Author Archives: Jim

…and the next President is ….

The older I get, the more politics makes my stomach hurt. I don’t know if it’s the fact that my tolerance for bull shit is diminishing, or if today’s political coverage is just done in such a way as to make any thinking person clutch their tummy and head off to lie down.

While generally a Democrat with a socialistic lean leftward, parts of me conflict and have a slight tilt rightward, especially when it comes to money. It’s hard to reconcile the two.

This cycle, the media seems to think that Hilary Clinton is the odds-on shoo-in and apparently the DNC should just get things out of the way and proclaim her the candidate.
bookshelvesFor months it was said that Jeb Bush held the opposing role for the Republican party, and the other dozen to two dozen candidates might as well go back to whatever it was they were doing. Amazingly, Donald Trump seems to be giving Bush a run for his money at this early point. (I have to reach for another heartburn pill every time I read that statistic.)

hcYet, as liberal as I am, I am very uncomfortable with Hilary this time around. Aside from the fact that she’s a woman, her politics don’t seem to be any different than any other mega-wealthy, obligated to big-business candidate. Under the hood, there really isn’t much difference between her and Bush – and in fact, according to an article I just read in The Guardian, just like Jeb Bush, most of her money seems to have come from big company lobbyists.

This would mean that if elected to office, Hilary is much more likely to be in favor of policy and legislation that would end up benefiting the companies that these lobbyists represent – companies like Chevron, Facebook and the most evil of them all Goldman Sachs.

Despite the hype, Hilary has never been about the little person. She is way to deep into the camp of big money.

The list of announced candidates for the Democratic nomination is far shorter than the Republican side, and is strangely full of people I’ve either never heard of, or who I might be familiar with only because I recognize I’ve heard their name somewhere fairly recently.

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I know nothing of Lincoln Chaffee, however I do remember his father John Chaffee. I lived in Rhode Island for a few years in the later 1980s, and John Chaffee is/was a big deal there. John Chaffee was also Secretary of the Navy my last year of high school – and I joined the Navy Reserve in January of 1973 while still a high school senior.

But his son Lincoln? Nothing. I draw a blank. So, I turn to the web and try to see what his platform might be, and it appears his biggest news  draw is his desire to take the U.S. to the metric system. Didn’t we try that earlier only to have it flop miserably? And if that is his lead item, I’m not even going to bother to read up on the rest, he’s obviously a lightweight if he thinks that one of our biggest problems right now is that we still use inches and feet instead of whatever the hell the metric system uses. Cross him off my list.

Next on the list is Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland. Never heard of him. But, looking at him on the issues, he doesn’t appear to be too bad with the exception again that he appears to be soft on corporate taxes. His view on legalizing low-level drugs is also old-fashioned and out of touch with reality. I don’t care for his stand on education either – charter schools have been the cause of our public school system coming apart at the seams. On The Issues has him as a moderate liberal, but I guess I’d want to know where he gets his money and whether or not he’s a trust fund kiddie himself.

On The Issues has Jim Webb, the most recently announced democratic candidate also as a moderate liberal. Isn’t that the definition of a Democrat? I think he’s a bit more of a military hawk than I’d like, but he is also a U.S. Senator and I’d like to know how friendly he is with the above said lobbyists before I would give him much more thought.

Interestingly, when it comes to Bernie Sanders, On The Issues does have him pegged to the far left corner of their chart – and calls him a “Hard Liberal”. He’s a self pro-claimed socialist, so it’s not a secret, but it’s really not that much further to the left than any other Democrat – at least if you look at the position of the red dot on their little diagram.

It’s hard for me to find something not to like in the man. He’s opposed to embryonic stem cell research. I think that’s bad – as long as the cells are going in the garbage anyway, why not let someone research on them? We may be stomping on our own nuts by not doing so.

I mean, were it not for the fact that for some reason “socialist” seems to have the same ugly connotation as “communist”, if you look at what the man stands for, it’s nothing that a reasonable middle class person trying to raise a family wouldn’t want. It’s all reasonable stuff. Of course, if you are part of the 1%, controlling 90% of the wealth in this country, I can understand why you might be looking around and hoping for an assassination attempt. That’s ugly – but from what I can see, Bernie Sanders would like to turn this country upside down and make it a decent place for the average person to work and live without worrying where the next mortgage payment is coming from, or rather or not the corporation down the street is pouring chemicals in the drains or stacking the deck on a chance to just live in peace with enough money to make it to the end.

Surely Bernie Sanders is a much better choice than Donald Trump?

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So, I’m torn. While I agree in large part with Bernie Sander’s ideals and policies, I’m not sure that a lot of this country can get past his “socialist” label. But, maybe it’s what we need.

buttonIt’s still early. We are 18 months away from an election. Maybe someone else will come in that will catch my eye.

It’s time for us to stop being the worlds cops. It’s time for us to stop being the first in the world to rush in an army wherever we think it might be needed. It has us hated by a good half the world, and I’d rather have a new bridge or a decent highway to drive on than pay through the nose for peace in Iraq or Syria.

I’d like jobs to come back to this country instead of being farmed out to whatever the next cheap labor place in the world is going to be. I’d like corporations who move their operations offshore to avoid taxes to be penalized – or even sanctioned and sold off.

The difference between “rich” and “not rich” has never been greater in our country. It makes the tycoons of the early 1900’s look like middle class. And the political power welded by the  wealthiest companies and individuals in the country should not be allowed. Simply should not be tolerated.

I keep promising myself to just ignore politics. I’m retired now, and as long as I can keep on enjoying my life, does it matter who has the power in Washington. Yes, it does matter, I do care, and if we don’t make big changes soon, the United States of America as we’ve known it since the days of FDR are gone and what will take its place may not be a very nice place to live.

