Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Year of the Cock

Well, that title must have caught your attention.  One can also say it is the Year of the Rooster, or, more correctly, the Year of the Chicken, since the Chinese word applied to this particular lunar new year cycle is not gender specific.   But I got your attention, right?

The cock, or rooster, is an energetic creature and very aggressive.  It is not monogamous, preferring to stand guard over several hens and their general nesting area while attacking any other cock that attempts to encroach upon its territory (hence the term “cockfight”).  Cocks also strut as they exercise their dominance over their female broods.  

The Chinese New Year 2017 – the Year of the Cock – begins today, which corresponds with the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice.  Usually falling between mid January and mid February, this ancient ritual celebrating the spring renewal is the longest of the traditional Chinese holidays, dating back to circa 2600 BCE.  It will last for six days, until February 2.  It is said that the Taoist sign of the cock – a yang symbol that is the tenth sign in the twelve year cycle of Chinese zodiac – represents an observant and quick wit suggesting practical solutions through hard work, punctuality and fidelity.  It predicts a time of rebirth, transformation and growth; a year to renew and to restore, to replace the old with the new.  A cock with new plumage as it were.  It is the only fowl to be represented in the Chinese zodiac, last appearing in 2005.

Although modern China uses the international Gregorian calendar today, it still observes the traditional lunar calendar.  And this year the Chinese New Year is getting a lot of attention both home and abroad.  The Economist is reporting that China’s largest festival is going global in a big way, and the government hopes that Chinese communities around the work will ramp up the festivities.  Other countries throughout Asia celebrate the lunar new year in their own unique way, but the Chinese version is probably the best known and most widely celebrated as a result of the widespread Chinese diaspora going back to the 19th century.  An aggressive celebration of a new year represented by an aggressive, and yes, sometime vain cock.  Is this a cautionary tale perhaps?

This year’s celebration in China includes a faux panegyric to our fresh-baked Chief Executive . . . something I am quite certain he will enjoy and take in the spirit it was intended . . . or not.  A large statute of a white cock, this one adorned with his golden coiffure representing what was once described as “the furrowed wake that a speedboat would leave on a lake of orange sherbet” . . . “a mullet that died in some horrific accident.”  Oh, I could go on and on.  One of the statue’s feathered “hands” gesticulates our Dear Leader’s omnipresent lecturing finger, the other accentuating his “AOK” sign formed with his thumb and middle digit (the guy really needs new shtick, I think).  This statue was recently erected outside a shopping mall in Taiyun, the capital of a northern Shanxi province, and it has become the subject of a media frenzy.  Since then a factory located in Jiaxing, near Shanghai, has been manufacturing and selling dozens of giant inflatable presidential cocks, some as high as 15 feet, to shopping malls across China.  Photographs of these statues have been popping up in the international media and have gone viral on numerous social media platforms. (I wonder if DJT will demand more photos to prove that there are actually more presidential statues than were actually manufactured and sold?)  You know you cant trust the media, or so he wants us to believe.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share this with you.  Have a Happy Lunar New Year!!

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Monday, January 23, 2017

An Appetite for Destruction?

Human brutes, like other beasts, find snares and  poison in the provision of life, and are allured by their appetites to their destruction.
    – Jonathan Swift, circa 1765

We can only hope.  I will continue to write and post here and elsewhere about the new “administration” [sic], but I will never use that man’s name, nor will I post his photograph.  Yet you will surely know who I am writing about.  He likes to see his name in print.  His day is brightened each time his visage appears in the media.  But not here.  Ever!! 

To quote Ruth Marcus, writing in The Washington Post on January 20, 2017 . . . inauguration day; “he has triumphed despite his dishonesty, his vulgarity, his addiction to social media, his lack of religious faith, his many wives, all of the elements of his character and personal history . . . . ”  He is a “man incapable of confessing error and constantly compelled to counterpunch . . . . “

He will find no sanctuary here. I refuse to nourish his puerile appetites.  We can only hope they will lead to the ultimate repudiation of the man and his vision of America.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

We Still Have A Dream - A Women's March on Washington and Beyond

This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of  democracy like I’ve never seen in my very long life.
   – Gloria Steinem

It was a foggy, rainy morning today here in Washington, DC.  I dropped my wife at a friend’s house before they assembled with others at a local church to be shuttled to the Washington Mall in busses provide by Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer (who also happens to be the House Minority Whip).  They would add their bodies and voices to the hundreds of thousands of women and men who had assembled there in a call for universal human rights, civil rights,  and gender equality.  Although the primary goal of the march was to show solidarity on these key issues, it was also an orderly groundswell protest against the xenophobic policies and comments of a new president and the ill-advised and dangerous direction in which he wants to lead this country. 

