coolest thing ever.  She loved swimming and just hanging out in the water.  Lots of people have been sharing lots of Emily stories, and they always bring a smile.  I suppose any time someone that young dies it affects a lot of people.  When it's someone in their 80's or 90's, most of the people they know are already gone and it comes down to family.  There are so many more people in your life when you're 18.

Even so, it's beginning to appear that Emily Clogston is leaving a big hole behind her in a lot of people's lives.  And, happily, just about all of it's positive.  If she ever pissed anyone off, it's because she inherited her grandfather's tendency for seeing everyone as equals.  Like him, she could talk to the Governor the same way she'd talk to a bum on the street.  If you're the bum, it's great.  If you're the Governor, however . . . Yeah, she was never real big on people who are real big on themselves.  In retrospect, Grampa Sonny was probably better at the tact thing.

To some of her friends, she might well have been the only friend they had.  Or the first.  She hung out with a lot of people that any would consider misfits, and make them feel like they were worth something.  Which, of course, they are.  But her radar seemed to be tuned to find the one person in the room that had no friends.  She understood that, often, those are the most interesting people.

Now, in saying all this nice stuff about Emily, I don't want her siblings to think that we loved her more than them.  I have been very fortunate in the fact that all four of my children are incredible people, of whom I am very proud.  I certainly can't take much credit for that.  I second-guessed every decision I ever made regarding them.  And yet, by some miracle, they're all smart, loving, talented, hell, they're even good looking!  They get it all from their Moms, of course.  Good job, Lynn and Tracey.  And, sorry about the quirks they inherited from me.

When we first saw her that Thursday night in the hospital, she looked rough.  Blood all over her face.  Even when they cleaned her up and took her to Pediatric ICU, her face was all swollen.  It took a couple of days for her to really look like herself again.  The doctors made it clear from the beginning that there was little to no hope, and they weren't even considering surgery.

They did a profusion test on Friday, in which they injected her with a radioactive dye and gave her an MRI.  It showed that there was a minimal flow of blood to her brain.  Therefore, they could not officially declare her brain dead.  That was an important point, because it presented some options.  We could have asked right then that she be taken off life support.  She'd have lain there until her heart stopped.  The worst thing with going that way would mean some of her organs would not be usable for transplant.

We decided to wait another 48 hours and let them do another profusion.  It meant two more days of agonized waiting for the inevitable.  On the other hand, it gave us two more days with our daughter, and two more days for her friends and ours to come and pay their respects.  And, it would also mean that, when officially declared brain dead, more of her could be used to help others.  In the end, it was tough, but it was worth it.

There were times when I'd swear I could almost see her standing there in the room.  It was clear that she wasn't too happy about this situation over which she had no control.  After a while, I could no longer feel her in the room.  Or, maybe she'd just settled down.

On Sunday, they did the second profusion and confirmed that there was now no blood flow to the brain.  An operating room would be prepared, and they could harvest her organs.  I find that a particularly ugly phrase; harvest her organs.  I can only think of a big combine grinding its way through a field of Hammond B-3's.  Or some guy in black robes with a scythe.

It turned out that they weren't going to be able to get her into the OR until after 11 pm.  Around 9, things started to go awry.  Her blood pressure was dropping dramatically, and sitting on the sidelines we could only watch while doctors and nurses hustled in, plugged in new equipment to supplement the regular ICU stuff.  And try and make sense of what they were talking about.

At one point, one of them came and explained to me (the only layman in the room, as Lynn's an EMT) that it seemed her body was sick of waiting and was trying to leave before it was time.  They did a bunch of stuff and watched a bunch of readouts, and things began to level off again.  At one point during a lull in the action, I went around the bed and took her hand.  I told her, "I haven't asked you for anything, but it would be a good thing if you would hang on just a little while longer."

I'd gone a few times over the four days and held her hand or brushed her brow.  Spoke a few words, maybe.  Lots of people that came held her hand, gave her a kiss, talked to her, and that's good that they did.  But I knew that she most likely wasn't aware of anything, and there just didn't seem to be any point.  I'd be pretending to do something.

After that, things straightened out and she rolled easily across the finish line at almost midnight.  I'm certain it had everything to do with the doctors and nothing to do with me, but I just had to talk to her one last time.  We watched as they wheeled her out to go to the operating room, and then we came home.

When her brothers were little they cornered me once and asked me point blank which one of them I loved more.  As I recall, I laughed.  I tried to explain to them that love isn't something I know how to measure.  You just love.  There's different kinds, in that I love their Mother differently than I love them, or my guitar, or pizza.  But no amounts.  You love.  Actually, I can measure my love for pizza, depending on the toppings.  And, I love my kids lots more than pizza.  Surely a lot differently.