 

Gay Marriage

rainbow_whitehouseNow that the Supreme Court has decided that same-sex couples can also enjoy the rights and benefits and responsibilities of marriage, some of the far religious right seems to have resorted to the same tactics used by a stubborn toddler at the dinner table who refuses to eat peas.

I empathize with those who are deeply religious and have objections, but I feel they no longer have any right to object. At least in this country, marriage became a civil institution many years ago, and while some marriages are performed in a church with all the requisite religious ceremony, many millions of marriages are performed by civil servants in a public hallway at the county courthouse, or by notary public’s in many states, or even at drive-through chapels in Las Vegas.

A 2014 article by CNN disclosed that at the current rate, our young people of today are on track to be the least married of our citizens in our history – with nearly 30% of the current generation remaining unmarried by age 40. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t partnered or having families, they simply choose to skip the formality of traditional marriage.

While we hear strident calls from gay people about equality, in the end, I think that all we really wanted was to have thereligious_right
same advantages given by the state to the families we create as are given to any other non-gay family in the land. While there are fringe elements in every movement, I believe that the core of the gay citizenry who have been clamoring for marriage all these decades are perfectly happy now that they can enjoy all the civil benefits of marriage and family, and most could give a rat’s patootie about any religious meaning to their unions. I’m unclear how a legal, but civil marriage would change how any religion wishes to treat marriages among their members.

Despite the lopsided influence of our many religions in America, we remain a mostly secular country.

The current call by some of the more hard-right politicians seeking the next Presidency for a constitutional amendment
that would call for our Supreme Court members to stand for review and election at periodic intervals goes completely against our original founding intentions. It would violate the delicate checks and balances that keep our American engine running.

rainbow1Yes, we are a Republic, not a democracy, and we elect representatives to run the country for us. A true democracy would require that the citizenry vote on every single issue, every single policy, and our founders were wise enough to know that this would quickly become unwieldy and instead devised a method where our elected representatives go make the laws and policies they feel the country requires. The checks and balances on our Congress are the President and the Supreme Court. The three divisions of our government work together to ensure that the basic tenets of our constitution remain inviolate, that the majority is not allowed to stamp out the minority, that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.

And, in certain extreme situations, Congress can attempt to modify or amend our constitution. It was not made an easy thing to do – a whole lot of people have to agree, and that is very difficult to achieve in this world we have today. Our system has worked for us for 250 years, and most of us are wise enough to know that we should let it stand as it seems to be better than what most of the rest of the world has devised.

Just like the decision in 1967 to allow inter-racial marriage, I think that in time the pot will cease to violently boil and we’ll find a balance where most of the country is happy with the way things are and we’ll move on to new issues. In the meantime, especially in light of the upcoming election year grandstanding, we’ll have to put up with a bunch of nutcases trying to figure out how to say what they think their audience of the day wants to hear, and it will all be meaningless and a waste of time.

Gay-Culture-DeadWhat I’m afraid of more than these right-wing nuts is assimilation. The gay “culture” in America has been a unique sub-culture of strange and wonderful people who more often than not moved over to accommodate nearly anyone. As long as you were identifying as gay, there was a place for you somewhere in the culture. As we gain more equality, our culture is beginning to die and fade away. Gay bookstores for the most part are already gone, and gay bars and clubs have been closing by the dozens.

A great part of me embraces that culture of the 70’s and 80’s where in any big town there were dozens of bars and clubs that catered to any fetish or fantasy you might have, where gay bookstores were a center of the gay community, providing intellectual stimulation and literary marvels that were focused on our community, our struggles and our unique way of life.

I see all this fading away as we assimilate into the greater society and become just another couple on the block with kids bikes in the yard and a judywhomembership in the local PTA.  Some say it is a good thing, and perhaps it is, but those of us of a certain age find it somehow harder to handle than the younger crowd who grow up today and are “out” of their closets before puberty has fully set in.

As for marriage itself, while I am happy that we can now marry and gain all the civil benefits (or encumbrances) of the institution, I’m still not comfortable. I find it very difficult to put into words, but most all gay couples I know, of any age, are not like straight couples.

Most gay couples I know, married or not, have a very different relationship than most straight couples I know. To start with, there is monogamy. Most of the couples I know are mostly monogamous, but if one or the other isn’t on the rare occasion, it’s not a deal breaker for the relationship.

Since most gay couples don’t have children, there is an entirely different dynamic. Sure, a lot of the younger crowd are adopting, or using surrogates, but still, for the most part there are millions of gay couples who are childless and will always be childless by choice.

What I’m trying to say, and not doing a very good job of it, is that in my mind the word “marriage” is word that belongs to heterosexuals. It describes a way of life and has a pre-defined set of behavioral expectations that simply don’t fit the way most gay couples I have ever known actually live their lives.

I think maybe we need a new word, one all our own, but still gives us the same civil benefits, responsibilities and rights as any other legally recognized familial unit in our country.

And, is marriage for me? I was married to two different women in my life and had children with both. Eventually both marriages failed, and while there is no single reason that can be pointed too for either of them, I recognize now, some 40 and 20 years later (respectively), that for the most part, traditional marriage made me deeply unhappy and was the underlying root cause of the failures. I’m very reluctant to screw up the relationship I’m enjoying now by getting married, although I suppose that for financial, inheritance, taxes and a plethora of other reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the way we feel about one another, I’ll eventually succumb and we’ll tie the knot — but I guarandamntee you – any marriage I get into in the future will have it’s own set of rules that won’t be anybody else’s business and won’t meet anyone else’s expectations but mine.

So, I’m a bit like John Roberts. By all means – let’s celebrate, but I’m not sure that in throwing out the old dirty bathwater that we didn’t lose at least some of the baby with it.