I had hoped to join in the march, but with the ever expanding schedule of events and speakers, and an extension of the original march route, I soon realized my back and hip would never hold up.  But I was there in spirit, listening to live streamed speeches throughout the day while checking out all the photos and texts being posted on social media platforms.  It is too bad the weather was not more cooperative, but it did not prevent the messages from getting though loud and clear.  This is my personal contribution to that effort.

And they were not marching just here in Washington!  There were reports of over 600 “sister marches” across the nation.  I have friends who were marching in New Hampshire and Maine . . . in Florida, Chicago, Toronto, Montréal. Cincinnati, Denver, and New Orleans.  They also marched in Seneca Falls, New York, in Helena, Montana . . .  and in Berlin, Germany.   There were marches in Mexico, Australia, London, Paris, and Capetown.  Too many to list here (see map).  They were even joined by a small international group on board an expedition ship in Paradise Bay, in Antarctica.  Voices were raised across the planet since the demand for universal human rights and gender equality are global issues, not just American ones.  And these are not just women’s issues.  "We cannot all succeed,” Malala Yousafzai tells us, “when half of us are held back."  Women and men were marching together in solidarity.  And isn’t this the way it should be?  We are all in this together.  We will all suffer if we are not heard and respected.

What happened today here in Washington and across the globe cannot end today. “The end is not near,” film maker Michael Moore told a reporter.  “The beginning is near.”  But there is still a great deal of work left to be done.  It will not be easy; it will be a constant struggle.  That said, however, it is no Sisyphean ordeal.  Gloria Steinem hit the nail on the head.  "The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving."  Let’s ALL keep moving forward, pushing forward . . .  even if it is an uphill battle at times.

Tonight the streets of Washington are quiet again, but the demands for a commitment to universal human rights, to gender equality, as well as for economic and racial justice . . . for everyone . . . will continue to echo far and wide . . . IF we continue to stand in solidarity with one another.  To quote Ms. Steinem again in conclusion: “Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.“

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day - A Descent Into Mediocrity . . . or Worse

                        Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself.
                            – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have gone dark today . . . except for writing this.  It is a dark day for America and I have no interest in what that man has to say. There is no resonance of truth in any of his many boasts and claims.  A liar, a narcissist, a sexual predator, a mediocrity of the first order as he respects no one more than himself.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got it right.

The new president (a lower case president to be sure) seems to bask in his ability to remain detached from the world we live in.  He does not read or attend intelligence briefings.  He considers it a badge of honor that he does not read books.  He speaks in cliches, catch phrases, and self aggrandizing encomia.  Soft skinned to the extreme, he cannot tolerate dissent or debate, maintaining he already knows everything he needs to know.   So how can I celebrate the next chapter in the history of our republic when it looks more like an epilogue?  And a sad and disheartening one at that.  I cannot bring myself to acknowledge the pomp and circumstance playing itself out today less than three miles from where I sit in my home study writing this.  I see no reason to celebrate.

Instead, I have just re-read “Les Amis du Président,” William Styron’s essay based on his July 26, 1981 account - “A Leader Who Prefers Writers to Politicians” - published in The Boston Globe after he returned home from attending the inauguration of French president François Mitterrand two months earlier.  Styron (1925-2006) spent a great deal of time in Europe, especially in Paris, and was among the founders of the seminal Paris Review, in 1953.  Mitterrand would later name Styron a Commandeur in the French Légion d'honneur.   He was among seven writers . . . three of them American . . . personally invited by the newly elected President to be among the fewer than 200 in attendance for the actual ceremony at the base of the Arc de Triomphe on a gray day threaten by rain . . . very much like today here in Washington.  He joined Arthur Miller, Elie Wiesel, Gabriel Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortázar, Yachar Kemal, as well as the widow of Pablo Neruda..  There were no heads of state, no diplomats . . . “very little pomp and circumstance.”  Yet there were the writers!