The service was absolutely one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.  I hope to never have another like it.  My other three, Alex, Tyler, and Cathleen, are all under direct orders to outlive me.  They have each promised to do their best.  That goes for you, too, Uncle Paige, and all the rest of you cousins and nieces and nephews.  And Autumn, and the rest of the extended family that Emily gathered around her.  I never realized I had to make such a request, so I recommend your children get the message, and soon.  And give them a big hug, too.

Emily and Cathleen have a different Mom than Alex and Tyler, but they've known each other right along.  Still, it was Emily who took it upon herself the last year or so to deepen the connection with her brothers and get to know their Mom, Tracey Cassidy.  I'm glad she did.  In spite of occasional protestations to the contrary, family seems to have meant quite a lot to her.  And all her friends were, of course, part of that family.  If any of you are reading this, you still are.  Come by any time and say hello.

One of the interesting blessings in all this is that there's nobody to be mad at.  Reports indicate that either she hit the pickup or swerved suddenly into its path.  The driver wasn't drunk, just heading home from work.  He was a senior NH State Policemen, with EMT training.  It happened in front of two buildings full of potential first responders.  And I'm certainly not mad at God, because I have a little glimmer of how much He loves Emily, too.  Lots more than even I could.  Probably about the same as he loves me.  It's nice to not have anger gnawing at me.  It was about as pure an accident as it could have been.  We honestly feel bad for the poor fellow that hit her, and we pray for his comfort.

A number of people have been cornering me lately and asking why I stopped posting on my blog.  I had no idea that so many many people were reading it.  So, I'll start writing for it again, I suppose.  And I'll begin with this.  I also mentioned to a few in passing that I was writing this, although I had no idea of what to do with it.  They insisted I share it.  So, here it is.

Today is three weeks from that accident that took our youngest from us.  I've not gone a day of that without thinking about her and crying a little.  Liable to be a long time before I stop doing that.  No hurry.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

The President of Earth

When I was seven years old and in the second grade, my family moved to Hampton Beach, NH.  Dad was driving truck for Audley Construction on a highway project in the southern part of the state and was apparently making enough that we kept our house in Dorchester and rented an apartment near the beach.  I can remember going out the morning after a storm and finding seaweed on our car.

One of the great joys of that year was, due to our proximity to Southern NH and Massachusetts, we had all kinds of television.  This was in the days of antennas on the roof of the house.  We could actually get all three networks, AND a couple UHF stations, with just the rabbit ears on the back of the set.  Livin' large, y'all.

One of my favorite shows was a Japanese cartoon, early anime, called Astro Boy.  Astro Boy was a robot made to look like a little kid who could do all sorts of wonderful things like fly and fight big, mean bad guys.  I remember in particular one episode where he was commissioned to tackle a big problem by no less than . . . the President of Earth.

This is a widespread topic in the sci-fi world for a long time now.  H. G. Wells wrote about a unified world government, as has Isaac Asimov.  Star Trek, Babylon 5, Barbarella, Futurama, and story tellers high and low have used it in their predictions of Earth's future.  Some would argue that the League of Nations and the United Nations were intended to be steps in that direction.

The reason I bring this up is that a lot of people are trying to figure out Barack Obama's policies, and especially his foreign policy.  Many people feel he doesn't have one at all.  Even many of his staunchest supporters either can't figure it out, or they just aren't saying what they really think.  Others think he's a complete idiot who's simply way in over his head.  The administration seems to be telling us that it's a nuanced strategy that we'll understand better down the road, which could be beaurocrat-speak for . . . well, just about anything.

But as I watch the news and see events unfolding, I can't help wondering if there actually is a core strategy after all.  What if Barack Obama looks at illegal immigrants, ISIL, Putin, North Korea and China, not as threats, but as potential partners?

If you think about it, a unified world government could take one of two forms.  One way was the way the Romans, the British, the Nazis, the Communists and the Huns tried; conquest.  One ring to rule them all, blah blah blah.  One state dominating the rest.  Some, again, would say that the League of Nations and UN were the US's way of doing this.  It could also be said that American industry is trying to do that on an economic level.

The other form would be that of a democratic republic.  One in which every group of people were equally represented.  A government in which any group with a grievance could get a fair and equitable hearing.  One currency, a military that would act more as a police force, one executive branch, one legislature, one judiciary . . . and no borders.  One postal service!  One bureau to oversee agriculture, one educational system, one set of standards for transportation, to protect the environment, to oversee commerce, etc. etc. etc.  Even a bureau to adjudicate grievances between religious groups.

You could frame this any way you like.  Wells, Asimov, Roddenberry all saw it as a good thing.  Aldous Huxley parodied it.  Please don't imply a value judgement in what I'm saying, I'm just putting it out there as a possible idea.  I'm not trying to argue for or against it, I'm just saying . . . what if that's the goal?