 

The Brouhaha concerning the Confederate Flag

Even though I’m a son of the South, born and bred, and normally quite proud of that fact, I do admit that there are often things that good ole boys from the south do that embarrass me no end.

Waving the confederate flag around and wishing for the “good old days” is one of those things. A lot of people seem to want to say that the confederate flag stands for a lot more than slavery, things like the southern way of life, the genteel sense of pride and honor that our great-great-grandfathers may have exhibited in the face of crushing losses to the Union.

Horseshit!conf_flag

For one thing, I bet you could round up the first 100 “good ole boys” you could find across Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, either of the Carolina’s or Georgia – and not a single one of them would know that the flag they fly so proudly from their pickup truck was not ever the true Confederate flag. The one most often flown, and the one shown all over the news lately is actually General Robert E. Lee’s battle flag and was never flown over a Confederate state capitol.

Yet, for some reason, this version of the confederate flag is the one that everyone knows, and in fact is the one used by such organizations as the Confederate Sons of America and seen on various state license tags.

150622171715-01-confederate-flag-original-exlarge-169The Confederacy actually had several flags in it’s short five year lifespan. The one used first, and longest was simply called “The Stars and Bars”, and flew over all the state capitals in the south from 1861 through 1863. It had 7 stars in a circle  on a blue field and 3 stripes of alternating red and blue. I doubt many of my redneck brethren recognize this flag as a true symbol of the Confederate States of America, but in fact it is only the first of three such “official” flags.

The other two flags flew for shorter periods, the next one was mostly white, and was where the first appearance of the more familiar  Saint Andrews Cross on red appears, but it didn’t last long as it looked more like a white flag of surrender if the wind didn’t blow and unfurl the flag from the pole.

150622171934-02-confederate-flag-exlarge-169The final flag was a simple modification of the mostly white field that added a blood red vertical strip down the end of the flag. I suppose it 150622172117-03-confederate-flag-exlarge-169looked a bit better when hanging limp on a pole, and was likely truly spectacular when flapping in a stiff breeze, however the point I wish to make to the rednecks I know and still manage to love, is that the flag they are so used to promoting isn’t even truly the real one.

 

 

There were lots of good things about southern culture of the mid-19th century. Just as there were unique and special things about the culture of New England or the mid-west or any other region of our nation, but the Confederate Flag didn’t exist until the North and South went to war with each other, and despite everything we might like to think, the primary reason was over slavery. You can’t put enough perfume on that pig.

At the same time, the current craze to burn and bury anything and everything to do with the confederate flag is just silly. It’s a fact, it’s part of our history, and we need to keep it tucked away somewhere to remind ourselves of that shameful period and of just how bad things got. It’s just like Germany trying to hide the fact that Hitler existed. You can’t make it go away, no matter how invisible you want it to be.

Sure, symbols of the confederacy do not belong on or in public property such as Statehouses or lawns, but they surely have their place in museums and in historical displays. They also have their place in our educational system – where we teach our children that at a point in our history our country came very close to falling apart. We should teach ourselves that these are symbols of failure, that they are symbols of hate, and that they are examples of our short travel down the wrong road. That’s what good these various symbols can do – and for that reason, they need to continue to exist.

 

 

Dr. Oz – what I want to know

A lot of the press seems to be in a hoo-ha over the controversy surrounding Dr. Oz. I’ve never trusted the guy, and in fact have put him in the same category as those loud mouth late-night shills that try to sell you miracle polishing cloths for your car, or those funky exercise things that are supposed to give you magic abs over night.

I recall coming home from work one day and observing my other half watching this nutcase on the TV, and I ever so tactfully pointed out to him that the man was a quack. In fact, at that time, I wasn’t even sure he was actually a real doctor. What real, educated with a degree, licensed to practice doctor would actually say the things that this quack does on a national TV program. I was sure that if he ever had been licensed to practice somewhere, he’d been disbarred for malpractice and the only way he had found to make a living was to sell his personalitydr-oz-official on TV.

I was shocked to near speechlessness to find out the man actually is the head of a department at Columbia university. Were I the president of that esteemed facility, I’d hang my head in shame when out in public.

Anyway, a week or so ago, ten doctors signed a letter and suggested that Dr. Oz be removed from his post at Columbia because he was a quack. I was wholeheartedly in favor of this, and applauded these brave guys, until I found out that some of them are actually being paid by companies that support genetically modified food. While I’m on the fence about GMO food, I think that if you are being paid by a company to support GMO’s, and then send a letter like they did and chastise someone because they oppose genetically modified food, well – you aren’t exactly being honest. In fact, you’ve sort of hopped into the frying pan and turned your own kettle black.

However, today I read that of 1500 doctors surveyed, more than 1,000 agree that Dr. Oz should resign. This survey gave new life to the controversy, and makes me feel a bit better about calling Dr. Oz a quack.

However, the puzzling part of this survey is that 22% of the 1500 doctors stated that they supported Dr. Oz and that things should remain the same.

What I want is a list of these Doctors so that I can make sure that I don’t visit any of them for treatment of so much as a hangnail. They are obviously eating from the same bowl of quack soup as Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Ask a Homo

Ok, like most gay men today, I’ve known that I liked boys forever. Like, from first grade forever. For the most part, I don’t think a first grader gayflagactually knows what that means in a sexual manner, they just know that boys are more fun, boys are more interesting, and girls are just yucky. That wasn’t the case with me, I had a very active sexual life by the time I was 7 years old, so knowing I “liked boys” was a bit more precise and defined for me than it was for a lot of kids that age.

There was an interesting video clip on Slate this morning from what is apparently an ongoing series knows as “Ask a Homo”, and the question was “What was the best time in history to be gay or lesbian”. The guy who delved into the answer, apart from being right up my personal “wow” alley and banging a “10” on the meter, gave a really interesting set of answers, which of course end up being no real answer at all.