Styron sat next to French European Commissioner Claude Cheysson (1920-2012), soon to be tapped as the new French foreign minister, at a luncheon at the Elysée Palace after the ceremony.  When asked what he though of the invitation, Styron told Cheysson it was a rare honor; “Writers were very rarely accorded this kind of recognition, especially in the United States . . . and that it was fun to help celebrate this day with a president who was so obviously and passionately in love with the written word.”  Mitterrand, in Styron’s eye, was “perhaps alone among the chiefs of state of our time, who cares for writers more than the members of any other profession – more than lawyers, more than scientists, more than politicians . . . . “  And when the new French president and his party processed down the broad boulevard Saint-Michel, on the Left Bank, on their way to the Sorbonne after the luncheon, he was accompanied by Styron and the writers invited to the ceremony.  “A concern for culture and the intellect is not mere style with Mitterrand,” Styron writes.  “But central to his being.”

As far as I can tell, not one Republican president has ever invited a poet to read at his inauguration, to celebrate the rich heritage and diversity of our nation.  In 1961, John F. Kennedy invited Robert Frost.  Jimmy Carter invited James Dickey sixteen years later.  Maya Angelou and Miller Williams were on the dais when Bill Clinton took the oath of office.  Barack Obama invited Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco.   Once again there was no poet in attendance today.  I would hardly expect one to show up even if she or he had been invited.  Language, culture, intellect means nothing to the man now ensconced in the White House, a man who has called for the elimination of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?  He should not find much objection from the conservative Republican in Congress (is there really any other kind?).  Instead, former US poet laureates Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove will join American poets of every stripe and color to protest today’s inauguration with “Writers Resist” rallies around the country.

Finally, should not leaders of their peoples and nations be among the smartest people, the most engaged people their nation has to offer?   I am reminded of John F. Kennedy, one of our more intellectually and culturally astute leaders, who while speaking at a White House dinner celebrating Nobel laureates, in April 1962, called the assembly “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  Think back to Jefferson and our other revolutionary founders – Washington, Adams. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.   Add to them John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.  These men all understood how one governs properly.  That said, there have been other presidents who were less than stellar – Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant, Warren G. Harding, and Richard Nixon.  All of them mediocrities on their best day.  In 1980, and again in 1984, American elected a mediocre movie star.  Now they have elected the former host of a “reality” show with absolutely no government experience.  No idea how governing really works.  He is also the first president in 25 years without an advanced degree who seems only interested in himself.  Americans seem to idolize celebrity over intellect.  But are we prepared to pay the price for our failure to elect a qualified leader who understands the nuances of governing?    

A mediocrity pure and simple now captains the ship of state.  Should we not be raising the bar instead of lowering it?  America certainly deserves better than it is got today.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Today is Not Just Another Day Off

Today we commemorate and honor the life and legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968). We have been doing this on an annual basis since 1971, and this year it is of the utmost importance that we do so. Yes, it is a holiday and most of us are enjoying a rare three-day weekend with family and friends. But it is critical that we remember Reverend King and what he stood for. Let his wisdom and words guide us as this country enters a period of uncertainty when our people seem more divided than ever before in recent history.

Reverend King reminded us that we should never be silent . . . that we should stand up for what we believe in and speak out against injustice in every guise. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." As we observe the transition of power in Washington this week, we should not look at it as the end of what was good, but as a clarion call to rise up and speak out for what we believe in. We will not be intimidated. "In the end," Reverend King warned, "we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  Don’t let this happen!

Fifty years ago this country appeared to be coming apart at the seams. Our cities were burning and we were divided over a war so many of us opposed. It was a time when some of us found our own voices for the first time and finally stood up to say we would not be dictated to. We fought to take our country back and put it on a path on which we could all enjoys peace and the pursuit of happiness. Today we find ourselves divided again. It is time to speak out again. Do not be silent.  Let your voice be heard.  "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people," Reverend King told us a half century ago.  Words of wisdom we should never forget.

So stand up, speak your mind, and let your voice ring out loud and clear!

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Time to Sweep 2016 Under the Rug . . . And Don't Put Away That Broom Yet!!