It's entirely possible that seven-year-old Barack Obama was watching Astro Boy, or something similar, and thought to himself - as many undoubtedly have - why not?  And when?  And how?  So he goes into community organizing, and runs for Illinois State Senate, and then US Senate, gets a high-profile chance to be a keynote speaker at the Democratic National convention, and the next thing you know . . .

Now, I'm not suggesting that he's trying to make it happen during his presidency, or that he'd even expect it to be accomplished in his lifetime.  But IF it's a legitimate goal, then aren't current events, and the administration's response to them, leaning us strongly in that direction?  A day when there are no borders?  When Shi'ia and Sunni, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Jew and Russian and Ukranian and Korean and Mexican and German and so forth and so on are living under one flag?  Voting with one ballot?  Spending one currency?

When I look at a politician, I listen carefully to what they say and watch carefully what they do.  What I'm thinking about it, who's their real boss?  Who are they helping?  Whose help do they want the most?  Who owns them?  What's their goal?

There's one thing I can say for damned sure about every politician on the planet; they sure ain't trying to please me.  They don't know me from a hole in the ground.  I represent one vote.  But there are people, and corporations, and organizations, that represent far, far more than one vote.  The Supreme Court says that a corporation is a person?  Like hell!  It's thousands of people.  And so is a union.  And so is Al Sharpton, and the AARP, and the National Organization of Women, and any organization or group or person representing a large voting bloc.

The pharmaceutical companies can flex their muscle and make thousands of votes appear out of thin air.  How?  I have no idea, but they spend their money and the things they want to hear get said, and the next thing you know mysterious endorsements come out of the woodwork and thousands of people go to the polls and do the bidding of the pharmaceutical companies.

Same with the oil companies, and every other major industry.  And, the same with any of dozens of special interest groups.  Spin is generated that keeps a high emotional tone and on election day we march like a bunch of dumb sheep to save the planet, or create jobs, or meet a threat or blah blah blah.  And the few who really benefit might, in a generous moment, thank us and then shovel on more fertilizer.

But what if somebody with actual ideals, goals and plans, decided to play that system for their own benefit?

Meet Skeletor.  He's the arch enemy of He-Man, a particular favorite of my two sons, Alex and Tyler, when they were at the age I was when I discovered Astro Boy.  He-Man was easily the most ridiculous super hero ever conceived.   He was a big, strong muscle-beach type who . . . was good.  That's it, just good.  Never figured out quite why, he was just good.

And he protected Eternia, I remember that.  From this other guy, Skeletor.  He was . . . well, he was bad.  That's all.  He wasn't a dad, or a Republican, or even an advocate for the rights of blue people.  He was just bad.  He laughed at other people's pain and tried his darndest to defeat He-Man.  Oddly enough, my sons adored Skeletor.  He was much cooler than He-Man.  I guess somebody like that just brings out the Skeletor in people.

This inane cartoon series sold a lot of action figures (NOT dolls!) for Mattel, who apparently had no political agenda.  They'd sell you a Skeletor doll - er, Action Figure - just as quickly as they'd sell you a He-Man.  They didn't even care if you made him kiss Barbie.  Or Ken!

If you get your news from certain sources, you might come to wonder if Barack Obama was actually Skeletor with a makeover.  Certain other sources would tell you no; that George W. Bush is Skeletor.  They're bad.  Just, simply, purely, bad.  Evil.  No reason, no ideas, no goals, just bad.  

Personally, I'm skeptical.  I don't think either of them are Skeletor.  I actually liked Bush, and I think I understand what motivates Barack Obama.  I even agree with him, to a certain extent.  I think his methodology is deeply and fatally flawed, but if he's trying to do what I think he's trying to do, there's at least an argument in his favor.

Y'see, I believe, from a few years of observation, that President Obama has two core goals that he's trying to advance; the protection of the environment, and the unification of the world.  These two goals are advanced more efficiently through the Democratic/liberal/progressive side of the political spectrum, so he's using that avenue.

I would agree that humanity needs to be better stewards of the world that God made for us to live in.  I believe that we can make a significant impact on the environment, in spite of what many conservative commentators say.  I know I've used this analogy before, but peeing in their swimming pools would certainly liven up the debate on the topic.  On the other hand, I think most environmental legislation is flawed, but that's a debate for another day.

As for the other, I think that's rooted in the belief that power is best used when it's controlled by a governing body instead of left to the private sector.  I personally believe that mankind is corrupt and fallen, and that power only adds to that corruption.  Again, I've written other essays on this blog about that.

But I do not believe that Barack Obama is Skeltor, or Satan, or Hitler.  I believe he is a well-meaning visionary who thinks he's doing what is best for everybody, now and in the long term future.  I believe he thinks that in twenty or a hundred years his goals will become more apparent, and we will thank him.

And, I believe he's wrong.