Most people are completely unaware that the concept of homosexuality hasn’t really been around that long. It really wasn’t popularized until probably the late 19th century, around the time of Oscar Wilde. “Gay” didn’t come along until after that time – so, as the world turns, the concept of the individual gay person is really very recent.

greekThat isn’t to say that there hasn’t been men who have sex with men since the beginning of time. While I don’t want to offend any lesbians who might be reading my random thoughts here, since I have no real experience with women who have sex with women, I’m going to drop that from my discussion and stop trying to pretend to be all inclusive. I am a gay man, and I’m not really sure I even personally know a lesbian, and I certainly can’t pretend to know what their journey through life has been like.

In most western societies of today, it’s pretty easy to be gay and not suffer any adverse consequences. There are even a lot of places where gays and be legally married and enjoy all the rights, benefits and responsibilities that other married couples enjoy. But that is looking at things from a very broad view, high in the sky – where details are hard to spot and you think that all the colors you see are drawn from the eight-crayon box.

Zoom in a bit, and you begin to see regional differences, nooks and crannies where life may be a bit more difficult as your “you’ness” skews away gayborhoodfrom what is considered normal.  By the time you zoom in to full scale, you see that even in a place where society at large has no major issue with homosexuals in general, and may even have laws that demand they be treated just like everyone else, there is a lot of variance as to just how comfortable an individual may feel.

In a place like the United States, where for the most part a gay man can count on not being put in jail for having sex with another man, you may see that gay man move away from his family and the place of his youth to live in a large urban area, sometimes even in a particular neighborhood surrounded by other gays. In such a setting, it is pretty easy to just be whoever you are, although adopting a more conservative and “acceptable” facade for the rare trips home to visit the family.

There have always been men who had sex with other men. It was an accepted and common practice in ancient Greece for men to take younger male lovers. But, most of these men who loved men also had wives and family. The occasional romp in the woods with another man often wasn’t thought of as deviant, it was just a part of who you were. Deviance usually began to come into play when religion of one type or another got to define the rules. That has happened more often in the past hundred or so years, where despite our best intention we let politics and religion combine in places they shouldn’t.

Back to the original question of when was the best time to be homosexual? I have to agree for the most part with the first answer our handsome narrator gives: “..that would be now.” Even when there are some geographic abnormalities in where a gay person can live and truly be comfortable, this time we are in now has never been freer with regard to allowing gay people to just be who they want to be.

Yet, at the same time, I lament the fact that because so many of your young people today have had it so much better than my generation or previous generations, many icons of gay culture are slowly fading away. Places that were important to me and other gay people of my age and before.

Gay bookstores are almost completely gone.  Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia recently closed, said to be the nations oldest gay bookstore. Lambda Rising in Washington D.C., A Different Light in California, Oscar Wilde in New York – all closed. Gay Bookstores were unique in that nearly all of their shelf space was devoted to books and music written by, for or about gay men and women. You didn’t have to go to the library and search through tens of thousands of other books to find something about people like yourself. Gay Bookstores encouraged a sense of neighborhood as well.

thestudEqually alarming is the closing of many gay bars and clubs around the country. Some of the largest and most spectacular clubs in some of the largest cities have gone out of business and shut their doors. But, also disturbing is the fact that many bars and clubs in much smaller towns have also disappeared, in many cases these were the only places that the local gay population could gather on any regular basis as a group.

For many young gay men of past generations, the gay bar was a special place – where you could do things that other people your age could do in other places – like dance with your boyfriend, or kiss him – gay clubs for hundreds of thousands of us were the only place where we could go to be who we were.

I think that for me personally, not having “come out” until my early 30’s and having experienced some of this only from a distance makes it particularly difficult to see it fade away as it was a big part of what I thought being a gay person was about.

For a lot of young people today who are growing up gay, life for them isn’t so very different from growing up straight. They don’t need the gay bookstore, or the gay club to help them define who they are, or for a safe space on the weekend. They don’t need to move to The Castro in San Francisco, or to Christopher Street in Manhattan. A recent article I read disclosed that a lot of previously mostly gay neighborhoods in urban areas are seeing an increasing number of non-gay homeowners move in as the popularity of moving into the city gains new ground. Gays are becoming much more homogenized into the society.

There are a lot of older gay men who are feeling a bit lost and disoriented. For all of our lives we have had to be careful who knew we were gay. We’ve had to be discreet with who and how we’ve loved and lived. Many of my generation and older have family who rejected them outright, and the gay community is the only family they know, and as that community becomes more integrated with society at large, for some there is a sense of being on the edge of homelessness all over again.

I am happy that for many young people who discover they like boys better than girls, their lives will not be complicated by having to learn to be two different people. Adopting different personalities, based on who you are with is stressful, although many of us learned to make it second nature. It was just something we had to do. If you were having Thanksgiving with the family you were one person, and if you were with your friends at the Club, you were another. pinkYet, I do hope that young gay people of today take a minute now and then to understand that the fact they are free to live their lives as “normal” people wasn’t a natural process. That there were generations before them who struggled to make this reality they live a fact. That previous generations have actually shed blood or were horribly persecuted. That their new normal has not always been.

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History and Memories

Our world today is filled with news outlets like CNN or FOX or MSNBC that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are so many news outlets now, that it is hard to get away from news, and all of it seems to be bad.

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Dominating news in just the past few weeks has been the new war in Israel, the plane crash in the Ukraine, the Ebola virus outbreak, the ferry disaster in Bangladesh, toxic algae polluting the water in Ohio – all of this could lead one to believe that we are living in one of those “..worst of times” as that line from A Tale of Two Cities goes.

Yet, even with Iraq and Afghanistan thrown into the mix, I still don’t feel as unnerved as I did as a kid through the 1960’s and 1970’s.