It is said that on December 31, 1943 the monks at the Benedictine abbey situated atop Monte Cassino, in Italy’s Liri Valley southeast of Rome, wrote in their log: “A terrible year has ended.  God forgive us our errors.”  Not that the monks had any say in the death and destruction brought to Italy that previous autumn.  Over the next several months the abbey became the focal point of a life and death struggle as the Allies tried to capture Rome, liberate Italy, and expel Nazi Germany from the soft underbelly of Europe.  It was a pile of rubble when it was all over.

So there have been many bad years throughout history.  Yet this past year has sucked in so many ways and on so many levels.  And honestly, given the present circumstances, I do not hold out much hope that 2017 will be any better.  Already this morning a major terrorist attack in Istanbul has claimed the lives of dozens of innocent holiday revelers.  Come this time next December, we might all look back on 2016 as the “Good Old Days.”  I might be wrong, but I am guessing I’m not. 

There have been heartfelt losses every year, but 2016 seems to have been particularly cruel in robbing us of so many impressive and talented people.  In no particular order there are those heroes who worked hard to preach peace instead of war, who struggled to make this world a far better place in which to live and love: Elie Wiesel, Simon Peres, Umberto Eco, John Glenn, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, Tom Hayden, Daniel Berrigan, and my old boss Janet Reno; those whose music were benchmarks in the late 20th century and into the 21st: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Natalie Cole, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Bobbie Vee, George Michael, Paul Kantner, Leon Russell, and George Martin; those who entertained us on stage, in films and on television: Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Abe Vigoda, Michael Cimino, Edward Albee. Peter Schaffer, and now this past  week Carrie Fischer and her mother Debbie Reynolds, and in the waning hours of 2016 William Christopher; there are those who amazed us in sports: Mohammed Ali, Arnold Palmer, Ralph Branca, and Gordie Howe; and the writers and journalists whose work set the highest standards for a free expression of ideas: Jim Harrison, Harper Lee, Pat Conroy, Alvin Toffler, Gwen Ifill, Morley Safer, and John McLaughlin.  May they all find peace in whatever lies beyond this mortal coil.  There are also many who have left us to whom I say good riddance.  The world is better off without them.  Even better had their lives never shadowed our threshold.  I won’t even utter their names.  Unfortunately the good often die young, or before their time, and far outnumber those who have outlasted their welcome.  That will never change.

Another loss we cannot even begin to measure is our cherished democracy here in the United States which is quickly slipping through our fingers.  After what Dave Barry has called “the grim death march that is the modern American presidential campaign” Americans have elected - or should I say a group of less than 600 men and women chosen by the individuals states to serve in the long obsolete electoral College have elected - a new and hopelessly naive president-elect who seems to bask in his ignorance of the very real problems facing this nation and its people . . . especially the most disadvantaged among us.  And he apparently had the Russians’ help in the process.  What is wrong with this picture?

Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and our president-elect tweets while ignoring those who can advise him well.  He eschews intelligence briefings while claiming he already knows what is best for America.  Does he?  On top of it all he pledges he will be unpredictable.  "No one is going to touch us, because I'm so unpredictable."  The conservative writer Charles Krauthammer tells us that this pathological narcissist has gone “beyond narcissism” exhibiting an “infantile hunger for approval and praise” as he lives in “a cocoon of solipsism.”  This does not bode well for America and the many challenges we face in this fast paced world.   The presidential historian Joseph J. Ellis reminds us of a historical truism . . . . “that inherited circumstances define the parameters within which presidential leadership takes place - that history shapes presidents rather than vice versa.”   An individual can make history yet this same individual will never fully understand the ramifications of the history she or he has made. This is a lesson the president-elect would do well to heed.   But it does not look like he got the memo, or he failed to read it, if he did.