There were some scary things going on when I was a young person, things right here at home, that affected me, or people I knew.

We only had news once, or sometimes twice a day. It came on around dinnertime, and my parents usually watched what was then known as The Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report on whatever our local NBC channel was back then in south Florida.

huntley-brinkleyChet Huntley and David Brinkley were the hosts, and they were pretty much the entire face of whatever news reports I paid any attention to until I was in high school. Huntley older than my Dad, born in 1911, while Brinkley was a few years younger, born in 1920.

News then was delivered in a very somber manner. There was nothing like you see today on MSNBC or FOX where the hosts will do everything but call their competitors names. And news as comedy, as done by Jon Stewart wasn’t even something that most people would have dreamed about.

News, as it was delivered in the 1960’s, was a serious business, delivered in somber tones, by adult men, and since most of it was delivered at the dinner hour, and so much was happening in the 60’s, it was the driving force for having the television take a seat at the table along with the rest of the family.

The 60’s started off with a bang, with an event I don’t personally recall – but shaped history nonetheless. The televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy showed that style can often beat substance as Nixon came across looking terrible, while John F. Kennedy looked suave and sophisticated. It allowed a lot of Americans to forget he was a catholic – which was a big thing in those days.

In 1961, the Soviets and the East Germans erected the Berlin wall. I don’t recall this either – I was only six, and berlinwallnews events for a six year old, even today, don’t make much of a splash unless they are up close and personal – like getting an extra scoop of ice cream because it’s your birthday, or having German chocolate cake for desert.

There was the trip to Berlin that JFK made, where he won the hearts of the Germans with his speech that included the now frequently seen clip of his “Ich bin ein Berliner” statement. Looking back, I can’t recall if I saw it live on TV, or if I am simply remembering seeing clips of it multiple times since then.

Oddly, I don’t even recall much about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, even though we lived barely 100 miles north of Havana at the time. Perhaps it was because in 1962 I was attending a private church school run by the local Seventh Day Adventists and we didn’t have any of those “duck under your desk” drills that you see in TV shots from those days. My parents didn’t discuss it at the dinner table, so I was pretty much oblivious to the whole event.

I do remember the 1963 March on Washington, and the “I Have a Dream” speech on TV. I sensed from the adults in my life that they were a bit afraid, all those black people in one place, making trouble. In those days, in the place I grew up, segregation was just something that was – as matter of fact to me at age 7 1/2 as library paste, imagesCAYR2WVWgecko’s and having to eat my vegetables. I grew up in a place where there had always been water fountains and bathrooms marked as “white only” or “colored only”. Where black kids went to one school, and white kids to another. As a 7 1/2 year old child, I never wondered why black people were treated differently, and for some strange reason, I thought that maybe the bathrooms marked as “colored only” were perhaps dirtier than the ones used by white people. Silly of course, and I have no idea how that thought was planted in my head, but it surely had to do with the attitudes of the adults in my life and culture in which I was raised.

Just three months after this momentous event, I clearly recall being sent home from school early. It was November 22nd, 1963. At that time, we walked to and from school. My brother David, 16 months younger than me and only in 1st grade, and me, freshly turned 8 had about a mile to walk. Most of it was alongside the Hillsboro canal – which used to be a river from the Everglades to the Atlantic Ocean, but in the early 20th century was dredged into a deep straight canal. Only a few locations had guard rails, and there were no sidewalks at all – we just walked along the side of the road – and would often stop just across from the old general store and climb the palm trees that hung out over the bank.

We lived next door to my mothers parents, and her grandmother had a small house on the property as well, and jfk_funeralwe loved stopping at Nannie’s house – cookies and milk were always available. We burst into the tiny house – excited about being home early – to find every adult we knew staring at the TV – and we were promptly shushed. John F. Kennedy has been assassinated.  For days, the TV seemed like a window into pomp and circumstance and it was all draped in black crepe, the the sound of horses hooves clopping on the pavement as they drew the casket down Pennsylvania avenue.

This was pretty somber stuff for an eight year old, and kind of set the tone for the next decade of what I remember from the news.

There continued to be a political and social upheaval, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the march on Selma, Alabama in 1965. George Wallace, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, The Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Angela Davis – all these names dominate my memory of the news of my youth.

There were also spectacular crimes, that often led to odd nightmares. Charles Manson and his gang in California, and Richard Speck and the eight murdered nurses in Chicago from 1966. 1966 was also the year of the Texas Tower shootings where Charles Whitman climed a 27 story tower and killed 14 people and injured another 31. People remember Columbine, do they remember the University of Texas?

I am quite sure that the person I am today is partly the result of what I saw on the news when I was young, partly due to growing up in a segregated south, and partly due to influences I can’t even begin to name or recall.

Today’s children will look back in 40 years and remember this time as “special” in the same way I view the 1960’s and early 1970’s, of that I am sure. The current events of my youth – the assassinations, the political upheaval, the massive cultural change – even the wild Woodstock Music Festival – are all now considered “history”.

It’s kind of startling to look back and realize that events you lived through are now part of some young person’s History class.

 

 

 

 

 

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter Parenting

I can certainly understand how many parents view the world today as a horrible place, where unsupervised children are subject to kidnap, torture, rape or murder. I think it is largely a byproduct of our 24-hour news channels, who cover the most minute of details of every crime committed anywhere, just so they can fill those long hours and give people something to watch.

GAWKER had a great story about a lost 9-year old boy who wandered New York City by himself for a day, and who proclaimed that it was “The Greatest Day” of his life.

I have tried to gently chastise my oldest son for being a helicopter parent. He doesn’t seem to get the message. I’m not entirely sure his kids are allowed to visit the next room without adult supervision.

Too much supervision is bad for kids. They need to be allowed to explore, alone – without an adult. They need to experience situations where they need to figure their own way out, again – without adults giving them a nine-page bullet-pointed list of instructions.

I truly believe that our culture and our world will suffer because of the way the last generation or two of parents hover over their children. Kids today have their calendars booked so tight that I often wonder how they take time to pee, or perhaps in some households, that too is on the calendar.

I hate to resort to the time-worn phrase “when I was a kid ….” , but I don’t think there is any other great way to start out. When I was a kid, when we got home from school, we were free to roam the neighborhood. Sure, we had chores. We had homework. But we weren’t shuttled from dance lesson to hockey to piano lessons to extra-tutoring classes, and we certainly weren’t expected to be dangling from our mother’s skirts. In fact, more often than not – we where shooed out of the house and told to “go play”.

Yes, this was before the computer. Before video games. In fact – around our neck of the woods anyway – it was before color television. We only got two channels most of the time, we could watch a 3rd channel if you turned the TV antenna – but it was often still fuzzy. The only thing on TV in the afternoons was soap operas, and the only time a kid could be excused for watching a soap opera was if he was confined at home due to sickness. Otherwise the other kids would give you no peace.

At 4pm, one channel finally began to show The Mickey Mouse Club but more often than not, we were already outdoors involved in a sandlot ball game or some other adventure, and would forget to come in and watch.

boyinwoods  In 1964, I was 9 years old, and for the first time Dad loaded us all up in our brand new 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon, and we  made the long trek from South Florida to visit his brother Hubert in Tennessee.

I can remember long hours of wandering the woods, completely alone. Often unsure about how to get back, but never really afraid – just absorbed by new and exciting things. It never crossed my mind that I was unsupervised, in fact I would have been surprised had an adult wanted to tag along just to make sure I was safe.

It’s not like my parents didn’t know where I was – they just didn’t know where I was to the precise GPS coordinate. It was more of a vague “oh, he’s off playing in the neighborhood somewhere” kind of thing.

I did have boundaries – we weren’t allowed to wander outside of what was generally accepted as our neighborhood – a place that was about a half-mile long, bordered on one side by a deep canal, and on the other by the road, another canal, and vast sugar cane fields.

We were not allowed to play in the sugar cane fields. We were always told that it was because they burned the fields just before harvest, and we might get burnt, but that only happened one time a year, so I think that our restriction had more to do with my mother’s insane fear of snakes than it did with anything else. Sugar cane fields were full of common rat snakes, after field mice and other little vermin. Sure – the occasional moccasin – it was South Florida after all.

Most people acknowledge that children today spend far too much time playing indoors on electronic devices, involved in some sort of fantasy world. I’d argue that the fantasy world in a video game isn’t that much different than the fantasy worlds I found when I was a kid by reading books, but I can heartily agree that kids today need more time outdoors, more time left on their own, more time to develop a sense of how to navigate the world without a parent hovering over their shoulder.

What I see now are kids that become adults, but don’t know how to be an adult. They have to learn things as an adult that they should have learned while growing up, but because they weren’t allowed to develop any sense of self that didn’t also include Mom or Dad within view, these new adults are immature beings, often woefully under prepared for the world around them.

I see 17 and 18 year old young people today that are the emotional equivalent of kids who were 12 or 13 thirty years ago. Helicopter parents are a lot of the cause, but our whole society has devolved into a state that makes it difficult to produce a functioning 18 or 21 year old adult person. There are so many rules and laws on the books now that restrict a parents ability to raise their child in the manner they see fit.

Sure – it’s fine to have rules that prevent children from being abused – but other than a strict definition of what constitutes abuse – I think parents should be free to raise their children however they wish.

Recently, a couple took a lot of flak from a bunch of people who were just being busybodies. This couple, who seem to be very capable people, took off on a world sailing adventure, and took their small children with them. An unforeseen set of circumstances led to them having to get help for a sick child, but a lot of people seemed to think this couple should have their children taken away from them because of their unorthodox lifestyle. Hooey I say. Let them raise their kids this way – I think they’ll turn out to be marvelous adults.

Turn your kids loose. Let them be kids. Give them free time and space to explore.

Retirement!

retirement60 days ago, I tossed a letter on my boss’s desk as I dashed by his office on the way to the coffee pot. He looked up at me with a slightly annoyed look and inquired as to what it might be. As I retreated toward the mid-office kitchen coffee pot, I responded to him over my shoulder with a “you might want to read that one…”.

When I came back with my cup of coffee, he was sitting there with an astounded look, kind of like a kid who had just been told school was starting six weeks early. It isn’t like I hadn’t been warning him – retirement was in my thoughts, and at the end of May, 2015 I would be eligible to start withdrawing money from my 401K fund. I guess he never thought that I would retire before that point.

Thanks to a generous stock plan (although not quite so generous as it was a few years ago), and some investment in real estate, and a firm commitment to myself to stay out of debt, I am retiring on September 2nd of this year – about 8 months ahead of when I thought I might be able to retire a couple of years ago, and way ahead of what I thought might be workable 10 years ago.

Of course, I have doubts. I have never not worked on purpose before. All my upbringing taught me that as long as you are able to work, you should. While I do have some physical ailments, primarily the back of a 98 year old lady, it’s held together reasonably well with a lot of titanium, and most everything else can be taken care of with a daily dose of something or other. Yet, 58 seems to be pretty young to be calling oneself retired, especially since I’m not an ex-CEO or a trust-child.

homeless  I joke that by this time next year I could be eating beans and rice and living out of my truck. I guess that is a fear that all of us have at one point or another. Do I have enough money to last however long I’m going to live? The answer always has to be “I don’t know” – none of us know how long we will live. If I drop dead at Christmas, then I’ll have died a fairly rich guy by any standard of most of my relatives. However, if I live to be 95 – then I may end up looking like this poor fellow on the left here.