Since his election in November the president-elect has gone out of his way to appoint individuals to his cabinet and administration who seem hell bent on destroying the very departments and agencies they have been asked to lead. The CEO of Exxon/Mobil and a good friend of Vladimir Putin, the fascist thug trying to make Russia great again, has been tapped as Secretary of State; a former governor of Texas and presidential candidate who threatened to eliminate the Department of Energy (although he could not remember what it was called during a debate) chosen to head that very same department; a rather dim-witted neurosurgeon to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development despite the fact that he admits he knows nothing about its responsibilities and has never held a government position in his life; a Wall Street hedge fund manager with no government experience to be the Secretary of the Treasury although the president-elect railed against these “hedge fund guys” during the campaign and has indicated he wants to get rid of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform legislation; a supporter of private and charter schools over free public education to lead the Department of Education; a vocal opponent of Obamacare without an alternative plan to oversee Health and Human services; an attorney general designate who failed to win confirmation as a federal judge due to his poor civil and human rights record; a fast food executive who opposes a liveable minimum wage to head the Department of Labor; a supporter of unlimited drilling and a climate change denier to head the Department of the Interior; retired generals to oversee Defense and Homeland Security and to serve as National Security Advisor (after the president-elect claimed during the campaign that if elected he might fire some of the top generals now running the military); a billionaire investor who opposed existing trade agreements to head the Commerce Department as the president-elect has pledged to eliminate the Consumer Protection Act; a billionaire corporate raider to be Special Advisor on Regulatory Reform; a former head of World Wrestling Entertainment to run the Small Business Administration; a supporter of the fossil fuel industry to head the Environmental Protection Agency; and the wife of the Senate Majority Leader as Secretary of Transportation.  Add to these a white supremacist and nationalist as a senior White House advisor and strategist.   And the president-elect is not yet finished with his appointments. How is this going to make America great again as he has promised?   He hasn’t really told us how yet and I suspect he doesn’t really know.  Are you scared yet?

On top of this the president-elect wants build a wall to keep out browned skinned people from Mexico and beyond.  We wants to bar entry to any Muslims trying to enter the country and to register those already here . . . much like the Nazi’s registered and tattooed the Jews and other undesirables.  He wants to put all mosques under surveillance.  He wants to deport millions of immigrants illegally living in the United States. He wants to eradicate health insurance, especially for those who need it most, while offering nothing concrete to replace it (although he tells us it will be “terrific” when he does).  He wants to defund Planned Parenthood while pledging to “take care of women” (we all know what that means, right?).  He has made fun of physically challenged individuals for a cheap laugh.   He has bragged about grabbing women’s pussies just because he can.  He wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and strip away environmental safeguards through ignorance about the science of climate change.  He wants to gut the legislation that has taken years to clean our water and air.   He wants to start a nuclear arms race.  He wants to return American to its former isolationism that made it possible for despots and demagogues of the past to force the world into wars that this country eventually had to fight.   That said, he wants to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” while authorizing the killing of family members of suspected terrorists while authorizing the use of waterboarding and other torture. He wants to expand military spending for weapons and military adventuring while gutting the Department of Veterans Affairs.  He has at one time or another pledged to take the United States out of the UN, NATO, NAFTA, and the TTP.   Why not make them better?   He wants to end the exploration of space.  He wants concealed-carry permits recognized in all 50 states and he has claimed he would get rid of gun-free zones at military bases and in schools despite the plague of mass shooting in this country.  He is a racist, a misogynist, and a sexual predator.  And all of this is somehow going to make America great again?

What makes America great is building on what has made us great in the past; not to reverse or destroy it just because someone else came up with the idea first. The president-elect must be comforted by the realization that he knows what is best for this country and its citizens. Unfortunately, history is full of narcissistic demagogues who convinced themselves that they had all the answers.  And they somehow convinced their citizens to believe them, to trust them, to follow them to greatness . . . usually by finding a scapegoat on which to blame their nations’ ills.   It never ended well and these “leaders” saw their creations cast onto the ash heap of history at the cost of millions of lives.  Is this how we want to make America great again?   I don’t think so.  I never thought I would ever find myself quoting Ronald Reagan, but maybe I should since many who voted for the president-elect see him as a natural successor to Reagan and his vision of America.  “Someone once said that every form of government has one characteristic peculiar to it and if that characteristic is lost, the government will fall. In a monarchy, it is affection and respect for the royal family. If that is lost the monarch is lost. In a dictatorship, it is fear. If the people stop fearing the dictator he'll lose power. In a representative government such as ours, it is virtue. If virtue goes, the government fails. Are we choosing paths that are politically expedient and morally questionable? Are we in truth losing our virtue? . . . If so, we may be nearer the dustbin of history than we realize.” Unfortunately Reagan did not follow his own advice and his warning proved true.  Still, maybe the president-elect might want to sit up and take note . . . to learn from history?   But I doubt he will.  He and his cronies know what is best for us, right?

 All of a sudden 2017 is not looking very bright or promising.  And it all begins with Santa Claus murdering dozens of holiday revelers celebrating the arrival of the New Year. 

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