I guess that for at least a short time, I’ll treat retirement like a vacation, but sooner or later I’ll need to settle into some sort of daily routine. I’ll need to pick activities that don’t cost much or are free – perhaps I’ll start visiting libraries again, although from what I understand – the library of today is nothing like what it was back in my youth. They are evolving fast – or going extinct.

We plan on spending winters at our condo in Pompano Beach, Fl. I used to like to fish – so I can take up that hobby again – although decent fishing gear isn’t necessarily cheap, but you only need to purchase most of it once. Maybe I’ll invest in one of those folding boat contraptions I’ve seen – that fit on my truck or in a holder on the side of the RV – for canals and smaller lakes.

My partner John has wintered in Pompano that past two seasons, and there seems to be a very busy social life available. He’s a lot more social than I am, and I can see that while I enjoy some of it, there will be times I’d just as soon be off somewhere contemplating my navel. I plan on taking the travel trailer down with me – I found a great gay resort out at Clewiston that will store it for me for an affordable monthly fee – while at the same time it may also be a place I can go for a few days now and again just to be alone – or at least for a change of pace. While John and I get along great for the most part – we do have different interests and we are not siamese twins who have to, or even necessarily want to be with each other 24/7 around the clock. I’m not sure it’s good for one to be tethered to another person like that anyway.

There is always volunteering. I did that off and on when I was single in the 90’s and early 00’s. At one time I was a certified AIDS counselor and worked on a hotline. That was the early 90’s – and a very scary time for a lot of us. I’m so very lucky – I mean, for the most part I had no sex life at all during that period – it’s hard to catch AIDS if you are only having sex with yourself – but I think about what might have happened had I had a lot more confidence in myself back then.

genealogyThen there is Genealogy. It’s been an on-again, off-again hobby of mine for over 30 years. I have oodles of data that I’ve collected over the years (http://roots.jimr.com) but there are still some dead-ends, and a lot of points that need verification or some other work. I could make that a big project that would certainly kill a lot of time too. Rainy days, or very cold days or very hot days – nice indoor work I can put on my schedule.

Looking back over all the names in those pages, I see very few of them that would have been “retired” at age 58. Most of my ancestors were blue-collar folks at best, in fact most of them aspired to be blue-collar. I would bet the vast majority of them were working the day they died, or at the very least not long before they died.

What would they think of a descendant who decided to call it quits so early? I wonder if they would be proud, or stupefied.

 

I’ll have to revisit this as my retirement progresses – and write notes to myself so I can compare how I feel today, with how I feel later.

Circumstances

I read a really well written article by Josie Duffy this morning on GAWKER, and I couldn’t help but notice that underneath the pain a thread of hostility bubbled, just barely detectable.

imagesCAYR2WVWI am not unfamiliar with racism.  A child of the south, I grew up in a time and place where the last vestiges of Jim Crow were still a matter of fact and practice.  In the world where I grew up, there were separate schools for black and white, separate toilets, separate water fountains and even separate areas of town. Black men were never seen alone with white women or children, never looked you in the eye, and always called you sir or ma’am.

I didn’t invent those rules, they existed when I was born, and in the community where I was raised, it was just the way things were. My parents taught me to be nice to everyone, to say yes sir and no ma’am to my elders, to eat what was on my plate, but they never really said anything to me about why black people were different than white people.

They didn’t have too. As I grew from a squalling baby who needed everything done for him, into a toddler who knew how to pee in a toilet, and then into a young schoolboy, I learned from the actions of everyone and everything around me that being black was worse than being white. It’s just the way things were, like the sun coming up every morning, or the fact that it would likely be hot in August.

Today, I am a thinking adult, who knows that society as a whole can make bad choices, that awful things can happen that need to be changed, and that can in fact be changed over a course of time.

I had no voice in the enslavement of black people. It was happening in biblical times, and it continues to happen in isolated parts of the world.

In the United States, slavery was abolished in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, a hundred years later, we still struggle with how minorities are treated in this land, but we are better. Much better.

My point though is that as much as I understand and sympathize with Ms. Duffy on her plight in life, she seems to fail to understand that we are all victims of circumstance. We don’t get to pick our lives in advance. Whether we are born rich or poor, black or white, healthy or sickly, in a prosperous first world country or a poor third-world country – these are all simply circumstance over which no one has any control at all.

What matters is what we do with our lives once we reach the point where we can exercise some level of control. As a child, I knew no better than how I was taught. I learned from the examples set by my community what was normal and expected behavior.  I can not be held responsible for behaving as a member of my community because I had no ability to behave otherwise.

In different cultures all over the world, customs are practiced that seem perfectly acceptable and normal to those communities, but seem horrific to those of us living in the America of today. From the strange free sex practice of the Deer Horn Muria, to the Lu tribe of Vietnam where the women dye their teeth black to look attractive, to the practices of the Jivaro Indians of South America – there are cultures around the world that practice habits that may even be reason for arrest and imprisonment here – but are normal and expected behavior in those communities.

As a young man, developing independent thought, I learned to question my community. It was a time of great social upheaval, and also one of self-discovery.

I cannot say that I have shed those early years entirely, I don’t think it really possible for one to completely abandon what we may have learned or been taught during those very early years when we really aren’t even conscious of ourselves as a unique individual. What I can say though is that I can control irrational impulses that stem from those early years – and that I truly embrace the fact that all humans are equal, no matter their color, race, sexuality, religion or ethnicity.

It is hard, especially when some of my family, who still live in the same area of the South, have not really changed all that much in their core beliefs – beliefs and practices that they too inherited as mere babies from their parents.  But, we are all victims of our circumstances and I think the fact that we can exert effort to overcome these circumstances and make our lives better, and the lives around us better is what makes us human.

Ms. Duffy has earned the right to be angry at her past. She can regret the history that has affected her ancestors, but she can’t change it. None of us had any say in what happened hundreds of years ago, we can only live the lives we have today and make the best of our present circumstance. Holding anyone responsible for the actions of their ancestors several generations removed is simply absurd.

 

Regular People

I had a sort of mini-epiphany the other day, probably something that I may have had years ago had I a college education with classes inbrain philosophy. I’m sort of like The Scarecrow when it comes to education, I have no college degree, and am always thinking that maybe someone else who thinks about things, but has a formal  degree maybe has a leg up on me. I know it’s not necessarily true, but I’ll admit to having that as a slight character flaw.

In any case, John Steinbeck published Grapes of Wrath 75 years ago. It was 1939. The Great Depression ravaged the country, combined with the dust bowl that stole the top soil from millions of acres of farmland.

oz1939 was a grand year in Hollywood. It was the year of The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Babes in Arms …anyone who has ever watched late night TV is at least familiar with the titles, if not the plots.

It was a good year at the publishing nonehouses as well. And then there were None by Agatha Christie. Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Hemmingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories,  The Man who came to Dinner by Moss Hart and Finnegan’s Wake from James Joyce all joined Steinbeck’s epic on the best seller shelves.

The Grapes of Wrath caused quite a hullabaloo when it was published. A lot of people refused to believe prosperitythat the kind of poverty detailed in the book actually existed in America. After all, it was 1939, and America was an enlightened society, everyone had a chance to be somebody, all they had to do was work hard and prosperity would flow.

By late August of 1939, The Grapes of Wrath was banned in Kern County, California. Many school districts and library boards across the nation removed the book from shelves, and in 1953 it was bannedbanned entirely in Ireland.  It was still controversial in 1973 during a trial in Turkey, and was still being banned here in the US in Kanawha, Iowa in 1980.  It was challenged as required reading by students in 1993 in Union City, Tennessee.

 

dust_bowl_povertyThe thing is, that poverty did exist in America in 1939 at a level only hinted at by Steinbeck. No amount of glitzy Hollywood movie magic, and all the reading of great novels you could do in 1939 would change the fact that in 1939, there was terrible poverty in the United States.

The thing is, 75 years later we don’t have a great book like The  Grapes of Wrath, but we still have grinding poverty. It doesn’t even 2013_povertylook a lot different than 1939.  There are families today who struggle to put a roof over their heads and feed and clothe their children. There is no urban neighborhood that does not have several well-attended food banks.

For all the ‘progress’ we have made as a country and a people, why haven’t we been able to wipe out poverty? Why are there children who go to school hungry? Why do people today willing give thousands of dollars in donations for animals but ignore the hungry bellies of human beings down the street or in the next neighborhood?

Back to the epiphany I mentioned at the top of this article. Most of us simply don’t matter. For the largest majority of us on the planet, it simply doesn’t matter whether or not we were here or not.  That is something that takes awhile to wrap my head around, because at the most basic level I matter a whole lot to myself.

I don’t think anyone who lives in grinding poverty does so by choice.  I can’t imagine anyone aspiring to a life where there is serious question as to the regularity of meals, hot water and decent toilet facilities. Short of mental illness, no human looks forward to sleeping on the street and pandering for handouts.

But, once you arrive at that bottom rung, the odds are stacked against you and climbing up even one rung on the economical scale becomes a daunting task. Through no fault of your own, circumstance seems to conspire against any upward movement.

Everything in our society costs money, and when you are at the bottom of the ladder, even getting a job becomes a herculean task. To get work you need transportation. You may need a uniform, or at least clean clothing. You may need a certain level of education, you may need child care, you may need decent teeth so you make a good impression. You may even need a fixed address. All of this costs money, and if you are lucky enough to find a job, it’s likely to be minimum wage, and you are likely to have a hard time keeping it because there are so many parts of your life where something relatively simply can cause chaos and your life unravels.

In our world today, where CEO’s now make $273 for every $1 the CEO Payrest of us make, how is it possible for anyone to get ahead? In the United States of America, I believe that in many cases, it is in fact our version of democracy that will eventually be our downfall.  We allow too few people too many privileges, and with recent decisions by our Supreme Court, those with money will have far more influence on how the country is run than anyone else with just a vote, but no money.

Most of us regular people who are not immensely wealthy, who aren’t elected to office, who aren’t world leaders have virtually no influence on the world, and whether or not we where even here simply doesn’t matter.

We are lucky if the bubble of our existence spans a full century. My great-grandfather Thomas J. Richardson was born in 1833 and died in 1908. Most of his grandchildren never knew him, and he never 100yearsknew any of his great-grandchildren. The last of his grandchildren that would have had any memory of him at all was my Aunt Grace, who would have been aged five when her grandfather Tom died. Aunt Grace died in 1996, so my Great-Grandfather was pretty lucky in that someone could have carried a personal memory of him as long as 163 years after his birth.

The whole point of this is that often, the world we live in is an awful place, and it takes hard work to carve out our little space. We need to enjoy our time here, make the best of what we have, and not spend quite so much time trying to be like everyone else. It’s OK to aspire to be great, and some of us regular folks make it there. I’m not so sure they have much more fun than we do, but I congratulate them.

retirementI’m contemplating a retirement soon, in fact it could be as soon as weeks away, or as long as a few months, but in any sort of life calendar, certainly in the “soon” time frame. Part of me is scared to give up the certainty of my job, my paycheck, my benefits and the comfort they give me, the predictability.

Another part of me is simply tired of the grind. I don’t know how much time I have left, but I’d certainly like to spend at least some of what I have left doing things I want to do, when I want to do them, and while I’m in reasonably decent health so I can enjoy what I do, free of the regiment of work.

Just some things I’m thinking about recently.